Clause 20 - Amendments to the Housing Act 1985

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 7th December 2021.

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

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 21 and 22 stand part.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Clause 20 makes two amendments to the Housing Act 1985. Specifically, they amend part V of the Act on the right to buy. The purpose of the amendments is the same: they update the 1985 Act to ensure that requirements in it relating to ground rent are aligned with the provisions in the Bill.

Clause 21 gives the Secretary of State the power to make provision that is consequential on the Bill through regulations, including provisions amending an Act of Parliament. We do not take such a power lightly, and in drafting this legislation we have sought to identify and make all necessary consequential amendments on the face of the Bill. The changes to the Housing Act 1985 in clause 20 are a good example of this.

However, long residential leasehold is a complex and interdependent area of law. Therefore, we consider it prudent to take the power in clause 21 to ensure that, should any further interdependencies be identified at a later date, these can be addressed appropriately. There are various precedents for such provisions, including section 92 of the Immigration Act 2016, section 213 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and section 42 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considered the powers in the Bill, including this one, and noted that there was nothing in the Bill that it would wish to draw to the attention of the House.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

Clause 21(2) states that

“the provision that may be made by regulations under subsection (1) includes provision amending an Act (including an Act passed in the same session as this).”

Can the Minister tell the Committee why that is? What Act being passed in this Session could possibly need to be amended as a consequence? Is there another Bill that has provisions about such things? Why is that part in parentheses included?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My understanding is that consideration has been given and we do not think there is anything, but we need to be prepared should the circumstance arise. That is my understanding of the requirement.

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

What would those circumstances be? Can the Minister give us examples?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

As I said in my speech, the law is complex and there are interdependencies between various Acts. The provision makes sure that there is nothing that we have missed in terms of another piece of legislation that would be relevant and would have an impact; it gives us the opportunity to make an amendment appropriately. That is my understanding.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I am sorry to press the Minister on this, but clause 21 says,

“including an Act passed in the same session as this”.

What other Bill or Act in this Session could possibly have a provision that may need amending as a consequence of the Department overlooking something? This is complex housing law. What other Bill that is being passed through Parliament in this Session has complex housing law in it?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I can only say again that we do not know the answer to that, otherwise we would obviously have made the necessary amendment at this point.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I appreciate that the hon. Lady is not happy with the answer, but unfortunately that is the circumstance.

Clause 22 makes provision relating to regulations under the Bill. Subsection (1) is a standard provision that enables consequential, supplementary, incidental, transitional, saving or differential provision to be made, if necessary, in connection with the exercise of powers under the Bill. As is usual, subsection (2) provides that regulations under the Bill must be made as a statutory instrument. Subsections (3) to (4) relate to the procedure for making regulations under the Bill. Regulations under the Bill will follow the negative procedure, unless they make provision under clause 20 amending an Act. As we have discussed, for provisions under clause 20, the affirmative procedure will be followed, requiring active approval from both this House and the other place.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott. I am grateful to the Minister. I very much welcome the Bill. It is a tightly scripted, focused Bill, which will accelerate its passage. I welcome these clauses, which allow the Secretary of State and the Government to bring in subsequent and consequent amendments, if need be.

One of the key themes of the Bill is that it gives homeowners and leaseholders more of a sense that they have rights over the building they own and that is their home. Currently, in many cases, the leaseholder has to apply to the freeholder for permission to do things to the property that they consider to be their home. That can include whether they can keep a pet in the building. Is that something that the Government will look at as we move forward? When someone owns their home, they should have the right, as a responsible pet owner, to keep a pet. I declare a strong interest in that, both personally and professionally—I am a veterinary surgeon and am fully aware of the physical and mental health benefits to people and animals of the companionship of responsible pet ownership. Will the Government look at those rights moving forward?

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

The hon. Gentleman spoke about people owning their home. This is the whole issue with leasehold; people do not own their home. I wish him well with the pets, and his practice.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border 3:00 pm, 7th December 2021

I take on board that comment, but a key theme for leaseholders is having more of a sense of belonging, ownership and ability to make decisions such as whether to keep a pet. I realise that this is a tightly worded Bill, but can the Minister say whether we will consider that issue in future?

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s plea that homeowners—leaseholders think they are homeowners, but they do not own everything—should have the right to do things such as own pets. The Minister will tell me if I am wrong, but I think that the regulations and consequential amendments that we are discussing relate only to the power to deal with landlords seeking to continue ground rent, other than peppercorn rent, in the interim period between Royal Assent to the Bill and when the regulations are brought in to commence it properly, which we understand might be in six months’ time.

Talking about these provisions is a bit like dancing on the head of a pin. I know I have been contributing significantly to that, but they apply in a very narrow range of circumstances that relate to landlords who seek to continue to charge ground rent, or put clauses into leases that come into existence after Royal Assent but before the commencement of the provision seeking to get ground rent payments from their leaseholders-to-be. We are dealing here with a very narrow range of circumstances in what one hopes would be a very short period. The Minister has suggested a period of six months until commencement. I suppose that if a landlord were then to continue to try to have leases with provision for ground rent that was other than peppercorn, these provisions could apply in those circumstances. We are talking about badly behaved landlords after the commencement of the legislation that keeps ground rent as peppercorn. Can the Minister confirm that the regulations that we are talking about do not relate to anything other than that?

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

That is my understanding. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border rightly said again that this is a tightly crafted Bill. The point that he made would fall outside the scope of the Bill, but given the importance that many people place on ownership and his expert experience as a vet, I look forward to discussing this topic with him as we look at future legislation next year.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 21 and 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.