Boris Johnson speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions.
There’s been a lot going on in parliament this week. Like, a lot.
That’s partly because the government had to hurry to force through its remaining bills before Thursday – when the parliamentary session ended – or face them being thrown out.
Parliament has now been prorogued until the Queen’s Speech on May 10, marking the end of a year-long parliamentary session.
Here’s a round-up of the new laws that were passed.
The Building Safety Bill
The Building Safety Bill was granted royal assent on Wednesday after finally passing through the House of Lords late on Tuesday.
The legislation, which lays out the government’s attempt to overcome the building safety crisis following the Grenfell fire disaster in 2017, has faced opposition from peers in recent months but was agreed before the end of the parliamentary session.
The bill details how leaseholders caught up in the crisis will be protected from paying for repairs to the buildings where they live. Housing secretary Michael Gove has previously said that no leaseholder should have to pay for these repairs.
Gove recently announced a mechanism for property developers to pay up to £5bn to cover the costs of remediating cladding in buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres in height as well as a building safety pledge to force developers to carry out works.
While the government’s £5.1bn Building Safety Fund will cover the costs of fixing dangerous cladding in buildings above 18 metres in height, leaseholders could still face bills for non-cladding fire defects. The bill caps these costs at £10,000 per leaseholder – £15,000 in London – for “all but the most expensive properties”.
Building safety minister Lord Stephen Greenhalgh said the bill brings in the “biggest changes in building safety legislation in our history”. He added that the bill will bring “waterfall protections” in which developers will be required to pay for repairs first, followed by building owners and then costs only falling on leaseholders if the full costs of remediation are not met.
But campaigners and some peers have warned the new legislation does not go far enough.
Baroness Kath Pinnock told the Lords that the bill’s passage through the house was a “shattering defeat” for campaigners.
UK Cladding Action Group co-founder Ritu Saha told The Big Issue that the “flawed” bill will fail to protect all leaseholders from the financial impact of the crisis, even if it does mean some will now not face six-figure bills as was the case previously.
“My reaction is one of disappointment that we now have a law passed by the government that actually makes innocent victims of the building safety crisis pay to fix negligence and even criminality from the department [Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities] and the construction industry,” said Saha.
“The bill is very poor in the sense that it does not protect lots of leaseholders who have already paid huge sums of money on things like waking watches, fire alarms etc which have damaged the financial standing of their buildings. There is no way of getting that money back.
“Our next steps will be to look at the secondary legislation and lobbying to make sure that it comes with protections for leaseholders. We’re also going to be holding the government and developers to account for these pledges that they are making to make sure that they do not find loopholes and ways to wriggle out of them.”
The Health and Care Bill
This new legislation – dubbed the NHS privatisation bill by critics – was passed by the Lords earlier this week.
The Health and Care Bill focuses on restructuring parts of the NHS in England to create a more localised system with less central bureaucracy. It proposes to establish 42 independently run Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) that cover the whole of England, made up of GP surgeries, community and mental health trusts, hospitals and other primary care services, with local authorities and other care providers.
These ICSs would be run independently by boards made up of NHS trust representatives, finance, nursing and medical directors, as well as private companies. While there are currently 42 ICSs in England, the health and care bill proposes to establish ICSs as statutory bodies, meaning they would have the power to authorise legislation.
The bill also introduces a social care cap that will limit the amount a person pays towards their own care to £86,000 over their lifetime, while local authorities will pay for any care over that amount. This means that poorer people are more likely to have to use all their available resources, even their home, to pay for the first £86,000, whereas more wealthy people won’t be as badly affected. The cap is set to be implemented in 2023.
Many campaigners and charities had hoped that the bill would take advantage of the opportunity it presented to ‘fix social care’ by introducing a zero cap. This would have seen people who develop care needs under the age of 40 not have to pay for their social care.
The Lords had previously tabled an amendment that would address workforce planning in the chronically understaffed NHS, however after MPs voted this down, they failed to reinstate it.
More than 60 health and social care organisations including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing, were in support of the amendment, tabled by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, which calls for the bill to make provisions that would force NHS Trusts to put in plans to address crippling staff shortages.
Fiona Donald, president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, called the result “hugely disappointing.”
“The NHS is experiencing very damaging workforce shortages, and these are set to get worse. The country desperately needs better planning for the health workforce… It is very difficult to see how waiting lists can be reduced without proper workforce planning and investment in sufficient numbers of key staff such as anaesthetists.”
The Elections Bill
The Elections Bill will make it mandatory for people to show photo ID before casting a vote at their local polling station. This is part of the government’s aim to provide greater protection against election fraud.
The bill will make it harder for young people to vote, firstly by requiring ID in the first place, and secondly by permitting older person’s bus passes and Oyster 60+ cards as ID – but not student cards and young persons railcards.
There was a clear age split in party allegiance at the 2019 elections, with 67 per cent of votes for the Conservatives coming from people aged 70+, and 56 per cent of Labour voters in the 18-24 bracket. The Resolution Foundation also highlights that low-income potential voters are six times less likely to have a photo ID than their wealthier counterparts.
The bill will also give ministers oversight of the Electoral Commission, which runs elections, which could let them influence the agency’s strategy. In response to the new law, the Electoral Commission has said it is “concerned” about its future independence.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Sparking protests and fierce resistance in the House of Lords, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill – or Policing Bill – has proved to be one of the most controversial government bills in recent years.
Of particular focus were its provisions which gave police greater powers to clamp down on protests, including the power to restrict protests for being too noisy.
Writing in The Big Issue, Martha Spurrier, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “These new powers represent nothing less than an attack on our right to make our voices heard, deterring people from taking part in protests, and making it much easier to criminalise those who do.”
But some of the bill’s most controversial parts did not see the light of day. Government plans to make “locking on” an offence punishable by up to a year in prison were rejected by the Lords in January.
The more stringent anti-protest measures inspired Kill the Bill protests across the country, with thousands taking to the street to defend the right to protest.
Despite the House of Lords voting to reject the noise provisions three times, they ultimately deferred to the Commons, letting the bill pass.
The Nationality and Borders Bill
This, another hugely unpopular bill, was passed on Wednesday night after months of back and forth between MPs and peers over its contents.
Among the most contentious elements of the legislation are laws that will allow asylum cases to be processed overseas, such as Rwanda.
Clause 9 of the bill also gives the government the right to strip people of their British citizenship without warning, with campaigners saying this law in effect makes people from ethnic minorities second-class citizens.
One victory for campaigners, however, was the removal of Priti Patel’s policy to turn around small boats in the Channel and send them back to France, which was scrapped following a letter from the government’s legal department earlier this week.
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill
This one got less attention, but campaigners say it will weaken their ability to persuade courts to go against government policies.
The Law Society said changes to limit the retrospective effect of “quashing” orders would have a “chilling” effect on judicial reviews.
“This would have a chilling effect on justice by deterring people from bringing legal challenges, in the knowledge that they might gain no redress, and might also mean people would be less likely to get legal aid to bring cases where a prospective-only remedy was the likely outcome.
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