Renters (Reform) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading
Monday 23rd October 2023

(7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Renters (Reform) Bill 2022-23 View all Renters (Reform) Bill 2022-23 Debates Read Hansard Text Watch Debate
Michael Gove Portrait The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Michael Gove)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before I get into the detail of what the Bill allows for and the reforms that it portends, may I say a few words of thanks? In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes). During his time at the Department, he was responsible for the White Paper that essentially did the groundwork for the Bill, but prior to working in the Department, he worked for a variety of third sector and voluntary organisations, helping the homeless and standing up for those in poor-quality housing. His foreword to the recent report by the Centre for Social Justice on the importance of reform in the private rented sector is both eloquent and effective. May I take this opportunity to thank him for his excellent work?

I also thank the Centre for Social Justice, which was founded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) some time ago. The report that it has prepared makes a compelling case for reform in the private rented sector, in order to help those most in need. May I also thank those organisations, including Shelter and the National Residential Landlords Association, that have supported me and the Department in framing this legislation?

May I also thank the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), for the recommendations in its report on the need to reform the private rented sector? There were a series of recommendations in the report, upon which we have acted. It is the case that we will bring forward changes to ensure that the student market, which operates differently from other aspects of the private rented sector, is regulated in a different way; it is the case that we will bring forward details of a decent homes standard in the private rented sector, as requested by the Select Committee; and it is the case that we will ensure that the justice system, which is controlled by the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, is fit for purpose before we move ahead with some of the reforms in the Bill.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
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May I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend for finally publishing a response to the Select Committee? He will recall that, as Chair of the Liaison Committee, I wrote to him last week—he responded very promptly, for which I am grateful. However, the Government’s response was published only on Friday, more than six months after the Committee published its original report, yet it is de rigueur in the civil service code that responses should be published within two months. Will he explain to the House why it took so long, can he give an assurance that it will not happen again, and will he say what measures are being taken to ensure that such delays will not recur?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point, which gives me an opportunity to apologise to the House, on behalf of the Government, my Department and in particular myself, for the delay in responding to a number of Select Committee reports that have been put forward. The Chairman of the Select Committee knows that I hold him and his Committee in the highest regard. I deeply regret the delays in responding to the many excellent reports that the Select Committee has put forward. The reasons for that relate to policy discussions within Government. We wanted to make sure that we had a clear and settled position in response, but that does not excuse us of the need to do better. I have discussed with Ministers and others in the Department the vital importance of responding quickly and showing respect for this House, so may I again apologise to my hon. Friend and to the Chairman of the Select Committee?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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The delay has cost hundreds of families in my constituency their homes. Section 21 evictions have been carried out on so many families, as the sector has moved into the Airbnb short-term let market. Will the Secretary of State apologise to those families? Will he also very quickly bring in the change of use designations that I know he is considering, to ensure that short-term lets and also second homes are separate categories of planning use, so that we can protect our lakes and dales communities and ensure that they can survive?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have an enormous amount of respect for the work that he does in this area. I would draw a distinction between the response to the Select Committee’s report and the bringing forward of legislation, but he is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that we need to consider—and we are—our responses to the consultations on registration and on changes to planning use requirements in the short-term let market. We hope to come forward shortly with our response to those consultations. I should also say that I had the opportunity last week to talk to the founder of Airbnb, and I outlined concerns very similar to those that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I will not give way at this stage; I will make a wee bit of progress, then I hope to give way shortly.

I want to emphasise that a healthy private rented sector is in all our interests. Making sure that both landlords and tenants have a new deal and a fair deal is critical.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Not for the moment.

The private rented sector has doubled in size since 2004, to the point where it now constitutes between 19% and 20% of the total housing stock in our country. Given the number of people in the private rented sector, it is absolutely vital that we ensure that tenants have the rights that they deserve, while also recognising the importance of the private rental sector to our economy and the fact that the overwhelming number of private landlords provide an excellent service. It is also important that we provide them with the rights to redress required when dealing with antisocial tenants, tenants in arrears or other factors that may mean that they need to have recourse to securing vacant possession of a property.

