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Commons Chamber

Volume 632: debated on Monday 4 December 2017

House of Commons

Monday 4 December 2017

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

1. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902691)

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902692)

10. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902701)

There are too many people sleeping rough, and I am determined to do more. That is why I will be leading a ministerial taskforce that will drive forward the implementation of a cross-Government strategy to help tackle this issue.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, even though he did not answer my question. The reality is that since 2010 rough sleeping has risen by 134%. Worse still, this Government have encouraged local authorities to use public place protection orders to criminalise and fine rough sleepers when they accept food or money from kind strangers. When on earth is he going to do to curb this?

The hon. Lady is talking about trends. Let me remind her that statutory homelessness acceptances reached their peak in 2003 under the previous Labour Government, and since then they have come down by more than a half. But of course there is much more to do, and she is right to highlight this issue. That is why I am sure that she will welcome all the work that this Government are doing in this area, including £1 billion of dedicated funding over this spending period.

According to Shelter, one in 2,122 people in Kirklees is currently homeless. My local drop-in homeless shelter has seen numbers double in the past six months alone, with the biggest cause being the termination of private rental agreements. What is the Secretary of State doing to make tenancies more secure, and what steps is he taking to tackle soaring private rents?

Again, the hon. Lady is right to emphasise this issue, which many Members on both sides of the House have worked hard on. I thought she would welcome the funding we are providing, including the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor just a couple of weeks ago on more funding to tackle homelessness, which will help in all constituencies, and the ministerial taskforce, which will make an effort across Government.

Many young homeless people fear being trapped in local authority temporary accommodation when they lose their housing benefit under universal credit. Given the revelation that roll-out has been delayed in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and his two predecessors, will the Secretary of State agree to pass on the concerns of Kirklees Council and suggest that the delay might be applied elsewhere?

I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming universal credit as a policy that helps to get people into work, including in her constituency. Where there have been issues, my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary has listened carefully. He responded through the recent Budget, including with changes that will help people who were getting housing benefit, such as the new transition to universal credit housing benefit that will help some 2.3 million people.

The recent National Audit Office report on this issue showed that while councils have increased their spending on tackling homelessness, they have reduced their spending on preventing it in the first place. These priorities seem to make no sense. May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that all councils reverse this trend so that we can properly tackle the causes, not just the symptoms?

My hon. Friend speaks with experience; as a former Housing and Planning Minister, he knows these issues well. He is right to highlight this. That is why it was important that the whole House supported the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which is coming into force in April next year. With that, there will be new burdens funding of over £70 million for local authorities.

I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that for as long as one person remains rough sleeping in our nation, it is a national tragedy that we must do something about. At the same time, does he not accept that there is often a complex of reasons to do with mental health, being in the military—I am very concerned about that—physical health, and drink and drug abuse? Those are the complications, and making it some kind of party political issue actually diminishes the interests of these people.

My hon. Friend right. This is one of those issues that I think we can safely say that every Member of this House is concerned about. If we work together we can achieve more. I am sure that he will welcome, for example, the funding of £28 million for the Housing First pilots announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which will help people to deal with the complex needs that he talks about.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing additional funding in the Budget to help people who are homeless. Will he elucidate what he is going to do to roll out the programme to combat rough sleeping right across the country so that we can end this national scandal once and for all?

Let me once again take the opportunity to commend my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done, in this House and beyond, to combat homelessness, including with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which he championed. He is right to highlight the new funding that has been provided: £28 million for the three Housing First projects, and an additional £20 million to help to prevent people in the private rented sector from getting to homelessness in the first place. We will be looking carefully at, and talking widely about, how best to make use of that money.

22. One million pounds is about to be cut from Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s homelessness budget by the Conservative and Independent Alliance that runs the authority. That will push the job of supporting homeless people on to excellent organisations such as the YMCA, which is run, in my constituency, by Danny Flynn. If those organisations cannot count on support from local authorities, what help will the Minister give direct from central Government to make sure that voluntary organisations that help homeless people get the resources that they need? (902713)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask what central Government can do to help. One of the ways we are helping is by providing the resources nationally—over £1 billion of funding to 2020, which is the highest budget that has ever been dedicated to combating homelessness.

I, too, want to mention the work of YMCA. YMCA Black Country and Rachael Taylor in my constituency run an “Open Door” programme that places young people in family homes so that they can continue to enjoy a family life. Will the Secretary of State join me in visiting this work in my constituency?

I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in this area since long before he came into the House; I know that he continues to champion such work. I will very happily join him in his constituency. I hear that the work the YMCA has done throughout the country, including in his constituency, has been exemplary.

23. Over 120,000 children are set to be without a home and living in temporary accommodation this Christmas—an increase of 66% since 2010. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless children fell under Labour but has risen under the Conservatives? (902714)

Every homeless person is vulnerable, but children are particularly so. That is why we must work together to do all that we can. The funding of over £400 million for the flexible grant that is provided through local authorities can help, but the new taskforce will also take on that work to see what more we can do across Government.

Homelessness is a very complex issue, and I am sure that everyone in the House agrees that it is something that we should not be facing. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had across Government Departments on, for instance, mental health, which is always identified as an issue in homelessness?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are very complex, and not just economic. He is right to emphasise that mental health issues sometimes play a part. My right hon. Friends the Health and Education Secretaries have announced a Green Paper on the mental health needs of children and young people, and this is an appropriate time to make sure that we are doing everything we can as a Government.

May I begin by paying tribute to the former Labour MP Jimmy Hood, who was MP for Clydesdale and my home town when I was growing up, and who I understand has died today? My thoughts and those of the Scottish National party are very much with his family and friends.

Shelter has found that eviction from private tenancies in England accounts for 78% of the rise in homelessness, and some of the people who are made homeless will almost certainly end up sleeping rough. Will the Secretary of State look at protection measures such as the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force last week and which includes measures such as banning no-fault eviction?

May I first associate myself with the hon. Lady’s comments about Jimmy Hood? He will be sorely missed by the House.

The hon. Lady made a point about the Scottish experience of combating homelessness. One thing we want to do is to look at best practice outside England. We want to look at whether there are some things to learn from Scotland, and some measures have been suggested by my Scottish friends. For example, we are looking further at the Housing First policy from Finland.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has just broken the news to the Opposition about Jimmy Hood’s death. He was a huge humane figure in Scottish Labour and in this House, and he will be sorely missed.

