We also support Amendment 7, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill. Following an enforcement action resulting in a financial penalty, it must be right that the money should be retained by the local authority and not be lost to the Consolidated Fund or some other place where money from these penalties goes and never returns.

The remaining amendments in this group are government amendments. Amendments 3 and 8 appear to correct drafting errors and make matters clearer. Amendment 4, to which my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours referred, seeks to deal with the situation where a person convicted of an offence continues with the breach after conviction. I have an issue with this amendment. Does it go far enough when dealing with people who, at this stage, have no respect for the law, or where the tenants are again in a difficult situation? We may need to look at that further.

My noble friend Lord Beecham will ask more questions of the Minister when she moves her amendments. At that point, we may need to look at the issue further and bring an amendment back on Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, first because I ran out of time in a debate the other day and I could not answer him fully. He will get first place on the housing list today.

The noble Lord referred to the regulations which other noble Lords have mentioned at length. I can only reiterate my desire to bring forward as much information as I can. In any event, as I outlined in relation to the previous amendment, none of the orders could be implemented until the regulations were in force. So the orders would not be retrospective; they would only be made after the regulations had gone through. However, I take his point and I will do my best to bring forward as much information as possible.

The noble Lord made a point about social housing being so much harder to obtain than previously for people who would seem to be on modest incomes. That is behind the Government’s priority of building homes for all types of tenure in this Parliament, but focusing particularly on the younger generation that he talks about who are increasingly left out of the housing market. He also asked whether I would meet with him and colleagues before Report and I will be happy to do so.

Amendments 3 and 4 amend Clause 20 so that a person who has been convicted of breaching a banning order and continues to breach the order after that conviction shall commit a further offence and be liable

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to a fine not exceeding one-tenth of level 2 on the standard scales for each day or part of a day on which the breach occurs. This would equate to up to £50 a day until the breach ceases The amendment also introduces a defence of reasonable excuse in relation to the further offence which will capture any cases where a person was genuinely not able to cease breaching a banner order following conviction because, for example, they were in hospital and therefore unable to manage their affairs to bring tenancies to an end. Rogues who continue to let out their properties despite being convicted for that offence will therefore not only incur punishment for the initial breach of the order but will continue to be punished for each additional day that they remain in breach of the order. This sends out a strong message that a breach of banning order will not be tolerated.

Amendments 5, 6 and 8 amend Clause 22 so that a person who has had a civil penalty imposed upon them for breaching a banning order as an alternative to prosecution, and continues to breach the order despite the first civil penalty, can have an additional civil penalty of up to £30,000 imposed for each period of six months or part of a six-month period in which the breach of the banning order continues. Rogues who continue to let out their properties despite having incurred a civil penalty for the breach will, therefore, be subject to additional civil penalties for continuation of the breach. This sends out the strong message that a breach of a banning order will not be tolerated and will ensure that the business model of rogue landlords is disrupted.

5.30 pm

Turning to Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, I totally acknowledge her point that a vulnerable tenant should not be made homeless through no fault of their own as a result of a banning order. However, as my noble friend Lady Redfern says, the Bill is focused on sanctioning rogue landlords, but not at the cost of innocent tenants. The Bill will prevent tenants being made homeless by providing exceptions to a banning order or by allowing a local authority to manage the property in place of a banned landlord.

Clause 15 provides that in deciding whether to make a banning order and what order to make, the tribunal must consider the likely effect of the banning order on anyone who may be affected by it, which clearly includes tenants. Provision has been made for a banning order to be subject to exceptions; for example, where existing tenancies are in place which the landlord does not have the power to bring to an immediate end, or to allow a letting agent to wind down their business. An exception could, for example, be made for a period of some months to allow tenants adequate time to find alternative accommodation.

The noble Baroness asked who the rent would be paid to and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about recompense, which are both valid questions. The use of management orders by local authorities is already established through the Housing Act 2004. Schedule 3 to the Bill extends the circumstances in which management orders may be made. It allows a local authority to make a management order in respect

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of any property owned by a landlord who is subject to a banning order. These orders, which would allow tenants to stay on in the property while it is managed by the local authority, are particularly likely to be made in areas of high housing demand. In such circumstances, the local authority will be responsible for managing the property and will retain all the rental income, which can be used for the local authority’s housing purposes. Because of this, local authorities will in future be incentivised to consider the use of management orders.

On Amendment 7, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, as the Housing Minister set out in the other place, local housing authorities will be able to retain fines they receive as income. The Bill will enable local authorities to issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 and to seek rent repayment orders covering the previous 12 months. Councils will also be able to retain the money from civil penalties and rent repayment orders where the rent was paid from housing benefit or universal credit, and reuse that for housing purposes.

Lord Greaves: I have an amendment later on that refers to empty dwelling management orders, which do not work very well at the moment. If a local authority is managing a property because the owner of that property has a banning order, is it assumed that the only money the local authority can spend on the property, which may be severely substandard—that may be why the banning order is there, or may be related to it—is the money taken in rents, even if it is not sufficient to bring it up to standard? If so, do we accept that a local authority is managing a substandard property for a period of time and if not, where will the local authority get the money to put into that property?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I think that comes back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about charges on properties. The local authority cannot in any circumstances of managing that property be out of pocket, but nor would the tenants be expected to live in substandard conditions. Therefore, any money that needed to be spent on the property could be recouped by a charge on the property. I think that answers the questions of both the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Greaves.

Lord Beecham: A further question has just occurred to me. We are assuming that we are talking only about a landlord and a tenant but of course, there may well be a mortgagee. What happens in the event that the council takes over the property? Is the council then responsible for paying the mortgage payments out of the money it receives and, if not, is the tenant not at risk of the mortgagee obtaining possession of the property?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as far as I know, the mortgagee is responsible for paying the mortgage. If the rents do not cover the costs of any works that need to be done on the house, again, it comes back to the charge on the property in order to keep those tenants in the property for the agreed period of the tenancy. That is the way I think it would work, but I will confirm that in writing because I do not want to mislead noble Lords.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: The issue there would be whether the council had a first or second charge.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Yes, it would. May I clarify that in writing?

Lord Foster of Bath: I wonder if the Minister can help me because I am now slightly confused. If the local authority is expected to use funds upfront to make repairs and bring a property up to suitable standards, and the only way it can recoup them is through a charge—whether a first or a second charge—is it not the case that that money can be realised to the council only when the property is sold, which may be a considerable time after the local authority has incurred the costs?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: That might be the case. The point is that the local authority could recoup the costs. I think the premise of all the questions is the local authority not being out of pocket because of its obligations to the tenants. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is shaking his head so I will let him intervene.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way when I was not asking her to. This is a new convention which perhaps we should adopt. I think the point that my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath was making is that it might be a very long time before the property is sold by the owner. It could be 50 years, by which time who knows whether local authorities will still exist? There appears to be no means by which the local authority is guaranteed to get its money back within the period of the banning order.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I hope I made the point clearly that ultimately, the local authority will get its money back. That might mean that at the end of a tenancy the local authority could force the sale of a property in order to get its money back, but the point is that the local authority can get its money back. I guess if it incurred any interest charges over the period, it can claim those back as well. But such is the level of the civil penalty that local authorities should be in a fairly good position, using penalties and other things to service any housing costs they might have and to not be left out of pocket.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am trying to be helpful to the Minister. It would be extremely helpful if she could write to us all with some examples and figures showing how this might work in practice, both in terms of the procedure and some numbers, so that we can understand it—which we are not going to this afternoon, clearly.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I think I understood what I was saying, but and I am sorry if noble Lords did not. I shall be very happy to write and explain. I always use the example of a house that costs £100, so it will probably be something around that.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: While all this is going on, I am conscious that there is one very vulnerable tenant and one rogue landlord, who is getting angrier. What protection is there for the poor tenant left there while all this is going on? The landlord is not getting

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his rent or having his mortgage paid and the council is in there taking things over. I am wondering about the human issue.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I do not have any particular concerns about the rogue landlord; I am concerned about the vulnerable tenant. That is why the local authority, or the managing agent of the local authority, is the protection for the tenant who, if they have been subject to the practice of a rogue landlord, might find it a light relief not to be treated in such a contemptuous way.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: That is absolutely right. I have no worries for the rogue landlord but the noble Lord, Lord Deben, spoke earlier about these characters and some of their despicable practices. I am worried about how they treat their tenants.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: In terms of the charges on the property, I seek some clarification. We are told that the local authority may have taken over management of the property and be taking a charge on it, and will be able to underwrite its costs in one way or another, which seems very sensible. The problem is if there is an existing charge on the property because the owner has a mortgage on it. To seek recompense and take action, the local authority will have to take cognisance of the fact that there is already a charge on that property. A local authority may be very reluctant to incur the cost when it knows it is in a queue and may get nothing whatever at the end of the line.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I would assume that in those circumstances the local authority would take a second charge out on the house. That is the assumption I would make in such circumstances.

Under subsection (7) the Secretary of State may make regulations specifying how financial penalties recovered under this clause are to be dealt with. Broadly speaking, we envisage that such sums could be used in connection with the authority’s private sector housing functions, but we will discuss the details of how the income is to be applied with relevant parties before making the regulations. We will consult on guidance, setting out the appropriate penalties to levy, and take into account a wide range of circumstances. Such guidance will also cover landlords’ right to appeal. Furthermore, we will issue local authorities with guidance on the utilisation of any money they receive through financial penalties.

I do not know whether I answered the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about the new burdens. I have probably made my point, but any policy that could result in a local authority incurring costs is subject to a new burdens assessment. We have considered this test when developing this policy. It is not a burden as it is not a requirement to place someone under a banning order.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on how local authorities will implement this policy, local authorities have warmly welcomed it because it will help them to crack down on the rogues and retain the income from civil penalties and rent repayment orders. It is important that noble Lords are satisfied that local authorities are very happy with this.

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The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned the transfer of interest to a prohibited person when that interest is an overseas interest. It does not matter whether it is an overseas interest or whether it is in this country, the policy still applies, as I understand it.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked how local authorities would make their decision and how many cases we would have a year. Local authorities are likely to seek banning orders where the offence is particularly serious or where they have a repeat offender. We estimate that there will be about 600 banning orders per year. I hope my comments have reassured noble Lords, but I see that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is about to stand up.

5.45 pm

Lord Beecham: I am sorry to add to the noble Baroness’s problems. However, I am slightly puzzled by the relationship between government Amendments 3 and 4, which apply to Clause 20, and government Amendments 5 and 6, which apply to Clause 22. Government Amendment 4 to Clause 20 specifies:

“Where a person is convicted … of breaching a banning order and the breach continues after conviction, the person commits a further offence and is liable … to a fine not exceeding one-tenth of level 2 on the standard scale for each day or part of a day”.

However, government Amendment 6 to Clause 22 states that,

“subsection (3A) allows another penalty to be imposed … If a breach continues for more than 6 months, a financial penalty may be imposed for each additional 6 month period for the whole or part of which the breach continues”.

Is that on the same basis or a different basis? I apprehend that the Minister may not be able to give me an answer off the cuff, but will she have a look at that—or get somebody to have a look at it—to see whether there is a relationship between those two positions, or whether they deal with different issues? At the moment, I am confused—which is not unusual. It may be perfectly simple but it does not look terribly simple from these two amendments.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, as I understand it, the second penalty is an enhancement of the first, so they are related. However, I think the first is a lesser penalty because it involves a first breach and the second is greater because it perpetuates the breach.

Lord Beecham: With respect, that does not tell us or the offender the basis on which the second penalty would be calculated.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, Clause 20 concerns a criminal offence whereas Clause 22 concerns a civil penalty, which is an alternative, if that makes any sense.

Lord Beecham: I am sorry to persist but that does not tell us the basis on which the relevant penalty would be calculated. It is clear as regards the criminal offence, if that is the distinction, but it is not clear whether the same way of calculating the penalty is used. I do not expect the noble Baroness to answer that today but if she could answer it in writing subsequently, that would be fine.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Lord, not for letting me off the hook but for deferring the hook. I will write to him about that. I request that the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment at this stage.