The private rental sector is vital for reasons of labour mobility and personal convenience and, overall, because of the different ways that we respond to the labour market and other pressures at different points in all our lives. We need a healthy private rented sector. I would like to place on the record my thanks to Ben Beadle and the National Residential Landlords Association for the work they have consistently done to ensure that the voice of landlords is heard and to ensure, as Ben Beadle has made clear, that landlords, the overwhelming majority of whom provide a good service, can be certain—because of our property portal, the ombudsman and the other changes in the Bill—that the small minority of poor landlords who victimise tenants can be driven out of the system and the good name of those in the private rented sector upheld.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am very happy to give way to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), then to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), then to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) and then to the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark).

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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There is plenty to welcome in this Bill, but it should have been an opportunity to increase minimum energy efficiency standards. When the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero last week tried to defend the scrapping of energy efficiency standards for the PRS, she essentially said, on the Floor of the House, that it was because they could cost property owners up to £15,000. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the regulations include a £10,000 cap, so the cost cannot possibly be £15,000; indeed, according to the Government’s own assessment, the average cost of upgrading homes to an energy performance certificate rating of C would be less than £5,000. Will he please correct the record, apologise on behalf of his colleague, who has misled the House, and put it on the record that it could not possibly cost £15,000? His own assessment suggests that it costs less than £5,000.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady; no one could doubt her sincerity or her commitment to making sure that we improve the condition of homes and that we deal with energy efficiency. The first thing to say is that the cost will be determined in the market. The amount that an individual might have to pay can be capped by legislation, but the cost is a function of the market. The second thing that it is important to stress is that the decent homes standard, and indeed the work we are doing on retrofitting overall, will improve, and has improved, energy efficiency, but we need to balance the improvement of energy efficiency against the costs that individual landlords and tenants face in a cost-of-living time that is challenging.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Strangford.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is right to say that the encouragement of private landlords is important to ensure that rental properties are available, but it is also incredibly important that unscrupulous landlords are not facilitated in avoiding their obligations. In relation to the obligations, Citizens Advice has recently announced some figures, which show that 48% of evicted tenants have been told that their landlord wanted to sell. This is a common reason for ending a tenancy. With respect, nothing in this legislation suggests that landlords must give evidence that they have followed through on their intention to sell. Will the Minister rectify that?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Of course, landlords and any property owner must have the right to sell their home if they need or wish to do so; nothing should interfere with that. None the less, it is the case that there may be circumstances in which there will be some landlords who use an attempt to sell, or a claim to sell, as a feint in order to evict a tenant. In Committee, we will explain how we will ensure that, in those circumstances, the situation is effectively dealt with.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. This weekend I was out meeting flood victims in Chesterfield. The flood damage of one of them was up to 3 feet high in their front room. They were told by the landlord, who was busy as I arrived, hoovering the carpet, which had sewage and river effluent all over it, that they must accept that the landlord would attempt to clean the carpet rather than a renter expecting a new one and that if they would not tolerate that, she would end their tenancy and throw them out. Does that not demonstrate how the balance of power between landlords and renters is totally skewed? Is there not all the more need for the strongest possible legislation to ensure that we do take action against those rogue landlords?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman up to a point, but I would not characterise it in quite that way. On the basis of everything that he has said, that was completely the wrong response from the landlord concerned, but I would stress that there is only a minority of bad landlords and also that the law clearly delineates, and has done so for some time, the responsibilities for repair between the tenant and the landlord. It is important that we always strike a balance between the need of landlords to ensure that their business is effective and the protection that tenants enjoy. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about that specific case, I will see what I can do to help.

Feryal Clark Portrait Feryal Clark (Enfield North) (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. My constituents, Esther and Fred, lost their son two weeks ago in the most horrific of circumstances. The very week that they lost their son they were served a section 21 notice, despite the landlord knowing their circumstances. What message does it send to renters like Esther and Fred that the Government are yet again delaying the abolition of section 21 evictions?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am deeply sorry to hear about the personal tragedy that the hon. Lady’s constituents have suffered—please do pass on my sympathy and condolences. I would say, though, that this Bill leads to the abolition of section 21, and it does so in a way that I believe is right and proportionate. I will explain why I think it is necessary, but before doing so I must give way to the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn
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I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. I noted he said that, nationally, around 20% of the population live in the private rented sector. In constituencies such as mine, the figure is 30% to 35%, and many people feel very insecure in their lives. For those on universal credit and housing benefit, the problem is that the local housing allowance does not meet their rent needs. Therefore, they are actually subsidising landlords through their benefits and living in desperate poverty as a result of it. In turn, this forces people in mainly ex-council properties to leave the borough, so we end up with a sort of social cleansing of our inner cities all over the country. Does the Secretary of State understand that we need rent control, so that those people who cannot afford to remain in their own home get some comfort and are allowed to continue being a valuable part of our local communities?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Although the right hon. Gentleman and I have had many disagreements, there is no one who doubts that he is a very assiduous constituency Member, and he is right that the pressures faced by a number of people in the private rented sector are significant. The principal reason for those rental pressures is inflation. We can debate the causes of inflation, but this Government are determined to do everything possible to halve it. and I believe the steps that we are taking have shown progress so far.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Please forgive me; I am just responding to the right hon. Gentleman. It is the case that our effective system of tribunals ensures that excessive rents that are way out of kilter with the market can be dealt with. However, one of the challenges of rent controls of the kind that I believe he is advocating, and that have been advocated by others on the Labour Front Bench, is that they are proven to reduce supply overall, and a reduction of supply on the scale that an intervention of the kind that he puts forward would only increase rents and reduce the capacity of people to be able to live in the private rented sector.

