1. What bills are being carried over?

In the 2022–23 parliamentary session, three government bills were introduced under the remit of levelling up, housing and communities but failed to complete their progress by the end of the session. Carry-over motions for all three bills have been passed, allowing them to continue their progression in the forthcoming parliamentary session.

1.1 Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

In its 2019 general election manifesto the government pledged to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries”.[1] In a statement published alongside the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, the government said that it would “examine the appropriate mix of legislative and other measures to give effect to this policy over the coming parliament”.[2]

In both the 2021 and 2022 Queen’s Speeches, the government recommitted to introducing legislation on this manifesto pledge.[3]

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the government on 19 June 2023. Using very similar wording to its manifesto commitment, the government stated that the aim of the bill was to prevent public bodies, such as councils, from “imposing their own boycott or divestment campaigns against foreign countries and territories”.[4] In particular, the government expressed concern that campaigns by local authorities and universities on investment decisions against certain countries had “lead to community tensions, and, in the case of Israel, a rise in antisemitism”.

The bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on 3 July 2023.[5] On the same day, the House of Commons agreed a carry-over motion for the bill.[6]

During second reading, the Labour Party moved an amendment calling on the House of Commons to decline to give the bill a second reading. Discussing the amendment, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government, Lisa Nandy, argued that the bill was “incompatible with international law and the due diligence of public bodies”.[7] Members of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party also spoke in favour of the amendment. Following debate, the amendment was subsequently defeated by 272 votes to 212.[8] The bill passed its second reading on division by 268 votes to 70.[9]

The bill had its committee stage in September 2023, with its report taking place in the House of Commons on 25 October 2023.[10]

1.2 Holocaust Memorial Bill

In 2014, then Prime Minister David Cameron launched the Holocaust Commission to assess measures to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.[11] In 2015, the commission recommended the creation of a “striking and prominent new national memorial” which should be “co-located with a world-class learning centre”.[12] The following year, the government announced that the memorial would be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, which is a Grade II listed green space next to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.[13]

In 2018, the government submitted a planning application to build the memorial and learning centre to Westminster City Council.[14] In November 2019, the then housing and planning minister, Christopher Pincher, directed the council to refer the application to him to decide.[15]

Following a public inquiry, in July 2021, Mr Pincher gave ministerial permission for the memorial and learning centre to be built in Victoria Tower Gardens.[16]

The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust subsequently challenged this decision in the high court on procedural grounds, and the decision to grant planning consent was quashed in April 2022. The judge, the Mrs Justice Thornton, found that the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 required Victoria Tower Gardens to be “laid out and maintained […] for use as a garden open to the public”.[17]

In July 2022, the government sought to appeal the high court’s decision. However, the court of appeal refused the application to appeal the decision, stating that there was “no real prospect” of successfully appealing the high court’s decision as the “judge’s construction of the 1900 act […] was plainly correct”.[18] Detailing her decision, the judge, Lady Justice Andrews, stated that the only way of removing the “obstacle” of the 1900 act would be through “a repeal of the section which would require primary legislation”.

In February 2023, the government introduced the Holocaust Memorial Bill in the House of Commons to disapply sections 8(1) and 8(8) of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 “so that they do not constitute an obstacle to construction and operation of the holocaust memorial and learning centre”.[19]

The Holocaust Memorial Bill is a hybrid bill, which mixes the characteristics of public and private bills.[20] This means that changes to the law proposed by a hybrid bill would affect the general public but would also have a “more significant impact” on specific individuals or groups. Hybrid bills are subject to a petitioning period. During the petitioning period, people who believe they will be affected by the bill can submit a petition to Parliament outlining their opposition. Some petitioners may appear before the select committee on the bill to make their case.

