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Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker Accommodation) (England) Regulations 2023

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 16 May 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker Accommodation) (England) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 37th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, there are currently more than 50,000 asylum seekers living in hotels, given that our asylum system has been overwhelmed by the large volume arrival of asylum seekers by small boats. Hotels are neither intended nor adequate to be used as long-term accommodation. This is also burdensome on local communities and expensive for the taxpayer. It is important to recognise the significant challenges we are grappling with. The Home Office is working tirelessly, along with other government departments, to reduce the Government’s dependency on hotels by introducing a suite of short and longer-term measures. It is not right that the country is spending millions of pounds a day on hotels, and we are determined to put the asylum accommodation system on a far more sustainable footing. This reform is one of the many measures being taken to provide adequate and cost-effective accommodation in line with our statutory duty.

The Home Office is also bringing forward a range of alternative sites, such as disused holiday parks, former student halls and surplus military sites, to add thousands of places at half the cost of hotels. All local authority areas in England, Scotland and Wales became an asylum dispersal area in April 2022, thereby increasing the number of suitable properties that can be procured to accommodate asylum seekers across the UK.

Currently, the Housing Act 2004 requires all houses in multiple occupation—HMOs—where five or more people from two or more households share facilities to be licensed. Local authorities can also introduce additional licensing in their area. This requires all HMOs housing three or more people from two or more households to be licenced. Home Office service providers have reported that these additional conditions set by local authorities present a challenge when procuring cost-effective, suitable and safe accommodation for asylum seekers. The Home Office is therefore seeking to remove this barrier.

These regulations will temporarily exempt from the HMO licensing HMOs used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers. This means that HMOs which begin use as asylum accommodation before 30 June 2024 will not need to be licensed for a period of two years. These regulations will cease to be in force on 1 July 2026, and after this point all HMOs used as asylum accommodation will require licences.

I am aware of the concerns that noble Lords and the Local Government Association have raised. I assure noble Lords that the Home Office asylum accommodation and support contract—AASC—standards are broadly equivalent to mandatory HMO licence conditions. This alignment between contracts and national housing standards is deliberate and was developed in consultation with the local authority property inspectors via their professional body, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Home Office service providers are contractually required to provide safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped accommodation for all asylum seekers. The contracts also require providers to comply with the law and a host of best-practice guidance. Consequently, matters that stand to be enforced by local authorities in respect of unscrupulous landlords can also be enforced contractually by the Home Office via its service providers.

All asylum accommodation will continue to be subject to wider private rented sector regulations, including the duties set out in the HMO management regulations, and local authorities will retain their power to enforce these standards and take action against landlords who fail to meet them.

The Home Office contracts for housing also set out a minimum standard for all asylum accommodation, including conditions relating to gas and fire safety requirements, as well as compliance with wider private sector minimum standards. The Home Office is doubling the size of its inspection team to ensure that its service providers are maintaining minimum standards in all its accommodation, and specifically all HMO properties that benefit from this exemption.

This dedicated assurance team is responsible for testing and reporting on providers’ performance. In addition to the provider’s monthly inspections, the Home Office inspects properties on a targeted basis, as well as testing providers’ monthly performance against the contractual key performance indicators and conducting assurance reviews. The Home Office will ensure that the assurance regime is commensurate with existing arrangements for HMO licensing to avoid the risk of reducing quality. Where a provider fails to meet contractual obligations, financial penalties can be applied.

Separately, Migrant Help is contracted to provide a free, round-the-clock helpline and online portal available 365 days a year which asylum seekers can use to raise issues, request help, give feedback and make complaints. Maintenance issues raised via Migrant Help are referred immediately to the AASC—asylum accommodation and support contract—provider for action within contractual timescales. If a service user reports that a defect has not been fixed and they remain dissatisfied, it is escalated to a dedicated Home Office complaints team to adjudicate. In addition, the Home Office will put measures in place to allow local authorities to report poor standards or safety issues with any of the housing provided for asylum seekers. The Home Office will also take up the offer from the Local Government Association to enhance joint working to deliver suitable and safe accommodation for asylum seekers under its care.

The Home Office dispersal policy will focus on ensuring the fair and equitable placement of asylum seekers, as we recognise the strain on public services, including housing. The Government will do everything they can to mitigate the risk of homelessness in support of the existing cross-government commitment to end rough sleeping within this Parliament and to fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act.

