We also want to see more purpose-built private rented properties, which is, after all, the norm in our fellow

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European states. That is why we have invested £1 billion in a build to rent fund, which provides development-phased finance to large-scale private rented sector developments that will deliver up to 10,000 new homes for private sector rent. Our housing guarantee scheme will support up to £10 billion-worth of investment in large-scale private rented projects and additional affordable housing.

Jeremy Corbyn: As this development of 10,000 new tenancies is getting a large element of public money, will the Minister tell us what the rent level will be?

Stephen Williams: These are guarantee schemes to enable developments to get off the ground. I am sure we would all agree that many of the problems that have been identified so far in this debate represent a minority of landlords and they are probably in the sort of properties that have been converted from large family houses. That is probably the issue in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, where Georgian houses have been converted into bedsits and small flats; it is certainly the issue in my constituency. We need to deal with the problems in those properties, but more purpose-built private rented accommodation—that investors such as pension or insurance funds see as long-term investments—will ensure higher quality for tenants at an attractive rent.

It is important that we raise standards and improve transparency in the sector. The Government have done a lot and have a good story to tell in this area over the last few months in particular. We have worked with the industry in the development of a code of practice for those managing properties in the sector, including landlords themselves. It was published on 11 September. From 1 October, it has been a requirement for letting and property management agents to belong to any one of three Government-approved redress schemes, so that where standards do not meet expectations, landlords and tenants have an effective means of raising their concerns. The schemes are run by the Property Ombudsman, the Ombudsman Services: Property, and the Property Redress Scheme.

The shadow Minister mentioned the Consumer Rights Bill, which is under consideration in the House of Lords. We introduced provisions requiring letting agents to increase transparency around renting costs by publicising their fees prominently in their office and on their website. We hope that that provision will come into force in this Parliament. That transparency will assist with the problem of double charging that the shadow Minister mentioned, and that of extortionate charging, when agents charge over and above the actual cost of the service. As soon as the fees are transparent to everybody, much of that sharp practice will end overnight. If it does not, it will be down to constituency MPs like us, Shelter, the National Union of Students and other campaigning organisations to expose such practice so that it can be driven out of the sector. That will be a big improvement.

The Government are also committed to ensuring that private tenants know their rights and responsibilities, which is why we published a “how to rent” guide on 10 June. In September, we backed that up with a model tenancy agreement for the benefit of landlords and tenants. That tenancy agreement has been improved as a result of the Westminster Hall debate instigated by my

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hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton)—he is not in his place at the moment—to which I replied. I was struck by the feeling after that debate that the tenant and the landlord should both know their rights and responsibilities. The model tenancy agreement now has a tick box so that the tenant and landlord can confirm that they have seen the “how to rent” guide, which includes coverage of safety issues in the property. The use of the agreement is voluntary, but it strikes the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of the parties and both parties can use it with confidence. After all, a tenant wants a home and a landlord wants a good tenant providing a stable income. It is in the interests of both that they embark on the tenancy with confidence on both sides. In particular, the agreement can be used when the parties have agreed to a longer fixed-term tenancy of two or three years; and it contains model clauses protecting the interests of the parties around termination, rent reviews and home business use.

Reference has been made to the resources available to local authorities to deal with the problem of rogue landlords. We have provided £6.7 million of additional resource to help local authorities tackle poor standards in that area. Specifically, £2.6 million has been allocated to deal with the mainly London-based problem of so-called beds in sheds, with a further £4.1 million to help tackle rogue landlords more generally.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Has the Minister heard of the New Era estate in Hackney which was bought by US private equity billionaires who have a horrible reputation as landlords in New York? Ninety-one Hackney tenants face eviction by landlords who are not interested in providing homes: they are only interested in driving out long-settled tenants so that they can make huge profits.

Stephen Williams: I had not heard about that, but I have now and the hon. Lady has placed the matter on the public record via Hansard.

Thirty local authorities have claimed the funding that I mentioned. In 2014, the money has paid for more than 13,000 inspections of properties, resulting in more than 3,000 landlords facing further action or prosecutions, and the demolition of 140 illegal beds in sheds in gardens, in London in particular. Those are outputs over and above what councils were already doing. We will shortly publish revised guidance for local authorities on best practice in tackling poor conditions and unacceptable practice in the sector, which builds on the work of the rogue landlord programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central referred to Jo and her collapsed ceiling. She also mentioned other evidence of how the tenant wished to replace an electric fire with a gas fire—to improve home energy efficiency and reduce fuel poverty—and how difficult it was to get the landlord’s co-operation for the installation. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), who is no longer in her place, said that London families in particular had these problems, especially as more are now living in the private rented sector. She also mentioned unsafe cookers. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) rightly pointed out that this is also an issue in small

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rural towns in Cornwall. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who is also no longer in his place—

Mr Chope: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it not the custom that a Member who has spoken in a debate should be in his place to listen to the Minister’s response?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That normally happens for the wind-up speeches, but as we did not know when they would happen, I do not think that we need to worry.

Stephen Williams: I forgive them for not being here. I am sure that they will diligently read Hansard to see how I responded to the points that they made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East asked what would happen if a landlord was obliged to make repairs but then tried to evict the tenants in order to get vacant possession. I am advised that the council can issue a prohibition order prohibiting use of the dwelling by someone else while repairs are taking place—

Mr Chope: Will the Minister give way?

Stephen Williams: For the last time.

Mr Chope: Well, this is only the first time. To take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), does the Minister think that the service of a prohibition notice is sufficient answer to that problem? A significant number of repairs may be needed, and in order to carry out the repairs, the landlord may need vacant possession. Is that not a reasonable position for a landlord to take?

Stephen Williams: These are detailed points and reasonable concerns about the effects of the Bill. That is why the Government’s position is that we support the Second Reading of the Bill so that such points can be teased out in Committee. As the hon. Member for Harrow East also said, that is one issue that will need to be tested.

Barry Gardiner: The Minister has indicated that the Government support the Bill, so will he explain why on 24 November the coalition Government voted against an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill on this exact point?

Stephen Williams: We are trying to be consensual today to get this Bill through. I think the hon. Gentleman knows very well that this Bill was already known about. It is promoted and supported by the cross-section of charities referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central. Today is her opportunity to introduce the Bill and for the Government to respond to a substantive debate on it. That is why it was said in another place that the amendment tabled by the Opposition was not necessary, as we would have the opportunity to deal with the matter today. That is what we are now doing.

The Bill is necessary. The Government are very clear that retaliatory eviction is wrong and that its continued practice is unacceptable. No tenant should face eviction

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because they have made a legitimate complaint about the condition of their home to the landlord. No decent landlord—decent landlords have been referred to, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh— would engage in or condone that practice. However, there are a small number of rogue and unscrupulous landlords who think it is perfectly acceptable to evict a tenant for requesting a repair.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) asked for evidence and here it is. An extrapolation from a YouGov survey of more than 4,500 private renters carried out earlier this year found that 480,000 tenants had either not asked for a repair to be carried out or had not challenged a rent increase because they were concerned about being evicted. Some 80,000 tenants had actually been evicted because they had asked for a repair to be carried out. Many of those tenants will have children and partners, so we estimate that about 213,000 people are actually affected by retaliatory eviction every year. There may be 213,000 people affected by the issue we are discussing today.

It has been suggested—I suspect it will shortly be suggested again, but at great length—that there is no need for the Bill because existing consumer protection legislation is adequate. The view of the Government is that that is not correct. The existing law does not provide tenants with sufficient protection against retaliatory eviction. The application of existing consumer legislation to landlord and tenant issues is not clear. The existing consumer law enforcement regime is not specifically geared up to deal with landlord and tenant issues, but applies to traders who offer a wide range of goods and services.

It would be difficult for a tenant to prove that a landlord had acted illegally under consumer law by serving a section 21 notice in retaliation for a complaint. Threatening a tenant with eviction could potentially be considered an aggressive commercial practice, but it is difficult to see how serving a notice that a landlord is contractually and statutorily entitled to serve would be found to be an illegal act. Under section 21, the landlord does not need to give a reason to evict tenants.

Engaging in unfair or aggressive commercial practices is a criminal offence for which a prosecution or other enforcement action can be brought by trading standards officers. We consider that the law needs to be changed to introduce provisions specifically designed to target retaliatory eviction, which will make it clear that where a local authority has issued a statutory notice in relation to a health and safety hazard in the property, the existing restrictions on the use of section 21 notices should be extended to cover those circumstances.

It has also been suggested—I suspect we will hear more about this shortly—that the introduction of the Bill will jeopardise the private rental sector. There are already some restrictions on the use of section 21 notices. Landlords cannot serve a section 21 notice where they have failed to put their tenant’s deposit in a Government-approved tenancy deposit scheme, or where they have not obtained a licence for a property that should be licensed. There are therefore already some restrictions on section 21 and the private rental sector has expanded none the less.

I will briefly cover the four main areas of the Bill. First, there is protection from retaliatory eviction where a tenant requests a repair be carried out and the local

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authority confirms that that repair is necessary. It cannot be a vexatious raising of a spurious point—the local authority would have to confirm that the repair was necessary. If that is the case, the landlord will be prevented from evicting that tenant for a period of six months. Under existing legislation the landlord will also be required to ensure that the repairs are completed.

Mr Chope: But surely that does not cover the situation where the local authority does not reach a decision. An application to a local authority would have the effect of staying proceedings. If the local authority does not then reach a decision, the landlord will be left in a very difficult position.

Stephen Williams: The landlord would be left in a very difficult position, but I have not yet seen or heard any evidence to suggest that local authorities do not, or are unable to, reach decisions. That would be quite an extraordinary state of affairs. The Bill provides that when the local authority does reach a decision, the repairs must be carried out.

Secondly, there will be compliance with certain legal requirements. Landlords are currently required to ensure that any property they rent out has an annual gas safety certificate and a valid energy performance certificate. The Bill provides order-making powers, and the intention is that regulations will be made specifying that a tenant may not be evicted where the landlord has failed to comply with these basic legal requirements. The restriction would be lifted as soon as the landlord obtained those documents.

Thirdly, the Bill provides for time limits on the service of eviction notices. There will be no change to the current requirement that a tenancy must be for a period of at least six months. However, the Bill will provide that an eviction notice may not be served during the first four months of any tenancy and that the eviction notice will be valid for a maximum of six months. The purpose of this measure is to deal with an approach adopted by a small minority of landlords: serving an eviction notice right at the start of a tenancy, which can result in a tenant having to vacate a property with virtually no notice.

