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Commons Chamber

Volume 619: debated on Monday 16 January 2017

House of Commons

Monday 16 January 2017

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Act 2017

Savings (Government Contributions) Act 2017.

Oral Answers to Questions

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Authorities: Business Rate Retention

Councils have long campaigned for 100% business rate retention. Last week, we introduced the Local Government Finance Bill, which will establish the framework for the reform system. We will continue to work closely with local government during the passage of the legislation to shape the detail of the reforms.

I welcome the decision that Cornwall will be a pilot area for the retention of business rates. However, business rates in Cornwall are low, particularly when compared with urban areas. Will the Secretary of State reassure the people of Cornwall that Cornwall Council will not lose out on any funding as a result of the changes?

I am pleased that Cornwall will be one of the areas to pilot some elements of the new 100% business rate retention system. The pilot will help us to develop the system and make it work for all local authorities, including rural authorities. We have been clear in setting up the system that we will ensure redistribution between councils, so that areas do not lose out just because they collect less in local business rates.

As you know, Mr Speaker, Buckinghamshire is the entrepreneurial heart of England. What assurances can the Secretary of State give the people of Wycombe that the needs-based review and the new business rate system will result in rebalanced service funding to reflect better economic growth in entrepreneurial areas such as ours?

I have visited the area with my hon. Friend several times, and he is right to call it entrepreneurial. Under the new business rates retention system, the redistribution of resources will continue, with baselines set through the fair funding review, so that all authorities are treated fairly.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government was supportive in principle of the Government’s proposals when it considered this issue, but it wants a lot of details. A major question of detail that needs resolution is this: future demand for adult social care is likely to grow far more quickly than the growth in business rates, so does he recognise that, in addition to retaining 100% of business rates, local authorities will need additional funding for adult social care? Will he agree to a review to consider that?

I am sure that the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee welcomes last month’s announcement of additional resources for adult social care, but he quite rightly points to the need for longer-term reform—something that the Government are taking seriously.

The Government’s plans to devolve attendance allowance as part of business rates retention has caused great distress to the over 1 million elderly people who rely on it to maintain independence and remain in their own homes. Will the Secretary of State reassure them today that the reform will not in any way strip them of that vital allowance?

The hon. Lady highlights the fact that councils will have an additional £12.5 billion a year when the 100% retention reform takes place. More responsibilities need to be pushed down to councils as a result. She asks what might make up those responsibilities. We have not yet made a decision, but we will do so in due course.

In two-tier local government, it is the district council that allocates land for important commercial development. Will the Secretary of State ensure that districts are appropriately awarded for taking often difficult decisions?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about districts and their role in promoting business and development. We introduced the Local Government Finance Bill last week. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that councils outside London can also promote business development districts.

The Government’s autumn statement showed an increase in business rates income to the Treasury of £2.4 billion in 2017-18, but that remains unallocated. Will the Secretary of State protect local people from massive council tax increases by investing that money in social care and ending the precept, as suggested in October by Unison, the largest trade union supporting careworkers?

The hon. Lady will be fully aware that this country had a huge budget deficit back in 2010, thanks to the previous Labour Government. All areas of Government have had to make a contribution to dealing with that, including local government. I am sure that she will welcome the changes to adult social care that were announced last month.

Does the new system allow local authorities any discretion with regard to business rates levied on hospitals that, like Southampton general hospital, face a rather large increase in business rates following a revaluation?

I can tell my right hon. Friend that the new system does allow some discretion to councils, but I do not think it will apply to hospitals. It will apply to businesses, and only in one direction, but as he has made the point, I will take a further look.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), when the Government committed to letting local authorities keep 100% of business rate income, they promised, alongside that, commensurate further cuts to their funding from Whitehall. Given that the Local Government Association estimates that councils are already underfunded for their legal responsibilities, including social care, to the tune of almost £6 billion, when will the Secretary of State tell the House what further cuts in funding the people of England can expect their local services to suffer?

As we have publicly announced the numbers, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that 97% of councils have accepted the four-year budget deal and have come forward with efficiency offerings. In return, the Government have guaranteed the funding. That does not mask the fact that, of course, so many councils find it challenging to deal with their settlement, but many councils are able to deal with it. He should look at that carefully.

Social Care: Funding

Our actions through the spending review in 2015 and the provisional local government finance settlement have brought the total dedicated funding for adult social care to £7.6 billion over the four years from 2016 to 2020. How much a local council spends on adult social care is rightly a matter for local councillors, who know these pressures best.

The Local Government Association has been clear that the money raised through increasing the social care precept will not be nearly enough to address the £2.6 billion gap facing adult social care by 2020. Instead of exacerbating the postcode lottery, will the Secretary of State not commit to additional ring-fenced resources for social care to tackle this crisis?

In the last spending review, the Government allocated an additional £3.5 billion a year by 2020 to adult social care. Just a few weeks ago, I announced £900 million of additional help over the next two years. Local councils do have to play a role in this, and I note that in Sunderland the average council tax bill is down in real terms since 2010. If a local council in Sunderland chooses to allocate more, it can do that.

For many of my constituents the fundamental problem in all too many cases is that we still separate healthcare funding and social care provision. That makes no sense to my constituents and increasingly little sense to me. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to speed up the integration of health and social care provision, so that we can actually deal with patients’ needs in the round and put them, rather than budgetary arguments, first.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which is that adult social care is not all about money. Of course, money and resources have a huge role to play, but it is also about how those services are delivered. The many councils that are able to approach integration in a better way have seen significant efficiencies, and we can all learn from that.

I appeal to the Secretary of State to face the House, so that we can all benefit from his mellifluous tones.

19. Between 2010 and 2020, around £40 million will have been taken out of the adult social care budget in Hull. The effect could be seen this weekend in what is happening in our local NHS hospitals. Will the Secretary of State think again and make sure that the problems that local authorities such as Hull are facing are addressed by central Government ring-fenced money? (908161)

I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the announcement made a few weeks ago that tried to recognise the pressures that she identifies: there will be £900 million of additional funding over the next two years, on top of the £3.5 billion by 2020. She rightly highlights that we need to keep looking at this situation to see what more can be done.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk). Most Members have had somebody come to their constituency surgery who desperately needs help, with local government and the health service agreeing that they need help with social care, but with both blaming each other, and it becoming a complete mess. Would it not be a good idea, on a cross-party basis, to look at a new model for social care?