We also recognise the general strain on public services in local authorities, and for this reason existing funding has been doubled for those local authorities which take on new accommodation and do so quickly. Subject to conditions of a grant agreement, this money is not ring-fenced and will incentivise co-operation and ease pressures on local services. However, payments will be subject to the conditions of a grant agreement.

The Home Office will develop a monitoring plan, which will cover service provider data in relation to the accommodation acquired as a result of this reform, reporting on quality and compliance/assurance to measure its effectiveness as well as to inform the assessment of wider homelessness impacts. More broadly, Home Office engagement with local authorities has significantly increased and improved since the introduction of an engagement strategy which is designed specifically to ensure that impacts on local services can be raised, discussed and mitigated through the multi-agency forums. Regular meetings are held between the Home Office and local authorities’ key strategic fora, including the asylum and resettlement council senior engagement group and the strategic oversight group. The Home Office will also arrange an open forum for local authorities to attend, which is a further opportunity for local government colleagues to discuss issues of concern with senior Home Office officials. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this SI, but this is yet another chapter in a book that is about dehumanising some of the most vulnerable people in the world seeking asylum in this country. It is bizarre that the Minister says that the reason why we need this SI is because the contract that providers of asylum accommodation have is exactly the same. In a moment, I shall go through what a mandatory HMO is licensed for, and I seek from the Minister an absolute assurance that every single clause that I give is covered in that contract. If not, the Minister has not been quite correct at the Dispatch Box.

It is not necessarily the case, as the Minister tried to portray, that the reason for the cost of accommodation for asylum seekers is because of the number of small boat arrivals. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee reported recently that the reason for the strain on accommodation is the incompetence and inefficiency of the Home Office in dealing with the backlog. Some 68% of those waiting to have their claims assessed in March 2023 had waited more than six months. Even though the number of case workers has doubled from 308 to 614 since 2022, productivity has not changed at all. The number of people being dealt with or cases that have actually been closed in a month is exactly the same: one case per caseworker per month. That is what is causing the strain on accommodation, not the number of people arriving. It is clearly the incompetence and lack of productivity from the Home Office.

In her introduction, the Minister said that the number of those who are available to investigate will double in size to see whether the contractual arrangements are being carried out. How many individuals, full-time equivalent, will be available? On average, how many does that equate to for each local authority area?

The Minister also said that getting rid of these arrangements for HMO licensing and adopting the statutory instrument will create “safer accommodation”. I shall just go through the mandatory HMO licensing conditions that are being done away with in this statutory instrument, and I shall ask the Minister, as I said previously, to confirm that every single condition is in the contract that the Home Office has with the suppliers of accommodation for asylum seekers.

“The following conditions must be attached to all HMO licences”—

provided by a local authority.

“A gas safety certificate must be presented annually to the authority if there is a gas supply. Electrical appliances and furniture supplied by the landlord must be maintained in a safe condition. Smoke alarms must be provided for each storey of the property containing living accommodation and kept in working order. The landlord must provide the authority, on demand, with declaration as to the safety of electrical appliances and furniture in the property and the condition and positioning of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms … For licenses granted after 1 October 2022, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed in every room used as living accommodation in which there is a fixed combustion appliance other than a gas cooker, and kept in working order. For licences granted before this date, carbon monoxide alarms were required to be installed in rooms with a solid fuel burning combustion appliance. The license holder must also ensure that every electrical installation in the house is in proper working order and safe for continued use; supply the local authority with a declaration confirming the safety of the electrical installation if the authority requests one”.

“Additional mandatory conditions for licences granted after 1 October 2018. For HMO licences granted on or after 1 October 2018, minimum size requirements should be included for all rooms used as ‘sleeping accommodation’ … The particular minimum sizes specified in the licence are a matter for the local authority to decide. However, they cannot be smaller than 6.51 square metres for a room used by one person aged 10 or over; 10.22 square metres for a room used by two persons aged 10 years or over; 4.64 square metres for a room used by one person aged under 10 years”.

Can the Minister confirm that the same conditions that I have said so far are in the contract with the provider of accommodation for those seeking asylum?

Also, the suitability of the landlord and the property manager come into consideration in the licensing of an HMO. The landlord must be seen as a fit and proper person. So, in terms of the suitability of the person, are the same conditions provided as for the granting of a licence to those within the local authority HMO licence scheme?

“In deciding whether a person is ‘fit and proper’ to be a licence holder or the manager of an HMO, the local authority must have regard to any evidence available that the person has: committed any offences involving fraud, other dishonesty, violence, drugs, or any sexual offence that attracts notification requirements; acted other than in accordance with any code of practice approved under section 233 of Housing Act 2004; practised unlawful discrimination e.g. on grounds of sex, colour, race, ethnic or national origin or disability; contravened any provision under housing or landlord and tenant law; had a banning order made against them”.

