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Lord Lucas: I am sure that the noble Baroness realises that we accept only Opposition amendments apart from our own. It would be bad for morale on our Back Benches if we were to encourage them by accepting their amendments!

However, I hope that I can give my noble friend some comfort. I do not believe that Amendment No. 227 takes us beyond what the Government already propose. The duty on landlords under Clause 72 is framed by providing that the landlord must prevent standards falling in the HMO to a point where the local authority could serve an enforcement notice. But authorities can only do that if they feel that the facilities in the property relating to cooking, washing, sanitation or fire safety are not reasonably suitable for the number of persons occupying the property. I am sure that the whole Committee would agree that if any of those circumstances occurred then the tenant's health or safety could arguably be at risk.

Amendment No. 229 modifies the offence in relation to the new landlord's duty by providing that an offence would occur only if the landlord failed to comply with the duty without reasonable excuse. I have several points to make. First, the duty is already qualified by stating that the landlord should take only such steps as are reasonably practicable to comply with the code.

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Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the code of practice which can be approved by the Secretary of State under Clause 74 will provide guidance to the landlord on how to comply with this duty. The code will be evidential in a court of law which means that if a prosecution is brought for breach of the duty, then the code shall be admissible in evidence. But it will be free for either party to produce reasons for departure from the code. So there is no need to qualify the criminal offence under the duty in Clause 72 as proposed by the amendment. The same argument applies to Amendment No. 232.

There is a further point. The Government's intention is that the proposed code of practice, while setting out a new consistent national standard for HMOs, should not be over-prescriptive concerning what must be done in each case. The aim will be for a goal-based code with recommended action being focused only on the high risk properties. HMOs with a lower risk should be subject to a lighter touch in relation to enforcement procedures. It will not be easy to achieve such an aim, but, if successful, I think many of my noble friend's concerns and those of many landlords will be met.

Finally, Amendment No. 231 requires that local authorities should be required to publicise the duty and advise landlords how they can carry it out. My response again relates to the HMO code of practice which the Government propose to make and which will set out the standards necessary to fulfil the duty. There is specific provision in Clause 74(2)(a) which states that the Secretary of State should only approve a code if he considers that it has been published in such a manner that it has been brought to the attention of those likely to be affected by it. So I can assure my noble friend of two things: first, that when the HMO code of practice is published, arrangements will be put in place for it to be widely publicised; and, secondly, that the landlord's new duty under Clause 72 will not be brought into force until a reasonable time after the code is available so that landlords have time to study it and take the necessary action to improve their properties.

I hope that these assurances are sufficient to persuade my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Gisborough: I am grateful to my noble friend for that explanation. It will be read by my advisers and we will see where we go from there. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 228 and 229 not moved.]

Lord Dubs had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 230:

Page 47, line 29, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall take reasonable steps to ensure that--
(a) he publicises the duty under this section nationally to persons having control of houses in multiple occupation and to persons managing houses in multiple occupation; and

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(b) he consults local housing authorities to ensure that they publicise the duty under this section to persons having control of houses in multiple occupation and to persons managing houses in multiple occupation in their districts."").

The noble Lord said: In the light of the assurances that the Minister gave on earlier amendments, I shall not move Amendment No. 230.

[Amendment No. 230 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 231 and 232 not moved.]

Clause 72 agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 233:

After Clause 72, insert the following new clause--

Gas appliances: duty of owner of appliance

(". After section 368 of the Housing Act 1985 insert--
"Gas appliances: duty of owner of appliance.
.--(1) It shall be the duty of the person who owns a gas appliance or any installation pipework, chimney or flue installed in a house in multiple occupation or any part of it let by him, to ensure that a certificate showing safe installation, maintenance and chimney and flue cleaning shall be given to the tenant a reasonable time before he signs the tenancy agreement and every twelve months thereafter during the term of that tenancy.
(2) The aforesaid certificate shall specify the name, address and, where it is gas work, the CORGI registration number of the person who did the relevant work and the date the work was done."").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 233 is grouped with Amendment No. 234. Both are in the names of myself and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. The amendments propose new clauses to be inserted in the Housing Act 1985 dealing with gas appliances. They involve in one case the duties of the owner of the appliance and in the other of the person managing or having control of the house in which the appliance is situated.

The first amendment places a duty on the owner of an HMO to provide a prospective tenant with a certificate showing the safe installation and maintenance of gas appliances and of installation pipework, chimneys or flues before a tenancy starts and annually thereafter. This would reverse the current position under the relevant gas safety regulations whereby a tenant can request written information from the landlord, but the regulations are dependent on that request. Subsection (2) provides for the particulars in the certificate and requires the landlord to show that the engineer who checked the appliances was properly qualified to do so.

We have referred, more briefly perhaps than the subject requires, to a number of deaths every year in the home as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty appliances. Many of the deaths occur in private rented accommodation. Of the deaths in private rented accommodation, a disproportionate number--perhaps I may put it that way without seeking again to trade figures with the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough--take place in HMOs.

As I said on an earlier amendment, there have been a number of tragic deaths. Carbon monoxide poisoning is particularly insidious. It is not easy--it may be impossible--to detect the problem and anticipate it.

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The Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1994 depend on the tenant requesting evidence. As Members of the Committee, in particular the right reverend Prelate, have said, the tenants in properties affected are in the worst possible position to seek such evidence. They do not have the strength that financial means would give them; they do not wish to put their security at risk.

It is late and the seriousness of the position will speak more strongly than I can of the need for these or similar amendments to ensure that there is a better enforced regime. Although I have spoken briefly, I hope that the Committee will accept that that should not be taken to indicate that I do not regard it as a serious matter. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I support Amendments Nos. 233 and 234. It might save the Committee's time if I also speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 235 and 236, which deal with a similar point but relate not to gas appliances but to appliances powered by combustible fuel--that is, wood, oil, gas, peat or solid fuel. The principle is the same as in Amendments Nos. 233 and 234.

Lord Gisborough: I support the principle of the amendment. A great number of deaths are caused by faulty gas appliances. I am advised that it is now possible to have the equivalent of an electrical fuse box in the gas industry. Such a system would be a great asset and would save a lot of lives.

Lord Lucas: We are of one mind with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, except that we wish to see these changes made through the gas safety installation and use regulations. We accept what the noble Baroness said about the weakness of those regulations in requiring tenants to complain. That will be changed. The Health and Safety Commission has agreed to bring forward an urgent amendment on the lines proposed and intends to issue a consultative document in July with the intention of introducing new regulations to take effect around the end of October. I hope that will be sufficient for the noble Baroness.

Lady Hamwee: For once I am very happy to rely on regulations. I am sorry that the matter requires recognition, but glad that the Government have recognised it.

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