“, save that section 2(b) comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed only to the extent that it repeals section 21 of the Housing Act 1988; such repeal will not affect the validity of any notices served under that provision on or before the day on which this Act is passed and the provisions of that section will continue to apply to any claims issued in respect of such a notice”.
This amendment would ensure that the abolition of section 21 evictions would come into force on Royal Assent, with saving provisions for any notices served before that date.
In opening the Committee’s fifth sitting for the Opposition, I set out in exhaustive detail our concerns about the huge uncertainty that surrounds the implementation of chapter 1 of part 1 of the Bill as a result of the Government’s recent decision to tie the implementation of the new tenancy system directly to ill-defined court improvements. As I argued, because of the Government’s last-minute change of approach, private tenants have no idea when the new tenancy system will come into force. They do not even know what constitutes the requisite progress on court reform that Ministers deem necessary before the new system comes into force.
At that point in our proceedings, I put three questions to the Minister. First, do the Government believe that the county court system for resolving most disputes between landlords and tenants is performing so badly that reform is a necessary precondition of bringing chapter 1 of part 1 into force? Secondly, if the Government’s view is that reform of the court system is absolutely necessary prior to chapter 1 coming into force, what is the precise nature of the improvements that are deemed to be required? Thirdly, what is the Government’s implementation timeline for those court improvements? The Minister’s terse response to the clause 1 stand part debate provided no convincing answers whatsoever to those questions; indeed, he failed to respond to almost all the detailed and cogent points of concern raised by Opposition Members in that debate. I hope that he will take the opportunity to respond to them in debate on this amendment, and thus provide the Committee with the assurances that were sought, but not secured, earlier in our proceedings.
Toward the end of the debate on clause 1 stand part, I put a question to the Minister about clause 67. I asked why the two-stage transition process that the clause provides for, with precise starting dates for new and existing tenancies to be determined by the Secretary of State, does not afford the Government enough time to make the necessary improvements to the courts. The Minister’s reply was:
“We will come on to that point when we discuss clause 67.”––[Official Report, Renters (Reform) Public Bill Committee,
Well, here we are, Minister, and we would still like to know not only why the Government believe that court reform is a necessary precondition of enacting chapter 1 of part 1, what improvements they believe are necessary, and the timeline for their implementation, but why the two-stage transition process that this clause facilitates is not sufficient to get the job done. We really do deserve some answers from the Government today.
I remind the Committee that clause 67 would give the Government an incredible amount of leeway on when the new system comes into force. It allows Ministers to determine an initial implementation date at any point after Royal Assent, after which all new tenancies will be periodic and governed by the new rules, and also to determine a second implementation date, which must be at least 12 months after the first, after which all existing tenancies will transition to the new rules. Although we want firm assurances that the two-stage process will not be postponed indefinitely pending unspecified court improvements, we take the view that the proposed two-stage process is the right approach. It would clearly not be sensible to enact the whole of chapter 1 of part 1 immediately on Royal Assent. Additional time will be required for, for example, new prescribed forms for the new grounds for possession.
However, landlords and tenants need certainty about precisely when the Government’s manifesto commitment to abolish section 21 no-fault evictions will be enacted. Amendment 169 seeks to provide that certainty. It would ensure that section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 was repealed on the day that the Bill received Royal Assent, with saving provisions for any notices served before that date, so that they remain valid and of lawful effect. By ensuring that section 21 is repealed on the day the Act is formally approved, we would prevent a significant amount of hardship, and the risk of private tenants being made homeless. We urge the Government to accept the amendment.
I want to press the Minister on a final point that I raised about clause 67 during our clause 2 stand part debate. As is clearly specified in guidance published by the Government, they propose a minimum period of 12 months between the first and second implementation dates, but there is no maximum period, so the Bill would allow for all new tenancies to become periodic, but then there could be an extensive period—perhaps even an indefinite one—before existing tenancies transitioned to the new rules.