The bill was considered to be a hybrid bill by the House of Commons Clerk of Legislation upon its introduction and was therefore referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills to determine this.[21] The bill could not receive its second reading until it had been considered by the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

However, the government argued that the bill was not a hybrid bill, as its provisions did not affect the private interests of a specific group but rather the interests of the general public. Therefore, it argued that the bill should proceed as normal through public bill procedure.[22] In May 2023, the examiners of petitions for private bills disagreed with the government and concluded that it was a hybrid bill as it would have a “much greater adverse effect on the private interests of local residents in the Gardens’ preservation than it would have on the private interests of other members of the public in the Gardens’ preservation”. The Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills also found that the bill had not complied with six standing orders, as the government had introduced the bill on the basis that it considered that the bill was not hybrid.

On 13 June 2023, the House of Commons Standing Orders Committee met to discuss the standing orders associated with the bill. Following deliberations on the subject, the committee dispensed with all six standing orders.[23] This allowed the bill to progress to its second reading in the House of Commons.

The bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on 28 June 2023.[24] On the same day, the bill was the subject of a carry-over motion.

During second reading, Lisa Nandy stated that the Labour Party “strongly support[ed]” the bill.[25] Similarly, the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party expressed their support for the bill.[26]

The bill is currently awaiting a date for its committee stage.[27]

1.3 Renters (Reform) Bill

In its 2019 general election manifesto, the government committed to introducing a “better deal for renters”, including “abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions and only requiring one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with the tenant”.[28]

In the 2022 Queen’s Speech, the government announced that it would be introducing the Renters Reform Bill in the 2022–23 parliamentary session. It stated that the purpose of the bill would be to:

Fulfil the manifesto commitments to abolish so-called ‘no fault’ section 21 evictions and strengthen landlords’ rights of possession, delivering on the levelling up mission to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030 and create a rental market that is fairer and more effective for tenants and landlords.[29]

The Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced by the government in the House of Commons on 17 May 2023. The main elements of the bill included measures to:

  • Abolish the use of ‘no fault’ evictions by removing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and move to a “simpler tenancy structure”.
  • Amend and strengthen the grounds on which landlords can seek to repossess properties, for example, in cases of anti-social behaviour and repeated rent arrears.
  • Introduce a new private rented sector ombudsman.
  • Create a privately rented property portal to help landlords understand their legal obligations and demonstrate compliance.
  • Provide stronger protections against “backdoor evictions” by ensuring that tenants can appeal “above-market rents” which were “purely designed to force them out”.
  • Give tenants the right to request a pet in the property, which landlords “must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse”. In return, landlords would be able to require tenants purchase pet insurance to cover any property damage.[30]

The bill’s second reading was on 23 October 2023. During second reading, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove, announced that some of the reforms in the bill, such as abolishing no-fault evictions, would be delayed until the justice system was “fit for purpose”.[31]

Speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, the shadow deputy prime minister and shadow secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Angela Rayner, said that the party had “welcome[d] the bill” and that it had been “calling for such measures for some years”.[32] In particular, she welcomed measures including the simplification of tenancies and the creation of a new private rented sector ombudsman. However, although welcoming the proposed end to ‘no fault evictions’, she expressed concern about the announced government delays in implementing these changes. She said these caused anxiety for those affected. Similarly, Helen Morgan, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for levelling up, housing and communities, stated that her party supported the bill. However, she also expressed her frustration that the bill had “taken far too long to reach this stage”.[33]

On the same day a carry-over motion for the bill was agreed. The bill’s committee stage is expected to take place in the forthcoming parliamentary session.[34]

2. What policy measures could the government introduce?

2.1 Leasehold reform

In January 2021, the then secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, announced the government’s plans to address leasehold reform through two pieces of legislation.[35] The first, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, gained royal assent in February 2022. Among its measures, that act set future ground rents to zero for new lease agreements and came into force on 30 June 2022. During the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill’s consideration at committee stage in the House of Lords in June 2021, the government stated that it would be introducing a “second tranche of reforms” to the leasehold system in the 2021–22 parliamentary session.[36]

