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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
28 January 2019
Volume 653

House of Commons

Monday 28 January 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Homelessness: Death Rates

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1. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the death rate among homeless people. [908829]

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8. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the death rate among homeless people. [908836]

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16. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the death rate among homeless people. [908844]

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Every death of someone who is homeless is one too many. That is why we are determined to end rough sleeping altogether. We have committed £100 million to the rough sleeping strategy, and we are spending over £1.2 billion to prevent and reduce homelessness.

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Official figures released by Office for National Statistics just before Christmas shockingly revealed that 597 people died homeless in England and Wales in 2017—an increase of 24% over the last five years. With further cold weather expected, will the Secretary of State back Labour’s £100 million-a-year plan to make cold weather emergency accommodation available for every rough sleeper in every area?

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As I said before Christmas, these figures are hugely shocking. As I have already indicated, one death is one too many. That is why we are committed to taking action across the board; I pointed to the £100 million rough sleeping strategy. At times like this when we have colder weather, we have also allocated an extra £5 million over and above some of our additional work with short-term capacity to support councils to ensure that we are actually giving the help that is needed to some of the most vulnerable in our society.

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This week I spoke to the Hepatitis C Trust and my local homeless charity, Porchlight, who highlighted rough sleepers as a significantly vulnerable group in terms of alcohol and drug dependency. What steps are the Secretary of State and his Department taking to help homeless people to access mental health and addiction services?

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The hon. Lady is right to highlight the issues of mental health and addiction, with a much higher proportion of people who are rough sleeping having those particular needs. That is why in the NHS long-term plan there was the commitment for an extra £30 million designed specifically for health support for rough sleepers, because sometimes access can be really difficult. We are determined to ensure that that type of support is able to be provided to rough sleepers.

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We know that homelessness is getting worse. According to Shelter, 36 new people become homeless every day. One way to address this is to make more social housing available. To do that, England should be suspending the right to buy as we have already done in Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree?

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I do agree that we require more social housing. That is why we have our affordable housing programme. We have also already taken off the restrictions on councils in England to enable them to borrow to build a new generation of council homes. [Interruption.] I would just point out to Opposition Members, with regard to some of their comments, that this Government have built more council houses in their time than in 13 years of the last Labour Government. But we know there is more to do and we are committed to doing it.

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Homelessness is rising, and that is why we need action to stop it reaching the peak levels that we saw under the last Labour Government. What progress is being made to ensure that all councils—not some, but all councils —are taking the preventive approach envisaged in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017?

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I agree with my hon. Friend about the Homeless Reduction Act—a really ground-breaking piece of legislation very much emphasising a preventive agenda to prevent people from becoming homeless at all. Local authorities have received an additional £72.7 million to implement the Act, and the homelessness advice and support team has been providing support. But we need to ensure that more is done and we will certainly be reviewing the implementation of the Act by March next year.

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It is often alleged, perhaps anecdotally, that a disproportionate number of rough sleepers are people with a military background, perhaps suffering from drug or drink abuse or from post-traumatic stress disorder. Does the Department have any statistical method for checking whether that allegation is correct? If so, there would be things that could be done with the armed services as well as through the Department.

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I can assure my hon. Friend that we are working with the Ministry of Defence on support that can be provided to veterans who need our help and backing because they have ended up, for whatever reason, on the street. He is right to say that we need better data, and that is what we seek to achieve.

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Of the 600 homeless people who died last year, 85% were men, one third died of drug overdoses and 10% died from alcohol poisoning. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those groups and factors are specifically prioritised in order to tackle this issue?

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I am pleased to say that our rough sleeping strategy is intended to give that prioritisation, through work not only by my Department but across Whitehall. My hon. Friend is right about that need, and that is what we are determined to provide through the strategy.

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Centrepoint estimates that local funding for Bath and North East Somerset Council would need to double to deliver on new duties for homeless young people under the Homelessness Reduction Act. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether he will bring forward proposals to ensure that post 2020 Homelessness Reduction Act funding is based on the level of local demand for homelessness support?

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As I have indicated, we will conduct a review of the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act and look at evidence about local authorities’ pressures and needs. I want to ensure that the Act is implemented well and that we are preventing people from becoming homeless.

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To deal with homelessness, we need to deal with the housing shortage. Will my right hon. Friend join me in applauding the work of North West Leicestershire District Council, which has overseen the construction of more than 1,000 new homes in the last 12 months, including the first council houses to be built for more than 30 years? Does he think it is a coincidence that we again recorded no rough sleepers in the district over the last 12 months?

