2 Alok Sharma debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Tue 17th Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments
Tue 29th Sep 2020
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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My hon. Friend is an excellent champion of infrastructure and housing in her constituency and, of course, throughout the country. She has made an important point, and I should be pleased to meet her and, possibly, her local representatives to talk about it in more detail.

Last month, in response to the concerns of Members of both Houses, the Government made changes to the national planning policy framework in relation to onshore wind, which were designed to make it easier and quicker for local planning authorities to consider and, where appropriate, approve onshore wind projects when there is local support. We need to allow time for those changes to take effect, so we will keep the policy under review, and will report in due course on the number of new onshore wind projects progressing from planning application through to consent. We also intend to update planning practice guidance to support the changes further, and to publish our response to the local partnerships consultation for onshore wind in England. The response will set out how, beyond the planning system, the Government intend to improve the types of community benefits that are on offer for communities who choose to host onshore wind projects, including local energy bill discounts.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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Conservative colleagues and I, along with the Minister’s Department, worked together to end the de facto banning of onshore wind, and I am grateful for that. However, as the Minister has acknowledged, we need to see whether this policy is working, and a key determinant of that will be whether onshore wind really has meaningful community benefits. The consultation closed three and a half months ago; will the Minister tell us when we will see its conclusions? I am not suggesting that she should pre-empt those now, but could she also specify some of the likely monetary benefits that might flow to communities, so that we could have an indication that the Government are moving in the right direction?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said, and for all the vital work that he did in his previous role in taking forward the country’s reaction to climate change. This is a key plank of our policy. Our commitment to renewables is beyond question, and we have done more to drive forward that agenda with the help of my right hon. Friend and others. I have been discussing some of the questions he has raised today with my colleagues in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, because I think people want to see what this means in practice for their communities. We have some exciting work planned, and I can assure him that, as I have said in response to earlier interventions, we will provide the response to the NPPF—which covers this and other matters—as soon as we can.

The Government remain committed to repealing the antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824 as soon as replacement legislation can be introduced, and once that has happened there will be no need to publish a report. Lords amendment 240 would require a Minister to publish, within 90 days of Royal Assent, an assessment of the impact of the enforcement sections of the Vagrancy Act on levelling up and regeneration. Given our commitment to the repeal and replacement of the Act, and because identifying and gathering the information would take significant time, we propose that a year should be provided rather than 90 days.

To ensure that the leaseholder protections on remediation work as originally intended in the Building Safety Act 2022, we have tabled an amendment to remedy a gap in the Act so that a qualifying lease retains its protection if extended, varied, or replaced by an entirely new lease. We do not, however, agree that Lords amendment 242, which would secure parity between non-qualifying and qualifying leaseholders, and exclude shares in a property of 50% or less from being counted as “owned” for the purposes of calculating whether a lease qualifies for the protections, should be accepted. There are a number of defects in the amendment; in particular, it would remove the protections once remediation work was complete, which a number of stakeholders have described to us as a potentially worrying change.

The Government made amendments to the Bill—clauses 239 and 240—which will allow us to transfer the building safety regulator out of the Health and Safety Executive in the future. That will ensure that we are ready, and have the flexibility in place, to respond to the Grenfell Tower inquiry report when it is published. When the regulator is moved, the essential committees established under sections 9 to 11 of the Building Safety Act will need to be transferred. We are therefore unable to accept an amendment that prevents us from removing the references to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in relation to the committees. I should, however, make it clear that the Government have no intention of amending the make-up or role of those committees.

The Government take the condition of school and hospital buildings very seriously, which is why we already have extensive, well-established and transparent data collection arrangements for schools and hospitals. In addition to annual funding and central rebuilding programmes, we provide targeted support for schools and hospitals with specific problems such as reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. The creation of a new register, collecting new data and following up relatively minor issues easily managed locally, will take limited resources and focus away from the most serious issues which require additional support to keep our schools and hospitals safe, undermining overall safety. That would carry unavoidable significant financial implications for both the NHS and the school system. The Government have listened to the arguments about local authorities opening their own childcare provision. While we did not feel that there was a legislative gap, we are willing to concede that point in full, and an amendment will be added to the Bill.

