Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 3:49 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, it is an exciting privilege to set off this Committee. I do not know how many sittings we will have, but I am sure that by the end of it we will have completely forgotten today. I start by apologising for not tabling the amendments in time to go on to the Marshalled List. I was a bit spooked by the change in today’s business, so I apologise for that.

As it is the start of a new stage of the Bill, I should declare some interests: my membership of Pendle Borough Council, of which I am deputy leader; I am a vice-president of the LGA; and I am vice-chairman of the APPG on Local Democracy—I shall miss its reception today because of the Bill, and I would rather be there, but never mind. There will be other interests, but those relate to the amendments I have tabled at the moment. In moving my amendment, I shall speak to the others in the group.

We move straight to Part 2, and I say right from the beginning that, first, this is one of the better parts of the Bill and, secondly, it is one of the better written and presented parts, with a great amount of detail on the face of the Bill and in the schedules. If the whole Bill were like that, a lot of us would be a lot happier, but we can be happy for the time being. This part is headed:

“Rogue landlords and property agents”.

When I read it, I asked myself whether the word “rogue” is a proper word to appear in legislation. What does it mean? Is it not just slang and colloquial? Why is it here? We will come back to that.

Chapter 2—Clauses 13 to 26—is all about “Banning orders”. As I said, the clauses in this chapter are admirably clear. They require the Secretary of State to set out in regulations exactly what the banning orders may be put in place for but, nevertheless, by and large, it is a model of good legislation. Clause 13 bans a person from,

“letting housing in England … engaging in English letting agency work … engaging in English property management work, or … doing two or more of those things”.

That is absolutely clear. That is what a person is banned for if they get a banning order. The interesting thing is that, after the first clause of Part 2, the term “rogue” or “rogue landlord” does not appear at all.

What sort of offences are we talking about? It will require regulations, but it is clear that it could be maintaining their property poorly, posing a risk of harm to tenants or other people, dangerously overcrowding their properties, exposing people to unhealthy conditions, housing illegal immigrants, intimidating or harassing tenants who raise a complaint. These things are all absolutely clear, and clearly set out, but they are specific problems that lead to people being banned; it is not clear that they lead to a person deserving the epithet “rogue” or being given that epithet for however long.

In Chapter 3, we have the “Database of rogue landlords and property agents”. However, apart from a statement to that effect at the beginning of the chapter, the words “rogue landlord” do not appear again. Clause 27(1) says what the database is. It must include people with banning orders and it may include people convicted of a banning order offence while being a residential landlord or property agent. It includes some people who have to be on the list and some people who can go on the list, but it is all about banning orders and banning order offences.

This part of the Bill is complicated. I tried to get my mind round it perfectly, but I could not. Then I saw that it will rely on guidance from the Secretary of State so that local authorities can understand it in the way that I cannot. Okay, but it is very clear that what we are going to have is a register of banned landlords and others who have committed banning order offences. What will it be called? Will it be called the register of rogue landlords, because the word “rogue” does not appear in all this? I have the distinct impression that the phrase “rogue landlord” has been added to this legislation—after it was written by civil servants—by some spin merchant somewhere in the Government who thought it would be a good idea to get some good publicity to get it through. I do not think this is the way that legislation should be written. That phrase is in the heading, but it does not appear anywhere else.

Clauses 40 to 50, which are still under the part which is supposed to be about rogue landlords, are all about rent repayments. The phrase “rogue landlord” does not appear anywhere. It is not clear to me whether any landlords who get involved in the whole system of rent repayment are rogue landlords or not. The heading of this part of the Bill contains the words “rogue landlords”, but are they rogue landlords or are they just people on the list who are rogue landlords?

Chapter 5 is “Interpretation of Part 2”. Clause 52 quite rightly sets out in some detail the “Meaning of ‘letting agent’ and related expressions”. Clause 53 sets out the “Meaning of ‘property manager’ and related expressions”. Clause 54 is a typical clause at the end of a part of a Bill. It sets out the meaning of 16 different words and expressions, starting alphabetically with “banning order” and ending with “tenancy”. However, it does not define “rogue landlord”.

Another point about which I am not at all clear is whether, once a person comes off the banned list, they are still a rogue. The problem is that it is one of those words—once a rogue, always a rogue. What does it mean? I looked up the Oxford Dictionaries on the internet and it is full of colloquial meanings. For example, it mentions:

“a distinct criminal culture of rogues, vagabonds, gypsies, beggars, cony-catchers, cutpurses, and prostitutes emerged and flourished”,

in the 16th century. I suppose that we would not accept Gypsies in that definition, but we are not going to have legislation denouncing people as coney-catchers or cutpurses. The synonyms in the dictionary include:

“scoundrel, villain, reprobate, rascal, good-for-nothing, wretch; … rotter, bounder, hound, blighter, vagabond”.

Later on, there was something about which I was not too happy—it says:

Northern English informal tyke, scally”.

As a Yorkshireman born and bred, I was not too happy about “tyke” being there. Perhaps we will have legislation denouncing lists of “tykes” who have to be dealt with in some way. Another definition is:

“A person or thing that behaves in an aberrant or unpredictable way”,

I do not think “rogue” is a suitable word.

I have put “specified” in the amendment because I could not think of anything better. I was going to put “banned”, but it is clear that other people may also be put on the list who have not actually been banned but who nevertheless have been convicted of banning offences. It is not entirely straightforward, but I believe that the word “rogue” and the phrase “rogue landlord” are not appropriate to go into the law of England. The Government ought to think of another phrase which is less suitable for tabloid newspaper articles and more suitable for the law of the land. I beg to move.