Report (3rd Day)
Clause 88: Exercise of regulatory functions: economic growth
43: Clause 88, page 70, line 29, at end insert—
“( ) This section does not apply to the following—
(a) Care Quality Commission,(b) Human Tissue Authority,(c) Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency,(d) Professional Standards Authority,(e) General Medical Council,(f) Nursing and Midwifery Council,(g) Health and Care Professions Council,(h) General Chiropractic Council,(i) General Dental Council,(j) General Pharmaceutical Council,(k) Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and(l) any persons exercising a regulatory function with respect to health and care service that the Secretary of State specifies by order.( ) An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
( ) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section may not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I am concerned about the unintended consequences of the economic growth clauses on a number of health regulatory bodies. The clauses on the impact of economic growth specify that regulators must consider the promotion of economic growth in exercising their regulatory functions. The Government have said that the health regulators likely to fall under Clauses 88 to 90 are as follows: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the Human Tissue Authority, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Professional Standards Authority and the Care Quality Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has said that the economic growth duty will complement existing duties and will not override or reduce the protection of the public. However, I put the question to him: if the economic growth duty does not impinge on the prime responsibility of the regulator, why bring in the clause at all?
The Minister then said that the economic growth duty sits alongside any other factor that a regulator must consider. However, “sitting alongside” suggests that it has some weighting and cannot simply be ignored. Indeed, the noble Lord has also pointed out that regulators must understand and consider the impact of their policies on individual businesses. That is of course reinforced by the provisions in the Bill.
Clause 88(2) states that “the person”—that is, the regulator—must,
“consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising the regulatory function in a way which ensures that … regulatory action is taken only when it is needed, and … any action taken is proportionate”.
In Committee my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe specifically asked about the position of the Care Quality Commission —the principal health quality regulator, to which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has just been referring—as regards whistleblowing. My noble friend asked,
“do we want a situation where, when the CQC is contemplating putting a requirement on a failing nursing home that may close it down to protect the residents of that home, the operator of the home can say, ‘Closing me down is against growth. Please prove that this regulation, which you may have used elsewhere, is both needed and proportionate’?”.—[Official Report, 20/11/14; col. GC 206.]
I have to say to the noble Lord that I do not detect any enthusiasm from the health regulators themselves about the economic growth duty. The CQC’s briefing to me can hardly bring itself to mention the duty.
The Professional Standards Authority, in line 1, says that it supports the intention behind Clause 88, and then spends the rest of its briefing critically examining the clause. It concludes that Clause 88 ought to be restricted by excluding from the duty any regulatory function the prime purpose of which is to protect the public. I must say that I am surprised to see the Professional Standards Authority included. It is not a regulator. Its job is to oversee the nine statutory regulators, including the General Medical Council, and I do not understand why the GMC and the NMC are not on the Government’s list of organisations to be included within this clause.
Can we come to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority? The noble Lord will know that that body has a crucial and difficult task, and this responsibility could make that duty even more difficult. On 24 February we will have a debate about regulations on mitochondrial donation. Currently, the law only allows these techniques to be used in research. For the IVF techniques to be used in patients, Parliament must pass new regulations.
Both the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the HFEA held extensive public consultations in 2012. They identified broad public support for the use of these techniques with a “robust regulatory framework”. I stress those words. As the noble Earl’s honourable friend the Minister Jane Ellison told the other place when it debated the regulations:
“The HFEA is highly respected across the globe as a model for the regulation of fertility and embryology treatments and research. Many other countries do not have such a framework”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/15; col. 163.]
Indeed, if the regulations are passed by Parliament on 24 February, the HFEA will be expected to introduce a robust regulatory process, as it has in other areas of fertility treatment. I know that not all noble Lords think that it is as robust as they would wish it to be. None the less, many of us would say that it is a robust process.
The question that I put to the noble Lord is about where the economic growth considerations come in. There is no provision in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act for the HFEA to have regard to the imperative to promote economic growth when making its decisions. If a clinic does not meet statutory requirements, it cannot grant a licence or allow a certain activity to take place, regardless of how economically desirable it might be thought to be. Similarly, if there had been gross failings at a clinic, regardless of the economic impact of closing it down the HFEA would be bound to say so in the interests of ensuring patient safety and maintaining public confidence in it as a regulator. Surely the economic growth duty is inconsistent with those requirements. The HFEA’s own website has often acknowledged that it is not an economic regulator. This has been confirmed by Ministers in Written Answers. Peter Thompson, the chief executive officer of HFEA, has recently been quoted as recognising a responsibility by that authority to take action against what he described as rampant commercialisation of IVF in the UK.
The Minister has prayed in aid the draft guidance during the passage of this Bill, but it only adds to concern. The guidance summary states:
“The growth duty does not automatically take precedence over or supplant existing duties held by regulators”.
The term “not automatically” must by implication mean that it is entirely possible for it to take precedence.
The decision about mitochondrial donation is of huge importance. It must be made in the absolute certainty of the regulatory process. There is no time for ambiguity. Will the Minister agree to give this further consideration? I find it very difficult to understand why any of these bodies are going to be included in the list for which regulations will be brought forward. Why on earth has the Human Tissue Authority been brought in scope of this provision, or the Care Quality Commission? I certainly do not understand why the PSA is included. I hope that the Minister will bring some words of comfort that the Government have reconsidered this issue, and I beg to move.
I support this amendment wholeheartedly. If my noble friend Lord Hunt decides to divide the House, I shall join him in the Lobby. I disagree with him on a fundamental point, which I shall discuss in a second, but the basis behind his amendment is absolutely correct.
One issue is that London in particular and the United Kingdom in general is increasingly becoming a centre for the healthcare market, which is burgeoning—and, increasingly, there are risks that various practices are being adopted that are not ideal for patients and in some cases are clearly not safe and not validated. If there is an issue about a regulatory authority considering the commercial value and income for the United Kingdom, that would be a very serious issue indeed.
On the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, I was not going to get to my feet until I heard my noble friend move his amendment, but I disagree with him fundamentally about that body. It is not a good body but one that we have been left with, and I think that it badly needs reform. It is nothing to do with mitochondrial transfer, which we will discuss in a couple of weeks—I think that it will regulate that perfectly well. But at present there are large areas that that body is not regulating well. My noble friend says that it is the envy of the world, but I say with deference to him that the fact is that there is not a single sovereignty anywhere in the globe that has adopted that model. No one has adopted that model because it is not widely respected outside the United Kingdom. That is a problem. None the less, we have it.
One of the issues that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has not been capable of dealing with is the burgeoning private care market in London. To give a typical example, last week a friend of mine—a lady approaching her 40s, who does not have a partner and is worried that she might run out of fertility time —went to a private clinic in London asking for donor insemination. I do not want to go into the gruesome details of donor insemination, but essentially it is simply placing donor sperm inside the body of the woman so that she can conceive. It is not exactly a high-tech treatment—but it is regulated by the HFEA.
The Minister might be surprised to hear that the clinic my friend went to, which is not by any means the most expensive in London, was going to charge her £11,000 for three months of treatment. That kind of exploitation is widespread across the market. I have recently seen patients who have written to me in distress because they have mortgaged their houses and spent £60,000 or £70,000 on three cycles of in vitro fertilisation.
When we have complained to the HFEA, it has again and again said that it is not there to regulate prices and there is nothing it can do. I think that the HFEA is anxious about the situation, but cannot do anything about it. If we do not agree to this amendment—if not now, at Third Reading—there is a real risk that we will encourage what is already a disgraceful market in this important area.
The House should not forget that infertile people are deeply vulnerable. They are very distressed. They are often seemingly deranged—although of course they are not: they are sensible people like the rest of us. Noble Lords who have infertile relatives who have had these treatments will know well what it means to those individuals. This is a very serious issue. That combination of avarice and desperation is a serious worry. So when it comes to any kind of impetus to understand and to try to look at the commercial value of this activity—even though it is undoubtedly capable of producing an income to London and other parts of the country—we should be very aware that, as with the whole of healthcare, which my noble friend has covered in his amendment, we need to give it very serious consideration.
I rise simply to underline everything that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, has just said. It seems to me a disgraceful possibility that individual private clinics might be allowed to exploit these vulnerable people. The words that the noble Lord quoted show that this could happen automatically. It is not just that people may be allowed: the suggestion is that they will be allowed, unless some very special consideration applies. I therefore beg the Minister to reconsider this part of the Bill.
My Lords, the Minister may not be surprised to find that I am keen to intervene on this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, but he may have been surprised by the noble Lord’s ability to put together an interesting coalition of voices which would not necessarily always agree on some of the substantive issues raised in the context of human fertilisation and embryology. On this occasion I strongly agree with what my noble friend Lady Warnock and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, have said, and I hope the House paid attention to the specific example that the noble Lord gave of someone having to spend £11,000 in a London clinic. I find that extraordinary and we are all grateful to the noble Lord for telling us about it.
I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said about some of the organisations mentioned in the amendment: the Care Quality Commission, the Human Tissue Authority, the Professional Standards Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. What have they got to do with economic growth duties? They have much more important duties than that and I find it amazing that we are dealing with this issue at all in the context of the Deregulation Bill.
If we examine the press releases of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or look at its website, we will see, in terms, the phrase that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, used. The HFEA says:
“We are not an economic regulator”.
That is also emphasised in a previous Written Answer by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in which he stated:
“The HFEA is not an economic regulator and, accordingly, does not publish information on costs at a clinic level”.—[Official Report, 22/1/13; col. WA 195.]
And nor should it. So, surely this serves only to emphasise that the HFEA is not competent to undertake any economic growth duty.
Indeed, at last year’s Progress Educational Trust’s annual conference, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, described how most NHS trusts charge above cost, and that they are driven by profit motives. Dr John Parsons, the former director of King’s College Hospital’s assisted conception unit, also argued at the same conference that simple greed had made profits, rather than compassion for patients, the top priority of many fertility clinics today. That point was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. Dr Parsons further argued that this encouraged the use of dubious technologies which are motivated simply by market forces rather than treatments motivated by compassion that are targeted to suit the needs of the individual patients about whom we have heard today. Are the Government proposing that the HFEA should emulate those whom it is failing to regulate?
If the HFEA, which is not an economic regulator, should now have the additional duty to make a profit, how might its judgments be further impaired by such pecuniary interests? How might this exacerbate what the report of the Progress Educational Trust’s last annual conference described as—I repeat what was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Winston—
“the rampant commercialisation of IVF in the UK”?
If the profit motives of some avaricious clinics go unchecked by the regulator, and the regulator itself becomes increasingly motivated by profit, will this not make an already bad situation even worse?
It is far from clear that the HFEA has proven itself to be a particularly effective regulator as it is. The noble Lord and I do not agree on this point. I do not believe that it is sufficiently robust. To begin with, recent Written Answers to Parliamentary Questions reveal that it does not even maintain proper records on the number of human embryos used in research or allowed to perish. Instead, the HFEA seems more concerned about providing repeated references to a pinhead, the relevance of which to the number of human embryos destroyed is far from clear, except perhaps as a reflection on the competence of whoever is responsible for answering these Questions.
The HFEA’s enforcement of its multiple births policy has already proven to be utterly toothless. That is exemplified by a press statement on the HFEA website from 13 November 2013, in which it was conceded that IVF clinics would no longer be subject to a condition on their licence that they keep their multiple births rate below the HFEA target. As the press statement further revealed, this was in response to a legal challenge launched by two UK clinics,
“resulting in considerable cost to the HFEA”.
How much easier it will be for the HFEA to cave into those it is supposed to be regulating if it has to prioritise an economic growth duty.
Strikingly, an ensuing Written Answer from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on 9 December 2013 stated the following in relation to the incidence of multiple births and the HFEA’s publication of clinic success rates:
“It is not clear whether additional powers of economic regulation would alter the HFEA’s influence on such practice”.—[Official Report, 9/12/13; col. WA 79.]
If the profit motives of some clinics already remain unchecked in a continuing environment of IVF postcode lotteries, how will this not be made even worse by having the HFEA join the fray in prioritising profit over protecting patient interests?
Although the HFEA chief executive, Peter Thompson, may be trying to make some modest efforts to combat,
“the rampant commercialisation of IVF in the UK”,
this seems limited only to “tentative steps” for increased transparency on the part of clinics and an expectation that others will bring about a change in culture. This does not exactly sound like an effective regulator, does it? If it is up to clinics to bring about a change in culture, what is the HFEA there for? The impotence of the HFEA is already serious enough as it is. As Dr Geeta Nargund, who I met recently, pointed out in a Huffington Post article that I would encourage noble Lords to read,
“no-one appears to be monitoring the drugs given to women during IVF treatment. Extremely high doses of stimulation drugs and intravenous immune therapy injections are administered to women by some clinics with no scientific evidence to support those practices. The HFEA do not collect information about drugs and dosages given to women, but we need this information to study any adverse effects of the drugs on women and their children in the future”.
How is the HFEA protecting the interests of patients if neither it nor anyone else is monitoring this? Dr Nargund’s concerns are only reinforced by the Written Answer I received from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, just yesterday, in which it was admitted that the,
“administration of medicinal products to patients undergoing fertility treatment ... is not regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ... The HFEA has advised that it does not collect information on the identity of medicinal products used in treatment”.
But it gets worse. The same Written Answer received yesterday goes on to describe nevertheless how the,
“HFEA is aware of some clinics that have administered reagents to permitted gametes or permitted embryos that are then introduced into patients when the reagents concerned have not been CE marked. … Although the HFEA does not hold information on the effects of particular dosages on the welfare of the developing child and the health of the mother, the HFEA expects clinics to do such monitoring as part of their licensing conditions”.
It should be noted that we are not just talking about unlicensed medicines but about off-the-shelf laboratory reagents, most of which I gather would typically be labelled as unsuitable for clinical application. It should also be noted that no mention is made here of the sanctions imposed by the HFEA on clinics for putting goodness knows what into patients without knowing the effects,
“on the welfare of the developing child and the health of the mother”.
It therefore seems that as long as the clinic is responsible for whatever happens, the HFEA is satisfied.
In closing, I would like to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said in relation to proposed interventions for mitochondrial diseases. Regarding the question of profit, it is noteworthy that a “competing interests” statement on a recent paper by Shoukhrat Mitalipov—belatedly added as a corrigendum—includes the admission that he has a patent application entitled:
“Method for mitochondrial DNA replacement in oocytes”.
My understanding is that researchers at Newcastle have no similar patent applications for pronuclear transfer, which is probably unsurprising because their proposed use of this technique is not original, having already been attempted in humans in China with woeful results. However, how would the economic growth clauses in the Bill affect the HFEA’s consideration of such licence applications? Would the HFEA be compelled to favour proposals for spindle-chromosomal complex transfer over proposals for pronuclear transfer on the basis of patent applications and potential profits to be gained? Or can the Minister please spell out clearly how the projected use of pronuclear transfer in admittedly limited numbers of clients could be seen as a contributing factor to economic growth, such that the HFEA would be seen as satisfying the economic growth clauses in the Bill?
I am sorry to have wearied the House with some of this but the point I am making is that these are complex and clear ethical, as well as medical and scientific, issues. This is not about things being driven by the state of the economy or deregulation, and it is a great error on the part of the Government to have included this in the Bill. I hope that between now and Third Reading the noble Earl will listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has said and give this much greater and more detailed consideration.
My Lords, this debate has ranged widely over a number of health issues, and I realise the seriousness of the issues that have been raised. Given that I am painfully aware of the cost of a new hip, and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, is telling me cost of IVF treatment is in the same league, there are some major questions. I am also conscious, partly as a result of conversations with the noble Lord, that the United Kingdom has identified biomedical research and development as one of the core areas that we want to develop. One member of my family is heavily involved in some of that. London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and other places are centres of expertise, and this is therefore an important area in which aspects of economic growth are entirely relevant, but careful regulation also has to be part of it. The question of care homes has also been raised. That is another very broad area where sustainability, how far profit should be part of the process and how far we should be promoting mutuals are some other major questions.
Since this is the first of three related areas, it might be helpful if I say something about the Government’s approach in this Deregulation Bill. We are following the course set out in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which proposed that there would be regulations that set out the various regulatory functions that would follow. The Regulators’ Code, which comes under that Act, includes as its first principle of six:
“Regulators should carry out their activities in a way that supports those they regulate to comply and grow”.
That is very much the delicate balance that we are talking about.
In Clause 88—perhaps it would be useful if I read it out carefully—we propose:
“A person exercising a regulatory function … must … have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”.
It does not in any way say that economic growth should override other functions. Some regulators will regard this as a factor to be included, but not as one of the more important ones—other issues rather than economic factors will clearly matter a good deal more. It has been made very clear in the debate that, in a very large number of areas of medical and biomedical concern, the question of economic growth—let alone of commercialisation—will have to be treated either as not relevant to the subject, or as one of the factors but certainly not one of the most important ones.
May I explain where we go from here? The Government are currently consulting on which functions are to be regulated and which are out of the Bill’s scope. The HFEA was in scope in the original 2013 consultation on the growth duty; that remains the Government’s case. I recognise that part of the discussion about the HFEA here has been a criticism of the way that that body functions, rather than whether it is in scope. The Government are currently exploring whether the Professional Standards Authority has any regulatory functions. If they conclude that it does exercise a number of regulatory functions, they will then consult on including them before doing so. The regulations, when ready after extensive consultation, will come back to Parliament as an affirmative statutory instrument. I have no doubt that the concerns that have been expressed about this will be taken very fully into account in the continuing consultations.
I hope that that provides the level of assurance needed for the amendment to be withdrawn. The Government are very aware of concerns in the biomedical area. We stress that Clause 89 requires that any such order specifying regulatory functions to be included in the scope of the duty must be subject to the affirmative procedure. This is a debate that will continue. Once the Bill becomes an Act we will consider which bodies will come within its scope and for which purposes. Again, I stress that Clauses 88 to 91 follow the recommendations in the proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and others that regulatory authorities, where appropriate, should include the consideration of economic growth in their factors to be taken into account. Again, I stress that in some cases that will be a very important part of what they should consider; in others, it will be one factor and not necessarily one of the most important.
I hope that that provides the assurance that the noble Lord seeks and that he will therefore be able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. However, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response because I thought that at the least he would have been prepared to give this matter further consideration between now and Third Reading. With my noble friend Lord Winston here to talk about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, also present, I knew that we would have an interesting debate.
The point is that, however effective or not the HFEA is at the moment, the one thing that unites us all is that we do not want to see its regulatory function weakened. My noble friend Lord Winston spoke about London becoming the centre of a healthcare market, and the Minister welcomed that. When I took through the 2001 regulations that extended the purposes of research in the original 1990 Act, which was based very much on the extraordinary work of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, we clearly had in mind that there was research potential for the UK. That was one of the factors behind taking through those original regulations. The argument that we put forward then was that the UK would be able to attract research investment because, despite some of the doubts that noble Lords have expressed today, we were considered to have a first-rate regulatory function. I put it to the noble Lord that he is putting that reputation at risk by allowing ambiguity in the nature of the regulatory process.
My noble friend talked about the dangers of commercialisation in this field and he is surely right. It is interesting that the chief executive of the HFEA has recently been quoted as recognising the responsibility to take action against rampant commercialisation of IVF in the UK. That statement is very welcome. My noble friend has argued that at the moment it does not have the powers to do anything about it, but the noble Lord comes here with a proposal to weaken its already inadequate powers. That is quite remarkable.
The Government are very keen for the mitochondrial donation regulations to be approved on 24 February. I support them, but has the noble Lord considered the risk to that decision from the impact of this Bill? This will be a big issue when we debate those regulations. When the noble Earl, Lord Howe, comes to make proposals for the regulations, he will say that your Lordships can have confidence in passing the legislation because of the robustness of the HFEA. However, I, who support those regulations, will have to get up and say that actually the noble Earl is incorrect because of what the noble Lord here is proposing to do.
That is absolutely right. The noble Lord then went on to say that we should be fine because the provisions in the Bill say that all the regulator has to do is to “have regard to” the desirability of promoting economic growth. However, the moment you include those words, the regulator becomes liable if it can be shown that he does not have regard to that, even though the noble Lord recognises that in many cases he ought not to have regard to it.
It is quite inadequate to say that we are consulting on this. This is absolutely wrong. We need to know by Third Reading whether the Government are going to keep in the HFEA and the PSA. I think that the noble Lord ought to allow further discussions to take place between now and Third Reading, and he ought to discuss this with his colleague—particularly the impact on the new regulations on mitochondrial donations that will be coming forward. As for his assurance that any of these bodies will be included by an affirmative resolution, how many times has an SI been defeated in Parliament? It is fewer than 10 times, so it is a meaningless safeguard in effect. I invite the Minister to say that he will at least give this further consideration before Third Reading before I make my decision.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Clause 89: Functions to which section 88 applies
44: Clause 89, page 71, line 2, at end insert—
“(d) a regulatory function of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.”
My Lords, I am not sure that I can give the same assurance to the Minister about withdrawing my amendment because, as I will try to explain, even the offer he may make—that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will be excluded from future statutory instruments—will not relieve the commission from the sword of Damocles that is hanging over it, as a future Government could bring it within the ambit of this legislation.
Perhaps I may explain to the House the position and why I think it should take this as an exceptional case and put the commission into this primary legislation. First, I should like to make clear the commission’s current position:
“The Commission supports the principle and intention behind the growth duty. We do, and will continue to, exercise our regulatory functions fairly and proportionately, taking all relevant considerations into account—including the impact on businesses and economic growth. However, applying the growth duty to the Commission risks our status as an NHRI”—
national human rights institution—
“and a National Equality Body and introduces legal uncertainty into the exercise of our functions. We therefore consider that the Commission should be excluded from the scope of the growth duty, as proposed by”—
Amendment 44. It continues:
“The Commission has the highest possible UN accreditation (‘A status’) as an NHRI rated against the UN ‘Paris Principles’, which clearly and unequivocally require NHRIs to be independent of government”.
I made sure that I had that clear statement of where the commission itself is in terms of its attitude to this legislation.
I should give the House a little background. When the coalition came into office in 2010, there were many criticisms of the EHRC, some justified. Since then the organisation has been refocused, restructured, given a new board and a new leadership in the person of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, who I am pleased to see in her place. During my time as a Minister at the Ministry of Justice I became involved with the EHRC on two fronts: first, in attempting to regain A-list status at the UN, which we had lost; and secondly, regaining Britain’s place on the UN Human Rights Committee. With the help of the FCO and the DCMS, particularly the then Minister Maria Miller, we were able to achieve both. We were able to do that, however, by stressing the independence from government and the integrity of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
As noble Lords will be aware, Clause 88 places a legal duty on regulators to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth when exercising regulatory functions. The EHRC, as I said, supports that principle. However, when the Joint Committee on Human Rights looked at the matter, it opined that the Bill,
“raises serious questions about the EHRC’s independence from the executive”.
It concluded that the matter could easily be dealt with,
“if the proposed new duty did not apply to the EHRC”.
The committee went on to ask that the EHRC and the Government should continue to negotiate to see whether such a settlement could be reached. As I indicated, no such settlement has been reached. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, has gone on record to express her concern about this matter, particularly the threat to our hard-won A status.
I now come to the reason for my amendment. In a letter to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, on 19 November, my right honourable friend Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, wrote:
“I would like to take this opportunity to state that the Government has taken the decision to fully exclude the EHRC from the growth duty. This decision was taken to ensure that the Government mitigated the risk of this policy unintentionally triggering a review of the important ‘A’ status that EHRC holds as a National Human Rights Institution”.
The Government accept that the threat to the EHRC status and reputation exists—so far, so good. However, the commission fears that leaving the Bill as it is would leave it open to future Administrations to apply the growth duty to regulatory functions of the commission through secondary legislation. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the idea that secondary legislation offers protection from further inclusion is not sustainable. It is to avoid that threat that I have put down my amendment.
In opposing my amendment in Committee, my noble friend Lord Wallace said that,
“listing inclusions and exemptions in a Bill is not generally regarded as appropriate because primary legislation would then need to be amended each time a regulatory function were changed or created”.—[Official Report, 20/11/14; col. GC231.]
QED—that is exactly why I am putting this amendment forward. I am putting it forward as a narrow, focused amendment to turn the Government’s good intentions into a copper-bottomed guarantee—or as the EHRC has said,
“the risks to the Commission’s independence, and the consequences of impinging on it, are of such importance that this matter should be”,
put beyond doubt in primary legislation.
Let me emphasise, particularly to my colleagues on these Benches, that my amendment does not change the Bill in any way other than to remove beyond peradventure what the Secretary of State himself describes as the risks of unintentionally jeopardising our A status as a UN organisation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am speaking in support of Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in place of my noble friend Lady Thornton. On these Benches, we are very pleased that the noble Lord has brought this matter back to the Floor of the House. We fully support having the EHRC’s exclusion from the list of regulators included in the Bill, and the noble Lord has already explained the importance of doing so—it is what he described as a copper-bottomed guarantee. We really cannot see why the Government would not want to support this. Essentially, as the noble Lord says, it would just ensure that the Government’s good intentions actually hold up regardless of what a future Administration might wish to do. We are also in no doubt that even the risk that the EHRC might be included in the regulations in future could have an adverse effect on its A status as a UN accredited national human rights institution—an NHRI. That, in turn, might impact on the UK’s compliance with European Union law.
However, the real issue here is around the independence of the EHRC. The UN International Coordinating Committee has said to the UK Government that independence from government is an essential element of a national human rights institution. In considering whether an NHRI is independent, the ICC looks at all the ways in which the particular institution in question is subject to control or direction. Although the Deregulation Bill may not intend to affect the independence of the EHRC, attaching an additional duty could be seen as competing with or limiting its existing duties, and may have that effect on its decision-making. Being subject to ministerial direction and the possibility of legal challenge could have a detrimental effect on the EHRC’s ability to make decisions in relation to upholding human rights. When combined with the existing connections and accountabilities to the British Government, these clauses will raise questions about the compliance of the EHRC with the UN Paris principles—the principles which uphold the protection of human rights by national institutions.
The real point here is that it would be a shame if—when we are all agreed that the EHRC should have that independence, and we all want to see that status maintained by the UN—we were yet again to pass the law that we pass most often here, the law of unintended consequences, and thereby damage the ECHR’s prospects when it goes through the process of UN reaccreditation. The accreditation process, when the UN considers whether an NHRI will retain its accreditation, takes place around once every five years. I am sure the Minister will be aware that the EHRC is up for that process this year. Given that, is this not the worst possible time for us to introduce uncertainty? The way to remove that uncertainty is, as we are all aware, to put the amendment on to the face of the Bill.
We know that the Minister will say that the Secretary of State for BIS has written to the EHRC to say that the Government have decided to,
“fully exclude the EHRC from the growth duty”.—[Official Report, 20/11/14; col. GC229.]
If the Government want to do that, they will accept the amendment because it delivers the Government’s aims. This is a matter of huge importance and we assume from what the noble Lord said in introducing the amendment that he will press it to a vote. However, if for any reason he decides not to do so, we on these Benches certainly will. It would be an extraordinary own goal to limit the perceived independence of the EHRC and it is something that we should not allow to happen, even if only inadvertently or by accident. I hope that the Government and indeed the House will accept the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has given us a lot of hypothetical, “If a future Government were to”, and so on. The Government have made it entirely clear and said publicly that they intend the EHRC to be excluded from the growth duty. No Parliament can bind its successors. I cannot imagine that any major party or minor party that might be part of a future Government is likely to want to do this, and as I say, no Parliament can bind its successors. Indeed, if that were to happen we would encounter heaven knows what. At the present moment the Government have taken the clear decision to exclude the EHRC from the growth duty in order to remove any threat to its international standing. We have provided the commission with a reassurance of that decision and, as has already been said twice in this debate by my noble friend Lord McNally and the noble Baroness, Lady King, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills wrote to the EHRC in November to confirm the decision. We have also reaffirmed the commitment to exclude the commission from the duty in the recent consultation document on extending the growth of the duty.
The Government Equalities Office, which is the EHRC’s government sponsor, does not see a significant threat to the commission’s A status by not excluding it on the face of the Deregulation Bill, and the GEO has advised the commission to accept those reassurances.
My Lords, my understanding is that it is going to be very difficult to bring them forward before the election. However, I will take that back and will be sure to write to the noble Baroness with any exact dates for the regulations.
