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3 Feb 2009 : Column 701


Employment Rights Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. Michael Ancram, Mr. John Redwood, Mr. Peter Lilley, Mr. Graham Brady, Mr. Christopher Chope, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans and Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, presented a Bill to provide that, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, workers or members of a trade union who are UK nationals shall have rights of employment in the United Kingdom equal to or as favourable as those afforded to foreign nationals or conferred by the United Kingdom Parliament.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 February, and to be printed (Bill 53).

Protection of Garden Land (development Control) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Paul Burstow, supported by Tom Brake, Lorely Burt, Andrew George, Susan Kramer and Mr. Edward Davey, presented a Bill to protect private gardens from development which is out of character with the surrounding area; to make provision about the circumstances in which a planning application may be rejected by a local authority and about rights of appeal in such circumstances; to prohibit repeated planning applications in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 March, and to be printed (Bill 54).

3 Feb 2009 : Column 702

Home Repossession (Protection)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I beg to move,

This Bill is about a very important human right: the right not to be thrown out of one’s home without a court order. It is a right that affects millions of people, and it is of even greater importance in times of economic downturn such as these. However, it is a right that we simply do not have in this country. A recent court judgment now allows unscrupulous lenders to sell people’s homes over their heads, without having first to go to court, when even just one mortgage payment has been missed.

The number of home repossessions resulting from defaults on mortgage repayments has increased dramatically in recent months. According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, 45,000 homes were expected to have been repossessed by the end of last year, and 75,000 this year. The number of people in mortgage arrears rose to 168,000. The Financial Services Authority and the Council of Mortgage Lenders report that more than 1 million households are likely to default on a mortgage payment in the next year.

The Government have responded to the rising tide of home repossessions with admirable speed and decisiveness. The Prime Minister told the House on 22 October that new guidance had been given to county court judges to ensure that repossession of people’s and families’ homes was undertaken only as a matter of last resort. About a month later, on 19 November, the new pre-action protocol on seeking possession based on mortgage arrears came into force. Its purpose is to ensure that lenders and borrowers act fairly and reasonably with each other to resolve any matter concerning mortgage arrears. The Government have also introduced support for mortgage interest through the income support system, which has been improved. There is also the mortgage rescue scheme for vulnerable people and the home owner’s mortgage support scheme.

In the meantime, however, in a case involving Horsham Properties, the High Court ruled at the beginning of October last year that lenders—banks, building societies and investment companies—were entitled to sell properties, including people’s family homes, without having first to go to court for an order, following just a single default on a mortgage payment. That objective has been achieved as a consequence of the mortgage small print—according to the judge, “conveyancing shorthand”—that is in practically every mortgage deed, in combination with section 101 of the Law of Property Act 1925.

The purchaser of the property who is the new owner—very likely another faceless, compassionless investment company—is then entitled to a summary possession order against the borrower, the householder. The householder is now considered by the law to be a trespasser in his or her own home, which they no longer
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own. There is no defence in law against that claim. The new pre-action protocol and all the other forms of support that I have mentioned are therefore easily circumvented by unscrupulous lenders who invoke their power to sell the property in this way, without first having to go to court.

Both the Financial Services Authority and the Council of Mortgage Lenders have reported that UK sub-prime lenders have been taking an increasingly aggressive approach to repossessions, and predict that this trend is only likely to increase as economic conditions worsen. Hundreds of thousands of people and their families are therefore at serious risk of being thrown out of their homes, without first having had any opportunity whatever to put their point of view to a judge or to try to persuade the court that it is neither fair nor reasonable to evict them.

My Bill will reverse the High Court’s judgment. It requires that lenders—sub-prime or otherwise—first obtain the court’s permission, before they can call in their security by selling a property that is somebody’s home. It will ensure that the court that hears the lender’s application will have the power to delay the sale of the property and to give the borrower more time to repay, if that is appropriate in all the circumstances. It does not guarantee that people can stay in their homes indefinitely if they cannot pay the mortgage, but it does ensure that people have an opportunity to persuade an independent court that it is far too early, or disproportionate, to throw them into the street—with bags, baggage, furniture and kids’ toys—at the whim of a hard-bitten property company.

Most people might have thought they had protection against this sort of thing happening but, as a result of last October’s court case, they simply do not. It is truly shocking that in Britain in 2009, such a basic legal protection for home owners is not already part of our law, especially when human rights law requires there to be such protection.

The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled in a case against the UK— McCann v. UK—that the right to respect for one’s home, guaranteed by article 8 of the European convention, includes such protection. It said:

Article 11 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights also protects the right to housing. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and
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Cultural Rights has interpreted this in its general comments to include a right to due process and appropriate procedural safeguards before being evicted from one’s home.

