Clause 9 - Enforcement authorities

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:02 am on 7th December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 11:15 am, 7th December 2021

We must ensure that the breaches of prohibited rent that I set out in clause 3 are acted on. Clause 9 will place a duty on local weights and measures authorities in England and Wales, that is to say trading standards authorities, to act where a breach of clause 3 occurs in their area. It also gives them the power to act where a breach occurs elsewhere in England and Wales.

In addition, through subsection (2), English district councils that are not trading standards authorities will be given the power to enforce clause 3 but, unlike trading standard authorities, will not be required to do so. That will maximise our ability to act against perpetrators. Both local weights and measures authorities and district councils will be able to retain the financial proceeds from the penalties they impose to cover the costs incurred in carrying out their enforcement functions in relation to residential leasehold property.

Subsection (3) clarifies the area in which a breach occurs and, to be thorough, captures areas where a premises is located on a local authority boundary, although we think that those will be few and far between. I am sure we all agree that although it is important for enforcement authorities to have the necessary duties and powers to act on breaches, it is also important that we provide protection against the duplication of penalties, which is what subsection (4) does.

Equally, I am sure we all agree that it is right to expect landlords to understand the requirement of the new legislation and abide by it. It is our hope, therefore, that enforcement action will not be needed in most cases, but by conferring duties and powers on enforcement authorities, the clause will be instrumental in ensuring that any breach of the restrictions on ground rents can be robustly enforced. That is vital as a deterrent and to protect leaseholders from unfair practices.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My only concern is the obvious one about resources. I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Over the last 11 years, resources have been somewhat depleted as a result of austerity and Government cuts. Although there is the control and skill capacity locally to be the foot soldier for enforcement, it is a matter of having the people and resources to carry that out and implement it.

I notice that on the Bill’s journey in the other place, a reference was made to future local government settlements. The last 11 years have not been good if we use them as an example of potential resources. I would be interested in the Minister’s reply on that important and vital matter.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

It is good to see that there is some provision about enforcement because there is often a gap in legislation, so the law is made and practical enforcement is not set out. I find it quite an interesting approach to enforcement to say that local trading standards or weights and measures authorities in England and Wales “must enforce” in their own area the standard statutory obligation of such an authority but

“may enforce…elsewhere in England and Wales.”

I may be wrong, but that seems a fairly novel approach to enforcement. I am not saying it is bad, but I would like the Minister to set out in a little more detail why the clause is worded in this manner and whether there are any precedents in respect of other enforcement arrangements that have been drawn on to set out the provision.

Subsection (2) says:

“A district council that is not a local weights and measures authority may enforce section 3 in England (both inside and outside the council’s district).”

We have the prospect of roving entrepreneurial weights and measures departments perhaps thinking that they can go and levy fines of up to £30,000 for a breach somewhere else entirely. I think I have read somewhere that they get to keep the proceeds, so this is quite an interesting tax farming idea—perhaps going back to old England, whereby the collector is given a percentage of the takings. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale, I was going to ask what provision the Government will make to enable a local authority’s trading standards department to search out such breaches. Perhaps they intend to enable trading standards from elsewhere in the country to come galloping in.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. On the point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood and for Weaver Vale, Liverpool has lost £465 million of funding since 2010, and another £34 million of savage cuts are mooted for the upcoming budget. How does the Minister expect a council such as Liverpool City Council to finance a trading standards team that can actually carry out what the Bill proposes under what we are experiencing through austerity?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I agree with my hon. Friend about the savage reduction in available resource that the Government have visited on Liverpool. I am interested to hear from the Minister about the intention of this formulation and whether he anticipates that trading standards from out of area will be galloping around the country doing enforcement work in the manner that the clause lays out, because it is not something that I have seen before in legislation. I may be wrong, but it is not something that I can recall seeing.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Perhaps there will be a VIP fast lane for the new hit squad that goes across the country.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I will be interested to see whether there is any kind of entrepreneurialism undertaken by trading standards around the country, but I would like to hear what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank the Government for including effective enforcement in the Bill. There is no way that the Bill will work, and landlords will not be held to account, unless there is proper enforcement. Having been the cabinet member for public protection at Westminster City Council, which trading standards came under, I know at first hand the brilliant work that trading standards officers do day in, day out in Westminster and across the country. I would really appreciate it if the Minister could give assurances that trading standards teams across the country will have the funding to carry out the extra workload. I certainly think it is important that we ensure they can do so, because we do not want to be giving leaseholders any false hope, and I certainly welcome the ability for local authorities to keep the proceeds of any fines that they may be able to extract from a landlord.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. I must ask the hon. Lady to resume her seat. It is nothing against the hon. Lady at all—I am enjoying her speech immensely—but it is now time to adjourn.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.