28 Nov 2014 : Column 1191

House of Commons

Friday 28 November 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Standing Order No. 3).

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, (Standing Order No. 163).

The House divided:

Ayes 1, Noes 43.

Division No. 98]

[

9.34 am

AYES

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jeremy Corbyn

and

Mr Philip Hollobone

NOES

Alexander, Heidi

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brennan, Kevin

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Lyn

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Cryer, John

Dakin, Nic

Ellison, Jane

Eustice, George

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Gardiner, Barry

Gauke, Mr David

Gilbert, Stephen

Harris, Rebecca

Heath, Mr David

Hoey, Kate

Jarvis, Dan

Jones, Mr Kevan

Kirby, Simon

Lancaster, Mark

Lucas, Caroline

Miller, Andrew

Munt, Tessa

Offord, Dr Matthew

Pearce, Teresa

Selous, Andrew

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Stride, Mel

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Timpson, Mr Edward

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Williams, Stephen

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Ben Wallace

and

Damian Hinds

Question accordingly negatived.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1192

Tenancies (Reform) Bill

Second Reading

9.44 pm

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I want to begin by telling the story of one of my constituents. I do not want to give her real name, so I am going to call her Jo. She and her partner had a pretty horrendous year last year and, in spite of the best efforts of our local citizens advice bureau in Brent, it all went from bad to worse. Jo was living in a studio flat with her partner, but there were real problems with the property. The ceiling collapsed as a result of leaking drains upstairs and, to make matters worse, there was no heating in the flat.

Being a reasonable tenant, and expecting the best of her landlord, Jo reported the problems to her landlord. Rather than trying to fix the problem, as one might hope would be the case, the landlord responded by giving Jo and her partner a basin to catch the water dripping from the collapsed ceiling. Understandably, Jo and her partner continued to press the landlord to get the problems fixed, but the next time the landlord responded, he did so by beginning eviction proceedings. Jo had become a victim of retaliatory eviction.

I dare say that many colleagues in the House will have heard similar stories to Jo’s in their advice surgeries over the years, because, sadly, this situation is not as unusual as we might like to think. I hope that there will be time today for colleagues to air some of their stories. Jo’s story is also depressingly familiar to organisations such as Citizens Advice and the charity Shelter, whose advisers are all too frequently contacted by people who are facing eviction after making requests for repairs to be carried out in their property. They are the victims of a small minority of landlords who would rather get rid of tenants than bring their properties up to scratch.

It is because of stories like those that I am bringing the Tenancies (Reform) Bill to the House today, and I ask the House to support it. No one should be evicted for asking their landlord to do basic repairs. No one should be frightened to tell their landlord about a problem for fear of losing their home. No one should be forced to put up with poor conditions because their landlord might retaliate if they make a fuss. This is about fairness and decency, and about doing the right thing. It is about upholding the existing law, and it should benefit everyone: tenants, landlords and local authorities.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she agree that at the heart of the issue is a massive power imbalance between landlords and tenants, and that if we could get that power balance more in equity, tenants would be able to press for the things that they need in order to have a secure roof over their head.

Sarah Teather: The hon. Lady is correct to say that there is a power imbalance. I will talk more about this later, but I do not want to skew the power wholly in favour of the tenant either. This has to be about fairness; both landlord and tenant have to be treated well. The landlord needs to know that they can let their property

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without being exploited by the tenant, and the tenant needs to know that they can live in a decent property without being exploited by the landlord. This is about levelling things out a bit, through a relatively small change in the law.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I support the Bill, but regrettably I shall not be able to vote on it later—should there be a vote—owing to constituency business. Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that not all landlords are bad landlords, and that there are many good ones providing a good service? However, there are many rogues, and I welcome the fact that she is trying to deal with that issue.

Sarah Teather: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The good landlords are desperate to see the system improve, because they feel that the present situation is damaging their reputation. They do not want rogue landlords in the system; they want them to leave the playing field open to people who are decent and who uphold the law.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I, too, support the Bill. The hon. Lady will be aware that, since 2010, renting has become £1,020 a year more expensive, on average. It is now the most expensive form of tenure. In the name of fairness, should we not also be addressing that issue?

Sarah Teather: I am going to try to avoid getting into the wider issues today, partly because I am keen to ensure that we have consensus on the narrow points in my Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman has had this opportunity to make his point and it will appear in Hansard. Also, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) is in his place and he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point.

I shall be leaving Parliament at the next election, after 12 years as an MP in Brent, and I have put in for private Members’ Bill ballots many times over the years and not been successful. It is therefore a huge privilege for me to be selected so high in the ballot this time, particularly in my last few months in Parliament. I recognise that an awful lot of MPs wait for years for an opportunity like this as a Back Bencher, so when I found out that I had come up in the ballot, I was determined not to squander it by pursuing something very party political and divisive which had no chance of getting through. Instead, I wanted to use the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives by introducing a proposal for improvement that could command cross-party support and had a chance of becoming law.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on this Bill, which has support from Labour Members. Has she been assured that it has Government support? What I hope we are not going to see today is ostensible support from the Government while Government Back Benchers talk out her excellent Bill.

Sarah Teather: I have been assured that the Bill has Government support. Unfortunately, each person in the House will have to follow their own conscience—[Interruption.] I shall leave their consciences pricked and hope that they do the right thing.

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I have heard about many cases such as Jo’s over the years in Brent, and about many others, where fear of eviction has prevented someone from complaining to a landlord about a problem. I know that this issue needs tackling, but I want to place on the record how grateful I am to Shelter for suggesting this topic to me, for all its work in campaigning on this issue, and for supporting me with preparation and drafting of the Bill.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing her important Bill. I also congratulate the many organisations that have given it their wholehearted support. I wish to reinforce a point that she made: there is a real fear of eviction. I know of people living in damp conditions who dare not put in a complaint. Removing that fear, without putting any extra burden on good landlords, is vital.

Sarah Teather: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend about that. The fear of eviction has a chilling impact on the sector, and it also hugely damages the reputation of good landlords and the relationship between tenants and their landlords.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on this Bill, and she will know that my team and I have been working on this problem. As an MP, it is most distressing when tenants come to us with a problem, the landlord takes advantage of the fact that so many tenants are looking for properties and new tenants move into a property once the first ones have been evicted, and then the new tenants come to the MP with exactly the same problem, and this repeats and repeats itself, sometimes on a six-monthly cycle.

Sarah Teather: That can be extremely frustrating, both for MPs and for those in local councils and in citizens advice bureaux, who may see the same problem in the same property over and over again. I want to place on the record my thanks to the citizens advice bureaux in Brent, which have campaigned on this issue for a long time, and to Generation Rent, which has been very supportive. I also wish to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West for all his help and for the support of his officials in championing the Bill across government. I well remember from my time as a Minister that getting cross-government agreement on anything requires sustained focus from a Minister, and I am extremely grateful that the Government will be supporting the Bill today.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Although I support the Bill, a lot of emphasis has been put on so-called “rogue” landlords and, having been a landlord, I know that things are not always as they are portrayed Will the hon. Lady reassure the House, and reassure me, that the Bill will not allow rogue tenants to frustrate the process of eviction when they do not comply with their tenancy agreements?

Sarah Teather: Absolutely; the Bill has been carefully drafted to make sure that spurious complaints cannot be a reason to frustrate the eviction process. In addition to the clauses relating to retaliatory eviction, the Bill contains other clauses about simplifying the process for applying for a section 21 notice to make it easier for

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landlords who are operating entirely legitimately to make sure that they comply with the law. At the moment, we often have situations where a landlord may serve a section 21 notice and find that they have fallen foul of a technicality when they were operating perfectly legitimately. So the Bill is not all about skewing everything in favour of the tenant; it contains some simplifying elements, too.

Mr Slaughter: That is the most pernicious use of section 21 notices, but does the hon. Lady agree that the ability to have a no-fault eviction—quickly getting rid of tenants for no reason—is a problem? Will she continue to lobby for tenants’ rights, even when no longer in the House, including for longer tenancies and controls on rent increases and proscriptive letting fees? In other words, will she support a future Labour Government on that?

Sarah Teather: I am inclined to say that the hon. Gentleman has made his point and move on.

I want to stress that the Bill is not an outright attack on section 21. Members of the House will have very different and varied views on the future of section 21. Some will think that it should be touched as little as possible, and others will want to reform it significantly or even get rid of no-fault notices. The Bill is not about getting rid of section 21; it is about operating within the current legal structures and trying to protect tenants who, at the moment, find that they cannot uphold their right to live in a decent property. Although it is stated elsewhere in the law that landlords ought to comply, at the moment they do not have to, because they can simply get rid of tenants when they complain. If Members want to remove section 21 notices, they will have to bring in their own Bill, because that is not what this one does. I want to make that clear, as I have done to landlord organisations. This is a relatively moderate change that I hope will protect tenants, not an enormous ripping up of the current legislative framework.

Dr Offord: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again; she is being very gracious. There is legislation that allows environmental health officers to inspect properties. Does she feel that that offers adequate protection, or is this legislation vital?

Sarah Teather: The problem for environmental health officers—I was going to make this point later—is that, as many of them told Citizens Advice for a report in 2007, they know that the consequence of intervening is often that the tenant is evicted. That prevents councils from making full use of the powers available to them. There really is no point having legislation that gives councils powers to intervene if they are too afraid to use them to drive up standards for fear of ending up with tenants being evicted. Again, this is about trying to ensure, through a small tweak, that the existing law works better.

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that that will level the playing field for good landlords who are really interested in helping their tenants, because they will be able to provide decent accommodation that is well looked after without being undercut by rogue landlords who are not interested in their tenants at all?

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Sarah Teather: That is a perfectly fair point. Good landlords who make the necessary repairs get very frustrated when rogue landlords who treat their tenants extremely badly undercut them on rent.

Before talking about the context of the Bill, I want to thank the many colleagues on both sides of the House who have sponsored the Bill, spoken in favour of it and lobbied the Government to ask them to support it. I also thank Opposition Front Benchers for their engagement on the issue. Getting the Bill on to the statute book will require Members with radically different views to support it in the Lobby. I am very grateful for the engagement I have had from many colleagues already. I hope that they will support the Bill today in the Lobby and at all subsequent stages.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): My hon. Friend is right that Members with very different views will support the Bill, but is not what unites them the fact that this is about preventing those who are strong—economically strong in this case—from bullying those who are weak? That is what Parliament is about, whichever party we belong to: protecting people against bullies.

Sarah Teather: The problem with retaliatory eviction at the moment is that the people who are most likely to fall victim to it are those who have the least agency in being able to help themselves. That relates to my next point, which is on the extent of the problem—how wide it is and who appears to be affected by it.

YouGov conducted a survey on behalf of Shelter and British Gas, surveying 4,500 private renters. It found that one in every 50 tenants had been a victim of retaliatory eviction, having been evicted or served with an eviction notice in the past year because they had complained to their landlord or local council about a problem in their home. With a very large private rented sector across the country, Shelter estimated by extrapolating those figures that 213,000 renters experienced that problem last year. That is a significant number of people, and the problem appears to be much worse for some groups living in areas where housing demand is very high. In London, for example, three in 20 renters surveyed reported being a victim of revenge eviction, and nearly one in five black and minority ethnic families renting in the capital said that they had been affected. Those numbers, particularly in London, explain why we have had support from the Mayor of London for this campaign.

