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12.8 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I hope to make a brief speech. I have a properly declared interest, as I let a property at a maintenance-level rent. As a landlord, I welcome the Bill. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) is doing the House a great service in introducing an extremely important measure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has already said that Conservative Members support unreservedly the provisions in the Bill that address fuel poverty, and that we broadly support the provisions that deal with energy conservation. I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks and move swiftly on to the third pillar of the Bill—the registration of houses in multiple occupation. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown said that that was the most important pillar, without which the other provisions would fall.

Hon. Members who represent seaside towns—many of whom have been in the Chamber this morning—are only too well aware of the deleterious effect of the decline in the hotel and guest house market and the consequent increase in the transfer of those properties to use as houses in multiple occupation. In North Thanet, particularly in Cliftonville, that has been marked over the past 20 years or so. There has been an influx of people from all over the country, and from all over the world, first as benefit claimants and more recently as asylum seekers. They have

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moved into properties that are unfit for habitation by the numbers of people and the kinds of family who have been using them.

Throughout my 16 or so years in the House I have campaigned for legislation on the proper registration of HMOs. The last Conservative Government gave local authorities powers to introduce licensing schemes. Thanet council applied to the Department of the Environment, as it then was, for a scheme, finally had it approved and introduced it. That has had some beneficial effect, but it would be wrong to believe that it has been sufficient to control the abuse of some of the properties in my constituency.

I could have taken the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) and virtually transposed it to Cliftonville in my constituency. It is interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman has experienced the same problems in an inner-city constituency as have those of us representing seaside constituencies.

My reservation about part 3 was the subject of my intervention, in which I named two organisations. I feel a need to clarify my earlier comments. It saddens me that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown has chosen, at least for the moment, to exclude registered social housing groups from compulsory registration. Although there is regulation designed to control registered social landlords, and although in theory they already comply with much that is in the Bill and would apply to other landlords, those schemes do not appear to be satisfactorily policed.

I should declare another, vicarious interest, as my daughter occupies a home next door to a Notting Hill housing trust property. It is my personal view that the property is ill managed and has a bad effect on the surrounding neighbourhood. Like many such properties, it consists of terraced houses, and the behaviour and the management of people in one property are bound to impinge, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North–West said from his experience, on adjacent properties.

If fire breaks out, if the property is badly managed, and if there are inadequate fire precautions and fire escapes, it is not just the property itself that is at risk, but adjoining properties as well. I feel strongly that organisations such as Notting Hill housing trust that neglect their responsibilities to their tenants and to their properties should be brought within the ambit of the scheme.

The other organisation that I mentioned was English Churches housing. Sadly, over the past couple of years I have received more complaints from residents, constituents and tenants of English Churches housing than from any other single organisation in my constituency. I am sure that the authorities take the view that if the words "English Churches" appear in the title of a business, it must be reputable. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown should reflect on part 3 and review the matter in Committee—I trust that the Bill will reach Committee. He should consider whether there is a strong case for bringing registered social housing within the ambit of the Bill not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire suggested, on the expiry of the current licence for social housing registration, but immediately. None the less, I hope very much that the Bill will get its Second Reading and be given a fair wind so that it can pass through the Committee stage and become stronger and better, and a very valuable Act of Parliament.

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12.15 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I, too, am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, just as I was when similar matters were discussed in relation to the private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), which became the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. I shall not add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), as I think that he has had enough congratulations already and I do not, in this place at least, want flattery to get a bad name. Of course, he has done sterling work in uniting many different groups to sponsor the Bill and we all appreciate that.

I share a constituency office with the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who, despite being without portfolio, has immense political remit and power. Almost every day, we are made aware of the housing problems of our constituents in all parts of Norwich, whether they concern damp, availability or anything else. Even in a fair city such as Norwich—some would say it is the future of Britain—we are acquainted with such problems, which are similar to those in Leeds and elsewhere.

Norwich city council, which has been Labour controlled for many years, has earned the plaudits of people throughout the nation for its handling of council housing and the way it has sought to prevent the slide into profiteering and privatisation. Councillor Bernard Smith, who holds the cabinet portfolio for housing and social care, recently said:

He went on:

Councillor Smith pointed out that Norwich city council owns and manages about 18,500 homes and has 1,500 residential leaseholders. Finally, he said:

Some hon. Members might see that as the East Anglian road to socialism, but throughout the many years the Labour council has been sustained in Norwich, it has continually gained renewed support among the city's tenants and voters.

