All 10 Christopher Chope debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Mon 22nd Mar 2021
Fire Safety Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments
Wed 18th Nov 2020
Towns Fund
Commons Chamber
(Urgent Question)
Fri 23rd Oct 2020
Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading

Planning (Enforcement) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 19th November 2021

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Spencer
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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is just another example of something I said at the start of my remarks: while this issue blights many parts of Runnymede and Weybridge, it affects people across England and Wales.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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May I ask why my hon. Friend’s Bill is drafted in such a tentative way? It says that the Secretary of State “may” make regulations. Bearing in mind my hon. Friend’s strength of feeling on this issue, which I share very much, why is he not demanding more of the Secretary of State?

Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Spencer
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The reason for the Bill’s drafting is that this whole area of planning enforcement and law is complicated—I recognise that—and in the discussions that I have had with Ministers—

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Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Mohindra
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend, who I know is newer in this place than he looks. I totally agree with his comments about the unintended consequences and the knock-on ecological damage associated with bad practice by some landowners.

Like many fellow Members, I am in regular contact with local authorities, so I am aware of proposed developments and any future plans to utilise brownfield land in my constituency. I also attend monthly meetings with residents associations across South West Hertfordshire, so I know that my constituents are passionate about protecting their green-belt land and preventing its destruction. They repeatedly raise the need for greater measures to protect the green belt and the desire to be more involved in local planning decisions. My constituents work hard, in collaboration with local councils, to ensure that brownfield land is prioritised for development instead of our valuable green-belt areas.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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In the light of what my hon. Friend says, can he understand why the Government objected to my Green Belt Protection Bill last week? Does he share my hope that when the Bill comes forward today, the Government will no longer object?

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Mohindra
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As my hon. Friend will know, that decision is well above my pay grade. I suggest that he takes it up with Front Benchers and with his Whip.

I am supporting the Bill so that we can advance the discussion around our responsibility to protect our green-belt land from development.

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Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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The hon. Lady anticipates the end of my speech.

In the planning system, enforcement action is intended to be remedial rather than punitive. That might be the difficulty. To carry out development without the necessary consent is not in itself a criminal offence, and as I understand it this place has always baulked at the idea of making it one; however, the failure to comply with a planning enforcement notice is a criminal offence and carries the risk of heavy fines and, ultimately, imprisonment.

We have a lot of sympathy for the Bill and, most certainly, for the reasons why the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge has brought it to the House, and we understand why so many Members with green belt and open space in their constituencies are present, but we are not convinced that the specific measures in the Bill will actually address the egregious breaches. Clearly, a failure somewhere in the system has allowed to arise the situation about which Members have spoken so eloquently; it is cumbersome and slow.

In conclusion—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Will the hon. Lady include in her conclusion a consideration of whether it is appropriate for people to be able to continue to appeal against enforcement notices? That is where a lot of the abuse arises, particularly in respect of the length of time.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury
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As I say, I am no planning lawyer. The situation clearly needs to be investigated. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge described just that situation when we met earlier.

We would like assurance from the Government that there will be a review of the particularly extreme examples of planning abuses and the cases that go on and on for many years. Particular attention should be given to cases in which it appears that the same offenders try the same tactics at multiple sites, which is the reason why the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge had the idea of a database. The review should consider whether aspects of planning law should be amended to better address the kind of breaches that have led the hon. Member to introduce the Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O’Brien)
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What superb speeches we have heard today, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) for his proposals to strengthen the hand of local planning authorities, protect our precious green belt, and crack down on rogue development. He makes an important point that this is not just about protecting our green spaces, but is a basic issue of fairness. As the hon. Member who represents the place where Magna Carta was signed, he is very conscious of fairness and the rule of law. Of course, when Magna Carta was signed, barons tried to drag concessions out of a rather unwilling Executive, but in this case we are entirely in alignment. I am sure hon. Members across the House will have experienced problems similar to those he describes. They are problems we must solve, and I look forward to doing so with my hon. Friend.

While the Government are very sympathetic to the objectives of the Bill, we believe that the changes that we need to enforcement are best developed as part of a package and aligned with our wider planning reforms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will know, we are currently reviewing these departmental programmes and engaging with key parties ahead of setting out our proposed way forward.

I believe that hon. Members across the House will agree that the current system does not always serve local communities effectively, which is why we want to modernise the planning system in England, so that it strengthens enforcement and provides better outcomes for local authorities and communities. We want to make it easier for local planning authorities to tackle deliberate unauthorised development and ensure that the retrospective planning process is not abused. At the same time, we want to see retrospective applications used only by those who have genuinely made a mistake.

I know how important it is to make sure that local authorities have the right capabilities to implement these reforms, especially with respect to the planning enforcement regime. The additional £65 million announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget will enable us to make the upfront investment in skills, digitisation and capability required to make these reforms a success. My hon. Friend proposed the creation of a database of local enforcement registers. While the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) raised some important questions about this, we are keen, as part of the investment we are making in digitisation, to make sure that more data enforcement is digitally available to be shared among local planning authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge raised a series of really important issues about the potential gaming of the system, and those are exactly the kinds of issues that we are looking to address. To address the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), who asked whether sites that had been illegally developed would be considered brownfield as a result, my understanding is that most local planning authorities would not consider them to be brownfield sites as they had not been subject to previous lawful development. There is, of course, some theology around what exactly is brownfield, having been asked before whether Stonehenge is a brownfield site. That is one, perhaps, for the philosophers, but, on that particular point, I hope that I can put the mind of my hon. Friend at ease.

Today, in addition to my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, we have heard some really excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson), for Bracknell (James Sunderland), for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for Bury North (James Daly). My normally mild-mannered hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was, I think, channelling John Rambo when he said, “We are coming for you”, and we absolutely are. I am not sure what was put in his tea this morning, but he is passionate, and rightly so, because this is a hugely important issue.

We have also had hugely important contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), for Truro and Falmouth, for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar). We all share the same concerns and we all want to see the same things changing and to fix these unfairnesses. This Government are committed to improving the planning system.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Does my hon. Friend share the sense of urgency that has been palpable in all the contributions from the Conservative Benches? From what he is saying, it seems as though the Government are in the process of kicking this down the road.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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I absolutely share the sense of urgency of my hon. Friend, and it is something that we are actively working to solve. Yes, absolutely, the level of interest from hon. Members, particularly on the Conservative Benches, is striking and they are quite right to be provoked and interested in this important subject.

This Government are committed to improving the planning system so that it works more effectively, delivers better outcomes and supports our mission to level up communities right across the country.

Fire Safety Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Consideration of Lords amendments
Monday 22nd March 2021

(10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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I understand why the Government will not accept the amendment, and I do not want to go there again, but what we need is urgency. Time is not just money; it is also worry, anxiety and uncertainty, and I echo the points made in one of the many excellent letters from my constituents in Portishead on this. It says: “It is not right that leaseholders have to worry about the costs of fixing safety defects that we did not cause.” We all agree with that; the question is who should pay. If the costs are a direct result of legislative change made by the Government, it is reasonable for taxpayers to contribute to that. If they are not, builders and insurers should pay, including for non-cladding related defects.

The second point that my constituent makes is this: “We recognise that the additional £3.5 billion announced by the Secretary of State is a step forward and we do welcome this funding. We are still awaiting the full detail of this funding announcement, as well as that of the proposed loans for medium-rise buildings.” In the last debate, we were told that more details would be forthcoming after the Budget. It is after the Budget, and we have still not had the details we are looking for, and these are real-time problems for which our constituents require real-time solutions.

My constituent goes on to say that “providing funding for buildings over 18 metres while forcing leaseholders in buildings under 18 metres to pay via a loan scheme is entirely unfair, because building height alone does not determine fire risk.” We understand that, and again it is about appreciating that there needs to be a cut-off to stop taxpayers having to sign a blank cheque, but the cost for remediation should be met by those who are actually responsible for the problems in the first place.

The final problem that my constituent raises—it has been raised so often in this debate and previous debates—is negative equity and the difficulty of resale, which is causing immense distress. It can be a major generational problem for people who are looking to sell or downsize. It can cause them a great deal of anxiety. We have heard that the market should sort it out, as we would normally expect, but we are still waiting for elements of that that the market would normally regard as being necessary.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Fox
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I will not, because time is short and so many Members want to get in; I apologise to my hon. Friend.

Last time, I asked what direct contact Ministers had had with the Association of British Insurers, the building societies and the banks, because without their help, we are unable to deal with the negative equity and resale problems that are at the heart of so much of the distress we find. I know from talking to so many of my constituents about this issue that they appreciate that the Government have already come a long way. They are very grateful for taxpayer support. The problem is that we need more details, and for real-time issues, we need real-time solutions. Urgency is the key.

Towns Fund

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 18th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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As I have already said, a fair and robust procedure was used to determine the places, and many places adjacent to the hon. Lady’s constituency have benefited. I think of Blyth, for example—a community that needed investment. It saw very little of it under the last Labour Government and will now, I hope, be benefiting. She represents a great city. That was not the primary focus of the towns fund, as the name rather suggests.

With the UK shared prosperity fund, we will be ensuring that each of the nations of the United Kingdom receives the same funding as they did under the EU structural funds. We fundamentally believe that we can design better, more outcomes-focused funding streams than the European Union was ever able to do during our long years of membership. We will bring forward more details on that very soon.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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May I ask my right hon. Friend to comment on the element of the Public Accounts Committee report that says his Department misrepresented the National Audit Office by falsely asserting that it had concluded that the selection process had been robust? I ask that because it is important, surely, that the Government respect the work of the National Audit Office—now more than ever, when we are in an enormous public expenditure crisis. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he and other Ministers will respect the work of the National Audit Office?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee and a former Treasury Minister, I hold our colleagues at the National Audit Office in the highest esteem. They prepared a report that informed the hearing that was held by the Public Accounts Committee. At the Committee hearing, the permanent secretary of my Department gave evidence, answered questions and made it very clear that, in his opinion, a robust procedure had been followed. In my opinion, it was disappointing that the Chair of the Committee chose to give comments even before she had held that hearing, as that rather suggested that her approach was more partisan than one would expect from the Chair of that Committee.