Marcus Fysh Portrait Mr Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the Bill would do exactly what he has just been saying is the problem with rent control, which is to drive private landlords out of the market? Is that not entirely contrary to the Government’s main aim right now, which is to bring down inflation? Private rents are the key cause of core inflation, and this is a disastrous Bill for every renter in the country who wants to see a well-supplied housing market.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am very fond of my hon. Friend, but that is just not true. We have seen an increase in the number of homes in the private rented sector recently, not a reduction. [Interruption.] As we say in Scotland,

“facts are chiels that winna ding.”

There is no evidence at all that the abolition of section 21, and at the same time the enhancement of section 8, will lead to any reduction in the number of homes in the private rented sector. However, let me say to him, and to the whole House, that what we need is not so much an arbitrage between the private rented sector and the number of homes available for private ownership, or indeed the social rented sector, but more homes overall. It is that which is at the root of our challenge, and we will solve it with our long-term plan for housing, which was outlined in July of this year.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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No, I have been generous so far. Every intervention only takes time from those who wish to contribute to the debate. Let me develop my argument and then I will give way to some other colleagues—but perhaps not all.

I just wish to stress what the abolition of section 21 involves. Getting rid of section 21 means that a weapon used by unscrupulous landlords can no longer be in their hands. Essentially, section 21 no-fault eviction is used by that small minority of bad landlords to intimidate tenants. It is the case that a significant number of tenants have concerns about the quality of their home, or indeed about excessive rent rises, but section 21 has been used to silence those who have complained about the quality of their property, to intimidate them into accepting excessive rent rises, and in certain circumstances it has been prosecuted anyway, leading to a significant number of people—20,000 in the past year—finding themselves rendered homeless, and therefore the taxpayer and local authorities having to pay for their accommodation.

It is in nobody’s interests to allow unscrupulous landlords to continue to behave in this way, to allow vulnerable people to be rendered voiceless in this way, and to force the taxpayer to pick up the bill. The idea that abolishing section 21 is somehow un-Conservative is to me absolutely nonsensical. Conservatives exist to protect the vulnerable in society, to make sure that markets work and to save the taxpayer money. I have to say to any hon. Member who thinks that such a policy is un-Conservative that they should consider the Conservative record. The artisans’ dwellings Act 1875, the Law of Property Act 1925, the Leasehold Property (Repairs) Act 1938, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985—when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister—the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Tenant Fees Act 2019 were all Conservative measures introduced by Conservative Prime Ministers in order to ensure that the private rented sector could work better and, critically, they all make provision for the rights of tenants.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am more than happy to give way—

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. I think that I am right in saying that the hon. Lady has only just entered the Chamber. She should wait for a wee while before she rises to intervene.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I will give way to colleagues in a moment. The key thing to consider when thinking about how those in the private rented sector live is that the overwhelming majority of landlords do a great job, but we know that, because of section 21, 23% of tenants in that sector who wished to complain about conditions chose not to do so, and 31% of those who did were subsequently evicted under section 21. As I mentioned, 20,000 people were assessed as homeless as a direct result.

I am absolutely committed—as was the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) when she was Prime Minister, as was the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip when he was Prime Minister, and as all Conservative Members were when we put it in our 2019 manifesto—to getting rid of section 21, but it is important to recognise that in so doing we need to strengthen the provisions that landlords have in order to deal with those tenants who, for whatever reason, need to be evicted from their property.

