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Mr. Edward Davey: It is important that Members in the other place and people outside Parliament realise that Members of the elected Chambernot only Opposition but Labour Membershave been angered by the Government's frustration of genuine democratic debate on key housing issues. That is an absolute disgrace. We look to the other place to help to put that right.
I regret having to say this, but we and our colleagues on the Labour Benches who have worked with us throughout the proceedings of the Bill on issues such as warm homes, tenancy deposit schemes and empty homesissues that are crucial to our constituents and that we hear about in our surgeries week in and week outhave been prevented from debating them in the proper way in which they should be debated during the Report stage of a big housing Bill. That is an absolute disgrace, and it is one of the reasons why I hope that some Labour Members will have the courage to register in the Lobby their frustration at the Government's handling of the Bill.
It is a shame that I have to say that, because parts of the Bill are welcome. The selective licensing regime in part 3 is particularly welcome, for example, in regard to tackling antisocial behaviour. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) said, part 1 represents a step forward in dealing with poor housing conditions, although there are real concerns about whether it can be implemented and whether the system that has been devised is too complex. Those concerns came out in the debate today, showing that there are worries even about the good parts of the Bill. Some of us have been campaigning for a long time for the measures in part 2
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on houses in multiple occupation, but they do not go far enough, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe had the courage to say.
It is disappointing that, despite this opportunity to achieve some real goals and take some real steps forward, the Government have taken only two very nervous steps forward without advancing their cause more courageously or ambitiously. I would have liked the Bill to contain measures on giving landlords a more positive role. Landlords could play a key part in improving the private rented sector, and the Government need to find ways of engaging with them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) mentioned in the curtailed debate on HMOs, and ways of working with organisations such as the National Landlords Association, to see whether training and accreditation schemes could be used to raise the quality of landlords so that they could deliver on some of these measures.
The Liberal Democrats have particular concerns about part 5 of the Bill. We believe that the home information packs represent a totally unnecessary regulation. The owner-occupier market manages to carry out more than 1.2 million transactions a year. There seems to be a prima facie case, therefore, for saying that that market is not failing, but succeeding. People manage to move home very effectively, and when a purchase falls through, it tends to be because someone's financial position has changed or because they have to move somewhere else because of their job. Home information packs will not solve those problems, and the solution that the Government have come up with does not address the problems. Indeed, they are unsolvable because they are the problems of normal life.
This is a market that the Government should leave well alone. The danger is that their so-called solution will make the housing problem even worse, particularly in the owner-occupied sector, where house prices are rocketing and there are not enough affordable homes. The Minister did not reply to my question about whether this proposal had been put to Professor Kate Barker when she was producing her review on the supply of housing. In fact, because of the way that this debate has gone, he has answered hardly any of the questions that hon. Members have asked. That, too, brings the House into disrepute.
The Liberal Democrats sincerely believe that the introduction of home information packs will work against the Government. I say to the Minister in a genuinely constructive manner that this measure will come back to haunt the Labour Government. In a few years' time, people will be asking who is responsible for all the regulations, extra costs and delays, and we will be able to say, "We told you so," and tell them that it was the Minister for Housing and Planning, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill). Voters will be seriously fed up when they have to live with these ridiculous regulations.
To give at least one more hon. Member the chance to speak, I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion. I hope that I have made it clear that, regrettably, the Liberal Democrats will have to vote against the Bill. It contains some good measures, but there are far too many omissions, and far too many chances to improve housing conditions have been missed. Moreover, some
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of the proposals in the Bill will do huge damage to the housing market and to the interests of many of our constituents.
Mr. Kidney: In truth, this started out being a good Bill and it has got better. As we are now sending it to the other place, there is still the capacity for further improvement. I would like to give the ministerial team unconditional credit for listening to the Second Reading debate and to the pressure from hon. Members over park homes, and for making wholesale amendments at the right time in Committee. Those amendments will be very welcome to the residents of park homes around the country.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I heard the hon. Gentleman's cogent performance on compulsory leasing on the "Today" programme. How can he give unconditional credit to the Minister when his proposals have not even been debated this evening because of the timetable?
Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman obviously did not hear me saying that I was talking about park homes. I would like to say to all those residents of park homes who will welcome what happened in Committee that, here tonight, things also got better when we accepted amendment No. 75.
The Government have improved the Bill further. My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the concession that they have made, again after listening to the debate in Committee, on including sexual offences as a relevant matter when licensing the owners of houses in multiple occupation. The Minister also acknowledged the pressure that was brought to bear on the Government on overcrowding, which has led to measures being included in the legislation today. All those things are to the Government's credit.
Some provisions are still missing from the Bill as it goes to the House of Lords. A good tenant deposit scheme and a provision on warm homes would be welcome. However, as time is short, I shall pick out as the most innovative measure in the Bill the new local authority power to make management orders in certain circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister tell usI realise that I shall not get an answer nowwhether it is anticipated that those orders will be the solution to the problem of bringing empty homes back into use? Let us remember that last year, 719,000 homes were standing empty in England alone, 80 per cent. of which were in private ownership and 300,000 of which were empty for more than six months.
Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman has made many good points, and he is right to say that the Minister listened to the debates on Second Reading and in Committee. Does he share the regret of the Conservative Opposition and the Liberal Democrats that there has not been more time to explore the issues today?
I regard the new power for local authorities to make management orders as a power of last resort, so in the case of empty homes, I would expect the authorities to advise
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or cajole, and to give help to owners. Some councils already give the owners of empty homes grants to get the properties back into use. However, I would imagine that, under a management order, a local authority would take possession of an empty property, repair it and let it at an affordable rent. That would help to meet the still dreadful housing needs that exist in this country, and to halt the degradation of the surrounding area, in terms of both the environment and crime. Owners would benefit from such a scheme, because they would get the rent from the property and retain ownership of it.
Such a measure would help people with housing needs, and neighbours in areas with empty houses would be delighted to see those properties brought back into productive use. Society would therefore be very satisfied if we could make that response to the problem. I hope that the Government will be delighted that everyone supports that idea and wants to do something about it before the Bill reaches the statute book.
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