No specific regulatory functions of any other particular named body are listed on the face of the Bill, and it is not necessary to do so in relation to the regulatory functions of the EHRC. The regulatory functions to which the growth duty is to apply will be set out in secondary legislation, as I have said before. Meanwhile, the Government have given a range of assurances that the EHRC is outside the scope of the growth duty and will be excluded.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak because, as chair of the EHRC, it is difficult for me to do so, but before the Minister sits down, I think I can allow myself to say one factual thing. This is an unusual regulatory body in that it is subject to international inspection and rating—which will be done by the ICC. Unfortunately, as a matter of timing, all the evidence that the ICC requires will have to be submitted in June this year, and I think the Minister has just informed us that it will not be possible to lay the statutory instruments that exclude the commission from scope before that time.
My Lords, I would simply reply that we are of course well aware that this is not the only body for which there are a range of international complications and obligations. Indeed, the RSPB briefing, which some Members will have seen, raises questions about EU legislation. We are very conscious that everything we do in this area, biomedical issues included, carries international implications.
Another gem is lost to us from the noble Lord, Lord Jones. Let us not confuse this issue: the protection of a statutory instrument is not the same as the protection afforded by being in primary legislation. It is that protection of primary legislation that I want to give to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I have no doubts about my noble friend’s commitments, but we live in strange times. For most of my life, the concept of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been accepted as part of our world governance. We live in an age when people think of the concept of human rights as somehow a western imperialist invention, but I believe that this country’s role in championing human rights since the Second World War has been a very great one, of which we should be proud. David Maxwell Fyfe drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, and when Eleanor Roosevelt launched the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she called it a Magna Carta for all mankind. There was no need for a translation of what she meant.
This is an exceptional case that I am arguing. I know all the objections of the barrack-room lawyers and draftsmen to specifics in primary legislation, but by putting this in primary legislation, I believe we will be keeping faith with our tradition of protecting human rights and be giving the EHRC the strength to carry on its excellent work. As I have indicated, I would like to the test the opinion of the House.
44A: Clause 89, page 71, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) Section 88 shall only apply to a person exercising a regulatory function in so far as it is consistent with the proper exercise of their existing regulatory functions.”
My Lords, the Labour Party, despite rumours put about by the Benches opposite, is pro business. We see business as central to our society: it is essential, and thriving industry is good for us. We are also pro growth. We might have slightly different views about its distribution: we think that growth should go to the many as well as to the few. That would have been a point of difference until the recent conversion of David Cameron to a belief that firms should be paying their staff more. This we applaud, and therefore we so far have consensus. Because we are pro business and pro growth, we support the generality of Clauses 88 and 89, but with reservations. I was almost talked out of supporting the two clauses by the Minister, who pointed out that the 2006 Act apparently does what these two clauses do anyway. Life might have been easier if the Government had not brought forward these clauses at all.
However, just as we are pro business and pro growth, we are pro good regulation. Once again, I am absolutely delighted that we are not alone in this. Oliver Letwin, the Minister of State for Policy, indicated at the beginning of this Bill in the other place that he, too, was in favour of good regulation. Good regulation protects the citizen from the overly powerful, be it overly powerful commercial interests, the state or other large bodies. It protects consumers, workers, patients, the old and those with disabilities, while other regulatory bodies protect the environment, the built environment and many other areas of our lives. The challenge is to create a balance between legislation that is pro growth on the one hand and protects the citizen on the other. We think that Clauses 88 and 89—and I think Clause 90 as well—go too far, and that is why we are moving Amendment 44A.
Just stand back for a second and see how these clauses are going to promote growth, and look at the guidance material that we have already received—and discussed at some length in Committee. They divide into two areas. A great deal was said about the bureaucracy of regulation, the same form coming twice and different inspectors coming on different days. The essence of much of the illustration of the value of these two clauses was about regulators being much more efficient at bureaucracy, more sensitive to the needs of business and much more business-friendly. We could not agree more. It is absolutely sound that that should be true.
The other potential for the two clauses is to have an impact on protection itself and actually diminish it. We are very concerned about that. We discussed this at some length in Committee, and the Minister very kindly arranged a number of meetings. We thank him for doing that. Those meetings were very much the same. They were very much the curate’s egg—good in parts. They almost always started with the Minister present stating fairly flatly that these clauses were not meant to diminish protection. The Minister would say that they did not have an impact on safety. Then, towards the end of the meeting, the Minister would float back into perhaps that being the area where they could impact.
At the end of this, we had two letters, including a very useful letter from the HSE. I shall not quote it at any length, but the HSE is a much derided body. It is an excellent organisation that has matured greatly under the chairmanship of Judith Hackitt. In many ways, its maturity is reflected in the letter. Essentially, the HSE does not say that it does not need the provision, but it is sort of saying that in practical terms it will not make a difference to protection because the essence of the 1974 Act—one of the best pieces of legislation around, which has survived to this day largely unamended—is that it had a sense of proportionality about it. It said,
“so far as reasonably practicable”.
We were very satisfied with that letter.
Then—not exactly sequentially—the Minister wrote to us to assure us. His letter had more of the history of British Raj about it, almost: “On one hand”, and then “On the other”. Early in the letter, he says:
“I can assure you that the duty will complement existing duties and will not override or reduce the protection of the public”.
I had a little trouble with “complement”. If you look it up, it seems to mean “add to” or even perhaps “enhance”, but where in the Bill is it clear that the duty will not override or reduce the protection of the public? It is clear in his assurance in this letter, but it is not clear in the Bill. This is where in the meetings we had the same sense of floating away. The letter states that: “This duty sits alongside”—so one is now having words of equal weight—
“any other factors that a regulator must consider … As experts in their relevant areas, it is the regulators themselves who are best placed to decide how much weight it is appropriate to afford to the desirability of economic growth in the relevant circumstances; in order that economic growth is considered whilst public protections are maintained. Indeed, it would not be appropriate for Government to dictate how growth should rank in relation to other factors which regulators also need to consider”.
We do not agree. It is appropriate for government and this House to give clear guidance in the Bill about how the growth duty ranks with the other duties of the regulators involved.
Once again in this balanced approach we get to where he says:
“I might also add that if a regulator has had regard to, and considered growth, and can justify its decision, then a business cannot expect to successfully challenge that decision, nor can it use the duty to escape legitimate compliance costs”.
One of the ways to understand a sentence like that is to reverse it. It would then read: “I might also add that if the regulator has not had regard to and not considered growth and cannot justify its decision, a business could expect to successfully challenge that decision and could use the duty to escape legitimate costs”. In other words, each of the three conditions—“have regard to”, “consider growth” and “justify”—have to be met for the challenge not to be made. Clearly, the person who drafted this letter envisaged that challenges could be made, and those were the three conditions that had to be met.
Why am I so concerned with what might seem like a nuance? The whole problem with regulation is that, frequently, balance is achieved very much in the matter of the nuance. I come from a very regulated back- ground—originally aviation, then railways, then nuclear, and so on. In a high-hazard background you sit down and consider killing people and how much you are going to spend to avoid that, to mitigate that risk. Those are very difficult decisions, but they are taken. When you edge or nuance protection, ultimately you are talking about harm and about people getting killed. I worked in an industry where, sadly, we killed people every year. You cannot carry 800,000 passengers a year without killing some of them. We abandoned the whole idea that it was just an accident; we took the view that every death was our responsibility. That meant that every death was analysed so we could establish how much we could have spent or sensibly should have spent to mitigate that death.
Those are the sorts of decisions small and big companies take. We know that they take those decisions, perhaps most famously from the BP Texas City explosion in 2005. The examination of that event uncovered that BP head office had demanded cuts in costs. There was no mitigation on safety and no qualification; cuts in cost had to be made. Sadly, 15 people died in that event. We know that BP did not learn its lesson, because the Gulf of Mexico spillage happened five years later, in 2010.
What, then, is our remedy to avoid this now? It is the amendment to which I speak:
“Section 88 shall only apply to a person exercising a regulatory function”—
that is the growth duty—
“in so far as it is consistent with the proper exercise of their existing regulatory functions”.
That makes it clear that the protection—the balance—in the present regulatory structure should be unaltered. It makes it clear that in the nine areas which we have talked about, particularly the bureaucratic areas, let us get rid of the bureaucracy—yes, great—and if you look at the impact assessment, you will see that that is where virtually all the money is. However, it protects us from any erosion of the protection of the current regulatory regime.
My nuance may be unfounded—it may be that all firms take their safety and other protection responsibilities seriously. However, sadly, I have seen too much evidence of the opposite. I have been in rooms where people have said, “Compliance with this regulation is too expensive. How can we avoid it or reduce it?”. We have to maintain the present regulatory balance while introducing the growth concept. We want noble Lords to support this amendment to protect citizens from the bad guys, which of course will leave a level playing field for the good guys.
I rise to support my noble friend’s amendment and congratulate him not only on the way he exposed the ambiguities in the Bill but on how he introduced the argument on protection and balance. That is an argument I want to pursue. The amendments that we have just debated have totally exposed the fact that the language of the Bill is a morass of ambiguity. I am thinking of terms such as “have regard to” or “not automatically”, and the suggestion that it should be up to the regulators to interpret the Bill as will suit their best purposes.
In this amendment, we are giving the Government an opportunity to do what they say that they want to do: to have a clear intention of purpose with regard to regulation; to put in the Bill exactly what they mean by their expectations of regulators; to show that they understand what regulators do, can do and should do; and to put clarity into the Bill that leaves no one in any doubt about the limits to what they can do.
I want to talk about balance and growth in another context—in relation to the built environment and the protections that surround our environment. That is a parallel argument to the one that my noble friend made. One danger of the ambiguity is that it introduces an additional requirement for growth, although the Government say that it is complementary. Will that additional requirement sit alongside or above the existing growth duties that regulators have to implement and which they are bound by law to do? With the National Planning Policy Framework, the Government very wisely embraced the advice of statutory bodies such as English Heritage, which retained the essential point about planning law—that it is a balance between development and protection of landscapes and precious spaces, the ancient and characterful environment with which we all live.
The need for appropriate development in the right place and time is not in dispute, but it is balanced with the need to protect and sustain what this country is uniquely known for. We already have a presumption of growth in the National Planning Policy Framework; in short, we have a duty to promote growth. But that is balanced by a requirement to protect our precious landscapes and the heritage of our built environment. The balance has worked well, and it was very gratifying that, after a lot of discussion, when the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced, it repeated and reflected those traditional, tested balances that had been in the previous planning law. The statutory agencies know how to do that, in the full knowledge that there must be scope for development and a response to housing pressures and the need for infrastructure, but there is also a prior duty to protect what they are there to protect.
All this amendment does—I urge the Government to think about this, because they will get themselves out of a real problem if they do—is to make clear beyond doubt that the duty to promote growth must be consistent with the proper exercise of existing regulatory functions. Everything that I have heard the Government say, in their letters, suggests that it is what they want. So what is the difficulty about putting a clear, unambiguous, crisp statement in the Bill? It is vital that we have that assurance, because it will tell all the practitioners and the country as a whole that the Bill does not change or challenge that balance, and it does not override the scope of the functions of protection. It does not create an unnecessary diversionary distraction in the shape of another growth duty.
If the amendment is not accepted, that will send the opposite signal. It will send a signal to the developers, for example, that there is an imperative of growth, which is undefined—we have perhaps lost the argument that sustainable growth should have been specified; that would have been infinitely more acceptable and sensible—and that that imperative can be taken to override the other protective functions.
I think that there will be a chilling effect on regulators, because if it is up to them to try to interpret what is meant by a duty to “have regard to” something in the exercise of their proper functions, they will always be looking over their shoulder. They will always know that there will be a challenge from people who think there is a higher imperative— in many cases, an inappropriate economic imperative.
The local and national authorities will suffer from the same fear—that they are getting it wrong. They will be faced with a further layer of confusion. We all know that what the planning system needs above everything else is certainty. This provision will introduce another layer of uncertainty, and will have perverse consequences. It will cause further delays while people argue about whether the regulator has had proper regard to something. For that reason, it would hand greater scope and power to developers. My great fear is that the balance, which the noble Lord spoke about in relation to health and safety, will also be compromised or lost in relation to the protection of the environment.
We have had a very successful planning system to date, which has been supported by all Governments. The regulatory bodies are extremely experienced, well intentioned and well practised in their duties. Without the simple and incontrovertible logic of the amendment, which spells out what the Government themselves want to achieve, we will introduce more confusion and delay. So I hope that the Minister will listen seriously to the arguments for it.
My Lords, in speaking to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I should note my current involvement with the Better Regulation Strategy Group, the independent body that advises the present Government on better regulation. I should also note, as it is relevant to my perspective on the amendment, my former involvement in the two predecessor bodies that advised the previous Government—the Better Regulation Commission, of which I was vice-chairman, and the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council.
Based on my experience of those three independent bodies advising government on better regulation, I question the need for Amendment 44A. If the proposed duty as set out in the Bill were to override regulators’ powers of protection, compromise their decision-making or supersede their existing regulatory duties—or if there were any ambiguity about those three important assessments—I would wholly understand the need for the amendment. But in my judgment that is not the case.
The proposed growth duty will not override or cut across regulators’ powers of protection. It is simply an additional factor for regulators to take into account when they are making their decisions. It will not compromise their decision-making and, as I understand it, it will not supersede regulators’ existing duties. It will not remove the responsibility of businesses to comply with what the law or regulations require of them. The duty will therefore not compromise the independence of regulators. They will continue to have decision-making autonomy, exactly as they do now. Regulators will therefore remain free to decide how best to incorporate the duty into the decision- making involved in performing their primary statutory functions.
I have been looking at the published draft guidance that the Government issued in January, and I believe that it makes very clear many of the points that I have just mentioned. I understand that the guidance is continuing to be developed in discussion with the regulators so that it can be finalised before the policy comes into force. That guidance makes it clear that the proposed duty does not encourage regulators to reduce protections or to ignore non-compliance.
For the benefit of noble Lords who have not seen the published draft guidance, Non-economic Regulators: Duty to Have Regard to Growth, I draw their attention to the beginning of chapter 2, on page 5, which sets out the purpose of the duty. The very first sentence reads:
“Regulators exist primarily to protect people or achieve other social or environmental outcomes”.
That is an important headline sentence, which reminds us of the principal duty that regulators must subscribe to. The second paragraph on that page says:
“The duty requires that economic growth is a factor”—
not the factor, but a factor—
“to be taken into account alongside regulators’ other statutory duties … The duty does not set out how economic growth ranks against existing duties as this is a judgment only a regulator can and should make … The duty does not oblige the regulator to place a particular weight on growth”.
Those are only a few extracts from one page of the draft guidance, but they set out a clear proposition in terms of the importance of maintaining the balance between regulators having regard, as appropriate, to growth and their maintaining protections. As I see it, the proposed duty will complement existing duties and will not override or cut across regulators’ powers of protection, nor their responsibilities for ensuring protection. It will be for a regulator to weigh up the desirability of economic growth against each of the other factors it must consider, and tailor its approach accordingly.
In some circumstances those factors will sit well together; in others the regulator will need to decide how much weight to afford to each factor for the best outcome. On the basis of the wisdom that was developed through the Better Regulation Commission, the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council and so on, I believe that the regulator’s expertise means that it is best placed to decide what weight it is appropriate to afford growth in the relevant circumstances.
I therefore disagree with the insistence of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that only Parliament can rank those factors. In a good regulatory regime there should be discretion for the regulators to make judgments between parallel factors, because they can take account of the exact circumstances in which they are regulating. Therefore, although the growth duty clause as drafted requires that growth be put on the same footing as other duties—in other words, it enables regulators to have regard to growth—it also ensures that essential protections are maintained.
We should not lose sight of the importance of the new growth duty and the benefits that will flow from it. Regulators spend some £2 billion each year on regulatory activities, and still to this day more than half of businesses see regulation as a barrier to their success. The duty is required to clarify the fact that growth is an important factor for regulators to take into account, and it will ensure that regulation is delivered in a way that best supports growth. It will also ensure that the protection intended to be given by regulations is still delivered. On those grounds, although I understand the motives behind the amendment, I genuinely believe that it is unnecessary, and that the balance will be not only maintained but enhanced by the Bill as drafted.
My Lords, we have heard three excellent and very sober speeches on the amendment, for which I thank noble Lords. There is only a small difference between the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and myself, on behalf of the Government. We are talking about balance—the balance among a range of factors that we wish regulators to consider.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, for his speech. I had forgotten that he was vice-chair of the Better Regulation Commission, on which my wife also served with him. The continuity of the approach which the last Government and the current Government have taken to regulation should be marked. We have not differed very much in the way we approach regulation as such.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, recognises that growth should be a factor which we take into account among other factors in considering the balance, he fears that this duty, in spite of what the Bill and the guidance clearly say, will nevertheless come to override other factors. He is suspicious that there may be some underlying hidden motivations behind them when he talks about nuances. I reassure him that nothing in the Bill, the guidance or the draft regulations gives any credence to what he fears.
If a regulator has had regard to growth and can justify its decision, a business cannot expect successfully to challenge that decision. Businesses cannot use the growth duty to escape legitimate compliance costs. I am very familiar with the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in English Heritage and I recall with pleasure escorting her on her inspection visit to Saltaire as a world heritage site—it is just possible that one or two noble Lords are not familiar with the fact that Saltaire is a world heritage site, so I rub that in. I say to the noble Baroness that the growth duty is not a higher duty which would trump existing considerations. Therefore, where regulators are required to consider sustainable development or environmental and social concerns, they will continue to do so. It will be for the individual regulator to decide whether, in view of the duty and the guidance, they are striking the appropriate balance between growth and the other factors they are required to take into account.
Clause 88 is clear that the growth duty is a duty to have regard to the desirability of economic growth. It does not provide that the duty should take precedence over a regulator’s existing and other duties. As a result, it does not in any way override or cut across a regulator’s existing powers of protection. The duty sits alongside the other duties and functions of regulators, and it is for each regulator to decide what weight, if any, to afford to the desirability of economic growth, depending on the decision they are making. It cannot compel a regulator to take action in the interest of growth at the expense of other protections. In some circumstances, these factors will sit well together; in others, the regulator will need to decide how much weight to afford each factor for the best outcome. We are all familiar with the problems of regulation in that regard. The regulators’ expertise means that they are best placed to decide what weight is appropriate to attach to the desirability of economic growth against other factors in the relevant circumstances.
The Opposition Front Bench asked when the orders listing the functions to which the duty will apply, and the guidance for regulators, will be brought into force. They are intended to be brought into force in October this year by whichever Government are then in office.
The draft guidance sets out how regulators can implement the duty alongside their existing functions, and has been well received by the regulators. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, has already quoted it, but it also states:
“The duty does not compromise the independence of regulators, nor does it supplant or replace a regulator’s existing duties”.
It further states that the growth duty,
“does not remove or diminish in any way the responsibility of business to comply with the law”.
It is therefore not necessary to state on the face of the Bill that the duty will apply only where it is consistent with a regulator’s existing regulatory functions. As I have said, the draft guidance is quite clear that the duty is simply an additional factor for regulators to take into account as they carry out their existing regulatory functions and ensure regulatory protections, and that the duty does not expect regulators to ignore illegal behaviour. Given the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in the transport field, I particularly note his comments about risk assessment and the large expenditure one sometimes has to make to mitigate the risks involved.
The post-implementation review of the Regulators’ Code showed that it had not gone far enough to incentivise change as the code is trumped by all other statutory duties affecting regulators. The growth duty clause, as drafted, therefore requires that growth is put on the same footing as other duties, enabling regulators to have regard to growth while ensuring that essential protections are maintained.
I hope that that gives the noble Lord sufficient assurance to be willing to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for explaining how the point we are making has a wider application, particularly as regards a chilling effect. Some of these regulators are quite small, some have very tight budgets and some may face very large organisations, particularly in the planning world. The chilling effect on behaviour takes place over time.
I respect the experience of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, in this field—it is interesting that we have ended up with two regulators and a regulatee in this debate—but I am afraid that I do not share his view. The duty we are discussing may not cut across others but certainly has the potential to be considered on an equal footing. He quoted the draft guidance, which is now over a year old. The Government have not thought fit to revise it; I wish that they had. I do not find the draft guidance clear. Indeed, it is a wonderful topic to debate as, rather like the works of Karl Marx, you can find anything to justify anything. It contains as many words of assurance—which the noble Earl found—as of discomfort, which I found. The noble Earl mentioned a figure of £2 billion, which I believe the department subsequently withdrew. I believe that the £2 billion represents the gross sum of the regulatory bodies but does not cover just their regulatory work. I believe that a figure emerged that was half that sum.
The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in many ways reflected what was said in various meetings. I am not accusing the Government of a conspiracy here. I do not think that the Government want to roar through the countryside, throwing out regulation all over the place by means of this clause and I am very persuaded by the bureaucracy point, which was well made in the regulations and the supporting documentation. However, the issue of protection worries me. If noble Lords do not agree with my amendment, they are implying that the exercise of the function we are discussing could be inconsistent with the proper exercise of the existing regulatory functions. For that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
45: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Tenancy deposits: provision of information by agents
(1) The Housing (Tenancy Deposits) (Prescribed Information) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/797) is amended as follows.
(2) In article 2 (prescribed information relating to tenancy deposits), after paragraph (2) insert—
“(3) In a case where the initial requirements of an authorised scheme have been complied with in relation to the deposit by a person (“the initial agent”) acting on the landlord’s behalf in relation to the tenancy—
(a) references in paragraphs (1)(b), (g)(iii) and (vii) to the landlord are to be read as references to either the landlord or the initial agent;(b) references in paragraphs (1)(d), (e), (g)(iv) and (vi) and (2) to the landlord are to be read as references to either the landlord or a person who acts on the landlord’s behalf in relation to the tenancy.(4) In any other case, references in paragraphs (1)(d), (e), (g)(iv) and (vi) and (2) to the landlord are to be read as references to either the landlord or a person who acts on the landlord’s behalf in relation to the tenancy.
(5) Section 212(9)(a) of the Act (references to landlord include persons acting on landlord’s behalf) does not apply for the purposes of this article.”
(3) After article 2 insert—
“3 Article 2(3) to (5): transitional provisions
(1) Paragraphs (3) to (5) of article 2 are treated as having had effect since 6th April 2007, subject to the following provisions of this article.
(2) Paragraphs (3) to (5) of article 2 do not have effect in relation to—
(a) a claim under section 214 of the Act or section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 in respect of a tenancy which is settled before the commencement date (whether or not proceedings in relation to the claim have been instituted), or(b) proceedings under either of those sections in respect of a tenancy which have been finally determined before the commencement date.(3) Paragraph (5) applies in respect of a tenancy if—
(a) proceedings under section 214 of the Act in respect of the tenancy have been instituted before the commencement date but have not been settled or finally determined before that date, and(b) because of paragraphs (3) to (5) of article 2, the court decides—(i) not to make an order under section 214(4) of that Act in respect of the tenancy, or(ii) to allow an appeal by the landlord against such an order.(4) Paragraph (5) also applies in respect of a tenancy if—
(a) proceedings for possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 in respect of the tenancy have been instituted before the commencement date but have not been settled or finally determined before that date, and(b) because of paragraphs (3) to (5) of article 2, the court decides—(i) to make an order for possession under that section in respect of the tenancy, or(ii) to allow an appeal by the landlord against a refusal to make such an order.(5) Where this paragraph applies, the court must not order the tenant or any relevant person (as defined by section 213(10) of the Act) to pay the landlord’s costs, to the extent that the court reasonably considers those costs are attributable to the proceedings under section 214 of the Act or (as the case may be) section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
(6) Proceedings have been “finally determined” for the purposes of this article if —
(a) they have been determined by a court, and(b) there is no further right to appeal against the determination.(7) There is no further right to appeal against a court determination if there is no right to appeal against the determination, or there is such a right but—
(a) the time limit for making an appeal has expired without an appeal being brought, or(b) an appeal brought within that time limit has been withdrawn.(8) In this article “the commencement date” means the date on which the Deregulation Act 2015 is passed.”
(4) The amendments made by this section to the Housing (Tenancy Deposits) (Prescribed Information) Order 2007 (S.I. 2007/797) do not affect a power to use subordinate legislation to amend or revoke that Order.
(5) In subsection (4), “subordinate legislation” has the same meaning as in the Interpretation Act 1978.”
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 45 and 45A before moving on to Amendment 46. Amendments 45 and 45A have been tabled in response to a recent court case, Charalambous v Ng 2014, and an unreported county court case, Cooper v Collins, which have created uncertainty in the private rented sector.
Amendment 45 clarifies that, where a letting agent has received a deposit on behalf of a landlord, the letting agent’s contact details can be given in the prescribed information instead of the landlord’s details. It makes detailed amendments to the Housing (Tenancy Deposits) (Prescribed Information) Order 2007—the order that lists the prescribed information that a landlord must give to a tenant—to make absolutely clear when a letting agent’s details may be provided instead of the landlord’s. The amendments to the order are retrospective, making clear that it is and always has been the case that a letting agent’s details may be provided in the prescribed information instead of the landlord’s. In speaking to these amendments and those that follow, I declare my interest as a landlord.
To ensure fairness, provision is also being made that would prevent the reopening of out of court settlements or court cases that have been finally determined on the basis of this issue. The amendments will apply in cases where legal proceedings are under way at the time the provisions come into force, but tenants will be protected from paying their landlord’s legal costs where the court subsequently decides against the tenant in the light of these provisions. This strikes the right balance between ensuring that tenants do not suffer financially as a result of the retrospective legislation and ensuring that landlords are not penalised where they have followed government advice.
Amendment 45A has been tabled in response to the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the case of Charalambous v Ng 2014, which concerned a landlord who received a tenancy deposit prior to the coming into force of the tenancy deposit legislation in 2007. The tenancy in question became periodic prior to the date that the tenancy deposit legislation came into force and has continued as such ever since. The court ruled that the tenancy deposit legislation should apply to all landlords in this position and that they would therefore need to protect deposits if they wished to rely on the no-fault ground for eviction known as Section 21. It was never the intention, either in 2007 or following amendments made to the tenancy deposit legislation in 2012, that it should apply in this way. The amendments that we propose will make absolutely clear that, although landlords affected by the judgment will need to protect deposits if they wish to rely on Section 21, they will not be at risk of financial penalties should they fail to protect.
Moving on to Amendment 46, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, for her desire to clarify “prescribed information” in relation to lettings, to which I have just spoken. Her amendment makes provisions along similar lines to those that I just outlined on Amendment 45. While the Government agree with the noble Baroness on this point, we believe that Amendment 45 addresses the issues in a more detailed way than Amendment 46. I hope that the noble Baroness will be sufficiently satisfied not to move her amendment.
The Government’s amendments will make welcome clarifications to the tenancy deposit legislation. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. He will not be surprised that I am delighted that the Government have seen sense and tabled their amendments, which are in far more correct language than I managed. They implement the amendment that I moved in Committee, which, as he said, appears in the Marshalled List as Amendment 46.
In Committee the Minister said that my amendment was unnecessary but, to be fair to him, he ensured that discussions took place with the tenancy deposit scheme, which had raised concerns about whether having the letting agent’s name in the paperwork, rather than the landlord’s, was sufficient. Clearly, those discussions persuaded officials that the change was necessary. I congratulate the Minister and the draftsmen on producing Amendment 45 in time for Report. For obvious reasons, we heartily support this and I will not move Amendment 46 when called.
Amendment 45 agreed.
45A: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Tenancy deposits: non-compliance with requirements
(1) Chapter 4 of Part 6 of the Housing Act 2004 (Tenancy Deposit Schemes) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 214 (proceedings relating to tenancy deposits), in subsection (1) after “shorthold tenancy” insert “on or after 6 April 2007”.
(3) In section 215 (sanctions for non-compliance)—
(a) for subsection (1) substitute—“(1) Subject to subsection (2A), if (whether before, on or after 6 April 2007) a tenancy deposit has been paid in connection with a shorthold tenancy, no section 21 notice may be given in relation to the tenancy at a time when the deposit is not being held in accordance with an authorised scheme.
(1A) Subject to subsection (2A), if a tenancy deposit has been paid in connection with a shorthold tenancy on or after 6 April 2007, no section 21 notice may be given in relation to the tenancy at a time when section 213(3) has not been complied with in relation to the deposit.”;
(b) in subsection (2A), after “Subsections (1)” insert “, (1A)”.”
Amendment 45A agreed.
Clause 30: Tenancy deposits
Amendment 46 not moved.
