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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 613: debated on Monday 18 July 2016

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Business Rates

1. What progress his Department has made on enabling local authorities to retain 100% of business rates. (905883)

I should like to associate myself with your comments about the tragedy in Nice, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with the victims and their families and friends. I also warmly welcome the establishment of the Cox Committee.

The full retention of business rates is a reform that councils have long campaigned for, and it will shape the role and purpose of local government for many decades to come. To deliver this commitment, we have already published an open consultation inviting councils, businesses and local people to have their say on how the system should operate.

I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and I really look forward to working with him. Businesses want to move to Telford all the time, and for that reason the move to 100% business rate retention will mean welcome extra revenue for our council. Are there any plans to top-slice business rate income from councils with higher levels of business rate income to subsidise those with lower levels?

We want councils to take bold decisions and to use the benefits of this measure to boost local growth. Some redistribution will be necessary among authorities to ensure that no council loses out if it collects lower business rates, but I can reassure my hon. Friend—who already does a lot to boost business in her local area—that where that is done, it will keep the extra revenue.

For business rates to keep flowing, we need our top companies to keep prospering. The Secretary of State might be aware that ARM Technology, a major Cambridge company, has today been acquired by a major Japanese company. What conversations has he had with the former Business Secretary on ensuring that guarantees are maintained and that the jobs involved are retained in the UK?

I warmly welcome investment in our local communities—including in Cambridgeshire—wherever it comes from. I have not had a conversation with the Business Secretary, given that this news was announced only recently, but I know that the Chancellor has already issued a statement.

At present, the way in which business rates work imposes rates on empty properties. This is holding back many urban regeneration schemes. Will the new Secretary of State therefore reform the way in which those rules work before the whole scheme is transferred to local authorities? That would make a crucial difference to the modernisation of our housing estates in particular.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know that he speaks from experience as a former housing Minister. I will certainly take a fresh look at that.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. May I politely say to him that not every area has the same ability to raise income from business rates or council tax, and it is often the poorest areas that are disadvantaged as a result of lower income generation from both sources? Will he look at the example of Tameside Metropolitan Borough, which would need an additional 16 Ikea stores just to break even on its business rate retention? Will he ensure that, when he looks at redistribution, he ends up with a fair settlement for areas such as Tameside?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The needs of each area are different, which is why at the same time as launching the consultation we launched a fair funding review to look at the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.

May I also associate myself and Labour Front Benchers with your remarks about the atrocity in Nice, Mr Speaker?

I welcome the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and his team to their new positions—it is an important brief.

I point out to the Secretary of State that his Government have broken the post-war cross-party consensus on the equalisation of resource allocation. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), does the Secretary of State realise that the most deprived communities with the greatest needs often have the lowest tax bases and the least ability to raise their own business rates?

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s words. As I have said, as we approach the policy of 100% business rates retention, there will of course be some redistribution to ensure that no council loses out if it has a low business rate funding base. The fair funding review will look at just that—fair funding—to ensure that every local area gets the funding it deserves.

Coastal Regeneration

The Government recognise that coastal communities face particular challenges but have huge economic potential. We have already invested £120 million in 211 coastal communities fund projects and have provided £10,000 to each of the 118 coastal community teams.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. While a great deal is taking place to regenerate coastal towns such as Lowestoft, there is a concern, as highlighted by the British Hospitality Association last week, that such initiatives are not co-ordinated. In the first full week of the new Government, I urge the Secretary of State to appoint a Minister to work across Departments to address that concern.

My hon. Friend works hard on his constituents’ behalf and has already helped to secure almost £2 million from the coastal communities fund for his area, but he makes an excellent point about cross-Government co-operation. I am pleased to announce that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) is the Minister who will take responsibility for this area, so we can all be assured that it is in very safe hands. I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for all his excellent work.

My constituency has many coastal destinations that would be attractive to anyone—not just those in my area. The Secretary of State will be aware of the cross-party, cross-regional group within Westminster that has been meeting regularly over the past few months. What discussions has he had with the Northern Ireland Assembly and with other regions to ensure that we can do this together?

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, at this point I have not had any discussions with my colleagues in Northern Ireland, but I can reassure him that they will be a priority, because it is good to talk and to co-ordinate even where policies are devolved.