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I commend my hon. Friend and his council for the work they are doing to build the homes that our country needs. Of course it is about the supply of affordable and social housing, which is why we are taking steps across the board to get people building.

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Last year, nearly 600 people died homeless in this country. The Secretary of State was right to admit, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), that this is truly shocking. In a country as decent and well off as ours, this shames us all. We cannot stop homeless people dying if we do not grasp the reasons why it is getting worse, so why does the Secretary of State think that the number has risen in the last five years?

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I share the right hon. Gentleman’s understandable and rightful concern about the number who were shown to have died and the increase in rough sleeping. I have certainly not hidden from that or from the challenges and responsibilities that we have as a Government to look at the complex issues that lie behind this. We also need to look at what we can do in terms of other issues, such as social policy, where changes have been made, and to look at the evidence, to ensure that we are making a difference and eradicating rough sleeping, preventing people from becoming homeless and ensuring that the most vulnerable are well supported.

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The Secretary of State is a decent man, but that was an answer of sheer irrelevance. People are dying on the streets, and the Government are ducking the hard truth that their decisions on hostel funding, on housing benefit, on social housing investment and on protections for private renters are the root causes of the homelessness crisis. With the first widespread winter snow forecast this week, there are still areas of this country where no extra emergency accommodation will be available. Will the Secretary of State think again? Will he save lives this winter and make Labour’s plan the country’s national plan, with £100 million for extra emergency accommodation for every rough sleeper in every area as the temperatures are set to hit zero?

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I take the issue of rough sleeping, ensuring that lives are saved and that steps can be taken to provide further accommodation and support, extremely seriously. It is one of my priorities. It is why the rough sleeping strategy looks not only at accommodation, which of course is important, and we have taken steps through our rough sleeping initiative, with additional accommodation and additional support workers out there as a consequence, but at issues of health, addiction and mental health. That is why I am determined to make that difference; and our rough sleeping strategy will make that difference and will make rough sleeping a thing of the past.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

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2. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations on the UK shared prosperity fund. [908830]

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UK Government Ministers meet the devolved Administrations regularly to discuss EU exit matters, and the UK shared prosperity fund has been discussed several times in those conversations. Discussions have also been held by officials with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations and key external stakeholders.

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On 15 November, we were promised details of the replacement for EU structural funds, but more than two months on, groups across the country still have no idea what funding will be available to them after next year. Will the Secretary of State at least assure the House that the Government on this occasion will respect the devolution settlement, and that the Scottish Government’s role in delivering the structural funds will not be subject to a power grab?

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The Government will of course respect the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we will engage with the devolved Administrations to ensure the fund works for all places across the UK. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the guarantee that has already been given for structural funds through the 2014 to 2020 allocations, and we will certainly continue to discuss those issues with the devolved Administrations and others.

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It is incredibly important that the UK Government do not confine their engagement in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the devolved Administrations. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that, in developing the UK shared prosperity fund, they will engage fully with businesses and third sector organisations in those three nations?

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We are intending to move forward with the consultation on the UK shared prosperity fund, which will allow everyone to be able to participate—obviously with the devolved Administrations, but with other stakeholders too, as I have indicated—to ensure that this fund is well structured, delivers on the new arrangements for our priorities as the UK as we leave the EU and ensures that those funds are well used.

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Has the Secretary of State taken cognisance of the recommendation of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the UK Government should at the very least match the £2.4 billion a year that communities across these islands currently receive as a result of EU structural funds?

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We will look very carefully at the representations we receive. Obviously, the UK shared prosperity fund is designed to tackle inequalities between communities by raising productivity following our departure from the European Union, harnessing those opportunities and making sure that we have a new fund—according to our own priorities—that is easier to administer and therefore better able to deliver.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. For the period 2014 to 2020, Scotland received €476 million from the European regional development fund and €465 million from the European social fund. We are losing this because Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against our will. Will he commit today to matching this at the very least, and will he devolve the shared prosperity fund in full to the Scottish Government?

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Obviously, we will consult widely on the UK shared prosperity fund. We still have the spending review to be conducted later this year, but we are determined that, as we leave the European Union, we will have these new funding arrangements in place to deliver for all of our United Kingdom, to raise the sense of opportunity and prosperity, and to make a success.

Housing Ladder: Young People

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3. What steps his Department is taking to help young people get on the housing ladder. [908831]

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Since 2010, over 500,000 people have been helped into home ownership through Government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and right to buy. Our recent evaluation of the Help to Buy equity loan scheme found that 58% of people using the scheme were under 35 years old.

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As well as challenges, the Oxfordshire Cotswolds garden village provides a real opportunity for us to have the affordable starter homes that for so long have been lacking in places such as West Oxfordshire. What are Ministers doing to provide district councils such as mine with support to provide the housing mix that our area needs?

