My Lords, I warmly endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said, and I, too, pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who of course has long had an interest in these matters and has repeatedly raised them in your Lordships’ House.
It is important that the Government listen to the experience of Members from a variety of backgrounds, who know a good deal about the implications of legislation of this kind. There is a temptation to legislate in haste with a risk that you—or, more particularly, other people—repent at leisure. There is that concern about the way this matter has proceeded thus far. I fear that it is not uncommon for the committee to comment adversely on the way that matters are brought before your Lordships’ House. Lack of consultation and the reservation to government of powers to prescribe by secondary legislation, which may not come for a long time or sometimes come into force before any scrutiny has been given, is particularly invidious when we are looking at areas such as this, which impinge on the lives of many citizens.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has a point, particularly about the role of local government. If the duties of local government are to be expanded—and they ought to be in this respect—that is clearly a new burden under the convention which is supposed to apply to new duties imposed on local government and will have to be resourced. In certain areas, there will be significant resource implications. That is a function of the expansion of the private sector market, in particular. The noble Earl referred to the growth of the sector, which has been substantial. We now have a very high proportion of properties rented in the private sector, sometimes by very reputable bodies. I am particularly pleased to see well-established, reputable financial institutions now looking at entering the market to provide such properties. I would not take it for granted, but they are more likely to be responsible owners and managers of private rented properties than some others of the character we have been discussing, of whom there are, unfortunately, too many.
The reality is that the market has expanded hugely because of the constraints on the building of local authority housing—social housing—which are likely to increase if other parts of the Bill go ahead unamended, and because of the general property shortage. Astronomical rents are being gleaned for little effort in either investment or management, save for the purchase price. That clearly colours our debate.
I concur with those who ask the Government to produce something before the Bill completes its course, even if only early drafts. We need to know the direction in which they are going. We need assurances about how the duty is to be resourced. I do not blame the Minister for this, but, thus far, those have not come over the horizon. I hope she will pass on the feelings that have been expressed across the House in an effort to encourage others in the department to get on with the job. That is, to bring forward material not just devised in Whitehall offices but after discussion with reputable bodies which have an opinion to give: local government, certainly, but also other organisations in the sector. Representatives of tenants and citizens advice bureaux, for example, deal with many cases of difficulties arising in landlord-tenant relations.
The noble Baroness is obviously of sympathetic mind. I hope that the opinion of the Committee today will reinforce her endeavours to persuade colleagues to react positively to something that is intended to improve the legislation, not to destroy it in any way, and make it effective in the interests of all parties.