My hon. Friend is right to point that out, and I have seen many situations such as he describes in my constituency. He also highlights the need for all of us to talk about this issue to see what we can do, working together.

20. According to Stoke-on-Trent’s clinical commissioning group, there is, on average, a 26-day delay between someone being ready to leave Royal Stoke University hospital and getting social care in place, and that despite a £6 million subsidy from the CCG. Is that the fault of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, or is it because of the Government’s lack of funding? (908162)

Again, the hon. Gentleman highlights the fact that for many areas, delivering adult social care is challenging, which is why I know he would welcome our recent announcement of additional funding on top of the funding settlement announced in the spending review in 2015. But the Government also recognise that there needs to be a long-term, sustainable solution, and I know that is the reform he would welcome.

I spent a day with carers just before Christmas, seeing the amazing work they do across Rossendale. They, like me, feel frustrated that they are constantly under financial pressure, so will the Minister look at what can be done about increasing funding for social care, in addition to what we have already done, and making sure that the funding has a cast-iron ring fence to make sure that the money goes where it is needed most?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to look at the resources applied to adult social care, from both local councils and central Government, to make sure that they are adequate. We will also continue to push the case for reform to ensure that all councils realise that more can be done, besides just getting more funding.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that local authorities are able to move patients in need of social care from hospitals to a more appropriate facility in a timely manner, thus preventing bed-blocking?

The hon. Lady will know that both my Department, working with local authorities, and the Department of Health have a role to play in doing just that; they are working together closely on integration plans with all local councils. Part of the funding— £1.5 billion a year by 2020, in the improved better care fund—is designed to do just what the hon. Lady suggests; it is money that goes towards trying to promote just such integration.

Library figures show that between November 2013 and November 2016, instances of bed-blocking for which social care needs were solely responsible increased by 89%. In the 12 months to November 2016 alone, bed-blocking has increased by 39%. Does the Minister recognise that the precept package brought forward by the Government in December is insufficient to solve the crisis in our social care system, and is putting further pressure on our already stretched NHS?

What the Minister recognises is that the additional funding announced in December will make a big difference: £240 million of additional money is coming in from the new homes bonus repurposing; and an additional almost £600—[Interruption.] It is new money. An additional almost £600 million is coming in from the precept changes. When it comes to using that money, we all want to see a reduction in delayed transfers of care. The hon. Lady will be aware of big differences between local councils on delayed transfers of care, and some councils can certainly learn from others.

Local Authorities: Long-term Funding

Ninety-seven per cent. of councils have accepted our historic offer of four-year funding certainty, and the Local Government Finance Bill will ensure that councils keep 100% of locally collected taxes by the end of this Parliament.

The Secretary of State will be particularly aware that Worcestershire is a very attractive place to live, work and visit, and a particularly attractive place to retire to, which is why we have a disproportionately large elderly population. How is the Department factoring into its long-term funding plans the additional needs of areas with a more elderly population?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As a Worcestershire MP, I wholeheartedly agree with his opinion of our great county: it is a great place for anyone to visit, live and holiday in. I recognise that demographic pressures are affecting different areas in different ways, which is why we are undertaking a fair funding review to introduce a more up-to-date, transparent and fairer needs assessment formula—something that I know my hon. Friend will welcome.

Mr Speaker, as you will know, the Secretary of State has received a proposal from Buckinghamshire County Council to create a new unitary authority to serve the whole county. He is also meeting the district councils, which are submitting to him a proposal for two unitary authorities. Will he confirm that he will give both those proposals equal and full consideration, including by consulting local residents, as happened in Dorset? Can he assure me that unitary status will not lead to any reduction in funding for Buckinghamshire residents?

I can give my right hon. Friend the assurance she seeks. Of course, I will give careful consideration to all proposals from local authorities, such as those in Buckinghamshire, including any financial implications. We need to ensure that any reform is right for local people and can deliver better services and strong local leadership.

I should declare that I am an elected member of the council of the London Borough of Redbridge. Local authorities such as mine face a double whammy of pressures from an ageing population and a high birth rate, which lead to funding pressures on our local authority. Does the Secretary of State accept that even if local authorities like mine divert resources from other council services into adult social care and charge the maximum social care precept available, they will still face a shortfall in funding for vital services for older people? What is he going to do about that?

The measures we announced in December will help the hon. Gentleman’s local authority; they will help every local authority in the land to deliver more adult social care services. Nevertheless, as I have said, as well as more money, we need reform. Some councils need to learn from others.

A 2015 Public Accounts Committee report outlined a 37% reduction in central Government support for local authorities between 2010 and 2016. What does the Secretary of State have to say to my Bristol South constituents, who are concerned about how the £64-million cuts announced by Bristol City Council last week will affect them?

I say to the hon. Lady’s Bristol South constituents, “Don’t forget where a Labour Government gets you.” The deepest deficit of any developed country, the biggest recession in almost 100 years and the largest banking bail-out—all that has meant that this Government have had to make some difficult decisions, and every part of local government has had to contribute to that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-term financial stability of local government is a function of not only funding from Government but good management in local authorities? What does he think we can do to attract people with business experience to running good local government?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is also about leadership, which means local authorities having many businesses in their area and promoting them. They need someone with a good track record and experience from which local people would benefit. I can think of someone like that in the west midlands: Andy Street.

The Secretary of State knows full well that leaving patients in hospital when they are medically fit to be discharged, as has happened to 130 people currently at Aintree hospital, is a very expensive way of looking after people. Why is he not shouting from the rooftops for the £4.6 billion that was cut from social care to be reinvested, so that councils can address the problem now and in the long term?

Helping with adult social care is about resources, which is why I know the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed the announcement a few weeks ago of an additional £900 million over the next two years. I am sure he will agree that it is also about reform, and that he will have noticed the big difference in delayed transfers of care between one authority and another.

Social Care: Funding

The Government have listened to calls from local government and to representations from right hon. and hon. Members across the House. New changes outlined in the provisional local government finance settlement in December provide access to an additional £900 million over the next two years.

The social care precept in Sutton would raise about £2.5 million, but Sutton is losing £8 million in revenue support grant. A one-off social care grant will give Sutton about £750,000, but Sutton is losing £1.5 million from the new homes bonus changes, which are paying for the one-off grant, resulting in a loss of £800,000. Does the Secretary of State agree that, as long as the Government are robbing Peter to pay Paul, we will see cancer operations cancelled and patients left in distress because of bed-blocking?

