Delegated Legislation Committee
Draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2021
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: †Hannah Bardell
Andrew, Stuart (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
Burgon, Richard (Leeds East) (Lab)
Butler, Dawn (Brent Central) (Lab)
Byrne, Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)
† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)
Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
Fletcher, Mark (Bolsover) (Con)
Jones, Mr Marcus (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)
† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)
Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Trevelyan, Anne-Marie (Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)
† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Yasin, Mohammad (Bedford) (Lab)
Hannah Bryce, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Second Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 9 March 2021
[Hannah Bardell in the Chair]
Draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2021
Before we begin, I remind Members about the social distancing regulations. Spaces available to Members are already clearly marked, and unmarked spaces must not be occupied. I see Members have taken their appropriate seats, but the usual convention of a Government side and an Opposition side is waived on this occasion, so Members may sit anywhere. Hansard colleagues would be very grateful if Members sent any speaking notes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2021.
The draft order, which was laid before the House on 3 February 2021, relates to the renewables obligation and the renewable electricity support scheme. The renewables obligation was introduced in 2002 to provide subsidy for electricity generation from renewable sources. It covers onshore and offshore wind, solar, hydro, biomass and so on. The scheme is closed to new applications, though support for existing stations continues. The scheme will finally close in 2037.
The scheme was part of a programme of measures aimed at stimulating the renewables industry to enable ambitious climate change targets to be met. Without subsidy, the nascent renewables sector would have struggled to make headway in a market dominated by the established heavyweights of coal, gas and nuclear. The renewables obligation had an initial target of 10% renewable electricity by 2010, but today about 30% of electricity supplied in the UK is supported under the scheme. Of course, the scheme needs to be paid for, and that falls on electricity suppliers, who currently provide almost £6.5 billion of subsidy a year to renewable generators. Those costs are passed on to customers via their bills, adding about £70 a year to the average domestic electricity bill. Costs will fall from 2027 as generators start reaching the end of their period of support and exit the scheme.
The draft statutory instrument deals with a technical matter that relates to supplier payment default. More specifically, it aims to prevent electricity suppliers from being unduly exposed to the unpaid bills of competitors who fail to meet their obligations. The renewables obligation comprises three separate but interlinked schemes: the renewables obligation, covering England and Wales; the renewables obligation Scotland; and the Northern Ireland renewables obligation. The Scottish and Northern Irish Governments are responsible for their own schemes; the UK Government cover the England and Wales scheme. The matter under debate relates to the England and Wales scheme only.
The renewables obligation is a traded scheme that places an obligation on electricity suppliers to obtain a number of green renewables obligation certificates in proportion to the amount of electricity they supply to their customers. Certificates are issued to renewable generators for free by Ofgem in relation to the amount of renewable electricity they generate. Suppliers typically buy those certificates, providing generators with an income stream over and above electricity sales revenues. Certificates are usually in short supply, so suppliers may make a cash payment, called a buy-out payment, in lieu of each certificate. The buy-out price is about £50 per certificate for the current renewables obligation year, and about 10% of the scheme is met in that way. At the end of the scheme year, the cash fund is recycled back to those suppliers who met their obligations with certificates, which gives certificates additional value over and above the buy-out price.
In recent years, an increasing number of suppliers have defaulted on their obligation under the scheme. Payment default leaves a shortfall in the cash fund, meaning recycle payments are lower than they would otherwise have been. That lowers the value of certificates, which ultimately impacts generators’ returns. The scheme therefore features a mutualisation mechanism that offers protection against payment default. Under the mechanism, shortfalls in the cash fund are recovered from all other suppliers and recycled back to those suppliers who met their obligation with certificates. The mechanism is triggered when the shortfall exceeds a £15.4 million threshold.
