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Baroness Hamwee: My experience in local government has been that when the Government depart from their usual practice and give discretion to local authorities it is because the issue is one that central government find they cannot tackle because they do not have either the imagination or the will. That has been the increasing experience over a number of years.

I am afraid I do not take seriously the Minister's suggestions that the amendment is being proposed because of any lack of faith in local authorities. I am not going to trade statistics, although I am glad to have heard the Minister say that there was a serious risk. The tone of the Minister's answer suggests a complacency about the issue which I hope is not a real complacency.

The suggestion is made that such a scheme would lead to a reduction in the stock of accommodation. Among the supporters of such a scheme are the Institute of Housing, Shelter, and the National Consumer Council. I cannot imagine that they are organisations that would wish to see the stock reduced. I do not believe that that is a real argument. The cost to landlords, on the information I have--I have referred to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation--would be about £30. These are not large sums. If the suggestion is that it is not the registration fees but the cost of putting properties back into order which will be a disincentive to landlords, that does not need answering.

Lord Gisborough: Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. She mentioned £30; but is she aware that many of these houses are old? This morning I was told of houses which it would be uneconomic to bring up to the required

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standard. I was told of one old house which had to have metal supports put around it in order to comply. Such houses would just go out of the market.

Baroness Hamwee: I am aware that there is a number of large old houses which would cost a great deal to bring up to standard; but is that an argument for approaching the housing problems in this country in this way? I do not believe that it is. I shall have to disagree with the noble Lord.

The amendment is proposed as a reserve power. We know the problems of shortage of parliamentary time. We have a thick Housing Bill. One would have hoped that the Government might see the sense in providing for themselves a power which they could implement if other provisions of the Bill for the discretionary scheme appeared not to be working as well as the Government clearly hope they might.

I had some difficulty in suggesting that additional powers should be handed over to the Government, lock, stock and barrel to introduce something if it is not the intention to start the scheme off in this way. But as I have said, the issue is serious. It is a matter of safety. It is not just a matter of amenity, as important as that is. The noble Lord referred to the special control provisions, but that is not what the amendment addresses. I shall conclude by asking the Minister a question. A good deal of his argument appeared to depend on many types of houses in multiple occupation being ones for which there should be no concern. I understand that a flat at the top of a house, or in a wing of a house, being let to a family other than the owner occupier of the rest of the house would be one of the exceptions which the Government are considering applying to the scheme as proposed in the Bill. If the Minister is saying that some types of division do not require registration, will the Government consider a mandatory licensing scheme for the types which they admit require registration and, as I would put it, licensing?

Lord Lucas: The question does not arise because we like the scheme as we have written it. We do not see the need for a national mandatory scheme. We believe that the flexibility that we have is the flexibility that is desirable.

Baroness Hamwee: Without being discourteous to the Minister, I do not believe that that is a satisfactory answer. The hour is late but it is a matter to which we must return. At the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 [Making and approval of registration schemes]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 195:

Page 36, line 39, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 195 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 196 and 221. Amendment No. 195 provides that a local authority "shall" make a registration scheme rather than leaving the matter to its discretion. Amendment No. 196 deletes subsections (2) and (3) thus requiring that the scheme shall apply to the whole of the local authority's district. Amendment No. 221 provides for the Secretary of State

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to take steps to publicise the registration scheme in concert with local authorities as an alternative to the provision in the Bill, which leaves the matter to each local authority. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: The amendments would make it a mandatory requirement for each local authority to introduce a registration scheme covering the whole of its district. That would carry with it the same objections as we have to national mandatory licensing by going unnecessarily far in dictating to local authorities how they shall tackle problems associated with HMOs.

If local authorities decide to introduce one of the new registration schemes they will, under our proposals, have maximum flexibility in the method of introduction. In many cases they may decide to introduce a scheme only for those parts of their district with the most HMOs and where the problems are worst. They will then have scope to phase in the scheme to other areas if they so wish. I understand, for example, that Bristol City Council, which is under the control of a Labour council, is gradually introducing registration schemes throughout the city on a ward-by-ward basis according to risk priorities and resources permitting. We congratulate the council on the innovation and effectiveness with which it is pursuing that course. Indeed, some authorities will not wish to use registration schemes, believing instead that they can work effectively with the other HMO powers available to them. These amendments would remove such flexibility.

We are keen to make sure that local authorities do have available to them effective registration schemes. However, unlike the parties opposite, we do not wish to be over prescriptive, telling local authorities exactly what they must do. We find it preferable for them to have choice and flexibility.

I turn now to Amendment No. 221. The Government's proposals will not require a national registration scheme and, therefore, publicity for it. But Clause 68 requires local authorities to carry out local publicity if they are planning a registration scheme in their area. The Government are planning national publicity for the code of practice which will be approved by the Secretary of State using the powers in Clause 74. Our view is that, together, those provide an adequate degree of publicity and that Amendment No. 221 would be unnecessary, even if it were phrased to tie in with our approach to the scheme as a whole.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I did not expect anything different given the debate that we have just had. I note what the Minister says on Amendment No. 221 and the question of publicity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 196 not moved.]

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Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 197:

Page 36, line 51, at end insert ("and to renew the registration as and when required by the scheme.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 205. Amendments Nos. 197 and 205 are designed to clarify the operation of Clause 64, which introduces greatly improved powers for local authorities to operate registration schemes.

One of the key changes is that registration will in future need to be renewed. We shall be debating how frequently when we come to Amendment No. 198. Amendment No. 197 clarifies the duty on landlords to make it explicit that registration schemes require not only that they must register, but also re-register as necessary.

Amendment No. 205 makes it clear that the power of the Secretary of State to fix different fees is in respect of different cases. Currently the word "different" is not included. For example, there is likely to be a higher fee for a first registration than for a re-registration, since in principle, a re-registration should involve less work. And, as now, the fee is likely to be related to the size of the property. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 198:

Page 37, line 3, after first ("of") insert ("not less than one year and not more than").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 199. The point here is very simple. Under the scheme in the Bill, registration is set at an initial period of five years and renewable at five-yearly intervals. This amendment would provide some flexibility for local authorities so that initial registration and the re-registration could take place in a period of time longer than one year.

The point is that a good and conscientious landlord could reasonably be given a lengthy period of registration whereas a landlord who had not behaved well could be given a shorter period so that he might be, as it were, on probation so that he could demonstrate his management qualities before being given a longer period of registration. The amendment would merely provide some flexibility which the Bill, as it now stands, does not provide. I beg to move.

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