House of Commons
Monday 5 November 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Before I answer these questions, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Jeremy Heywood, who passed away at the weekend. He demonstrated all that is precious in our civil service through the way in which he supported Governments of all colours, and the manner in which he supported four Prime Ministers. He showed leadership, real focus and ingenuity in dealing with challenging issues, as well as calmness and a real sense of humour. I know that he will be missed by everyone on both sides of the House.
Unfair leasehold practices have no place in a modern housing market, and neither do excessive ground rents that exploit consumers. I will be making clear to developers at a roundtable meeting later this week the need for the industry to provide greater support to existing leaseholders.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response, and I would like to associate myself with his remarks about the sad death of Sir Jeremy Heywood.
Will the Secretary of State explain how the steps he has outlined will help my constituent, Linda Barnes, who owns a flat that is valued at £80,000 and pays an onerous ground rent of £400 a year on it? What help will he give so that such flats can become attractive to buyers again?
I am conscious of some of the bad practices in the leasehold market, which is why I will be meeting the industry later this week to underline the need for redress and for solutions to be offered to people who have in some cases been mis-sold. I certainly take this seriously. I have also written to the Competition and Markets Authority and to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, in the knowledge that there are serious questions about some of the practices involved, in order to ensure that we are taking action on a number of fronts in response to the challenges that the hon. Lady rightly highlights.
Three weeks ago, members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee held a roundtable for leaseholders at the start of our inquiry. They told us about the problem of escalating ground rents that trap them in homes that they can no longer sell. They made it clear that they wanted existing leaseholds to be ended; does the Secretary of State agree with them?
We are working with the Law Commission around greater enfranchisement in order to bring leaseholds to an end. I am also conscious that at least one provider in the market has offered some means of redress and of dealing with some of the issues, but the point is that we need to go further, and that is what I shall be challenging representatives of the industry on when I meet them later this week.
The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that he is going to commit to doing all he can for residential leaseholders on existing leases, which are abusive. It is still not too late for the Competition and Markets Authority to declare some of those leases to be so unfair as to be unenforceable.
I hope that, in time, the Secretary of State will meet representatives of the industry, along with the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the Leaseholder Association —and perhaps the Chairman of the Select Committee, which is having hearings this afternoon—and that the campaigners and the industry will all meet together so that the Secretary of State is not hearing one thing in one ear and another thing in the other. We have to represent the leaseholders.
I hear my hon. Friend’s message very clearly indeed. We have been provided with a number of examples of egregious practice, and I intend to challenge some of the concerns that have been flagged to me. I am sure that we will continue to have this conversation, but I have noted his points.
Advice is being given by LEASE and others, but this is about transparency and providing more support, which is where the industry has a key role to play. That is why we will be making these points to the industry later this week, as well as looking at where the regulatory aspects might sit.
Leaseholders in several private blocks in Leeds are being asked to pay huge bills to deal with unsafe cladding. The cost is between £10,000 and £28,000 for each leaseholder at Skyline Apartments, and the total cost of replacing the cladding in the Saxton development could be as high as £8 million. Given that my constituents are being asked to pay money that they do not have to deal with a problem that they did not create, when will the Government stop urging freeholders not to charge leaseholders and actually prevent them from doing so by law?
We have taken several steps and put significant pressure on the industry, and that is starting to have an impact as many freeholders take the necessary steps to make buildings safe without passing on the costs to leaseholders, who should not bear them. I am happy to consider the right hon. Gentleman’s specific examples, because we are in direct contact with several different agencies, and indeed with local government about taking enforcement action, to see that work is done.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. I urge the Government to bring in legislation to bar such charges in future, but we would still need to address those who have been unfairly put in this position in the first place. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to consider not only legislation for the future, but retrospective legislation to address the egregious practices that have taken place.
As my hon. Friend will know, we are consulting on the implementation of a ban on inappropriate leaseholds on homes, which are the core of what we are discussing. Legislation will come forward once we have seen the responses to our technical consultation, and there will obviously be plenty of opportunity for colleagues to debate the matter further.
I start by formally echoing the Secretary of State’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. Many of us were privileged to work with Sir Jeremy, and he was an exceptional civil servant who gave outstanding service to this country. Our deep sympathies are with his wife and family at this time.
As we have heard, many of us have constituents who bought their home but then found that they do not own it and feel ripped off by unfair leasehold contracts. When we hear, repeatedly, that leasehold buyers did not choose their own solicitor, were wrongly told that they could buy their freehold cheaply at any time, or found out later that they had to ask and pay freeholders for permission to own a pet, change their carpets or build a conservatory, the individual cases add up to something bigger. The Government must act, just as with other mis-selling scandals, such as on pensions, mortgages or payment protection insurance. Will the Secretary of State today back an inquiry into this systematic mis-selling to leaseholders?
I recognise and appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sir Jeremy Heywood. I know that that message will have been heard throughout the House.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s investigation into leasehold is live, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises the seriousness with which we take the issues that he and others have flagged, and the troubling matters that pertain to some of the practices within the leasehold market. That is why I am taking action.
It is not the Select Committee’s action that counts, but the Government’s action, which has been too weak and too slow and, critically, largely overlooks the plight of existing leaseholders. An industry survey shows that six in 10 leaseholders did not even know what being a leaseholder meant until after they had bought, and that nine in 10 regret having bought a leasehold at all. Those are classic signs of mis-selling—it is a national scandal. I will give the Secretary of State another chance: when will he stand up for leaseholders and launch an inquiry into mis-selling?
Nobody is ignoring the issue. That is not only why we are legislating to address the inappropriate use of leasehold for new homes, but why I have underlined today the requests that I have made of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority. We recognise that there are serious issues, which is why we are taking action. We want to ensure that leaseholders’ concerns are heard and fully understood, and that redress can be provided.
Homeless Families: Accommodation Outside Home Borough
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As usual, I ask people to note my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
In December 2017 we updated the homelessness code of guidance for local authorities, chapter 17 of which makes it clear that, when possible, local authorities should place families as close as possible to where they were previously living.
There has been a 40% rise in London households being moved out of London by their local authority, and my own experience shows that local authorities are also moving families in unprecedented numbers away from their community, their children’s schools, their workplaces and their support. The code of guidance is clearly not working, so can the Minister tell us unambiguously that local authorities should, under no circumstances, expect children to commute to school from temporary accommodation for two, three or even four hours every day?
