Christopher Chope debates with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

There have been 11 exchanges between Christopher Chope and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Fri 23rd October 2020 Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill 11 interactions (885 words)
Wed 30th October 2019 Gujarati Community in the UK (Westminster Hall) 3 interactions (19 words)
Tue 1st October 2019 Park Home Residents: Legal Protection (Westminster Hall) 27 interactions (4,505 words)
Wed 23rd January 2019 Tenant Fees Bill 5 interactions (372 words)
Fri 23rd November 2018 Parking (Code of Practice) Bill 42 interactions (1,681 words)
Wed 5th September 2018 Tenant Fees Bill 10 interactions (663 words)
Wed 4th July 2018 Five-year Land Supply (Westminster Hall) 4 interactions (53 words)
Wed 25th April 2018 Christchurch Council: Governance (Westminster Hall) 2 interactions (2,629 words)
Wed 28th March 2018 Local Government Funding 10 interactions (760 words)
Wed 7th February 2018 Local Government Finance 3 interactions (75 words)
Fri 2nd February 2018 Parking (Code of Practice) Bill 9 interactions (320 words)

Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 23rd October 2020

(5 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
23 Oct 2020, 12:05 a.m.

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) - Hansard

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 - Hansard

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) - Hansard

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 - Hansard
23 Oct 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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) - Hansard

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 - Hansard

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.

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab) - Hansard

Labour welcomes the chance to debate this Bill. We would have welcomed sight of it sooner in order really to understand the implications of the measures it contains and to ensure that relevant stakeholders could have made their views known. We would like a full impact assessment of the proposed changes, to understand why they are needed and to ensure that this is a fair deal for all involved. It is important that people pay fair fees for their pitches each year and that there is no chance they can be taken advantage of.

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

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 - Hansard

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

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.

Gujarati Community in the UK

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 30th October 2019

(12 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas - Hansard
30 Oct 2019, 4:53 p.m.

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.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien (Harborough) (Con) - Hansard
30 Oct 2019, 5:02 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) in the warmest terms on securing the first ever debate in the Commons about the role of Gujaratis. The story of the Gujarati community in Britain is inspirational. He has already mentioned the Gujaratis’ incredible get-up-and-go enterprising qualities. Many of them, particularly in my constituency, fled here from the murderous Idi Amin with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and they have built incredible businesses and transformed the local economy. If I were to name all of them in my constituency, we would be here for days.

The Gujaratis have made an incredible social contribution to our area—they are social entrepreneurs. As part of the wider Indian community in my constituency, they run countless voluntary groups, community groups and charities, with a particular emphasis on helping and caring for older people. It is always wonderful, when I go to Gujarati homes, to see the grandma and grandpa seated with great respect at the end of the table. That is a wonderful part of the culture that we could all learn from.

The Gujarati community is a patriotic community that has become integrated and part of the great tapestry of this country. I enjoy the cultural contribution that it has made to my constituency; there have been huge Diwali celebrations in recent weeks in Leicestershire. I particularly enjoyed dancing at the Navratri celebrations at Gartree High School in my constituency. As hon. Members might imagine, I am a terrible dancer, but it is a warm and forgiving community, so it was wonderful to be there.

Park Home Residents: Legal Protection

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 1st October 2019

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:32 a.m.

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.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:32 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 9:32 a.m.

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

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:34 a.m.

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]

Break in Debate

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:35 a.m.

I am grateful to you, Sir Peter, for moving the motion. I shall call Sir Christopher—it is his debate—but for the avoidance of doubt I should say that I am not late; I am the replacement.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:35 a.m.

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 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
1 Oct 2019, 9:48 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 9:48 a.m.

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.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:48 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 9:49 a.m.

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]

Sir Peter Bottomley - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:50 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 10:31 a.m.

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 be able 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 contraints 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.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 9:58 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 9:59 a.m.

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
1 Oct 2019, 10:02 a.m.

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) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:06 a.m.

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 - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:08 a.m.

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.

Clive Betts Portrait Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair) - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:11 a.m.

Three Members wish to make a speech, giving us about ten minutes each, without putting a formal time limit on it. Thank you Sir Christopher for starting this debate, and I apologise for my late arrival.

Break in Debate

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:23 a.m.

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 - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:26 a.m.

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 - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:26 a.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Luke Hall Portrait Luke Hall - Hansard

Absolutely. Such debates are an excellent way to shine light on poor practice in the sector. Park homes represent about 180,000 households and can house some of the most vulnerable people in society. Too often, those people are exploited and suffer poor treatment. They deserve our protection and support, so it is right that the Government have given and will continue to give significant attention to the sector. Good progress has been made in recent years. We have heard this morning that there is still a huge amount to do. I trust that I can count on the support of the Members present this morning, as we press ahead with our vital reform of the park home sector.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
1 Oct 2019, 10:58 a.m.

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.

Tenant Fees Bill

(Ping Pong: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd January 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Jeremy Quin Portrait The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury (Jeremy Quin) - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 2:57 p.m.

Not moved.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That motion would have given us some certainty that this House would be sitting on Friday week, for example, to consider private Members’ Bills. Is it not extraordinary that we now have no certainty about that? The presumption now is that we will not be sitting on Friday 1 February. At one stage we were told that we would be sitting on Friday 25 January. My point of order relates to the amendment that I tabled to the business in motion 4. Prior to hearing that the motion was not going to be moved, I sought to find out whether my amendment had been selected. It is the convention of this House that if someone has tabled an amendment, they get advance notice prior to the debate as to whether it has been selected. We often get printed papers telling us which amendments have been selected and in what order. Can you tell us, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether my amendment and/or the one tabled in the name of the Labour environment spokesman, amendment (b), were selected for debate, subject of course to the debate starting at the behest of the Government? The other point I would like to make is to ask whether I am correct in saying that the only way in which we can avoid this sort of scenario is for Back Benchers on both sides to sign Government motions so that they cannot be withdrawn?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 3 p.m.

Order. I beg the House to be a little quieter because, as a matter of practicality, I could not hear the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] I am politely asking for a little bit of quiet. Just talk quietly among yourselves.

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. As to whether it is extraordinary, I cannot possibly comment from the Chair. However, he has asked me, as a point of order, whether his amendment (a) to motion 4 was selected and, indeed, whether amendment (b) was selected, and I can tell him that I do not know the answer to his question. The selection of amendments is entirely a matter for Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers have no part in the consideration or discussion of whether an amendment should be selected. I do not know whether either amendment was selected, but I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I accept your ruling in relation to the prerogative of the Speaker to decide which amendments are selected and which are not, but what I was really concerned about was the fact that the Member who tabled the amendment was not notified as to whether it had been selected. Is there now a new convention in this place that a Member does not know whether their amendment has been selected until the debate starts? If that is a new convention, let us all be clear about it, but my understanding, after more than 30 years in this place, is that if a Member moves an amendment, they normally get advance notice of whether it has been selected.

Madam Deputy Speaker - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 3:02 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman again makes a perfectly reasonable point about his experience over the past 30 years, but we live in ever-changing times, and I genuinely do not know the answer to his question.

Parking (Code of Practice) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 23rd November 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:09 p.m.

I commend the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) for his Bill and for the very sensible amendments that he has brought before the House. I assure him that I am not going to speak at length. I rise at this stage just to congratulate him and to assure him that he has the full support of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:10 p.m.

May I address some remarks to the amendments in my name, particularly amendments 7 and 8 to clause 1? Like everybody else in the Chamber, I think this is a really good piece of legislation, but it is dependent on the good will of the Government to ensure that something actually happens.

Too often, we pass legislation in this House, and months or years later we find that nothing much has happened as far as the Government are concerned. I give as an example the primary legislation passed in this House to limit public sector exit payments to £95,000. That was contained in the Enterprise Act 2016. The Government have still not implemented that provision. Despite promises more than a year ago that they were about to bring forward regulations, they have not even fulfilled those promises. The most recent information I have is that there will be a write-round before Christmas, and then they may have a consultation on the regulations next year. When the Government say, “Yes, we’re definitely going to do something about this”, as they did when that law was passed, there is quite often a gap between what is said and the reality.

It is against that background that I am seeking, in amendments 7 and 8, to tighten up the requirements on the Government to bring forward the code of practice. Currently, all the Bill says is:

“The Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice containing guidance”.

However, he may not prepare that code of practice for many months or many years, and we should learn from past mistakes.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:12 p.m.

May I just say to my hon. Friend that so far, throughout this whole process, I have found the Government very helpful, with no sign of procrastination? Indeed, they have been very astute in already seeking views and starting the consultation process, with a working group looking at some of these aspects. I am certain his fears are misfounded.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:13 p.m.

I hope that is so. One way of establishing that my right hon. Friend is right would be if the Government readily accept amendments 7 and 8. Doing so would reinforce the good will of the Government in ensuring that they will bring forward their parking code in good time.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:13 p.m.

A time limit could be put into the legislation so that by such a time this should be done.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:14 p.m.

That is exactly the purpose of my amendments.

