Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy Conservative 7:15 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I register my concern about Amendments 18, 27 and 33A because of the unintended impact of the regulation that I believe they would introduce.

It is worth reflecting once again on the reasons behind the Bill: we have too little housing in this country, it is too expensive and is not of a high enough quality. To address this crisis we need to generate radically greater investment in housing. I think everyone in the Committee agrees with that. That investment must come from government and the private sector. Several noble Lords have already commented on the growing role of the private rental sector. For better or worse, we now have 4.4 million households in private rented accommodation—the second highest tenancy after ownership. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about an explosion of private rental housing. I welcome this in its own terms because we will simply not get the housing we need without the billions—indeed, trillions—of pounds of investable money that is sitting in pension funds and other investment funds.

It is also worth remembering that we have a public debt of 80% of GDP and a budget deficit, so private sector funding is essential to meeting our housing need. Whenever you talk to private pension fund and investment fund managers about investing in housing, you find that it is the complexity of the product that puts them off. We must be very wary about increasing that complexity.

What are the conditions needed to encourage this investment? Clearly, any investment needs to look for an economic return. I think we all agree that that is available in the housing sector. We need a quick and simplified planning system—we are not dealing with that part of the Bill today but will do so—and a low regulatory burden for the non-rogue landlords. It is on this last item that these amendments are problematic. I totally understand their intention but believe that they will provide another barrier to entry for potentially good landlords.

My noble friends Lord Flight and Lord Cathcart talked about the fact that licensing schemes will tend to attract good landlords and not capture the bad ones. For that reason, a mandatory licensing and accreditation scheme—let alone the charging of fees, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—would potentially discourage investors and raise the costs of housing while also increasing the burden on local authorities. Surely this is not the way forward to generate the housing that we need.

What we need, of course, are greater powers to crack down on rogue landlords—exactly what we discussed earlier today—a proportionate response to the problem rather than a blanket response. As we discussed—and will continue to discuss—these are well provided for in the Bill, with great agreement across the House. So the discussion of voluntary arrangements—