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Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill

Volume 600: debated on Friday 16 October 2015

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

When I announced that I was introducing this Bill, there was some surprise that homes could be let that were not fit for human habitation, but, extraordinarily, that is the case in 2015. As long ago as 1885, when the Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed, Parliament first decided that residential rented accommodation should be fit for human habitation. That concept continued in subsequent housing, landlord and tenant statutes, culminating in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. In theory, section 8 of that Act places a statutory duty on landlords, covering issues such as damp, mould and infestation. Failure to meet that statutory duty could result in a civil action by the renter for an injunction or compensation. The great weakness of those provisions is that they tie the repairing obligation to rent limits.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing this important Bill. She mentioned damp, mould and infestation. After this debate, I will be holding my surgery where the majority of cases will be to do with those things as well as collapsed ceilings and so on. Does she agree that these things are brought more closely to our attention now? People show us pictures of them on their mobile phones. Also, the logical extension is the phenomenon of beds in sheds. The London borough of Ealing has the dubious distinction of being a leading geographical location in that regard.

I am very aware of what my hon. Friend describes. Technology is bringing to the attention of representatives conditions of which many of us were previously unaware.

The extraordinary thing about the Landlord and Tenant Act is that it is based on rent limits that were last updated in 1957. The provisions were of course originally intended to give redress in regard to accommodation rented by the working class, hence the limits. The law as it stands applies only when the annual rent is less than £80 in London and £52 elsewhere in the country. If any hon. Members can find a property where the annual rent is less than £80, I am sure that millions of people across the country would be delighted to know where it is.

At the moment, the weekly average rent in London is £362, which gives an indication of just how far out of line the rent limits are. Many of Britain’s near 9 million renters are well served by their landlords, but for the significant minority who are not there is a long overdue need to strengthen the law, to give improved redress to tenants living in very poor conditions and to correct this bizarre legal anomaly.

The Bill lifts the rent cap above which tenants do not enjoy the legal right to live in a home fit for human habitation. It will enable tenants to bring civil proceedings in the county court when the property is in such a poor condition that it contains a housing health and safety rating system category 1 hazard under the Housing Act 2004 or is otherwise unfit for habitation. The tenant could enforce improvements to the property to make it fit for habitation and seek compensation for the period for which the property was unfit. That brings the law on conditions in substandard properties into line with that on disrepair and complements the duties that lie with increasingly hard-pressed local authority environmental health departments. In so doing, it enacts the recommendations of a Law Commission report that itself dates back nearly 20 years that was subsequently reinforced by decisions by the Court of Appeal.

I am extremely grateful for the support I have had in drawing up the Bill, particularly from the Housing Law Practitioners Association, specifically Giles Peaker and Justin Bates. I am also appreciative of the support of Generation Rent, Shelter, Stephen Battersby, the former president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and the Communication Workers Union, as well as Adam Johnstone in my office. There have been many constructive comments and much support, including very constructive comments and help from the Residential Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association.

Why is a change in the law necessary after all this time? Quite simply, renting is on the rise, dramatically so, especially in the private rented sector. As I have said, many landlords maintain their properties well and fulfil their obligations, yet the fact remains that standards in the private rented sector are poorer than those in owner-occupation.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which is of such importance to so many in London and the south-east in particular. Is she aware that in Finsbury Park, which was quite affordable once upon a time, one now needs an average income of £70,000 per household to rent a three-bed home? What does she think of that?

My hon. Friend brings to the attention of the House the extraordinary situation with rents, particularly, although not exclusively, in London. There was a report in today’s papers about the scale of rent rises in the private rented sector affecting the whole country. Given the extraordinary rents that many private tenants are paying it is even more the case that the conditions to which they are entitled should be of a decent standard. Unfortunately, a significant minority of renters are not well served.

The Chartered Institute of Housing’s 2014 housing review calculated that 33% of all private rented housing in England—one third—would fail the Government’s decent homes standard for social housing compared with 15% of the social rented sector. According to the Government’s English housing survey, just under three quarters of a million homes, or 16.5% of private rented sector homes, failed to meet the minimum standard of the housing safety rating system. A quarter of a million properties in the private rented sector are estimated to have a category 1 hazard and, according to a major report by Shelter backed up by a YouGov survey, 61% of tenants were found to have experienced mould, damp, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations or a gas leak in the past 12 months.

Only this morning in City A.M. Hannah Williams wrote:

“As someone who runs a website that enables tenants to review properties they’ve rented, I see reports every single day of mould, damp and infestations that sound so Dickensian I can hardly believe they come out of 21st Century Britain.”