Commuters returning home to the glories of Milton Keynes can do so in just over 30 minutes. Travelling the same distance to Bexhill takes almost 2 hours. Is the Secretary of State willing to work with me and my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), to try to bring High Speed 1 trains down from Ashford to Hastings and Bexhill?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am more than happy to listen to his case and to work with the Secretary of State for Transport, because the issue will involve both Departments.


3. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of introducing legislative proposals to extend local authorities' duty of care in homelessness cases. (905885)

We are committed to putting prevention at the heart of our approach to homelessness. We have committed £315 million to local authority homelessness prevention funding and will work with local authorities, charities and Departments to consider further reforms, including legislation.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but Bristol City Council’s budget for preventing homelessness was cut by 20% between 2011 and 2015. What extra funding will the Government make available to local authorities such as Bristol, which has experienced a significant recent rise in homelessness, to cope with the scale of the problem—particularly if their duty of care is extended under the metro mayor model?

Homelessness acceptances remain less than half what they were under the peak of the Labour Government in 2003-04. That said, one person without a home is one too many. Last year, we provided Bristol with £1 million of homelessness prevention funding, which will be maintained each year across this Parliament. I know that Bristol is starting to do some innovative things in homelessness prevention, and I would very much like to meet the Mayor of Bristol to discuss both the work that is being done on rough sleeping and the task and finish group, which I know has been set up.

Given the provisions of the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, a piece of legislation for which I have a certain affection, will the Secretary of State look at the work of the Community Self Build Agency, which is allowing vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, the disabled and others, including homeless veterans, to obtain a place of their own and to stop being homeless?

I had great enjoyment on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, where my hon. Friend made considerable representation on behalf of people involved in self-build. It is certainly an important area, and one in which the new Minister for Housing and Planning, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), is interested, and he would certainly be keen to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.

Homelessness in Scotland has fallen since the abolition of priority need in homelessness legislation. Given the rise in homelessness in England, might the Minister consider that?

We are certainly keen to listen to what is going on in other parts of the Union, but we do need to acknowledge that the housing market in Scotland is different from that in England, and particularly from that in London. I am always keen to hear what we are doing in other parts of the UK so that we can improve the way in which we deal with homelessness prevention.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Part of the difference in Scotland is that we abolished the right to buy, thereby allowing housing stock to be maintained. Will he also look at Wales, which has seen a reduction in homelessness, too? Its interesting practice of early intervention is helping to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

We are certainly looking at what has happened in Wales and at the way in which the legislation has been changed. It is extremely important that we assess the effectiveness of those changes. Those changes have only just been introduced, and we are looking carefully at their impact, but we need to look at not just one or two quarters of figures but a longer term picture to ensure that the changes in Wales would correlate to and work with the English system. I hear what the hon. Lady says on the right to buy, but people should have the opportunity to own their own home, and this Government are absolutely committed to that.

Council Services

4. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of councils in delivering front-line services while limiting council tax levels. (905886)

We are putting more power in the hands of councils—through devolution deals and the retention of 100% of business rates—to ensure that councils can save money and maintain front-line services.

I thank the Minister for his response. Proper local plans for good front-line planning departments are labour intensive and require meticulous work by local authority officers. Does the Minister agree that creating a poor plan, which then fails due to a lack of evidence, is an example of the shocking waste of hard-earned council taxpayers’ money?

I find myself agreeing with my hon. Friend. Planning should be at the heart of what local councils do. Local councils should be setting a vision for the area, and using that as a framework for development. It should be a top priority for all councils. Where it does not happen, we should expect them to resource it properly.

How on earth can local authorities manage to run their affairs in the way they used to, when this Government have cut £157 million from Derbyshire County Council? The same has applied to Labour-controlled Bolsover in a proportionate way. This Minister has a cheek to be talking about local government being able to spend money properly when his Government have been taking its money away.

The hon. Gentleman should know that funding is broadly flat in cash terms. More importantly, it is perfectly possible to find savings—local councils spend £1 in every £4 of public money—and at the same time to maintain and enhance local services.

To deliver greater devolution responsibility for local authorities, what more can be done to attract the very best councillors, particularly those with busy and successful careers?

I know that many colleagues in the House have considerable experience in this area, and it is something that I shall be looking at, because I have found that in local authorities across the country that I have visited, there is a very mixed level of ability, let us say, and more needs to be done.