There is a lot in these licensing requirements. The Minister developed the reason why they are being put on temporary hold in this statutory instrument—the contract for those providing asylum seekers with accommodation has exactly the same provisions. I look forward to her confirming, line by line, whether everything I have said is in the contract. If not, it is clear that the chapter of the Home Office and government departments dehumanising some of the most vulnerable people is continuing.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for her introduction. I was not aware that my noble friend was going to speak. Fortunately, what I have made a note of is not inconsistent with what he said. I will try to edit as I go so that I do not repeat too much. I recognise the issue that the Government seek to address, though I am unconvinced that this is the solution, but I made my views on their asylum policy quite clear to the House last week. My noble friend has also given the context quite clearly.

HMOs under the current system are hardly luxury accommodation but the licensing requirements in force since 2004, I think, ensure certain standards. As my noble friend has said, these are not just about physical standards but the standards of conduct, and so on, of those involved in the provision—licence holders and managers must be fit and proper persons. I am making a foray away from Home Office debates into DLUHC ones, but in Home Office discussions I have expressed my concern several times that the people who run the hotels are not fit and proper. I have raised the question of disbarring orders and so on; we are all aware of the history of children going missing. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may not be placed in this accommodation, though perhaps we ought to get a confirmation from the Minister that they will not be placed in it by themselves. However, children will be; I gather that it is intended for families.

I have also gained a very clear impression that the providers of hotels have been quite distanced from what is happening on a day-to-day basis. I assume their contracts contain some requirement regarding the people who run the hotels, but it does not seem to be well enforced. The current assessment for a licence relates to compliance with housing, landlord and tenant law and codes of practice. Will we have codes of practice relating to this accommodation? My noble friend has mentioned the issue of discrimination on a number of grounds. When one thinks about asylum seekers, it is obvious how relevant that is.

The Minister has mentioned dispersal. There are different ways of looking at this. I understand the point she has made about the strain on different local authorities, but there is also an important advantage to placing people with similar backgrounds within what they might well regard as their community. It helps towards settlement, though I recognise that the Home Office is not particularly concerned about settling asylum seekers—probably the contrary. The people who live in HMOs are often vulnerable and not likely to complain. I would guess that this is even more the case with asylum seekers, who will not naturally have much trust in authority figures.

My noble friend talked about physical safety standards and the obvious concern about fire risks and so on. The Home Office may be doubling its personnel, but there are the questions of numbers and training. What inspection and monitoring arrangements will be in force? I do not have a picture of how often it will be. Will they carry out their work only at the start of a contract, or before? The scheme looks too much like a blank cheque for less scrupulous landlords and providers of asylum accommodation. We know that hotel accommodation is now being charged at rates unrelated to its standards.

Reading about how the temporary exemptions from licensing will operate, I wondered whether the administration will be cumbersome because of the varied start dates involved. Inevitably, I wondered what consultation there had been with local authorities. We are told about future work between central government and local authorities, but this sort of scheme, which is a significant change, should—perhaps I am too idealistic—have been one whereby local authorities were satisfied that they had had good involvement with the work of DLUHC.

I received briefings, as other noble Lords will have done, from the LGA, London Councils and Shelter, for which I am grateful. They did not give me the impression that the Government had met their concerns or of how they could do so in future. There is understandable concern that, even if a property is not brought into the scheme until it has been inspected by the Home Office, the conditions will deteriorate and we will end up with a two-tier system. Landlords will surely be incentivised to switch properties away from their existing use to Home Office contracts because they are potentially rather more profitable.

What consideration has been given to continuing the current licensing arrangements but with lower standards? I am referring not to matters such as fire safety but the numbers of people who share bathrooms and kitchens—not that the standards are that high now. If a property is designated as asylum accommodation, what is to stop the landlord letting it to non-asylum seekers? I mentioned tenants being unaware of their rights and frightened to complain. That will be so much more the case than it is now.

Finally, there is the issue of the resourcing of local authorities, whose work in this area is part funded, I understand, by licence fees. Once an HMO is exempt, the local authority will not know where the potentially dangerous HMOs are. Would money not be better spent on inspections and enforcement than on going hunting for HMOs? As the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee rightly suggests, will the Home Office make publicly and regularly available the numbers of asylum seekers placed in unlicensed accommodation? It defies logic to suggest that nothing significant will change in terms of standards—if that were the case, why have this statutory instrument?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction. I start by saying that my comments will mainly be directed at the Home Office. I am sure that the Minister, with her experience in local government, will be quite sympathetic to some of the things that I will say, even if she cannot say so here. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for their comments, much of which I totally agree with.

