Mobile Homes Bill


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: John Robertson 

Aldous, Peter (Waveney) (Con) 

Blackwood, Nicola (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con) 

Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab) 

Brine, Steve (Winchester) (Con) 

Brooke, Annette (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD) 

Buckland, Mr Robert (South Swindon) (Con) 

Chope, Mr Christopher (Christchurch) (Con) 

Engel, Natascha (North East Derbyshire) (Lab) 

Foster, Mr Don (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)  

Laing, Mrs Eleanor (Epping Forest) (Con) 

Miller, Andrew (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab) 

Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab) 

Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) 

Simpson, David (Upper Bann) (DUP) 

Wheeler, Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con) 

Wright, David (Telford) (Lab) 

Kate Emms, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Public Bill Committee 

Tuesday 27 November 2012  

[John Robertson in the Chair] 

Mobile Homes Bill

Clause 1 

Fees 

2 pm 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Don Foster):  I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, after ‘means’, insert ‘, subject to subsection (8),’ 

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: 

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 21, after ‘conditions.’, insert— 

‘(8) For the purpose of determining whether an application for a site licence is a relevant protected site application, any part of the application which is for the licence to permit the stationing of a caravan on the land for human habitation all year round is to be ignored if, were the application to be granted, the caravan would be so authorised to be occupied by—

(a) the occupier, or

(b) a person employed by the occupier but who does not occupy the caravan under an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 applies (see section 1(1) of that Act).’.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 25, after ‘licence’, insert— 

‘is, subject to subsection (6)’.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 26, leave out ‘is’. 

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 27, leave out ‘is’. 

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 29, after ‘habitation.’, insert— 

‘(6) For the purpose of determining whether land is a relevant protected site, any provision of the relevant planning permission or of the site licence which permits the stationing of a caravan on the land for human habitation all year round is to be ignored if the caravan is so authorised to be occupied by—

(a) the occupier, or

(b) a person employed by the occupier but who does not occupy the caravan under an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 applies (see section 1(1) of that Act).’.

Mr Foster:  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I was delighted to hear that you have a comfortable chair in which to sit, but I hope we will not detain hon. Members too long. May I say a huge thank you to all members of the Committee who, in their various ways, have contributed to the development of the Bill? In particular I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney on the huge amount of work he has done. It is an important Bill because it will bring some redress to older and vulnerable

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people living in mobile homes, who sometimes suffer at the hands of unscrupulous site owners who have no respect for their rights or their health and safety. It is right and proper that action is taken to better protect those residents and their assets. 

The Bill will go a long way in tackling the significant problems in the sector. That is why I am pleased to be supporting it on behalf of the Government. When it is enacted, it will make a huge difference to the lives of many mobile home residents. The whole Committee will want to thank my hon. Friend for the way he has approached the subject. This light-touch legislative proposal will not impact significantly on those site owners who run decent businesses operating within law. Basically, the Bill creates a level playing field to ensure that there is not unfair competition from unscrupulous site owners who ignore their obligations and the rights of others. It will help to put the industry on a sustainable footing for the future—one in which good owners can flourish and unscrupulous owners will wither. 

The amendments aim to ensure that we get the definitions in the Bill absolutely clear. When the Government published our response to the consultation “A Better Deal for Mobile Home Owners” in September, we announced that the new proposed licensing regime would not apply to sites used exclusively for holiday purposes; it would apply only to sites on which residential caravans protected by the Mobile Homes Act 1983 were stationed, although this would include sites which had both holiday and residential pitches. There is, however, some doubt whether proposed new section 5A(5), inserted into the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 by clause 1(3), would achieve that policy objective, because the definition of “protected relevant site” only excludes sites that have a site licence or planning permission that are expressed to be for holiday use only, or otherwise expressed or subject to a condition that all-year-round stationing of a caravan for human habitation is prohibited. 

That is where we are at the moment, but of course we have to recognise that many holiday sites might be occupied by the owner of the site all year round, and many will have permanent residential homes provided by the site owner as staff accommodation. We do not want those to be caught up in the definition. Planning permissions and site licences normally distinguish between holiday use and the provision of staff accommodation. Amendment 8 therefore clarifies that sites that include residential staff accommodation or that are also occupied by the owner do not come within the definition of a relevant protected site, because such occupation is to be disregarded when determining whether the site has residential mobile homes on it. However, a site will be a relevant protected site if any caravan is stationed on it and occupied by the resident under an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 applies, even if the resident is employed by the site owner. That would ensure that a relevant protected site remained protected if, for example, one or more of the residents became employed by the site owner. Those changes are achieved by amendment 8, which inserts a new subsection (6) into proposed new section 5A of the 1960 Act. 

