Clause 5 - Powers for local authority to carry out work

Mobile Homes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 27th November 2012.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 2:00 pm, 27th November 2012

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 5, page 11, line 5, leave out from ‘served’ to end of line 7 and insert ‘—

(a) in the case of action under section 9D, before the end of the period of two months beginning with the date on which the action is completed;

(b) in the case of emergency action under section 9E—

(i) before the end of the period of two months beginning with the earliest date (if any) on which a charge may be imposed in accordance with subsection (4), or

(ii) if the action has not been completed by the end of that period, before the end of the period of two months beginning with the date on which the action is completed.’.

You will be delighted to hear, Mr Robertson, that I will considerably briefer and less technical in my explanation of amendment 9. Clause 5 inserts proposed new sections 9D, 9E and 9F into the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. With clauses 4 and 6, this is an important provision, introducing a more effective enforcement regime to ensure that site licence conditions are met. In particular, clause 5 allows local authorities themselves to carry out works on sites in default of the owners doing those works, or in the case of an emergency, where there is

“an imminent risk of serious harm to the health or safety” of residents and other people on a site because the site owner is in breach of a site licence condition.

Where a local authority carries out emergency works under proposed new section 9E, it can recover the expenses it incurs under proposed new section 9F. A site owner can appeal against an emergency action notice under proposed new section 9E(9). Under subsection (8) of new section 9F, a demand for recovery of expenses must be served within two months of the emergency action being taken, but that rule does not take account of an appeal brought under new section 9E(9). Amendment 9 clarifies that the deadline for service of an expenses demand in a case when the authority has taken emergency action will be two months after the date on which any appeal under new section 9E was determined, or two months after completion of the action, whichever is the later date.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I want to raise a point that applies to clauses 1 to 7, and I am happy that I can make it early in our proceedings.

The amendment is important. We have all agreed that local authorities need a strong power to move in when there is a difficulty and non-compliance, and I wholeheartedly support anything that will give more teeth to the local authority when need be. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney may be able to respond to my point at the appropriate time, which is perhaps not now, but some of us were concerned that the provisions in clauses 1 to 7 would not be introduced until 2014. We requested that that be looked at again and thoroughly researched, because we are concerned about how people will feel if they are in a difficult situation and we have legislation in place, but it is not being implemented. I would be happy if I can have an answer during our discussion of the first seven clauses.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole for her sterling work over the years in promoting the welfare and rights of park home owners. She is right to raise the point, which was discussed in detail on Second Reading and which I wholeheartedly understand.

The situation at the moment is that a Government dispensation has been given for the provisions in clause 8 onwards relating to sale-blocking to be introduced earlier  than the moratorium on new regulations and burdens on micro-businesses would allow. Clauses 1 to 7 will not come into force until the Government’s moratorium on new burdens expires on 31 March 2014. As the issue rests in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, I have written to the Under-Secretary of State for Skills asking him whether we could bring forward the date for the regulations to be introduced. I have not yet had a reply, but when I do I will share it with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is well aware, because he has been intimately involved in these issues, that if the Bill receives Royal Assent, the Government intend to introduce the provisions as quickly as possible, notwithstanding the moratorium on new burdens on micro-businesses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole suggested—she deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon her—that moratorium currently means that we could not introduce the provisions until 31 March 2014. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has written to the relevant Minister, and perhaps a way can be found through the issue. We will wait for the outcome of his correspondence.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I wholeheartedly agree with everything he said.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:15 pm, 27th November 2012

I rise to speak briefly about having the local authority as a backstop if work has not been undertaken by the caravan owner or manager. Such provision was introduced in the licensing of houses in multiple occupation and in legislation dealing with empty homes. If site owners have an asset that is deteriorating or dangerous and they do not fix it, they will know that the local authority will go in and it will use top-class tradesmen charging VAT—no dodgy deals, but doing things properly. Hopefully that will be enough of a threat to convince the owners, some of whom are making money out of misery, that they must invest in their sites and bring them up to proper standards.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

All members of the Committee probably wish to place on record their congratulations to the previous Government on introducing the measures the hon. Gentleman describes. We are now mirroring them in the Bill for the very reasons he gives. I wholeheartedly endorse everything he said.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I rise to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole said, but everyone is looking for a silver lining, so let me point out that if the moratorium remains in place and if my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney is unsuccessful in his correspondence, at least the site owners who are not carrying out the work will have 18 months to two years to get on with it, before the law comes into place and makes them get on with it.  They are being a given little grace period in which to change their ways and, if they do not, the legislation is coming down the track, shining a bright light and ready to come into place at the end of the moratorium, so the silver lining is there.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution and I pay tribute to the hard work he has done on the all-party mobile homes group and in his constituency to raise the particular problems of owners of park homes. I also thank the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd for his contribution: he is right to highlight that park home owners are one of the few sectors of home owners who do not have the local authority with teeth and an ability to take action on their behalf when they have problems with repairs and other issues on their sites. One of the fundamental purposes of the Bill is to right that wrong, so he is right to have mentioned it.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West

I think Mr Aldous has just done the Minister’s summing-up job.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and refer the Committee to the wise words he has just uttered, with which I entirely agree.

Amendment 9 agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.