Baroness Grender: I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this discussion and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his support for continuing to examine this area. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, who raised property transfer and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Greaves, for commenting on where the resource goes, about which we have already had much discussion. The Minister said that we would find some answers and reassurance for tenants in Schedule 3. We will continue to scrutinise this issue to make sure that there is absolutely no threat of a tenant being made homeless as a result of the activities of a dreadful rogue landlord. That is the main aim of this amendment and we will continue to review that as the Bill progresses. However, at this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clauses 17 to 19 agreed.

Clause 20: Offence of breach of banning order

Amendments 3 and 4

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

3: Clause 20, page 11, line 23, leave out “this section” and insert “subsection (1)”

4:Clause 20, page 11, line 27, at end insert—

“(3A) Where a person is convicted under subsection (1) of breaching a banning order and the breach continues after conviction, the person commits a further offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one-tenth of level 2 on the standard scale for each day or part of a day on which the breach continues.

(3B) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (3A) it is a defence to show that the person had a reasonable excuse for the continued breach.”

Amendments 3 and 4 agreed.

Clause 20, as amended, agreed.

Clause 21 agreed.

Clause 22: Financial penalty for breach of banning order

Amendments 5 and 6

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

5: Clause 22, page 12, line 4, leave out “20” and insert “20(1)”

6: Clause 22, page 12, line 9, at end insert “, unless subsection (3A) allows another penalty to be imposed.

“(3A) If a breach continues for more than 6 months, a financial penalty may be imposed for each additional 6 month period for the whole or part of which the breach continues.”

Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.

Amendment 7 not moved.

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Amendment 8

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

8: Clause 22, page 12, line 13, leave out “20” and insert “20(1)”

Amendment 8 agreed.

Amendment 8ZA not moved.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clauses 23 and 24 agreed.

Schedule 2 agreed.

Clause 25 agreed.

Schedule 3 agreed.

Clause 26 agreed.

Clause 27: Database of rogue landlords and property agents

Amendment 8A not moved.

Clause 27 agreed.

Clauses 28 to 30 agreed.

Clause 31: Appeals

Amendment 9

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

9: Clause 31, page 15, line 29, at end insert—

“( ) An appeal under this section must be heard within 28 days.”

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville: My Lords, when I spoke previously I should have drawn your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the Register of Interests as a district councillor of South Somerset District Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I will speak, in the first instance, to Amendment 9. I will then speak to Amendments 10, 12, 13 and 14. On Amendment 9, it is only fair and proper that those who have the prospect of a banning order being imposed on them should have the right of appeal. My colleagues and I are happy with the process laid down for dealing with appeals, with one exception. Both the landlord and his tenants, plus the local housing authority, will be in some uncertainty during the appeal process. Uncertainty leads to stress, and this will be extremely unwelcome for tenants, who are already fraught because of the situation in which they find themselves. The state of their accommodation may be less than we would wish, and they may have been threatened. They will want their ordeal to be finalised as quickly as

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possible. Likewise, the landlord will be waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall, and this could be unjustified, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, earlier. It is only fair and equitable that this uncertainty be as short-lived as possible for all concerned. That is why I have tabled this amendment, requiring the appeal to be heard within 28 days so that the decision is reached quickly and efficiently for the benefit of all concerned. I hope the Minister can agree to it.

Turning to Amendment 10, the register of rogue landlords is one of the most important steps forward in this Bill. Those of us who have been, or are still, councillors will know at first-hand what misery can be caused by a tenant who has what is now classed as a rogue landlord. All housing department officers know who they are as the tenants of these landlords are frequently in their offices or on the phone complaining about the treatment meted out to them. The frequency of evictions by these landlords or the sudden ending of tenancies alerts officers to where they are and the properties that they own and run.

It is essential that a register of rogue landlords be set up which can be accessed by those agencies supporting their tenants. These agencies will be well-known, trusted deliverers of advice and support, including the local authority, the CAB, the DWP, jobcentres and possibly food banks. It is vital that tenants are also able to access this register if they are not to go from one poor landlord to another. It will always be the case that those who are the most desperate to find a roof over their head for themselves, their partner and perhaps even their children will be most at risk of being exploited. They need this information to assist them to make the right choices.

It is not as though the names of those who are likely to arrive on the register will not already be in the public domain. Local newspapers are full of court reports. Someone on the register is also likely to be engaged in other activities and will have come to the notice of police and local authorities. If they have previously held a licence for a HMO, that will have been reported in the local newspapers. I can understand that there are some sensitivities here, but we must protect tenants by allowing them access so that they can make value judgments. This is a freedom of information issue and I hope the Minister will be able to concede to this amendment.

I turn now to Amendments 12, 13 and 14. As already said, it is important that all those who are operating in the private housing market are able to provide for and assist their tenants to have a secure and untroubled home. It is to no one’s advantage for people to be continually seeking alternative accommodation; to be moving within an area where they are currently living or having to move to a different area is stressful. This is especially true if there are children involved. Disrupting a child’s education as they are forced to move schools is very harmful and will set back their education progress.

It is essential that tenants are able to access the register of rogue landlords so that, having moved from one such landlord, they do not fall foul of another operating in a similar type of accommodation. Let us not forget that the people and families looking for the

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accommodation which is likely to be provided by those on the register will have little choice because of their straitened circumstances. However, like everyone else, they deserve to be protected from exploitation.

As I have already indicated, the information on rogue landlords is likely to already be in the public domain through court proceedings and other avenues. I urge the Minister to consider these amendments and respond positively to them. I beg to move.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I support the amendments moved by the noble Baroness. I have one query about Amendment 12, which removes a requirement for information disclosed from the database to be anonymous. It would be helpful if it were made clear that any information concerning a tenant would continue to be anonymous. It is not clear whether there would be any information about a tenant revealed or recorded but, to be on the safe side, such a tenant should not have his or her details revealed. That ought to remain guarded by anonymity.

This group of amendments addresses a large range of issues designed to facilitate dealing with the problems occasioned by rogue landlords. Amendment 15 specifically bars any landlord on a database of rogue landlords from obtaining a houses in multiple occupation licence. It would be good to have that in the Bill.

The background to this group and much of what we are discussing today in the Bill was set out recently in disturbing statistics produced by Citizens Advice in its response to the welcome funding by the Department for Communities and Local Government to tackle the problem on the ground.

I am bound to report that a grant of £80,000 has been received to be applied in the ward that I represent on Newcastle City Council, in an area just half a mile away from the new properties that the noble Baroness visited recently. We got a selective licensing scheme for that area—eventually; it was not easy to obtain. About a third of the landlords in the area were clearly not conforming to the requirements. I am glad that we have received this funding to enable us, as a council, to pursue matters.

6 pm

However, there are still too many properties in the hands of bad landlords who continue to fail to look after their properties, and indeed their tenants, properly. Given the lengths to which councils have to go to establish such schemes for selective licensing, this is particularly objectionable. The national picture is a cause for great concern. There are apparently 700,000 tenants—which probably means about 2 million people in all, if we add family members and the like—including 500,000 children, living in unsafe properties with exposed wiring, leaking roofs and even rat infestation. There are some 740,000 rented homes that constitute a threat to the health of residents, and apparently 80,000 tenants are faced with threats of retaliatory eviction because they seek repairs. Again, that probably affects around 200,000 people, with a particularly high proportion of properties in London—some 14%, it is said—falling into this category. This especially affects residents from a BAME background.

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There is therefore a great deal to be said for strengthening the role of local authorities in overseeing the sector, and also in fulfilling this part of the Bill, in allowing and promoting tenants’ access to information about the owners of the properties that they seek to rent. Anything that can be done to bring pressure to bear on such owners to behave responsibly is welcome, and I hope the Minister will feel able to accede to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, and to my own amendment relating to the consequences with regard to HMO licensing.

Lord Tope (LD): My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bakewell spoke to these amendments fully and explained them very well, and we all wait with interest to hear the Minister’s response. We should recognise how important the issues that they raise are. My name does not happen to appear on Amendment 9—I am not quite sure why—but I certainly support it. We do need some sort of indication—I think 28 days is entirely right and appropriate—of how soon an appeal on matters that are so important and sensitive for both the tenant and the landlord will be heard. We are only too aware of other types of appeal that wait not just for months but for years. For an appeal to be heard within 28 days seems to me entirely reasonable.

The other amendments deal with another important point: exactly who will have access to the information in the database? Surely it must be right for the tenants to have a right of access to that information. Whether it is appropriate to put that in the Bill or in the draft regulations we wait to hear—but we have heard enough about the regulations already while debating this Bill, and we think that it should be on the face of the Bill. I hope that when the Minister replies she will, at the very least, agree with the point being made here. We can then argue about where the provision is to be placed. We look forward to the Minister’s reply; I hope it will be a positive one, recognising the importance of these issues.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I firmly support Amendment 9, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It is a very sound amendment.

Clause 29 refers to a power to include a person convicted—that is, convicted in a court of law—of a banning order offence. Then it says in a subsection:

“A local housing authority in England may make an entry in the database in respect of a person who has, at least twice”—

not once, twice—

“within a period of 12 months, received a financial penalty in respect of a banning order offence committed at a time when the person was a residential landlord”.

We are talking here about a habitual offender. In Clause 32 the Government set out what can be on the database. Let us go through the list, because that list should be available to the general public for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, when she referred to freedom of information. First, there is the period for which the entry is to be maintained: why should that not be available to the tenant or tenants? Details of properties owned, let or managed by the person: why should they not be in the public domain when the matter has been dealt with in the courts?

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Details of a banning order offence of which the person has been convicted in a court of law: why should that information not be made available to the tenant? Details of any banning orders made against the person, whether or not still in force: why should tenants not know the background of their prospective landlords? Also on the list are “details of financial penalties” received by the person.

Finally, I return to the first item in the list: the person’s address or other contact details. One would have thought that a tenant should at least have the right to know who their prospective landlord is, where they live, and their contact details. I put it to the Minister that the Government are a little oversensitive about this. They should reconsider this area and think about what is in the public interest. Who is going to lose as a result of this? The local authority does not lose; the tenant does not lose; only the landlord who has been convicted of a criminal offence loses. I ask the Minister to reconsider the position.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 16 in my name in relation to Clause 38. Amendment 16 would mean that for the purposes of paragraph 17 of Schedule 23 to the Finance Act 2011, the database will be treated as being maintained by the Secretary of State, although Clause 27 sets out that local authorities have responsibility for maintaining its content. This will ensure that HMRC is able to access the database, using its powers under the Finance Act 2011, so that it can use the data in discharge of its tax functions when dealing with rogue landlords and property agents.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for speaking to Amendment 9. While appeals, and not just appeals about entries on the database, should be dealt with without undue delay, it is not appropriate to set out in primary legislation strict time limits for doing so, because it may not be practical or reasonable to do so. The tribunal has a wide range of powers to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly and justly. It can award costs against vexatious litigants whose only purpose in appealing is, for example, to delay their entry on the database or to cause further expense to the local housing authority. It can also prioritise cases that it considers urgent and refuse adjournments when there is no good reason for the request. In general, however, when the appeal is not vexatious in nature, how quickly it can be disposed of will ultimately depend on its complexity and other factors, such as the representations that the parties intend to make. Indeed, other factors can lead to delay, such as the illness of a party or a representative. It would be manifestly unfair if representations could not be accepted outside 28 days when there is genuine and good reason for doing so because the law has said that the appeal must be heard within that timeframe, regardless of circumstances.

I turn to Amendment 10. Landlords and property agents included on the database will have either been convicted of a banning order offence or received two or more civil penalties, as an alternative to prosecution, for serious breaches of housing legislation. I appreciate the feelings of noble Lords on this issue. It is not intended that all those included on the database should

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be banned from operating their business, but banning orders would be sought for the very worst or repeat offenders. Banning order offences will be defined in secondary legislation but are likely to include a serious offence. This is where an offender has been convicted in the Crown Court of an offence involving fraud, drugs, sexual assault or violence that is committed in, or in relation to, a property that is owned or managed by the offender or which involves, or was perpetrated against, persons occupying such a property. It would also include any serious offence involving violence against the tenant by the landlord or property agent, and serious breaches of housing legislation.

Amendment 11 would allow tenants and prospective tenants to petition their local housing authority to gain access to the database of rogue landlords and property agents. Doing so would effectively blacklist those landlords and agents on the database and put them out of business. This is not the intention of our legislation. The database aims to enable local authorities to keep track of rogue landlords and agents and target their enforcement action more effectively. Where a local authority believes a landlord or agent should be prevented from renting out or managing property, it should seek a banning order.