I hope the Secretary of State is aware of a recent report by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which found that 93% of councils implemented the social care precept, but that raised only £380 million. Some £1.1 billion is needed to maintain social care at its current level. Social care is facing a perfect storm—there is growing demand from an ageing population, costs are rising, and budgets are being squeezed by central Government cuts—so what action is the Minister going to take to address the chronic underfunding of our social care?

It is a huge priority for this Government to make sure that adult social care is funded adequately. I do not accept that it is underfunded. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the precept. By the end of this Parliament it will raise an additional £2 billion a year. On top of that, the Government asked local councils how much they thought they would need by the end of this Parliament for adult social care. The number that came back was £2.9 billion; they got £3.5 billion.

Social Housing

5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of funding available for social housing. (905887)

Housing is a devolved matter. In England we have committed £8 billion to deliver 400,000 much-needed affordable homes—the largest affordable housing programme for nearly 40 years. The result of the EU referendum does not change that commitment.

The UK has had £43 billion of European Investment Bank loans over the past eight years, whereas non-EU countries such as Norway or Switzerland have had only £1 billion. Can the Minister provide any detail on his contingency plan for the funding of social housing and infrastructure projects when that EU finding inevitably dries up?

That obviously makes some contribution towards our delivery of affordable housing but, as I said, the Government have committed £8 billion. That will deliver starter homes, shared ownership homes and more affordable and intermediate rent housing. This is the largest programme that we have seen in more than 40 years and it will make a big contribution to tackling the housing issues that we see in our country.

I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I welcome the Government focus on affordable homes to buy through the starter homes programme, but we also need affordable homes to rent. Does the Minister agree that as we have made the decision to leave the EU, now is the right time to consider more investment in social rented homes to meet local needs and local affordability?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need a mix of tenures—a mix of offers. That is what the programme provides. He tempts me into decisions that will ultimately be for the Government and for the Chancellor at the next Budget, but he makes a powerful case for further investment in affordable housing.

I welcome the Minister to his new role and look forward to seeing him and the Secretary of State at the Select Committee before long. Are the Government still committed to building a million homes in this Parliament? Given that leaving the EU could have a depressing effect on the private house building industry, will he reconsider the Government’s current policy of not providing one single penny towards the building of social housing in their budgets, and recognise that to deliver a million homes, we will have to build some social housing?

The simple answer to the Select Committee Chairman’s first question is yes, we are still committed to building a million new homes. Across this House, I hope, there is a consensus that we need to increase the level of house building. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), we are looking at a mixed programme, including investment in affordable and intermediate rent, as well as shared ownership and helping people to own their own homes. I point the hon. Gentleman to the research that shows that 86% of our constituents want to own their own home. One of the critical things that we should all be trying to do is help people enjoy the opportunity that nearly all of us as Members of Parliament enjoy.

High Street Retailers

This Government are supporting our high streets to thrive. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, worth £6.7 billion, launched the high street pledge and the digital high street pilots, and introduced a fairer parking regime and sensible planning changes, and we are celebrating our high streets through the hugely successful annual Great British High Street competition.

Chipping Sodbury has entered the Great British High Street competition. It has been the home of markets since the middle ages. It hosts mock fairs, Victorian evenings and the annual Sheep Search classic car runs. It is home to the Fabulous Baker Brothers. It has seven pubs on the high street alone. Will the Minister therefore welcome Chipping Sodbury’s application and perhaps visit one of the most beautiful high streets in the United Kingdom?

I am absolutely delighted to hear that Chipping Sodbury has entered the competition; it sounds as though it will put in a very competitive bid. The competition has been a wonderful initiative, which has shone a light on high streets around the country, where local people are working hard to make sure their high street remains at the heart of their local community. Last year we received nearly 200,000 votes from members of the public for the finalist, showing how much high streets mean to local people. I wish Chipping Sodbury well and hope to visit it, but I would also encourage other towns in my hon. Friend’s constituency to enter, such as Thornbury, where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s dad used to run a ladies’ fashion shop.

The high streets in my constituency—in places such as Buxton and Glossop—are very much the hub of the town, so anything my hon. Friend can do to ensure we do not sit on our laurels and think, “We’ve done it” would be welcome. Will he tell me that we will continue to look to help the high street? As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will confirm following his visit to Glossop last year, it has a vibrant, happening high street that is crucial to the community.