As a result of the spending review announcement of £3.5 billion extra to be paid into adult social care by 2020—£3.5 billion a year—and the announcement that I made a few weeks ago of £900 million over the next two years, all councils, including Sutton, will have more resources to deal with adult social care challenges.

I know that the Secretary of State will agree that the progress made with Torbay’s integrated care organisation was very welcome, but does he also agree that it was concerning to see that very strict financial rules from NHS England are now prompting a renegotiation in terms of a risk agreement even though no extra money will be spent? Will he agree to work with the council, the trust and colleagues in the Health Department to see whether we can resolve this?

I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to see what can be done and to listen to the concerns that he raises. Torbay is a good example of how integration can work and how it can really help local people.

Homelessness

The Government are committed to tackling homelessness. We have launched a £50 million homelessness prevention package and are backing the most ambitious legislative reforms in decades through the Homelessness Reduction Bill. I am delighted that Chelmsford will be one of the country’s first homelessness prevention trailblazer areas announced by the Prime Minister last month.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that in the 21st century rough sleeping is totally unacceptable? Will he tell me more about what is being done not only in England as a whole but in Chelmsford to end this stain on our society?

The whole House will agree that rough sleeping is totally unacceptable and that we should do all we can to end it. Our £20 million rough sleeping grant will fund 54 projects working to provide rapid response support for rough sleepers across England. It will help to prevent people from spending a night on the streets in the first place. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend that Chelmsford will receive almost £900,000 funding for preventing homelessness in partnership with neighbouring local authorities.

17. The inspirational ladies football player, Fara Williams, was homeless at 17, but went on to play 157 times for England, including as captain, and is now at Arsenal. Fara supports Centrepoint’s appeal for funds to set up the first national freephone helpline for 16 to 25-year-olds who are homeless and at risk of living a life on the streets, as she was. Does the Minister agree that that is a tremendous, long overdue initiative and that it should be funded by the Government? (908159)

The hon. Lady is right to bring that prime example to our attention. The fact that somebody is rough sleeping does not mean that they do not have the ability to reach their full potential, but we need to encourage them to do that. The Government currently pay for a service called StreetLink, which people can ring, or use an app, to report those who are sleeping rough. The details are then brought to the attention of the local housing department.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council.

Will the Minister congratulate Kettering Borough Council and its inspirational housing director, John Conway, on the measures they have taken during the recent cold weather to get all rough sleepers off the streets in Kettering and give them the appropriate housing advice they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving that very important and heartening example. Some local authorities across the country are doing excellent work to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, and the type of initiative he mentions should be followed by other local authorities.

On Wednesday, Glasgow City Council will consider a report that shows the devastating impact the universal credit roll-out is having on homelessness services in the city. So far, it has resulted in 73 homeless individuals racking up debts to the council of £144,000, an average of £1,971 per person. That is completely unsustainable both for the individuals and the council. What impact is the UC roll-out having on local authorities across the UK?

The Government have increased discretionary housing payments to £870 million across this Parliament to mitigate some of the short-term challenges people face from the welfare changes. As for the local housing allowance rate, 30% of the savings from that policy will be repurposed to help people in the highest value areas with the challenges in affordability.

I am afraid that is completely inadequate. Since 2011-12, welfare reform has meant that homelessness services in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, have seen cuts of more than £6 million to their temporary accommodation budgets. Does the Minister not accept that really to help rough sleepers and people who are homeless there must be co-ordinated work across all Government Departments? We cannot have one Department undermining the services of another.

The hon. Lady makes a good point and I assure her that we are working extremely hard across Government through a cross-governmental working group, which I chair. She mentions the fact that temporary accommodation and the temporary accommodation management fee, which originates from Department for Work and Pensions policy, is being devolved to local authorities and to the Scottish Government.

Rather than patting themselves on the back, should not the Government be apologising for allowing rough sleeping to double since 2010? This is not an insoluble problem; it merely requires action such as that taken by the previous Labour Government, which cut street homelessness by three quarters. Will the Minister adopt the initiative announced last month by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and commit to an extra 4,000 homes to end rough sleeping altogether?

It will not be lost on the hon. Gentleman that under the Labour Government, in 2003, homelessness was at its peak. This Government are absolutely committed to making sure that we eradicate rough sleeping and we are working extremely hard, with a £20 million fund for local authorities, as I mentioned earlier, and £10 million for social impact bonds to get our most entrenched rough sleepers off the street.

High Street Store Vacancies

We have taken significant action to help high streets adapt to changing shopping habits and to thrive. Shop vacancy rates are well down from their peak in 2012 and figures from Savills estate agents show that investment in high street retail property last year was up 17% from the year before.

High streets in my constituency continue to struggle, as they do up and down the country. My local authority does what it can, but the support it can give is limited. It needs Government intervention and support to make the necessary transformation. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other interested colleagues to see what can be done?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. The business rate revaluation will have a positive impact for his constituents, and I discussed the issue of high street regeneration with the chair of his local enterprise partnership, Christine Gaskell, just before Christmas, but I am more than happy to meet him to discuss that. We are also looking at proposals that we are working up with Revo on how we can share best practice, because this is very much a varied picture across the country.

14. Our small market towns are being stripped of their banks: there is no bank now in Caistor, and Market Rasen is down to one. What is the Minister’s policy to try to encourage more competition in the retail banking sector so that we can try to encourage banking in our rural towns? (908155)

This is an important point—the issue has affected my constituency—and one that I am happy to discuss further with the Treasury. The business rate revaluation will have a positive impact on retail property in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as it will across many parts of the north and midlands.

Social Care: Funding

We recognise the pressures faced by the social care system. On top of the funding that we announced in 2015, which will deliver nearly £3.5 billion a year by 2019-20, we are providing an additional £900 million over the next two years for social care.

Unfortunately, Durham has already had to make £55 million-worth of cuts. The precept will bring in £4 million, but another £40 million of cuts are in the pipeline. Some villages will face private contractors being unable to afford to provide any social care whatsoever. May I suggest that the Minister go back to the Treasury and ask for another announcement on 8 March?

