Third Reading

Part of Deregulation Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 4th March 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 4th March 2015

My Lords, I have also added my name to the other three from both sides of the House. I have no personal interest to declare, other than that I am a resident of outer London, where this is not yet a problem. I stress “not yet” because the issue is growing so fast and exponentially that it is only a matter of time before it becomes so: not just in central London, where it is of major significance now, but elsewhere in London and in other parts of the country, although they are not affected by this legislation.

I spoke about this at Second Reading in July, at greater length in Grand Committee and on Report. The reason was that I learned more and more about the issues that residents of central London experienced daily from indiscriminate and largely unregulated short-term letting. To that extent, all of us are agreed—and agree with the Government—that we have no objections whatever to London residents wishing to sublet their London residence for a short period while they are on holiday or otherwise away. Where it becomes more difficult is when this grows and in many places, particularly in central London, becomes an industry.

I have been helpfully advised by Westminster City Council throughout this process. For understandable reasons, Westminster has experienced this issue hugely. It told me back in autumn that for some time it has employed between four and six planners solely to deal with the enforcement of this issue of short lets. It has considerable experience both of the problem and of trying to enforce the law as it stands.

To digress for a moment, on Report I quoted what I had been told by the leader of Westminster City Council, who had told me:

“There has been no engagement with this local authority either at a political or an officer level”.—[Hansard, 11/02/15; col. 1306.]

In reply to the debate, in col. 1316, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, denied that and said that there had been full engagement with London authorities, specifically with Westminster. A few days later, on 13 February, the leader of Westminster City Council wrote to Lord Ahmad, saying that this was categorically “not true” and there had been no consultation with Westminster at that time. She wrote:

“I should also note that Westminster had no advanced knowledge of the detail of the policy note”,

which had then just been published,

“and would have been left to read about it online or in the newspapers”.

When the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, replies, does he wish to put the record straight? Like me, I am quite certain that the Minister was speaking in good faith. I repeated what I had been told. I have no doubt that he repeated what he had been told, but he and I now have in writing from the leader of Westminster City Council that he had been misinformed. He may wish to correct that.

Westminster has been helpful in all this. It speaks from experience and it is true to say that it would much prefer us to go for a 30-day limit rather than a 60-day one. Any limit is arbitrary, of course, and we have gone for a compromise. However, the most important issue for Westminster City Council, and any other local authority that has to enforce this, is that it must have some system of registration. To quote again what I have been told by Westminster, without that,

“we simply would not be able to identify where a property was let illegally on a short-term basis”.

Unless there is a registration system and the regulations require it, albeit a quick, simple, online system, which Westminster says they can set up probably in a matter of hours, then all the regulations—whether they comply with our amendments or the government amendments—will, frankly, be unenforceable and meaningless. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, says at least that the Government will require it in regulations.