Amendments 5, 6 and 7 are drafting amendments to proposed new section 5A(5) consequential to the insertion of proposed new subsection (6) by amendment 8. I trust the Committee is still following me. 

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Amendment 4 amends clause 1(2)(b), which inserts proposed new subsection (7) into section 3 of the 1960 Act, to define a relevant protected site application. That is important because it distinguishes between applications for the grant of a holiday site licence and applications for a residential site licence; the latter will be dealt with under the new licensing regime, for which a fee will be payable. Amendment 4 defines a relevant protected site for the purpose of such an application in the same terms as amendment 8 and inserts proposed new subsection (8) into section 3 of the 1960 Act to that effect. 

Finally, amendment 3 is a consequential drafting amendment to proposed new subsection (7) of section 3 of the 1960 Act, as a result of the insertion of proposed new subsection (8). 

Amendment 3 agreed to.  

Amendments made: 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 21, after ‘conditions.’, insert— 

‘(8) For the purpose of determining whether an application for a site licence is a relevant protected site application, any part of the application which is for the licence to permit the stationing of a caravan on the land for human habitation all year round is to be ignored if, were the application to be granted, the caravan would be so authorised to be occupied by—

(a) the occupier, or

(b) a person employed by the occupier but who does not occupy the caravan under an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 applies (see section 1(1) of that Act).’.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 25, after ‘licence’, insert— 

‘is, subject to subsection (6)’.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 26, leave out ‘is’. 

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 2, line 27, leave out ‘is’. 

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 2, line 29, after ‘habitation.’, insert— 

‘(6) For the purpose of determining whether land is a relevant protected site, any provision of the relevant planning permission or of the site licence which permits the stationing of a caravan on the land for human habitation all year round is to be ignored if the caravan is so authorised to be occupied by—

(a) the occupier, or

(b) a person employed by the occupier but who does not occupy the caravan under an agreement to which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 applies (see section 1(1) of that Act).’.—(Mr Foster.)

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause s 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 5 

Powers for local authority to carry out work 

Mr Foster:  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

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(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. 

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD):  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. 

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con):  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

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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. 

Mr Foster:  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. 

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

2.15 pm 

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab):  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. 

Mr Foster:  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. 

Chris Ruane:  I will finish now, after that intervention. 

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con):  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.

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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. 

Peter Aldous:  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. 

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

Mr Foster:  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.  

Clause 7 

Residential property tribunals: jurisdiction under the 1960 Act 

Mr Foster:  I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 7, page 13, line 23, leave out paragraph (c). 

The amendment relates to tribunal costs. As the Committee knows, the clause amends the Housing Act 2004 in respect of a residential property tribunal’s proposed jurisdiction in licensing decision appeals under the 1960 Act. Amendment 10 gives effect to the Government’s policy intention that the maximum amount of costs the tribunal can award against a party that has acted unreasonably in connection with proceedings before a tribunal is £500. 

Amendment 10 agreed to.  

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 10 

Implied terms: removal of requirement for site owner consent to sale or gift 

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con):  I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 10, page 19, line 11, at end insert— 

‘(2A) Paragraph 7A(2) shall not apply if the occupier of the mobile home is on a site where—

(a) there is a residents’ association with members drawn from a majority of the mobile homes on the site; and

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(b) the residents’ association has determined that instead of the provisions of paragraph 7A(2) sub-paragraph (2B) shall apply.

(2B) Any person to whom the occupier intends to sell the mobile home or to assign the agreement shall be approved by the site owner whose approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.’.

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 1, in clause 10, page 20, line 35, at end insert— 

‘(11) Paragraph 7B shall not apply if the occupier of the mobile home is on a site where—

(a) there is a residents’ association with members drawn from a majority of the mobile homes on the site; and

(b) that residents’ association has determined that instead of the provisions of paragraph 7A(2) subparagraph (2B) shall apply.

(12) Any person to whom the occupier intends to sell the mobile home or to assign the agreement shall be approved by the site owner whose approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.’.

Mrs Laing:  I begin by giving the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who joined me in tabling these amendments and is sincerely sorry that he cannot be here in person. 

