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Leadership battles, economy statements and no decision on privatisation of Land Registry

Week in Westminster

Published: 1 July 2016 | Author: Tamsin Askew

A week is a long time in politics. Never has the saying been more apt. In the past seven days the UK has voted to leave the EU, the prime minister has resigned, Labour MPs passed a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, two leadership battles are being fought behind the scenes in Shakespearean proportions, a general election and a Scottish election could be on the cards, the UK was “stripped” of its AAA rating, and the Bank of England governor hinted that interest rates may be cut in the wake of the Brexit vote. Here is a breakdown of political affairs this week.

The conservative party leadership candidates have been confirmed. Theresa May, Michael Gove, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom are all contenders. In the Labour camp, a leadership contest between Jeremy Corbyn and former business secretary Angela Eagle looks increasingly likely to take place. On Tuesday Jeremy Corbyn lost a confidence vote among his MPs by 172 votes to 40.

On Monday, chancellor George Osborne made an early-morning speech designed to calm markets before the commencement of another rough day of trading. Mr Osborne insisted that the UK economy was “fundamentally strong”, and declared that decisions about addressing the impact on the nation’s finances should only be taken in the autumn. And yesterday, governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said the Bank was ready to act as the UK suffers ‘economic post-traumatic stress’. Mr Carney said more monetary easing could be needed and hinted at lower interest rates.

During a cabinet meeting on Monday, it was announced that cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin is to lead a “Brexit Unit” comprising “top civil servants” in preparation for the UK’s exit from the EU.

The government has published guidance on High Speed Rail Bill: register of undertakings and assurances. The register of undertakings and assurances details all commitments offered throughout the parliamentary process for the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill to date.

Unveiling the welsh government’s legislative programme for 2016-17 to AMs, the first minister announced a bill will be introduced to safeguard Wales’ social housing stock by abolishing the Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire. Two Tax Bills will be introduced to establish the two taxes to be devolved to Wales in April 2018; a land transaction tax, which will replace the current stamp duty land tax (SDLT), and a landfill disposals tax for Wales, which will replace the current landfill tax.

The first set of annual receipts for Scotland’s Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) and Scottish Landfill Tax show returns have exceeded projections.

In his first statement to parliament as finance secretary Derek Mackay has told MSPs that a total of £572 million was collected in 2015-16, up around £74 million on initial forecasts. It was also noted that the rate of housebuilding in Scotland exceeds all other areas in the UK. The 15,954 new-build homes that were completed in Scotland in the 12 months to December 2015 equates to a rate of 297 homes built per 100,000 of the population. The rate was 261 in England, 219 in Wales and 287 in Northern Ireland.

The government had not yet taken a decision on privatisation of the Land Registry, MPs heard yesterday. Responding to a debate on privatisation of the Land Registry, life sciences minister George Freeman said the Land Registry underpinned an important role of the state in keeping a safe, reliable and independent register of landownership. He said that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were weighing responses to the consultation before taking the decision over whether or not proceed with the policy.

Speaking for the opposition, shadow small business minister Bill Esterson said, “The Land Registry has existed for 150 years. Currently it does not cost the taxpayer a penny. It makes a significant profit and delivered a surplus in 19 of the past 20 years.” Selling it off would allow for only a one-off reduction of debt and was not an economically coherent approach to government finances, he said.

The shadow minister cited the importance of having a trusted and impartial recorder of land at a time when the UK economy was facing an unprecedented period of uncertainty.

He claimed that private buyers interested in purchasing the Land Registry all had links to offshore tax havens and he claimed that privatisation would deny homeowners, mortgage lenders and buyers an independent national register of title deeds, as well being destabilising.

Bringing the debate, Labour MP David Lammy said over 100 MPs from eight different political parties were opposing the government’s plans to privatise the Land Registry. 

Mr Lammy also urged ministers to use a publically owned Land Registry to help corruption and tax avoidance through the property market.

And finally, some statistics from the government’s Help to Buy schemes. Since the launch of the Help to Buy equity loan, mortgage guarantee and ISA schemes:

  • over 160,000 completions under the schemes have taken place, with 80% having been made by first time buyers
  • average house price being purchased with support from the Help to Buy schemes is £189,795, significantly below the national average
  • 94% of Help to Buy completions have taken place outside London
  • over half of Help to Buy completions have been for new build homes

The Help to Buy schemes continue to benefit first time buyers overwhelmingly, with 129,000 households buying their first home thanks to the scheme. This is 80% of overall Help to Buy buyers.