Amendment 7 would insert, in the first line of clause 1, that the Secretary of State,

“within twelve months of the day on which this Act is passed”,

must prepare a code of practice. That is pretty clear in bringing in a time limit and a requirement. I hope the Minister will be able to give an undertaking that the Government will bring forward a code of practice within 12 months. Some people may be impatient and say that they want it sooner, but under the terms of the Bill the Government have to consult before producing a code of practice, so I think it is reasonable to allow a period for the code of practice to be drawn up and consulted on.

If the amendment goes too far and is too extreme for the Government, amendment 8 is a modification as it would mean that the Secretary of State must “use his best endeavour” to prepare a code of practice. I do not know whether the Minister will say that those words are a meaningless addition, or that they would impose too tight a legal requirement on the Secretary of State.

Michael Tomlinson - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:15 p.m.

As always, my hon. Friend and neighbour considers these matters carefully, and I am listening carefully to his proposals. Given that the Bill’s sponsor has received reassurance on this point, surely the phrase “best endeavour” would be otiose, because the Government and the excellent Minister have said that these things will be brought forward. We simply do not need those words.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:16 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point, and I have tabled the amendment as a fall-back position—[Interruption.] Not a backstop, no. The amendment is a fall-back in case the Government do not accept amendment 7.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:16 p.m.

May I say gently to my hon. Friend that if his amendments are accepted, they may cause some difficulty? If the Bill becomes law, the Government will need to go through a procurement process, which will take several months. The arbitrary time limit that he seeks to impose might mean that that procurement process could not properly take place.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:17 p.m.

With greatest respect, perhaps my right hon. Friend’s point is relevant to my other amendments that relate to the time the Act must be passed. I do not see how having to go through a procurement process will interfere with the code of practice, unless the Government propose to delegate the drawing up of that code to some consultant—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that the Government might want to do that. They might also feel the need to comply with the European Union procurement directive on this matter, but that is speculation.

My right hon. Friend has been—not obsessed, but very concerned about the abuse of private parking facilities for a long time, and this is a great opportunity to get legislation on the statute book and get something done. However, I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have great trust in the Government, that even if the Minister does not obstruct the Bill and exercises good will, as we have seen with public sector exit payments, there can be a big gap regarding those good intentions. I think the whole House supported the idea of a £95,000 cap on exit payments, yet two and a half years later there is no sign of that coming into effect, and the latest projection is that it will be sometime next year.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:18 p.m.

On amendment 7, how will the Secretary of State be judged on the requirement to “use his best endeavour” to carry this out within 12 months?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:19 p.m.

That very challenging question is not dissimilar to the questions that I asked the Government and Prime Minister about what enforcement mechanism there will be to ensure that “best endeavours” as referred to in the withdrawal agreement will be implemented. In answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Minister replied on 22 November:

“The reference to best endeavours in Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement is a legally binding commitment that requires the United Kingdom and the EU to conduct themselves so that the negotiations on the future relationship are meaningful. It prohibits inflexible or obstructive behaviour and obliges the parties to pay reasonable regard to the interests of the other party.”

So in answer to the hon. Gentleman, that is the precedent that would be established. If he thinks that that is full of clarity, then I am sure he will be eager to support my amendment.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Presumably, whether best endeavours have been followed in the Brexit negotiations is likely to capture slightly more media coverage than whether best endeavours have been used in the introduction of the civil car parking code of practice.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

With the greatest respect, I do not understand why my hon. Friend says that. According to the Government, “best endeavours” is a legal term, so why can we not incorporate it in the Bill in the same way that it has been proposed that it should be incorporated in the EU withdrawal legislation?

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

My point is that in this instance best endeavours would always be in the eye of the beholder. The hon. Gentleman does not explain, in his amendments, how Ministers could be judged on whether they had used their best endeavours and what the consequences of any such judgment would be. Therefore, as an amendment—I know he is very careful about these sorts of things—it does not survive minimal scrutiny.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

In my submission, if an aggrieved member of the public felt that the Government had not been using their best endeavours to bring forward the code of practice and were thereby delaying the implementation of the will of Parliament, it would be open to that person to raise the matter by way of a judicial review, so there would be an enforcement mechanism.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Is this amendment not a licence to take power away from this House and put it into the courts? This House should be responsible for its own legislation. If there had been a failure of a dilatory nature from the Government, then my hon. Friend could no doubt call them to account in this House. However, ceding power to the courts to make a decision on whether best endeavours have been used seems to me to be a complete abdication of responsibility.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

What my hon. Friend says is interesting if one applies the analogy of best endeavours to what is being discussed in the context of article 184 of the EU withdrawal agreement. In answer to another parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) the Minister with responsibility for exiting the European Union stated:

“the primary remedy would be that the party in default would be obliged to return to the negotiating table and modify its position. In the event that there was further non-compliance, remedies may be imposed under the processes established by the withdrawal agreement.”

It may be that my amendment is just as weak as article 184 of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement seems to be.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

indicated assent.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

I see the hon. Gentleman is expressing his strong agreement.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

I think my hon. Friend is seeing shadows on the wall where they do not exist. The Government have made it quite clear that they are very supportive of the Bill. If I give him an undertaking to harass the Minister and make his life a misery if I think he is dragging his feet, will my hon. Friend not press his amendments?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:20 p.m.

Is my right hon. Friend saying that he himself will undertake to harass the Minister? I am afraid that in the past my efforts at harassing the Government have proved manifestly unsuccessful. Of course, my right hon. Friend carries with him the distinction of being a former Deputy Chief Whip, so perhaps he has more influence than I have.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con) - Hansard

My hon. Friend should not be so dismissive of his own impact. As he will know, I was a sponsor of the Middle Level Bill, which is now the Middle Level Act 2018. His dutiful use of the procedures of the House ensured that it was a changed Bill. We do not necessarily need this at the moment, because we can rely on him being a dutiful parliamentarian, scrutinising constantly and ensuring that the House holds the Government to account for implementing the law that is passed.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:14 p.m.

Gosh, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am being flattered into submission. Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to say that the Government have also conceded on the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and I tabled saying that we need more Fridays on which to consider private Members’ Bills. That amendment has been accepted by the Government, and I understand that they are going to put forward a motion for debate on Monday that incorporates it. I can accept—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Hansard

Order. It is important that we stick to the amendments in front of us rather than what might be amendments elsewhere in future debates.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:25 p.m.

I shall use my best endeavours to comply with your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I think that was a useful walk around amendments 7 and 8. Let me refer briefly to the other amendments in my name, which deal with when the Bill has to be enacted. At the moment, clause 11, on the commencement, extent and short title, says that “section 8” and

“any power to make regulations”

will come in

“on the day on which this Act is passed”.

However, the clause also states that the

“remaining provisions of this Act come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations appoint.”

My amendment suggests that that should be two months after the day on which the Act is passed, again to ensure that the pressure is kept on the Government to bring the measures forward as quickly as possible. There is massive public demand for them, and I fear that if we do not tie the Government’s hands a bit more than the Bill does currently, we may have to rely, to a very great extent, on the muscle power of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. I do not really think we want to have to do that, which is why I tabled the amendments. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:26 p.m.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on his commitment to ensuring that we have parity and fairness in private parking—it is matched only by his dexterity on the drum kit and his ability to keep time in the parliamentary rock band, MP4. This is a very fine Bill, and I will come to the code of practice on Third Reading, because it is really important that we get a better understanding of the Government’s intentions on the code of practice, which is a most important feature.

I support the right hon. Gentleman on new clause 1 and the subsequent amendment. It is very important to ensure that we get clarity on the appeals process. He is right that we are not covered by POPLA in Scotland. If a car parking operator is part of the independent parking community, we can appeal to the Independent Appeals Service, but that leaves a rather big gap in the opportunities in Scotland to appeal against some of these parking restrictions.

The right hon. Gentleman will know my interest in all this. The city of Perth is totally plagued by private parking companies, making life a misery for my constituents and the many people who come to visit that beautiful city. It is important that we get the Bill done and address this issue. On appeals, a member of staff who works in my office in Perth spends a good part of his day having to deal with complaints and assist people with appeals about the operation of parking companies in my constituency. Something has to be done. The procedure is that someone can appeal against private parking operators, but they are self-regulating. It is up to them whether they take it seriously and to make a ruling and a judgment if they think it is fair—if they think the appeal should be progressed—and then to make a response to the complainant. Clearly, that course of action is unsatisfactory.

This comes down to the British Parking Association’s set of regulations. It introduced POPLA in England and Wales several years ago, which, as I have said, does not cover Scotland. People can appeal to POPLA only if they have failed to secure a successful outcome in appealing to the private parking operator in the first place, and there is a £20 charge. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the new independent appeals process that he outlines in the new clause will be free of charge. That is important, because I have seen some of these fines range to over £100—I think the top one I have seen, at the end of one of the very many threatening letters that are used by debt collection companies, was in the region of £140 to £160. The added cost of the appeal is another burden and feature that has to be endured by the hard-pressed motorist.

Break in Debate

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:51 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman recognises that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is a Member of great distinction and resourcefulness. It may just be possible that that is his intention. If it is his intention, he has certainly made the point with his customary eloquence and effectiveness. Yes, I think this would be an excellent moment for him to recognise that the point is made, and he could therefore graciously not press his amendments.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:51 p.m.