We are outlining an extensive range of provisions under section 8. We are moving to ensure that antisocial behaviour is dealt with more effectively by making it mandatory grounds for removing a tenant. We are lowering the threshold so that it is easier to establish antisocial behaviour. We are dealing more effectively with rent arrears, and the way in which some unscrupulous tenants have hitherto manipulated the system on rent arrears. We are making it clear that anyone who wishes to occupy their property because they need to sell it, repair it, or have family member within it, or for any other reason, can do so. It is about strengthening both protections for tenants and powers for landlords in the cases where they need it.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am now more than happy to give way to a range of colleagues.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. I will allow the right hon. Gentleman to do that in just a moment, but first let me set the record straight. The Clerks have informed me that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) was in the Chamber from the start. I apologise. I would not wish that to influence the decision of the Secretary of State on who he gives way to.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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I accept entirely the force of what the Secretary of State has said, but clearly under section 8 many landlords will, for perfectly legitimate reasons—to get rid of a tenant for antisocial behaviour or whatever—have recourse to section 21 simply because of the convenience and ease, particularly in the face of tenants who make particular difficulties. That is why the provisions that he is making in respect of the courts being able to deal with such things effectively and efficiently are vital as part of the reform that he is bringing forward.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Actually, I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we ensure that the courts system is reformed and that we have end-to-end digitisation. We have seen section 21 abused, but if a determined tenant wishes, for whatever reason, to ignore section 21, that ends up in the courts anyway.

Daniel Kawczynski Portrait Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
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My constituent Jan Childs rented a property in Much Wenlock to an individual she got into a dispute with. He has now scarpered, owing my constituent £10,000, and nobody seems to be interested in helping her to retrieve the money—neither the police nor the local authorities. How will this Bill help my constituent Jan Childs to retrieve her £10,000?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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It is not so much this Bill; it is more the steps that we are taking in order to improve the justice system that will help, but I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would write to me about that particular situation. It is always the case, no matter how well framed any piece of legislation might be, that if we are dealing with unscrupulous characters who seek to evade justice, we have to rely on the agencies of the criminal justice system to pursue them.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise; I should have referred to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests when I intervened.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend is nearly always right and always honourable.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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I, too, put on the record my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Some months ago, I raised with the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who is present, my concerns about the illegal eviction laws, which are over 40 years old, complex and difficult to understand. Unless we reform illegal eviction law alongside section 21, I worry that bad landlords will take matters into their own hands. Has the Department taken into account the concerns that I raised with Government officials about reforming illegal eviction law at the same time?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I know that my colleague the Housing and Planning Minister has met the hon. Lady, and we will respond in further detail about the steps that we propose to take.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
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Given that the Secretary of State is getting quite a few pot shots from behind him, let me help him out by saying that I welcome the ban on section 21 no-fault evictions. It is sadly very overdue, and I hope that he will not delay in implementing it, because as a London MP I have had countless people in my surgeries and contacting me via email who have been evicted under section 21. A most egregious case involved a father of two young children, both of whom were gravely ill. He had to tackle the mould in his home himself because the landlord was not dealing with it. Then the landlord evicted him for making the repairs. Will the Secretary of State commit to implementing the reform without delay?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Absolutely. The sooner the Bill is on the statute book, the sooner we can proceed. Alongside that, we of course need to ensure that the justice system, as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) made clear, is in a position to implement it effectively. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), is present. He and I, and the Minister for Housing and Planning, are working to do just that.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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On the enhanced grounds for antisocial behaviour, I have one constituent who has been evicted because their baby was crying too much, and another who has been evicted because her husband was beating her too loudly. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the grounds need to be discretionary ones on which the courts can deliberate, not mandatory ones? Otherwise, it will be a handle for abusers to use.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I very much take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I do not believe that either of those two cases would count as antisocial behaviour under our proposals, but we need to ensure that we are clear about what constitutes antisocial behaviour liable to lead to eviction and what is, as in those cases, either a preposterous claim or an example of domestic abuse that the police should be investigating.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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I, too, welcome the intention to scrap no-fault evictions. A year ago I asked about the matter at Prime Minister’s questions, saying, “It’s going to be winter. It’s cold.” As 2019 was a long time ago, I welcome the proposals, although some detail is needed on the burden of proof.