The Secretary of State tries to tell us that the Government have a good record on homelessness. Since 2010, Ministers have made 452 announcements on homelessness, but 47,000 more children are now homeless; that is more than 100 additional homeless children for every Conservative press release. What is needed now is action to deal with the root causes of this rising homelessness, not more warm words. I have a straight question for the Secretary of State: will there be any further cuts in funding in this Parliament for homeless hostels and women’s refuges under his plans for short-term supported housing?

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman and I attended a parliamentary reception in the Commons for St Mungo’s, where he rightly talked about—we both talked about—how some issues are above politics and it is important for Members on both sides of the House to co-operate on them. Homelessness and rough sleeping is one of those issues, and I know that he meant what he said so I take his question seriously.

We have no plans to cut the funding, whether for women’s refuges or for other support we are providing in relation to homelessness. Indeed, in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget just a couple of weeks ago, we saw an increase in spending and resources to fight homelessness.

The problem is that many of the decisions the right hon. Gentleman’s Government have taken have made this so much worse. In his consultation document on supported housing, he pledges to protect funding only in 2020-21, which is why homelessness charities, such as women’s refuges and Women’s Aid, are so concerned that there is still a risk to their future services. The tragedy is that we know what works because we have done it before, when Labour was in government. If he wants to act on a cross-party basis, will he back Labour’s plan to end rough sleeping homelessness within a Parliament, provide 4,000 extra homes for rough sleepers, review the social security system and build the new low-cost housing that is needed?

With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is being a bit disingenuous in his use of those figures and so-called facts. He will know that when it comes to women’s refuges—

Order. “Disingenuous” means dishonest and—[Interruption.] Indeed. The word cannot be said without a response. The Secretary of State is a most versatile fellow—very dextrous in his use of language—and I am sure he will withdraw it and use some other word. [Interruption.] Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is chuntering from a sedentary position, but we can always have a cup of tea later.

I withdraw the word “disingenuous”, and let me say that the right hon. Gentleman is not being as clear as he could be if he wanted to be. When it comes to women’s refuges, we have dedicated £20 million, which will provide some 2,200 additional bed spaces. In future years, it will be right to see what the demand is and make sure we make appropriate resources available. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Bolsover is right to say that if somebody who uses an unparliamentary word refuses to withdraw it, that Member has only one place to go—and that is out. That applies across the piece, but to be fair, the right hon. Gentleman did withdraw the word, so the crisis has been averted. [Interruption.] Order. Anyway, it is on the record and I hope the hon. Gentleman is now content. He has a beatific smile on his face, and I think this should be canned.

Adult Social Care

The Government recognise the pressures faced by local authorities and have provided additional dedicated funding for adult social care, including the £2 billion announced in the spring Budget.

In the Budget statement, the words “social care” did not pass the Chancellor’s lips. Indeed, in response to a written question, he said that he really did not give any consideration to the funding needs for social care for the next financial year, although the Local Government Association estimates that there is a shortfall of about £3 billion. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Chancellor that no more money is needed for social care, or will he press the Chancellor for a rethink?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that the Select Committee, under his leadership, does on social care. I listen carefully to the issues that he brings up, and I am sure he will recognise that this £2 billion over the next three years will make a huge difference, and means that £9.25 billion will be dedicated to this over the next three years. There are longer-term issues and some real challenges, and that is why we will bring forward a Green Paper on social care next year.

I was rather stunned to find out that local authorities do not have to consider the quality of care when offering a care home place. According to the Care Quality Commission, that means vast numbers of elderly people are being forced to live in facilities that are either inadequate or require improvement. The profit-making sector is failing, but rather than pass the buck to local authorities, which are cash-starved, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure there is enough money in the system to enable every elderly person to live in a good home?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that it is the responsibility of local authorities to help look after some of the most vulnerable people in society, and of course they should be careful about the quality of care they provide. That is why the CQC is independently involved, to look at the quality of care provided. We also have to make sure that the funding is there. As I have just said to his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), extra resources have been provided, with £2 billion over the next three years, and we are also looking at the longer-term challenges.

The Government have rightly decided to look at a whole host of issues that have an impact on adult social care because of our ageing society. The appropriate approach is to take the time to get it right and have this Green Paper on adult social care.

Local and Regional Economies: Transport

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on investment to support the growth of local and regional economies. (902695)

Our Departments have developed a joint programme of work to better integrate our funding decisions and policies so that we maximise economic growth and deliver an improved transport system for Great Britain.

Why did the autumn Budget not allocate any new funding to the Yorkshire and Humber region as part of the northern powerhouse, when there is clear evidence of underfunding for the rail network across the region?

The Transforming Cities fund of some £1.7 billion, of which £850 million remains unallocated, is available to all local authorities to bid for to improve intra-city transport. In total, we are investing £13 billion in northern infrastructure in this Parliament—more than any Government in history.

21. Some £5.8 million has been invested, under the second devolution deal, to unlock congestion in the west midlands, and the west midlands tram network will be expanded to Dudley—or Dud-lie, which I believe is the correct pronunciation. Will my hon. Friend prevail on the Secretary of State to continue to liaise with the Mayor of the west midlands, Andy Street, so that that good work can continue? (902712)

I am sure that everyone in the House was delighted that in the Budget we agreed a second ambitious devolution deal with Andy Street. While my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as the midlands engine champion, is the supercharger for the midlands engine, Andy Street is its turbocharger.

Tomorrow my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) will open a debate on tolls on the Mersey crossing. Does the Minister accept that the fact that people cannot cross the Mersey between Warrington and Liverpool without paying a toll, whether across the bridge or through the tunnels, is holding back the regional economy? If so, will he have urgent discussions with his colleagues at the Department for Transport, to rectify the situation?

I have already held discussions with Steve Rotheram, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool, who told me that he supported the toll charges.

Swindon is building houses at roughly three times the rate of the national average and we wish to go further. Does the Minister support Swindon’s proposal to use the Transforming Cities fund to extend the Oxford and Cambridge rail link to Swindon, which would unlock further new homes in Swindon?

That is a tempting invitation to support a bid to the Transforming Cities fund. That is exactly what the fund is designed to do. When people make good, ground-up, locally supported proposals, the fund, on a competitive basis, should be there to support them.

London received almost £2,000 per person in transport investment, while the figure for Yorkshire and the Humber was just £190, the north-east just £220, and the north-west £680. Even if every penny of the £800 million that has been referred to was allocated to the north, it would amount to just £53 per head. When will the northern powerhouse get the money it needs to compete on a par with London?