Mutualisation has been triggered in each of the past three years. In total, £173 million has been mutualised across suppliers in England and Wales. Electricity suppliers and their customers are understandably unhappy about the situation, so in December 2020 the Government consulted on a proposal to amend the mutualisation threshold so that it would be less easily triggered. It was proposed that the £15.4 million threshold should be replaced with a new threshold calculated annually as 1% of the cost of the scheme, which is broadly equivalent to the arrangements that were in place when mutualisation was first introduced into the scheme in 2005. Since then, the threshold has been gradually eroded in relative terms and is now equivalent to just 0.25% of scheme costs. Mutualisation can therefore now be more easily triggered. In other words, the risk associated with supplier payment default has become increasingly tilted away from generators and towards other suppliers.
Our proposal and the draft statutory instrument seek to redress the balance of risk. In the first year, the threshold will rise to about £62 million. That will ensure that suppliers and their customers are not unduly exposed to the unmet renewables obligation bills of other suppliers. Generators will face an increased risk that unmet obligations will remain uncovered. That will have a small impact on the value of certificates, but the new level of risk is broadly equivalent to what it was in 2005. In that respect the SI can be considered to be restorative.
The draft instrument makes minor technical changes to the Renewables Obligation Order 2015 so that a fixed £15.4 million threshold is replaced with a threshold that is calculated on an annual basis. The new threshold is determined as 1% of the forecast scheme cost for the year ahead. It also places a new requirement on the scheme’s administrator, Ofgem, to calculate and publish the threshold ahead of each obligation year.
The emergence of payment default and cost mutualisation under the renewables obligation has become of increasing concern to electricity suppliers. Through no fault of their own, those suppliers have become increasingly exposed to the unmet obligations of their competitors, whereas renewable generators have seen their returns increasingly protected.
The draft instrument will restore the original balance of risk between generators and suppliers. It will make it harder for mutualisation to be triggered, so suppliers will be less likely to be exposed to the unmet obligations of other suppliers. That is good news for consumers; they should benefit because the likelihood of mutualisation costs being passed on to them will be lower.
The legislative changes need to be effective on 1 April to enable them to take effect in respect of the next renewables obligation year, which runs from April 2021 to March 2022. Consequently, and subject to the will of Parliament, the draft instrument will enter into force on 31 March 2021. I commend the order to the Committee.
The SI is, frankly, three years too late. It could be described as more of a disaster relief fund arrangement than anything else because there is a significant alternative history behind the measure in terms of the changes to mutualisation and the ROCs market.
The explanatory notes that were kindly sent out with the SI state:
“The mutualisation threshold has failed to keep pace with the growth in the scheme. When the threshold was introduced in 2005, it was equivalent to about 1% of the cost of the scheme.”
The Minister mentioned that when the scheme was first introduced in 2005 it was equivalent to 1% of the cost of the scheme, but that now it is equivalent to about 0.25%. All that is true, but those figures conceal an alarming story.
When the threshold was first introduced, it was never considered that it would be breached; it was regarded as a very, very long backstop for RO payments and repayments. The Minister has set out how the RO works, and how it distributes fund back to suppliers after putting money in the fund in the first place. Until about 2015, the issue of shortfalls was pretty much an academic issue and the mutualisation levels had not been breached. There were occasions on which generators received a slight shortfall on what they might have received, but that was nothing serious in terms of what they expected to receive as their reward for creating renewables obligation certificates in the first place which were then presented by a supplier for a scheme to proceed. I am not sure that we need to debate the complications of the renewables obligation scheme, but it is quite complicated in terms of how it works.
The point we ought to focus on is the period 2015 to 2016, when new licence arrangements were put in place by Government for entrants to the electricity supply markets. Those arrangements have been described thus:
“Energy suppliers could get a licence with little or no capital and no relevant industry experience.”
