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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that full reply. It is important to say that all the measures that I have proposed are being asked for by local authorities. Not for the first time, I welcome the fact that there is a timescale for reviewing how this will proceed and that some of the points we have made here and at previous stages of the Bill will be considered.
I have already suggested periods in which it is reasonable for landlords to take actionthree years, five years and one year. I am quite clear that three years is a reasonable time in which to deal with a category one hazard, and I think that local authorities are as well, so I am very disappointed that the Government have not moved on that issue. We are talking about severe hazards.
Amendment No. 76 would give local authorities the very discretion that the Government have been saying they have given them in legislation for a number of years. We have welcomed that legislation. This is what is so frustrating for local authorities. With one hand we give them discretion and powers to do things, but when we see the detail of some Bills we decide that we will not give them those powers after all. Given that the Government have been cautious in how wide the scope is for bringing in licensing of houses in multiple occupation, to draw so tightly the other areas to which local authorities can extend is not helpful. However, I welcome the fact that the Government will review this in three years' time.
These are important issues. I think that the Government realise that, and all we can hope is that as they draw up the regulations, our words ring in their ears. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed this matter at some length in Committee. Amendment No. 45 would place on an authority a duty to make public as wide as possible its decision to extend the licensing scheme to a certain property.
We have just had a debate about local discretion for local authorities. As the Minister knows, I am much in favour of giving local authorities additional powers. In fact, I fight the whole time for the Government to give my own authority more power. However, on this issue it is important that we put in place a specific and understood mechanism by which a local authority should be able to inform local people of its decision. As drafted, the Bill provides that local authorities should take "reasonable steps". We on these Benches do not feel that that is sufficient. What exactly is meant by "reasonable steps"? I beg to move.
As we have said in the past, it is important that regulation is targeted at properties where the worst problems exist. Often these sorts of properties may well be concentrated in a particular area, such as areas with a high number of properties let to students. Such properties often have two storeys and are occupied by four people. They fall outside the type of property that is subject to mandatory licensing.
Amendment No. 45 would require a local housing authority, in addition to consulting those likely to be affected by an additional licensing designation, to publicise the intent of the designation electronically outside the relevant properties and in the local media. We debated this proposal in Committee, for both additional HMO licensing and selective licensing. I appreciate the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has madeindeed, I have some expressed sympathy with itbut I am going to disappoint him by saying that I am unconvinced that amending the provision in the manner suggested would be of benefit.
I shall briefly put the case for the status quo. There is nothing to be gained by prescribing to local authorities the methods that they must use to disseminate information concerning consultations on licensing schemes. I would be rather surprised if a local authority chose not to use any of the three forms of publicity that are specified in the amendment, but I would trust that the authority in question knew its own business well enough and was able to decide how best to contact the relevant parties. After all, Clause 56(3)(a) provides that local housing authorities should take reasonable steps to consult those likely to be affected by the designation. Authorities will know that any failure to take their consultation requirements seriously could provoke a judicial review. Moreover, the appropriate national authority will need to be satisfied that effective consultation has taken place before it will confirm an additional licensing scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham, Lady Hamwee, and Lady Maddock, and I have a great deal of local government experience between us. I was thinking of adding it all together and telling everybody how much experience we have, but I have declined from that act of mathematics. Suffice it to say that we have bags of local government experience and we all know how important consultation is. We know that local authorities are very imaginative in consulting with communities in different ways, by which I mean interested communities, at which the clause is aimed.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. He has obviously accepted our point that consultation and publicity need to be very wide. As I said earlier, a great deal of the consultation is going to be implemented by very, very small district councils, which have neither the resources nor, sometimes, the capacity to do it. Recent surveys of local government have shown that some of them lack the ability to do it. I know of one or two district councils which are unable to cope with their responsibilities at the moment. I accept that the larger authorities have the mechanisms in place, but it would have helped to make clear to those very small authorities the way forward. However, I accept what the Minister has said.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord means by "very, very small" authorities. I know that he is a county man and that he may consider many districts to be very small, but does he not accept that many small authorities are better at consulting and are closer in touch with their public than some of the very big ones?
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I said "very small" authorities. I am in the process of helping one or two very small authorities deal with the complexities of modern-day legislation. There are some very good small local authorities, but there are some very small ones which lack capacity and need advice and support in meeting the requirements of some modern legislation. Some advice in the Bill might help them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.