Some 10% of tenants report that their health has been affected adversely in the past year because their landlord has not dealt with repairs and poor conditions in their property, and 9% of private renting parents said that their children’s health had been affected.

The key issue addressed by the Bill is that, because of the rent limits, tenants are currently denied the same redress in respect of substandard conditions as they enjoy in respect of disrepair. The most obvious example relates to condensation and consequential mould. There is no obligation on the landlord as this issue is not one of repair. Causes can be lack of ventilation or extractor fans, inadequate though not necessarily defective windows, and so on. The structure in some cases may be sound, but design defects mean that the property is not fit for habitation. Suppose a property was built with no damp proof course and now suffers with damp. The existing disrepair laws do not help in such a case. Disrepair requires a change of state, but in this example there is no change. The Bill fixes that problem by shifting the focus on to the condition of the property, not simply the causes.

I have one of the largest private rented sectors anywhere in the country and I rely heavily on my local environmental health department to provide assistance in seeking redress for tenants who live in substandard accommodation. I shall return to the role of environmental health officers. Despite having a good and responsive environmental health department, I shall give some examples from my own caseload of the kind of conditions that I hope the Bill will redress.

A mother writes to me:

“For years my daughter has had damp in her home to the point where the walls were black. Many times surveyors come out but the situation is not resolved. This year workmen were sent out to deal with the damp and thought the problem was solved, but two months ago another surveyor had to come out to look at the property, inspected it and found that there was damp again.

My daughter has to live with the damp, ruining her health, numerous times reporting it and nothing done because she’s vulnerable, and although I as a mother try and look after her affairs I cannot be with her 24/7 as I work. My daughter suffers with poor health. She suffers from depression, self-harm, high blood pressure and alcohol problems. She has counselling and suffered from abuse. I know that is part of her problem. I know that if my daughter was to get out of the flat it would help her situation immensely, but her landlord is not doing what they should be doing, and that is addressing the situation with the damp.”

Another parent writes:

“My main concern is with the damp, mould and condensation as my son keeps on getting ill every 1 or 2 weeks. He has chronic asthma. I’ve had to throw away furniture that was only a year old as mould was growing on the back of it. Mould has grown in the microwave, the cooker, affecting my plates and cups, and under the sink where I have to store my pots and pans. Mould has grown on my shoes in the cupboard and on my son’s clothes and my clothes. It grew on his buggy seat and I cannot remove it.”

A third constituent writes:

“I have tried everything I can to stop and prevent the mould and damp from returning to my property, from covering the walls, constantly airing the property by opening the windows and doors in all weather, having the heating on and off at different times as advised, to constantly moving the furniture around so all the walls get enough air. Whatever I am asked to do I have done. The walls have had several treatments and redecorating simply covers over the problem. It’s not fair that I’ve had to live like this for so long. It’s 15 months I have lived in these awful conditions.”

There are many other cases, and that is in only one local authority.

Last year, the Building Research Establishment, working with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, published two important pieces of work looking at the costs to health of substandard housing. In respect of health, it found that remedial action to tackle category 1 hazards would save the NHS £1.4 billion. In addition to the consequences for physical and mental health that so many of my constituents and renters across the country report, problems relating to damp and condensation cause financial distress to tenants, who often have to spend excessive amounts of their income on trying to heat their homes when damp and condensation make it difficult for them to do so and plague their property with excess cold.

The Bill would effectively enable tenants to enforce the kind of improvements that previously only local authorities could take steps to deal with via the Housing Act 2004 and the housing health and safety rating system. It would ensure that they have potential redress in respect of substandard conditions, as currently exist in respect of repairs. It would allow a tenant to secure an injunction to ensure that remedial works are carried out. The Law Commission’s 1996 report, which I referred to earlier, supported that change in principle, backed by the Court of Appeal, which remarked on the case of Issa v. Hackney London Borough Council in 1997 that the unsatisfactory state of the law currently means that tenants are

“wholly without remedy in the civil courts against their landlords, however grievously their health may have suffered because they are living in damp, unfit conditions.”

Why can environmental health officers not deal with these problems? In my view, environmental health officers are the unsung heroes of the modern welfare state. I draw very heavily upon Westminster’s environmental health officers, and I am proud to say that they do an excellent job—I spend a lot of time fighting Westminster City Council on almost every front, and quite rightly so, but when its officers do a good job I am delighted to say so—but across the country performance is highly variable.