We should be careful of assuming that the problem affects only London. The Citizens Advice report that I mentioned highlights the knock-on effect that the practice of revenge eviction has on renters. The report opens with the story of a woman from Merseyside who had been living alone in her private rented flat for 13 years and who suffered from Crohn’s disease. She sought advice from her local citizens advice bureau because the property was damp and the windows did not close. The landlord had recently replaced the gas fire with a two-bar electric fire that was expensive to run and did not sufficiently heat the property anyway. As the woman was receiving benefits, it was becoming increasingly hard for her to survive.

After they were approached for help, the local CAB advisers were able to secure a grant from the Warm Front scheme for gas central heating. It would not cost

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the landlord anything, so initially he seemed to be happy for it to be installed. However, on the day that the workmen came to survey the site, they decided they could not do the work because the gas meter was located in the flat on the ground floor, whereas the woman lived on the third floor. This could cause a massive safety hazard because if there had been a leak, she would have had to travel down two flights of stairs and try to gain access to a neighbour’s home to switch off her gas supply. The landlord was told that he would need to pay £800 to have the meter relocated, which he was obliged to do to comply with his duties under the health and safety regulations. However, he refused.

The CAB advisers told the woman that she could take action to force the landlord to deal with the issues, but they also had to tell her that if she did, the landlord would be free to use a no-fault section 21 notice in retaliation, giving the woman two months’ notice to leave her home. Despite all the difficulties that she was living with, she decided not to go ahead, as the landlord had been known previously to evict people who had asked for problems to be fixed. As a result, the woman had to continue to live in conditions that were detrimental to her health.

The fear of revenge eviction is just as real as the incidence of it, and it has a chilling effect on the sector, on the powers that environmental health officers feel they can use, and on the relationship between landlords and tenants. It stops people being able to enjoy their right to live in a decent property. It is also a real problem for local authorities, which are not just frightened of the impact on the tenant if they take action, but well aware that if they do take action and the tenant is evicted, they are likely to end up with an extra homeless person on their books, placing additional burdens on councils to rehouse them. It is no wonder that many councils appear reluctant to use all the enforcement powers available to them.

Because of those issues, the Bill has received widespread support. I mentioned Shelter, Citizens Advice and Generation Rent. Further supporters are the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Association of Tenancy Relations Officers, the Electrical Safety Council, the National Union of Students, PricedOut, the Tenants Voice, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Mayor of London, the Local Government Association and the Local Government Information Unit. Supporters also include many organisations that one would not expect to be on the side of tenants. Nationwide, for example, which is one of the largest providers of mortgages, supports the Bill because it believes that it will have a good effect on those who are providing rented accommodation.

As I said, most landlords want to treat their tenants with respect and with decency. They take pride in doing repairs promptly, and they want to keep good tenants in their property paying rent. In drafting these protections, I have been very mindful of making sure that we can intervene to prevent unfair evictions but do nothing to dissuade law-abiding landlords from operating or to place undue burdens on those who are behaving well.

During the drafting of the Bill, I was extremely grateful to the many landlords’ associations and individual landlords who contacted me and to those who engaged

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with consultations held by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Comments made during that process fed into the version of the Bill that is now before us. In drafting it, great care was taken to make sure that it impacts only on landlords who are not fulfilling their legal obligations. It should not impact at all on the work of the vast majority who want to provide good-quality, safe homes for their tenants.

In short, the Bill seeks to provide tenants with protection from retaliatory eviction by limiting landlords’ ability to issue a section 21 notice. Clause 1 would prevent a landlord from issuing section 21 notices on a tenant within six months of the serving of a notice by a local authority in response to a serious problem in the property. The types of notice that would trigger this restriction include improvement notices, hazard awareness notices, and notices of emergency remedial action under the Housing Act 2004.

The clause would make a section 21 notice invalid if, before the notice was served, the tenant had made a complaint in writing to the landlord, the landlord’s agent or the local authority about the property, and after the section 21 notice had been issued the local authority had inspected the property, found the problem indeed to be serious, and served a notice on the property. I want to stress that the complaint must have been made prior to the section 21 notice being issued. This is not a charter for people to make spurious complaints and frustrate the process right at the end of eviction. They will need to have made the complaint already. This is about tackling retaliatory eviction.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Is not the six-month sanction in line with six-month sanctions that already exist in legislation where a landlord withholds a deposit from a tenant or fails to license the property properly, and the Bill does not go beyond that in protecting tenants from certain forms of harassment by landlords?

Sarah Teather: There are certainly restrictions on the use of section 21 notices if landlords are not compliant with the tenancy deposit scheme. This is about extending the law by making a similar provision so that a landlord cannot leave their property in a terrible state of disrepair and then, when their tenant tries to get some joy out of them in getting them to repair it, they retaliate by evicting the tenant.

Under clause 1, tenants would be able to defend against a landlord’s claim for possession under section 21 by establishing that prior to the service of the notice they had made a written complaint to the landlord or local authority but the local authority had yet to complete the inspection process. To ensure protection for the landlord, clause 2 allows courts to ignore this defence if they decide that the tenant’s complaint is completely without merit.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): That would involve having to go to court, with all the time taken, expense and uncertainty of litigation. Does not the hon. Lady think that it would be much better to have a similar provision that did not require going to court?

Sarah Teather: In most cases, if an enforcement notice is in place, the accelerated process of eviction would be quashed prior to going to court. However, there will be

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cases where it is right and proper that the landlord is able to defend themselves. This is about fairness. There is a balance to be struck in how we structure this. I do not want to skew everything in favour of the tenant so that the landlord is unable also to exercise his rights. Clause 2 also contains other important safeguards for the landlord. For example, it contains a requirement for the issue in question not to have been caused by the tenant. Clause 2 also allows for section 21 notices to be issued when the local authority had served a notice on the property if the landlord is genuinely seeking to sell the property.

I do not wish to go on for significantly longer. If there is a lot more time available later, I would like, with the leave of the House, to make some comments in response to what other Members say. What I will say is that a number of the Bill’s other provisions are about clarifying things for landlords and making some things easier for them if they are operating entirely legitimately. Clause 3 in particular clarifies the law following the decision in Spencer v. Taylor, a Court of Appeal case pertaining to technical details of how a section 21 notice is served. There are also provisions enabling the Government to produce a prescribed form on section 21 notices, which should clarify things both for tenants and for landlords.

In short, this is a very moderate Bill that would introduce relatively small changes to the law. It is very much in keeping with what many other countries do, including some that one would imagine would have an extremely right wing and libertarian attitude towards housing supply in the private rented sector. Most have protections to stop tenants being victims of revenge evictions, because that is not good for tenants, landlords or society. The Bill proposes a moderate change and I urge colleagues to support it.

10.11 am

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) on promoting this Bill.

I support the Bill because, in all contracts and business arrangements we enter into, we expect goods that are fit for purpose. We expect the product to do what it says and to get what we pay for. How come, therefore, that when a landlord enters into a contractual arrangement with a tenant and says, “I promise you a dwelling that’s fit for purpose and you’ll pay me to use it,” the law does not afford tenants those basic rights? How is it that if a landlord enters into a contract with a tenant and provides a substandard, unsafe property and the tenant challenges that product’s fitness, they can be thrown out on to the street in an act of revenge?

This is an ever-growing problem. The number of people renting properties in the private sector is growing. I am a London MP and over the past 10 years in London alone, the proportion of families renting has increased from one in 10 to one in four. If we take into account population growth, we will see that that is a 119% increase in the number of families in rented accommodation.

In my constituency of Erith and Thamesmead, almost a fifth of all families live in private rented accommodation. That is a lot of people and a lot of landlords. A lot of the landlords in my constituency are good, reputable landlords who provide secure premises for families to

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bring up their children, but I have to say that a lot of other landlords are not like that at all. I met a constituent yesterday who is living in a house of multiple occupancy where no one can use the cooker because they get an electric shock every time they touch it, and no one will report the landlord because they are in a house of multiple occupancy—it is temporary accommodation—and they are afraid. It is my job to speak up for those people and that is what I am doing today.

Mr Chope: The hon. Lady raises a serious issue, but surely it is possible for her to refer it to the local authority to deal with under its statutory duties.

Teresa Pearce: Of course, that is entirely proper and it is exactly what I did yesterday. However, both of the local authorities that my constituency covers have had massive cuts to their budgets and the team of officers who usually carry out inspections is now very small. The number of complaints outweighs the facility available to deal with them. That is an issue for another discussion on another day.

I am very concerned about the private rented sector. I held a Westminster Hall debate on housing in London, in which I explained why it is a crucial issue for London and my constituency. As I have said, there are many good landlords who offer their properties in a safe and satisfactory condition, understand their responsibilities and have good relations with their tenants. It is almost because we need to protect the reputation of landlords in general that we need the proposed laws to be introduced.

I have seen at first hand how unscrupulous landlords charge extortionate rates for substandard properties, and families have to uproot more regularly, with no long-term security, which is not good for anybody. I have met families with children under 10 who are in their third primary school because they have had to move consistently. I have spoken to teachers who say that the constant churn in primary schools is making it very difficult for children and classes to achieve their potential. It is not surprising. As Shelter has said, renters are 11 times more likely to move than somebody in a secure property with a mortgage. Frequent moves can have a negative impact on children’s education. Government researchers found that frequent movers are significantly less likely to obtain five A* to C GCSE grades, or be registered with a GP. Children from the poorest backgrounds are being failed.

Secure homes make for secure communities and better citizens. In the end we all pay for the consequences. We all pay for the consequences of those whose education is impaired by their overcrowded and chaotic living conditions. We all pay for the health care costs of treating illness from damp and cold properties. We all pay for the consequences of families living in uncertainty and substandard housing.

I have today written to the Chancellor and HMRC to ask for current figures on another way that we all pay for this problem. The most recent figures I could find are from 2012, and they show that HMRC estimates that £550 million of tax on rental income is not declared or paid. That is an enormous tax gap and, for the reputable landlords who do their accounts and pay their tax, it is totally unfair that such people are bringing the whole market down.

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The hon. Lady discussed the operation of section 21. The Bill will not restrict the rights of landlords to evict tenants who are in rent arrears. Citizens Advice data point to a consistent correlation between inquiries from private tenants not in arrears about possession action or threatened homelessness and inquiries about repairs and maintenance. We should not be swayed by arguments that tenants who seek repairs or better standards are troublesome tenants. These people are just trying to protect their own health and safety and that of their family. They are not the stereotypical tenant who does not pay their rent.

