Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 4:30 pm, 9th February 2016

I support the noble Baroness and, in doing so, I declare my interests, first as a professional property manager, and—possibly even more significantly—as a private sector landlord. I believe I have a very contented set of tenants, without any of the roguishness that we have heard about.

Leaving aside the absence of a clear due process in the Bill and the safeguards that should go with that, in what I can describe only as this “subcontract” process to local government, putting to one side the non-judicial disposal of a case that might result in the label “rogue”, with lasting stains on character, and parking for one moment the hiatus in terms of the standard of proof referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, there remains an overriding need for Parliament to retain scrutiny of the process, the safeguards and the standards. At the moment we seem to be short of a commitment on that.

I am also concerned that the whole process is a bit reactive, populist and, if I may say so, potentially discriminatory against a class of person called a landlord or their letting or managing agent. At Second Reading, I advocated—at least, I hope it was interpreted that way—perhaps going beyond that to try to support and nurture best practice, in equal measure carrot and stick. It seems to me that landlords can very easily be pilloried by their feckless tenants in the same way that tenants can clearly be very easily prejudiced by malevolent landlords.

There are probably at least as many undesirable tenants, in numerical total, as there are undesirable landlords. I do not say that in any way to cast aspersions on the tenants. I believe that the vast majority of them, in the same way as landlords, honour their commitments, try to do the best thing and genuinely create something that is growing in popularity. It is an expanding sector. The last thing we need to do is to set about damaging it so that people feel that they are under the cosh and go away. At Second Reading, I referred to the fact that our European neighbours seem to have sorted this out without this continual anti-landlord or anti-tenant adversarial approach in their dealings.

Therefore, we need to look at the whole situation and—if I may put it this way—somehow invert the process. Perhaps having the regulations before us is one step on the way so that we can look at that in detail and examine what the actual process is. At the moment, it would be possible for almost anything to be passed down to local government. As a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I would be slightly fearful, as a local government chief officer, of what might get passed down to me, thank you very much, as a hand-me-down to police this sector.

I support the noble Baroness. The key to this is very much to get these regulations out, and I support the general thrust of her amendment.