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Lord Lucas: The noble Earl is quite correct in that we are here dealing with another part of the Bill where the backstop is judicial review. We have in place procedures which are intended to be quick and where those operating them are bound by statute to be reasonable. If they act in a way which is not reasonable the backstop to that is judicial review. We believe that

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in adopting that structure we have a combination of a quick process which in the vast majority, if not in all cases, is likely to be fair and effective with the power of the court to review that available as a backstop.

I begin by setting out the reasons why we prefer the system that we propose rather than that proposed in these amendments. Clause 115 gives an introductory tenant the right to request a review of the landlord's decision to seek possession. Amendment No. 260 would require this review to be independent. Amendment No. 261 is consequential. We cannot see the advantage of an independent review over an internal review by the landlord. The local authority or housing action trust will have been involved in the case from the beginning and will have access to all the information on which the decision was based. Moreover, an independent review would take longer because of lack of familiarity.

Let us consider the system as set out in the Bill. The tenant receives a notice to quit and has 14 days to exercise his right to ask the landlord to review his case. The landlord must complete the review and notify the tenant of the result by the earliest date on which proceedings against him could begin, which would be at least 28 days after serving the notice. There are good reasons for a prompt timetable. We fear that the inevitable consequence of an independent review would be to drag the whole affair out interminably. Introductory tenancies are intended to help landlords to deal promptly and effectively with tenants who prove to be troublemakers and make other tenants' lives a misery. Hence, quick but fair procedures are required. Landlords will want to have in place fair and rigorous procedures that enjoy the support of tenants. Guidance from the Department of the Environment will not dictate how a landlord should conduct such a review, but will point out the need for impartiality--for instance, officers involved with the eviction should not be involved in the review. We can see no advantage in an outside body reviewing the local authority's actions. The obvious alternative to the local authority itself conducting the review is for the courts to do so. I have already addressed that matter. We believe that it would slow down the process to the point where it had no advantage over the existing system.

Amendment No. 261A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, does not, as the noble Earl points out, belong in statute. That safeguard is there ultimately in judicial review. We rely on the availability of the courts through that process to ensure that, should there be an abuse of this system, it is properly corrected.

9.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: The Minister's last remark about reliance on judicial review is extremely interesting. It will not have escaped the Minister's attention that recently Ministers of the Crown in other departments have complained bitterly about the growth of judicial review; indeed, in one or two instances they have complained about the existence of the power itself. I cannot help feeling that that sits a little oddly with the Minister's frank admission that he is creating a power that leads people to exercise the power of judicial review. I was also a little taken aback by the Minister

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saying that he could not see the point of an independent review. He is flying in the face of one of the basic principles of English law for at least the past five centuries--that a person shall not be judge and party in his own cause.

Before we return to this matter at another stage, I ask the Minister to look at the debates on the Child Support Act 1991 when a procedure was introduced to allow another officer in the agency to conduct a review of a decision taken by the first officer. In particular, I ask him to look at the speeches made on that proposal by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. If he refers to those speeches he will appreciate the shock that some of the things he has said tonight may create in those who read them in the Inns of Court. This is a very unwise series of remarks, and I hope that the Government will think better of it.

Lord Lucas: I shall look at that precedent and others that I can find. With reference to the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am sure that there are quite extensive review procedures in social security, although I am not familiar with them. Certainly, I am familiar with the schools procedures, some of which are not totally independent and involve appeals to a panel of governors who happen not to be the governors who took the first decision. There are precedents and parallels, perhaps, in previous practice, but given what has been said I shall certainly look carefully at those and, in particular, at the ones drawn to my attention by the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

Turning briefly back to the subject of judicial review and the comment by the noble Earl that reliance on judicial review is odd--not at all! Judicial review will be very much a backstop. We expect local authorities to act fairly in all matters concerned in introductory tenancies. Recourse to judicial review, we are confident, will be very unusual.

Lord Swinfen: At the beginning of his speech my noble friend said that the landlords have to act reasonably as laid out in the Bill, yet on my last group of amendments he resisted strongly my wish to put into the Bill that they should not act unreasonably. Where in the Bill do they have a duty to act reasonably?

