Part of Home Energy Conservation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 26th February 2002.
Yes, I have seen that report. It reinforces the point that we have to allow operators as much freedom as possible, especially in terms of the provision of student accommodation. We must not tie them up in red tape and costs, as we must ensure a decent supply of student accommodation. That has not been the case in the Scottish experience and tenants, especially students, have been made to suffer.
It may be anathema to some Labour Members, but I believe that if we care about driving up standards, the best way to do so is to encourage healthy competition. The more choice tenants have, the more they will gravitate to better accommodation and the more landlords will be prepared to invest. Landlords will not invest if there is too much interference from local authorities as a result of widespread registration; they will simply invest in other forms of property—commercial property, for example—or leave the market altogether. Meanwhile, those landlords who do remain will simply pass on registration costs to tenants, who will have little choice but to pay as a diminishing amount of accommodation will be available to them. In the end, it is the tenants who will suffer. The landlords have a choice as they can leave the market, but tenants need accommodation.
I shall make three or four more points about widening the definition of HMOs, the first of which relates to planning. The extension of the definition of HMOs to include properties with more than two families could sweep into the definition nearly all shared houses. Such a definition would result in recategorisation for planning purposes. If a property is categorised for planning purposes as an HMO, there
is no assurance that the planning authority in question will give the landlord the ability to recategorise for single occupancy when the property is sold.
In several incidents recently, local authorities have tried to restrict the power and use it to the detriment of the local housing market. For example, in Hammersmith and Fulham and in Camden, reports state that local authorities, worried about the availability of—