Noble Lords, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked whether the public or tenants will have access to the database. The database will hold details of landlords and property agents who have been convicted of certain offences. Just because a landlord or property agent is on a database does not mean that they are banned from letting out a property—that would require a banning order. Making the database publicly available could raise data protection issues. However, the Secretary of State can give information held on the database in an anonymised form for research, statistical or monitoring purposes. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about tenants’ details. These will never be disclosed. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also asked about the effect of putting a landlord or property agent on the database. A database will enable a local authority to keep track of the landlords or property agents who have been convicted of a relevant offence and who may seek to move to a new area to avoid detection and attract new tenants. It will also enable them to obtain details about other rental properties owned by the landlord. In some cases, a local authority may decide to monitor a landlord or property agent on the database before deciding whether to apply for a banning order.

Information on the database will be made more widely available in an anonymised form. In addition, where tenants raise concerns about their landlords failing to take action over property conditions, local authorities can carry out an inspection, using the housing health and safety rating system introduced in the Housing Act 2004, and take appropriate enforcement action.

Where a local authority believes that a landlord or property agent should be banned from being involved in renting out or managing property, it should apply to the First-tier Tribunal for a banning order. Banning orders are intended to be used for those landlords and property agents who are particularly serious or prolific

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offenders, and who represent a real risk to the health and safety of prospective tenants. Local authorities have been provided with strong enforcement tools to ensure that, once a banning order has been made, it is not breached by the offender.

Amendments 12, 13 and 14 would require the Secretary of State to make information on the database of rogue landlords and property agents accessible to everyone and provide that the purposes to which the data may be put include the protection of tenants. As I have said, making the database publicly accessible would effectively drive anyone on the list out of business—which is not the purpose of the database.

Finally, Amendment 15 would require local authorities to automatically bar landlords on the database of rogue landlords from holding an HMO licence. As I have said previously, the purpose of the database is not to ban landlords and property agents from operating. The idea is to enable local authorities to monitor rogue landlord activity and effectively target enforcement action. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned retaliatory eviction. We legislated through the Deregulation Act 2015 to stop the practice of retaliatory eviction, a move that has been much welcomed by Shelter.

I hope I have explained enough to enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment—

6.15 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: On government Amendment 16, I do not quite understand why HMRC would want to gather these data. Perhaps the Minister could explain.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is for tax purposes—to enable the rogue landlords to fulfil their tax obligations.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I am not opposed to that but are we saying that persons who are subject to the legislation in terms of banning orders come under a separate reporting arrangement to the Revenue as against the generality of landlords?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I am sorry, could the noble Lord please repeat what he just said?

Lord Campbell-Savours: Are we saying that there is a separate category for those landlords who would fall under the legislation in terms of banning orders as against the generality of landlords, who, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, are pretty good people?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, it is the rogue landlords who are on the database. HMRC will have access to that database.

Lord Beecham: Does it not already have access to the Land Registry and can therefore find out more quickly and more cheaply who the owner of a property is?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, anyone can have access to the Land Registry but not everyone can have access to the database of rogue landlords.

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Lord Beecham: But the rogue landlord must be the owner of the property; otherwise he would not be the landlord, presumably.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for mentioning the anonymising of tenants’ names on the list. It is very important that their names should not be released.

I cannot pretend that I am anything other than disappointed with the Minister’s response. It is very important that the appeals are heard in a timely manner and I think 28 days is a reasonable time in which to hear an appeal. In other parts of the Bill we shall come to issues of abandonment, where there are very definite timescales that people must abide by. So I find it somewhat strange that we cannot have a timescale for hearing the appeals. This may be something we wish to return to on Report.

With regard to the list of landlords being anonymised and not released to tenants, I cannot see the point of holding a list if it is be anonymised. That seems somewhat perverse. Tenants should have access to the list and should be able to see whether their landlord is on the database. I accept that rogue landlords will be on the database when they may not have a banning order. I understand that difference but, nevertheless, these are not the kinds of landlords we wish to promote. The Minister has indicated that she does not wish to drive rogue landlords out of business, but what of the good landlords? There are hundreds and thousands of responsible landlords operating their properties for the benefit of their tenants and just one or two rogue landlords are in danger of giving other landlords a very bad name. We should be able to name and shame these rogue landlords.

However, I understand the Minister’s view. It is possible that we may return to this but I will withdraw my amendment.

Lord Beecham: May I revert to my Amendment 15 about the HMO licence? I do not understand the logic of the Minister’s position. If a landlord is described as a rogue landlord and is on the database accordingly, why should that not operate as a bar to obtaining a licence for a house of multiple occupation?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Could the noble Lord repeat what he has just said?

Lord Beecham: Amendment 15 would prevent a landlord on the database of rogue landlords obtaining an HMO licence, which seems perfectly logical. The Minister appeared to reject the idea; I cannot think why. If she cannot for the moment remember why she did, perhaps she could communicate her thoughts later.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I rejected the amendment because the purpose of the database is not to ban landlords and property agents from operating but to enable local authorities to monitor rogue landlord activity. It is crucial to give local authorities the freedom to make judgments regarding the licensing in their area, just as they do in other forms of licensing, so it does

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not necessarily follow that a rogue landlord should be banned from holding an HMO licence. Although a local authority may make the judgment that they should be banned from having such a licence because of their activity, it does not necessarily follow.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I put it to the Minister—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Andrews) (Lab): My Lords, is it your Lordships’ pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Debate on whether Clause 31 should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, on that matter, I had almost forgotten what I was going to ask, but it was this: if we can ban a doctor or a dentist for bad practice, why can we not ban a landlord?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The landlord who is on a database of rogue landlords has not necessarily been banned but may have had a civil penalty. So it is up to the local authority, when coming to a judgment about an HMO licence and in the light of the information that it has, whether that landlord will be banned from holding one. It may decide on balance that he or she will be, because they are such a rogue, or they may have had one civil penalty and it might therefore grant him or her a licence.

Clause 31 agreed.

Clauses 32 to 36 agreed.

Clause 37: Access to database

Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.

Clause 37 agreed.

Clause 38: Use of information in database

Amendments 12 to 15 not moved.

Amendment 16

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

16: Page 18, line 21, at end insert—

“(5) For the purposes of paragraph 17 of Schedule 23 to the Finance Act 2011 (which relates to HMRC data-gathering powers), the database is to be treated as being maintained by the Secretary of State.”

Amendment 16 agreed.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 39 to 51 agreed.

Amendment 17

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

17: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—

“Extension of the Housing Ombudsman to cover the private rented sector

(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations introduce a scheme to extend the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, as set out in section 51 of and Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1996, to cover disputes between tenants and private landlords relating to properties within the area covered by the Greater London Authority.

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(2) The scheme under subsection (1) shall—

(a) come into effect within 6 months of the passing of this Act; and

(b) last at least one year and no longer than two years.

(3) The Secretary of State shall, within three months of the closing date of the scheme, lay before each House of Parliament a report on the scheme under subsection (1), alongside any statement he thinks appropriate about the extension of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme to the private rented sector.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations extend the powers of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme as set out in section 51 of and Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1996, to cover disputes between tenants and private landlords throughout England.”

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, Amendment 17, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Beecham, seeks to extend the services of the Housing Ombudsman to the entire private rented sector. Following a successful pilot scheme in London, the Government decided to proceed in that manner. Ombudsman services are available for a variety of matters. They have proved highly effective and seek to resolve complaints having investigated the issues at hand independently and in a less confrontational way than proceedings in court can be.

At present, the Housing Ombudsman provides ombudsman services to housing organisations that are registered with it. The service is free, independent and impartial. It has two classes of membership: a mandatory membership, which includes all bodies registered with the Homes and Communities Agency; and a voluntary membership, which includes landlords and letting agents in the private rented sector who want to provide a good service to their tenants and who also have, and wish to retain, their good reputation.

My amendment seeks to extend the service on a trial basis to cover all disputes between landlords and tenants in the private sector in the Greater London area. It provides that the trial would last for between six and 12 months and that subsequently, within three months of the ending of the trial period, a report must be laid before Parliament with any statement the Secretary of State thinks appropriate about the extension of the scheme. That could be anything from welcoming the trial and extending the scheme to concluding that it was not a success and ending it there. The Secretary of State has complete flexibility in this regard. If it is deemed to have been a success, we have also included in subsection (4) of the proposed new clause the power to extend the scheme to cover the whole private rented sector in England. This is a sensible and proportionate measure and amendment, which I hope will receive a positive response. I beg to move.

Lord Foster of Bath: My Lords, we are being asked in this amendment whether we think there is a need for further protection for tenants in the private rented sector. I suspect that I can guess the Minister’s response, although I hope I will be proved wrong. The Minister will point out that there is already a large amount of legislation to protect us from—I hesitate to use the phrase—“rogue landlords” and that further strengthening of that is to come, and that there is protection as regards retaliatory eviction against people who run

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“beds in sheds”. The Government’s own website lists a large number of tenants’ rights, which include the rights to,

“live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair”,

to have your deposit protected, to,

“challenge excessively high charges, know who your landlord is, live in the property undisturbed, see an Energy Performance Certificate … be protected from unfair eviction and unfair rent”,

and to have a written agreement if the tenancy term is fixed for more than three years. The Minister will no doubt point out, rightly, that some councils already have an accreditation scheme; she will point to the excellent Private Rented Sector Code of Practice that was developed on behalf of the Government by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors back in 2014. She may talk about the trade bodies that many residential landlords associations have, and as a fallback she will also of course refer, rightly, to the county court mediation service.

On first sight, given that long list, it may appear that there is no need for further protection for tenants in the private rented sector. However, noble Lords will be aware that in a number of the areas I have referred to there are ongoing problems. For example, after the list of rights that appear on the Government’s website, a section then tells you what to do if you feel that you are not able to exercise those rights. It suggests that you should first complain to the landlord; failing that, you should complain to one of the recently set up “designated persons”—that is, an MP, a councillor or one of the various tenant panels; and finally, if all that fails, you should go to your local council. Notwithstanding the responsibilities in some areas—but not all—that local councils have, as most noble Lords will be aware, many councils simply do not have the resources and expertise sufficiently to deal with the wide-ranging types of complaints that will and do come forward. The county court mediation process has of course been successfully used on a number of occasions, but there is a problem, due to various legal arguments as to whether private sector landlords are defined as “suppliers”. Can the Minister can tell us whether, if landlords are not defined as suppliers, that particular problem means they will fall outside the remit of that mediation service?

6.30 pm

Even though the private rented sector code of practice is excellent, it has no teeth. Earlier this morning I talked to somebody at the Residential Landlords Association, which is one of the signatories to that code of practice. It says that although it is a signatory, it has no ability to enforce it. It is of course also worth reflecting that the vast majority of the maybe 2 million landlords are not even signatories to the code. On that point, nobody is entirely sure what the figure is for the number of private sector landlords, whether in England or across the whole of the country. Can the Minister help? I have looked everywhere to try to get a figure but cannot get any clear, precise figure from anywhere beyond that figure of around 2 million.

There are a number of ways we could move forward instead of accepting this amendment. The most effective is to make the code of practice to which I have referred

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a statutory code, and I am aware that there have been discussions within government about the possibility of doing that. Have those discussions taken place and are the Government likely to come forward with a proposal to make it statutory? If so, we would have a fairly powerful tool instead of the proposal in the amendment before us. We have got pretty clear evidence that, unless the code is made statutory, with all the appropriate ways of making it work in that state, there will be concerns about whether the many forms of protection are collectively sufficient.

However, before I can be finally persuaded that this is the right way to proceed, I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, clarified some aspects of the proposal, as the Committee will need to have confidence that there is in fact going to be a Housing Ombudsman as such. The Committee will be aware that the Government recently consulted on the idea of having a single public sector ombudsman, bringing together the Housing Ombudsman with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman services. During that consultation, there was a loud outcry from many of the respondents about the idea of incorporating the Housing Ombudsman within a single public sector ombudsman. I was pleased that the Government made it clear in their response to the consultation that they intend to start by combining the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman, and not include within that the Housing Ombudsman. However, rather ominously, the consultation response goes on to say that they will establish that combination “in the first instance”, providing,

“a framework that allows others to join over time”.

