Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Banning Order Offences) Regulations 2017 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 22nd January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 5:15 pm, 22nd January 2018

My Lords, I join others in supporting what the Government are doing in this rather difficult area, but I have a number of questions about the detail of the regulations. First, I make it clear that I entirely support the noble Baroness on the points that she has raised about the need for access to information on the register, about the way that immigration is dealt with and, in particular, about access to information for those tenants or would-be tenants seeking accommodation.

It seems to me that the provisions fall within the new burdens doctrine, as this will involve a new, or at any rate additional, function for local authorities. Can the noble Lord confirm that this will be taken into account when it comes to funding? The doctrine requires the Government to provide financial support for additional responsibilities.

I am not in any sense criticising the approach taken by the regulations, but I have a number of questions seeking clarification of some of the wording. For example, item 7 in the schedule of offences, relating to the Fraud Act, refers to, “Possession etc.”—I do not quite know what is meant by et cetera—

“of articles for use in frauds”.

I simply do not know what the Government are aiming at there, and perhaps the noble Lord would explain what articles the regulations are purporting to cover. Also in item 7, there is a reference to, “Obtaining services dishonestly”. Again, I do not know what that means, and it would be helpful if the noble Lord would clarify that. Similarly, there is curious wording in item 9, where it talks about:

“Prohibition of certain activities relating to opium”.

What does that mean? The following provision talks about:

“Prohibition of supply etc. of articles for administering or preparing controlled drugs”.

What does et cetera add to the wording? Further down, I question whether “the use of properties for the purposes of prostitution” should not be included in the list of prohibitions; I am not sure where that would be validated by existing legislation but it is surely a matter of some concern. The curious issue to me, and possibly to other noble Lords, about the list of 14 separate offences is that as far as I can see there is nothing about violence—previous convictions for violent behaviour, for example. That strikes me as an anomaly, unless it is covered in some other legislation.

I have some more questions to ask about the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 3.3 says:

“A banning order may be made against a person … for the purpose of banning them from letting housing in England or from engaging in … letting agency work”.

I am not quite clear about what happens with limited companies, whether directors of such a company would be individually involved as well as perhaps the company itself, and what the status is of any employees of such a limited company in the event of any misconduct or breach.

I appreciate that these are the Explanatory Notes, not the text of the actual regulations, but I find the wording of paragraph 7.1 curious when it says:

“The purpose of a banning order is to enable local authorities to tackle the most serious and prolific offenders by preventing them from being involved”.

What constitutes the most serious? For that matter, how often does an offender have to have breached the law to be described as prolific? It looks like rather generalised language, which does not really help us to understand fully how the order, commendable though it is, could be applied.

Meanwhile, there might be a typing error in paragraph 7.2 but it says, “Someone”—again, one might ask who, in the light of the previous questions—

“subject to a banning order can be banned from: Letting housing in England; Engaging in English letting agency work; Engaging in English property management work, or; Doing two more of those things”.

I do not understand that. Is it meant to be “two or more”? If it is, why does it have to be two? Why would one not suffice? It is somewhat odd, to put it mildly. Then there is a reference to the consultation outcome. The document says,

“we have included a range of further offences that were suggested by respondents during the consultation exercise”— that is very welcome—

“because it is considered that they are offences which it is likely that a rogue landlord may commit against their tenants”.

I hope the order will assist in those matters, but I have a more fundamental question: why will the Government not take steps to provide the power and the funding for local authorities to promote selective licensing schemes? Selective licensing schemes take an age to implement from the start of a process. In my ward—I declare my interest as a Newcastle city councillor—we have a selective licensing scheme. We are looking for an extension and I am told that it will probably take two years to get such a scheme on its feet, if it happens at all. I wonder whether the Government should not revisit the whole issue of selective licensing, which surely must be seen as a potential tool to deal with the problems that these regulations very properly seek to deal with. Again, if we are to make progress in that way, appropriate resources will have to be diverted to it and, given the difficulties that local authorities are currently experiencing on the financial side, that means some increased funding from the Government to allow the perfectly acceptable and welcome objectives set out in these regulations to be implemented in practice.