Coming as they do on the back of the complete disregard the Home Office afforded local government and other local stakeholders in the procurement of hotel accommodation for asylum seekers, the provisions in this statutory instrument represent another potential catastrophe as the Home Office once again rides roughshod over the asylum seekers directly affected— I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about the dehumanising effect of successive actions that have been taken in this regard—the neighbours and communities of the housing this impacts and the local councils and other agencies that will once again be left to pick up the pieces. Why should our communities be subject to this turbulence because the Home Office has abysmally failed to tackle the weaknesses in its asylum processing capacity and capability? The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, gave the figures, so I will not repeat them.

The impact of government procurement of hotel space at such short notice and with little, if any, liaison with local authorities continues. Local tourism and events have been left short of hotel space. Some events have had to be cancelled or postponed. Weddings and other family celebrations have been cancelled. Staffing has been disrupted because of the need for different service levels. Unsuitable locations have been chosen, leaving asylum seekers stranded with no access to vital services. Local public services have found themselves, without warning, faced with the pressure of tackling complex needs and demands with no chance to prepare or assess the resources they need to deal with them.

Removing the protections in the HMO licensing requirements, which ensure the safety and quality of accommodation, by exempting for up to two years HMOs taking asylum seekers is potentially dangerous and divisive. It risks stacking up long-term problems for asylum seekers in terms of their mental and physical health, their safety in the properties and their recourse where conditions do not meet acceptable standards. The protections the licensing requirements afford around occupancy rates, compliance with safety requirements, sound management practices and the fit and proper test for landlords are essential protections. Councils take them very seriously as they carry out their inspection and enforcement duties.

We could potentially be creating a two-tier system here, where asylum seekers, many of whom are already suffering from trauma and other stress-related conditions, will be relegated to substandard accommodation. We note that the Government say that every property will be inspected by a Home Office contract inspector. What checks will be done to ensure that these contracts are carried out consistently by experienced and qualified inspectors? Will those inspectors be independent of the Home Office and, given current Home Office pressures and capacity, will there be enough resource in the department to manage this process as it rolls out across the UK?

What assessment will be carried out of the capacity of local areas that may already have high numbers of asylum seekers located there to cope with the additional numbers, and how will the potential for community tensions be assessed? Who will do that? The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred to dispersal. How is this being monitored and managed? Can the Minister tell us what the minimum standards will be for this HMO accommodation in terms of, for example, space standards to avoid overcrowding, access to kitchen and bathroom facilities and the location of properties to enable access to other services that asylum seekers may need, such as health facilities?

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, went through some of the other provisions, which I will not repeat, but a detailed statement of what is included in the Home Office inspections would be extremely helpful. Is it the intention that these HMO facilities will be used only for single adults or are they to be used for families as well? If the latter, can the Minister tell us what minimum level of provision the Government would expect to see for children living in HMOs? How are the Government liaising with local authorities about the potential impact on their existing supply of affordable housing and homelessness provision that may be exacerbated by government procurement of HMO capacity?

London Councils has data from 25 London boroughs showing that they procured 26% fewer private rented sector properties for homeless households in February 2023 than in the same month in 2022, and the total number of temporary accommodation properties requested back by landlords was 150% higher over the same period. As a result of this, the number of households in unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation in London was 167% higher in February 2023 compared to February 2022. Data provided by 23 councils show the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks was up 823%. Those figures were for London. Have the Government done any assessment of how these figures are increasing outside London and what impact the policy in this SI may have on the availability of homeless accommodation? I am pleased to hear about the additional funding for local government, but it does not help with the availability of housing provision that it will be losing.

Can the Minister tell us what local liaison will be in place for asylum seekers placed in HMO accommodation when they need to raise issues of poor standards or health and safety? I hear what the Minister said about Migrant Help, but I remain to be convinced about the consistency of provision of that on a 24-hour basis, when there may be problems with properties. What engagement structures have been put in place with local government and other public services to ensure that they are able to do all that they can to make this work properly? If councils are not involved, will the Home Office take direct responsibility for safeguarding, health and safety and well-being?