I do understand the particular problem that the hon. Lady is having in Westminster, but it is the London boroughs. We have been clear that placing families out of borough should be a last resort, and we have now committed £40 million to a London collaborative project that will ensure that families are placed in temporary accommodation close to home. We also recently launched the £20 million private rented sector access fund to support those who are homeless, or who are at risk of becoming homeless, to access sustainable accommodation. Finally, our specialist homelessness advisers are working closely with London boroughs in particular to provide support to limit the number of out-of-borough moves altogether.
The Housing First initiative has clear potential to prevent homelessness. What is the Department doing to monitor the effectiveness of pilots in Manchester and other cities, and what are its plans for taking the evidence forward?
My hon. Friend is right. The Housing First projects in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are backed by the £1.2 billion that we have committed to tackle all forms of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country through to 2020. Housing First and the private rented sector access fund are also providing local authorities with flexible funding to tackle the homelessness pressures they are facing.
The guidance also says that an authority moving a homeless family out to another area should inform the receiving authority within 14 days. I have written to the Minister twice about this issue, and she has replied that Peterborough City Council is systematically dumping homeless families in Travelodges across South Yorkshire without telling the receiving authority. What will she do to ensure that the statutory guidance passed by this House is actually enforced and that authorities do not continue to flout it?
The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous Member and does such a good job of chairing the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee —[Interruption.] Do you mind? We are trying to get there; let us have a bit of civility, shall we?
I have written again to the hon. Gentleman, and the important thing is that we have now had frank words with the local authority in Peterborough to say that it should have informed the receiving authorities—it has now done that. The team we have put together to help with homelessness is having a special word with Peterborough and other councils that were thinking of placing homeless people out of borough.
Homelessness has risen in each and every one of the past seven years. In the last year alone, 440 homeless people have died. The Budget pledged nearly £10 billion to a poorly targeted help-to-buy scheme, but it failed to mention homelessness once. Now the Secretary of State has scrimped together a measly £15,000 each for councils to tackle winter pressures. Will that guarantee that we will not see any rough sleepers on the streets this winter?
Sadly I do not have a crystal ball, but what I do have is a team of fantastic advisers who are making sure that councils have put in really good bids to help rough sleepers. Secondly, there is money: £40 million, £30 million, £75 million and, now, another £5 million. This Government take homelessness and rough sleeping extremely seriously, and we are the only Government who have put it in our manifesto that we want to halve homelessness and rough sleeping. We will be looking after the most vulnerable people in 2020, and we will finish this altogether in 2027. The answer is that the Government and the money that taxpayers are providing are doing their best.
Local Government: Departmental Support
Councils will receive a real-terms increase in financial resources both this year and next. Furthermore, the Department funds the Local Government Association to provide support for local authorities to build leadership capacity, conduct peer reviews and facilitate efficiency initiatives.
I thank the Minister for that. What help is being provided specifically for Somerset County Council to cope with the escalating demands of adult social care and children’s services? Will he bear in mind that Somerset County Council desperately needs £80 million from the housing infrastructure fund in order to cope with providing much-needed future infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is tireless in pressing Somerset’s case. We listened carefully to her and others, and the Budget confirmed an additional £650 million for social care next year, and indeed an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund. I am sure that the Minister for Housing will have heard her submission, but given what I have said, and the LGA’s specific support for Somerset with its children’s services, I hope she feels that we are responding to Somerset’s concerns and hers.
I do not know whether the Minister has ever heard the song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell, but it is worth listening to just to be reminded of what the streets of every town in this country are like: how run down they are; how many rough sleepers there are; how much deterioration there is; how much graffiti there is; and how many broken pavements there are. That is what my constituents see in my town, and it is happening up and down this country because this Government have starved our country’s local government service.
The hon. Gentleman may want to talk this country down, but Conservative Members have enormous faith in towns and communities up and down this country, which was why in the Budget we backed Britain’s high streets with a £675 million fund. We did that because we believe in local communities taking control of their high streets and developing vibrant communities that we will enjoy for years to come.
My hon. Friend has met me and others to discuss the cost of delivering services in rural areas, particularly in Leicestershire. His local county council has been a vocal proponent of a new fair funding formula, and I am pleased to tell him that we are engaged with his council and others to take into account those concerns, and we will shortly be issuing the latest round of consultation on those proposals.
When one of the councils serving my constituency still faces £43 million of cuts over the next four years—more than the combined total it currently spends on recycling, parks, libraries, children’s centres, roads and pavements, and community safety—does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that austerity is over, or does he share the incredulity of so many of my constituents who wonder how she could possibly be so out of touch?
This Government believe in backing local authorities to build strong communities. The hon. Lady mentioned parks and roads. Perhaps she heard in the Budget about £420 million for our councils to fix potholes this winter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced another round of our hugely successful pocket parks programme, and I encourage her local authority to bid as well.
In Northampton- shire, the borough councils, the district councils and the county council are all working together to set up two new unitary authorities. Is the excellent Minister able to say when he is going to consult on that? Secondly, is he able to say when he will make a decision on whether next year’s borough and district council elections need to go ahead?
May I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the local councillors in Northamptonshire, who are working very constructively together through a difficult situation to ensure that their residents benefit at the end of the process? I can tell him that reasonably shortly we will be issuing details about the next step of that process. As he rightly points out, as part of that the Government may have the ability to delay the elections next year, should that be requested by the authorities and make sense in the context of the new unitisation proposals.
This Government’s record on local government is clear: since 2010, the Department’s budget has fallen by at least £13 billion; and, by 2020, the revenue support grant will be cut by 80%—£8 billion—putting more pressure on to council tax, which is an unequal levy. Northamptonshire has, in effect, gone bust, with the media reporting that Surrey, East Sussex and Lancashire are next in line. Services are under pressure—cut, slashed or stopped altogether—and councils are at breaking point. The Public Accounts Committee asked Ministers to publish a definition of “financial sustainability” for councils, methodology for assessing authorities at financial risk, and projections for spending and demand in service areas, so why have they refused? This is common sense; what has the Minister got to hide?
The hon. Gentleman has a job to do, and I appreciate that—it is his job to put pressure on us—but I would have thought that this week, after all the question sessions we have had, he would have joined me in welcoming last week’s Budget, which includes £1 billion extra for local government across two years.
The publication of the national planning policy framework provides greater clarity and certainty for the development of homes. We are examining the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on the build-out review and will respond in full in February.
The Government would see greater progress in their quest to shorten the time it takes to build new homes if people were able to have greater confidence in the design and layout of large housing developments. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps he is taking to get that done, but does he agree that what really worries people is not only the housing but the inability to provide adequate social infrastructure to cope with massive amounts of new housing where there simply is not currently the infrastructure to support it?