The Government are absolutely taking action to protect our much-loved high streets. We have introduced the biggest-ever cut in business rates, which will mean that 600,000 of the smallest businesses will not have to pay business rates again. Just last week, I also announced the high street pledge, under which 40 of our country’s largest multiple retailers have signed up to local managers taking part in local initiatives to support the high street. I know my hon. Friend’s area and towns such as Glossop, and they are fantastic places for people to live, work, shop and socialise. I would encourage him to encourage his local areas to put some of those towns forward for the Great British High Street competition 2016.

West Ealing used to boast high street names, but now it is all bookies, charity shops, fried chicken chains and, most prominently, BrightHouse, which is preying on the vulnerable, with white goods at sky-high annual percentage rates and repossession for defaulters. If the Government really want to put the “local” back into local business, will the Minister tell us when he will end the rip-off of BrightHouse?

I am not going to bash businesses that create jobs and growth for our economy, but what I would say to the hon. Lady is that the Great British High Street competition identified some excellent practice, where things were going well and people were working extremely hard, and we have a good practice guide. I suggest that she pop down to Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, which has a fantastic high street and which is the proud recipient of the Great British High Street competition award 2015.

Does the Minister accept that our high streets are in decline? We are losing small retail shops at the rate of 16 a day. We are seeing a decline in retail goods being bought on our high streets. He announced a plethora of things this morning, which he has repeated now, and he has said that that will, hopefully, turn things around. How will we measure the success of what he has announced in turning this decline around?

We have to realise that there is a significant structural shift taking place in retailing, with many people now choosing to buy their goods online and in out-of-town shopping centres, rather than on the high street. We need to make sure, though, that the high street is fit for the 21st century. The Future High Streets Forum, which I jointly chair, is looking at how we restructure our high streets to bring in new investment, and particularly at how we bring more starter homes into our town centres so that we can start to really rejuvenate and regenerate places that offer something that out-of-town shopping and shopping on the internet just cannot compete with.

Rough Sleeping/Homelessness

One person without a home is one too many. That is why we have increased central funding for homelessness to £139 million over this Parliament and protected council homelessness prevention funding totalling £315 million by 2020.

Supporting homeless people will require real resources given to real people, such as the £115 million promised to the homeless charity Caritas Anchor House. May I encourage the Minister—and, indeed, the Secretary of State—to avoid, as he comes into his new responsibilities, just changing the deckchairs in different parts of Whitehall? In this context, will he please ditch his policy, or that of his predecessor, to impose an elected mayor on Lincolnshire?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s question about the potential, or not, elected mayor in Lincolnshire. With regard to homelessness, it is always good to hear about how charities such as the one that he mentioned are using innovative ways to tackle old problems. Providing support to help people to recover from homelessness is extremely important. It is absolutely key that we help people in that position to start to rebuild their lives. That is why we are investing £20 million in tackling rough sleeping and £100 million in move-on accommodation from hostels and refuges.

Is my hon. Friend generally supportive of the No Second Night Out service, and how does he intend to ensure that it is available in all local authority areas?

We are absolutely supportive of the approach taken by No Second Night Out, which my Department rolled out nationally in the previous Parliament. I absolutely want to build on the success of this initiative. Our new £10 million rough sleeping fund will scale up ways in which we can prevent and reduce rough sleeping. It will also go further, building on the successful approaches of No Second Night Out—and indeed “no first night out”, because it is best if we can prevent people from being on the streets at all. Details of this programme and the bidding round will be announced shortly.

Beacon House is a wonderful charity supporting the homeless in Colchester. What further support can the Minister give to local charities like Beacon House up and down this country in their work to tackle homelessness?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Charities play an extremely valuable part in the fight against homelessness. I know that he has taken part in a sleep-out to raise money for Beacon House, which this Department has also supported financially. I chair a round table with chief executives of a number of these vital homelessness charities to discuss what more can be done. The information that we have gathered at these meetings feeds directly into the ministerial working group, which I also chair.

The Minister is a fair-minded chap, and he will know that homelessness is a complex problem. First, as he will admit, there is a link between the lack of affordable housing—both rented and to buy—in our major cities. In addition, many of those we see on the streets of London and in Yorkshire are people on the mental health spectrum who need assistance and help, and cannot get it.

The hon. Gentleman makes extremely fair points. That is why we are investing £1.6 billion over this Parliament to deliver an additional 100,000 homes for affordable rent. His point about mental health is extremely well made. I chair a ministerial working group and am working with other Departments, and Ministers in other Departments, to ensure that the links between things such as mental health issues and drink and drug dependency are dealt with across Government, because this is not just a housing issue.