I am sure that the left-wing think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, is delighted its figures have been repeated in the Chamber, but they are simply incorrect. They do not include 60% of our national infrastructure spending or the spending on HS2, which I know, as someone who was born and brought up in the north, and who lives and works there, will benefit the north more than any other part of our country.

Northamptonshire County Council

We collect a range of financial data on local government, which is published online. Local authorities also publish their own financial data, including budget documents and accounts. We routinely engage with a range of local authorities to discuss various issues, including finance.

Will the Minister confirm that a major review of fair funding for local government is under way? Given that Northamptonshire County Council is considering closing 28 of its 36 libraries, will he encourage it to bring forward innovative proposals to set up a county-wide libraries trust to keep those vital facilities open?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we are pushing ahead with our review of fair funding for local authorities. I certainly encourage Northamptonshire County Council to look at all innovative ways to provide the services that are valued by its local residents.

In the light of the county council’s financial situation, would the Minister be keen to look at emerging proposals from across Northamptonshire about how local government might be better restructured?

We recognise the financial pressure that Northamptonshire County Council is under and we stand ready to look at any locally led proposals from across Northamptonshire on how local government might be better restructured to transform challenges into opportunities.

Home Building

In the autumn Budget, we announced further reforms and financial support to increase housing supply in England. This includes more than £15 billion of new financial support, at least £44 billion of funding to 2022-23, and reforms to ensure that more land is available for housing.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The work of his Department and the pledge in the Budget to build 300,000 new homes in England are very welcome, and will go some way to address growing intergenerational unfairness when it comes to getting on the housing ladder. Will he join me today in calling for the Scottish Government to match the Scottish Conservatives’ pledge to build 100,000 new homes north of the border so that young people in my constituency can have the same opportunities to buy as those in constituencies in England?

I absolutely join my hon. Friend in doing that, and he is right to highlight this issue. The Scottish Government, even on their own targets, have been failing consistently on house building, especially affordable house building. I commend the ideas, energy and ambition shown by the Scottish Conservatives in challenging the Scottish National party to build more homes in Scotland.

Not a single new home has been registered in York in the last quarter. In the light of the Secretary of State’s rejection of the draft local plan, due to the council’s complete failure to address York’s housing crisis, will he ensure that he works with councillors across the piece, including Labour councillors, to get it right for the city with regard to the houses that need to be built for our future?

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have invested huge amounts in the past few years to make sure that house building picks up. The rate was down to 100,000 homes a year when the Government took office in 2010, but the figure for the latest year is 217,000. There is a lot more to do, including in York. I have written to the council in York and we are considering with it what we can do to speed up its planned development.

In Berlin and elsewhere in Germany, architects, landowners, homeless people and local councils co-operate to bring forward thousands of new dwellings through mutual housing co-operatives. Will the Secretary of State encourage local councils here to consider that option as a way of bringing forward more dwellings more quickly?

I agree with the direction my hon. Friend sets out. One issue highlighted in the housing White Paper, which we are tackling as we implement it, is how we make sure that we have more diversity of supply. That includes different types of supply, including custom-build and co-operatives. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that and I commend him for his work in this area.

In New Ferry, we are desperate to build new homes as part of the regeneration following last March’s explosion. I am still disappointed that the Government refused to help with emergency costs for New Ferry, but will the Secretary of State confirm that he received Wirral Council’s email of last week containing the regeneration plan, and will he now step forward and fund the regeneration that New Ferry desperately needs?

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that we have just received the local council’s plan—I believe we received it five days ago, having waited five months. I am not sure why it took it so long, but now that we have received it, we will take a close look at it.

Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that although there is an obvious need to build more houses, green-belt restrictions have not been loosened and the green belt will still be protected in my very rural constituency?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that no changes have been made to green-belt rules and that building on the green belt requires exceptional reasons. There were no changes in either the housing White Paper or the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The change we did announce was for more funding to make sure, for example, that we get the right infrastructure in the right places to help us to build more homes.

The Scottish Parliament has delivered more than 69,500 affordable homes since 2007, during the period of SNP government, and the new-build social sector completion rate is at 72 per 100,000 population, compared with just 49 in England. Why exactly was there no commitment to increase social rented housing in the Budget?

We will take no lectures from the SNP when it comes to housing. In Scotland, under the SNP’s leadership, the number of housing starts has declined by 40%, the number of housing completions has fallen, the rate of housing ownership has fallen, and all affordable housing targets are being missed. It is about time that the hon. Lady stopped lecturing and started listening to the Scottish Conservatives.

The Secretary of State just referred—rightly and approvingly—to the aspiration of home ownership. In the last year of the Labour Government, 54% of under-45s’ homes were owned by their occupants, but under this Government, that figure has plummeted to 44%. Given that the Chancellor has cut the money for starter homes in the Budget, will the Secretary of State tell the House what he has learned from seven years of Conservative failure? What will he do to give hope to our under-45s?

The hon. Gentleman talks about failure in the delivery of housing, but I think that he has got the wrong party. The track record of the Labour Government of whom he was a part included a massive fall in house building in this country—to its lowest level since the 1920s—a decline in social units for rent of 421,000, and almost a doubling of the waiting list for social housing. Their record on housing was one of the worst that this country has seen. If he wants to do something about it, he should support the policies of this Government.

Unauthorised Traveller Encampments

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are concerned about unauthorised encampments and the effect they can have on settled communities. That is why we will be issuing a call for evidence on the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments. I will publish that call for evidence shortly.

On a daily basis, Central Bedfordshire Council is dealing with completely unacceptable numbers of unauthorised Traveller encampments. Many of those Travellers own land elsewhere, and many of their children are not in school, so when will the Government’s consultation lead to appropriate powers being made available to all local authorities, including my own?

I know that my hon. Friend has expressed views on this several times in the House. My Department is working closely with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to prepare the call for evidence. Once it is published, he and all Members with an interest will have an opportunity to set out their views.

Last month, the all-party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, which I chair, met to discuss unauthorised encampments and possible positive solutions. We heard from a representative of the National Police Chiefs Council that the police do have adequate powers, and that unlawful trespass is not the answer and had not worked in Ireland. Will the Minister meet the all-party group and representatives of the community to talk about some of the positive solutions that could help to address this issue?

Of course I will meet the all-party group, but the whole point of a call for evidence is to allow everyone to feed in their views, and it is precisely those views that we want to hear. Following that, we will, of course, set out plans to take this further.

Social Housing

The Government are providing substantial support for the building of social homes. We recently announced an additional £2 billion of funding, which takes the figure for the affordable homes programme to more than £9 billion. We have provided rent certainty for social landlords, and we have announced that there will be a £1 billion lift in housing revenue account borrowing caps.