46A: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Preventing retaliatory eviction
(1) Where a relevant notice is served in relation to a dwelling-house in England, a section 21 notice may not be given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of the dwelling-house—
(a) within six months beginning with the day of service of the relevant notice, or(b) where the operation of the relevant notice has been suspended, within six months beginning with the day on which the suspension ends.(2) A section 21 notice given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England is invalid where—
(a) before the section 21 notice was given, the tenant made a complaint in writing to the landlord regarding the condition of the dwelling-house at the time of the complaint,(b) the landlord— (i) did not provide a response to the complaint within 14 days beginning with the day on which the complaint was given,(ii) provided a response to the complaint that was not an adequate response, or(iii) gave a section 21 notice in relation to the dwelling-house following the complaint,(c) the tenant then made a complaint to the relevant local housing authority about the same, or substantially the same, subject matter as the complaint to the landlord,(d) the relevant local housing authority served a relevant notice in relation to the dwelling-house in response to the complaint, and(e) if the section 21 notice was not given before the tenant’s complaint to the local housing authority, it was given before the service of the relevant notice.(3) The reference in subsection (2) to an adequate response by the landlord is to a response in writing which—
(a) provides a description of the action that the landlord proposes to take to address the complaint, and(b) sets out a reasonable timescale within which that action will be taken. (4) Subsection (2) applies despite the requirement in paragraph (a) for a complaint to be in writing not having been met where the tenant does not know the landlord’s postal or e-mail address.
(5) Subsection (2) applies despite the requirements in paragraphs (a) and (b) not having been met where the tenant made reasonable efforts to contact the landlord to complain about the condition of the dwelling-house but was unable to do so.
(6) The court must strike out proceedings for an order for possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 in relation to a dwelling-house in England if, before the order is made, the section 21 notice that would otherwise require the court to make an order for possession in relation to the dwelling-house has become invalid under subsection (2).
(7) An order for possession of a dwelling-house in England made under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 must not be set aside on the ground that a relevant notice was served in relation to the dwelling-house after the order for possession was made.
(8) Subsection (1) does not apply where the section 21 notice is given after—
(a) the relevant notice has been wholly revoked under section 16 of the Housing Act 2004 as a result of the notice having been served in error,(b) the relevant notice has been quashed under paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 to that Act,(c) a decision of the relevant local housing authority to refuse to revoke the relevant notice has been reversed under paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to that Act, or(d) a decision of the relevant local housing authority to take the action to which the relevant notice relates has been reversed under section 45 of that Act.(9) Subsection (2) does not apply where the operation of the relevant notice has been suspended.
(10) References in this section and section (Further exemptions to section (Preventing retaliatory eviction)) to a relevant notice served, or complaint made, in relation to a dwelling-house include a relevant notice served, or complaint made, in relation to any common parts of the building of which the dwelling-house forms a part.
(11) But subsection (10) applies only if—
(a) the landlord has a controlling interest in the common parts in question, and(b) the condition of those common parts is such as to affect the tenant’s enjoyment of the dwelling-house or of any common parts which the tenant is entitled to use.(12) In this section and section (Further exemptions to section (Preventing retaliatory eviction)) a reference to a complaint to a landlord includes a complaint made to a person acting on behalf of the landlord in relation to the tenancy.
(13) In this section and section (Further exemptions to section (Preventing retaliatory eviction))—
“assured shorthold tenancy” means a tenancy within section 19A or 20 of the Housing Act 1988;
“common parts”, in relation to a building, includes—
(a) the structure and exterior of the building, and(b) common facilities provided (whether or not in the building) for persons who include one or more of the occupiers of the building;“controlling interest” means an interest which is such as to entitle the landlord to decide whether action is taken in relation to a complaint within this section or a relevant notice.
“dwelling-house” has the meaning given by section 45 of the Housing Act 1988;
“relevant local housing authority”, in relation to a dwelling-house, means the local housing authority as defined in section 261(2) and (3) of the Housing Act 2004 within whose area the dwelling-house is located;
“relevant notice” means—
(a) a notice served under section 11 of the Housing Act 2004 (improvement notices relating to category 1 hazards), (b) a notice served under section 12 of that Act (improvement notices relating to category 2 hazards), or(c) a notice served under section 40(7) of that Act (emergency remedial action);“section 21 notice” means a notice given under section 21(1)(b) or (4)(a) of the Housing Act 1988 (recovery of possession on termination of shorthold tenancy).”
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to act on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in whose name this amendment stands. I may be doing a bad impersonation of him but it is always a pleasure to respond in his name.
A number of amendments relating to retaliatory evictions have been grouped together. For clarity, I will address government Amendments 46A to 46J before moving on to Amendment 52 and, finally, Amendments 46AA, 46AB, 46BA and 46HA.
The private rented sector is an important and growing part of our housing market. It has overtaken the social rented sector in terms of size and is now the second largest tenure with 1.9 million properties housing 4 million households throughout England.
The quality of privately rented housing has improved rapidly over the past decade. The Government are committed to promoting a strong, thriving professional private rented sector where good landlords can prosper and hard-working tenants can enjoy decent standards and receive a service which represents value for money for their rent. However, the behaviour of a small number of rogue landlords has a detrimental impact on tenants. Also, some tenants do not act responsibly, and it can be difficult and time-consuming to evict such tenants where it would be legitimate to do so—for example, because of mistakes made when serving a Section 21 eviction notice.
This amendment to the Bill is designed to be a balanced package of measures that will benefit both tenants and landlords. It covers four areas, which I shall go through briefly. First, it will protect tenants against the practice of retaliatory eviction where they have raised a legitimate complaint about the condition of a property and a local authority has issued a notice confirming that the repair needs to be carried out to avoid a risk to health and safety.
Secondly, the amendment will ensure that tenants are always given at least two months’ notice before they have to move out of their home. This will be done by providing that a Section 21 notice may not be given in the first four months of the tenancy and by introducing an expiry date after which a Section 21 notice ceases to be valid if possession proceedings have not been brought. The purpose of this measure is to deal with an approach adopted by, I stress, a small minority of landlords and letting agents in which they serve an eviction notice at the start of a tenancy. This disreputable practice can result in a tenant having to vacate a property with virtually no notice.
Thirdly, the amendment will make the eviction process more straightforward for landlords where the tenant can legitimately be evicted. It does so through the introduction of a prescribed notice to reduce errors and by removing the need for the date specified in a notice served under Section 21(4)—which relates to the notice to be given in relation to a periodic assured shorthold tenancy—to be the last day of a period of the tenancy, while retaining the requirement to give two months’ notice. We estimate that this measure alone will deliver savings to landlords of about £3 million a year.
The fourth element is to provide that, where a landlord has failed to comply with certain legal obligations, the tenant cannot be evicted using the Section 21 procedure. We envisage that this will apply to existing legal obligations such as the requirement to provide a new tenant with an energy performance certificate and to obtain an annual gas safety certificate. This restriction on the service of an eviction notice would be lifted as soon as these documents were provided.
While some of these changes will involve small one-off costs to landlords, primarily due to the need to familiarise themselves with the legislation, we estimate that this provision will deliver savings to landlords of, as I said, about £3 million per year.
The first part of the amendment introduces much needed protection for tenants against a very small minority of unscrupulous and rogue landlords who knowingly rent out unsafe and overcrowded accommodation and then evict any tenant who makes a complaint about the condition of the property—as I have said, a practice known commonly as retaliatory eviction. The amendment provides that a tenant cannot be evicted for a period of six months where they have requested that a repair is carried out to their home and the local authority confirms that the repair is necessary to prevent a possible risk to the tenant’s health and safety. The landlord will also be required to ensure that the repairs are completed.
As noble Lords will know, this amendment originally started out as a Private Member’s Bill in the other place. The amendment is very similar but there are some differences, which I wish to highlight. One is that we have decided to remove hazard awareness notices from the list of documents that can confirm a health and safety risk. The other notices are an improvement notice and a notice of emergency remedial action. A hazard awareness notice is a document that alerts the building occupier to a potential minor hazard—for example, a cracked window or uneven steps on a staircase.
We took the decision to remove hazard awareness notices from the list as they are normally issued only where there is a relatively small risk to the tenant’s health and safety—for example, in the case of uneven steps on a staircase. It does not require the landlord to actually do anything to rectify the problem. Local authorities will not be prevented from issuing hazard awareness notices. However, doing so would not give a tenant the protection against eviction that they would get if an improvement notice or a notice of emergency remedial action were issued. Local authorities would be aware of that and could be expected to take that fact into account when deciding what action to take following an inspection.
The local authority will also have a crucial role to play more generally. The protection against eviction which this amendment introduces will apply only if the local authority has confirmed that there is a potential health and safety risk. In addition, the tenant must have requested a repair before the serving of a Section 21 eviction notice. The amendment will not cover situations where a landlord serves an eviction notice and the tenant subsequently requests a repair. In addition, the amendment will not apply where a local authority determines that the issue being complained about has arisen because the tenant has breached their duty to use the property in a tenant-like manner. These measures will help to ensure that unfounded complaints are kept to an absolute minimum.
However, we want to ensure that landlords, and indeed tenants, are not left waiting for months and months for a local authority to inspect a property, which I know to be a concern. Therefore, the amendment provides that, by the time that the possession case comes to court, a local authority will need to have carried out an inspection or, where it has carried out an inspection, will need to have decided whether there is a defect that poses a risk to the tenant’s health and safety. If the local authority fails to do so, a tenant will not have a defence to the proceedings on the grounds of retaliatory eviction.
This should not be an onerous burden on local authorities. A tenant must be given at least two months’ notice of eviction under the Housing Act 1988. Typically, it would take a further two months for a possession case to go to court. So, on average, a local authority will have four months to carry out an inspection and decide whether the complaint by the tenant is legitimate. This should be ample time.
Retaliatory eviction is wrong and its continued practice is unacceptable. No tenant should face eviction because they have made a legitimate complaint to the landlord about the condition of their home. These are important amendments which introduce protection for tenants against rogue landlords, but they also contain provisions which we believe will benefit landlords and make it more straightforward to evict tenants in legitimate circumstances.
I move on to other amendments in this group. Amendment 52 is very similar in parts to the Government’s Amendments 46A to 46J. The amendment would protect tenants against the practice of retaliatory eviction where they had raised a legitimate complaint about the condition of a property and a local authority had issued a notice confirming that the repair needed to be carried out to avoid a risk to health and safety. The amendment would introduce protection for tenants against a small minority of unscrupulous and rogue landlords who knowingly rent out unsafe and overcrowded accommodation and then evict any tenant who makes a complaint about the condition of the property.
The amendment provides that a tenant cannot be evicted for a period of six months where they have requested a repair to be carried out on their home and the local authority confirms that the repair is necessary to prevent a possible risk to the tenant’s health and safety. Amendments 46A to 46J are designed to tackle exactly this problem, and in fact they go much further by introducing changes in several related areas. First, they ensure that tenants are always given at least two months’ notice before they have to move out of their home. A small minority of landlords and letting agents have adopted the practice of serving the eviction notice at the start of a tenancy—a point that I made earlier. This disreputable practice can result in the tenant having to vacate a property without notice.
Secondly, as I have already said, the eviction notice makes the process more straightforward for landlords in situations where the tenant can be legitimately evicted. It does so through the introduction of a prescribed notice to reduce errors and by removing the need for the date specified in a notice served under Section 21(4) to be the last day of a period of the tenancy, while retaining the requirement to give two months’ notice. The Government are keen to ensure that we take forward a balanced package of amendments that will help both landlords and tenants.
Thirdly, the amendments provide that where a landlord has failed to comply with certain legal obligations, a tenant cannot be evicted using the Section 21 procedure. We envisage that this will apply to existing legal obligations, as I have already mentioned, in relation to energy performance certificates and the annual gas safety certificate. The government amendment provides protection for tenants against retaliatory eviction. It also, as I have explained, delivers a range of other benefits for landlords.
Amendment 46AA would require tenants to wait for up to 28 days before they could expect their landlord to simply respond to a request by the tenant for repairs to be carried out to the property. At that stage the landlord would be required only to inform the tenant what, if anything, he proposed to do in response to the request. The Government have set a time limit of 14 days for the landlord to respond. In our view this strikes a fair balance between ensuring that landlords are given a reasonable time to respond to a complaint while not expecting tenants to put up with the disrepair in their property for an unreasonably long time. Renting out property is a business transaction and tenants, like any other consumer, have a right to expect their landlord to respond promptly to a request for repairs. In our view, 14 days is a reasonable period in which to require a response. Indeed, in many cases, a much earlier response could and should be expected—for example, if there is a leak in the property or a problem with the heating during the winter months.
There may be situations where a landlord is genuinely unable to respond within that timescale, but even if that is the case, that does not mean that the landlord would automatically be prevented from evicting the tenant for a period of six months. The local authority would still have to inspect the property and determine whether there was a potentially serious health and safety risk. However, it would be open to the landlord at any stage, before the inspection is carried out, to contact their tenant, assess what work needs to be done and arrange for it to be completed. If that has happened by the time of the inspection, and as a result there is no longer a potential risk to the health and safety of the tenant, the local authority will no longer have any role to play. In that scenario, the proposed restrictions on the service of a Section 21 eviction notice would not apply.
Amendment 46AB has the potential to reduce the length of time during which a tenant would be protected against retaliatory eviction. The Government propose that a tenant should be protected against eviction for a period of six months starting from the date that the local authority has determined that a property contains significant health and safety hazards, and has issued either an improvement notice or a notice of emergency remedial action. However, this amendment would reduce that time. Local authorities have a lot of competing demands on their time and it is very unlikely that they could inspect a property instantly, as soon as they have received a complaint from a tenant. If, for example, a local authority did not inspect a property until two months after it had received a complaint, even if a serious health and safety hazard was discovered, a tenant would then be protected against eviction only for a period of four months. That reduction would significantly weaken the protection that the Government have decided tenants must be given against the actions of the very few rogue landlords.
On Amendment 46BA, we are absolutely clear that tenants should pay their rent on the date that it is due. The Government’s proposals do not in any way undermine this central principle. When a tenant has fallen behind with their rent, landlords can use the procedures under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 to evict the tenant. Those procedures will remain unchanged and will not be affected in any way by the proposed restrictions on the use of a Section 21 order of the 1988 Act. We do not believe that a tenant should be denied protection from a retaliatory eviction when there are already adequate provisions in existing legislation for dealing with non-payment of rent.
Finally Amendment 46HA would apply to a situation when a tenant is entitled to repayment of any rent they have paid in advance for a period when they no longer occupy the property because the landlord has served a Section 21 eviction notice. It provides that the amount of rent repaid will be offset by an amount equal to any money that may be owed by the tenant to the landlord. The amendment is unnecessary, as there is nothing in the Government’s proposed legislation that would prevent a landlord offsetting any debts owed to them by the tenant against rent that they are liable to repay to the tenant. Therefore, I commend Amendments 46A to 46J and hope that, in the clarifications and assurances, noble Lords who have tabled Amendments 52, 46AA, 46AB, 46BA and 46HA will be minded not to press them.
Amendment 46AA (to Amendment 46)
46AA: After Clause 30, line 17, leave out “14” and insert “28”
In moving the amendment I will also speak to Amendments 46AB, 46BA and 46HA. These are all amendments to the amendments proposed by my noble friend the Minister. Before so doing, I must declare an interest as an owner of rented-out residential properties.
Amendment 46AA would allow for a landlord to be away when a letter of complaint arrives. He or she may be absent for whatever reason—business, holiday, et cetera. In spite of what my noble friend said, I believe that it would be sensible to allow for this possibility when imposing a time limit. There may also be a need to seek professional advice to be able to give an adequate response to a complainant, so the time period should be adequate to allow for those items.
Under Amendment 46AB, the situation would be avoided when a tenant makes a written complaint and the local authority does not react promptly, say for four months, and the authority then issues a relevant notice, and when that relevant notice is issued a new six-month period begins. In effect, the ability to issue a Section 21 notice will have been blocked for 10 months—four months starting with the tenant’s written complaint, which was not acted on by the authority, followed by the six months starting with the issue by the local authority of a relevant notice. I do not believe that that was what was intended. I may have misunderstood it but perhaps my noble friend can make that clear.
That point becomes particularly relevant when I come to Amendment 46BA. It allows a Section 21 notice to be served if a tenant is in arrears of rent for two or more consecutive payment dates, even if the tenant has made a written complaint. My noble friend referred to Section 8 of the Housing Act but I understand that the only method of controlling the situation would be the issue of a Section 21 notice. Any tenant not wishing to pay his rent only has to put a complaint in writing to the landlord, and the tenant has security of tenure without paying any rent for the next six months—or if the local authority delays in its actions, an even longer period. This creates a situation that is open to abuse, and although most tenants would not dream of doing so, there will be occasions when such action is taken deliberately. It could be argued that my amendment is too lenient because, in effect, sanctions against non-payment of rent are taken away the moment a complaint is issued.
Amendment 46HA allows any money owing to a landlord to be deducted when returning rent to a tenant. Frequently a deposit is taken to cover damage by tenants over and above normal wear and tear. These deposits are regulated and held by a third party. It is only fair that where there is a reasonable claim for dilapidation, that is deducted from any rent due to be repaid to a tenant.
Finally, I would be grateful if my noble friend will say what is to happen when a landlord does not have the resources to make necessary repairs or improvements quite reasonably asked for by the tenant. In this context my noble friend might like to consider that where I live and rent out properties a full repair costs on average 16 times the annual rent, and a minor refurbishment five years’ rent, and that does not allow for any tax. That makes it difficult for many people to finance repairs. I am not trying to say that they should not make repairs but the Minister should consider what happens when people cannot pay.
My Lords, I support Amendment 46A, as well as Amendments 46B, 46C to 46H and Amendment 46J in the group. In supporting this amendment, I pay tribute to my colleague, Sarah Teather MP. On 28 November, she secured a Private Member’s Bill, the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, to deal with the problems caused by retaliatory evictions. Sadly, some Members in the other place that day were landlords and did not share the ethos of the Bill, and they talked it out. It is a great privilege for me to support the essence of the Bill in this amendment and to help to protect vulnerable tenants.
This amendment is not about penalising conscientious landlords; nor is it about protecting bad tenants who do not respect the property that they are renting. It is about protecting the rights of both groups and giving security to tenants who, when reporting a fault which affects their ability to live happily in their home, will not dread an eviction notice landing on the doormat as a result. It will give a clear signal to those landlords who currently ignore the state of their properties that this is no longer acceptable and that, if they engage in a regular programme of maintenance, they are likely to have a much better relationship with their tenants. Costly tenancy turnover will be lower and they will be less likely to face expensive repair bills for major incidents, such as collapsed ceilings due to persistent leaks, later.
I am sure that we can all give examples of where tenants have lived with poorly maintained and damp properties but have been too afraid to report this to the landlord. They may have seen other tenants who complained suffer eviction. Such evictions put pressure on local authorities, housing associations and others in the rented sector, and cause expensive, temporary accommodation solutions. These are a potential burden on the council tax payer and bring misery and uncertainty to families and children.
I am grateful to Citizens Advice and Shelter for their tireless efforts to bring the plight of those who are suffering from the injustice of retaliatory evictions to the notice of a wider audience. These and similar organisations have done all that they can to alleviate the suffering and uncertainty of those affected in our communities. It is often those on the lowest incomes and with the least options who are the most penalised in the housing market. They frequently have no choice but to turn to the private sector for accommodation.
It is long overdue that we seek to protect this section of our community and to give them some security, as well as decent homes to live in and in which to bring up their children. At the same time, we must protect those landlords who are assiduous in maintaining their properties. Without these landlords there would be an extreme shortage of properties to let around our cities and countryside. This amendment is all about establishing and maintaining a balance between the tenant and the landlord, and I am pleased to support it.
My Lords, I support the amendment to the amendment, moved by my noble friend Lord Howard. In principle, preventing retaliatory evictions is a very good idea for all the reasons that have been given by my noble friend and the noble Baroness. I want to focus on two aspects, one of which my noble friend raised in one of his amendments; that is, the 14-day limit provided for under subsection (2)(b)(i) of the new clause proposed under Amendment 46A. I query with my noble friend the Minister whether 14 days is a reasonable timeframe. I declare an extremely modest interest as a landlord of one property.
I just cast my mind to what might happen. I often go on holiday for more than 14 days. If, God forbid, one were ever in a dispute with a tenant—I have no current expectation that I would be in that position—it would be quite easy for a tenant seeking to make use of these provisions generally to cause trouble and to take advantage of one’s being out of the country and not being available for 14 days. As my noble friend’s amendment suggests, 28 days seems more reasonable on that basis.
The second thing I want to raise with the Minister is what would be an “adequate response”, as provided by subsection (2)(b)(ii) in the amendment, which is defined in subsection (3). I ask my noble friend the Minister: how will the adequacy of the response be judged? What is a “reasonable timescale” and who will judge what that is? I could not see in the amendments how any disputes about this process were capable of being dealt with. There needs to be certainty about how the processes will work. It is not entirely clear to me that a response can be quickly identified as being adequate or not, given the wording in subsection (3) of the amendment.
My Lords, I support this group of government amendments. I declare my interests as on the register, in particular as chair of the council of the Property Ombudsman, which handles complaints about property agents—traditionally about estate agents but today more about letting and managing agents in the private sector. I am grateful to Shelter and the British Property Federation for helpful briefings.
I want to address the concerns raised by some representatives of private landlords that this effort to end retaliatory evictions in private rented housing could become a charter for mischievous tenants to prolong their tenancies when they know that the landlord wants them to leave. I want to answer the question: could tenants raise spurious complaints about their property unnecessarily, unfairly or even maliciously, in order to frustrate their landlord and to secure an extra six months or so of occupation? If that was the outcome from that measure, it is argued that it would deter investment, put off potential buy-to-let landlords and slow the growth of this sector.
The private rented sector has more than doubled in size over recent years and we now have some 1.5 million private landlords. Properties that in times past would have been sold to home buyers have instead been snapped up by buy-to-let landlords. Some observers would welcome a slow-down in this shift from owner-occupation to private renting. However, outlawing retaliatory evictions seems very unlikely to put a break on this phenomenal growth. Only the minority of really hopeless—or actually criminal—landlords will be affected.
These measures will bite only where the landlord has not only ignored a request from the tenant for rectification of a serious problem but has also ignored the local authority when it has spelt out that the landlord is in breach of their legal duties. Local authorities will have to visit the property and be satisfied that there is a serious breach of the requirements and that the property is not safe and not free from grave health hazards. The council will then have to issue a formal improvement notice, not a simple hazard awareness notice. That is not an action that is taken lightly by local authorities and they will do so only if the landlord has failed to do anything to rectify the problem. Only after the whole process has been concluded and the landlord has done nothing will the tenant gain an extension to the tenancy. These are pretty extreme circumstances and it would take a truly obdurate or completely incompetent landlord to fail to do what is required by the council.
Nor can the Bill be used as a last-minute delay to hold up an eviction. If the tenant is challenging an eviction notice, they will have to prove that they made the complaint about conditions before the eviction notice was issued. The tenant will lose the ability to challenge the eviction notice if they do not do so within the two-month notice period, and the Bill specifically prohibits renters from raising any issues that are their own responsibility. Environmental health officers are well trained in assessing whether a defect has been exaggerated or manufactured by the tenant. Prior to serving formal notice, the landlord will be given time to address the problem, and proper law-abiding landlords will act before matters reach the stage of the local authority serving the improvement notice which would delay the eviction.
This measure can catch out the shameless landlord of a slum property seeking to remove a tenant who complains in order to find someone else who is prepared to tolerate extremely poor conditions, but it does not provide any help to the tenant who tries to use this as an opportunity to fend off a perfectly valid eviction notice. I think that it is a modest change in the law and there should be no anxieties that unscrupulous tenants can use it to make mischief. There may be some tweaks to be made to the small print which would improve the amendment, and I would not stand in the way of modest changes, but the core components of the measure represent a positive step forward. In combination with the other important new requirements in this set of amendments to enforce proper standards, this measure will support the process of driving out criminal landlords.
Regrettably, among the hundreds of thousands of new landlords in recent years, there are indeed some who lack not only competence but the financial resources to keep their properties in a decent condition, let alone to engage professional agents to manage the lettings for them. Frankly, these landlords are not up to the job, and if this measure flushes out even a handful of them, it will have been worth while. For the great majority of proper landlords these changes are good news because they target unfair competitors who undermine the reputation and the public’s perception of this very necessary sector. I strongly support this group of government amendments.
My Lords, I should declare that I am a landlord in the private rented sector, which is larger than the social rented sector and is still growing. I am firmly against any landlords who engage in retaliatory evictions. I have never had to resort to issuing or have even come close to issuing a Section 21 notice, so this is all slightly unfamiliar territory to me. But it seems that what we are dealing with in this group of amendments is the bottom of the barrel as far as landlords are concerned and, indeed, the bottom of the barrel as far as some tenants are concerned.
There are two improvements in these government amendments over the others which have been tabled and over the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, to the Consumer Rights Bill. The first is that the tenant must make a complaint to the landlord in writing and give the landlord time to rectify the problem before involving the local authority. It seems obvious, but it was not in the other amendment, so it is welcome. The second improvement is that regulations will require landlords to provide tenants with the details of their rights and responsibilities, which is also welcome.
I would now like to talk to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Howard. I agree that 14 days is not long enough for the landlord to respond. If the Minister is unable to accept the period of 28 days suggested by my noble friend, perhaps 21 days would be a happy compromise. My noble friend’s Amendment 46BA addresses the case where a tenant has failed to pay rent for two or more consecutive due dates. Let us suppose that a tenant does not pay the January rent, but says to the landlord that he will deal with it. The February due date for rent then comes along, and he does not pay that either. On the morning when the February rent is due, the tenant writes a letter to the landlord with some sort of excuse and saying that something needs to be repaired. In the afternoon of the same day he writes to the local authority saying, “I have written to the landlord. He has done absolutely nothing about it, so can you come and serve your notice on him?”. If the local authority does that, the landlord has missed out on the January and February rent and will then miss the next six months as well. That cannot be right.
The bad tenant, the one at the bottom of the barrel, may not have actually sent the letter to the landlord even though he has a copy in his file. The poor landlord, who may not live close by because he is in another county, does not know that any of this is going on, yet the tenant has not paid the rent and will not be paying the rent for eight months. My point is this. Should there not be a duty in the Bill on the local authority to contact and/or write to the landlord saying that the tenant has made a complaint and asking what the landlord intends to do about it? As I have made clear in my example, this may be the first occasion that the landlord becomes aware that there is a problem.
I shall move on to the government amendments. There is a significant omission because the Bill makes no provision for what happens where a landlord responds adequately to a complaint from a tenant within the time allowed. The Bill does not provide for any kind of moratorium to prevent the local authority taking action. The local authority can still serve a statutory notice on the landlord even though he is dealing with the complaint in a responsible manner. This has two consequences for the landlord. The first is that this is potentially serious for a landlord who does not serve a Section 21 notice at the time and who has no intention of retaliating. However, if the landlord is served with a notice by the local authority, he is then automatically precluded from relying on Section 21 for six months. Even if the landlord does not serve a Section 21 notice following a complaint, should he have cause to do so within the next six months following the service of the local authority’s notice, he would not be able to serve it even though a perfectly good but unconnected reason for eviction may subsequently have arisen. It may be because the tenant has gone into rent arrears or has otherwise broken the terms of the tenancy, perhaps through anti-social behaviour.
The second problem arises because a notice served under Section 21 after the written complaint is invalidated. Again, no distinction is made between the bad landlord who is acting in retaliation and the responsible landlord who has a good reason unconnected to the complaint made by the tenant to evict him. The landlord may wish to obtain possession under Section 21 for good reasons and not in retaliation for the complaint. For example, the landlord may have received complaints about serious anti-social behaviour or there may be significant rent arrears. The local authority may want the landlord to evict the tenant because of the anti-social behaviour, but the amendment would mean that the authority could not do anything about it. The solution is to add a provision to the Bill stating that as long as the landlord replies in time and in an adequate way, the local authority should be precluded from serving a statutory notice unless the landlord fails to carry out the work on time. Likewise, in a case where the landlord has responded in time, has addressed the complaint and ensured that the work has been satisfactorily completed, the moratorium on serving a Section 21 notice should be lifted.