In our recent report on “A Bill of Rights for the UK?”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, recommended that one of the rights that should be protected in any UK Bill of Rights was the right to housing. We suggested in our “draft outline Bill of Rights”, the inclusion of provisions to the effect that


Those provisions were modelled on the right to housing in the international covenant on economic and social rights and on the equivalent provision in the South African Bill of Rights.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the Joint Committee that a Bill of Rights should include protection for such social and economic rights. However, if the United Kingdom had a Bill of Rights that included such provisions, our courts would not have been able to interpret the law in the way they did in this appalling case, thus allowing lenders to cash in on their security by selling people’s homes without first having to obtain a court’s agreement that such a drastic step was proportionate in the circumstances. Until we have such a Bill of Rights, there is absolutely nothing to stop our courts giving the highest priority to the rights of banks over the rights of ordinary people to a fair hearing before they lose their homes.

This example of home repossession provides a good practical example of the way in which a Bill of Rights protecting social and economic rights such as the right to housing—including the right to minimum procedural safeguards before eviction from one’s home—could defend hundreds of thousands of ordinary people against more powerful interests at times of economic hardship. It shows that human rights are, and should be, universal. They are not a villains’ charter; they are for the middle-class professional struggling with a mortgage just as much as for the council or private tenant with rent arrears when each falls on hard times. No one should lose his or her home without good reason, without proper and fair justification, and without an impartial court hearing.

This problem is immediate and it is urgent. The judge in the Horsham Properties case said that it was a matter for Parliament to resolve. In the absence of the Bill of Rights that I advocated, there is no alternative but to try to change the law through this Bill, which amends the Law of Property Act 1925.

Question put and agreed to.

That Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr Virendra Sharma, Shona McIsaac, John Austin, Mike Gapes, Ms Karen Buck, Siobhain McDonagh, Judy Mallaber, Rob Marris, Mr. Chris Mullin and Dr. Evan Harris present the Bill.

Mr. Andrew Dismore accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 June, and to be printed (Bill 52).

3 Feb 2009 : Column 705

Opposition Day

[4th Allotted Day]

Skills and Further Education

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the Prime Minister’s amendment to both the motions that are to be debated today.

3.42 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I beg to move,

These are tough times. Our challenge is, of course, to emerge from this recession with a better-balanced and stronger economy, which means an economy that has invested properly in skills. In order to assess the challenges that we face, we should review the record of the past 10 years to see how we managed to prepare ourselves for the tough years ahead during the boom years, which are now dismissed as the age of irresponsibility. Those were the years when employment was rising but the number of young people not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, also rose, from 660,000 in 1997 to 780,000 10 years later, an increase of 18 per cent.

That is what we were doing in the good times. We also know what we were doing in comparison with other advanced western countries. A valuable report from the OECD entitled “Jobs for Youth” records our performance during the growth years compared with the performances of those other countries. Again, the story is very clear. While our rate for NEETs was getting worse and worse, the rate across the OECD on the very same measure was improving. Having been better than the OECD average at the start of Labour’s time in office, after 10 years our rate was below that average.

The unemployment rate among 16 to 24-year-olds rose in Britain from 13.4 per cent. in 1997 to 14.4 per cent. in 2007. In other words, youth unemployment was higher by the end of the boom years. By contrast, across the OECD as a whole the average youth unemployment rate fell from 15.6 to 13.4 per cent. In other words, we entered the boom years with a youth unemployment performance that was better than the OECD average, and we now enter the recession with a performance that is worse.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): In his plethora of statistics, the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the historical record of the unknown, as
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opposed to the known, NEETs. Will he compliment Connexions in the black country, which has bucked the national statistical trend by both getting an increased number of 16 to 18-year-olds into training and work, thereby reducing the number of NEETs, and, in Sandwell, lowering the percentage of unknowns? It has therefore managed to improve statistics in both those areas.

Mr. Willetts: That was an excellent speech. I happily congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the performance of the Connexions service in his area, especially as he made the crucial point when he described its performance as bucking the national trend, because it is precisely the national trend that we are focusing on in this debate.

If we had predicted in 1997 that we would be in the situation that we are now in, nobody would have believed us. If we had said that after 10 years of economic growth, and even after all the well-intentioned initiatives such as the new deal, we would have more young people not in education, employment or training and more youth unemployment than when the Labour Government came to power, Labour Members would not have accepted our forecast, but that is exactly what has happened.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I spent many years working in further education, and I recall that, in the period leading up to 1997, FE was left to go to rack and ruin; indeed, there was no capital spend towards the end of that period. One day when he has a spare moment or two, will the hon. Gentleman come with me to the A511 just a little north of Coalville town centre to have a look at the magnificent Stephenson college, named after George Stephenson, that has been built there, and which is having a huge impact on FE in Leicestershire? We will then see whether he can still read with a straight face the following phrases in the Conservative motion:

What hypocrisy! If I were allowed to say that, that is the word I would use.

Mr. Speaker: Order. “Hypocrisy” is not a term we should use in the Chamber.

David Taylor: I withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you. Let me add that an intervention should not be taken as an opportunity to make a speech; it should be brief.

Mr. Willetts: I will happily accompany the hon. Gentleman on a visit to his FE college if he will come with me and some of my hon. Friends to visit all the FE colleges whose governing bodies are now in little short of a state of crisis as their capital spending plans have been held up by this Government. That is the crisis in FE that we are drawing attention to, and it is causing a great deal of concern across the FE sector.

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