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Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The amendments to the Bill that he has promised will be extremely welcome to leaseholders in London, particularly those who are suffering badly from the depredations of rogue landlords. One of their greatest problems is the exorbitant cost of enforcing their rights against their freeholders. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any amendments to the Bill are easily and cheaply enforceable, and that the present rights of leaseholders under the leasehold reform legislation are also cheaper to uphold?

Mr. Gummer: I thank my hon. Friend for that. I have suggested that we discuss and consult on our proposal that those matters could be taken out of the hands of the courts and brought before the tribunal. It would be cheaper and easier, and would enable the chairman of the tribunal, who is often a professionally qualified valuer, to use his professional ability--which a judge cannot do. That would help considerably, and I hope that consultation will show it to be the generally accepted view.

Most freeholders behave in a perfectly honourable manner. I am concerned about freeholders such as Bebington and Associates, who write threatening letters. I would also mention the solicitors who support them, and the professional people who claim that their behaviour should be allowed. I hope that we shall have an united view at least on this matter. Those people should not be allowed either to damage the leaseholders or to write

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down the qualities of good freeholders, many of whom do their job as it ought to be done, and who are as angry as anybody else about how certain operators have acted.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman--particularly to his remarks about need. How will he decide the categories? What advice will he give housing allocation officers in respect of people who are living in overcrowded or sub-standard conditions, or who have been on the waiting list a long time? We and the public want the answer.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman will be pleased that, last Thursday, we published the proposed guidelines, a copy of which is in the Library. They bring together all the categories in the legislation, so that the needs of each family can be considered at the same time and on the same basis. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will like that arrangement, and will have no difficulty with it. It is not for me to say which category comes before another. It is for me to say the matters that a local authority must take into account. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find that the guidance is acceptable, and he will not need to worry about that.

One matter that divides us, and I am sorry that it does, is that Labour still wants two categories of allocation for need instead of one. Labour will not, even for the shortest possible moment, allow a homeless family to wait while the best way to provide for its need is decided. Instead of saying that that is reasonable, as most people would say, Labour always makes the sort of argument used by the hon. Member for Attercliffe--that a family of two parents and two children would have to stay in temporary accommodation, change schools and then change again. That is not so, as I told the House.

Mr. Betts: Why not?

Mr. Gummer: Because the time spent in temporary accommodation in circumstances of the extreme kind that the hon. Gentleman cited is bound to be short. If such a family comes to the top of the needs list, it will be accommodated. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the family should be rehoused in advance of people who have more need.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Gummer: No--I want to continue.

I wish to talk about something else in which the hon. Member for Christchurch is very interested--houses in multiple occupation. We are most concerned that standards in some parts of the private rented sector need to be improved. Some of the worst conditions are found in houses in multiple occupancy--the so-called HMOs. They are typically bedsitters or bed-and-breakfast hostels. Local authorities already have powers to require safety and amenity standards to be met, but the Bill goes further. It strengthens local authority powers to register HMOs and to control conditions. If buildings are unsatisfactory, local authorities can close them down.

There are particular concerns in many seaside areas. Former hotels and guest houses have become what are sometimes called benefit hostels. Where they are badly

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managed or there are too many of them, that can have a serious effect. Considerable nuisance is often caused, and sometimes real danger. Such wholesale changes can alter the character of an area, and damage, for example, the tourist industry on which the area specifically depends.

I propose to bring forward amendments to strengthen the Bill's powers further. I propose to allow local authorities to close down HMOs without compensation if they are being run in a way that causes nuisance or annoyance to the neighbourhood. I propose also to allow authorities to prevent new HMOs from opening if to allow additional HMOs would be detrimental to the area. That means that we will cover the whole range of public concerns about buildings that were not meant for the purpose to which they are now being put.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to the Prime Minister for the way in which they have listened to representations from those of us who represent seaside resorts. What my right hon. Friend has just announced will go a long way to meeting the requirements.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify one point? Until now, local authorities have sometimes found serving notice on anybody difficult, because the "anybody" is not clearly defined. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is clearly possible to identify, and if necessary disbar, the manager of such a property, so that it can be closed down and that person can be prevented from running one again?

Mr. Gummer: It will certainly be possible under the proposals to close down properties immediately without compensation. I hope that, in the discussion of how registration might work, we can cover the other aspects that my hon. Friend suggests. We need a simple and straightforward system, not one that is too complex and bureaucratic, and one that delivers the goods on safety and the other concerns that I have outlined.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that students form the single category that would be most affected by the proposals? There are huge numbers of students in big cities, and Leeds now has more than 10,000. I welcome my right hon. Friend's appreciation of the fact that, for years, many students have lived in unsafe and poorly maintained accommodation--although, of course, some landlords are fine.

There is legitimate concern that landlords might have to re-register only every five years. Can my right hon. Friend use his discretion and require more frequent registration? To cover the cost, a fee could be charged for it, as it is for an MOT licence.

Mr. Gummer: I am happy to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. I am trying to achieve a balance between too complex a system which would be too unwieldy to operate, and one which is not sufficiently strong. I hope that we have got the right balance, but if my hon. Friend thinks that there are ways in which we can improve it, I shall certainly consider them.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): My right hon. Friend will know how welcome the proposals he has just announced will be in Blackpool and other seaside towns.

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Will he instruct his officials to monitor carefully the operation of those new powers, not only in the Bill but in the further amendments?

There is concern that, in seaside resorts with Labour or Liberal Democrat or Lib-Lab authorities, councillors are reluctant to operate the powers that are already in existence. There are especial concerns, which have been expressed to me by residents' and hoteliers' associations, about the strong links between Labour councillors and some of the unscrupulous landlords. Will my right hon. Friend ask his officials to investigate?

Mr. Gummer: The Bill will give local authorities the powers to operate sensibly. The reason we have made the changes in the Bill on giving homes according to need is that we want local authorities to make those decisions themselves. It will be the local authority's fault if people in the categories that have been so far trumpeted abroad find themselves in temporary accommodation for a long time. It will be local authorities that will be in a position to carry out that part of the Bill.

We will monitor the situation carefully, but local authorities should be in the driving seat, and local authorities should not be deprived of the powers they now have over their receipts, as the Labour party wishes.I shall be interested to see how the Labour party will explain that.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) rose--

Mr. Raynsford: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), and then I will come back.

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