The Committee will be interested to hear from the Minister the Government’s thinking on the slightly longer-term situation for the Housing Ombudsman. Clearly, if it is going to change, that will create a problem for this amendment.

There is also the issue of the resources needed to operate the scheme proposed in the amendment. At the moment, the Housing Ombudsman deals with roughly 5 million housing units, with a staff of 55 people. In the last financial year, they have seen a 28% increase in the number of complaints, so there is quite a lot of pressure on them, although they have helped to achieve a solution to that by providing a lot of support and help —on which I congratulate them—for local resolution. But if we take the current figure of 5 million housing units and add a further 3 million, which is roughly what would be required, clearly, that would place a significant additional load on the Housing Ombudsman. I would be interested to know what solution the proponents of the amendment have thought of for funding it.

The Housing Ombudsman is funded by levying a charge per housing unit. Because of increased efficiency the ombudsman has been able to reduce that charge, which is now—this may surprise many noble Lords—down to just 96p per individual housing unit. If we added to the scheme all private rented sector landlords, the vast majority—72%—of whom have only one property, and if the funding regime remained the same, in order to collect an appropriate amount of money, the Housing

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Ombudsman would have to find a mechanism for raising 96p from something like 1.5 million individuals. Clearly, that does not make a great deal of sense.

I have some concerns about some of the details, but broadly, I think the level of protection for tenants in the private rented sector is still not strong enough. We need to do something. We have before us one possible solution. The alternative could be to make the code statutory. I look forward with great interest to the Minister’s response to this proposition.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, this is an interesting proposal and if it is introduced, leaseholders too should be included. There are 6 million leaseholders, who in the past could have gone to a leasehold valuation tribunal for a very reasonable cost, but who now have to go to the First-Tier Tribunal, which is much more expensive. There are many things that could be resolved by applying the ombudsman scheme. I would like to hear more about how this would work, and also—perhaps at a later stage in the Bill—to look at the possibility of including leasehold properties.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I support the amendment, because I think there is a real issue here. Speaking as a former local authority leader—many people in this House are either former or current local authority leaders—I had three ombudsman judgments against me, of which two were correct and one, in my view, was not. That was over about 25 years, and most were associated with planning issues.

Throughout all my ombudsman experience, both in this sector and in the health service, the issues were between the ombudsman service and a publicly accountable body, such as a local authority or a health authority, in which there were members concerned to maintain the reputation of that authority, and to respond, if not precisely to the ombudsman’s proposals—the ombudsman had no enforcement powers—at least in a positive way. The ombudsman had no powers to make us do anything, but people would respond positively by trying to address the problem and see whether it was largely procedural or whether policy needed to be changed in some substantial way. That was because the ombudsman was overseeing a public organisation that had a reputation, with trustees, councillors and so on, who were accountable for their decisions in public, in the press.

If the Minister cannot support an amendment like Amendment 17, I hope that she will tell us how she would apply that same degree of scrutiny and enforcement to rulings against rogue landlords. There is a real issue here. Local authorities will respond, even if they cannot go all the way, but a private individual, knowing that the ombudsman has no statutory powers of enforcing a decision, may decide to go in a different direction and weather hostile criticism. Can the Minister help us by telling us in what ways the Government would ensure that the naming and shaming effect of ombudsman practice could apply in the private sector?

Lord Best (CB): My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of the council of the Property Ombudsman, and so I am on familiar ground. As chairman of an ombudsman scheme, I am very much in favour of the

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principle of having ombudsman services. They save having to go to court, spending a lot of money and being at loggerheads for longer. If one can resolve matters through the mediation services that, in effect, an ombudsman provides, it can be beneficial to everyone. I am also familiar with the Housing Ombudsman scheme because it is the body to which people take their complaints if they are tenants of housing associations and local authorities. I have had responsibility for housing associations and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, I have had judgments against my organisation for, hopefully, rather trivial matters. The Housing Ombudsman has a very good reputation and is doing a very good job. It is sorting out many complaints and provides a good model for ombudsman-ery.

However, in the circumstances of both the Property Ombudsman, who looks after complaints from estate agents, letting and managing agents and corporate bodies, and the current Housing Ombudsman scheme, which looks after the mostly responsible local authorities and housing associations, one is in completely different territory to the 1.8 million individual private landlords. I see severe practical difficulties in applying the principles of ombudsman-ery—which require you to deal with a corporate entity, a body whose reputation needs protecting and who has a great deal to lose from the process—to the 1.8 million individual landlords, which, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, is perhaps the current figure, 72% of whom have just one property.

It is extremely expensive if one gets bogged down in an individual dispute. Cases which involve the Property Ombudsman in dealing with disputes between agents and tenants who complain to us can sometimes go on for a very long time. However, the agents will try to get matters sorted: they will have their own complaints procedures and will work things through. They will show a willingness to go with this and, at the end of it, when we make an award—if we do make an award—against the agent, then the agent will pay up. We have sanctions if they do not.

When dealing with individual landlords, who sometimes do not have an office or an address and do not reply, these disputes can run and run and be extremely expensive to administer. This, I am afraid, is a criticism of having a system which has 1.8 million landlords looking after the properties. The practical difficulties of simply applying the ombudsman system to all private landlords are enormous. I suggest that if one were to have a pilot scheme to test out whether one can apply ombudsman principles to this sector, it would be a good idea to go with the corporate entities first. These landlords are private companies and have status. There is therefore an opportunity for legal processes to be brought into play if they do not pay up on awards and so on.

Forget the great mass of individuals for the moment because they could be expensive. I am afraid 96p per landlord will not do it because if tenants and landlords get into a dispute it can be ongoing. Even when one is half-way through trying to fix a dispute the landlord/tenant relationship can break down again on a new issue and the case could run and run. It is a big undertaking. So, to start with, I would stick with the corporate entities.

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The Housing Ombudsman scheme is able to take on board corporate players. Some of the good landlords we have are already in membership of the Housing Ombudsman scheme on a voluntary basis. If one was seeking to extend the principles of ombudsman services, the first step would be to make this compulsory, as it is for housing associations and local authorities. Corporate bodies which are landlords should have somewhere to go. As with when we complain about our electricity, telephones or anything else, there should be a service. I suggest a pilot should start there, but it should be a little less ambitious than the scheme suggested in the amendment which, in many ways, is going in the right direction.

6.45 pm

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for moving Amendment 17, which seeks to place into the Bill a power to widen the Housing Ombudsman’s role to cover private sector housing and disputes between tenants and private landlords. As the noble Lord said, private sector landlords can already join the Housing Ombudsman scheme on a voluntary basis. Indeed, many landlords who wish to assure their tenants of the quality of their services have already done so.

The Government’s interest is in protecting tenants and provisions elsewhere in the Bill already address this; for example, tenants whose landlords have failed to carry out repairs can complain to their local authority, and through the Bill the Government are strengthening the powers of local authorities to deal with landlords who do not comply with the law.

We do not wish to introduce unnecessary regulation on landlords or institute a national register, which would be the ultimate effect of this amendment since, to make it work, all landlords would be required to sign up to the scheme. Despite the excellent work of the Housing Ombudsman in resolving complaints, we think that for private landlords membership of the scheme should remain voluntary, although we encourage landlords to sign up.

Where private landlords have signed up voluntarily, they are signalling to their tenants that they are committed to a high level of service and can be expected to comply with any determination. Were they to be required to sign up, we might not see the same level of engagement with the process or level of compliance, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, intimated, and determinations would not be enforceable. We would risk increasing the number of complaints and the associated costs, while the tenants of reluctant landlords might not see the benefit.

The measures in the Bill are focused on tackling rogue landlords, but we must remember that the majority of landlords in the private sector provide good-quality and well-managed accommodation. We know that 84% of private renters are satisfied with their accommodation and stay in their homes for an average of three and a half years. The Government want to support and encourage good landlords so that they become more professional and continue to provide good-quality rented accommodation. Part of that approach involves ensuring that the regulatory framework is appropriate and proportionate, keeping red tape to

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a minimum and having a level playing field so that good landlords are not undercut by less reputable ones.

To support that objective, the Government have introduced a number of measures, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, to drive up standards across the board, including: publishing How to Rent and other guides for tenants; developing a model tenancy agreement for use by landlords and tenants; requiring letting agents to display their fees in a prominent place so that prospective tenants will always know from the outset how much they will be charged; and promoting voluntary accreditation schemes and the industry-wide code of practice.

In answer to the question about making the code of practice statutory, we have no plans to do so because it is currently working well and we do not want to add further burdens. In relation to the Housing Ombudsman, we have no plans at this stage to merge it into a single ombudsman service because the Housing Ombudsman performs a specific role and needs to retain its independence.

I hope that on the basis of this explanation the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, made about the funding mechanism. We certainly need to devise a system that collects the fee with another charge or over a longer period, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there are already private landlords who have signed up to the scheme and pay their contribution to be part of this valuable service.

That is also why our amendment put forward a pilot scheme in only one part of the country—London. At the end of the scheme, that would be evaluated by the Secretary of State and a report would be laid before Parliament; at that point the scheme might have been a great success and could be extended further or might not have worked—or somewhere in between. We gave all options to the Secretary of State to move forward.

We should not forget that, in many of the areas that I outlined in which people have protections, virtually no legal aid is available now for these things. The protections are there, but they do not have the legal aid to ensure those protections. With that, though, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Clauses 52 to 54 agreed.

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Beecham

18: After Clause 54, insert the following new Clause—

“Accreditation and licensing for private landlords

Local authorities shall be required to operate an accreditation and licensing scheme for private landlords.”

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I may not be visible, but I rise to move Amendment 18 and speak to Amendment 27 in this group. Amendment 18 is about local authorities operating an accreditation and licensing scheme for private landlords and it would require local

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authorities to do it. A number already make this part of their work. In Leeds it has been particularly successful, with 332 landlords accredited, providing nearly 15,000 bed spaces. In a parallel scheme with the universities, some 20,000 bed spaces are covered by an accreditation scheme—so near enough 35,000 people are covered by such schemes. There is expense involved in running them and, in the present financial climate, it would be difficult for local authorities to progress the proposal in this amendment, unless there were government backing in the form of some funding. As I have already indicated, some funding is currently available. My own authority has benefited from it and, no doubt, others have too. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position but I suspect that this has so far been something of an experiment to see how effective such investment might be. If these schemes are proving successful, I hope the Government will look at extending the programme elsewhere.

Amendment 27 is of a different kind. It would create a register of all private landlords and privately rented properties, to be maintained by local authorities. It simply registers where properties are so that local authorities know which properties are rented out and who the owners are. They can then use that information to inform landlords of their duties under housing legislation and under the recent, rather difficult requirements of immigration legislation, which, I suspect, is a considerable burden on landlords. It is also good property management practice.

The noble Baroness and I have not exactly crossed swords, but we have occasionally discussed the progress of the duty on owners to provide carbon monoxide alarms in their properties. I speak with some feeling about this, since my own carbon monoxide alarm has fallen down three times in the last couple of weeks and I cannot persuade it to stay in position. Better organised people no doubt can—and they certainly should when they are letting out properties. The programme that the Government launched in the summer was done without very much publicity or very much time. I understand that the Government intend to review matters only several months into the current year. If the Government —or, more specifically, local authorities—knew which were rented properties, they could direct the publicity to known landlords, rather than in general terms through the media. They could do this potentially in other contexts. It would be a very useful tool in assisting the good management of properties by responsible landlords. Otherwise, they may simply not come across the publicity around carbon monoxide or smoke alarms, for example. There is the potential here for the Government to create a situation in which councils and landlords can work together in the interests of tenants and, ultimately, landlords. It is not much use to a landlord having a property that has been exposed to fire or other damage, let alone the dreadful consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I hope that the noble Baroness will look sympathetically at both these suggestions. They are designed to make sure that standards are maintained and to assist good owners to carry on responsibly the business in which they are engaged and thereby to protect their tenants. Ultimately, of course, it also protects their own property

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interests. It is in everybody’s interest that progress along the lines of these two amendments should be made. I beg to move.

