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Dr. Desmond Turner: I have great sympathy for both amendments, which effectively state the same thing. It is unfortunate that they apply to a clause that is about to disappear. However, the strong point on which there is cross-party agreement is that there should be a level playing field for the standards to which landlords, be they public or private, are expected to conform. I hope that the Minister will address that.
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Mr. Baron: To reinforce the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, I bring to the Committee's attention the preliminary results in the report on the survey of English housing. They showed that greater dissatisfaction existed among RSL tenants as regards the state of their accommodation than among those in the private rented sector. That reinforces the need for amendments Nos. 47 and 50, despite the fact that the clause is about to disappear.
Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, there is an anomaly, it should be corrected and I hope that we will have an opportunity to do just that.
Mr. Sayeed: Previously in Committee, I asked the Minister to confirm that the burdens that would be placed on RSLs would be no less onerous than those placed by the Bill on landlords who are letting HMOs. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk stated that the provisions of the Bill should apply to every landlord equally. That would be preferable, providing that the requirements on an RSL are not more onerous than those on a landlord of an HMO. If those requirements are not more onerous, and bearing in mind that RSLs deal particularly with the most disadvantaged people, it would be better if RSLs came within the ambit of the Bill.
The Bill would set up a HECA—Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—officer in every local authority. A HECA officer would be extremely useful to those who live in RSLs. The Bill would set up a system to invigilate, organise and ensure that there are common reporting procedures. The more widely one uses the same system, the more efficient it tends to be. There would need to be particularly compelling reasons, and not just that that is the way in which it has been done before, to persuade me that RSLs should not be under the ambit of the Bill.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South has acknowledged, I recognise that this is like talking about a black hole or dead star. The star has almost gone, and it will go in the next few minutes. We require confirmation from the Minister that if the requirements placed on RSLs were no less than the requirements in the Bill, and that they were to be as well invigilated, he would give favourable consideration to ensuring that RSLs were part of the Bill.
Mr. Meacher: There is clearly cross-party agreement that we should have a look at that issue. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Norfolk seeks to bring back into the mandatory registration scheme properties owned by RSLs and local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South also seeks to include RSLs within the regime. I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown is a convert to that. I recall that on Second Reading he neatly summarised the case for not including such properties. The argument, which is valid so he need not be embarrassed, is that as public sector bodies are under a degree of control—for example, by the housing corporation in the case of RSLs—they are required to meet certain conditions. It would be odd or perverse if local authorities, which are
Column Number: 138responsible for enforcing the regime, were included within its scope. I understand the argument and accept the principle that the standards expected of private landlords should apply in the public sector, and the disciplines in the public sector should ensure that that is so. However, there are cases in which that does not happen and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South quoted one. I hope that the Committee will accept that when I say that we are prepared to reconsider the case for not exempting RSLs, that is a matter for secondary legislation.
I understand the arguments concerning local authorities, but there are fundamental difficulties in applying to them a registration scheme that cannot be resolved in time to be included in the Bill. I take note, as will those in the DTLR who will read our debate, of the widespread feeling about that. We shall look again at the question concerning RSLs and if we decide to move, it will be in secondary legislation.
I am grateful for the debate
Mr. Bacon: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Meacher: I am about to finish, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to say something, he had better be quick.
Mr. Bacon: Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify his point about secondary legislation? Is he saying that the Bill will include the sentence about registered social landlords not being registrable in any event but that he will then negate it in secondary legislation?
Mr. Meacher: If we decided after reconsideration that RSLs should be included on the same principle as private landlords and if we thought it appropriate to put that in secondary legislation, we would have to make changes consistent with that on Report.
Mr. Bacon: On the basis of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Meacher: It might be appropriate to explain why we feel that clause 8 should not stand part of the Bill. Government new clauses 2 and 7 replace sections 346 and 345 of the Housing Act 1985. Under those new clauses, the Secretary of State would be able to prescribe what is an HMO, while allowing local authorities to enjoy their existing discretion to introduce legislation concerning only smaller HMOs. We might repent at leisure if the Bill is unduly prescriptive in describing properties that are HMOs. There is much dissatisfaction with existing descriptions, so we should not hastily prescribe in primary legislation what can be left to a statutory instrument. That is why I move that the clause does not stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Simpson: To tidy up matters, I wish to clarify that I shall not press amendment No. 50 to a Division. I do not know whether I should beg to ask leave to withdraw it.
The Chairman: That is not necessary.
Question put and negatived.
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