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I warmly welcome the plans for the homes in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds garden village. My hon. Friend asks about supporting local authorities, and I would say to him that we have abolished the housing revenue account borrowing cap. That, alongside the £9 billion affordable homes programme and the revised national planning policy framework, empowers local authorities to deliver the right mix of homes for their area.

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When young people find themselves homeless, they are often sofa surfing and living in risky accommodation because of the lack of council homes. Living in a rented room is more affordable than renting a private flat. Will the Secretary of State say what steps the Government are therefore taking to protect vulnerable young people seeking housing accommodation in houses in multiple occupation?

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As the hon. Lady will know, we have raised standards on fitness for human habitation in legislation that was supported across the board, and improved the support to ensure that we have a stronger, more positive private rental sector market. Conversations are continuing, and I recognise the point that she makes about raising standards and ensuring that the sense of opportunity is firmly in place.

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For many young people, the biggest obstacle to getting into the housing market is the value of the land. What discussions will the Secretary of State have with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about grading agricultural land to see if we can utilise some of the less good land for house building? [Interruption.]

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Yes, firmly in Cornwall. The national planning policy framework is about empowering some of those local decisions and choices, in Cornwall and elsewhere. I am continuing to discuss how we can have that additionality—that positive benefit that we can unlock from our national environment through our planning work—with colleagues at DEFRA and others across Government.

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The Government’s Help to Buy scheme has undoubtedly helped many families on to the housing ladder, but it has also driven many other families off it by pushing up the market price. How do the Government respond to research that suggests that the net impact is at best neutral and probably negative?

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No, through our schemes more than half a million households have been helped into home ownership through Help to Buy and right to buy. The number of first-time buyers rose 82% between 2010 and 2017, and we have seen the first sustained rise in home ownership among 25 to 34-year-olds in 30 years. That is a positive step forward, although we know there is more to do. It is through initiatives such as Help to Buy that we are making that difference.

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The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) knows all about houses as a whizz kid estate agent. Let us hear from the fellow.

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If you are ever thinking of moving, Mr Speaker, do let me know.

Councils across north Yorkshire, such as Richmondshire and Hambleton, are delivering more affordable housing to purchase through the category of discount market sale. What plans does the Secretary of State have to roll this policy out nationally?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on the veritable skills he clearly has in so many different areas, and on championing this particular course of action. It is right to recognise that we have delivered more affordable homes in the last eight years than there were in the last eight years of the last Labour Government. It is the sort of schemes that he identifies that are helping to make that difference, and we are examining carefully how such initiatives can be rolled forward.

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The average mortgage for today’s 27-year-old on the Government’s living wage is more than half of their pay packet, but the Government are still allowing “affordable” to be defined as up to £450,000. Why do the Government not take a leaf out of Labour’s book and support our first-buy homes for which mortgages are no more than a third of average income?

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I will take no lectures from the Labour party, given that when it was in government it saw house building fall to levels not seen since the 1920s. We are taking various steps to see more homes built and to ensure that people can get on the ladder to fulfil their dreams. That is something that we as a Government are committed to doing.

Local Authority Funding

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4. What steps his Department is taking to ensure an equitable distribution of funding to local authorities. [908832]

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15. What steps his Department is taking to ensure an equitable distribution of funding to local authorities. [908843]

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We are undertaking a review of local authorities’ relative needs and resources to develop a new, more transparent funding formula that will be fit for the future. We are making good progress in collaboration with the sector and recently launched a consultation that will close on 21 February.

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This financial year the Government have granted Crawley Borough Council more than £700,000 for homelessness reduction, and this coming financial year it will be more than £800,000. However, the leadership of the council are complaining about a lack of capital funding for a homeless shelter when it has reserves of more than £21 million. Can I have an assurance from the Department that local authorities will be asked to properly deploy their resources to help the most vulnerable?

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The people of Crawley are lucky to be represented by someone who had a very successful career in local government. My hon. Friend is excellently well placed to know that any council should look at using its excess reserves first, rather than refusing to invest in local services or unduly increasing the burden on hard-working taxpayers.

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The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has just been on the receiving end of a charm offensive, in case he had not noticed.

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Does the Minister agree that funding is often better distributed through town councils? Will he condemn Sefton Labour councillors who voted against Southport having its own town council?

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This Government support communities that wish to take greater ownership of local decision making. I encourage my hon. Friend and Southport residents to formally petition the council to undertake a community governance review. That will ensure they have the opportunity for their views to be properly considered.