Licences were literally given away to people who turned up and said that they would like to set up an electricity supply company. That meant an explosion of supplier companies. Indeed, by the end of 2017, there were 73 supplier companies in the market—an increase from just 32 in December 2015. In the course of two years, the number of supplier companies in the market doubled. It was fairly inevitable that because of the lax licensing procedure arrangements, a number of those companies then proceeded to go bust—22 companies have gone bust in the last three years or so. Just this year, two further companies covering some 400,000 customers have gone bust. A total of 1.8 million customers have switched their accounts, not because they wanted to but because they had to. The supplier of last resort—another interestingly complicated device—has come in and customers have been transferred to companies that have not gone bust.
Over the past three years, supplier companies that have done their job properly, have ensured their customers are properly protected and, most importantly, paid their renewables obligation requirements have, quite naturally and not surprisingly, increasingly voiced their concerns. They have observed that companies were coming into the market, undercutting those companies that had acted responsibly, and hoovering up customers but then were unable to sustain the momentum of those efforts and were going bust. The people who paid the money were those energy supply companies that actually did their job properly. That was an extremely unjust outcome and one should have great sympathy for those suppliers that found themselves in that situation having done their job properly. For that reason I am in complete agreement with the thrust of the motion, but the problem has not just arisen. In the last three years, there has been an exceptional new development; not only has the mutualisation threshold of £15.4 million, which the Minister mentioned, been breached but it has been breached at an astonishing level. There was a short- fall of £53.4 million in 2018; £88 million in 2019; and £31.4 million in 2020. Those sums are way over the theoretical and academic mutualisation threshold originally set in 2005.
Of course, something has to be done about it. The measure will ensure that the mutualisation threshold increases substantially, as the Minister has mentioned. That does mean that generators will bear some of the results of any shortfall and suppliers to a much lesser extent. The level of mutualisation means that, probably, it will not be breached in the near future but, as we can see from the figures, even that new level was breached in two of the past three years.
I hope the Minister will acknowledge that what I have recounted is not just an alternative history, but, substantially, the history behind this particular SI. It is a measure to retrieve the disastrous situation that the Government have got themselves into by allowing the market to go in a wild west way, underpinned by the changes to the licensing arrangements in 2015 to 2016.
The Opposition will certainly not oppose this measure today, because it is the right thing to do given the situation we now find ourselves in, but I would like the Minister to reflect for a moment on the history of how we got here and to indicate to the Committee whether she has confidence that the new thresholds in place will take us back to that semi-academic position of theoretical mutualisation arrangements—mutualisation arrangements that would not be breached. I must say, however, that the signals that came out at the beginning of this year were not good: 400,000 further customers forcibly switching and confidence going down.
As we all know, last year Ofgem introduced tougher entry tests for energy suppliers, and I would be grateful were the Minister to reflect briefly on whether she thinks those new tougher tests will substantially ameliorate the problem that we saw between 2018 and 2020. If those tougher tests do not work and we have continuing large-scale failure of companies, as we have seen in the past three years, this measure will simply not work.
I hope that the Minister will give us a brief thought on what confidence she has that the measure will work and that the number of failures we have seen in recent years will be reduced. Will the market return to some semblance of balance in the relationship between what generators have to bear—insofar as far as shortfalls in ROs are concerned—and what suppliers have to bear in mutualisation?
For the past three years, in effect, every September a stern note has been put out by Ofgem to say, “The following companies are on notice because they have not paid their ROs by now.” Indeed, we got to the point where, regularly, that was the canary in the coalmine, when energy companies started to signal, “We’re in trouble.” Some got out of that by paying their ROs and coming to arrangements with Ofgem, but for others—regrettably in very large numbers of cases—that notice was followed shortly by the company going bust and abdicating its responsibility for the RO payments.
That has been happening for three years now. I would have thought that the Government might have spotted that and taken action to deal with the issue rather earlier. I therefore welcome the change—although it is really two years too late and a lot of damage has been done in the process—but it is incumbent on the Minister to assure us that she thinks that the measures in the draft order will really work and will put us into a new era for RO payments, restoring that balance between the concerns of the suppliers, customers and generators, which has been given as the purpose of this SI. We want to get back to a stable environment in which all such concerns are properly met.
