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Renters’ Reform Bill gets sign off from MPs – but indefinite delay to no-fault evictions ban remains | Politics News

MPs have voted in favour of the government’s Renters’ Reform Bill – despite it including an indefinite delay to the end of no-fault evictions.

A debate on the legislation ran throughout Wednesday afternoon, including around a new clause from the government which would hold off outlawing Section 21s until a review of the courts system had taken place.

But despite outrage from charities, campaigners and opposition parties around the measure, it got the backing of the majority of MPs – and the bill passed its final stage in the Commons shortly after 6.30pm.

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A Section 21 notice is the legal mechanism allowing landlords to evict tenants without providing a reason, which creates uncertainty for those who rent their homes.

The government first promised to ban the notices five years ago, back when Theresa May was still in Number 10.

But it has faced numerous delays amid threats of rebellion from Tory backbenchers – some of them landlords – who said they feared ending Section 21s would see the courts overwhelmed with more complex eviction cases.

Ministers agreed to amend the bill to ensure no ban was enacted until a probe into the courts had been held.

But the clause offers no timeline – leaving no clear date for when Section 21s will actually be scrapped.

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Speaking during the debate, Levelling Up minister Jacob Young defended the government’s stance, saying to end no-fault evictions straight away would “cause chaos in the sector”, adding: “It is far better for tenants and landlords alike if we make sure this change happens in an orderly way.”

But Labour’s shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook accused the government of lacking the “courage” to protect renters as they had promised.

“Instead of ministers having the courage to face down their unruly backbenchers, this weak and divided Conservative government is appeasing them at the expense of private renters who will see the rights and protections they were promised watered down,” he added.

Charities also condemned the continued delay to ending Section 21s, with Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate saying the government had “led private renters down the garden path and dashed their best chance of a secure home”.

She added: “For every day the government has spent weakening [the bill], at least 500 renters were slapped with a no-fault eviction notice.

“With the spectre of homelessness never far away, renters will remain powerless to challenge dangerous conditions and unfair rent hikes.”

Officers should be allowed to ban drug and drink-drivers at the roadside, police chiefs say | UK News

Police chiefs are calling for new powers to allow officers to instantly disqualify drink or drug-drivers at the side of the road.

They say the new powers would allow police to take drivers who pose a risk to others off the road “immediately”.

Currently, drivers charged with drug or drink-driving offences are banned following a sentencing hearing at a magistrates’ court.

But these hearings can take weeks to get to the court, and, until then, drivers are allowed to get back behind the wheel.

Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for roads policing, said: “The ability for us to be able to disqualify people either for drink or drug-driving by the roadside would mean that we can immediately take that risk off the road.

“And those people can’t be behind the wheel, particularly if they’ve blown well over the legal limit.”

Chief Constable of Sussex Police Jo Shiner at Sussex Police Headquarters in Lewes, East Sussex. Pic: PA
Chief Constable Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for roads policing. Pic: PA

Under the current system, drivers are checked using a road-side test, which, if positive, is followed by a confirmatory test at a police station.

If that second test comes back positive, they are charged and sent to court.

Force chiefs are currently in early discussions looking at the type of tests that could be used to allow officers to ban people at the roadside.

They are also looking at the legal changes needed to make the move possible.

As well as roadside bans, the NPCC also want tougher punishments for drivers who kill while under the influence, including potential murder charges.

Ms Shiner said: “We should have greater sentencing and far greater sentences, particularly for those people who do kill or seriously injure people on the roads.

“I actually do believe that if someone makes that decision to get behind the wheel, under the influence of drink or drugs, that is a conscious decision they have made to get into a vehicle and therefore to put other people at risk.

“I think we really do need to work hard on making sure that we’re strengthening the sentencing and making sure that we are properly using, where we can, sentencing that is already available to us.”

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The idea of instant disqualification is supported by Ceinwen Briddon, who campaigned for tougher sentences for fatal drivers after her 21-year-old daughter Miriam was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.

Gareth Entwhistle, then 34, was jailed after admitting causing death by undue care while over the prescribed drink-drive limit in 2015.

He served half of a five-year jail term and was banned from driving for five years.

Ms Briddon’s campaigning spurred on a change in the law where those found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving can face a life sentence.

Ms Briddon said: “I would challenge anybody to say to me, how would they feel if they’d killed a person? How would they feel if they’d ruined a family’s life? Could they live with the thought of people hating them, and could they survive a lengthy period in jail?