The hon. Lady will know that Durham will benefit from the additional £900 million to which the Government are giving local authorities access over the next two years. It will also significantly benefit from the improved better care fund, which is £105 million this year, £825 million the following year and £1.5 billion in the last year of this Parliament.

Given that so much of the funding for adult social care goes towards care homes, and given that so many care homes are failing their Care Quality Commission inspections, will the ministerial team consider wrapping care home reform into the adult social care reform that has been announced? In particular, will they consider requiring local authorities to build new care homes, just as they have to build schools and GP surgeries?

I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive suggestions—we are always willing to listen to those. As he might be aware, the Department of Health is looking carefully at how care homes are provided, and particularly at regulation and the role of the CQC.

Funding per head of population in Westminster and in Kensington and Chelsea is almost double that received by Enfield, and Enfield is facing spending pressures of £5.9 million in adult social care in 2017-18 alone. Can the Minister confirm not only that will he look at the ring-fencing issue, but that he is serious about properly reflecting the assessed needs of our communities in the future local government funding formula?

I met the chief finance officer of Enfield Council last week, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), as part of the local government finance settlement consultation. The right hon. Lady will be aware that local authorities across the country will benefit from the £900 million that they will have access to over the next two years, and from the improved better care fund, which is ramping up quickly over the next three years.

Neighbourhood Plans

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill and my recent written ministerial statement will further strengthen neighbourhood planning, ensuring that communities have the ability to shape the development of their area, not speculative development.

I thank the Minister for that welcome answer. It has been encouraging to watch local communities develop their neighbourhood plans over the past few years. Will the Minister clarify how much time councils and communities will have to update their neighbourhood and local plans once data on new housing numbers have been published, and will he ensure that neighbourhood and local plans carry full weight for that period?

I can reassure my right hon. Friend on that point. The Government’s expectation is that plans should be reviewed every five years, but when new data come to light it does not mean that existing plans are automatically out of date.

Will the Minister ensure that when we have neighbourhood plans we involve local and national businesses more in the planning procedure? So many of the global and national chains suck the money out of our communities, and many of them put little investment back. What incentives can he introduce?

First, there is the possibility of having neighbourhood plans purely for business district areas, which the hon. Gentleman might want to look at in his constituency. There is also the wider issue of ensuring that we capture the uplift in value when businesses apply for planning permission, and there is a review of the community infrastructure levy and section 106 on my desk at the moment.

Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the hundreds of people in Mid Sussex who have devoted a great deal of time to putting together neighbourhood plans, and will he assure us that in his White Paper steps will be taken to secure the integrity of the plans?

I pay tribute not only to the people my right hon. Friend mentions but to him, because he has been a huge champion of neighbourhood planning in Mid Sussex and has spoken about it repeatedly. I hope that my written ministerial statement has helped addressed some of his concerns, but there will certainly be further action in the housing White Paper.

Pressure on local authority budgets is leading local authorities to encourage the building of high-cost homes to boost the council tax take. That completely misses the point regarding the local need for starter homes and affordable family homes. What can be done to encourage and, indeed, perhaps to incentivise local authorities to ensure that housing need is matched by housing provision?

The national planning policy framework is very clear on that point. When local authorities conduct their assessments of housing need, they should not just look at the total number of homes required, but the right mix of housing to cater for the demographic profile including, for example, the number of elderly people who might need specialist housing. The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to that issue.

I very much welcome the increase in housing starts, the number of which has doubled since the first quarter of 2009. To get to the level we need, we need a resurgence of small and medium-sized house builders. Does the Minister agree that we need local authorities and local communities to allocate more small sites in their local plans and neighbourhood plans?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are far too dependent, at this point in time, on a small number of large developers. Therefore, we need to ensure that the land that has attracted small developers is released and that those developers have access to finance.

House Building

Since July, we have announced: a £3 billion fund to support small and medium-sized enterprises; an additional £1.4 billion for affordable housing; a £2 billion accelerated construction programme; a £2.3 billion infrastructure fund; funding for starter homes; and support for 17 garden towns and villages. The White Paper will contain further measures.

As my hon. Friend knows, the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, of which I am the chairman, published its findings into the quality of new build housing. Would he be willing to meet the all-party group to discuss our findings and our suggestions of inclusions in the forthcoming White Paper?

I would be delighted. I have attended a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for the private rented sector, which my hon. Friend also chairs; he is a busy man. He is quite right to say that, as we address the fundamental challenge of getting the country to build the homes we desperately need, we must not lose sight of quality as well as quantity.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) is very busy. He has many commitments and an extremely full diary. I do not think that anybody doubted the point.

Is Westminster City Council right to expect other local authorities across the south-east and as far as the midlands to take on the responsibility of housing as well as providing education and social care for London’s people in housing need?

I would think that London MPs, Westminster councillors and, indeed, everybody would expect that, as much as possible, local authorities should meet the need to house in their area those who are homeless in their area. Our guidance is clear about that. The fact that some local authorities have to place people outside their areas is an indictment of the failure of the country, over 30 or 40 years, to build enough homes. We are going to put that right.

Local authorities and communities are incentivised to deliver vital new homes through the new homes bonus. However, very few residents are aware of the new homes bonus, so do not see the gain of development. Does the Minister agree that local authorities should set out how they spend their new homes bonus in the annual council tax bill statement?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I am happy to look into. There is a wider issue of ensuring that communities see the benefit of new housing. With the community infrastructure levy and section 106 payments, we must ensure that communities know the benefits that they are getting in return for accepting housing.

Dudley would be able to do much more in the area if its budgets were not being cut by 20% compared with just 1% in Surrey and 2% in Buckinghamshire. That has put pressure on a whole range of council services, not just housing. For instance, libraries are closing and social services are under pressure. Over Christmas, hard-working, low-paid staff in Dudley had to take three days unpaid leave—effectively a pay cut of 1%—because of this Government’s cuts. How can Ministers sit there and tell me that the cuts they have imposed on Dudley are in any way fair?

The hon. Gentleman is certainly creative. The question was actually about building more homes. I point out to him that, over the course of this Parliament, the Government are doubling the housing capital budget, which will enable more homes to be built in his area.

Business Rates

The Government concluded the business rates review in March 2016. Following the review, the Government announced a £6.7 billion cut in business rates over the next five years and a permanent doubling of small business rate relief. As a result, 600,000 small businesses will pay no business rates at all.