My amendment 8, which seeks to incorporate the phrase “best endeavour”, is completely nugatory in terms of legality or enforceability, and I take the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) that “best endeavour” is a meaningless phrase. I therefore will not press the amendment. We would not want to litter our statute book with meaningless phrases, whether it be in the withdrawal Act or in this Bill.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:52 p.m.

That was elegantly done. Well, on that basis, I do not have much more to say. I have made the points I wanted to make.

With the Bill being improved in the way that has been proposed, I end by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire. This is past time, and the Bill will be welcomed in my constituency, by the constituent I mentioned, by me and, I am sure, by Members on both sides of the House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Rishi Sunak) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:49 p.m.

It is wonderful when both sides of the House come together to support and put in place legislation that will make a practical difference to the day-to-day lives of the millions of people we represent. In that vein, I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on highlighting this issue, and on the tenacity and diligence with which he has brought the issue to the Floor of the House and to Committee. I pay tribute to him, and many people will be grateful for his efforts.

I will speak briefly now, and perhaps respond to hon. Members’ comments more generally on Third Reading. For now, I will limit my remarks to the various new clauses and amendments.

New clause 1 will appoint a single appeals service to create further clarity for consumers, giving a well-signposted route to appeal a private parking ticket. I am delighted on behalf of the Government to support the new clause. It and the associated amendments will ensure that there is a fair, transparent and consistent appeals service for motorists. This has been warmly welcomed by consumer groups and the parking industry alike.

I am pleased to tell the House that Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, has said:

“we particularly welcome the proposal for a single, independent appeals service, which, together with a single, clear code of practice should establish a better, clearer framework and a level playing field that is fairer for all”.

The foundation has challenged the effectiveness of self-regulation in the parking industry. Only this week, it drew attention to the fact that in the second quarter of the financial year, private parking companies sought yet another record number of vehicle keeper details from the DVLA with which to pursue ordinary drivers and motorists.

The chief executive of one of the industry’s leading trade associations, the British Parking Association, has said that the association welcomes the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, commenting that they

“chime with our call for a single standard body, single code of practice and a single independent appeals service. This framework provides a unique opportunity to deliver greater consistency and consumer confidence”.

The BPA looks forward to pushing

“for a positive outcome for all.”

It is therefore with pleasure that the Government can support new clause 1.

I am also pleased to support, on behalf of the Government, amendments 1 to 6, which are pragmatic alterations that will support the Bill’s delivery through secondary legislation. They will give the Secretary of State the ability to delegate functions to non-public bodies, such as experts in auditing, as seems eminently sensible. They will clarify the role of the Secretary of State, in that he or she will have final approval of the code of practice and any subsequent alterations that will be submitted to Parliament. Finally, as my right hon. Friend stated, the amendments will expand the existing levy under the Bill to cover the cost of appointing and maintaining a single appeals service. The Government support all the amendments.

Let me turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I welcome his broad support for the Bill’s measures, and share his commitment to, and enthusiasm for, ensuring that the measures start making a practical difference to people as soon as possible. However, following the arguments that have already been made by various Members on both sides of the House, I, too, do not believe that the amendments are necessary. I can personally assure my hon. Friend that the Government and I are committed to creating and publishing a code of practice for the private parking industry as soon as is practically possible. I can confirm that considerable work has already gone into this, and I will happily walk the House through that in a second.

More generally, placing an arbitrary timeline on the process of developing a code and implementing the Bill would compromise our ability to make sure that the Bill comes into force in the way that we want it to, and with the impact that we all desire it to have. For example, a consultation with the public is necessary. Given the scale and volume of the correspondence to our postbags and email inboxes, which are already full regarding this topic, one can imagine that that consultation will be of extreme importance to many people whom we represent. They will want time to have their say, and we should make sure that that is possible. Furthermore, as has already been outlined, procurement practices might be required, and if they should be required, they will be subject to statutory timelines that need to be obeyed. Lastly, if the code of practice was going to put in place new provisions around such things as standard signage, standard forms of parking tickets or standard language, it would be appropriate for a suitable transition period to be put in place to allow companies to adjust to the new, fairer measures.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard

Taking all that the Minister is saying into account, what is his best estimate as to when these measures will actually be effective in law?

Rishi Sunak - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 12:59 p.m.

I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise answer to that question, simply because, in the first instance, I am not in control of the parliamentary process in the other place, as he will be aware.

However, what I can do for my hon. Friend and the House is to give some evidence as to the pace and commitment with which I and my team are working on this issue. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), had already, even before the Bill’s Second Reading, asked the director of the RAC Foundation to form a working group to start developing an outline code of practice. That working group contains multiple stakeholders from across the industry, including the two main trade associations—the BPA and the International Parking Community—the Welsh and Scottish Governments, and bodies such as People’s Parking, the RAC Foundation, the traffic penalty consortium, the British Retail Consortium, and the DVLA. The body has already met four times—each time extensively, for over two hours—to debate all the issues. I personally have spent time with the director of the RAC Foundation and the BPA, and I am shortly to meet the IPC. My officials have had more than 30 bilateral meetings with members of the working group. At my instigation, my officials have hosted a parking operator roundtable in the Department to fully engage the industry to help to develop the code of practice.

All that work has not been in vain. It has informed a draft code of practice, which has already been published and shared with the Public Bill Committee, and I would be delighted to place a copy of it in the Library for hon. Members to see. I hope that, collectively, this will give all hon. Members the reassurance they need that the Government and I are firmly committed to developing this code of practice, and ensuring that the legislation is enacted as quickly and practically as is possible.

Break in Debate

Sir Greg Knight - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:01 p.m.

May I just echo the Minister’s final comment? I, too, hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), having heard the pledges of support for the Bill and the clear expressions of good will, particularly from Front Benchers, will not press his amendments to a vote.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard

I am not going to do so.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:01 p.m.

Thank you. It is very good to have clarity for the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 6

Delegation of functions

Amendments made: 1, page 3, line 14, leave out from “may” to “functions” in line 20 and insert “—

(a) enter into an agreement with a public authority authorising the authority to perform any functions of the Secretary of State under sections1 to4 (other than the function of laying a code or alteration before Parliament);

(b) enter into an agreement with a person authorising that person to perform any”.

This amendment enables the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the investigation of breaches of the parking code to bodies that are not public authorities.

Amendment 2, page 3, line 28, leave out “public authority which is” and insert “person”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 3, page 3, line 34, leave out “the final version of”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.

Amendment 4, page 3, line 35, at end insert “for approval”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 5.

Amendment 5, page 3, line 36, leave out “The” and insert

“Once the Secretary of State has approved the code or alteration, the” .—(Sir Greg Knight.)

Amendments 3 to 5 make clear that, where the Secretary of State has delegated the function of preparing the parking code, the Secretary of State must approve the final version of the parking code (or any alteration to it) before it is laid before Parliament.

Clause 7

Levy for recovery of administrative and investigation costs

Amendment made: 6, page 4, line 3, at end insert—

“() where the Secretary of State has entered into an agreement with a person under section (Appeals against parking charges) (appeals against parking charges), the establishment and maintenance by the person of a service for dealing with parking appeals (within the meaning of that section).” —(Sir Greg Knight.)

The effect of this amendment is that, where the Secretary of State enters into an agreement with a person for the person to deal with appeals against parking charges (see NC1), the costs of establishing and maintaining that parking appeals service may be defrayed out of the proceeds of the levy imposed on accredited parking associations.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

Break in Debate

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:09 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. These examples are all, clearly, very distressing for the motorist concerned, as are the language and the threats that are often used—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). It is, however, important to remember that these companies have no legal power to fine motorists. That is something only the police, local councils and those enforcing railway byelaws can do. As a result, some private parking companies deliberately make their parking charges look very similar to official penalty charge notices. When the police or the local authority issue a fine, it will often be labelled as a “PCN”—a penalty charge notice—and may come in an official yellow cellophane wrapper. Some private companies are now using similar packaging and are even labelling their notices with the word, “PCN”, but this time it stands for parking charge notice. Often the term enforcement is used, but these companies do not have any enforcement powers.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:10 p.m.

None of these companies would be able to operate in this way if they were not able to get access to the DVLA database. Why is nothing being done about that?

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
23 Nov 2018, 1:11 p.m.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, when this Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, that is precisely what it will do: it will take away the right of a rogue company to seek vehicle keeper details, thereby putting it out of business.

Tenant Fees Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 5th September 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Rishi Sunak - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 3:19 p.m.

As the Minister with responsibility for local government, I am full of admiration for local authorities and their ability to do many things. The pace of the creation of new legislation over the past year or two means that many of the local authorities’ powers in this area are relatively new, so local authorities are getting to grips with them bit by bit. I am pleased to say that there are very positive examples on the ground of local authorities taking action to enforce housing legislation and reinvesting in enforcement the fines that they generate.

A brilliant example of that is Torbay Council, which has used the fines from civil penalties to employ an extra enforcement officer to help with exactly the activities that we are discussing.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 3:20 p.m.

