Localism Bill report stage: day four

15 September 2011

The report stage of the Localism Bill – further consideration of all the amendments – continued in the House of Lords on Wednesday 14 September. Amendments concerning the standards of conduct of members of local and community authorities were examined.

Report stage – further line by line examination of the Bill - is scheduled for 10 October.

Day three

The House of Lords voted against an amendment concerning the powers of the Secretary of State for local government to limit the powers the Bill devolves to local authorities on Monday 12 September.

Amendment 109B sought to remove subsections (3) and (4) of the Bill, which gives power to the Secretary of State make orders preventing the use of or setting conditions on powers given to local authorities in Part 1 of the Bill. Moving the amendment, Lord Beecham explained that his amendment involved the ‘deletion of the power of the Secretary of State in effect to nullify the power of competence which the Bill purports to represent. This is really quite an exceptional provision and is not at all acceptable. The Secretary of State takes upon himself, having conferred or purported to confer this very broad power, the right to, "by order make provision preventing local authorities from doing, in exercise of the general power, anything which is specified, or is of a description specified, in the order", or, under Clause 5(4), to make that subject to conditions. That is a very far-reaching incursion on the principle that the Bill seeks to advance, and it is simply not acceptable.’

The Minister, Baroness Hanham, said that the powers would ‘provide a necessary and proper safeguard.’

Seeking to test the opinion of the House, Lord Beecham said: ‘The Secretary of State is clearly not prepared to trust local government with the powers that he is conferring on local government. He retains significant power to override the exercise of the general power which he has purported to confer or to impose conditions, admittedly subject to a parliamentary procedure. The whole case is redolent of the Government simply not being prepared to trust their partner in local government.’

The motion was defeated by 220 votes to 137.

Amendments discussed also covered clauses 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, 184, 189, 210, and schedules 2, 3, 21 and 22 of the Bill. 

Day two

Members of the Lords debated amendments to the clauses on social housing, including moving responsibility for all escalated complaints against local authority landlords from the local government ombudsman to the housing ombudsman on Wednesday 7 September.

Amendments discussed covered clauses 155-163, 167 and 171. Report stage continues on Monday 12 September.

Amendment 52A, moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, which sought to give social housing tenants direct access to the housing ombudsman to resolve complaints, was defeated. Under the Bill as drafted, a tenant’s complaints against a social housing landlord could only be taken to the housing ombudsman by, and on the agreement of, an MP, or councillor specific panel of tenants after all ‘in house’ complaints procedures were exhausted. Moving the amendment Baroness Hayter said: ‘Why should we deprive tenants of a right that they have enjoyed-access to free, professional dispute resolution? Why should they be denied such access without the say-so of a councillor? The amendments in this group would allow a complaint to be heard locally by the MP or councillor if the tenant so chooses but would retain the right to go to the ombudsman. Without these amendments tenants will lose that choice and will lose access to justice.’

The House of Lords voted against the amendment by 207 votes to 183 votes.

Amendment 61 moved by government minister, Baroness Hanham, was agreed to without voting. The House of Lords also agreed without voting to amendments 63, 66 and 78, 79 and 80 moved by Earl Atlee.

Day one

Three amendments concerning tenancy strategies for social housing providers were defeated during the first day of report stage on Monday 5 September.

Amendment 1, moved by Lord Whitty, sought to insert a new clause requiring all local housing authorities to draw up an analysis of housing supply and demand in their areas and in neighbouring areas that would form the basis of a 10-year rolling housing strategy. Moving the amendment Lord Whitty said: ‘A low rate of new build is continuing and the level of rents and access to mortgages and deposits on mortgages are all still going up. The latest reports suggest no let-up in that tendency.’ He said ‘social housing measures now clearly devolved to local government level’ needed to be ‘placed within this wider context.’ The amendment was defeated by 197 votes to 164.

Amendment 5, moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark, sought to insert a new clause requiring local authorities to offer advice and assistance to homeless persons and those threatened with homelessness. Moving the amendment Lord Kennedy said it would ‘build protections for vulnerable people, ensuring that they understand their rights and are not missing out on the support that they are entitled to.’ The House of Lords voted against the amendment by 199 votes to 188, a defeat by 11 votes.

The House of Lords also voted against amendment 6, also moved by Lord Kennedy. The amendment sought to make clauses 135 and 136 concerning the powers of local authorities to offer flexible tenancies to new social housing tenants effective for only three years and would require an affirmative order [a vote in favour of the clauses] to come back into effect. The amendment was defeated by 202 votes to 179.

Further information

The Bill, which completed its committee stage in the House of Lords on 20 July, contains provisions for local government and community empowerment, planning, housing and the governance of London.

Key elements of the Bill include provisions:

  • for community empowerment with powers to enable people to instigate local referendums on any issue, to approve or veto in a referendum a council tax increase deemed to be excessive, to express an interest in running local authority services and to provide local community groups with an opportunity to bid to buy assets of community value
  • to abolish regional strategies, provide for neighbourhood plans, make pre-application consultation compulsory, make changes to planning enforcement and in relation to nationally significant infrastructure.

The purpose of the Bill was described in the Commons, where it started its progression through Parliament, as a ‘shake up in the balance of power in this country, revitalising local democracy and putting power back where it belongs, in the hands of the people.’

Report stage gives all Members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments – proposals for change – to a Bill.

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