Under Thatcher, from my recollection, the Conservatives were the party of the family, so why has the blanket ban on unscrupulous landlords saying, “No children,” vanished, as has the no-people-on-benefits stipulation? A I know from my weekly surgery, landlords who say, “No DSS” are the big barrier to unlocking this part of the market, because pensioners and others are excluded. Have the Conservatives done away with Thatcher, or is their tail being wagged by all the people—apparently one in five Tory MPs is a landlord—making declarations of interests?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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First, we will be clear that landlords cannot have blanket bans of the kind that the hon. Lady rightly draws to the House’s attention. Secondly, colleagues will declare interests, but landlords are good things. We need landlords to provide homes. It is nothing to be ashamed of to be in the business of providing a safe, warm and decent home for someone, and there is nothing wrong with people who have saved and work hard investing in property. You do not need to be Margaret Thatcher to believe that that is right.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab)
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The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee raised the need for an effective and efficient court system to deal with such matters. Evictions will now have to go to court because they will not be automatic under section 21. Also, many more tenants may go to court over landlords refusing to do repairs, because they will no longer fear retaliatory evictions.

Officials in the Department have suggested that the delays in implementing the Bill came about because of the need to reform the courts, and that that is down to the Select Committee. As I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, the Select Committee actually recommended a specialist housing court—we did that several years ago. If the Secretary of State had agreed to that at the time, there would no longer be any need for delay. The court would be up and running, and be effective and efficient in dealing with cases in the future.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee, but the view of the Ministry of Justice, His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and others involved in the court system is that the creation of a specialist housing court would divert resources from the effort to make the existing system work better. But good people can disagree on that point.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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I rise as what is known as an “accidental landlord”, who conveniently owns and rents out a property in Tamworth. Speaking as a landlord, I welcome the Bill—particularly the property portal, which will allow councils to focus their resource better on landlords who provide poor-quality accommodation and give councils the opportunity to drive them out of business.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Two of the less conspicuous but important parts of the Bill are the creation of the property portal and the role of the private rented sector ombudsman. If they work effectively, both should obviate the need for the court processes that the Chair of the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) have mentioned. The property portal should ensure that we can identify properties in the private rented sector whose landlords have not registered, and we can focus our enforcement action on them.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I welcome better protections for renters; in my constituency, swathes of constituents have been evicted so that landlords can flip their properties to become short-term holiday lets. Nationally, there may have been a growth in landlord numbers, but the Country Land and Business Association and the English housing survey both report that rural seats have seen a demise in landlord numbers of about 24%. In my constituency, we have lost 67% of our long-term landlords since the end of the pandemic. What steps will be taken to reverse the trend, so that long-term landlords come back into constituencies such as mine?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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What I would like to see in my hon. Friend’s constituency and so many others is an increase in housing overall—houses for social rent, for private rent and, above all, for people to own. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) pointed out, there is a particular challenge in the very attractive parts of the country, such as those my hon. Friend represents, that attract tourism.

There has been a phenomenon whereby houses that would have been available for rent to the local community have been Airbnb-ised, although not just through that company. They have been turned into short-term lets and effectively been operating as shadow B&Bs or shadow hotels. There is nothing wrong—there is everything right—with making sure that we utilise property as efficiently as possible, but that has created percussive and deleterious consequences in some areas. That is why we are consulting on both using the planning system and also, with our colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, a form of registration to ensure that the situation works. Ultimately, however, the challenge is increasing supply overall.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State has just mentioned the private rental ombudsman, a post that I welcome. Is he considering the case for giving that job to the existing housing ombudsman, who supports the social housing sector at the moment?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Yes, we are. There is a case for both a separate organisation and for having the issue fall to the existing ombudsman—who, I have to say, has been doing a very effective job.

I must draw my remarks to a close shortly so that all colleagues who wish to contribute can, but the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention provides me an opportunity to suggest that the condition of housing in this country—particularly housing built in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s—is a profound cause for concern. Many of those homes are reaching the end of their natural lives. As a result of how they were built, we are seeing not just building safety issues but children in particular living in homes that are not decent.

The tragedy of Awaab Ishak’s death reminded us that damp, mould and other poor housing conditions can have a deleterious effect not just on life chances but on lives themselves. That is why the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, the actions of the housing ombudsman and the actions that my Department has taken have been focused on ensuring that registered providers and social landlords live up to their responsibilities.

