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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the concerns of landlords which my noble friend has eloquently described. I can understand that many landlords are concerned that local authorities will act unreasonably in demanding excessive standards and requirements. I think however that those fears are ungrounded because there are various important safeguards already contained in these provisions.

Amendment No. 245 would remove the ability for any tenants, or others who suffer loss or injury because of a breach of the duty of care under the clause, to sue for damages. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that where a landlord has failed to provide proper facilities or adequate fire precautions, it is correct that tenants or others affected should be able to obtain redress. If the tenant is responsible for lack of fire precautions, he will get nowhere in court.

Amendment No. 246 proposes that various factors should be taken into account when deciding that a breach of the duty has occurred--such as the age and location of the property. It also provides that there should be some consideration of whether the amount of works a local authority may wish to see carried out to a property are in proportion to the risks to the tenants. Either party could argue that because of these factors the code of practice which the Government propose to make setting out a new national standard for HMOs, was not appropriate and the standards demanded were not reasonably practical to achieve and it would be for the court to reach a judgment on the facts of each case.

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I fear that the proposal outlined in Amendment No. 248 would have some very undesirable side effects. Requiring local authorities to react to every request from landlords to inspect and certify their properties would be unrealistic.

Local authorities would find their time taken up inspecting and certifying HMOs managed by responsible landlords and kept in a reasonable condition, when they should be focusing their expertise on those properties most at risk where the worst conditions can be found. We have for some time been encouraging local authorities to adopt a risk assessment approach in dealing with HMO problems. Many have already adopted such methods. Although well intentioned, the proposal could throw those strategies into disarray.

Finally, Amendment No. 247 would exempt all premises which have been registered by a local authority operating a scheme with control provisions, from the duty of care under the clause. I accept that when a property has been registered by the local authority it will be of an appropriate standard, and the manager is unlikely to be in breach of the duty of care. There is no guarantee, however, that these standards will be maintained throughout the intervening five-year period.

The duty of care requires the landlord to take only reasonably practicable steps. If the code changes, no doubt it will say something about transitional provisions, depending on the circumstances. Often, it will not be appropriate to upgrade to the latest standard if reasonably modern standards have been complied with. Compliance with works required in a Section 352 notice by the local authority would be prima facie evidence that the duty of care had been complied with in respect of that matter. I hope that what I have said contains sufficient comfort for my noble friend and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that explanation. He speaks with utter reasonableness, as if local authorities will be reasonable. Indeed, I hope they will. However, there have been cases where local authorities have insisted upon unreasonable provisions and even ones which, as I mentioned, contradicted one another and left people not knowing what to do. However, provided that they act on that, and take a reasonable attitude, all will be well. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 246 to 248 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 249:


After Clause 75, insert the following new clause--

The management code

(".In section 369 of the Housing Act 1985, in subsection (2), after "gardens in common use" insert--
("gas-fired and solid fuel appliances".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is very simple: it is to bring the checking of gas-fired and solid fuel heating appliances within the remit of the management code contained in the Housing

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Act 1985. I am sure that the Minister has studied the matter with great care and that he will be able to give me some reassurance in that respect. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I moved an amendment at the last stage with regard to fuel appliances. At that time, the Minister indicated that the Health and Safety Commission was bringing forward an urgent amendment and that it intended to issue a consultative document this month with a view to introducing regulations by the end of October. When replying, I wonder whether the noble Lord can give us any current news with regard to the commission's consultation.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not certain whether that information from my advisers will reach me in time for me to forward it to the noble Baroness now. Nonetheless, I shall speak fairly fast. I have considerable sympathy with the concern expressed by the noble Lord about the dangers of carbon monoxide and his wish that there should be clear and effective enforcement of maintenance standards in houses of multiple occupation to minimise those risks.

In relation to the specific amendment proposed, I should tell the noble Lord that we feel it to be unnecessary. It seeks to amend Section 369 of the Housing Act 1985, which provides for the Secretary of State to issue a code of management practice for HMOs. The section as presently drafted gives specific examples such as water supply, drainage and fire precautions to which any code may apply, and I agree that there may be a slight presentational advantage for it to refer also to gas and solid fuel appliances. However, I should point out that the management code currently in force does contain a section dealing with gas and electricity appliances, and space and water heating installations. Therefore I do not see any real advantage to be gained in amending the section in the way proposed, especially as there is no reference in the amendment to electric or oil-fired appliances.

My understanding is that the current arrangements work satisfactorily. Local authority enforcement officers have the lead responsibility in enforcing standards in HMOs, but, if they wish to invoke the additional powers under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations, they can call in inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive.

I am sorry to have to confess that I do not have with me details of the dates as regards the Health and Safety Commission's consultations on changes in the gas safety regulations. However, I shall write to the noble Baroness on the matter. It may also be helpful if I offer to write to my honourable friend Sir Paul Beresford, the Minister responsible for the work of the HSE, and invite his views about the problems which have been raised in this and previous debates both by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. When that information is available, either I or my honourable friend will write to the noble

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Lord and the noble Baroness. I hope that that response will be sufficient to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, well, it is not very good. We have had this discussion both in Committee and, indeed, now on Report. Nevertheless, I accept that the Minister is showing us a certain amount of goodwill. If the machine can produce the relevant information at the relevant time before the Bill leaves this House, then I think I will be happy--as I hope the noble Baroness will be--with the Minister's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 250:


After Clause 76, insert the following new clause--

Making of control order

(". In section 379 of the Housing Act 1985 (making of control order), after subsection (4) insert--
"(5) Within eight weeks of the date of service of the control order, the local housing authority shall serve on the dispossessed proprietor notice of their intention to--
(a) revoke the control order; or
(b) retain the control order; or
(c) make a compulsory purchase order.
(6) Where the authority have exercised their powers under subsection (5) above, the dispossessed proprietor may appeal within twenty-one days to the county court on the grounds that the decision of the local authority was unreasonable.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the effect of the amendment that I propose is to extend from four to eight weeks the period within which, after making a control order under Section 379 of the Housing Act 1985, a local housing authority must decide on the course of action it intends to take to follow up the making of the control order. A similar proposal was moved in Committee by my noble friend but as part of far-reaching reforms to local authorities' powers in relation to control orders. We thought at that point that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave a rather sympathetic reply and I very much hope that the noble Lord will give a sympathetic reply to the amendment that I move on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dubs. I beg to move.


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