I thank the Minister, but has he done any serious analysis of the process in order to give any comfort to the hard-pressed average high street currently competing against the internet and trading in very, very difficult circumstances?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. There is no doubt that many external factors do challenge our high streets, but there is a significant package of £6.7 billion. He may want to encourage some of the business owners on his high street to check the revaluation of their business rate following the 2017 business rate revaluation, which is now online.

Homelessness

12. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2015. (908153)

No one should ever have to sleep rough. Our £20 million grant fund will help those new to the streets. The £10 million for eight social impact bonds covering 48 areas will build on the success of the world’s first social impact bond, which we funded in London. This has helped over 400 entrenched rough sleepers to get back on to their feet and into accommodation.

I appreciate that response, yet Calderdale Council tells me that the number of non-statutory rough sleepers in our district has never been higher. While local charities are doing everything they can to tackle homelessness, the council’s supporting people budget has been slashed by 50%. Does the Minister agree that unless we support and empower our local authorities to do this work properly, we stand no chance of reducing the numbers sleeping rough on our streets?

As the hon. Lady will know, this Government are backing the Homelessness Reduction Bill, currently going through the House, which will put a number of obligations on local authorities to help people earlier so that they do not become homeless. The announcement on funding for that Bill will be made very shortly. We are also, as she has heard, providing £50 million to start that work at this point so that we do not waste time waiting for the legislation to come into effect.

In Derby city we are currently looking at alternative ways of giving to homeless people, such as vouchers, an app, or through a website. Will the Minister consider looking at these alternative giving methods to see whether it is possible to take them forward?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is generally for members of the public to consider the way in which they might want to give to homeless people. As I have said a number of times today, the Government are absolutely focused on helping rough sleepers. The £10 million being put into the social impact bond will help to get some of the most entrenched rough sleepers off the street, and I am sure that is what we all want to see.

Pub Closures: Permitted Development Rights

Pubs are at the heart of community life. That is why we have made provision for assets of community value to be placed on the register by communities that value their pub. That takes away the permitted development rights automatically.

The co-operative pub model is saving valuable locals right across the country, but the asset of community value designation process that the Minister mentions, which enables this in the first place, can often be far too clunky and lengthy. Would not a better approach be to remove permitted development rights and protect all pubs by default?

There are now already in excess of 1,750 pubs listed as assets of community value. The moment a nomination goes in, the permitted development rights are removed. Moreover, local authorities are free, if they wish, to apply for an article 4 direction to remove those rights across a whole area.

As the hon. Gentleman now knows, the Minister for Housing and Planning was misled by the British Beer and Pub Association about the fact that removing permitted development rights would not have any effect on improvements to pubs, so will the Department now confirm that it would simply change the use class order?

As I have made clear, this is an area where we have to balance competing interests. I am keen to continue looking at it as I continue in this role. We want to support community pubs. That is why today I can announce to the House that we are providing £50,000 of funding to Pub is The Hub, which will help more pubs to be transformed and to be valued by their communities. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), who has lobbied me quite hard on this.

Private Rented Housing

We are in the process of introducing banning orders for serious offenders, civil penalties of up to £30,000, a database of rogue landlords, and mandatory licensing for smaller houses in multiple occupation; and we are banning letting agency fees.

Manchester is doing some very innovative work on cracking down on rogue landlords, but there are issues with the geographical scope of the licensing scheme. Will the Minister meet me, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Residential Landlords Association to see how we can raise standards together?

We have in the past provided £100,000 of funding to Manchester for this work. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. This is a critical area, and we need to drive out the rogue landlords so that decent landlords do not face unfair competition.

Peterborough City Council is just about to commence a selective licensing scheme to crack down on rapacious slum landlords and protect vulnerable tenants under the Housing Act 2004. Will the Minister keep under review the bureaucratic burden that falls on local authorities? The whole process, from start to finish, is not timely and takes far too long.

I am very happy to give that undertaking, and to meet my hon. Friend if he wishes to discuss these matters in more detail.

Midlands Engine for Growth

As announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the autumn statement, we will shortly publish a midlands engine strategy. This will include £392 million for our local growth fund for the midlands engine local enterprise partnerships.

I thank my right hon. Friend, and I was delighted to see that he led the first ever midlands engine trade mission last year. Will he update the House on progress on that?

My hon. Friend has also done a lot to champion business and economic growth in the midlands. That first mission—the trade mission to north America—went well. It went so well that we went ahead with a second mission—to China—for the midlands region. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are working with the Department for International Trade and other Departments across Government, and we will shortly publish a midlands engine strategy, reaffirming our commitment to the area.

Topical Questions

At DCLG, we are starting 2017 as we mean to go on. The housing White Paper is nearing completion. The Local Government Finance Bill was published last week and, as we have heard, it creates the framework for business rate retention. It also features what my briefing refers to as discretionary relief on public toilets, which is, I am sorry to say, not quite what the name suggests.

I will try not to follow the Secretary of State’s joke.

I thank the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse for his helpful comments in support of the Sheffield city region in the last few days. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the Government want the city region deal to go ahead as agreed and that they do not support this vague concept of a mayor for Yorkshire, which will not deliver better local services or improve economic growth and which is, arguably, outwith the legal framework for mayoral combined authorities contained in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016?

It is very good of the hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, to thank the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse. We remain strongly committed to the devolution deal for the Sheffield city region. We will continue to work with local leaders, who have proposed a mayoral election for May 2018. We will also continue to discuss with local partners proposals for a devolution deal elsewhere in Yorkshire, including Leeds.

T4. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to creating a housing market that works for everyone. In my own local authority area of North West Leicestershire, new housing starts are now 273% higher than they were in the year ending September 2010. May I give the Secretary of State a challenge as he sets out his new housing White Paper: can we do even better? (908183)

I hope we can rise to the challenge. If every local authority was building at the rate that my hon. Friend’s local authority is building, we would be building 370,000 homes a year. That is a sign that it is possible to build the homes that this country needs; it just requires the political will to do it.

My question is for the Secretary of State: where is his housing White Paper? We were promised it in the autumn. We were then promised it alongside the autumn statement, then before the end of the year, and then first thing in the new year. We were told that it was in the Government’s grid for publication today. It has been delayed more times than a trip on Southern rail. I say to the Secretary of State: what is the problem?

