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Page 40, line 5, after ("registered") insert ("or revoke the registration").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 214. These amendments make some minor changes to the provisions in Clause 65 which allow the local authority to vary the terms of the registration or revoke it, if conditions in the HMO begin to deteriorate. The clause as currently drafted in the Bill is not quite right as the grounds for revocation do not, in the Government's view, cover every possibility that might occur.

Amendment No. 213 concerns the situation, which is likely to be very rare, when for some reason the registered property becomes unsuitable and incapable of being made suitable for multiple occupation. As presently drafted, the clause allows the local authority to vary the number of households for which it is registered, but to cover every eventuality the amendment would allow the registration to be revoked in these circumstances.

Amendment No. 214 would further allow the local authority to revoke registration if additional facts came to light after the property had been first registered or renewed to show that the manager of the property was not a fit and proper person. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 214:

Page 40, line 22, after ("that") insert--
("(a) the person having control of the house or the person managing it is not a fit and proper person, or

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.

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Clause 66 [Registration schemes: special control provisions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 215:

Page 40, line 43, leave out ("their existence or the behaviour of their residents") and insert ("the way in which the houses are managed").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 216 and 218. All the amendments stand in the name of myself and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.

With these amendments we move to Clause 66, the special control provisions to deal with matters of amenity. That may sound trivial. I accept that the presence of large numbers of houses in multiple occupation can have particular effects on a district. But I feel that in a number of ways, the provisions go rather far.

The effect of the amendments would be to remove the "existence of the house or the behaviour of the residents" as a trigger for local authorities' consideration of the use of these provisions. The amendment replaces those terms with wording which places the burden of the use of the powers on the way in which an HMO is managed. Where serious nuisance problems occur in HMOs, it is frequently because of bad management. These amendments are intended to make that clear and lay the responsibility on the manager.

The powers in Clause 66 are very strong indeed. They allow an HMO to be closed down if, in the view of the local authority and after consulting the local residents and others, the:

    "existence [of the house] or the behaviour of their residents ... [is] adversely affecting the amenity or character of the area in which they are situated".
I believe that it would be better if there were powers to control poor management rather than to shut down houses to the detriment of the occupants. After all, there is legislation, including provisions in the 1985 Housing Act.

The reference to the behaviour of the residents appears to be an open invitation to attack HMOs on the NIMBY (not in my back yard) principle. I do not believe that that will encourage good standard HMOs as the Government suggest. I believe that the proposed words would provide a more objective test and a better form of control. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: I support Amendment No. 215. In answer to a question that the Minister may put to me, yes, I do trust the majority of local authorities but I do not always trust every local authority. I have enough examples to support both contentions.

One of the points that bothers me about the provisions contained in the Bill--after all, this amendment, if accepted, would provide some safeguards--is that they not only give local authorities powers to deal with existing HMOs, but they can also prevent a new HMO being opened. That means that local residents can say, "We do not like the sort of residents the HMO will house." That opens the door to a great deal of prejudice and not much rational argument and may pander to some of the less healthy instincts one occasionally

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comes across when people do not like people of different lifestyles living in the same street or not too far away. It is important therefore that the amendment provides for the way in which the houses are managed. That is a much better approach than a provision regarding the behaviour of the residents or the existence of the HMO itself.

Perhaps I can take up the time of the Committee for a little longer to give an example from Wandsworth council. It so happens that it had other powers exceptionally, but I fear that it could use these powers if it did not already have those other powers. The example concerns an empty old people's home which the organisation of which I used to be the director--the Refugee Council--wanted to occupy for a few months to house Bosnian refugees coming to this country under a Home Office scheme.

Wandsworth council said that it would not allow the organisation to use that property for the Bosnian refugees because the local residents would not like it. In fact, that was not true. The local residents and the local church were quite happy about it. However, the council used its powers to say, "These are not the sort of people we want in this part of the borough." It was Balham.

My fear is that there may be occasions when local authorities will use their powers in a way which is undesirable. The majority of local authorities will not do that; the minority may. The amendment will provide at least something of a safeguard against the abuse of such powers.

Lord Lucas: I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I are again thinking the same thoughts. Neither of us wants to see a situation where we get into some form of ethnic cleansing as a result of these provisions. For the sake of avoiding argument at later stages of the Bill, I note that if we had agreed to Amendment No. 209, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, lent his name, we would have got into a position where local authorities were free to do whatever they wanted in that regard. The provisions under Clause 66 will be subject in every case to the approval of the Secretary of State. I can assure the noble Lord that the scenario that he paints of councils trying to shift what they regard as undesirable people out of one ward into another or out of their area altogether is not something which will be permitted.