Fourthly, the Bill makes the eviction process more straightforward. This shows that the Bill is balanced, because it helps the position of landlords as well. The process for evicting tenants in legitimate circumstances—for example, for non-payment of rent—is not as straightforward as it could be. That is exacerbated by the fact that most landlords are not property professionals and frequently do not understand current legal procedures for eviction available to them. As a result, it can sometimes take landlords several months to regain possession of their property. To address that, there will be a standard pro forma which can be used by landlords to serve an eviction notice and will provide that, so long as two months’ notice is given, a landlord no longer needs to specify the exact date when the tenancy will come to an end.

In conclusion, the Government support the Bill in principle. We want the Bill to be balanced. We do not want tenants to be able to make vexatious complaints and we do not want to bring in excessive regulation. We

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wish to give the Bill a Second Reading and for it to proceed to Committee, where some issues will need to be addressed. I commend the Bill to the House.

12.28 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Before I start, I should draw the attention of the House to an interest declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As I have made clear before, I am a landlord, or an accidental landlord as I think it was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in his speech. I am also a tenant. In fact, I am a tenant in two places and landlord in one, so I am more of a tenant than a landlord. I thought I should confirm that before I start. I am also delighted to confirm that my tenants seem quite happy with everything and I have certainly never had to even consider evicting them. I have also not been evicted myself. That is probably a good thing all around.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) on introducing the Bill. She was very lucky in the ballot. Not only has she brought forward a Bill, she has persuaded the Government to abandon everything they have ever believed in up until this point. Her powers of persuasion are clearly very good. although they may not quite have worked on me yet. I have been listening carefully and I note that we have had about two-and-a-quarter hours of contributions to the debate, all from people who are in favour of the Bill. There are about two hours left, so we do not quite have the time to cover all the points, but I will try to go through as many as I can in the time allowed.

Should I ever need to sell my property or move into it myself, I would need to ask my tenants to leave and find another place to live, not out of revenge or retaliation, but for reasons that have nothing to do with them but are a fact of life. The whole point of a tenancy is that one person rents from another person for a period. Some tenancies can last for a long time, but the only guaranteed length of time is that in the contract. That is clear to all parties and is the whole basis of the rented sector.

Should my tenants decide they would like a bigger property or to move out of London, they would not tell me they are leaving. There is nothing I can do about that, apart from trying to find new tenants to take over from them as quickly as possible to maintain the income to cover the costs of the property and hoping very much that the new tenants are as good as my current tenants. So here we have the principle of simple economics, despite there being plenty of regulation doing its best to interfere with it.

I have a property, somebody wants to live in it and for an agreed price and term, we make an arrangement for them to do just that. That is what we are talking about. The legalities, however, can be rather complex. I have taken advice from, and am grateful to, John Midgley, the enfranchisement and property litigation partner at Seddons solicitors. I have also taken advice from other organisations within the private rented sector, because they understand these matters well. I have also seen myriad briefings and reports on the subject.

In law, when a tenant wants to leave a property after the agreed time, they just leave. In theory, they pay their last month’s rent, hand over the keys, get their deposit

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back, or part of it, and walk away. They just abide by the terms of the lease for the term of the notice period, and then they are free to go. In fact, even if they do not pay their rent, they often just leave. It is then up to the landlord to decide what, if anything, they do to recover the money. The tenant does not have to give any reason for leaving—they just can leave—but that is not the case for landlords. That is a clear example of the already in-built bias in favour tenants.

The tenants have no obligation to say why they are leaving or to give notice months in advance. They can just leave and say goodbye. This leaves landlords at a disadvantage, because they will normally want to re-let the property to maintain their income, in many cases to cover a mortgage, and they might well have had little notice that the tenants planned to vacate the property. Yet landlords have to serve notice on tenants to get them out. In the case of a no-fault situation, under an assured shorthold tenancy, where the landlord just needs to get the property back, for whatever reason, notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 needs to be served by the landlord on the tenant in order to bring the letting formally to an end. Only after that can the landlord instigate possession proceedings if the tenant fails to leave as requested.

Mr Chope: Will my hon. Friend deal with the issue of landlords who find that their tenants not only leave without notice, which is bad enough, but trash the place? I have constituents who say that because of that experience they will never be private landlords again.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point, although, in fairness, the point has been made by others that there are good landlords and less-than-good landlords, and good tenants and poor tenants who leave properties in a terrible state and without paying. I do not see this as a one-sided issue. I do not think it is all in favour of the landlord, as opposed to the tenant. That is not my reading of the picture.

I must say in passing that those who claim there is a terrible bias in the system owing to problems of supply and demand are the same people who do not want to tackle immigration, which is one of the main reasons there is so much demand for property. If they really wanted to tackle the root causes of any imbalance in the market, they might at least be consistent and approve policies on immigration that would do some of the job they want to do through regulation.

Jeremy Corbyn: On the subject of supply and demand, what does the hon. Gentleman think about the vast numbers of properties deliberately kept empty in London as part of land-banking, which denies people somewhere to live and jacks up the price for everybody else?

Philip Davies: I cannot speak for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He had the opportunity to speak earlier, but he cut himself short; he could have expanded at greater length on the problem of land-banking in his constituency. I do not want to be drawn off course. I am being dragged away and asked to speak at length about something, but I would rather stick as closely as I can to the meat of the Bill. I am sure that everybody would want me to do that.

Stephen Pound rose

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Philip Davies: If the hon. Gentleman has other areas he wants me to expand into, I will be happy to indulge him, but I am not sure I want to go down that route.

Stephen Pound: On the subject of meat, the hon. Gentleman is well known for his prodigious appetite for research. Where in his last comment is there any link to the wording of the Bill? I cannot see any connection between his comments and what the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) is seeking to help with.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I do not think we have to worry about that.

Philip Davies: I was merely pointing out that others had said there was a problem with supply and demand—that there was too much demand—and therefore that landlords had too much of a whip hand. I was merely pointing out that there were better ways of dealing with the supply-and-demand issue than through this Bill, so my point was very pertinent to the Bill. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) seems to be slower on the uptake than normal, so I shall repeat that point: there are better ways of dealing with the supply-and-demand issues than by passing the Bill, which makes my remarks very pertinent to whether we need to pass the Bill.

As I was trying to say before I was rudely and repeatedly interrupted, the private rented sector has been a topical issue for many years, and there have always been arguments for greater regulation of the industry. The historical context of assured shorthold tenancies and section 21 notices, which are the subject of the Bill, can be easily traced. The 1987 Conservative manifesto recognised that there was a problem with the shortage of rented properties available, and to help increase the supply of rented dwellings, it pledged to make renting easier for landlords. I will not read out the whole section of the manifesto, under the “Better Housing for All” heading, but the relevant bits read, under the sub-heading, “A Right to Rent”:

“Most problems in housing now arise in the rented sector. Controls, although well-meant, have dramatically reduced the private rented accommodation to a mere 8 per cent of the housing market. This restricts housing choice and hinders the economy. People looking for work cannot easily move to a different area to do so. Those who find work may not be able to find rented accommodation nearby. Those who would prefer to rent rather than buy are forced to become reluctant owner-occupiers or to swell the queue for council houses. Some may even become temporarily homeless. And it is not only these people and their families who suffer from the shortage of homes for rent. The economy as a whole is damaged when workers cannot move to fill jobs because there are no homes to rent in the neighbourhood.”

Many might say we face similar challenges today. It went on:

“The next Conservative Government, having already implemented the right to buy, will increase practical opportunities to rent. We must attract new private investment into rented housing… First, to encourage more investment by institutions, we will extend the system of assured tenancies. This will permit new lettings in which rents and the period of lease will be freely agreed between tenants and landlords. The tenant will have security of tenure and will renegotiate the rent at the end of the lease, with provision for arbitration if necessary. Second, to encourage new lettings by smaller landlords, we will develop the system of shorthold. The rents of landlords will be limited to a reasonable rate of return, and the tenant's security of tenure will be limited to the term of the lease, which would be not less than 6 months. This will bring

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back into use many of the 550,000 private dwellings which now stand empty because of controls, as well as making the provision of new rented housing a more attractive investment.”

That touches on the point made by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). The reason for the system used today was to bring into use lots of properties that were out of use, because unfortunately the system then was not conducive to encouraging people to rent out their properties.

The figure of 550,000—the number of private dwellings to be brought back into the rental market—is staggering and shows starkly the dangers of too much regulatory interference. The fewer properties on the market, the worse is the supply-and-demand issue, so if people think there is a problem with supply and demand now, I must point out that it can only get worse if we introduce too much regulation into the sector.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is accurate in his recollection of the history. Would he like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the then Member for Bristol West who was the Minister responsible for housing—now the noble Lord Waldegrave. The Department of the Environment at the time, in which I was privileged to serve as a very junior Minister, carried this forward as a really popular piece of legislation.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful. I was not aware of the history that Bristol West has in respect of Ministers from this Department. I would happily praise Lord Waldegrave. I know that my hon. Friend must have been in that Department if it was doing something sensible; I am sure it was more down to him than to the Member for Bristol West. I will leave that to be determined.

The 1987 manifesto also said it would

“strengthen the law against harassment and unlawful eviction”.

All this was from a Thatcher Conservative manifesto.

The legislation relating to section 21 notices came about because, against this backdrop of the manifesto, the Housing Act 1988 was passed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) will know. Section 21 deals with the landlord issuing a no-fault notice to terminate the contract. This is what today’s Bill is about. It is therefore crucial to understand the section through which this Bill is seeking to ride a coach and horses. The section in the original 1988 Act is titled “Recovery of possession on expiry or termination of assured shorthold tenancy” and it states:

“Without prejudice to any right of the landlord under an assured shorthold tenancy to recover possession of the dwelling-house let on the tenancy in accordance with Chapter I above, on or after the coming to an end of an assured shorthold tenancy which was a fixed term tenancy, a court shall make an order for possession of the dwelling-house if it is satisfied…that the assured shorthold tenancy has come to an end and no further assured tenancy…is for the time being in existence”


“the landlord or, in the case of joint landlords, at least one of them has given to the tenant not less than two months’ notice…stating that he requires possession of the dwelling-house.”

In essence, the tenants need to be given two months’ notice in order for the request to regain the property to be valid.

The section continues:

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“A notice under paragraph (b)…above may be given before or on the day on which the tenancy comes to an end; and that subsection shall have effect notwithstanding that on the coming to an end of the fixed term tenancy a statutory periodic tenancy arises.”