Why are we not talking about a duty on local authorities to carry out enforcement? The Minister is saying that they have the powers, but the Public Bill Committee heard evidence that the London Borough of Newham prosecutes around 250 landlords and agents a year and that that represents half the total number of prosecutions in the whole sector. Why is there not a duty on local authorities to carry out enforcement?

Rishi Sunak - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 3:21 p.m.

As I mentioned previously, Newham is obviously ahead of the curve, and the Committee did hear evidence about that, but many other local authorities are now following suit. Liverpool, Camden and Torbay are examples of local authorities that are getting to grips with the new legislation and putting it into effect in good order. I am pleased to say that, as these are relatively new powers, over the summer recess my Department conducted an extensive engagement activity across five different events throughout the country, involving almost 200 different local authorities, to talk specifically about the enforcement of regulations in the sector. Those conversations have sparked a lot of interesting collaboration across local authorities as they contemplate using the existing regulations and the new legislation in future. As we go forward together, with greater awareness and collaboration and, indeed, the greater funding that will come as a result of the legislation, I am confident that we will see enhanced enforcement activity from local authorities, where required.

Break in Debate

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:34 p.m.

I will not give way, simply because of the time constraints on us.

If tenants are found to be in breach of those requirements, they will be liable to penalties and to prosecution, so I am more reassured than I was at the start of the debate. I welcome the fact that the Minister has listening ears, because he has really tried to listen to all Members on this matter.

On the enforcement issue, I am still concerned—not because of this legislation, but because of the failure to enforce the existing legislation requiring letting agents to publish their fees. I welcome the fact that, under clause 7, district councils will be able to keep the penalties charged, and I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement today that there will be £500,000 of up-front loading for councils to enable them to invest in staff and to start taking on enforcement. I want to pursue this, however, by asking what will happen if that still does not result in enforcement, because we will be no further forward with this brilliant legislation if enforcement does not happen. I also put on the record my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, which asked for the up-front loading.

If we are giving councils the money in advance and they are able to keep the penalties, they really must step up to the mark and enforce the legislation. It will make such a difference to tenants’ lives if they know in advance what fees they will have to pay and that those fees are evidence-based, and if they know that if those fees are abused, there will be prosecutions and severe penalties. I cannot support the Opposition’s amendment 3, simply because schedule 1 sets out which fees will or will not be payable, while the Opposition have only given some examples of such fees. That is not really strong enough, and the amendment would severely weaken the legislation.

I congratulate the Minister, who has done a fantastic job in listening to everyone. I still have some slight concerns about enforcement and the default payments, but I am very happy to support the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:34 p.m.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate. I am neither a landlord nor a tenant, but I am the chair of the all-party group on the private rented sector, and that sector is under substantial pressure on issues relating to regulation and interference by the Government.

The Residential Landlords Association has estimated that, in the past nine months alone, there have been over 25 consultations across Whitehall proposing changes that will have an impact on the private sector. More than 140 Acts of Parliament and more than 400 regulations affect landlords in the private sector already. That is why many of those landlords choose to get help from letting agents, and this Bill is a direct attack on the profession of letting agents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) has said, this is not a Conservative measure at all, and I despair at the fact that so many people seem to want to support this exercise in socialism and control.

Why should a Conservative Government be engaged in preventing professionals from charging a fee for services rendered? Doctors in my constituency charge those aspiring to become social tenants £15 a time to get a medical certificate in support of a social housing transfer. That—in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—is not a cost, but a charge. It is a charge, and it is an arbitrary charge: it is imposed, but payable. As I understand it, the Government are not proposing to abolish the right of doctors to charge for writing letters, so why are we proposing to prevent letting agents from charging for the services that they provide?

Rosena Allin-Khan Portrait Dr Allin-Khan - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:38 p.m.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:38 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:38 p.m.

No, I will not give way, because I want to allow hon. Members who have not yet spoken to get in.

Why are we preventing letting agents from charging for credit reference searches, identity and passport checks, and all the rest? When one looks at the evidence in support of the Bill, it is quite clear that if the existing laws were properly enforced, the need for the Bill would not have arisen. I am extremely sceptical about the Government’s assertion that enforcement will be a lot more effective. If they really believe that, why do they not place a duty on local authorities to enforce the legislation, rather than leaving it as a mere power?

The legislation will have a lot of unintended consequences. It is already difficult enough for tenants to obtain rented accommodation if they have pets. It is very difficult for tenants on housing benefit to obtain accommodation. It is very difficult for tenants who do not have clear British citizenship to get rented accommodation. All those things will become a lot more difficult as a result of this additional burden on the private rented sector.

Some 30 years ago, I was a junior Housing Minister. I was much associated with deregulating the sector—introducing shortholds, getting rid of controlled tenancies and enabling the growth that has taken place in the private rented sector. I am disappointed to see my Government working in the opposite direction. I signed amendment 4, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. I understand that he has been bought off by the Government, so I will not press the matter to a vote. However, I think that there is too much crowd-pleasing on the part of the Government and not enough sensible regulation and recognition of the important work done by those in the private rented sector.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 4:41 p.m.

This is the perfect opportunity for me to speak. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a result of which I recused myself from the Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. On the face of it, the Bill will cost my business more money than I wish to think about, and it is certainly keeping my finance director awake at night; we are talking about significant sums. Nevertheless, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), because we do not have a free market here. I think that it is an entirely Conservative policy to make sure that we have free enterprise and a free market.

Tenants choose properties; they do not choose letting agents. Landlords choose letting agents. Despite the cost, we should be standing up for the values of free enterprise. The business I have mentioned, which I am still involved with today, could not have been built without the opportunities provided by free enterprise, so there is no way that I could not support the Bill. I appreciate the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), but I think that even a cap is the wrong approach. We need to abolish these fees completely, as I have consistently argued to the industry.

I want to make a couple of points about free enterprise and the private rented sector. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), said that the private rented sector had increased exponentially over the past few years. When I started 30 years ago in this business, I operated in York, where the lack of supply meant that anyone who wanted to rent a home would probably get a shabby, damp, dark terraced house. It is because of private sector investment that we now have such tremendous supply in this marketplace, generally at fair rents.

I am not sure where the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds)—she is not in her place—got the figure of an 18% yield from, but that seems incredible. On that basis, there is probably a march of investors heading down the road to Oxford East to buy property. Generally, yields in the sector are very tight—about 4%, not 18%—because of the competitive nature of the market.

I support the Government amendments to ensure that any charges are clearly defined in a tenancy agreement.

Five-year Land Supply

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 4th July 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge - Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 5:27 p.m.

On a point of order, Sir Christopher. In the great excitement of commencing my speech, I failed to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

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

That is noted; thank you.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair) - Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 5:27 p.m.

Order. To inform hon. Members of the timings, we will now finish at 6.8 pm, which means that we will start the wind-ups at 5.53 pm. That means that there is time, between now and 5.53 pm, for the four hon. Members who seek to catch my eye.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con) - Hansard
4 Jul 2018, 5:28 p.m.

The simple truth is that our constituents, the public, have no faith left in the planning system. That is hardly a surprise when one is dealing with, to be frank, the rank incompetence of a council such as Leeds City Council. It has created a totally over-inflated housing target figure, which even the academics at Leeds University have claimed simply could not be built in the timeframe laid out, yet in the next couple of weeks we are to go into a public inquiry in which we assess whether Leeds City Council’s site allocations plan is sound. How can something be sound if it is based on fantasy figures?

Leeds City Council has lost almost every single Planning Advisory Service appeal; every time, the PAS says, “You don’t have a five-year land supply.” But the figure is being inflated to say that we need tens of thousands more houses than we actually need. It is, therefore, very difficult to come up with the land supply for houses that are never going to be built.

What are the consequences of that? Sites are being put forward to be built on that should never have been involved. They are the prime sites, where a developer will say, “I’m going to build on that site and get the housing numbers up.” They quite legitimately do not have to build on the brownfield sites, because the council has said, “This is a site you can build on.” The developer then starts to build on that green-belt and greenfield site, and they get far more revenue from that. There is no incentive for them to move elsewhere.

In the past five years, Leeds City Council has granted 25,148 planning permissions. Of those, 4,429 expired—they were not built within the specified timeframe—and only 3,680 were built. Therefore 17,039 remain unbuilt, yet Leeds says that we need to find planning and space for another 70,000 houses.

I realise that the Minister cannot respond to this, but his constituency neighbours mine, and the councils in his constituency, especially Harrogate Borough Council, are planning to build tens of thousands of houses on the border of my constituency. At the moment, Leeds City Council is not taking any notice of that, and it is saying that we need to expand. Councillor Alan Lamb from Wetherby, Councillor Ryan Stephenson from Harewood, and Councillor Matthew Robinson have been at the forefront of fighting back against Leeds City Council, but it is a Labour majority council by quite some margin. Even the independents—I pay tribute to Councillor Mark Dobson, who is an independent in Garforth in my constituency—have been fighting against the Labour council on those numbers, but they just get ridden roughshod over.

On 1 August, I will be at a site allocations plan inquiry arguing why a grade II listed parks and gardens site should not be built on. I will be doing that because Leeds City Council refuses to reassess the numbers it came up with on the basis of totally out-of-date migration figures from the early and mid-2000s, when numbers were much higher than they are now. Even now, demand is declining, although the council says that it is going up. The inspector has said, “It is not my job to assess the numbers. That was done in 2012. We are here to judge the soundness of the SAP.” How can we possibly judge the soundness of the plan when we are dealing with fantasy numbers?