Covid-19: Employment Rights

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) on securing this important debate.

We live in extraordinary times under coronavirus. It has had a huge impact on all of us, and on our businesses and communities. Although we are talking about employment rights, I recognise that it has had a huge impact on businesses, and I have been working with them, doing what I can to support them through this time. However, some have been less than scrupulous.

Too many working people have seen the very real impact that the pandemic and the measures taken to combat the spread of the virus have had on their work, in many different ways. Like so many other hon. Members, my caseload has increased hugely as workers and their family members contact me to seek advice and guidance on the Government’s measures, their employment situation and the effect on their family income.

The furlough scheme has helped, and I was glad to see the most recent announcements. However, for those on the lowest wages, the national minimum wage—who will get 80% of what we already consider to be the barest minimum that they should be paid and can live on—losing 20% of their income is no mean challenge. There is no reduction in their bills, housing costs and other expenses, so this is a real problem for them. Sometimes we underestimate the way in which so many people are living on the edge. They need all the money that they have to survive and do not have easy access to credit or to help from other sources.

I also want to mention those who do not even qualify for furlough or other payments—those who have fallen through the many cracks in the system, some of which we have already heard about. They may have changed jobs recently, may not have made it on to the HMRC records in time, or they may be self-employed. Speaking to these people in my constituency, I know of the devastation that they have felt—the excluded and the forgotten—as their income disappears and they discover the harsh reality of the universal credit system, although many do not even qualify for that.

Looking specifically at the issue of employment rights and the impact that the pandemic has had on working people, I will highlight some specific issues that I have come across in my constituency, as hon. Members will have in their own.

First, I want to talk about the fire and rehire situation, which many Members have already mentioned, and about joining Unite members at Newcastle business park to protest against British Airways’ plans to reduce staff and to dramatically reduce terms and conditions of employment. Those people felt the fear of redundancy, the fear of less well paid jobs—the fear for their future.

This is not a new issue. As a trade union officer in a previous life, I have certainly come across this before, but we have seen it done in a way which cynically uses Government support and then treats staff so very badly. I support those many BA staff who work in the call centre in Newcastle, just across the river from my constituency, and at Newcastle airport and as cabin crew. I was amazed at how many BA employees contacted me. They appreciate the support, and their employer’s approach makes them feel very hard done by.

BA is not the only employer that has treated its staff badly in this way. There is also the present issue with Centrica, or British Gas, where, hopefully, negotiations are now taking place. There must be better way than saying to staff, “If you don’t like it, leave—take it or leave it”. It is a crude form of industrial strategy—I was going to say industrial relations, but I do not think “relations” is a good word for that—and we need to ensure that we end its use, as it has a devastating impact on people facing that situation.

On redundancies, in my constituency there is heavy reliance on the retail sector, which has been massively hit. Early in the pandemic I met workers employed by Debenhams at the Metrocentre, who had lost their jobs. More than 200 people had lost their jobs, and I believe that Debenhams was in administration so there was not the normal consultation. The shop was shut, and that was it. Many of the people who lost their jobs were women. Other redundancies have gone on in the background as well. Sometimes I hear about them and sometimes I do not, but there has been a real impact.

I want to talk a bit about pregnant workers. A number of women have contacted me because they are concerned about their position—their safety and welfare, and that of their unborn child. The Government have issued guidance, which has been supplemented by the TUC and the trade unions—which is welcome—to safeguard individuals. Not surprisingly, my constituents do not want to be named in the debate. They want to keep a low profile, but they want to see that they are protected. Guidance says that at 28 weeks teachers, for example, should be found alternative work rather than being in the classroom, or otherwise should be home on full pay. It sounds great, but on the ground, for that person in a school where there are other pressures, it is much more difficult to see that that is enforced.

Then there are problems with parents whose children are isolated because they have been sent home from school. That means that in many cases one parent must take the decision to take unpaid leave, if they are unlucky. Many of those people are on minimum wage. I am thinking of a constituent who is on minimum wage and cannot really afford that drop in income, but is not entitled to any isolation payments or anything of that kind. Someone in that position must stop work. Some may be entitled to statutory sick pay, but the existing measures just do not cut it for those people. They do not have enough support for their income. It is a real problem, and there is also the concern, “What happens if my child has to be off again in a few weeks?” There are difficult issues for people, and we need to make sure we can help them through what may be repeated bouts of isolation, to meet their bills and, indeed, hold down their jobs.

Last weekend I made the mistake of looking at my emails on a Saturday, as I suppose many people do. I had a flurry of emails on exactly those employment rights issues. Some were about furlough and how the constituent would be affected, where employers might have a Government grant. One was from some care workers who had come into contact with covid-19 and had to isolate. They are minimum-wage workers. They are not entitled to the isolation payments—they have checked that out—and they fear that it may happen again. We need to find a way for those people to be looked after, not just for their sakes but for all our sakes, because it will help to stop the spread of covid-19 if people can safely take time off without feeling that they will go under.

I want to talk about health and safety. Many workers are in difficult situations at work, because of things they are asked to do. [Interruption.] Yes, I shall be winding up now. I will mention specifically the retail sector campaign by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, Respect for Shopworkers Week. Shop workers have had to carry on working and have borne the brunt. In responses to USDAW’s survey, 70% said abuse was worse than normal, 85% had faced verbal abuse, and 57% had been threatened by customers, with 9% even being assaulted. That is an impossible situation for people who are trying to keep things going for the rest of us. I hope that the Government will take steps to address all those issues.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Before I call the next speaker, can I say that we will have the winding-up speeches at half-past 10? If each speaker takes four minutes, there will not be time for the last one.

Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind)
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Thank you, Sir Christopher, for that warning. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) on securing this important debate.

The unprecedented economic impact of the coronavirus has laid bare the weaknesses of UK labour protections. During the crisis, workers’ rights and public health must be prioritised above all else. Yet the Government have allowed corporate giants, including those in receipt of taxpayer bailout funds, to use the pandemic as a cover for further exploiting their workforce.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Leicester. The severe exploitation in sections of our garment industry in Leicester have been laid bare and highlighted by a huge increase in casework received by me, a resurgence of reports, and the coronavirus. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs reported that, over a six-year period, one quarter of all UK textile factories caught failing to pay the minimum wage were based in Leicester. With some textile factories offering less than £3.50 an hour, workers are forced to endure horrific and unsafe conditions. That is particularly shocking, but Leicester’s garment industry is indicative of the abrupt decline in workers’ rights and living standards since the neoliberal deindustrialisation revolution of the 1980s. The result has been the biggest squeeze on wages since the early 1800s, with pay for the average worker still lower in real terms than a decade ago. In the fifth richest economy in the world, 14 million people are living in poverty, 9 million of whom live in households with at least one person in work. Our workers need a radically fairer offer, which means raising the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour, and investing in our communities and infrastructure to aid the necessary transition to a green economy.

Trade unions are the best line of defence against workplace exploitation. I pay tribute to all trade unions, including my own, Unite, and others, including PCS, GMB and Unison, to name but a few. Yet the collective ability of workers to organise has been systematically eroded by decades of anti-trade union legislation. The latest Global Rights Index from the International Trade Union Confederation placed the UK among the worst violators of trade union rights in Europe. Forty years ago, eight in 10 workers enjoyed terms and conditions negotiated by a trade union. Today, fewer than one in four workers have that benefit. The Trade Union Act 2016 must be repealed. Trade union autonomy and sectorial collective bargaining must be restored, and the right to take industrial action, in accordance with international law, must be re-established.

One of the most nefarious downward trends in labour protections has been employers’ exploitation of the legal status of workers. We must, therefore, crack down on toxic casualisation. Research by the Trade Union Congress found that 3.7 million people—one in nine UK workers—are in insecure work, including those on zero-hours or short-term contracts, agency workers and temporary casuals, as well as those in low-paid, often bogus, self-employment. Every job should be a good job, one that provides security, dignity and a fair wage. Zero-hours contracts must be eradicated, and hours should be regulated so that each worker gets guaranteed pay for a working week. Rights are meaningless if they are not properly enforced.

The Government must urgently reverse the funding cuts to regulatory bodies, including the Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, to ensure that workers are safe and fairly paid. The Government and sections of big business argue that the mistreatment of workers is inevitable and that rights, fair play and dignity in the workplace are unacceptable costs to the bottom line, yet this free-market race to the bottom has normalised poverty, hopelessness and exploitation in our communities.

I will end by saying that the coronavirus has demonstrated the need for us to build a society built around the principles of solidarity, and in which all of us, regardless of our job, can live in dignity.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Because I am keen that everybody on the list should be called, I will now impose a three-minute limit. I am afraid that the self-discipline I had hoped for has not materialised so far.

Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a pleasure to introduce this Bill. It is a two-clause Bill, but the second clause covers only the Bill’s extent, commencement and short title, so it essentially has only two provisions. It arises directly from my long-standing interest in the welfare of park home residents. I have been privileged to be the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes for more years than I can recall.

Mobile and park homes provide residential accommodation for about 85,000 households on some 2,000 sites in England. Most of those residents are of pensionable age. They normally own their own home, and they pay rent to the site owner for the land on which the home is stationed. Let me put it on the record that they are not bungalows. Some rogue firms out there are marketing new park homes as bungalows. I have written to the Advertising Standards Authority on the subject but have yet to receive a satisfactory response.

The Bill will make two changes to the Mobile Homes Act 1983 that will help all residents. The changes were set out by the Government in their response to their own call for evidence in their 2017 review of park homes legislation. On page 6 of the response, which was published on 2018, it says at paragraph 12:

“Some site owners pass on their repair, maintenance and other ad hoc costs to residents by requiring them to pay variable service charges in addition to the pitch fee.”