In the 2022 Queen’s Speech, the government stated that it would be taking forward a “comprehensive programme of reform to improve fairness and transparency in the leasehold market”.[37] It stated that the government also remained committed to:

  • transforming the experience of leaseholders by making it easier and cheaper for them to extend their lease or buy their freehold, and simpler and quicker to take control of the management of their building
  • better protecting and empowering leaseholders by giving them more information on what their costs cover and ensuring they are not subject to any unjustified legal costs and can claim their own legal costs from their landlord
  • banning new leasehold houses so that all new houses are freehold from the outset other than in exceptional circumstances
  • delivering a reformed commonhold system as an alternative to leasehold ownership

In January 2023, Michael Gove said that he wanted the government to abolish the leasehold system.[38] In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Gove stated:

I don’t believe leasehold is fair in any way. It is an outdated feudal system that needs to go. And we need to move to a better system and to liberate people from it.

The following month, Mr Gove outlined the government’s intention to introduce legislation to “fundamentally reform” the leasehold system in the King’s Speech 2023.[39] However, in May 2023, some broadsheet newspapers reported that the Prime Minister’s Office had “pushed back” on plans to abolish leaseholds, reportedly arguing that there would not be enough time before a general election in 2024 to enact such reforms.[40]

In July 2023, Mr Gove further discussed leasehold reform whilst outlining the government’s long-term plan for housing.[41] Mr Gove said that making the housing market work better would “require fundamental reforms to leasehold law”. He stated:

We will continue action on exploitative ground rents, expand leaseholder’ ability to enfranchise—and to take back control from distant freeholders we will reduce punitive legal service charges, reduce insurance costs—and improve transparency.

Mr Gove also said that further information on these reforms would be set out in the forthcoming King’s Speech.

On a post on X, formerly Twitter, on 29 October 2023, Rachel Maclean, a minister of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said that the government would announce plans in the King’s Speech to “restore true home ownership to millions of people and end the reign of rip off freeholders and incompetent profiteering management companies”.[42] Ms Maclean also posted a link to an article in the Sunday Times (£), which reported that measures in the new “leasehold bill” would include all new houses in England and Wales having to be sold as freehold properties and all existing ground rents being capped at a “peppercorn” rate, with a consultation on the subject of ground rents being launched alongside the legislation.[43]

Whilst some organisations have called on the government to abolish the leasehold system entirely, others have welcomed reports that the government may simply introduce reforms. Harry Scoffin, the co-founder of Commonhold Now, an anti-leasehold campaign group, stated that “Michael Gove has been clear that leasehold—which has its roots in serfdom and manorialism —has no place in a civilised society and must be abolished”.[44] Additionally, Paula Higgins, the chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance, argued that leaseholders could not “live in limbo” as to whether the government would abolish leaseholds and called on the government to “issue more detail of reforms, a clear and fixed timetable for delivery and confirm whether abolition is still on their long term agenda”.[45] In contrast, Nicola Kravitz, head of real estate at the law firm Memery Crystal, welcomed reports that the government would not be abolishing leaseholds. She instead recommended minor reforms. Speaking to City AM, Ms Kravitz stated that “the remedy is taking the parts of the system that are unfair and making them more fair”, referring to measures the government had implemented or planned to implement on ground rent, extended leases and service charges.[46]

2.2 Nutrient neutrality rules: Housing developments

In August 2023, the government announced that it would be introducing amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill 2022–23 to remove nutrient neutrality rules for housing developments. The government argued that these rules were “legacy EU laws” and were preventing 100,000 homes from being built.[47] Nutrient neutrality rules require new housing developments in certain areas to prove that they will not increase the amount of nutrient pollution in the water catchment if they are located near protected habitats that are already in an “unfavourable condition”.[48]

The amendments would have made changes to the billthe Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, including removing the requirement for planning authorities to consider nutrient loads in urban wastewater when making planning decisions and developing plans in areas currently affected by nutrient neutrality. This would have meant that local authorities could grant planning permission for development in these areas, even if it was linked to a wastewater treatment works or an alternative wastewater treatment system managed under the environmental permitting regime.[49]