If there is a six-month tenancy, say to 31 July, notice can be served any time up to that date. Strictly speaking, the original tenancy ended on 31 July and the periodic tenancy started thereafter. It goes on:

“Where a court makes an order for possession of a dwelling-house by virtue of subsection (1) above, any statutory periodic tenancy which has arisen on the coming to an end of the assured shorthold tenancy shall end”

on the day on which the order takes effect. That means that the periodic tenancy is wrapped up and no further notice is needed. That is basically the point.

Another point is that

“a court shall make an order for possession of the dwelling-house”

let on an “assured shorthold tenancy”, which is a “periodic tenancy” if the court is satisfied that at least one of the landlords in the case of joint landlords has given to the tenants a notice stating the last day of the tenancy not less than two months after the date, and the date specified is not earlier than the earliest date on which the tenancy could be brought to an end. So if a notice is not served in the contractual term, and a periodic tenancy has arisen, a further notice is required which must be for a minimum of two months.

The original section of the Act had four subsections and it has been amended in a few ways since its introduction—for example, any notice under section 21 must now be done in writing, which was not in the original Act. This change, other minor amendments, and five new clauses have been added by the Local Government Act 1989, the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, as well as by various statutory instruments.

Today’s Bill seeks to curtail this section and place an additional restriction on landlords. Section 21 applies to an assured shorthold tenancy. On the Government website there is a section called “Tenancy agreements: a guide for landlords”, which explains what an assured shorthold tenancy is, saying:

“The most common form of tenancy is an AST. Most new tenancies are automatically this type. A tenancy can be an AST if all of the following apply: you’re a private landlord or housing association…the tenancy started on or after 15 January 1989…the property is your tenants’ main accommodation…you don’t live in the property”.

It continues:

“A tenancy can’t be an AST if: it began or was agreed before 15 January 1989…the rent is more than £100,000 a year…the rent is less than £250 a year (less than £1,000 in London)…it’s a business tenancy or tenancy of licensed premises…it’s a holiday let…the landlord is a local council”.

Now the Communities and Local Government Select Committee looked at the private rented sector for its first report of the Session 2013-14. pointing out that sector was growing.

“The private rented sector is growing. In 1999, 9.9% of English households rented privately. By 2011/12, the figure had risen to 17.4%, with the number of households renting privately overtaking the number in the social rented sector...In the course of our inquiry, witnesses suggested a number of reasons for this growth including: the deregulation of the private rented sector and changes to tenancies in the late 1980s generating increased investment;…the introduction of new lending instruments in the late 1990s;…constraints

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on the other two main tenures—social housing and owner occupation—forcing more people to rent privately…and economic, social and lifestyle factors leading to an increased demand for more flexible forms of housing tenure…Most likely, all these drivers have contributed in some way to the growth.”

Mr Chope: Those drivers could collectively be called “supply-side measures”. Is that not why it has been successful and has created the flexibility in the market for which there was a latent demand?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, the more supply there is in the market, the better it is for the tenants—the more choice they have, the more likely it is that prices will be lower than if there was less supply.

Jeremy Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have been listening carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and he does not seem to me to be talking much about retaliatory evictions. He is talking more about the generality of the private rented sector. It is obviously in order to refer to that, but it is clearly not the central factor of the Bill. The Bill is quite specific—it deals with retaliatory evictions.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We are going to hear quite a speech. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be heading that way, but he is actually in order.

Philip Davies: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman would let me get on with it, we might get to a conclusion, instead of having him delaying proceedings all the time.

It is interesting to note in that Select Committee report the clear reference to the deregulation of the private rented sector and changes to tenancies in the late 1980s as being reasons for the increase in rented accommodation. That was exactly the point made in the 1987 Conservative manifesto, which I mentioned earlier. The exact figures are interesting, too. The number of private rentals nearly doubled from 1999 to 2012. In 1999 there were 2 million; in 2011-12 there were 3.8 million; whereas the social rented sector declined from 4 million to 3.8 million, but just below the number of the private rentals.

When it comes to understanding the procedure in relation to a section 21 notice for an assured shorthold tenancy, let me tell the hon. Member for Islington North that that is what the Bill is about. I do not know whether he has read the Bill, but that is what it is about. I am sorry to have surprised him by telling him that the Bill is about section 21 notices for an assured shorthold tenancy.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has guidance called, “Gaining possession of a privately rented property let on an assured shorthold tenancy”. It is dated 14 November 2012, but is the current online guidance on the DCLG’s webspace. It says:

“You cannot use Section 21 to gain possession of your property during the fixed term. You can serve a Section 21 notice on your tenant during that time, providing the date you state you require possession is not before the end of the fixed term. If your tenant paid a deposit, you cannot use Section 21 unless the deposit has been protected in accordance with the tenancy deposit schemes.”

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This idea that landlords can go along willy-nilly using section 21 at any time a tenant decides to complain about the condition of their property is just for the birds. It is just not accurate. The guidance on the Department’s website is perfectly clear about that.

The tenancy deposit scheme is another regulatory burden on landlords, and it is relevant to the Bill because it is a crucial element of the qualifying criteria for a landlord to issue a section 21 notice. However, that is the only respect in which it is relevant, so I do not think that I need to dwell on it any further, which will please the hon. Member for Islington North.

The guidance on the Department’s website goes on to say:

“You must give at least 2 months notice in writing. If the fixed term has expired the notice will end on the last day of the rental period and you must explain that you are giving notice by virtue of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. You will need to give more than 2 months’ notice if the fixed term has expired and the gap between the dates that the rent falls due is more than 2 months (e.g, a quarterly rent).”

Serving the notice is only part of the story, however. Giving notice under section 21 is merely that; it does not constitute a guarantee that the tenants will actually leave. The Department gives a helpful explanation on its website, and I shall set out some quotations from it:

“What do I do if my tenant refuses to leave on the date specified in the notice?

You will need to apply to the courts for a ‘possession order’.”

“What do I do if my tenant refuses to leave by the date given in the court order?

You must apply to the courts for a warrant of possession and the court will arrange for a bailiff to evict the tenant. You will need to use the ‘Request for Warrant of possession of Land (N325)…form.”

“How can I speed up the process?

You can use the possession claim online service if you are seeking possession of the property together with any rent arrears. The service allows you to access court forms online”.

“Where possession is sought under Section 21, an accelerated procedure can be used which is a straightforward and inexpensive procedure for getting possession of your property without a court hearing.

In most cases using this procedure the court will make its decision on the papers, and can order possession to be given up within 14 days unless exceptional hardship would be caused, in which case the maximum time that can be allowed is 42 days.

You can only use this procedure if you have a written tenancy agreement and you have given the tenant the required notice in writing that you are seeking possession. You cannot use this procedure if you are also claiming rent arrears.”

The landlord therefore still has plenty of hoops to jump through, even after serving notice, unlike the tenant, who will have no problems at all if he or she wants simply to leave.

Mr Chope: Is it not the case that a fair number of tenants know through the grapevine that they can allow themselves to get into arrears because those cannot be claimed against them if the landlord is able to exercise his section 21 notice?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is already a big problem for landlords. Many landlords also worry about not being paid for weeks on end and, for example, being unable to have any benefits paid directly to them.

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The issue with which we are dealing today is what is described as “retaliatory eviction”. The House of Commons Library says:

“Retaliatory eviction, also sometimes referred to as revenge eviction, is used to describe the situation where a private landlord serves a section 21 notice on an assured shorthold tenant (seeking to terminate the tenancy) in response to the tenant’s request for repairs, or where they have sought assistance from the local authority’s environmental health department.

Retaliatory eviction is said to be a by-product of the fact that private landlords can evict assured shorthold tenants without having to establish any ‘fault’ on the part of the tenant.”

The problem is that unless one knows the specifics of the case, or is in possession of an admission that that is what the landlord has done, it is difficult to know whether an eviction falls into that category. A landlord could, for example, coincidentally need the property back at the same time as the issuing of a complaint or a request for repairs.

I know of an example of a woman who went to Australia with her then boyfriend. They let their property in Clapham to go off on what was supposed to be a three-year secondment. Unfortunately, the woman’s boyfriend decided to end their relationship after just a few months. Her visa was dependent on him, so she had a very short time in which to leave Australia. She was homeless on her return to the United Kingdom, as the property had been let to cover the mortgage while they were out of the country. She had no choice but to give her tenant notice so that she could at least have somewhere to live and regain part of her life back in the UK.

Under the Bill if, by sheer coincidence, the tenant—who had been dealing with managing agents—had given notice of a problem, the woman would have had to wait a further six months. Given that she would be the one moving back into the property, she would hardly have not wanted to do whatever work was needed, because such work would have been to her benefit. The delay would have made an already upsetting situation even more distressing and stressful. Such a situation could well be just one of the Bill’s unintended consequences.

Similarly, if someone wanted to move back into a property to be near an ill or dying relative and to help with that relative’s care, in the event of the same coincidental timing of a notice or complaint, that person could be prevented from regaining his or her property, with the obvious emotional problems that would naturally arise in such distressing circumstances. Moreover, the tenant’s complaint might not be genuine. In the cases cited by the proponents of action, such as the Bill’s proposer, complaints are always genuine rather than bogus or spurious, although such complaints obviously occur from time to time.

Landlords already have obligations in relation to repairs and maintenance under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, so they have a legal duty. We are talking about tenants who complain about a landlord who is not carrying out his legal duty. Resorting to evicting tenants would not remove the legal duty in section 11 of that Act, which states:

“In a lease to which this section applies…there is implied a covenant by the lessor…to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)…to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas

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and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and…to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.”

The Communities and Local Government Committee considered retaliatory evictions as part of its 2013-14 report on the private rented sector.

Stephen Pound: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would never dare for a moment to suggest a course of action that you should take from the Chair, but surely, Sir, you would agree that this is utterly, totally and completely irrelevant. We will be on to episodes of “Rising Damp” next. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to seek to read out a list of necessities including “sanitary conveniences” in his pathetic attempt to talk out a good and decent Bill?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a point of order, but we have heard the hon. Gentleman’s view and his opinion. My opinion is that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is in order. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) on one point: we do not want to be given too many more examples.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Ealing North has led with his chin by drawing attention to the fact that he has absolutely no idea what the Bill is about. The Bill is about retaliatory evictions. That is the whole purpose of it, and that is what the campaign that resulted in the Bill was about. The moment I mentioned the Select Committee’s report that considered retaliatory evictions, the hon. Gentleman stood up to say that that was irrelevant to the Bill. Either the hon. Gentleman is wasting time himself, or he has not the first idea what he is talking about. I have no idea why he is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench masquerading as some sort of expert on the subject.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that what the Select Committee did was to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny, and that it reached a conclusion that was very different from that reached by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather)?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. I know that this is very inconvenient, but the whole point of Select Committees is to look at and scrutinise issues in detail and to take evidence, with the Committee then making recommendations on the basis of its expertise. It is a sad day in this House when Members seem not to want to know what that Select Committee, under its Labour Chairman, said about the issue we are debating. Free speech is a long way away from the Labour party. The detailed Select Committee report is a hefty 79 pages long.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not sure that I was referring to a Select Committee report, but we are dealing with a Bill. The two must presumably link, but I am not sure how, as I do not have the Select Committee report before me. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the Bill and I presume that that is what we are going to do.

