Third Reading

Part of Deregulation Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 4th March 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative 6:00 pm, 4th March 2015

My Lords, my name is also on this amendment, and I would like to draw attention to the declarations I have made in the past of being a joint president of London Councils and also a former leader and member of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which will be affected by this legislation.

The noble Lord has set out very clearly the amendments that we think are necessary to make this legislation tenable. London has a particular problem. I drew attention on

Report to a phrase in the policy document which said that London needed to be brought into the 21st century over the renting and letting of property. I said then and I say now that I think that London is already and has been in the 21st century for a very long time. There is enormous pressure on property in London. There is probably more renting now in London than anywhere else. There is a hugely transitory population, so that we now have great areas where we know that people are not resident. The properties are not used; they are investment properties. London has a dichotomy. It is an area where people want to live but now cannot, largely because it is getting so expensive. Where there is investment, the people who have invested in property are not from this country but from abroad. Where there is a lot of very new property on land which perhaps could have been used for local people, it is now largely empty.

The temptation to let is enormous. To make sure that there is no abuse of the proposals which the noble Lord has brought forward, we have tabled these amendments. Before saying more about that, I want to mention some other things that I am concerned about. The Government—of whom I have been a great supporter —are all in favour of devolution, of passing powers to different parts of the country and to different parts of England. We have just done it with Greater Manchester. There is more devolution. London has had devolution through its ability to put forward Private Members’ Bills to deal with the issues that affect London. These Private Members’ Bills are not put forward in isolation: they have to be put forward with the agreement of all the London boroughs. That process has been deficient, at the very least, in terms of what has happened here. I saw a representative of London Councils here today in Parliament, and as far as I am aware, London Councils has been solidly against this proposal since it was first brought forward. By definition, that includes the London boroughs.

For some reason, the Government have chosen to try to override what London wants. They may not think that London figures very greatly within this category in relation to the rest of the country. One of the rationales for making the change is to enable London to do what other parts of the country do. But London is different. It has very different pressures, as I have tried to suggest.

In these amendments we are trying, first, to query whether people really do go on holiday for 90 days. I think we would all be jolly lucky if we managed to get that amount of time off. That suggests that if people want to let for 90 days they might not be quite as altruistic as they might appear to be at first sight. Is it not reasonable to suggest that people might like to go on holiday for a lesser number of days?

Secondly, the amendments are trying to ensure that somebody will at least know that the letting is likely to take place. We have not specified what that process should be other than that people should notify their local authority that they want and are likely to let their properties on a holiday-let basis. If that does not happen and something goes wrong or difficulties occur in those properties—I think that my noble friend Lady Gardner will go into this in more detail—no one will know why or how the properties have been let, or to whom they have been let, and the local authority will have no real powers of intervention. I think that that matters. I am all for deregulation but I also think that because of the whole problem of renting in London, a little more grip needs to be kept on this.

I therefore have two objections. The first is the principle of the Government trying to change London legislation without a great deal of consultation. It happens that my next amendment is on the same basis—that London legislation is being changed and overturned. My second objection is that if the Government wish to do this, they must not deregulate to the extent that nobody knows what is happening—so that nobody has the faintest idea how much more rented property there is and the local authorities, which need to know, have no access to the information they need.

I hope very much—although in reality I am not very hopeful—that the Government will reconsider and accept these amendments. It is notable, of course, that since our last discussions on this subject, the Government have rushed to put at least some of their thoughts on the face of the Bill, where it was all a bit cryptic before. What is there needs amending. It also needs a bit of substance behind it. I therefore support all of these amendments.