The rationale behind the amendments is to enable the Committee to look at the practical effect of clause 10, with which, of course, I entirely agree. I do not challenge for one moment any of the provisions set out in the clause. The intention behind the clause and the Bill in general, and that of everyone in the Committee and the House who has supported the Bill—I have not found anyone who does not support it—must be to stop the bad behaviour of unscrupulous park home owners. We have all heard appalling stories of the bad behaviour of such people who block the sale of homes. In doing so, they often force a sale to themselves or their associates for small sums that do not reflect the home’s true value. I entirely agree that that practice has to be the main target of the Bill. 

Amendments 1 and 2 would add a further layer of action by giving powers to residents’ associations—in proposed new paragraph 7A(2B) of schedule 1 to the Mobile Homes Act 1983—where they truly represent the majority of residents who live on a particular park. Where the association has determined that there should be a further condition, as set out in amendment 2 in proposed new sub-paragraph (2A)(b), then the following, which is in proposed new sub-paragraph (2B), should apply: 

“Any person to whom the occupier intends to sell the mobile home or to assign the agreement shall be approved by the site owner whose approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.” 

I appreciate that that provision would give some power back to the site owner, and the reason for my giving the Committee the opportunity to add a further layer to the clause is that parks are not like housing estates or roads in a residential community. They are truly community places, and there must surely be a role for the people who already live there to have a say in who might move to the park in the future. Just as there are unscrupulous people who own and run parks, so there are potentially unscrupulous or undesirable people who might wish to own and occupy park homes. 

Chris Ruane:  Can the hon. Lady give an example of the type of person to whom she is referring? 

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Mrs Laing:  I hesitate to give a specific example, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. Having been aware of the situation in the two parks in my constituency, I realised when looking at the intricacies of the Bill that, until a few weeks ago, I had not looked more widely into what was happening in other parts of the country, except during meetings of the all-party group on mobile homes. I hear from those at the park homes in my constituency that, before the unscrupulous owner in Epping Forest took over the park, the residents’ association and the manager of the park used to have a say in who would come to the park, to ensure that they were the sort of people who would fit in and behave properly. I appreciate that such conduct cannot always be predicted, but it is the background to the Bill. 

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab):  The Bill was originally drafted to be a positive form of social engineering, so that park owners had the power to ensure that the right type of people lived on the sites, such as those over 50. Would the amendment transfer that power to the residents on the park home sites and away from the owner, or would it leave some power with the owner? 

Mrs Laing:  Inevitably, from a contractual position, some of the power would have to be given to the owner, but the power would be administered by the residents’ association. I am putting it to the Committee as a point worthy of discussion that the residents’ association should have some say in the matter. 

Natascha Engel:  Is the hon. Lady saying that all parks should be encouraged to have residents’ associations, which I would absolutely welcome? What would happen on park sites where there was no residents’ association? 

Mrs Laing:  The hon. Lady raises an aspect that also worries me. The situation throughout the country, which happens not to be reflected in the two parks that I know well in Epping Forest, is that some residents’ associations do not really represent the majority of residents but seem to be a platform for some disgruntled park home residents owners to fight the park owners. Disgruntled residents can sometimes form a residents’ association that is not truly representative of all the residents of a park in order to carry on their fight with the park owner, whether he or she is an unscrupulous park owner or simply someone getting on with his or her everyday business. 

2.30 pm 

Chris Ruane:  What happens if there are two residents’ associations? 

Mrs Laing:  That is a good question. Perhaps the amendments needs a further amendment. I do not think they do, because the exact wording states that they apply when 

“there is a residents’ association with members drawn from a majority of the mobile homes on the site”. 

By definition, only one of those two residents’ associations could have a majority of the residents. They could not both have a majority. 

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I realise that the amendments opens up further complications, but I have deliberately put them to the Committee so that we can examine those further complications. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. 

David Wright (Telford) (Lab):  The problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd has raised is that if there is a site with 100 units—100 homes—and 51 residents are in one association and 49 in another, one presumably has a majority, so there could be two residents’ associations of similar size on a park, with a difference of only two units. 

Mrs Laing:  Yes, just as there can be a parliamentary constituency with a majority of under 100. But I do not think that that is relevant to what we are discussing, which is allowing residents to have a say in who lives on their park. 

Natascha Engel:  I am struggling to see what the amendments would do that the Bill as drafted will not do. The Bill tightens up the regulations that the hon. Lady is talking about. It takes the decisions that she is talking about away from the park home owner and makes them into set regulations, which will ensure that the problems that she is talking about will not occur in the first place. I am all for giving park home residents more say in how their park is run and in its general environment, but is she proposing that they should decide who comes on to the site and who does not? 