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Philip Davies: Very much so. The specific point about retaliatory eviction in the Select Committee’s report is relatively short but insightful:

“A number of witnesses raised concerns about ‘retaliatory eviction’, whereby landlords would serve notice on a tenant if they complained or asked for repairs to be carried out. Bradford Metropolitan District Council”—

my local authority—

“stated that one of the consequences of the relative lack of security of tenure in the PRS is the incidence of retaliatory evictions. We have concerns that when some landlords become aware that their tenants have contacted the local authority for assistance with the poor standard of their accommodation, that they then serve notice on their tenants, who are then required to move out.”

Retaliatory eviction was said to be a by-product of the fact that private landlords can evict assured shorthold tenants without having to establish any fault on the part of the tenants.

I will come on to what happens in other countries but, sticking to the conclusion that is relevant to the Bill, the Select Committee said:

“We are not convinced, however, that a legislative approach is the best or even an effective solution. Changing the law to limit the issuing of section 21 notices might be counter-productive and stunt the market. Rather, if we move towards a culture where longer tenancies become the norm, tenants will have greater security and also more confidence to ask for improvements and maintenance and, when necessary, to complain about their landlord. Moreover, if local authorities take a more proactive approach to enforcement, they will be able to address problems as they occur rather than waiting for tenants to report them.”

The Committee cited the word “perception”, as opposed to the reality, and rejected the need for legislation, going as far as to say that that could be “counter-productive”. I could not have put it better myself, and I praise all the Committee members who listened to the evidence and reached that sensible conclusion.

The issue of retaliatory evictions is not new—in fact, it has been raised time and again—yet no Government, whether Conservative or Labour, have felt the need to take action. The issue was the subject of an amendment in the name of Lord Dubs that was moved by Lord Williams of Elvel in 1996. It is worth considering the reasons behind the amendment. Lord Williams said:

“This amendment deals with the difficult problem of retaliatory eviction. The effect of the amendment is to extend the notice period in such cases…Retaliatory evictions, apart from being very distressing to those who are evicted as a result of something they may have done inadvertently, can seriously hamper a local authority's attempts to tackle poor housing conditions.”

Exactly the same issue was therefore being discussed in 1996. The interesting bit is the response of Earl Ferrers, the then Minister:

“I have difficulty with what the noble Lord is proposing. It could prevent a landlord from regaining possession of his property for more than a year after the end of the initial six-month period or after the end of a pre-agreed fixed term”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 1996; Vol. 574, c. 311-313.]

Of course, those problems remain. The then Minister’s argument—that such a measure could create unnecessary problems for genuine landlords—is as relevant today as it was when that amendment was moved and the then Conservative Government rejected it.

The issue was also raised when Labour was in office. Lord Williams of Elvel—a very persistent Member—had another go in 2008. The then Labour Minister, Baroness Andrews, responded by saying:

“We have to understand the scale of the problem. It is not at all clear how many people are affected. We also need to avoid

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unintended consequences. We need a thriving private rented sector and we need to keep good landlords in the market.”

She was right.

I shall not go into the other notable comments that were made during that debate, but Earl Cathcart and Baroness Gardner of Parkes also made good points. Baroness Andrews summed things up by saying that it was

“in everyone’s interests to get the balance right”. —[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 April 2008; Vol. 700, c. 1039-1041.]

That was what the Labour Government thought they had done. I agree with them, as they did get the balance right between the rights of the landlord and those of the tenant.

I know that the hon. Member for Brent Central has the support of many of her Liberal Democrat colleagues, but I was interested to read the position of the former Communities and Local Government Minister, the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell), during the passage of the Bill that became the Localism Act 2011. He said:

“section 21 is one of the key characteristics of assured shorthold tenancies to which the tenancy deposit scheme relates. It allows a landlord to evict a tenant, having given reasonable notice, on a non-discretionary basis and without having to give a reason. The ability to gain possession of their property is key to a landlord’s confidence in letting out that property in the first place, and in the current economic climate, we would not want to undermine that confidence.”––[Official Report, Localism Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2011; c. 952.]

Once again we have the Liberal Democrats all over the place on an issue. They tell landlords one thing on the one hand, but tell tenants something completely different on the other. However, I think that what the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove said was very sensible.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that this is also an issue for landlords who are borrowing, because lenders may be very worried about lending money to landlords if it cannot be guaranteed that those landlords will be able to get the property back should the need arise?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. An unintended consequence of the Bill would be that there would be fewer properties on the market for people to rent, and I am not sure how that that would help anybody.

The Communities and Local Government Committee report also dealt with the fear of retaliatory eviction in relation to energy efficiency requests. It said that Friends of the Earth and the Association for the Conservation of Energy were concerned that tenants would be unlikely to request energy efficiency measures from landlords for fear of eviction. This is mentioned in the Bill, although that was not a recommendation of the Committee. Actually, the Committee’s recommendation was very landlord-friendly, while recognising that this would also help tenants, because it asked the Government to

“convene a working party from all parts of the industry, to examine proposals to speed up the process of evicting during a tenancy tenants who do not pay rent promptly or fail to meet other contractual obligations. The ability to secure eviction more quickly for non payment of rent will encourage landlords to make properties available on longer tenancies. The Government should also set out a quicker means for landlords to gain possession if they can provide proof that they intend to sell the property.”

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The Committee was in effect urging the Government to take the exact opposite view from that proposed in the Bill. It says that they should make it easier for landlords to evict tenants more quickly, which would mean there would be more properties available and landlords would have much more confidence in offering longer tenancies, with the security that that provides.

The Committee’s report did not agree at all with what is proposed in the Bill, yet apparently all parties are supporting it today. Before we start running around doing something about a problem, we need to be sure it is so concerning that it is impossible to ignore.

The English housing survey is a good place from which to get important statistics for this debate. According to the 2012-13 survey, 84% of private renters said they were very or fairly satisfied with their accommodation, with 10% being either slightly or very dissatisfied. Three fifths—61%—of private renters reported that they anticipated owning their own property in the longer term, with about a quarter reporting that they expected still to be renting from a private landlord in the longer term. In the private rented sector, a fifth of households were of other nationalities—not British or Irish—in comparison with only 3% of owner-occupiers, and 7% of social renters. The private rented sector had the largest proportion of full-time students and only 13% of private renter households earned less than £200 a week. In 2008-09, 12% of private renters were couples with dependent children, but by 2012-13, that figure had increased to 20%, compared with 39% of people with a mortgage. Private renters had been living in their current home for an average of 3.8 years, so most private renters stay in a property much longer than many might imagine.

It is important to paint that illuminating picture of the types of people who rent. It is clear that there are reasons why they would choose to rent rather than buy, not least of which is that people of different nationalities might be working over here temporarily. Students might live away from home for a fixed period of time but then want to return. It is also important to note that the vast majority of private renters are very happy with their accommodation. I certainly fall into that category as somebody who rents a property in London and in Shipley, and I hope that my tenants do too. That is not the picture that some people would like to paint in justifying the Bill today.

The housing survey also assists with the numbers of people leaving their properties, which is crucial in understanding the position of eviction in the market. The survey states that four fifths of private renters who moved in the past three years said that their tenancy had ended because they had wanted to move; only 7% said that it was because they had been asked to leave by their landlord or agent—and that covers every possible circumstance before we even move on to retaliatory eviction. The other reasons were that the renter wanted to move, that there was a mutual agreement or that the accommodation was tied to a job that had ended.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that accommodation that is let to students represents a good example? Students take it for a year and the landlord knows that at the end of the year they will go and he will have to let to a fresh lot of students.

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Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and that certainly makes up a large part of the market.

A helpful breakdown in the English housing survey also shows why over the past three years tenants were asked to leave. That is very illuminating as regards today’s debate, because we are being led to believe that people left, right and centre are being asked to leave in some sort of retaliatory eviction, which simply is not the case. Out of 184,000, 103,000 had been asked to leave because the landlord wanted to sell the property or use it themselves, 18% had been asked to leave because they had not paid the rent and 63,000 had left for other unspecified reasons, which is 35%. In 57% of all cases people were asked to leave simply because the landlord wanted to sell up or use the property themselves.

It is not very helpful just to say that there are “other reasons”, so I asked the statisticians behind the survey for a breakdown so that we could be a bit more specific about what they were and how many there were in each category. I suspect that the Government have not done that and that the hon. Member for Brent Central has not done so either. The statisticians helpfully said that the sample sizes for the response options grouped together as other reasons are too small to break down any further but include difficulties with the payment of housing benefit and local housing allowance, the landlord’s being dissatisfied with how accommodation was being looked after, the landlord’s receiving complaints from neighbours and, crucially, the tenant’s having complained to the council, agent or landlord about problems with the property. So, that was the fourth reason down of the other reasons that are individually too small a sample to be broken down and have their own category. That lays bare the extent of the problem that the Bill is trying to deal with today.

The Government claim that they have been persuaded of the case and that because of a YouGov survey they have overturned everything they ever believed in. It seemed from what the Minister said earlier that that is the basis on which the Government’s position has changed. He did not say that it was a YouGov survey commissioned by Shelter, so I will add that bit for him. The day that a Government support a Bill on the basis of an opinion poll commissioned by a campaign group is a sad day, and the Minister did not even have the nerve to admit that that was what happened. It was a survey conducted by a pressure group, and that is a pretty shoddy reason. He should look at the evidence.

Stephen Williams: I cited the YouGov research, and the extrapolation that could be made from it, as further evidence of the need for the Bill. The compelling need for the Bill has also been illustrated by many other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and reiterated the real-life experiences of their constituents. They have shown why there is a need for the Bill.

Philip Davies: If the Minister would like to intervene on me again and tell me his view of the English housing survey and how much weight should be put on the figures, I would be interested to hear that. The survey has, in just one set of tables, completely undermined the case for the Bill.

Given that the smallest figure that had a category—non-payment of rent—was 18,000, we can deduce that the number of households with tenants who were asked

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to leave because they had complained about problems with the property has to be substantially less, because it was the fourth category down in the “other” section. The figure must therefore be considerably less than 18,000. That figure also relates to people who have been asked to move from a household in the past three years, so this represents a three-year figure, not just a one-year figure. We know that the figure is very small, but, whatever it is, it will include tenants who have complained but who did not have a genuine complaint, because the complaints in the survey were never verified.

