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Parliament Braces To Take On "Contentious" Backlog Of Levelling Up Bill

(Alamy)

4 min read

The most "contentious" parts of the Levelling Up Bill will move to the top of the agenda when it returns to Parliament next week, with MPs and Peers braced for sticking points to be bounced back and forth between the houses of Lords and Commons throughout the autumn.

Issues such as planning and environmental protections are expected to be discussed in the House of Lords when parliament returns from its long summer recess at the start of next week. 

The Levelling Up Bill will return to the Lords on Monday and Wednesday to continue its Report Stage, where amendments are voted on. 

Peers have agreed to start early on one of the days listed next week, PoliticsHome understands, to account for the unusually high volume of material contained within the bill that is still to be addressed. Late-night sittings have also not been ruled out.

"We’ll be there until whenever it takes," Baroness Kathryn Pinnock, Liberal Democrat Lords spokesperson on levelling up, told PoliticsHome. 

“We’ve got all of the contentious stuff really to do: planning, nature recovery, now thanks to the government nutrient neutrality. I’m sure we’re going to be very busy in the next couple of weeks.” 

Last week the government announced that it would use an amendment in the Levelling Up Bill to scrap pre-Brexit rules on "nutrient neutrality" intended to combat water pollution, with the aim of enabling more housebuilding. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has defended the decision in the face of criticism by environmental campaigners, insisting that the restrictions are “a disproportionate and poorly targeted old EU ruling” that “blocked” the building of new homes. 

Pinnock anticipated that such issues around environmental protections, housing and local planning were likely to be especially contentious in the House of Lords.  

Peers have already criticised the wide-reaching nature of the Levelling Up Bill, complaining it does not "sit happily" with a number of large policy areas combined into one big piece of legislation, even before nutrient neutrality "reared its head", as Pinnock described it. 

Baroness Sue Hayman of Ullock, Labour’s spokesperson for levelling up in the Lords, told PoliticsHome that ministers see levelling up legislation as a "catch-all bill" to which any number of policy areas can be added. 

The final day of the report stage is expected in mid-September, before Parliament breaks again for the conference recess. 

This would mean that any parliamentary 'ping-pong' – the period where a bill bounces between the Commons and the Lords if members disagree on amendments – would likely not occur until after the conference recess ends in October. The parliamentary session will end ahead of the King’s Speech on 7 November. 

“Ping pong I would say is almost certain after conferences and before we break for the King’s Speech,” Pinnock added.  

She was doubtful the legislation could "achieve levelling up in any shape or form", despite its aim to significantly improve areas of the country that have seen a disproportionate lack of investment in recent years. 

"Which is a huge lost opportunity for someone who lives in an area that is in desperate need of some additional investment and funding so that people have a fairer chance in life," Pinnock continued. “It doesn’t achieve any of that at all.” 

Hayman agreed that the bill remains “terribly muddy” and said she does not “think it’s been properly thought through" by ministers. 

“It doesn’t have any central core to it,” she explained. “The central core should be levelling up and regeneration, but it isn’t really.” 

Earlier this year Hayman told PoliticsHome she saw the legislation as a “mish-mash,” an opinion she maintains. 

“It just seems to have become even more so.” Hayman said ahead of the bill's return to parliament next week. 

Earlier this year, PoliticsHome reported that Lords had proposed more than 500 amendments to the bill that covers a wide range of policy areas, leading critics to describe it as “Christmas tree” legislation. 

According to the last Queen’s Speech where it was introduced, the Levelling Up Bill was designed to “drive local growth” and ensure “everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success”. It covers a range of policy areas from local democracy and town planning. Michael Gove, the secretary of state responsible for its delivery, pledged a number of “levelling up missions” designed to reduce regional inequality by 2030. 

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