The housing health and safety rating system, which was introduced by the 2004 Act and has been in force since 2006, allows local authorities’ environmental health departments to inspect and identify hazards. Where they identify a category 1 hazard—the most serious type— they are required to take action, but they can also choose to take action with regard to less serious hazards, and there is a risk assessment approach to property standards. However, the remedy available depends entirely on the choice that local authorities make on their enforcement strategy and, of course, the resources available to them. Overall, local authorities have not used their powers as often, or met their duties as well, as they might, too often acting only after receiving complaints from tenants, rather than proactively.

Despite the duty set out in section 3 of the 2004 Act, the removal of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s capital for private sector renewal and lack of funds for gathering the necessary information mean that few local authorities have a coherent strategy for the private rented sector and can take proactive action. Indeed, the most common way of dealing with hazards that are found when environmental health officers go into a property is informally. It is not clear what that is, but it is extremely hard to monitor and get a national picture for how effective it is. In the case of category 1 hazards, that would also be a breach of their statutory duty.

A piece of research I carried out with Stephen Battersby, from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, found enormous variations in practice and a high reliance on informal action. In 2010, just 3,744 improvement notices were issued, or an average of just 18 in each local authority, and that was up by just two per authority since 2007.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are now nearly 4 million people living in the private rented sector? This is no longer just a small proportion of our country’s population, which makes tackling the issue so much more important.

Indeed, I am. Of course, it is in the context of the rapid growth of the private rented sector, where the worst conditions are undoubtedly to be found, that the lack of progress in taking action against landlords who have substandard properties is so alarming. That is why I am drawing attention to how modest the increase has been in the number of enforcement notices since 2007, at a time when so many more people have entered the private rented sector. For the 86,227 referrals to local authorities in 2007, there were just 3,744 notices. Prohibition orders were even rarer, with an average of just 2.7 per authority, or 531 from all the authorities that responded to my survey. The survey found that fewer than one in 10 dwellings with category 1 hazards are dealt with in any year.

That effectively means that we can no longer rely on the source of support and redress that we relied upon for so many years. The rent limits have effectively meant that the Landlord and Tenant Act protection has fallen out of use. We are therefore unable to rely on the work being done by environmental health officers. In the financial context in which we are now operating, with the cuts that we have seen in local authorities, I cannot see any likelihood of an improvement in the situation in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we cannot rely entirely on environmental health departments—we have to draw on a new power that individual tenants can take to enforce for themselves action against landlords where the conditions of the property are unfit for human habitation.

The National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association, quite rightly, wanted me to reassure them that steps would be taken to protect landlords against unreasonable action by tenants. Of course, there are cases where tenants can act in an unreasonable manner, and the Bill protects the position of landlords in two ways. In new section 8(4) of clause 1, we prevent liability arising where the unfitness is caused by the tenant’s behaviour or as a result of natural disaster, and make it clear that the landlord is not obliged to maintain property that belongs to the tenant. In new subsection (4)(d), we provide that a landlord cannot be required to carry out works that would put him or her in breach of any other legal obligation such as works contrary to building regulations. A landlord cannot be liable under this provision where the works would necessitate consent being obtained from a superior landlord or where that superior landlord has refused to give such consent. I am confident that within the terms of the Bill we are able to protect landlords against any unreasonable action.

Where councils are unable or unwilling to enforce existing provisions against bad or rogue landlords, the Bill enables tenants to take up the opportunity of enforcement. It strengthens existing provisions for enforcement. It does not introduce any new standards or new obligations on landlords. The requirement for properties to be free of category 1 hazards is already in the Housing Act 2004. There is no liability on the landlord for issues that are due to the tenant’s conduct or breach of tenancy agreement. The Bill would work in a very similar way to section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act in terms of procedure, evidence and so forth. This is a familiar and well-established process.

As the Law Commission report said way back in 1996, predicting what the objections to the Bill might be, first, the proposals, if implemented, would be prospective and not retrospective, and the implied obligation of fitness would apply only to tenancies granted after the coming into force of the Act; and secondly, following on from this, the basic requirement that rented residential property should be fit for human habitation is not an unreasonable one to impose on private sector landlords in the unregulated financial environment that has applied to lettings made by them since the Housing Act 1988. That reinforces what my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said about the upward trend of private rents in recent years.