I recognise the points that my right hon. Friend highlights and welcome his support for the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, which will look at that sense of place and the identity between our built environment and how we live our lives. He also rightfully highlights the issues relating to infrastructure. I hope that he will welcome the extra £500 million that the Chancellor committed in last week’s Budget to the housing infrastructure fund to deal with the issues that he rightly points out.
Some 140,000 children are waiting in temporary accommodation for new homes. In the meantime, how long does the Secretary of State think it is acceptable for a child to have to travel to school—two hours? Three hours? Some children are getting home at 9 pm because their school is so far away from where they are placed.
The point that the hon. Lady makes is about the need to build more homes, which is precisely what we are doing as a Government. We are ensuring that housing associations are building more with the £9 billion fund, and by lifting the borrowing caps we are ensuring that councils can build more, along with what the private sector is doing. That way, people can have strong communities and the services that they need close at hand.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that one of the best ways to bring forward more new homes quickly is to support my Housing Reform Bill, which has support from Members from all parties, including some of the House’s most distinguished Members? The Bill’s requirement on the Secretary of State to provide serviced plots for sale or for rent to rich people and poor people, social tenants and others, would do a lot to solve our housing crisis.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tireless championing of the issues that he has highlighted. The Minister for Housing will meet him shortly to discuss a number of the elements that he has highlighted. I hope that he recognises some of the steps taken through the national planning policy framework that will support his agenda.
Residential Property Management
All tenants deserve a safe and decent place to live. In respect of the private rented sector, Lord Best is chairing a new working group on property agent regulation, and we have extended mandatory licensing. The social housing Green Paper contains proposals to drive up the performance of social landlords in delivering a good service.
I welcome the reforms, especially the requirement for all residential managers to be trained and qualified. That is the way to raise standards. However, there are concerns about how the requirement may be introduced. Will the Minister agree to a meeting to discuss how existing qualifications will be accredited by the proposed mandatory qualifications, so that we do not end up worsening the current shortage of competent managers?
With his usual accuracy, my hon. Friend identifies an issue critical to getting this matter right. As he knows, the working group will be looking at the entire property agent sector to ensure that any new regulatory framework is joined up across letting, property management and estate agents. One of the key issues in making that new regulatory framework land will be the transition from the old to new, and I will be more than happy—indeed it would be foolish of me not to agree—to meet a former Housing Minister of such standing.
According to the Government’s own figures, there are more than 10,000 rogue landlords operating in England. Will the Minister therefore explain to tenants who are suffering from damp and often unsafe conditions why none of these landlords appears on the Government’s new rogue landlord database?
As the hon. Lady knows, the database was introduced earlier this year and it will take time to populate in order for landlords to appear on it. There will obviously have to be investigations, prosecutions, and penalties levied so that they can properly be entered on to the database. She will know that the introduction of banning orders and a rogue landlord database will have an enormous impact in future. We just have to make sure that we get the right names on it.
Having man’s best friend by one’s side can make a massive difference to somebody who is suffering from loneliness, social isolation or mental health issues. I am aware of at least one local authority that has taken the retrograde step of banning its tenants from keeping a pet. Will my hon. Friend please look at the guidance given to local councils, because, to many people, having a pet is their lifeline?
As part of a family who regard their pet cat as an intrinsic and important member of our household—[Interruption.] Well, hon. Members may well be amused by that, but it is true what my hon. Friend says: a number of people, particularly those who live alone or those who have children, rely on their pets for comfort and calm and for companionship. I would hope that all local authorities operated a humane and compassionate letting policy where this is concerned, and I would be more than happy to look at the rules around that.
I have no pets to declare to the House.
On behalf of my party, I offer our condolences on the passing of Sir Jeremy Heywood and our thanks for his service in public life.
It was encouraging to hear that the UK Government are to follow the example set in 2015 by the Scottish Government and introduce mandatory five-year electrical safety checks on rental homes. Will the Minister confirm a start date for those checks?
I am afraid that I will have to write to the hon. Lady with that answer as I do not have it to hand at the moment, but she is quite right that we have been reviewing standards generally in the private rented sector and considering what more we can do to make sure that private rented homes are as safe as they can possibly be.
That is a disappointing response, particularly considering how important safety is to people renting accommodation. Citizens Advice found that renters in England who complain about issues with their home are statistically more likely to get evicted. The Scottish Government abolished no-fault evictions recently. Will the Minister consider doing likewise so that tenants in England do not fear reporting faults with their homes?
Local Authority Funding: Allocation
We are undertaking a fair funding review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to address concerns about the fairness of the current system. This will determine the new funding allocations for local authorities through a more up-to-date and fairer funding formula.
I am pleased to say that we are making very good progress and are considering many of the topics raised by hon. Members, including rapidly changing demographics affecting social care and the cost of delivering services in rural areas. I look forward to collaborating closely with the sector and with my hon. Friend’s county as we look to introduce a simple, accurate and transparent new funding formula.
If funding is so equitable, why is North Lincolnshire Council giving people on the lowest incomes such a low level of support with their council tax, at only 50%? Why is the council sending nearly all its discretionary housing payments back to the Government?
Decisions about local council tax support are rightly for individual local authorities to make themselves; it would not be appropriate for me to dictate to them. The fairer funding formula is designed to determine the equitable nature of funding distributed to all local authorities. The hon. Gentleman will know that the current system dates back to 2013-14, and indeed many elements date back decades before that. We are determined to fix it and bring it up to date.
I thank the Minister for supporting the measures in the Budget exempting public toilets from business rates and providing a commitment to take action regarding second home owners who are avoiding business rates. I very much welcome his words on a fair funding formula, but when the fair funding formula was previously introduced, it was dampened away. Will he make a commitment that rural councils really will see the benefit of a new fairer formula this time?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for successfully placing in the Budget measures on public toilet relief and second homes. With regard to my hon. Friend’s second point, I am determined to ensure that the new formula is transparent and that all local authorities—not just those in rural areas—have a clearer idea about their allocation under the new formula, and transition to those new allocations in a relatively short timeframe.
A recent report by the New Policy Institute shows that the majority of local government cuts have fallen on the 10 most deprived councils, despite the fact that they have higher numbers of looked-after children and adults needing social care and other council services. Will the Minister now commit to funding councils properly and according to levels of need, rather than political colour, as the Government appear to be doing at the moment?
It is simply not the case that that is how funding is determined. Although out of date, the current funding formulas do contain deprivation measures and funding is distributed on the basis of need. That is also how the new funding for adult social care, announced just last week, will be distributed—according to the relative needs formula.