Mrs Laing:  The amendments would provide a forum for consultation on such a matter. They would involve the residents’ association in the decision and therefore provide more flexibility. I do not necessarily reflect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and is a pity that he is not here to give examples of what has happened in his constituency. I reiterate his apologies. He is detained on parliamentary business—it is not that he does not care about the Bill. 

I have put the amendments before the Committee to open up the discussion that we have started. If it transpires, as the hon. Lady suggests, that the purpose of my amendments is in fact achieved by the Bill as it stands, I will be happy not to press them, but it is an important matter. 

Mr Foster:  To help the Committee, will my hon. Friend confirm whether she believes that it is important that residents have an opportunity to be involved in dialogue with site owners about the rules that govern the operation of the site, and that residents are expected to abide by the rules? If those are the key objectives, we will probably be able to explain to her that the Bill already achieves them. 

Mrs Laing:  I thank the Minister for that intervention. That is the main objective, but there is probably a further objective. We must recognise that not all park owners are unscrupulous. Many run good sites, and there ought to be a way in which they can determine who comes on to a site. For example, if there is an age qualification but no way of enforcing it, a park that is

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currently properly run and occupied by people over a certain age may, within the next few years, be taken over by large numbers of people who do not fit in that age group or lifestyle. That outcome would not be desirable. 

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con):  My hon. Friend is right to emphasise good park home owners. However, being the pessimistic criminal lawyer that I am, I am worried that bad park home owners could use the provisions as a mechanism to avoid the main thrust of the Bill, which is to prevent obstructions to sale. I am concerned that there is no provision for, for example, annual resolution in residents’ associations. I am worried that park home owners could make it a precondition for new people coming on to the site to sign up to the residents association and thereby avoid some of the important provisions in the Bill. Am I being too pessimistic? 

Mrs Laing:  No, my hon. Friend is not being too pessimistic. I share his pessimism and the natural cynicism of a lawyer. However, I am anxious for the Committee to have a chance to consider what will happen as well as putting in the protections, which is the main thing that we all want to do, against unscrupulous park owners. I am also anxious for there to be sufficient flexibility in the Bill to ensure that parks continue to have the personality that they are intended to have and that residents can be consulted and involved in the decisions. I do not want to see more power given back to unscrupulous park owners. 

Having heard what the Minister said in an intervention a few moments ago, and after hearing what the Minister and the Bill’s promoter have to say in a moment or two, it is likely that I will find comfort in what they say and be in a position to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. 

Steve Brine:  I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us a chance to debate the points. However, I say with the greatest respect that I reject her amendments utterly. I have a huge pile of correspondence from people in my constituency and many other parts of the country who know about our work in the area and who have written to us. I will read some of the comments from some of the letters: 

“If possible, please try to close every loophole”; 

“We are writing to you now to ask that you close every loophole as it passes through the Committee stage”; 

“We would like the Committee to make absolutely sure that for residents who wish to sell their home and have an existing contract, no loopholes are left in place” 

whereby unscrupulous site owners can interfere. They all say the same thing: do the job, close the loophole, and get the Bill on to the statute book. That is our job today. 

The amendment is dangerous. It would water down the whole essence of the Bill and be a disincentive for residents to form a residents association. Through the all-party group, we have heard many examples over the years of unscrupulous site owners who interfere, influence and unfairly coerce residents’ associations to do things that they want them to do, often in a climate of fear. A contract between people who live in park homes is between two parties, and it must absolutely remain so. As I said on Second Reading, setting up a contract

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between the buyer and seller of a park home should involve a solicitor, as is the case with the purchase and sale of every other home. 

There is a good residents association in the community where I live. I would not, for one minute—love them all as I do—expect them to be involved in the sale of my property. If the amendment is a probing one, it has given us a chance to debate the points. If it were to be part of the Bill it would be deeply regrettable and—I do not think this is an exaggeration—dangerous. 

David Wright:  I wholeheartedly support the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. I am a former housing professional myself and if we look at the debate on improvements it moves us in the direction of standardising the law in relation to normal practice. What he is talking about starts to standardise the law in relation to normal practice and begins to apply it to park homes. That has to be a very good thing. 

Steve Brine:  Absolutely. We have always tried to stress, through the work on this Bill and through the all-party group, that park home owners are not these strange individuals who live in this vacuum and are different from the rest of us. They are constituents like everyone else and they deserve exactly the same treatment when it comes to buying their LPG gas or buying or selling their home. The Bill introduces the parity in that. These amendments to bring the residents’ associations into it would go completely against what the Bill is trying to achieve. I urge hon. Members not to support them. 