I have another point here. Can the Minister clarify what happens if by the time the local authority inspects the property, the original complaint has been dealt with satisfactorily but, on inspection, the local authority finds some other, second problem or complaint meriting the service of a relevant notice? Would the local authority be said to be acting “in response to the complaint”? It could be said that the complaint occasioned a visit which gave rise to the issue of the relevant notice even though it was for good reason. Clarity on this point is requested. It would seem to me that if the original complaint had been satisfactorily dealt with, but a second problem had been found, then a further 14 days should be available for the landlord to provide an adequate response within a reasonable timescale to this second problem, so that the local authority should not issue a statutory notice.
I may have raised one or two issues that the Minister is not able to respond to today. If so, perhaps he could do so in writing.
My Lords, I was not going to speak in this debate, because I think there is a need for us to move on, but in the light of a couple of speeches on this side of the House, the Minister needs to make it absolutely clear that there is no intention in these amendments to interfere with landlords’ rights in the situation of arrears. Most disrepair issues are sorted out between the tenant and the landlord, but where the relationship has broken down, and tenants need to get legal advice or local authority action, it is not surprising that some landlords may seek to regain possession.
There is an abuse of power here that we need to correct. These amendments are about getting that balance right. That is the purpose of the legislation and I give due credit to Sarah Teather and indeed the Department for Communities and Local Government, for actually allowing us to put these amendments through and for putting down an amendment that tries to make an acceptable reform in this area. The vast majority of landlords will not be affected by these amendments. They already ensure that they comply with the required health and safety standards and they will retain the freedom to issue Section 21 notices. However, the amendments will inhibit rogue landlords flouting their legal responsibilities. That is why this reform is needed.
My Lords, I declare my interests. I was an estate agent and am a consultant to an estate agency. I also piloted the 1988 Act through the House. The Act was introduced by my late noble friend Lord Ridley of Liddesdale when he was Nick Ridley and Secretary of State, and I am delighted that it has been so successful. It was controversial and was criticised quite heavily at the time, but it has achieved what it set out to do, which was to improve the private sector rented market and to give more people a choice of tenancies.
I have two concerns of principle with these amendments. One is the timing. This is Report stage, and this is a technical issue. I understand very well that the Liberal Party has put a great deal of emotion and faith into these amendments, and I do not blame them at all: technical points have been raised which need to be discussed. However, we can speak only once, and there is no way that this amendment is going to be discussed in any detail in another place. We are the only Chamber of Parliament that can actually get into this, but we are now limited to Report and Third Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Best, whose opinion we all respect, said that there could be some tweaks, but he did not tell us what the tweaks were. Those are the sorts of things that we ought to be looking at but which, under the procedure, we cannot. I mildly chastise my noble friends on the Liberal Benches for not introducing this in Committee. I understand why they did not: because there was a Private Member’s Bill in another place. But that did not stop them, and we could have had a much better discussion than we are having now. I would have hoped that my noble friend on the Front Bench might have taken this back into Committee, particularly for this purpose.
My second general concern is about the whole issue of the housing market. As many other noble Lords have said, this is a very fine balance. Section 21 is one of the key pendulums in the whole of the housing market legislation and has to be in the centre to get the balance right between landlords and tenants. My noble friend Lord Cathcart was absolutely right: we are dealing with, in this instance, the rogue landlords—who we all dislike and who we all want to get out of owning property—but we are also dealing with, possibly, the worst type of tenant, who wants to be obstructive and has the ability to be obstructive.
When you make laws for those sorts of people, it is very hard to get the balance absolutely right, because the effect percolates up through all the good people. What you do to the very bad affects the good. There is a perception that the Government are moving away from the fine balance that has been achieved and are moving more in the direction of the tenant than of the landlord. As a result, I have received inquiries as to whether this is going to be a trend and whether people should continue to own property to let. I do not think that these amendments will have that effect, but it is a perception, and perception in housing is important. It is hard to define and calculate, but it is there. One therefore needs to be extra careful in dealing with these amendments to make certain that this does not move the pendulum in a way that none of us wants.
I have a couple of questions for my noble friend. When one talks about the relevant notice to the landlord, one presumes that that notice will be received by registered post. Let us look at this 14 days, because I think that my noble friend Lord Howard has a point here. Let us say that it is sent by registered post on 20 December. The landlord in this instance could be just an individual without back-up—not necessarily the bad landlord that the noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned, but an honest upright citizen who has gone away over the Christmas and new year period and does not get the registered document within the 14 days. However, the tenant can prove that it was sent, and this amendment would kick in. I ask my noble friend to have a look at this, because there is merit in the argument, although I agree that we do not want to make it too long. I was rather impressed that he answered the amendment before it was actually moved and spoken to, because in this instance it helps us. However, I hope that he will be able to look at that particular point again.
Another point which needs looking at is that sometimes landlords and tenants agree to suspend a notice because the tenant says that he is going to move. I know that this is not frequent, and I have never encountered it, but it has been reported to me. An unscrupulous tenant may say, “Do not bother to serve the notice, I am going to go anyway and you can do the repairs when there is vacant possession. I do not want all the hassle”. Then, when the landlord does not put the notice in and the tenant changes his mind and sits there—there could be tenants as difficult as that—that puts the landlord in a worse position than he is now. This is relevant to Amendment 46A.
I will also raise a point on Amendment 46D, which I think was the second point that my noble friend the Minister raised, about the length of notice for the Section 21 notices. You have to give two months’ notice and now you cannot serve a notice within the first four months. There is a problem for a six-month tenancy. It is purely a practical problem. If I had a property—which I do not—and I let it to my noble friend for six months, I could not serve the notice on him for the first four months. I would then have two months’ notice to give him but it is a six-month tenancy so that is blocked off. So at the end of the fourth month, I have that next day to serve the notice in order to get him out in a six-month period and fulfil the tenancy. I would like the Minister to comment on that, whether I am right or wrong. It is just making life a bit more difficult. It is moving the pendulum.
Yes, I agree with the principle. None of us likes rogue landlords. We do not want some of the present landlords owning the properties that they have because they are making life difficult for others. But those of us who actually support the principle of the amendment do want it to work.
My Lords, we are very happy to support the Government’s amendment. That is hardly surprising given that, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, reminded the House, my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and I tabled a very similar amendment to this—Amendment 50E to the Consumer Rights Bill—precisely to protect tenants against retaliatory eviction. Indeed, had the Government accepted it in principle at that stage, we would have had lots of time to discuss any tweaks and details. Furthermore, of course, that was the appropriate piece of legislation for it. It is exactly something that lives in a Consumer Rights Bill. It is quite hard to think why it should be in the Deregulation Bill but anyway it is here and we welcome the fact of it, and it is clearly the way the Government prefer it.
It is good to see the change of heart because when we moved that amendment in November, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who was dealing with it, said that the Government did not think it was necessary because it would not,
“add anything further to the guidance that is already available”.—[Official Report, 24/11/14; col. 761.]
To be fair, she supported the Private Member’s Bill in the other place and the Government have now decided to introduce this legislation, albeit perhaps not in the best vehicle, given that the Consumer Rights Bill is still in Parliament.
It is a shame that the Liberal Democrats who have added their names to the amendment did not share our concerns earlier. The noble Baroness spoke in favour of one of my other amendments, but it would have been nice to have their support when we tried to make letting agents belong to an ombudsman scheme. We got it through but without their help; nor did they support my attempts to get letting agents to put tenants’ rent into protected bank accounts, which would have safeguarded landlords as much as—if not more than—tenants, because when letting agents go walkies with the money it is usually the landlords who pay, but of course it is the tenants’ money that goes. But hey, I guess there is an election coming so now they are on the side of the tenants, and we welcome that support, belated though it might be.
We particularly welcome the Government’s view on this and their bringing forward these amendments. We know that it will please those who have campaigned a long time for this, including Crisis and Shelter, which have been mentioned, and the Brighton and Hove “Home Sweet Home” campaign, which has been working for a better and fairer private rented sector. Its members campaign on behalf of local tenants who are often too scared to speak out or to ask their landlords for repairs because they fear losing their homes. In places such as Brighton, that is not a joke; it does happen. As for the idea that there are rogue tenants—actually, the experience we have is of landlords mistreating their tenants.
These amendments give much-needed protection to tenants, as landlords will no longer be able to evict them in response to a valid complaint about their home. Tenants will no longer have to choose between living in poor conditions and losing their home. Unfortunately, revenge eviction has become a major cause of insecurity, not just in Brighton but elsewhere where there is a lot of pressure on the private rented sector. We want people to feel safe and secure in their own home, creating a fairer system for both tenants and landlords. We believe that these amendments will help achieve that.
We have one slight disappointment. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said, the hazard awareness notices are not included in these amendments, although they were in the Private Member’s Bill. We have some concerns that without these the protection risks being patchy. Some extra assurance on that would be welcome.
We are also pleased that, from what the Minister said in his introduction, the Government do not seem minded to accept Amendment 46AA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, which would extend the period that a tenant can wait before contacting the council from 14 to 28 days. Twenty-eight days is too long for a tenant to wait before legitimately contacting the council. None of us would wait that long if it was our home, especially if it was over Christmas. Therefore, where there is a serious problem that needs seeing to, we agree with the Minister that 14 days is the right balance.
I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has saved me from having to give a very robust response to those who fear that these amendments will achieve things that are too much in favour of the tenants and not of the landlords. We think that it is a fair deal between the two sides—although often, as people have said, they are not sides; it is a good relationship.
Meanwhile, given that the Government have decided—perhaps a bit late—to do something to help “generation rent”, it is a shame that it is not part of a wider strategy to ensure that tenants get a fair deal from landlords. We have undertaken to legislate for three-year tenancies, to give renters a stable home and landlords the confidence to invest. We will also stop letting agents charging fees to tenants, which we tried to do in the Consumer Rights Bill, but sadly that bit has not been brought over. However, I should not be churlish. We are delighted with the amendments that the Government have brought forward and we have pleasure in giving them our full support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Again, it demonstrates the great expertise and interest in your Lordships’ House in this important issue. I will seek to answer all the questions that have been raised but if there are specific, technical questions, I add the caveat that I shall of course review all contributions and write accordingly to cover any points that perhaps I have not been able to cover in my response this evening.
I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his support for the government amendments. He always speaks with great expertise on housing issues across the board, so his support is most welcome. I hope it continues for the later part of the evening but we shall come to that shortly. I also thank my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lord Stoneham for their support for the Government’s position. In thanking other noble friends who perhaps have not been totally supportive, I of course recognise the concerns that have been expressed across a range of issues and hope that I can address most of them in my response.
My noble friend Lord Howard asked about tenants who stop paying rent once they have made a complaint. I assure my noble friend that in this regard the amendment under no circumstances permits the tenant to stop paying rent, and the tenant will be obliged to pay. It provides that a Section 21 eviction notice can be invalidated only if a tenant’s complaint is supported by confirmation from the local authority. Indeed, if a Section 21 eviction notice cannot be served for a specified period, the tenant is still contractually obliged to continue paying rent. Failure to do so, as I said in my opening remarks, would leave them liable to eviction under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988.
I covered dilapidation costs, albeit briefly, in my opening remarks. There is nothing in what is being proposed to prevent landlords offsetting any debts owed by tenants to the landlord against any money that the landlord owes to the tenants. That would still apply.
My noble friend Lord Howard talked also about the possibility of a 12-month delay. We do not perceive that this would be the case. If the council has carried out an inspection by the time the case comes to court, which, as I said, would be a period of up to four months, the tenant would have no defence to the Section 21 proceedings.
My noble friend Lord Howard also raised the issue of affordability. Nothing in what is being proposed in the government amendments changes this. In a normal contract between an owner of a property, a landlord and a tenant, landlords are already obliged to carry out repairs under the Housing Act 2004. The amendment does not change that provision.
My noble friend Lady Noakes asked about adequate response and who decides what is reasonable. That would ultimately be determined by the county court, if it got to that point; initially, such a determination would be made by the local authority.
My noble friend Lord Howard referred to tenants being allowed to block evictions for up to 10 months. The maximum period will be six months from the date that the local authority serves the relevant notice.
My noble friend Lord Cathcart raised several important points on which I hope I can provide some reassurance. First, I assure him and your Lordships’ House generally that this measure is not to tackle good landlords, the majority of whom, as we know, have sound practices in the way in which they deal with their tenants. The protection will apply only where a local authority has confirmed that a repair is necessary to prevent a risk to health and safety. Landlords would also have a right to appeal against a local authority decision to serve a relevant notice. Landlords would be able to evict tenants who should be evicted—for example, because of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour. We have not made any changes to the eviction procedure under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988. The courts will be able to dismiss a claim as unfounded if, for example, they consider a tenant to be in breach of their duty to use the property in a tenant-like manner.
My noble friend Lord Cathcart asked whether landlords could not evict if the local authority had served a notice even if the tenant was in rent arrears. I assure him that the landlord can always use Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 to evict for other reasons, such as the non-payment of rent or, as I have stated, anti-social behaviour.
My noble friend asked also whether local authorities would write to a landlord to inform them that there was a problem. As I hope I made clear in my opening remarks, one of the safeguards that the Government have put forward in their amendments is that when a complaint is first made by the tenant, the tenant should write directly to the landlord. In addition, the landlord must also be given 24 hours’ notice before a local authority inspects. Local authorities would generally engage informally with the landlord to have repairs done before issuing a relevant notice.
My noble friends Lady Noakes, Lord Cathcart and Lord Caithness expressed concern about the 14-day period given to the landlord to respond. I assure my noble friends that this is the period for an initial response only. The landlord is not required to fix the problem in this time. On the issue of an adequate response, as I said earlier, it is for the county court to judge what is reasonable depending on the individual facts of the case.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked whether the relevant notice would be received by registered post. The short answer to that is no. It would normally be sent by email or by ordinary post. Notices would be served in accordance with the Housing Act 2004. Again, what we are proposing will not be changed by the amendments that the Government have tabled.
My noble friend also asked what the position would be if a landlord and tenant agreed that the tenant would move out and the tenant then stayed. In that situation, the local authority would not be able to serve a relevant notice, so the tenant would not have a defence to a Section 21 notice.
My noble friend also asked about prohibition on serving a Section 21 notice in the first four months of a tenancy. He asked a specific question about short-term tenancies. If a landlord wanted a tenant to leave exactly six months after the start of the tenancy, they would need to serve the notice after the first four months of the tenancy had passed. That would normally be in short-term tenancy agreements.
I always listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, with great attention, as I do all noble Lords. Her critiques are delivered in a dulcet tone, which perhaps softens their impact, but I welcome her support for the Government’s position. She expressed disappointment over hazard awareness notices. As I said in my opening remarks, such notices are used only for very minor defects. The local authority can always issue an improvement notice if there is a defect and it wants to ensure that a tenant is protected against retaliatory evictions.
Several important clarifications have been rightly sought across the Chamber, particularly by several of my noble friends, and I hope that I have been able to address most if not all of them. I will reflect on the comments made by my noble friends and will write to them if there are areas which require further clarification. However, I hope that, with the assurances and clarifications that I have provided, my noble friend will be minded to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 46AA (to Amendment 46A) withdrawn.
Amendment 46AB (to Amendment 46A) not moved.
Amendment 46A agreed.
46B: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Further exemptions to section (Preventing retaliatory eviction)
(1) Subsections (1) and (2) of section (Preventing retaliatory eviction) do not apply where the condition of the dwelling-house or common parts that gave rise to the service of the relevant notice is due to a breach by the tenant of—
(a) the duty to use the dwelling-house in a tenant-like manner, or(b) an express term of the tenancy to the same effect.(2) Subsections (1) and (2) of section (Preventing retaliatory eviction) do not apply where at the time the section 21 notice is given the dwelling-house is genuinely on the market for sale.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a dwelling-house is not genuinely on the market for sale if, in particular, the landlord intends to sell the landlord’s interest in the dwelling-house to—
(a) a person associated with the landlord,(b) a business partner of the landlord,(c) a person associated with a business partner of the landlord, or(d) a business partner of a person associated with the landlord.(4) In subsection (3), references to a person who is associated with another person are to be read in accordance with section 178 of the Housing Act 1996.
(5) For the purposes of subsection (3), a business partner of a person (“P”) is a person who is—
(a) a director, secretary or other officer of a company of which P is also a director, secretary or other officer, (b) a director, secretary or other officer of a company in which P has a shareholding or other financial interest,(c) a person who has a shareholding or other financial interest in a company of which P is a director, secretary or other officer,(d) an employee of P,(e) a person by whom P is employed, or(f) a partner of a partnership of which P is also a partner.(6) Subsections (1) and (2) of section (Preventing retaliatory eviction) do not apply where the landlord is a private registered provider of social housing.
(7) Subsections (1) and (2) of section (Preventing retaliatory eviction) do not apply where—
(a) the dwelling-house is subject to a mortgage granted before the beginning of the tenancy,(b) the mortgagee is entitled to exercise a power of sale conferred on the mortgagee by the mortgage or by section 101 of the Law of Property Act 1925, and(c) at the time the section 21 notice is given the mortgagee requires possession of the dwelling-house for the purpose of disposing of it with vacant possession in exercise of that power. (8) In subsection (7)—
(a) “mortgage” includes a charge, and(b) “mortgagee” includes a receiver appointed by the mortgagee under the terms of the mortgage or in accordance with the Law of Property Act 1925.”
Amendment 46BA (to Amendment 46B) not moved.
Amendment 46B agreed.
Amendments 46C to 46G
46C: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Notice to be provided in relation to periodic assured shorthold tenancies
In section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (recovery of possession on termination of shorthold tenancy), after subsection (4) insert—“(4ZA) In the case of a dwelling-house in England, subsection (4)(a) above has effect with the omission of the requirement for the date specified in the notice to be the last day of a period of the tenancy.””
46D: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Time limits in relation to section 21 notices and proceedings
(1) Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (4A) insert—
“(4B) A notice under subsection (1) or (4) may not be given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England—
(a) in the case of a tenancy which is not a replacement tenancy, within the period of four months beginning with the day on which the tenancy began, and (b) in the case of a replacement tenancy, within the period of four months beginning with the day on which the original tenancy began. (4C) Subsection (4B) does not apply where the tenancy has arisen due to section 5(2).
(4D) Subject to subsection (4E), proceedings for an order for possession under this section in relation to a dwelling-house in England may not be begun after the end of the period of six months beginning with the date on which the notice was given under subsection (1) or (4).
(a) a notice under subsection (4) has been given in relation to a dwelling-house in England, and(b) paragraph (b) of that subsection requires the date specified in the notice to be more than two months after the date the notice was given,proceedings for an order for possession under this section may not be begun after the end of the period of four months beginning with the date specified in the notice.”(3) In subsection (6), for “subsection” substitute “subsections (4B)(b) and”.”
46E: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Prescribed form of section 21 notices
In section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, after subsection (7) insert—“(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument prescribe the form of a notice under subsection (1) or (4) given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England.
“(9) A statutory instrument containing regulations made under subsection (8) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.””
46F: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Compliance with prescribed legal requirements
After section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 insert—“21A Compliance with prescribed legal requirements
(1) A notice under subsection (1) or (4) of section 21 may not be given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England at a time when the landlord is in breach of a prescribed requirement.
(2) The requirements that may be prescribed are requirements imposed on landlords by any enactment and which relate to—
(a) the condition of dwelling-houses or their common parts,(b) the health and safety of occupiers of dwelling-houses, or(c) the energy performance of dwelling-houses.(3) In subsection (2) “enactment” includes an enactment contained in subordinate legislation within the meaning of the Interpretation Act 1978.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) “common parts” has the same meaning as in Ground 13 in Part 2 of Schedule 2.
(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations made under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.””
46G: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement for landlord to provide prescribed information
After section 21A of the Housing Act 1988 insert—“21B Requirement for landlord to provide prescribed information
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations require information about the rights and responsibilities of a landlord and a tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy of dwelling house in England (or any related matters) to be given by a landlord under such a tenancy, or a person acting on behalf of such a landlord, to the tenant under such a tenancy.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may—
(a) require the information to be given in the form of a document produced by the Secretary of State or another person, (b) provide that the document to be given is the version that has effect at the time the requirement applies, and(c) specify cases where the requirement does not apply.(3) A notice under subsection (1) or (4) of section 21 may not be given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling house in England at a time when the landlord is in breach of a requirement imposed by regulations under subsection (1).
(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations made under subsection (1) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.””
Amendments 46C to 46G agreed.
46H: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period
After section 21B of the Housing Act 1988 insert—“21C Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period
(1) A tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England is entitled to a repayment of rent from the landlord where—
(a) as a result of the service of a notice under section 21 the tenancy is brought to an end before the end of a period of the tenancy, (b) the tenant has paid rent in advance for that period, and (c) the tenant was not in occupation of the dwelling-house for one or more whole days of that period. (2) The amount of repayment to which a tenant is entitled under subsection (1) is to be calculated in accordance with the following formula—
where— R is the rent paid for the final period;
D is the number of whole days of the final period for which the tenant was not in occupation of the dwelling-house; and
P is the number of whole days in that period.
(3) If the repayment of rent described in subsections (1) and (2) has not been made when the court makes an order for possession under section 21, the court must order the landlord to repay the amount of rent to which the tenant is entitled.Nothing in this section affects any other right of the tenant to a repayment of rent from the landlord.””
Amendment 46HA (to Amendment 46H) not moved.
Amendment 46H agreed.
46J: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of sections (Preventing retaliatory eviction) to (Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period)
(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), a provision of sections (Preventing retaliatory eviction) to (Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period) applies only to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England granted on or after the day on which the provision comes into force.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a provision of sections (Preventing retaliatory eviction) to (Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period) does not apply to an assured shorthold tenancy that came into being under section 5(2) of the Housing Act 1988 after the commencement of that provision and on the coming to an end of an assured shorthold tenancy that was granted before the commencement of that provision.
(3) At the end of the period of three years beginning with the coming into force of a provision of sections (Preventing retaliatory eviction) to (Compliance with prescribed legal requirements) or section (Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period), that provision also applies to any assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England—
(a) which is in existence at that time, and(b) to which that provision does not otherwise apply by virtue of subsection (1) or (2).”
Amendment 46J agreed.
Clause 31: Optional building requirements
46K: Clause 31, page 28, leave out lines 1 to 3
My Lords, I apologise for speaking to two consecutive amendments—your Lordships will be tired of the sound of my voice. Amendment 46K endeavours to ensure that standards of accessibility in new homes—where there has been important progress in recent years—do not now go into decline. The amendment would remove from the Bill a new power for the Secretary of State to set additional conditions before a local authority can start or continue to require housebuilders to build homes to disabled-friendly lifetime homes standards. By the removal of Clause 31(4), the threat of central government dictating lower standards than councils want, and some currently require, is removed.
The amendment comes with support from many organisations, including Age UK, the Royal Mencap Society and the Town and Country Planning Association among others. I declare my interest as president of the Local Government Association, and this body is also supportive of the approach taken by this amendment. In moving the amendment, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for arranging a helpful meeting for me, the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity and experts from within the relevant departments and outside. Following that session, my amendment is intended to enable the Minister to place on record assurances that will clear up some misunderstandings and remove some doubts and misgivings about the legislation.
While everyone knows it is imperative that the quantity of new homes be increased to address acute national shortages that are wreaking havoc for almost all households under the age of 40, we must also be mindful of the quality of these homes. The UK is currently building the smallest flats and houses of any EU country—and, of course, in comparison with the USA, Canada, Australia and so on. Much of this new housing in the UK is storing up problems for the future. So often, the accommodation has no space for a family to sit down to a meal together, and a spare room is becoming a thing of the past. More far-reaching is the problem that new homes are not designed for an ageing society or accessible to those with a mobility problem, let alone a wheelchair user. Yet by spending only a little more on each new home we build from now on and achieving the so-called lifetime homes standards, our housing stock would gradually become suitable for us all in our older age, as well as for the young parent with a baby in a pushchair—and for any of us who become temporarily or permanently disabled, from the teenager who breaks a leg to the soldier returning home with a serious injury.
Clause 31 contains the power to remove the freedom for local planning authorities to impose obligations on housebuilders to achieve standards relating to space, security, energy, sustainability and accessibility. Instead of local discretion, standards are to be set centrally. This would have the positive effect of saving time and money for building firms that operate over several areas. The arrangements will also have the advantage for consumers that the new standardised standards covering accessibility, when determined by government, would then be enforced through building regulations by building inspectors. This would prove a more reliable mechanism than just a planning requirement for making sure that the standards are actually met.
The concern is that instead of promoting an optional higher level of accessibility which so many organisations, including Leonard Cheshire Disability and Habinteg Housing Association, as key campaigners, believe should be applied universally, the new centralised system will stop councils insisting on these lifetime homes standards. The fear is that instead of accelerating the healthy trend towards these higher standards, central government pressure will prevent councils going for the optional category 2, which would undermine those already requiring these standards. I hope the Minister will waylay those fears, which revolve around two key hurdles for planning authorities: first, to prove that there is a need for accessible homes; and secondly, to show that the extra cost of £500 to £1,400 per home does not undermine the viability of a development—that is, it will allow the housebuilder a profit of at least 20%. Moreover, when I moved this amendment in Committee, noble Lords raised the problem of local authorities being able to require the new optional higher standard only when they adopted a new or revised strategic local plan, a process which can take years.
I therefore ask for answers to the following questions. First, I know that the DCLG intends to provide guidance on good practice to local authorities, but can the Minister confirm that this is intended to raise the aspiration for all new homes to be built to accessible standards in the years ahead?
Secondly, and more narrowly, will the new test of need for accessible housing in each area be satisfied by the statistics which, throughout the UK, demonstrate that the ageing population is a universal fact and disability is ubiquitous? Bearing in mind that London has the lowest proportion of older people of any English region but that the GLA aims for all new homes to achieve the lifetime homes standards, is it logical to argue that other areas of the country could fail the needs test in this regard?
Thirdly, how will the viability test be satisfied? Ultimately, viability relates to the price paid by the developer for the land. Higher standards, if required by the planners, will simply lead to the landowner getting a little less. When, if ever, could the modest extra costs of achieving optional higher standards—calculated by consultants for the DCLG to be no more than £1,400 per home, and usually much less—prevent accessible, disabled-friendly standards being met?
Fourthly, can the Minister confirm that where a local authority already requires a higher standard than the new basic category 1 level, as the GLA does, they will be able to continue to do so, with their existing policies on accessibility passported through without having to go through any new procedures or awaiting a new local plan? Can he also confirm that it will be possible for those local authorities that now wish to require developers to adopt the new category 2 standard to do so through supplementary planning guidance, set out in supplementary planning documents, rather than awaiting the adoption or revision of their local plan?
Fifthly and finally, do the Government intend to commission research to assess the outcome of introducing the new standards? The DCLG’s impact assessment of these proposals estimates that 31% of new homes are currently built to lifetime homes standard, rising to 45% by 2024 if nothing changes. It will clearly be critical to keep track of the impacts of the new housing standards to make sure that the supply of accessible homes goes up and not down.
I think it was Aneurin Bevan, as the post-war Housing Minister, who said:
“In one year’s time we will be judged on the number of homes we have achieved; in ten years’ time we will be judged on the quality of those homes”.
We know now, as our population ages, how inadequate standards of accessibility—steep steps, narrow doorways, cramped bathrooms, having no downstairs loo, and so on—have helped to create an A&E crisis. The false economy of skimping on accessible, disabled-friendly standards on day one can mean that, later, thousands of us have to remain in hospital when we could otherwise be discharged; readmissions multiply as we are returned to inaccessible properties; and premature moves into expensive residential care are necessary because our homes are inaccessible.
I hope that the Government of today can show the foresight to ensure that, in the rush to build more homes, which we certainly need, we do not allow standards to slip. This amendment would prevent central government overriding efforts by local authorities to insist on the accessible, disabled-friendly lifetime homes standards which are now commonplace in London, and which could, and should, become standard practice everywhere. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and beg to move.
My Lords, I speak in strong support of this amendment, so expertly and comprehensively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best. When all the evidence points to the dire need for more accessible, future-proofed housing, surely the coalition Government will not insist on additional conditions to be met by local authorities before they can require housebuilders to build homes to disabled-friendly standards.
I apologise to the House for not being able to take part in previous stages of the Bill but I was spending time in hospital, in a spinal injury unit where I met far too many people whose homes had suddenly become inaccessible to them. They had gone out as usual one morning but had an accident, become paralysed and then found that they could never go back to their home again. All the clutter of their daily life was as they had left it; they have to rely on someone else to sort it out. Their families have to start the endless search for an accessible house or flat. They probably have to leave their much loved own home and change the children’s schools, while the patients themselves face long months in hospital long after they are ready for discharge. Is it surprising that relationships break down? Had the lifetime homes standard become universally applied soon after it was developed, probably none of that would be necessary.