The number of homes delivered for social rent has fallen by more than 85% since 2010. Just 5,380 are expected to have been completed in 2016-17, compared with nearly 40,000 in 2010-11. The Budget contains virtually no support for the building of new social housing, and only £6 billion of new money for housing altogether. Is that not a far cry from the £50 billion that was called for by the Secretary of State himself, and does it not mean that the number of houses will fall far short of the number that we need?

Order. That was far too long; absolutely hopeless. The hon. Lady’s questions will have to be much shorter in future. I am always keen to encourage her—she is a new Member, and a prodigious attender—but she needs to apply the blue pencil.

Since 2010, nearly 128,000 homes for social rent have been built in England, and 118,000 have been built for affordable rent. The hon. Lady talks about the money available for housing. I can confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget statement, we are making at least £44 billion available over the next five years.

The hon. and learned Lady is an illustrious QC, so I am sure that she is capable of asking an extremely pithy question.

I will try, Mr Speaker.

East Cambridgeshire has established five community land trusts. Does the Minister agree that such trusts are a valuable way of ensuring that local people can have affordable homes locally?

My hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. I commend her for the work that she is doing in encouraging the development of community land trusts, for which I announced additional funds only last week.

Since 2010, we have delivered 357,000 affordable homes including, as I said earlier, about 128,000 homes for social rent. As I also said previously, we are providing £9 billion for the affordable homes programme, a £1 billion lift in HRA borrowing caps, and rent certainty for social landlords. That will help the sector to build more affordable homes, including social rented homes.

Shelter has found that in the past year developers have used viability assessments to wriggle out of building more than 2,500 affordable homes to rent or buy, including 200 in Bristol. Will the Minister take steps to remove that loophole when he rewrites the national planning policy framework next year by, removing the reference to the need for a competitive return?

One of the key issues in our consultation on local housing needs, which closed on 9 November, was viability assessments. We will of course review what comes forward, but we have made it very clear that we want developers to build affordable homes.

19. After 13 years of Labour MPs in Gloucester in which not a single new social housing unit was built, we now have built some new social housing, but we want to do much more through a master plan involving the Government’s estate regeneration programme. Will my hon. Friend confirm that money may be available through the new national productivity investment fund to help to bridge any potential funding gap caused by low values? (902710)

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he is doing in his constituency to encourage more building of homes, including social homes, and I am delighted by the progress that is being made in estate regeneration. My hon. Friend’s constituency has received £1.25 million of capacity funding. More detailed eligibility criteria for the national productivity investment fund will be announced in due course, and I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

17. There was much fanfare in the Budget about housing, but when will the Minister start to understand that if the Government are to tackle the social housing crisis, they must abolish the right to buy? (902708)

Of course we support the right to buy. It has meant that people have been able to own homes, which I think is incredibly important. We are making more money available for affordable homes but, as I have said, there will be at least £44 billion over the next five years so that more homes can be built. We have a housing crisis now because not enough homes were built under the last Government.

If we are to meet the demand for more affordable homes, there needs to be a partnership between the private and public sectors. What actions can the Minister take to ensure that local authorities work with both sectors in order to deliver the homes that we need?

In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the planning reforms that we are looking at, which will have an impact on local authorities bringing forward more sites more quickly for building. We have also announced an uplift of up to £1 billion for the housing revenue account, which will make a substantial difference.

Victims of Domestic Violence: Social Housing

12. What steps his Department is taking to ensure access to safe social housing for victims of domestic violence. (902703)

Victims fleeing abuse must be given appropriate priority access to social housing. We are consulting on new guidance that makes it clear to local authorities that victims moving on from refuges should be given the appropriate priority and that any residency test should not be applied.

Members on both sides of the House hold Women’s Aid in high regard. It has stated that the Government’s new model will close refuges. What assurance can the Minister give the House that that will not be the case?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that that will not be the case. We will continue the funding at exactly the same level as currently. There will be a dedicated grant for local authorities that will be ring-fenced in the long term, and we will also make sure that vulnerable people will not need to deal with the payment of rent at a very difficult time in their lives.

The recent joint Select Committees’ inquiry on supported housing recommended that the Government should establish a national network of women’s refuges to avoid a postcode lottery and to ensure that there is even coverage across the country. Why did the Government reject that recommendation? What will they do to ensure that there is even coverage and that refuges reopen in those areas of the country where they have closed?

We believe that it is right to have a locally led approach in this regard, but we have confirmed that we are committed to reviewing this policy in 2018 under the violence against women and girls strategy. We are looking at all the options, and we have not ruled out nationally commissioning refuges and refuge beds if that is found to be a better solution.

Devolution: Derbyshire and the East Midlands

13. What progress he has made on devolving decision making to local communities in (a) Derbyshire and (b) the east midlands. (902704)

Following the launch of our industrial strategy, the Government are in the early stages of designing a devolution framework for England. Areas such as Derbyshire and the east midlands should seek widely supported, ground-up proposals in line with the framework.

After the failure of the earlier devolution proposals, can the Minister confirm that the Government are still interested in further proposals coming from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, perhaps along the lines of the Derby and Nottingham metro proposal published a couple of weeks ago? Can he also confirm that there is now no requirement for an elected mayor?

We are of course aware of Derby and Nottingham City Councils’ metro proposals, although we have not received a formal submission to the Government. I can confirm that the door remains open for devolution in this area and that, in line with our manifesto, there is no requirement for rural areas to have a mayor.

In the North East Derbyshire constituency and my own, the INEOS shale gas fracking company has applied for its planning application to be determined by the national Planning Inspectorate, not the local authority. Does the Minister condemn that?

Business Rates Retention

14. What assessment he has made of the implications for local authorities outside London of full business rates revenue retention by London local authorities. (902705)

Local authorities in London have estimated that the business rate retention pilot announced in the Budget will benefit them by £240 million. There will be no impact from the pilot on other local authority areas.

Will the Minister explain how it can possibly be the case that business rates in London raise £7.5 billion and retention only gives £240 million? Surely this is swiping money from the rest of the country, which needs it in order to even up resources.

The £240 million is new money from business rates growth. Let me share with the hon. Lady the startling fact that 100% of the local authorities that will get the business rate localisation pilot applied for it. When she goes back up to her constituency, she might like to ask her own Labour-controlled council why it could not be bothered to do so.

Will the hon. Gentleman pass on the message very forcefully to the Secretary of State that many of us applaud what he said in relation to Donald Trump’s retweeting of certain messages? My difficult question is: why does he not get on with the job of ensuring that the regions of our country get a fair share of resources, and stop piling money into London and the south-east?