Annette Brooke:  I agree that this has been a useful discussion. I am sure that we all want to place on record that a residents association brought into being through the correct practices can be helpful on occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester has raised most of the points that have been raised with me. At an individual level if we have been involved in a site where the site owner is a bully, we get the same sort of thing as in a classroom with some of the residents trying to do everything they can to please him. That is what worries me. We cannot go down that line. It is really important to reject that. 

I hope that the Minister and the hon. Member for Waveney when commenting on clause 10 in general can touch on the fact that we have a two-tier system. Is that absolutely inevitable? There are concerns with the existing contracts. If people are asked for their date of birth, for example, it could lead to some bullying and demands to see a birth certificate. Just stating the age, rather than the precise date of birth, might be sufficient. 

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con):  I thank the hon. Lady and I congratulate her and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney on bringing the Bill to its current state. I am delighted about that. The people of South Derbyshire want the Bill go ahead today. She talks about the date of birth. Later on there is a Government amendment to withdraw that. So with a bit of luck we are there. She wishes it and it will happen. 

Annette Brooke:  I thank the hon. Lady. I wanted to put that clearly on the record. We have had a representation from the National Park Home Congress which quotes

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several of us who spoke on Second Reading. It suggests that we have misunderstood clause 10. Again, it would be helpful if the hon. Member for Waveney could be crystal clear on what the clause involves and in what ways he will make it even better. 

Mr Foster:  I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest for tabling these amendments to elicit debate on an important issue. She will be well aware that one of the reasons why the Bill is being introduced is because of the concern that has been expressed by many people that the relatively small number of unscrupulous site owners are blocking the sale of properties on sites. It is therefore important that we have measures in the Bill to try to reduce that. Indeed, it is reflective of the fact that nearly 300 respondents, including many responsible site owners, said that they wanted action to be taken and only five respondents said that they were against action in this particular area. Clearly, there is a real desire to take action. 

2.45 pm 

One of the steps that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has taken in his Bill is to limit the interaction of a site owner in the process of sale. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest is absolutely right to say that where there is a residents association, we would all wish it to be actively engaged in the development of the rules of the site. We are also absolutely with her in our belief that a new owner moving on to the site will be expected to abide by those rules. 

The intention of the Bill is that, through regulation, there will be a requirement on the current owner, the vendor of a property, to make available a range of information to the prospective purchaser, which includes the details of the site rules. Subsequently, we will then expect the purchaser to sign up to those rules and to lodge a document to that effect, agreeing that they will meet and abide by the site rules. As my hon. Friend said, that will then become a legal document. 

We recommend that all people engaging in that prospective purchase and sale to take legal advice because of the significance that is attached to those particular documents. That will give protection to the existing residents that a new resident coming on board will abide by the site rules. I hope that that will give her sufficient comfort, and that our genuine wish to ensure that existing residents engage in detailed dialogue with site owners about those rules will persuade her that there is no need for her two amendments. 

Peter Aldous:  I will first address the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. I pay tribute to her for her sterling contribution on Second Reading. She is right to raise the issue in her amendment, because clause 10, the sale blocking, goes right to the heart of the problems that park home owners face. She is also right to raise the issue of the sterling work that residents’ associations undertake. However, the clause as drafted addresses her concerns, and there is no need for her additional amendments. 

From my own knowledge of residents’ associations, they do sterling work, but the members are getting on in years and want to enjoy their retirement. I am not sure that they are geared up for this role or would want to be

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involved in this whole process. As my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester said, we are looking for a contract between two parties—between a buyer and seller—and for the appropriate legal advice. I question whether it is appropriate for residents’ associations to take on such a role, and I am not sure whether they would actually wish to do so. None the less, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest for her intervention because it gives us an opportunity to scrutinise in detail the essence of the Bill. 

Mr Foster:  As my hon. Friend concludes, will he also point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that her own amendments were deficient in that they did not refer to the gifting of properties where no specific sale takes place? Will he assure our hon. Friend that the Bill covers exactly the same arrangements in relation to gifting as I have described for the issue of sale? 

Peter Aldous:  I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding me of those provisions. I can confirm those two issues, and that gifting is an issue that we have taken fully into account. 