What we seek to do in the Bill is ensure that the small minority of private sector landlords who also need to up their game do so. We are not targeting any one sector. We are not targeting registered providers of social housing while leaving the private rented sector off the hook; nor are we directing particular attention to the private rented sector and letting registered social landlords off the hook. What we are doing is ensuring that citizens, who deserve a warm, decent, safe home, get one. That is what the establishment of the decent homes standard through this legislation will do.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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The Bill would have been a good opportunity to bring forward provisions ensuring that homes are kept at a decent standard. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will bring forward measures before the next election that will address decent home standards for the private rented sector?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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At the very beginning of my introduction to the Bill, I stressed my gratitude to all those who had worked to shape the measure and make recommendations on how we could improve it. I am sure that in Committee we will hear representations from different Members and different organisations about how we can improve the Bill further. I am open-minded about that: my aim is to ensure that we get a new deal and a fair deal for both landlords and tenants.

I have listened to representations from the National Residential Landlords Association and others about making sure that the overwhelming majority of landlords, who do a great job, are able to deal with a small minority of tenants who behave badly. I have also listened to representations from individual tenants and those campaigning for them, who want us to move ahead with the abolition of section 21 and the establishment of the portal. The establishment of the portal and the existence of the ombudsman will, I believe, ensure that landlords are on firmer ground and no longer undercut by rogues, and that tenants get a better deal. It is because the Bill provides both landlords and tenants with stronger protections for the future that I commend it to the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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I completely agree with those points, and I hope the Secretary of State responds positively to them. I think the situation is of real concern, and there is no reason why the ban cannot be enacted.

I have already made the point about local housing allowance. It is not part of the Secretary of State’s Department, but it is part of Government policy. It is always going to be a challenge for tenants to pay their rent in the private rented sector given the rise in rents recently, but people on the lowest incomes and on benefits are now being excluded from most properties because they simply cannot afford it, because their local housing allowance has been frozen. The LHA needs to be lifted. Even if the Secretary of State cannot say so today, I hope he is encouraging those behind the scenes who can make the changes to make them in a proper and timely way.

I have a couple of other points. Student housing is different. The difference in student housing has been recognised where it is purpose-built student housing in that it will be exempt from the ban on periodic tenancies. That is entirely sensible. Recently, we have seen some real pressures on student accommodation in some university cities. Last year, Manchester students were actually being encouraged to live in Liverpool, because there was not enough housing in Manchester for them. That is just one of a number of examples in relation to protecting the student market, including non-purpose-built accommodation.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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Briefly, I wish to declare my interest. As the parent of a daughter who is currently at Manchester University, I know exactly what the hon. Gentleman means. We will be doing everything we can.

--- Later in debate ---
Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a huge pleasure to deliver the closing speech today on the Second Reading of the Government’s Renters (Reform) Bill, and I begin by thanking Members across the House for their valuable, thoughtful and knowledgeable contributions to the debate. I have enjoyed and noted the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—the Chair of the Select Committee —my right hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), whom I thank for all his work across a range of all-party parliamentary groups, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield)—I would be very happy to meet him and his APPG—and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), who will know about all the work we are doing to help address the second home issue in his constituency. He has spoken to me about that on a number of occasions.

I also thank the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) for the support from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I declare an interest similar to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), as I have four children in their 20s who are renting in London. I know at first hand of the issues that they and their friends face, and that is why I am so convinced that this Bill is the right thing to do for the next generations of our children and grandchildren.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Betts
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The Minister’s children are in their 20s, but we want to make sure that they are not in their 30s before the Bill actually comes into effect, so will she give us a clear time when the courts will be ready for the Bill to be active in the Government’s view?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will come on to that precise point, if the hon. Member will allow me.

I want to thank the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), whom I will be happy to meet again, as requested. I also thank the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) and the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). I am deeply concerned about the case she has raised with me and will continue to work with her. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western), for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).

It is right to say at this point that we are committed to honouring the manifesto commitment that we made in 2019 to create a private rented sector that works for everyone and to level up housing quality in this country. I am grateful to all hon. and right hon. Members who continue to engage constructively with us on the provisions in the Bill so that we can deliver the change needed to create a fairer rental market for both tenants and landlords. Of course, I echo the sentiment of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who said in his opening remarks that we will continue to work closely with Members to further hone and refine this legislation as it is put on the statute book.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I will make progress, because I have limited time and I must address the points that have been put to me.

First, it is right that antisocial behaviour is a discretionary ground. Judges must decide on the circumstances of a case. Having formerly been Minister with responsibility for safeguarding and domestic abuse, I completely understand the importance of taking such serious issues into account and striking the right balance between tenants and landlords. I was asked whether local authorities will have funding to carry out their enforcement duties. Of course they will have that new burdens funding, as they would with any Government legislation.