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Getting back to helping the most vulnerable, in the consultation document, the Secretary of State proposed to remove deprivation completely as a means of allocating resources from the foundation element of the formula, the non-care element, and rely totally on per capita allocation. Does the Minister not accept that people in the most deprived communities are more likely to use public transport, more likely to need the help of a housing officer and more likely to use council leisure facilities because they cannot afford those in the private sector? If he will not reinstate deprivation as part of the formula, does he accept that the whole review will become known as the very unfair funding review?

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This is a consultation, and I would be happy to receive informed opinion from the hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Select Committee. I would point out, however, that the funding formula covers broadly universal services used by the majority, if not all, of a council’s residents. As we disclosed transparently in the consultation document, population is by far and away the most important factor driving the need for those services. Deprivation was shown to account for less than 4% of the variation in spend in the area.

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South Cambridgeshire District Council, deprivation rank 316, has seen a spending power cut of just £21.85 per household this year compared to 2010. Knowsley Council, deprivation rank two, has seen a spending power cut of £1,057 per household, while Hackney, deprivation rank 11, has seen the largest cuts in spending power of £1,406 per household. How is that fair?

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I have some figures, too. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to take account of the fact that the spending power per household of the most deprived authorities is today 23% higher than those that are the least deprived.

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There are lies, damned lies and statistics. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that poorer areas are poorer on his watch and that health inequalities are widening on his watch. The situation is set to get worse as he seeks to continue with his reverse redistribution, shifting funds from the poorest communities to some of the wealthiest. Will he now agree, in the interests of transparency, to Labour’s call for the National Audit Office to independently scrutinise the fairness of his so-called fair funding review before it is implemented?

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I do not think that I heard a rebuttal to the statistics I outlined. It is clear that the Government are supporting people in every part of the country. We are providing £1 billion of extra funding to deliver social services and a real-terms increase in funding for local government in the next coming year.

Leaseholders: Removal of Dangerous Materials

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5. What progress he has made in discussions with developers and freeholders on ensuring that leaseholders are not liable for the removal and replacement of dangerous building materials. [908833]

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We have been clear that owners and developers should protect leaseholders from costs. As a result of our action to date, owners and developers have made a commitment to fund the cost of remediation, or have had a warrantee claim accepted, for 80 buildings so far.

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Although that is indeed admirable for those leaseholders, my constituents in Premier House in Edgware are still being told by the freeholder of their building that they must pay for the removal of the dangerous cladding. That has resulted in thousands of pounds of costs for legal fees and safety measures, and it has rendered their properties unsaleable. Will the Minister assure me that the Government have a plan B for leaseholders who are held liable for costs? Will she advise me when my constituents can reasonably expect their situation to be resolved?

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My hon. Friend will have to excuse me for speaking with my back to him.

My hon. Friend works tirelessly to support the residents of Premier House in Edgware on the removal of cladding. I understand that that case will be brought before a tribunal at the beginning of April. The Government have made it clear that we expect building owners in the private sector to protect leaseholders from remediation costs. A growing list of companies, including Barratt Developments, Mace Group and Legal & General, are doing the right thing and are taking responsibility, and I can announce that Aberdeen Asset Management and Fraser Property have also joined that list. I urge all other owners and developers to follow the lead of those companies. I will consider all other options if they do not do so.

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The growing phenomenon of Ministers reading out great screeds that have been written is very undesirable. A pithy encapsulation of the argument is what the House wants to hear.

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Last week, the Minister told me that the Department is keeping pressure on Ballymore Ltd, following the Secretary of State’s letter of 19 December, for which I am grateful. However, the leaseholders have now received an offer from Ballymore saying that the bill is £2.4 million for fire safety work. They can have half a million pounds off, but they must pay the rest. That offer is only open until 31 March. What more can the Department do to help my constituents? Time is clearly running out.

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I am not reading from any notes, Mr Speaker.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very useful information. If we can see the letter, we will take the matter forward.

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Excellent.

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20. The Housing Minister, in response to a debate on Wednesday 22 January, indicated that he had written to the owners and the developer of Northpoint in Bromley. It is exactly the same situation as that outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). Has the Minister yet had a response, and what assurance can be given to Bromley Council about the guidance should it use emergency remedial powers under the Housing Act 2004? [908849]

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It is a pleasure to be able to face my hon. Friend; I apologise to hon. Members behind me.

The Secretary of State has written, and we are awaiting the outcome to that. As soon as we get a reply, we will be in touch directly with my hon. Friend.

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I call Jim McMahon.

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indicated dissent.

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I beg your pardon; I am getting ahead of myself. I call Neil Coyle.