Surely the coalition Government will not insist on this short-term reaction to the housing crisis, which will lead to far fewer accessible homes being built. It would mean that they are knowingly legislating to increase the pressure on health and social care budgets at a time when both are in crisis. I urge the Minister to readily give the noble Lord, Lord Best, the reassurances that he seeks.
My Lords, I should declare that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I support the amendment, because I think it is true that new subsection (4) in Clause 31 could result in making it harder for a local council to deliver the lifetime homes and wheelchair accessibility policies that we need. I therefore seek the reassurance of the Minister on this matter.
As we have heard, there is currently a very serious shortage of homes that are suitable or can be easily adapted for those with mobility difficulties. The solution to this problem, as we have heard, is to build new homes to a lifetime standard. This matters greatly and will matter even more in the future because people who develop mobility problems usually prefer to stay in their own homes, where any essential adaptions can be undertaken.
This Bill puts lifetime home standards and wheelchair-accessible standards on to a statutory basis, and that is to be welcomed. The problem is that councils will then be required to produce a raft of evidence to prove that there is a need for those lifetime and wheelchair-accessible homes. Definitions of future need might be hard to prove, when common sense tells us that we should build more accessible homes now for an ageing society to prevent serious problems arising in 10 to 20 years’ time.
Until now, local councils have been able to implement very progressive policies, such as requiring all new homes to be built to lifetime home standards or ensuring that a reasonable number of new homes—perhaps 10%—are built with wheelchair access as part of large-scale developments. In supporting new building standards, which improve things, and in believing that we want to encourage local planning authorities to take them up, and while I accept that the creation of new standards could be a significant step forward, I am still very concerned that we might be weakening existing planning powers of councils. I hope, therefore, to hear from the Minister clear confirmation that nothing in the Bill will get in the way of enabling planning authorities to deliver the extra lifetime and accessible homes that we need now and are going to need in the future.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment, and I declare an interest in that I have a daughter who has multiple sclerosis and is a board member of the Habinteg Housing Association. It does marvellous work in providing lifetime homes.
The importance of this has been so stressed by so many people tonight that I do not really need to comment on it. I have other amendments to speak on and noble Lords will be tired of listening to me. However, I strongly support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Best, and other speakers have said and hope the Government will see sense on this.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for moving this amendment, which we wholeheartedly support. If there were any doubt as to whether we were going to support it, praying in aid Nye Bevan just about did it for us. I welcome my noble friend Lady Wilkins back to the House and acknowledge her knowledgeable contribution on an issue on which she has campaigned over a long time. It is good that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, are on the same page as well.
We support the review of housing standards: a lot of good work has come out of it. However, one of the consequences, as we have heard, was that lifetime home standards and wheelchair-accessible standards have become optional extras. That is really the issue before us today. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has probed with a series of questions and I hope that the nature of those questions means that the Minister has ready and satisfactory replies to them all.
I draw the Minister’s attention to a couple of paragraphs of the housing review document. On page 6, paragraph 14, it says:
“Unlike other Building Regulations requirements the optional requirements described in the Approved Documents will not be mandatory. They will only be applicable where a local planning authority has put a plan policy in place specifically triggering the application of the optional requirement or nationally described space standard in particular circumstances. Neighbourhood Planning Bodies (and Neighbourhood Development Orders) will only be able to apply the space standard, and not optional requirements”.
Will the Minister tell us why that is the case? Perhaps more importantly, paragraph 21, which looks at applying optional requirements and nationally described standards, states:
“The first step is for a local planning authority to stipulate that an optional requirement or the nationally described space standard applies in that area. As stated already, this must be set in plan policies, which have been subject to normal Plan Examination processes. It would not be appropriate to apply optional requirements or the space standard through supplementary planning guidance, since this is not subject to a sufficient level of scrutiny”.
Have the Government moved on from that, or is that still applicable?
I have one small observation in relation to financial viability and cost. If the additional cost is £500 to £1,000, that is one or two weeks in a care home invested in a home on lifetime standards now. That obviously obviates that, going forward. I hope the Minister can satisfy us on those requirements, because it would be a great shame, given all the progress that has been made on lifetime home standards—particularly in London—if these developments were to push those backwards.
I thank all noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Best, for raising this issue. As he is aware, we have been in regular correspondence on this issue. Before going any further, however, I would like to join the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in welcoming back the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, to her rightful place in your Lordships’ House. I, too, welcome her contribution here this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, has rightly set out his concerns about the way in which the proposed building regulations’ optional requirements will operate, particularly in relation to issues of access. Let me say that the Government understand these concerns. I have written to the noble Lord with reassurances about the clause, explaining how the evidence gathering will work. I assure your Lordships that we will be issuing planning guidance shortly, to help authorities assemble evidence to use the new optional requirements. I hope that the letters that I have written to the noble Lord, Lord Best, have provided that level of reassurance, but I think it is important that I summarise some of the key points that have been raised in his questions.
Let me just put the amendment into context. In this particular context, we believe that the amendment is not needed, because Clause 31(4) is merely a general fallback power, a reserve power enabling the Government to use regulations to set out conditions for the way in which optional requirements should be used, but only if necessary. They might be necessary, for example, if the system is being misused in some way, or used without sufficient rigour; or if there are problems applying the new regulations. It could be that the guidance proposed does not have the effect expected or is not followed. The new system is based on an approach no different from how local planning authorities gather evidence to justify planning policies now. For the benefit of noble Lords, I will set out the key points about how it will work.
Optional requirements will allow local authorities to set building standards that are higher than those in the building regulations. They are a new concept in building regulations, and are widely supported following our consultation on this matter. They are an important new tool, which I am sure noble Lords will agree should be used appropriately. For the first time ever, we have put a series of housing standards into the building regulations, such as on lifetime homes and wheelchair housing. Giving these areas the full force of building regulations is a major new step that I hope will be welcomed by all noble Lords.
However, because not every new home needs to be built to such standards, and because it is costly to do so, we will let local authorities decide how to target the standards based on local needs, provided the standards do not make local housing developments unviable. The Government intend to issue planning guidance on matters to be taken into account by local authorities to work out their local needs, such as the proportion of older or disabled people. We consulted on the matters to be covered in that guidance. This will mirror the approach taken with planning guidance which supports the National Planning Policy Framework.
Clause 31(4) simply provides a back-up power for the regulations we are putting in place to set the new system up. In many respects it is no different from other aspects of the building regulations which set out how local authorities should discharge their functions as a building control body. If the Government decide to put planning conditions in regulations under Clause 31(4), and I assure the House that we have no plans to do so, they will be subject to full consultation with interested parties, as we do with all changes to building regulations. It would be wrong to remove this power because we cannot anticipate all the potential ways the new optional requirement system is going to be used, and we need to have the tools available to address any problems.
On conditions applying to access requirements, I have written to the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the types of evidence an authority may reasonably be asked to assemble to justify applying these new optional requirements. I shall lay out some of the Government’s position in this regard, based on the questions that the noble Lord asked. The key point, set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, is that authorities should plan for the current and future housing needs of a wide range of households, including older and disabled people. Authorities should base their assessment on key demographic and population information for their area and a housing needs assessment. This should take account of, first, the likely future need for housing for older and disabled people, including wheelchair-user dwellings; secondly, whether particular sizes and types of housing are needed to meet specific needs, for example, retirement homes, sheltered homes or care homes; thirdly, the accessibility and adaptability of the existing housing stock; and finally, the overall impact on viability.
The Government recognise that we have an ageing population and that there are households with varying forms of specific support needs. We are also committed to ensuring that we support people in their desire to continue to live in their own homes, but it will be down to local authorities to determine their local needs. We cannot say what each area will conclude. Planning guidance already contains useful data sources in this respect, but we are offering to set out in one place further useful data sources which planning authorities can draw from to inform and undertake their assessments to support their policies. This will reduce the need for councils to replicate elements of the work and will reduce assessment time.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked a question about viability. I should stress that this is not a new policy. The National Planning Policy Framework set this policy out clearly in 2012, and it applies to a range across the planning system. When setting new policies, authorities are expected to consider the cumulative impact of those policies across the lifetime of the plan. They should not impose a burden that stops development happening. There will be many claims on viability, not just accessibility policies, so we are letting local authorities be the best judge of the right policy mix in the light of their local policy priorities. If they wish to prioritise access issues, which we hope they will, they are at liberty to do so.
In a recent exchange of letters with the noble Lord, I was asked about how existing policies in plans will be treated under the new system. Last year, we consulted on an idea to permit existing standard policies in plans to continue to apply. We intend to implement this approach, although after a six-month transitional period existing policies must use these policies as a basis for applying standards as set out in the new optional requirements. This policy will also apply to standards expressed in the supplementary planning guidance, provided that the SPGs are firmly based on local plan policies.
Given the importance of this area, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Best, that the Government are in the process of commissioning further research to investigate and improve the evidence underpinning the accessibility of the existing stock and the needs of different sectors of the community. This will consider how needs are likely to change over time to meet the needs of an ageing and widely diverse population. We will also be keeping under review how the new policy is being implemented.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, and my noble friend Lord Shipley asked questions on the needs test and whether it will make it harder for authorities to apply access standards. The short answer to that is absolutely not. There is no change to what authorities should do now to justify standards. They have to provide evidence now, and that will remain exactly the same. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, talked about neighbourhood plans, the application of space standards and optional regulations. We have consulted on that idea, but there is no final decision on that issue.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, has given the Government an opportunity to lay out and, I hope, clarify the concerns and the issues he has raised. I hope I have provided reassurance that the system is robust and a positive move forward. Based on those reassurances, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. Everyone has welcomed the noble Baroness back into the Chamber and it is great to see her back again. She has brought personal testimony of the value and importance of accessible housing for all, which is part of a campaign she has been running for at least 10 years, for which I am deeply grateful.
I greatly appreciated the support of noble Lords from all around the House including the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord McKenzie of Luton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, made the fundamental point that spending a little bit upfront is recouped later on. It is such an essential point to make because that little investment can be paid back in spades later when people do not have to go into residential care and can return from hospital. Our A&E crisis can recede because people can get home safely and it will be satisfactory when they get there. I am very grateful to noble Lords for all their support.
I am also grateful to the Minister for putting on the record a number of points that we have corresponded about. It is clear that this will be a reserve power, a fallback power. That is good news. There was even a hint that it might never be used, which was helpful. If it is to be brought forward, there will be full consultation. That is good. Local authorities will receive firm guidance from government about the way in which evidence is going to be collected by them. Advice on that will be helpful, particularly in relation to the so-called needs test. I was not absolutely sure where we stand in relation to the overlap between the requirements for accessibility that local authorities want to lay down and their local strategic plans and the neighbourhood plans that the community brings together. I think we are still in the process of negotiating on those points, and I hope to be part of those negotiations.
Finally, the Minister confirmed that further research will take place on the impact of these new measures, and I hope that they will prove to be satisfactory and will show an expansion, not a contraction, in the number of new accessible homes that will be built in future. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46K withdrawn.
Clause 33: Short-term use of London accommodation: power to relax restrictions
47: Clause 33, page 28, line 32, after “which” insert “, for the duration of a major national or international sporting or entertainment event taking place in London,”
My Lords, I remind the House that I have declared my interests in the register and have spoken to that effect a number of times as I am the owner of some leasehold flats, which I have let on a long-term basis.
The topic of short lets needs to be addressed in detail. Excellent contributions were made in Committee by the noble Lords, Lord McKenzie and Lord Mawson, the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and my noble friend Lady Hanham. The answers from the Minister were not adequate. It is scandalous that we have not seen the proposed new regulations in print before this Report stage of the Bill. I have asked questions on that matter and made clear the need to consider the regulations before Royal Assent. I am now informed that we will be aware of them only after Royal Assent. That is not good enough. That is too late.
It came as a surprise to me that this issue was to be in the Deregulation Bill at all. When the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the draft Deregulation Bill in great detail, this clause was simply not included and therefore received no scrutiny at that stage. It has been slipped in since. Further, I have been told that although deregulation is proposed, new regulations will be required. I find the claim that it is a deregulation issue curious. What is “deregulation” about “reregulation”?
The Minister has said that there was a degree of confusion during the Olympics, and for that reason I think it perfectly fair for the Secretary of State to have complete control at times of great national events. However, I oppose Clause 33 as it stands, and that will be covered later, in Amendment 51. Most local authorities in London tell me that there was no confusion during the Olympics and everyone was perfectly happy with the arrangements that were made. My views on the main issue are largely due to past and current experience. I was a member of the Greater London Council when this legislation was considered and put forward. It was important then to protect Londoners, and it is even more necessary now. London is a special case, and is a drawcard for tourists.
My husband served for a good many years on the London Tourist Board. I have always supported initiatives to boost tourism, but not at the expense of destroying the way of life for long-term residents, particularly in blocks of flats where they can be more vulnerable to the nuisance created by different groups appearing every week, or every two weeks, to occupy the same flats and cause massive disturbances in these blocks. The Government’s view that people should be able to let their homes while they go away on holiday, for not more than 90 days a year, could be quite workable.
With the availability of instant online bookings for flights and accommodation, it is important to keep up to date. I consider 21 days pre-application excessive, and that if local authorities wish to offer a registration system for visitors and short-let tenants, they should be able to develop a fast-track system, enabling people to make better use of available accommodation on offer for a short visit.
Some local authorities, such as Westminster, are very keen to retain controls, and actively use their present system. They would be prepared to adjust to a faster pace of life for processing. They consider that registration, knowing who will live in a place, and for how long, are essential. On the other hand, Kensington and Chelsea tells me that it does not actively pursue anyone who is simply letting their own home, but that it wishes and needs to be able to take action against others who are making life hell for long-term residents.
The block in which I own two flats has 15 flats in all, three of which have been let for well over a year on a short-term basis. Every two weeks, a different 10 people arrive to occupy each of the one-bedroom flats. They abuse long-term tenants, and in some cases threaten them. They leave the door to the street open, as well as all fire escape doors, which means that there is no security at all in the block, as a means of access is available to anyone in the street. These short lets increase anti-social behaviour and fear of crime, and destroy the community carefully built up by the long-term residents.
As this already happens in some central London boroughs, no doubt the practices in central London will spread to other local authorities. As time progresses, the situation will change, as some boroughs wish to maintain high security and ensure that standards of short lets are enforced. As that happens in some boroughs, there will be a spreading from the centre of London into other boroughs. Why do the Government not leave the detail of administrative powers to the local authorities?
In these times of heightened security, the local authority must know who is occupying the property and for how long. Someone has to take responsibility, and in the event of action being needed to protect others in a block, the local council is greatly disadvantaged if it has no idea of who the occupants are or for how long they will be there. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in discussions on the Bill, made clear to me that he views any control as unnecessary bureaucracy. That may be the view of someone who does not want to put themselves out to notify anyone when they go away, but it is certainly not fair to residents in these blocks.
Why have we still not seen the details of the replies to the consultancy document, which was completed almost a year ago? I have tabled Questions; following a Question for Oral Answer on 8 December, I tabled a Question for Written Answer on that point, and received no reply. On the advice of the Table Office and well informed senior Members of the House, I was told to retable that Question. I did so, but there was still no reply. Now we get a statement from the Government, very much at the last minute, issued just this week, which still does not cover these issues. Why have the Government come forward with this startling change in regulation for London at such short notice? There is a need for the Government to discuss this matter more thoroughly with the London authorities, to agree acceptable and improved control for short-let properties in London, thus to encourage tourism—which I know the Business Minister and Housing Minister are keen to do—and at the same time protect long-term residents. Why are the Government not looking for the answer to benefit both homeowners and tourists?
I do not know whether the Government are aware of the huge press coverage that there has been of this subject. I noticed that in yesterday’s Times there was a story from Camden, which is finding great problems and has now developed a fraud team to tackle tenants who sublet homes on Airbnb. The homes being relet in Camden are mainly council houses, which is very bad because people are desperately in need of social housing in Camden. Again, there was a four-page spread in the Sunday Times Magazine on 18 January, describing the situation in Paris and mentioning New York, both of which cities are about to introduce regulations.
Someone from Onefinestay phoned me and told me how it runs everything at a superb level—it is all of a luxurious standard and everything is cleaned up and looked after. Then I read a great article by a woman in the Evening Standard on 2 February, entitled:
“Nice idea, but I won’t let my house out again”.
She had let her house through Onefinestay, and was told that it would remove all her—
I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me, but I was a little unclear as to whether she was speaking just to Amendment 47, which has been degrouped, or more generally to the raft of amendments that we will consider. If the noble Baroness is able to clarify that, it would help us to determine how we will proceed.
I will be happy to clarify that. There seems to have been a slight muddle in that the last amendment I had on Clause 33 was meant to be degrouped, but instead only one was degrouped. I am therefore turning this into a slightly longer and wider field because I lost the opportunity to do that on the previous amendment, which was my original intention. I hope that your Lordships will understand that.
Everything is supposed to be perfect until you do it, then you find—well, I advise noble Lords to read it for themselves. It is from Monday 2 February, in the Evening Standard. There is another whole page on the other side about the woman behind the “unhotel revolution” and pseudo hotels—so it is quite a wide issue. It is interesting that the fraud teams are being brought in to look into the whole issue. I had a reply from the treasury officer when I asked him what of these lettings would be tax free. The answer was, “Nothing, except the right to sublet a room in your own house to a lodger for a sum of £4,000 and something—less than £5,000”. That would be the only free opportunity. It is very interesting that the Serious Fraud Office attended a meeting that we had in the House of Commons in January, partly on this issue but on property in general. There is such an opportunity for fraud that it will be very interesting to know who declares what, with no one able to check on anything at all as to who is in these places, with risks of terrorism and fraud or whatever else is going on. People tell me that they find it almost unbearable, the smell of drugs being smoked in the flat above them, because it becomes so intense to have 10 people in one room. Again, are there no restrictions on how many people can fit into one bedroom? I find it hard to believe that you can have 10 people—and this is in three different flats.
I could go on and on, but I do not intend to, because it is late and the House has had a very busy time, with more to follow. I hope that the Minister will be a bit more open about things, as I am very dissatisfied that Questions for a Written Answer have simply not been replied to. I beg to move.
My Lords, with my noble friend Lord Tope, I have three amendments down on this matter. To start with, I point out to the House that this is a very small clause with a very large impact. It consists of six subsections, four of which require regulations. As my noble friend said, not only have we not seen any sight of these regulations but, apart from the Written Ministerial Statement that appeared on Monday, we have no clue what direction the Government take on this, other than that it is a complete liberalisation of the situation as it stands.
My noble friend Lady Gardner laid out in her usual elegant way some of problems with the legislation before us. We have a slightly different view on the emphasis to be placed on this, but we are all agreed—my noble friend Lord Tope, myself, my noble friend Lady Gardner and the local authorities—that this cannot just be allowed to rip. Local authorities have not paid any attention to people letting out their homes for short times. It has been illegal ever since the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act came in in the 1970s but, by and large, there has been a very sensible attitude taken about this—that if it is your home and you can get money in for a fortnight or so, it will not be a matter that a local authority will bother itself with. However, once it is acknowledged or admitted that the situation has been happening but that it is against the law and always has been, somebody does something about it.
London is different from everywhere else. Although the Written Ministerial Statement says in a rather patronising way that these measures, whatever they are going to be, will draw London into the 21st century, we should all recognise that London has actually been living in the 21st century since the 20th century—or halfway through it. We live with a great deal of problems, not only those which my noble friend described about people who come to live in a property for a short time and cause trouble. Another problem is that a lot of the housing now being built is investment property for rent and, unless there are some controls on who can let out accommodation on a holiday let, all hell will be let loose and there will be rentals all over London taking place in an entirely illegal way.
The laws have up to now been broken and there are now companies, some of which my noble friend mentioned, which, unwittingly or not, have enabled people to do that. But a business is building around all this, and there can no longer be any suggestion that this is just people having a one-off whim to go on holiday for a fortnight in New York or whatever and to earn a bit of money on the way. That is not the reality. The reality is that agencies are already set up to deal with people who want to let their houses short term. Some of them will be very good and some will already have measures in place to let houses in a way that means that they are properly managed, they are cleaned up afterwards, they are looked after and their tenants do not cause problems—and there is some security aspect about who those tenants are. However, let us not delude ourselves that that is what will happen. As the business builds, more and more businesses will be built around it. Unless there is some regulation as to what is and is not allowed, we can say goodbye to quite a lot of accommodation that we are pleased to describe as permanent accommodation at the moment.
My amendments do three things. One says that there must be at the very least a fine-touch registration system with the local authority. It can be done quite easily and uniformly across London, with a website—and I have spoken about the royal borough, to which my noble friend has already referred. It can be done securely on a website. What can be discussed subsequently is whether people have to register before they go away or whether they have to register annually and say that they may be going away and letting their property under those circumstances. It requires some indication as to how many days they will be able to do that for, and the Written Ministerial Statement suggests that it should be 90. I do not know about you, but I am jolly lucky to get 90 days’ holiday a year. It seems to be quite a lot—and I think that most families would find 90 days quite a lot to go away. There will have to be a balance between 30 days, which I think has been promoted, although it is very hard to know as we do not have any regulations before us, and the 90 days being proposed by the Government.
There must be some way in which the local authority knows that the property may be let by the permanent owner, and it must have some idea of how long they will be entitled to do that—and for a very good reason. If the local authority gets complaints about that property, it is very helpful for it to know, for enforcement action to be taken, that it is being let by the owner. There are plenty of examples. My noble friend could give spiels of examples of where a property has been abused and people’s lives have been made a misery by lettings such as this and longer term. That would bring the planning authority back into the situation. At the moment, it has been completely chucked out. The provision in the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act goes and is amended with a few regulations that we do not know about and have not seen.
There is what I hope is an unwitting tendency at the moment to keep downgrading London. A later clause in the Bill on waste amends the London Local Authorities Act and this clause amends the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act. London is always going to be different and will always have different pressures and requirements. If every time local authority legislation goes through some of the measures get thrown out, that is not at all helpful or supportive. I think we would all hope that this clause would go away—at least until we have had an opportunity to sort out what the regulations are going to be, and how much regulation, even if it is light-touch regulation, we can put back in. My amendments try to achieve that. It is essential that the Government take note of the concern on this subject and do not try to pretend that London is some doolally maiden of two centuries ago with no idea of how anything works. They must recognise that London is an exceptional place, with great pressure on it from all sorts of sources, such as development, investment and the general movement of people in and out of the city.
I believe that our amendments are proportionate. I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for the fact that it is me—as well as my noble friend Lady Gardner—who is leading the attack from behind him, but I beg the Government to go back and take note of the concerns of London Councils. I should have declared my position as a co-vice-president of London Councils. It represents every local authority in London and it is absolutely against all these provisions.
My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt, I should say that we are now discussing two groups of amendments together, and not, as stated on the groupings list, simply Amendment 47, which relates solely to major sporting and entertainment events. It is helpful to be able to discuss the whole issue at the same time. I support my noble friend Lady Hanham; as she said, Amendments 49ZA, 49C, 50A and 51 have my name on them, and we have worked together on this issue for what feels like a very long time. Indeed, it has been a very long time.
I express many thanks to Onefinestay, the short lets company, which has been very helpful and willing to come and discuss issues, to London Councils, which my noble friend Lady Hanham has mentioned, and particularly to Westminster City Council. I have had a lot of contact with Westminster. It is the London authority with the most experience—even greater than that of the Royal Borough of Camden—of the effects of the huge growth in this market. Indeed, it has a team entirely devoted to the enforcement of the legislation on short lets.
I particularly want to put on the record my grateful thanks, and those of my colleagues, to the Covent Garden Community Association, which contacted me shortly before we discussed this matter in Grand Committee; indeed, I referred to what it had to say when I spoke there. Since then we have been closely engaged, and it has worked hard to liaise with other community associations and amenity societies in central London. I am grateful to the Covent Garden Community Association for its interest—perhaps it is self-interest, but it is understandable self-interest—for the work that it has done, and because it has brought home to me and to others the effects of what is happening here on people who live every day with the situation.
This is not the happy situation that the Government sometimes allude to, when somebody simply goes on holiday for a couple of weeks and lets their flat for a little bit of income. It is very big business. We have heard innumerable horror stories, both collectively, from the Covent Garden Community Association, and from a number of individuals who have contacted me—and, no doubt, other noble Lords—to describe their day-by-day experiences. There are short-term lets where no one knows who is there from day to day and the people who are there do not know what the rules of engagement are, or how they should be living, and all the dangers that go with that.
My noble friend Lady Gardner has referred to the unsatisfactory way in which the Government have dealt with this situation, and I agree with her. As my noble friend said, the provision was introduced on Report in the other place; it was certainly in the Bill when it came to us for Second Reading. I expressed concern about it then—as long ago as 7 July. That is why lots of people on all sides started to contact me about it. We had a considerable debate about it in Grand Committee on 30 October, but still the Government were not clear about exactly what they were going to regulate.
My noble friend Lady Gardner said that she has consistently asked Ministers what will be in the regulations. On 8 December, in answer to one of her questions, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said:
“In order to provide greater certainty before new legislation comes into force, we will issue guidance shortly that will clarify the Government’s view on planning and short-term letting in London”.—[Official Report, 8/12/14; col. 1593.]
That was on 8 December. Your Lordships know that the word “shortly” can mean many things in this House, but I am certain that on 8 December the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, did not believe that we would have to wait until 6 February, just a few days before we had to deal with this on the last day of Report, before we had any indication from the Government of their intentions.
Why does this matter? It matters because the clause as it stands simply gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations. However, it gives no indication of what may or may not be in those regulations. It is, in effect, a blank cheque. If those regulations were to be made by the current Government—as, presumably, was the intention when we had Second Reading back on 7 July, or even in Grand Committee on 30 October—that would be all well and good. However, for whatever reason, we have now got to the stage where there is simply not enough time for those regulations to receive parliamentary approval before the general election. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will confirm that that is the case. The regulations clearly cannot be laid until Royal Assent is received, which I guess will probably be mid-March. They then have to lay for 40 sitting days, during which time they can be prayed against, before the approval, or otherwise, of each House of Parliament can be obtained. There simply are not 40 sitting days left to achieve that.
I hope that the Minister will tell us whether it is this Government’s intention to lay the regulations immediately on Royal Assent before Dissolution, so that we at least know at last what the Government will, or will not, put in the regulations; or are we simply being asked to hand a blank cheque to whomever may form the next Government, and whomever may then be the Secretary of State, to do with as they wish? That could not be a much more unsatisfactory situation for anybody, whatever their view and whomever forms the next Government. Why we have taken nine months to get to this position, I do not understand. I do not envy the Minister having to try to explain it because I know that, whoever’s fault this is, it is most certainly not his. I thank him for trying very hard indeed to get some clarity on this. I suspect that had it not been for his very considerable efforts last week, we would not even have seen the policy guidelines last Friday.
We are now where we are. My noble friend Lady Hanham outlined the amendments we have tabled to suggest what should and should not be in the regulations. They have been drafted to reflect our views but with help from London Councils representing all the London boroughs, and most particularly following not daily but hourly discussion with Westminster City Council.
In short, the amendments want five safeguards to be built into the system. First, the premises must be the principal London residence of the owner offering the let. We seek a definition of “principal residence” and “owner”. Secondly, the owner must notify the council and let it know how long the stay will be. That means having a simple—we stress that word—and easy-to-use registration system. Otherwise, local authorities will have no possible way of enforcing whatever the regulations may state. Thirdly, the total lets in any one calendar year should not be more than 30 days. If we are talking about people being able to let their home for short periods while they go on holiday, 30 days in a year is not an unreasonable holiday entitlement. Fourthly, the council can request the Government to provide for local exemption from these provisions where there is a strong amenity case to do so. Finally, residents would not be allowed to continue letting if they were the subject of one successful enforcement action against a statutory nuisance. Our amendment defines the process for determining a statutory nuisance. I think I am right in saying that the Government intend to introduce those last two conditions; I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the case.
Amendment 51 seeks to leave out Clause 33 entirely. When this issue was innocently put into the Bill on Report in the Commons last summer, I am certain that Ministers—and, I suspect, their officials as well—had no idea of its scale and complexity; I am sure that the Minister will not confirm that. It has been brought home to all of us who have dealt with it over the months that it is a very difficult and complex issue, and is one that is growing and spreading rapidly. At the moment, it principally affects a number of central London boroughs. This issue relates only to London because it relates to a London local authorities Act. However, the concerns and issues arising from short-term lets are spreading across the country. Popular visitor areas are already experiencing difficulties, perhaps not on the scale of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Camden, but demand is growing so fast in this country and throughout the world that it can only be a matter of time before that is the case elsewhere. So this is clearly an issue that the Government have to tackle. They have to tackle it particularly in London for the reasons that we have given, but I suggest that they need to look at it in relation to the country as a whole.
