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Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 1:38 pm, 16th October 2019

Absolutely. The Select Committee has welcomed the Government’s indications that that is their intention. The pressure now has to be on how that intention will be put into practice, because clearly there are many examples of where that is not happening.

I want to raise one or two other issues that are not in the Queen’s Speech—I am disappointed about that—on which the Select Committee has asked for Government action. Leasehold reform is a major issue across the House; 700 pieces of evidence were submitted to our Select Committee inquiry. The Government’s intentions are set out for new properties, particularly for new houses not being leasehold, and restrictions on service charges and other costs on leasehold flats. However, we still have not got a clear commitment to legislate for existing leaseholders who have been mis-sold leases and ripped off by service charges and other permission fees. That is simply not acceptable. I think that we produced a very good Select Committee report, which was widely welcomed by Members across the House. It is disappointing to see no reference in the Queen’s Speech to leasehold reform.

The other area that is not mentioned is the private rented sector, but again there seems to be cross-party support from Members on both Front Benches for reform of section 21 provisions to ensure that there cannot be no-fault evictions. Where is the legislation to deal with that and to tackle rogue landlords who abuse the situation and exploit their tenants? It is very disappointing that there is no reference to the private rented sector in the Queen’s Speech. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will come before the Select Committee in the next couple of weeks. I am sure that we will push him further on that point.

There is no reference to fracking in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps that is a good thing. One constituent asked me the other day, “Does that mean that the Government have given up on fracking because they are not referring to it?” We have been waiting 18 months for a Government response to our last inquiry into fracking, in which we opposed the Government’s proposals to extend permitted development rights and to include fracking in the national infrastructure arrangements. There is still no answer from the Government. I said to my constituent that perhaps the most significant thing is not the lack of mention of fracking in the Queen’s Speech, but the fact that Cuadrilla has now pulled out of its arrangements and exploration in Lancashire. That probably means that the commercial sector is reaching a view that fracking is no longer viable. Why do not the Government accept that and transfer that funding into more renewable energy investment, which is surely what we all want?

Just before the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced that they would put up the cost of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, which particularly affects local authorities, from 0.8% to 1.8%. That is more than doubling. It is one of the things that are supposed to have no consequences. The Government tucked away the announcement on a Friday afternoon before the Queen’s Speech. However, the cost of that borrowing will fall particularly on housing revenue accounts, and all the good work that the Government have encouraged by lifting the housing revenue account cap will be undone by the extra cost of borrowing, which will distort and put back all the business plans that local authorities have to build more council homes. It is a backward step. I want Ministers to explain why they have done that and whether they had any understanding of the consequences.