In the past year, Citizens Advice has seen a 38% increase in inquiries about eviction problems in cases where people were up to date on their rent—it was the property that was the source of the problem. Tenants can be helpless if served with a section 21 notice. When tenants seek advice from Citizens Advice about a landlord’s failure to address maintenance problems in a property, their advisers inform the tenant that if the landlord responds by serving a possession notice they will be within their rights to do so. Many tenants at this stage choose not to pursue their complaint and continue to live in a place that is not fit for purpose. Many of these people are in work—although some are not—and claiming housing benefit, which is our money. That means that taxpayers’ money is being paid to disreputable landlords to house people in conditions that affect their health and the education of their children. We then hear from HMRC that the landlords are not paying tax on their rental income. Many landlords in my constituency insist on the rent being paid in cash. That cannot be right, and it is that behaviour that the Bill seeks to tackle.

The Bill contains protection for landlords. It cannot be used as a last-minute delay to eviction. If challenging an eviction notice, the tenant will have to prove that they made a complaint about conditions before the notice was issued. They will lose their ability to challenge the eviction notice if they do not do so within a two-month period. The Bill specifically prohibits renters from raising issues that are their own responsibility. Environmental health officers are well trained in assessing whether a defect is longstanding and genuine, or exaggerated and manufactured. The Bill does not add a discretionary element to section 21 possession cases. Renters will not be able to use spurious complaints to slow down court proceedings. If an improvement or hazard awareness notice is served, the eviction notice is invalidated. If it is not, then the landlord is free to proceed.

It is unacceptable that private renters are being forced to pay huge rents for properties that are in poor or dangerous conditions. It is worse still that they are reluctant to raise their concerns with their landlords because of the fear of eviction. We have a situation in which many people feel they have to choose between living in unsafe or uncomfortable conditions and losing their home. That cannot continue. The word “home” should mean more than just the roof over our head: it should mean security, a place of safety and a sense of belonging. But for a large percentage of people now living in insecure and unsafe private rented accommodation, their home provides none of those things. The Bill would go some way to redress the imbalance.

There is so much more to be done. We should legislate for longer term three-year stable tenancies; predictable

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rent increases through the life of the stable tenancies; a ban on letting agents’ fees; and local authority reporting of landlords in receipt of housing benefit to ensure that HMRC can close the tax gap. I support the Bill as a step in that direction.

10.19 am

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): It is a pleasure to join so many colleagues from so many different parts of the country in this very important debate. I hope to be among so many colleagues from all parts of the House who seek to right a wrong and address injustice. All of us have constituencies to serve, often in far flung parts of the country—were it not for this debate, I would be attending the opening of the refurbished Treverbyn town hall, and I wish my constituents well in that—proving the point made by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) that this problem affects not only London and metropolitan areas, but constituencies such as mine and more rural parts of our country.

This matter is not just an urban phenomenon. It is often a lazy assumption that private renting is just a city-based phenomenon, but there are more than 18,000 private renters in my constituency. That is the same number of people who live in St Austell, one of the largest towns in my constituency. As hon. Members know, conditions in the private rented sector can be poor. I have had constituents in my surgery in tears because of problems with damp, boilers and hazard notices being served on their property, and, as the hon. Lady said, a lack of legal clout to redress the power balance between tenant and landlord. I am keen to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) on introducing the Bill, because it provides us with the opportunity to debate and address the power imbalance at the heart of the relationship between tenant and landlord.

The private rented sector has expanded dramatically in the past 30 years. There are now 9 million private renters in England, but, as hon. Members have said, legislation has not moved with the times. Demand far outstrips supply, reducing the power of consumers, the renters, and leaving them vulnerable to the malpractice that exists in the industry. Hon. Members have been clear that it is the malpractice of a minority of landlords, but to ensure good standards for everybody we need to address malpractice where we find it. We must also congratulate landlords who respond well to the needs of their tenants, and treat them in a fair and equitable way.

We have ourselves partly to blame: we have been slow to react to the increase in the private rented sector and the problems that have come with it. As my hon. Friend said, more than 200,000 people have been either evicted or served with eviction notices in the past year alone. That is a considerable number. I am sure we have all had tenants with legitimate complaints about their homes coming to see us in our surgeries over many years. The Bill is timely.

As I said to my hon. Friend in an intervention, the Bill is also proportionate. If we consider how tenants are protected in other areas, we see similar levels of protection to those proposed in the Bill. If a landlord withholds a deposit, tenants cannot be issued with a section 21 notice for six months. That is logical and fair. If a landlord has failed to license a property properly,

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tenants cannot be issued with a section 21 notice for six months. That, too, is logical and fair. The same should be true when tenants make legitimate complaints regarding the failure of landlords to carry out repairs they are legally expected to carry out. Tenants should not receive a section 21 notice for six months—logical, fair, proportionate and exactly what the Bill proposes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who is not in her place at the moment, on securing a motion on this issue at the Liberal Democrat party conference in October. More importantly, I congratulate those from all sides of the House on their support, across parties, for the Bill. Occasions when the House unites to address an injustice show Parliament at its best. I think we should see more of that and less of the partisanship we are sometimes prone to in this place.

Dr Offord: I look forward to the hon. Gentleman voting with us on Monday.

Stephen Gilbert: Well, we can look forward it. [Laughter.]

Rogue landlords should not be able to deprive tenants of the fundamental right to enjoy their property in the way we all hope to enjoy the place we live in. However, we should also remember that section 21 notices are not the only possession rights that landlords have; they will retain their section 8 rights as well, meaning that tenants who break their agreement with the landlord—through antisocial behaviour, for example—could still be legitimately evicted. This would instil balance and fairness in the relationship. Good tenants and good landlords would be protected, and landlords who have problems with rogue tenants would still have legal redress.

Landlords would also benefit from the local authority’s ability to be an independent judge of legitimate complaints. Colleagues will be perhaps too familiar with improvement and hazard notices. I have come across them many times in my casework, so I am sure others have as well. These notices would act as a fail-safe in respect of perhaps the biggest concern landlords have: whether people can make spurious claims to stay in a property. By ensuring that complaints are verified by the local authority, good landlords will be protected.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I support the Bill and the comments people have made, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that environmental health officers, who are the unsung heroes of action against the significant minority of landlords who keep tenants in bad conditions, are under enormous pressure, as local authorities face up to a 50% reduction in their funding; that there is a massive variation in the ability of EHOs to issue hazard notices and take enforcement action; and that none of this is properly recorded either? If we are to make these measures work, it has to be on the back of consistent and properly funded environmental health organisations.

Stephen Gilbert: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady’s fundamental point: many EHOs and local authority departments are facing significant pressures. However, there is a plus side to the Bill. At the moment, we cannot track improvements to housing stock, because we are not clear where the poor housing stock is. As renters come forward, challenging their landlords under the provisions in the Bill, and as their complaints are verified by environmental health departments, we will

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be able to track improvements across the country and see the general uplifting of standards. I absolutely share her view that we need to resource local authorities properly so that they can perform their statutory duties, and of course EHOs are no exception, but the Bill gives us the opportunity to ensure continued improvement in the housing stock and to ensure that poor conditions cannot endure.

To conclude, it is hard-working people living in poor conditions and too afraid to speak out for fear of eviction who would most benefit from this Bill—we all see them in our surgeries. It would introduce a proportionate and timely system of legal redress to tenants who otherwise would live in fear of unfair eviction by those few rogue landlords across the country. That is why I will be joining my colleagues today in supporting the Bill.

10.28 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I hope that the Bill makes good progress today, and I compliment the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) for introducing it and for being very brief. I hope that all other Members will be suitably brief, as it is perfectly possible for someone to say why they support the Bill in 10 minutes, and it is also perfectly possible for those with doubts about it to express those succinctly in less than 10 minutes, so we should be able to conclude these proceedings today. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading so that we can make some progress on behalf of the many people in this country who are frightened of their living conditions. We should bear that fact in mind today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central on securing her position in the ballot and compliment her on her work on many other issues, especially her chairing of the all-party group on refugees. We should all thank her for being an exemplary chair of that effective group.

I think that my constituency has more private renters than almost anywhere else in the country, as more than 30%—27,000 tenants—of the community lives in the private rented sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) said, there is a wider debate about the need for significantly more legislation to improve the conditions of those in the private rented sector, including over lengths of tenancies and rent levels. I recognise, however, that the Bill is strictly limited to one aspect of the security of tenure of people living in the private rented sector.

At the moment, someone taking a flat in the private rented sector will normally get it for six months. They have no control over the rent, and in my community, as indeed in many across London, rents are going up far faster than anything else—far faster than the rate of inflation and certainly far faster than wages, and way above the benefit cap level. That means that there is social cleansing in all of central London, and now even in the London suburbs, as people are forced to move away because they can no longer afford to stay in their flat.

Ms Buck: One reason why I was unfortunately slightly late in arriving this morning—I had hoped to hear the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) introducing what I believe is an important Bill—was that I was dealing with the eviction of a nurse working for the

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Imperial hospital trust whose landlord has just put up the rent on her property, which also had disrepair problems. The local authority has offered her a property that would involve her making a two-hour commute, so she will almost certainly no longer be able to continue working for the hospital. Not only will she have to move yet again, but the hospital is likely to lose a qualified nurse.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. Sadly, it is a familiar story that when families or individuals are evicted and forced to move a long way away, they cannot continue their job. If they are desperate to keep their children in their existing primary school, those children may be forced to undertake journeys that are totally inappropriate for someone of their age. When I get on the train—a very busy one—in the morning at Finsbury Park station to come here, it is depressing to see the number of primary school children coming to the station. They do so because they have been forced to move a long distance away and are making the journey to try to retain their place in the local school and their part in the local community.

We need stability in our London communities, and that will be best achieved through the proper regulation of the private rented sector. The Bill would give tenants protection in respect of the poor conditions in which they are too often forced to live. I have experience of tenants complaining about the conditions in their flat, such as dangerous electrical conditions, inadequate heating, poor-quality windows, badly fitting doors, leaking roofs and excessive damp. Some of the places are so disgusting that they would do credit to Rachman, quite honestly.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) said about environmental health officers. They are the unsung heroes of the time through the work that they try to do. However, if people complain to the environmental health service, their landlord may then end the tenancy, meaning that those people are evicted and then have great difficulty finding anywhere else to live. In some cases, they could be declared as voluntary homeless, rather than involuntary homeless.

Some tenants believe that by withholding rent, they can force their landlord to carry out repairs. That might work sometimes, if the landlord decides that the repairs should be done so that they can get the rent in the normal way, but that is not a good system because the tenant does not have the protection they think they do for retaining their tenancy. The issue must be the protection of the tenant where there are bad conditions, and a local authority’s ability, through the environmental health service, to enforce decent, safe and sustainable conditions for the tenants, and that is what the Bill is designed to achieve.

This is no small matter. According to Shelter, there were 200,000 evictions over the past year because of complaints about environmental conditions, so I think it is time that we—the House of Commons; Parliament—did something about that and provided protection. A YouGov survey commissioned by Shelter found that one in eight tenants had not asked for repairs to be carried out in their home or challenged a rent increase because of fear of eviction. If one thinks of the size of

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the private rented sector in Britain, that means that a very large number of people are so frightened about the security aspect of having somewhere to live that they have not dared to exercise their legitimate rights to complain. One in 50 tenants has been evicted or served notice in the past year because they complained to their local council or landlord about problems in their homes. Certain groups are more likely to suffer retaliatory eviction: 10% of black and ethnic-minority households and 5% of households in receipt of housing benefit have experienced the problem. It is particularly prevalent in London, which is a very high-demand area, but it is not exclusively a London problem.

