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Lord Lucas: Before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, since the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, spoke to the following group of amendments, perhaps I might reply to those too.

This is clearly an area of concern. A coal-burning fire does not present the same magnitude of problems as a gas fire generally. Very few of them blow buildings up. Clearly, however, a number of people die every year as a result of the burning of other fuels. We know from government research that that is so. We have some information about the types of fuel and the part of the system that is involved in such accidents. However, we

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do not know the underlying cause of the deaths--whether it is, for example, poor insulation in the first place, poor maintenance, lack of any maintenance, abuse, or some other cause.

We do not know for sure how many such accidents occur in HMOs or in the wider rented sector; nor do we know whether legislation in this area would be appropriate or effective. The Government will undertake further research to determine the size and nature of the risks. When we have completed that research, we will respond to it appropriately.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for his very helpful reply.

Baroness Hamwee: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 234 to 237 not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 238:

After Clause 72, insert the following new clause--

Power to limit number of occupants in house: supplementary

(". In section 354 of the Housing Act 1985, at the end insert--
"(8) A direction under this section is a local land charge."").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment standing in the names of my noble friend Lord Williams and Elvel and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

The amendment has to do with local land charges and directions that can be made under Section 354 of the Housing Act 1985. If there is a change in ownership, by inserting this stipulation regarding a local land charge, that charge will stay with the premises should there be a new owner. A new landlord would therefore be made fully aware of all legal obligations attaching to the property before such a purchase was made. The new landlord would therefore either have to accept the implications of what was in the local land charge or could decline to purchase the property. In that way there would be a safeguard as to the continuity of this provision when property changed hands from one landlord to another.

Lord Lucas: The noble Lord explained his amendment with great eloquence. I cannot in any way improve on what he said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 73 [Means of escape from fire]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McColl of Dulwich): If Amendment No. 238A is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 239.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 238A:

Page 47, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 48 and insert--
("(3) The local housing authority shall consult, and have regard to the views of, the fire authority concerned before exercising any of the powers mentioned in subsection (2) and shall include the views of the fire authority in any notice issued under section 366.").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the consultation process with the fire authority is one which recognises the

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first-hand knowledge and experience of fire officers in all aspects of fire safety and response to fire and other emergencies. If the Minister can give me assurances as to the extent of the consultation, that will be a welcome response to this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: It goes without saying that we would expect the local authority to take the views of the fire authority on board before taking any action. In view of other circumstances in the property, it may not, however, always be appropriate for the local authority to adopt exactly the solutions recommended by the fire authority; nor could we support them, including the views of the fire authority, in any notice issued under Section 352. Although we do not anticipate many cases where the local authority would serve a notice with different requirements, it could lead to confusion for the recipient if the works required were not exactly the same as those recommended by the fire authority.

Safety is, of course, paramount. We want to ensure that fire authorities are fully aware of the high risk of HMO properties in their areas. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I understand the point about the difficulty of including the views in notices. However, I was not suggesting that the Government took every point that was made by the fire authority but that they had regard to them, which is not quite the same. However, having heard the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 239:

Page 48, line 3, at end insert ("and
(b) after "different areas, and" insert--
"(aa) in particular, shall apply the duty under subsection (2) to houses in multiple occupation which are three or more storeys in height."").

The noble Baroness said: The effect of this amendment is in regard to Section 365 of the 1985 Housing Act. That section gives the Secretary of State the power to specify HMOs towards which local housing authorities have a duty to require that landlords provide adequate means of escape from fire and other fire precautions. The amendment is to provide that all HMOs with three or more storeys would be covered.

I could give to the Committee details of different types of HMOs and houses which would be covered by this provision. I do not believe that I should win Brownie points by reading those details on to the record at this hour. However, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to explain to the Committee what he has in mind with regard to the scope of the extended duty and the timetable for consultation.

I understand that the Government indicated in another place that they are to undertake research into fire risks in HMOs. Perhaps the Minister can explain to the

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Committee what timetable would apply to that and whether the research to be undertaken will inform the scope of the extended duty. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: We have indicated that we would wish to make the duty apply to all HMOs which would be potentially registrable if a local authority were to adopt the department's model registration scheme, providing that the property had three storeys or more. But we want to firm up on the precise coverage of the duty only when the consultation we have promised on this Section 365 order and on our model registration schemes are complete.

Amendment No. 239, if I have understood it correctly, would place a requirement on the face of the legislation to ensure that every HMO with three or more storeys was covered by any new order under Section 365.