Local Authority Funding
The Government have listened and responded to the pressures faced by local authorities. The autumn Budget helped to support financial sustainability of local authorities and provided more than £1 billion of additional funding across this year and next year for local authorities to deliver local services, support vulnerable residents and build vibrant communities.
I welcome the short-term support for adult social care promised in last week’s Budget, but it is a sticking plaster at best. In Nottingham, it costs an average of £450 a week to care for someone at home, compared to £2,500 in hospital. Our NHS trusts are already raising concerns about winter pressures. Inadequate social care provision adds to those pressures and will inevitably cost the Government more in the long term. I know that the Minister understands the importance and efficacy of early intervention and prevention, so can he provide any assurances that he understands the need to fund adult social care sustainably and tell us what support will be provided from 2020 onwards?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention the importance of prevention, and of the interaction between the NHS and social care. Later this year, we will see the publication of the Government’s Green Paper with a long-term sustainable settlement for social care. That will answer her question as to the settlement for social care beyond next year in the spending review.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) just mentioned Cambridge University research published last month showing that local authority spending cuts have been concentrated on the poorest areas, making disparities with better-off areas much worse. Phasing out central Government grants, as Ministers are proposing, will make that even worse. Are Ministers happy just to let the disparities between different areas rocket?
It may be worth pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that core spending power per household in the most deprived local authority areas in the country is 23% higher than that in the least deprived. This Government support all communities with the resources that they need.
New Homes for Social Rent
Since 2010, we have delivered over 378,000 new affordable homes, including 129,000 for social rent. We are investing over £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to deliver more than 250,000 new affordable homes, including at least 12,500 for social rent.
There are thousands of households languishing on Dudley’s waiting lists. I meet families every single week who are desperate for a home of their own. Funding for new affordable homes has fallen from over £4 billion in 2009-10 to less than £500 million last year, and the amount of social housing built for rent is actually falling to its lowest level since the war. In that context, what hope do my constituents have of the decent, secure and affordable home that they dream of?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are throwing literally everything we have got at the housing market at the moment in the hope that we can build the homes that everybody in the country needs. In particular, in the social sector, we have increased the size of the affordable homes programme. We have reintroduced the idea of social rent; removed the housing revenue account borrowing cap for local authorities; and are setting long-term rent deals for councils and housing associations, enabling them to plan. We have also committed funding beyond 2022 for housing deals and partnerships with housing associations, which we think will deliver significant numbers of houses. It must be remembered that the Labour Government the hon. Gentleman supported induced local authorities to get out of house building. I was a councillor at the time. We were offered large amounts of money to get rid of our housing stock. That has to end. We want councils to start building to address exactly the needs he raises.
In Chelmsford, we are building a new garden community of 10,000 homes, more than one in four of which will be affordable, but the council wants to do more. What measures will there be to allow councils that do not have a housing revenue account also to take advantage of the new schemes that will enable them to borrow and build their own properties?
My hon. Friend is right. Quite a number of local authorities, having been induced, as I say, to get out of the house building industry and home-owning function, do not have housing revenue accounts. At the moment, if they construct, build or own more than about 200 council homes they have to open a housing revenue account. We hope that the new freedom we have introduced will enable councils to create innovative partnerships with other social housing providers to build the next generation of council houses.
The net number of social homes for rent built in the last financial year was 7,000, so we are losing a large number of these homes. We all agree that we need a lot more social homes for rent. In order to build more, will the Minister consider local authorities being given first right of refusal when public land comes up for sale, with a sale price based on current use rather than a speculative development price?
I am engaged in an intensive amount of activity on the subject of public land with my ministerial colleagues and those elsewhere. Hon. Members will have seen that we have recently changed the rules so that local authorities can dispose of their own public land at less than market value if they deem there is a social need to do so. Whether or not we can give them first refusal on acquiring that land will depend on their ability to deliver the homes that people need. I am very focused on numbers of homes rather than principles of disposal.
My hon. Friend is one of the most innovative thinkers in housing policy generally, certainly on the Conservative Benches—not that there is much innovation on the Labour Benches, but there we are. He points to an area where there is strong demand. Very large numbers of people who would otherwise be tenants have a strong desire to own, and we would love to see them owning on a discounted basis. Hon. Members will have seen in the Budget the announcement of funding for neighbourhood plans to enable an allocation of discounted homes for sale, particularly in rural areas, and I would be keen to explore the idea further with my hon. Friend.
You rather took the wind from my sails there, Mr Speaker.
The Minister refers to housing associations, and it will not have escaped his notice that the chief executives of housing associations earn on average comfortably more than the Prime Minister, with the upper decile trousering salaries in the eye-watering range of £250,000 to £400,000. Is the Minister entirely comfortable with that?
One issue that we are considering as part of our work on the social housing Green Paper is whether the tenant voice is heard strongly enough at the highest levels of housing associations. We must remember that some of these organisations are extremely large. The largest ones are huge and complex, looking after many hundreds of thousands of people, and the individuals who run them shoulder enormous responsibility and, indeed, risk. It is for those boards, suitably informed by the tenant body, to make decisions about remuneration.
My recent visit to India provided an important opportunity to promote the midlands engine in that significant market. This month, we announced funding to support the creation of a new locally led development body for Toton, as well as £70 million for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, and we will refresh the midlands engine strategy.
A great example of the potential economic development in the midlands is the shortlisting of Barrow Hill in my constituency as the next potential site for the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming that shortlisting and—fingers crossed—hoping that we get it?
I note my hon. Friend’s fingers are crossed. I am delighted to hear that Talgo is considering investing in the UK. I hope he will understand that as there are still a number of locations under consideration, it would be wrong for me to comment further—although, having visited the potential site in his constituency this summer, I can say that it is clearly an excellent site for investment.
The midlands engine is working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council as part of the transforming cities fund and making bids for significant investment. It was heartening to hear the Chancellor refer to that in his speech last Monday. Could the Secretary of State put us out of our misery and announce from the Dispatch Box today that Stoke will receive that funding, which would save a further round of hoop-jumping?
As my hon. Friend says, that is a good try. I recognise the way in which the hon. Gentleman has championed Stoke, this initiative and the funding. All I can say is that we will look at that carefully, but I hope he gets a sense of the attention and focus we are giving to the midlands engine.
The midlands engine covers approximately two thirds of Lincolnshire—the county council area—but my constituency is served by the two unitary authorities in the north. Co-ordination of economic policies falls to both the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership and the Humber local enterprise partnership. Both the local authorities and LEPs would like to maintain the status quo. Could the Secretary of State bear that in mind in the upcoming review?
My hon. Friend will note the conclusions of the review, particularly in relation to governance and overlapping geographies. It is important that we have reform and work with the LEPs to take this forward, and I look forward to having discussions with the LEP chairs in the coming days.