According to the Combined Homelessness And Information Network database, 8,096 people slept rough at some point in London during 2015-16—a 7% increase on the previous year. With an ever-growing housing crisis in this city, when are the Government going to take action and learn lessons from the different approaches taken by the devolved nations?

As I said in my answer to the previous question, this is not just a housing issue and therefore we are working across Government to try to resolve it. We are putting a significant amount of money— £139 million—into this important issue during this spending review period. That includes £10 million to scale up initiatives to prevent and reduce rough sleeping, which is extremely important, and £10 million for an upgraded social impact bond, which had a significant amount of success during the last Parliament.

20. Following the examination by the Communities and Local Government Committee, of which I am a member, of homelessness policy, and the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), will the Minister look into an approach whereby local authorities in England are specifically measured on their responsibility for homelessness? (905903)

We are aware that the Select Committee is due to publish its report shortly. Although we have not yet had sight of the report, I am keen to see the Committee’s recommendations and how it can help shape our programme of work. We want to ensure that local authorities have the tools that they need to put prevention absolutely at the heart of tackling homelessness. Good data and measurement are vital for that prevention, and that is why we are currently looking at how the data are collected and used to support prevention, so that we can find those at risk of becoming homeless far earlier than we do at present.

House Building

9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the outcome of the EU referendum on house building. (905892)

The need for new homes continues, as does our commitment to delivering 1 million of them by 2020. We are keeping markets under review, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will meet the major house builders this week.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty, and the problems faced before and after the referendum have resulted in the market value of many building companies falling by as much as 40% because of uncertainty about the future. I welcome the meeting that he is going to have this week with building companies. Will he agree to report back early to this House on what steps we can take to secure confidence on new build in the housing market?

I am certainly happy to undertake to do that. I have two points to make. First, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the steps that the Bank of England has taken to reassure markets following the referendum. Secondly, I draw his attention to a statement by Peter Andrew, the deputy chairman of the Home Builders Federation, who said on 5 July:

“House builders remain confident in the underlying level of demand for housing and will continue to deliver the homes the country needs.”

Given the demand-and-supply equation for housing in this country, the Minister is correct to assume that there will still be strong growth in housing. Does he agree that it is very important that neighbourhood plans play their part in future planning policy and that they should, therefore, be strengthened? Would he like to take this opportunity to confirm that he will continue to support the strengthening of those plans in the forthcoming Bill?

I am very happy to reiterate my support for that. It is worth noting that early figures show that neighbourhood plans provide about 10% more homes than local plans, so there is real evidence that giving communities a real say in the future of how their areas develop leads to more homes being developed, and we will legislate during this Session.

14. On house building, new research from the House of Commons Library shows that, in the six years under last week’s Prime Minister, fewer new homes were built in this country than under any Prime Minister since the 1920s, including 14% fewer than under Gordon Brown, despite the downturn; 21% fewer than under Tony Blair; and 35% fewer than under Margaret Thatcher. The new Housing Minister and Secretary of State are not responsible for their predecessors’ mistakes, but they are responsible for what happens now, particularly in the light of the EU referendum. After six years of failure on housing under Conservative Ministers, what changes can we now expect to see? (905897)

The right hon. Gentleman was one of my predecessors, and under him new house building was at the lowest level since the 1920s. Obviously, we had to recover from that position. Net new dwellings last year were at the same level as the average over the whole period of the Labour Government. I point the right hon. Gentleman to one statistic: in the year to March 2016, 265,000 homes were given planning permission, which is the highest figure on record.

Business Rates

10. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that the devolution of business rates does not adversely affect deprived areas. (905893)

By the end of this Parliament, local government will retain 100% of taxes raised locally. There will be redistribution between councils, so that areas do not lose out on funding where they collect less in taxes.

I agree with the Secretary of State that, as he said earlier, no council should lose out, so there will need to be some system of top-ups and tariffs. We also need to use the opportunity to incentivise areas to promote growth. How will the Government ensure that this does not become just an administrative exercise that leads to another complicated local government funding formula by another name?

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency has already seen a 44% fall in the claimant count since 2010, and this is another way to try to boost local growth by having control over local taxes. He makes the important point that we should make sure that no council loses out, and that is why there will be this redistribution, but at the same time there will be more ways to promote local growth.