The Government response goes on to say, in a subsequent paragraph, that the

“Government wants to ensure that residents only pay for services that they are required to pay for through the pitch fee and will introduce legislation in due course to amend and clarify the definition of a pitch fee and prevent the use of variable service charges in written agreements, when parliamentary time allows.”

Well, parliamentary time does allow; it needs the will of Government. I hope we will hear from the Minister that the Government do have the will to implement what they said they wanted to do.

Mark Tami Portrait Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
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The hon. Gentleman referred to the charges that are made; does he agree that quite often those charges are made but the work is not actually carried out? Many owners are just interested in cramming as many mobile homes on to sites as possible.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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The tenor of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is that there are a heck of a lot of rogues out there and they are up to no good, and he is absolutely right. There are, however, quite a lot of good park home owners, and it is important that we try to support them and to prevent the rogues from taking over the whole industry. That is why it is so important that the Government take seriously the changes—albeit quite modest—in the Bill to try to improve the lot of residents on park homes sites.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we want to help the good park owners. Changing the index of calculations from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index will obviously reduce the income for improvements. I am sure we will consider the matter in Committee, but will he assure the House that he will allow good park home owners the latitude and finances necessary to make necessary improvements to the site?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I do not think the good park home owners have any problem about trying to make ends meet. It would be much more difficult for them were we to, for example, change the 10% commission that is payable on the sale of any park home. My right hon. Friend refers to the matter going into Committee; let us hope that in due course that will be possible.

I have made the point about the service charges sometimes including repairs and maintenance that should already have been paid for in the pitch fees, and that is dealt with in clause 1(2)(a). The second issue—the change to CPI indexing to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) referred—is dealt with in clause 1(2)(b).

On the pitch fee review, the Government concluded, in their 2018 response, that they had

“considered all the arguments put forward including concerns about affordability for both residents and site owners. We also considered the merits of using CPI or RPI as the pitch fee review inflationary index and have concluded that CPI is the most appropriate inflationary index…The Government will introduce legislation in due course to change the pitch fee review inflationary index from RPI to CPI, when parliamentary time allows.”

That is exactly what the Bill does: it enables the parliamentary time to be found to make that change.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this Bill forward. It is a matter of regret that there has not previously been parliamentary time. I sincerely hope that the Minister, with her good civil servants working hard behind the scenes, will find a way to do a write-around or whatever is needed to move forward on this issue. The important thing is that there are really good mobile park owners and there are absolute rogues. Our first interest is the consumer protection of our constituents, so I wish my good friend all the best with the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is a long-term champion of park home residents and I hope that, with her encouragement, the Government will give the Bill their support. They are not going to allow the Bill to go through today, but they have said to me that there will be a write-around because they are supportive of its principles. I hope the Opposition are supportive, too—[Interruption.] I am grateful to see that they are nodding. If that is the situation, there is no reason why, if the debate is carried over to another day after this short debate, the Bill may not then get its Second Reading. I am grateful to the House for its indulgence and look forward to having the opportunity to hear briefly from the Opposition spokesman and our Minister.

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Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Kelly Tolhurst)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for her comments and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) on securing this debate. I also thank him for his tireless work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes. He should not have admitted to being the chair for so long, but all Members of the House recognise his work in this area and he has been a consistent and powerful voice on these issues.

As my hon. Friend outlined, the Government are committed to effective reform of the park homes sector. As he has outlined, I have been unable to support the Bill’s current drafting, but I have agreed and am keen to work with him, and other members of the all-party group, to explore options regarding how we can bring forward these priorities and deliver on the ambition that we all share, which is to better protect park home residents. I hope that he will commit to working with me in the following weeks to do so. Before addressing the specifics of the Bill, I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) for the role she played and the work she did when she was the Minister responsible for this area.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am grateful to the Minister for her kind offer to work with me to try to make the Bill into workable legislation. Does she mean by that that, if the Bill does not progress to Second Reading today, we can hold discussions and perhaps have a write-round to see whether it could get a Second Reading on the basis that, when it gets to Committee, various things will or will not be done?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am willing to work with my hon. Friend and my officials over the coming weeks, so that we can bring something forward and support something, so that is entirely correct. But as I have said, there are certain parts of the Bill that at this point I am unable to support Bill. However, I hope he will take my assurances from the Dispatch Box as a commitment to do that because when I say things I generally mean them, and I hope that even Opposition Members agree that, if I agree to do something for them, I follow through.

My hon. Friend outlined some of the Bill’s specifics, and I want to move on to those, but the park homes sector plays a vital role in housing, especially for older people. As he said, it provides valued homes for around 180,000 people.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the inconsistency between quite a few of these remaining orders. Because of the delay in introducing these orders, some of them amend orders that are earlier on the Order Paper. We know that members of the public find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the changing scene of regulation on criminality and restriction of liberty. Surely if a regulation is amended by a subsequent statutory instrument, there should not be a need for the original statutory instrument to be approved by the House. For example, there are two separate statutory instruments relating to the north of England, one dated 25 August and one dated 2 September, and they are inconsistent with each other. Can you explain the reason for this confusion? Would it not be much better if—as I thought the Government had already promised—every regulation brought forward was debated at the earliest opportunity, before the Government had a chance to change their mind?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir Christopher, you have made your point very well, and my advice is the same as I gave to Sir Desmond: if there are any of these orders that you are opposed to, please feel free to shout “Object”, and I will take the objection and there will be a deferred Division tomorrow. I have absolutely no doubt whatever that in this very fast moving situation that we find ourselves in—we had a statement today—there will be other statements made in this House over the coming days, weeks and months that will give opportunities for Members to question Ministers, Secretaries of State and, indeed, the Prime Minister, as they had the opportunity to do today. I have no hesitation about that happening whatever. I will put the motions on public health now, and then, as I say, I will take any deferred Divisions and objections.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Progress reported; Committee to sit again tomorrow.
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you help Back Benchers, please? A number of Back Benchers who wanted to come into the Chamber for this part of tonight’s business were prevented from coming in, and we now have a scenario in which almost the only people in the Chamber are members of the Government and Whips. As I understand it, their plan is to try to distort the votes that may take place on some of the remaining orders, which were originally going to be the subject of deferred Divisions. It seems that, as the business has finished early, the Government are intent on preventing our having a physical Division on some of the remaining orders.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Perhaps I have a better view of the Chamber than he has because I have the advantage of being in the Chair, but it would appear to me that there are several spaces in which Members could sit on the Government Benches and a great many in which Members could sit on the Opposition Benches. I point out to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that if there were too many members of the Government party on the Government Benches, I would not stop Government Members sitting on the Opposition Benches, given the unusual circumstances under which we are now operating.

I have to say that I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. No one can be prevented from coming into this Chamber and—I will say this quite loudly—if there is anyone who feels prevented from coming into the Chamber right now, they should come and see me. People can come into the Chamber right now.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that there can be anything further to that point of order, but out of courtesy and given the hon. Gentleman’s seniority in the House, I will take his point of order.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

First, there was an attempt physically to stop me coming into the Chamber. When I said that I wished to come into the Chamber to shout “Object”, I was allowed in.

You just said, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there are spaces in the Chamber, and so there are, but that was not my point. My point is that while Back Benchers were discouraged or have been kept out of the Chamber, I can count the Government Whips—there are one, two, three on this Bench and four, five, six, seven, eight—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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There are about a dozen Government Whips here—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Order. How many people with particular duties in the House there are sitting in the Chamber is not a point of order. Any Member can sit in this Chamber. The hon. Gentleman’s presence in the Chamber is itself evidence of the impracticality and impossibility of any Member—be they a Whip, a Minister or anything else—trying to prevent any Member, but especially a Member with the hon. Gentleman’s seniority, from entering the Chamber. I have just said it and will say it again: if there is any Member out there who feels prevented from coming into the Chamber and wishes to come in, let him or her come in now and I will protect them.

Let us proceed.

Regulatory Impact Assessments (Legislative Scrutiny)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I shall start with some quotes from my constituents about the Government:

“The most inept and incompetent administration in my lifetime.”

“Incoherent and indecisive.” “Authoritarian and arrogant.” “Inconsistent and incomprehensible.” “Socialist in all but name.” As these criticisms become increasingly difficult to rebut, it is indeed essential that the Prime Minister gets a grip. The constructive purpose of this debate is to remind the Government that one key tool to enable them to get a grip is to use regulatory impact assessments as part of the policy-making process.

A regulatory impact assessment is a well-established, internationally acclaimed toolkit for good policy making. It facilitates transparency and public accountability, promotes democratic discussion by enabling potential possible policy options to be evaluated and compared. It prevents the inconsistency that arises from knee-jerk reactions and policies being developed on the hoof.

It helps to ensure that sudden changes are the exception and are made in response to changes in hard evidence rather than in response to the chorus of a single-issue pressure group—and I think it is probably fair to say that the covid alarmists are the most successful pressure group in British history. If, for the past six months, the Government had been using this toolkit, it would not have been possible for commentators to observe, as one did on Sunday:

“Britain has become a paradise for those who like to answer questions with ‘rules is rules’; even when they’re clearly made up on the spot or nonsensical.”

Allowing beard and eyebrow trimming for men but not eyebrow treatments for women was but one ridiculous example.