I thank my hon. Friends for their questions. We are spending more than £1.2 billion through to 2020, and we have implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, published our £100 million rough sleeping strategy and taken immediate action to begin to reduce the number of people on the streets.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and it is great to see her back in her place. As she will know, Torbay is very keen to take forward a Housing First pilot for our bay, to end the scourge of rough sleeping. Can she update us on what plans the Government have for that approach to be adopted?
We are delighted to be piloting Housing First at scale across England for the first time. The impact of that approach will be measured by a rigorous evaluation, which will ensure that we have the robust evidence base needed to demonstrate its effectiveness and inform future spending decisions.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me and the more than 20 homelessness and health charities, including St Mungo’s, which today published a joint open letter to Sir Simon Stevens of NHS England, that to tackle homelessness, we need to ensure that the NHS works with others and local authorities to provide better support for those tackling mental health, alcohol and drug addiction and sleeping rough on our streets?
My hon. Friend is an assiduous campaigner on this matter. We appreciate that this is a very high priority for all local constituency MPs on both sides of the Chamber. I certainly agree that wraparound support is crucial to help people who have been sleeping rough to access and sustain accommodation. In our recent rough sleeping strategy, we announced a range of measures, including asking NHS England to spend up to £30 million over five years on health services for rough sleepers.
Street homelessness is a growing problem in my city of Leeds, reflecting inadequate social housing and mental health provision, and cuts to benefits. Big Change Leeds, launched last month, is bringing together everyone trying to help those who are street homeless in our city by giving their time or money. Will the Government welcome this initiative, but more importantly, will they commit their support by giving Leeds City Council the money it needs to address this growing problem in our city?
Again, I reiterate how very important this question is to everybody on both sides of the Chamber. I had the great pleasure of talking last week to the chief executive of the council in Leeds about the strategy and about the money and the help we are giving to the city. It was a really useful conversation to find a chief executive who is so committed to the project.
Will the Minister say how much money to deal with homelessness she has given to the local authority in Coventry and the charities in Coventry, which tell me that their allocations have been cut? That is no way to deal with homelessness.
I am very sorry that the charities are telling the local Member that, because overall we are putting in place a £1.2 billion fund for homelessness. I would certainly be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. His area is part of the greater west midlands project, and the greater west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has many millions of pounds to help with homelessness—going to Coventry as well as the other parts of the greater west midlands.
It is right that developers who sold leaseholds with onerous terms should support their customers to amend them. Some developers have introduced assistance schemes, which is welcome, but these must go further and faster. We are meeting developers shortly to discuss progress, and we will take further action as necessary.
The St Mary Magdalene and Holy Jesus Trust in my constituency is a charity that is refusing to allow its leaseholders to extend their leases, in a wholly uncharitable way. The Secretary of State talks about roundtables and reviews, but when will my constituents get some sort of justice and the ability to extend their leases?
The hon. Lady has a particular problem with a particular trust. The good news is that, following last year’s discussions, the trust has now made an offer to some of her constituents to enable them to purchase their freeholds. I am aware that her constituents have found the freehold purchase price of the leasehold properties to be prohibitive. We are also aware that different formulas are in use to establish the cost of enfranchisement. The Government are looking to standardise enfranchisement processes and have asked the Law Commission to review current arrangements, including the valuation methodology. This will support existing leaseholders by making buying the freehold or extending the leasehold easier, faster and cheaper.
First-time Buyers: Help to Buy and Stamp Duty
In the interests of providing a good service, Mr Speaker, I hope you will indulge me if I refer to my answer to the hon. Lady from north of the border, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). I just want to say that there is no fixed date at the moment for bringing in the affirmative statutory instrument that will make it mandatory to have five-year electrical checks in the private rented centre, but we are searching for a slot as soon as possible in a crowded and exciting legislative timetable.
In answer to Question 14, the Government are working together to help more people on to the housing ladder. Help to Buy equity loans have helped over 169,000 house- holds to March 2018, 81% were to first-time buyers and 121,500 people have benefited from first-time buyers relief from stamp duty since June 2018.
I am grateful for the cuts in stamp duty for those at the lower end and the help for home ownership, but the higher rates of stamp duty may be having an adverse effect on the housing market. It could cost the Treasury £300 million, so a cut leading to more income, leaving more resources for those at the lower end could be in prospect. Has the Housing Minister raised that with the Treasury?
My hon. Friend is a political toxophilite of the highest order and has fired his arrows into a subject that is the cause of constant discussion between us and the Treasury. He knows that we all acknowledge the effect that stamp duty can have on the market; that is why he may have seen changes in the Budget to stamp duty on shared ownership, which we hope will benefit first-time buyers. However, I will keep him apprised of conversations as we have them.
What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people who have used Help to Buy who are now in negative equity because of leasehold reform? They cannot sell the properties and the price has fallen, so the taxpayer and the individual are hit.
At this stage, there is no indication from the early returns on Help to Buy that the situation that the right hon. Gentleman raises is occurring. Indeed, early numbers show a higher level of successful redemption than we expected and we hope that that will continue.
This week, I am meeting developers at a leasehold roundtable to press them to tackle onerous ground rents, and I will attend the Locality Convention in Bristol to acknowledge the hard work of our community organisations and set out our ambition for increased localism.
Wednesday’s celebration of Diwali will be a special moment to reflect and celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. As we mourn the tragic events in Pittsburgh, especially in the context of this week’s 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are clear that racism and xenophobia in whatever form have no place in our society and will be confronted in the strongest terms.
It was great that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government were able to attend last Wednesday’s launch of the county all-party parliamentary group’s report on social mobility in county areas. Will my right hon. Friend work with the APPG to implement the report’s 11 recommendations, which will do so much to ensure that young people across the country have the opportunity to realise their full potential?
That sense of social justice to which my hon. Friend alludes and which was in the report profoundly reflects the Government’s aspirations and intent to see a country that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the APPG in considering the fair funding review and other steps to ensure that we realise that aspiration.
Trading standards are the foot soldiers in keeping the public from falling victim to unsafe goods, yet cuts to local authorities mean that trading standards budgets have fallen by more than 50% between 2009 and 2019, with a 56% reduction in the number of offices. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute is warning that, as we approach Brexit, the role of those dedicated professionals will be even more crucial. How can they keep the public safe from dodgy and dangerous goods without sustainable funding?
We are providing a real terms increase in funding for local government this year and next year, recognising some of the pressures that exist. We continue to support local government and, in the context of Brexit, we are working with it to ensure effective preparations for protecting our communities.