The right hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long for the housing White Paper. When he sees it, he will see that it does a lot more than happened under the previous Labour Government. When he was the Housing Minister, I understand house building fell to its lowest level since the 1920s.

The right hon. Gentleman has shown us exactly what the problem is: the huge gap between the Government’s rhetoric on housing and their record. Under Labour, we saw 2 million new homes, 1 million more homeowners and the largest investment programme in social housing for a generation. For seven years under Tory Ministers, we have seen failure on all fronts—higher homelessness, fewer homeowners and less affordable housing. Even the Housing Minister has said that affordable housing is “unacceptably low” and “feeble”. Does the Secretary of State agree, and what is he going to do in his White Paper to deal with this crisis?

Under Labour, we saw housing affordability, measured by median income compared with the average house price, double—going up from three and a half times to seven times. We saw the number of first-time buyers fall by 55%, and the number of units available for social rent decline by 421,000. That is Labour’s record on housing.

Order. Short questions and answers, please, because there is a lot of interest. A single sentence will do.

T5. Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils are preparing a new local plan, and have consulted on the options for meeting development need using the green belt. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that green-belt land is vital to preserving the character of places such as Chesham and Amersham and the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and should not be developed other than in truly exceptional circumstances? (908184)

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The purposes of the green belt are very clear. It should preserve the setting and the special character of historic towns—for example, those in her constituency. Where councils look at the green belt, they should always make sure that the national planning policy framework rules are met: the circumstances must be exceptional, and brownfield land should always be prioritised.

T2. The recent publication of the voluntary right-to-buy pilot schemes for housing association tenants shows that very few completions were achieved in return for the enormous time and effort expended. New affordable housing is a key element in Cambridgeshire’s devolution deal. Will the Minister promise no distraction from the opportunity this gives us to build the supply of homes needed in our area? (908181)

Voluntary right to buy provides replacement affordable housing. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting it, because it helps people who could not otherwise own their home to do so and provides new affordable housing.

T8. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State announced an extra £7 billion fund to expand the Government’s affordable housing programme. I welcome this, and it will help my constituents. However, there is also a concern that the need for new homes will outweigh the need to protect our greenfield land, so will the Minister assure my constituents that he remains committed to it? (908187)

I absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. I congratulate her on championing brownfield land. The new brownfield registers that we are introducing will help to ensure that development is, rightly, focused on brownfield first.

T3. Does the Minister agree that available housing provision is the key to reducing homelessness and that his Government should look to the Welsh Labour Government’s legislative pledges of £5.6 million in 2015 and £3 million in following years to fund affordable homes to rent as well as to buy? (908182)

The hon. Lady will have heard, in the autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer adding £1.4 billion to the affordable housing budget. We are doubling the housing capital budget over this Parliament. That is not rhetoric, but proof of our commitment to delivering the housing that is needed.

T9. Together with the starter home land fund, the new locally led Welborne garden village in Fareham will deliver new homes and support first-time buyers. Will my hon. Friend explain how the Government are working with local authorities to deliver the new garden villages, and will he agree to visit Fareham to see how the local community will benefit from this new scheme? (908188)

It was a pleasure to announce support for 14 new garden villages, which will between them provide 48,000 new homes, and it would be a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see the progress being made.

T6. Stoke-on-Trent City Council is proposing to cut children’s centres. Does the Secretary of State think that is acceptable? (908185)

Every council needs to provide certain statutory services, including children’s services. We want to make sure that every council is properly funded. Stoke-on-Trent council, like many others, has accepted the four-year settlement, and that is good news.

T10. Labour city councillors in Lincoln are determined to build homes on the Swanpool floodplain in the heart of our city, even though a private developer decided that the site was unsuitable. What message will my right hon. Friend want to give Labour councillors such as ours who act in such a reckless manner? (908189)

I hope my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on a specific planning case, but we have strict, clear rules that say that councils must consider strict tests under the national planning policy framework that protect people and property from flooding. Where those tests are not met, that development should not go ahead.

T7. A year ago, local authorities were hit with a £200 million in-year cut in public health support. The Select Committee on Health described it as a “false economy” that will add to future health costs. What impact does the Minister believe those cuts will have on health inequalities, and will he meet me and representatives from Hounslow so that they can raise their concerns about the impact on children and others in the community? (908186)

As 25% of Government expenditure takes place through local government, there will always be situations where funding has to be reduced. As the hon. Lady knows, the health budget is being increased by £10 billion across this Parliament. In terms of public health, I think the cuts she mentioned equate to about 1% to 2%, which was not ideal. I am sure that local government is more than able to meet the challenge.

While it may be true that Ministers have been in touch with councils directly hosting proposed new garden villages, they have not necessarily been in touch with neighbouring councils, which may be more affected by the proposals than those hosting the development. May I suggest that Ministers spread their nets a little wider when deciding which schemes to promote and, in my case, contact Basildon and Thurrock Councils as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me outside the Chamber, and I will make sure that both he and the council have the information. The scheme has not yet gone through the planning systems; there will be every opportunity to address concerns.

In 2009-10, there were 40,000 building starts for social rented homes. Last year that was down to 1,000. Why is that?

The number of socially rented homes declined by 421,000 during Labour’s time in office. Since the change of Government in 2010, we have invested billions in socially rented homes, including the additional £1.4 billion that was announced in the autumn statement.

Last week, Bath received £259,000 of funding as part of the rough sleeping grant. Will the Minister join me in endorsing the great work of the council and charities such as Julian House, the Genesis Trust and Developing Health and Independence, as they put together those plans to ensure that no one else ends up with a winter on the streets?

I certainly endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. That was exactly what we wanted to achieve with the funding that we provided: local authorities working with charitable and third sector organisations to deliver the support that we need and all want for people who are rough sleeping and homeless.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, which we have just celebrated in your state rooms, Mr Speaker, by launching Freedom City 2017, the year-long festival that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dr King’s visit to Newcastle to receive an honorary doctorate from the university. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), the shadow Minister for diversity, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), the sadly outgoing US ambassador Matthew Barzun and you, Mr Speaker, all spoke to King’s great work and the challenges he highlighted of race, poverty and war. Mr Speaker, you emphasised the need to champion those values exemplified by King in our House and also our communities. Does the Minister agree that Freedom City 2017 provides an excellent opportunity to do just that?