Most fair-minded observers supported the Government’s initial response to the covid-19 pandemic. The Government had no option but to make their priority ensuring that our hospitals were able to treat all those seriously ill as a result of covid-19. Our NHS was not as well-prepared as it would have been if the recommendations of Exercise Cygnus had been implemented. Cygnus was a brilliant initiative to war-game a serious epidemic of respiratory illness in order to identify where investment was needed to fill the gaps and thereby ensure an effective response. Tragically, Public Health England did not learn the lessons identified and failed to put the recommended preparatory work in place. We, the public, have been denied access to the full results. It remains a mystery to me as to why the Government are so defensive about the whole matter—and have indeed been dodging parliamentary questions that I have put down on the subject.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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The hon. Gentleman often brings things to the House that are very important, and this is certainly one of them. Does he agree that impact assessments, if produced reliably, can form a critical element of the better regulation agenda? Regulatory impact assessments need to be the right foundation and the right basis to ensure that legislative scrutiny is not just a checklist but is instead an effective mechanism. I think that that is what he was referring to.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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The hon. Gentleman has given a brilliant summary of my Adjournment thesis. He is saying that this should not be a tick-box exercise but that clear evidence should be presented that can then lead to proper debate and facilitate scrutiny, and that is what this is all about. I hope the Government are still wedded to that, because their better regulation unit has had consultations and is, I think, still taking the line that we need to have proper regulatory impact assessments. The purpose of this debate is to try to get some more assurance from the Government that they are going to apply these principles not just to covid-19 but to other regulatory measures that are, at the moment, being brought in with far too insufficient scrutiny.

Tomorrow it will be six months since the Department of Health and Social Care policy paper on coronavirus was published. This action plan, as it became, on which the Coronavirus Act 2020 was based, envisaged four phases: contain, delay, research and mitigate. The delay phase was to

“slow the spread in this country, if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season”.

Because of the emergency timetable, the legislation had the sketchiest of regulatory impact assessments, without any cost-benefit analysis. But who would have thought that none of the regulations being made under that primary legislation would be properly evaluated before implementation? I certainly hoped that that would happen, but it has not.

The basic steps in the RIA process should involve consultation and an assessment of the nature and extent of the problems to be addressed. There should be a clear statement of the policy objectives and goals of the regulatory proposal, which should include the enforcement regime and strategy for ensuring compliance. Alternative courses of action should be identified, including any non-regulatory approaches considered as potential solutions to the identified problem. There should also be a clear outline of the benefits and costs expected from the proposal and identified alternatives. The conclusion should not only identify the preferred solution but explain how it is superior to the other alternatives considered. Finally, there should be a monitoring and evaluation framework set out describing how performance will be measured.

Although the processes I have set out could not be embarked on in the immediate emergency of introducing lockdown, they should surely form an inherent part of the process of easing lockdown, and ensuring consistent and timely relaxations of the regulations. It is the failure to do this that has resulted in sudden and contradictory changes to the regulations.

This has also led to unacceptable mission creep, which increasingly embodies a gradual shift in objectives. Hon. and right hon. Members will remember that the original objective was to enable the NHS to provide the best care to all the victims of covid-19 who needed it. That clear mission has now widened into a mission to suppress the spread of covid-19 as an end in itself, regardless of the cost. The irony is that, in allowing the original objective to be blurred, the important subsidiary objective of preventing the virus peaking again in the winter is being put in jeopardy.

The easing of lockdown has, sadly, become a veritable shambles. While the number of deaths from covid-19 has mercifully plummeted from its April peak, there has not been a corresponding relaxation of the emergency regulations. I shall refer later to the OECD principles of best practice for regulatory policy, but one of the key principles is:

“Proposed solutions should be appropriate to the risk posed, and costs identified and minimised.”

In the statement he made yesterday to the House, the Secretary of State for Health said that there are now

“60 patients in mechanical ventilator beds with coronavirus”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 23.]

This compares with 3,300 at the peak of the epidemic, and he then said that the latest quoted number for reported deaths is two in one day. Today, The Sun newspaper has calculated from these figures that the odds of catching covid-19 in England are about 44 in 1 million per day. Economist Tim Harford, who presents what I think is one, if not the only, good programme on the BBC—the statistics programme, “More or Less”—has said:

“Covid-19 currently presents a background risk of a one in a million chance of death or lasting harm, every day.”

While age, gender, geography, behaviour and other aspects affect the risk, it is now far lower than the risk of death or serious injury in a motor accident. On average, five people continue to be killed each day on our roads, yet I have not yet heard from the Government any proposals to ban people from driving because of the risks associated with so doing.

One sure way of ensuring consistency would be to impose the discipline of a regulatory impact assessment on each and every continuing restriction, so that the justification for loss of personal liberty could be evaluated against the alleged benefits. It is not too late for this to start, and I hope that the Minister, in responding to this debate, will provide an assurance that the forthcoming six-month review of the legislation will include a full regulatory impact assessment and an evaluation of the performance of the emergency regulations introduced.

The public would then be able to see the evidence about whether the decisions taken were correct. For example, was closing schools and setting back the education of the covid regeneration a proportionate and necessary measure? Was the postponement of 107,000 weddings across the United Kingdom justified? Could any of the 4,452 weddings which should have taken place last Saturday have been permitted? Why can people sit safely side by side with strangers on an aircraft, but not at a wedding breakfast or in a church, a theatre or a concert hall—or even in this Chamber?

Why was the World Health Organisation advice, which was originally that there should be 1 metre social distancing, not applied from the outset? We introduced a 2-metre or 6-foot rule, but that has now been modified with the 1 metre-plus rule, but at the same time the additional safeguards required for the 1 metre-plus situation are being applied to the 2-metre situation, which is creating all sorts of problems, conflicts and uncertainties for our constituents.

Is it protecting the NHS to create a situation where, as was revealed in The Times on 27 August, 15.3 million people are now on the hidden waiting list for treatment? Is it reasonable that we should try to prevent two deaths a day and keep 15.3 million people on waiting lists for treatment, with all the dire consequences that flow from that? Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not know whether you were listening to the Secretary of State for Health when he made his statement yesterday, but in my view his responses on the issue of NHS waiting lists were the weakest and least convincing parts of what he had to say.

Is the continuing economic cost of lockdown now disproportionate to the benefits? Well, let us have an exercise and see. Let us see the data presented, so that we can have a proper debate about it. I raised the importance of regulatory impact assessments in public policy making with the Leader of the House at business questions on 2 July. It was his response on that occasion which caused me to apply for this Adjournment debate, which I am delighted that we are having this evening. I said that we would be able to achieve much more consistency in Government advice with regulatory impact assessments. The Leader of the House, however, argued that

“if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown.”

He accused me of “calling for bureaucratic folderol”, which would inhibit moving

“at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 534.]

Would that they were. But I must correct the Leader of the House, because, far from being the worthless trifles described in the expression “folderol”, regulatory impact assessments are fundamental to ensuring that we make the right decisions as legislators.

It is incredible that, instead of lockdown continuing to be relaxed, new restrictions on freedom, such as mandatory face coverings, have been introduced. The consequence is that I detect a growing atmosphere of gloom and foreboding as we see winter approaching: no vaccine availability for many months; the economy in a worse state than most of our competitors; and the prospect of the resurgence of the pandemic coinciding with the flu season. I do not like the expression “waves” because it makes it seem as though we are talking about something equivalent to the Atlantic rollers so much enjoyed by our former Prime Minister and colleague, David Cameron. We are not talking about waves. We are talking about the potential resurgence of the pandemic—not everywhere, but in particular hotspots.

This scenario demands a rational evaluation of conflicting risks to the economy and public health, together with a cost-benefit analysis, and now is the time for the Government to reinstate the intellectual rigour of the regulatory impact assessment process. Sooner or later, the incredible economic cost of the Government’s failure to remove lockdown restrictions in a timely and effective manner will become apparent. If that coincides with the Government asking their natural supporters to pay the price for their failure through higher taxes, the political consequences will indeed be dire. It is for that reason that I commend to the Government what the OECD says about regulatory impact analysis. It describes it as an

“important element of an evidence-based approach to policy-making…that…can underpin the capacity of governments to ensure that regulations are efficient and effective in a changing and complex world.”

I will not read from the whole OECD regulatory impact assessment report on best practice principles for regulatory policy, but it extends to about 40 or 50 pages and is extremely well researched and documented. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—these principles are supported by the Government; the trouble is that they do not seem to be being implemented by the Government and by Government Departments. I hope that in his response the Minister will tell us what he is doing to try and put that right.

The Government should revert to following their own “better regulation framework” established under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, which requires that

“A RIA should be prepared for all significant regulatory provisions as a standard of good policy making and where an appropriate RIA is expected by parliament and other stakeholders.”

The interim guidance issued in March this year sets out a general threshold for independent scrutiny of regulatory impact assessments and post-implementation reviews, where the annual net direct cost to business is greater than £5 million. It calls on Government Departments to undertake proportionate cost-benefit analysis to inform decision making.

The trouble is that this is not being done, and I will give just one topical example, to which I referred in my brief comments in the previous debate. Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, there was specific primary legislation saying that residential tenancies should be protected from eviction until 20 September this year. On Friday last week—27 August—regulations were made extending that period from 20 September for another six months. The regulations came into force on 28 August, which was last Saturday, the very same day that they were laid before Parliament. Regulation 1(2) says:

“These Regulations come into force on the day after the day on which they are laid”.

Those regulations have caused a storm of protest from residential landlords in my constituency; they are apoplectic about the fact that they are not going to be able to recover possession of their premises. Notwithstanding the contractual agreements they have entered into with their tenants, they are not going to be able to recover their premises until 31 March 2021.

It says in the explanatory notes to the regulations that they amend schedule 29 of the 2020 Act. This is primary legislation being amended by subordinate legislation subject only to the negative resolution procedure, and so one might have expected that there would be a regulatory impact assessment or something which would indicate to us, on behalf of our constituents, that the Government have thought this whole process through, but that is not there, and instead there is a little note which says:

“A full impact assessment has not been produced for this instrument due to the temporary nature of the provision.”

