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Lynne Jones: As my right hon. Friend is aware, in opposition the Labour party campaigned vigorously for the licensing of HMOs. I have in my hand a document produced by the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire when he was shadow housing spokesman, which advocates the licensing of HMOs with four or fewer occupants. Mandatory licensing will apply only to larger HMOs, which will not cover the Bournbrook area of my constituency where
Keith Hill: I fully understand the concerns of my hon. Friend and other Members about that issue. She should remember, however, that the purpose of the legislation is to deal with the management of properties. Where there is clear evidence of defective management, in terms of the poor condition of properties and the antisocial behaviour of the occupants, there is a basis for intervention. We are trying to focus the legislation on the properties most at risk according to all the available evidence; for example, where there is the highest number of fatalities from fire. We are not in the business of regulating the whole sectorthat is not our purpose.
In respect of areas of high student density, our feeling is that the appropriate response from the local authority should be threefold: first, to look carefully at accreditation; secondly, to give greater consideration to the opportunities available through local planning and guidance; and thirdly, to work more carefully with the university authorities. My Department is engaging in depth with the Department for Education and Skills so that we can co-ordinate our approach to problems such as excessive concentrations of students and their wider social implications.
I come to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). Decent homes and respectable neighbourhoods are vital to sustainable communities. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country the problems of house price collapse and of abandonment are exacerbated by the irresponsibility of rogue landlords who buy cheap and rent out properties that are often in poor condition, often to antisocial tenants whose activities further debase the local environment.
The Bill will give local authorities new powers selectively to license private landlords in such areas of low housing demand, or in other areas where there is a particular problem, perhaps of antisocial behaviour, for which licensing could be part of the solution. Local authorities will be able to set new and higher standards of management in such properties. If landlords do not comply, the local authority will have the power to take over the management of the property. We believe those measures will be a helpful addition to the armoury of weapons with which local authorities can already tackle antisocial behaviour. We are open-minded about other circumstances in which licensing, sensitively deployed, could make a vital difference to local communities.
We intend to fulfil our manifesto commitment to introduce new mandatory licensing for the highest risk houses in multiple occupation. I was delighted that Shelter welcomed the proposal as a great step forward. We expect the new mandatory system to cover properties of three or more storeys and which house five or more people who constitute more than one household. Conditions on landlords under licensing will ensure that minimum standards of management are met and maintained, for example, by ensuring that there are safe gas and electrical appliances and that smoke alarms are in proper working order.
Mr. Love: My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are about 1.5 million houses in multiple occupation, yet according to the Financial Times only about 120,000 will be included in the high risk category, which is less than 10 per cent. As we are trying to deal with both poor physical condition and bad management, will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will ensure that all HMOs exhibiting those problems are covered by the legislation?
Keith Hill: I accept that the management of some smaller HMOs can also be of concern, and licensing could offer a solution in the areas where such concerns are widespread. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend. In such circumstances, local authorities will be able to extend licensing to other types of HMOs, following local consultation and with the approval of the appropriate Minister for their schemes. However, in all cases, licensees will need to show that they are fit and proper persons to manage the property and that arrangements are in place to ensure that adequate management standards are met.
Keith Hill: I have taken 10 interventions, which is very generous. I am conscious that I have still to describe much of the Bill and that hon. Members have a great desire to participate in the debate, so I feel that I need to pursue my speech without intervention, as far as I possibly can.
I want to make it wholly clear to the House that we do not intend to license the entire private rented sector. The licensing provisions in the Bill target the highest risk and most problematic private rented accommodation. I say again that the vast majority of private landlords are decent and responsible people. They, along with decent tenants and the local community, will benefit from these provisions.
There are close links between housing and health, and poor housing has safety as well as health implications, particularly for older and vulnerable people. Tackling health and safety issues in housing requires an approach that looks at the impact of the property on the individual, as well as the state of the house itself. The Bill paves the way for that approach by replacing the existing housing fitness standard with new enforcement arrangements based on the housing health and safety rating system. That will help local authorities to prioritise their activities and target properties where the health and safety hazards and the risks to residents are greatest. I am glad to say that the British Medical Association has enthusiastically endorsed those provisions. It said:
The Bill will also continue the modernisation of the right-to-buy scheme, tackling exploitation and reducing profiteering. The Government remain fully committed to the principle of the right to buy. It has helped many thousands of ordinary families to realise their aspirations to own their own homes and it has helped to create stable mixed-tenure communities, but there are loopholes, and the Bill seeks to close them.
We proposed four changes in the draft Bill, including extending the period of qualification for the right to buy and the period during which discount must be repaid if a home is sold on. We have added further provisions following recommendations from the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the home ownership taskforce, including giving social landlords a right of first refusal when an owner wishes to resell a property within 10 years of buying. Properties scheduled for demolition will be exempted from the right to buy, which is particularly relevant where regeneration schemes are proposed. Also, tenants who do deferred resale deals with companies will have to repay discount. Both measures will tackle the profiteering that has escalated the loss of social housing in areas of highest housing need. Making the RTB work better for existing tenants and prospective owners is essential to a comprehensive approach to local housing.
As I have indicated, we are devoting significant funding to the construction of new affordable housing, but it is clearly our duty to ensure that we get value for money from that investment. The Bill therefore provides for the Housing Corporation to pay grant to organisations other than registered social landlords. Similar changes will apply in Wales. That will encourage competition and increase the supply of affordable homes. Commercial developers who receive such grants will be required to reach the same high standards as registered social landlords.