The LGA has requested in its excellent briefing— I agree with what noble Lords have said about how good it is—that there is a commitment from the Government about the timescale with which they expect this provision to be in place and that they have requested that local government be involved in the ongoing review. I am pleased to hear the Minister’s comments on this, but it is telling that the LGA had to write to us all on this issue to give its point of view. It should have been engaged from the very start of this process so that it worked with the Home Office on what the processes would be. Is that something that the Government will now put in place? I hope that that was the assurance from the Minister.

Both the LGA and London Councils—the latter also provided noble Lords with an excellent briefing—have questioned what evidence there is to suggest that this change in regulations will speed up procurement of accommodation. This is already a high-risk part of the housing sector, and the potential to undermine safety and standards seems very risky if there is not clear evidence to suggest that it will achieve the Home Office’s intended outcomes. Can the Minister clarify how this proposed transfer of responsibilities away from local teams will speed up the assessment of properties?

There are so many questions—too many questions to make me feel comfortable that this is going to work at all. One has to ask, just who is this policy for? It is not for asylum seekers, who it seems are to be relegated to some lower-tier housing division which removes any protections, safety and security they may have had while their applications are processed. It is not for local authorities, or other public services, which are left in the dark again and then expected to pick up the pieces of a policy which it seems no one except the Home Office thinks will work. It is certainly not for the communities, which are being asked to pay the price for years of the Home Office’s failure to act. You have to ask—just what is the Home Secretary thinking of?

In my enthusiasm to speak, I forgot to put on record my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate today. Much of what has been discussed is obviously for the Home Office; in my responsibility as a Government Minister, I shall attempt to answer everything I can, but there will be things that I will have to come back to. I hope that I can persuade noble Lords to join me in supporting these regulations, which are a necessary step to accelerate moving asylum seekers from what is not suitable—we have had this debate many times in this House, and hotel accommodation is not suitable—into more suitable accommodation for them.

This is not dehumanising; this is actually giving them a better place to live, and trying to get people out of hotels as quickly as possible. Both the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, asked why we are doing this. We are doing it because the asylum accommodation service people are telling us that they have identified that the whole process of licensing requirements is really a challenge to swiftly bring on board the properties that we need in order to get people out of the hotel system.

I think either the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, or the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I cannot remember which, asked whether any thought was given to improving the resources for local government to take this on, rather than setting up a whole new system. Is the Minister able to comment on that?

I will go through the support we are providing to local authorities, but I do not think the local authorities could have moved as fast as was necessary to do this: it takes training, et cetera. It is about getting people out of hotels and into better accommodation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, brought up the Home Office contracts. I have listed all the requirements under the licensing. I am sorry I have not got an answer to everything. Gas and safety requirements are there in the contracts for the Home Office, as well as compliance with wider private rented sector minimum standards, but I will go through each and every requirement in the licensing and we will send a letter explaining what is there and what is in the contract so that we are absolutely transparent about that.

Therefore, the Minister, at this point, even though we are being asked to accept the statutory instruments, cannot give an assurance to the Grand Committee that it is like-for-like and that housing standards of quality and safety will be exactly as asylum seekers now have in accommodation in HMOs if they are licensed by a local authority? That is what is actually being said: that guarantee cannot be given on a like-for-like basis.

No, I am not going to give that guarantee from this Dispatch Box, because there is a complicated list of things, and if I say, “Yes, it is”, there will be a tiny bit that the noble Lord will come back and quite rightly say, “You have got this wrong”. I am going to make sure that I look at that licensing requirement, look at the contract, and see what differences there are.

Will the Minister therefore give a commitment that that answer and letter will come before the statutory instrument hits the whole House? I think it is really important that we get it before the statutory instrument is before the whole House and agreed by the whole House.

No, I cannot do that because I am not in control of when the statutory instrument comes before the whole House, but we will get it to noble Lords as soon as we possibly can from the Home Office. I am sorry, but that is as much as I can do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, brought up the issue of the dispersal policy. I have to say, I hate that word. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, brought up the pressures on local authorities; she mentioned London specifically. We need to make sure that asylum seekers are located across the UK, not just in one or two areas. We know the pressures on public services, and we need to make sure that those are not overtaken by larger numbers. It is important that we look at that. Equally, we need to make sure that we do not put asylum seekers away from family, friends and their communities, so we have to do both.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why there was not any consultation. This is because we think that this is just a necessary step, and we want to get people out of hotel accommodation and into more suitable accommodation. It is not second-class accommodation. We are making sure that it is inspected, checked, safe and appropriate. We thought that it was important not to wait eight to 12 weeks, but to get on and actually deliver this further movement of people out of hotels.

