UK government in climbdown over housing powers

Image caption,
The assembly will have power over right-to-buy on council houses

The UK government has agreed to a U-turn over a bid for more powers over housing for Wales.

The Wales Office climbdown follows fierce negotiations between Westminster and Cardiff Bay over the housing legislative competence order (LCO).

The sticking point had been the inclusion of powers on the right to buy council homes, which the UK government felt should remain at Westminster.

The UK government had prompted fury by rejecting the LCO in its original form.

The change of heart means the unamended order can now go through Parliament ahead of the summer recess.

It follows nearly three years of scrutiny and re-drafting of the LCO, which is a means by which the assembly can pass its own laws.

Wales Office minister David Jones announced the decision to move forward the order in the form passed by the assembly on 9 February, 2010 and said it was a result of the "mutual respect" between both branches of government.

He said he had received assurances from the assembly government that it will continue to support tenants in council houses who wish to own their homes.

He said: "Last week Deputy Minister for Housing Jocelyn Davies and I reached an amicable agreement on an amended order to be taken forward.

"But having made further inquiries, the Welsh Office established that it would in practice be virtually impossible for the amended order to complete its passage through Parliament to enable it to be put to the Privy Council for approval in July.

"We therefore decided, in pursuance of the spirit of mutual respect, and in reliance to the assurances given by the assembly, to proceed to put the original draft LCO in its unamended form before both houses of Parliament for confirmation as quickly as possible, so that the order may be made by the Privy Council next month."

Ms Davies welcomed the move and said she hoped it would pass through Parliament swiftly so the assembly could concentrate on legislation.

She said: "This is very good news for housing organisations and communities across Wales.

"The LCO will enable the assembly to consider measures to tackle issues such as improved regulation of landlords, securing greater homelessness provision, bringing empty homes back in to use, proving security of tenure, and supporting the most vulnerable.

"It is right that these decisions should be taken in Wales for the people of Wales. "

The agreement was applauded by the Welsh Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson, Peter Black who claimed the UK government's attempt to reject the LCO in its current form was a breach of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition agreement.

He said: "Although the Welsh assembly had no intention of abolishing the right to buy, the powers sought were necessary to equalise tenancy rights between tenants of local councils and those renting from housing associations.

"The principle that the UK government should not interfere in policy decisions made in Wales is an important one and was recognised as such in this clause in the coalition agreement. I am pleased that this has now been acknowledged."

Both Mr Black and Mr Jones blamed the last UK Labour government for failing to progress the order earlier.

Shadow Wales Office Minister Wayne David deemed the U-turn a "humiliating capitulation" by the Wales Office.

He said: "The LCO could have gone through well before the General Election, had it not been opposed by the Conservatives at the time. Now they have changed their tack and wasted all this time.

"The Wales Office has become a beleaguered and rudderless Department."

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