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my good friend for allowing me to intervene. In my constituency I have a huge backlash from residential landlords about this extension. I find it almost impossible to believe that the Department has not done an assessment of this, and I make the assumption—perhaps my hon. Friend or the Minister will correct me—that an assessment was done. I cannot believe that civil servants and decent Ministers would have made such a decision without actually looking at it, as this is a really bad thing for people who are trying to provide accommodation, because they see no good in this whatsoever; in fact it is extremely bad.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

I agree with my hon. Friend. One would have expected that an assessment was carried out—we will hear from the Minister in a minute whether there was—but what was so extraordinary is that it was only a week or two before the U-turn of last week that we were being assured by Ministers that there was no proposal to extend the application time for these regulations. I imagine that when Ministers were briefing that, they had not done any work suggesting that they wanted to extend the regulations, and then, at the last minute—perhaps as a result of the pressure group behaviours to which I referred—the Government just changed their mind. They had imposed this regulation at enormous cost, but we do not know what cost, because there is no estimate of that.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It makes us look like clowns.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

I hope that that is on the record—it makes us look like clowns. That is why I hope that we can persuade the Government to reform their ways. It is also extraordinary that the excuse should be put forward that this is a temporary arrangement and that is why there is no need for a regulatory impact assessment. That is not set out anywhere in any of the books on this, and it is a novel interpretation of what should be happening.

Switching away from the regulations directly related to coronavirus, I have received support for raising this issue from the Internet Association, which is the only trade association that exclusively represents leading global internet companies on matters of public policy. The organisation responded to the Government’s invitation when they went out to consultation in June inquiring about the reforming regulation initiative. It said, “Regulation in the digital sector has a wide range of potential impacts which extend beyond traditional economic impact analysis. As a matter of course, the Internet Association recommends that Government Departments and regulators undertake a wider impact assessment of their proposals covering not only the economic impact, but also issues such as technological feasibility and impacts on freedom of expression and privacy.” It goes on to say that “there have been a number of recent policy and regulatory initiatives in the digital sector where it has not been clear whether an impact assessment has been conducted and/or the impact assessment has not been published for external scrutiny.” It gives an example of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport/Home Office online harms White Paper. The Internet Association believes that wider regulatory impact assessments, as specified, should be required for major digital policy and regulatory initiatives. Therefore, this extends into that field also, as it does to all legislative and Government policy making—or it should do—and I hope that we will be able to get ourselves back on track.

The interim guidance to which I refer, which was published in March this year, referred to the Government considering how best the better regulation framework can be delivered

“more effectively over the course of this Parliament”.

Now is the time, surely, to take some action. As their first step, the Government should promise that the six-monthly review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 will be accompanied by a full post-implementation review and that a full cost-benefit analysis of those emergency regulations that it recommends should be kept in place. I hope that the Minister will announce that he is going to do that tonight and thereby help to restore public confidence in the Government’s decision making and the ability of Parliament to scrutinise it, because that is fundamental. I am grateful for the opportunity to put this point to the House.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

May I present a challenge to the Minister? Will he publish for our benefit a regulatory impact assessment on the issue of not allowing larger weddings? That would bring into the open all the issues with which he is familiar but which have not yet been exposed to public debate and scrutiny. Is that not what it is all about? This has now been going on for six months, and people want to know where the future lies for the small organisations involved in weddings. Will he offer to do that for us, notwithstanding the fact that his Department is very busy? That would be really helpful.

While I have the Floor, let me also say that I am concerned that the Minister seemed to distance himself from what is happening to individual landlords. Although they may not be incorporated, they are small businesses.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To answer my hon. Friend’s last point, I am not distancing myself; I literally was not involved in that decision. I do not want to offer a line of thought on something that I was not involved in, but I understand his point.

On weddings and the public debate, my hon. Friend has clearly not been following my Twitter feed—totally understandably—which is full of such debates about the wedding sector. We are trying to work with the sector to make sure it can open. My primary concern is about ensuring we get our economy open again with a warm but safe welcome to people. The Government’s first priority has always been to save and protect lives, but restoring livelihoods, protecting jobs and protecting businesses are right up there, for the reasons that my hon. Friend set out. If we do not get this kick-started now, the effect on the economy will be huge, so it is important that we work together to give people not just confidence but joy, so that when they come out to use services in their local high streets and city centres they enjoy the experience and come back time and time again.

A one-off hit to our economy is not good enough. We know it is not going to go back to how it was in February, and there are some permanent behaviour changes that seem to be kicking in. None the less, we need to work with the new normal, which means working with the virus, because we will be living with it. My hon. Friend talked about a second wave, or spike or whatever he wants to call it. If we learn to live with it, there may be a third and a fourth until we get a vaccine, but live with it we must. There will be a new reality of the permanent behaviour change.

Well-designed and effective regulation, which my hon. Friend wants to see in our legislation, and which we are championing, enables markets and business to flourish, grow and innovate. It can provide certainty for investors and protection for individuals and society. The use of impact assessments in informing regulatory design can help us to achieve those outcomes. Excessive or poorly designed regulation can impede innovation and create unnecessary barriers to trade, investment and economic efficiency. We have sought to limit that by ensuring that regulation changes in response to the pandemic are targeted and time-limited.

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Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There has been a long debate about the use of face masks, both on transport and in retail. There are arguments either side—whether it gives a false sense of security or whether people touch their face when they put on or take off their mask. None the less, we have a better understanding of the transmission of the virus and the aerosol nature of its transmission. That is why the World Health Organisation has changed its advice from the beginning, when it said people do not need to have masks or face coverings, to, “Yes, you do.” Actually, we can learn from history. In the 19th century, cholera was assumed to be transmitted by air, but by greater understanding and by working through it—they did not need a regulatory impact assessment to figure it out— eventually people found that it was the water supply that was causing cholera, so they were able better to tackle that particular issue at that given time.

The Regulatory Policy Committee undertakes the verification role that provides independent oversight of the quality of the regulatory impact assessments, as well as providing the Government with external independent scrutiny of evidence and analysis supporting regulatory impact assessments of the proposals. The RPC also has a role in scrutinising the quality of post-implementation evaluations of legislation to help the Government develop the evidence base on how regulation has worked in practice.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

Is this body to which the Minister is referring going to look at the issue of face masks, or face coverings? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) he has said that there are arguments on both sides of this. In those circumstances, why are the Government taking one side and criminalising behaviour instead of trusting people to reach their own decisions on the information provided by the Government?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the necessary people will have heard my hon. Friend’s call for that to be examined, but on the use of face masks, it is the same as self-isolation as a result of the test and trace system: the number of people who are having to self-isolate at any one time means that millions of us can go about our relatively normal lives by going to retail, hospitality or our places of work, which we were not able to do for so many months.

Those changes are evolving. I, like my hon. Friend, do not take any infringement of our civil liberties lightly, but this is a situation—I am not going to use the word “unprecedented” even though I just have; it has been used an unprecedented number of times—that we have never had to face before. No Government have ever had to face such a situation, so we are learning as we go along. We will not always get it right, but we have to make sure we are using the best engagement, listening to both sides of the argument, and working through as the science evolves and as we see what is in front of us in terms of human behaviour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch talked about the OECD, whose latest report acknowledged that better regulation is an area of strength in the UK. It notes that the UK has been a leader in regulatory policy in general, with the early adoption of the better regulation agenda. Our ambitious agenda is reflected in the results of the OECD’s monitoring of regulatory management tools, as displayed in the “OECD Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018”, with the UK displaying the highest composite indicator score for stakeholder engagement for primary laws. Our score for secondary legislation is also significantly above the OECD average. We also had the highest composite indicator score for regulatory impact assessments across the OECD. That includes strong formal regulatory impact assessment requirements in areas such as establishing a process to identify how the achievement of the regulation’s goals will be evaluated; assessing a broad range of environmental and social impacts; and undertaking risk assessments as part of regulatory proposals. So we should be justifiably proud of our world-leading reputation in this area.

These assessments are valuable documents, and the Government should be applauded for encouraging their production and the transparent scrutiny of them, but, as with some individual impact assessments themselves, there is always room for improvement. As with the principles underpinning better regulation, we are always looking for ways to learn and improve our approach.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

Obviously, we are fortunate in having a bit of extra time this evening, which is great. Will the OECD be asked to opine on the effectiveness of the Government’s regulatory response to the coronavirus epidemic? For example, will the OECD be able to comment on the distinction, which my hon. Friend has made, between rules on face coverings, for which there are lots of exemptions, and rules about isolation and quarantine, for which there are no exemptions. I am afraid that there is an anomaly there.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid I do not have the OECD on speed dial, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to ask it to look into all these things. I am glad that we have extra time, because there is nothing I like more than to discuss regulatory impact assessments—I am afraid that Hansard does not detect sarcasm. Although I make light, it is good that we have parliamentary scrutiny of an important topic to cover.

As I say, there is a further cultural shift in Whitehall to make on such impact assessments across the board. We do have a responsibility to monitor the extent to which the laws we have passed are implemented as intended and have the expected impact. My hon. Friend is justified in raising this important issue, so that we can consider, learn and move forward together. The planning for monitoring and evaluating regulatory changes could be more effective. There is a risk that laws are passed that result in unexpected consequences or inappropriately stifle innovation. I have seen that at first hand as we have been changing and tweaking various support measures for businesses; we have had to change them so that they are supporting businesses as intended, rather than with an unintended consequence. Better planning for monitoring and evaluating will help to ensure that there is sufficient information to assess the actual state of a law’s implementation and its effects.

In conclusion, regulatory impact assessments, in themselves, have evolved into an important and valuable component of the UK’s better regulation system. The transparent publication of impact assessments has added accountability to the analytical dimensions to policy development, which has increased the amount of evidence presented alongside policy proposals, and the existence of the independent scrutiny has increased both the transparency of the process and the accountability of government. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Gujarati Community in the UK

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 30th October 2019

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure it will not last beyond today.

On behalf of the Gujarati community that I am proud to represent, I wanted to add to the list of requests made of the Minister. The first is about flight links to Gujarat. There is a direct flight from Heathrow to Gujarat, but given the scale of the travel needs of Gujaratis in the UK—as I understand it, we are the third largest home for the Gujarati diaspora worldwide—anything that the UK Government could do, perhaps on the back of discussions about the third runway, to encourage more direct flights to Gujarat would be extremely helpful to many of my constituents.