I was asked about blanket bans on benefit claimants and families with children, and I make it very clear that we are committed to outlawing the unacceptable practice of such blanket bans. We are carefully considering how to get these measures right. This is a significant reform, as I think all Members understand. We must do it in the right way, while ensuring that landlords rightly have the final say on who they rent their properties to.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
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Will the Minister give way?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I will give way to Members if I have time, but please allow me to make my points.

There have been many questions about the ombudsman. We need simplicity and clarity for landlords and tenants. It is important to say that this Bill does not, in itself, establish a new ombudsman. An existing ombudsman could do the job and, again, we are looking at that very carefully to make sure we get the right solution for this vital part of our regulatory reforms.

I am grateful that many Members have welcomed the point about pets, and I agree that we are a nation of animal lovers. Again, this is about reasonableness. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle is exactly right—the circumstances she set out would constitute a reasonable ground for refusal, but we need to look carefully at how this works.

The decent homes standard has been raised again, and it is a key part of our reforms. We must make sure that the new system we introduce means people are living in decent, safe and warm homes. Everyone in this House will be under no illusion about how importantly this Government take this issue, as they can see the work that has been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to tackle these issues, which have laid unresolved for many years. This Government brought in groundbreaking reforms in the social rented sector, and we will do so in the private rented sector to give tenants the same protections.

It is important to note at this point that the vast majority of possession claims do not end up in the courts—only something like 1% of claims go through the courts. In my capacity as Housing Minister, I work closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who is responsible for His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. There is a wide-ranging programme of reform in the court system.

The courts have already made huge improvements. It is worth saying that over 95% of hearings are listed within four to eight weeks of receipt, and of course the ombudsman will encourage the early dispute resolution process, taking a lot of claims out of the courts and freeing up court time for more complex processes. When we bring in this reform, however, it is right that we ensure landlords have confidence in the justice system because, as everybody has pointed out, if we do not have good landlords in this country who have confidence in the systems that underpin the justice system, we will not have the rented homes in every constituency that our country needs.

We have always committed to aligning and synchronising the reform of the private rented sector with the court system; we note that that was a recommendation of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. We do not think that a housing court is the right way to do that; nor is that the view of the sector or of the stakeholders, with whom we have engaged in huge detail. This work remains a priority for our Department and for the Ministry of Justice. We want to see landlords being offered a digital process for possession on all grounds.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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If the Bill’s Second Reading receives widespread support because it will rightly ditch no-fault evictions of tenants without triggering an exodus of private sector landlords, that will in no small part be down to the hard work, for which I am very grateful, of Ministers including my hon. Friend. While she is looking at what is a reasonable speed to resolve antisocial behaviour claims in the courts, will she confirm that it is the Government’s firm intention to fulfil our manifesto commitment and implement the Bill as soon as possible?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my hon. Friend very much. I can absolutely give him that assurance.

Marcus Fysh Portrait Mr Fysh
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Does the Minister accept that if the Country Land and Business Association’s estimate is correct that the Bill may reduce the available private rentals by 40% in rural areas, that could have a completely deleterious effect on the Prime Minister’s main pledge, which is to get inflation down? Core inflation is driven by rentals. Will the Minister work with me to fix the Bill and ensure that that does not eventuate?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am very happy to work with my hon. Friend on this and many other issues, but it is important that I say that we have done considerable analysis. There is no evidence, such as the estimate that he has just pointed to, that the Bill will lead to landlords leaving the sector, but it is right that any policy that the Government bring in is based on evidence. That will always be our approach.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell
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Will the Minister give way?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to wind up now, because I cannot detain the House any longer. I assure right hon. and hon. Members that we are focused on introducing this groundbreaking once-in-a-generation reform. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Renters (Reform) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Renters (Reform) Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 5 December 2023.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

Question agreed to.

Renters (Reform) Bill (Money)

King’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Renters (Reform) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(a) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State; and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

Question agreed to.

Renters (Reform) Bill (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Renters (Reform) Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the charging of fees under or by virtue of the Act; and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

Question agreed to.

Renters (Reform) Bill (Carry-over)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 80A(1)(a)),

That if, at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament, proceedings on the Renters (Reform) Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.—(Andrew Stephenson.)

Question agreed to.

Petition