I can tell my hon. Friend that £240 million of the £650 million will distributed in the same way as the budget for the current year and he should have received those figures already. We will shortly write to local authorities and colleagues about the distribution of the second tranche of £410 million.
Order. I can scarcely hear the hon. Gentleman. I want to hear his question. I do not know what all this baa-ing is about—something may have been said that has escaped my attention—but that does not remotely concern me at this moment. What does concern me at this moment is that the hon. Gentleman must be heard and he will be heard, however long it takes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, Southern Landlords Association filed for judicial review on selective licensing in Brighton. The Government’s response was to revoke the licence to regulate the private sector. This is not the first judicial review to derail selective licensing. Irrespective of the particular issue I am working on with the Minister, is it now not time to review the way selective licensing works and to stop judicial reviews, particularly vexatious ones like those from Southern Landlords Association, derailing the ability of councils to regulate the private sector and rogue landlords?
What a very good idea, Mr Speaker. I will not talk about the judicial review in detailed terms—obviously, it is ongoing—but I have been proud to sign off selective licensing in other parts of the country where the council has done a good job. I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Brighton to urge the local council to review its paperwork. If it comes back with detailed arrangements that I can sign off, I certainly will.
Mr Speaker, if you ever take the opportunity to visit Southport, like Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, you will find out that its famous high street, Lord Street, inspired the wide boulevards of Paris. The £675 million future high street fund, which that historic high street will hope to access, will be subject to a prospectus published by my Department by the end of the year.
We recognise the pressures on social care, which is why this year an extra £240 million has been committed and £650 million is being committed through the Budget to deal with those pressures. We are looking to long-term sustainability and valuing our local government sector, which is what we do.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents, including those who are tenants. He is right. We have had an enthusiastic response to the midlands right-to-buy pilot, with over 9,000 people applying for a code in the ballot. Over 6,000 of them have been given a code, and we hope that a significant number will come forward to seek the ownership they desire, funded by the £200 million being put towards the pilot.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s positive outlook as we leave the European Union. We will deliver a positive Brexit, looking outwards into the world and at how we have trade deals in the future. We continue to engage with local councils to ensure that we deliver a smooth and effective Brexit.
I have done better than that—I have met them. I did so just two weeks ago to discuss their fascinating ideas, not least on how we can make the principle of neighbourhood planning work in urban areas, an issue that I know is of great importance to my hon. Friend.
I absolutely recognise and commend what the hon. Gentleman said on how collectively we challenge antisemitism and stand up for the values of this country. I pay tribute to him for the personal contribution that he has made on this issue, and equally, I reflect on the statue of Frank Foley, which the hon. Gentleman was instrumental in bringing into effect. It recognises Frank Foley’s contribution in saving the lives of thousands of Jews fleeing from persecution in Germany, and we must never forget the contribution that he and others have made.
Many of my constituents are suffering from severe stress following the purchase of their homes on unfair leasehold terms. Does the Minister agree that tackling leasehold abuse is a matter of urgency, and will she comment on a timetable for action?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The Government are very clear that unjust leasehold practices must come to an end. We have committed to banning new leasehold houses and restricting ground rents on future leases to a peppercorn. We launched our consultation on the details of these proposals on 15 October. I agree that this is an urgent matter, having read many of the stories of leaseholders facing high or doubling ground rents or struggling to sell their homes, especially in my hon. Friend’s part of the north-west. We will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most effective ways to deal with rising housing costs and rising eviction rates is for councils to follow the lead of my council—Sutton Council—and build council homes, over 90 of which are about to come on-stream very soon?
Will the Department work with the Department of Health and Social Care to use the local reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire as an opportunity to receive local proposals to develop a pilot for a new integrated social care and health system in the county?
We are already taking such steps. On 18 October, we convened a meeting between leaders and chief executives of the Northamptonshire councils and representatives of the local health services to start discussions on how, in future, adult social care may be best provided and integrated with health.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the establishment of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and the inspired choice of Sir Roger Scruton as the chairman, but, first, does my right hon. Friend not agree that this will only have any teeth if we can get the volume house builders to buy into it? Secondly, I think that the commission should be extended to look at the quality and the variable advice often given by local planning officers and at a full accreditation scheme for those planning officers on an annual basis to refresh them.
I certainly want the new commission to drive quality in the built environment, which is at the heart of what my right hon. Friend said. If we do that, we can speed up this process and get greater support and consent from the public in building the homes that our country needs. I therefore think that the house builders should very much embrace this.
The Secretary of State says that local councils will see real-terms increases in their budgets. If so, why is Derbyshire County Council planning for £70 million of cuts, on top of the £260 million of cuts already made, and cutting the terms and conditions of its lowest-paid workers in school catering as well as services for the most vulnerable?
I recognise the challenges that local government has faced over the past few years and how councils have played their part in dealing with the public finance challenges brought about by the Labour party; let us not forget that when discussing the investment we are making to create that sustainable position for local government.
As the Minister will know, we are taking thousands of new homes in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and it is imperative that the infrastructure keep pace. Last week, the Chancellor very welcomely announced a new generation of enterprise zones. May I make an early pitch for Corby, because I would argue that we qualify given the housing growth we are taking?
A constituent of mine has been a faithful council tenant for 30 years. Over this time, she has invested much in her home. Her ex-partner served notice when he moved out, and now City of York Council is moving to evict her next week. This is having a serious impact on her mental health—among other things, it has led to her feeling suicidal—yet the council still plans to move her. Will the Minister urgently meet me to discuss this case and the mental health assessments of tenants that should take place?
Following the Office for National Statistics household projection figures being revised downwards by nearly a quarter, will my hon. Friend the Minister ensure that regional housing targets reflect the easing of pressure to build on the green belt, with particular reference to the Greater Manchester spatial framework?
My hon. Friend may know that we have already issued a technical consultation on the latest household projection numbers and the impact on projected housing need in local authority areas. We really do not want local authorities to take their foot of the accelerator, however, not least because we believe that there is pent-up demand for housing in this country. We are working with authorities across the country to get the formula right in the longer term, while we seek a short-term fix to keep numbers up, but I would be more than happy to meet him and his colleagues to discuss the Manchester spatial framework further.
Tyne and Wear fire service is facing £3 million of cuts, which could mean the closure of my local fire station. Will the Secretary of State look at the special problems with funding fire services that are facing local government in the north-east?
The Labour cabinet in Nuneaton and Bedworth is imposing a £40 garden tax on green waste collection, despite pledging not to do so in May’s local election. Does my hon. Friend agree that such a fundamental change to how people’s waste is collected should not be made without full and proper consultation with the public and buy-in from local people?