“I do feel strongly that the length of sentence should reflect the crime.”

Water bosses to face ban on bonuses – but move ‘too weak and feeble’, say Liberal Democrats | UK News

Bosses of water companies responsible for illegal sewage spills are to face a ban on their bonuses after years of campaigns and public outrage.  

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay announced payouts would be blocked to chiefs who oversee the polluting of rivers, lakes, and seas – starting with bonuses in the financial year starting this April.

It was revealed bosses received more than £26m in bonuses, benefits, and incentives over the last four years.

Analysis by the Labour Party found nine water chief executives were paid £10m in bonuses, £14m in incentives and £603,580 in benefits since 2019.

Senior executives from five of the 11 water companies that deal with sewage took bonuses last year, while the other six, including heads of Yorkshire Water and Thames Water, declined after public anger.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay arrives in Downing Street, London, for an emergency Cobra meeting with ministers, police chiefs and national security officials, amid fears that the conflict between Hamas and Israel could have increased the domestic terror threat in Britain. Picture date: Monday October 30, 2023.
Steve Barclay announced the policy today. Pic: PA

There has been outrage around the illegal activity and calls by Labour and the Liberal Democrats to enforce the policy sooner, as water firms in England plan to hike customers’ bills by an extra £156 a year to invest in Britain’s Victorian infrastructure.

While Mr Barclay said he was “pleased” regular Ofwat was addressing bonuses following water companies’ poor performances, political opponents said the ban was “too weak and feeble”.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson and MP, Tim Farron, said: “Finally ministers have buckled to a campaign led by the Liberal Democrats over two years ago, but even now this attempt to ban bonuses sounds too weak and feeble.”

Mr Farron added the firms got away with “environmental vandalism” and called for the bonuses to be banned “today, regardless of criminal conviction”.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY AUGUST 10 File photo dated 08/10/19 of Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron, near Old Palace Yard outside Parliament, holding a sapling, amongst those placed by protesters, during an Extinction Rebellion (XR) protest in Westminster, London. Water firms have been accused of a "scandalous cover-up" after being unable to show much sewage they are pumping into rivers and seas. Issue date: Thursday August 10, 2023.
Tim Farron said the policy was ‘too weak and feeble’. Pic: PA

Ofwat will consult on details of the proposed ban later this year, including to define the criteria.

This could include successful prosecution for the two most serious categories of pollution – such as causing significant pollution at a bathing site or conservation area, or where a company has been found guilty of serious management failings – according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It could apply to chief executives and all executive board members.

On the proposal, Mr Barclay said: “No one should profit from illegal behaviour and it’s time that water company bosses took responsibility for that.

“In cases where companies have committed criminal breaches there is no justification whatsoever for paying out bonuses. It needs to stop now.”

Labour claimed it was the spearhead for this change, with a statement from shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed MP, saying: “Once again Labour leads, the Conservatives follow.”

He called for the Tories to “back Labour’s plan” to clean up the rivers and prosecute executives responsible for illegal sewage dumping.

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What caused Britain’s sewage crisis?

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Labour said that under its plans, Ofwat could have blocked six out of nine water bosses’ bonuses last year.

Last year, Thames Water – which supplies one in four people in Britain – was fined more than £3m after pleading guilty to illegally discharging waste.

This included “millions of litres” of undiluted sewage near Gatwick Airport in 2017, which turned the water “black” and killed more than 1,000 fish.

XL bully ban comes into force as police chief urges owners to comply with authorities | UK News

It is now a criminal offence to own an XL bully dog in England and Wales without an exemption certificate.

Unregistered pets can be seized and owners fined and prosecuted, with a police chief urging owners of the illegal animals to comply with officers if their dog is taken because their behaviour may influence a court’s decision to have it put down.

Around 40,000 of the large bulldog-type American breed are believed to have been registered before the deadline yesterday, but there may be thousands more without certificates.

National Police Chiefs’ Council dangerous dogs lead, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Mark Hobrough has urged members of the public to report any XL bully owners not following the rules so officers can assess the animals.

Seized dogs will be taken to kennels before a court decides if they should either be destroyed or deemed not a danger to public safety.

ACC Hobrough said: “I would encourage strongly people to be compliant if that were the situation with their own dogs because one of the very tests that is made about a dog or an owner (in court) is that the dog is not aggressive, but also that the owner is fit and responsible and not aggressive also.

“So if either of those things were not complied with, then there would be no option for a court then but to destroy the dog.”