Given that the Law Commission and Court of Appeal have implored Parliament to remedy this problem, and that Wales seems about to do so in the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill, I very much hope that this Bill can make progress. In the light of the rapid growth of the rented sector and the appalling conditions in which hundreds of thousands of tenants are forced to live, damaging their health and their income, and with no satisfactory redress under the present system, it is time for the law to come into the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on bringing forward her Bill and giving it a good airing. Unfortunately, we do not have a great deal of time left, so I am not sure we will be able to do it justice, but I certainly commend her for it.

First, I should draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As I have said in previous debates on this subject, I am both a landlord—although an accidental landlord, I might add—and a tenant, and therefore in the unusual position of being able to see both sides of the argument and having an interest on both sides of the argument.

The private rented sector has been a topical issue for many years, not least recently, and there have always been arguments for more regulation of the industry. Indeed, landlords appear to be an easy target for the left. As this Bill is again directly targeted at landlords, it is worth considering exactly who these landlords are. The DCLG’s private landlords survey of 2010 found that more than three quarters—78%—of all landlords owned only a single dwelling for rent, comprising 40% of the total private rented housing stock, while 95% had fewer than five dwellings in their property portfolio, accounting for 61% of the total stock. A large majority—81%—of private individual landlords owned just one dwelling, of whom 97% had fewer than five properties in their portfolio. Only 3% of private individual landlords owned five or more dwellings, and they accounted for almost a quarter of all dwellings owned by private individual landlords.

Basically, nearly four in five landlords rent out only one property. When we talk about additional regulations and burdens, it is always worth pointing out that the vast majority of those affected are individuals with just one property, not great conglomerations or massive corporations renting out huge numbers of properties. I sometimes think that Labour Members want us to believe such a caricature.

As someone in the category of accidental landlords who rents out only one property, will my hon. Friend confirm that the vast majority of such landlords—many of them may have inherited the property—are law-abiding landlords who ensure that their properties are kept to a very high standard?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of landlords—I put myself in this category—want to do the right thing, would never dream of renting out a property that was not in a fit state to be rented out and want to comply with every regulation that is introduced. As someone in that situation, I can however tell him that it is very difficult to keep tabs on all the things expected of a landlord. It is very difficult for a landlord—an accidental landlord or one who has not set out to earn money from being a landlord—to keep tabs on every dot of the i and cross of the t that hon. Members seem to want to impose on landlords, as though they had nothing to do but wade through legislation generated by this House.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as there are some excellent landlords and paragons of virtue, including in my constituency, we should ensure that the very small number who are not good landlords are kept under much closer scrutiny and are held much more closely to account by local authorities? Will he join those of us who care about housing in approaching the Minister for more funding for local authorities on that matter?

The hon. Lady wants me to cover rather a lot of ground, if she does not mind me saying so. If we get into the funding of local authorities and funding formulas, I am sure that you might start to raise an eyebrow or two at my going off piste, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Order. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that I would raise several eyebrows. As I am sure the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) who has intervened to ask all those questions will appreciate, I will make sure that we deal only with what is in the Bill. There is more than enough in the Bill to keep us going.

I am very grateful to you for that guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. My new year’s resolution was to try to stick to the subject on Fridays. As I have not always achieved that, I thought I would make a special effort this term to stick to the point, and I am rather pleased that you have supported my first attempt to do so.

On the part of the intervention by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) that is most relevant to the Bill, I accept her premise that it is important for everybody to be in a home that comes up to a certain standard. I am not aware of anybody who would disagree with that proposition. The issue is whether the Bill is necessary to achieve that. If I am allowed to make a bit more progress—time is pressing—I would like to set out my contention that the Bill is not necessary to achieve what she would like, which is exactly the same as what I would like. I cannot speak for the Minister, but I would like to think that he agrees—I am pretty certain he does—with the proposition that all housing should be fit for human habitation. We do not object to that principle.

The starting point for the Bill, as the hon. Member for Westminster North said, was the 1996 Law Commission report, “Landlord and tenant: responsibility for state and condition of property”. The explanatory notes to the Bill confirm that it is adapted from the Law Commission’s draft Bill, which was included in the report. The report was 230 pages long and covered many issues.

I cannot resist pointing out that we are nearly 20 years on from when the report was produced. I hope it has not escaped everybody’s attention that since 1996, we have had 13 years of Labour Government. They had plenty of opportunity to put the draft Bill into legislation if it was a matter of great importance, as the hon. Member for Westminster North claims.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the growth in the number of people who live in the private rented sector—40% of people in the London Borough of Lambeth now live in the private rented sector—gives rise to the need for additional protections for tenants against irresponsible landlords? Responsible landlords have nothing to fear from the Bill, but that additional protection is urgently needed.