My predecessor in this job well knows that such decisions are rightly for local areas to make themselves, but I would say that local authorities should look to tighten their own belts and curb any wasteful spending before increasing the bills of hard-working taxpayers.
Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) about Derbyshire County Council’s cuts, the cuts in question are worth more than £200 million, and they were made not by the Labour Government, as he stated, but by the Tory Government in alliance with the Liberal Democrats. To refresh his memory further, I should remind him that we also trebled the amount of money going into the hospital. Now a Tory county council at Matlock has decided to close 20 libraries in the county. That’s politics.
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about the steps the Government have had to take to put the public finances back on an even keel as a consequence of the Labour party’s actions, and he should well know our commitment to investing in the health service in a way the Labour party would not have done.
Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the arrangements for EU citizens in the event of no deal being agreed in the Article 50 negotiations.
While we are confident about agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible Government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019. We have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights that will protect EU citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK until the end of the planned implementation period on 31 December 2020.
We are introducing the EU settlement scheme under UK immigration law for resident EU citizens and their family members covered by the draft withdrawal agreement. That will enable those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period to confirm their status under the settlement scheme. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible to apply for settled status. Those who have not yet reached the point of five years’ continuous residence will be eligible to be granted pre-settled status, and will be able to apply for settled status once they have reached that point.
The Prime Minister has already confirmed that, in the unlikely event of no deal, all EU citizens who are resident here by 29 March 2019 will be welcome to stay. They are part of our community and part of our country, and we welcome the contribution that they make. Last week the Prime Minister extended that commitment to citizens of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and we are close to reaching an agreement with Switzerland. We will set out further details shortly, so that those affected can have the clarity and certainty that they need.
Unfortunately, the Minister did not give us the clarity that we need. Nor did she clear up the confusion from last week, which I had hoped she would do, especially at a time when there is considerable concern for EU citizens, as well as practical concerns for employers about what arrangements will apply in April, May and June next year if no deal takes place.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to respect the rights of those currently living here, who will be able to stay and work as now, but I am still none the wiser about what checks will apply to those EU citizens in the event of no deal. The Minister and the Home Office officials suggested to us that there would be additional employer checks, and also that free movement would be turned off in March. However, the Home Secretary has told the media that in fact there will be a transition period, and that there will be no additional checks for employers if there is no deal.
Will the Minister tell us whether there will be additional employer checks on EU citizens immediately after no deal—yes or no? Will she confirm that EU citizens will not have to provide anything other than a passport or an identity card in order to be able to work? Will she also tell us whether that will then apply until the completion of the roll-out of the EU settlement scheme, which is due to be completed in June 2021? If not, what on earth are EU citizens supposed to provide as proof of their right to work before June 2021 if the settlement scheme has not been completed?
The Minister and the Home Office have now said that there is no way of differentiating between EU citizens arriving here for the first time and those who have been here for many years. Will the Minister confirm that newly arriving EU citizens will also not have to provide anything other than a passport or an ID card, and that they will continue to be able to work under the same arrangements, also until June 2021?
Those are basic questions that the Home Office really should be able to answer. If the facts are not as I have put them to the Minister, she should be able to tell us what the alternative facts are, what alternative information and proof EU citizens are supposed to provide, and what alternative questions employers are supposed to ask. The clock is ticking, and there are only five months left. Surely the Home Office has a grip of those basic questions.
I thank the right hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to clarify this point. Employers will of course continue to need to check passports or ID cards—as they do now for EU citizens, and indeed for British citizens, when making a new job offer. We will not be asking employers to differentiate even if there is no deal, and the right hon. Lady will of course be conscious that we are working hard to secure a deal. The Prime Minister has been very clear, as indeed has the Brexit Secretary, that we will honour our commitment to EU citizens and their family members, and more information will be set out in due course, with a specific statement on citizens from the Brexit Secretary, who of course wishes to make clear that people are incredibly important and should not simply be reliant on a technical notice.
My question is twofold. First, can the Minister give us the timelines under which she expects to be setting out further details? Secondly—this is important for London constituencies like mine, which have a high number of EU workers and businesses that rely on EU workers—can she confirm that this step will be taken in a spirit of understanding that recruitment will be made in good faith by employers and should the rules then be set in a different way to what they had anticipated, that will be borne in mind in relation to fines and any other action that can be currently taken against employers employing people illegally?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out the high numbers of EU citizens in her constituency and indeed employers’ reliance upon them. That is why it is important that we have a reasonable and sensible transition period that gives us time to make sure that any new immigration system sets out the requirements very clearly so that there can be certainty for individuals, and indeed for employers.
Is the Minister aware of the very real distress that this confusion over policy, which the Home Office had to correct, has caused to over 3.5 million EU citizens resident in this country—and not just to them, but to their families, dependents and employers? On a related matter, does the Minister remember her reply to a written question in June when she said that providing DNA evidence would be entirely voluntary? Yet the Home Secretary recently had to come before the House and correct that and apologise for the immigration and nationality department imposing mandatory DNA testing. So does the Minister accept that as we move towards leaving the EU this type of confusion over policy is simply not acceptable? It is not just the good faith of Government that she is calling into question, but it is people’s lives that we are playing with. Finally, does the Minister accept that it is simply not good enough to come before this House and talk about further information being provided in due course? There are five months to go and the clock is ticking, and we want no further confusions of this nature.
The right hon. Lady will of course know that the full Alcock report is in the House of Commons Library and it sets out very clearly the information regarding the parliamentary question to which she has referred. She also referred to the 3.5 million citizens already in this country: the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Brexit Secretary and indeed myself have been very clear that we want those people to stay, and by opening the EU settled status scheme, which we have done now in private beta testing phase 2, we are already putting in place steps that have enabled in the region of 1,000 people to confirm their status.
It is very important that the Government are generous and treat properly everybody who has come here lawfully up until the day that we leave, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also extremely important that, once we have left, we take back control of our borders?
My hon. Friend will have heard the Prime Minister’s very clear statements on this. As part of Brexit we will end free movement, giving us back control of our borders, which is what I believe people voted for in 2016 and which I know my hon. Friend wants.