We have got to the stage where we are being asked to give a blank cheque to the next Government to determine whatever they may or may not wish to put in regulations. As we are where we are, I urge the Government to say, “Right, we have got to this stage, and we really need to pause and have a careful think about all this”. Above all, we need to consult the companies working with short lets which are not against regulation but clearly have a rather different view from those who have to enforce the regulations. However, they should all be consulted. The leader of Westminster City Council issued a public letter dated 3 February—last week—in which she clearly says:
“There has been no engagement with this local authority either at a political or an officer level on the detail of the regulations that are intended to follow this Bill”.
Those were the words of the leader of Westminster City Council in a letter to Ministers last week—I repeat, last week.
Therefore, much though I regret that we have reached this situation, the best thing would be for the Government to concede and say, “We will withdraw this clause, consider further and consult fully, and we or whomever the next Government are will come back after the election with carefully considered, thought-out and consulted-upon regulations that properly tackle the issue”.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments and declare an interest as a professional involved with property, and in particular as having some involvement with commercial and residential management—although not, by and large, in Greater London, I hasten to say.
This matter seems to have started from what might be described as a once-in-a-lifetime event, the Olympics, and the implications of a London-specific piece of legislation; namely, Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974. I follow the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that London appears to be a special case. Why else would that piece of legislation be on the statute book in the first instance?
We are dealing with the potential impacts on the amenity of existing residents. The question of short-term lettings introduces the concept of “churn”—the turnover of occupants, the cleaners, the services, the deliveries, and the implications for security and people coming and going, possibly at odd times of the day and night. With that, there is the natural local authority concern and the issue of public interest in matters of safety and security, including overcrowding, the maintenance of standards, fire precautions and so on. Beyond that, there is the ability to police whatever is put in place to ensure compliance. I have a particular problem with that because, for every block of flats to which such circumstances might apply, if they happen to be in a particularly accessible area near somewhere in our metropolis where there are constant events, one can easily see that a certain proportion could be on this “churn” at any given time. There might be a real question regarding compromising the peace and tranquillity of those who wish to live, work and do all the normal things that normal residents do.
I support the argument that there needs to be knowledge and a degree of control in the hands of the local authority through its planning, building regulations and environmental control functions. London is a special case; there is always something going on there, and that is why it is particularly important to have special regard for it. A less than 50% response—a minority of London boroughs responded—is not exactly an endorsement of what is being proposed by the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who has enormous experience from her involvement with an inner London borough, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who has great experience from a little further out, know that these are the issues, and their voices should be listened to. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, had a quick dig at the Minister about what the term “shortly” might mean. I was brought up in the west country, where there were two terms: one was “shortly”, and the other was “directly”. It was important to know that “directly” meant that there would be a quicker response than “shortly”. I hope that no one with west country roots will come back and tell me that I am wrong, but that is what I understood by those terms.
I apologise for continually referring to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, but she made a number of good points. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for introducing the amendment in the first place and for being assiduous and persistent in plugging the general point. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred to the fact there is an increasing amount of investment property in London. That means that it is not necessarily governed any more by the wishes of those who live, work, shop and raise children in our metropolis. If we are not careful we will get to a tipping point, where the social profile and how to enforce and govern it get altered to the point of being something other than for those who live and work there. After all, they are the people with the democratic vote.
If we are not careful, this will go right to the heart of the structure of society. Of course, that erosion will be that much more rapid in areas with what we might call continual ongoing attractions, which might attract these short-term lettings—they will be cut most severely. To look at London as a composite whole is wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, identified this as a phenomenon occurring elsewhere. For all I know it might affect areas near Glastonbury, the Hay-on-Wye Festival or any other place where these events go on in the countryside.
We are dealing with a class of lessor—people who allow their homes to be used as short-term lettings by others—who, it must be said, by and large lack the knowledge and expertise of renting in this sector. I do not think that many of them have the slightest idea of what is involved in the wear and tear on the property, what the critical capacity is of the hot water system for their block, or in any of the other matters that might be involved, such as the security at the front door when a large number of people, checked and unchecked, have access to the code to come and go.
I do not see what the Government are proposing as a deregulatory measure as at all deregulatory. It opens up a raft of potential further regulation. If it goes through without further ado I predict that we will be back again in not very many months, trying to patch over the cracks and deficiencies where things have started to go seriously wrong. They will go seriously wrong in the most critical areas of our capital, not in the relatively decentralised areas. There is a real question of how communities, local government or residence associations—or, for that matter, landlords or their agents—will be in a position to control this.
We need regulation, especially as some of the main players operating internationally on the web do so in an almost entirely unregulated environment, as far as I can see. That is putting aside the stories one hears of, which cause immense difficulties: about unpaid local taxation, problems of double booking and things like that, of people apparently thinking that they have a holiday let yet the owner knows nothing about it. All those have come to my attention. I do not know whether they are all completely apocryphal; I think they are probably not. We need some regulation, which really ought to be before this House.
I hope that the Minister will think again. I hope he will realise that, although one would have every wish to ensure that there were means whereby people could capitalise on, for example, Wimbledon fortnight by letting their homes to the wealthy from elsewhere, it would need to be done without it having a negative effect on other individuals, on those whom one might call normal residents and on the whole process of due diligence and the regulatory environment. In general, I am entirely in sympathy with Amendment 47 and the amendments in the group that follows it.
I apologise to my noble friend but I think that under the rules of the House we are still on Amendment 47 and Amendment 48 has yet to be called. There has obviously been some confusion in that people are speaking to two groups of amendments. I think that Amendment 47 is still being debated.
My Lords, we have got terribly confused tonight. I thought that we were speaking to the generality of the amendments and that that was the noble Baroness’s position. If that is the case and the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, wishes to make his contribution now, I will happily follow him.
I thank the noble Lord. I was planning to speak to Amendment 48, so my comments are directed to that group of amendments rather than to the specifics of Amendment 47. I declare my interests both as an investor in residential property and as president—
I hesitate ever to come in on a point of principle but my noble friend Lady Gardner said that she wanted Amendments 47 and 48 to be grouped, and that is what we have done. Have we spoken to Amendment 47 separately? Is there any way in which we can get this settled? I have spoken to the group commencing with Amendment 48, not Amendment 47. I was waiting for the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to come in and speak to his amendments. It seems to me that my noble friends Lord Tope and Lord Lytton have also spoken to the group starting with Amendment 48. I am sure that there must be a quick way of getting this sorted so that we are all speaking to the group commencing with Amendment 48.
My noble friend makes a totally valid point and I apologise—there should have been some closure with regard to Amendment 47. Perhaps I may suggest that I respond specifically to the issues around Amendment 47 and then we can move on. I understand that the amendment, having been called, will need to be withdrawn. Therefore, if my noble friend Lady Gardner is minded to speak to Amendment 48, perhaps she can, first, withdraw Amendment 47, as that will be a useful way of moving on to the more substantive debate.
Unless other noble Lords suggest anything else, what I propose may be the most practical way forward. If my noble friend is minded to withdraw her amendment, we can move on to the substantive debate. Because of the confusion, I suggest that that is what she does. If she wishes to speak to Amendment 48, that is her choice, although I think that many of her points have been covered. However, this is a self-governing House and it is for the House to agree to that. I ask her to withdraw Amendment 47 to allow us to move on to the substantive debate, but of course I succumb to the will of the House on that.
I thought that the Deputy Speaker had to put that to me before I sought leave to withdraw the amendment. I apologise. I am happy to beg leave to withdraw Amendment 47 on the grounds that it has been very well debated. It was intended to be a separate issue and I shall wish to speak to Amendment 48.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
48: Clause 33, page 28, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under subsection (1)—
(a) must not include circumstances where the premises in question have been used as temporary sleeping accommodation for more than 30 days in that calendar year; (b) must require persons renting out premises under those regulations to provide the local planning authority with the following information at least 7 days before each use as temporary sleeping accommodation commences—(i) the date the short-let stay will commence,(ii) the date the short-let stay will end,(iii) the names and permanent addresses of the persons temporarily occupying the property, and(iv) written evidence that the owners of the property (where applicable) have been notified and given their written consent;(c) may permit local planning authorities to vary the requirement in paragraph (b) by establishing a fast-track procedure to enable persons renting out premises to provide the specified information with less than 7 days’ notice;(d) may permit local planning authorities to levy an administrative fee on persons providing information under this subsection.”
I shall speak very briefly to this. Amendment 48 sets out the terms that local authorities believe are essential to be able to control things. Although it says “7 days” they are quite willing to introduce a 48-hour or even a 24-hour system to do that. That is all I need to say. It is a matter of the Government negotiating but we should have an option. Amendment 50 would enable local authorities to recover costs because enforcement procedure of any sort is terribly expensive and, of course, falls back in the end on council tax payers, or people do not get the service at all because it cannot be afforded. As for Amendment 51, I feel very strongly that Clause 33 in its present form is not good and I would be very much in favour of leaving it out.
I think I am speaking to Amendment 48. If not, I am sure that noble Lords with much greater experience will stop me. Before so doing, I declare an interest as the owner of residential property and as the president of Westminster North Conservative Association.
Clearly, we need Clause 33 because there is a significant problem out there at the moment. Noise and anti-social behaviour from short lets are in the top three complaints we receive when canvassing in Westminster North, and there is an undoubted problem with nomadic communities which make it very hard to plan resources—for example, schooling, rubbish collection and so on. Residents not knowing who their neighbours are increases security problems and we have ended up with a situation in which Section 25 of the GLC Act 1973 is ignored. There is hardly ever any action or prosecutions on it. We have ended up in the worst of worlds where there is a thriving business that is largely underground and a black market, whether housing benefit-funded tenancies or otherwise, run by organised criminals for the benefit often of other criminals.
Having said all that, I am very much for deregulation. I served on the deregulation task force of the DTI in 1995 and would like to see something done to facilitate Londoners legally to enable their properties to be let out to tourists and others to the extent that they are away. We acknowledge that the market for short lets is strong and that people should be able to do what they want with their properties, and in the process take the opportunity to cut out these criminal middle men and try to legitimate the whole business. We need a pragmatic solution. I agree, as has been said, that one of the biggest concerns is where individual flats within blocks of flats are on short let. There needs to be an arrangement whereby leaseholders can all agree collectively on what they want to do on short lets, so that owners and occupiers are not suddenly blindsided by one or two flats being turned into short lets, where some, not all, are used for purposes for which they were certainly not intended. That has led to problems that have been commented on, particularly in the New York market.
Freeing up the market but protecting residents must be done, possibly by creating some sort of opt-in. Tenancy agreements must clearly list expectations and responsibilities. One of the major problems has been in respect of flats let without any gas safety certificates or fire-retardant furniture. Curiously, where people decide to let out rooms in their flat, as can be done, one can only imagine how that will lead to all sorts of unfortunate incidents.
Although Amendment 48 helpfully suggests that the restriction is 30 days, which is reasonable, I am not sure that the proposal requiring seven days’ notice “before each use” is practical. I just cannot imagine that it would work, and it would rather defeat the object of people wanting an immediate short stay.
I will spare your Lordships’ time in going through each of the amendments but I do not think that they are necessary. I wanted to preface my remarks by explaining that I am as fully aware as anyone of the problems and issues in the London market. When I canvass in Westminster North I see it regularly, but I believe that it is possible within the forthcoming regulations for our concerns to be resolved. I take this opportunity to encourage the Minister to come to the House with those regulations as early as possible so that we can see that they reflect the issues about which we are all so concerned.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 49A and 49B in this group. In doing so, I draw attention to my declaration in the register of interests as an owner of leasehold property. At this hour, I wish that it was not let out and was available, but there we are. These amendments would put in the Bill the right for individual local planning authorities to exclude from the deregulatory provisions of Clause 33 particular residential premises or residential premises situated in a particular area.
I thank the Minister for making time available in recent weeks for a series of meetings to seek to resolve the range of issues opened up by this clause. We are conscious that a variety of views have been pressed on the Government from Members of your Lordships’ House, operators in the market, London Councils and community groups, including the Covent Garden Community Association. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, we should also thank onefinestay for spending time with us to explain the business that it has built and the steps that it goes through to seek to avoid loss of amenity in the areas in which it operates.
The concerns with the proposed deregulation have been most comprehensively described by London Councils in its current briefing. This might be summarised as the potential loss of residential properties because of movement into the more lucrative short-term let sector, increased problems with noise and anti-social behaviour, loss of community identity, increased crime and fire safety risks, and challenges of continual enforcement—indeed, the effect of “churn”, which was spoken to by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.
Westminster Council estimates that at least 3,000 properties in its borough are being used for short-term letting accommodation. Apparently, there has been a rise of 37% in just three months in Camden. Even if not experienced across London, we recognise that these are very real problems which afflict some areas under the current arrangements, let alone any further deregulation.
It might be helpful if I restate our position. We see no objection to individuals and families letting their homes for short periods, perhaps when they go on holiday, without the need for planning permission for so long as this activity does not prevent the residential premises from intrinsically remaining their home. This is also provided that the scale of the activity does not adversely change the character or amenity of the local neighbourhood.
We have at last before us a policy paper from the Government. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Gardner of Parkes, we regret that this has come somewhat late in the day. It is their long-awaited response to last year’s consultation. It is a pity that we do not have draft regulations but have to accept reluctantly that this is all we are going to get during this Parliament. The paper captures many of the representations we have received over recent weeks. As the Minister will doubtless explain, the intention is to limit short-term letting to 90 days in a calendar year, have clear enforcement arrangements to protect amenity and address concerns over nuisance, with the flexibility being withdrawn if there is successful enforcement action against statutory nuisance, a provision for local authorities to request the Secretary of State to agree targeted localised exemption where there is a strong community case to do so, and a requirement that the property in question must be liable for council tax. Clearly, the devil is still in the detail, but all in all the Government have moved from their starting position and we should thank them for that.
We can support the flexibility applying only to someone’s home and for a limited period in each year. London Councils is seeking a limit of 30 days a year while the Government are proposing 90. We are inclined to the view that 30 days could be unduly restrictive when taken together with other safeguards, although back-to-back periods of 90 days means that a short-term let could extend for half a year, which in our view is too long. The Minister may want to say more about how it is envisaged that enforcement will operate, but we consider that while it is not for primary legislation, there should be at least an annual notification requirement from the householder to the local authority, I think along the lines suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, when the first short-term let commences. This need not be an overly bureaucratic process, but it would help local authorities more readily understand the scale of such activity locally and may also be used to signify a possible income tax liability. London Councils seeks a broader safeguard by requiring notification of how long it is to be presumed that each stay will last. The “one strike and you’re out” approach, which we support, would seem to satisfy the difficulty expressed by London Councils over continually having to undertake enforcement procedures.
Where we part company with the Government, and hence our amendment, is on the right of local authorities to override the new flexibility. We do not consider that this should be subject to the agreement of the Secretary of State. Local authorities are in a better position than the Secretary of State to determine what is happening in their individual boroughs and the impact on the local neighbourhood. The use of the term “strong amenity case” suggests that the bar would be set high by the Secretary of State. That is not to say that local authorities can act in an arbitrary or capricious manner. Public policy should prevent this, and in any event, regulations could include the criteria which local authorities should take into account in applying an exemption.
It seems that we are very much in the era of the Minister declaring his support for localism. It was only yesterday in an exchange at Question Time when the noble Lord said:
“I am disappointed. Certainly, on this side of the House, we believe in localism, and this is about devolving responsibility to local authorities”.—[Official Report, 10/2/15; col. 1103.]
That followed an answer given the previous day when he said:
“As we said we would, we have stressed localism and local empowerment, and we have delivered on that”.—[Official Report, 9/2/15; col. 1019.]
I suggest that this is a chance to deliver further.
There is the beginning of some convergence on the different positions, and it is to be regretted that the manner and timing of the issue means that there is limited time to resolve the remaining differences. That is why we are strongly of the view that the safeguard we need to put in the Bill is the right of individual boroughs to pursue exemptions from whatever deregulation eventually emerges. It makes them the final decision-makers.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on some of the other amendments, in particular to Clause 33. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, I would say that if the Government had not opened the box, it might be argued that matters should be left alone, particularly as the timing prevents this Parliament seeing things to a conclusion. There may be a case for now starting from scratch and leaving this to the next Parliament, but there is no certainty of the priority it would get. Having opened up the issue, there are clearly matters to address. The extent of short-term lettings in some areas, the nuisance it causes and the difficulty of enforcement arises now. The regulation of differing levels of enforcement by individual boroughs determined sometimes by capacity issues rather than policy is not a comfortable place to be. The twilight zone in which businesses operate is also unsatisfactory, at least for those operators who want to do the right thing.
In some of the other amendments, there are references to the nature of the residential property, for example with the terms “principal and permanent residence” and “principal London residence”. Our starting position was to think that this should apply only to somebody’s principal private residence. We thought about it a bit more and if you have the protection of a limited number of days, particularly if it is 30, that does not seem to matter too much, so long as it is clearly and demonstrably somebody’s home. How many homes you can have in London is an interesting question, but we are less concerned perhaps about that precise definition of residence. However, it seems to me that we do have a convergence on some issues. It is just a great pity that the delay in dealing with some of these issues means that we cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion during this Parliament.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, but make special mention of my noble friend Lady Gardner. I know that she had a fall yesterday and I am glad to see her in her rightful place today. We were concerned that on such an important issue we might not see my noble friend in her place. Much as some of the questions she has posed are challenging, I wish her well in any subsequent recovery. As we have seen again today, she has put forward some very compelling arguments in respect of her position.
I will also say from the outset that I of course understand that noble Lords are keen to ensure that any relaxation of legislation governing short-term letting in London is available only to residents, so that they can make their property available when they are away for a limited duration, not to allow non-residents to use property almost or exclusively for short-term letting. I confirm that this is exactly the aim of the Government’s proposals. We clarified our intentions for the reform of legislation on short-term letting of residential accommodation in London in a policy document that was shared with your Lordships, as my noble friend Lord Tope said, on 6 February. I am sure we can come up with varying definitions of “short” and what have you, but it is late in the day, so I will not dwell on that too long.
Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 provides that the use of residential premises for temporary sleeping accommodation for less than 90 consecutive nights is change of use, for which planning permission is required. London residents face a possible fine of up to £20,000 for each offence of failing to secure planning permission. There are currently, as I am sure noble Lords appreciate, thousands of London properties advertised on websites for use as short-term accommodation. However, each potentially is in breach of Section 25 as it stands.
In response to our Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector, the new policy document that I referred to sets out the Government’s approach to modernising the legislation so that residents can allow their homes to be used on a short-term basis without unnecessary bureaucracy. The Government have carefully considered the views put forward in responses, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for acknowledging the time that I have certainly sought to take to respond to some of the concerns of noble Lords on this issue. In bringing forward our reforms, we will therefore seek to make provision for safeguards to protect London’s housing supply and residential amenity and provide the ability for local exemptions to be made which would exclude specified premises or areas from the changes.
The Government want to enable London residents to participate in the sharing economy and to enjoy the same freedom and flexibility as the rest of the country, without the disproportionate burden of requiring planning permission. This policy is aimed at helping residents, not at providing opportunities for change of use from residential to business premises. In order to address the issues raised and to respond to some of the concerns, the Government intend to restrict short-term letting of residential premises to a maximum of 90 days in the calendar year, so that properties cannot be used for short-term letting on a permanent basis throughout the year.
I also confirm that we intend to include the requirement that properties must be liable for council tax, to exclude business premises. I also assure my noble friend Lord Tope that the new flexibility can be withdrawn following a successful enforcement action and that, in exceptional circumstances, local authorities will be able to request that the Secretary of State agree to small localised exemptions from the new flexibility, where there is a strong case to do so. In response to the issue around regulations, I say to noble Lords that the Government intend to consider the matters I have just mentioned in deciding the most appropriate way to bring these measures forward into law.
For completeness, it is appropriate for me briefly to mention Amendment 47, which sought to restrict the ability to let residential property on a short-term basis, without planning permission, to those times that coincide with,
“a major national or international sporting or entertainment event”.
It would be extremely challenging to define such events in a way that would exclude many other sporting or entertainment events that occur in London on a weekly or even daily basis; for example, European or international football matches and major concerts at venues such as Wembley and the O2 arena. I am grateful to my noble friend for withdrawing that amendment.
I will respond to some of the questions that have been raised. My noble friend Lady Gardner raised some concerns about Parliamentary Answers. It has been confirmed to me that I provided Written Answers to her Questions. Perhaps they were not as complete as she expected but I have checked the records; those Answers were provided and referred to the policy document and the fact that this would be made available before Report, which I hope has indeed been done.
My noble friend Lord Tope raised the issue of not consulting, in particular with Westminster Council. I assure my noble friend that my officials have met with London Councils officials and representatives from a number of London boroughs, including Westminster.
My noble friend Lady Gardner raised the issue of tax liability. We expect people to pay tax where they are liable. The “Rent a Room” scheme to encourage people to take in lodgers provides a tax allowance on income received from renting out a room; it is a long-standing provision. My noble friend also talked about subletting in Camden. To confirm, a tenant will need to check with their landlord whether under the terms of their tenancy they can sublet. We do not seek to discriminate between people who own their property and tenants.
Amendments 48 and 49ZA would restrict the ability to let properties on a short-term basis, without planning permission, to no more than 30 days a year, as my noble friend Lady Hanham said. Amendment 48 would also prevent hosts being able to accept bookings from overnight guests at less than seven days’ notice, and would require them to notify the local authority of every single letting. It would allow local authorities to establish a fast-track notification process and introduce an administration fee. Amendment 49C would also require notice of short-term letting, and its intended duration, by the property owner.
We want to deregulate in order to provide the ability to let property on a short-term basis for 90 nights per year. This will provide residents with meaningful and proportionate freedom and flexibility in how they use their property. The Government believe that a limit of 30 nights is unduly restrictive. One of the major advantages of the internet is the ability to make transactions quickly and flexibly, and we want our reforms to facilitate this. A requirement for seven days’ notice would unreasonably limit the ability of hosts to offer accommodation to customers seeking to book at shorter notice.
My Lords, for clarity, my amendment said 30 days. In speaking to it, I did not support the situation about the seven days’ notice, nor did I do anything other than say that we would want a short, light-touch registration, which could be up to as much as a year—very much supporting what the noble Lord said. It is important to get the nuances, which are slightly different, and I tried to make them clear but we were in a muddle about where we were.
The noble Baroness is always well placed to clear up muddles, as she has done so again. I fully accept that she spoke specifically to the issue of the 30 days.
Amendment 49, which would restrict the deregulation only to those properties which are the principal and permanent residence of the owner, and Amendment 49ZA, which would restrict the deregulation to the principal London residence of their owner, are unnecessary and overbearing. They would unreasonably prevent tenants carrying out short-term letting, which may be permitted within the terms of their lease. It would also prevent people short-term letting who may have another residence outside London, even though the London property would be viewed very much as their home.
Amendments 49A and 49B would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to direct that specified areas should be exempt from the changes. The Government want to be able to grant exemptions but only in exceptional circumstances and where a strong case has been made by the local authority. Otherwise, we want to be clear that our aim is to provide the same rights for all Londoners in all local authority areas.
The amendments would create different regulatory approaches across the capital, potentially resulting in differences between local authority areas. Residents would find that their near neighbours had either greater or lesser freedoms to short-term let their property, without any apparent justification.
Amendment 49C would remove the deregulation measures where a relevant enforcement process had taken place. It would also require the Secretary of State to make regulations for local exemptions where there were strong amenity grounds. I can assure noble Lords that we intend to provide that the new flexibility can be withdrawn following a successful enforcement action and that, in exceptional circumstances, local authorities will be able to request that the Secretary of State agree to small localised exemptions from the new flexibility where there is a strong case to do so.
Amendment 50 is also unnecessary in the Government’s view. It is already the case that anyone carrying out illegal short-term letting risks a planning enforcement fine of up to £20,000. It is already possible for local authorities to apply for costs in the event of unreasonable behaviour during an appeal against enforcement action.
I assure noble Lords that the Government’s intention is only to deregulate Section 25 to allow residents occasionally to let out their property on a short-term basis; for example, when they are away on holiday. We are not seeking to create new opportunities for short-term letting on a permanent basis. Our policy document shows how we intend to achieve this in a way which balances the reasonable aspirations of residents to let out their homes temporarily with safeguards to prevent abuse of our reforms.
For these reasons, it is the Government’s belief that Clause 33 should remain part of the Bill. I fully acknowledge that differing views have been expressed by noble Lords, but I think that it is the shared intention of the Government and your Lordships to allow letting of property for residents but not on a commercial basis. I hope that some reassurance has been provided by what I have said and I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. He said that he doubted that his previous replies were negative or non-existent, but he should just check his Written Answer dated 7 January in response to my Question referring back to his earlier Answer—my original Question was for oral answer. There was simply no reply at all to Written Question HL3615, which was then repeated. I have gone back on it yet again and there is still no answer.
My other point is that I am hoping that the Minister will be able to give us some comment or offer to enable us to be sure that the Government are willing to consult local authorities on this matter. That is a big hole in the argument. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, drew attention to the seven-day notice period, but I point out to him that, earlier in the discussion, I drew attention to the fact that Westminster Council and, it believes, other councils are willing to offer 48-hour or even 24-hour registration to enable people to come, but it makes the point strongly that unless it knows who is there and for how long, it cannot police it. The Government’s suggestion of 90 days in a year will require officers to go for 91 days, on separate occasions, to be sure that no one exceeds the 90 days. That is totally unrealistic. It would be far better and simpler to have an online registration system to register your interest, then everything would be in order and you would know exactly who was in the place.
We must ask the Minister to confirm that he intends to come out with those full regulations, and agreement from people on them, because it is unrealistic to expect everyone to say, “The Government are going to look after us all”. There was a reference to a £20,000 fine, but that is never applied just for lack of planning permission. These things are just creating a diversion from the essential point that no one will have any protection unless very satisfactory powers are agreed with local authorities. I ask the Minister to give me that advice—that he will be sure that there will be full consultation—and to confirm that at long last, the results of the year-old consultation will be published. Why have they never been published?
Is the noble Baroness seeking to withdraw her amendment?
I am sorry to hear that, because he really has given no reply on so many points. I find that unsatisfactory but at this time of night, and with so few people here, I would not think it at all fair to test of the opinion of the House. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
Amendments 49 to 51 not moved.
51A: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
“Designation of urban development areas: procedure
(1) Section 134 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (urban development areas) is modified as follows in relation to an order under subsection (1) of that section designating any area of land in England as an urban development area that is contained in an instrument laid before Parliament on or before 31 March 2016.
(2) The section has effect as if after subsection (1) there were inserted—
“(1A) Before making an order under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult the following persons—
(a) persons who appear to the Secretary of State to represent those living within, or in the vicinity of, the proposed urban development area;(b) persons who appear to the Secretary of State to represent businesses with any premises within, or in the vicinity of, the proposed urban development area;(c) each local authority for an area which falls wholly or partly within the proposed urban development area; and(d) any other person whom the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to consult.”(3) The section has effect as if for subsection (4) there were substituted—
“(4) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
(4) The duty to consult under section 134(1A) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (inserted by subsection (2) above) may be satisfied by consultation before this section comes into force.”
My Lords, the Government’s aim is to promote and support the regeneration of brownfield land and the creation of new, locally led garden cities. This is not news, nor is the fact that Urban Development Corporations can play a key role in driving forward the delivery of large-scale development. This is especially true in areas where previous ambitions have failed to progress.
Urban Development Corporations—UDCs—are statutory bodies which are established under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, whose objective is to regenerate designated urban development areas. Urban development areas and corporations are established by affirmative orders, which, if held to affect private interests, can be declared to be hybrid by the House and therefore become subject to the hybrid instruments procedure. Once declared hybrid, the order is open to allow private interests to petition. This has happened in respect of all previous urban development areas and Urban Development Corporations.