I would like to address the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole. First, as my other hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire said, and she is right, the date of birth issue will be addressed in later amendments. She is quite right to raise those concerns and I am grateful to her. The issue of a two-tier system is very important, because the clause contains provisions to remove entirely a site owner’s right to approve a purchaser in sales under new agreements made after the legislation comes into force. However, as she knows, where an existing agreement is in place, the Bill contains provisions replacing the site owner’s right to approve a purchaser with a right to apply to a residential property tribunal, although on limited grounds only. 

In drafting the Bill, we received the highest level of legal advice that it would not be in the interests of fairness to amend the implied terms of existing agreements between a site owner and a mobile home owner, thereby removing entirely the site owner’s role in approving the purchase of a mobile home on their site. There is an exception for ongoing contractual arrangements between existing residents and site owners, which means that site owners are to be involved in the sale process. There is also a general assumption against, including retrospective provisions in legislation, for which the rationale is that legislation that affects past events or transactions may give rise to unfairness or impropriety. Provisions that take effect from a date earlier than that on which the legislation comes into force give rise to a significant risk of unfairness. 

In light of such factors, a decision had to be taken balancing the existing contractual rights of site owners with the rights of residents, alongside the general public interest in avoiding a retrospective change in the law. It must also be recognised that the measures in the Bill considerably improve the position of residents with existing agreements under the Mobile Homes Act 1983. The provisions in proposed new paragraphs 7A and 7B aim to respect the reasonable expectations of a site

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owner, by giving them the opportunity to object to a sale or gift while ensuring that they will only be able to do so where they have valid grounds. The Bill therefore shifts the burden of proof from the resident to the site owner by requiring site owners to have reasonable grounds for considering that a person should not be approved. 

In that context, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest will be assured that we have gone as far as we can, and that we are working within the parameters of the legal advice that we have been provided. 

Mrs Laing:  I am grateful to the Committee for taking the time to scrutinise this part of the Bill. As I have said in so many different contexts in Parliament, scrutiny of legislation is vital. There is no point in people coming to us afterwards and saying, “Why didn’t you look at this?” It is our job to look at it now, and our duty to consider all aspects of the Bill. I am therefore grateful to the Committee for having carefully scrutinised clause 10, its intentions, and the practical likelihood of those intentions becoming reality. 

I am grateful to the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney for explaining why, looking at the Bill as a whole, they do not consider amendments 1 and 2 necessary. In particular, the Minister made the point about the purchaser being obliged to sign up to the site rules, and I am satisfied that that gives the protection that I intended to emphasise with amendments 1 and 2.

I also strongly feel, as do all hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon, that the Bill’s main purpose must be to stop unscrupulous park owners unreasonably blocking sales and in other ways bullying the people who live in park homes. Having properly scrutinised the clause, I am satisfied that the amendments are not needed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Mr Foster:  I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 10, page 19, line 34, leave out ‘only’ and insert 

‘without the approval of the owner’.

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 13, in clause 10, page 22, line 44, leave out ‘only’ and insert 

‘without the approval of the owner’.

Mr Foster:  Again, we are addressing the involvement or otherwise of site owners in the sale or gifting of properties. The role of the site owner, and the approval of a proposed occupier when an existing resident wants to sell or gift their home, is to be limited to the question of whether the occupier and the other persons who live in the home comply, as we have been discussing, with certain site rules—that is, those rules that form the basis of the grounds of appeal prescribed in regulations under proposed new paragraphs 7B(7) and 8B(7), as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney a few moments ago, of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983. There will be no other role for the site’s owner in the process. 

However, it is clear that many agreements contain express terms requiring assignment of the agreement to be done in the presence or with the approval of the site

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owner. That obviously affords an unscrupulous site owner—I stress that it is only the unscrupulous ones—the opportunity again to block a sale or to put unlawful conditions on the approval of an assignment, such as requiring the buyer to pay a deposit or to agree a higher pitch fee. 

The Bill removes the legal requirement for an assignment to be approved by the site owner, so there is no need for the purchaser to meet the owner to complete the assignment. The amendments are introduced to make that explicitly clear and to provide consistency in the drafting between the provisions dealing with new agreements and those dealing with existing agreements. 

Amendment 11 inserts into proposed new paragraph 7B(1) wording that explicitly provides that, under an existing contract, the resident selling the home is entitled to assign the agreement without the approval of the site owner, provided that the conditions set out in sub-paragraph (1) are met. Amendment 13 inserts the same wording into proposed new paragraph 8B(1) in connection with an assignment when, under an existing contract, the resident gifts the home. Under section 2(1) of the 1983 Act, terms implied in the agreement by the Act override any express terms in that contract. The amendments make it clear that any express terms that require assignments to be approved by the site owner will be unenforceable. 

