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Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Volume 811: debated on Monday 19 April 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

My Lords, the instrument before us today prevents enforcement agents—bailiffs—from attending residential premises in England to execute a writ or warrant of possession except in the most serious circumstances. The House will be familiar with the structure and content of this statutory instrument as it is the fourth that the Government have tabled to restrict the enforcement of evictions since November last year.

The instrument applies to enforcement action in England. It amends the Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 in only one respect: by amending the expiry date of those regulations from the end of 31 March 2021 to the end of 31 May this year. On 18 March, when we debated the previous statutory instrument, a number of noble Lords expressed concerns about the short-term nature of these regulations and suggested that both landlords and tenants would benefit from greater clarity about how long the restrictions would be in force.

I explained in the last debate that the Government have to balance the need for clarity against ongoing developments in the pandemic. We believe that retaining the restrictions in this instrument until 31 May while the Covid-19 restrictions remain in place will align with the broader strategy for protecting public health and will continue to help to reduce pressure on essential public services as we move out of lockdown. Indeed, as I explained last time, the extension to 31 May, which I headlined in that debate, is broadly in line with the road map out of lockdown. Step 3 of the road map will be taken no earlier than 17 May following a review of the relevant data. That step will see a number of restrictions being lifted, including—importantly, in this context—the restrictions on domestic overnight stays.

Noble Lords might say, “Why 31 May and not a date linked to step 4, which is scheduled for no earlier than 21 June?” The short answer is that we must remember, when considering the date of 31 May, that in most cases bailiffs are required to give 14 days’ notice of an eviction. In practice, therefore, protection from the enforcement of evictions will be afforded in most cases until mid-June. We have sought to strike the right balance in the prevailing circumstances.

I am sure that noble Lords will be familiar with the content of the statutory instrument. We have put a ban in place but there are the by now familiar limited exceptions to the ban in cases where we believe the competing public interests in ensuring access to justice, preventing harm to third parties or taking action against egregious behaviour and upholding the integrity of the rental market sufficiently outweigh the public health risks. The exemptions are: first, where the claim is against trespassers who are persons unknown; secondly, where the order for possession was made wholly or partly on the grounds of anti-social behaviour or nuisance, false statements, domestic abuse in social tenancies, or substantial rent arrears equivalent to six months’ rent; or, thirdly, where the order for possession was made wholly or partly on the grounds of death of the tenant, and the enforcement agent attending the property is satisfied that the property is unoccupied. In each case the court will have to be satisfied that the exemption applies, and that will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

We therefore think it is fair and proportionate to allow for an exemption to the ban in cases where a landlord has sought a possession order on the grounds of rent arrears, and where a full six months of rent arrears has accrued. We know that private landlords, in particular, can be vulnerable to rent arrears; 45% of them let just one property, and 29% rely on rent for over half their income.

Data from sources such as the National Residential Landlords Association and the Resolution Foundation indicate that the vast majority of renters who are in arrears will not have built up the extreme level of rent arrears—six months-worth—that would allow the landlord to apply for an exemption to this public health measure. We continue to monitor the impact of the exemptions.

In cases where a court has decided that an exemption applies, bailiffs have to give tenants at least 14 days’ notice of an eviction, in most circumstances. They have been asked not to enforce evictions where a tenant has symptoms of Covid-19 or is self-isolating.

In addition to these regulations, we have also introduced a requirement, in the Coronavirus Act, that landlords, in all but the most serious circumstances, must give six months’ notice before beginning formal possession proceedings. That is another protection for tenants. That means, essentially, that most renters served notice now by their landlord would be able to stay in their homes until October 2021. This measure will remain in place until at least 31 May. We will consider the best approach for after this date, taking into account the prevailing circumstances at that time.

I have set out in previous debates on such statutory instruments the significant help that the Government have given to try to prevent people getting into financial hardship by helping businesses to pay salaries—frankly, that is the most important measure to enable people to pay their rent—through the furlough scheme, which has been extended until the end of September. The Self-employment Income Support Scheme has also been extended, and we have boosted the welfare safety net by billions of pounds. The Committee will be aware that in the Budget we announced that the universal credit top-up of £20 per week would continue for a further six months, and there is a further one-off payment of £500 for eligible working tax credit claimants.

In the Budget there was also a recovery loan scheme, which was launched to ensure that businesses, in particular SMEs, are well supported in their ability to access the finance they need throughout 2021. More than 1.5 million businesses have benefited from Government-backed support, receiving over £70 billion in total.