Lord Flight (Con): My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and will speak to Amendment 21, whose objectives I trust will command broad support. These are, in essence, to provide practical and low-cost measures to enforce existing laws to protect tenants from criminal landlords. If measures along the lines of this proposed new clause are adopted, I also believe they would avoid the need for new regulations.

The private rented sector has already become larger than the social rented sector, and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate that, by 2025, 25% of UK households will be private rented homes. Such large increases argue strongly for greater scrutiny of how the sector operates. One of the main reasons for a lack of effective enforcement of existing laws is that there is no clear and systemic way of identifying the landlord of a property and how they can be contacted. This needs to be readily available, if both the enforcement of existing regulations and the taxation of landlords are to be effective.

There are also a number of other government policies which will work only if there is a way of knowing how to contact landlords. For example, the Government’s right- to-rent scheme—making landlords legally responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants—needs the name and contact details of the landlord to be readily available for the Home Office to tell a landlord if a tenant is in the country illegally.

Within the Housing and Planning Bill, how can Government expect their proposed rogue landlord database to work if there is no systemic way of identifying such landlords? How can HMRC seek to claim tax for which a landlord may be liable if there is no ready way of finding him?

The case for a clear and systematic way of identifying landlords is, I suggest, compelling. A national register of landlords has been suggested as a solution to this issue. The problem is that it would be only the good landlords who readily identified themselves. What landlord, flouting his legal obligations, would voluntarily come forward to make himself known?

In 2014, a report on the regulation of private rented housing was produced by Michael Ball, professor of urban and property economics at Reading University. He noted that such registration schemes fall back on the threat of penalties for those who fail to register to try to ensure that higher numbers do so, but that such threats are unlikely to impress the worst landlords because of the more draconian penalties they would be likely to face if their poor practices were found out. They are thus unlikely to co-operate.

Ministers have claimed that the Bill already includes measures that will allow local authorities to access information held by tenancy deposit schemes to assist with the enforcement of regulation. This is certainly a welcome move to better use the data which are already available. However, councils will be expected to pay to access such information, which may deter many authorities. Also, the measure would not help local authorities find landlords who do not abide by their legal obligations as they relate to tenancy deposit

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schemes. Recent research has found almost 300,000 landlords still not complying with deposit protection rules.

The solution is, in essence, to ask the tenant. That is what this amendment is about. Something similar was promoted by Dame Angela Watkinson MP, in the other place. The amendment would make it compulsory for local authorities to ask tenants to provide on their council tax registration forms details of the property’s landlord or managing agent. Thus collected, the information should then assist local authorities to enforce all regulations pertaining to the private rented sector as well as support other government policies, such as the right to rent and the rogue landlords database, which require knowing where landlords can be contacted. Local authorities would also have an up-to-date picture of the size of the private rented market in their area, enabling better evidence-based policy. It could also be used as an invaluable tool to communicate with landlords.

7 pm

Tenants are already legally entitled to information about their landlord, so landlords will find it difficult to prevent tenants identifying them. Where the tenant does not hold information on the owner of a property, they could provide details of the managing agent. If either the landlord or managing agent is not identified by a tenant, this would send a clear message to the relevant local authority that further investigation was appropriate. In some cases, there may be legitimate reason for the omission, but it is likely that criminal landlords will do what they can to remain hidden. In such cases, the tenanted address can then be checked against the Land Registry database and the owner identified. This approach would provide local authorities with the intelligence to target their limited enforcement resources on the relevant properties and landlords.

Ministers have argued that local authorities already have the power to collect such information on council tax forms but, crucially, this is not compulsory and few authorities are aware of their power. As a result, the DCLG knows of only a handful of councils that use the power. In some local authorities, environmental health officers who would like to collect this information are blocked by council tax officers who do not want to make changes to their forms, or believe that this is an issue of data protection. Rather, local authorities are using bureaucratic and expensive licensing schemes. As with a national register proposal, all these do is identify responsible landlords who register and drive up costs.

A system to collect data through council tax returns has a far lower cost, as it uses existing processing mechanisms and is a lighter-touch approach for good landlords. The proposal is that the amendment’s provision should be applied universally across all local authorities.

With your Lordships’ indulgence, I shall briefly address Amendments 24 and 25, which I tabled with Amendment 21. Amendment 24 provides for the relevant person concept to be removed on the grounds that it is confusing and gives little or no protection to tenants. When someone other than the tenant contributes to or pays in full the deposit for a home, they are required to

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be given prescribed information as well as the tenant, and such a person is known as the relevant person. Failure to give the prescribed information leads to financial penalties and an inability for the landlord to recover possession of their property. There is little need for this requirement, as the arrangement between the tenant and the relevant person is a private one that the landlord is not required to know about, despite being required to provide the relevant person with information. The provision can be forgotten about easily, thus creating a needless trap for landlords, who are potentially hostage to unscrupulous tenants entering into such agreements and then seeking to conceal it from their landlord, who is left in breach of their obligation.

Amendment 25 is about providing electronic information—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I understood that Amendments 24 and 25 were in the 11th group, but perhaps I missed some earlier realignment of amendments.

Lord Flight: The noble Baroness is entirely correct. That is why I asked the indulgence of the Committee quickly to address them now. That is for two reasons: first, they relate to Amendment 21 and, secondly, as I have given notice, I may not be able to be here when they are called later, for some particular personal reasons.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: No, I fear we must stick with the group of amendments that we have.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am sorry to be a misery on this, but it is rather difficult because, when we get to that point in the debate, we will not be able to debate the amendments. They are quite some distance away; they would have needed to be grouped.

Lord Flight: I am bound by that judgment, but I did ask the Whips’ Office and was given permission so to do.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I am not sure that the Whips’ Office has jurisdiction in these matters. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, deals with a local authority’s arrangements for gathering council tax payments and business rates. However, there is another very important form of taxation when discussing these matters, which is taxes raised by the Inland Revenue—that is my explicit interest in Amendment 16, as spoken to by the noble Baroness. We now have a booming rental market in the United Kingdom, with programmes on television promoting buy to rent and organisations issuing leaflets and sending them to people’s homes explaining the benefits of buy-to-rent arrangements. A lot of people should be paying taxes on rental income.

Take a flat in London with two bedrooms, costing £500 a week or £25,000 a year. There will be many examples in London of people gathering in very substantial rents, even on just one property, who through some means or another are simply not declaring it to the Inland Revenue. Any system, including the system promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, would be helpful in itself, but the system proposed by my noble friend, of a mandatory register of all private landlords, would certainly be very helpful in enabling the HMRC—

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which I keep referring to as the Inland Revenue, being a bit old-fashioned about these matters—to identify those people who should be paying tax on their rental income. The Inland Revenue are missing a trick here, because I suspect that there are probably billions in unpaid taxes on rentals which are not declared to the Revenue.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have Amendment 33A in this group. I do not want to say too much but give general support to the two amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, which tackle the question of the register from opposite ends but which are mutually complementary, as far as I can see—there are two different purposes but both would be desirable. There are two points in this amendment.

First, it is our view that wherever possible, local authorities should have discretion over what they do, and therefore this question of whether a local register of private landlords should be set up and collected should be a matter for the local authority concerned. For all the reasons put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and indeed to a degree by the noble Lord, Lord Flight—as well as those in the very interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, which bring in a different dimension altogether—I suspect that most authorities would want to do it, because of the value there would be. However, the real reason we would like to see it is for local housing purposes, to enable a local authority to maintain proper scrutiny over the private rented sector in its area and to more easily take action when action is required. My amendment is a statement against “one size fits all”-ism to some extent, but if the Government were minded to set up the kind of register that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is proposing, and it were compulsory for all local authorities, I do not think we would squeal too much.

Secondly, it seems to us that a register ought to pay for itself. An ordinary register would not be terribly expensive to run, and it ought to pay for itself rather than requiring further contributions from local authorities. Those are the two reasons for my amendment.

I listened carefully to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Flight. I am not sure that the council tax register as such would be a particularly efficiently way to do this, since as I understand it, people only really register for council tax in the sort of sense he is talking about when they are new residents in a property. Over a period of time, they might well provide the information he wants, but in the short run I do not think they would, because people simply pay the bills they get each year rather than filling a form in to register again afresh each year. No doubt these are details which could be discussed.

Lord Flight: I think I need to respond to that. Yes, it is correct that this would essentially be when a new residence starts, but there could be a simple form that went out with regular council tax demands.

Lord Greaves: Indeed, but it would not be compulsory to send it back—or perhaps it would if the legislation said that it was. Equally, it might be more efficient to do it with the electoral register. I do not know, but I am sure it could be done. However, there is a growing consensus on this, and sooner or later Parliament will

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have to legislate on the Government’s behalf. Registers of private landlords are going to be required for a number of varied purposes, which have been discussed around the Committee today.

Earl Cathcart (Con): My Lords, I should declare that I am a landlord. I support Amendment 21, tabled by my noble friend Lord Flight. This is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, and I raised this exact solution on a Question last summer, when I said:

“One of the problems is not knowing who the landlords are. Some suggest that there ought to be a national register of landlords, but the good ones might register while the bad ones will not bother and thus remain below the radar. Surely a better way is if all new tenants, who are required by law to complete a council tax registration form, put on that form the name, address and contact details of their landlords; then, councils would build up over time a complete picture of all the landlords in their area”.—[Official Report, 23/6/15; cols. 1467-68.]

I raised the point again at a later date, but that too fell on stony ground. My noble friend the Minister then kindly arranged a meeting with Brandon Lewis, the Housing Minister, and all three of us agreed that it was a jolly good idea—until an official put a spoke in the wheel by suggesting that such a measure would put a burden on local authorities. Quite what that burden would be I do not know. It must be in local authorities’ interests to know who all the landlords in their area are—the good and the bad. I understand that, as my noble friend said, some local authorities already require this information on their council tax registration forms. So surely this is best practice, not a burden.

There are numerous occasions when the Government need to contact landlords, but cannot do so because they do not know who they all are. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations allowed only two weeks for landlords to comply, but the Government could not write to the landlords, so how on earth could they comply on time? We also heard from my noble friend Lord Flight about the provisions in the Immigration Bill legally requiring landlords to monitor whether their tenants are legally allowed to rent in this country. I wholeheartedly support my noble friend’s amendment. I shall not go over all his arguments, but I hope that the Minister will agree to look at this again.

7.15 pm

Lord OShaughnessy (Con): My Lords, I register my concern about Amendments 18, 27 and 33A because of the unintended impact of the regulation that I believe they would introduce.

It is worth reflecting once again on the reasons behind the Bill: we have too little housing in this country, it is too expensive and is not of a high enough quality. To address this crisis we need to generate radically greater investment in housing. I think everyone in the Committee agrees with that. That investment must come from government and the private sector. Several noble Lords have already commented on the growing role of the private rental sector. For better or worse, we now have 4.4 million households in private rented accommodation—the second highest tenancy after ownership. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about an explosion of private rental housing. I welcome this in its own terms because we will simply

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not get the housing we need without the billions—indeed, trillions—of pounds of investable money that is sitting in pension funds and other investment funds.

It is also worth remembering that we have a public debt of 80% of GDP and a budget deficit, so private sector funding is essential to meeting our housing need. Whenever you talk to private pension fund and investment fund managers about investing in housing, you find that it is the complexity of the product that puts them off. We must be very wary about increasing that complexity.

What are the conditions needed to encourage this investment? Clearly, any investment needs to look for an economic return. I think we all agree that that is available in the housing sector. We need a quick and simplified planning system—we are not dealing with that part of the Bill today but will do so—and a low regulatory burden for the non-rogue landlords. It is on this last item that these amendments are problematic. I totally understand their intention but believe that they will provide another barrier to entry for potentially good landlords.

My noble friends Lord Flight and Lord Cathcart talked about the fact that licensing schemes will tend to attract good landlords and not capture the bad ones. For that reason, a mandatory licensing and accreditation scheme—let alone the charging of fees, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—would potentially discourage investors and raise the costs of housing while also increasing the burden on local authorities. Surely this is not the way forward to generate the housing that we need.

What we need, of course, are greater powers to crack down on rogue landlords—exactly what we discussed earlier today—a proportionate response to the problem rather than a blanket response. As we discussed—and will continue to discuss—these are well provided for in the Bill, with great agreement across the House. So the discussion of voluntary arrangements—

Lord Greaves: I do not understand how a simple act of telling the council that you are the owner of a property is a huge regulatory burden. But putting that on one side, how is a council supposed to crack down on a rogue landlord if it does not know who owns the property?