Turning to the issue of visas, many of my constituents still experience difficulties helping their relatives who want to visit, particularly at Diwali. Perhaps the consulate in Ahmedabad could offer advice sessions to the family members of our Gujarati community about what they need to do to have a decent chance of their applications being processed. The last figures I saw suggested that over 60,000 applications for visas from India were being turned down, and given the size of the Gujarati community, I suspect that many of those—the vast bulk of them— are from people hoping to come from Gujarat to visit relatives here.

The hon. Member for Harrow East mentioned the teaching of Gujarati. It is time that we considered providing some funding, through Government or lottery sources, to support the many Saturday schools that are key for those children who take Gujarati at GCSE and, crucially, A-level; relatively speaking, A-level Gujarati has a very small number of applicants. Many of the mandirs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned facilitate those Saturday schools at considerable expense, but other community organisations often have to provide the teaching, and in these hard times, it is increasingly expensive to provide that teaching and book the facilities for it.

The last of my main asks is this: I do not understand why there are not more trade missions to Gujarat, to take advantage of our substantial business links with it. Gujarat is the economic powerhouse of India, and we should not be frightened of turning to the talents of British Gujaratis to unlock further business opportunities for our country in Gujarat.

I was disappointed at the Government’s unwillingness to support the campaign for Diwali, and indeed Eid, to be recognised as a national holiday. If the Government are not willing to reconsider their opposition to making those days public holidays, they should, at the very least, have conversations with business organisations to encourage businesses to be sympathetic to requests for time off on those days. Those are the most important spiritual days for the Gujarati community, so that would be extremely helpful. As the Minister may know, the Jains and Zoroastrians who form part of the Gujarati community in the UK do not get proper recognition on the census. Both have been running campaigns to get those faiths on to the 2021 census, so that their religion can be properly respected, and it would be good if the Minister would use his influence to unlock a more common- sense response from the Office for National Statistics.

I view the Gujaratis in my community through the businesses and services that they provide, beginning with the garage directly opposite my office, which is run by the Halai family, who came over from east Africa but had a home in the Kutch area of Gujarat. They have provided jobs to people in my constituency and provide a much-appreciated service through their garage. They are active in the Shree Kutch Leva Patel Community, which does so much in north-west London; I wish its premises were based in my constituency, but sadly, they are in Northolt. The SKLPC has secured planning permission for a fantastic new India Gardens project, and I wish its trustees well in turning their vision into a reality.

Also linked to SKLPC are the Vekaria family, who run the Vascroft business—contractors that build temples, hotels and many other things. They employ huge numbers of people and are well known in the building community. That business was set up by two brothers from east Africa, but again with huge links to Gujarat, in January 1977. It is a family business still; it has great values, and it is based in Park Royal. All us Members from north-west London have constituents who work for Vascroft.

There is also Sandip Ruparelia, who has links to the International Siddhashram Shakti Centre in Harrow—which, I suppose, is my home temple in my constituency—and to the ISKCON Foundation at Bhaktivedanta Manor. His family, too, was originally based in Tanzania, but had strong links to Gujarat. He arrived in the UK in March 1980, and now runs a huge business, providing banqueting facilities among other things. Perhaps crucially, in the context of the debate about the future of our public services that we will have over the course of the next six weeks, he also runs an important care home service, providing much-valued services to the elderly in my constituency and beyond. He employs 2,500 staff and generates substantial tax revenues for our economy. He is another example of a member of the Gujarati community who recognises his responsibilities to the country in which he lives, but has also kept his links to Gujarat and is hugely proud of them.

The Dhamecha family are part of the Lohana community. Again, they have strong links to Gujarat and have helped the Lohana community in the UK, which is part of the Gujarati diaspora, to set up two centres, both of which, I am pleased to say, are in my constituency. That is much appreciated. Pradip Dhamecha and his family run a huge cash and carry business, which generates substantial tax revenues for the UK economy.

The Solanki family are a north-west London Gujarati family who originally came from east Africa. The father, Mr Solanki, came over in 1964. They run the Asian Media Group. The business is now run by the second generation, with a third generation of Gujaratis actively involved in taking that successful media business forward. All the individuals I have referenced are fiercely proud of their Hindu faith and have links to many of the mandirs, be they part of the Swaminarayan family or other temples in the area.

I also acknowledge the contribution of Gujarati Muslims in my constituency. The superb Dr Merali, a local GP and entrepreneur, is a trustee of the Mahfil Ali mosque in north Harrow. He provides hugely important public services as a GP and through his work with nurseries. He is also engaged with a series of other fundraising projects to support those in need in the UK and back home in Gujarat.

I am privileged to host the headquarters of the Zoroastrian community in the UK in Rayners Lane in my constituency. It is hugely proud of its links to Gujarat, and the fact that the first MP from an ethnic minority background was a Gujarati Parsi. Again, we should acknowledge the huge contribution that the Zoroastrians have made, as part of the Gujarati community, to life in the UK.

All those Gujaratis, in different ways, support my seven reasonable asks of the Government, which I hope the Minister will take seriously in his response.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

We will start the wind-ups at 10 past, so I hope that the next two speakers are suitably brief.

Park Home Residents: Legal Protection

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 1st October 2019

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. In the absence of the Member we hoped would be chairing the sitting, it falls to me as the only member of the Speaker’s Panel present to take the Chair and to invite Sir Peter Bottomley to move the motion on my behalf.

Greg Knight Portrait Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Sir Christopher. In view of the fact that the debate is starting just over two minutes late, are you, as the Chair, prepared to give yourself injury time?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I am advised that it is in order to give injury time for time missed.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered legal protection for residents of park homes.

Thank you for starting the debate, Sir Christopher. I hope I will soon be able to resume my place and that you—you were originally going to move the motion—will be able to pick up and give the speech the House is looking forward to.

May I first pay tribute to you, Sir Christopher, for leading the all-party group on park homes? This is one of those areas where, for far too long, there was too little publicity and too little Government action.

I pay tribute to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which looks after park homes, for the way it has picked up the initiative by Nat Slade, an officer in Arun District Council, and his colleagues, who have worked with the Ministry to get the Government to come forward with measures to deal with some of the appalling abuses. If I were a tougher Member of Parliament, I would name some of the rogues and crooks—some have left the park home business, but others continue. My belief is that, with publicity, they will be shamed into stopping the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Few people choose to live in a park home as their permanent residence if they have better options, but the fact is that many do not. Too often, people have taken on a home that is, in theory, licensed only for holiday use, but everyone, including the freeholder and owner and the operator, knows that they are there to make permanent use of it. If, by chance, the operator manages to get the licence changed to permanent, the innocent park home owners and residents are then told to pay a fortune to convert what was, in effect, a permanent residence into another permanent residence.

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I hope that in due course you will be correctly described on the nameplate that currently refers to the missing chairman.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) for moving the motion and ensuring that we got under way as quickly as possible, and I thank you, Mr Hollobone, for coming along at very short notice to fill the vacancy.

I welcome our new Minister. When he looks back at his career many years hence he will recall that his first debate was one with procedural irregularities that, with a bit of help from the Clerk, had to be overlooked.

When this debate was selected, I had the privilege of being able to speak to the Housing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who told me that she would have liked to be able to respond to the debate because the subject is close to her heart. She is, however, in Manchester doing a lot of other debates, but she said that in her absence her new junior Minister would be well briefed and able to respond, and she offered to meet me to discuss my concerns and said that she would attend an early meeting of the all-party group to discuss our concerns.

Sixty years ago, in 1959, Sir Arton Wilson produced a report for the Government that found that the legislation applying to people living in caravans was both unclear and insufficient. The Government’s response was quick, enacting the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. The Act stipulates that occupiers of land must acquire a licence from the local council before using the land as a caravan site. The Act defines a caravan site as,

“land on which a caravan is stationed for the purposes of human habitation and land which is used in conjunction”

therewith. Section 29 defines “caravan” as including,

“any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another”.

Over the years the term “caravan” in relation to permanent residential accommodation has been replaced by the expression “park home”. In law and practice, however, park homes—and mobile homes—are caravans. They are chattels rather than real estate. Section 1(1) of the 1960 Act provides that

“no occupier of land shall...cause or permit any part of the land to be used as a caravan site unless he is the holder of a site licence”.

Section 1(2) provides that any occupier of land who

“contravenes subsection (1)...shall be guilty of an offence”.

Section 3(3) provides that a local authority may issue a site licence only if

“the applicant is, at the time when the site licence is issued, entitled to the benefit of a permission for the use of the land as a caravan site granted under Part III”

of the 1947 Act.

Local councils have the power to refuse, revoke or impose limitations on a site licence if it is deemed necessary. The conditions that can be attached to such licences are set out in legislation. The most recent addition was the Mobile Homes Act 2013, a private Member’s Bill facilitated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) when he was Housing Minster, which was brought before the House and ably carried through to enactment by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whom I am delighted to see in his place today. He used his place in the ballot to ensure that such an important issue would be the subject of private Members’ legislation in the absence of parliamentary time for Government legislation.

The 2013 Act contained a power for the Government to introduce a fit and proper person test for anyone applying for a site licence. That provision has been the subject of a recent public consultation, to which I am sure my hon. Friend will refer in closing. There has therefore been extensive and growing regulation of those who own or operate sites for residential park homes, but none of the legal protections afforded to residents of such homes by the 1960 Act and subsequent Acts applies if the site on which the park home or caravan is situated is unlicensed. The main purpose of this debate is to raise public awareness of that issue, and to highlight the failure of local authorities to enforce the requirement for site licences.

The unwillingness of local authorities to protect vulnerable residents is leading to a proliferation of unlicensed sites on which residents are at the mercy of unscrupulous site owners. The problem has become even more widespread because of recent controversial planning decisions that have enabled many caravan parks that were previously used and licensed only for touring and for non-residential purposes to be reclassified as year-round fully residential sites.