We need to pass the Bill today and then bring it into law as a sign that Parliament has taken account of the fundamental changes that are taking place in the housing market. The number of people living in owner-occupied accommodation is falling nationally—in my constituency, it amounts to fewer than 30% of households—and unless we offer decent security and good-quality conditions to people in the private rented sector, we pay the price. We pay the price in terms of under-achievement in schools and the disruption of children’s lives throughout their educational careers, and because if families are forced endlessly to move, they often, as we heard, lose jobs and opportunities as a result.

Although limited and specific in its requirements, the Bill would mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people. It would give them the security that they need. It would say to bad landlords—not all landlords are bad but, sadly, a considerable number are—“We have noticed what you are doing, we are on your case, and if you are going to make money out of letting a property, you will have to maintain it to a good standard rather than blaming your tenants for your inadequacy in looking after it.” I hope that the House passes the Bill today and we get it through before the end of this Parliament, so that we can say that we have done something for those people. Tenants in the private rented sector, of whom there are 27,000 in my constituency, deserve the same security as those in council and owner-occupied properties. They deserve to be able to live in decent, safe, clean, dry and secure accommodation, and I hope that we can achieve that today.

10.37 am

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Let me begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It may seem strange to some of my colleagues that I, as a free-marketeer, should wish to interfere in a market—the private sector housing market is clearly a market—but I support the Bill, and for several reasons. Although its focus is narrow and it does not address the wider implications and concerns that have been raised by Members on both sides of the House, that narrow drafting is deliberate, as is intended to secure support throughout the House. That is one of my reasons for being strongly in favour of it.

There are three sorts of private sector landlords. There are the big landlords who have big organisations behind them and many properties—it is their business. There are also the accidental landlords, who have inherited properties—they often have only one or two—and try to let them, as well as other groups of people with

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relatively small numbers of properties. Then there are the bad, rogue landlords, who are the ones whom we should seek to target. There are not many of them, but they often cause misery to their tenants.

To my way of thinking, when a contract is entered into for the supply of a service, be it the occupation of a property in the private rented sector or any other service, there are obligations on both sides. There are obligations on the tenant to pay the rent, to keep the property in reasonable order, not to behave in an antisocial manner, and to allow the landlord access to the property. There are also obligations on the landlord: they should maintain the property in good repair, ensure that people have a decent place in which to live and charge a reasonable rent. That is not unfair or unreasonable, but it is clear that a small set of landlords are causing immense problems.

In the private sector, tenancies are now normally for six months. They may be rolling tenancies and they may be renewed. During that time, landlords can, at their convenience, say, “I want the property back,” and serve a section 21 notice, and the tenants then have to leave. Like many Members on both sides of the House, I regularly have families coming to my surgeries or to meetings to say, “We are being evicted by our landlord. We have done nothing wrong. We have had problems. We have complained about mould, damp and the conditions of the property, yet the landlord refused to take proper action and, shortly afterwards, an eviction notice followed.” That cannot be right or reasonable. The law should contain a clear protection so that tenants know that they can ask for reasonable repairs to be carried out without the threat of retaliatory action and eviction. That is a reasonable position to adopt, which is why I am strongly in favour of the Bill.

The Bill would not protect unruly tenants who cause trouble, damage properties or fail to pay their rent. The contract has to be two-sided, so the protection should be on both sides. I have been approached by a number of landlords. Across my constituency, there has been a dramatic change in the type of tenure. Harrow East has traditionally been an owner-occupier-type constituency, but many owner-occupiers have moved out and rented their properties. Often those properties are not maintained in a decent, working condition for the tenants, which causes misery not only to the tenants, but to the people who live in adjacent properties. A responsibility flows across the piece. I recognise that the problem is not confined to London—it affects cities and towns throughout the country—but it is affecting London dramatically, and it is clear that action needs to be taken.

As I have said, the Bill is narrowly focused. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) to address one point when she sums up because I have a slight dilemma with the Bill. When a notice of disrepair is served on a property, major repairs are often required and the tenants may have to move out to allow the repairs to be effected. Some landlords say, “I’ll honour that by evicting the existing tenants, doing the property up and re-letting it to other tenants,” but I do not think that the Bill deals with that situation. I agree with the principles of the Bill, but that issue will have to be looked at in some detail in Committee so that we can ensure that the Bill does not have unintended consequences.

The Bill is much needed and there is a strong case for it. The clear issue is to ensure that tenants have rights and that landlords also have protections. My strong view is that bad tenants will not be protected by this

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legislative change and that good landlords have nothing to fear from it—those two things come together. The Bill would tweak the market, rather than fundamentally reform it, which is why I strongly support it. I trust that today we can support it in principle so that it receives its Second Reading and we can get it to Committee, where detailed changes may need to be made to strengthen it and to ensure that it does not have unintended consequences.

The Bill sends the fundamental message to good landlords who do a good job of maintaining their properties, providing a decent facility for people to live in and charging a reasonable rent that they will be protected. It sends the message to bad tenants that if they make spurious, stupid or irrelevant complaints, they will not be protected. However, if tenants have a fundamental complaint about a health and safety matter or about the condition of the property, and the local authority agrees that that should be fixed, they will be protected. The Bill strikes the right balance between landlord and tenant. For that reason, I am strongly in favour of it, and I trust that the House will support it today and ensure that it is on the statute book before the general election.

10.45 am

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) on helping to put and keep this important issue on the agenda. I am delighted to hear how much support the Bill has from hon. Members on both sides of the House. No matter what background we approach this from, we all agree that the Bill is an important and proportionate response to a real problem.

I represent a constituency that, by 2021, will have more home renters than home owners, so I welcome the chance to set out my constituents’ concerns and to back the Bill. In fact, a number of my constituents feel so strongly about the matter that they have come here to watch the debate. We cannot overestimate the misery and distress that is caused to tenants by the fear of eviction, meaning that they end up living and bringing up their kids in incredibly poor conditions.

Like many colleagues, I have been lobbied extensively about the issue. I echo the concerns of residents in Brighton, Pavilion that far too many people who rent in the private sector are not secure in their homes because of the threat of revenge evictions, and that too many have nowhere else to go, which is one of the things that makes the prospect of a revenge eviction so frightening. With the Government’s cruel bedroom tax, attacks on housing benefit and other so-called welfare reforms, for many of my constituents, the risk of homelessness is higher than ever.

In those circumstances, landlords hold all the cards. They wield unreasonable power, and the vast majority of landlords who are reasonable and fair lose out because of an immoral, irresponsible and greedy minority who give all of them a bad name. It is that imbalance of power that I hope we can end today.

I would like to read from an e-mail from one of my constituents, who works for the highly respected Brighton Housing Trust. This is what she says from her experience of working on the issue, day in, day out:

“Each year, I see hundreds of tenants served with a Section 21 notice seeking possession because they have dared to complain to their landlord about disrepair in their accommodation.

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This has ranged from low-level complaints about dirty carpets and broken doors, to the more serious bed bug and rat infestations. One memorable case involved a pregnant woman with a young toddler, prevented from accessing her flat via her front door and reliant upon climbing up unsecured scaffolding with her pram simply to access her property.

Largely, these tenants are deprived and vulnerable, reliant upon housing benefit to pay their rent and terrified of being asked to vacate where so many properties remain completely beyond of the LHA rate, and without the funds necessary to pay deposits, administration fees, and rent in advance. Many weigh up the risks and decide that ultimately, living with even the most serious disrepair is better than facing street homelessness. This is not a choice that should have to be made.”

I completely agree that that is not a choice that anyone should have to make.

Many other cases have been brought to my attention, including by Home Sweet Home in Brighton and Hove, which was in Parliament today to lobby me. I pay tribute to its work and that of local organisations such as the citizens advice bureau and the Brighton Housing Trust, which support tenants when they make a complaint about the standard of their housing and, when that backfires, face the prospect of a revenge eviction.

I want to focus on tenants who are particularly concerned about damp and cold in their homes and the ill health that that causes for their kids. They simply want their landlords to undertake related repairs or to provide basic insulation. I have written to the Chancellor ahead of next week’s autumn statement asking why not one penny of Treasury infrastructure funding is devoted to energy efficiency. That failure is at the heart of why, at the start of the year, more than 2 million children in England were living in fuel poverty. A survey by Netmums found that one in four families have had to choose between heating and eating.

Allocating just 2% of the Government’s annual £45 billion infrastructure budget to retrofitting homes, cutting energy bills and tackling fuel poverty would allow 500,00 low-income homes to be made highly energy-efficient every year. Only that level of investment approaches the scale that is needed to tackle the scandal of fuel poverty.

Giving better protection to private rented sector tenants who ask their landlords to make their homes warm will make an enormous difference, too. A simple clarification of when a section 21 notice cannot be served could help to transform millions of lives and help to ensure that more people live securely in homes that are of a decent standard. The Bill is needed to protect all tenants who currently have to risk eviction or homelessness every time they ask for basic repairs to their home. I am backing it on behalf of the growing number of private rented sector tenants in Brighton, Pavilion.

I could say a lot more, but other Members wish to speak and I want to make sure that we have an opportunity to vote today, because it is clear that the Bill is supported by Members on both sides of the House. Let me end by telling one final story, which was brought to me by a tenant just a few weeks ago. His boiler broke down on 17 December last year. He contacted his landlord, who said he would send one of his people to look at it, which happened the next day. The verdict was that the boiler was dangerous, so the gas was disconnected. Later that same day, he contacted the landlord to ask what was

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happening. The landlord said that he was off to Spain for a holiday and that the tenant should instead deal with the letting agent. The letting agent replied, “What do you expect me to do? It’s Christmas.” The agent allowed the situation to go on for three weeks before the boiler was repaired.

When the tenant complained to the agent that he had paid full rent for a flat he could not stay in, he was told that it was nothing to do with the agent and he should take the matter up with the landlord. The landlord said that he could not be bothered with all the hassle and told the tenant to go back to the agent. We can all imagine what happened when my constituent did go back to the agent. The agent said that the landlord had made a response, which was in the post, and it does not take a great deal of imagination to realise that what was in the post was a section 21 notice. The tenant was evicted. It took him months to recover financially, and now he would think twice before raising such concerns again.

That kind of practice is simply unacceptable, and we have the opportunity today to do something about it. The Bill is a proportionate response that has huge backing in the House. I hope that Members will not speak for hours and that we can instead proceed with ensuring that the Bill swiftly gets into Committee.

10.52 am

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): As many hon. Members will be aware, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on electrical safety in private rented properties about a year ago, It was only at that point that I discovered, to my shock and horror, not only that was there no protection for people, as there were no proper certificates for electrical safety, but that if anyone complained, for instance to the council, as was their right, there was, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said, a very good chance that a revenge eviction notice—a section 21—would come in the post the next day to evict a tenant who was just doing what was legally and properly their duty: protecting their family from danger in their own house.