Lord OShaughnessy: That is a perfectly good question. I was going to end by talking about the voluntary arrangements that have been discussed in both this area of registration and with the Housing Ombudsman. However, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Flight points to a simpler, lower-impact and more elegant way of gaining the information that we are after. Every time there is a change of tenancy or of ownership is precisely the point at which a new registration would have to be made. I do not believe you would need to send out forms every year; you would just need them when the occupancy or the ownership changed. That would provide a rolling database of the information that local authorities need.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, this series of amendments has raised some very interesting points. At Second Reading, I suggested a means whereby

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prospective tenants might get access to information on landlords who were signed up to a reputable body with established standards that it imposed on its members, and with current and valid membership of a dispute resolution and redress scheme. I am told that there is no such facility. My thought was to bring out the best and to lead from the front with the positives rather than try to deal with the negatives and, in so doing, squeeze out those rogues we have heard about. It was suggested to me by a residential managing agent of my acquaintance that it would be a bit like Checkatrade or TripAdvisor, particularly if it had user or customer—that is, tenant—feedback built into the system. However, I cannot see that that sort of thing can work by compulsion.

I am not an advocate of a compulsory scheme, as proposed by noble Lords in some of the amendments. It would have large costs; it would be readily circumvented, especially by the rogues; and it would suffer from a measure of disregard through ignorance among the 1.5 million one-unit property landlords. I tend, therefore, towards the solution of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, but, again, with some caveats. I would particularly like to know what proposed new paragraph 27A(2)(a) means in terms of the word “category”, and, with apologies to him, where airbnb fits into the framework. The Government have already moved to facilitate this trend, which may be here today and gone tomorrow. How, therefore, do you keep track of that as “category” in terms of art? A holiday let today may be an assured shorthold tenancy tomorrow, or vice versa. I see great practical problems in this regard.

There is, however, another problem about candid declaration, if one is going down this road. How frequently, given this quite rapid churn in the system, do you have to trawl for the information to ensure that it is bang up to date? What happens when something that has planning consent for, for example, holiday lets, turns out to be on an 18-month assured shorthold tenancy, potentially in breach of planning control? For that matter, what happens when it operates in the other direction? There could be issues to do with planning or potential breach of private contract, and I wonder who gets to see and use the information garnered by this process. There is quite a quite dangerous mix of stuff here, with all sorts of people coming in with different motives. The truth is that, over many years, housing has become commoditised. It has gone beyond being the roof over your head and the security for your family; it is now an investment vehicle, a pension pot and a place to park a significant sum safely where you can manage it and see what is happening, as opposed to subcontracting it to somebody who manages portfolios on the stock exchange, where you may have less control. That brings all sorts of different motivations and methods of managing, owning and occupying property.

I said earlier that I would hesitate, if I were a local government official—which I am not—to delve into this issue. It has very significant resource implications. I still tend, therefore, to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, but it has a number of holes and would provide far from perfect coverage. That said, we are beginning to drill down and head in the right direction, which is somehow to find a method whereby people will voluntarily sign up because they see it as

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being in their interests to do so—because they want to be seen as the good guys and the providers of quality, and not to be associated with the rogues about whom we have heard so much today.

I hope the Government will feel that there is merit in that. Perhaps with one or two tweaks—a combination of some of the things discussed in this group of amendments—we could end up with something of long-term benefit that would defuse some of the adversarial nature of what we have been talking about, which is corrosive to the sector and to relationships between landlords and tenants and ultimately may end up leading us around the houses—excuse the pun—several times without achieving what we need: the long-term betterment of the landlord-tenant relationship in the private rented housing stock.

Lord Foster of Bath: My Lords, we seem to be discussing two slightly separate issues in this group of amendments. The first is whether or not we need to have a register of all private sector rented landlords, and I certainly believe that we need to have that. As my noble friend Lord Greaves made very clear, if we do not know who owns a particular property or who is its landlord, it is very difficult to take enforcement action against them. It is also very difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has pointed out, for a number of bits of government legislation to be effectively enforced without having such a register—for example, the requirement for landlords to vet the immigration status of their tenants.

Amendment 27 from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, proposes a mandatory register and suggests that the way of filling the data in it is by requiring all landlords to sign up to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has pointed out, there are some difficulties with that: those landlords who are not particularly good, those who are on the border of being rogue landlords, are not likely to bother to provide the information. The noble Lord provides an alternative means of filling the data sets: using the form that is initially sent in for registering for council tax, although, as my noble friend Lord Greaves has pointed out, that is done by very many tenants only once in a blue moon.

So there are problems with how we fill the data set, but what is most important is that we hear from the Minister whether it is the Government’s view that we should be having a national database. Whether it is run at individual local authority level or nationally I am not that concerned about at this stage, but it is important to know what the Government’s thinking is about having a database of all private sector landlords. Then perhaps we could get together from all sides of the House to work out the details of how we could fill the data set and ensure that people registered appropriately.

The second issue is local authorities operating an accreditation or licensing scheme. There is a straight -forward difference between Amendment 18 from the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend’s Amendment 33A. My noble friend suggests that this should be voluntary and local authorities can decide whether or not to do it, while the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is suggesting that all local authorities must do it. I make it clear that I side entirely with my noble friend. It is right and proper that local authorities do

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this, but it is also important that we recognise that some local authorities have already found ways of doing it; across many parts of London there is already such a scheme, and other councils—for example, by using an Article 4 direction—have been able to do that.

Still, it is important that we treat these two issues as separate: first, with regard to the list of all private sector rented landlords so that we can ensure that legislation that we pass in your Lordships’ House will be enforced; and, secondly, that we allow discretion to local authorities to decide how best they wish to operate in the best interests of the people that they seek to represent in local authority areas.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I remind noble Lords that this issue came up earlier under the Deregulation Bill. I was very opposed to the fact that they threw out all rights to register people who were living in these places. It came up, in particular, in relation to Airbnb. I divided the House and we lost the issue. Westminster Council had been prepared to register people even at 24 hours’ notice so that it could know who was occupying, not only as a landlord but who was living in the place. This was rejected. I found it extraordinary that, at a time when New York and Paris were bringing in this regulation, we were deregulating it. It went through on the Deregulation Bill and it should be drawn to the attention of noble Lords again. It seems to be in total conflict with what the House carried at that time, against what I was hoping, which was more like what the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has just suggested.

7.30 pm

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, if I may, I will take note of what my noble friend Lord Flight has said and deal with it in the relevant group so that I have both heard him and responded at the relevant time and we do not move amendments out of kilter.

Amendments 18 and 33A are very similar, so I will address them together. These amendments would involve local authorities operating an accreditation and licensing scheme for private sector landlords in their area. The current licensing arrangements were introduced to give local authorities the ability to deal with problems that might arise in connection with rented property and provide for three types of licensing: mandatory licensing of larger houses in multiple occupation; additional licensing of smaller houses in multiple occupation; and selective licensing of all types of private rented housing, should the local authority see fit to do that.

A major drawback of licensing is that it impacts on all landlords and it places additional burdens on reputable landlords who are already fully compliant with their obligations. As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy says, this creates unnecessary costs for reputable landlords which tend to be passed on to tenants. The majority of landlords—the non-rogue landlords, to quote my noble friend—provide a good service and the Government do not want to impose unnecessary additional costs on them or on tenants who may see their rents rise as landlord costs rise.

Accreditation is of interest only to good landlords who rent out decent accommodation, so it does not help to identify and tackle criminal landlords nor lead

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to improvements in the sector. Local authorities are in the best position to decide whether or not there is a need for an accreditation system in their area. Indeed, voluntary accreditation systems have been introduced by many local authorities and are also promoted by the main landlord associations. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether these could be extended if they were successful. They most definitely could, but it would be a local decision-making process. I hope, with that explanation, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.

I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Flight for tabling Amendment 21. I see that my noble friend Lord Cathcart is in his place; he has spoken to this. The amendment would require local authorities to request tenure information from residents, owners and managing agents whenever the local authority requests council tax information. As my noble friend Lord Cathcart and I have already discussed, it happens in some councils, as noble Lords have pointed out, particularly in London. It is already being practised by some councils, but not all. I am very supportive of ensuring that local authorities have the tools necessary to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector in their areas. Parts 2 and 3 of this Bill demonstrate our commitment to this.

Local authorities already have powers in existing legislation to request tenure information on council tax forms—as I have said, some do—through the Local Government Finance Act 1992 and the Housing Act 2004. They can also access the tenancy deposit protection schemes. I am very sympathetic to the purpose of this amendment but, before jumping head first into legislation to require it, which could potentially increase financial burdens, the Housing Minister and I intend to investigate the matter further and have taken steps to establish a working group to explore this important issue. It will be chaired by none other than Dame Angela Watkinson herself. The working group will assess the extent to which local authorities are currently using their existing powers, examine how they could currently use this information to tackle rogue landlords and, crucially, consider how and whether requiring the collection of tenure data will assist in tackling rogue landlords. It is due to meet in March and will report back to Ministers within three to six months.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, came back on the point about the ability of the Inland Revenue —or HMRC—to access rogue landlord data.

Lord Campbell-Savours: All data.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Yes, it can access all data, but in particular it can access rogue landlord data. This is part of my point: there is evidence of some practices in London where rogue landlords are housing 20 or so tenants in two-bedroom properties. That evidence could be married up with the various agencies not only to find those rogue landlords but to fine them as well, and recover the tax that is due to HMRC. I thought that might be a useful circling up.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I am not referring to rogue landlords but to all landlords.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: Absolutely—I would just make the point about the rogue ones, but the noble Lord is absolutely right.

Amendment 27 would require all private landlords to sign up to a national register, which would be operated and maintained by a local authority. The information on the register could be used by local authorities to inform landlords about regulatory matters, of their duties under the Housing Act and the Immigration Act 2014, and other useful information. The Government do not support a national register, for reasons which some noble Lords have pointed out. In addition to the costly undertaking of supporting a national register—

Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry to press the Minister again, but has any estimate been made of what the cost would be? Can we have some idea, or is there just an assumption that it will be too costly?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I am not sure whether an assessment has been made, but while I do not know what the cost will be, there will be a cost. There will obviously be an obligation to provide a register, and therefore an associated resource and cost. I cannot say what the quantum of that cost would be at this point.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wonder whether the Minister can also help me. She was helpfully describing a working party which is being set up and chaired by Dame Angela Watkinson, to report in three to six months’ time. Given the findings and recommendations with which it will no doubt come forward, can the Minister assure us that there are powers within this proposed legislation—the Act may have gone through by then—to implement them in a way which reflects the opinion of this House? Does she have those powers? How would she therefore progress any findings which might or might not follow the path of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, or the path of my noble friend Lord Beecham on this?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: It may be helpful if I tell the noble Baroness that what I discussed with my noble friend Lord Cathcart and the Housing Minister was that there are local authorities doing just this. I imagine that the working group will be exploring the art of the possible—to extend if it needed—and what the implications would be for local authorities, but some are already doing it under existing legislation. I do not think that the Bill per se would do it, but it is about how we would marry up existing legislation with what is already being done by local authorities.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: But that would suggest that the chair of the working party and that party did not produce recommendations any different from those currently practised. That of course is not probable. If it is to be effective, one will need some powers in this legislation, by affirmative regulations or something, to come back to that should it be appropriate. I doubt that the Minister would want primary legislation for that, but if she does not have statutory instrument powers, she will not be able to do it.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the working group will meet in March and I would not want to pre-empt what it will come up with or recommend. I am saying that there is existing legislation to do what my noble friend Lord Flight suggests, but it is a question of local authorities’ willingness to take it up, which is varied. I cannot pre-empt what the working group will say.

My noble friend also made the point that only the good landlords will come forward, and I agree with that. I also agree that local authorities should focus their enforcement on the small number of rogues who knowingly flout their obligations, and that what is why we are establishing the database.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked how the council can crack down on a landlord if the tenant does not know them. The tenant can raise concerns with the council, which can use the powers in the Housing Act 2004 and seek action from the landlord or the property manager. The tenant may not know the landlord, but they should know the managing agent.