Combined Authorities

11. What steps he is taking to encourage devolution of powers to combined authorities; and if he will make a statement. (905894)

Our Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 is delivering on our manifesto commitment to devolve powers and budgets to boost local growth in England. Ten devolution deals have been agreed already in local areas, covering some £7 billion of funds and some 16 million people in England.

A few days before the referendum, we heard that 5,000 jobs would be lost from HSBC. Surprisingly, only three days ago Mr Nigel Hinshelwood, who is the chief executive of HSBC, announced 1,200 new jobs and said that no jobs would be lost because of the supreme efficiency of the west midlands area. What further developments are happening with regard to the west midlands combined authority, which has the potential to promote even more employment during Brexit?

I understand the vital importance of the west midlands and the financial sector in boosting growth in that area as a fellow west midlands MP. My hon. Friend will know that very recently, in my former role, I went there to open the midlands financial centre of excellence, which will further help to develop jobs in that area. The west midlands combined authority that he asks about is now formally constituted; that happened last month. It looks set to have its first set of elections in May next year.

Over the next five years alone, the north-east was due to receive £726 million in EU funding, but the north-east devolution deal promises only £30 million a year for 30 years. Despite what the Secretary of State said just now, many devolution deals were already in a state of collapse before the EU referendum. With such high levels of uncertainty because of Brexit, is it not time he revisited all the devolution deals?

There is no need to reconsider any of the deals. These are good deals that have been reached by local leaders and central Government, and they will all, in turn, help to boost local growth. The hon. Lady mentions EU grants. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has mentioned, it is important that we bring certainty, and that is what we will be working to do.

19. One of the devolution deals that my right hon. Friend referred to a moment ago is the greater Lincolnshire deal, which is under consultation. May I urge my right hon. Friend, despite the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), to push ahead with that deal with, as the two councils in my constituency want, an elected mayor as part of it? (905902)

As my hon. Friend knows, it is not right for central Government to impose deals on any area. We certainly will not be doing that. These are deals because they require an agreement to be reached, but we will certainly be working with all areas that are interested, including Lincolnshire, to see what we can do.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the statement by the Local Government Association following the decision to leave the European Union. EU laws and regulations impact on many council services including waste, employment, health and safety, consumer protection, trading and environmental standards. My question on devolution is this: what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that local government is consulted and represented when negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU commence, and that powers from Brussels are devolved to a local level, not centralised in Whitehall?

It is very important that local government, whether through the LGA or otherwise, has a say in the process of leaving the EU. I think we all agree that it is important that that is done properly, and I will certainly be taking it up with my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Deprived Communities: Infrastructure Investment

13. Whether his Department plans to maintain infrastructure investment in deprived communities at the level currently provided by the EU. (905896)

17. Whether his Department plans to maintain infrastructure investment in deprived communities at the level currently provided by the EU. (905900)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I share the House’s surprise.

This Government remain committed to investment in growth and infrastructure across all parts of the United Kingdom. As the former Prime Minister made clear, while the UK remains a member of the EU, current EU funding arrangements continue unchanged. It will be for the Government under the new Prime Minister to begin our negotiations to exit the European Union and set out the arrangements for those in receipt of EU funds.

It is marvellous to welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. Nottingham has been allocated £10 million for its sustainable urban development strategy to fund projects that are critical to economic growth within the city and to provide vital public funding to support local businesses to grow and prosper. A further £7.8 million has been allocated for Nottingham and Derby’s metro area biodiversity action plan for restoring, opening up and connecting urban open spaces. What assurance will he give me and our city council that these commitments will be maintained?

As I said a moment ago, as long as we are a member of the European Union, the funding regime remains as it is. We are working across Government to get the certainty we want; all of us share that ambition for when we do begin the process of exiting. I would say to the hon. Lady that major investment by this Government is not just limited to the funding that comes through the European Union. We have seen a massive programme of £12 billion of local growth fund investment, with 48 enterprise zones that have created 23,000 jobs and leveraged in £2.4 billion of private sector investment. We are committed as a Government to continuing to invest in infrastructure, such as HS2, of which I know she is a big supporter.