I noted that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said that this was the worst Budget for London in 10 years. What I know is that, at £1.8 billion, it was the best Budget for the north of England ever.

High-rise Buildings: Disabled People

15. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that disabled people are not housed on the upper floors of high-rise buildings. (902706)

Decisions on who is allocated particular properties are ultimately for local authorities and landlords to take at local level. However, our statutory guidance on social housing allocations encourages councils to give appropriate priority to those who need ground-floor accommodation, including disabled people.

The Minister will be aware that several disabled people were housed on the upper floors of Grenfell Tower at the time of the fire earlier this year. One disabled woman, whose name was Flora, would certainly not have survived had it not been for the heroics of her son, who carried her to safety from the 24th floor. Can the Minister assure the House that the Grenfell inquiry will consider access and egress for disabled people living in tower blocks? Will he also tell us whether disabled and independent abled organisations will be able to have their voices heard in the inquiry?

The Grenfell inquiry is independent, so I will let the judge take care of that. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government will be publishing a social housing Green Paper next year, and that I am conducting a tour of the country and meeting social housing tenants directly. Of course we will consider access to accommodation for disabled people that is suitable for their needs as part of that work.

Garden Towns

We are working with 24 garden cities, towns and villages across England to unlock barriers, broker solutions and support them with infrastructure needs. I am announcing today £3 million of additional capacity funding for 14 garden villages, bringing our total funding through this programme to £19 million.

The Secretary of State will be aware that my local authority of Uttlesford is proposing three new garden communities, but significant infrastructure is required first. What reassurance can he give them that investment for this will be forthcoming?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for infrastructure when it comes to housing, which is why I am sure she will welcome the increase in funding that was in the recent Budget. I am also launching today a £25 million planning delivery fund and inviting bids from ambitious councils, and a consultation on regulations that will enable the creation of locally led new development corporations.

Does the Secretary of State accept that, when new developments are built, it is not in the interests of householders that they are leasehold estates? Will he reiterate the statement he made in July that the Government will not allow the building of any new leasehold homes, and act for those who are already being unfairly treated?

The hon. Lady will know that a consultation on this has just closed, and we will be responding to it shortly. I have said before, and I am happy to repeat, that I see no reason whatever for new houses to be sold on leasehold.


We are spending more than £1 billion up to 2020 on the implementation of the most ambitious legislative reform in decades—the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—and establishing a homelessness and rough sleeping implementation taskforce.

I thank the Government for their work on implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act. Will the Minister give us an update on what money and resources are being made available to local councils so that they can help us to achieve this ambition?

I thank my hon. Friend for her very good question. We are providing £72 million to enable local authorities to deal with the new burdens. In advance of the implementation next April, the first tranche of actual funding will go out to councils tomorrow. We will also review the new burdens funding within two years of the implementation of the Act.

Is the Minister aware of the pioneering work being done in Greater Manchester to eradicate homelessness? Does he agree with Mayor Andy Burnham that the Government’s target of 2027 for the eradication of the problem is much too far away?

Of course we want to eradicate rough sleeping as soon as is practicably possible, but we are providing funding under the Housing First pilot to help Greater Manchester, along with the Liverpool city region and the west midlands.

Topical Questions

Today marks the start of UK Charity Week, in which we redouble our commitment to working with the likes of Shelter, Crisis and St Mungo’s to end rough sleeping in this country. It is also the 62nd birthday of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who last month delivered a Budget to help get Britain building—many happy returns to him. On the 226th birthday of The Observer, I am pleased to say that we are continuing our crackdown on local authorities that think it is their job to publish weekly newspapers.

Dockless bike schemes have recently been established in several cities. Some are working well and some less so, but councils are left struggling with outdated legislation to deal with such schemes. Will the Secretary of State meet me and others from affected areas to discuss the right way forward?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. It is important that we encourage better ways for people to travel and give people more opportunities, and I am happy to have a chat to discuss his ideas.

T3. Corby Nightlight is a fantastic charitable organisation that does brilliant work to help support homeless people in our community. What steps are the Department taking to support such organisations, which do important work in our communities? (902732)

I pay tribute to everyone involved in charities such as Corby Nightlight. We are providing a package of over £1 billion up to 2020 to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping. Part of the package involves providing funding for services and projects such as the one in Corby, which does so much to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Several national children’s charities and the Local Government Association wrote to the Secretary of State ahead of the Budget to warn that funding for children’s services is unsustainable and insufficient. Instead of creeping to the Chancellor with birthday wishes, what did the Secretary of State do to lobby the Chancellor to provide the £2 billion that councils need to properly safeguard and look after children in need?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the pressure on children’s services in many local authorities up and down the country, and that is why we are listening carefully to what local authorities have to say and working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that adequate resources are provided. Many local authorities are doing very well, but some are experiencing challenges. The hon. Gentleman will know that the local government finance settlement is coming along shortly, and he can look to see what happens with that.

The Secretary of State does not just need to listen; he needs to act and perhaps read our “Local Government Health Check” report, which highlights that children’s services are facing a £2 billion funding gap now. Early intervention has been cut, Sure Start centres have closed, child protection cases have doubled, more children need taking into care, and ever more families need specialist help, so why will the Secretary of State not stand up for our children’s services and tell the Chancellor that now is not the time to cut £4.75 billion from the bank levy? It is time to put our children first.

Time and again, the hon. Gentleman stands at the Dispatch Box asking for billions and billions of more spending. He has no idea how the funds are raised, and he would do much better to support the measures that we are taking to keep our economy strong so that we can pay for all those services.

T6. The move to calculate business rates using CPI instead of RPI is reducing bills for many small businesses across the country, but 62 councils are yet to move to CPI despite the Government providing Budget funding. What are the Government doing to ensure that all councils use CPI to calculate their business rates? (902735)

While the vast majority of local authorities have re-billed their businesses, it is unacceptable that some councils still have not. The Government have given councils a £435 million package of support for businesses, so I urge all councils that have not yet done the right thing to do so urgently.

T2. Given that England’s private rented sector has doubled since 2002, what plans do Ministers have to emulate Scotland’s exemplary new policy under which such renters now have longer notice periods, indefinite security of tenure and a limit of one rent increase a year? (902731)

The hon. Gentleman will have noted that in the Budget the Chancellor set out our plans to consult on longer tenancies in the private rented sector, and that is precisely what we will be doing.

