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Mr. Simpson: Although the idea is attractive, the more we explore it, the more uncertainties we discover. It is difficult to separate the issue of housing benefit entitlement from the question of whether added costs will be transferred to the tenant. Consequently, it may not be possible to use such an arrangement as a lever to effect improvements in the quality of the property. That is one of the main reasons why a national licensing scheme is the answer. It would clearly tell landlords that they must meet minimum standards if they want to hold a licence to operate a house in multiple occupation. Such an arrangement would ensure that we do not trap those who are often the most vulnerable tenants between their landlords and their housing benefit.
Mr. Sayeed: The hon. Gentleman has doubts about my suggestion that there should be some flexibility. However, as some of the properties that we are considering are older, and some of them may be listed, obtaining the consent of Government agencies may be one of the steps required to make a house more fuel efficient. If experience is anything to go by, obtaining such consent can be somewhat time consuming. There may therefore have to be some flexibility.
Mr. Simpson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point, which seems entirely reasonable and should be covered by the regulations. Parliament needs to provide clear delineation between what is flexible and what is optional, because optional provisions have left those who are most reluctant to comply feeling that they have no real requirement to do so.
I am quite relaxed about the timetableI do not want landlords to feel trapped into compliancebut we need to establish a commitment that commands the overwhelming support of the House and the country. We need to decide how to achieve a great social good in order to eliminate a serious and embarrassing social evil, and everyone who so wishes should feel empowered to be part of that.
We have to deal with the optional avenue and ensure that landlords will not be in a position to presume that gaps in the legislation provide opportunities for non-compliance, which would expose tenants to fuel poverty. However many would be affected by an optional opt-outthe 20 per cent. in HMOs that are below minimum standards or the 40 per cent. who are in fuel povertyParliament has a duty to prevent that from happening. The elimination of fuel poverty is a huge challenge and meeting it will require both ingenuity in respect of insulation and new ideas about providing access to renewable energy supplies for the poorest tenancies in the land.
Many of the options involving renewables that figured in the energy review or the national fuel poverty review will be taken up by those who are environmentally conscious and economically powerful in the housing sector; the challenge will be to make the same options available to the fuel poor. The ability to access renewable energy goes beyond low-energy light bulbs, double
I look forward to consideration of the Bill in Committee. It is a terrific triumph of the partnership that has been built up in the campaign to end fuel poverty. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown on having the courage and wisdom to promote the Bill and I look forward to the solidarity and support that has been declared today by hon. Members on both sides of the House being reflected in Committee.
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) on his success in the ballot for private Members' Bills. We all enter raffles where we are not so keen to win one of the prizes, but I had to wait until my 17th attempt. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was very pleased to be successful this time and I commend him on his splendid choice of Bill.
As all hon. Members have said today, it is a scandal that so many people live in fuel poverty. It is also crazy that when people heat their houses so much energy is lost into the atmosphere, thus damaging our environment. The hon. Gentleman has certainly persuaded me completely this time; he failed to do so yesterday on cloning, but today I am entirely at one with him.
I hope that all hon. Members will support Second Reading of the Bill. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) expressing his rightful and justified concerns. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) said, let us get the Bill into Committee, examine it more carefully and deal with those issues.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the concerns that the Government could address is the fact that there is no arrangement for outside validation of the success achieved in reducing the amount of energy used and the emissions caused? Why have the Government so far refused to have independent monitoring? My fear is that we will reach 2012 only to discover that the Government have not met their targets.
Mr. Amess: I cannot answer my right hon. Friend's second question. He has enormous expertise and travels the world making his case on these matters. I thank him for his intervention and I am sure that when the Minister returns to her place, a note will be passed to her and she will address those points in her reply to the debate.
Returning to the legitimate concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, I hope that the Bill will progress into Committee. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said, let us all work together on this excellent Bill, perhaps improve it and make sure that it delivers our intentions.
On the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 and the strategy that the Government announced a few days ago, there was a long consultation period between February and November involving nearly 300 organisations. I do not wish to sound churlish, but I have two outstanding concerns. I do not know whether a date has been set for the elimination of fuel poverty and I am still somewhat concerned about the definition of that
The Bill ties in with the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act. I salute the fact that it provides a mechanism for tackling fuel poverty among those who are hardest to reach. When, in Committee, we were considering what became the Housing Act 1996, we were limited in our approach. We know that a higher proportion of people living in HMOs are in fuel poverty than those living in any other type of housing, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown seeks to address that in the Bill. I cannot remember who the Minister was when we were considering the Housing Bill in Committee, but at the time I thought the Government were doing a splendid job. Looking back at it now, however, it could have been a more robust measure in some respects. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is right to have raised concerns, but I am still pleased that the private rented sector constitutes a major plank of the Bill. That sector is the hardest to improve with Government schemes, because there is less control than in public housing. There are fewer incentives for landlords than for owner-occupiers to improve energy efficiency. I hope that we can consider that in Committee.
The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act required an overall strategy for tackling fuel poverty in all houses, but the Bill provides a useful licensing mechanism for the worst homes. I understand that we all need somewhere to live, but in two parts of my constituency, Westborough and Westcliff, it is absolutely crazy that some of the houses have been converted for multiple occupation. I recognise that people cannot afford to maintain some of the big houses, but the way in which they have been converted into tiny little bedsits is a disgrace.
What is worse, some of our terraced houses have umpteen people in them. I get inundated with complaints from local residents when new tenants move in and behave disgracefully. I know that the Bill does not deal with that, but I want to flag up my concerns. People who have lived in an area for a long time suddenly find that people with the lowest possible social standards have moved in, chucking their rubbish around, dumping cars on the front verges and having all-night parties. It is an absolute disgrace.