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Topical Questions

Volume 651: debated on Monday 10 December 2018

Housing remains the Government’s top priority and the work of my Department continues at pace. The latest figures show that we have delivered more than 222,000 new homes—the highest for a decade—but especially as the temperatures drop, we are taking decisive action to support vulnerable people without a home and have published our rough sleeping strategy delivery plan. Shortly, I will publish our draft local government finance settlement with a new fairer method for allocation to help our councils to deliver high-quality services. Finally, as Jewish families across the country gather to light the candles of Hanukkah, I want to wish everyone celebrating a happy and peaceful Hanukkah.

When I find time to do my Christmas shopping, I will do my best to support the local high streets in Lincolnshire. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to ensure that our high streets have the support to survive and thrive in our communities?

High streets are the hub of our communities, which is why I am delighted that we have announced a £675 million future high streets fund to invest in our high streets, as well as, for example, launching an open doors pilot to bring empty properties back into use, and matching landlords of vacant premises with local community groups to ensure that our high streets are vibrant community places.

Some debt collection practices, particularly the heavy-handed use of bailiffs, make matters worse, not better, so what is the Secretary of State doing to promote the recent Money Advice Service toolkit initiative? How is he making sure that the way council tax debt is collected does not lead to further financial hardship and stress?

I would be happy to look further into that for the hon. Lady. On council tax debt collection, the Government’s position is clear: enforcement should be a last resort, and there is strict guidance in place to ensure the proper collection of council tax, done in a proportionate and civil manner.

T3. Following the ban on combustible cladding on new or refurbished buildings on 1 October, it has emerged that over 543 buildings are being built or refurbished with combustible cladding. Worse still, 1,338 buildings have combustible cladding. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that the ban is enforced and that leaseholders do not pay the cost? (908113)

Nothing is more important than making sure that people are safe in their homes. I have made it clear that building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings and they should protect leaseholders from costs. Local authorities have our full support to take enforcement action to make buildings safe, and it is our priority to ensure that people are safe and secure in their homes.

T2. I thank the supported housing Minister for the letter she has just sent me about the case in my constituency. Can I urge her to talk to as many colleagues as possible, because although the case in my constituency, where several residents died, might be one of the worst examples, it is not unique? There is a real problem in this sector. (908112)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It was appalling what was happening in Bristol in that hostel. The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable people. We are developing robust oversight of all supported housing, including homelessness hostels, and are undertaking a review of housing-related support services to ensure that all provision is of good quality and that appropriate support is provided. We are working with local government to support those experiencing rough sleeping and homelessness including with safety measures.

T4. I was very pleased to welcome the high streets Minister to Stoke-on-Trent South recently. Would he agree that towns such as Longton and Fenton in my constituency are exactly the sorts of places that should benefit from the future high streets fund? (908114)

It was a pleasure to join my hon. Friend shopping on his local high streets. The Government’s future high streets fund will help high streets to thrive, adapt and change. We will publish the prospectus shortly, and I would encourage Longton and Fenton, as well as the other towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, to express their interest in the fund.

T6. The Government’s recently announced leasehold consultation is the 53rd announcement on this topic since 2010, and among those previous announcements was a consultation on these exact same issues just 16 months ago. Can the Secretary of State confirm when leaseholders will finally see action, rather than just warm words? (908116)

We are determined to take action, and the consultation actually contains the technical elements to make sure we get it right and see a practical impact.

T5. Plans for the Oxfordshire Cotswolds garden village will see 2,200 homes built near Eynsham on the A40—an already congested road—in west Oxfordshire. Can the Minister pleasure assure me that garden villages are indeed free-standing settlements with their own schools and GP provision and that their connected infrastructure upgrades happen before, not after, the new homes are completed? (908115)

I congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority colleagues on their ambition in welcoming this new garden community to their area. I can confirm that all such communities should be well planned, and include appropriate infrastructure, both hard and soft, so that they are of benefit to the local area, rather than a subtraction.

