FMQs: Rent freeze emergency legislation introduced in next three months, says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has announced emergency legislation around a rent freeze in Scotland will be introduced “within three months” as she addressed concerns around the cost-of-living crisis at Holyrood.

The First Minister said the Scottish Parliament would have to “act at pace” as she welcomed the “very belated” energy bills plan announced by Liz Truss, but said the emergency package would not completely halt the rise in prices.

The update on the halting of social and private rent prices comes after Ms Sturgeon announced the measure in her Programme for Government delivered on Tuesday.

The exact date for the implementation of the legislation has not been decided. However, details would be announced “very soon”, according to the First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon speaks at First Minister's Questions. Picture: BBC

Ms Sturgeon's official spokesperson said the way the Government would enforce the halting of rent prices on landlords would be laid out within the emergency legislation.

Tuesday, when the rent freeze was announced, would be the official “stop day” of rent prices increasing, the spokesperson said.

"There is an imperative to help people in the cost-of-living crisis and the detail will be within the legislation,” the spokesperson said. “My understanding is to legislate as quickly as practically possible.”

At Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: "We want that legislation to be passed within three months so that the freeze I announced will be active at the date it was announced.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reacts during a visit to Shelter Scotland in Edinburgh. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Ms Sturgeon also attacked the energy crisis plans announced by Ms Truss, saying oil and gas companies should be paying for some of the massive costs rather than just consumers and taxpayers.

The Prime Minister set out an emergency package costing tens of billions of pounds on Thursday to help shield households and businesses from soaring energy prices.

It includes an “energy price guarantee” preventing the average annual family bill in Britain soaring past £2,500 for two years from this autumn.

Ms Truss ruled out a fresh windfall tax – a move favoured by both Labour and the SNP – under her energy plans announced in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Responding to the details outlined by Ms Truss, Ms Sturgeon blamed soaring energy costs on Ms Truss’s Government.

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“People are seeing soaring energy costs because of a broken energy market and the utter incompetence of this UK Government,” she said.

"Lastly, on that issue as things stand all of the costs of what has been announced today are going to fall on consumers and taxpayers, when oil and gas companies making windfall profits should be making a contribution.

"So I think you can see who’s side the UK Government is on today.”

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said she had not yet seen all the detail of the plan, but was aware of the headlines.

The First Minister continued: “It does not represent a halt to the rise in energy bills.

“Average energy bills right now are just under £2,000. A cap of £2,500 will still see people pay more for their energy."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he would “push” the First Minister on implementing a rent regulator to make sure there was not “excessive increases” when the freeze announced by Ms Sturgeon’s Government was lifted.

Asked by Mr Sarwar if she would commit to a plan from Labour for halving costs to rail fares, the First Minister said any plans on this must be taken with consideration of the Scottish Budget review.

Her comments come after Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced £500 million in cuts would have to be made to the Government’s budget.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We have confirmed, as I did on Tuesday, a freeze on ScotRail fares until the end of March.

“The Deputy First Minister said yesterday that we will be considering, in the context of our emergency budget review, extending that further.

"If we want to spend more on anything, we have to find other places in our budget to take that from and that process started yesterday.

“We will consider any suggestion that is made in good faith, but any suggestion which involves spending has to come with a saving from elsewhere.”

Mr Sarwar said he welcomed an emergency budget review, but urged Ms Sturgeon to be “bolder and more ambitious” in her emergency measures as he called for cross-party input for the Budget review. The Scottish Labour leader said the Government had to be transparent and take on a “Team Scotland” approach.

Ms Sturgeon said she was sure Mr Swinney would be open to having “open discussions”.

Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross had started his line of questioning by welcoming the "decisive action announced by our new Prime Minister to halt rising energy bills".

It came as charities claimed the energy plan announced by Ms Truss contained a “big hole” as it would not protect the poorest families and disabled people who were already struggling with their bills.

Ms Truss did not announce any additional support targeted towards low-income households on benefits, or disabled people who face extra costs.

Groups called the plan a “sticking plaster”, saying the lack of targeted support was a “missed opportunity” and it would feel like a “knockout blow” to millions already worrying about their finances.

Action for Children said the plan was a “big intervention with a big hole in it”.

Director of policy and campaigns Imran Hussain said the sums “still won’t add up” for families facing bills “far beyond [what] they can afford”.

He continued: “This package should’ve thrown more of a lifeline to the families who need it most.”

Save the Children warned the plan would not prevent “many” families from reaching crisis point this winter.

The best way to help low-income families, who “have already hit an absolute limit”, is to increase Universal Credit, the charity said.

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