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Mr. Meacher: I am happy to respond in terms of sympathetic consideration. I acknowledge the problem, but the solutions proposed by the hon. Member for South Norfolk are not appropriate, and I will say why.
The amendments seek to give additional rights to landlords faced with costs in excess of half the annual rental income of their property. That is a serious issue. The hon. Gentleman proposes that such landlords have the right to convert their property back to single occupancy, on the basis that planning permission will be granted—that is the stronger case, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said—or that there will be a presumption that planning permission will be granted, which is the weaker case. My ministerial colleagues at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions would not support a presumption in primary legislation or a policy that planning permission would be granted in such circumstances.
Where an applicant requires planning permission to convert an HMO to single occupancy, the local planning authority must consider the application in accordance with the development plan for the area, having regard to national planning policy guidelines and any other material considerations. If permission is refused, the applicant has the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. I recognise that there is a problem. There is another way of dealing with the matter. We are well aware of the need to balance the health and safety of occupants of HMOs with the need not to require excessive works. The standard that we shall prescribe will endeavour to balance those two factors. We would expect local authorities to act reasonably in enforcing requirements to undertake certain steps. In particular, they should prioritise the steps on a risk assessment basis and require only essential health and safety works to be undertaken before granting registration. We would expect other, less significant, steps to be carried out within a reasonable period following registration with the proviso that the continued registration of the HMO was subject to the carrying out of the works within that period.
If a landlord is concerned that the conditions of registration, including any requirement to undertake steps to render the house suitable for occupation, are unreasonable, he will have a right of appeal to the county court.
I hope that that satisfies the hon. Member for South Norfolk that the problem is recognised. We believe that it can be resolved in the way that I have indicated, but we cannot accept his proposal and I would ask him to withdraw the amendment.
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Mr. Bacon: It does not surprise me that the Minister's colleagues are unable to accept a plan to create these changes to planning law. It is part of my purpose during my parliamentary career to drive a coach and horses through English planning law, but I accept that this is not necessarily the right place in which to do it. The Minister mentioned development plans. I have a healthy suspicion of development plans because we have, on the borders of my constituency, the new Norfolk and Norwich university hospital, now the nation's largest PFI hospital. The Government managed to spend £229 million of public money on that without ensuring, despite all the expert planners who were on hand, that there was a road so that patients and people who work there could get to the hospital. That was in apparent defiance of every planning policy guideline that I have been able to read on the internet. In light of what the Minister has said about his recognition that there is a serious concern, and in particular because he has stressed that only essential health and safety requirements will be required to be met before a licence is granted, I beg, albeit with reluctance, to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 4—Control provisions—
(2) In paragraph (c) of subsection (1)—
(a) for ''works'' there is substituted ''steps'', and
(b) for ''executed'' there is substituted ''taken''.
(3) After that subsection there is inserted—
''(1A) A house is not to be regarded as suitable for such occupation as would be permitted if the application were granted unless it meets such standards as may be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(1B) The standards that may be prescribed in the regulations include—
(a) safety standards,
(b) energy efficiency standards, and
(c) standards relating to the fixtures, fittings and furnishings in the house.
(1C) The Secretary of State may make regulations prescribing what matters are to be taken into account in determining whether a standard of a prescribed description has been met.
(1D) Any power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.''.
(4) In subsections (2)(b) and (3)(b), for ''execution of works'' there is substituted ''taking of steps''.
(5) In section 348A of the Housing Act 1985(1)(b) (control provisions: other decisions and appeals), for ''works are executed'' there is substituted ''steps are taken''.'
Mr. Meacher: Clause 7(1) is not needed because new clause 2 provides that the new clause that it proposes must be brought into effect within two months of Royal Assent. That means that there is a guaranteed timetable for the introduction of registration. We still hope to introduce full HMO licensing proposals next year but, if we cannot, licensing under another name will take effect
Column Number: 131automatically, in the form of a mandatory extension of the current voluntary system of HMO registration ''with control provisions'', with the improvements achieved by or under the Bill.
Clause 7(2) is also no longer needed because new clause 4 will enable the Secretary of State to prescribe standards that must be met if registration is to be granted. That will be done under new subsections (lA) to (1D) inserted into section 348 of the Housing Act 1985. We intend to use the power to produce exactly the same result as clause 7(2) would have done—in particular to ensure that energy efficiency targets are met and that adequate fire and other safety standards are upheld. It would be undesirable to try to make detailed provision in the Bill—for instance about gas and electricity certificates—given that the latter do not exist in the same way that the former do. There is also scope to deal with issues other than just safety and energy efficiency in relation to furnishings, fixtures and fittings. That is, in part, a response to concerns about the security of occupants' possessions in HMOs.
The effect of new clause 4 is to amend section 348 of the 1985 Act to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations, to prescribe safety and energy efficiency standards, and to insist that those standards are met satisfactorily as a condition of registration. Local authorities will be able to insist that required works are executed satisfactorily.
Mr. Sayeed: I wish to make one very short contribution. Will the Minister explain why proposed new subsection 3(1B) of new clause 4 states that the
Can he explain why ''may'' appears, rather than ''will''?
Mr. Meacher: Again, it would be wise for me to consult those who drafted the Bill. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point perfectly well. He wants to ensure that important safety, energy efficiency and other standards ''shall'', rather than ''may'', be prescribed in the regulations. I understand the point, but I would like to consult other hon. Members. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will get an answer.
Question put and negatived.
Clause 7 disagreed to.
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