May I, too, welcome the Minister to his job? He was part of a campaign which not only promised £350 million a week for the NHS if we left the European Union, but said that any lost EU funding would be matched by the Government. May I join my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), in trying to get him to confirm at the Dispatch Box that the £157 million from the EU destined for Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire is underwritten by this Government? Mr Speaker, we have had enough of the Brexit baloney. Tell the potteries they are going to get their money.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman took such an interest in my campaigning on the referendum in Brigg and Goole. We have made it absolutely clear that while EU funds have delivered some important support for growth and jobs, that has been only a small part of the much larger investment by this Government. It will be for the Government—in time, when we exit the European Union—to set out the funding arrangements and the guarantees. We hope to be able to work to get the certainty we require across Government once that process begins.

May I welcome the Minister and all his colleagues to their places on the Front Bench? Is not one of the most important ways of delivering infrastructure for all communities to ensure that there is speed and certainty of delivery? Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues consider two things we can do swiftly in that respect? One is a major reform of the compulsory purchase legislation, which has been recommended by the Law Commission and is long overdue; the other is to follow up the suggestion of many observers that we would do well to increase the up-front level of compensation for infrastructure projects.

I thank the former Minister for his question. I can confirm, on the point he makes about compulsory purchase, that the changes he wants were in the Queen’s Speech and will be in the Bill. He is of course absolutely right that we want certainty and to deliver on our infrastructure pledges as quickly and as swiftly as possible. I am more than happy to work with him, as a former Minister, to try to achieve just that.

Cornwall has received more EU funding than any other part of the country, but there are very real concerns about the current programme and the speed of access to the funds available. May I welcome the Minister to his new role? Is he prepared to meet me urgently to listen to these concerns and make sure that we can get every penny possible out of the EU before we leave?

I know of the work my hon. Friend has been doing in St Austell and Newquay on this issue. He is a doughty fighter for his constituents. I am happy to meet him this week to discuss just that.

Assurances on EU structural funds—£5.3 billion of funds for local government—is a key issue. With respect to the Minister, whom I welcome to his place, may I, as an MP representing a northern constituency, point out that only one of the top 15 infrastructure projects receiving the most public funding is in the north? What assurances can he give that leaving the EU will not widen the economic divide in our country, and what guarantees can he give that investment from the EU will be maintained up to and after Brexit for the UK?

I thank the shadow Minister for his kind words. If he had seen the new Prime Minister speak outside No. 10 when she took office, he would know that she is clear that delivering economic development across the United Kingdom outside London is a key priority. That is exactly what we have done through our devolution process, the local growth fund initiative, £12 billion of funding, and commitments such as High Speed 2 that go way beyond anything promised by the hon. Gentleman’s Government on transport in the north of England.

Green-belt Land

The Government are committed to the strong protection and enhancement of green-belt land. Within the green belt, most new building is inappropriate and should be refused planning permission except in very special circumstances.

I welcome the Minister to his post, although I am sure he is disappointed to no longer be my Whip.

My constituents in Burley-in-Wharfedale, and other villages such as Baildon and Eldwick, to name but a few, are facing planning proposals for green-belt land, with 500 houses proposed for Burley-in-Wharfedale alone. Surely the whole point of the green belt is that it should not be subject to housing, and particularly not until all brownfield sites in the district have been built on. My constituents do not trust Bradford council to look after their interests, so they look to the Government to protect them. What can my hon. Friend do to protect their interests and stop that building on the green belt?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words and wish his new Whip the best of luck.

If he looks through the national planning policy framework, he will see a clear description of what development is appropriate on the green belt, and a strong presumption that inappropriate development is harmful and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to have been appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I cannot wait to get on with the job, and particularly to deliver the huge number of houses that are so vitally needed across the UK. It is a great Department that will affect many lives. I also thank the previous Secretary of State and his Ministers for doing such a fantastic job. They will be a hard act to follow.

I welcome my broad-shouldered colleagues to their front-row positions. Given the Labour city council’s decision in Lincoln last Thursday deliberately to hide from my constituents and taxpayers, and the local media, the true cost of rebuilding the White bridge in Hartsholme park, what is my right hon. Friend’s view of councils who misuse the rules on exempt information because they do not want to be held accountable for their incompetence?

My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about that issue. All councils have an obligation to disclose information unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. If he feels that the rules have been improperly applied, I recommend that he complains to the City of Lincoln Council, and if that does not work to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If that does work, he should come to me.

I, too, welcome the new Ministers, and particularly the new Housing Minister. We were both elected in 2010, we are both London MPs, and we have probably both seen our postbag grow with the housing crisis in London.