One such decision is that of 15 February 2018 in respect of two appeals against the refusal of Christchurch and East Dorset Councils to grant a certificate of lawful existing use for the permanent residential use of 45 caravans on land on the north side of Matchams Drive. At the time of the appeal, the site was subject to a licence granted to the Bournemouth and District Outdoor Club for use by touring caravans, but following the appeal decision the site is being developed and used for the siting of permanent residential caravans, despite no variation of the original site licence having been granted and without any transfer of that licence to the new owners.

Paragraph 49 of the appeal decision in respect of Matchams Drive, which is now being renamed Silver Mists, referred to the fact that the site licence conditions would protect infrastructure with respect to issues such as hard standing and drainage. The inspector said that the council retained control

“by virtue of the manner in which the licence is framed. This might include the need for planning permission for certain works, as set out in the licence”.

He went on to say, in paragraph 58:

“Trees on the site are the subject to a Tree Preservation Order…and that would apply irrespective of the outcome of this appeal.”

In paragraph 45, he stated:

“The site is secluded with a perimeter fence and gates. When entering the site it is surrounded by mature planting. There is nothing in the LDC application that would lead to a finding that this would change.”

If you visited that site today, Mr Hollobone, you would see that it is more like a moonscape—devoid of vegetation, with monumental earthworks having taken place and most of the trees and vegetation having been removed, despite the site being in a protected heathland habitat. These issues should have been controlled by the local authority through the site licence process, but there has been a reckless failure to take action. One of the park homes that is currently being advertised on that site is 50 feet by 20 feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and priced at £379,950, but it does not say anywhere that it is on an unlicensed site.

Silver Mists is within 400 metres of protected heathland. Under the severe restrictions in the habitats directive it would never have been given planning permission as an ordinary residential development, but there will now be 45 new permanent dwellings on the site, making a mockery of the protections that Natural England seeks to enforce on environmental grounds. Paragraph 3.4 of the supplementary planning document, “The Dorset Heathlands Planning Framework 2015-2020”, states that

“caravan and touring holiday accommodation”

is

“likely to have the same effect”

on the heathland as residential development. That is not the opinion of Natural England, but that organisation seems unable to enforce its own rules against caravan sites, even though it imposes the same rules with total inflexibility and rigour on any new proposed residential development, however small.

Although the issues relating to Silver Mists are matters for the new unitary Dorset Council, the largest number of unlicensed sites in my constituency are in the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole unitary authority area. The property section of the current edition of the Christchurch Times, a popular weekly newspaper, contains two full pages of advertising that promotes park homes provided by RoyaleLife. These include New Forest Glades in Matchams Lane and New Forest Glen, currently known as Tall Trees, in Matchams Lane. Despite their names, both sites are well outside the New Forest. What is more serious, however, is the description of the homes, which are offered for sale as “single storey” and coming from “the UK’s largest bungalow provider”. They are not bungalows. The “Collins English Dictionary” defines a bungalow as

“a one storey house, sometimes with an attic”.

It also quotes the origin as coming from the 17th century Hindi word “bangla”, meaning a house of the Bengal type. To describe a caravan as a bungalow must surely be a breach of advertising standards.

The promotional material omits any reference to the fact that the homes are caravans or park homes—and, therefore, chattels rather than interests in land. It highlights one of the consequences flowing from such status—the exemption from stamp duty—but fails to mention liability for 10% to be paid on resale. Furthermore, it does not refer to the fact that, as caravan sites, they have to be licensed under the 1960 Act, but are not.

New Forest Glades, formerly known as Port View Caravan Park, benefits in planning terms from a certificate of lawfulness permitting the siting of caravans for residential use on the land identified in that certificate. An application has been submitted to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council for a caravan site licence, but the land identified in the application is not co-extensive with the land identified on the approved plan. When I first complained to the council I was told that the applicant had not even paid the required fee for the application. The council is advising the applicants that unless their current application is amended it will be refused. New Forest Glades is, therefore, being heavily marketed as a site for expensive new luxury bungalows, some of which are, I believe, already occupied. The caravans are not bungalows and do not even enjoy the benefit of a site licence, and gullible members of the public are being seduced by sharp marketing and misleading advertising into buying homes that are no more than chattels on unlicensed and therefore illegal sites.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend highlights some of the poorer practice in the industry, but to shine some light on the situation I would like to highlight some of the better practices. I had an email from Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park yesterday, telling me that it champions the real living wage on its park homes, gifts 1% of its hire fleet to families in need through the Family Holiday Association, and never permits residential occupation of its holiday parks. Is there a lot we can learn from holiday parks such as Mother Ivey’s Bay, which are industry exemplars?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We can learn a lot from them and the best way to encourage them is to take strong action against rogue traders. I shall come on to those points later.

Greg Knight Portrait Sir Greg Knight
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who seek to occupy a park home need the best possible advice, and some information about the law in the area, and will he join me in congratulating Age UK on preparing a wonderful factsheet—factsheet 71— explaining that law?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

Absolutely. That is important. In that context, the Government have given new responsibility to the Leasehold Advisory Service to advise potential purchasers of park homes. I, and indeed the all-party parliamentary group, had a meeting with Anthony Essien, its chief executive. The trouble is that although it can give advice someone must approach it for advice before it can do so, and many people do not because they are seduced by the sort of information that I have referred to.

[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry that a pre-existing commitment prevents me from staying for the rest of the debate.

It seems to me that the Advertising Standards Authority should get a complaint, and should quickly adjudicate, rule out of order and condemn the advertisements that my hon. Friend refers to. May I point out that Sonia McColl, the champion of park home owners, had her 40 foot, 10-tonnes mobile home stolen? My hon. Friend might join me in appealing to Devon and Cornwall police to find it and to find the people who stole it. Death threats are one thing; having your home stolen is another.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

That last point is really important because Sonia McColl did an enormous amount of good work on behalf of park home residents across the country. She was the victim of a vendetta and a serious crime and I have seen recent correspondence suggesting strong evidence against two potential perpetrators, but the prosecuting authorities are not taking the action they should be taking in that respect. As always, my hon. Friend makes a very good point.

May I refer to another site in my constituency that is now called New Forest Glen but is better known as Tall Trees, in Matchams Lane? No application has been received by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council for a caravan licence, despite more than 100 of my constituents living and having their permanent homes in Tall Trees park. I have been told by the council that officers from both planning enforcement and environmental health have met the site owners to try to regularise the situation on several occasions, but without success. They are now advising the site owners that they are considering formal action to secure the necessary permissions for both planning and site licensing. Although such promises of action are welcome, they must be considered in the context of many years of inaction during which residents of Tall Trees have been denied the rights and protection that would be available if they lived on a licensed park home site. These rights include the ability to form a recognised residents association and restrictions on the amount by which ground rents can be increased, and on service charges being imposed.

Silver Mists, New Forest Glades and New Forest Glen are owned by one organisation, RoyaleLife. In March this year, I requested through the representative of Mr Bull, the chief executive of Royale Parks, that he address the problem, especially on Tall Trees. I referred to the fact that despite being recognised by Christchurch Council as enjoying residential status for 12 months of the year, many of the residents of Tall Trees were still paying site fees of £4,750 per year as well as council tax. If they had the benefit of formal residential status through a site licence, their fees would be £1,900 rather than £4,750. By not even applying for a site licence, Royale Parks is benefiting by being able to charge much higher fees. Residents also suffer because they must pay VAT on those fees. That situation should have been brought to a head by the council taking enforcement action against Royale Parks for not having a licence, thereby forcing the company to comply with the law. In my letter to Royale, I suggested that a meeting between Royale and the residents—who have been trying to have such a meeting for many months—would be useful, and I hope that such a meeting will now take place on 11 October.

Last Thursday I received the latest word from the council’s corporate director for environment and community in response to the concerns that I have expressed on behalf of residents. It is not wholly reassuring. Although she says that she hopes the requirement for Royale Parks to regularise the situation and obtain the appropriate site licences or face formal action will provide some comfort to the residents, she could take action now to ensure that all those park homes for which residential use is recognised benefit from a residential site licence. I do not understand why the council has been so slow in acting against a site owner who is refusing to apply for a site licence. The site owner, unreasonably, is refusing to obtain a licence for the existing residential park homes, instead choosing to put pressure on residents to support his appeal in respect of other park homes on the Tall Trees development that do not currently have certificates of lawfulness or valid planning consent for residential use. Residents have been told that the site owner will address the issue only if the appeal against the refusal of certificates of lawfulness on other parts of the site are successful. In other words, residents are being held to ransom. Those appeals have been delayed inordinately, not least because the appellants want a full hearing.

I then got involved in writing to the chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate to see whether we could bring this matter forward. We now have an appeal fixed for 10 December, which is good news, but in the meantime, there can be no justification for denying Tall Trees residents, who are lawful occupiers of their caravans, the protection of a site licence.

People in Tall Trees who wish to sell their home are unable to get full price for it because of the constraints to which I referred. One constituent estimates that the value of his home has been depressed by £100,000 as a result of the site owner’s actions and the council’s refusal to take enforcement action.

So far, I have concentrated on cases where no site licence has been issued, but even where licences are issued they are often not enforced, leaving residents exposed to exploitation. One such site, in Ferndown in my constituency, is Lone Pine Park, which is owned by Premier Park Homes Ltd. Two of my constituents there have been harassed because their park home is old and regarded by the new owners as being out of keeping with the new image of Lone Pine Park, which is described in a brochure as offering

“bespoke homes…nestled within Millionaires’ Row in Ferndown …Dorset.”

My efforts to engage with Dorset Council on the concerns expressed by my constituents have largely fallen on deaf ears. I wrote to its chief executive, Mr Prosser, on 5 August, but despite repeated requests for a reply I received a response only very late yesterday evening. In my letter, I referred to: the failure of the owner to deposit new site rules; residents and the emergency services having restricted access to estate roads because of the construction of new homes; rodent infestation; the dumping of rubbish and waste; and the proliferation of potholes, which prevent the local general practitioner car service from accessing the site. The chief executive says in his answer that he understands

“that a new site licence has been issued”,

which provides the site operator with a number of permitted rights. He goes on to say:

“There are some outstanding matters which would require planning permission that are not covered by the terms of the site licence, and for this reason there is an open enforcement case on the site until such matters are regularised.”

