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Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that reply. I accept that there has to be some immediate action and probably the only way forward at present is to post a notice on a nearby property or part of the house. One would hope with the advent of modern technology and as time moves on that there might be other ways of informing people, but probably that is a few years ahead. However, often these notices are very unsatisfactory. As I said earlier, when it pours with rain they are defaced. One sees that with planning applications. However, there is no other answer at present and I accept what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clauses 40 to 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 [Appeals relating to emergency measures]:

[Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Demolition orders]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 50:

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 50 would forbid a local authority to make a demolition order on an entire property unless the local authority could
 
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show that under the rating system a category 1 hazard was present in all flats contained in the building. This is, in essence, another probing amendment designed to tease from the Government their understanding of what circumstances would prevail for a demolition order to be served.

In theory, a demolition order may be served if there is only one instance of a category 1 hazard present. That raises some interesting questions. Were that to happen, what would be the fate of other individuals living in adjoining flats? Would they be rehoused or simply expected to find other accommodation? How many such orders do the Government expect will be issued every year?

Subsection (9) states that compensation may be available in certain circumstances. Perhaps the noble Lord could confirm whether individuals living in adjoining flats would be covered, and covered in full, under this rather vague statement.

That leads me on to Amendment No. 52, which also tries to bring greater clarity to this area of compensation. Who would decide on the level of compensation and in which circumstances it would apply? We might end up with a mishmash of a system which varies from one authority to the next. Surely it would be better to have published guidance about compensation on a national level, as our amendment seeks to achieve.

The intent in Amendment No. 51 is similar to that in Amendment No. 52. They attempt to understand the Government's thinking when they say that different provisions may apply in different locations and circumstances. Again, I would welcome the Minister's thoughts. How can we have a scheme that applies in one area but not the other?

Clause 48 deals with the local authority's power to charge in cases of enforcement or possible enforcement action. While we can understand that there are situations in which a local authority may want to charge before issuing a notice, we are concerned that, as the Bill presently stands, an authority could still decide to charge although it does not actually serve an enforcement notice. Our Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 would therefore allow an authority to charge only where a notice had been served. That seems a more sensible approach.

These amendments would also appear to apply equally to subsection (3) in cases where an authority was deciding whether to take emergency remedial action. Again I am unsure about the justification or merit of that approach. I therefore look forward, as ever, to the Minister's reply. I hope that he will be able to enlighten me in the gloom and uncertainty surrounding many of these issues. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think I had better carefully take the Committee through this group of amendments and explain some of the background.

Clause 45 substitutes a new Section 265 of the Housing Act 1985 to align the demolition order provisions with the hazard assessment and enforcement provisions in Part 1 of the Bill. That retains the provisions on demolition in
 
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the 1985 Act, of which I am sure the noble Lord is well aware as it was put on the statute book during the lifetime of his party's government. The device that we have used avoids the further lengthening of the current Bill.

Where a local authority has a duty to take the most appropriate enforcement action under Clause 5 in relation to a category 1 hazard in residential premises, making a demolition order is one of the courses of action available to it, unless the premises are the subject of an interim management order or final management order under Part 4. Clause 45 also gives a local authority discretion to make a demolition order if it is satisfied that a category 2 hazard exists, but only in circumstances that may be specified or described by the order.

Amendment No. 50, as the noble Lord has set it out, would prevent a local authority making a demolition order in respect of a building containing one or more flats unless a category 1 hazard existed in all of the flats in the building. I think that the Committee will recognise that that is an extremely stiff test and not one that we feel we can support at all. I recognise that a demolition order is a major step, and I think that the noble Lord will appreciate that these would be extreme circumstances. It is perhaps the most severe step that an authority can take in respect of a single building.

However, it is perhaps worth reminding the Committee that an authority, when confronted with a category 1 hazard, has a duty under Clause 5 to take the most appropriate form of action. In the case of such a hazard in a single flat or in a few of the flats in the building, it may be expected that the authority will be able to deal with the situation in some other way, probably by serving an improvement notice or perhaps by making an order to prohibit the use of a particular flat while the matter is dealt with.

I should also like to draw the noble Lord's attention to Section 269 of the 1985 Act which provides a right of appeal against a demolition order. Section 269A of the Act makes it a possible ground of appeal that the best course of action in the circumstances was not a demolition order but one of the other courses of action for which Part 1 provides.

It is clear, therefore, that there is redress against an authority that oversteps the mark by setting out to make a demolition order without considering very carefully whether another course of action would have been more appropriate and perhaps more proportionate in the circumstances.

Amendment No. 51 would effectively prevent a local authority making a demolition order in response to a category 2 hazard in a building containing one or more flats. The arguments that I deployed in response to the previous amendment also apply here. No authority in its right mind is going to demolish a building in response to a category 2 hazard if there is a better and easier solution to hand.

The Government's view is that such a solution is likely to be available in the majority of cases. However, we do not wish at this stage, or in the future, to remove the option of demolition entirely because it may well be appropriate in extremis. That is why Clause 45(4)(c)
 
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limits such action to circumstances specified or described in an order made by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales.

The Government have no immediate plans to bring forward such an order and would consult very carefully before doing so. We would need strong persuasion that such an order is necessary. Until such an order is made, it will not be possible for an authority to make a demolition order in the circumstances that are clearly troubling the noble Lord.

Amendment No. 52 would require the appropriate national authority to specify the circumstances in which compensation paid following the making of the demolition order may be repaid. This amendment would come into conflict with Section 58(4)(a) of the Housing Act 1985, which makes detailed provision for repayments and requires disputes to be referred to the Lands Tribunal. I do not feel that the intervention of the appropriate national authority in matters in which the Lands Tribunal has great expertise is likely to improve the wisdom of decisions to be made on the repayment of compensation.

Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 seem to intend to ensure that charges can be made only in respect of notices on orders that have actually been served or made. We do not think that those amendments are necessary at all as Clause 48(1) already has that effect. So that point is already covered.

I have spent some time going over the detail. I appreciate that the noble Lord was asking also for other information. I cannot provide figures, but we think that a relatively small proportion of a total of 50,000 annual enforcement actions of all kinds will fall into this category. Compensation will arise if the whole process, including any appeal procedure, is exhausted. However, I cannot provide much more information this evening on that point. I am quite happy to have further research undertaken and to write to the noble Lord on the issue.


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