The amendments were introduced by the government during the bill’s report stage in the House of Lords in September 2023. Discussing the amendments, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, a parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said that although “nutrients entering our rivers is a real and serious problem […] the contribution made by new homes is very small compared with that from sources such as industry, agriculture and our existing housing stock”.[50] Lord Moylan (Conservative), the chair of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee, also spoke in support of the amendments. He stated that “even if all the nutrient problems in our watercourses came from housing, new housebuilding would still be a very small fraction of what we are discussing; it would be less than one percent”.[51]

However, several members of the House of Lords raised concerns about the impact of the amendments on the environment. The shadow spokesperson for levelling up, housing, communities and local government, Baroness Hayman of Ullock, stated that the amendments meant “abandoning legal protections for the nation’s most precious and sensitive habitats, on the premise that this is the only way to increase housing supply”.[52] Similarly, Baroness Pinnock (Liberal Democrat) said that the “argument that housebuilding is jeopardised unless the government take action to throw out the protection of our watercourses” was “completely false”.[53]

The proposed government amendments were subsequently defeated on division.[54]

At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2023, Michael Gove stated that he wanted the government to progress nutrient reforms through a standalone bill “at the first available opportunity”.[55] However, recent press reports have suggested that the government does not plan on announcing such reforms in the King’s Speech, as it had reportedly been advised that the “challenge of getting it through parliament unamended is too great”.[56]

The government’s plans to remove nutrient neutrality rules were welcomed by housebuilding organisations. The executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, Stewart Baseley, said that housebuilders were “keen to play a part in protecting rivers”, but argued that the current rules on nutrient neutrality were “exacerbating another national crisis, our shortage of homes”.[57] However, some environmental groups have criticised the government’s plans. Craig Bennett, the chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, described the plans as a “licence from the government for the commercial housebuilding lobby to profit from the pollution of our rivers”.[58]

2.3 Decent homes standard in the private rented sector

The ‘decent homes standard’ is a technical standard for public housing introduced by the then Labour government in 2000.[59] It sets a minimum acceptable standard for housing conditions in the social rented sector. The standard requires that all social rented homes must:

  • meet the current statutory minimum standard for housing
  • be in a reasonable state of repair
  • have modern facilities and services
  • provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort

In the levelling up white paper, published in February 2022, the government committed to consulting on a legally binding decent homes standard for the private rented sector in England.[60]

In September 2022, the government launched a consultation on the introduction and enforcement of the standard.[61] The consultation closed in October 2022. In response to a written question in April 2023, the government stated that it was still analysing the responses to the consultation and would publish its response “in due course”.[62]

In May 2023, Michael Gove published a written statement detailing the government’s plans to reform the private rented sector. Discussing the decent homes standard, Mr Gove stated that the government would bring forward legislation “at the earliest opportunity” to apply the standard in the private rented sector.[63]

The government’s commitment to introduce a decent homes standard in the private rented sector has been welcomed by some housing organisations. The National Housing Federation stated that it was “important” for the private rented sector to have “a clear, modern and meaningful standards that reflect what residents would expect a decent home to be”.[64] Similarly, Alicia Kennedy, the director of Generation Rent, stated that the “crucial measure” would “help tenants get value for money, whoever they rent from, and stop landlords from profiting by cutting corners”.[65]

However, the policy has been criticised by some landlord associations. The chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, Ben Beadle, said that standards in the private rented sector had been “improving”, and that the government’s plans “should focus on making it easier for private landlords, tenants and councils to understand what is expected of them by simplifying the almost 170 laws already affecting the sector”.[66]

2.4 Other possible measures

  • Freehold estate management: In July 2023, the government outlined its intention to legislate to create a new statutory regime for freehold homeowners “based on the rights that leaseholders have”.[67] The government stated that this would include giving homeowners the “right to challenge the reasonableness of estate management charges” at a first-tier tribunal, and the right to change the provider of management services by applying to the tribunal to appoint a new manager.
  • Housing for British citizens: In June 2023, the Telegraph reported that the government was considering introducing legislation in the King’s Speech that would require councils to prioritise housing for British citizens and permanent residents. Speaking to the Telegraph, a government source reportedly described social housing as a “finite source” and said that it was “only right” that the government “look[s] at what more we can do to ensure UK nationals are prioritised locally as homes become available”.[68]

3. Read more


Cover image by Louis Reed on Unsplash.