We wish to be able to consider excluding such categories as university halls of residence, subject to what may emerge in the consultation. We therefore prefer the freedoms we have under the Bill but quite clearly we are thinking along the same lines as the noble Baroness.

Baroness Hamwee: I do not know whether the Minister can indicate the timing that is likely to apply to the consultation.

Lord Lucas: I do not immediately have any answers as to the timing of the consultation period. It is a matter of prime importance because on it rests the whole HMO scheme. The noble Baroness also asks about the timing of the research. That will start later in the year and will take a year or two as we have to study individual cases.

Baroness Hamwee: I suspect therefore that we shall return to the subject when we see the result of the research. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 73 agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 240:

After Clause 73, insert the following new clause--

Works notices: improvement of enforcement procedures

(". After section 377 of the Housing Act 1985 insert--
"Works notices: improvement of enforcement procedures.
377A.--(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide that a local housing authority shall act as specified in the order before serving a works notice.
In this section a "works notice" means a notice under section 352 or 372 (notices requiring the execution of works).
(2) An order under this section may provide that the authority--
(a) shall as soon as practicable give to the person on whom the works notice is to be served a written notice which satisfies the requirements of subsection (3); and
(b) shall not serve the works notice until after the end of such period beginning with the giving of a notice which satisfies the requirements of subsection (3) as may be determined by or under the order.

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(3) A notice satisfies the requirements of this subsection if it--
(a) states the works which in the authority's opinion should be undertaken, and explains why and within what period;
(b) explains the grounds on which it appears to the authority that the works notice might be served;
(c) states the type of works notice which is to be served, the consequences of serving it and whether there is a right to make representations before, or a right of appeal against, the serving of it.
(4) An order under this section may also provide that, before the authority serves the works notice on any person, they--
(a) shall give to that person a written notice stating--
(i) that they are considering serving the works notice and the reasons why they are considering serving the notice; and
(ii) that the person may, within a period specified in the written notice, make written representations to them or, if the person so requests, make oral representations to them in the presence of a person determined by or under the order; and
(b) shall consider any representations which are duly made and not withdrawn.
(5) An order under this section may in particular--
(a) make provision as to the consequences of any failure to comply with a provision made by the order;
(b) contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary or transitional provisions and savings as the Secretary of State considers appropriate (including provisions modifying enactments relating to the periods within which proceedings must be brought).
(6) An order under this section--
(a) may make different provision with respect to different cases or descriptions of case (including different provision for different areas), and
(b) shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(7) Nothing in any order under this section shall--
(a) preclude a local housing authority from serving a works notice on any person, or from requiring any person to take immediate remedial action to avoid a works notice being served on him, in any case where it appears to them to be necessary to serve such a notice or impose such a requirement; or
(b) require such an authority to disclose any information the disclosure of which would be contrary to the public interest.".").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 240 I hope to speak to it at slightly less length than the amendment.

This amendment meets a commitment given by David Curry, the housing Minister in another place last November, to reflect the principles of enforcement set out in Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It introduces a new clause providing for the Secretary of State to make an order to improve the procedures for enforcement of amenity or safety standards, or management standards under Part XI of the Housing Act 1985. Those new procedures are designed to improve the transparency, fairness and consistency of enforcement processes.

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The main effect of a deregulation order made under this clause would be to allow the existing enforcement procedures to be modified so as to require a local authority to give written notice of its intentions to serve an enforcement notice under Sections 352 or 372 of the 1985 Act, and to hear representations before any formal enforcement action in instigated.

The new enforcement procedures will meet the concerns of some HMO landlords who, when faced with a notice under Sections 352 or 372, have no other recourse than to appeal within 21 days to the county court if they do not think the works demanded are necessary or wholly appropriate--a point raised by my noble friend Lord Gisborough. We believe that formal action should always be looked on as a last resort, and by modifying the procedures of enforcement action in the way provided for by an order under this clause it will help local authorities to reach sensible decisions in consultation with HMO landlords, and ensure that formal enforcement action is only taken where absolutely necessary. I realise that in many areas local authorities have already adopted such a procedure, and have built up good working relations with HMO landlords. This amendment will ensure that such enforcement practice is adopted universally.

We are aware, however, that there are occasions when a local authority needs to take urgent action to protect the safety or welfare of the occupants of a property. Nothing in an order made under this new clause will prevent an authority from taking immediate enforcement action in any case where they believe it is necessary.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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