T7. The positivity of small businesses in Bedworth last Saturday was tinged with frustration at Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council’s decision to increase car parking charges, which has reduced footfall and seen fee income reduced by £200,000. Does the Minister agree that our councils should be far more focused on supporting our town centres, not on driving shoppers away? (902736)

Only a Labour council could put up parking charges and lose money at the same time. What that shows to people living in Nuneaton and Bedworth is that, by putting into action the Marxist twaddle we hear from Labour Members, under Labour it is the many who pay for the dogma of the few.

T4. The Surrey Vaults in Bristol has become the latest small music venue to close because of noise complaints. Can the Minister tell us how discussions are going with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about plans to introduce an agent of change principle into planning law so that small music venues are able to stand up to developers? (902733)

T8. I am sure the Secretary of State will have seen today’s report from the British Chambers of Commerce, which concludes that, for our businesses to grow and compete, it is vital that local authorities provide an adequate supply of building land and consents for new commercial buildings. I know he is considering business rate retention, so will he ensure that proactive councils, such as Rugby Borough Council, continue to receive incentives to grow their local economies? (902737)

The Government are still committed to further business rate retention. We have relaunched our working group, which is our officials and the Local Government Association, to take that work forward. It is important that any future reform of the system has a balance between meeting need and having an incentive for areas to grow their tax base.

T5. Bus users in the Potteries have been hit by a double whammy of fare increases and journey cuts. Although my constituents might appreciate the irony of two lots of bad bus news arriving at once, they certainly do not appreciate the inconvenience or the impact on their jobs. Many of those cuts could be avoided if Stoke-on-Trent City Council was prepared properly to subsidise public transport. What support is the Minister providing to make sure we have a bus system in the Potteries that is fit for purpose? (902734)

This Government have done much to improve bus facilities throughout the country, especially in the new metro mayor areas where we have extended bus franchising. If the hon. Lady has particular issues, the Department for Transport is the policy lead, and I would be happy to pass her questions on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The affordability of a house is not just what it costs to buy or rent each month but what it costs to live in it thereafter. May I therefore encourage the Secretary of State to set the highest energy efficiency standards possible for new houses so that they can be cheap both to own and to operate?

Energy efficiency, as a result of the policies this Government have put in place, has improved. Fuel costs are now several hundred pounds cheaper than they were in 2010.

T9. Councils in the north-east such as Gateshead Council and South Tyneside Council have seen their central Government grant cut by 50%, forcing them to axe 4,000 good jobs. The Government’s so-called jobs bonanza in the north through the northern powerhouse has created jobs, but two out of every three of those jobs are on temporary, insecure and zero-hours contracts. Is that how the northern powerhouse economy will work? (902738)

I had thought the hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that in his constituency the claimant count has fallen by some 42% since 2010. If he really wanted to champion Gateshead and more funding, including for jobs and investment, perhaps he might ask why the mayoral devolution deal was rejected last year.

With the abolition of stamp duty for most first-time buyers, families in Wealden will save, on average, £3,209 on their first home. Will the Minister say what else is being done to help families secure their first home?

Of course I am delighted that my hon. Friend has highlighted the stamp duty cut, but we also know that for a number of years we have been running the Help to Buy scheme, which has helped 135,000 households already, and the extra £10 billion committed a few weeks ago will help another 35,000 households.

I listened to the Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) and heard no acknowledgement that the cuts by his Department to local authority funding and the removal of the weighting for deprivation have a massive impact on our country’s children—on their physical and mental health, and on their ability to access a wide range of services. Why does the Secretary of State not care?

I know that the hon. Lady cares about this issue, but she should recognise that many Members in all parts of the House care about it, too. That is why this Government have made sure that for children’s mental health services, through local authorities, there is dedicated funding of £1.4 billion over this spending period, which is the highest ever. In addition, the Green Paper that will be published by my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will look at many of the long-term issues.

I noted with interest the Secretary of State’s comments about funding to support the delivery of garden villages. Will he confirm that this will include the development at West Carclaze in St Austell? If so, will he meet me to discuss how we can ensure that these new homes are affordable and accessible to local people?

Let me thank my hon. Friend for his support for more funding for garden villages. The announcement will be made later today, and I will look carefully at making sure that it is clear about the ones we are supporting. He should also be clear that this is the first stage of support and we will be taking many other actions in due course, as set out by the Chancellor in the Budget, to support more garden villages and towns.

The Minister said earlier that there would be a review of the viability assessments under the national planning policy framework. Will he admit that there is a problem, which the Mayor of London and London councils see, and that these viability assessments are abused by developers to stop local authorities and others developing affordable homes?

On London, it is worth pointing out that we have made £3.15 billion already available for affordable housing .That has been welcomed by the Mayor of London, so I suggest that he should start and get building. On the viability assessments, as I have said, we have had a consultation, which we will reflect on and come forward with proposals.

In his response to an earlier question, the Minister made reference to a call for evidence on unauthorised Traveller encampments. Will he confirm that local residents will also be able to feed in to that?

I can confirm to my hon. Friend that everyone will have an opportunity to give their views as part of that call for evidence.

The northern powerhouse Minister mentioned HS2 as being the best transport investment for the north, but surely the best transport investment for the north would be “Crossrail for the north”, linking the great cities of the north with high-speed rail.

Improving the east-west connectivity between Liverpool and Hull is one of the issues that we have asked Transport for the North, the first sub-national statutory transport body, to report on when it comes forward with its report. I am delighted that in the Budget we have a confirmation of £360 million to ensure that HS2 is futureproofed against HS3.

What assessment has the Minister made of whether owners of buildings with cladding that may not meet building regulations have been meeting their responsibilities or whether they have been seeking to pass the costs for this essential work on to leaseholders?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will know that local authorities and housing associations have made it clear that they will not be passing on the costs, and that is the right approach. I would like to see private sector landlords follow the lead of the social sector and not pass on the costs to their tenants, but I also want to make sure that leaseholders have more information, which is why today I am announcing an increase in funding for the Leasehold Advisory Service.

People in Barnsley and Doncaster are now voting on the future of Yorkshire devolution, and we will get the results on 21 December. Does the Minister agree that, whatever the results, national and local politicians have a responsibility to get round the table and work together to serve the best interests of the people of Yorkshire?

As the season of goodwill and peace to all men approaches, I hope that across Yorkshire a compromise will be found. Just to restate our position, the Government remain committed to the south Yorkshire city deal proceeding.

Two Members are standing and seeking to catch my eye who have not contributed. I will call each of them, but their questions must be extremely brief—a short sentence. If you cannot do it that way, I do not want to be unkind, but don’t bother.