I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for his valued contribution and for his depth of knowledge—this is an opportunity to put that on the record. It is always a pleasure to discuss such issues, albeit across the Floor, because he has an extraordinary depth of understanding and a commitment to the consumer and to those who are generating our electricity.
I welcome the support of Members, who recognise that the draft SI will ensure that electricity suppliers and, by association, their customers will no longer be unduly exposed to the onerous obligations of other suppliers. I hope that my responses have provided the necessary assurances for the Committee to approve this statutory instrument.
In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I am confident that the new Ofgem tests will rebalance and therefore reduce the risk of supplier failure. The SI, alongside those changes, will therefore strike the right balance between the needs of renewable generators on the one hand and of electricity suppliers and their customers on the other. I commend the draft order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: †Mark Pritchard
† Andrew, Stuart (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
Betts, Mr Clive (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
Bristow, Paul (Peterborough) (Con)
Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)
† Chalk, Alex (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
† Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
Jones, Mr Marcus (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
† Lammy, Mr David (Tottenham) (Lab)
Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)
† Morris, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)
Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Chope, Sir Christopher (Christchurch) (Con)
Third Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 9 March 2021
[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021
I beg to move,
That this Committee has considered the Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (S.I. 2021, No. 164).
The statutory instrument before us extends the existing prohibition on enforcement agents—bailiffs—from attending residential premises in England to execute a writ or warrant of possession, except in the most serious circumstances. It applies to enforcement action in England and will be in force until the end of March 2021. The House has debated this restriction on two previous occasions, so I will take the matter in short.
This statutory instrument is a public health rather than an economic measure. It extends the restrictions on enforcement agents carrying out evictions that have been in place since 17 November until 31 March. It prevents enforcement agents from giving tenants notices of eviction or from attending residential premises to enforce a writ or warrant of possession, except in the most serious circumstances. That ensures we continue to protect public health during the national lockdown, at a time when the risk of virus transmission is high, and to avoid placing additional burden on the NHS and local authorities.
We have continued to provide for limited exemptions from the ban in cases where the Government feel that the competing public interests in ensuring access to justice, preventing harm to third parties, taking action against egregious behaviour and upholding the integrity of the rental market sufficiently outweigh the public health risks.
I do not oppose the regulations, but I am interested in what will happen after 31 March. Will the Minister indicate whether there will be fresh regulations to renew the constraints, or will 31 March be the end date, after which people will be able to recover their properties under normal common law?
May I say that the Government are acutely aware of the point that my hon. Friend properly makes? There is a balance to strike here, not least to consider article 1 of the first protocol to the European convention on human rights—in other words, the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. As to when the decision will be made, it will be made shortly.
Let me return to the exemptions. They are as follows: first, where the claim is against trespassers who are persons unknown; and, secondly, where the order for possession was made wholly or partly on the grounds of antisocial behaviour or nuisance, false statements, domestic abuse in social tenancies, or substantial rent arrears equivalent to six months’ rent, or where the order for possession was made wholly or partly on the grounds of the death of a tenant and the enforcement agent attending the property is satisfied that the property is unoccupied.
I pause there to make the point—picking up on the representations made a few moments ago—that those cases where the arrears are particularly egregious are capable of leading to an eviction order. It is important to recognise that.
It certainly is a big sum. My hon. Friend, with laser-like focus, highlights the very balance that has to be struck. That is the issue and concern here: at the time of a pandemic, what is the correct balance to strike between the interests of tenants and of landlords? The Government are acutely conscious of the need to strike that delicate balance, and will continue to give active consideration to where it lies.
The statutory instrument contains a requirement for the court to be satisfied that the exemption applies on a case-by-case basis. That will ensure a clear, uniform and transparent process for establishing whether an exemption to the ban applies. In cases in which a court has decided that an exemption to the ban applies, bailiffs need to give tenants at least 14 days’ notice of an eviction and have been asked not to enforce evictions where a tenant is self-isolating.