A hybrid procedure is time-consuming and can be costly for all parties, involving processes of representations and hearings over what can be a substantial time. The formation of an urban development area or an Urban Development Corporation does not, in the Government’s opinion, impact on the private rights of individuals and businesses in the area. The powers available to Urban Development Corporations are already available to local authorities, notably in development management planning powers and, where necessary, compulsory purchase. We therefore do not consider that the creation of an urban development area or corporation gives rise to a loss of rights. It is the Government’s view that the hybrid procedure is not necessary in the case of statutory instruments establishing urban development areas and corporations, provided that there is proper consultation with individuals, businesses and local authorities in the area concerned before the statutory instrument is presented to Parliament.
The Government propose to create a statutory duty to consult. It would require the Secretary of State to consult,
“persons who appear to … represent”,
residents and businesses, local authorities and anyone else who the Secretary of State considers appropriate. The proposed duty to consult would increase the level of public scrutiny that proposals of this nature must undergo. It would ensure that anyone who wishes to can respond to a consultation and express their views and concerns.
Under the current legislation, there is no statutory duty to consult on the creation of an Urban Development Corporation. When the 1980 Act was passed, the affirmative and hybrid procedure was the only express means for local residents to influence government policy. Establishing a statutory duty to consult provides people with an opportunity to participate early in the policy-making process and voice concerns at the point at which they arise, rather than waiting for a chance to petition once a statutory instrument is laid before Parliament.
The way in which people engage with government has improved and changed greatly in recent years. The advent of new technology means that it is now quicker, easier and cheaper for members of the public to raise their concerns through consultation—more so than by bringing a petition in front of your Lordships’ House. Replacing the hybrid procedure with a statutory consultation duty would reflect this change in the way people now interact with government and the policy process. The Government therefore remain of the view that the negative procedure, subject to a statutory duty to consult, is the appropriate procedure for establishing UDCs.
I should like to place on record my particular thanks to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his participation in discussions on how to proceed on this matter. I know he shares my view that we want to see progress in taking this proposal forward. The inclusion of a 12-month sunset provision, with an expiry date of 31 March 2016, demonstrates our commitment to the regeneration of areas where development is waiting to happen. Any statutory instruments establishing an urban development area or Urban Development Corporation, if laid after 31 March 2016, would revert to the current, affirmative, procedure. It would be for a future Government to propose longer-lasting changes beyond the sunset date, and for the Parliament of the day to debate and decide on such changes. The Government have previously argued that such a change would be appropriate for all the reasons I have described, but we recognise that this issue will not be resolved in the current Parliament.
If the changes we are proposing to the Bill are approved, then, following Royal Assent, the Government will lay a statutory instrument establishing an urban development area and corporation for Ebbsfleet. The Government have already consulted on this proposal, and have published a report demonstrating the support expressed for our proposals in the consultation responses. Given the progress that has been made in recent weeks and months, and the strong case for an Urban Development Corporation at Ebbsfleet, it is perfectly reasonable that we should now move forward with establishing the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation as soon as possible. I therefore hope that this amendment carries your Lordships’ support, and I beg to move.
My Lords, if the provisions regarding short-term lettings were unsatisfactory, these provisions coming before your Lordships at this stage of the Bill are unsatisfactory in spades. The amendments that we are now looking at are in substitution of the new clauses reducing the power of Parliament over the order-making power to designate land as urban development areas and to establish Urban Development Corporations. The Delegated Powers Committee received those amendments originally on 25 October, and a memorandum explaining the nature and purpose of the proposals on 26 October, giving it time to report at lightning speed on 29 October. The report severely criticised the original proposals as a breach of the undertaking in the consultation document to obtain express parliamentary approval for these proposals, and called on the Government to withdraw them before the next stage in Committee.
The amendments were accordingly withdrawn but, unfortunately, as the Delegated Powers Committee pointed out in its further report published yesterday, the two new clauses that we are now considering still provide for parliamentary approval to be via negative, rather than affirmative, resolution until 31 March 2016. This means that until that date, interested parties would not have the right to petition against orders designating UDAs and establishing UDCs, as has always been the case in the past, leading to the hearing of evidence in a committee on the matters raised in the petition. The Government recognise that your Lordships would need time to consider and debate such a major reduction of our powers of scrutiny, but are insisting that in the case of Ebbsfleet—the only proposal likely to be affected by these amendments—they must pre-empt a more general debate.
I understand that in the consultation, some three-quarters of the respondents were in favour of this new town and one-quarter of them were against. That does not tell us whether any of the antis would have gone to the length of petitioning, but any who were minded to do so have been deprived of their rights although, as the Delegated Powers Committee points out, the Government gave no indication of this in the consultation. I am keen that Ebbsfleet should go ahead rapidly, but I regret the Government’s assumption that they could trample on the rights of scrutiny and the rights of private interests to be heard. They should have started the Deregulation Bill earlier in the Session or, at the very least, they should have found time for a debate on the proposal in the Minister’s letter that the negative procedure is appropriate for all UDC proposals, subject to a statutory right to consultation. I make no comment on the Government’s argument in the memorandum they submitted to the Delegated Powers Committee that the affirmative procedure leads to uncertainty, delay and a loss of business confidence which acts as an impediment to the process of regeneration that the UDCs are expected to deliver.
We are talking here about taxpayers’ expenditure of £1 billion on the infrastructure of these new towns, the first at Ebbsfleet in Kent, followed by others at Bicester, Ashford, Oxford and Northstowe in south Cambridgeshire. If the advice of David Rudlin, the winner of the Wolfson Economics Prize is being followed, they are the precursors to a further 35 similar new towns, giving a total of some 600,000 new dwellings, that will,
“take a confident bite out of the green belt”.
Ebbsfleet is entirely brownfield, as we have discussed, but that cannot be true of all 40 new towns that are planned. How do the Government intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to avoid inconsistency between the NPPF’s severe restrictions on development in the green belt and the new towns policy of taking a confident bite out of it? Or do they intend to make ad hoc decisions in each case as it arises?
Will the Minister say how the new towns will make a proportionate contribution towards meeting the dire national shortage of affordable homes? In the case of Ebbsfleet, Land Securities says that it has plans to develop up to 10,000 homes, but is there not a Section 106 agreement for the company to make a contribution towards infrastructure costs in lieu of any obligation to ensure that a given proportion of the homes are affordable? In his helpful letter of 9 February, my noble friend said that the UDC will not have plan-making powers but will have to determine applications within the context of the affordable housing policies set out in the Dartford and Gravesham local plan core strategies, both of which require private housing developers to deliver 30% of the units as affordable housing.
Land Securities is not building any houses itself, but will reach deals with housebuilders on parcels within the site. The Section 106 agreement that the company reached with Dartford Borough Council does not require any affordable homes, the money being allocated to schools. The local MP, Gareth Johnson, says it would be wrong to suggest that there will not be any affordable homes and that it would be a matter for the local development corporation, but surely that is not the way it works. Since all the land is owned by a single company and its objective will be to maximize returns for its shareholders, the LDC will have no say in the matter, unless it uses its compulsory purchase powers. Will there be anything in the rules of the LDC that will encourage it to use those powers to achieve a proportionate mix of affordable housing? How else does the Government think that Ebbsfleet and the other new towns will make any provision for people who cannot afford to buy?
I also asked my noble friend last week how the Government would ensure that LDCs would provide appropriate accommodation for caravan-dwelling Travellers, whose needs are even less likely to be a priority for developers. My noble friend said that they would be required to plan for the needs of Travellers in the same way as local authorities. Does that mean that they have to start from scratch with a needs assessment? Would it not be simpler for them to reach agreements with the local authorities contributing to their area to assume responsibility for a proportion of the needs that have already been identified and assessed by those councils?
The Liberal Democrats are committed to the principle of the new towns, but I am sure that we would be dismayed if they turned out to be middle-class ghettos. In London and the south-east particularly, young people on low wages, pensioners, the unemployed, recently arrived refugees or disadvantaged ethnic minorities have no hope of being able to buy, and the Government need to guarantee that those people are not permanently excluded from these new and attractive places to live.
My Lords, we have agreed to support Amendments 51A and 51B despite the 17th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We opposed the original amendments in Committee and sought a rethink from the Government, which has come in the form of a sunset clause which would bring the provisions of these clauses to an end by 31 March next year so their use would be strictly limited.
We remain unconvinced that the negative procedure accompanied by a statutory duty to consult is the appropriate procedure for establishing a UDC, but agree that there is little time left in this Parliament properly to explore and debate this issue. We are also not unsympathetic to the strong points raised by the Delegated Powers Committee. We will not, however, stand in the way of the Government for this limited period, but we wish to see a revised approach for the future. A new generation of new towns and garden cities is essential to tackling our housing crisis, and the Government’s handling of the development of Ebbsfleet has fallen far short of what is needed to address the problem.
After many years of delay the Chancellor finally announced support for 15,000 homes at Ebbsfleet in his 2014 Budget, although that figure was significantly lower than the over 22,000 homes that had been planned for as recently as 2012. Even now, Ministers have failed to make clear how they intend to support development in light of a funding shortfall of well over £1 billion. Moreover, there is no commitment, as we have heard, to ensuring a minimum number of affordable homes.
My colleague the shadow planning Minister, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, sought to amend the Bill to update the remit of new town development corporations to ensure that they are fit for purpose for creating a new generation of garden cities, but the Government voted that down and have taken a very short-sighted approach to planning garden cities.
The TCPA has argued strongly against taking forward this development by way of a UDC, which risks confusing the real differences in the nature of the challenges of regenerating existing places and that of building new communities. We have made clear that in government we would not go down the UDC route; as recommended by the Lyons review we would support the delivery of a new generation of garden cities delivered by garden city development corporations based on updated new towns legislation. However, having given the Government their way on this issue for this limited time, we hope that they will now make progress in delivering at Ebbsfleet.
My Lords, I am grateful both to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for their contributions. I will briefly answer some of the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury, and will of course write to him on what I am unable to cover. He asked a question on Gypsy and Traveller provision within Ebbsfleet. The responsibility under the Housing Act 2004 rests with the local housing authority, and it will be for the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation to discuss, with both Dartford and Gravesham Borough Councils in the context of their respective local plans—which remain the development plans for Ebbsfleet—and their Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments, what provision may be needed in the UDC area.
My noble friend also asked a question—to which I also responded to him in writing—about whether there will be any element of affordable housing. The development corporation will not have plan-making powers and will, therefore, as I said to him earlier, work within the context of affordable housing policies set out in the local authorities’ existing development plans. He also asked about Section 106 and land securities. There is a Section 106 agreement in place. He also raised issues about the DPRRC’s report. I am grateful for the advice that we have got from the DPRRC. I have written directly to my noble friend Lady Thomas and am happy to share this letter. On the substance of the proposals, I know that my honourable friend Brandon Lewis proposes to make a Statement in the House on the substance of progress at Ebbsfleet, as parliamentary time allows.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for allowing us to reach a sensible way forward on this. Based on that, and just for clarity, I commend the amendment to the House and hope that the new clause will be inserted into the Bill.
Amendment 51A agreed.
51B: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
“Establishment of urban development corporations: procedure
(1) Section 135 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (urban development corporations) is modified as follows in relation to an order under that section establishing an urban development corporation for an urban development area in England that is contained in an instrument laid before Parliament on or before 31 March 2016.
(2) The section has effect as if after subsection (1) there were inserted—
“(1A) Before making an order under this section, the Secretary of State must consult the following persons—
(a) persons who appear to the Secretary of State to represent those living within, or in the vicinity of, the urban development area;(b) persons who appear to the Secretary of State to represent businesses with any premises within, or in the vicinity of, the urban development area;(c) each local authority for an area which falls wholly or partly within the urban development area; and(d) any other person whom the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to consult.” (3) The section has effect as if for subsection (3) there were substituted—
“(3) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
(4) The duty to consult under section 135(1A) of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (inserted by subsection (2) above) may be satisfied by consultation before this section comes into force.”
Amendment 51B agreed.
Amendment 52 not moved.
Clause 39: Civil penalties for parking contraventions: enforcement
53: Clause 39, page 31, line 19, leave out from “given” to end of line 21 and insert “—
(a) by a notice fixed to the vehicle;(b) by a notice handed to the person appearing to be in charge of the vehicle at the time; or(c) where the enforcement officer is prevented from serving the notice by either of the methods in paragraph (a) or (b), by post,in respect of a parking contravention on a road in a civil enforcement area in England”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 53, I shall speak also to our other amendments in this group, Amendments 54, 55 and 56. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on these amendments.
Local authorities as we know are precluded from using their civil parking enforcement powers to raise revenue. It is suggested that enforcement by CCTV is particularly unfair because a motorist might be issued with a ticket as a consequence of a camera. The ticket arrives at their home some time after the event when they have no opportunity to examine the location when the alleged contravention took place. However, the Government’s consultation on local authority parking last year acknowledged the benefit of CCTV in enforcing moving traffic congestion where cars use bus lanes, do not exit box junctions, and so forth.
Our amendments go further, particularly in relation to the use of CCTV around schools. This matter was addressed forcefully in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who pointed out the nonsense of allowing CCTV enforcement for 10 metres around a school—the zig-zag lines—but not beyond. Amendments 54 and 55 would include in the Bill exemptions from the ban, some of which the Government have already conceded should be provided. This applies to contraventions for stopping at bus stops and bus lanes, school entrance markings and red routes on the grounds of safety and the needs of bus services.
It is understood the wording of our wider use of CCTV within 100 metres of a school entrance may not always be practical, depending on the configuration of the road and other junctions. For so long as the principle is accepted, however, the wording could be tidied up at Third Reading. The arguments for preventing parking on the zig-zag lines at pedestrian crossings are similar to those made in relation to school entrances. Cars parked on the white zig-zags on either side of pedestrian crossings can obscure motorists’ view of those about to cross, especially children, the visually impaired and wheelchair users. This is particularly dangerous at zebra crossings where there are no traffic lights and motorists slow down only on seeing a pedestrian starting to cross.
Amendments 54 and 55 would extend the exemption to clearways. Currently there are junctions and other parts of clearways where parking is prohibited to protect pedestrian cyclists and motorists themselves. It is unclear why the Government have chosen to exempt red routes but not clearways, given that the same safety considerations are our concern.
Amendment 66 will ensure that the provisions of Clause 39 cannot have an effect until the equalities impact assessment and a regulatory impact assessment have been undertaken. If the Government continue to argue that the former is not necessary, perhaps they would make clear why. As for the RIA, it has apparently asserted that the measures have no impact on business. However, the LGA says that it has heard directly from private companies contracted to enforce parking, which assert that it does have an impact. Do the Government refute that assertion? I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my support to all the amendments in this group. The anomaly between the treatment of zig-zag lines at school gates and those by pedestrian crossings is ridiculous. Both involve strong safety issues, and the Government should be able to see their way to including pedestrian crossings, at the very least. They also need to review the regulations about the amount of land taken up as a result of a school entrance. That aspect does not make sense; the amount is far too little compared with what is there at present. That is a technical matter that needs rearranging. The rest of the amendments all seem good common sense. I want to get rid of CCTV, but we cannot get rid of it completely if that will cause a safety hazard.
My Lords, I too have added my name to these amendments, and I am sorry that the hour of the night that we have reached does not encourage us to give them the full debate that they deserve. I too am looking forward to the Minister’s explanation of why it is necessary to have CCTV enforcement on zig-zag lines outside schools, but apparently not on zig-zag lines by pedestrian crossings. I hope that he will say that the Government recognise that that is rather silly and, as they cannot find a sensible answer to the question why they are doing it, that there will be CCTV enforcement on zig-zag lines by pedestrian crossings.
The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will recall the debate—if that is the right word—that we had in Grand Committee, when we had only just received the draft regulations. I think that we all, including the Minister who replied on that day, recognised that the problem outside schools is rather more on the roads adjoining the zig-zag lines. I do not understand why the Government seem unwilling to allow CCTV enforcement on yellow lines adjacent to zig-zag lines outside schools, where there really is a problem. I would like to see a Minister go to a school in my former ward and explain to the people there that the rules cannot be enforced by CCTV on the yellow line, but can be on the zig-zag line. I remember my ward fondly, and I am certain of the answer that both the residents and the parents would give that Minister if he were brave enough, or stupid enough, to go and offer that explanation.
Amendment 56, to which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has referred, deals with impact assessments. As he said, the LGA wants clarification of the grounds on which an EIA—equalities impact assessment—is not to be done, because it understands that one is required under equalities legislation. The noble Lord also mentioned regulatory impact assessments. As he said, the Government say that they have not produced one because they do not believe that their proposals would impact business.
However, I have in my hand a letter addressed to Eric Pickles, dated 30 January, from 11 companies that say that,
“these proposals DO directly affect our business and as such the government should conduct a Regulatory Impact Assessment in accordance with its own procedures”.
Some of those 11 companies are recognised as major companies in the parking industry, and they all say that this will have a significant impact on them, and call for a regulatory impact assessment. It is probably no small feat to get 11 companies all to affix their signatures to a letter, and we all look forward to the Government’s reply to the debate.
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly in support of Amendment 53. I am holding in my hand a piece of paper received by somebody very close to me regarding a parking contravention on 30 December 2014. It was received for the first time this morning. It says that the notice was issued on 15 January and that the penalty needs to be paid. However, it had been sent in the post and was not received, and neither was the first notice received. As a result, the fine is now £200.
It would be quite wrong for me to use the Floor of your Lordships’ House to make a complaint on my own behalf were it not for the fact that so many people have complained about this sort of thing happening and because I happen to know, and have heard the Secretary of State say, that this is an important issue of human rights as far as photography of people or cars in relation to parking contraventions is concerned. It is already the law, certainly in the state of California in the United States, that such photography is a breach of human rights. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure me on this point. Incidentally, the person concerned was me.
My Lords, as regards the use of CCTV generally in parking enforcement, it is clear that the operational guidance on parking issued by the previous Government in 2004—that is, that CCTV should be used only where parking warden enforcement is impractical—has been largely ignored. It is now used on an industrial scale. For people such as my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes to be issued with a penalty charge way after the event is simply unfair. Independent parking adjudicators have also agreed that it is unfair. Such practices also undermine the revitalisation of high streets and shops and cross the line of public acceptability. If parking is too expensive or prohibitive, shoppers will drive to out-of-town supermarkets or simply shop online, leading to ghost-town high streets.
The point was raised about exempting the zig-zag lines on a pedestrian crossing as opposed to those outside a school. High streets, where pedestrian crossings are generally situated, are well patrolled by both police and enforcement officers. In any event, parking on a zig-zag line is not just a breach of parking regulations but incurs three points on your licence. That is why, in terms of differentiating between schools and high streets, the safety issue outside schools led the Government to think that the latter case was a suitable exception.
The first amendment in this group concerns the serving of parking tickets. There may be occasions where it is impossible for a civil enforcement officer to physically stick a ticket on to a vehicle or serve a notice at the scene of the incident. The Government are aware of this and have made provision in draft regulations to ensure that service by post is possible in such circumstances. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord is content to withdraw that amendment.
Noble Lords are also seeking to increase the number of areas where local authorities can continue to use CCTV to enable the issuing of tickets by post. I have given a couple of examples of where the Government have made exemptions, or indeed where they have not. I think that noble Lords and all interested parties will have their own views on where CCTV should or should not be used. The Government accept that sole reliance on CCTV evidence to enforce on-street parking regulations is suitable in certain circumstances. However, if we accepted every argument for increasing the exemptions, we would be back where we started. We have given careful consideration to the list of exemptions and based our decisions on the views of those who responded to the consultation, one being on the issue of the safety of children outside schools.
The noble Lord also offers a new definition of the term “around schools”. This definition would be neither appropriate nor practical. The 100 metres specified in the amendment, or any specified distance, would be arbitrary. Within that distance, it is likely that roads will bend or side roads will branch off the school road. It is unclear how this will be dealt with. Any definition needs to be practical as well as reflect policy concerns.
Amendment 56 would make these powers subject to impact assessments before they were brought into force, which is both unnecessary and undesirable. The Government are proud of the stance they have taken to reduce the impact of rules and regulations on businesses and policymakers. Government guidance published in 2013 clearly states that impact assessments are required only for measures that regulate or deregulate business or concern the regulation of business. This clause applies only to local authorities that carry out parking enforcement, and no impact assessments are therefore required.
This whole issue is a matter of principle for the Government, not of balancing impacts. Drivers often receive a parking ticket through the post several weeks after the alleged contravention. They are given no opportunity to examine the parking location at the time the incident is alleged to have taken place, thereby making it difficult to challenge the alleged contravention. That is fundamentally unfair, and the Government strongly believe it should be remedied. I urge noble Lords to withdraw or not move their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and thank other noble Lords who have participated in this debate. Given the hour, I shall not prolong the matter, except to say that I am still unclear as to which of proposed paragraphs (a) to (g) in Amendment 54 the Government support and which they do not. I acknowledge that my description regarding the inclusion of CCTV around schools perhaps needs to be refined, but the principle holds.
The impact assessment was not the issue. It was that parking enforcement may be a responsibility of local authorities but in many instances it is contracted to the private sector—hence the list that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to. I thought that the Minister said that the issue of whether there should be an equalities impact assessment was a matter of principle for the Government. I am not sure that I heard her correctly, but it would be a rather strange explanation if she did so. I remain unclear as to why an equalities impact assessment is not to be forthcoming. However, given the hour, perhaps we should read the record and follow up in correspondence. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 53 withdrawn.
Amendments 54 to 56 not moved.
57: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition of parking on verges, central reservations and footways
(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 19 (Prohibition of HGVs on verges, central reservations and footways) insert—
“19A Parking on a road anywhere other than on the carriageway
(1) A person who parks a vehicle wholly or partly—
(a) on the verge of an urban road,(b) on a footway comprised of an urban road, or(c) on any other part of an urban road other than on the carriageway,is guilty of a civil offence, subject to the provisions of subsection (3).(2) An offence under this section shall be treated as a traffic contravention for the purposes of Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 and regulations made under it.
(3) Subject to subsection (6), a highway authority may by resolution, or in the case of the Secretary of State by such notice as appears to him to be appropriate, authorise, from a date specified in the resolution or notice, the parking of vehicles on or over a footway or any part of a footway as referred to in subsection (1).
(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to any road within Greater London.
(5) In this section—
“carriageway” and “footway” have the same meanings as in the Highways Act 1980;
“urban road” means a road which—
(a) is a restricted road for the purposes of section 81 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1980;(b) is subject to an order under section 84 of that Act imposing a speed limit not exceeding 40 miles per hour; or(c) is subject to a speed limit not exceeding 40 miles per hour which is imposed by or under any local Act;“vehicle” means a mechanically propelled vehicle or a vehicle designed or adapted for towing by, or to be attached to, a mechanically propelled vehicle but does not include a heavy commercial vehicle within the meaning of section 19 of this Act.
(6) The Secretary of State may make regulations as to any exemptions from the prohibition contained in subsection (1).”
(3) The Traffic Management Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(4) In Schedule 7, after paragraph 4(2)(g) insert—
“(ga) an offence under section 19A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (parking on a road anywhere other than on the carriageway);”.”
My Lords, I rise at 10.05 pm to move the amendment. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who moved it for me in Committee, when I was unable to be present, and to all other noble Lords who spoke in favour of it then. It would introduce a general prohibition on pavement parking outside Greater London, where this has been the rule since 1974, with a power for local authorities to make exemptions on a street-by-street basis. After the noble Lord moved the amendment much more ably than I ever could, there is not a lot more to be said. It seems to be a no-brainer but, for the benefit of noble Lords who were not in Committee—there cannot be many of them left by now—I shall summarise the arguments briefly, given the lateness of the hour. That was not, I fear, a consideration that seemed to trouble many of the previous speakers, who have spoken unusually expansively for the time of night.
Five points need to be made. First, pavement parking is dangerous for pedestrians, especially parents with pushchairs and prams, wheelchair users and other disabled people who are forced into the road in the face of oncoming traffic, which, in the case of blind and partially sighted people, they cannot even see.
Secondly, it is costly. Pavements are not designed to take the weight of vehicles, so they crack and the tarmac surface subsides in consequence. This is also a hazard to pedestrians, who may trip on broken pavements, especially if they cannot see what has happened. Local authorities spent more than £1 billion on repairing kerbs, pavements and walkways between 2006 and 2010. Some £106 million was also paid in meeting compensation claims from people tripping and falling on broken pavements during the same five-year period.
Thirdly, the present legal position is extremely confusing. Parking is regulated by local authorities issuing traffic regulation orders under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, prohibiting parking in specific areas. This has led to a patchwork of different approaches being taken by different local authorities, which is very confusing for motorists. We need the consistency of a standard regime throughout the country. Given the hazardous nature of pavement parking for pedestrians, and the fact that a general prohibition with local power to exempt seems to have worked well in Greater London, it seems sensible that this should be the rule that prevails throughout the country.
Fourthly, an amendment along these lines has massive support outside this Chamber. Some 69% of 2,552 adults in England, Scotland and Wales surveyed by YouGov in March 2014 supported a law on pavement parking, as do some 20 organisations, including those representing local government, pedestrians, motorists and transport interests generally, as well as disabled and elderly people. The status quo presents challenges for drivers as well as pedestrians and cyclists. The British Parking Association and the RAC Foundation support the call for change. Some 78% of local councillors believe that there should be a ban on pavement parking. It would be hard to think of any other amendment that united such a diversity of interests that are normally at loggerheads.
Finally, as I said, the regime that this amendment would introduce appears to have worked perfectly well in Greater London for more than 40 years.
In Committee, the main objection to the amendment seemed to be that it was better to leave the question of pavement parking to local discretion. However, I have already pointed out the huge objections to this in terms of cost and consistency. I think the Government’s objections were principally founded on the fear that the amendment would take away all local discretion, but this is not the case. All the amendment does is reverse the presumption as between national standard and local discretion.
The Minister expressed reservations about this on the grounds that introducing the new regime would be costly and disruptive. But, as I have argued, the present system is costly in terms of repair bills and legal costs. Traffic regulation orders cost between £1,000 and £3,000 to introduce, when account is taken of consultation, signage and advertising. A national law on pavement parking would give local authorities the discretion to act as they see fit in a more cost-effective way.
As I said, the case for the amendment is strong. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment with great pleasure. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, I moved it in Grand Committee in his unavoidable absence. I did that in particular because of the experience that I had for 40 years as a London borough councillor. As it happens, my council chose to start enforcing the ban in our area in my first year as leader of that council. The area that was most directly and strongly affected by that happened to be the town centre ward that I represented for those 40 years. Many of the properties in my ward were built before the motor car was invented, and certainly before it was ever envisaged that anybody living in the houses in those roads would ever own a car, let alone two cars. Many of the streets were too narrow to allow cars to pass in both directions without parked cars being on the pavement, so we had to deal with all the exemptions, many of them in the ward that I represented.
Therefore, I support the amendment, particularly for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Low, but also because, as a councillor, I have had many years’ experience of the implementation and enforcement of this ban. As the noble Lord made clear, it is not a blanket ban; it permits sensible exemptions that then have to be properly marked on the pavement and with a sign. Therefore, I support the ban enthusiastically. I know that it can work where there is a will, and I know that it has worked for many years in the area that I know best. We really should be moving to a situation where, just as in London, the presumption is that parking on pavements and verges is illegal unless it is specifically exempted. Motorists would then know that they should not park on a pavement, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Low, has given, unless it was clear that they were permitted to do so. That is the opposite of the presumption that exists in the country outside London at the moment, and it is an extremely important road safety and pedestrian safety measure that we should implement.
My Lords, I support the amendment, whose importance has been ably and eloquently demonstrated by the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Tope. It is quite clear that the present situation is costly and complex, as has been said. I should like very briefly, given the hour, to demonstrate how in Worcester—one of the few cities in the UK that has tried to tackle the problem of pavement parking —there have been difficulties because of the current situation.
As is well known, the history of parking enforcement is complicated. Parking on pavements was made a criminal offence under the Worcester City Council Act 1985, but under the Road Traffic Act 1991 it was decriminalised, so that could no longer apply. Despite that, Worcester City Council has continued to try to tackle the problem, and in January 2014 civil enforcement officers began enforcing the most serious cases using existing traffic regulation orders. Worcestershire County Council was originally asked for a city-wide traffic regulation order, but this would have required hundreds of street signs wherever parking on pavements took place, and that was considered untenable. That simply demonstrates how difficult the present situation is. The county council suggested that the city council should look at the issue on a street-by-street basis and generate individual traffic regulation orders, but the city council thought that this approach would be untenable as well.
