Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I rise in support of the amendments that have just been introduced. At Second Reading I welcomed some parts of the Bill but expressed concerns about some others: about the lack of detail, the large number of amendments laid at the very last minute in another place—again, without an opportunity for proper scrutiny—and the 30-odd additional powers given to the Secretary of State. Like many other noble Lords, I very much welcome the Minister’s commitment and promise to do all that she can to ensure that we get details of the various regulations, at least in draft form, as early as possible.

I think that many noble Lords, however, will share my concern that, despite the Minister’s promise, it seems increasingly likely that many of those draft regulations—even if we get them before we finish consideration of the Bill—will not come in time for the relevant amendments in Committee, and it may well be that some of those draft regulations will come after we have finished all stages of our deliberations in the House.

As has already been said by the noble Lord Beecham, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for tabling Amendment 1. Had it not been trumped by the amendments now before us, it would have been our only opportunity to express the concerns we have about the lack of detail and regulation. But since the noble Baroness laid her amendment we have now seen, as of yesterday, the 20th report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It is a pretty coruscating document.

For those noble Lords who have not read it, it refers to a section of the Government’s memorandum to the committee and states:

“The memorandum gives only the barest explanation or justification for this power; indeed it seeks to dismiss this highly important provision as ‘quasi-technical’”.

It continues:

“The intended meaning of that expression wholly eludes us, and the House may wish to ask the Minister for an explanation”.

No doubt when we get to the relevant section of the Bill we will ask for that.

On Clauses 13 and 22, which are referred to in the amendments before us, as we have heard, there are numerous criticisms raised by the committee. It makes the point that there is no restriction on the type of offences that may be specified in regulations. It goes so far as to say that it does not have to be one connected with the letting or management of housing and could even be one committed before the enactment or coming into force of the Bill.

The committee points out, however, that some types of offences are described in the memorandum and that it cannot understand why the banning order offences are not listed in the Bill, together with a delegated power to amend the list as necessary. It points out that this is particularly puzzling given that the Government have succeeded in devising a list of offences in Clause 39, conviction for which could result in a First-tier Tribunal making a rent repayment order. That is why, as we heard from the noble Lord, the committee said:

“We consider it inappropriate that the determination of the offences that are to constitute ‘banning order offences’ should be left entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State and with only a modest level of Parliamentary scrutiny … We therefore recommend that clause 13(3) be removed from the Bill and replaced with a provision listing the offences that constitute ‘banning order offences’, coupled with a delegated power to amend the list by affirmative procedure regulation”.

The committee is equally critical of the subsections of Clauses 13 and 22 which are referred to in the amendment. It is therefore to be welcomed that the amendment does just what the committee suggested should happen—it introduces a list and states that there should be an affirmative resolution for any subsequent changes to that list.

I am puzzled by one aspect of Amendment C1; perhaps the noble Lord will refer to it when he winds up. In the memorandum provided by the Government to the committee they say:

“It is envisaged that the type of offences which would be able to trigger an application for a banning order would be serious offences, including a conviction in the Crown Court for offences involving fraud, drugs or sexual assault that are committed in or in relation to a property that is owned or managed by the offender. It is also envisaged that a banning order may be sought where a person has been convicted of certain specified housing offences, which will include offences such as unlawful eviction and failing to comply with an improvement notice in relation to property conditions”.

The last two specified housing offences are referred to in the amendment, but no others are proposed, and there is no reference in the amendment to the conviction in a Crown Court for offences involving fraud, drugs or sexual assault.

The Government are saying that those offences should be included in the list. We believe that there should be a list, as proposed in the amendment, and hope, as the noble Lord said, that the Minister will reflect on this and add those offences to the list. We hope very much that the Minister will give her support for this and that in the event it will not be necessary to deal with Amendment 1.