Lords Diary: Baroness Grender
My week started with a peppercorn. No, really, stick with me on this one; a debate on a new Conservative bill to ditch ground rents.
Instead of money going from leaseholder to freeholder, the rent should be one peppercorn. Even a small amount of money can increase over a 900-year period – so “peppercorn rent” is written in the legislation. As I cooked dinner later that evening and twisted the pepper mill, it had a whole new significance.
At the heart of the debate is the really serious and shocking issue of leaseholders, 4.5 million in total. What tends to happen is leaseholders in flats and new developments are trapped in contracts where a freeholder, often an offshore investor, charges ground rent and can double it without explanation or notice. It is a system unique in the world and a throwback to a time when super-rich Victorians wanted to hold on to their land. Ground rents should be abolished completely and moved to a commonhold, but the folk that lobby for leaseholders believe this first baby step is necessary before we get on to much greater reforms. One peppercorn at a time? Let’s hope not.
I often I cycle into Parliament, especially since the pandemic started. When I go past the vast new developments in Vauxhall, I always wonder how many of those flats are for people who desperately need them, rather than yet another investment portfolio. On arrival, there’s a sheltered spot to park bikes which always reminds me of that scene in The Sound of Music where the von Trapp family hide in the cloisters.
So many criminal and rogue landlords get away with it – each one creating untold misery for their tenants
I must confess I got the bus this week because of this weather: yes, what about this weather, what the heck? Did no-one read the memo? This is May! My son did his first ever camp out for his Duke of Edinburgh award – there were “character forming” hailstones falling on his tent. It remains on a knife edge as to whether he will grow up loving camping, like his mum, or hating it like his dad.
Mind you, his waterproof hiking trousers came in handy to borrow for an outing to the Chesham and Amersham by-election campaign and saved me from a second soaking this week. It is a weird specialty, pretty niche except in politics, but knocking on doors and talking to people – even the super busy ones – is a cracking way to spend an afternoon for me. It is the opposite of the lowest common denominator of a debate on Twitter. Most people are polite, interested, engaged – add the luscious rain-soaked beauty of somewhere like Gerrards Cross and these chats on doorsteps feed the soul.
I have an oral question down, to which it is just possible I already know the answer. Surely not, I hear you cry. Take a guess at how many rogue landlords have been registered since the government started its database in 2018? Original government estimates put the number of rogue landlords at about 10,500. When the database started they said about 600 banning orders would be made per year. Oh dear! So far just 38 rogue landlords are listed and only seven have received a banning order. So many criminal and rogue landlords get away with it – each one creating untold misery for their tenants.
Finally time to prep to debate the report ‘Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever’ from the Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee – a fantastic committee. Though in the past year, plaintive cries of “Do I press this button?” and “Can anyone hear me?” for a so called “Digital” Committee have humbled us all. We are rightly proud in the UK of the unique ecology of our broadcasters, soft power that takes us around the globe. Watching Channel 4’s Gogglebox families who in turn are watching top BBC dramas like Line of Duty is always a highlight to end the week.
Baroness Grender is a Liberal Democrat peer