In fewer than 18,000 households were tenants renting in the private sector asked to leave because of a complaint made about problems with their property. Even if the figure were 18,000, that would amount to only 0.7% of all households where the tenant left their rented property in the past three years. That means that fewer than 6,000 households a year were affected. We do not know the exact number, because the figures are too small to be helpful, as the statistician behind the English housing survey confirmed.

Another way of looking at this is provided by the Association of Residential Letting Agents, which has said of retaliatory eviction:

“A recent poll undertaken by possession specialists, Landlord Action, suggests it could be the reason behind around 2% of landlord possession claims.”

It is also important to consider that, according to the English housing survey for 2010-11, only 9% of tenancies ended at the request of the landlord. Based on those two pieces of research, we can conclude that the figure we are talking about is 2% of that 9%. So, according to the best evidence we have, retaliatory evictions might occur in only about 0.18% of tenancies, yet we are told that it is essential that we pass this Bill today. Given that the English housing survey suggests that there are currently almost 4 million tenancies in the UK, that 0.18% would equate to approximately 7,120 tenancies ending in retaliatory eviction.

Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the National Landlords Association, has said of retaliatory eviction that

“it should not be confused with using the no fault possession procedure to end a tenancy, which in the vast majority of cases is the final resort, not a response to a request for repairs or because landlords are out for revenge. We don’t talk about any other service provider seeking revenge from their customers and there is no reason to suspect landlords are any different. Sarah Teather’s private member’s Bill is aimed at tackling a perception of the ‘worst case scenario’, which is not the experience of the majority of renters who rely on private housing. There is a lack of hard evidence to support a need for the changes proposed”.

How well do the official figures that I have given to the House tally with the claims being made by those in favour of the Bill? Not very well—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman has been talking for a very long time on the same point. He has made the point very eloquently, but he is in danger of repeating the same point continuously by drawing on different comments from elsewhere. He is now repeating himself and—dare I say it?—repetition can sometimes get a bit tedious. This comes under Standing Orders, so I hope, given that there are others waiting to speak, that he will acknowledge that he has made his point and conclude his remarks.

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Philip Davies: I shall stay in order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I recall, back in 2005, when I was first here, the then Member for Hendon spoke for three hours and 17 minutes on a—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Whether a contribution in the House is in order or not is measured not by time but by whether it continuously repeats a point or argument. However good the hon. Gentleman’s memory might be, the fact is that I am in the Chair now and I have given him my ruling. It is the content of a speech, not its length, that is the measure. He has made his point, so perhaps he will move on to another one. I do not want him to keep going over the same ground.

Philip Davies: I am absolutely not going to go over the same ground, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am going to compare the official figures with those given by the campaigning organisations that have asked for this Bill to be introduced, because they simply do not tally.

Shelter, which has been making a lot of noise on this subject, says on its website that last year 200,000 renters faced eviction just for speaking out about bad conditions. The official figures are nowhere near 200,000; Shelter has just picked a figure out of thin air and decided to run a campaign on the back of it. In the briefing note for this Bill, Shelter says that more than 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—that is simply not true. I am confused: is Shelter saying that 200,000 renters faced eviction, that 200,000 were either evicted or served a notice, or that 200,000 were evicted and many more live in fear of eviction? I do not know which it is, but I am certainly not sure that that is true. The Liberal Democrat Lord Stoneham has said that every year 300,000 tenants are evicted after making a complaint to their landlord about the state of their home, so we have fantasy figures inflation about this. I am not sure where the figures come from, and I would be very interested to know, but that is 150% of Shelter’s worst-case scenario of 200,000 people being evicted.

Mr Chope: The Minister has fallen back on saying that he is relying on anecdotal evidence to justify this Bill. Bearing in mind the impact it will have on the whole of the private rental market, is it not right to look at the exact scale and try to find some evidence to justify the case for this Bill?

Philip Davies: Absolutely. The official figures are there; but the Government have just decided, presumably because an election is coming and the Minister thinks he might get a few cheap votes out of it, to ignore the evidence Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action has said that Shelter is

“engaging in a lot of guesswork”

on the figures. He said that the Government statistics show that last year there were 170,000 possession claims issued—the Minister might want to confirm that these are his Department’s figures—of which 113,000 were for the social sector. So that just leaves 57,000 in the private rented sector, 23,000 of which were through a hearing route—section 8—and 34,000 of which were through the accelerated possession routes. He says that

“most of the time tenants may not know the reason”

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why a section 21 notice is issued, because it is the landlord’s prerogative. Does the Minister want to confirm that that is the case and so those figures from Shelter are just completely wrong?

Landlord Action also carried out a survey of landlords who had served section 21 notices, finding that 28% of landlords said they had served a notice because their tenant was in rent arrears, with 2% advising that their tenants had asked for repairs to be carried out so they served a section 21 notice. It could be argued that those were retaliatory evictions, but the precise details are not known. The Competition and Markets Authority also notes that the database it analysed in preparing its review of lettings did not identify retaliatory eviction as a problem of any significance at all.

Given all that, we could be forgiven for being completely confused and wondering what the reality of the situation is. Helpfully, however, the Government have been answering parliamentary questions on this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) asked how many section 21 notices were served in each of the past 12 months and in each of the past five years. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) said:

“The Government does not collect this information.”

But he went on to say that the serving of such notices was

“like any other termination of a contract…a private matter between the landlord and tenant.”

That raises the question of why the Government now do not seem to think it is a private matter between the landlord and the tenant, and seem to have figures that they did not have when the question was asked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport also asked what records the Department keeps and what criteria they use to define retaliatory eviction. Again, the Minister replied that none of that information is collected centrally. Having looked at that some more, it seems that my assessment of the situation chimes with what previous Housing Ministers have said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), now Conservative party chairman, when he was Housing Minister, referred to the English housing survey and gave the figures I have used today. He was using those figures as the official Government figures. If they are the official Government figures, why does the Minister not accept them? Why are the Government now trying to pretend that a YouGov poll is more important and worthwhile than the official figures that his predecessors used when discussing the matter?

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton) asked earlier this year, on 28 April—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Okay, Mr Davies, under Standing Order No. 42, a Member may be called to order for

“tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other Members”.

That is now what is happening with regard to the reference to evictions in the Bill. The Member has been speaking for nearly an hour. I am directing the Member

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to make his closing remarks now. Otherwise, I will require him to take his seat so that we can hear from the other Members who wish to participate in the debate. Is that clear?

Philip Davies: Well, your position is clear, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not sure that the Chair had positions, but your position is clear.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order! Sit down, Mr Davies. That is an outrageous challenge to the Chair. Your speech is now finished. I call Mr Christopher Chope.

Lyn Brown: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) referred to his own accidental property ownership. I, too, must take this opportunity to put on the record a quarter share in a property that we now rent out. I apologise to you and to the House for not having done so at the beginning of my contribution and for therefore having to do so on a point of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That point is now on the record. I thank the hon. Lady.

1.27 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), many of whose concerns about this legislation I share. As I said in an earlier intervention, this area has long been of interest to me, since I was a Minister in the Department of the Environment when we introduced the Housing Act 1988, which deregulated the private rented sector and, in so doing, generated so much more activity in the sector and provided so many more opportunities for people both to rent and to let properties. We got rid of the enormous scandal of hundreds of thousands of properties being kept empty because landlords feared that, once a tenant was in place, they would be unable to regain vacant possession. It is against that background that I look at this Bill.

I am worried that such a Bill, which is intended to change the balance—it certainly would—between the landlord and the tenant in shorthold tenancies, might result in adverse consequences for the whole private rented housing market. It might deter new landlords from coming into the market and encourage existing landlords not to re-let and to leave the market. It might, completely contrary to the wishes and intentions of the Minister, reduce the availability of tenancies for people looking for somewhere to live. Against that background, we need to be circumspect in looking at the precise provisions of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley dealt with the scale of the problem and sought to put it into perspective. He challenged the basis of the Shelter survey, which was relied upon by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) and by the Minister, although in his more recent intervention the Minister seems to have said that he was relying on anecdotal evidence, rather than any hard analysis. That is a rather irresponsible position for the Government to take. It is not the position that the Labour Government took and it is not the position that this Government took up to the time that the hon. Gentleman became the Minister.

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My challenge to the Minister is this: given that the Bill is new regulation, has there been a regulatory impact assessment? I do not think so. This new regulation will impact adversely on the market. I would have thought it was a sine qua non of Government support for the Bill that they would have undertaken a proper regulatory impact assessment. If we had such an assessment before us, it would probably have been easier for my hon. Friend to make his argument. He would have been able to refer—[Interruption.] or not, as the case may be––to a regulatory impact assessment and thereby ensure that Second Reading of this important Bill was properly informed.

The impact is not just potentially on the rest of the private rented sector. The Bill will have an impact on the courts. It is clear that it will generate more business in the courts at a time when the Ministry of Justice—I have the privilege of serving on the Justice Committee—is under enormous pressure to reduce costs and the Courts Service is under great pressure, not least because of the reductions in the legal assistance that has been available to people bringing cases before the courts. The prospect of the Bill generating cases in the county court in which tenants represent themselves against small landlords who are seeking to regain possession of their property is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. It has not been touched on in the debate so far.

I draw attention to that aspect because of the wording in clause 1, which states:

“A section 21 notice may not be given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy . . . within six months beginning with the day of service of a relevant notice in relation to the dwelling-house.”

It then sets out that that notice would be invalid in particular circumstances. Clause 1 (3) is key. It states:

“It is a defence to proceedings for an order under section 21 . . . in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy of a dwelling-house in England that—

(a) before the section 21 notice was given, the tenant made a relevant complaint in relation to the dwelling-house to the landlord or the relevant local housing authority, and

(b) subsection 4 applies.”

Subsection (4) says that if

“the relevant local housing authority has not decided whether to inspect the dwelling-house or the common parts”

or has decided to inspect them but has not carried out the inspection, or has conducted an inspection but has not decided whether to serve a relevant notice, or has decided to serve a relevant notice but the notice has not yet been served, in all those circumstances clause 1(3) would result in the section 21 proceedings not being able to go forward. That could give rise to a lot of litigation.

It has been assumed during this debate that local housing authorities act expeditiously and conscientiously in dealing with these issues. However, as we heard earlier, there is evidence that, because of a lack of resources, local housing departments and environmental health officers can be reluctant to engage in this kind of activity because it is expensive. Although they have a statutory duty to inspect dwelling houses that have been the subject of a complaint, they often do nothing about it and allow the matter to lapse.