You will be delighted to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am nearing the end of my remarks, but I have no doubt that you will hear from the Opposition Front Bench a torrent of complaints and criticisms of the Government’s entire policy. Before we hear from them, however, let me make a few things clear. Despite having listened to numerous speeches from Opposition Front Benchers, I have no idea what their plans are for this vital policy area—apart from the rare instances in which they have simply repeated, and passed off as their own ideas, what the Government are already doing. They claim that they would magically make all these things happen without any additional public spending. Oh, I am sorry; perhaps I have missed their saying where they will spend the VAT charge on private schools, for possibly the ninth or 10th time. We can all see that for the fantasy it is.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 29th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 29 September 2020 - (29 Sep 2020)
Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

More than 150 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken during the passage of the Bill so far. We have had around 30 hours of often passionate debate, and I pay tribute to Members across the House for their contributions. The Public Bill Office has been unstinting in its support to all Members and officials across Government, and I am incredibly grateful for all its work. I particularly wish to thank the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) who have ably steered the Bill through Committee and Report.

The UK internal market is the bedrock of our shared economic and social prosperity as a country. Since the Acts of Union, it has been the source of unhindered and open trade, which has supported growth and safeguarded livelihoods and businesses. It demonstrates that, as a Union, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.

Since 1973, EU law has acted as the cohering force for the UK internal market. In 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union, which the Government delivered in January, and as we leave the transition period at the end of this year, the Government will leave the European Union’s legal jurisdiction once and for all. We need to replace this law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while of course also ensuring that the devolved Administrations benefit from a power surge from Brussels.

Shailesh Vara Portrait Mr Vara
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The fact is that there is nothing in this Bill that in any way compromises the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply regrettable that some people, for political purposes, seek to unnecessarily scaremonger, and that they should desist from doing so?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will come on to it. As I was saying, we need to replace the law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while also ensuring that devolved Administrations benefit from that power surge from Brussels. The Bill will do precisely that.

Our approach will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and it will do so without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the different parts of the United Kingdom. I cannot overstate the importance of this economic continuity Bill, especially as we seek to recover from covid-19. It is ultimately designed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, protect businesses, give choice to consumers and continue to showcase the United Kingdom as a beacon for inward investment. That is why this legislation is so vital.

My Department and I, along with colleagues across Government, have spoken to a large number of businesses and business representative organisations across the whole of the United Kingdom about our proposals to safeguard our internal market. Businesses have overwhelmingly backed our approach. The British Chambers of Commerce has stressed that

“A fragmented system would create additional costs, bureaucracy and supply chain challenges that could disrupt operations for firms across the UK.”

NFU Scotland has emphasised the importance of protecting the UK internal market, stating:

“NFU Scotland’s fundamental priority, in the clear interest of Scottish agriculture as well as the food and drinks sector it underpins, is to ensure the UK Internal Market effectively operates as it does now.”

I could go on. Make UK has noted that it is particularly important to manufacturers that they can trade simply and effectively across all parts of the United Kingdom. The business community is clear: we must continue to safeguard the sanctity of the seamless UK internal market.

The Bill also respects and upholds the devolution settlements—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) says it does not. He will get a large number of powers—an unprecedented level of powers—back after the transition period. If he does not want them, he ought to stand up and say that, but the reality is that he is against this Bill because he wants to be shackled to the European Union forever. That is the reason he is against this—

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that I am talking nonsense. He just needs to re-read his Second Reading speech and he will see that it is full of inaccuracies. We have engaged in good faith with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the Bill. It was very unfortunate that the Scottish Government decided to walk away from the discussions on the internal market last year and, as I said, we want to continue to work constructively.