Citizens need clarity, and many are here in Parliament today precisely because they have not had it—and, I regret to say, still do not have it. Unilateral guarantees are welcome, but do not provide a complete answer. Do the Government support a ring-fencing of the citizens’ rights provisions in the withdrawal agreement, so that they can be enforced under international law even after a no deal? Is that not the most obvious and best solution to pursue? Has that been discussed at all in negotiations so far? If not, would those unilateral rights be totally unprotected from unilateral change via the immigration rules, and how would pension rights be protected, and rights to access healthcare, or mutual recognition of professional qualifications? Finally, if there is a no-deal Brexit, will the scope and the rights set out for the settled status scheme be just as they are now, or would there be changes—for example, will those short of five years still be able to obtain pre-settled status, and how will people be able to challenge Home Office decisions?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Citizens need clarity, and that is why this Government have set it out, not only in the citizens’ rights agreement but in the settled status scheme, which, as I have said, is now open in one of its private beta testing phases. Phase 1 went very well, and phase 2 is now under way. After a firebreak over Christmas, we will be opening it up in phase 3. To me, it is obvious that the best solution is to ensure that these rights are enshrined in UK immigration law, which is what we are going to do.
My right hon. Friend will know that around one in seven of my constituents are EU nationals. That is possibly the highest proportion in the country. In my experience, most of them are very appreciative of the guarantees given by the Government so far. Nevertheless, most of them had no reasonable expectation that they would ever have to clarify their immigration status. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that we will treat those cases sensitively and individually? I have quite a few cases involving people who have been here for perhaps 20 years and have strong roots in this country, but who have spent some time abroad during the past five years, for example.
UK Visas and Immigration is already on-boarding significantly increased numbers of caseworkers for the European Economic Area casework that will flow through from the settled status scheme. It is important that individuals are given as easy a journey as possible through the process and, to date, 95% of those who have completed the settled status process have found it easy to do so. My right hon. Friend makes an important point, however. We want to be in a position to support individuals through the process, and to have a “computer says yes” attitude rather than a “computer says no” attitude. People will only have to demonstrate that they have been in the UK, which will in many cases be done best by sharing HMRC records with the Home Office.
If the UK leaves the EU in March with no deal, and if, as the Minister has told the House this afternoon, employers will not be required to make any additional checks other than asking for an EU passport, she has in effect told the House that free movement will continue after we have left the European Union. Will she now address the question that the Chair of the Select Committee asked her: how long will that situation continue? To many of us, it seems that it will have to continue until such time as an application process for settled status is completed, because only at that point will an employer be able to distinguish between someone who has settled status and someone who arrived the previous day carrying an EU passport.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated, we are seeking a sensible transition period that will enable the Home Office to ensure that these cases can be caseworked. The Prime Minister has been very clear that free movement will end—[Interruption.] We will in due course set out the future immigration system, which will enable there to be further clarity.
Will the Government legislate, before our departure from the EU on 30 March, for a comprehensive system for immigration, migration and citizenship that is fair to all concerned? That is what we voted for. Does the Minister also understand that a lot of us will not be voting for a withdrawal agreement to pay £39 billion that we do not owe when we need to spend that money here at home?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think “unseemly” is a perfect description.
As I said, we will be bringing forward the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill shortly, and further details will be set out in due course, which I am sure will give the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) satisfaction.
My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes an important point. At every opportunity, Ministers raise both with the EU and our counterparts in the EU27 the important factor of UK citizens lawfully residing in other EU member states. There is of course huge concern that we have made a generous offer to EU citizens, and let me be clear that we want them to stay here and that we regard them as part of our community. It is time for the EU to step up to the plate and say what it is doing for British citizens.
As I have said, the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill will be coming forward in the next few weeks. Our White Paper will set out the future skills-based immigration system, as the Prime Minister indicated at the recent Conservative party conference, which will be based on people’s ability and what they can offer to our country, not on where they come from.
Does the Minister share my surprise at recent press reports suggesting that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom after Brexit would be offered full voting rights in Westminster parliamentary elections? Will she confirm that that is not going to happen?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Deciding who can vote in UK elections is a Cabinet Office competence. EU citizens currently have the right to vote in local elections and that will prevail until there is a change in primary legislation. However, such matters are for future discussion and negotiation, and I cannot set them out today.
Before I ask the Minister a question, Mr Speaker, I want to bring something to your attention. There are many EU citizens in Parliament today who were keen to hear this urgent question, but they are being told that the Gallery is full and that they cannot get in to watch proceedings. The Gallery is obviously not full, so I wanted to make you aware of that to see whether we can get a message to the Doorkeepers.
Indeed, many of those EU citizens are here today because of the complete chaos and their worry about their futures, many of them having contributed to our society for decades. They are concerned about their immigration status, their right to work and their families here. Will the Minister admit that she gave incorrect evidence to the Home Affairs Committee the other day? Will she tell us how many EU citizens have already left the UK due to uncertainty around their status?
The hon. Gentleman is clearly a huge box-office draw if there are people outside still wanting to get in. He makes an important point—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, it is important to say, as set out by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and, indeed, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in his appearance at the House of Lords EU Select Committee on 29 August, that we want EU citizens to stay. We have already started the process of enabling them to go through the settled status scheme, and in the region of 1,000 people have already been granted such status.
I am just coming to the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We still know that more EU citizens are coming than leaving—[Interruption.] As the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), just indicated, more EU citizens are working in the NHS today than at the time of referendum.
I thank the Minister for clarifying that EU citizens’ rights will be protected in the event of both a deal and no deal. Some people have made the UK their permanent home but have to come and go either for their job or because they have caring responsibilities. Will those people be cared for?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be individuals who come and go. Through the settled status scheme, we are seeking to give people every opportunity to evidence their time in the UK by working with other Departments to cross-reference HMRC or Department for Work and Pensions records, for example. It is important to make a scheme that is easy for people to go through and that encourages those EU citizens who have contributed so much to our country to stay here. We want them to stay.
What assessment has the Minister made of the commentary about the rights of the parents or elderly relatives on both sides of the equation? Will she give us her enlightened view on the next steps? Lots of people are very worried.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and the family reunion rights that have been set out in the withdrawal agreement are very important. We know that many EU citizens may have caring responsibilities or, indeed, children in a home country who might yet seek to come over. Those rights are enshrined in the offer we have made, and it is important that we continue to honour that offer and, indeed, work with those individuals so that they find going through the process as easy as possible.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend should declare an interest. Of course, EU nationals who are living here will need to go through the settled status scheme to make sure they have access to pension rights and settled status rights, as I have set out. Of course it is important that anyone who has been here for five years can apply for settled status straightaway, and those who have been here for less than five years will be able to apply for pre-settled status and can then apply for settled status once they have been here for five years.
Telling people that they are welcome just sounds hollow, given the terrible treatment meted out to Commonwealth citizens who were also once told that they were welcome but who did not have documents that they did not know they were supposed to have. What does the Minister think I should say to my EU constituents in Bristol West who, frankly, have no confidence at all in the Government’s proposals?