Lord Lucas: It is not in the Bill; it is a basic duty.

Lord Swinfen: I am not very satisfied with my noble friend's response. The feeling I get from what other Members of the Committee have said is that a number of them are not satisfied either. We should not be relying solely on judicial review. There should be some form of independent review. In the long run it will be cheaper, appear to be a great deal fairer and, I suspect, more effective.

I also suspect that if we go down the route that we appear to be travelling at the moment according to the Bill, it will not be over-long before some tenant who is removed from his tenancy is funded by someone to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. I would

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suspect that the local authority, the housing authority, would lose in that court because there would not be effective justice given or certainly not seen to be given.

It is late and therefore I will not divide the Committee on this matter tonight, but I reserve my right to come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 260A:

Page 74, line 18, leave out ("a") and insert ("an independent").

The noble Baroness said: I beg leave to move Amendment No. 260A and speak to Amendments Nos. 262 and 262A, which are still concerned with the matter of review. The Minister said in that last exchange that the Government were relying on the remedy of judicial review but were certain that it would not often be required. There seems to be an inconsistency in that approach. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, no doubt we will come back to this matter.

My first amendment proposes the addition of a sub-section requiring that a date before which the tenant is to be notified of the outcome of the review will be specified. Clause 115 assumes that the local authority has specified in the notice of proceedings a date before which the tenant will be notified of the outcome of the review, but none of the clauses actually requires the landlord to specify a date. If it did not specify a date it would be quite hard to apply Clause 115(4) in particular. I wonder whether the Minister can explain how that is to operate without the requirement that I am proposing.

Amendment No. 262 adds a requirement for written notice. My concern that notice should be written is greatly strengthened by the exchanges that we have had over the past hour or so. Whatever mechanism there is to be for review, unless reasons are given in writing it will be very hard to pursue the matter. I hope that the Government, if not agreeing to put this small amendment on the face of the Bill, can at least give some assurance as to the guidance that they will provide.

Finally, Amendment No. 262A proposes that a period of not less than 14 days be inserted into Clause 115(4) as the date to be specified which:

    "shall be earlier than the date specified in the notice of proceedings as the date after which proceedings for the possession of the dwelling-house may be begun".
In other words, a decent period of notice shall be given.

Perhaps I may, in a slightly unorthodox fashion, ask that my noble friend Lord Redesdale make an important announcement to the Committee when I have moved the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale: I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee, and I must ask the Minister whether he is aware that England has beaten Holland four to one?

Lord Lucas: Among many other things, no, I was not aware of that. Unusually for this evening, I am delighted to find out.

Clause 115(4) already requires the review to have been carried out and the tenant notified of the outcome before the date specified in the notice of proceedings as

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the one after which proceedings can begin. There is no question, therefore, of a tenant being evicted before a review of his or her case has been carried out, or before the tenant has been informed of the result of that review. For that reason Amendment No. 260A is unnecessary.

Amendment No. 262A would require the tenant to be notified of the outcome of the review at least 14 days before the date after which possession proceedings may be begun. That too is unnecessary. The Bill already requires the local authority to complete the review and notify the tenant before proceedings may be begun. The requirement to have at least two weeks' grace between the outcome of the review and the beginning of possession proceedings will merely drag out the procedure, which would be of no benefit to either the local authority or the tenant. If the review reverses the decision to evict, all well and good for the tenant, but if it does not, the need for a prompt eviction remains. If we were to accept Amendment No. 262A, other tenants affected by the anti-social behaviour would have to ensure an unwarranted additional two weeks of aggravation.

Under Amendment No. 262 the noble Baroness wants the tenant to be told of the outcome of the review in writing. I believe that is too prescriptive. It will be sensible for local authorities to write and I believe in the vast majority of cases they will do so. That is normal good practice for local authorities dealing with eviction cases. However, if they choose some other method of communicating that is rightly a matter for them.

I have no illustrations to offer of how else they might convey the decision to evict. Perhaps a couple of heavies turning up and dumping the tenant over the balcony might suffice. However, they may do it, the legislation already requires them to notify the tenant, and that is the key point. With those words, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw the amendment.

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