The report stage of the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is underway in the House of Lords, and the CLA scored an impressive win with the government defeated in a vote on an amendment.
During the debate, focused on the first part of the bill, which looks at the principles of levelling up and the missions, Lord Carrington and Lord Foster of Bath spoke of the importance of rural proofing, with amendments urging the government to publish a rural proofing report alongside the levelling up missions. This would ensure the effects of policy-making generally and levelling up specifically extended to those living and working in rural areas.
In his speech, Lord Carrington referenced the two reports on rural productivity and the impact of the cost of living crisis in rural areas by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse, as well as the work of the CLA and other organisations that contributed to those reports.
The shadow front bench, led by former Cumbrian MP Baroness Hayman, indicated they would support these amendments at a vote. Other parties also voiced their support, which was key in testing the strength of feeling in the House. The government response said that the government “already [has] extensive rural-proofing mechanisms” and so did not believe it necessary “to impose a further condition on the provisions of the bill”. This prompted consternation among peers, with Lord Foster of Bath pithily reminding the minister that “rural proofing is not about giving a list of good things you have done in rural areas”.
The amendment on introducing a rural proofing report alongside the levelling up missions was then put to a vote, and the government – who had whipped Conservative peers to vote against it – were defeated by two votes. This means that once the report stage has concluded (which is likely in early autumn), the amended bill will then return to the House of Commons for the consideration of Lords' amendments.
If MPs disagree with the amendments, parliamentary ping-pong then ensues, with the bill bouncing between both Houses until the final bill can be agreed upon. This process, in theory, can go on for an unspecified amount of time; however, the government has now announced that the King’s Speech will take place in early November, which means that the bill needs to be agreed to before then. This may give peers the upper hand as the government might be minded to incorporate the amendments so that the bill does not fall, and the government is perceived to have failed in what was its flagship policy under successive prime ministers.
The CLA will brief MPs when the bill returns to the Commons to underscore the importance of having a rural proofing report alongside the levelling up missions and hope that we can build on this strong early victory.