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Mr. Clifton-Brown: This is probably the largest Housing Bill everit contains 226 clauses and 13 schedules of highly complex legislation. This democratic Parliament owes the people whom the Housing Bill will affect more than one day's consideration. The Bill should have been considered for two days.
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend adds his passion, which is on behalf of all the people who will be affected by the Bill, to my sorrow. He is right to amplify my point, which other hon. Members including the shadow Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) also made, about appropriate consideration of such weighty legislation.
The Bill deals with many important things. It introduces a new housing health and safety rating system, which, although it will be beneficial in many ways, will be expensive to implement. Questions remain about local authorities' ability to introduce the new system in a timely fashion. Do they have the proper resources and the necessary training and reskilling to make the new housing fitness system a practical reality?
The Bill proposes a licensing system, and we should protect the interests of our most vulnerable citizens, who are obliged to rent houses and live in HMOs. Exploitation is possible in that sector, and it is appropriate that the Government have examined it and brought forward proposals. However, doubts remain whether the licensing system will encompass those in the greatest need and whether the regulatory burden will be so great that it will drive potential landlords out of the business of making homes available to people who need them.
The Bill includes changes to the right to buy. The Government acknowledge, and the Opposition agree, that the abuse of the right to buy should be curbed, but
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there are doubts whether measures to curb such abuse will act as a disincentive to people who want to exercise their right to buy, and I am disappointed that the Government have not taken our proposals on board, which would have been a shot in the arm for the right to buy while also curbing abuse.
The Government have added provisions on park homes, but only on the prompting of Members on both sides of the House, who noticed their omission at an early stage and asked for that to be rectified. Ministers have taken a lot of credit for making that concession, but they should not crow too much without adding the important caveat that on Second Reading those proposals came not from Government Front Benchers but from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Back Benchers.
Then we come to home information packs. What use are they really going to be and what value will they add? We know about the uncertainties, the likely costs and the potential effects on the market, but we have heard no convincing argumentstoday, in Committee or previouslyfor the introduction of these packs. There is grave doubt about their likely efficacy and effectiveness and about whether they can realistically be implemented in the time scale that the Government envisage. I am absolutely sure that Members in the other place will want to consider those matters in great detail and to ask the testing questions of Ministers that we have asked here. I have to say that Liberal Democrat Members have put similar questions, but have also failed to get appropriate answers.
Mr. Kidney: This question is for the hon. Gentleman. The will of this House on home information packs is clear. Is he saying that his Conservative friends in the other place would try to sink the Government's plan?
Mr. Hayes: Our Houses of Parliament always strike a proper balance between the considerations of this place and those of the other place. Of course there is a happy and productive tension between the two Houses because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is how legislation is properly scrutinised. Were it not for the good offices of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peersthat is the second tribute that I have paid to the Liberal Democrats in the course of one speech, which is beginning to test me to my very limitson the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, it would have been an altogether more imperfect piece of legislation, as we shall no doubt hear tomorrow. I shall not test your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker, by anticipating that debate.
The truth of the matter is that there are still significant holes in the Bill. It is all very well for the Minister to say on the radio, instead of here, that he is interested in empty homes. We have been telling him for months that he should be interested in empty homes. [Interruption.]
Throughout the passage of the Billon Second Reading, in Committee, and again todayConservative and Liberal Democrat Members and some
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Labour Back Benchers have emphasised the fact that it was a golden opportunity to introduce legislation on empty homes, but the Government resisted that. We now hear rumours and suggestions that they might relent, but thus far they have not done so. It is not unreasonable to make that point again in this short Third Reading debate.
Other hon. Members want to speak, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. This Bill does some good things and this Minister does some good things toowhat Bill and what Minister do not?but I have yet to be convinced that we can reasonably support it, not least because of the inclusion of sellers packs, which remain the most significant part of the Bill in the sense that they will affect everyone who sells or buys a house. Many parts of the Bill are significant in other ways, but not in terms of their potential impact on people's lives, on the costs of buying and selling a home, and on the nature of the market and the professions that are part of it.
The Government have failed to make a compelling case on that, as they have on a range of other issues that I have highlighted. For that reason, I will vote against the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friends will join me. I urge the Liberal Democrats to vote with us because, although I do not want to put them off at this eleventh hour, I can see a meeting of minds between us on some of the matters that I have mentioned. Finally, I know that many Labour Members who are dissatisfied with the way in which the Bill deals with warm homes, empty homes and a range of other matters will be pleased that we have opposed it, because that provides the opportunity for those elsewhere to try to knock it into shape and to make something decent out of an unsatisfactory set of proposals.
Mr. Betts: In general terms, this is a good Bill that attempts to deal with some of the worst housing conditions experienced by some of the poorest members of our community. I thank Ministers for their willingness to involve so many Back Benchers by engaging with us in debate about some of the most important issues.
My main concern about the Bill is that in some respects it does not go as far as I would like. The hazard rating system is potentially very good, although it is complicated and its implementation will need careful handling. I welcome the fact that we are to have a national licensing system for houses in multiple occupation. Some hon. Members have fought for that for many years, because it will address some of the worst housing conditions for some of the poorest people in our communities. I am concerned, however, that the Minister still does not recognise the degree to which HMOs are not just a risk, but a problem of management in terms of the disruption and nuisance that they can cause to surrounding communities. If that is to be addressed through the additional licensing route, I hope
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that the Minister will consider the cost to local authorities engaged in the process and do something to assist them.
The licensing of private landlords in selective areas is good step forward that might be extended in future. Again, it will deal with some of the worst housing problems in some of the poorest communities.
The home information pack is another good step forward. The more I have heard the arguments, the more I have been persuaded of that. The packs will bring some order to a very disorderly process. The "offers around" system that operates in Sheffield, but hardly anywhere else in the country, is chaotic, and the new scheme will start to deal with that. It will of course be necessary to get right the training of inspectors and the insurance arrangements. I am sure that the Minister will return to the licensing of estate agents, because he believes that it sits happily with the proposals to regulate the whole approach to home buying and selling.
The Minister gave reassurances in Committee on the tenancy deposit scheme. The Government are now committed to that scheme in principle, and we look forward to its introduction in the near future, because it will help to protect people who are ripped off by their landlords by having deposits taken from them for no good reason.
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