Chris Stands Up For Providers On Short Lets & Holiday Accommodation
I do not oppose the right of Ms Buck to introduce a Bill because I would defend that right to the utmost, but I wish to show solidarity with the people who are the targets of her Bill—those small businesses that engage in providing much needed holiday and short-term let accommodation. Conservative Members certainly do not intend to allow those businesses to be regulated in the way that she suggests.
Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor spoke eloquently in the spring statement about the importance of deregulation and the reduction of burdens on small businesses. The hon. Lady’s proposals call for yet more regulation and interference in a whole sector of small businesses that provide short and holiday let accommodation. The deregulated sector, as she was prepared to admit, responded flexibly and imaginatively to the covid-19 crisis, and that was because it was deregulated—it was free and flexible to do what was needed in the circumstances. Under the regulation she would like, that would not have been possible. When people were deprived of the opportunity of taking holidays abroad, the supply of accommodation in constituencies such as mine would not have expanded in the way that it did to meet the demand.
Small landlords are already fearful that the Government are intent on creating a national register of landlords, going back on previous assurances given to the House by a series of Housing Ministers—most recently the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mrs Wheeler when she was a Housing Minister. She and other Ministers before her said that a national register of accommodation would be an unnecessary and costly additional layer of bureaucracy that would do nothing to improve the quality or quantity of such accommodation.
The hon. Member for Westminster North referred to what has been happening in the residential lettings market. It is quite clear that because of fears that the Government are going to introduce more controls in the residential lettings market, a lot of people have moved away from residential shorthold leases. They are fearful that the Government will effectively give retrospective security of tenure to people who entered into agreements to occupy that accommodation on the basis that the landlord could recover possession under section 21.
What are the unintended consequences of what the Government are already threatening to do? They are that the people who are adversely affected by that potential regulation are themselves switching to providing alternative accommodation. Instead of having an additional supply of rented accommodation available for those who want to use it, we are now finding that much more of the supply of rented accommodation is going towards holiday and short-term lets. That is a direct consequence, in my submission, of the senseless regulation that was brought in by the Government and of the threat of further regulation.
It is a principle that bad regulation begets the need for further regulation to deal with the situation that arose because of unintended consequences and good will. The hon. Lady and I served as officers on the all-party parliamentary group for the private rented sector. There is much we share in common about the need to deal with rogue landlords and so on, but I think we disagree about the best means of achieving that. How ironic, therefore, that her proposals suggest that local authorities should be given an additional burden and responsibility, when they cannot even cope with the existing burdens and responsibilities that this House, in much legislation, has placed on them.
We already have a scandal not just in the private rented sector but in the social rented sector. Council houses owned by local authorities have been let to people who then sub-let them with impunity, thereby effectively taking them out of the social housing market. We also have a situation—it certainly extends to my constituency—where there are no council-owned properties but there are housing association-owned properties and the condition of quite a lot of those properties is a disgrace. The local authority does nothing to enforce against that. Local authorities cannot even cope with the current burden of regulation. The hon. Lady says there is an issue about enforcement. There will certainly be even more of an issue about enforcement.
In the end, the hon. Lady’s Bill will be an attack on good, responsible citizens and small businesses who are trying to help meet a need by providing the short let and holiday accommodation she describes. I am glad she praised Airbnb, because so many of our constituents benefit from going to Airbnb properties, both in this country and abroad. Those properties are now introducing more competition into this important sector. I do not wish to divide the House, as that would be a pointless exercise. We have finished all Friday business for this Session, but the hon. Lady will be able to bring in her Bill in the next Session. If she does, I look forward to opposing it vehemently.
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