My noble friend Lord Flight asked how local authorities know where the rogue landlords are. Obviously the database will be built up, but authorities will be able to combine the tenancy deposit data with existing data sets, such as council tax and housing benefit data, to identify properties that are not on the tenancy deposit protection list and hence those potentially belonging to rogue landlords.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about immigration, particularly illegal immigration, and how those tenants would be identified. The Immigration Act 2014 introduces a requirement now to check the immigration status of the tenants. Where a landlord has concerns about a tenant’s immigration status, he should contact the Home Office. Local authorities can also raise any concerns regarding illegal immigrants with the Home Office.

With those points, I hope that the noble Lord will feel content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I will not keep Members of your Lordships’ House from their dinner or from the dinner break business, whichever they prefer or are committed to.

I have a couple of very short points. The first is that the Minister did not quite reply to my noble friend Lady Hollis’s question, but perhaps she will send her a reminder. Alternatively, of course, the Minister could look at Hansard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has raised Airbnb matters more than once in the House. If she looks down the list she will see that I have Amendment 32, which will touch on that matter, so, hopefully, we can revert to it.

Lastly, I shall say a brief word about Amendment 18. Part of the problem is that at the moment we have a selective licensing scheme that operates slowly, and there are hurdles to surmount before you can implement such a scheme. I mentioned the scheme that is now working in my own ward in Newcastle and which has received this additional funding—I repeat my gratitude in the hope that perhaps we will get some more—so it is not a straightforward matter to produce any form of licence scheme on a selective basis.

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Having said that, I think it is clear that there is not much support for making this universal and comprehensive, but I invite the Minister to commit to looking at how the current scheme might be improved so that it could be speedier and done much more at the discretion of local authorities. At the moment you have to have a certain number and a certain percentage; it is full of hurdles that get in the way of dealing with what is quite an important problem for many people. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.43 pm.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Funding

Question for Short Debate

7.44 pm

Asked by Lord Luce

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy for funding the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the light of their foreign policy interests.

Lord Luce (CB): My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to clarify how the Government are matching the funding of our diplomacy in relation to our foreign policy priorities. I am grateful to all noble Lords who are participating, with all their experience, and to the Minister for responding.

I support the Government’s commitment in the Queen’s Speech to continue to play a leading role in global affairs, and I welcome the autumn spending review decision to preserve the FCO budget in real terms. However, I suggest that there is still a serious mismatch between our foreign policy priorities and available diplomatic resources. The result is that we cannot properly fulfil our ambitions.

We need to look at this issue in a broader context to see why this is the case. Between 1997 and 2010 there were considerable reductions in the service. These included the closure of more than 30 UK overseas posts across Africa, Latin America and Asia. The coalition Government then embarked on tough new economic policies. During their five years in office, this led to a 16% core spending cut in real terms and a consequent reduction in UK-based staff from just under 5,000 to just under 4,500, although this was buttressed by a larger locally engaged staff.

I should acknowledge that in 2011, the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Hague, did everything he could to retain our embassies. As a result, the total number of overall posts overseas has increased from 258 to 268, and the numbers are maintained in 168 countries and nine multilateral bodies. However, the danger now is that our very high-quality UK-based staff are too few, trying to do too many things. They are too thinly spread.

I was struck by the Foreign Secretary’s own admission of this when he said to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, just before the Autumn Statement:

“The ability to maintain the network at its current level and to sustain that in the future, and the ability to have a sufficient density of policy-making capacity here in London so that we can lead the foreign-policy-making process across Government and beyond are the key to the Foreign Office’s raison d’etre”.

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He went on to say that,

“we are pretty close to the irreducible minimum of UK-based staff on the network”.

By comparison, we spend less per capita on diplomacy than the United States, Germany, France, Australia and Canada.

Another way of looking at this is in the context of HMG’s spending on international policy. Of every £1,000 the Government spend, £2 goes to the Foreign Office, £50 goes to defence and £10 goes to DfID for development aid. I note that the MoD and DfID shares are now formally linked to international targets; the FCO’s is not, and so is vulnerable to squeeze.

It is increasingly clear that the capability of the FCO to undertake its vital work has been declining. There have been noticeable weaknesses in managing the outcome of crises in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the operational handling of the Russia/Ukraine region, Syria and Libya. Also, for example, only 23% of the jobs in eastern Europe and Central Asia and only 27% in the Middle East and north Africa have the required number of local language speakers. In this context, I welcome the new Language Centre and the Diplomatic Academy. Further problems arise from underinvestment in modern equipment and ageing IT systems.

It seems to me that we now face a choice: either we continue to play a global role, punching above our weight, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, once suggested, or we recognise that we are no longer willing to afford what it takes, sharpen our priorities and reduce or eliminate some of our roles. I, like the Government, am in favour of the first choice. There are many reasons for this.

In my student days at Cambridge, I had the privilege of meeting Dean Acheson, who had famously proclaimed that Britain had lost an empire but not yet found a role. I believe that this is no longer true. We have seen a successful transformation of an empire into a Commonwealth of 53 equal nations whose potential we have yet to fulfil. We are anxious to play a full role globally, but no longer as an imperial superpower.

It is worth reminding ourselves of our position in the world. We are the fifth-largest economy. We are a nuclear weapon state within the non-proliferation treaty. We are members of more multilateral international bodies than any other nation, ranging from the UN—with our permanent membership of the Security Council—to the EU, NATO, IMF and so on. We can add to all this our “accumulated estate of soft power”, so well summarised by the 2014 Lords Select Committee on Soft Power, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. It showed that we have the strongest cultural assets in the world. We are a leading digitally connected society. We are ethnically diverse and therefore outward looking. The BBC World Service and the British Council are outstanding in communicating our values to the world.

At the same time, Britain’s security and prosperity are under threat and likely to remain so. If anything, the world is more troubled than it was in 2010. Moreover, it is changing fast. We have seen the rapid rise of China, an aggressive Russia, disintegration in the Middle East spurred on by Daesh, a weakening of the EU and of transatlantic cohesion, an international humanitarian system at breaking point, with 60 million displaced people and mass migration towards Europe, and a sketchy

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global economy and financial system, in addition to the fact that the end of the Cold War has seen the return of local conflicts, many failed states and the increase of terrorism. In the face of all this, it must be in our British interests to continue using our diplomatic assets around the world, and within alliances and international organisations, to work actively for peace, stability and the promotion of free trade. But we can only do that if our diplomacy is adequately funded and supported.

In my five years as a Minister in the FCO, I grew to admire the immense skills and intellectual judgment of many independent-minded diplomats. But I recognise that the role of the diplomat is changing with the digital age. The range of tasks facing a diplomat today demand a multiskilled approach. Our embassies provide a platform for 26 government departments, promote trade, deliver consular services and contribute to global issues such as tackling climate change and cybersecurity. This must mean attracting and retaining sufficient highly qualified people, who these days have many other career choices open to them. If we spread them too thinly around the world and give them inadequate training, we will both overstrain them and fail to provide the quality needed for an effective foreign policy.

I suggest we need more of these highly qualified people as well as better resources to support them. I am not convinced that the settlement the FCO has now reached with the Treasury for the next five years provides for this. The cost would be peanuts compared to the DfID budget of over £13 billion. I want to see us using all our strengths as a country—strengths that we tend to understate and underplay—to try to contribute to a better and more stable world.

We need to take every opportunity within the Commonwealth to use our soft power to our mutual benefit. We need to be active in Europe, whatever form it takes. We need to remain a robust partner in NATO through strengthened Armed Forces and as a nuclear power. We need to be actively working with our friends in the Gulf countries to reduce tension and to end conflict. We need to work hard to understand the importance of new relationships in Asia while keeping close to our neighbours in Europe and our old friends in the States. In all this, effective diplomacy will be at a premium. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this debate and, in particular, to the urgent need for the Government to provide adequate diplomatic support to enable us to continue to play an effective global role.

7.54 pm

Lord Patten (Con): My Lords, I listened with great respect to that masterly overview from the noble Lord, Lord Luce. He has no greater admirer than me for all that he achieved as a Foreign Office Minister, and indeed later in Gibraltar. I would seek to correct him on only one minor point. He paid us all some advance compliments on being great experts on foreign affairs. Alas, not me. I was never considered by the powers that be to have the subtlety of mind to be appointed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I equally admire the work now being done by Philip Hammond, building on that of his predecessors such as my noble friend Lord Hague, in continuing to focus the FCO within resources.

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This is a never-ending task: it will never be completed, but has to be done year in, year out. We must recognise that in an age of austerity—or restraint, or whatever the current polite phrase is—it is far from over, and that any great expenditure increases in the next five years are unlikely, after the five-year settlement. We must also recognise, however—this is a positive point—how many other departments are pitching in, and increasingly so, on the foreign affairs front. Some of them were enumerated by the noble Lord. They are not just the obvious ones such as DfID or the MoD: there is also BIS, with its welcome refettling of UKTI activities to create greater focus, as well as helping to proselytise for the university achievements of this country worldwide. The Department for Education is also increasingly concerned with educational exports—and other departments are getting involved too.

All this is becoming much more joined up, albeit perhaps not by design but by chance. Many departments are now much more foreign-facing than they may have been when the noble Lord, Lord Luce, first went to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is a very good thing, and should be encouraged across Government. I urge the Minister to carry back the message to Foreign and Commonwealth Ministers that they should tell taxpayers just how many other departments beside the FCO are intimately involved in foreign affairs, albeit sometimes at one remove.

Finally, if I may strike a personal note, I much admire the individual civil servants in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who are on the front line, dealing with difficult and sometimes, I have to say, morally challenging matters—for instance, if they are in Saudi Arabia, wanting to maintain our important strategic interests there, but in a country that routinely crucifies and cuts off heads week by week. That is a great moral challenge for those young men and young women. It is exactly the same with Turkey—a country that is using military force against its own citizens today, but is also playing a very welcome and important role in the Syrian refugee context. Those are truly examples of the diplomat’s personal dilemma, which people must face on a day to day basis.

I end by saying that the people of Gibraltar would wish that the noble Lord, Lord Luce, was back there, dealing with an increasingly intransigent Spanish Government, who are conducting their affairs in a most un-European way.

7.57 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): Not for the first time, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I thank him for having introduced this debate today, for having done it so well, and for having set out the challenges so clearly. The first reality of existence, and certainly the first reality for Britain, is that we are all now part of a highly interdependent world. The challenge for politicians in this generation, under Governments of all persuasions, is the contribution, and the value of that contribution, that we can make to meeting this global reality—strengthening global governance and the effective delivery, for people all over the world, of the policies that are necessary.

This is true of migration. We are only beginning to see what is going to face us in the future, with climate change and the rest. It will become a gigantic issue,

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which will require all nations to co-operate. It is obviously also true of security, and of economic affairs and many other things.

One thing that has come out in the debate is that many significant departments of state have, in effect, their own foreign policy. That makes the Foreign Office’s work in co-ordinating that reality, and in making sure that the policies individual departments are following are well informed and based on sound judgment, more important than ever. That is tremendously demanding.

It is also important to recognise that if we are to make an effective contribution to global governance, we need good intelligence—we need to be able to understand the world in which we are working. That makes the front-line work of the Foreign Office crucial. One of the changes we have to make in any leadership role we may want to play is that we have to understand that we cannot cruise on our past status—we cannot take for granted that the world is going to listen to us because we have been a great power, an imperial power, and the rest. We have to earn our laurels and that means the quality of what we are contributing will be vital. That rams home again the crucial challenges to the Foreign Office and its personnel.

When I was in the Foreign Office, like the noble Lord, I was incredibly impressed by the quality and dedication of the people I was working with. But it is a changing demand and therefore we will have to have in the Foreign Office the people who are right for meeting that demand and playing it in the directions I have indicated.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this debate. I hope it will be one more spur to seeing that whatever we do with the future of public expenditure and government priorities in this country, the Foreign Office will remain pre-eminent.

8.01 pm

Lord Chidgey (LD): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on securing this debate and the admirable way in which he introduced it.

I want to talk about something related. In last year’s strategic defence and security review, the Government decided to place greater emphasis on soft power as part of their national security strategy. The decision to bring the funding of the BBC World Service back into the remit of the Foreign Office, with a budget of £85 million each year by 2017-18, was therefore widely welcomed.