Ministry of Justice statistics show that the number of possession claims being made to the courts has fallen significantly. The most recent statistics show that applications to the courts for possession by private and social landlords were down 67% in the last quarter of last year, compared to the same quarter in 2019. Temporary court arrangements and rules, which have been put in place by the Master of the Rolls working group, include a review stage at least 28 days before the substantive hearing, so that tenants can get legal advice. Any cases started before August 2020 have to be reactivated by landlords before the end of this month, and we are also putting in place a free mediation service, as part of the possession action process, to support landlords and tenants to resolve disputes before a formal court hearing takes place.

Let me reiterate that I am aware that there are landlords who have been adversely affected by these regulations. As I have also said on previous occasions, we have sought to strike a balance—to enable tenants to pay their rent, but also, in egregious cases, to enable landlords to obtain possession. We remain grateful to landlords for their forbearance during this unprecedented time. We consider that these regulations strike an appropriate balance between the interests of landlords and those of tenants, and I therefore commend them to the Committee.

My Lords, I welcome these regulations on evictions and thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for his clear explanation. I should be grateful if he would consider another suggestion to deal with the way in which home owners and would-be home owners have been hit by Covid. There has been considerable distress and hardship among those hoping to move or to buy a first home but who, as a direct result of the pandemic, have experienced a sudden and unexpected collapse in their income, triggering a sale collapse and loss of deposit after contracts had been exchanged, through absolutely no fault of their own.

One proposal is to insert for the duration of the pandemic a new Covid regulation containing four key elements: first, that the party’s right to serve a notice to complete will be suspended while an event directly related to Covid-19 prevents the other party from completing; secondly, that a party will not be in breach of its obligations because of a delay caused by Covid-19; thirdly, that either party may terminate the contract if completion does not take place by a specified longstop date, fixed at an agreed date beyond the contractual completion date; fourthly, that there will be a moratorium—with retrospective effect from the first national lockdown imposed by the Prime Minister on 23 March 2020—on deposits so that home buyers do not lose them because a Covid-19 impact prevented sales being completed.

Could the Minister bring forward new regulations, like the ones we are debating today, which would, in effect, freeze transactions due for completion after March 2020 but which, for Covid-related reasons, could not be completed because of an abrupt and dramatic change in financial circumstances? I should be grateful if the Minister looked at this.

My Lords, it was on 18 March that we last debated this matter. We knew then that there would be yet another extension—and here we are. However, I am left wondering what the Government’s plan is. Indeed, I wonder whether they have a plan at all.

We are now a year on from the introduction of the ban on evictions; a year in which more and more tenants fear becoming homeless—one in four, according to Shelter; a year of not addressing the pending crisis in landlords’ loss of income; a year of building up the backlog of claims for possession.

Landlords’ and renters’ organisations have talked to each other and have come up with a plan for a Government-led rent relief scheme which would help both landlords and tenants. We should bear in mind that Scotland and Wales already have schemes in place.

A year ago, the Secretary of State gave a commitment that no one would be forced out of their home because they have lost income as a result of coronavirus. He also said that no landlord would face unmanageable debts. Given that, what discussions have the Government had with those organisations about their proposal?

This further extension is clearly right, given the circumstances, but the problem is not going away because many tenants in the private rented sector are carrying substantial debt and must rely on that sector, because they have no choice. This is the consequence of the failure to build enough homes for social rent, which is making the situation so much worse.

My Lords, it is very good that the ban on commercial evictions has been extended to 30 June and the bailiff-enforced eviction ban has been extended to 31 May to protect residential tenants. As president of the CBI, I should like to say that we are very grateful for the many times that the Government have listened to business and shown flexibility and adaptability.

It is right to continue supporting renters with the cost of living and to align this with the Prime Minister’s timely road map, particularly when tenants may continue to be on furlough or working in sectors that cannot reopen for some weeks yet. For the some 49% of hospitality workers who have suffered so much during this pandemic, and the 36% of retail workers currently renting, the new measures will protect jobs as businesses reopen and many more renters can return to work.

However, landlords may be asking how, in some cases, the growing rental debt will be managed after the protection ends. The issue cannot be addressed if parties fall out with each other the moment the protection ends. The Government should be seeking to avoid a cliff-edge in June for residents and landlords and, where possible, helping tenants and landlords to work together to secure fair tenancy agreements moving forward. That should be a priority, as the Minister will agree.