Local Authorities: Vulnerable Children

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6. What recent assessment he has made of the ability of local authorities to discharge their statutory responsibilities to vulnerable children. [908834]

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Local authorities have been given access to more than £46 billion for the forthcoming year. That funding is largely unring-fenced, so councils can spend it on children’s services as they see fit. I am pleased that the number of local authorities whose children’s services are ranked good or outstanding is continuing to increase.

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More than 50,000 British-born children with parents legally in the UK are denied access to central Government support under pernicious Home Office rules. Councils are then forced to step in to provide emergency support through children’s social services. London councils spend £53 million on that, and there is no recourse to public funds. Last year, my council spent £6.5 million. When will Ministers end their wilful blindness to the penury that the policy causes and stand up for councils in the face of this blatant Home Office cost-shunt?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We engage with the Home Office regularly to deal with the funds for unaccompanied asylum seekers and other such people. I am happy to realise that issue in the next of my regular meetings with the Immigration Minister.

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Permitted development rights have been a disaster for my consistency of Harlow, as London councils have socially cleansed their residents and sent 400 troubled families to our constituency. We do not have the resources to look after them in the way they should be. Will my hon. Friend look at permitted development rights, undertake a review and ensure Harlow Council has the resources it needs to look after those 400 extra troubled families?

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I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that issue. Of course, vulnerable children must be housed appropriately and looked after, but we should ensure that that is done as closely as possible to where it makes sense for their communities.

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I call Jim McMahon.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was frantically trying to think of a question when you called me just now. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The number of children in need is up, the number of looked-after children is up and the numbers of child protection plans and child conferences are up, yet the Government grant has gone down. This year, children’s services face a £1 billion funding gap—£3 billion by 2024-25—and the Local Government Association, the Children’s Commissioner, Action for Children and our councils have all warned that children will be at risk. So where’s the money?

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The hon. Gentleman should know that last year £1 billion more was spent on children’s services than when we came into office and that the recent Budget announced an extra £420 million that could be spent on children’s services. Government Members are, however, concerned with outcomes, not just the amount of money we plough into things, which is why the Department for Education is working closely with the best-performing areas to spread best practice across the country.

Potholes

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7. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on funding for local authorities to reduce the number of potholes. [908835]

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Ongoing discussions before the autumn Budget led to the Government announcing £420 million of additional funding for highways authorities to fill potholes and carry out other works. The Conservatives: the party of filling the many potholes, not the few.

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The national problem of potholes has been caused by this Government and their 50% cut to local government funding for tackling it. While the new money is welcome, it is a drop in the ocean. North-east councils alone need £1 billion to sort out its pothole problem. Will the Minister press the Chancellor for more?

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Cycling UK estimates that it costs an average of £53 to fill a pothole, so the money announced at the last Budget in the north-east alone is enough to fill over 400,000 potholes. Rather than complaining about it, perhaps it is time those north-east councils got on with it.

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I want to hear about the pothole situation in Huddersfield. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

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Potholes are not a joke for cyclists; many are killed on our roads every year. The roads in Britain are becoming more dangerous, and our very good record in road safety is being lost to other countries. Is it not about time the Minister talked to the Home Secretary and others not only about potholes but about the number of police on our roads catching people who break the law?

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I am about to pick up my new bicycle tomorrow, so the issue of potholes is close to my heart. The Government are working cross-departmentally to tackle the problem, which is why we have created this £420 million fund—to fill potholes up and down the England.

New Homes for Social Rent

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9. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of new homes for social rent since 2010. [908837]

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We constantly review the construction levels of all types of new homes.

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The Government’s pledge to replace homes sold under the council right to buy scheme has been a failure, with only one home being built for every four sold. Why should anyone believe that things will be different when it is extended to housing association tenants? Is it not time to suspend right to buy?

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There are plenty of signs that the Labour party is detaching itself from its historic supporter base, but one of the saddest is its inability to grasp the aspiration of working families to own their own home. The concerted attack on one of the most popular policies of the past 30 years—the right to buy—is a very sad spectacle. I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that the one-for-one replacement policy has not been sufficient to provide the number of social homes the country needs, and we are reviewing that policy at the same time as taking the cap off the housing revenue account and allowing councils, which frankly were induced out of council house building by the Labour Government, to get on and build the new generation of social homes.

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Our excellent Housing Minister will know that parishes and towns with neighbourhood plans in place will have 15% more houses built as a result. He may also be aware that they are quite cumbersome to put in place. Does he have plans to make them easier to deliver, and will he hear representations from my parishes of Ticehurst, Robertsbridge and Salehurst about how they can be delivered a lot faster?