The recent ban may spark higher demand for kennels and cause “logistical challenges” for officers, ACC Hobrough said, with police forces “actively looking to enhance” the numbers they can hold.

There are 137 dog legislation officers across the country, with at least one in every force.

The total number of XL bullies, estimated by animal groups, has ranged between 50,000 and 100,000, the RSPCA has said.

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Figures show between 2001 and 2021 there were three fatal dog attacks a year, compared with 23 over the two-year period after that, with XL bullies said to be behind many of them.

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Are new XL bully rules enough?

The breed was added to the Dangerous Dogs Act on 31 October last year when restrictions came into force dictating the dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled in public.

Breeding, selling or abandoning the dogs also became illegal as of 31 December 2023.

Owners of XL bully dogs in Scotland will also be subject at a later date to the safeguards after the Scottish government replicated legislation in place south of the border.

A decision on whether to add to the list of banned breeds in Northern Ireland would be for locally elected ministers.

People with dangerously out of control dogs can be jailed for up to 14 years and banned from owning animals, and their pets can be put down.

Home Secretary James Cleverly defends delay in plan to toughen up zombie knives ban | Politics News

Home Secretary James Cleverly has defended the government’s delay in announcing legislation to toughen up a ban on zombie knives.

The government is introducing new legislation on Thursday to “close the loophole” on the weapons, which were first banned in 2016.

However, it is still common for them to appear in knife crime cases, with actor Idris Elba one of the latest to lend his voice to the campaign to get them banned further.

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Ministers are aiming to make it harder for the weapons to be sold legally, aiming for it to be against the law to possess, sell, manufacture or transport the blades.

Zombie knives are defined in law as blades with a cutting edge, a serrated edge and “images or words that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence”.

The government announced five months ago that they planned to introduce tougher regulations.

Asked why it had taken so long, Mr Cleverly said: “We have already taken action to make the carrying of zombie knives illegal.

“When I became home secretary, I made the immediate decision to go further to put forward this secondary legislation to support what we’ve already done to make the possession of zombie knives illegal and to close that loophole.

“So I’m very pleased we’re taking action now, and we’ll be determined to get these knives off the streets.”

A surrender scheme will be introduced ahead of the new regulations coming into force in September.

The government also wants tougher penalties for those who possess the knives – increasing the maximum sentence from six months to two years.

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zombie knives
The government wants to close loopholes on zombie knives. Pic: PA

Labour promises ‘no more weak warnings’

As Mr Cleverly made the announcement, the Labour Party said it would launch a £100m plan to tackle knife crime if it were to enter government.

The party also promised “real consequences” for knife crime – and an end to the “empty warnings and apology letters” for those guilty of knife possession

“Too many young people are being drawn into squandering their life chances by getting involved in crime. A government that I lead won’t think we can press release away soaring youth crime,” Sir Keir Starmer said.

Reacting to the announcement from Mr Cleverly, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added: “Six Tory home secretaries have promised these changes, and still they don’t go anywhere near far enough and don’t match Labour’s plans for a comprehensive ban.

“Dangerous weapons like ninja swords, which have been used to kill teenagers, will still be available on Britain’s streets.

“Still, law-breaking online platforms who profit from these illegal sales are being let off with a slap on the wrist instead of facing criminal sanctions. Labour would close these glaring loopholes in the government’s plans.”

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‘Not a black issue, not a London issue’

Home Office minister Chris Philp branded the Labour plans as “just another reheated pledge from the Labour Party using money they have already spent seven times”.

He added: “They cannot say what their plan actually is. Because just like their reckless £28 billion-a-year spending spree they don’t have a plan – meaning higher taxes for the British people.”

Scots warned not to buy XL bully dogs as ban announcement in Scotland edges closer | UK News

Scots are being warned not to buy XL bully dogs as a ban north of the border edges closer to being announced.

New regulations have come into force in England and Wales following a spate of attacks in which people have died or been injured by the breed.

It will be illegal to own this type of dog south of the border from 1 February without an exemption certificate.

At Holyrood on Tuesday, community safety minister Siobhian Brown told MSPs the government was “urgently reviewing” the policy following reports of widespread rehoming of the dogs from England to Scotland.

“It would be preferable not to acquire any such dog at the present time in Scotland,” she warned.

Ms Brown said officials are considering evidence on the situation, and she had met many different groups including the Scottish SPCA and the Dog’s Trust.

She said no breed had been banned for 30 years and it was important to listen to expert views.