Given that local housing authorities are not even inspecting all the dwelling houses with repair problems that they are obliged to inspect under their existing

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1256

statutory duties, it is inevitable that a significant period of time—possibly many weeks—will elapse while they decide whether to carry out inspections under the Bill. If an authority did decide to inspect a dwelling house, it would take even longer for the inspection to be carried out. Then it would have to look at the results and decide whether to issue a relevant notice. If so, the matter would be referred to the legal department and in due course the notice could be served. The whole process, it is no exaggeration to suggest, could take at least six months. Throughout that time, the landlord seeking to regain possession of his property under section 21 would be unable to do so because of the interaction of clauses 1(3) and 1(4).

What would be the likely response of a landlord in this situation? They might well say, “I’m going to have to put pressure on the recalcitrant local housing authority to deliver on this, so I’ll go to the court to try to require it to reach a decision.” In many aspects of the world that we look at as Members of Parliament, the inability of regulatory and statutory authorities to make decisions is, in essence, the regulatory burden. The only remedy for that indecision is to go to the courts, and that leads to a lot of extra court work, as well as a lot of unfairness and injustice for the people involved. One of the biggest problems with clause 1 is the impact that it will have in the courts.

Clause 1(5) states that subsection (1) does not apply where the relevant notice has been wholly revoked under section 16 of the Housing Act 2004, where it has been quashed or where a decision of the relevant housing authority to refuse to revoke has been reversed in three different sets of circumstances, which I will not recite. Those are all very narrow situations, but the bigger question is: what will happen if the tenant acts in a way designed to try to delay eviction or to frustrate the process of recovery of the property by the landlord?

The Minister and the hon. Member for Brent Central, who introduced the Bill, kept on emphasising that it was fair as between landlord and tenant and that there was an opportunity to ensure that if the notice was being challenged on unreasonable grounds, that could be dealt with by the courts. That is where clause 2 comes into play, but I submit that that is not fairly expressed. For example, clause 2(2) states:

“Subsection (3) of section 1 does not apply if the court considers that the relevant complaint is totally without merit.”

How will it be possible to find out whether a complaint is “totally without merit”? That is obviously a subjective judgment that would have to be made by a court. Assertions would be made by one side and counter-assertions by the other. The process of establishing that will take a significant amount of time, even when the notice has been served prior to the landlord seeking to exercise his section 21 rights.

Stephen Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Chope: Of course. I hope the Minister will be able to answer that point.

Stephen Williams: To reply to the hon. Gentleman’s point about what would happen in the event of a delay, if a section 21 notice is given, there would have to be two months’ notice and it is our view that that would be sufficient time for a council to go into a property and assess whether the repairs or safety measures need to be undertaken.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1257

Mr Chope: I missed the first part of the Minister’s intervention, I am afraid. He said that the whole process could not take more than two months. Is that what he is saying is contained in the Bill? I have not seen anything in the Bill that says that.

Stephen Williams: I am sure the hon. Gentleman is not being mischievous, but what I said was that if a section 21 notice is given, it is for two months and that ought to be sufficient time for a local authority to go into a property to assess whether the repairs or safety measures need to be undertaken.

Mr Chope: I was not trying to be mischievous.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Chope, I know that you were not trying to be mischievous and the Minister also knows that. We should put that on the record and you can proceed with your comments.

Mr Chope: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Having heard the Minister say that a local authority “ought to” be able to do this in two months, I could not agree with him more, but my concern is what happens when a local authority does not do what Members think it ought to do. We have already heard many examples of areas in which local authorities are already falling down on their statutory duties. Nothing in the Bill sets out a timescale within which a local authority has to act in response to the requirements set out in the Bill. If the Minister thinks that two months is reasonable for the whole process, we should be able to incorporate that time scale in the Bill, perhaps through amendments in Committee. Perhaps such amendments will be tabled by the Government.

In each paragraph in clause 1(4), we should specify that the relevant local housing authority must decide within, say, two weeks. There are four parts to the process, so if the Minister thinks that two months is a reasonable time for those four activities, two weeks for each would equal eight weeks. Each of those decisions by the relevant housing authority would therefore have to be taken within the two-week period or be deemed to be a negative decision. That would be a necessary protection for the landlord and, if the tenant has a genuine concern, it would be an opportunity for him to be assured that if something is wrong in the house that he is occupying it can be put right in a reasonably short time. I would be happy to give way to the Minister if he thinks that my interpretation of the need for such an assurance to be included in the Bill is reasonable and the Government would be willing to take it on board to meet the concerns that I have expressed. I note that the Minister has not responded.

The hon. Member for Brent Central said—and I agree with her—that a heck of a lot of people are tenants in properties whose landlord is falling down on the responsibility to keep the property in good repair. Those responsibilities can already be enforced by the existing law, especially the provisions of the Housing Act 2004. That Act deals with the enforcement of housing standards. It defines two categories of hazard. In section 5, the local authority is under a statutory duty with regard to category 1 hazards. Under the title “Category 1 hazards: general duty to take enforcement action”, the Act states:

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1258

“If a local housing authority consider that a category 1 hazard exists on any residential premises, they must take the appropriate enforcement action in relation to the hazard.”

For category 2 hazards, local authorities have the power to take enforcement action. We know that in many cases local authorities are not exercising those powers. That is par for the course and there is nothing that we can do about it.

We know also that in many areas local housing authorities are not exercising their statutory duties, which means that they are letting down the tenants whom they purport to want to assist. Because local authorities are failing to exercise their responsibilities, they are permitting—through their lack of intervention—a larger number of properties to be in disrepair than should be the case. That is unacceptable.

Philip Davies: Given that many of the hon. Members who support the Bill today claim that local authorities are short of resources, does my hon. Friend have any idea as to what extra resources local authorities will need to meet the Bill’s requirements and expectations, and whether they have had any discussions on the matter?

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very pertinent question. I think it comes back to the lack of a regulatory impact assessment. The Bill has the potential to put more responsibility on to local authorities, but we know they are already not exercising those responsibilities. The Minister said that they had been given specific grants by the Government in the past year. I think he talked about £6.7 million, if my memory serves me. Despite that, the amount of activity he described by local authorities dealing with problems relating to housing in a bad state of repair was very small indeed in comparison with the vast number of properties—some 4 million—that are currently let by landlords to tenants.

That deals with one of the issues relating to the further exemptions under section 1 set out in clause 2. It is still far from clear that putting the burden on the landlord to show that a complaint is totally without merit is a solution to the problem that the Minister and the promoter of the Bill identified, which is how to deal with tenants who are mischievous, who want to prolong their tenancies, who cause trouble for the landlord or who effectively are in what might be described as the tenants’ awkward squad. If this is to be any use, the burden should be the other way around. The burden should be on the tenant to show that the complaint has merit—the burden of proof should be reversed.

Clause 2(1) states:

“Subsections (1) to (3) of section 1 do not apply where the condition of the dwelling-house or common parts that gave rise to the service of the relevant notice, or consideration of whether to serve a…notice, is due to a breach by the tenant of—

(a) the duty to use the dwelling-house in a tenant-like manner, or

(b) an express term of the tenancy to the same effect.”

That will be subject to litigation. Whether a tenant has failed in a duty to use the dwelling-house in a tenant-like manner is ultimately something that has to be justiciable by the courts, even where it is alleged that there is a breach of an express term of the tenancy.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1259

Why would tenants want to play the game of engaging in litigation? If they are impecunious, they know they can engage in retaliatory action against their landlords by using the courts against them. They could turn the powers in the Bill, which are designed to try to protect tenants, upside down and use them as a weapon against landlords. That is the concern being expressed by landlords’ associations. It is a pity that in listing the bodies the Minister has consulted, he did not mention the Residential Landlords Association, which represents many independent private landlords who are responsible and want to comply with the law, but who are extremely concerned about the consequences of the Bill were it to get on the statute book.

If we start raising questions of whether a tenant has breached an express term of a tenancy or failed to use the dwelling house in a tenant-like manner, we effectively return to the litigiousness of the landlord-tenant law that preceded the assured tenancy regime and section 21 notices, the whole purpose of which was to avoid the litigation and doubts associated with the termination of an assured shorthold tenancy after it had run its six-month course or at some subsequent time. The Bill would resurrect, almost covertly, those old litigious opportunities.

Before I entered the House, I was a practising barrister, and I spent many an enjoyable occasion before judges in the county courts—I will not list those I had the pleasure of practising in—representing tenants and landlords. I was familiar with how the complicated law, as it was prior to 1988, was used by the unscrupulous to prolong the agony, to themselves, often, and the landlord, and at great expense—I am talking about fees as well as the cost to the Courts Service and legal system. The purpose of section 21 notices, which would be undermined by the Bill, was to curtail that activity and the adversarial approach to dealing with tenants’ problems.

The Minister and promoter of the Bill say that clause 2, introducing further exemptions to the application of clause 1, balances out the rights of a tenant as against the landlord, but I do not think that is so. That point is reinforced by clause 2(3), which would provide for a further exemption where the dwelling is

“genuinely on the market for sale”.

Who will assess whether it is “genuinely” on the market? The explanatory notes mention family members, and clause 2(4) spells out specific cases where the landlord would not be regarded as being engaged in a genuine sale—

Stephen Gilbert claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

The House divided:

Ayes 60, Noes 0.

Division No. 99]


1.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Berger, Luciana

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Lyn

Buck, Ms Karen

Burstow, rh Paul

Cryer, John

Efford, Clive

Ellison, Jane

Eustice, George

Featherstone, rh Lynne

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gauke, Mr David

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Hancock, Mr Mike

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hillier, Meg

Hinds, Damian

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hughes, rh Simon

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Glenda

Jarvis, Dan

Kirby, Simon

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Lewis, Brandon

Lucas, Caroline

Malhotra, Seema

McDonnell, John

Miller, Andrew

Munt, Tessa

Nokes, Caroline

Pearce, Teresa

Perry, Claire

Pound, Stephen

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Stride, Mel

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Timms, rh Stephen

Timpson, Mr Edward

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Wallace, Mr Ben

Williams, Stephen

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jeremy Corbyn


Stephen Gilbert


Tellers for the Noes:

Philip Davies


Mr Christopher Chope

Question accordingly agreed to.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1260

The Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because fewer than 100 Members voted in the majority in support of the motion (Standing Order No. 37).

Mr Chope: I am sorry that the process has been interrupted. That has taken away 12 or 15 minutes of good debating time, which I was hoping to be able to make use of. It shows that the Bill does not have the massive, overwhelming support that its sponsors say it has. Normally on a Friday, someone moving a closure motion expects to succeed.

