Mobile Homes Act 1983 (Amendment) Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Kelly Tolhurst Excerpts
Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
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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)
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I thank the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for her comments and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) on securing this debate. I also thank him for his tireless work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes. He should not have admitted to being the chair for so long, but all Members of the House recognise his work in this area and he has been a consistent and powerful voice on these issues.

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

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

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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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.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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I wish to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) and the Minister’s point about the elderly. As a GP looking after them, I can say that my experience of dealing with these parks is that elderly people often choose the homes as retirement homes and places to downsize. The danger is that they are vulnerable and if there are unscrupulous people in the parks using technical terms to bolster rates and services, that can be a real worry. Has the Department carried out any impact assessments of what that may look like and how prevalent it is? What can we do to make sure people are informed, so that they understand the information they are given and are not bamboozled by clever salesmen?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is true that many owners and users of park home sites will be elderly and vulnerable. I have many in my constituency, so I am well aware of some of the challenges for the individuals living there. However, I will caveat that by saying that, although we are talking about malpractice today, a large proportion of park home operators operate their sites in a good way, and have care and respect for the residents. We are talking about a minority today, but I absolutely understand the prevalence. We had a review in 2017 and the Government made a commitment to take forward certain things. That is why I am pleased to stand at the Dispatch Box this afternoon and agree to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

Saqib Bhatti Portrait Saqib Bhatti (Meriden) (Con)
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Of course, transparency is key. Will the Minister agree to work with the industry to make sure that the good operators are able to be celebrated, the Government can support them and we can wash out the rogue traders, so to speak?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention because that is exactly right: we do want transparency and we do want to work with the sector to remove those rogue traders from the environment in which we operate. One reason why the pitch fee part of the Bill needs further work is that there was no consensus on a proposal. We want to work with the sector. One of the most important points is that, as with any changes to regulations, we do not want unintended consequences and we do not want to make it harder for those operating park home sites well and carefully. We must be careful not to brand every owner and operator as being rogue.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and commend him and anyone who would want to change RPI to CPI. The Minister is making a good point: we need to be bringing forward our good providers and work with them through consultation. Does she agree, however, that now is perhaps not the right time, as a lot of the sector is on its knees because of the pandemic, so we need to consult them, to make sure there is a sector to go back to post covid and to do everything we can to support them?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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23 Oct 2020, 12:05 a.m.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He is right to say that we are living in unprecedented times with this coronavirus pandemic and many businesses are struggling. As a Government, we are working hard to support them. We want to carry out those impact assessments. On the pitch fees, that is why I said we need to consult the industry further to come up with a proposal that has consensus. In my second day after being appointed—I have been in post only a couple of weeks—I was lucky enough to take through the draft Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020. In that Committee, I outlined that the Government had already committed to delivering and working to bring forward these elements in primary legislation when time allowed. That is why I have been really clear from the Dispatch Box today that I am willing and absolutely looking forward to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and my officials to take opportunities where we can to protect individuals, while keeping it in mind that we must be sensitive to the challenges and pressures that people who run park homes and all businesses are facing. With all types of legislation and regulation, it is always a balancing act with regard to making sure that there is fairness across the piece, and that obviously relates to—

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