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Lord Lucas: I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, that these are provisions which have to be handled with great care and discretion in order not to create the sort of problems he has alluded to.

Baroness Hamwee: I have become rather more alarmed, rather than comforted, about the special control provisions as I have listened to this debate. I know that is not what the noble Lord intended. In general, the question of an area changing is a matter for planning rather than this kind of provision which, as I read it, gives scope for putting the blame in the wrong place or at any rate putting more blame on only some of the people who deserve it.

As I have said, the local authorities have power to control the poor management of HMOs. They can use the control provisions that we have already debated. They can prosecute through management regulations under Section 372 of the 1985 Act. They can remove control from a bad landlord where there is a risk to health, safety and welfare under Section 379 of that Act; and where a property is unfit they can use closing order powers.

To provide in legislation for the existence of a house giving rise to the possibility of applying certain control provisions seems to undermine what the Government have been saying about needing to encourage and support the stock. It may lead to some authorities outlawing HMOs whatever the Minister may say. It may undermine other government initiatives and joint initiatives with voluntary organisations including the use of private rented accommodation by homeless people and the expansion of accommodation under the Rough Sleepers' Initiative and various community care and other initiatives.

The arguments adopted by the Minister appear to lay the blame in the wrong direction. I fear, even more than when I read this clause, that it could be used to pander to some of the less deserving calls for changes in the character of the neighbourhood in order to reverse a movement. It is too late to pursue the matter now, but it will be interesting to come back to this matter and to review, in the light of what the Minister has said--I will read it in Hansard--whether these draconian powers should be allowed to remain in the Bill in quite such an extensive fashion. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 216 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 217:

Page 42, line 24, at end insert--
("( ) Where the decision of the authority was to impose conditions of registration, the court may direct the authority to grant the application without imposing the conditions or to impose the conditions as varied in such manner as the court may direct.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment makes a small change to the powers available to the court when an appeal is made against the use of special control

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provisions as set out in Clause 66. As presently drafted, the court is allowed to direct the authority to grant the application for registration as made or as varied in such manner as the court may direct. The amendment would additionally provide that the court might, when registration was granted subject to conditions, direct that the authority delete or vary the conditions which the authority had imposed. This change would mean that the powers available to the court on appeal against the use of special control provisions would more closely mirror the appeal procedures in relation to normal control provisions as set out in Clause 65.

I beg to move Amendment No. 217.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 217A:

Page 43, line 33, leave out from ("brought") to end of line 36 and insert--
("(b) if a further appeal to the Court of Appeal is brought, a decision on that appeal is given and the period within which an appeal to the House of Lords may be brought expires without any such appeal having been brought, or
(c) if a further appeal to the House of Lords is brought, a decision on that appeal is given confirming the direction (with or without variation).").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 217A. The short point is: what about an appeal to the House of Lords? The Bill provides for appeals to the Court of Appeal. Can the Government comment on appeals stopping at that point?

Lord Lucas: I share the objective of the noble Baroness that an occupancy direction should not bite until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted. But it may be that this amendment is unnecessary. An appeal to this House in its judicial capacity is always by leave. If leave is granted by the Court of Appeal that court has power to make an order suspending the effect of the decision or direction which is the subject of the appeal. It also has power to grant a stay until the time for seeking the leave of the House has expired or the case is disposed of where the appeal court has itself refused leave. It is for this reason that when dealing with rights of appeal to the courts housing legislation contains no explicit provision on the face of the statute staying the effect of the decision beyond the decision of the Court of Appeal.

I shall consider whether there is any advantage in having something on the face of the Bill. If so, I shall bring forward an amendment at the next stage. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel sufficiently comforted by those words to enable her to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: For the moment, the explanation of the Minister is helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 218 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 219:

Page 43, line 48, at end insert--

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Special control provisions: guidance to local housing authorities.
("348G.--(1) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to local housing authorities concerning their exercise of special control provisions under this Part.
(2) In drawing up the guidance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall consult local housing authorities and other relevant organisations.
(3) In exercising special control provisions under this Part, the authority shall have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State under subsection (1)."").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 219 in the names of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The arguments in favour of this particular amendment are similar to those used for Amendment No. 215. However, the solution is slightly different. In Amendment No. 215 we talked about the way in which houses were managed, whereas in Amendment No. 219 the amendment simply requests that the Secretary of State shall issue guidance to local authorities as to how to use these powers. In his reply to Amendment No. 215, the Minister said that local authorities would not be allowed to abuse their powers, for example by way of ethnic cleansing at local level to which the Minister referred. This was based on an example that I had given. However, he did not say by what means local authorities would be prevented from abusing their powers. Amendment No. 219 gives a straightforward model. There would be guidance given by the Secretary of State to which local authorities would have to have regard. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: I have considerable sympathy with the concerns expressed by the noble Lord. I accept that the powers available to local authorities under these provisions are considerable. There will be a clear need for them to be exercised with due care and consideration. However, there are a number of safeguards implicit in the legislative provisions setting out the special control conditions and, within those parameters, I think local authorities will be best placed to exercise their discretion in using the powers at their disposal.

There are a number of important points. First, special control provisions will not be available to local housing authorities as a matter of routine. They will be available only when an authority makes out a case for their use to the Secretary of State. At that stage, we shall make guidance available to local authorities on how these special control conditions can be incorporated into a registration scheme, although, as I have said, we shall not formally be issuing a model scheme which incorporates them.

There are important safeguards in relation to the service of an occupancy direction which will require the manager of the HMO to take all necessary steps, within a period not less than 28 days, to bring all tenancies to an end. First, Clause 66 provides that in deciding to make an occupancy direction the local authority shall take into account the interests of the occupants of the house and the person having control of the house as well as the interests of local residents and businesses; in other words, the local authority is required to take a balanced approach.

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Secondly, the clause also provides that any person aggrieved by an occupancy direction may appeal against it to the county court. Thirdly, following discussion in Committee in another place, an amendment was brought forward by the Government to provide that the statutory protection of tenure afforded to Rent Act tenants cannot be affected by an occupancy direction. That will prevent the exploitation of the use of special control provisions by landlords to gain vacant possession in these cases.

The special control conditions are designed to deal with particular problems which have arisen in a number of resort areas due to the proliferation of HMOs. It is important that they can be used to deal effectively with those problems; but at the same time the safeguards I have highlighted are designed to prevent them being over-zealously applied by local authorities.

I therefore see no immediate need for the comprehensive further guidance envisaged by this amendment. Of course, the Government will keep under close review the use of these powers and take any further steps necessary if problems occur. That may include the issuing of such further guidance, and the provisions under Clause 74 which allows the Secretary of State to approve codes of practice in relation to those matters would provide for that to be done.

In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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