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Lady. She is quite right to point out the importance of Martin Luther King on this day, which is a celebration of his life and work. We would all do well to remember what he taught us, and one thing that he said is that we must live together as brothers or we all perish as fools. We can all learn from that, no matter who we are, whether in the US or the UK.

I can reassure my right hon. Friend that this Government want to see everybody get involved in building more homes, so if he is referring to local councils and their role, then absolutely: the more people who can get involved in building the homes we need, the better.

Councils across the country are highlighting the enormous gap between what the social care precept raises and the increased costs of social care as a consequence of the increase in the minimum wage and increasing needs among the population, as well as the cuts that they—the councils—are already having to make. Does the Secretary of State accept that his approach to social care funding is simply not credible, and will he commit to taking a different approach to ensure that people across the country get the care that they need?

We have taken the pressures on our social care very seriously. The hon. Lady will know from the announcement of just a few weeks ago about an additional £900 million for the next two years, which will make a difference. We also accept that there is more to do.

Last summer, the nine Dorset councils submitted a proposal to my right hon. Friend to establish a combined authority. Will he ensure that the order establishing that authority is brought forward in sufficient time to enable the authorities to be set up on 1 April this year?

[Official Report, 19 January 2017, Vol. 619, c. 6MC.]We have only just received the proposal to which my hon. Friend refers. We want to make sure that we take the right amount of time to consider it carefully. Whatever the result, we will make sure that enough time is allowed for this House to do its business.

I welcome the fact that Bristol has been named as one of the trailblazers for homelessness prevention and is getting additional money for it. Does the Minister share my concern, however, that in some cases it is far more attractive for landlords and developers to move into providing houses in multiple occupation or emergency accommodation rather than providing decent, proper family homes?

Yes, I certainly understand the hon. Lady’s point when it comes to the practice of flipping temporary accommodation for the uses that she mentions. We hope that the devolution of the temporary accommodation management fee will make it far more attractive for people to be able to maintain temporary accommodation in the way we want it to be provided.

The new garden village at Deenethorpe will bring thousands more new homes to East Northamptonshire. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that new infrastructure to support those new homes will be at the forefront of his mind as this project progresses?

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance, given that it is part of the concept of garden villages. More generally, if we want communities to accept more housing, we have to make sure that we get the infrastructure in place at the same time. That is why the Chancellor’s announcement of a £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund was so welcome.

I am sorry that we have run out of time. I shall, however, take one more question. I call Imran Hussain.

Last month, I asked the Health Secretary how many local authority leaders he had met to discuss social care. The answer was not very positive, so I ask this Secretary of State how many cash-strapped local authority leaders he is willing to meet to discuss the real crisis in social care.

I have met a number of local authority leaders in the last few weeks, as a result of local government finance settlement consultations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done the same, and we will continue to meet local authority leaders and chief executives to understand the challenges that they face.

Points of Order

Order. I would like to save up the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin)—he is a specialist delicacy.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have seen reports at the weekend that the Prime Minister is now blaming family doctors for the NHS crisis. It is not the fault of GPs that social care has been cut or that general practice is underfunded. Has the Prime Minister or the Health Secretary given you notice that they are going to come to the House to make a statement, or should we assume that they want to avoid scrutiny for their floundering response to this NHS crisis?

The answer is that I have received no indication of an intention for a Government Minister to make a statement on that matter. I have received notification of other intended statements for the coming days, but that is not among their number.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Tuesday at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, the Foreign Secretary was asked whether the UK would be participating in yesterday’s summit in Paris on the Israeli-Palestine peace situation. He told us that we would be participating and would “reinforce our message”, yet we read in press reports today that, alone among the western nations, the UK had no Minister present, and only a civil servant was sent to observe without the authority to sign the final communiqué. Have you been given notice that the Foreign Secretary intends to make a statement on the summit, and if not, what can Members do to compel the Foreign Secretary to divulge the full intentions of his Department when answering questions?

In the short time—approximately 20 months, I think—for which I have known the hon. Gentleman, I have come to realise what a persistent fellow he is. In response to the last part of his observations—about what can be done, and what facilities or recourses are open to him—let me say that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the concept of the written question and, I think, with the location of the Table Office, in which he can submit such questions. Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I rather suspect that he will keep raising the matter.

I am, of course, grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this matter. He has registered it with force, and what he has said will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. If the Foreign Secretary feels that inadvertently the House has been misled—it is not immediately clear to me that the words were inaccurate; it may be that there has been a change of mind, which is not without precedent in our proceedings—no doubt he will take steps to correct the record. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman can go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step in the knowledge that he has put his point forcefully on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the whole House, but you in particular, will want to join me in paying tribute to the great Professor Anthony King, who was one of our country’s foremost political academics, psephologists and commentators, and who made a huge contribution to public life. He helped to educate thousands of young people in Britain, including yourself, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and, of course, me—although, as I recall, Mr Speaker, you were the only one who got a first. I am sure that you and the whole House will want to pay tribute to the late Professor King.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and, more particularly, I rather imagine that Professor Anthony King’s widow, Jan, will be especially appreciative when she hears of the noble step that the hon. Gentleman has taken today. Colleagues will doubtless have noted that Professor King died last week, aged 82, after a stellar career and vocation as one of the most distinguished political scientists of this generation. He was a brilliant teacher, he was an outstanding communicator, not least on television when giving his analysis of by-elections, and he was a prodigious and illuminating writer. Personally, I feel every day a sense of gratitude to Tony for what he did for me; and God, I must have been an awkward student to teach 30 years ago—[Interruption.] And, indeed, I still am. He stuck with me, and I am hugely grateful.

The hon. Gentleman and I got to know each other at the University of Essex 30 years ago, and I say in affectionate tribute to him that he is as noisy today as he was when he used to heckle me in student union meetings between 1982 and 1985.

Tony King was a great man who did wonders for the study and teaching of political science in the United Kingdom, and we should honour his memory.

BILL PRESENTED

Organ Donation (Deemed Consent)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Paul Flynn, supported by Kelvin Hopkins, Ronnie Cowan, Mark Durkan, Kerry McCarthy, Kate Green, Michael Fabricant, Mike Wood, Yvonne Fovargue, Dr Philippa Whitford and Siobhain McDonagh, presented a Bill to enable persons in England to withhold consent for organ donation and transplantation; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 123).