Amendment 11 agreed to.  

Amendment made: 13, in clause 10, page 22, line 44, leave out ‘only’ and insert 

‘without the approval of the owner’.—(Mr Foster.)

Mr Foster:  I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 10, page 20, leave out from beginning of line 12 to ‘information’ in line 13 and insert ‘such’. 

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 14, in clause 10, page 23, leave out line 20. 

3 pm 

Mr Foster:  As the Committee has already learned, clause 10 is a hugely important part of the Bill because it eradicates the unlawful practice of sale blocking by site owners. It does that by removing altogether the site owner’s role in approving a new buyer or a person to whom the home is to be gifted under new and assigned contracts. 

For existing contracts, the Government recognise that there is a legitimate expectation that site owners should have some continuing role in the approval process, and that is achieved through new implied terms in chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983—namely, a new implied term 7B in relation to sales and 8B in relation to gifting a home. Under clause 10, a site owner will have to apply to a residential property tribunal for an order prohibiting the sale, but only on specified grounds that will be set out in secondary legislation, and are likely to include such matters as the age of the buyer, keeping pets and other matters that might contravene the site rules. 

When an existing resident proposes to sell his or her home, a notice of proposed sale must be served on the site owner under proposed new paragraph 7B(1)(a). Such a notice will need to contain certain information so that the site owner can make an informed judgment about whether the proposed buyer would meet the

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relevant site rules and, therefore, about whether to apply for a refusal order. That information would be specified in regulations under proposed new paragraph 7B(5)(b). Where a site has rules about the age of residents—a point already raised—a vital piece of information that needs to be given to the site owner is the age of the buyer and the ages of any other persons who will reside in the home. However, there are sites that have no rules about the minimum age of residents, and in such cases information about the age of proposed occupiers would be irrelevant. 

As the regulations will require ages to be provided where the site has rules in relation to age, it is unnecessary to have a provision in the Bill that would explicitly require sellers to provide that same information in each and every case, even when it is irrelevant. Amendment 12, therefore, would remove that requirement by deleting sub-paragraph (5)(a) of proposed new paragraph 7B. Amendment 14, for exactly the same reasons, would remove the requirement to give the date of birth of a person to whom it is proposed to gift the home, by deleting sub-paragraph (5)(a) of proposed new paragraph 8B. 

Amendment 12 agreed to.  

Amendment made: 14, in clause 10, page 23, leave out line 20.—(Mr Foster.)  

Clause 10, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 11 

Implied terms: pitch fees 

Mr Foster:  I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 11, page 24, line 45, after ‘land’, insert 

‘which is occupied or controlled by the owner’.

Clause 11 would introduce a number of changes to the way pitch fee reviews are conducted and what can be taken into account in such a review. This is to make reviews more transparent and fairer. On fairness, proposed new sub-paragraphs (aa) and (ab), which clause 11 inserts into paragraph 18(1) of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the 1983 Act, make clearer what factors must be taken into account during pitch fee review, insofar as they relate to the condition of the site and the quality of services. A factor that will need to be considered is any decrease in the amenity or deterioration in the condition of the site and of any adjoining land that has occurred since the commencement of the new provisions and has not been taken into consideration in an earlier pitch fee review. In practice, that means that, in future, a residential property tribunal will be able to have regard to any decrease in the amenity or deterioration in the condition of any land adjoining the site when deciding what the pitch fee should be when a dispute has arisen about a pitch fee review.

The policy reason for including adjoining land is that sometimes that land is in poor condition, is being used inappropriately, or is in a state of redevelopment. All those circumstances might directly affect the amenity of the residents on the site, but, under the existing paragraph 18(1), such matters cannot be taken into account by the tribunal in determining the pitch fee. However, it is not the policy intention that site owners should be penalised in a pitch fee review because of things occurring on land over which they have no

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control. Amendment 15 therefore inserts wording into proposed new sub-paragraph (aa) of paragraph 18(1), to make it clear that only where the adjoining land is occupied or controlled by the site owner must such matters be taken into account in a pitch fee review. 

Steve Brine:  I want to clarify an issue: in my constituency, overhanging trees in one site were damaging the fences of an adjoining park home site, right next to somebody’s home. That piece of land was not owned by the park home owner, nor was it a piece of land over which he had any control, but he also refused to have any contact with the owner of that adjoining land or to try to reason with them to make some improvements. Can the Minister place on record his desire that responsible owners, of which there are many, including the majority in my constituency, would talk to neighbouring landowners? 