I think that the hon. Lady is going down a rather dangerous line of argument, if she does not mind my saying so. She seems to be saying that as long as only a few people are affected, it does not matter what the condition of houses in the private rented sector is, but now that a lot of people live in the sector, all of a sudden it does matter. I would argue that the standard and condition of the housing matters regardless of how many people live in the private rented sector. It does not matter whether it is 40%, 20%, 5% or 2%—we should make sure that all accommodation is fit for human habitation. I do not accept her premise that this has only become an important issue because there are so many people in the private rented sector.

I will give way in a second, if the hon. Lady is patient.

Anybody who was living in the private rented sector between 1997 and 2010 would have thought that this was an important issue, but for some reason the Labour Government, which I presume the hon. Lady supported, did not think that there was any necessity to introduce this legislation. I am happy for her to explain why that might have been the case.

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. By the extension of his argument, it should not matter whether a landlord is a small landlord with only one property or a large private sector landlord with many properties—the same rules and regulations should apply to all, and all tenants deserve the same level of protection.

I do not think anybody has disagreed with that proposition, either. I certainly have not said that there should be different rules for different sized landlords, and I do not agree with that view.

I was merely making the point—I will reiterate it because I obviously made a dog’s dinner of explaining it clearly the first time around—that it is unnecessary for the House to keep passing legislation that affects landlords because there is already lots of legislation that makes it perfectly clear that homes should be fit for human habitation. When this House adds more and more regulations, it does not achieve anything for tenants because there are already rules and regulations in place. All it does is pass on a huge burden to landlords who have to work out whether they are complying with the law today compared with what it was yesterday. Good landlords who want to do the right thing find it difficult to keep up with all that. We had lots of legislation that affected landlords during the last Labour Government and the coalition Government, much of which was very challenging for landlords.

My contention is that we should make the law for landlords reasonable and sensible, and then leave it at that and let them get on with it, rather than introducing a law and then 10 minutes later introducing another law that does exactly the same thing but that sends out the message that this is so important that we can send a press release to our local paper saying that we really care about tenants, even though the law already applies. This legislation does not achieve anything; it just causes a lot of grief for many people who did not deserve it in the first place. I reiterate that if the Law Commission report was so important, the Labour party had plenty of opportunity to implement it, but it did not bother to do so.

The 1996 Law Commission report states:

“This is the third occasion on which the Commission has considered possible reforms to the law on repairing liability in leases. The recommendations in the first of our two previous reports, Civil Liability of Vendors and Lessors for Defective Premises, were enacted in part by section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972. Our second report, Obligations of Landlords and Tenants, has not been implemented.”

Its point was that the previous report had not been implemented, yet now we are moving on to another one.

Understanding what is meant by “fitness for human habitation” is crucial to this debate. The Law Commission report stated:

“When the implied term of fitness for human habitation was first introduced in 1885, the term ‘fit for human habitation’ was not defined. The meaning of those words was therefore a matter for judicial decision alone, at least in the context of the implied term. It was only in the Housing Act 1936 that an attempt was made at some form of statutory definition.

Before the introduction of statutory criteria for determining whether or not a property was fit for human habitation, the issue was treated as one of fact to be determined according to the standard of the ‘ordinary, reasonable, man’. A property might be unfit for human habitation not just because of structural defects or internal physical conditions, but because of ‘external causes, such as want of ventilation, noxious effluvia, etc’, In the earlier decisions, the standard was held to be satisfied quite readily. It was ‘a humble standard’ and it ‘only required that the place must be decently fit for human beings to live in.’”

The Bill is based around category 1 hazards in the housing health and safety rating system, as set out in the Housing Act 2004. That is the basis on which enforcement will be carried out, and the point is to give a power of enforcement to tenants when local authorities cannot and do not act. I can see no relevance to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

If there was no relevance to my points, I am sure that you would be the first to tell me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not entirely sure when the hon. Member for Westminster North became judge and jury for what is relevant to a debate, but as you made clear, Madam Deputy Speaker, there is plenty to go at in the Bill. I am trying to be as comprehensive as possible in explaining why the Bill is unnecessary.

I will therefore repeat—well, I will not repeat anything, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you would not want me to, but I will continue from where I left off. The report states that at the time:

“‘Unfit for human habitation’ was ‘a very strong expression, and vastly different from ‘not up to modern or model requirements’”.

Those were two very different principles and definitions.

“Nor did it equate to ‘good and tenantable repair’. Some decisions were remarkably harsh. A plague of rats was thought by the divisional court not to make a house unfit, though the correctness of this decision must be open to serious doubt.”