One of my constituents, Mr Malcolm Parker, came to me with serious concerns about the electrics in his rented house in Eastleigh. He showed me pictures of what looked like a death trap. There was loose and exposed wiring, all in close proximity to water. The problem was evidently not new. If it had been, and if his landlord had immediately taken action to repair it, as a responsible landlord would do—and, I hope, as most landlords regularly do—the situation would not have come to my attention. However, unbelievably, my constituent’s landlord would rather take the risk of his tenants suffering real injury or death and of damage to his property than repair the defects.

My constituent finally complained to the council. The BBC was also involved, and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), listened very carefully to my arguments in Westminster Hall about this case. My tenant was then threatened with eviction by his landlord, which is the very practice that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) is trying to prevent. I appreciate the support that the Bill is getting from Members on both sides of the House, and I hope that many others will come to support it.

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One of my close friends is a landlord. Before he rented his property out—to a very charming Polish couple, by the way, who work extremely hard, do not claim benefits and contribute to the economy—he spent a lot of time ensuring that it was in perfect condition. In fact, I am very jealous of that couple for living in such a wonderful property. If all landlords were like that, we would not be discussing these awful cases of people being evicted just for exercising their legal right to live in a safe, decent and warm property. I am shocked that, until a year ago, I did not know that such a thing was happening. That shows how ignorant I was. I apologise for arriving in this House in such a state of ignorance, but I suppose that we all have to learn sometimes.

I do have sympathy for landlords as things are not always easy for them. It is sometimes hard to deal with difficult tenants. I worked in the sector for quite a while, so I know that there were tenants who took advantage by not paying or leaving their properties in a terrible state. However, the Bill will not change landlords’ ability to deal with that. It will still allow them to take decent action against tenants who abuse their tenancies, who do not behave properly, or who refuse to pay their rent. If rent is not paid, the landlord’s house could be repossessed by the mortgage company through which the property could be bought in the first place, thus resulting in less accommodation for tenants who need it. Of course, one solution that would help to keep rents down, as the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) mentioned, would be more social housing and more help for housing associations, but that is an argument for another day.

Rogue landlords are as much a danger to good, decent, competent landlords as they are to their tenants, because if the problem keeps happening and some landlords do not behave responsibly, the House will be forced to introduce even more legislation to provide protection for tenants, which would make things even more difficult for decent landlords. I suggest that the House needs to send a message today by voting for the Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn: I compliment the hon. Gentleman on what he is saying. Does he agree not only that there is a

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big increase in the number of private sector tenants across the whole country, and with that an increase in concerns, but that important groups such as Generation Rent are helping to put forward a good, sensible case for giving real security and protection, especially as it is likely that, in the very near future, almost a quarter of the UK population will be living in the private rented sector?

Mike Thornton: That should be examined more carefully. It is vital that we continue to consider the private rented sector because otherwise we may have to look seriously in a few years at not having one at all. It is vital that we make things viable and fair, and make living in a private rented property a decent proposition.

Sarah Teather: What is the situation in my hon. Friend’s constituency? I was struck by the words of the environmental health officers quoted in the 2007 Citizens Advice report and by how aware they were that almost every case in which they intervened resulted in the tenant being evicted. That makes my council quite nervous about using the full force of its powers.

Mike Thornton: When I brought up the case to which I referred, Eastleigh borough council’s housing department explained to me that the situation was difficult. As its main aim is to keep people in accommodation, it was very worried, and it said that it did not want to intervene too often. When I have been asked to get involved in cases, tenants sometimes do not want me to report anything because they are worried about eviction, and I think that that is probably true across the whole country. My hon. Friend makes a good point.

As a Government and as ordinary decent people, we have a duty to tenants. This is about common decency. We should be able to listen to tenants. If, as MPs, we are unable to listen to tenants and act on their behalf because we are worried that we will make their situation even worse, we are put in an incredibly difficult position. I think that most MPs are determined to help their tenants, and that is what they want to do—

Proceedings interrupted (Standing Order No. 11(4)).

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Immigration Statistics

11 am

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to make a statement on the latest immigration figures.

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Security and Immigration, who is in Rome on ministerial business, and of the Home Secretary, who is in her constituency with the Queen. I am afraid, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you have the oily rag and not the mechanic.

Yesterday the Office for National Statistics published the latest quarterly figures on net migration. Uncontrolled mass immigration such as that we saw under the previous Labour Government makes it difficult—

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What is happening now then? It has gone up.

Mike Penning: We will talk about the selective memory loss of the Labour party in a moment.

Such mass immigration makes it very difficult to maintain social cohesion. The Government have set about reforming the immigration system and made it clear that it will be fairer for British citizens and legitimate migrants. These rules are tough. We would like to see net migration reduced to what it was in the 1990s, as the Prime Minister has set out. As successive net migration statistics have shown, where we can control net migration, our reforms are working. Net migration from outside the EU has dropped by 25%, but net migration from inside the EU has grown. It is a really difficult situation and we are trying desperately to control it.

Although net migration from outside the EU is down, net migration from within Europe is up by 75%. It is not just about the figures that were released yesterday—that is the indication in all the recent figures. That is why the Prime Minister is outlining today the action he will take when he becomes the next Prime Minister in his negotiations with the EU on the benefit system for migrants coming to this country.

We have already taken unprecedented action to control benefits for those from the EU and outside the EU. We are continuing to consider how this can be done and how we can control it even better. We have reformed benefits, health care and housing rules to make them among the tightest in Europe and we intend to go further. The reforms we have made, including cutting EU jobseeker entitlements, will save British taxpayers £500 million over the next five years. We are proud of that record, but we need to do more. The shambolic situation we were left by the previous Administration must be addressed, but we inherited it and we are trying to make sure that we get things right.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): It is a shambles now.

Mike Penning: By making comments from a sedentary position, Labour Members are showing their selective memory loss about the mess they left this country in. Perhaps they would like to ask me in a moment about the mess they left us in and how we will try to resolve that.

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Net migration from outside the EU is down and this morning the Prime Minister has outlined his plans to deal with the high levels of migration from within the EU. We intend to do that and to ensure that this country is a safe place to come for migrants when they need to come here but that it is not a soft touch.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. These latest figures are not just disappointing, they are catastrophic. I do not doubt that when the Government and the Prime Minister pledged to reduce net immigration figures to the tens of thousands they hoped and intended that that would be the case. I also accept that nobody could have predicted that the UK would create more jobs in the year than the rest of the EU put together, acting as a massive pull factor when that pledge was made. However, is not the simple problem that the Government made a pledge that they were in no position to be able to guarantee while we are in the EU and while there is free movement of people within the EU?

Is it not time that the main political parties were honest with the British public and simply admitted to them what they already know—that is, that we cannot control immigration while we remain a member of the European Union. Why is it so difficult for the Government to say what is merely a statement of the bleeding obvious?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Obvious is not a word we use.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Mr Pound. I know I can always rely on you for sound advice.

Mr Davies, I think that you need to rephrase that sentence. Using the word bleeding on the Floor of the House is not acceptable.

Philip Davies: I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I meant the blinding obvious.

We know that the EU is not going to budge on the principle of the free movement of people and therefore we need to leave. Will the Minister explain why the part of the immigration figures that the Government can control—non-EU immigration—also went up in the past year and what the Government are doing to bear down on that?

Do the Government agree that these levels of immigration are completely unsustainable? Does the Minister accept that we cannot cope culturally with immigration at these levels? Does he agree that the NHS cannot cope with immigration levels of this magnitude? Does he accept that we cannot provide the school places fast enough and that we cannot build the houses needed for this level of immigration? We would have to build an entire Bradford district every two years to keep up and it is ridiculous to think that that is possible in any way. Does the Minister accept that?

The British public want immigration to be controlled, but more than that they want politicians to be honest and the honest truth is that we can control immigration only if we leave the EU. Does the Minister at least accept that?

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Mike Penning: I have known my hon. Friend for many years and his views are well known. I agree with many of his views, but not with some of the views he has made public today. I do not think we can just stand back and say that we will not renegotiate at all and that we will just walk away from the EU. However, the Prime Minister has said today that the changes he has made are quite specific.

The Prime Minister made the statements he made in good faith, as I am sure we would all accept, but he could not have predicted the catastrophic eurozone economic catastrophe—

Mr Kevan Jones: The banking crisis.

Mike Penning: Yet again, from a sedentary position a Labour Member talks about the banking crisis that started under his party.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Minister, I would be grateful if you avoided taking up the challenge of any sedentary comments that are made and simply answer the points being made to you by the person who has had the Floor. If the shouting at you from a sedentary position persists, I will deal with it. I do not think that it is helping.

Mike Penning: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Prime Minister made a promise and a commitment in good faith, and I accepted that, like we all did. When we make a commitment, however, sometimes we do not know what is coming down the line. That promise was made, but we have never seen immigration from the EU at the levels at which it is at the moment, and we must do something about that. If one method does not work, people have to try another. If they are out there trying to negotiate and feel that they are not getting somewhere with one point, they try another. What the Prime Minister has announced today means that we will restrict benefits for people who come to this country for four years when they come here to work. We will prevent them from having social housing for four years. What really winds up my constituents is when people from the EU working here send child benefit and child tax credits back to another country. That will stop under the next Conservative Government.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I regret that the Minister’s first statement was a political attack on the Labour party. The public will question whether he takes this issue as seriously as he should.

“No ifs. No buts. That's a promise we made to the British people. And it's a promise we are keeping.”

That was the Prime Minister speaking on net migration in April 2011. That false promise, which was less than one made in good faith than one he knew he could not keep, has now duly crumbled. Net migration, which the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister hand-picked as their measure for their migration target, is going up. It is now 16,000 higher than when they took office and almost three times the target level. It is higher than it was when the Conservatives said that it was out of control, that nothing had been done and that it was all Labour’s fault.

The truth is that this net migration target is the worst of all worlds. It does not include illegal immigration, where we know enforcement has worsened, yet it has encouraged the Government to target valuable university

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students. Their numbers have flatlined even though, as the Government know, they bring billions into Britain and build relationships that contribute to strong trade links in the future. And it is just wrong to include refugees in the target.

The Government have not put in place proper border controls so that we can count people in and count them out in order to enforce the rules. Immigration needs to be controlled and managed, but it is important to Britain and the system needs to be fair. All that this Government have done is ramp up the rhetoric without ever bringing in practical measures to address the impact of immigration or make the system fair. That has deeply damaged confidence in the whole system and proved divisive.

Will the Minister tell us how wide of the mark the Government expect to be on their immigration target? Will he also explain why his Government made this promise, which they could not deliver? Why will he not strengthen our borders with 1,000 more staff, implement stronger enforcement to stop employers exploiting cheap migrant labour to undercut wages and jobs, and pursue European reform to strengthen transitional controls and change child benefit rules? The Government’s strategy is failing and their false promises ring hollow. They need to stop taking people for fools and instead set out a sensible debate with practical policies. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Mike Penning: I am absolutely amazed by the response from Her Majesty’s Opposition. They seem to have selective memory loss. Not imposing transitional controls in 2004 was a spectacular mistake that left Labour with red faces. That was not the Conservatives, but the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), the former Home Secretary. The mess we are in now with immigration was caused by the previous Administration. That is a fact, and we have not reached anywhere near the peaks of the previous Administration.