I make no apologies for mentioning Norwich and using it as an example of some of the issues that we have discussed. After all, Norwich city council and Norwich itself have been savaged many times by the organically grown John Humphrys on Radio 4—criticising policies

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on chestnut or conker trees and window boxes on high-level flats. It is about time we fought back and talked about some of the amazing things that have happened in Norwich in relation to housing.

On carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, a world-class group, the climatic research unit, is based at the local university. Its interests cover all aspects of climate change and it has advised the Government on many issues in the past few years. It was awarded the Tyndal centre, which is now an international unit that studies the effects of global warming. Mike Hulme, its director, stated:

I will not put that into Fahrenheit. Celsius was mentioned this morning, but many of us still work in Fahrenheit. That is to do with our education. Mike Hulme continues:

Considerations of climate change will have an impact on customers, corporations and countries. They will gradually become active agents in pre-empting the effects of climate change through precautionary adaptations and reacting to change by altering their behaviour patterns, investment plans, and regulatory policies, and in planning their homes and communities. The Bill stands alongside that vision and aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases.

How is Norwich handling the problem? The university, city council and other organisations are working in partnership through a new Government initiative called the Carbon Trust. It is a good example of the academic community working with those outside its ivory tower. In Norwich, the requisite reductions will take place, and plans are afoot to reduce emissions to 60 per cent. by 2020, in a pilot study. That means targeting every household, school, housing and development project manager and transport provider in the city.

The study will be especially important for houses in multiple occupation. Many students live there. When I took richer students from the United States around Norwich, they sometimes asked where the poor people lived. I showed them some of the places where the students lived. There are many poor quarters in the United States, but it does richer students good to remember that some students live in the conditions that other hon. Members have described.

We have also considered fuel poverty; it has been discussed in the House several times. As I have said on previous occasions, although the Government's heating allowances constitute a tremendous initiative, people still shiver and suffer for lack of heat in this country. That damages people's health and makes them susceptible to infections. There is a formula, which has been discussed previously, for calculating the increase in deaths in the winter months between December and March. Eighty- eight per cent. are due to vascular problems and infections, not to hypothermia, from which few deaths result. Figures have been produced that show that nearly

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23,000 people die as a result of excess winter mortality in this country. I am sure that the real figures are much higher; I believe that they would be 50 per cent. higher if we recorded them differently.

The evidence is clear. The coldest countries do not have the worst winter mortality rates. That is attributed to warmer houses, wearing more clothes and more physical activity. Excess winter deaths vary between the ages of 45 to 75 and between social classes. We apply the formula every year in Norwich, where 200 to 300 extra deaths occur in winter. The Bill will help, through provisions on central heating and so on, to improve the figures and reduce deaths. I believe that that ambition will be easily achieved.

I am not in a position to give individuals advice. I would not want to do that because I believe that we need collective action, for which the Bill tries to provide. My constituency covers Broadland council as well as Norwich's. Those councils have affordable warmth policies. They have standards that they try to maintain, they give grants and they carry out energy conservation. They have a long way to go, however.

I shall outline precisely what Norwich has done recently. It hosted the eastern consultation on the Bill in Norwich city hall, and the conclusion was that there was a need to bring the performance of the poorer-performing councils up to standard. It was decided to focus on activity, and to make the appointment of an energy efficiency officer a statutory post. There were worries that the council might be restricted in exercising its discretion, and that central Government might be over-prescriptive, so I look forward to hearing the Minister's views on that.

A large percentage—some 35 per cent.—of Norwich's housing stock is owner occupied, and large sums have been invested in those houses for energy efficiency. In 2000–01, almost £500,000 was invested in insulation, £1,170,000 in heating and hot water systems, and £866,000 in replacing windows, with private owners receiving grants of £88,000 for insulation and £356,000 for heating and hot water systems. That is an amazing start, but it covers only a small percentage of the homes that need investment. There is a long way to go; only 2,000 homes have benefited so far, and we look forward to more resources being invested. The Bill clearly attempts to empower local councils and to address the problems of persuading and encouraging private owners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Norwich city council has consistently supported the need for licensing HMOs, and supports the reform of the current piecemeal legislation. We also need to bring the legislation up to date to tackle the problem of irresponsible landlords, and to ensure that it is enforceable and clear in its requirements. It would be a tragedy if this Bill did not soar into legislation.

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