Third Reading

Part of Deregulation Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 4th March 2015.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 6:15 pm, 4th March 2015

My Lords, I would like briefly but very strongly to support the amendments which have been so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and my noble friend Lady Hanham. I may have been a somewhat sporadic attendee for this particular part of the Deregulation Bill, but it certainly has been visible to the naked eye that the goalposts seem to have been shifted somewhat in this area as we have moved from Second Reading in July to Committee in October, with an enormous gap between Committee and Report. The initial assumption was made, as far as I could see, on Second Reading and right up to Committee that the Government were going to completely deregulate in this area. We then discovered that new regulations will be introduced. Some consultation took place, and the policy paper was published. Then, on Report it was clearly understood that we were going to have a set of regulations, which were continuing to be consulted on, which would make changes to Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 at a later date. And yet we now find ourselves at Third Reading with a very comprehensive new clause setting out the Government’s view. It has been like a slow-slow-quick process and completely the reverse of the usual march that one would expect in these circumstances. I think the provisions contain great dangers, and that is why I very strongly support these amendments.

My noble friend the Minister made great play of the benefits to the tourism industry and I want to speak from the perspective of tourism hospitality. However, I believe that the boot is very much on the other foot. Of course, as we all know, tourism and hospitality businesses are a very important part of local communities in London and of the London economy. It is not that the tourism and hospitality industries are against new models; indeed, they believe that they are an important way of introducing new ways of delivering to tourists. The most recent newcomer—the Minister used this phraseology—is the sharing economy: the sharing model which offers guests the ability to pay to stay in someone’s residence on a night-by-night basis.

We have seen that many of those who let their properties this way are essentially running businesses, but they do not act as responsible hospitality providers and undertake the necessary precautions to ensure health and safety in the same way as more traditional tourism businesses. They have been described as “pseudo-hotels”. If they are allowed to spring up, they pose a real danger not only for their guests but in respect of noise and nuisance for nearby residents. We need to have safeguards to monitor and limit the use of these residences, ensure the rules are followed and quickly deal with any problems that arise. We have seen problems arise in many other cities around the world, and safeguards have been and are being put in to protect communities from the impact of these short-term lets in places such as Paris, New York and Singapore. We need to manage these genuine risks and ensure that safeguards are in place and are enforceable.

These government amendments effectively make it impossible in practical terms to enforce the limits on short-term lets in London. This has been made clear to the Government not only by noble Lords today but by London Councils, including Westminster City Council, and by all those bodies that will, in the future, have the responsibility of enforcement. They must surely have a pretty good idea of whether these provisions are going to be enforceable by their own officers. Without local registration, there will be no ability to enforce any safeguards around short-term lets. At a minimum, local councils and the Metropolitan Police should have the transparency they need about the use of these London residences to identify them when they are being used for short-term lets and to ensure that safety and security measures are in place to protect communities.

All the other proposals in the cross-party amendments advocated by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, my noble friend Lord Tope and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, are extremely important from that perspective as well. The scale of fraud and lawbreaking around these short-term lets will otherwise increase and so will the nuisance and noise for residents. Both the tourism industry and local councils have made a very strong case, and we should adopt each one of those points. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, say that if this is put to a vote, it will be put as a package. The package of amendments is extremely important.

Whatever happened to localism? I thought that we had been debating it for the past few years. What could be more attuned to localism than the amendments that are on the Marshalled List today?