We believe that the Bill should specify a maximum, as well as a minimum, amount of time between the first and second implementation dates. The Minister agreed to write to me on that issue, but unless I have missed some correspondence, that has not been directly addressed in any of the letters I have received thus far. I would be grateful if he could give me a commitment today that the Government will revisit this issue before Report. Otherwise, we will be minded to return to it then.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I fully accept his desire for a maximum period. The reason we have not set a maximum is to give us as much flexibility as possible. There is no real incentive for a landlord today to try to get around the system. Were a landlord to introduce a new three-year fixed-term tenancy agreement to try to game the system and avoid the six or 12-month time limit, that would simply block the landlord, and they would not be able to use the powers that section 21 affords them currently. That would be restrictive to that landlord as well as to the tenant, so we do not see a situation where a landlord would try to subvert the rule.
That is an interesting point. Let me probe the Minister on it. There is no maximum period for the implementation of the second date—in other words, there is no period by which the Government have to have brought forward the date when all existing tenancies are converted. Is he saying that between the first implementation date and the second, when all existing tenancies remain as is, other measures in the Bill will apply to them? That is the logic of his argument about landlords not gaming the system. I do not think we are talking about landlords gaming the system; we are talking about the Government having too much leeway to postpone the conversion of existing tenancies to the new system.
The vast majority of fixed-term tenancies will be a 12-month agreement, so they would naturally roll on to being a periodic tenancy at the end of that fixed-term agreement. It is unrealistic to expect there to be tenancy agreements that are longer than three years, so they would all naturally convert to this new system anyway. We want to create a gradual process for all tenancies to join the new system; otherwise, it would cause confusion and perhaps overload the portal. If that does not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, I am happy to write to him setting that out further.
On amendment 169, I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s intention is to gain more clarity on the timeline for implementation of our reforms. However, the amendment would mean that on the day of Royal Assent, section 21 would be removed immediately. There would be no transition period; no time, once the final detail of the legislation was known, to make sure the courts were ready for the changes; and no time for the sector to prepare.
As we have said a number of times in Committee, these are the most significant reforms of the private rented sector in 30 years, and it is critical that we get them right. I am as wedded to ensuring that section 21 is abolished at the earliest opportunity as the hon. Member is, in order to provide vital security for tenants, but we have to ensure that the system is ready.
It might be helpful for me to explain how we are improving the courts, and what needs to happen to prepare the courts for the new tenancy system. Court rules and systems need updating to reflect the new law; there is no way that this can be avoided. Furthermore, we have already fully committed to a digital system that will make the court process more efficient and fit for the modern age. Let me reassure the Committee that we are doing as much as possible before the legislative process concludes. The design phase of our possession process digitisation project is under way, and has more than £1 million of funding. That will pave the way for the development and build of a new digital service.
We are also working to tackle concerns about bailiff delays, including by providing for automated payments for debtors. That will reduce the need for doorstep visits, so that bailiffs can prioritise possession enforcement. We are going further with the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in exploring improvements to bailiff recruitment and retention policies; we touched on that. It would simply be a waste of taxpayers’ money to spend millions of pounds building a new system when we do not have certainty on the legislation underpinning it. That is why we will set out more details and implementation dates in due course.
Let me be clear that this is not a delaying tactic. There are 2.4 million landlords. Urban and rural landlords, their representatives and business tell us that they have concerns about delays in the courts. We cannot simply ignore that. We have always been clear that implementation would be phased, so that the sector has time to adjust, and we committed to giving notice of the implementation dates in the White Paper last year.
How many people and families does the Minister think will be evicted while they wait for reform of the courts, or wait for them to go digital by default? What is the timescale for digital by default? There are literally hundreds of families a day being evicted through section 21 no-fault evictions; the numbers are starting to go through the roof. That is a massive cost to the state and taxpayers.
Of course it is, and I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. However, every one of the 11 million renters in this country has a landlord. We have had representations from all the organisations representing the 2.4 million landlords in this country saying that they are concerned about the courts. Trying to introduce a new system and overriding the concerns of landlords would be unwise.
The Minister says that this is not a delaying tactic. I take him at his word. Will he therefore explain why the two-stage transition process provided for by the clause does not provide the Government with enough time to make the necessary improvements? He said that the improvements are already under way, and that huge progress is being made in a number of areas. Why is that not enough time for him to say, “By the second implementation date, we will have got the courts to where they need to be, and we can give tenants the assurance that the new system will be in place at that point”?
