The Government’s flagship bill on housing, which includes its controversial plans on Right to Buy, is suffering a rocky ride in the House of Lords. With four separate defeats inflicted so far and several opposition amendments to the bill attached, the key question is what the final bill will look like when it emerges from the Lords in the coming weeks.
So far the Government’s defeats on the Housing and Planning Bill have been significant. Last Wednesday, plans for the proceeds from the enforced sales of council houses to be available to the Treasury were rejected by Lords and last Tuesday two amendments to the Government bill were passed – including one backed by Labour.
The defeats and amendments mean that the Government will also have to consider proposals for a like-to-like replacement of council homes forcibly sold. In addition, there have been changes to the flagship starter homes policy: the life time of the discount has been extended to prevent wealthier buyers ‘cashing in’ and more control over how many starter homes can be built has been passed to local authorities.
The debate around the Housing and Planning Bill also speaks more widely to the roll of the House of Lords and a unique circumstance for the Conservatives in Government: not controlling it. This Parliament is in fact the first time that the Conservatives have held a majority in the Commons without a corresponding majority in the Lords.
The reforms that Tony Blair ushered in in his first term now mean that the Conservatives must learn the art of compromise and negotiation with the Upper House, the role of which is ostensibly to subject legislation to scrutiny and send it back when it is deemed in need of revision.
These issues are brought into sharper focus when it comes to controversial topics like the Housing and Planning Bill. The problem for the Government is that having included many of their manifesto promises and budget announcements within it they simply can’t allow it to fail.
This means that the final format of the bill remains to be decided. It will – ultimately – pass, but the nature of that passing will significantly impact the content. The Government, much to its annoyance, will have no choice but to compromise.
Those in the planning sector have to be ready to dissect the bill in its final form. Arguing the merits, pitfalls and follies of the policy espoused by the Government over the past year is unnecessary. As some commentators have also noted the timing of the bill means it will enter ping pong (where the Commons will consider and approve amendments made in the Lords) when many Conservative MPs are away canvassing for local elections – leaving the path open for the bill to emerge with important differences to the bill that was promised. Understanding what these are and what they mean will be key moving forwards.