Last month, the Secretary of State decided not to call in a planning application on Foxhill, where we are losing 99 homes for social rent, telling us that the development is in line with Government policy. Will he confirm that losing social homes for rent is Government policy?

I will talk very fast, Mr Speaker. May I say a big thank you to the Housing Minister for coming to Taunton Deane last week, where he met protestors at the Staplegrove development to see how important the road through the development was? Are the Government pursuing the right policy in putting more money into the housing infrastructure fund to guarantee that we get the roads that we need to make our houses work?

Absolutely; I can confirm that, as a result of the Budget, there is £5 billion in the housing infrastructure fund, which is precisely what many colleagues want to see in terms of spending on infrastructure.

Before we move on, I have been notified of a number of intended points of order springing directly out of Question Time. I say for the record that, on this occasion, I will take Members on trust and take those points of order now. However, if it becomes apparent to me that they are really just a way of trying to continue Question Time or if they are too long, when I have specifically said that they must be short, I will cut them off and the process of taking any—[Interruption.] Order. If that happens, the process of taking points of order at this time will be discontinued and those Members will be responsible.

I look to the shadow Secretary of State to set a good example, with a proper point of order done briefly—for which read “a sentence”.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you offer any guidance to the House on your expectations and on the conventions? We just heard the Secretary of State, after an hour of Question Time, say in an offhand way, in answer to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who has now left the Chamber, that later this afternoon he will make a statement about the backing the Government will give to garden villages and urban extensions. Surely we should have expected that either in a written statement this morning or certainly through a reference in the body of questions this afternoon, so that the House had a chance to ask him about it.

My understanding is that a written ministerial statement is expected. Whether that WMS is the WMS concerned, I do not know.

The simple nod—in fact, two nods of the head in unison by the Secretary of State and the Housing Minister—suggest that that is the gravamen of the matter. I am bound to say that it would be preferable, if such announcements are intended, for them to be worked into Question Time in some way, not by elongated replies, but by responding at topicals. What has happened is arguably irritating to colleagues, but it is not demonstrably disorderly. We will leave it there for now, but the shadow Secretary of State has made his point with his customary force and alacrity.

I do not know whether the nods will appear in Hansard. There will be no graphic images, but reference to the nods will appear. I hope that that satisfies the insatiable curiosity of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) about the Mersey tolls, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), said that he had spoken to the Metro Mayor and that the Metro Mayor supported the tolls. I have been in contact with the office of the Metro Mayor of Liverpool and he says that he said no such thing. Would the Minister like to correct the record and withdraw his remarks?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising her point of order. The answer is that it is for each and every Member, be they a Front Bencher or a Back Bencher, to be responsible—[Interruption.] Order. It is for each and every Member to be responsible for the veracity of what is said in this place. If a correction is required, it is better sooner rather than later. If the hon. Gentleman judges that no correction is required, that is his prerogative.

No correction is required, Mr Speaker. I discussed the matter with the Metro Mayor of Liverpool as we walked across the bridge while it was under construction. Perhaps he will remember with the added detail.

In that case, we will leave it there. It was right that it was aired and I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I cannot be expected to adjudicate between the competing witness accounts.

Social Mobility Commission

We are about to come to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) and his urgent question. Let me say to the House that this is not the occasion for a general exchange about social mobility or the lack of it. This is a question laser-like focused on the resignation of the board of the Social Mobility Commission and will be treated as such by the Chair. I want it to run for no longer than half an hour, not because it is not important—it is extremely important—but because there are eight hours of protected business, which is also extremely important, and I have to balance these considerations, so self-discipline is required.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Children and Families if he will make a statement on the resignation of the board of the Social Mobility Commission.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to take this urgent question, which gives us an opportunity to underline our commitment to improving social mobility in our country.

I am extremely grateful to Alan Milburn for his work as chair of the Social Mobility Commission over the past five years. We had already told him that we planned to appoint a new chair. We will hold an open application process for that role to ensure that we continue to build on this important work and that the foundation laid by Alan and his team can be built on.

Tackling social mobility is the Department’s priority. We are driving opportunity through the whole education system. We have made real progress in recent years. The attainment gap between disadvantaged children at the end of reception has narrowed, and the proportion of eligible disadvantaged two-year-olds benefiting from funded childcare has risen from 58% in 2015 to 71% in 2017. We are putting more money into the early years than ever before, spending a record £6 billion a year on childcare and early education support by 2019-20. We are also increasing the number of good school places, with 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. There are over 15,500 more teachers in state-funded schools in England than in 2010. The £140 million strategic school improvement fund will target resources to support school performance and pupil attainment at the schools that need it most.

The attainment gap, as highlighted by the commission, between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed since we introduced the pupil premium—now worth around £2.5 billion a year—in 2011. That is a coalition policy that we continue to embrace.

We know that there is more to do and we are focusing on areas of the country with the greatest challenges and the fewest opportunities, including £72 million in the 12 opportunity areas. Plans for the first six areas were published on 9 October 2017 and we will publish plans for the second six areas early in November.

The outgoing chair of the Social Mobility Commission welcomed the launch of the opportunity area programme and the Government’s commitment to addressing disadvantage, which remains a priority for the Government.

I do not think that the Conservatives have ever claimed to be a party of equality, but they have always claimed to be a party of equality of opportunity—in other words, social mobility. When the Prime Minister took office, her first speech set out very clearly the objective to do everything to help everybody, whatever their background, to go as far as their talents will take them. What does the resignation of the commission tell us about the Government’s success in achieving that objective? The chairman of the commission was very pointed. He said that the worst possible position in politics

“is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it.”

It would be very difficult to spin the resignation of the commission in partisan terms, because Alan Milburn has conscientiously served Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments. Among the commissioners who have resigned with him, one was a highly respected former Conservative Secretary of State for Education.

I have a specific question for the Minister about the most recent of the commission’s reports, to which he will no doubt be able to respond. Why have only five of the 65 social mobility coldspots—the areas with the least social mobility, everywhere from west Somerset to east midlands cities—been covered by the various growth deals negotiated by the Government? The report makes the point that geographical division in Britain is now more extreme than in any other country in Europe, so will the Government consider reinstating the regional growth fund, which played an important role in addressing that problem during the coalition? As the barriers to social mobility often rest in incentives to work, will the Minister explain how the £3 billion cut to the work allowance will affect people’s willingness to work once they are in low-income employment?