The low standard of repairs is fundamental when we are talking about the state of some of these properties. I presume the hon. Gentleman agrees that there should be more direct accountability back to tenants to allow them more power to force change where that is required in their properties.

I would contend that plenty of legislation already allows tenants to ensure that their house is properly repaired by landlords—indeed, some of that legislation was introduced in the previous Parliament.

Would the hon. Gentleman like to come with me to visit some of my constituents in Croydon North who are completely exasperated by landlords who refuse to do even the most basic repairs on properties that people are living in with their children? I would be happy to take him around and show him how wrong he is.

I do not want to get sidetracked, but local authorities have much of the power to ensure that landlords maintain their houses to a proper standard. I know that the hon. Gentleman was leader of a local authority. Perhaps he should look to see what he and that local authority did to ensure that private landlords in his area were of a sufficient standard. He had the powers to do that.

I will not give way again because time is pressing and I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman further about his record as leader of Croydon Council—[Interruption.] It was Lambeth Council. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, although I am sure the same principles apply.

It has to be said that a rather broader view came to be taken, under the influence of Lord Atkin, on what was considered fitness for human habitation. In his opinion:

“If the state of repair of a house is such that by ordinary use damage may naturally be caused to the occupier, whether in respect of personal injury to life and limb, or injury to health, then the house is not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation.”

That definition was approved by the House of Lords in the case of Summers v. Salford Corporation. In that case, a defective sash cord on the only window in the bedroom of a small house was held, in the circumstances, to make the property not reasonably fit for human habitation. Lord Atkin equated the requirement of reasonable fitness for human habitation with habitable repair, which had been defined earlier.

There was an attempt to come up with a specific definition in the Housing Act 1936. It is clear from the definition relating to sanitary defects that this approach was derived from the regulations made under the housing Act of 1925. There have, therefore, clearly been developments in the definition. The Bill proposes to change that definition once again, despite the fact that for all the previous stages of the definition there was not the other legislation in place that is in force now. We did not have all the legislation that came into being in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. None of that was in place, yet even then there was a narrow, if evolving, definition of homes fit for human habitation. There is even more legislation in place to protect the rights of landlords now, yet the hon. Lady wants to change the definition once again.

The report also gives the history of the fitness for human habitation provisions. That is key to understanding why they originally came into being, as they are the subject of the changes proposed in the Bill. I would, if time had allowed, have gone through the origins of the legislation and the definition, because if we are trying to fiddle with a definition, it is very important to know why it was introduced in the first place. I will not test your patience by doing that, Madam Deputy Speaker, because time is precious.

The hon. Lady argued that the Bill will merely do as the law originally intended on human habitation, but I do not accept that. Yes, the Bill seeks to address the original rent limits which exist to trigger the fitness for human habitation provisions in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, but it does so in such a way that includes nearly all properties, not just those with a certain level of rent. That was certainly not the intention when this was first introduced. It also extends the list of matters in the fitness for human habitation list and ignores the fact completely that there has been so much other legislation covering landlords since. The Bill covers nearly all properties, not just those in a certain rent band. The only exemptions appear to be those—the hon. Lady can correct me if I am wrong—contained in section 14 of the 1985 Act, which states:

“Section 11…does not apply to a new lease granted to an existing tenant, or to a former tenant still in possession, if the previous lease was not a lease to which section 11 applied…Section 11 does not apply to a lease granted on or after 3rd October 1980 to—a local authority…a new town corporation, an urban development corporation, the Development Board for Rural Wales, a co-operative housing association, or an educational institution”—

or housing action trust.

The hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) made a point about the terrible state of repair of houses in the private rented sector. I will make no comment on the back of it—people can draw their own conclusions—but of all the people who have come to me in my surgeries to complain about the standard of their housing, I think I can count on one hand the number who come to me in a year to complain about the standard of housing in the private rented sector. However, the numbers who come to see me about the standard of their housing in the social rented sector by their social housing provider is huge. I get no end of complaints about social housing. People can draw their own conclusions from that fact.

Would my hon. Friend therefore join me in bringing forward a private Member’s Bill directed specifically at social landlords?

Again, I do not want to deviate. I was merely asking whether the Bill addressed the right problem. It seems to me that there are many other problems with many other housing providers that are not being addressed. Labour Members seem to think that social housing landlords can get away with anything and do not need regulating. All they ever want to do is clamp down on private landlords, even though the problem does not seem to exist to the extent they believe—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 29 January.