Local authorities need to deal with social and economic problems which can arise from a concentration of HMOs in a specific area where they are badly managed or where there are simply too many of them. That has been a specific problem in a number of seaside resorts such as Blackpool, Scarborough, Margate and Bournemouth. Many of the hotels or guesthouses that used to cater for the tourist trade have converted to become hostels offering bed and breakfast. Many of them cater for single, young people who rely on income support and housing benefit and who often move considerable distances to live in those seaside towns. For example, the magazine, Loot, which circulates in the London area frequently carries advertisements placed by hostel operators in Margate

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offering, "Free breakfast and evening meal, free Sky TV, no bills, move in today, DSS welcome, help with all forms". If all these extra benefits can be provided, it throws into interesting contrast the question of whether benefit levels are adequate.

Offering accommodation to people in need of housing is, of course, commendable. But too often there is a concentration of HMOs in particular areas, and many of them are not particularly well-managed. The result is that the whole character of an area can rapidly change. Unfortunately, social problems such as drunkenness or drug taking can become rife. Once an area begins this downward spiral, it becomes increasingly difficult for the remaining hotel businesses to attract custom--holiday makers simply do not want to walk in streets where they may face drunken abuse or where they may have to pick their way through used syringes.

In response to these concerns, the Government have brought forward the proposals in Clause 66 to allow local authorities to adopt "special control provisions". If an authority does adopt these provisions in an HMO registration scheme, it will be empowered to refuse registration (or revoke an existing registration) if the existence of the HMO or the behaviour of its residents has an adverse effect on the amenity or character of the area in which it is situated. In the case of an existing HMO, the local authority will be able to do this only if the person controlling or managing the HMO has failed in some way to take steps to prevent that adverse effect. For new HMOs, the authority can take into account the number of existing HMOs in the vicinity before deciding whether to permit or refuse registration.

Amendments Nos. 215, 216 and 218 remove the references to the existence of the HMO and to behaviour of the residents in the three places in which they occur in Clause 66, and replace them instead by a reference to "the way in which the house is managed". That would have the effect of considerably weakening the proposals. For it is often the behaviour of the residents in, or in the vicinity of, the HMO which causes the adverse impact on the area, and so this is something which the local authority should clearly be able to take into account in exercising its powers. It seems much better to us that these powers should be directed at the insult which neighbours are suffering rather than to some vague term about the quality of management of the HMO which is much more remote from that insult.

The fact that the local authority can take into account "behaviour" will not give it carte blanche to hold landlords responsible for anything which their tenants do. The authority may only act against an existing HMO if there has been some failure by the management to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to deal with any problems arising from the behaviour of the tenants. This will be a matter for local authorities to consider, and also for the courts if a landlord appeals against a local authority's decision. But I should have thought it might be regarded as reasonable for a landlord to deal with, for example, excessive noise or drunkenness arising within the HMO or its vicinity. The landlord could take steps, if necessary by evicting tenants who cause the problem, if the HMO is, to put it colloquially,

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ruining the area. General anti-social behaviour elsewhere in the town would not, of course, be within the control of the landlord.

I therefore cannot accept the amendment which has been put forward. By focusing solely on the performance of the manager, without implicitly requiring him to manage the property so as actively to reduce any nuisance caused by the behaviour of its tenants, it considerably weakens the scheme and would not give those local authorities which have been pressing for additional powers the scope they need to deal with the social problems they face.

Similarly, by removing the reference to the "existence" of the HMO, the amendment would prevent local authorities effectively controlling the rate at which new HMOs may be opened. The local authorities most affected by the problems are clear that they want a power of this type. It may give some comfort to the noble Baroness to know that Scarborough has written to my honourable friend to indicate that it would not expect, when it has these powers, to use them in more than five instances, and that number would be reduced even further once the initial weeding out process was concluded. This is not a problem which will need the kind of draconian measures which appear to be feared by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. It will be one which, when the powers are there, should, we hope, fade away.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: It seems to me that this is a question of whether one requires the management of an HMO to control the tenant or one says that one will not allow these tenants in the area because they will create problems and a bad situation. I suggest that one of the risks in looking at the two extremes, if I may call them that, is that one runs the risk of trying to get the manager of an HMO to control the behaviour of the tenants which has nothing to do with where they live but with the behaviour outside in the street and in the community, which are not amenable to decisions by the manager. There is also the risk of pointing the finger at the tenants for bad behaviour and saying, "If you have HMOs you will have bad people here and it will be very difficult for people living in the community".

I do not want to digress too much, but it is rather like the discussion we had the other day about unemployment and crime. While it is wrong to blame an individual unemployed person for being a criminal, which he is not, one needs to recognise that if there is a high proportion of unemployment in society there is a commensurate increase in crime. There should be enough sociological evidence to show that if one has a density of HMOs in a particular area, there is a consequent risk of disturbances in the community and anti-social behaviour. Therefore, rather than targeting the individual who is living in an HMO and saying, "You are likely to be a bad person who should not be here", we need to ensure that there is not too high a proportion of HMOs in an area which is likely to lead to social problems. It is trying to find some balance in

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not blaming the tenants and the managers, but in saying that we all need to consider something which is likely to be problematical.

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