References

  1. Conservative Party, ‘Conservative Party manifesto 2019’, November 2019, p 20. Return to text
  2. Cabinet Office, ‘Government confirms commitment to preventing public institutions setting up their own international boycotts’, 19 December 2019. Return to text
  3. HM Government, ‘Queen’s Speech 2021: Background briefing notes’, 11 May 2021, pp 151–2; and ‘Queen’s Speech 2022: Background briefing notes’, 10 May 2022, pp 133–4. Return to text
  4. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘UK public bodies banned from imposing their own boycotts against foreign countries’, 19 June 2023. Return to text
  5. HC Hansard, 3 July 2023, cols 586–663. Return to text
  6. UK Parliament, ‘Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: Stages’, accessed 26 October 2023. Return to text
  7. HC Hansard, 3 July 2023, col 595. Return to text
  8. HC Hansard, 3 July 2023, cols 658–61. Return to text
  9. HC Hansard, 3 July 2023, cols 662–63. Return to text
  10. UK Parliament, ‘Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill: Stages’, accessed 26 October 2023. Return to text
  11. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Prime Minister launches Holocaust Commission’, 27 January 2014. Return to text
  12. Holocaust Commission, ‘Britain’s promise to remember: The prime minister’s Holocaust Commission report’, 25 January 2015, p 13. Return to text
  13. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Prime minister: Holocaust memorial will stand beside Parliament as permanent statement of our British values’, 27 January 2016. Return to text
  14. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘United Kingdom holocaust memorial and learning centre’, December 2018. Return to text
  15. City of Westminster, ‘Holocaust memorial inquiry information’, updated 26 July 2023. Return to text
  16. As above. Return to text
  17. The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust v The Minister of State for Housing and Westminster City Council [2022] EWHC 829. Return to text
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  34. UK Parliament, ‘Renters (Reform) Bill: Stages’, accessed 26 October 2023. Return to text
  35. Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, ‘Government reforms make it easier and cheaper for leaseholders to buy their homes’, 7 January 2021. Return to text
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  37. HM Government, ‘Queen’s Speech 2022: Background briefing notes’, 10 May 2022, p 69. Return to text
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  40. Kiran Stacey, ‘Plans to abolish ‘feudal’ leasehold system in England and Wales dropped’, Guardian, 10 May 2023. Return to text
  41. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘Long-term plan for housing: Secretary of state’s speech’, 24 July 2023. Return to text
  42. Rachel Maclean, ‘Personal X account’, 29 October 2023. Return to text
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  45. HomeOwners Alliance, ‘Leasehold reforms: What you need to know about changes to the law’, 12 October 2023. Return to text
  46. Elena Siniscalco, ‘Homebuilders and contractors condemn Gove’s u-turn on scrapping leasehold’, City AM, 11 May 2023. Return to text
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  58. Anna Gross, ‘Green groups lambast plan to boost housebuilding by ditching English waterway protections’, Financial Times (£), 29 August 2023. Return to text
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  65. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘New standards for rented homes under consideration’, 2 September 2022. Return to text
  66. Sam Hunter, ‘National Residential Landlords Association responds to launch of decent homes standard consultation’, National Residential Landlords Association, 2 September 2022. Return to text
  67. HC Hansard, 13 July 2023, col 197WH. Return to text
  68. Nick Gutteridge, ‘Britons to be prioritised for council housing ahead of migrants’, Telegraph (£), 18 June 2023. Return to text