Tessa Munt: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could possibly explain how one can have a debate when there is only one side of an argument. We have just had a vote where the result was 60 to nil; I fail to understand how that can possibly be considered a debate.

Mr Chope: I am tempted to go into the world of how the Liberal Democrats can sit on the fence and be on both sides of an argument at the same time, but I am not going to do that. I am just going to say that quite a lot of Members come to the House and never vote for or against a closure motion; they sit on their hands. Normally, however, if a Member is going to try to get what is known to be a controversial Bill—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are laughing, but the Bill is obviously controversial because until only a few weeks ago, the Government themselves were against it and they have opposed a similar measure in the House of Lords.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman has to reflect on the fact that no one was prepared to go through the Lobby against the closure motion. If he is as confident in his position as he claims to be—it is clear what he is trying to do; he is trying to talk until 2.30, when the motion will fall—why does he not agree now to put the substantive matter to the vote?

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1261

Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman obviously was not trusting me, which is why his friends tried to move a closure against me. I must admit that I have a slightly stubborn streak, and since Members of this House have tried to move a closure against me, albeit unsuccessfully, I am certainly not going to just immediately sit down.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but may I, through him, tell the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) not to be discouraged because this matter will come back, and at some point this legislation will go through?

Mr Chope: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Legislating on Fridays is an iterative process. For example, I spoke on several Fridays against what was then known as the high hedges legislation. It took three or four successive Sessions of Parliament before that Bill got through. It was put through by the Government in a schedule to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, and it was not debated at all, either in this House or in the other place.

Mike Thornton: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is unwilling to allow this mother of Parliaments to make a decision on this motion and I have to leave for my constituency. All I can say is that, as a fairly new Member of this House, I am shocked and ashamed that this sort of thing can go on. It is the clear will of the House and of the public that this Bill be passed, yet this gentleman makes an outrageous play, using up time and a parliamentary motion, to prevent that. I have to leave now. I will lose my temper; I am shocked, and I think the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) should feel a sense of shame that they are unwilling to act in a decent and moral manner.

Mr Chope rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. Mr Thornton, I am afraid that the rules, and fairness of debate, mean you at least have to stay to hear the answer from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), having put that point to him.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to you for trying to restore some decorum, Madam Deputy Speaker,. I know the hon. Gentleman is new and forgive him that, but he asked me if I would give way; I gave way to him, and then he took the opportunity to insult me. I do not mind: I have been insulted by Liberal Democrats before, and I am sure Liberal Democrats will continue to insult me in the future, but we should not engage in ad hominem arguments, neither should we ignore the fact that this Bill is controversial. It may be supported by 60 Members who are present today, but it is not supported by a lot of other people. I think it is important when considering legislation such as this that we think through the full implications, so that it does not result in a diminution of the private rented sector, as was the case when I first came into Parliament in 1983.

Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): My hon. Friend referred to the high hedges Bill, which took three Sessions to get through but was obviously needed and did get through. Why does he feel that my constituents who are living in poor rental accommodation and are fearful of asking to get problems addressed should have to wait

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1262

and wait and wait—in their homes, which should be their castle and their refuge where they feel safe—for what is obviously necessary legislation? My hon. Friend is suggesting we should allow them to continue like that for as long as possible, just because he does not want to see this legislation proceed and be altered in Committee. I cannot understand it.

Mr Chope: I am sorry my hon. Friend does not understand it. This is a serious Bill—I think it should have been a Government Bill, frankly. It contains changes to existing legislation which are potentially of significant impact. I think there should have been a regulatory impact assessment associated with the Bill.

Stephen Williams: The hon. Gentleman wants it to be a Government-supported Bill, and I have already indicated that the Government support its having a Second Reading and therefore proceeding to Committee. I have also indicated that the Government had some technical amendments to put down, addressing some of the points raised. If he wants those points to be raised in detail in Committee, he must allow a Second Reading. He could help us all in that by now sitting down.

Mr Chope: I do not know whether the Minister is being intentionally disingenuous, but if the Government introduced this legislation it would be a Government Bill in Government time. The Government are now trying effectively to usurp private Members’ time for Government business, and that is what the Minister has just admitted. This has taken up the whole of a Friday that should be given over to genuine Back-Bench debates on issues of concern to Back Benchers. If the Government think this is such an important Bill and want to get it on the statute book, they could get some of its provisions on the statute book by amending the legislation that is currently going through the other place.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It will be no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I am here to support this Bill. However, his position is legitimate. If the Bill is as important as many of us believe, we should have had 100 colleagues here to support it. I do not think it is fair to blame the hon. Gentleman who, with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and others, has been blocking one of my Bills for the past five Fridays. I respect their ability to do that. It is our job to persuade people to come to the House and support the legislation that we think is important.

Mr Chope: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who knows that although that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and I have been preventing his Bill from going through without debate, I have written to my constituents and others to say that I believe his Bill should also be a Government Bill, as it was promised by the Government—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sure that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) is grateful for that clarification, but I would be grateful, Mr Chope, if we could return to debating this Bill and not other Bills. I know that you probably still have more to say.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1263

Mr Chope: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Before we had the interruption, I was expressing some concern about the reference:

“Subsections (1) to (3) of section 1 do not apply where the dwelling-house is genuinely on the market for sale.”

My concern is about the use of the word “genuinely”. Clause 2(4) states that a dwelling house is deemed not to be genuinely on the market for sale if the landlord intends to sell the landlord’s interest to a person associated with the landlord. If somebody wished to sell their house to their child, a divorced wife, a cousin or somebody like that, they would not be allowed to in these circumstances as it would not deliver an exemption from subsections (1) to (3) of clause 1.

Philip Davies: The Bill states that the landlord cannot sell to a person associated with the landlord. Given his legal background, can my hon. Friend give us any guidance on what “associated” means? Does that mean that it could not be sold to anybody whom the landlord knows in any way whatever?

Mr Chope: The answer can be found in clause 2(5):

“For the purposes of subsection (4), references to a person who is associated with another person are to be read in accordance with section 178 of the Housing Act 1996.”

I do not have section 178 of the 1996 Act immediately to hand, but although we might not agree with it, that is probably a proper and adequate definition in this Bill.

A second category of people to whom one would not be able to sell a property in order for it to be deemed to be genuinely on the market for sale would be those associated with the business partner of the landlord or a business partner of a person associated with the landlord. Again, that goes far too wide, and the landlord could well be in a situation such that he has to sell his house to pay off his debts to a business associate, for example. He might be a minority shareholder who can no longer sustain his position. All sorts of issues could arise. If we are saying that a dwelling house has to be genuinely on the market, we should not then go further and prohibit its sale to a relative, friend or business partner, or to an associate of a business partner.

People looking at the Bill will think that it is rather slanted against the landlord, yet it is being presented as neutral as between landlord and tenant. Another reason that I think it is slanted against the landlord is that the Residential Landlords Association, which represents the responsible landlords, is against the Bill. The Minister did not refer to the association when he was talking about those whom he had consulted in preparing his view of the Bill.

Clause 2(7) states that subsections (1) to (3) of clause 1 will not apply if the landlord is

“a private registered provider of social housing.”

There is no explanation for that provision, and in my experience some of the worst problems relating to premises in a state of disrepair are found in properties that are owned and let by private registered providers of social housing. Why should that category of person be exempt from the provisions of the Bill? Could this be based on anything other than an ill-conceived prejudice against independent private landlords?

When I first looked at clause 2(8), I thought it might meet one of the concerns that I expressed earlier about a landlord whose mortgage had been granted before the

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1264

beginning of the tenancy. However, my reading of the subsection is that all three conditions set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) will have to be satisfied, rather than just one of them. If the Bill goes into Committee, or if it comes back to the House to be reworked on an iterative basis, I hope that we can insert the word “or” after paragraphs (a) and (b), in place of the word “and”. This is another weakness of the Bill.

There are also weaknesses in the way the Bill seeks to change the notice process. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Brent Central’s justification for changing the process, but I was not convinced by what she said. Similarly, the Minister justified clause 4 by saying that it would be perfectly reasonable to introduce new time limits, but, again, I was not convinced.

We are running out of time, so I shall turn quickly to clause 5. This is potentially one of the most dangerous in the Bill. The Bill gives the Government the power to bring forward regulations. The Bill itself is bad enough in undermining the whole shorthold tenancy regime, but the provisions of clause 5 would enable the Government to introduce regulations covering a whole host of other things that could be used as a reason for not allowing a landlord to recover possession of his own premises. Under the clause, that could occur if a landlord were in breach of requirements relating to

“the condition of dwelling-houses or their common parts”,

or to

“the energy performance of dwelling-houses”.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said so ably, this is about privity of contract. People wishing to enter into an agreement can ask themselves whether they wish to take on the tenancy of a particular property. If the property has not got a good energy performance rating and the person is suffering hard times, the better choice is not to take a tenancy on that property but to look for a newly built property with proper central heating. We must not treat the people who enter into these contracts as imbeciles—

2.30 pm

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

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 5 December.

Business without Debate

Low Pay Commission (National Minimum Wage) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 16 January.

Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 December.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1265

Road Traffic Regulation (Temporary Closure for Filming) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (7 November), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debated to be resumed on Friday 5 December.

Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (24 October), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 5 December. .

House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 December. .

EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 December. .

Wild Animals in Circuses Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 5 December.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1266

Compulsory Purchase Order (Shepherd's Bush Market)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Lancaster.)

2.32 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Although it is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker, I regret that I am closing this week’s proceedings with something of a tale of woe. It concerns the egregious and concerted acts of the state at all levels to ruin the livelihoods of small businesses, destroy a 100-year-old market, and demolish desperately needed homes and services for the most vulnerable in our society. This is being done to advance the private interests of and secure inflated profits for a developer who intends to build on the market site more than 200 luxury investment properties, out of scale in size and out of reach in price for the people of Shepherd’s Bush.

Notwithstanding the fact that this is a cause célèbre in my constituency, I would probably not be raising it in this House on that ground alone. Shepherd’s Bush market is a famous London landmark, but even its strongest supporters would be hard pressed to say it was a site of strategic national importance. Yet this Government have seen fit to weigh in to this highly contentious local issue on the side of the developer and specifically to use their statutory powers to overrule the decision of their own planning inspector, and that is the reason for this debate. Specifically, the Government have refused to endorse the inspector’s decision, taken after weeks of evidence and reflected in a compelling and detailed inquiry report, to overturn the previous Conservative council’s attempt to compulsorily purchase the market area in the developer’s interest. Instead, giving no reason or explanation, the Government have simply overturned that decision, in order to allow the development to proceed.