I know that many noble Lords will recall their past dependence on the often crackly and faint yet measured tones of the BBC World Service shortwave reception. Calmly, it brought reliable news and comment to the remote and sometimes unstable locations to which noble Lords’ employment had taken them. Currently reaching 308 million people worldwide, and with a goal to reach 500 million by 2022, the BBC World Service has established an envious reputation for delivering trusted, impartial news. Plans for investing here, where a global gap has never been wider, will be very welcome, particularly in Africa, where audience figures outstrip all other areas of the world.

During previous rounds of spending cuts, replacing the extensive World Service network of shortwave radio transmitters with cheaper, local, city-based FM stations

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seemed like a good wheeze. The problem was, and is, that these FM stations are particularly vulnerable to political interference and closure when countries become unstable. Closure of FM stations compromises the delivery of the BBC’s flagship: trusted and impartial news. In Answers to Written Questions, the Government have told me that forced closures of FM stations have occurred in numerous African countries, including Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda—perhaps not surprisingly —but also, I believe, in Nigeria. Nevertheless, while audiences have switched from shortwave to FM, the total audience across all platforms in sub-Saharan Africa has risen from some 53 million to 82 million over the past 10 years.

Here lies the challenge to increasing the BBC World Service’s audience from 308 million to the target of 500 million by 2022: half the world’s population is under 35. The BBC’s future plans need to target aspiring youth overseas. The rise in TV audiences will continue to outstrip radio; digital platforms will continue to expand; and, particularly in Africa, mobile phone technology will challenge other news-delivery media. For the BBC World Service to keep pace and to be ahead of the curve in the future, there has to be some certainty now in funding streams beyond 2018.

8.04 pm

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn (CB): My Lords, the subject of this debate is broad and important, but time is very short indeed, so I shall concentrate on one issue: the importance of regional and country expertise if we are to have an effective foreign policy and, it follows from that, the need for consistent funding to support it.

A good many years ago, when I was a relatively junior member of the Foreign Office, I was summoned to 10 Downing Street to brief the Prime Minister on a visit to south-east Asia. The meeting started with the Prime Minister, the then Mrs Thatcher, roundly condemning the Foreign Office for its written briefing: what was the point of it all? She could get just the same sort of thing from the special supplements in the Financial Times.

Of course, that was all to ginger people up, and there is no harm in that, but it reflected a view that was beginning to be current then and which has continued in the minds of some people that globalisation means that the whole world is coming together, similarities between countries are now much greater, so why, then, have specialist diplomats? Rely instead on the newspapers and the news media. It was not true then; it is not true now. I am no expert on the area, but it seems clear that in recent years, we have desperately needed more and greater expertise on Iraq and Afghanistan and now on Syria and Libya as well.

There have been very welcome signs that the Foreign Office, particularly under the noble Lord, Lord Hague, has again taken to heart the traditional need for regional and language expertise. The setting up of a new Foreign Office language school, to which my noble friend Lord Luce referred, just over two years ago, is a very welcome sign. After all, the value of learning a language is not just the ability to speak it; it is a means of understanding the history and culture of a country—in

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other words, to understand how people think. This sort of training cannot be short-term; it needs time, effort and consistency.

I hope that the Minister can reassure us all that regional and country expertise, together with language training, is now high on the agenda of the FCO, and that funding will be there to achieve it. It would also be useful to know how many people are now being trained in each year in so-called hard languages: in particular, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese. Perhaps it is not fair to ask for an answer of the cuff, but if the Minister would like to write to me and place the letter in the Library, that would be very useful.

8.07 pm

Lord Marland (Con): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for his excellent résumé. I also declare interests as chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and as the Prime Minister’s former trade envoy. In the limited time available—which is shameful really; three minutes to talk about such an important subject—I will pose two questions to my noble friend and hope that he will respond either here or in writing.

We all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who put it beautifully, that resources in the Foreign Office are extremely limited and, much more importantly, unevenly spread. My first question is: how many people work on the European desk and how many work on the Commonwealth desk? I will give a rough answer: it is probably 10 to 15 on the Commonwealth desk and 100 on the European desk. The Commonwealth, incidentally, comprises one-third of the world’s population and 53 countries which all speak the same language. It is probably our oldest trading relationship, on which a small group of people in the Foreign Office work tirelessly to try to maintain the lights, under the spectacular leadership of a Minister, Hugo Swire.

My second question is about Africa. We have lost our pre-eminence. China is now overrunning Africa with its investment and its new set of rules, which are not necessarily conducive to our rules of engagement. When I was a Minister, I invited the Foreign Office to produce a report on how it should reallocate resources for Africa and redistribute personnel to reflect the differing and emerging countries. So my second question is: how has that report gone? Has it been enacted? Have steps been taken to make it happen? From the outside, it does not look so. I was with the Cameroon high commissioner yesterday. He was bemoaning the fact that no Cabinet Minister has ever visited Cameroon in its history. I think we could say the same for Angola, Mozambique and for a lot of African countries. This is shameful, given the resources and wealth that are now happening in these countries.

The Foreign Office is an excellent institution, but it is spread too thinly. It needs our support and it needs greater resources. It is up to us to put pressure on the Government—our own party—to ensure that resources are created for it.

8.10 pm

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords, I should like to speak in support of the points made so eloquently and powerfully by my noble friend Lord Luce in his

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opening speech. I await with anticipation the contribution of my noble friend Lord Kerr, who ran the service for five years and who should certainly be listened to.

For my part, I should like to offer a view from the coalface at which I strove for some 35 years, including in Saudi Arabia. It is self-evident that the effectiveness of the Diplomatic Service depends on the quality and experience of our staff in the overseas posts. I was, therefore, shocked to discover that, in nearly half of them, there are two or fewer UK-based staff. I take nothing away from the value of local staff—they make a great contribution to many parts of our work—but the key task of interpreting a foreign society to our own society relies on capable and experienced staff, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, has just pointed out. Much of that art is learned from your superiors. In two-man posts, you are not going to learn very much; you are not even going to be there together for very long.

To be effective in any post requires a steady building of trust at senior levels in the other Government. This, in turn, requires that our representatives know the language, culture, history and the way that people think in those countries. This is absolutely vital. We have to earn our laurels, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out. We have to be good but, sadly, this expertise has been hollowed out. It is almost beyond belief that about a quarter of the jobs in the Middle East that should have Arabic speakers do not have them. The cost of the lack of that expertise is and can be immense. It is surely apparent that the Government’s performance in recent years in Iraq, Libya and Syria has revealed at every stage an inadequate knowledge of the vertical, social realities of these countries.

The same remarks about expertise apply in London also. My noble friend Lord Luce quoted the Foreign Secretary as referring to,

“a sufficient density of policy-making capacity”.

Well, well, well. I think what that means is people who actually know what they are talking about. This is rather important because, if officials are going to stand up to Ministers, it is not good enough that they have simply read the same telegrams. They will not be taken any notice of. They have to speak from a real experience of the region; a real knowledge of the leaders of the countries we are talking about; how they think; what their priorities are, and what the pressures on them are. They need a long experience, the longer the better, especially in stable countries—if there are any left—in such countries that have had a stable Government for some time.

Regrettably, it has now become quite clear that the Diplomatic Service is stretched far too thinly. Its capability to promote and defend our national interest is declining and this is a decline which the Government must bring urgently to a halt.

8.13 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Lab): My Lords, I welcome this debate on the funding and policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Important parts of UK foreign policy also concern working with other countries to create opportunities for UK business and to deal with major challenges that affect both developed and

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developing countries around the world. These include diseases, global climate change and, as is described in this week’s

New Scientist

, the transformation or long-term storage of nuclear waste, which may be a 1,000-year problem.

I hope that the Government will be more proactive in participating in the organisations of the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN, as other noble Lords have mentioned. In my experience as a chief executive of the Met Office, and now working with high-tech companies abroad much of the time, I have seen the technical and commercial value of collaboration with the EU networks and UN agencies. Also working with the Commonwealth is very important, particularly on climate change. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and government departments are not seen by other countries to be as effective in advertising and making use of these collaborative programmes. Our embassies and government offices do not do not regularly fly the EU and UN flag. One embassy I visited celebrated pulling down the EU flag at the end of Britain’s period of the presidency and hoped that it would never have to put it up again.

The UK’s involvement in the EU and the UN is not advertised on the UK Government webpage. It is noticeable, however, that other EU countries that have bigger budgets, as has been commented on, nevertheless advertise their role in the EU very considerably. How would a foreign businessman or a technical institute know about the UK’s participation? Surely the FCO should be expanding its work in this way and demonstrating its participation. I hope the Minister will perhaps respond to that.

I am afraid that the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, which has been looking into the consequences of the UK leaving the EU, has had evidence from UK and non-UK companies showing that UK business will lose its influence in steering the new technological initiatives that will emerge from Horizon 2020. In that event, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other departments will have to spend more money to ensure strong participation. It is very important for the Foreign Office budget that we remain in the EU. The days of a UK FCO just physically and metaphorically displaying the union jack should be over.

8.17 pm

Lord Craig of Radley (CB): My Lords, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this all-too-brief debate. If money is short, why not try melding better together the efforts of charity and other bodies with those of FCO staffs in posts overseas?

I am a fellow of the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management—CPTM, for short. It has a remarkable track record: more than 20 years of organising yearly, or near-yearly large-scale meetings attended by heads of government or states from a variety of Commonwealth and other countries in the developing world. The host head will personally be present and take full part in the two or three-day event. All these heads are themselves fellows of CPTM. In addition to the wider gatherings, we have fellows only sessions. I have met and dined with heads on these occasions

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informally, without any of the normal protocol to arrange meetings or discussions with such individuals. Participants at these gatherings are drawn from business, labour, academia, the media, government and other public sector bodies. All can enjoy the freedom of direct interaction at every level, including with the heads attending. These meetings invariably lead to wide-ranging and fascinating exchanges between those present.

CPTM’s vision is to encourage by interaction a smart approach to activity between all sectors, to achieve win-win outcomes, and to reflect Commonwealth values of tolerance and co-operation rather than an attitude of beggar my neighbour and confrontation. Indeed, the fact that successive heads from those countries participating have been interested in CPTM and followed so closely the involvement with it of their predecessors in office, is a strong indicator that CPTM has lasting value. It has done much to help those developing nations and their leaders to formulate their vision and approach to national growth and prosperity.

I am afraid that UK Governments have shown scant interest in this successful enterprise and the work of CPTM. They miss out. Involvement in these gatherings would give local high commission staff the opportunity to network informally with key regional individuals and to better appreciate the complex of feelings and attitudes about the United Kingdom held by many of those from the developing world. May I encourage the Minister to get briefed about CPTM? I am, of course, willing to facilitate any meeting between the CEO of CPTM and the FCO to assist.

8.20 pm

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I will speak not so much on funding, important as that is, but rather on our foreign policy interests. This country is by far the largest European provider of aid for refugees and displaced people from Iraq and Syria, and it is therefore very much in our interests that these large sums be spent effectively and fairly. I have two questions on our interests as regards Syria.

First, what are the Government doing to ensure that the largest share of food aid does not go to areas controlled by Assad? This will serve only to prolong the war and thus displace more people. Aid must, surely, go fairly to all those in need. Secondly, why has it taken from 2013 until just last month for British officials to visit the free cantons of north Syria? I was briefly in Jazira last May. It was quite easy to get in, yet it took the visit of the United States diplomat Mr Brett McGurk before our people went—with him—to Kobane. The cantons of Rojava may well hold the key to the future of Syria. We should therefore work with them. I look forward to the ministerial reply, since I have given him notice.

8.21 pm

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Luce was indeed an excellent Minister and governor and deserves to be congratulated on having made every single one of the points that I had intended to make. Undeterred, I will add a couple.

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First, the funding situation is a little worse that my noble friend describes. In my five years, the FCO secured real-terms increases in its vote every year, but in the 15 years since I left, there has been a real-terms cut of 20%. It is actually bigger than 20% if you think of its effect on the front line, because when you strip out the programme spending on UN contributions, international subscriptions and the conferences, exhibitions and stunts which are so popular with Ministers of every political complexion, what you are left with for funding the service is much more steeply reduced.