It seems to me that all that demonstrates the need for a national system. It is worth bearing in mind that those who are blind and disabled feel particularly strongly about this. A blind Paralympian who lives in Worcester said recently that walking down the city’s clogged-up streets is like playing Russian roulette.
My Lords, we must all be aware of the dangers and inconvenience of parking on pavements and the risk that this can pose for pedestrians. These risks can be especially acute for those with a sight impairment or those who have a mobility difficulty and rely on using wheelchairs or buggies. The problems are compounded, too, for those who have responsibility for children and who try to navigate the pavements with prams. The consequence is that all too often pedestrians are forced to navigate busy and dangerous roads instead. For some, of course, pavement parking can restrict their right of way completely. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, we need to be mindful that pavements are not generally constructed to carry the weight of heavy vehicles and pavement parking can cause the break-up of the surface, adding further hazards, even when the offending vehicles are not present. This amendment seeks to address those concerns outside London by making it an offence to park wholly or partly on a verge, footway or any other part of an urban road. But this blanket ban can be overridden by resolution of the highway authority or by the Secretary of State.
We acknowledge the weight of opinion and the power of the argument which supports this approach. We share the need to address inconsiderate and dangerous parking and to seek to restore to pedestrians their right to proceed unimpeded. But at the same time, we have to recognise that there are some streets where some pavement parking may be inevitable—to maintain the free flow of traffic, to allow loading and unloading, or to allow for vulnerable passengers to be disembarked. Moreover, the premise of the amendment is that all people who park their car on the pavement are doing the wrong thing and should be made guilty of a civil offence. We do not accept that.
If we are to redress the balance and tackle the problem of inconsiderate pavement parking, how is this best achieved? We need to work through how it can be delivered in practice. We are keen to empower councils to tackle problem parking. If there are any barriers or bureaucracy preventing this we would be keen to look at ways we can change the legislation so that that is not the case. We do not think that the blanket ban is the best way to go. We consider that individual authorities, which know their areas best, are better able to determine the extent and timing of any ban. For some, an initial blanket ban may be the immediate answer, but others may want something more selective which addresses the most urgent problems first. In some cases, there will need to be liaison between authorities so that approaches are co-ordinated. We support the thrust of what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve, but we think there is another approach so, with regret, we are not able to support him today.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate on the amendment. It demonstrates that there is no perfect system to allow traffic and pedestrians to move around entirely satisfactorily.
I shall start with the points made about London. Pavement parking in London is banned but people still do it. Enforcement of properly targeted local bans outside London would be more effective than a blanket ban that does not reflect local circumstances. On the more general points, local authorities already have the power to introduce footway parking restrictions where they consider it appropriate. They are in the best position to decide on local parking restrictions and need to consider all road users when taking such decisions. A national ban of the type proposed would require local authorities to remove all existing restrictions, then renew their urban areas where footway parking should nevertheless still be permitted, consult the community and erect new signage and markings. There could be a significant burden on local government.
The amendment proposes banning footway parking but would allow authorities to permit it where it is desired by simple resolution. Circumvention of the traffic regulation order—TRO—process would take away important protection for the public. The statutory TRO process requires authorities to undertake consultation and advertise their proposals before councils take final decisions. A noble Lord made the point about the TRO process being expensive and cumbersome. It is not true to say that the process is a barrier. Some local authorities make up to 200 orders a year for a variety of traffic management purposes with an average authority making between 50 and 60 orders per year.
The Department for Transport’s guidance to local authorities makes it clear that during the appraisal of their parking policies an authority should consider whether pavement parking is problematic in any part of that area. If it is, and it is not covered by an existing traffic regulation order, the authority should consider amending the existing order or making a new one. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, wrote to all English traffic authorities on 27 June to remind them of their existing wide-ranging powers to prevent people parking on the pavement where it is a problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, made a point about damage to pavements. The Government are committed to investing in our local highways, including the footways. We are providing local authorities in England with more than £3 billion over four years from 2011-15 for the roads and footways for which they are responsible. In addition, in June 2014, the Government announced that they were committed to providing just under £6 billion for local highways maintenance over the six-year period from April 2015 to March 2021. This equates to £976 million per year to local authorities for highway maintenance.
In conclusion, the Government have concerns about the burden on local authorities of managing a change of this scale, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, alluded, especially when those authorities have comprehensive powers to ban footway parking. I have undertaken to have a discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Low, before Third Reading but I would at this stage ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for her reply and to all noble Lords who have spoken, in some cases with very telling illustrations of the workability of the amendment. It certainly is not the belief of those who support this amendment that all pavement parkers are behaving anti-socially. The amendment’s inclusion of scope for local discretion to exempt specific areas from the general ban recognises that. I am sure that with good will we can find a formula which caters for the concerns both of those putting forward the amendment and the concerns which have been expressed about the erosion of local discretion. In response to the Minister’s indication that she is happy to have a discussion before Third Reading, at which I hope we can work together to find that formula, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
57A: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Civil enforcement of traffic contraventions
(1) Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 (civil enforcement of traffic contraventions) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 87A, as inserted by section 39(3) of this Act, insert—
“87B Use of an approved device in car parks
Nothing in this Act shall prevent the use of an approved device in a car park which is the subject of a civil enforcement order where the intention of such use is to better manage space turnover and user convenience.””
My Lords, I will try to be brief. The same amendment was tabled in Grand Committee but did not really get any debate. I have brought it forward here at the request of the British Parking Association to have it on the record and to have the Government’s response on the record.
Local authorities, through the use of camera technology, including CCTV and automatic number plate recognition, want to provide new solutions for customers using their car parks. This includes an option either to operate barrier systems automatically by using ANPR and improve access for people with disabilities or to remove barriers altogether and improve traffic flows at these important locations. These systems can also better monitor space turnover, provide customers with more flexible payment opportunities, such as park now and pay later, and reduce the need for enforcement action.
This amendment would bring local authorities into line with other private sector car park providers, which are already using it, making it easier for all motorists to use any car park. ANPR technology, with its customer service benefits, such as pre-booking at airports for example, has been available for some years in private sector car parks and its use for enforcement action on private land, such as supermarkets and motorway service areas, was legitimised by the Government in their Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.
The British Parking Association understands that two of its local authority members are seeking a judicial review of the Government’s recent decision not to allow this new technology. The amendment would eliminate the need for such action by protecting motorists from any attempt by a “rogue” local authority, should there be such a thing, to use technology simply to raise revenue, as the conditions for use which it sets out must be to help space turnover or customer convenience.
We actively support the introduction of new technologies, including cameras and ANPR, when managing parking in regulated car parks. The Government themselves have a “digital by default” policy and new technologies and innovation are opening up significant opportunities for customer services and other improvements for motorists in the way parking services are managed and provided. This amendment would put publicly owned car parks on the same basis as privately owned car parks. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should make it clear right from the outset that the measure in this Bill is about on-street parking, which is the preserve of local authorities. The issue of ANPR is totally separate and the Government are not going to regulate companies in a Bill that seeks to deregulate.
The noble Lord’s amendment seeks to introduce a new clause which would ensure that measures in the Traffic Management Act 2004 do not prevent local authorities from using an approved device in their off-street car parks. The amendment would apply to the entire Traffic Management Act. The Traffic Management Act sets out the framework for local traffic authorities to manage all aspects of their parking policies. To disapply the entire Act in relation to car parks would create an impossible situation where the legislation that prescribes how local authorities should operate is undermined by itself.
I think that the noble Lord may in fact be concerned about the specific measures in Clause 39 and is apprehensive that these will be extended to local authority off-street car parks. I can assure him again that the measures in this Bill apply only to on-street parking. The Government are not seeking to extend these provisions to off-street parking and have no plans to do so. It would be unnecessary to set out in primary legislation policy areas that the law should not apply to.
Permitting local authorities to manage their off-street car parks with camera technology is something that I know some organisations are keen to see happen. However, the Government have not set out their position on this. We have brought forward a range of parking measures designed to help local shops, support drivers and give communities a greater say on parking policies. These proposals have been established for 18 months and have been consulted on. At no point have we indicated any intention to legislate on off-street car parks.
To bring into the Bill at this late stage measures on a different aspect of parking policy would not give sufficient opportunity for people to consider their implications or to offer an opinion. We believe that this is something on which we should consult before any changes are made to the law, and I would urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Well, my Lords, I take it that that is a no. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his support, and who knows, in the months to come he may have an opportunity to indicate that.
I am rather disappointed with the reply from the Minister, who perhaps in part through her briefing has not wholly understood the points being made here. I note her point about the impact on businesses, but that did not seem to matter on the previous amendment when we actually had a letter from 11 businesses talking about the impact it would have on them. However, I will of course beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I will consider the issue further.
Amendment 57A withdrawn.
Clause 41: Removal of duty to order re-hearing of marine accident investigations
57B: Clause 41, leave out Clause 41
My Lords, is it my impression that the Minister is not here to reply to his letter and my debate in Committee about the safety of passengers and seafarers on vessels? This is a clause about safety on ships and inquiries, and I will seek to show that the “Marchioness” disaster was due to the negligence of the Department of Transport in dealing with that sad loss of 51 people. I mean no insult to the noble Baroness who will be replying, but I hope that I can record my argument, even given the lateness of the hour. The Minister then might, when he wakes up, read what has been said today because presumably there will be another opportunity to look at it when the Bill comes back at Third Reading.
My objection is a strong one relating to safety—this is not about parking, cars or whatever else, it is about safety on our seas and, in particular, on that river outside, the River Thames. The current proposal suggests that any rehearing into the loss of a ship, which may have occurred years ago, will now be at the discretion of the Minister and not be a duty. We are replacing a department’s duty and obligation to hold a hearing into the loss of a ship with a discretion. Evidence shows that discretion is not the best way if you want to get the best out of an inquiry.
Other ships have been lost and taken a long time to be found, such as the “Derbyshire”, which I mentioned in Committee, the fishing trawler “Gaul” and the “Marchioness”. Each time, particularly with the “Marchioness”, the Government refused to have an inquiry. It was normal practice and, indeed, the duty at the time when the “Marchioness” went down to hold a public inquiry as to the causes. So that we are in no doubt about it, all I am saying has been confirmed by the Thames Safety Inquiry report by Lord Justice Clarke. I should know, because when I became the Secretary of State I appointed him to meet the demands of the relatives who died on the vessel in the Thames that there should be a proper public inquiry. He spells out the reason for a public inquiry in the report, referring in turn to the report into the “Herald of Free Enterprise”:
“In every formal investigation it is of great importance that members of the public should feel confident that a searching investigation has been held, that nothing has been swept under the carpet and that no punches have been pulled”.
That is precisely what happened with the inquiry set up by the Department of Transport, headed at that time by Mr Cecil Parkinson. The ship went down and the normal cry came out for an inquiry, as had happened in a number of other cases. However, the Government made the decision that there would not be a full public inquiry or examination of the facts. They chose to use the maritime investigation board, which is under an obligation in law to investigate immediately the loss of a ship and then to report and act. It does not examine the circumstances of the loss. The Government insisted that it should be this maritime body that investigated, and it was the only inquiry that they implemented. What I find difficult about that is that the Government’s argument at the time was, “Look, we have the maritime inquiry; we cannot have a public inquiry because that might interfere with any public prosecutions or criminal actions that may be undertaken”. However, that does not fit with what happened with “Piper Alpha” or with other ships that went down, where they immediately set up a public inquiry and made clear that that did not matter. It was the same with the King’s Cross fire—the same department, almost in the same period, said, “We are having the inquiry, and are not stopping it simply because of any criminal investigations”. So I then think, “Why is the department doing it in certain circumstances but not in this one?”. To be truthful, it was in the process of changing the regulations for inquiries, but the duty that was imposed on the department still existed when the “Marchioness” went down and 51 people died.
The first question must be: why did the department not use the powers that were there and the duty on it to investigate and hold a public inquiry? That was all people were asking for. The department refused, constantly. It refused for 10 years to have a public inquiry. That started right at the beginning, which I will come to in a few minutes. So I ordered an inquiry.
Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, wrote to me after Committee—this is why I am particularly annoyed—protesting that I had said that they had hidden the truth about the loss of a vessel. That is a serious charge, so I invited them and the Secretary of State, who wrote to me as well, to read the Lord Justice Clarke report and come and discuss it here in the Lords when we debate these issues. I am a bit surprised that they did not turn up. I have a feeling—I do not know him too well—that he sat on that Bench for a few minutes and then presumably shot home to have a little sleep and not attend this debate. Perhaps he was not here, perhaps it was not him; it did look like him—another good-looking fella like the guy at the end there. The point is, he is not here for the debate. My accusation is a serious one and everything I say is backed up by Lord Justice Clarke’s safety inquiry. He started his inquiry wondering why there had not been an inquiry under the previous Administration. There is a chapter called, “Should a Public Inquiry Have Been Ordered?”, which gave me the quote I have just read. Another chapter asks, “Was This a Suitable Case for a Public Inquiry?”, and he said it certainly was: 51 people died; King’s Cross was less than that and they had a public inquiry. Lord Justice Clarke came to the conclusion that there should have been inquiry, there was good reason to have an inquiry, and the report contains a chapter called, “Why Was a Public Inquiry Not Held?”. That is the question.
At the heart of this debate is the argument of discretion. The department exercised discretion—in this case without carrying out the duty; it was to change some months later but it did not do the inquiry—so Lord Justice Clarke looked at the reasons given by the department. All the evidence was given and he looked at the papers. He was told by the legal department that you could not have an inquiry. That is exactly what the civil servants said to me when I came in in 1997, and it is referred to in this report. I held the inquiry. I did not take the advice of the department. I made a decision. I said it was the duty to do this. What happened then? He said that the department took the view that the criminal inquiry prevented it from having an inquiry. Lord Justice Clarke said that it did not. He examined it all in detail and said that it did not make any difference. There was a duty on the department to have an inquiry. It had been done before.
That is critical because the clause that I am seeking to remove is about not every vessel but those vessels that are found a number of years later, such as the “Derbyshire” and the “Gaul”. The amendment says if you apply to have a hearing into the circumstances—which we did for the “Derbyshire” and the “Gaul” but not for the “Marchioness”—you have to have the inquiry. But here the department chose not to recognise its obligation and duty. The amendment says I am changing the duty for a second hearing on the loss of a vessel to discretion.
I have to say to myself: does that make it better or worse? Does it make it easier, as deregulation is claimed to do, or does it mean you save money in case somebody else calls for an inquiry—as the families could—and the Secretary of State can say, “It’s my discretion, I will not do it”? But if you look at the circumstances of a loss, it is not only the safety, it is about the relatives who are left grieving and want to know what happened. The reality was, as Lord Justice Clarke showed, that compared to the maritime investigation, which took two years to be published when it should have been done immediately and made few recommendations, this inquiry looked at all the same circumstances and made 70 recommendations to improve safety on the River Thames. It said that the excuse of criminal law intervention was totally wrong and indeed had not been observed by the department before.
The coroner’s laws were reformed. It was discovered in the case of the “Marchioness” that the coroner had ordered that the hands and feet be cut off and therefore would not show the people the bodies. When the relatives said, “Can we see the bodies?”, he would not let them see them because he felt they would be upset. Well, I suppose they would be upset, but all those laws were changed by the Lord Justice and many others.
This Bill is seeking to say that it will no longer be a duty on the Minister to have a rehearing but that it will be at his discretion. When discretion applies in departments—I had my share of it—all sorts of pressures are put on by departments. It was the legal department which said to me, “Mr Prescott, you can’t do it”. I went to the Lord Chancellor, a good legal adviser, who soon told me, “Of course, you can have it”, so I did impose the inquiry. There was one very good reason why the department did not want me to have it and it is in this report: the department was found to be negligent. When the vessel went down, I was in opposition at the time and I said, “There must be negligence in the department”, because it was a cruiser, a launch, that had been a dance deck. When the “Bowbelle” came alongside and collided with it, the captain could not see, because, since they had built a dance deck, he could not see from the forward bridge that something was coming up because they were all dancing. The department had agreed to the change in the status of the vessel and I had to apologise in the House of Commons for the department’s failure to carry out its job—the report mentioned other authorities as well.
What the inquiry shows you about the truth and the evidence is far different from what you were told by the maritime investigation branch. As the Lord Justice asked, why did the department not do that? I know that the relatives were very upset, largely because it took a long time, and they advocated an inquiry for 10 years until I came along and gave them one, as I promised I would. The report shows that, when you compare what is done by the department with what is done by a public inquiry conducted by a judge, you get a far different examination. I suggest that the maritime investigation was more about sweeping it under the carpet, whereas the public interest and the relatives required an inquiry. What the Bill is proposing is a return to that very system. By the way, what the inquiry also found out was that the skipper of the “Bowbelle” had had a few drinks and the look-out had had a few drinks, but it was not admitted at the time, particularly to the maritime people, so the ship collided and they were found to be negligent.
Relatives who had been waiting 10 years for an inquiry were denied time and again. Parkinson denied it; every Secretary of State denied it—even the present Secretary of State, McLoughlin, who was then a junior Minister, denied it and said that everything had been done properly by the maritime people. Members here in the Lords, who have to do debates from time to time, gave exactly the same story as the department had fed out.
The Government are proposing to change the legislation to prevent it being a duty on the Secretary of State and to leave it to their discretion. With discretion, Ministers come under awful pressure, and in the Department for Transport they are not there for very long—I must have been the longest in the Department for Transport. Basically, I fear that the truth is going to be hidden when relatives are entitled to know the full truth. You will not get the truth simply from a maritime investigatory body—that can find out the facts about the ship—but if you want to know the circumstances, why the vessel went down, that is a matter for a proper public inquiry. What the Government are doing here is making it possible to continue the same process, which is totally unacceptable.
The relatives said to me, and I found it difficult to answer against them, that the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, on the very next day, had Mr Portillo and other Ministers into her room to discuss it. Of course, the Prime Minister would be concerned at the loss of a vessel—it was of great public concern—but we now know from the inquiry that she agreed with the Department for Transport not to have a public inquiry and for Ministers just to back the view that the maritime board was right. I know that they said it was Blue Circle’s offence—that was the owner of the ship—and it was never really taken to court and, of course, it contributes to Tory Party funds. People think like that sometimes. They could be quite wrong. But I would certainly have liked to hear tonight from the Minister some reply to some of these things. He said that he was coming—I wrote to him and we had an exchange of letters. I assumed that he might be here. I am hoping now that he might just read what we have said today. I entered this debate to have an exchange, like most others do here. “Oh, we’ll have an amendment. Then we’ll get persuaded to withdraw it”—exactly as I will do tonight. But I was hoping to get a debate. That is what a second debate is about. That is why we have moved from those committees on to the Floor: so that we can discuss it.
My Lords, I am reading from the Companion, and I am afraid that the noble Lord should sit down while I do so. It says:
“Arguments fully deployed either in Committee of the whole House or in Grand Committee should not be repeated at length on report”.
The noble Lord is on nearly his 17th minute and I think that we are starting to contravene what is in the rules of the Companion.
Will the Minister perhaps answer the point that we have repeatedly heard arguments tonight from Tory Peers which were quite clearly used in Committee for any length of time? They may not have taken as long as my noble friend has, so far, but collectively they have kept the whole thing going on their own particular interests.
I certainly agree with that. I have sat here all night and I now know more about parking, and God knows what. I am talking about the lives of people and the safety of our ships. I have to remind the Minister that we are an island nation. I would not have had to repeat what the Minister knows but the only reason that I have taken longer is that I think a noble Lord here in the House said that I should perhaps explain to the House what it was, because he was not there at the time. I have taken that choice and I have ended. I take the point, and I am sorry if I have caused any kind of problems with time, but quite frankly it is an important issue. I hope that the Minister will have the courage to turn up at the next stage in the House. He has that responsibility and he should face up to it.
My Lords, I declined to follow the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, down this route at Second Reading because I wanted to talk about other things and, unfortunately, when it was his turn to speak on this clause in Committee, I was chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group upstairs. This is the first time that I have had a chance to speak on this subject and it looks as though I am third time unlucky, because I have been beaten by the clock as well, so I will be very brief.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, who did great things for British shipping in bringing in the tonnage tax when he was Secretary of State, speaks with enormous passion on this subject as a former seafarer. I, like him, share this passion for the sea and ships, which I have had all my life. However, in this instance my passion has been tempered by rational thought. We are looking here at something comparatively simple. This duty that is to be removed is the duty to reopen a maritime inquiry where new and important evidence has been discovered. In the case of the “Derbyshire”, which the noble Lord mentioned, there is no question at all that a Secretary of State would reopen an inquiry. However, there are occasions where it may not be such a good idea. After all, let us not forget that such inquiries cost £6 million to £8 million. They tie up busy people such as lawyers and maritime experts for quite a considerable time. In the fiscal circumstances in which the country still finds itself, if we can save any money then we should look at that quite seriously.
I will not go into the safety aspect because safety is in some ways an entirely different matter. Thankfully, the need to reopen these inquiries has happened on only three or four occasions. The need has got less since the Marine Accident Investigation Branch was set up in 1989. It has reduced the need for these inquiries. The whole system of looking into maritime affairs has been changing quite rapidly over the last 20 or 30 years. We have a different system in place and, in my opinion, I feel very happy that Clause 41 should remain part of the Bill.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, for his enormous patience here this evening. He had to listen to several debates on parking before we came to his issue. I think that the Minister who should have responded to him might have been a woman—
It was not—okay, I stand corrected. I hope he will not be too disappointed by my response.
The purpose of this clause is very straightforward. It is to give the Secretary of State discretion in whether to reopen a formal investigation into a marine accident when new and important evidence that was not available at the time of the original investigation becomes known. Given the wide-ranging discussion that we have had, perhaps it is worth setting the clause in its broader context to dispel any fears that it will adversely affect maritime safety. That is obviously the prime concern of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, as he said at the beginning of his speech.
Prior to 1989, if there was a marine accident, the Secretary of State could choose to order a preliminary inquiry and, whether or not a preliminary inquiry was held, to order a formal investigation. The latter was a kind of public inquiry, and as well as seeking to identify why an accident had occurred and how to improve safety at sea, it could also apportion liability and blame, and impose penalties on those at fault. Whereas the Secretary of State had the discretion to decide whether to order a formal investigation, he was obliged to reopen a formal investigation if either of the following was the case: if new and important evidence that was not available at the time of the original investigation became known; or if there appeared to be grounds to suspect a miscarriage of justice.
These arrangements had been in place under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and were largely re-enacted in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. However, by the time of the 1995 Act, the normal arrangements for investigating marine accidents had changed considerably. In July 1989, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch was established. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch is functionally independent of the Department for Transport. This removes the conflict of interest identified in the “Herald of Free Enterprise” formal investigation, which was that the department had been both the regulator and investigator for the maritime industry.
All marine accidents must be reported to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and although it must investigate the most serious of these, the chief inspector has the discretion to investigate others too. Virtually all shipping accidents investigated since 1989 have had only a Marine Accident Investigation Branch safety investigation. The entirely separate formal investigation process remains available should it be deemed necessary. Since 1989, it has been used only twice, once being the formal investigation into the “Marchioness” disaster, called by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, in February 2000, as he has told us. Because of the near-universal reliance on the highly regarded Marine Accident Investigation Branch investigation process, when the need to reopen a formal investigation has arisen, the accidents concerned have been increasingly historic.
Three reopened formal investigations have been called since 1997. The first concerned the “Derbyshire”. Twenty years had elapsed since the loss of the ship when its report was published. In the most recent case, that of the “Trident”, 35 years had passed. As there have been so few formal investigations in recent years, any reopened now would be about an accident that occurred at least a quarter of a century ago. In fact, the likelihood is that that any new and important evidence that might be found today would relate to an accident of 50 years ago or more.
Over that time, the design of ships and their equipment, and industry crewing and operating practices, are likely to have changed significantly. The chances of there being any relevant lessons to learn for the benefit of today’s seafarer would be much reduced. Again, considering the reopened formal investigations since 1997, the “Derbyshire” report made 24 safety recommendations and the “Trident” just one. Given the changes that have taken place in how we investigate marine accidents, the duty to reopen a formal investigation when new and important evidence is found is simply much less relevant to maritime safety than it was when it was on the statute book in 1894. For the vast majority of accidents, the exemplary work of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch—identifying the causes of accidents and issuing recommendations without fear or favour—ensures the future safety of mariners and the protection of the marine environment.
Clause 41 has absolutely no bearing on these Marine Accident Investigation Branch safety investigations or whether their findings should be reviewed if new evidence is found. For exceptional cases, where a thorough public airing and examination of the facts is needed, it is right that the public inquiry-style process provided by formal investigations and reopened formal investigations remains available for Secretaries of State to use. It will remain available under Clause 41. Indeed, I reiterate the position of Her Majesty’s Government that if similar circumstances as applied in the case of the “Derbyshire” arose again, we would strongly expect to reopen the investigation. Clause 41 simply enables the Secretary of State to take a considered view on the likely benefits of reopening a formal investigation in circumstances where new evidence comes to light, just as she has discretion in whether to open a formal investigation in the first place. On that note, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 57B withdrawn.
Clause 94: Extent
57C: Clause 94, page 73, line 17, after “(10),” insert “(Preventing retaliatory eviction), (Further exemptions to section (Preventing retaliatory eviction)), (Application of sections (Preventing retaliatory eviction) to (Repayment of rent where tenancy ends before end of a period)),”
Amendment 57C agreed.
Clause 95: Commencement
Amendments 58 to 58B
58: Clause 95, page 73, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) section (Tenancy deposits: provision of information by agents);”
58A: Clause 95, page 73, line 27, at end insert—
“( ) section (Tenancy deposits: non-compliance with requirements);”
58B: Clause 95, page 73, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) sections (Designation of urban development areas: procedure) and (Establishment of urban development corporations: procedure);”
Amendments 58 to 58B agreed.
59: Clause 95, page 73, line 36, after “regulations” insert “made by statutory instrument”
My Lords, when we come to the end of the scrutiny of any Bill, we come to issues of consequential amendments, territorial extent and commencement. On Clause 94, the question of territorial extent for some of the clauses of the Bill needs negotiation with the devolved Administrations. Some of those negotiations and consultations are still under way, so I take the opportunity to commit to bring back at Third Reading any changes needed to the territorial extent subsections where discussions with the devolved Administrations are not yet complete.
Several government amendments seek to amend Clause 95 on the question of the commencement provisions. The clause specifies, as usual, which provisions are to come into force on the day the Act is passed; which provisions are to come into force, in this case, two months after that day; and which provisions are to come into force by order made by the Secretary of State. It also provides for certain clauses to come into force on Royal Assent for the limited purpose of switching on the power in those clauses to make subordinate legislation.
Amendments 57C to 58B are consequential on new clauses added to the Bill in the course of its consideration. Other amendments move some existing clauses from one part of Clause 95 to another to reflect the department’s current commencement plans. There are also a number of consequential and drafting amendments linked to the other changes in the clause. I hope these amendments are acceptable to the House. I beg to move.
Amendment 59 agreed.
Amendments 60 to 66
60: Clause 95, page 73, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) section 44 and Schedule 12;”
61: Clause 95, page 73, line 39, leave out “sections 47 to” and insert “sections 48 and”
62: Clause 95, page 73, line 40, leave out “Part 6” and insert “Parts 2 and 6”
63: Clause 95, page 74, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) section 28;”
64: Clause 95, page 74, line 8, leave out paragraph (e)
65: Clause 95, page 74, line 11, leave out “section 46” and insert “sections 46 and 47”
66: Clause 95, page 74, line 14, at end insert—
“( ) sections 69 and 70;”
Amendments 60 to 66 agreed.
Amendment 67 not moved.
Amendments 68 to 71
68: Clause 95, page 74, line 18, leave out “section 87 and”
69: Clause 95, page 74, line 24, leave out subsection (4)
70: Clause 95, page 74, line 27, leave out “comes” and insert “and, as respects Wales, paragraphs 34, 35 and 40 of Schedule 21 come”
71: Clause 95, page 74, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) Where a provision of a Schedule comes into force in accordance with subsection (3)(o) to (s) or (5), the section to which that Schedule relates comes into force (so far as relating to that provision) at the same time.”
Amendments 68 to 71 agreed.
Amendment 72 not moved.
Amendments 73 and 74
73: Clause 95, page 74, line 34, at end insert “or, as respects Wales, paragraphs 34, 35 and 40 of Schedule 21”
74: Clause 95, page 74, line 38, at end insert “(other than transitional, transitory or saving provision that the Welsh Ministers have power to make under subsection (7))”
Amendments 73 and 74 agreed.