The hon. Lady talked about universities. I am proud to say that bogus colleges in my constituency have been closed down by this Government. They were fundamentally wrong, and unfair to students who are in this country legitimately and trying to get a decent education, as well as to our own students.

Let us talk about unemployment. The majority of the growth in unemployment in this country was taken up by foreign nationals. In the last two thirds, it has been taken up by British nationals. That shows the growth in unemployment taken up by foreign nationals under Labour, and the growth now under the Conservative party and the coalition.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Is not the real problem the free movement of people within Europe? It creates a deep unfairness for people coming in who might be family members from outside the European Union. Is there any logic in giving preference to people who might just have left prison in the European Union and who can get in here freely, when husbands and wives from Commonwealth countries that have long-standing relationships with us find it difficult to come here?

Mike Penning: The unfairness of the system, and particularly the benefit system, is there for all to see. That is why the Prime Minister made his speech today.

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Let me reiterate what he said. People will have to be here for four years before they are entitled to social housing or in-work benefits, and they will not be allowed to send in-work benefits back to their families outside the UK. That is fairness in the system.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that some of us, at least, do not want our major political parties to get into a competition with UKIP over who can sound the most anti-immigrant? Does he also accept that recent EU immigration has contributed more to our economy than it has taken out? Does he further accept that while everyone, including my constituents who are from early generations of immigrants, wants to see a fair, transparent and effective system of immigration control, they fear a downward spiral of anti-immigrant rhetoric that has the potential to disfigure our politics?

Mike Penning: Speaking as someone who was born and brought up in Edmonton in north London, I grew up with some of the early immigrant families and Afro-Caribbean families. Many of them are still my friends. Their fear is unlimited immigration. It is the same in my constituency today. I met my Kashmiri and Pakistani community only last week and they talked to me about that fear. We have to have controlled immigration. If we control it, we will have a safer system for everybody in this country. At the moment, we are left with an uncontrolled system.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): The Prime Minister made it clear this morning that he will introduce the toughest rules in the EU to tackle the abuse of free movement, including stronger powers to deport EU criminals and to prevent them from coming back. Will the Minister explain how those important changes will be achieved?

Mike Penning: They are going to be achieved by having a Conservative Government. The Prime Minister made his speech this morning at the JCB factory rather than here because it was obviously a party political speech. All the reforms that he outlined will create a fair system in which we are in control of immigration and our benefits. That is what we should all be looking forward to.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Have we not just heard more false promises from the Prime Minister this morning? One of his proposals is that he will restrict the access to universal credit. Given that there are only 17,850 people on universal credit now, and that it will not be fully implemented until 2028, how will his proposal actually affect EU immigration?

Mike Penning: I was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions until a very short time ago, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that universal credit will be rolled out correctly and it will not be a mess, unlike the IT projects under the previous Administration. What the Prime Minister talked about this morning was post-election; that is exactly what we expect to do when we win the election.

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Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): As the Minister knows, the Deputy Prime Minister is keen to ensure that benefits are fair. Does he agree that the reason people come to this country is to do the jobs that need filling? Industries and public services in large areas of the country would have a severe problem if we did not welcome those people who come here to work hard and contribute to our economy.

Mike Penning: People who want to come to this country to contribute, work hard and study hard are always welcome. But at the end of the day, there was abuse of the system, and we all know that it was taking place in our constituencies on a regular basis. We will not allow that abuse to continue. That was a key part of the Prime Minister’s speech this morning, and it is very important.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I refer the Minister again to the research published earlier this month by University college London showing that EU migrants paid £20 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits. That means that they are not coming here to claim our benefits. His measures would be counterproductive and nasty. Instead of trying to outdo each other in being as mean as possible to immigrants with all this rhetoric, we should be looking at the root causes. We need more affordable housing. That is the way forward, rather than demonising a particular group in society.

Mike Penning: I have 16,000 council houses in my constituency and two areas that are in the top 10 areas of socio-economic deprivation. We need more council houses and the Conservative local authority is now building them again, but I do not want them filled with people who come here—until they have been here for at least four years. We have enough of a waiting list already in my constituency and in other constituencies around the country.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the only way to control immigration in this country is through the fundamental reform of our relationship with the EU? Only by putting that negotiation to the British people in a referendum will the people be able to decide the immigration policy of this country. Does he also agree that it is only the Conservative party that is offering that at the next election?

Mike Penning: As one of my colleagues sitting next to me has just said, that is absolutely spot on. If we have a Conservative Government, people will get the referendum that everybody in this country deserves. I am 57 years of age, and I have never had an opportunity to vote on our membership of the EU. I look forward to being able to do so.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): This September, I asked in a written parliamentary question how many individuals had been granted limited leave to remain with no recourse to public funds in each year of the past decade. I was told that the Home Office could not tell me. In March 2012, in another written parliamentary question, I asked how many people were subject to deportation or removal proceedings, broken down by local immigration team area. I was told by the Home Office that it could not tell me. That is basic information. Why cannot the Home Office give me the answers?

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Mike Penning: I will be perfectly honest: I do not know why those questions were not answered. I will find out and the Immigration Minister will write to the hon. Lady.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituents who believe that restricting the benefits going to the children of foreign migrants who are not in this country is not a nasty thing to do but a fair thing to do?

Mike Penning: It is absolutely fair, especially given the limited funds available because of the austerity measures we have had to introduce, because the previous Government left us with such a mess. The welfare system has to be fair. If people are working here in this country, getting in-work benefits and sending those back to their families abroad, I do not think that is fair and I do not think my constituents think it is fair.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Why should we be surprised that net migration is now higher than it was under Labour, given that, as we learn in today’s Daily Mirror, Tory donor Lord Wolfson’s company, Next, recruits en masse in Poland for jobs that it does not advertise in Britain? Why did the Prime Minister not condemn Lord Wolfson and his company’s practices in his speech this morning, and will he be keeping the £400,000 that Lord Wolfson has donated to the Tory party?

Mike Penning: The latter part of the question does not even warrant an answer. On the first part of the question, net migration was actually higher when the Labour party was in. When Labour left it was down, but it was higher under the Labour party.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The hon. Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) are completely wrong to conflate those of us who are concerned about immigration with feelings against migrants; similarly, those of us who are concerned about immigration in the ‘80s and ‘90s were accused of being racists. People in this country feel that the level of immigration is too high and they will never forgive the Labour Government for letting in a net 2.5 million people during their term of office. Will the Minister tell the House why the number of non-EU migrants coming into this country has been increasing in the latest figures? This is not just an EU problem; it is a world problem, which the Government have failed to tackle.

Mike Penning: Net migration from outside the EU is down 25%, because of the measures we have been working on. I accept that in the last figures the level went up, but since this Government came into office it has gone down by 25%. The reason people want to come to this country is the excellent economic prospects as a result of this coalition Government, rather than the mess left by the previous Administration.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Will the Minister for once acknowledge the massive contribution made to our economy and our society by those who have migrated to live here and who have sought and gained asylum in this country, which we are bound to offer under the Geneva convention? Given his rhetoric

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about EU and other migration, what would he say if EU countries as a whole decided to stop British people from going there to study and to work? What would he say if they all decided that British people were a drain on their economy and put their shutters up against us? What would the rhetoric be from him and, perhaps more importantly, from his colleagues in the

Daily

Mail

?

Mike Penning: I pay tribute, as I have always done, to the commitment of migrants coming to this country. That was ever so important in the part of the world I grew up in, and we had a very cohesive community there then, just as we do in my constituency today. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are going to go into a negotiation, and if other countries want to put other tariff barriers up or put other problems in the way, that is entirely up to them. We will go into a negotiation with a position that is there, set out today by the Prime Minister. He has said, “This is exactly what will be put to the British people in our referendum”, which we will not get if we have a Labour Government.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Will my right hon. Friend recognise the figures from the recent University college London study showing that the net contribution by migrants to the UK economy is £25 billion? If he does not recognise that figure, will he tell me what the Government’s estimate of the net contribution is?

Mike Penning: I have said from this Dispatch Box many times, and I have done so again this morning, that migrants who come to this country make a huge contribution. However, I understand that that research did not show the full picture, and we need to look at the full picture rather than just using partial statistics—they are being used time and time again.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that the extent of the Government’s embarrassment over these net migration statistics is best shown by the net migration into this Chamber and on to the Front Bench of 12 Conservative Ministers during a Friday private Members’ Bill sitting?

Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman has been in this House a rather long time. As I am sure he is aware, the Government have duty Ministers and they have to be in this House because it is a sitting day—that is why they are here. The comment he makes is such a silly one.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Have the Department or the Minister made any assessment of the likelihood of recent EU migrants returning home, either when their own economies improve or as a result of the measures set out this morning by the Prime Minister?

Mike Penning: It would be good for this country and good for the world economy if the eurozone actually grew—this is obvious, and we have seen it before—but people who come here looking for work often return to their country or another part of the EU when the economic situation there improves. So it would be very good for this country if the eurozone got the same sort of growth into its economy as we have.

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Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Did Ministers ever really believe their net migration target?

Mike Penning: Yes.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): People in my constituency are concerned that those who have never paid into the system can come here almost immediately. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and my constituents that we are putting this situation right?

Mike Penning: The only way that can be done is by making sure there is a renegotiation of the treaties. That is what the Prime Minister set out this morning in his speech, and may I reiterate its three main points? Someone would have to be here for four years before they would be entitled to social housing; they would have to be here for four years before they would be entitled to in-work benefits; and they would not be able to send in-work benefits that they receive from the British taxpayer home to their own country.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): My constituents cannot understand why a New Zealander who has lived locally for more than nine years, playing rugby with the local club and working at the local steelworks, is now having to go home because he is no longer allowed to stay. Is it because he is seen as a statistic rather than a person?

Mike Penning: No, it is not. As a rugby man myself, I have played with a lot of New Zealanders and Australians. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will make sure the Immigration Minister responds so as to find out exactly what happened in his constituent’s case.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Large parts of our service sector and public sector would collapse but for migrants coming to this country to work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who come here to work and earn a living are welcome, but those who come here to exploit our welfare state and our benefits system are not?

Mike Penning: The Prime Minister’s speech this morning was a long one, but my hon. Friend has summarised exactly what the Prime Minister was saying.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Prime Minister’s welcome policy announcements today, when implemented, will deliver net migration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands?

Mike Penning: That is exactly why the Prime Minister has made this speech this morning, that is exactly why we need to renegotiate the treaties with the European Union and that is what we will put to the British people, and I expect it to work.

Seema Malhotra: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has said repeatedly in the debate that net migration was higher under Labour, but is that correct, given that we know that net migration now is 16,000 higher than when the coalition Government came to power?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): That is not a point of order for me; it is a point of debate. I am sure that that debate will continue, although not now, because we are returning to the discussion on the private Member’s Bill.

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Tenancies (Reform) Bill

Proceedings resumed

11.28 am

Mike Thornton: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was politely interrupted earlier, but I am now going to continue. Now, where was I?

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): In the House of Commons.

Mike Thornton: Yes. I was discussing my colleague’s important Bill. [Interruption.]