Despite having had my letter for two months, he goes on to say:

“planning/enforcement officers will visit the site again to check the situation to ensure the site is not being operated in a manner that would breach the permitted rights under the provision of the site licence or the permitted development order”,

and that

“the enforcement file will remain open until the site has been regularised.”

I refer to that letter at some length because it seems to show that the council has a very relaxed attitude to these important issues, which directly affect so many residents.

David Drew Portrait Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case. One of the problems is that local authority officers have no experience in this area. It is vital that we give advice to residents nationally, because they are being penalised. Does he agree that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has to take this up as a matter of urgency?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

Absolutely; the hon. Gentleman is right. Indeed, the British Holiday & Home Parks Association suggested that what we need in England is one centre of expertise that can not only give advice but take action on these matters, just as happens for trading standards and large companies that operate on many different sites. There is every reason for saying that we should do something similar in the park homes sector.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely from my perspective, as I visited Great Orton park homes last week. The main issues for the residents I met were the state of the park and the responsibility of the park owner.

I have two points to make. First, does my hon. Friend agree that introducing the fit and proper person test would go some way towards giving councils more powers to intervene where appropriate? Secondly, does he agree that it would be appropriate for residents to have the opportunity to acquire ownership of the park in certain circumstances, similar to the right that long leaseholders in blocks of flats have?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend’s second point is a suitable subject for a separate debate. One problem is that the land on which the caravans are situated is in separate ownership from the caravans, so to introduce a right to buy that land might legally be quite complicated. Having said that, it has been suggested that, to get round the site licence provisions, some operators are offering long leases on the small area of land on which each caravan or park home is situated, which leads to the situation where each separate park home on a site has to have a separate site licence. That is the latest way in which the law is being stretched. At my suggestion, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and the leasehold advisory group are interested in looking into the issue to see whether we will have a situation rather like the one we had with some Traveller sites, where an acre of field was divided up into lots of very small plots.

I am sceptical about my hon. Friend’s earlier point about the fit and proper person test. I will illustrate my scepticism by referring to the controlling director of Royale Parks Ltd. Robert Lee Jack Bull, born in May 1977, was appointed as the director of Royale Parks Ltd on 7 September 2018. Directly or indirectly, he holds between 25% and 50% of the shares and voting rights in that company, which is part of a complex group of companies. The information that I have seen from Companies House suggests that Mr Bull is the director of no fewer than 74 companies, which between them have assets of about £80 million and liabilities of about £110 million. Royale Parks Ltd controls 75% or more of the shares and voting rights in some of those subsidiary companies, such as Royale Parks (Dorset) Ltd. In marketing the properties, however, RoyaleLife describes itself as

“a family-owned business with a heritage dating back to 1945.”

There may be such a heritage, but what is probably not well known is that Mr Robert Lee Jack Bull was convicted at Cheltenham magistrates court on two pieces of information brought by the trading standards department, as described in the register for 10 January 2013. They are in similar terms, so I will refer only to the first one, which says:

“Between 13/08/2009 and 08/11/2009 at Gloucestershire, being a trader, engaged in a commercial practice which, by omission, was misleading under regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that its factual contract omitted material Information, namely by making representations to Phillip and Mary Bentall, being average consumers, with respect to a park home, 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park, Meadow Lane, Twyning, which representations caused them to take a transactional decision namely to sell their home at 32 Quay Lane, Hanley Castle and purchase 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park which they would not otherwise have undertaken if they had known that planning permission only existed for holiday homes at Cotswold Grange Country Park and that 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park was a holiday home, not a permanent residential property, contrary to Regulation 10 of said regulations and as a result caused or was likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.

Contrary to regulations 10 and 13 of the…Regulations 2008.”

Mr Bull was fined £4,000 on that and the other count, and ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge.

If we go for a fit and proper person test, will Mr Bull fall foul of that test? I suspect that he would not, which shows the weakness of such a test. That is why I express openly my scepticism about it, but I think that if my constituents, certainly at Tall Trees, knew about Mr Bull’s background they would be very concerned, because many of them were the victims of mis-selling. They bought their park homes at Tall Trees around the same period, between 2009 and 2013, having been told that those park homes carried with them full residential rights over a 12-month period.

John Healey Portrait John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab)
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If the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the concept of a fit and proper person test, what does he propose to put in place to try to stop exactly the rogues that he has described in such detail to the Chamber?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am saying that I am not in favour of the fit and proper person test proposed by the Government. The alternative suggestion—I was going to refer to it, but I will now do so directly—is that the British Holiday & Home Parks Association, which is basically a trade body, should be given responsibility for introducing some policing in this area. The right hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, rogue parking operators are no longer able to get access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database unless they belong to the British Parking Association, an organisation that ensures high standards in the parking industry.

Similarly, we could have a situation where an organisation such as the BHHPA was able to enforce the fit and proper person requirements through its membership code, so that it would not admit into its membership organisations that fell below those standards. That might be a much more direct way of addressing this issue, rather than going down the route of the fit and proper person test. Which of those 74 companies to which I referred would be regarded as an unfit and improper company because of one director? This is a complex area, but the main point I would make is that the fit and proper person test is not the panacea that some people are suggesting it is.

In my capacity as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes, I am well aware of the laid-back attitude of many local authorities in discharging their responsibilities to park home residents. I have received lots of information from members of the public, including information on operators: the Elmstead Residential Park in Andover, Lakeview Residential Park in Romford and others frequently referred to in Private Eye. There are serious continuing problems. We will hear about some of them during this debate. Successive Governments have engaged in window-dressing gestures rather than taking effective action against the rogue operators.

The fit and proper person test may be just such an additional issue. I hope that the Minister, in his response to the debate, will be able to set out the Government stall in respect of what the Government will do to force local authorities to meet their statutory obligations, and to protect the many thousands of park home residents looking for a strong lead in this area. It is recognised that there are a large number of reputable park home operators, but there are still rogues operating in this industry.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is correct and we need to address those particular issues, but we need to make sure we do so in an effective way, with the desired consequences. The introduction of the fit and proper person test was provided for in the 2013 Act and is intended to eliminate these rogues. However, the feedback from Wales is that it has not done that and that a dispersed system with a tickbox approach, which has been pursued there, has not led to one application being refused. If introduced—I have no particular problem with that—the test must be properly co-ordinated and consistent across the whole country and it must plug the loopholes whereby a rogue site owner either puts forward a manager for licensing purposes yet continues to direct business themselves or pursues the type of dubious practices highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

Secondly, more needs to be done to ensure that local authorities have the necessary expertise and resources to enforce the legislation. From my own experience, I know that East Suffolk Council is very good and proactive in addressing a problem when it arises. However, there is more work to be done on day-to-day management and the guidance and advice given to both home and site owners. Such pre-emptive work will nip potential problems in the bud and ensure they do not develop into the major incidents that cause people so much distress and turmoil. I take the view that, if seen through, the recommendations of the working group and the Government’s response to the review will address many of the concerns.

Thirdly, we have heard a great deal today about the sharp practices that are blighting many people’s lives, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that many site owners behave responsibly, fulfil their obligations and build good working relationships with the homeowners on their sites. It is vital that we do not create a system that forces them out of the sector to be replaced by the rogues who circumnavigate the arrangements and exploit the loopholes about which we have heard so much. In my experience, some good site owners are already deciding to leave the sector.

Fourthly, it is important to continue to distinguish between park homes and holiday homes and to guard against holiday parks morphing into park home sites, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch highlighted. The two sectors are completely different, with two different systems of protection against mis-selling and misuse. It is important that they remain as such and that we enforce the two systems fully and effectively.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Does my hon. Friend accept that, in the light of recent planning decisions at appeal, the two sectors are now morphed together, and that the only way to resolve the matter and make them distinct again is through legislation?

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
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My hon. Friend is correct to highlight the problem, and the situation has evolved and been allowed to develop at individual sites around the country. It may be like separating Siamese twins, but we must try, because the two sectors are completely different, serving completely different markets. If at all possible, they need to remain as such.

My final point relates to the 10% commission on sales. That is an anomaly in many ways, yet it has to a large extent underpinned the sector’s financial viability over time. The Government are right to be carrying out an assessment of the likely impact of a change to the rate of commission, and their findings should be fully scrutinised both back in this Chamber and, I am sure, by your Select Committee, Mr Betts. However, before making any changes we need to guard against and properly consider any unintended consequences, which could lead to a jacking up of pitch fees, for example.

Park homes have often been a forgotten part of the housing sector, but they play a vital role, particularly in certain seaside communities, such as those that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I represent, and for people at or approaching retirement. The sector has been overlooked in the past, and it is important that that does not happen in the future. We must continue to scrutinise the sector to ensure that homeowners have peace of mind, good site owners receive a fair return and the rogues are sent a clear message that they are not welcome and that we will send them packing.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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May I give a warm vote of congratulation to my hon. Friend on his maiden speech as a Minister? Brilliant! He responded admirably to the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), and he understands our frustration and said that he will pass on those expressions of frustration to the Minister for Housing when she gets back from the conference.

I am most grateful to everyone who has participated in the debate, because it has shown that we regard the issue as a high priority. In the end, government and legislation are all about priorities. I hope that, because of the debate, the Department will start to draft some legislation. As we know, when the current Transport Secretary was the Housing Minister, he was told that there was no space for legislation in the Queen’s Speech, but he had prepared the legislation and the drafting. One of the most depressing things that the all-party parliamentary group heard when we last met officials was that no work was being done on that. May I suggest that the Minister get draftsmen to work quickly on addressing the issues we have been debating today?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered legal protection for residents of park homes.