National Citizen Service Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The National Citizen Service is a huge success. More than 300,000 young people have taken part, and many of them say that the NCS has changed their lives forever. For those who do not know, the NCS is a summer programme that lasts for up to four weeks, with no cost to parents who cannot afford it. It is open to all 15 to 17-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland. Indeed, the foundational strength of the programme is that it brings together people from all backgrounds. There is a focus on fun, and personal and social development, along with the design and delivery of a social action project. As Michael Lynas, the chief executive of the NCS Trust, has written:

“We build bridges across social divides and ladders to opportunity. We bring young people together in common purpose to change their perspectives and lives for good…Above all we try to show them that life is not a spectator sport.”

I got a sense of how transformational the programme is when I visited Liverpool last summer and met representatives of Everton football club’s NCS project. There was tremendous enthusiasm, and I was told by several people that they had become firm friends with neighbours from the same street whom they had not previously known at all. That is not untypical. An independent Ipsos MORI evaluation found that the vast majority of NCS graduates leave feeling more positive about people from dissimilar backgrounds and about themselves. Expanding the horizons of young people while increasing social cohesion is a massive win-win.

May I take this opportunity to warmly thank NCS East for its superb work in helping young people in Peterborough to develop as good citizens, one of whom, Tapiwa Tandi, is beginning a work experience scheme with me tomorrow?

I suspect that a theme of this debate will be the experiences that we have all had in our constituencies with NCS graduates, and the enthusiasm and self-belief that doing NCS projects gives them. I commend my hon. Friend on taking his NCS graduate into his office. I look forward to hearing how that work experience goes.

I have also been impressed when I have visited NCS in Bradford, but I wonder what the Secretary of State’s response is to the National Audit Office report about the NCS, which says that it has not met its participation targets in six years and that the cost works out at an estimated £1,863 for every youngster who is expected to take part. What is the Government response to that NAO report?

I welcome the NAO report because it is important, with any programme of this type, that we understand value for money and what is being achieved. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that this was a very ambitious target. We have had great success in getting towards that target, but there is still more to do. The Bill is important so that more of the young people such as those he has met in his constituency will have the chance to participate in the NCS.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that more than 3,000 people from Lancashire have had the benefit of the NCS, including some 71 from my constituency last year—I saw the figures today? Has she, like me, been struck when she has visited NCS programmes by how well they have reached out to two particular groups: those from lower income families; and, most importantly, disabled constituents, who have been greatly involved in these programmes and have played a vital role in making sure that they are so successful?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that the NCS has an above-average success rate in reaching those hardest-to-reach young people. We have all seen NCS projects in which there are young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, young people with disabilities and young people from more affluent backgrounds, all working together with the common purpose of achieving their social action project, and in doing so making lifelong friends. That work should be commended. I am very pleased to hear that 71 people from my hon. Friend’s constituency were involved last summer, and I am sure there will be more this summer.

I concur with all the positive things that have been said about the NCS. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking former Prime Minister David Cameron for all that he did to drive the programme forward, Lord Blunkett, who was also a key guiding hand behind the project, and my friend Michael Lynas, who has taken this from a small seed to the great success that we see today?

I will, of course, join my hon. Friend in so doing. Former Prime Minister David Cameron is now chair of the patrons board of NCS. The work that he achieved in government will have a lasting legacy. My hon. Friend is also right to suggest that the noble Lord Blunkett has been instrumental in this, as has Michael Lynas, the NCS chief executive. They have done great work to get this far. Let us remember that that has been achieved from a standing start, and that 300,000 young people have now gone through the programme. Congratulations are definitely in order.

When I went along to the end-of-project session at Somerset College in Taunton Deane, I was impressed by the confidence of the children who had undertaken the course and the skills that they had gained. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in these days when we are trying to upskill our young people and to make them fit for business—even if it is just by teaching them to be polite and to communicate—we ought to promote this scheme much more widely because it has such a great future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is why we want to grow the NCS as quickly as possible, in a way that is sustainable and that continues to be successful.

We have all seen the sense of self-worth and confidence that working in a team can give to young people, and I have seen them achieving some really stretching targets. That is a fantastic testament to the scheme, and we want to see more people taking part in it. The NCS can break down barriers just at the time when they could become entrenched, and 95% of participants said that the NCS had allowed them to get to know people whom they would not normally expect to meet. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) made that point a moment ago.

Although the programme is for young people, it is not only the young who benefit from it. For example, NCS participants have prepared and distributed care packages to the parents of premature babies in east Durham, raised funds for the Huntington’s Disease Association on Merseyside, and built a sensory garden for the residents of a Weymouth care home. Moreover, volunteering can become a lasting habit. The NCS Trust estimates that in the 16 months following the summer programmes, the 2013 and 2014 graduates did an additional 8 million hours of volunteering in their communities. The Government are determined that the NCS should become even more popular and successful, but adventure and inspiration need to be underpinned by nuts and bolts, which is what the Bill puts in place.

I, too, would like to thank and congratulate everyone involved in delivering the NCS in Corby and east Northamptonshire. My right hon. Friend has said a lot about the benefits of the scheme. Does she also agree that employability is one of its key achievements, as young people learn lots of skills that transfer well into the workplace?

I absolutely agree. The soft skills that the NCS can bring to young people make them much more employable and much more valuable in the workplace. That is exactly what we want to see from the NCS, among its many other benefits.

When I visited Somerset’s NCS scheme in Exmoor last summer, I was struck by the number of students from previous years who had returned to be leaders and mentors. Is there any way in which the Secretary of State could reward those who go back as leaders and give them recognition for that further service?

We have announced a long-term review of young people in volunteering. My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion about the way in which the NCS can encourage volunteering within the scheme in future years.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the examples that she has set out demonstrate clearly the Government’s continuing commitment to the big society and that, in contrast to some of the mischievous reporting in some of the media, that is wholly compatible with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s welcome promotion of the shared society?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. This is an aspect of a country and a Government that work for everyone, and of the shared society that we all want to be part of. I shall now give way to my newly knighted hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Sir Julian Brazier).

Not everyone was here then, so I thought that that the hon. Gentleman would welcome an encore.

I am most grateful, Mr Speaker.

Speaking as a huge supporter of the NCS, locally as well and nationally, does my right hon. Friend agree that the adventure content is critical? We must be careful about the continuing erosion of adventure in residential centres up and down the country, in terms of both numbers and quality, if the NCS is to continue to deliver success.