Government To Push Ahead With Rental Reforms Despite Backlash From Tory MPs
The Renters' Reform Bill passed its second reading without a single vote on Monday, despite mounting opposition from Conservative MPs against the reforms and Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove.
The Bill, which was given its first reading in May 2023, has pledged to overhaul England's private rented sector.
Its most controversial measure is a proposal to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which would prevent any landlord from evicting a tenant for no reason.
However, this part of the Bill is likely to be delayed due to resistance from dozens of Conservative MPs. The Government also confirmed it will not ban no-fault evictions until sufficient progress has been made to improve the justice system and state of the courts, which are currently subject to significant backlogs.
The first reading of Renters’ (Reform) Bill was laid out in Parliament on 17th May. It received its second reading on Monday after an unusually long delay. The Telegraph reported that the Government is pressurising rebels to skip the vote or abstain on today’s vote, which the whips' office denies.
Michael Gove, the Levelling-up Secretary, defended the Government's intention of scrapping Section 21 in the Commons, after he claimed that removing it would mean "unscrupulous landlords" can no longer "use it" as a weapon.
"Conservatives exist to protect the vulnerable in society, to make sure markets work, and to save the taxpayer money," he said.
Angela Rayner, the Shadow Levelling-up Secretary, said claimed after almost "five years of foot dragging" Tory MPs needed to be "appeased" with more delays to the Renters Reform Bill.
She said renters were at the "sharp edge" of the current housing crisis, and they needed more protections.
Marcus Fysh, Conservative MP for Yeovil, criticised the Renters Reform Bill as a "disastrous" piece of legislation for any renter who wanted a "well supplied housing market".
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbbyn, now independent MP for Islington North, called for rent controls to prevent people being forced out of their homes.
Over the last few months there has been mounting pressure from Tory MPs to drop or amend the Bill. Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, and a leading rebel against the Renters’ Reform Bill, told PoliticsHome he was "pretty much [in] despair” and believed the proposed legislation was “essentially a socialist measure”.
He has accepted the Bill is likely to pass through Parliament even if rebels continue to abstain or vote against it, as it has garnered support from Government ministers and opposition parties.
“This is a leftover from the manifesto. And I think it’s an embarrassment to a lot of people in the Government,” he said.
There is growing discontent among those opposed to the Bill around Gove in particular, who they believe has pushed through the reforms regardless of their opposition. Some are hoping that he is moved from the housing brief when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to reshuffle the Cabinet later this autumn, and that his successor would be more malleable on rental reform.
“I think a lot may depend on the outcome of the reshuffle," Chope contined. "If there is a new Secretary of State [for Levelling-up], and will that Secretary of State take a different view on the bill? I see that as our best prospect.”
The Conservative backbencher said the only constraint on the Government should be the “increasing realisation” that the policy was “bad for the country, bad for the economy, and bad for Conservatives”.
Opinion polling suggests that the Renters' Reform Bill is supported by the majority of the public. Research from Opinium, which was conducted on behalf of the Renters Reform Coalition, found that more than seven in ten people backed banning no-fault evictions.
One Tory MP told PoliticsHome the growing proximity of a general election may put some Conservative rebels off. They were confident the Government would also like to be seen to be doing something on abolishing Section 21.
A former cabinet minister told PoliticsHome said they were concerned the new provisions would make the rental market smaller, specifically because they believed that removing no-fault evictions would cause landlords to pull out of renting. They said the clause was the main cause of concern for many MPs.
“Labour MPs should be concerned about this too because they have got an interest in making sure that renters have got a reasonable selection of properties available,” they said.
Another former cabinet minister told PoliticsHome they believed there was a danger the Government could "overregulate" the rental sector that led to a shortage of homes to let, but that while a number of MPs felt strongly about the Bill, it was unlikely it would be defeated.
“The Government has to ask itself if its critics are right. But it’s not a good look if too many Tory MPs [rebel],” they said.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said she was pleased the Bill was finally due to receive its second reading, but noted that it had been a long time coming for England's 11 million renters.
“Every day 540 people are slapped with a no-fault eviction notice and given just two months to find a new home. For them, needless delays and hold ups to making renting safer and fairer are unacceptable,” she said.
Neate said a robust Bill has to scope and potential to free people from the constant threat of a no-fault eviction.
“It would reduce homelessness and hold landlords who let out unsafe homes to account. The government can no longer drag their feet, they must pass this Bill urgently,” Neate added.
The Labour Party welcomed the second reading of the Renters Reform Bill. However, Levelling-up Secretary Angela Rayner said "there can be no more dither and delay in ending no fault evictions".
“At the height of a cost-of-living crisis, tenants have been left paying a heavy price for the Government’s inaction with tens of thousands threatened with homelessness and receiving visits from the bailiffs," she said.
“Labour welcomes the long-awaited Second Reading of the Renters Reform Bill, but we will look to strengthen it to ensure it meets the scale of the housing crisis this Conservative government has created."
At Conservative Party Conference earlier this month, Gove said the Bill would receive its second reading in the autumn in response to growing calls for the government bring it forward after an unusually long gap since the first reading.
The Conservative Party originally pledged in its 2019 election-winning manifesto to abolish no-fault evictions and reform the rental sector. It promised a proposed Bill would introduce an industry-wide ombudsman, ending fixed term tenancies and allowing tenants to request pets.
Research from City Hall suggests that in London 290 tenants a week are given Section 21 notices.
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