We have lost every PAS site appeal in my constituency. The only one left is Scholes. The plan to try to save that PAS site and build somewhere else on the Parlington estate would increase the traffic flow through that village by 300%—that is Leeds City Council’s highways department’s own figure. Even the solutions that Leeds City Council comes up with to try to save a village actually destroy that village by shifting the problem elsewhere.

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). It has to be about how many houses we build, not how many permissions we have. Quite simply, in my constituency alone, almost 75% of the planning permissions have gone unbuilt. How on earth can someone put forward a plan that says, “Actually, Elmet and Rothwell needs another 12,000 houses,” when 75% of the permissions granted have not yet been built? The whole thing needs to be reassessed.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to feed back to his Department that, unless the numbers are accurate, these processes are completely unsound. All we are doing is giving a licence to build on the green belt and greenfield land, rather than tackling brownfield land, which consequently means there is no affordable housing.

Christchurch Council: Governance

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 25th April 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
25 Apr 2018, 3:59 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered future governance of Christchurch Borough Council.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Let me remind hon. Members of some important parts of the 2017 Conservative party manifesto. On page 9, it says:

“True Conservatism means a commitment to country and community…a respect for the local and national institutions that bind us together”.

On page 12, it says:

“Theresa May’s Conservatives will deliver…Prosperous towns and cities, underpinned by strong local institutions”.

On page 32, it says:

“We will support those authorities that wish to combine to serve their communities better.”

It is with those three commitments in mind that I invite my hon. Friend the Minister carefully to think again about the future governance of Christchurch Borough Council.

The most fundamental question that this debate raises is whether the future governance of Christchurch should be decided by its citizens and elected representatives or by the Government. The Government are seeking parliamentary approval to ignore the will of the people of Christchurch, its elected district councillors, county councillors and Member of Parliament. The issue was put before the people of Christchurch in a local referendum last December. They voted by 84% to 16%, on a 54% turnout, against the council’s being forced into a merger with Bournemouth and Poole to create a new unitary authority.

The Dorset (Structural Changes) (Modification of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007) Regulations 2018, laid on 29 March, are designed to make several changes to the 2007 Act and to backdate those changes so that an application for single-tier local government does not have to be made in response to an invitation from the Secretary of State. Since the laying of those regulations, I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions to my right hon. Friend, to many of which I do not think I have received a satisfactory response. I shall refer to one or two of them now.

Why has there been no specific consultation on the regulations to which I have referred? Two sets of regulations were laid on the same day. The second set of regulations were certainly the subject of consultation and discussion, but why was there no specific consultation on the first set—the ones to which I have referred? When was the need for the regulations first identified, and for what reason were they laid more than 13 months after the need for them arose? That was when the Dorset councils made the application that the regulations are designed to validate.

The chief executive of Christchurch Borough Council has told me in an email:

“There was no discussion at any point about the need for an invitation to be made. It was only when the draft Regulations were sent to each of the Councils that the matter of ‘invitation’ came to light”.

Why did the letter that my right hon. Friend sent on 27 March to me and other colleagues in Dorset state specifically that the draft regulations had been

“developed and worked up with all nine Councils”,

when that was not correct? In one of my questions, No. 136755, I asked him to explain why the retrospective effect and impact of the regulations was not set out and why he did not consult Christchurch Borough Council in making the regulations. This Minister answered that the regulations

“were shared and developed with the Chief Executives and Monitoring Officers of all nine…councils.”

It is clear from what the chief executive of Christchurch Borough Council has said that that is not correct. In a further briefing, the chief executive said:

“I don’t recall any discussion with MHCLG”—

the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—

“about this and my first knowledge of any of the details was in a letter, sent by MHCLG in the latter part of March to each Chief Executive to ask if their Council would give its consent to the making of Orders to bring about local government reform”.

I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would now correct the answer that he gave to my question, and the assertion that the regulations had been

“developed and worked up with all nine councils”.

The Minister has also failed to explain why he believes that the regulations have no impact on the costs of business and the voluntary sector and, as a result, do not require a regulatory impact assessment to be produced. One justification for the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 was to facilitate devolution so that businesses could be more involved with local authorities in achieving regeneration. To that end, all Dorset councils and Dorset local enterprise partnership collectively made a submission for the creation of a Dorset combined authority. The submission was made in July 2016, but remains undecided by the Secretary of State. In his statement of 26 February, he said that he intended

“now to ask the leaders of the Dorset councils how they would like to proceed with their combined authority proposal”.—[Official Report, 26 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 20WS.]

Although the Secretary of State said some time ago that he would reach a decision on the Dorset combined authority proposal at the same time as making his announcement on local government reorganisation, I understand that there has been no further communication on this even since 26 February. Why is that? How is it that the Government believe that their decisions on local government reorganisation do not impact on the costs of business?

To take one topical example, on 6 March Bournemouth Borough Council decided to approve an investment in the construction of a hotel on the site adjacent to the Bournemouth International Centre involving some £70 million to be borrowed by the council, and

“to make consequential changes to the budget of the Council”.

I do not know whether the Minister shares my concern that that is another example of the abuse by local authorities of the preferential loan terms that they get from the Government, which enable them to make borrowings at far lower cost than the private and commercial sectors.

In a letter sent this week on behalf of other hotel proprietors in Bournemouth, it is said that

“there would be a real, adverse impact on the provision of front-line services”

if

“this highly speculative venture were to fail”.

The authors of the letter describe the prospect of failure as “disturbingly likely” and say that, in such a scenario, Bournemouth Council

“would be left to service a significantly increased debt, backed by an asset which…would not cover the value of the ‘investment’.”

The loan being taken out by Bournemouth Council to achieve its objective is described as

“the very antithesis of prudent borrowing”.

If the Secretary of State has his way, citizens and businesses in Christchurch will be saddled with the consequences of Bournemouth’s decision for many years to come. It is ironic that the justification that the Government give for seeking local government reorganisation is to achieve better value for money. Over recent years, my constituents have watched Bournemouth with dismay—from the safety of the other side of the River Stour—as they have seen one failed project after another: the IMAX cinema, the surf reef and the £395,000 pay-off for the last chief executive.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there is a well-established and, I think, well-founded loathing by many Christchurch citizens of the way in which Bournemouth Council behaves. That is now coupled with a real fear that if Christchurch is forced to join with Bournemouth and Poole, it will result in a diminution of the quality of services and Christchurch taking on responsibility for enormous debts, which have been brought together by Bournemouth Council at a time when Christchurch Borough Council has been prudent. It is debt free. It has done the right thing. It has quite high levels of council tax. A report in The Sunday Times this week said that the highest council taxes in the country are in the Dorset area. They are not so high in Bournemouth and Poole, because for many years they decided not to increase their council taxes—as was prudently required—in order to ingratiate themselves with their electors.

Now, with a gap of more than £200 a year at band D between the council tax in Poole and that in Christchurch, the people of Christchurch are really worried that in the event of a unitary authority, they will not only take on the big capital debt risks to which I have referred, but will have to subsidise people in Bournemouth and Poole who are inherently, in many cases, better off than they are. For example, Poole has residents in Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs, who are immensely better off than those in many parts of my constituency. Why should Christchurch Borough Council be expected to subsidise those people long into the future?

The Government’s proposal raises some serious issues. Recently, the Secretary of State used his existing powers under section 2 of the 2007 Act to invite proposals for structural change in Northamptonshire. By so doing, he triggered requirements for consultation, under section 7(3) of the 2007 Act, and he enabled local authorities collectively or individually to put forward their own proposals. He has also set out guidance as to what a proposal should seek to achieve and matters that should be taken into account in formulating a proposal. None of those privileges, which the Secretary of State accords to councils and people in Northamptonshire, have been accorded to my constituents. Instead, a proposal has been brought forward over a long period of time, initially by council chief officers—with the support of many of the leaders of the councils at that time, many of whom have since been replaced—on the basis of a very dubious “consultation”, which took place as long ago as the autumn of 2016. In relation to Northamptonshire, the Secretary of State says that he would expect proposals to come forward and that they should be current, so that any business plans will relate to the current financial arrangements, rather than to historic ones, which is what is proposed in Dorset.

Harmonisation is a fraught issue. Given the gap of over £200 in the current level of council tax between Bournemouth and Poole, on the one hand, and Christchurch on the other, a new authority will need to levy a council tax that is ultimately the same across the whole of the new unitary authority area. Christchurch Borough Council has been insistent that in such a scenario harmonisation or equalisation should take place from the outset. A similar proposal has been accepted by the joint committee in the rural part of Dorset. However, in order to try to demonstrate that local government reorganisation would be good value, the consultation with the people was carried out on the basis of a harmonisation period of 20 years. Where did that figure come from? It came from a discussion that was held between section 151 officers from Dorset and departmental officials in June 2016. I have asked for notes of that meeting, but I have been told that no notes were kept. However, that meeting was really crucial, because on the basis of what was said at it, the consultation that was carried out in Dorset—designed to secure the approval of the people for a change from two-tier local government to unitary local government—was based on a 20-year harmonisation period.