T7. Given that the Department for Work and Pensions is relying on citizens advice bureaux to deliver universal credit, what conversations has the Secretary of State had with local authorities about their proposed cuts to CABs’ core funding, and has he warned his colleagues that many CABs may cease to exist? (908117)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to discuss this and other issues when we have the provisional settlement. He will see the support we are giving to local authorities, giving that commitment to local communities and ensuring high-quality services.

What support is the Department giving to councils such as Worcestershire trying to improve services through the enhanced use of technology?

My hon. Friend’s commitment to using technology and public services is well known to the House and is a passion I share. I was delighted that his council, Worcestershire, was involved in three winning bids to our £7. 5 million local digital innovation fund. I congratulate it and look forward to seeing the fruits of its innovation.

T8. Cheshire West and Chester Council activates its severe weather protocol for homeless people on the first night of bad weather. Share, the homeless charity in my constituency, would like this to be extended across the country. Will Ministers provide the funding for this extension to happen? (908118)

I commend the work of the charity in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We have a £5 million fund open to all local authorities to ensure that more accommodation is now available for these winter months.

Lichfield, Tamworth and Burton Councils are members of two local enterprise partnerships—the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP and the Staffordshire LEP. Why is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State trying to abandon localism and force them to join just the Staffordshire LEP?

Our LEP review is about putting our LEPs on a permanent footing as we leave the European Union. Abolishing overlaps is about creating accountability for all LEPs and is part of a wider suite of reforms ensuring that LEP boards reflect the diverse communities they represent by asking them to have at least 50% of their boards made up of local businesswomen.

T9. The UN rapporteur on racism looked at the impact of Brexit, and highlighted “the growth in the acceptability of explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance.” What are the Government doing to tackle that, and does the Secretary of State agree that recent comments from the Prime Minister have been deeply unhelpful in this regard? (908119)

It is right that we challenge and tackle religious intolerance, whatever form it takes. I look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and others to underline the positive approach that we take to integration, and ensuring that if there is intolerance and bigotry, it is challenged and shown to be completely unacceptable.

My right hon. Friend referred to the power that he has given local authorities to carry out emergency work to replace dangerous cladding and charge the owners. However, many owners are able to claim against the leaseholders for the costs under the terms of their leases, and that anomaly defeats the Government’s policy. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how the position might be rectified?

I shall be happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend. Many people are meeting those costs, but where that is not happening, I shall also be happy to challenge those concerned and make the point clear.

T10. The Minister recently attended a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, and answered a variety of questions. One particular concern that was raised was the need for Changing Places toilets to become more available in everyday work and leisure amenities, such as football grounds. Such a facility was offered recently at Glasgow Celtic’s—[Interruption.] (908120)

Order. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman, in an excessively noisy House. Project! Speak up, man.

I am standing as tall as I can, Mr Speaker.

Can the Minister give me an update on the Government’s progress in helping to improve the provision of those much-needed facilities?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s personal leadership on this issue. I commend Celtic football club on its forward thinking, and, indeed, commend all other football clubs that have done the same. I recently met the Changing Places consortium and the campaign group. I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that those with complex disabilities have every opportunity to enjoy a dignified and fulfilling life, and installing more Changing Places is something that we should all support.

Northamptonshire’s police and crime commissioner, Stephen Mold, is very kindly lending Corby’s former police station to Corby Nightlight to help its invaluable work in supporting homeless people in our community. Will my right hon. Friend commend that collaboration, so that when Nightlight moves to its new premises next year, there will be no interruption in service?

I am happy to commend that collaboration, and the incredible work that is taking place in Northamptonshire and elsewhere to meet the important challenge of getting people off our streets and dealing with issues relating to homelessness.

In my local borough of Enfield, children’s services are at breaking point. Can the Secretary of State assure me that adequate funds will be found in the local government financial settlement for those services, and for child and adolescent mental health services?

I hope that when the hon. Gentleman hears the statement on the provisional settlement, he will recognise the commitment that we make to children’s as well as adult social services. However, I recognise the pressures that exist. We want to see innovation, and we want to see those services improve. I look forward to discussing the issue with the hon. Gentleman.