Ms Brown said: “The unintended consequences of the UK government’s policy is that we’re now seeing an influx of XL bully dogs coming to Scotland.

“It is important to ensure Scotland does not become a safe haven or a dumping ground for the XL bully dogs from England and Wales.”

Sammy Wilkinson, 29, told Sky News how he had transported around 12 XL bully dogs from England to Scotland ahead of the ban coming into force.

He said “no dog is ever born bad” and believes a blanket ban is the wrong approach.

Pic: Sammy Wilkinson
Sammy Wilkinson has rehomed around 12 XL bully dogs in Scotland. Pic: Sammy Wilkinson

The Scottish SPCA agrees and believes both the UK and Scottish governments should instead target irresponsible ownership and low-welfare breeding practices.

The animal welfare charity told Sky News it had not seen an increase in the number of XL bully dogs being brought to its centres since the restrictions started.

Read more:
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How experts predict ban will change things

What are the rules in England and Wales?

XL bullies were added to the Dangerous Dogs Act on 31 October 2023, giving owners two months to prepare for the restrictions.

The dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled when out in public.

Selling, breeding, abandoning or giving them away is also now illegal.

People have until 31 January to apply for an exemption certificate to keep their dog – and must have it neutered, microchipped and insured.

Owners in England and Wales who fail to obtain an exemption by then will have to euthanise their dog or face a possible criminal record and fine.

‘Place the blame on the breeder and owner, not the dog’

Responding to Ms Brown at Holyrood, Conservative MSP Jamie Greene stated: “The unintended consequences we’re seeing are not a result of UK legislation, but as a result of this Scottish government failing to take action.”

He highlighted a Facebook group with 20,000 members that has been discussing rehoming XL bullies in Scotland.

Mr Greene was dismissive of the government’s review, saying it had been going on for months.

He also referred to a report that an XL bully had been cruelly beaten to death after an unsuccessful attempt to sell it in Scotland.

He said: “I would not want to be the minister in charge of any policy who dithered and delayed a day longer than is necessary on this issue and another tragedy occurs.”

However, SNP backbencher Christine Grahame urged the government to take a different approach, saying the regulations are “hasty and simplistic”.

She suggested amending the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act, explaining: “It places blame and responsibility where it lies – on the breeder and the owner, not the dog.”

Bradley Lowery: Dale Houghton given suspended sentence and football ban for mocking death of child mascot at match | UK News

A man has been given a suspended sentence and a five-year football ban after mocking the death of child mascot Bradley Lowery at a football match.

Dale Houghton, from Rotherham, pleaded guilty to a public order offence at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court in October and received a 12 week sentence suspended for 18 months.

He is also required to carry out 200 hours of unpaid voluntary work in the community.

Bradley was diagnosed with rare cancer neuroblastoma when he was just 18 months old and died aged six in 2017.

Bradley Lowery, aged five
Bradley Lowery in 2016

Houghton was seen holding up a picture of Bradley and laughing in the stands at Sheffield Wednesday’s match against Sunderland at Hillsborough Stadium on Friday 29 September.

An image of the incident was met with outrage on social media and sparked an apology from Sheffield Wednesday.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge called the actions of Houghton, 32, “appalling and disgraceful” and said that he “inflicted trauma on an already bereaved family”.

District Judge Marcus Waite said to Houghton: “You showed callous disrespect to a brave young man who was rightly held in the highest esteem by football fans everywhere.”

Bradley Lowery, aged five, who is terminally ill with cancer, meets Sunderland's Jermain Defoe. Pic: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Archive
Lowery with Jermain Defoe in 2016

He was a mascot for both Sunderland and England, and formed a close bond with his beloved team’s striker Jermain Defoe, who called Bradley his “best mate”.

At the time, Defoe said he was “appalled and saddened” by Houghton’s actions.

He added: “My thoughts at this time go out to Gemma and Carl, Bradley’s parents, who shouldn’t have to deal with incidents like this, but rather be praised for the amazing work they are doing with the Bradley Lowery Foundation in their son’s memory.”

Bradley’s mother previously told the court that she saw the picture on Facebook.

Mrs Lowery said it “wasn’t just disrespectful to Bradley, but also to other people as well”, and it risked causing “so much emotional trauma to other children with cancer”.

Following the incident, more than £11,000 was raised for The Bradley Lowery Foundation.

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Wales follows Scotland and England to ban single-use plastics | UK News

Single-use plastics have been banned in Wales from today.

Plastic plates, cutlery and drink stirrers which can only be used once will be included as part of the ban.