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I was wondering who my hon. Friend was referring to then—I thank him for that compliment. As somebody who represents a beautiful part of the country, he has long been a champion of local people ceasing to be victims of the planning system and taking control of it themselves, and he is quite right that neighbourhood plans are the way to do that. From my own experience in my constituency, I have been concerned that they take some time and effort to put in place. We are reviewing what we can do to smooth their passage, and we have some funding available to assist in that, but I would be more than happy to meet him and take representations from him and his constituents.

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City of York Council has presided over a net loss of social housing, and, according to a report published today by Centre for Cities, its level of house building has been one of the worst in the country. We have a serious housing crisis. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that our Tory and Liberal Democrat-controlled council builds the housing that is so desperately needed in our city?

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As I hope the hon. Lady knows, we have set aside significant resources to help councils achieve their housing aspirations. We will be helping with infrastructure and providing other assistance to help them over the line. Critical to that, however, is ensuring that they have a local plan. I am sure that the coalition that is in control of City of York Council would welcome the hon. Lady’s participation in their creation of such a plan, rather than her antagonism towards it.

Park Home Residents

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10. What steps his Department is taking to tackle the exploitation of park home residents. [908838]

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The Government are committed to ensuring that park home residents are better protected. We have set out a range of measures to review the park home legislation and tackle the abuse and financial exploitation of residents. New legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

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Residents of leisure park homes in my constituency appear to have been mis-sold their properties by rogue site owners, and they are now vulnerable to exploitative charges and intimidation. Will my hon. Friend consider extending the provisions of the Mobile Homes Act 2013 to give leisure home owners more rights and protections, and will she take a broader look at the mis-selling and misuse of leisure homes?

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My hon. Friend has been a thorough champion on behalf of residents of leisure park homes. The situation is iniquitous. The Mobile Homes Act applies to residents of sites with residential planning permission, but leisure home owners are protected under consumer rights legislation. My Department is working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is responsible for consumer issues, to better communicate those protections to leisure home owners. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend shortly to discuss the matter again.

New Housebuilding

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11. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the time taken to build new homes. [908839]

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19. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the time taken to build new homes. [908847]

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As many Members will know, my mantra is “More, better, faster”, and we are very keen to accelerate the delivery of housing. Across England, house building is at its highest level in all but one of the last 31 years. We are going further by streamlining the planning system, creating more certainty for developers and local communities and looking at the recommendations of the build-out review conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).

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There have been some real delays in the Shropshire planning authority. What is the Minister doing to give Shropshire Council more resources so that it can attract more and better-qualified staff to streamline the planning process? This is starting to be a real problem.

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I applaud my hon. Friend’s impatience to build more new homes in his constituency. He recognises that the next generation of Salopians would welcome the provision of those homes as soon as possible. We have already given local authorities a 20% uplift in planning fees, and we have consulted on further resources in the past, but I have given a public commitment that if it becomes clear that resources in planning departments are a constraint, we shall be more than happy to talk to our Treasury colleagues about what more can be done.

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I commend the Secretary of State for publishing last year’s updated national policy planning framework, but may I encourage my hon. Friend to consider new ways to speed up the planning process?

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It is always a pleasure to be greeted by impatient Members who, as I say, want more housing for the next generation. My hon. Friend is right: we need to constantly examine the effect of the planning system on the production of new homes. As he says, we issued a new planning framework back in July. We are carefully assessing the impact of those policies, but if my hon. Friend has useful and constructive suggestions, I shall be more than happy to hear them.

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The Government’s expansion of permitted development rights has caused multiple problems across the country. Such developments make no section 106 contributions towards new social housing. There are reports of homes of appalling quality, with children forced to play in car parks on industrial estates, and of homes in some areas being used only for short-term holiday lets, while developments in other areas are causing the loss of valuable employment space. Last week, the permanent secretary confirmed to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that the Government had undertaken no evaluation of this policy. Will the Secretary of State call time on the policy, so that a full evaluation of the impacts can be undertaken?

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Order. There seems to be a competition between what I would call parliamentary essayists today. That was an extremely eloquent essay—very erudite—but we could do with a paragraph.

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We will not call time on a policy that has produced tens of thousands of homes for people who need them. We are aware that there have been some difficulties with properties converted under permitted development rights, but we are not entirely sure that local authorities are using the tools at their disposal to make sure that standards are maintained. However, as I said earlier, we keep all our policies under constant review and I would be more than happy to look at specific situations if the hon. Lady wishes to raise them.

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Bristol was one of the sites for the first ever council houses built under the Addison Act 100 years ago—in Hillfields in my constituency. We are now building council homes again, but nobody from the Department has been prepared to come for our centenary celebrations this year—you have turned down the invites. May I ask why?