The instrument permits writs and warrants of restitution to be enforced. Those orders are issued in cases in which a person who has been evicted from premises re-enters those premises illegally. Therefore, it is appropriate that they are excluded from the ban.
These regulations will be in place until 31 March. We continue to keep the need for this measure under review, as I have indicated already, and will make an announcement shortly. In addition to the regulations, the Government have introduced a requirement in the Coronavirus Act 2020 to require landlords, in all but the most serious circumstances, to provide tenants with six months’ notice before beginning formal possession proceedings in the courts. That is an important protection for tenants, because we know that most tenants leave before the end of the landlord’s notice period. That protection will stay in place until at least the end of March 2021 and means that most renters now served notice by the landlord that they want them to leave the property can stay in their homes until September and have time to find alternative support or accommodation. The Government are also considering whether it is necessary to extend that measure.
As I have alluded to, the Government are continuing to take action to prevent people from getting into financial hardship by helping businesses to pay salaries—the most important measure to ensure that people can pay their rent—through the furlough scheme, which has been extended to the end of September, as the Committee is well aware. In addition, the self-employment income support scheme allows eligible individuals to claim a taxable grant worth up to 80% of their average monthly trading profits. That scheme will also remain in place until September.
We have also boosted the welfare safety net by billions of pounds. In the Budget, we announced that the universal credit top-up of £20 a week will continue for a further six months and that we will provide a one-off payment of £500 to eligible working tax credit claimants. We have, in addition, provided an extra £1 billion to increase local housing allowance rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents. In 2021-22, local housing allowance rates will be maintained at their increased level, meaning that claimants renting in the private rented sector will continue to benefit from the significant increase in the rates applied in April 2020.
The Government have also made available for local authorities £180 million for discretionary housing payments to help renters with their housing costs. From 2021-22, the Government will make available an additional £140 million in DHP funding, which takes account of the increased LHA rates.
In addition, temporary court arrangements and rules remain in place to ensure appropriate support for all parties until the end of July. That includes the introduction of a new review stage at least 28 days before the substantive hearing, so that tenants can access legal advice; a requirement for any cases that were started prior to August 2020 to be reactivated by the landlords until 30 April; and a requirement for landlords to provide the courts and judges with information on how tenants have been affected by the pandemic.
In addition, the Government are piloting a new mediation service, as part of the possession action process, to support landlords and tenants to resolve disputes before a formal court hearing takes place. The new service is free for tenants and landlords that agree to use it. The aim is to help more tenants at an early stage of the formal possession process in order to help sustain tenancies where possible, thus reducing the risk of tenants becoming homeless. That pilot will run until August 2021.
The Government continue to think that it is proportionate to provide for an exemption in cases in which a landlord has brought a claim on the ground of rent arrears and where a full six months’ rent is owed. It is important to balance the impact of the ongoing restrictions on landlords, many of whom rely on rental income, with the need to continue to protect tenants. Given the significant level of financial support that has been available to renters through furlough, welfare and the other measures that I have referred to, it is unlikely—indeed, this is borne out by the statistics—that a full six months of arrears would have been accumulated solely due to covid-19.
Let me conclude by referring to some points that the right hon. Member for Tottenham made on the previous occasion we considered the matter. He talked about the level of financial support available to tenants to help them to pay their rent. As I have set out, the Budget has extended much of the support—I hope he will welcome this—that has been made available to help tenants to pay their rent. That includes extension of the furlough scheme, widening of access to grants in order to make a further 600,000 self-employed people eligible for help, and continuation of the universal credit top-up of £20 a week for a further six months.