Before I go into some detail and pose some questions to the Minister, perhaps I should say a little by way of background about the market and the proposed development. The market was, until earlier this year, in the ownership of Transport for London—the historical reason for that is that the market is, in part, under the railway arches that run between Goldhawk road and Shepherd’s Bush Market station. TfL neglected the condition of the market for some years, preferring to take the rents and pocket the money than to invest in it. There is a certain irony there, given that a Transport for London Bill—I am one of its objectors—is passing through the House at the moment. The Bill sets out to do exactly what TfL has not done with Shepherd’s Bush market: invest in its assets for a return, rather than running them down and flogging them off.

But flogging off the market is exactly what TfL did, and one can see the dead hand of the Mayor of London in that decision. Developing the market into luxury flats was the pet project of the former leader of the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, who is now the deputy mayor for policing and has the Mayor’s ear. Shortly after taking control of the borough in 2006, the Conservatives set out to redevelop the market area for no other reason than that its profile did not fit their brave new world vision for Shepherd’s Bush.

28 Nov 2014 : Column 1267

I will pause in my speech to offer the Minister a lightning sketch of the market area, because he might not be as familiar as I am with that part of the world, although I strongly recommend a visit. At its heart is the market, which is celebrating its centenary. It is partly railway arches, partly stalls and partly shops. Many of the firms have been there for generations—some since the market opened—and many are family businesses. Most are run by people from minority communities. They are not huge profit-making businesses, but the market is fully let and people pay their rents.

The reason the market is so important to my constituents is that they can buy basic goods there—fruit, vegetables and household goods—for about half the price they could in a supermarket, but it also has an extraordinary range of goods from all over the world, and many of them are simply not seen elsewhere, even in the rest of London. It has the richest display and variety of goods to be found anywhere in London. All that stands to be lost under these proposals.

That is only part of the market area. There are also about 20 shops on Goldhawk road, all under different ownership, ranging from a pie and mash shop to fabric shops, diners and electrical goods stores. Again, a feature of them all is that they have been in the same ownership for many years. They are small, local businesses that are run by people who have made them their livelihoods. In many respects they are unique, and people come from not only the local area, but further afield because of that uniqueness and the range of goods they supply.

On other parts of the site there is a homeless hostel, a day centre and move-on accommodation. Part of it was due for development into affordable social housing, but the previous Conservative council prevented that. There is also the old Shepherd’s Bush library, which is about the only part that has survived in anything like the form my constituents would like to see, although the library has moved to a new site. Although the Conservatives planned to sell off the site for an antiques market and restaurant, I am pleased to say that, because of a covenant on the building, it is now the home of the Bush theatre—about the only glint of light in this whole sorry show.

All those socially useful and diverse businesses were to be replaced—are still to be replaced, under the Government’s plans—by chain stores, bijou stalls selling scented candles and the like and, above all, what we in Hammersmith call zombie flats for oligarchs, meaning tall, empty buildings where people from abroad with money that they do not want anyone else to get their hands on dump it, adding nothing to the area at all.

That would have happened by now, were it not for the resistance of the local community, the traders and, above all, the Goldhawk road shopkeepers, led very ably by Aniza Meghani, who runs Classic Textiles. They have fought two judicial reviews, one of which they won, and a public inquiry, which they won, and now they will probably fight an appeal against the Secretary of State’s decision. Every time the Tory majority on the council pushes through a planning application, a decision to buy up land in the developer’s interest, or finally to compulsorily purchase the land and save the by then failing development, the shopkeepers hit back. They have risked their life savings to protect their livelihoods. It is a typical David and Goliath struggle.

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Then in May, in part because of the actions in respect of Shepherd’s Bush market, “Cameron’s favourite council” in Hammersmith and Fulham was unceremoniously booted out by the electorate. Sadly, however, the legal agreements which the previous council had signed are binding on the current administration, although I know that the new Labour administration is doing everything it legally can to support the market and the current businesses.

Against that background, I turn to the inspector’s report. I remind the Minister that this was an inquiry to which the shopkeepers and stallholders were entitled because of the very unusual decision, in my experience, to compulsorily purchase the entire area of land, including the Goldhawk road shops and the market itself. This was subject to a planning inquiry in September last year. The report is thorough and detailed. It was dated 10 February 2014, but nobody saw anything of it, extraordinarily, until on 10 October this year the Minister with responsibility for housing and planning, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), wrote to the objectors—about 130 at that stage—including myself and those who had given evidence at the inquiry.

Given the time available, I shall read two paragraphs from the report. The first is the Minister’s summation of the inspector’s view:

“The Inspector has recommended that the Order”—

that is, the compulsory purchase order—

“should not be confirmed because she concluded that the guarantees and safeguards are not sufficiently robust to be assured that genuine opportunities exist for current traders and/or shopkeepers (or similarly diverse businesses) to continue trading in the Market and Goldhawk Road. . . Without such assurances, the Inspector concludes there is a real risk that the Market and replacement Goldhawk Road shops will not provide the ethnic diversity, independent or small scale retailing environment that is central to the appeal of the area. The Inspector concludes that whilst such uncertainties exist, the personal losses and widespread interference with private interests arising from confirmation of the Order cannot be justified.”

That is a succinct summation of a very detailed report, which is compelling and clear in its decision that this is an entirely inappropriate use of a CPO process. Certainly, in 30 years here and in local government I have never seen that done. The Minister would be hard pressed, I think, to give a similar example.

The Minister’s colleague’s letter, having expressed the inspector’s view, concludes:

“The Secretary of State considers that sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that regeneration of the market to create a vibrant mixed use town centre development will be achieved and that existing Market traders and shopkeepers or new operators with similarly qualitative and diverse offerings will be protected.”

That is it. In one sentence a whole district of Shepherd’s Bush and the livelihoods of several hundred people are swept away. It will now be very difficult for those protagonists, despite having won their case hands down at the inquiry, to recover the very substantial costs that they incurred in employing legal counsel over a period of several weeks.

In a previous debate in Westminster Hall I sought to raise the issue with the Minister. Because of shortage of time there, he wrote to me, referring me to the letter from which I have just quoted. That is the reason why I asked for the debate today. It is not satisfactory within

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the rule of law for a Government to behave in this way. We are dealing with individuals who have given their lives to their businesses. They are exactly the sort of people who, according to the rhetoric of Government, the Government should stick up for. They are people such as Aniza Meghani, who aged 7 was a refugee with her family from the Amin regime, came to this country with nothing and has built up a thriving and popular business. These people not only have devoted their lives to their families and businesses, but often do a huge amount of charitable and good work in the area. There is no better example than that of Turker Cakici, who is better known as Mr Zippy because he runs Zippy’s Diner in the parade of shops. That is probably the only authentic 1960s diner still going in the UK, with all its original fittings. Those are two examples of people who have worked in or near the market for 30 or 40 years, but every stallholder and shopkeeper has a similar story to tell. Why should the private interests of those individuals be wiped out to be replaced by faceless shops and flats simply to give profit to a developer who appears to be a favoured developer, if not a personal acquaintance, of a number of people involved in the decision-making process?

This decision is wrong in law. Unless the Government reconsider it, there will no doubt be a further statutory appeal with similar properties to a further judicial review, and the matter will go back into court for another year or more. I believe that my constituents will eventually win and that the developer, Orion, will walk away, taking what money it can out of the situation and leaving in its wake six or seven years of wasted time, not to mention the huge emotional and financial damage that it has done to individuals and, indeed, the whole of Shepherd’s Bush.

The decision was unwisely made by the local authority, which is now history and has been punished by the electorate. I cannot see why this should be a matter for the Government. The Minister may wish to explain why the Government felt unable to rely on the evidence and decision making of their own Planning Inspectorate. He may also wish—if not today, in writing to me—to deal with whether he believes that these decisions are legally binding. In light of the inspector’s report, he may wish to look at section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, under which a public body has a duty to assess the impact of its policies on eliminating discrimination and promoting equality. He may wish to consider whether the planning authorities and his ministerial colleague gave due regard to their statutory duties when reaching their decision. He may wish to look at whether his Department has carried out an equality impact assessment to assess the outcome of their policies, because if not, it may be in breach of its statutory duties. Unless the Government decide to look at all these matters again—I will be interested to hear the Minister’s latest thinking—they are likely to be dealt with by the High Court.

This has been a reductive process under which mistakes have been made for political as well as ideological reasons, because the attitude of the Mayor and Conservative councillors in London is that they do not welcome the diversity and facilities that Shepherd’s Bush market, social housing and shops in the area provide. They

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would rather see another Westfield or something more akin to the luxury blocks of flats to which they give consent around the borough.

We are not against improvement development—I have said myself that TfL has been responsible for running down the market over a number of years—but we want the authentic Shepherd’s Bush market to thrive and the small shopkeepers to continue to have a livelihood in the area. We believe that in Shepherd’s Bush things such as Westfield and the new developments can sit alongside traditional facilities, with the two supporting each other. This area will not benefit from the social cleansing, monochrome attitude that is so beloved, I am afraid, of the Mayor and his acolytes in town halls.

Perhaps the Minister privately agrees with a lot of what I have said. He will probably say very little in response today, but that is to be regretted. I hope that he will answer some of my questions and that we can deal with them further in correspondence. This problem is not going to go away as far as the Government are concerned. We have not been fighting this battle for six or seven years just to give in at this stage when this great injustice has been done, specifically on the direction of the Secretary of State, who has compounded the felony by overturning the decision of his own planning inspector.

2.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) on securing the debate and putting on record his obviously strong feelings about the compulsory purchase order of Shepherd’s Bush market and the surrounding buildings. He said that he did not expect me to be completely familiar with the stalls, shops and railway arches that he mentioned but, as a result of listening to his speech and some of the material available to me, I now know rather more about the Shepherd’s Bush area than I knew yesterday before preparing for the debate.

I indicated to the hon. Gentleman in a conversation during the earlier Division that my response would be brief. If he has any points that he wishes me to address, especially legal points, we shall certainly take note of them. We will make sure that he gets a response in writing, especially to the point he made towards the end of his speech.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the time between the inspector’s report and the Secretary of State’s decision in October. There is no time scale written down in any law or regulation for the Department to respond to an inspector’s report. The issue under discussion was particularly complex and involved a whole range of considerations, which was why Ministers took the time they did.

Mr Slaughter: I am grateful to the Minister for dealing with that point. I agree that it was a complex inquiry. It took the inspectors some four months to draw up a report, but why did it take eight months for the Minister’s colleague simply to produce a three or four-page letter that said, “I don’t agree with this”?