The money for local authorities that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, brought up is important. The Home Office has worked and engaged more and more with local authorities. It is increasing that engagement even further. There are fora now for local authorities to work with senior people from the Home Office. As we go move forward through this strategy, I thank local authorities for the amount they are doing. I know just how much the local authorities have been doing and how they were impacted when the Sudanese refugees came in recently. Home Office engagement with local authorities is increasing and will continue to increase at higher levels to ensure that the Home Office knows what the impact on local authorities is.

Councils are receiving £750 per person for each and every existing asylum bed, and £3,500 for each new dispersal bed that comes online. In addition, as part of a four-month pilot, councils will receive a further incentive payment between £2,000 and £3,000 where a bed is brought online within an expedited timeframe following identification. We are supporting local authorities in funding to deliver this important move from hotels to better accommodation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked if there will be codes of practice. The Home Office contracts require providers to comply with the law, obviously, with local authority licensing requirements, and with a host of best practice guidance. There are many checks and balances on those contracts and contractors to deliver decent homes.

The Minister really confused me then. She just said that the providers of this accommodation will have to abide by the licensing conditions of local authorities on HMOs. Does not the statutory instrument actually remove the requirement on them to do that? Is that not its sole purpose?

No, it removes the requirement for them having to get a licence, which takes time. The letter I am going to write to the noble Lord, and to all noble Lords, will then give the specifics to make sure that there is nothing missing between those two issues. That is what he wants to hear, I think. We will get that to him—that is what he is asking for.

It is, but the logic behind this statutory instrument is to speed up the process of getting accommodation. However, if the accommodation has to be exactly the same as the HMO licensing conditions of local authorities and the Home Office does not have the number of people to be able to do the assessment of the properties, how does it speed up getting the properties? The number of properties will be the same in each area and they will have to be inspected before they can be brought on board to house asylum seekers. I do not understand the logic of how this will speed that up.

The whole process of licensing takes time and, I have to say, a bit of paperwork and bureaucracy. Noble Lords know that these things take time, whereas, if we can get people out and into accommodation that is properly regulated and tested, and people go in there and check it on a regular basis, that is a quicker way of getting people into communities and out of hotels.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Hamwee, asked about unaccompanied minors—a really important point. I assure the Committee that they will not be placed in HMOs, which is extremely important.

I know I have not answered everything, but the difference between the licensing regime and the quality regime of the contracts and the Home Office is important, and I want to get it absolutely right and make sure that the detail is correct for noble Lords.

The question that I and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, asked was: if the number of people enforcing from the Home Office is going to double, what will that number be and what is the average per local authority area?

I asked for an answer on that, but I do not think it has come forward. I am really sorry; I will get these answers to noble Lords as quickly as I possibly can. I am conscious of what they are asking me to do.

I know it is not the tradition of the Committee to not vote for SIs, or to vote against them, and I understand that—I will not do anything like that—but had this come before my council, with the lack of information that we have about why it is being done, not just what is being done, I could not have supported it. Whether local government could do this job equally well was never assessed. If the Home Office can recruit more inspectors, local government can do so too. If the Home Office are going to look at the same things that local government looks at, why is local government not looking at it? Can we have some clarity about what will be looked at? I am happy to have that in writing.

Before I sit down, I profusely apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whom I called by the wrong name. I had written the wrong name on my papers, which is completely my fault, and I apologise profusely. I will not get it wrong next time.

I cannot let it go that we are not making it clear why we are doing this. I want to make it very clear that we are doing it to speed up the movement of these people from what the House has clearly said many times is unsuitable hotel accommodation, which is not right over a long period of time, into better accommodation. That is why we are doing it. We want to do it as quickly as possible, and we fell that, in the short term of two years, the licensing regime was slowing that movement down.

I will tell the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, a tale about mixed-up names when we finish this Committee.

We have focused very much on safety standards. As I understand it, and I may be wrong, the standards of bathroom and kitchen facilities, and possibly the amount of space per person, will be different. I think that is covered by what the Minister has said she will find out about, but I do not want to lose that.

No, absolutely not: I have written down everything that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked to be checked against the Home Office conditions, and we will make sure we check Hansard. I know that things such as bathrooms, kitchens and room sizes were in that list because I have written them down. If there are no further questions, I assure noble Lords that these regulations are an important part of the Government’s asylum dispersal plans—although I do not like that word. I thank noble Lords for the challenge and scrutiny they have given to them, and I will make sure that I get answers to them as soon as possible.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.40 pm.