Let me turn briefly to the Northern Ireland element of this business Bill, which has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest and commentary. I and every Member on the Government Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of United Kingdom, and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal we would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market. The Bill delivers on those commitments. We have also been clear that we must protect the gains of the peace process and maintain the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the Bill has no impact at all on the Good Friday agreement, and, indeed, is only helpful to the economy in Northern Ireland—but only helpful in a limited way. He talked about access to the UK internal market for Northern Ireland goods going into GB, but will he say something about the opposite direction? Northern Ireland depends so highly on imports from GB, and yet there is no mention of safeguards to stop trade being blocked in that direction.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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The right hon. Gentleman knows that discussions continue. He and I have had those discussions as well. But he makes the point that this is a business Bill, and I hope that every Member, like him, will support it on Third Reading.

We have taken these powers to ensure that, in the event that we do not reach an agreement with our EU friends on how to implement the protocol, we are able to deliver on promises in our manifesto and in the Command Paper. This is a legal safety net that clarifies our position on the Northern Ireland protocol, protecting our Union, businesses and jobs.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
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The Irish Foreign Minister said recently that this Bill undermines the EU withdrawal legislation, has damaged trust between the Irish and UK negotiating teams, and is damaging Britain’s reputation globally. Does that give the Secretary of State any cause for concern?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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This has been debated over the long passage of the Bill in this House. As the hon. Lady and other Members will know, we introduced an amendment in Committee that provides a break-glass mechanism that ensures that the safety net will come into force only if a motion in this House is passed with a requirement for a take-note debate in the other place. I hope that will allow her to vote for the Bill on Third Reading.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

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Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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I will not; I am now winding up.

This Bill provides the certainty that businesses want and need to invest and create jobs. It helps to maintain high standards and choice for consumers while keeping prices down. It reaffirms our commitment to devolution, supporting one of the biggest transfers of power to the devolved Administrations. It allows the Government to invest further in communities across the United Kingdom. This is about levelling up across the whole of the UK and strengthening our precious Union, which some would want to put at risk. I am a Unionist, as is the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband); neither of us are separatists. Above all, the Bill continues to preserve the UK internal market that has been an engine of growth and prosperity for centuries. In voting for this Bill, we protect our constituents’ jobs, businesses and livelihoods. I commend it to the House.

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Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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My hon. Friend is correct. You know, we were told after the referendum in Scotland in 2014 that Scotland’s place would be respected and that we were to lead the United Kingdom, and here we find not just our Parliament in Edinburgh but the Administrations in Cardiff and in Northern Ireland being ignored. We can refuse to give consent, as we are doing, to this Bill, but the Government carry on regardless. Where is that respect for devolution? Where is the respect for the people of Scotland? In a referendum in 1997, 75% of the people of Scotland voted for a Parliament. It is not the SNP’s Parliament. it is not the Scottish Government’s Parliament; it is the Parliament of the people of Scotland—the Parliament of the people of Scotland when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed that gave powers over devolved matters. What those on the Government Benches refuse to see—what the rest of us can see—is that this Parliament is giving itself the power to override the Scottish Parliament in health, in education, in transport and in housing.

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
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No, it’s not.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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I can hear the Secretary of State shouting, but it is his Bill and I suggest he reads it, because clauses 46 and 47 are very clear: powers over infrastructure, including

“water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services… railway facilities (including rolling stock), roads or other transport facilities… health, educational, cultural or sports facilities”.

The Secretary of State can sit and tell us that it does not override devolution. Well, the facts are in the Bill. What the Government have done is overridden devolution and, quite frankly, I can tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, we in Scotland will be having absolutely none of it.

So tonight, just as—[Interruption.] You can chunter and shout all you like, but at the end of the day, the people in Scotland have been watching what has been going on over the past few months, with Scotland being disregarded. The fact is that we won the election in Scotland last December on the right of Scotland to choose its own future. We had no desire to be taken out of the European Union against our will. In England, you can choose to do what you want as far as Brexit is concerned, but we do not—