Fridays in the House of Commons Chamber are rarely edifying experiences, and today a number of MPs and campaigners are very exercised that two backbenchers managed to talk out a private members’ bill which claimed to give tenants better protection against so-called ‘revenge evictions’. These evictions are when a tenant complains about the leaking bath or mouldy wall and finds themselves being turfed out by their landlord.
Sarah Teather had introduced the Tenancies (Reform) Bill to prevent landlords issuing no-fault eviction notices if they had failed to meet safety standards and their tenant had formally complained about them. The government decided to support it and so did Labour, though many MPs were out of the Commons doing their normal Friday constituency work. Christopher Chope and Philip Davies talked the bill out and so there was no vote. It’s not the first time and certainly not the last that backbenchers filibuster a piece of legislation to death because they think it is a badly-designed law.
But what’s interesting is that the government decided to support this Bill at all. For the past year its stance has been that legislation on retaliatory evictions is not the right way to counter them. This followed a recommendation of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that ‘changing the law to limit the issuing of section 21 notices might be counter-productive and stunt the market’. In his response to that Committee report, Eric Pickles said that ‘the government accepts the committee’s recommendation about retaliatory eviction, and agrees that legislation is not the preferred approach’.
So what changed? Well, even though Teather hasn’t got on particularly well with the Lib Dem leadership for a while, they were happy to support the Bill when she introduced it, and party sources say they simply persuaded the Tories to support it, even though they realised that Davies and Chope might play their usual tricks with a piece of legislation they disagreed with. If ministers do still really agree with that CLG Committee assessment from last year, then they may well be quite thankful for the behaviour of two of the Tory party’s naughtiest backbenchers.