In November 2017, the official in charge of this, Paul Rowsell, told me that the harmonisation period of 20 years was certainly off the agenda completely; that the maximum period for harmonisation would be five years, but more likely in the range of zero and two to three years; and that up until now there had never been a situation where councils had been abolished or restructured and the harmonisation period had been longer than two years.

So what happened? This relates to the issue of governance. When Christchurch Borough Council went to the joint committee, which it has joined to try to show good faith and co-operation, it insisted that the committee should accept the fairness and equity of having everybody paying the same council tax in a new area from day one, but that committee has shown absolute contempt for the council’s representations. Of course, that is not surprising, because in a new unitary authority Christchurch would only comprise 13% of the councillors and resources of that authority. Therefore, Christchurch’s interests will be in a permanent minority. This issue of harmonisation is symptomatic of the high-handed way in which Christchurch people will be dealt with in the future, were this unitary authority to come about.

That point is also emphasised by the fact that Christchurch Borough Council has at the moment 24 councillors and there are five county councillors in Christchurch. In the proposals that are being considered, the number of councillors would fall to about 10 or 11, which would be a significant diminution of democratic representation of the people of Christchurch. That means that Christchurch people would have much less influence in the future.

The fear and loathing I have spoken about is coupled with the fact that it is well known that Bournemouth Borough Council is keen to take advantage of the fact that Christchurch has a lot of land in the green belt. Under the Government’s new relaxed arrangements, if the council as a whole were to bring forward a plan seeking to remove that land from the green belt, all the protections that the people of Christchurch thought that they had in relation to green-belt land would be swept away. That is another cause for concern.

The Government have dealt with all this in a thoroughly asymmetrical way. In Christchurch’s alternative submission to the Government, it suggested that one way out of all this would be for Bournemouth and Poole to merge together and leave Christchurch as it is. That was ruled out by the Government as not permissible under the rules, because they cannot force Bournemouth and Poole to merge together if they do not wish to do so. Amazingly, Bournemouth and Poole do not want to merge together to achieve significant savings, because both of them have a common interest in getting their hands on Christchurch and its assets. Although Christchurch cannot suggest that Bournemouth and Poole merge together, Bournemouth and Poole can not only object to their own merging together, but insist that they would like to merge with Christchurch in a new unitary authority.

According to the Government’s rules, that is perfectly hunky dory and fair, but it is certainly not fair as far as my constituents and I are concerned. I fought the general election hard on this issue. Ironically, we face the prospect that one issue on which I fought hard, namely leaving the European Union, will be delivered on 29 March next year, thereby bringing back sovereignty to the United Kingdom to the delight of myself and my constituents, but two days later, the other issue on which I fought hard, namely that Christchurch Borough Council should retain its sovereignty and independence, will not be delivered, because Christchurch will lose the sovereignty that it has had, in one form or another, since 1216 or thereabouts—a long time.

When I refer back to the Conservative party manifesto, which talked about the sense of community, I have in mind the sense of community that can come only from a strong, historic association. Christchurch was around a long time before Bournemouth was ever invented, and it resents enormously my Government’s proposals to abolish it against the clearly expressed will of the people. I recently saw in the paper that the Secretary of State has said that it would be wrong for Parliament to reject the people’s verdict in the EU referendum. Likewise, the people of Christchurch think it is totally wrong for the Government to reject their verdict, which was delivered by more than 17,000 people in their local referendum last December.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Rishi Sunak) - Hansard
25 Apr 2018, 4:22 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) on securing the debate and on his dedication to pursuing the cause. He is a living embodiment of the values that he quoted from the Conservative party manifesto about making a commitment to one’s community.

I approach the debate with some trepidation, not only because of my hon. Friend’s long and distinguished experience in this place, but because he held my position as a Minister with responsibility for local government, which is something I am new to. As a small boy growing up in Southampton, his was one of the first MP’s names that I knew. It is a great honour to respond to him. There is a lot to get through.

The Government’s aim is to enable the people of Christchurch to have as good a deal as possible with their local services. Those services are mainly the responsibility of Dorset County Council, but Christchurch Borough Council is responsible for about 20% of them. Those services are important to the local people.

Although I agree with my hon. Friend and share his joy that we will be leaving the European Union, a difference between him and the Government may lie in our belief that the proposed governance changes, for which we are seeking parliamentary approval, will benefit people across the whole of Dorset, including the residents of Christchurch borough.

With respect, it is important to note that that is not only the Government’s view, in contrast to what was just said. It is a view shared by many other people and organisations across Dorset, including Dorset County Council, which has major service responsibilities in Christchurch, as I have said; approximately 79% of councillors across Dorset; and major public service providers and businesses, particularly those with responsibilities for health, police, fire and rescue, and rail services across Christchurch and the wider Dorset area.

A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends with constituencies in the area share that view. On 29 November, they wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and urged him to support the proposal that the Dorset councils have submitted, because it is the option that commands strong local support and does the job that needs to be done. They state that

“the further savings required to be made, if our councils are to continue delivering quality public services, can only be done through a reorganisation of their structures”.

The view is also shared by a third of the elected councillors to Christchurch Borough Council, who wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and stated:

“We are acutely aware of the constraints on local government funding and the financial pressure that upper tier services are facing. We therefore consider it our duty to respond to these challenges by supporting the restructuring of local government in Dorset”

The representative household survey commissioned by the nine Dorset councils estimated that 65% of residents across the whole of Dorset support the proposal. Of those nine councils, eight support the proposed change and have formally consented to the necessary secondary legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch raised a number of specific points, which I shall do my best to deal with. The Secretary of State has had careful regard to the local advisory poll and its results, but as a poll of only 6% of the whole area’s population, we do not see it as casting doubt on his conclusion that there is a good deal of local support across the area.

On council tax harmonisation, as the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), told the House in a written answer on 18 December, it has consistently been

“for those implementing any unitary proposal to put to the Secretary of State their proposals”

for council tax harmonisation. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that it is for the Secretary of State to specify in secondary legislation the maximum period for harmonisation.

Although a maximum period of five years has been specified in previous restructuring, the Government have made no such specification to date. We intend to introduce secondary legislation on council tax harmonisation in June or July. In deciding the maximum period to specify, we will have regard to local preference, the impact on individual council tax bills across the areas concerned and the financial implications for the authorities.

I have highlighted the considerable support for the proposals by business. On the specific question about the timing for the combined authority, the Government have written to the various local authorities about their proposals for a combined authority. We await a response to those questions to take that proposal forward or not, as local authorities see fit.

My hon. Friend asked about the timing for laying the regulations before the House. Of course, it would not have been appropriate to lay them 13 months ago, as he said, because it was not clear exactly what proposals would emerge from the locally driven process. As I am sure he is aware, the regulations are specific to the proposals that have emerged, so they could only have been laid after the proposals were finalised. On consulting, all council executives were shown copies of the regulations and asked for their opinions.

On the comparison with Northamptonshire, it is important to note that the situations are markedly different. In Northamptonshire, the proposals for restructuring are the result of a best-value inspection, whereas in Dorset, they have come bottom-up from councils themselves. In both cases, there has been extensive consultation. The year-long development of proposals in Dorset means that there has been considerable and adequate engagement of local communities in that process.

In conclusion, if Parliament approves the draft legislation that we have laid before it, it will provide the people of Christchurch with more sustainable local governance and safeguard the delivery of local services. I accept that my hon. Friend does not share that view, and there will be an opportunity for it to be considered and debated by Parliament when considering the secondary legislation, which I look forward to doing with him and others in the coming weeks. I will close as I started, by commending my hon. Friend’s dedication to his local community in pursuing the matter with such verve.

Question put and agreed to.

Local Government Funding

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 28th March 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. As ever, he makes a telling point: choices would be different in Scotland. We would choose not to have to mitigate something as horrendous as the bedroom tax, which was so ill thought out that the Tories did not take into account the fact that there are virtually no houses in the highlands and islands that do not have more than one bedroom.

Since its establishment, the Scottish welfare fund has helped more than 275,700 households. The fund provides crisis grants when someone experiences a disaster or emergency and community care grants to enable independent living. We have also extended the Scottish welfare fund on an interim basis to mitigate the UK Government’s decision to remove housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds. In 2016-17, more than 17,500 applications for crisis grants were made because of delayed payment of benefits—that is around 10% of all applications. Between July and September 2017, that increased to 14%, clearly showing the impact of the Government’s harsh welfare cuts.

We have restored the council tax support cut in Westminster through the creation of council tax reductions, protecting the incomes of more than half a million people on low incomes. We have extended the child allowance in the council tax reduction scheme by 25%, benefiting 77,000 households by an average of £173 a year, or £15 a month. That boost for low-income families will help nearly 140,000 children across Scotland.

Following the UK Government’s decision to scrap the UK-wide scheme, we have safeguarded support for 2,600 disabled people through the Scottish independent living fund. We have now created an extra £5 million fund to support young disabled people to make the transition into adulthood.