The commission is even-handed and praises the Secretary of State for Education for her commitment. But what does it say about the Government’s commitment when the most committed and conscientious member of the Cabinet is presiding over a 60% cut in apprenticeships, which blocks social mobility through vocational education, and a 6% cut real cut in schools spending over the next five years?

Does the Minister agree with the chair of the commission’s point that Brexit is now sucking the life out of Government, and that the biggest casualties of Brexit—particularly the extreme Brexit of withdrawing from the single market and the customs union—will be the 60 of the 65 social mobility coldspots that voted for Brexit?

I do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation that we have done nothing to address social mobility. Disadvantaged children are 43% more likely to go to university than in 2009. Our two-year-olds childcare offer has a 71% take-up compared with 58% in 2015. Some 1.9 million more children go to outstanding schools than in 2010, and there are more teachers in schools than ever before. We have made progress in a number of areas, including our offer of 30 hours of free childcare, which helps working families to cope with the cost of childcare while they juggle childcare and work at the same time.

I reaffirm the fact that social mobility remains a priority of the Government. I am fully committed to that, as are the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned geographical spread. If he reads the report, he will see that the spread is patchy, with parts of London demonstrating a real need for more assistance, and more needing to be done in places such as the east and west midlands. That is precisely why we have designated the 12 opportunity areas in the places where we most need to address the situation for children in the early years, with regard to education, the aspiration to get into employment and get good qualifications and the most difficult nut to crack—the home learning environment. Many young children are starting nursery provision without the basic skills that many other children from better-off backgrounds have.

I want to make it clear that, although Brexit is an important priority for this Government, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we continue the process of improving social mobility for everyone in the country.

May I remind the House of what I said fewer than 10 minutes ago? The question is about the resignation of the board, so questions should be about that matter; it is not unreasonable to hope that the same might also be said of answers.

Many people were inspired by what the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street when she took office. Will my hon. Friend look into using this opportunity to reform the Social Mobility Commission to create a social justice commission at the heart of Downing Street to assess the impact of every bit of domestic legislation on social justice?

May I put on record our commitment to maintain the Social Mobility Commission? It has done great work over the last five years, and I again pay tribute to Alan Milburn for his work as chair. We intend to refresh the commission. We need to bring in some new people—people who will hold us to account and who will hold our feet to the fire—to ensure we get a good spread of representation on the commission.

I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this urgent question.

Once again, this Prime Minister is not for turning up, and nor is the Education Secretary. No wonder the former chair of the commission said that No. 10 was no longer listening. Perhaps the Minister can actually answer the questions the chair raised in his resignation letter. Are the Government really committed to the commission as an independent body? Although they have just put on record their commitment, what do they see as the commission’s role, and what will its remit be now? How much funding will the commission have? Can the Minister confirm that, in the year since the commission’s 2016 report, the Government have not adopted a single one of its recommendations? Did the commissioners raise that with Ministers before resigning? The report said that Britain had a “deep social mobility problem” and

“an unfair education system, a two-tier labour market, an imbalanced economy and an unaffordable housing market.”

What are the Government actually doing about that, and was that a factor in the resignations?

On the labour market, the Prime Minister made a defining speech on insecure jobs—she has been developing an expertise in that issue lately—but whatever happened to the Taylor review? In education, has the Minister seen the commission’s findings on the teaching workforce, early years and kids in care, who are still denied the 30-hours entitlement? Has he listened to the commission’s recommendations on housing, regional transport infrastructure and the need for rebalanced investment to create more decent jobs across the country?

When a former Tory Education Secretary resigns from a Tory Government commission, we know this goes well beyond party politics. In his resignation letter, the chair of the commission said the commissioners were resigning because he had “little hope” of the current Government building a fairer Britain. If their own commission has little faith in this Government, why should the rest of us?

I am happy to answer this question on behalf of the Department, as the Minister for Children and Families and also as the Minister responsible for the opportunity areas, which demonstrate our real commitment to tackling social mobility in the coldspots, as laid out by the commission itself.

The hon. Lady asked, are the Government really committed to this commission? The answer is yes, absolutely. She asked about the role of the commission. That will not change; indeed, I pay tribute to the commission for the work it has done and to Alan for the work he has done.

The hon. Lady talked about the workforce in education, and I just repeat the fact that we now have 457,000 teachers working in state-funded education, which is over 15,500 more than before. She drew attention to the 30 hours of free childcare, and that is an example of exactly how we are trying to help working families. We have a 93% uptake from the children who have achieved codes. I have met parents up and down the country who have told me that this has transformed their lives, enabled them to juggle work and childcare and, indeed, put £5,500 in their pockets.

So I am proud of what this Government have achieved in addressing social mobility. To listen to Labour Members, you would think that everything in the garden was beautiful when they left power. Again, as in so many cases, we are sorting out the mess they left behind.

Can the Minister confirm when the Government are likely to publish their social mobility strategy, and are there likely to be any changes in the light of what Alan Milburn has said in recent days and of his resignation?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. We continue to work hard on our social mobility action plan, and we plan to publish it soon.

Alan Milburn is no longer a Member of this House, so he observes the Government from an outside and slightly detached point of view. When he says that this Government are riddled with

“indecision, dysfunctionality and a lack of leadership”,

I have to say to him that he should see it from where I am standing—it is a lot worse than that. In this country, we are approaching a perfect storm of freezing wages in real terms, cuts to benefits in real terms and rising prices—a perfect storm where the poor will pay for the failure of Government policy. So I ask the Minister what assurances we have, given that the Government continue to be obsessed by Brexit, that he will actually listen to any advisers in this policy area who are appointed in the future?

Alan Milburn has advised the Government through his commission over the past five years, and the Government have taken much of his advice on board; when he was publicising his most recent report, he made some very constructive comments. I stand by the record as outlined in the answer to the initial question from the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable): we have made considerable progress but there is much left to be done. The best way of getting families out of poverty is to ensure that they get into the workplace, and we have record levels of employment. The best way to get children the best opportunities in life is to deliver a great education, and we are delivering a better education for more children than ever before in England.

I was pleased to hear from the Minister about the home learning environment, alongside our good schools, giving true opportunity to our children. On the Government side of the House, we want our children to go as far as their talents will take them. Is this not an opportunity for a renewal?

Order. I remind hon. Members again that the resignation of the board is the matter of which we are treating.

I will comment briefly. The home learning environment is one of the toughest nuts to crack. Many children start their early education without the basic skills that they need. Much of that is due to the fact that they are not read to, that televisions may not be turned off and that they are not communicated with. That is a real challenge, and I hope that the new commission will give us pointers on how we can continue to address it.