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Start again!

Mike Thornton: We will start all over again. As I was saying, our duty to our constituents as MPs is often difficult where there are worries about triggering a revenge eviction by a rogue landlord. It is important to understand why we are introducing this measure.

Jeremy Corbyn: Before the urgent question, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the role of environmental health officers and their concerns. Does he share my concerns that they often work very hard, that their departments are often very understaffed and that they are often placed in a difficult position because of the lack of legal protection for the tenant against retaliatory eviction? They want to do the right thing and enforce a repair order on the landlord but they are frightened of the consequences for the individual tenants. Environmental health officers, too, are good, decent human beings who want to see the right thing done, and this Bill would surely help in that situation.

Mike Thornton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because that is exactly what I think, and exactly why my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central has introduced the Bill: not only to protect tenants, but to allow our caring and hard-working environmental health officers to do their job in the way they want to do it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) mentioned dampness, and I have mentioned electrical safety, but there are many other problems that can make a house unfit to live in. That is something that this House must look into as the Bill goes through. Evicted tenants might well find that rogue landlords do not return their deposit. We have protections in place for the return of deposits, but it is not too difficult for a rogue landlord to manufacture an excuse not to return it, perhaps by inventing damage that they claim the tenant has caused.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that rogue landlords do a disservice not only to tenants, but to the vast majority of sensible, law-abiding landlords? This Bill is good for everyone. It should help tenants and landlords alike.

Mike Thornton: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is exactly right. Most landlords are responsible, decent and caring people. We need to protect not only tenants but other landlords, because rogue landlords also damage their reputation and their willingness to carry on as

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landlords, without being seen as abusing their tenants. The great friend I mentioned earlier is one of those responsible landlords.

Some rogue landlords manage to manufacture evidence, exaggerate damage or say things that are plainly untrue in order to retain a tenant’s deposit. The tenant might then have no money for a new deposit and so cannot easily find another property. My local borough council provides a property bond, which in theory should enable a tenant without a deposit to move in, but most landlords will not accept a property bond. That means it is extremely difficult for anyone evicted and treated in that way to provide a decent home for their family.

I commend the Bill to the House and ask everyone to support it, in order to have a go not at landlords, but at those people who call themselves decent landlords but who are not, and to help tenants and landlords alike to act in a decent, honourable and caring way.

11.32 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) expressed the hope that the Bill will receive support from both sides of the House and that we will put aside partisan politics. I think that those who know my relationship with the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) will understand that the fact that I am here supporting a Bill that she has brought forward is extreme testimony to that. But it is the merits of the Bill that I am here to support.

I want to read out a letter from a landlord in my constituency who wrote to me about his concerns about the Bill. I do not know whether he is a good landlord or a rogue one, but these are the sentences he used to express his concerns:

“Surely anyone with an ounce of common sense must know if you are going to give a Tenant a five year contract up front they are not going to behave, respect the Property or be a good Tenant, and if you get struck with the bad one it’s a five year problem. All he needs to do is damage your property, run along to the Council and complain about the damage, and the landlord won’t be able to use section 21. This is utter nonsense of a Bill.”

I disagree with that, but I am confident that many of the remarks that will be made later on in an attempt to talk out the Bill will sound similar. The letter expresses pithily the fundamental worries that landlords, including good landlords, have, because there is abuse not only by landlords, but by tenants. The Bill has its best chance of success because that has been taken on board, while recognising that there has to be greater equity of power between the landlord and the tenant. At the moment, the balance of power is clearly in the landlord’s favour, and many tenants are suffering as a result.

One of those tenants is my constituent Mr P, who has been subjected to ongoing leaks and regular ceiling collapses for the past nine years. He is not one of the short-term, complaining tenants that the landlord who wrote to me was referring to, because he has been in the property for nine years. The first collapse occurred eight years ago and produced 20 kg of debris. Most recently, the ceiling gave way in two places, missing my constituent by only a few feet. The landlord is fully aware of the state of the property, but he appears to be very reluctant to carry out repair work.

On two previous occasions, the landlord initiated eviction proceedings against my constituent after he

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complained about his living conditions. However, I am told that the notices were withdrawn when my constituent threatened to involve Brent council’s private housing services. I want to mention Brent private tenants rights group, which is a wonderful organisation, and Jacky Peacock, who is known not only to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), from his time as council leader—he is nodding in his place—but to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and the hon. Member for Brent Central. Jacky has been sticking up for private tenants in the Brent, Harrow and Ealing areas for many years, and she is wonderful. I understand that on both occasions Mr P’s landlord agreed to undertake the repair work on the condition that he accepted rent increases. Those rent increases were imposed, but the repair work was not subsequently carried out.

The landlord whose letter I read out earlier feared that all the tenant needed to do was damage the property and make a complaint, and then section 21 could not be enforced. That is not correct. It is important that Members who support the Bill make it clear that that is not possible. He refers in another part of his letter to the many ways in which the local authority can already get involved. In fact, on 9 April this year, Mr P received a fresh notice to quit, and on that occasion he was rather surprised, because he had not made any recent complaints about the property. He realised that the notice to quit was triggered by the enforcement action that Brent council is now planning to take with regard to the property. Of course, if an officer from the council’s private housing service is to visit and make an assessment, it is a requirement that the landlord be notified of an impending visit and assessment. Otherwise, any enforcement decision cannot be taken against the landlord. It is really important that the hon. Member for Brent Central has incorporated into the Bill a reasonableness clause and a reasonableness agenda, because that gives succour to good landlords, reassuring them that they will not be subject to frivolous, vexatious or aggressive action on behalf of tenants. In my dealings with tenants in Brent over the past 17 and a half years, I have come across fewer than 20 vexatious tenants in that entire period. As for the number of retaliatory evictions—we are probably dealing with 20 such ongoing cases in my office at present. The balance is clearly out of kilter and needs to be rectified.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I, too, may be divided politically from the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), but I am entirely united with her on this occasion. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) agree that if a landlord were a vendor and the tenant were a purchaser—a consumer—the existing consumer protection legislation would provide that equity? Why do we have such a fundamental imbalance? Section 21, which was supposed to be a sensible measure, is a great threatening blunderbuss before which many of our tenants, our constituents and our friends and some of our family have to cower. Why this imbalance?

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is right. There is a huge imbalance, part of which the Bill seeks to address. I welcome that. The imbalance exists because power

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and money usually side together, and that is what we need to pull apart by ensuring that the Bill progresses.

I have a number of other cases which highlight the problem of retaliatory evictions. One tenant had lived in the property for 11 years amid lots of disrepair, the possession order coming once a complaint had been made. I shall not detain the House with further cases because I want to see the Bill progress. It is good, but it is limited. The hon. Member for Brent Central will know that in the House of Lords on 5 November my party introduced an amendment on retaliatory eviction to the Consumer Rights Bill. Hansard records who supported that amendment.

My party has also set out plans for a much more fundamental reform of the private sector because of the need to get a fairer deal for those who are renting and to remedy the imbalance identified by most Members who have spoken in the debate. I would very much like to present more cases, but I do not believe that for some of those who will follow me in this debate, more cases will be more persuasive. We need to let them make their remarks and let the House move to a conclusion.

11.42 am

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) on introducing this important Bill and explaining so eloquently why it is necessary to end the travesty of revenge evictions. She is right that the Bill is about upholding existing contracts and should benefit landlords, tenants and local authorities. I thank Shelter, Crisis and other campaigners who have worked hard to bring these issues to national attention. I am proud to have co-sponsored the Bill.

The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) mentioned rental costs. There are many league tables that I am proud that Oxford tops, not least the fact that Oxford university medical faculty is now world No. 1, but there is one chart I would rather we did not top. At the beginning of this month, the Centre for Cities published research which found that Oxford has the least affordable housing in the UK. This results from a combination of its having some of the fastest population growth in the United Kingdom and a lack of new homes. It should not be an impossible dream for a nurse or a teacher to own a home, and the only way to address the problem is to increase supply to meet demand, so I am backing my local authorities in their bids to build new homes in the right places and with the right infrastructure.

In the meantime, although we cannot quite compete with Islington North, Oxford West and Abingdon has 17,944 renters, which is more than 23% of my constituents paying exorbitant prices. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) mentioned, inevitably such a high demand in the private rented sector has caused an unhealthy power imbalance between tenant and landlord, which removes the usual market incentives for landlords to maintain high-quality properties and behave responsibly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) and many others have pointed out, the majority of landlords behave well, but for tenants unlucky enough to get rogue landlords, the consequences range from living in unhealthy or even hazardous homes or, as we have heard, facing eviction and potential homelessness if they complain.

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In a property market as overheated as Oxford’s, landlords find it far easier to re-let a property, possibly even at a higher rent, than to invest in property maintenance, despite the obvious false economies of this attitude. Student representatives tell me that this is a particular problem for the student population, who are perhaps seen as easy targets by landlords. This is backed up by recent research from Citizens Advice which finds that young people are far more likely than older renters to have problems with private landlords. One in six people in their 20s receiving help from Citizens Advice has an issue with a privately rented home.

I rarely call for more regulation, and I am very proud that my Government have a one-in, two-out deregulation target to cut the burden of red tape, and that they are making this statutory for our businesses and job creators, but in this instance I believe that the measures in the Bill are well targeted and that they will put an end to revenge evictions while not placing an additional burden on good landlords. As the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) observed, there is precedent for these measures. In the United Kingdom, landlords who have not protected their tenants’ deposits or who have not licensed the property when required already cannot serve a no-fault eviction notice. This Bill does the same thing in respect of poor conditions. It is modelled on regulations that have been successful in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

The Bill does not seek to interfere with section 21 possession proceedings in other circumstances. Landlords must meet their legal obligations before they serve a valid notice. It will assist good landlords. At present, fear of revenge eviction stops renters telling their landlord about repair issues, which means that serious hazards can develop in properties, depreciating their value without the landlord having an opportunity to do anything about it. That creates a problem for local authorities, which cannot successfully use existing legislation. Renters’ testimonies are crucial in ensuring the successful prosecution of rogue landlords. That is often not possible because renters refuse to give evidence in support of a prosecution for fear of eviction, or they may have already been evicted in retaliation before the case is brought.

The Government have taken steps to try and better protect tenants with the “How to Rent” guide and the model tenancy agreement, but it is clear that existing powers are not sufficient. Tenants in Oxford West and Abingdon and elsewhere with rogue landlords should not have to choose between eviction or living in poor conditions. This Bill will put an end to that catch-22 once and for all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, bad tenants will not be protected by the Bill and good landlords will not be damaged. That is why it is smart legislation and smart regulation that fits well within our deregulation targets. In short, the Bill will make the private rented sector work better for hundreds of thousands of renters across the country. That is why I back the Bill and why I am so pleased that the Government back it too.