Last week the National Audit Office reported on the Government’s progress in selling public land for 160,000 new homes. Will the Minister confirm that although the aim was to achieve £5 billion of land and property sales this Parliament, one year in, the Government have delivered only £72 million-worth of sales?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. I will write to her with the detailed figures, but I and the Secretary of State are committed to doing everything in our power to drive up the number of homes built in this country, and she is right to say that the release of public land is a key element of that programme.

I thank the Minister for his response; perhaps he will want to write to me about the following question as well. The Department’s forecast shows that to meet the commitment to sell land for more than 160,000 homes, the Government will need to dispose of five times as much land as they did last year. The National Audit Office says that there is no mechanism to monitor the number of houses built. Given those concerns, is the Minister confident that he will meet his target, or will he revise it?

We are absolutely determined to work with other Government Departments to ensure we maximise the amount of surplus public land we dispose of. As has been very clear in these discussions, there is a consensus across the House that we need to do everything we can to increase the number of homes being built.

T4. In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his new position, may I seek his confirmation that he will support district councils that wish to retain their independence and status in two-tier local authorities? (905926)

We have no plans to change the tiering of authorities. My hon. Friend has my commitment that I will take that very seriously.

T3. My local authority measures the delivery of new social housing by issue of completion certificates. The Secretary of State’s Department does it by site starts. Given that it is impossible for a site start to equate to a physical replacement, does the Secretary of State agree that the like-for-like replacement statistics to date are one big con? (905925)

No, I do not accept that. The core of the Government’s policy is that, as we dispose of housing through the right-to-buy mechanism, replacement of housing is key. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to address the particular concerns he raises, but that is the existing policy.

T8. Given the Secretary of State’s family connections in the west of England, he will be aware that it negotiated a unique devolution deal with his predecessor. Will he confirm that that devolution deal, which will bring much-needed funding to the west of England, will still go ahead? (905930)

I know my hon. Friend had some involvement in the deal, helping to achieve a consensus with local leaders. The west of England devolution agreement will see a new directly elected mayor and combined authority receive new powers to better manage transport across the area, linking new homes and people to the jobs and opportunities that we as a Government support with £900 million of significant new investment. The Government continue to work with local leaders to put in place the governance to deliver on the deal. I and my officials will continue to work to ensure that the Government deliver.

T5. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), refused to confirm that the £157 million of EU structural funds for the potteries will be matched by the Government, so can I try his boss? Will the EU regeneration funds be matched by the Government, or have the Brexiters sold north Staffordshire down the river? (905927)

First, the hon. Gentleman should just accept that Brexit means Brexit. The focus of the whole House should be on how best to deliver that. On EU funds, that is a fair question and a number of hon. Members have asked about that today. We need to reduce uncertainty. Now that the new Government are in place, we will certainly be working on this as an absolute priority.

T9. The Minister will be aware that some people who provide social care are booked to do just a few minutes at each job and spend much of the day travelling at their own expense. This does not breach minimum wage legislation, but does the Minister agree that it is none the less wrong and that we should try to address it? (905931)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The law is very clear: workers who are travelling as part of their work should be paid at least the minimum wage. If that is not happening, it should be reported. If my hon. Friend is aware of abuses, he should certainly do that immediately.

T10. By 2020, Wales is expected to have received £1.9 billion from the European Structural and Investment Fund. In the light of Brexit, will the Secretary of State ensure that Wales will receive this funding to 2020? Will he pledge that the Government will continue to match European funding after we leave the EU? (905932)

The right hon. Lady asks a very fair question. A number of firms and local regions have been asking just that. That is why, as I said earlier, this is an absolute priority now for the Government to make clear.

I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Will he guarantee to the House that during his tenure as Secretary of State there will be no dilution whatever to the vital protections of the green belt?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words. The green belt is absolutely sacrosanct. We have made that clear: it was in the Conservative party manifesto and that will not change. The green belt remains special. Unless there are very exceptional circumstances, we should not be carrying out any development on it.

The proposed expansion of London City airport, a wholly private £314 million investment, will increase airport capacity in London and create hundreds of new jobs. When will the Secretary of State announce his planning decision on the application?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have just started looking at this case, and he will understand that I cannot say too much publicly at this point, but it is being taken very seriously.

Order. I am sorry but we must move on. We have a very heavily subscribed set of exchanges today.