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The main reason why is that I am impatient to visit and the hon. Lady will be pleased to know that if all goes to plan I will be there on Thursday.

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Well, there is time for a keen sense of eager anticipation to build up before the hon. Gentleman arrives.

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Will my hon. Friend the Minister pay tribute to the work of Homes England in its support for Mid Sussex District Council in providing the key that will open the development of 4,000 new houses in Burgess Hill? Will he see what further work Homes England, in its very constructive approach, can adopt to deliver more new housing?

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My right hon. Friend is to be admired in displaying yet more impatience for homes to be built, and he is right that the newly revamped Homes England is an impressive and entrepreneurial organisation which is using its skills to unlock sites across the country. In the six months that I have been in this job, I have been impressed by its work and I am now busy touring sites, as I was in Poole in Dorset, where it is applying its skills and industry to unlock precisely the kind of problem that he talked about.

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There is a three-year period for a one-to-one replacement to start at a site, but what is the average time for completion of one-to-one replacements? Of the one-to-one replacements that the Government say are in progress, how many are actually occupied?

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I am afraid I am going to fail the hon. Gentleman: I do not have that precise number at my fingertips at the moment. But I am more than happy to write to him about it. He will know, however, that we have consulted on changes to the one-to-one replacement policy and we will be coming forward with a response, and hopefully improvements, soon.

Private Parking Sector

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12. What steps his Department is taking to tackle unfair practices in the private parking sector. [908840]

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21. What steps his Department is taking to tackle unfair practices in the private parking sector. [908850]

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The Government fully support the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). It will create an independent code of practice for private parking companies and deliver robust accountability, providing a much better deal for motorists.

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I was pleased to support and sit on the Committee for the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire so expertly steered through Parliament, but parking scams have been operating in Clacton for many years and it is literally driving my constituents around the bend; they want a solution. When this Bill completes its journey and receives Royal Assent, how quickly can it be implemented?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the Committee and for highlighting his constituents’ problems. I am pleased to tell him that I have already placed a draft outline of the code in the House of Commons Library and as soon as Royal Assent is achieved a full code will be issued for formal statutory consultation.

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What assessment has the Minister made of the Bill of our right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and its likely impact, and does he believe that more is needed to help to protect our constituents from cowboy parking enforcers?

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The current system is one of self-regulation and, sadly, the behaviour of some rogue operators using questionable or intimidating practices means that change is required and we must act. The new code will mean consistency and higher standards for parkers and will ensure that rogue operators are driven out of business.

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My constituents—particularly disabled constituents and those, for example, attending hospital appointments—also suffer from punitive cowboy parking operators. What efforts can be made in the code to give special protection to them?

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These are exactly the kinds of things that the code of practice will cover, and I will be delighted to receive representations from the hon. Lady as the code is developed.

Local Government Funding: Low-income Families

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13. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of changes in local government funding. [908841]

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The Government regularly publish analysis on the impact of changes in funding on households of different income. Next year’s local government settlement sees a real-terms increase in funding and beyond that there is a range of council tax support schemes to assist those with low incomes.

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Up until now, Ealing Council has ring-fenced child and youth services, but seven of its 13 libraries and 11 children’s centres are on a hit list for community management, which many see as the slippery slope to closure. The council says that it has been forced to do that because it only has 36p in every pound that it used to have. Will the Minister help to match up social enterprise buyers with these services, which help so many low-income families? Better still, when will the Government properly fund local authorities, as the age of austerity is meant to be over?

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Not to rehash the fact that local government will receive a real-terms increase in funding next year, it did not escape my attention that at Ealing there are non-ring-fenced reserves sitting at the council of more than £100 million.

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Having campaigned for it, I am delighted that the Secretary of State has approved a new business rates retention pilot from Northamptonshire that is anticipated to lever in an additional £17 million for local services. What difference does he believe this will make for frontline services in the county?

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I am delighted that Northamptonshire will benefit from the new business rate pilot. Of course, that money can be used by the councils, working together to invest in the future prosperity of their communities. Beyond that, it promotes cultural change to ensure that all local areas have a stake in the economic future of their community.

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18. This month, the Scottish Government announced £4 million to provide free sanitary products in council buildings such as libraries and leisure centres. Such measures can make all the difference to low-income families’ monthly budgets. Will the Minister commit to look at what Scotland is doing and to follow their forward-thinking approach? [908846]

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I welcome the cross-Government work on this issue. As the House knows, a couple of years ago the Government announced the £15 million annual tampon tax fund to support women’s charities. There are no current plans to provide extra money to local authorities, but of course the Government keep that under review.