11.48 am

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): It is an honour to be here today and to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and to discuss the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). I congratulate her on securing

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such a high-profile place in the ballot, which I envy, and on her choice of Bill, her excellent speech and her approach to the subject. Her choice of Bill is important for two reasons. First, it is limited in scope. It recognises the importance of addressing the needs of millions of private renters, a matter of which I am very conscious, given the size of the private rented sector in my constituency—40% of all households in my constituency are in the private rented sector, a massive increase over recent years. That is surely, and very clearly, reflected in the support for this Bill outside this House shown in the large number of e-mails I have had from my constituents urging me to be here today, and the very strong campaigning efforts of various groups at national and local level. I pay tribute to Shelter, which has campaigned on this issue for many years and worked very closely with the hon. Lady on producing the Bill.

Generation Rent must also be congratulated on its vigorous campaigning efforts at national and local level. The Home Sweet Home campaign has been working on the ground in Brighton for many months, backed by Labour’s excellent parliamentary candidate and by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is in her place; I agree with much of what she said earlier. It is heartening to hear of tenants and residents taking action, influencing this place, and actively seeking to improve their families’ quality of home, education and life chances. Labour has been clear that for too long their needs have been totally ignored. That is why we have set out ambitious plans for reform of the sector, and I will come to those later.

The second reason this Bill is so important is that the issue it seeks to address—retaliatory eviction—is completely unacceptable and must surely be brought to an end. That is why the hon. Member for Brent Central has our support for its passage through the House.

In recent years, the private rented sector has grown massively in size, but also beyond recognition in terms of the demographics and the character of those who rent from private landlords. Nine million people now rent privately—more than those who rent a social home. Over a third have families with children, and nearly half are over the age of 35. Many people who are renting privately are doing so not out of choice but because they cannot get on the housing ladder or secure a socially rented home. Yet private rented accommodation is not the cheapest option—far from it. It is, in effect, the most expensive type of housing. On average, people who rent privately spend 41% of their income on housing. For those in the social rented sector, the figure is 30%, and for owner occupiers, it is 19%. However, the extra expense does not buy greater stability or higher standards. Someone who rents privately is more likely to live in a non-decent home than someone in any other tenure, yet they are spending 41% of their income to do so. A third of privately rented homes fail to meet the decent homes standard.

Two issues are at the heart of these proposals—standards and stability. For too long, renters have had to put up with a choice between keeping their home and accepting the poor conditions they are living in. As we have heard, there is currently no protection from eviction for renters who report poor conditions to their landlord or local authority. Shelter has estimated that over 200,000 renters have been evicted or served notice in the past year because they complained to their local council or their landlord about a problem in their home.

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This kind of unacceptable action can have a really damaging impact on renters. It can damage the lives of families and the fabric of communities as people are uprooted from their homes with as little as two months’ notice, disrupting schooling, support networks of family and friends, and even access to health care. It means that renters feel unable to complain and are forced to put up with awful conditions.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady was bandying about some rather exotic figures earlier. Can she verify those figures in the context of the English housing survey, which goes into detail as to why people are evicted?

Lyn Brown: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as always with his contributions here on a Friday. I know that he is going to make a fairly long speech—

Stephen Pound: Don’t give him any ideas.

Lyn Brown: Trust me—I am not suggesting he does; it is just that I know the hon. Gentleman of old, and I know he will come to those figures in due course. The figures I am using are robust, and he knows it.

It is estimated that one in eight renters has chosen not to ask for improvements or to challenge a rent increase because of fear of eviction. This reduces the incentives for landlords to improve their properties. Rather than pay for repairs, unscrupulous landlords can take a short cut by evicting their current tenants and replacing them.

Mr Chope: The hon. Lady keeps on referring to unscrupulous landlords, but the Residential Landlords Association, which represents good-quality landlords, hotly disputes the extent of the problem as she describes it.

Lyn Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I am very clear that there are good landlords and there are bad, and I am talking about the bad. He said to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), who is no longer in her place, that he hoped she would have reported the unscrupulous landlord she was discussing to the council or to the environmental health services. Let me tell him that if someone has their complaint referred by an MP, that does not stop them being evicted by a landlord who takes umbrage at being forced to do repairs—as some of my constituents, sadly, know to their cost.

The effects of this shameful practice cannot be overestimated. Over the weekend, I read about the—literally—shocking case of Lela Lewis. Lela suffered a minor electric shock after taking a shower and, having discovered that it was due to faulty wiring, complained to her landlord. Much to her chagrin, the landlord responded by serving her with an eviction notice. There was the case of Greg and Laura Moore and their three children, who were served an eviction notice on their rented home in Norfolk just three weeks after reporting damp.

In the area where I live and which I represent, I have heard about the case of a constituent who I will call Chris. He is an assured shorthold tenant who has been in the same property since 2010. The property has damp, mice and a hole in the roof. His children’s health is suffering as a result of those poor conditions. He

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complained to the letting agent and it visited, along with the council, which agreed that the property was in a poor state of repair. Shortly afterwards, he received a notice to leave—a section 21 notice. He has been informed by the letting agent that the landlord will not renew his tenancy next May.

Mr Chope: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lyn Brown: No; I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.

Despite the innovative and sterling efforts of Newham council to bring some order and better standards to the private rented sector, it cannot prevent such retaliatory evictions. This will happen to more and more people as the housing shortage forces more and more people into private renting.

This Bill is a real opportunity for us to put an end to this unacceptable practice. As I will set out, the private rented sector needs far more radical and sweeping reforms, but the Bill can, and will, make a real difference. It provides protection for assured shorthold tenants against retaliatory evictions where they are suffering from poor or unsafe property conditions. It does that by preventing a landlord from giving a section 21 notice for six months from the date of service of a notice from the local authority regarding conditions in the property, such as an improvement notice, a hazard awareness notice, or a notice of emergency remedial action. It provides the power for the Secretary of State to prescribe legal requirements which, if a landlord were in breach of them, would prevent them from serving a notice.

There are also important safeguards for landlords. They are protected in cases where the poor condition of the property may have been caused deliberately by the tenant, or where they genuinely need to sell the property. The banks and mortgage companies are also protected where they have repossessed a property and need to sell it with vacant possession. We believe that those protections are more than ample to protect the very good landlords in the sector who would not dream of evicting their tenants from their property following a complaint.

Labour is pleased to support the Bill and to help bring an end to completely unacceptable practices, but we also believe that the sector is in need of more fundamental reform. We have set out far-reaching proposals to reform the sector to get a fairer deal for private renters. First, a Labour Government would legislate for three-year tenancies, not short-term tenancies, as the standard for those who rent their homes in the private sector. They will become the norm.

We will build in protections for landlords, which, crucially, will also provide much-needed stability for private tenants. The nature of the sector and the people who rent has changed, and we need to create stability for the growing numbers who live in the sector for longer. They are crying out for a better deal, especially—but not solely—the growing number of families with children who are renting privately and who need and deserve our support. There are now 2 million children living in the private rented sector, and this House and this Government must ensure that their homes, their home lives and their future chances in life are not put in jeopardy as a result of the lack of access to a stable home environment.

Secondly, we will act on unpredictable rent rises, because the new, longer-term tenancies will put a ceiling

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on excessive rent rises. We will make sure that families have the stability of longer-term tenancies and that they will no longer have to live with the uncertainty that their rents could jump up from one year to the next. Labour wants to promote as much stability as possible for families. That is what happens in Ireland, Spain and many other European countries, and it gives families and people the peace of mind and stability they need.

The reforms will be good not just for tenants, but for landlords, too. We know that the last thing landlords want is a home standing empty, which means that they are not collecting rent or that there is constant churn where tenants come and go, often costing landlords hundreds of pounds in fees.

Thirdly, we will ban letting agent fees for tenants. Too many letting agents charge extortionate fees every time there is a change of tenancy, and often both landlords and tenants are being charged for exactly the same thing—otherwise known as double charging. It is disappointing that the Government chose once again to vote against our amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill in the other place earlier this week.

Finally, we have set out plans to introduce a national register of landlords and to help make it easier for councils to introduce licensing schemes in their areas. Although the Tenancies (Reform) Bill will help to drive up standards, it will not be enough on its own.

I pay tribute again to the hon. Member for Brent Central for promoting the Bill. Although we believe that reform of private renting must be more far reaching, there is no doubt that this Bill will bring about very real improvements in the lives of thousands of renters. The act of retaliatory eviction is completely unacceptable. It creates a climate of fear and families are afraid to complain about mould, damp and even worse because they may lose their home. It leads to huge instability, as too many who do complain are then served with notice to leave. Moreover, in effect it encourages poor conditions. Unscrupulous landlords take the easy way out, evicting their tenants rather than carrying out needed repairs. We therefore welcome the Bill and will be pleased to support its passage through the House.

12.4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): It is always a pleasure to follow the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), with whom I get on very well. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) not just on securing a place in the ballot, which is, after all, a lottery, but on her wisdom and good sense in selecting such an important issue as the subject of her private Member’s Bill. I also thank her for the constructive way in which she has engaged with me and my departmental officials, to make sure that we would be able to support the Bill’s Second Reading, and for securing a cross-party coalition in support of the Bill, even including, as he himself acknowledged, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner).

I thank Shelter for working constructively with me and officials at its head office in London. I have also worked very closely with Shelter officials in my own constituency of Bristol West. I also thank Acorn, a new

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group that works in Easton in my constituency, for campaigning on improving conditions in the private rented sector in general.

The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) has mentioned how the issue affects students, which is important in her constituency and in mine, so I would also like to thank the National Union of Students for meeting me to discuss the private rented sector. It has been a while since I had a constructive and friendly meeting with the NUS, but that was it and I hope it will be a hallmark of how we will go forward from hereon in.

Members have spoken of how important this issue is in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has said that a large proportion of his constituents rent in the private sector, although his constituency is not in the top 20 in the country in that regard. I thank the House of Commons Library for giving me a table while the urgent question was taken. Several Members who have spoken have clearly done so because of the high proportion of tenants in their constituency who rent in the private rented sector. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central just makes it into the top 20—it is 20th in the table—with 32% of her constituents renting in the private rented sector. My own constituency of Bristol West comes second after Cities of London and Westminster. More than 40% of my constituents rent in the private rented sector, so this Bill is very important to me and the people I represent.

Philip Davies: I hear what the Minister is saying, but only as recently as last December he said:

“The Department does not, at the moment, have any comprehensive evidence that retaliatory eviction is a widespread problem.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 281WH.]

The Minister has just said that a high proportion of his constituents are renting in the private sector, but how is it that his Department used to have no evidence and now, all of a sudden, he seems to have all the evidence in the world?

Stephen Williams: I have just begun. I have not come to all the evidence in the world yet, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will give him some evidence. I acknowledge what he says, but a lot of the evidence is hidden. One of the issues is that people are afraid to make complaints about conditions in their property precisely because they fear receiving a section 21 notice.

The Government are committed to promoting a strong, thriving and professional private rented sector where good landlords can prosper and hard-working tenants enjoy decent standards and receive a service that represents value for money for their rent. After a long period of contraction, the sector is expanding strongly and more than 4 million households rent in the private rented sector. We think that is good for the economy and we want to see that trend continue, particularly as it allows flexibility for young people not only to move around for employment reasons as they develop their careers, but to move up the housing ladder as their income expands. That is what I did when I moved from a one-bedroom bedsit to a two-bedroom bedsit, then to a one-bedroom flat and then finally buying at the age of 31.