[Recording of the Welsh Assembly proceedings here]

Mark Isherwood brought up our campaign just 2 days after our first report went out! We are grateful both to his speedy reading and speech-writing. We got lots of positive responses back from AMs of all parties, which is wonderful, but only Mark spoke up for our group initially.

Unfortunately the Minister for Housing has still not said he would consult with us or read any of our evidence. He rejected all of the amendments that were tabled to get better regulation for landlords and a central advice body for tenants.

Record of Proceedings found here:

Mark Isherwood AM (North Wales) (Conservative)

The Bill requires a whole new apparatus for enforcement against those who breach licensing and registration requirements but does almost nothing to address the gap in the use of enforcement powers when tenants are subjected to bad and criminal practices. The Welsh Local Government Association told us that registration will not require inspection of properties and that authorities will not do this unless the tenant complains, as now. However, the Let Down in Wales coalition of private renters states that tenants did not know where to go when they had a problem with their landlord and that they felt threatened and scared of being kicked out of their homes without enough money or security to risk annoying their landlords. Unless we address that deficit, no matter how well meaning the rest of the Bill may be, it will not achieve the goals we all seek to achieve—tackling the bad landlords and incentivising further supply. That is what the real world out there is saying. You can shake your head, Minister. You have not listened to them.

Peter Black AM (South Wales West) (Lib Dem)

Obviously, it is up to the Minister to defend his own scheme, and I am sure that he will do that very robustly. I approached this Bill fairly sceptical about the licensing scheme and registration scheme that is in there but listened to the evidence as it came before the committee, and that evidence was fairly clear that the actual act of being a landlord is quite a difficult and sophisticated job, involving a lot of legislation and knowledge of that legislation, and that the training regime associated with this registration process would be hugely beneficial in improving the standard that landlords applied to that role. There is also, of course, the issue that the Minister has said that this scheme will drive up standards in the private rented sector, which we will obviously come to later in terms of some amendments.

However, it certainly seems to me that, if you do not have a registration scheme, you cannot get that training in place and you cannot drive up those standards.

It seemed to me from listening to Mark Isherwood just now that there was a fundamental logical flaw in what he was saying about his alternative to this registration scheme. Mark was arguing that we should be focusing the registration effort on the rogue landlords. It seems to me that, if all landlords are required to register, you have a better chance of identifying those rogue landlords than if you try to find the needle in the haystack, if you like, of just those landlords who are rogue. How do you distinguish between them if you do not have a fit-and-proper-person test, if you do not have the requirements in this registration scheme, and if you do not have the training in which to evaluate their knowledge and ability to manage their property? Of course, the good landlords will register anyway, because they are good landlords, which leaves you with just having to root out the bad landlords and you will know that they are bad landlords because they have not registered. I think that that in itself is an argument in favour of this scheme. For that reason, Presiding Officer, we will be supporting this scheme and opposing the amendments before us today.

It seems to me that you need to have a registration and licensing scheme in place if you are to find the rogue landlords and, without that registration and licensing scheme, the rogue landlords will just slip through your fingers like so much water and you will not be able to find the vast majority of them, as you have not been able to do at the moment. It is better to find some than to find none at all.

Minister for Housing and Regeneration (Carl Sargeant)

By tabling the amendments in this group, Mark Isherwood is seeking to remove the requirement for landlords to register themselves and their properties with the licensing authority. In addition, he proposes to completely remove all licensing obligations on landlords too. One could say that this is risible; it would render Part 1 completely useless. However, we should not be surprised about that. The fact of the matter is that the Conservative group has opposed the principle of this part of the Bill from the very beginning. They are consistent, at least.

Without registration, there is absolutely no way that we could find the bad landlords that Mark Isherwood talks about. I asked the National Association of Landlords this very question: if we do not pursue this Bill, how are we and how are you going to identify the bad landlords? I am still waiting for a response.

Presiding Officer, Mark Isherwood clearly drifted through Stage 2, because we have had the debate about the pros and cons of this, and Mark is completely opposed to it. He accused me of not listening to the sector; he never once mentioned the NUS, never once mentioned Shelter’s evidence, and never once mentioned the tenants who are under the cosh because of bad landlords across Wales. Presiding Officer, we will not be supporting these amendments. We are keen to promote this part of the Bill. I am very grateful for the comments of Peter Black and Jocelyn Davies, who have listened and supported me throughout the Bill process. This is about making a better deal for tenants in the private landlord sector and we will not be supporting Mark Isherwood’s amendments today.

Mark Isherwood AM (North Wales) (Conservative)

Thank you very much indeed. ‘Never once’—I did actually mention a tenants’ coalition in my presentation. The concern is for the tenants and that the great gap in the proposals of this Bill is that you will create a huge and costly apparatus that will penalise landlords who do not register, are not properly licensed, or do not maintain their registration and licences, but do precious little to actually drive enforcement using the powers that exist. You do not change those powers; they remain the same: the housing health and safety rating system and selective licensing, which is not being removed or improved, despite the recommendations of the committee that looked at this in Westminster under a Labour Chair.

Peter Black referred to putting a training scheme in place. Well, there was a training scheme for the mortgage code that was made statutory by the Tony Blair Government. All of the bad lenders, bad mortgage brokers and intermediaries who were advising on mortgages were not only fully trained and had passed exams and qualified, but undertaking continuing professional development. Without enforcement, it did not stop the credit crunch and it did not stop the economic meltdown that affected so many people.

The logical flaw in the alternative that Peter refers to is, in reality, that this will not achieve what it seeks; it will have the opposite impact. Unless we improve the supply of decent homes, work with good landlords and with landlords who can improve to do that and target, disincentivise and penalise those who fail to do so, we will not drive up the 47% of private rented sector tenants who are already housing benefit recipients; we will drive down people who are dependent on benefits, who need extra support, who are homeless, or who are on waiting lists. We need better selective licensing, social letting agencies or private rented sector access agencies and accreditation with incentives to ensure that all sides benefit—the housing associations, the local authorities and the private landlords—from taking part in such schemes. That is what the committee originally recommended three years ago. It is a shame that the other members of that committee have so quickly forgotten that.

Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler)

If amendment 308 is agreed, amendments 58, 368, 369, 59 and 60 will fall. The question is that amendment 308 be agreed to. Does any Member object? There is objection. We will move to an electronic vote.

Amendment 308 not agreed: For 10, Against 36, Abstain 0.

Amendment 58 agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.


And 3 hours later…

Mark Isherwood AM (North Wales) (Conservative)

Only yesterday, Welsh Conservative Members, and maybe Members of other groups as well, received an e-mail from the coalition that I referred to: the Let Down in Wales coalition of private renters. They said, as I said earlier, that tenants did not know where to go when they had a problem with their landlord. They felt threatened and scared of being kicked out of their homes, without enough money or security to risk annoying their landlord. That should never be the situation, and that is precisely what this amendment seeks to address. I had therefore hoped that it could draw support accordingly. I cannot see any grounds, frankly, for not agreeing, either on principle or on deliverability, by any Member in the Chamber.

Presiding Officer (Rosemary Butler)

The question is that amendment 346 be agreed to. Does any Member object? There is an objection, so we will have an electronic vote.

Amendment 346 not agreed: For 22, Against 24, Abstain 0.