As I have outlined, we need to give time for the courts to improve. We need to give them the space to do that. I do not think that the measures in the Bill mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are adequate to do that. However, if there is another mechanism for us to ensure that the courts are prepared before the implementation of the Bill, I am happy to discuss that with him further. I remind all hon. Members that this is the biggest change to the sector in a generation; it is important that we take the time to get it right. The Government are ensuring that we have a smooth transition to the new system, and I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response. That is probably the most detail we have had on what the Government see as the necessary court improvements, but, to be frank, it is not enough detail. There are no metrics in there by which we can measure the reform that he talked about.
The Minister mentioned that the Government want the reforms introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. We have heard that they are targeting bailiff delays, processes and the new digital system. I take it from his response that the implementation of an entirely new digital system relating to possession grounds is a prerequisite to enacting part 1 of chapter 1. However, there is still too much uncertainty about what constitutes a necessary reform, and we are not convinced that the two-stage transition process provided for by the Bill does not afford the Government enough time to get the courts to a point at which we can introduce the new system. Indeed, in the evidence sessions, we heard different points of view on whether we had not better introduce the measures in the Bill and then see how the courts respond to the new system before phasing it in, so we remain unconvinced.
There is a fundamental point of difference between us on the abolition of section 21. We are deeply concerned about the number of people put at risk of homelessness while the Government have delayed bringing the legislation forward. We are deeply concerned about the additional people who will be at risk of homelessness, and who will be made homeless, while the Government get on with court improvements that, frankly, should already have been delivered, so that the Bill could be ready to go. We very much feel that tenants and landlords need certainty about precisely when section 21 will be abolished, so I will press the amendment to a vote.
Amendments made: 110, in clause 67, page 63, line 19, leave out
“Chapter 2 of Part 1 comes”
and insert “The following come”.
This amendment, together with Amendment 111, provides for the commencement two months after the Bill is passed of the new clauses relating to abandoned premises under assured shorthold tenancies and to investigatory powers for local housing authorities.
Amendment 111, in clause 67, page 63, line 20, at end insert—
“(a) Chapter 2 of Part 1;
(b) section (
(c) sections (
This amendment, together with Amendment 110, provides for the commencement two months after the Bill is passed of the new clauses relating to abandoned premises under assured shorthold tenancies and the new clauses relating to investigatory powers.
Amendment 112, in clause 67, page 63, line 23, at end insert—
“(ba) section (
This amendment provides for the powers to make regulations under NC20 and NS1 to come into force on Royal Assent.
Amendment 113, in clause 67, page 63, line 27, leave out
“Chapter 3 of Part 1”
“Chapter 2A of Part 1 and section 22”.
This amendment provides for the new Chapter expected to be formed of new clauses relating to discriminatory practices in relation to the grant of tenancies to be commenced by regulations made by the Secretary of State. It also makes a change in consequence of the new clause relating to abandoned premises under assured shorthold tenancies, which is expected to be inserted into Chapter 3 of Part 1. Unlike clause 22, of which that Chapter currently consists, the new clause will not come into force by regulations (see Amendments 110 and 111).
Amendment 114, in clause 67, page 63, line 29, leave out “sections” and insert
“section 52 and Schedule 3 and sections (Rent repayment orders),”.
This amendment provides for NC21 to be brought into force by regulations made by the Secretary of State. It also ensures that the Bill will continue to provide for clause 52 to be brought into force in that way once it is transposed from Part 2 to Part 3 of the Bill by the motion to transfer clause 52.
Amendment 115, in clause 67, page 63, line 30, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 63 from the Bill.
Amendment 116, in clause 67, page 63, line 30, at end insert—
“(da) section (
This amendment provides for regulations to bring NC20 and NS1 into force to the extent that they did not come into force on Royal Assent.
Amendment 125, in clause 67, page 63, line 30, at end insert—
“(10A) Chapter 2B comes into force on such day as the Welsh Ministers by order made by statutory instrument appoint.”—
This amendment provides for the new Chapter 2B expected to be formed of the clauses relating to discriminatory treatment of people with children and benefits claimants in Wales to be commenced by order of the Welsh Ministers.