The Government have promised mediation support for resolving issues where disputes arise, and this must be available to all who need it. We could produce a heavy caseload for mediation if the Government can publish guidance for tenants and landlords that will help negotiations to be held in a fair and transparent manner, in good time ahead of May.

It is positive that the Government continue to be clear about giving at least six months’ notice for evictions where eviction notices are necessary, as the Minister said. The Government appear to have launched a new free mediation service for disputes, so you can add this free service’s helpful support for tenants at what could be a difficult time, hopefully avoiding the need for court action. Can the Minister confirm this?

There is still so much uncertainty for the rest of the year around people’s employment as the economy reopens. Health and caring responsibilities continue to impact on people’s ability to work, so it is right that tenants are protected from evictions and given the opportunity to resolve them.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out the regulations with his customary lucidity and precision. Of course, we have been here before, so it could be argued that he has had plenty of practice.

I certainly support the regulations. Clearly, we should extend help to tenants who would otherwise face eviction as a result of coronavirus. What we must now provide as we emerge from the shadow of Covid is long-term help for both tenants and landlords. Tenants still owe rent. Landlords are still owed rent. The whole system is in danger as the creditworthiness of hundreds of thousands of tenants is undermined by the current situation. There is a very real danger of masses of tenants facing eviction, even if it is six months away, as the system of respite from evictions comes to an end.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, noted, a scheme is already in place in both Wales and Scotland. May I press my noble friend the Minister to ensure that a specifically tailored financial package is put in place for tenants? The alternative will be landlords seeking judgments against tenants who are in debt. It would not be correct to assume that the bulk of landlords are vastly wealthy. This needs urgent action from the Minister and the Government, as I have mentioned before. I am still not convinced that we have in place a plan—one is sorely needed—to ensure that, as I say, we do not face a serious problem with the eviction of private tenants as we emerge from the shadow of Covid.

My Lords, I welcome these regulations. I have several questions for the Minister, building on what we dealt with during our debate on 18 March.

Covid-19 has changed every aspect of our society and economy. The private rented sector has been impacted to a significant extent, with many people living in fear of evictions as they are now without a job and have little money with which to pay their rent. Many private renters are struggling to pay. More than 800,000 renters may have built arrears since lockdown measures started a year ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, many landlords are not property tycoons and are also struggling; they, too, need assistance.

With Ministers committing to a tapering-down of emergency restrictions in the sector from the start of June, tenants and landlords need a comprehensive, cross-departmental road map to tackle rent debts, speed up the operation of the courts and carefully taper down the current extended possession notice periods. In view of that, what plans do the Government have to prepare for the implementation of the road map to assist private renters and their landlords?

Furthermore, it needs to be recognised that the majority of tenants now in arrears do not qualify for financial support in the form of discretionary housing payments. What assistance can be provided for them? This is supported by Citizens Advice, the Resolution Foundation and the debt charity StepChange.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I welcome this statutory instrument and the delay until 31 May, but, like others, I would like an assurance from the Minister that the promised return to normality will encompass all the ministries involved in this complicated issue, such as the DHCLG, the DWP, the Treasury and, of course, the Ministry of Justice, so that a comprehensive solution is delivered rather than the current series of sticking plasters. Such is the conclusion of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.

The biggest problems are with the private rented sector. Among the actions needed are measures to tackle growing rent debt so that existing tenancies can be sustained and tenant credit scores are protected from the consequences of county court judgments on evictions. It is also inappropriate to regard the private landlord as a bank. Most landlords are private individuals and have their own financial commitments to discharge. Hence, I repeat the request, mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the Government give interest-free hardship loans, payable direct to the landlord and repayable as tenants’ finances recover. Similar schemes exist in Scotland and Wales and have been welcomed by some housing charities.

Secondly, the speeding up of the court process, which has been called for by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, is essential. Can the Minister comment on the possibility of remote hearings using video technology? At present, I understand that, even without the effect of Covid measures, it takes an average of 12 months for a landlord to secure possession.

As the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, have withdrawn, I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.

My Lords, this SI has been prepared by the Ministry of Justice. Its purpose is to protect public health and reduce the public health risks caused by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes the disease, Covid-19. The SI prevents the enforcement of evictions against residential tenants other than in the most serious circumstances and was originally extended to 21 February 2021. By restricting the enforcement of evictions at a time when pressure on public services is acute and the risk of virus transmission is high, this measure will help control the spread of infection and prevent any additional burden falling on the NHS and on local authorities in their work providing housing support and protecting public health.

