The Government has come under fire from Tory MPs over its plans to reform the rental sector, even after ministers indefinitely delayed the promised ban on “no-fault” evictions.
A series of Conservative MPs voiced their opposition to the Renters Reform Bill, saying it would add “to the burden of landlords”.
It comes after Housing Secretary Michael Gove wrote to Tory backbenchers to say the ban on “no-fault” section 21 evictions promised as part of the legislation will not be enacted before a series of improvements are made in the legal system.
In the Commons, Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh told MPs: “Banning no-fault evictions will make the rental market even more stagnant and will lead to a further drying up of it.”
Secretary of State @michaelgove is currently introducing the Second Reading of our Renters Reform Bill in Parliament. The Bill will deliver a fairer deal for tenants and landlords You can watch the full reading here 👉https://t.co/1H8efjjTwA pic.twitter.com/vrQU2UJxgE
— Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (@luhc) October 23, 2023
He added: “And apart from adding to the burden of landlords, we don’t want a situation that happened in Ireland, where the regulatory burdens on landlords is such that the rental sector has shrunk massively and governments have paid the price in terms of popularity.”
Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) said the Bill would have a “disastrous effect” on areas including his constituency “in reducing the number of rental properties, and therefore increasing the price of rent, and for youngsters this is really serious”.
Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker said the Government seemed “to be tarring every landlord with the same brush” with the Bill.
He added: “This Bill, without pinching the TV headline, is not what it says on the tin. It should be renamed the rogue landlord and nightmare tenants bill, because all it does is force good landlords to take action that they wouldn’t normally take.”
In a letter to Tory MPs, Mr Gove said the Government will “reform the courts before we abolish section 21”.
He said that “implementation of the new system will not take place until we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts”.
In the Commons, the Housing Secretary sought to bat away suggestions from his own benches that the Bill was un-Conservative, telling MPs that section 21 “has been used to silence those who have complained about the quality of their property, to intimidate them into accepting excessive rent rises”.
He added: “It is in nobody’s interest to allow unscrupulous landlords to continue to behave in this way, to allow vulnerable people to be rendered voiceless in this way, and to force the taxpayer to pick up the bill.
“The idea that abolishing section 21 is somehow un-Conservative is to me absolutely nonsensical. Conservatives exist to protect the vulnerable in society, to make sure markets work and to save the taxpayer money.”
Tory backbencher Sir Edward could be heard to shout “it is un-Conservative” as Mr Gove set out his argument.
But other Conservatives supported the Bill, with Dover MP Natalie Elphicke saying it would be a “grave mistake” to abandon the promise to end no fault evictions, as listed in the Tories’ 2019 election manifesto.
Renters can’t afford to wait any longer for the Tories to keep their promises.
No more foot-dragging.
No more grubby deals.
End no fault evictions. pic.twitter.com/zITb7NBmew
— Angela Rayner 🌹 (@AngelaRayner) October 23, 2023
Shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner said the Bill was “better late than never”, following a series of delays to its passage through Parliament.
She said her party would not oppose the Bill at second reading, adding: “Which may be more than can be said from the benches behind (Mr Gove). After nearly five years of foot dragging it appears they need to be appeased with yet more delays. We disagree with that.
“Renters are at the sharp edge of the current housing crisis and urgently need the protections and support in this Bill.”
Conservative MP Nick Fletcher, a landlord for more than 20 years, said he is concerned the Bill may interfere with the market and “could result in fewer properties to rent and sky-high rents”.
He said the Government should be helping landlords and tenants “equally, not one over the other”, adding: “I’m sure the Government’s intentions are honourable but the fact remains that although this Bill may initially look favourable to many, it’s simply not and we should be careful not to follow the socialist paths.
“Many socialist promises look good for politicians, that’s why they win elections, but that failure to understand the market and basic economics is why they always end up bankrupting the country.”
But Conservative MP Angela Richardson (Guildford) said: “We have a mandate from the British people to deliver this Bill and I know passing the Bill into law will be warmly welcomed by renters in the 4.6 million households renting nationwide.”
The Bill received an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage.
Mr Gove told MPs he is “open-minded” about how to amend the Bill in future, earlier saying: “My aim here is to ensure that we get a new deal and a fair deal for both landlords and for tenants.”