To conclude, I urge the Minister to listen to hon. Members and to stop shifting the responsibility for his Government’s austerity agenda on to local authorities across the nations of the UK.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:15 p.m.

I listened carefully to the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I must say that his claims that the Government support local government and that they believe all changes should be led from the ground up will ring very hollow in Christchurch, where he has announced his decision to abolish an independent sovereign council, which has been in existence effectively since 1216, against its will. Back in November, he said that there was insufficient local consent. The local council then decided to hold a local referendum, in which 84% of the people voting were against the council’s abolition and the enforced merger with Poole and Bournemouth. Yet, despite that, the Secretary of State decided, after the poll had been announced, that there was now sufficient local consent.

The Secretary of State has asserted, incorrectly, that savings will be made all across Dorset as a result, yet we know that just on the issue of the negative revenue support grant, Dorset stands to lose over £10 million a year. Despite having received assurances in private from him that that would be sorted out, we have still to see the detail and see whether he will deliver on that assurance.

Back in December 2015, my right hon. Friend’s predecessor, who is now the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, assured the House that the Government would not abolish councils against their will. The Government have reneged on that promise, to their eternal shame, and have in so doing encouraged council chief officers to be distracted from their responsibilities to deliver good-quality local services.

One of the perverse consequences of the Government’s policy drive towards unitarisation is the destruction of small local councils that have been prudent and are debt-free, as is Christchurch. Christchurch has raised from local tax payers the money that is necessary, while the neighbouring authorities—Poole and Bournemouth—that are now going to take it over, together with its assets, artificially held down their council taxes for many years. The consequence is that the council tax in Bournemouth and in Poole is about £200 less at band D than it is in Christchurch. Those authorities are being rewarded for putting forward false budgets, while Christchurch is being penalised for having been prudent and responsible.

The Secretary of State is intent on adding insult to injury by forcing tax payers in Christchurch to carry on cross-subsidising those in Poole and Bournemouth even after the unitary authority is established. That will, for example, force my constituents in one of the poorest council estates in the whole of the west country to subsidise people living in Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks.

It is totally unacceptable and, frankly, a cause for shame that I, as a Conservative Member of Parliament who campaigned against this, have been let down very badly by my own Government. This has not been helped by the fact that the Department has kept on moving the goalposts. Originally, officials at the Department assured section 151 officers across Dorset that harmonisation, as it is called, over 20 years would be perfectly acceptable. Last autumn, they changed their view, and their advice then was that it would be for a maximum of five years, while I was told by a departmental official that it would be two years at the longest, and that it might be less.

We still cannot get any firm information from my right hon. Friend or his Department about the period of harmonisation they have in mind. However, it seems that the consultation that went out some 18 months ago, based on a 20-year harmonisation period, was a false prospectus. It has caused people across Dorset to reach a conclusion on the basis that they would all be much better off financially, when in fact they will not be; that particularly affected people in Poole.

My right hon. Friend has told me that he will try to limit exit payments for local government officers to £95,000, in accordance with the Government’s pledge. At my behest, he did go off and ask council officials in Dorset about that, and the response from them was, “Bollocks!” and “We have worked our bollocks off—no way are we going to allow our exit payments to be limited to £95,000.”

The savings being suggested are unreasonable, and this is all leading to a failure and breakdown in good-quality local government. As I think I have probably made clear during my speech, I am an extremely dissatisfied bunny as Easter approaches, because I believe in localism.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab) - Hansard

I rise to support the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. and hon. Friends, in particular the part that suggests that

“councils are reaching a financial breaking point”

and calls on the Government to

“initiate a review into the funding of local government to ensure that the sector has sustainable funding for the long term”.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is leaving at this point, because I hoped he might listen to what Back Benchers have to say—but apparently not. I think the level of cuts is too great and threatens the very future of local government as we know it.

Two councils cover my constituency of Garston and Halewood. Liverpool has lost 64% of its central Government funding, or £420.5 million in real terms since 2010. At the beginning of the Lib Dem coalition Government—I am sorry the Lib Dems have absented themselves, because they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for the cuts that have happened and that continue to happen as a consequence of the Government they supported and were in—we lost £350 million from Building Schools for the Future, £127 million from the housing market renewal initiative, and all the money that recognised the levels of deprivation in Liverpool.

Consequently, the council now has 3,000 fewer staff. It has taken out most of its middle management and saved £5 million a year by cutting the performance-related bonuses of its remaining staff. Councillors’ allowances have been frozen since 2010 and special responsibility allowances have been cut by 10%. There remains a £90 million gap to be filled over the current three-year period.

The other authority, Knowsley, is smaller but has been bashed equally hard by the Government. It has lost 45% of its Government funding so far, which is over £100 million. That is £485 for every person in the borough, which is double the England average of a loss of £188. Consequently, the authorities are struggling to meet the requirements they have to support their residents.

The future the authorities face will be even more difficult, because by 2020 Government grant will be cut further and they will have to rely on council tax and business rates. Liverpool has the further disadvantage that 60% of its properties are in band A—the lowest yielding council tax band—and 90% in bands A to C. The money raised by council tax in Liverpool is £72 million below the average UK figure. It can raise only £1.4 million for every 1% increase in council tax.

The council tax base is such that it will never be as easy for a city like Liverpool to do as well as more affluent areas on the basis of council tax and business rates alone. Last year, 72% of Liverpool City Council’s funding came from Government grant and only 11% from council tax. It has to spend more on adult social care than it can raise in council tax. That is the situation it faces. It is doing what it can. It has built almost 11,500 new band D properties since 2010, yielding an extra £13.5 million a year in council tax. It is doing its best to grow the council tax base, but it is difficult.

Knowsley has made particular efforts to grow its local economy to deal with similar issues, and has managed to do so pretty well. However, it has to spend 80% of its resource on statutory services that it cannot avoid and adult social care, so there is not much space for it to make further savings. It can raise only £477,000 for each 1% increase in council tax. It is therefore fantasy for the Secretary of State and Government Members to argue that this is about efficiencies and just doing things a little bit better. It is far more fundamental than that.

When the Minister responds, I wonder if he might deal with the admitted errors that have been made in section 31 grant calculations in respect of authorities such as Knowsley. Apparently the council was told, after the legal deadline for setting its budget, that there was going to be clawback, because the Department had miscalculated the money due under section 31. To repay that money, Knowsley Council might have to raise council tax by an extra 2%. It cannot do so, however, as it has already set its budget. I hope the Minister will deal with the mistakes made by his Department. The effect on poorer councils such as Knowsley and Liverpool could be devastating. It is bad enough to lose 64% of resource and bad enough to lose 45% of the money used to carry out statutory duties, but to then have further monies clawed back because of a mistake by the Government is completely unconscionable. I hope the Minister in his reply will at least be able to give me some assurances about that clawback and what the Department is going to do about it.

Break in Debate

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:26 p.m.

I welcome the funding settlement approved by this House last month, which will see my own local authority of South Gloucestershire given an additional £3.2 million in funding. This will have a number of positive consequences, based on the budget agreed a week after this funding was announced.

The school improvement fund will double, meaning that more help will be available to ensure our children get the most out of their education. I am most proud of the fact that the extra £3.2 million will allow the council to act to help care leavers, meaning that they have increased opportunity to meet their own potential. As well as receiving council tax relief, care leavers will benefit from a programme to encourage apprenticeships. I have spoken many times before about the power of apprenticeships to encourage social mobility. I am very proud to see the money being put to such good use, so our youngsters can fulfil their true potential.

The Conservative leaders of South Gloucestershire Council have ensured that the budget is balanced for this year. It is regrettable, however, that that balance was achieved with a 5.99% increase in council tax. The introduction of council tax referendums from 2012 was the expression of a key Conservative principle that taxation should be by consent, with a mandate and as low as possible. It is, however, no surprise that when the threshold for a referendum is a 6% increase, we see a number of councils raising tax by 5.99%. A cynical observer may suggest that they do not want the public scrutiny that would come with a debate and a referendum. The lesson of Northamptonshire County Council is that financial obligations cannot be dodged and that the political leadership of our councils cannot be abandoned.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:27 p.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti - Hansard

With pleasure.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:27 p.m.

Order. Just one second. We are not going to be able to get Members in. Members have had six minutes each and I have now dropped the limit to four minutes. We are in danger of being self-indulgent if we are not careful. Some people will not get in and that is unfair when this issue matters to every constituency.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:27 p.m.

I withdraw my intervention.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti - Hansard
28 Mar 2018, 4:27 p.m.

Apologies, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was just being polite.

South Gloucestershire Council managed to balance its budget, but if councils are struggling to balance their books and need more money, they should not be afraid to make that case to their residents and ask them to fund the services they need. That would require real political leadership and potentially expose some uncomfortable facts, but it would be the responsible course of action. I sincerely hope that, buoyed by the funding increase this year, South Gloucestershire Council takes this opportunity to look carefully at the governance of the council and how effectively it works.

Local Government Finance

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 7th February 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard

The hon. Lady’s local authority, Bath and North East Somerset, was part of a business rates pilot in 2017-18. As I said, we have extended that pilot, which gives the local authority the ability to take advantage of that and put in place incentives for local businesses to see growth. The council estimates that it can see millions of pounds of extra income from that, which I would have thought she would support for her local community.