Mr Foster:  I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what I hope will be a very rare occasion—as he said, the vast majority of site owners are very responsible and want to do their best for their residents—where an irresponsible owner simply cannot be bothered to have discussions with the owners of neighbouring land. My hon. Friend will be well aware that, in such circumstances, site owners already have a range of measures that they can use to seek remediation for inappropriate activity by the occupants of adjoining land. Clearly, I hope that responsible owners would seek a sensible way forward, initially through dialogue, without recourse to legislation or the involvement of local authorities. However, in circumstances when that does not happen, I hope that we can assure my hon. Friend that local authorities have powers under existing legislation to come in and take action. I entirely share his view that the best way forward in sorting such matters out is through dialogue, just as it is in the case of straightforward neighbours of properties that are not on a park home. 

Heather Wheeler:  I am pleased that the provision is being introduced. I can think of one particular case in south Derbyshire where lighting for the site in question has not been touched in 30 years, and neither have roads to the site. The question of what pitch fees have and have not been paid will be very important for tribunals, so I am pleased that this provision is being brought forward, and I will vote for it today. 

Mr Foster:  I am delighted to have my hon. Friend’s support for the excellent Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. I hope that hon. Members will support amendment 15. 

Amendment 15 agreed to.  

Mr Foster:  I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 11, page 25, line 40, leave out from ‘fee)’ to the end of line 46 and insert ‘— 

(a) before sub-paragraph (1) insert—

“(A1) In the case of a protected site in England, unless this would be unreasonable having regard to paragraph 18(1), there is a presumption that the pitch fee shall increase or decrease by a percentage which is no more than any percentage increase or decrease in the retail prices index calculated by reference only to—

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(a) the latest index, and

(b) the index published for the month which was 12 months before that to which the latest index relates.

(A2) In sub-paragraph (A1), “the latest index”—

(a) in a case where the owner serves a notice under paragraph 17(2), means the last index published before the day on which that notice is served;

(b) in a case where the owner serves a notice under paragraph 17(6), means the last index published before the day by which the owner was required to serve a notice under paragraph 17(2).”, and

(b) in sub-paragraph (1), at the beginning insert “In the case of a protected site in Wales,”.’.

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 17, in clause 11, page 26, line 4, leave out 

‘since the last review date’

and insert 

‘calculated in accordance with paragraph 20(A1)’.

Amendment 18, in clause 11, page 26, leave out lines 12 to 15. 

Mr Foster:  The issue of pitch fees has already been touched upon, and the amendments take the issue slightly further. Pitch fees are regulated by the provisions implied in agreements in paragraphs 16 to 20 of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 to the 1983 Act. Reviews are conducted annually. Site owners must give 28 days’ notice of a review. There is a statutory presumption in paragraph 20 that, in a review, fees will increase or decrease by the percentage change in the retail prices index since the last review, unless that would be unreasonable because of matters such as agreed improvements to the site, decrease in amenity, as we just discussed, or some changes to legislation that affect the cost of managing the site. 

Paragraph 20 was intended to ensure that the calculation of an RPI increase or decrease was based on the last published figure before the review. However, that is not as clear as it ought to be. As a result, it is not always the case that reviews are transparent, and there is evidence that some site owners simply choose the highest percentage change in RPI over the last year to fix the review, and that others simply work out an average RPI percentage change over that year and apply that to the pitch fee. 

Clause 11(5) was intended to resolve that problem. It has come to light, however, that, as drafted, it would not enable the necessary calculation to be made. Amendment 16 therefore corrects an error in clause 11(5) regarding how the RPI percentage change should be calculated. It does that by replacing the current provision with two new subsections that would be inserted into paragraph 20 of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the 1983 Act. The new subsections require the calculation to be made using the last index published before the pitch fee review notice is given, or, where the site owner serves the pitch fee review notice late, the last index published before the last date on which he should have served the pitch fee review notice and the index published 12 months prior to that. Amendments 17 and 18 are consequential to that amendment. 

Amendment 16 agreed to.  

Column number: 21 

Amendments made: 17, in clause 11, page 26, line 4, leave out 

‘since the last review date’

and insert 

‘calculated in accordance with paragraph 20(A1)’.

Amendment 18, in clause 11, page 26, leave out lines 12 to 15.—(Mr Foster.)  

Column number: 22 

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clauses 13 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Bill, as amended, to be reported.  

3.14 pm 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 28th November 2012