Week in Westminster
Published: 8 September 2017 | Author: Michelle Vosper
It has been a busy first week back in Parliament following summer recess, with Brexit once again dominating the political agenda, from key pieces of legislation to leaked government position papers.
In the House of Commons, Brexit Secretary David Davis began proceedings on Tuesday by providing MPs with an update on the July and August rounds of UK/EU negotiations. Davis outlined that progress had been made on a number of key issues, although conceded that the two sides remained a significant distance apart on the “divorce bill” settlement. He added that the UK was ready to "intensify" talks, rather than stick to its one-week-a-month schedule. However, he faced criticism from Labour that the slow progress was "becoming a real cause for concern" which could lead to crucial talks on future trade being pushed back.
The Second Reading stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill , also known as the Repeal Bill, began on Thursday, with a vote for MPs scheduled to take place on Monday. David Davis invited MPs from across the House to work with him to deliver the legislation that ensures the UK’s statute book will be fully prepared for exit day. He said in bringing forward the Bill, the Government was ensuring the smoothest possible exit from the EU. However, he was accused by Labour of a “great power grab” that would allow Conservative ministers to “set vital terms on a whim, including of Britain’s exit payment, without democratic scrutiny”.
In PMQs, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn led on the issue of the public sector pay cap, and urged the Government to abandon it for the good of the country. The Prime Minister responded by saying what was good for the country was economic growth, and the cap could only be raised if the country could afford it. The PM was also quizzed on a leaked Brexit position paper on immigration, which outlined how EU citizens could be treated at UK borders.
In the House of Lords, the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill continued its passage, with its second day of Committee Stage. The proceedings focused on the Financial Guidance element of the Bill, with peers discussing subjects including pensions guidance, banning unsolicited communications and improving the ability of individuals to plan for sudden income variations. A third day of committee stage is scheduled for Monday 11 September, with attention likely to turn to the second part of the Bill.
In Westminster Hall, there were two relevant debates on new housing design (secured by Neil Parish MP) and on a proposed ban on letting agent fees to tenants (secured by Kevin Hollinrake MP).
Looking ahead to next week, Brexit is again likely to dominate, with the Repeal Bill facing a vital vote on Monday in the Commons. The Chancellor Philip Hammond is also due in front of the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, with Brexit likely to be focused on by members.
According to a report in the The Sun Chancellor Philip Hammond has asked for written submissions from MPs on measures to benefit house-buyers, students and the unemployed in a bid to address “inter-generational unfairness” through a series of new policy initiatives to be announced this year. The Chancellor will speak at UK Finance’s annual dinner next week.
In a written statement the Chancellor confirmed an increase in the size of the Asset Purchase Facility to £115 billion to ensure the Term Funding Scheme can continue to lend to banks and building societies at rates close to Bank Rate, ensuring that this low rate is passed through to households and businesses.
During the second committee sitting of the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill Baroness Greengross tabled an amendment requiring the new advice body to include guidance on housing wealth as part of its pensions guidance function. Responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Young of Cookham said the Money Advice Service and The Pension Advisory Service already provide this service, and the new body will continue to do so but in a more joined-up way for customers.
Conservative MP Neil Parish introduced a Westminster Hall debate on new housing design. Mr Parish argued that the majority of new homes should be built in a high-quality traditional design so that they are popular with the public. He also called for the creation of a new home ombudsman to give new home buyers redress for disputes with house builders or warranty providers. Responding Housing Minister Alok Sharma emphasised the importance of ensuring new homes were of good quality and well designed. He confirmed discussions on issues of consumer satisfaction with the home building industry, and noted an independent report commissioned by the Home Builders Federation on consumer redress, expected in the next few weeks.
Responding to a Westminster Hall debate on letting agent fees, Alok Sharma confirmed that the outcome of the Government’s consultation on the subject would be published shortly. The Minister did not accept concerns that rent levels would necessarily rise as a result of the ban, but promised to keep the impact on rents under review. And he suggested that there is further scope for regulation of the private rented sector, but noted that no consensus had yet emerged about how this should be done.
Conservative MP Christopher Chope presented a bill which makes provision for the reduction of stamp duty rates on residential property. Second Reading has been scheduled for 20 October.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has published his first draft Housing Strategy for London. Among the proposals are plans to develop a new “London Model” to ensure a better deal for private rents. The Mayor will also invest £3.15bn to build more genuinely affordable homes available at around social rent levels for Londoners with the lowest wages, London Living Rent levels to enable middle income earners to save to buy a home of their own, and Shared Ownership schemes for people struggling to afford properties on the open market. The consultation on the draft strategy ends on 7th December 2017.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon presented her Government’s priorities for the coming year. The Scottish Government will invest £3 billion towards meeting their target of 50,000 affordable homes by the end of the Parliament. They will bring forward a bill to enable the retrospective payment of the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax Additional Dwelling Supplement to home buyers. There are also plans to reform the planning process.
The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee is calling for written views as part of its scrutiny of the Housing Amendment (Scotland) Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce measures to reduce the Scottish Housing Regulator’s powers of regulation over registered social landlords (RSL) so RSLs can be reclassified as private sector bodies. The closing date for submissions is 26 October 2017.