The Welsh government says the move would further “embed [its] response to the climate and nature emergency in everything [it does]”.

Other items covered by the ban include cups and takeaway food containers made of expanded or foamed extruded polystyrene, single-use plastic balloon sticks and cotton bud stems.

Single-use plastic drinking straws have also been banned, with exemptions in place for those who need them to drink safely and independently.

The government in Cardiff added this would be the first step as it looks to completely phase out single-use plastic items.

That next phase will see a ban on single-use plastic carrier bags and polystyrene lids for cups and food containers.

Government ministers say that ban will come into force before the end of the current Senedd term in 2026.

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Scotland was the first UK nation to introduce a similar ban on single-use plastics in June last year.

England followed suit on 1 October, with the UK government’s environment secretary saying it would “protect the environment for future generations”.

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Plaid Cymru’s climate change spokesperson Delyth Jewell has welcomed the ban but says more needs to be done.

“We need to go even further and faster to rid ourselves of the plastic plague that pollutes our countryside, our seas and beaches,” she said.

The Welsh government is currently consulting on banning wet wipes containing plastic.

Climate change minister Julie James said if people reused, recycled and repaired more, it would “help create a greener future for generations to come”.

Onshore wind farms ban to be eased following backbench Tory pressure | Climate News

The government is expected to relax an effective ban on new onshore wind farm projects amid pressure from Conservative rebels.

The changes will likely mean new rules for winning planning permission, so instead of requiring complete agreement, projects will instead only have to demonstrate local support.

Sir Alok Sharma, president of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in 2021, has led Tory backbench pressure over the issue.

He said he wanted a change to the current rules that allow a single objection to block a new onshore development.

It is understood the changes will be set out in a written ministerial statement today, agreed during passage of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, that will come into force with immediate effect.

A government source said: “We are very clear that onshore wind developments should have the consent of, and benefit, local communities.

“However, we want to see the sector thrive and believe that this is an important step forward.”

Sir Alok said MPs who have signed his amendment to the Energy Bill want to see a “much more permissive planning regime” on onshore wind.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to see the lifting of the current planning restriction, which means that a single objection to an onshore wind development can block it.

“And of course, allied with this, we want to ensure that local communities who are willing to take onshore wind developments will receive direct community benefits.”

Water company boss blames people working from home for hosepipe ban | UK News

A water company boss has blamed people working from home for a new hosepipe ban. 

South East Water will impose the first hosepipe ban of the summer from Monday, affecting more than two million homes and businesses across Kent and Sussex.

Its chief executive, David Hinton, said in a letter to customers that post-pandemic working from home was a “key factor” behind the ban, as it has “increased drinking water demand”.

File photo dated 23/08/22 of a woman watering her front garden, as a hosepipe ban is set to come in across Kent and Sussex due to a record demand for drinking water, South East Water bosses said.
A woman watering her front garden, as a hosepipe ban is set to come in across Kent and Sussex

He wrote: “Over the past three years the way in which drinking water is being used across the southeast has changed considerably.

“The rise of working from home has increased drinking water demand in commuter towns by around 20% over a very short period, testing our existing infrastructure.”

Mr Hinton also blamed low rainfall since April for leaving water butts empty, as well as pointing to a recent spell of hot weather which he claims led to a spike in demand for drinking water.

“Our reservoir and aquifer stocks of raw water, essential to our water supply but not ready to be used, are in a good position. However, demand for treated mains water, which takes time to process and deliver, was greater than we could meet,” he said.

“Over the past week we have needed to find water to supply the equivalent of an additional four towns the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne every day.”

Greg Clark, the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, told The Times: “Their only job is to deliver drinking water.

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“But in my constituency, they have run out of water twice in six months – once just before Christmas when we had a cold snap, and now after a small and unexceptional heatwave.

“What they’re describing in terms of people working for home is by no means specific to this area.

“There has been for some time a tendency for people to work more from home. A water company should be able to predict and accommodate for this.”

A spokeswoman for the water regulator Ofwat told The Times: “South East Water must do better to predict and manage operational issues, help customers, and engage with them on what is happening and why.

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“Customers will be asking why, for the second time in six months, their water company is being caught out by the weather.”

South East Water’s Head of Service Management, Steve Andrews, defended the ban, saying it was “introduced to ensure that we can deliver drinking water to all our customers consistently”.

He added: “We want to thank our customers for being mindful of their water use and remind them to continue to use water wisely over the coming weekend.”