The instrument provides tenants with protection from eviction up to 31 March, ensuring that vulnerable tenants are not forced from their homes during the current national lockdown restrictions. It is intended to protect public health during the national lockdown, at a time when the virus transmission is high, and to avoid placing additional burdens on the NHS and local authorities. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
It is self-evident that a ban on evictions should stop evictions, but that is not what the Government’s so-called ban is achieving. Eviction attempts by landlords doubled during the winter coronavirus lockdown and more than 500 households were forced out by county court bailiffs. However, the problem is even bigger than that. In 2020, between the start of April and the end of November, 207,543 households approached their council for help with homelessness. A combination of illegal evictions, tenants being put under pressure to leave before eviction, and lodgers never having had protection, has meant that hundreds of thousands have faced the indignity and threat of homelessness.
We all remember the words of the Housing Secretary last March, that
“no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus epidemic”.
How do the Government square their promises with the misery that they delivered? In the middle of the lockdown they created loopholes in the eviction ban that meant that hundreds of evictions continued to go ahead. No wonder the London Renters Union branded it a fake eviction ban. The Government promised to put their arms around the British people; but instead they pushed them out into the cold in the depths of the winter lockdown. Everyone deserves security in their home, but throughout the covid crisis the Government consistently made last-minute decisions that put renters at risk. Why does the Minister think it is right to allow arrears that have built up since the start of the pandemic to lead to evictions?
The Government should give people security in their homes by strengthening the ban so that it means what it should. Why does the Minister think it is right to extend the ban only to 31 March when we know that restrictions on our liberty, lives and work will go on much longer? It is becoming a farce that every couple of weeks we end up here debating yet another extension to the evictions ban. In a few weeks we will inevitably be back here again, debating the same problems, without any solutions.
Labour has the solution for renters and homeowners. I shall repeat what I said the last time and perhaps the Minister will listen. We need to strengthen and extend the ban on evictions and repossessions until restrictions are over, extend the mortgage holiday, raise the local housing allowance to cover median market rents, reform housing law to end automatic evictions through the courts, reduce the waiting period to receive support for mortgage interest payments, retain the £20 uplift to universal credit beyond six months, end the five-week wait and suspend the benefits cap.
People face the threat of losing their homes, and the biggest intervention that the Government will make is to extend the stamp duty holiday to help the owners of second homes, and buy-to-let landlords. Get your priorities straight. Stand up for those who need help. Do not turn this health crisis into a homelessness crisis as well.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this short debate. If I had been selected as a member of the Committee it would have been quorate at the outset, instead of having to rely on Whips. It is desirable that on an issue as controversial as this one, which affects so many small businesses, ordinary Back Benchers should be able to articulate, on behalf of their constituents—
Order. Sir Christopher, you will know, as a senior Member of this House, that when addressing the Chair in a debate we are talking about the matters before us. It is not a matter for this Committee to consider what the Whips may or may not be doing, and who is attending the Committee. You are here. You are free to speak, but can we please stick to the matter before us.
Absolutely, Mr Pritchard. I shall stick to the matters in front of us. All I am pointing out is that I am the only Government Back Bencher present in the Committee and I therefore feel a heavy onus and responsibility on my shoulders. How that came about is of no interest to anyone on the Committee, I know.
I must say that the Opposition spokesman has really made me feel that I am sat on the right side of this Committee. His approach seems to be very much anti-landlord, “property is theft” and old-fashioned hard Labour. However, my approach is that we need to have a balance—and I think that my hon. Friend the Minister accepts this—between the needs of tenants in this crisis and the needs of small-scale landlords in particular, many of whom do not have any income other than from letting one or two properties.
Most private tenants are responsible and take the view that their first obligation is to pay their rent, and we must not damn all tenants by suggesting that they are irresponsible. The vast majority of tenants are being very responsible and, although they may be facing financial hardship, they recognise that paying their rent to their landlord is an essential part of what they do.
However, I am concerned about that small minority of tenants who are taking advantage of the indulgence of the Government and are making life a nightmare for their landlords. I have attended this afternoon because I have received a number of representations from constituents who are on their uppers, absolutely tearing their hair out, because of their frustration at not being able to recover possession of a premises. In some cases, the premises have probably been abandoned, but it is impossible to prove that under the present circumstances—no rent is being paid, there is a threat of squatters moving in, and there is sometimes active vandalism of the property.
