Clause 20 - Oral hearings

Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:45 am ar 14 Rhagfyr 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

Being mindful of European convention on human rights considerations and the right to a fair trial, it is important that landlords and tenants have the option of a hearing. Any hearing would be in public unless the parties agreed otherwise. An oral hearing would add time and costs to the arbitration process, and the parties would be responsible for meeting those costs. This clause is important, as it gives the parties the right to an oral hearing and establishes the process for doing so.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Labour generally supports these measures, but it would be helpful to understand whether the Minister expects oral hearings to be the exception rather than the rule. As the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators made clear in evidence about the business arbitration scheme, there was an assumption against oral hearings, with a document-only approach, which keeps costs and time low and, as it would say, allows for a more efficient process. Will guidance set out when oral hearings might be necessary or appropriate? We would like to understand more about the cost of oral hearings. Can the Minister say what he might expect the cost of oral hearings to be? Would he explain what action the Government will take to ensure that all hearings are affordable?

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London)

I can reassure the hon. Lady that we would expect oral hearings to be very much the exception, because we want to make sure that we get through the process for landlords and tenants as quickly as possible. Under clause 21, the Secretary of State will provide arbitrators with guidance on the process of the scheme, including in relation to their function and exercise under the Arbitration Act 1996, as modified by the Bill.

There are a number of areas, such as what evidence the parties should provide when attending any oral hearings, where there is a risk of being too prescriptive, as what is relevant may differ between cases. Guidance would therefore be more helpful than strict rules. However, the ability to go for an oral hearing will very much depend on the arbitrator’s skills and experience, and will take into consideration the landlord and the tenant—as I said, they do have a right to a fair trial. The costs would depend on the complexities of the case.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.