The business rates pilots will help to test the system, to see how well it works in different areas and different circumstances. The purpose of the pilots was to have a broad distribution across north and south, urban and rural, and small and large. The pilot areas will keep 100% of the growth in their business rates if they expand their local economies, which is double what they can keep now. I can confirm that I will open a further bidding round for pilots in 2019-20 in due course. In expanding those pilots, we have responded to what councils have told us, and we are doing the same in other areas.

Rural councils express concern about the fairness of the current system, with the rural services delivery grant due to be reduced next year. In response, I can confirm today that we will increase that grant by £31 million in 2018-19. That is £16 million more than was proposed in the provisional settlement, taking the total figure to £81 million—the highest amount ever paid in rural grant, at a little over the sum paid in 2016-17.

We recognise that the so-called negative revenue support grant is causing concern. Changes in revenue support grant have led to a downward adjustment of some local authorities’ business rates top-up or tariff for 2019-20. We know we must address that problem, and we will consult formally on a fair and affordable set of options for doing so, with plenty of time to reflect on the findings before next year’s settlement.

Following discussions with the sector, we are continuing with the capital receipts flexibility programme for a further three years. That scheme gives local authorities continued freedom to use capital receipts from the sale of their own assets, to help fund the transformation of services and to release savings.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
7 Feb 2018, 5 p.m.

May I ask the Secretary of State about the negative revenue support grant? He has not actually said expressly that there will no longer be a negative revenue support grant. My local councils are saying that the Government cannot be trusted on this, and unless and until the Government commit themselves to saying there will not be a negative revenue support grant, they will have to budget on the basis that there may be one.

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard
7 Feb 2018, 5 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Such certainty is of course very important for many local authorities, including his own, and I hope I can now make the situation clearer. It is our intention to deal with the problem of the negative RSG, but we have yet to determine exactly the best way of doing so and providing support to the local authorities affected, and that is why it is right to consult on it. I absolutely commit to him that we will do so, and when we do—our plan is to do it in the spring—I hope that he and others will make an input to make sure that we get it right and really deal with this problem for his authority and many others.

Parking (Code of Practice) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 2nd February 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:55 p.m.

I certainly would condemn that, and I will share an example with the House shortly of a similar case that I regard as outrageous.

Today, we have the opportunity to tackle this issue. I know that the worst abuses feature in the emails and postbags of all Members of Parliament. Not only my constituents in East Yorkshire but motorists right across the country are angry and calling for action.

One such motorist is Mr O’Keefe. He was driving in a private industrial estate, searching for a particular outlet that he was having difficulty finding, when he stopped in an empty lay-by for 15 seconds to check his satellite navigation settings. It transpired that he was caught by a passing security van equipped with a camera, and a week later he received a ticket for £100 for stopping in breach of a sign situated further back on the road that he had passed at 30 mph. The parking company agrees with his version of events—it accepts that he was stationary for only about 15 seconds—but when he made a complaint and then appealed to the Independent Appeals Service, he was fobbed off in both cases and he continues to receive threatening letters.

Even homeowners have been hit, as the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said in his intervention. A case was brought to my attention concerning residents in a Salford block of flats to whom over 200 tickets were issued for parking in their own car park in just one month. They were given a day’s notice to display a newly designed permit by the management firm, which posted warning letters and the new permits through residents’ letter boxes only one working day before it enforced the new regime. Some of the residents were away on holiday and others did not receive the new parking permit, but they found that their vehicles, parked in their own dedicated spots, had a penalty of £100 stuck to the windscreen. At least one resident who had been away on holiday came back to find tickets to the value of £2,000 on his car. The dispute is ongoing.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that all this injustice is being facilitated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which enables these rogue parking enforcers to find out the identity of the owners of such vehicles?

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 12:56 p.m.

That is a fair point. My Bill seeks to deal with that, and I will come on to it in a moment. If we have a statutory code of conduct, certainly consequences will flow for a company not adhering to it.

Break in Debate

James Heappey Portrait James Heappey (Wells) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:48 p.m.

I am aware that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is poised to introduce his Bill, which addresses an important issue. Also the Minister, to whom I shall shortly be acting as Parliamentary Private Secretary, will be cross with me if I give her cause to have to reduce her no doubt excellent speech by too much. There may even be some colleagues who are in a rush to get home because their own parking ticket expires soon.

As we have heard from colleagues across the House, this is a very good Bill, which I am pleased to support. However, a number of concerns have been raised by other Members that I also want to underline. The fact that private parking companies use the PCN abbreviation as “parking charge notice”—compared with the “penalty charge notice” issued by the police and civil authorities—is wilfully misleading and should be stopped. We should also look at the way in which private parking companies are allowed to design the waterproof wrappers for tickets, the tickets themselves and the language on them. There is a clear attempt to make these tickets look like they have come from the civil authorities or from the police.

In my experience and the experience of many of my constituents, signage in private car parks is inconsistent. At best, that could be down to poor maintenance or a mistake. At worst, it could be argued that the poor signage is again a deliberate act to confuse or deceive.

Another development that I have found unhelpful is car parks where people can park only with an app. Some of these apps are absolutely excellent. It is not the case that people can park in car parks on the Great Western Railway network only by using the APCOA app, although that app is very good; many Members will have had experience of using it. That is not so in other car parks, one of which belongs to a very fine hotel in Bristol that insisted that people used an app to pay for their parking.

Some years earlier, when the company was in a very different guise, I had used an online parking facility with that company and given over my car details. I could no longer remember any of the log-in details, and it turned out that there was no facility for me to reset my membership or to be able to access the app. However, because I had entered the car park, I would be charged, and if I was unable to pay through the app, then I would have to accept the ticket and appeal it. The fact that the company could do that was quite extraordinary, especially as I had entered the car park and incurred the charge before any of this became clear to me. That could have been a unique and extraordinary happening experienced by almost nobody else, but it does perhaps indicate how unregulated and unreasonable the private parking industry can sometimes be.

What underlines all the things we have heard today better than anything else is that in all our experience when dealing with casework, we have heard time and again that when these private parking companies are challenged, they capitulate almost immediately. Very rarely do they stand their ground, and that indicates exactly how thin the ice they are skating on is. I agree with colleagues across the House who have said that access to DVLA data is, very clearly, a privilege for companies that behave correctly and should not be allowed for those who repeatedly behave very badly indeed. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:54 p.m.

I have two or three questions for the Minister.

I have already mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) my concern about the DVLA’s inadequate behaviour in this respect. I do not see why the DVLA itself does not stop giving access to its database to rogue parking companies. This Bill proposes to deal with that indirectly through members of parking associations rather than directly with the parking companies concerned.

Sir Greg Knight - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:52 p.m.

May I correct my hon. Friend? My understanding is that the DVLA does refuse to give access to rogue parking companies, so the threshold beyond which a company is regarded as “rogue” is perhaps what needs changing. That is the point.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:52 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting me. In that case, may I challenge the Minister to explain why so many of these rogue parking companies are continuing to operate in the disgusting way that we have heard about during this debate?

Will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure, when this Bill goes forward, that we also introduce a provision ensuring that there should be equal treatment of all vehicles in private car parks? In my local authority area of Christchurch there is a lot of resentment about the fact that when, for example, Travellers invade the car park, they are treated with impunity, whereas people who may have just overstayed by 20 minutes find themselves having the book thrown at them. Can we ensure that the Bill is used as a vehicle for getting equal treatment for all motorists who park in private car parks? Will my hon. Friend say when he expects the provisions of this Bill, and the secondary legislation, to be enacted, so that people who are concerned about this issue know the deadline for implementing what we in this House want to do?

If my hon. Friend gives satisfactory answers to those questions, I hope that the Bill can make progress.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Rishi Sunak) - Hansard
2 Feb 2018, 1:54 p.m.

Nobody leaves their house because they want to go and do some parking; parking is simply a means to an end, and it should be as easy as possible. The millions of people across the country who use private parking facilities every day deserve a system that is fair, transparent and consistent, but as we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, it is clear that the current private parking system has at times failed each and every one of these tests.

I join hon. Members across the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) on bringing the Bill to its Second Reading. It rightly seeks to address an issue that comes up time and again in all our postbags and inboxes. As we have heard, there is currently no standardised, central and independent regulation of private parking operators. Today, there are two different trade associations, each with its own code of practice, and, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned, the industry is largely self-regulating.

That has led to a range of issues for hard-working constituents doing their best to abide by the rules as they go about their day-to-day business. As we heard, people are being charged unreasonable amounts of money for what are clearly very minor and honest mistakes. My Department has received a case where someone accidentally mistyped their registration number into a parking system, and for the sake of a 50p ticket received a £45 fine in the post—90 times the cost of the original parking ticket.

As we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Clacton (Giles Watling), also problematic is poor signage. To park in a private car park is essentially to enter into a contract, but signs are often poorly lit and have unreasonably small text, meaning that drivers are completely unaware of the contract they have just entered into. As my hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Alan Mak), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Wells (James Heappey) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) set out, however, unjustifiable charges and poor signage are not the only problems facing motorists.