A previous version of this statutory instrument was introduced on 7 January, when the previous regulations expired, having been made under the emergency procedure and automatically ceased to have effect.

My Lords, as the Minister may recall, I spoke on these regulations back in February when they were initially brought before this House, so I shall not speak in any detail today. I am a landlord myself, as disclosed in the register of interests, but I think these regulations are needed. However, I wish to make a general observation regarding timing. It helps neither tenants nor landlords for these regulations and any extension to them to be brought in so very late in the day and then brought to this House afterwards. Given that we were in national lockdown from January, with the road map beginning to lift restrictions only from 29 March 2021, it can have taken no one by surprise when the regulations were brought before the House in February that a deadline at the end of March would be far too soon and would need to be extended.

I wonder whether the Minister would be better off setting a longer deadline now. It cannot help tenants living on the edge of whether they have protection, nor landlords seeking their properties back, to have a date which rolls ahead at such short notice. Anecdotally, I have heard of some tenants gaming the six months or more rent arrears provision in the regulations, leaving their landlord unable to gain possession yet still suffering five months’ rent arrears. If these regulations return to the House for a further extension, will the Minister look at whether there is some way to help landlords in these gaming situations?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the welcome extension until 31 May 2021 of the ban on bailiff enforcement, as described by him in the previous debate on this statutory instrument on 18 March. We recognise the work he has put in, particularly over the past few months, to ensure that this extension was already in place, but if we look over the past year of this pandemic, I think he would agree that to say that this approach has been piecemeal is an understatement. As ever, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who made the same point.

Last Friday marked the second anniversary of a promise made by this Government to scrap Section 21 no-fault evictions. Gemma Marshall, who has spoken out, with the support of the Renters Reform Coalition, works in a school providing pastoral support. She, her husband and her children have been served with two Section 21s over the past two years and as a result have had to move four times. Her family is now in the middle of their second Section 21 and is facing the serious prospect of homelessness. Her son Jacob is autistic and finds change extremely stressful. I think all noble Lords would agree that the threat of eviction during a global pandemic is extremely stressful anyway, let alone for a nine year-old child.

I hope all noble Lords will support the newly formed Renters Reform Coalition, which includes Generation Rent, Crisis, Shelter, Citizens Advice and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. As my noble friend Lord Shipley pointed out, the historical lack of the safety net of a good supply of social housing has resulted in people relying too often on a private rented sector that is not built to replace the welfare state. Gemma’s case is not an isolated one. Some 700,000 renters have been served with no-fault eviction notices during this pandemic year, despite a government promise to scrap the practice. That estimate is based on polling of a cross-section of private renters in a Survation survey commissioned by Shelter and published last week. Some 8% of them have received a Section 21 notice from their landlord since March 2020—that represents 694,000 private renters across England. A further 32% were worried that they would be asked to move out this year.

While 8% sounds small, the size and growth of the private rented sector over the past 10 years means that even 8% is nearly 700,000 cases—cases like Gemma’s, which I have described: often families who, through no fault of their own, have been served with an eviction notice without reason or explanation.

This SI stops bailiffs, but only at the final stage of an eviction. Your landlord may still serve an eviction notice and you may still have to go to a hearing. From the minute the eviction notice is served there is limited ability for discretion in the legal process. I asked this question last time and I am not sure I quite got an answer to it. Will the Minister undertake to re-examine allowing judges to have discretion to prevent an eviction if rent arrears are due to the Covid pandemic? The Government might argue with the methodology Shelter has used. If so, will they agree to establish a way to identify who is currently losing their home?

Tim Farron, who speaks on Housing issues for the Liberal Democrats in the Commons, asked the Minister, Chris Pincher, whether he had made any assessment of the merits of requiring landlords to register eviction notices at the point of delivery, so that his department could have a more accurate picture. I asked in the previous debate whether the Minister could share with us what evidence he has that landlords are serving notice in only the most egregious of cases. I not sure there was a clear answer to my question and the Minister, Chris Pincher, said there are currently no plans to collect this data.