I am concerned that my hon. Friend the Minister says he is still weighing up the options as to what will happen after 31 March, because here we are today, on 9 March, and this House rises in just over two weeks for the recess. There seems to be no urgency to bring regulations forward, which then justifies no advance notices and no consideration by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I would have expected that, if the Government were going to bring forward regulations extending this protection from eviction beyond 31 March, they would have done so now, so that there would be a proper opportunity to debate those regulations before the Easter recess.
Am I right to interpret the fact that those regulations have not been laid as meaning that the Government have decided—and I would certainly support this—that the moment has now passed when this protection against eviction, in these stark terms, is needed, and that the time is now right to rebalance the interests? Unfortunately, in answering my own question, my hon. Friend the Minister said “No, this is still under consideration; it is still being balanced,” but when is it going to reach a conclusion?
I am not expecting to get an answer, but I think this is symptomatic of the hand-to-mouth existence that we seem to be living in this Parliament, in terms of legislating, without taking into account the burden that we are placing upon people who we are regulating. Those landlords—and, for that matter, the tenants—wish to know where they stand with this.
My plea to the Government is to ensure that these regulations are not renewed beyond 31 March, but, if they are renewed, to issue the draft regulations now, give a proper opportunity for people to discuss those and to debate their merits, ensure that they can be debated in this House before they come into effect—which would be a novel innovation—and I would also suggest that they have a proper regulatory impact assessment attached to them.
These regulations, like so many others, do not have an impact assessment because it is said that it is not necessary to have one, but the Minister himself has said that a careful balancing act must to be conducted, taking into account competing interests. Therefore, we owe it to Parliament and to the process of scrutiny to be able to see the Government’s workings. If the Government are going to proceed and extend the regulations beyond 31 March, I hope we have a proper impact assessment, early production of those regulations and a full opportunity to debate them before the Easter recess.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those powerful representations, and speaking up for those individuals for whom their rental income is often their only source of income. We in this House must avoid falling into the trap of assuming that those in that situation are somehow vastly wealthy and have numerous other sources of income to draw on. I have constituents, as my hon. Friend evidently does as well, for whom nothing could be further than the truth.
I gently push back on the suggestion of legislation being hand to mouth. It is not that; it is about being agile and responsive to the fact that this is a fluid situation. Notwithstanding the remarkable roll-out of the vaccine and the positive direction of travel in respect of covid infection numbers, the Government properly have to consider matters day by day. Striking that balance, to which my hon. Friend properly referred, must take account of that prevailing epidemiological context.
On the comments made by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), respectfully I think he offered an unfair mischaracterisation of the Government’s position. He took no proper account of the fact that in normal circumstances, if someone was two months late with their rent that would trigger eviction proceedings. Under these proposals the trigger is six months—three times more—and again, it is about striking that proper balance.
My bigger concern was the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the exemptions listed in this statutory instrument are loopholes—his word. That prompts the question, which of the “loopholes” would he close? The first exemption only exists where the claim is against trespassers, who are persons unknown. Is he saying that no eviction proceedings should be taken in those circumstances?
The second exemption applies where the order for the possession is made wholly or partly on the basis of antisocial behaviour or nuisance. Again, should the landlord not be able to evict then, or if false statements have been made or if there is domestic abuse in social tenancies? Where someone is battering the other person in that flat, is it really being suggested by the Labour party that the courts ought not to be able to intervene, or where the possession is made wholly or partly on the grounds of the death of the tenant? It would be a ridiculous situation if the landlord could not intervene in circumstances where the tenant had sadly died.
For those reasons, we respectfully contend that the regulations strike the right balance and we have considered them with care. They are appropriate measures that ensure that the needs of tenants are properly safeguarded, while recognising that in those exceptional circumstances where it would make a nonsense of the law for courts not to be able to intervene, such circumstances are catered for. In those circumstances, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.