Third Reading

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

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

The noble Lord asks if I discussed this with Westminster: specifically no, not with Westminster City Council. However, in the course of the many months that this has been going on, my noble friends and I have heard from numerous individuals and organisations involved in this. It is indeed one of the issues that others have raised and the noble Lord is right to draw attention to it. Others have been health and safety, fire regulations and all sorts of issues, which will be helped, to some extent, by whatever regulations are introduced.

I began by saying I wanted to be brief. I think that I am temperamentally incapable of being brief on this issue, but I will try. On registration, which is absolutely critical, I will quote from the letter that the leader of Westminster City Council wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on exactly that point. She concluded by saying:

“Having dismissed the suggestion of a simple, light-touch notification process for those seeking to let out their property on a short-term basis”,

which is what the Minister did at the previous stage, she asks,

“how will a local authority be able to identify and therefore enforce against a property being let for the 91st day within a calendar year?”.

I re-emphasise the point because it is critical. Unless we have some sort of notification and registration process, it is simply unenforceable, whatever else we say and do.

The other issue I want to speak to briefly is how we determine that the property concerned is indeed the residential property belonging to the person letting it. It has been suggested that this is done by the requirement, in the Government’s amendment, to pay council tax. We all know that lots of people pay council tax, but it is not necessarily their residence, let alone their principle residence. It is a bit unusual for a Liberal Democrat to quote Westminster City Council so frequently, but it does have the greatest experience on this. It says:

“This provision would therefore change nothing. The real change would be if the Government stipulated that only principal permanent residences were eligible for short-term letting”.

That is the purpose of the amendment in our package.

We are now at the last possible stage of this Bill in this House, apart from ping-pong, and we need to understand why we are at this stage. I raised this issue—as did others—at Second Reading in July, we had a considerable debate on it in Grand Committee on 30 October and we returned to it in February, one day after the Government finally published their policy guidelines and then only under considerable pressure from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who realised that he would have to reply to the debate. We are now trying to put into the Bill details of regulations that should have been properly and fully consulted over that nine-month period. We should have tried at least to reconcile the differences between the different interests—and they are substantially reconcilable if the Government had ever tried. The one local authority most directly involved and with the most experience states in writing twice that up until a week ago, it had had no such consultation.

We are now at the stage where the Government have understood, as I pointed out on Report on 11 February, that it is too late for the regulations to be tabled to receive their 40-days waiting period to be considered in this Parliament. On Report, that was impossible; it is clearly even more impossible now. For this Government not to give a blank cheque to whomever forms the next Government and whoever is the next Minister, we are now putting in the Bill details that ought to have been in regulations, drafts of which should have been produced months ago, discussed and consulted on so that whatever we are to legislate for was clear—hopefully agreed, but at least we could agree where the differences are. We are at the last possible stage putting in the Bill just what the Government until now said that they would not do, but ought properly to be in regulations that have been consulted on and largely agreed.