I hope that the promise to reform Section 21 will soon be delivered. I thank the National Residential Landlords Association for its helpful briefing on this issue. As it points out, the Housing Secretary’s promise that

“no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home”

is simply not being met. Indeed, I believe that the recent change to include six months of arrears is a direct contradiction to that promise. The fact that we know that there are 700,000 such renters means that people get evicted all the time without it necessarily reaching the knowledge of the Government via the courts. Along with many other organisations, the NRLA is asking that a financial package be put in place to help tenants to clear arrears—this was described by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is highly knowledgeable on this issue, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, who also has long-time experience in this area—or there is Generation Rent’s proposed Covid rent debt fund.

It is particularly important to note that the NRLA is saying that most tenants now in arrears do not qualify for discretionary housing payments. It is vital to remember that the people we are talking about are ones who, Citizens Advice tells us, are tenants who would take seven years to pay off the arrears that they have accrued during this period. I still find shocking the disparity in subsidies to home owners—even more of them were announced today—in comparison to the subsidies necessary, which do not represent a vast sum of money.

So, there have been two broken promises, which have an impact on hundreds of thousands of people like Gemma and Jacob. They deserve better.

My Lords, as the Minister said in his introduction, this is the fourth time that this instrument, or a similar one, has been introduced into this House. The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“This instrument extends the prevention of enforcement of evictions, including the service of notices of eviction, at residential premises, and including in repossessions cases, other than in the most serious circumstances, from 31 March 2021 until the end of 31 May 2021.”

It makes no further changes to the previous regulations and only extends the time period during which those provisions are in force.

My recollection is that the bulk of our previous debate—on 18 March—was about how to avoid the cliff edge; a number of noble Lords have referred to that in this debate. The Minister’s speech concentrated on the timetabling and the justification of the various timetabling measures that have been taken; it did not dwell on the substance of the financial support that needs to be introduced to avoid mass evictions, unsustainable levels of debt and turning the current health crisis into a potential homelessness crisis.

It appears that we all received the briefing from the NRLA; the noble Lords, Lord Carrington, Lord Shipley and Lord Bourne, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Grender, referred to it. I thought that it was balanced and put forward a clear case for interest-free, government-guaranteed tenant hardship loans. As we have also heard, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have put in place their own form of financial support for tenants. My noble friend Lord Hain brought up an additional factor, on which I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response, which is to look at modifications to the home-buying process for people whose attempted purchases of houses have fallen through because of Covid restrictions.

The Labour Party has put forward its own six-point plan, which I shall briefly go through. It plans: first, to extend a ban on evictions and repossessions until restrictions are over; secondly, to extend mortgage holidays; thirdly, to raise the local housing allowance to cover median market rents; fourthly, to reform housing law to end automatic evictions through the courts—a point on which the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, elaborated to great effect; fifthly, to reduce the waiting period to receive support for mortgage interest payments; and, sixthly, to retain the £20 uplift to universal credit beyond six months, end the five-week wait and suspend the benefits cap.

On 18 March, when we last debated a similar measure, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, described himself as a

“humble Ministry of Justice Minister”—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 481.]

and undertook to consult his MHCLG colleagues about the Scottish scheme. I would not presume to judge whether he is humble or not but he speaks for the whole of the Government when he speaks as a Minister, and the substance of today’s debate, as it was on 18 March, is financial support, which all noble Lords are looking to hear about. I look forward to him saying with more substance when we are likely to hear what that financial support will be.

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I shall try to respond to the points in the order in which they were made but some were made by more than one contributor so, with their permission, I may lump some noble Lords together.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, made an interesting point, if I may say so. One must distinguish the cases into two groups. The first is where contracts were entered into after the start of the pandemic. In those cases, one would have expected the parties’ lawyers to advise them not to enter a legal commitment to make a purchase unless they knew that they could complete; the government guidance on moving home during the pandemic has been in place since 26 March 2020. However, in so far as people entered into legal obligations before that date, there are principles of English contract law, such as frustration, which might be relevant in this context. That is the sort of point on which, if the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to set out in a little more detail what I understand the legal position to be.

Turning to a number of points made by noble Lords, first, I should make it clear that, on 18 March, I set out that the Government would extend the SI not just to 31 March but to 31 May, so criticism that we have been doing this on a short-term basis is not well made, certainly in that respect.

A number of noble Lords asked about the plan for when we come out of the pandemic. I reiterate that I am a humble Ministry of Justice Minister. There are cross-government conversations about what will be put in place but, so for as a specific financial package is concerned, we have already done a number of things. For example, we have increased the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile of local market rents in each area. We expect that to provide 1.5 million claimants with around £600 per year of housing support more than they would otherwise have received. Those increased rates will be maintained at the current levels, in cash terms, in the current financial year—even in areas where the 30th percentile of local rents has gone down.

