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Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 26, line 28, leave out ("or (2)") and insert (", (2) or (3)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 with Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 56 [Meaning of "the Corporation"]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 33, line 41, leave out ("(other than a registered charity)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 58 [Definitions relating to charities]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 34, line 21, after ("1993") insert (", and "trustee" means a charitable trustee within the meaning of that Act").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 63 [Minor definitions: Part I]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 36, line 19, leave out ("with").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 64 [Index of defined expressions: Part I]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 37, line 56, at beginning insert ("trustee and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 66 [Registration schemes: control provisions]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 41, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) For the purposes of subsections (4) and (5) an appeal under subsection (3)(d) shall be treated as an appeal against a decision of the authority to refuse the application.").

17 Jul 1996 : Column 853

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the powers of the court to deal with appeals made by landlords of houses in multiple occupation against local authorities' actions under the new provisions on registration schemes set out in Clause 65.

The point concerns the case where a local authority has not responded within the prescribed time limits to an application from an HMO landlord for the registration of his property. As currently drafted, the clause provides that the landlord may then appeal to the county court. Amendment No. 12 clarifies that in these cases the court can treat this appeal as if it were an appeal against a refusal to register. The court will then have full powers to grant the application as made or as varied in such manner as the court may direct. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 69 [Information requirements in connection with registration schemes]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 46, line 32, after ("(2)") insert ("of the authority's intention to make a scheme or submit a scheme for confirmation").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak at the same time to Amendment No. 14.

My noble friend Lord Gisborough suggested in Committee that the requirements for publicity for HMO registration schemes should be extended. I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this matter, and Amendment No. 14 meets the point he made.

In addition to the scheme being available to the public, the register itself will also be available for public inspection. The public would also be able to take copies of entries in the register, for a reasonable fee.

Amendment No. 13 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 14. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I may--

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for adding the amendment as a result of the proposal that I put forward.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister a question. However, I wished to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, as, in a sense, he was the progenitor of this amendment.

Amendment No. 14 provides for the scheme to be kept,

    "for as long as the scheme is in force".
I believe that it will be necessary for the details to be kept available for considerably longer than the scheme may be in force--for instance, if there are prosecutions or civil proceedings. Six years would seem to be the minimum period. I shall be grateful if the Minister will confirm that the provision in the proposed new subsection (4) is merely limited to inspection and is, if I may so put it, without prejudice to the requirement to

17 Jul 1996 : Column 854

have the details available for as long as they may be needed for future court proceedings, either civil or criminal.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, indeed, yes, that is my understanding of the wording of the amendment. What we are talking about here is the exposure of the documents to the public, not the underlying requirements on the authority to keep proper records and to keep them for a sensible length of time. I commend the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 46, leave out lines 39 to 47 and insert--
("(4) After publication of notice under subsection (1) or (2) that a registration scheme has been made or confirmed, and for as long as the scheme is in force, the local housing authority--
(a) shall keep a copy of the scheme, and of the register, available for public inspection at the offices of the authority free of charge at all reasonable hours, and
(b) on request, and on payment of such reasonable fee as the authority may require, shall supply a copy of the scheme or the register, or of any entry in the register, to any person.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 15:

After Clause 73, insert the following new clause--

House in multiple occupation: immunity from damage claims

(" . A local housing authority shall be immune from any claim for damages by the tenant or occupier of a house in multiple occupation or any resident in a house in multiple occupation by reason of anything done or not done by the authority in the exercise of their powers under section 352 of the Housing Act 1985 or by reason of any failure on their part to exercise such powers.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at Report stage I proposed various amendments which expressed the concern of landlords about local authorities which might act unreasonably in their demands for excessive standards and requirements in relation to the duty of care.

My noble friend the Minister said that those fears were ungrounded because local authorities would be reasonable. I believe that the attitude of local authorities will indeed vary and some in fact will not be reasonable. I can think of certain authorities to which that might apply. There will be cases where the demand to undertake certain works will be economically unviable.

However, let us forget those unreasonable authorities. Let us assume that my noble friend is right and that all authorities are reasonable and require work to be done which could be considered reasonable for the type of house, and so on. There will inevitably be incidents such as fires, and so on. It would then be possible for a tenant to sue the local authority because the local authority was reasonable and did not insist on some specific aspect. There is an accident, and the local authority is sued. The next step will be that all local authorities will insist on every provision in order to protect themselves from being sued.

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The amendment simply frees local authorities from the danger of being sued. The local authorities can then afford to take the risk of being reasonable in their requirements regarding work that they insist on being undertaken. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his flattery. The previous amendments were tabled in response to a point raised by him, as I said. Flattery will get my noble friend a long way but not as far as my agreeing to this amendment.

I do not believe that the duty of care which we are placing on landlords in Clause 73 will affect the liability of local housing authorities. The thrust of case law on this matter, from fields as diverse as building control, social services and education, indicates that as long as a local authority acts reasonably and properly it would not be held liable under a general duty of care for exercising its discretion under Section 352 of the Act. My noble friend clearly believes that this is difficult to establish, but we have to proceed on the assumption that authorities will act reasonably, and will be allowed to continue to act reasonably. That is the basis of so much of our legislation in this area. To date, we have always been justified in proceeding on that assumption.

If a local authority does not act reasonably, landlords of HMOs will be able to appeal against unreasonable enforcement notices, having been forewarned of them by a "minded-to" notice under Clause 76.

I am sorry that I cannot give my noble friend the same encouragement that I was able to give on his previous amendment at Report stage. However, given what I have said, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Who am I to argue about the legal requirements and liabilities of the council? No doubt my noble friend's words will help in any case that may be brought. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 74 [Section 354 direction to be local land charge]:

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