Going forward, however, I emphasise that this ultimately becomes a housing issue, not a Ministry of Justice issue. Of course, there are conversations across government; as I said, I will specifically bring the detail of this debate to the attention of Ministers in MHCLG. Although I appreciate that this point was made by a number of noble Lords—my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender—there is nothing more substantive that I can say this afternoon, bearing in mind that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, reminded me, in whatever I say, I commit the Government too.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, rightly emphasised the important work that the Government have done with regard to commercial evictions. In both the commercial and residential contexts, it is our intention to avoid any sort of cliff edge.

I underline the noble Lord’s point about the importance of mediation. Mediation in civil disputes is always a very good idea. It has played a part in our civil justice system over the past 20 years or so and its importance is increasingly recognised. In the context of housing, we hope the free mediation service for landlords and renters will enable many landlords and their tenants to reach an agreement about the way forward without a formal court process, which must be to everyone’s benefit.

When I mentioned my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, I should also have picked up the beautifully double-edged compliment that he paid me, which started so well and ended so badly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked a couple of questions about speeding up the operation of the courts. There are a number of things that I should say in this context. First, as I say, landlords are obliged to reactivate old cases in order to make sure that the courts are not faced with cases that have become moot—for example, where the tenants have already moved out. Secondly, the introduction of mediation also speeds up the court process because it takes some cases out of the system.

Further, and in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, one has to remember that parts of the court process lie outside government purview. For example, listing is a judicial function, and the order in which the judiciary prioritises cases is and remains a matter for the judiciary. However, the Master of the Rolls’ working group has put in place temporary court rules and arrangements to ensure that cases proceed through the courts as quickly as possible and that delays are kept to a minimum.

I respectfully agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that private landlords are not a bank. I have already said that there will be discussions across government about the position that is put in place when these regulations come to an end.

The noble Lord asked specifically about video technology to speed up the court process. That is already being used throughout civil courts. In this as in many areas of life, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced or perhaps encouraged us to do things that we probably would have done anyway but over a longer period. Video technology in court is certainly one of those things; it is now part of our civil justice system and I am sure it will remain so in future. The noble Lord is certainly right that video technology has the potential to speed up cases and enable them to be heard more quickly, and indeed to enable more cases to be heard at once.

The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, emphasised in his remarks that what is sought to be achieved here is ultimately a balance between the various interests, and I respectfully agree with him.

I hope I have responded to the points made by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. I have dealt with the date point. We believe that 31 May is now the appropriate deadline for these regulations. We hope that the position will improve as per the road map and that we will not need to extend them thereafter, but obviously we have to keep that under constant review.

In the time that I have left, I turn to the points made by the Front-Bench speakers. I have already dealt with one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, but in response to her important point on Section 21, the Government are committed to bringing forward legislation to deliver a better deal for renters, including repealing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, once the urgencies of the pandemic have passed. That would represent a generational change to tenancy law in England, so we have to make sure that we get it right and that we balance the interests of landlords and tenants appropriately. If we are giving tenants more security of tenure, we must also ensure that landlords can recover properties where they have valid grounds to do so.

As far as the noble Baroness’s other point about giving judges more discretion in possession cases is concerned, we do not intend to bring forward such legislation. We believe that the current support package strikes a fair balance and that the rights of both tenants and landlords are appropriately balanced in this area. However, as I said, we plan to bring forward a renters’ reform Bill in due course, once the urgencies of the pandemic have passed. Respectfully, I therefore do not accept that promises have been broken. We made a promise to do the best we can in these difficult circumstances, and we have certainly fulfilled it, as I have explained on several occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, asked about the package going forward. I have said what I am able to say about that today. Like me, he found the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about home buying interesting. I will ensure that he is copied into my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on that matter.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for outlining the Labour Party plan in this area. I do not want to introduce too much of a political element to these exchanges, but the plan highlights the point about where you draw the line. For example, we were told that the £20-per-week universal credit increase would remain beyond six months, but until when?

Ultimately, we must strike a balance in this area. I submit that these regulations strike the correct balance in difficult circumstances. I hope that we will not have to extend them further and that life will return to something approaching normal, so, although I have some regrets that this may be the last outing for these regulations, I commend them to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.