Business Rates Relief Scheme

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14. What steps he is taking under the 2019-20 business rates relief scheme to encourage a diversity of businesses on the high street. [908842]

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Working with Sir John Timpson before the Budget, we set out the action plan to support the transformation of high streets. That included a business rate discount of some £900 million for eligible retailers and a £675 million future high street fund.

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I am grateful to the Minister for the answer. I recently visited a new start-up in my high street that runs escape rooms and panic rooms—I commend them to the Prime Minister. They do not qualify for small business rate relief and will not qualify for the retail discount as they are deemed a leisure business. Is it possible that small business rate relief can be extended to such innovators on our high streets to ease the pressure as they start up their businesses?

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The point is that big or small, all rate reliefs benefit the entire high street. Healthy high streets are busy high streets, and businesses of whatever type benefit from people visiting them.

Rough Sleepers: Cold Weather Accommodation

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17. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of emergency cold weather accommodation for rough sleepers. [908845]

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The severe weather emergency protocol provision ensures that people sleeping rough are provided with emergency shelter during cold weather. Alongside the £30 million rough sleeping initiative funding for 2018-19, we have launched a £5 million cold weather fund to help authorities to provide additional emergency and longer-term accommodation this winter.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. New Life Church, together with North Lincolnshire Council, is providing temporary support for people in really bad weather. Good work is also being done locally with the Forge project. What will the Government do to ensure that such projects continue into the future to help homeless people?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that excellent supplementary question. The straightforward answer is that I would urge all councils that have not applied before to apply to this new fund and we will see what we can do for north-east Lincolnshire.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [908855]

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Local councils will play an important role in supporting communities as we leave the EU, and I am committed to working with them to ensure that they are prepared to respond to any Brexit scenarios. I can therefore confirm that local authorities will receive an extra £56.5 million to help them with their Brexit preparations and to help deliver essential services and keep residents well informed. We also remain in close contact with local councils through our rough sleeping initiative to support some of the most vulnerable in our society and help them to get the support they need.

Yesterday, Members across the House remembered Holocaust Memorial Day. I had the privilege to attend the incredibly moving national commemoration of those who lost their lives in the holocaust and subsequent genocides. Those dark events of the past call on us all to confront racism, bigotry and hatred wherever it may occur and to stand up for tolerance, reconciliation and stronger communities.

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Councils in deprived areas such as mine are desperately scrambling to find the funds to meet their needs while facing almost double the spending cuts of the least-deprived area. The Minister says that this is about population, but London is home to 16% of the population and has suffered 30% of the cuts. This Government still favour wealthy areas over poor ones. Is that because they are mostly Tory areas?

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The hon. Lady should look at the settlement that we have provided, which involves an extra £1 billion for local government across the board. Indeed, it represents a real-terms increase that is intended to make a real difference to how we support councils to meet pressures and challenges.

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T2. Proposals to convert empty high street shops into housing have raised concerns in rural areas such as West Oxfordshire that there may be a perverse incentive to close viable shops in order to realise the greater value of housing. Will Ministers agree to meet me and my district council to ensure that the policy is tailored for both rural and metropolitan areas? [908856]

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Embedding residential communities on our high streets is part of the future health of the high street, and I will with pleasure meet my hon. Friend and representatives from his constituency to take the discussions forward.

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T3. Last week’s National Audit Office report confirmed that councils have responded to dwindling spending power by reducing spending on non-statutory children’s services. Despite evidence showing that preventive services work, they now account for just 25% of spending. Will the Minister assure the House that the upcoming spending review will explicitly address the lack of resources allocated to early intervention services? [908857]

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I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring that councils have adequate early intervention services. I have been championing the troubled families programme since I arrived in this job, and I would be delighted to hear from him and others about how best to ensure that a successor programme is available to councils.

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T6. In many of my local towns and villages, the last bank and the last cashpoint have long gone, and the post office now provides essential services for my communities. Despite the Government investing £370 million in local post offices since 2017, post offices in East Dean, Alfriston and Newick are temporarily closed. What more can the Government do to support local community post offices across my constituency? [908860]

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We absolutely support the role of rural post offices, particularly as a hub at the heart of our communities. That is why the most recent Budget cut business rates for most small post offices, and through our support for “Pub is The Hub” we have helped post offices move into people’s locals. Pints and parcels, Mr Speaker.

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T4. I thank the Minister for meeting me and local Changing Places campaigner Lorna Fillingham, and I welcomed his announcement before Christmas that changing places will be mandatory in new public builds. Will he update the House on how the scheme is getting on? [908858]

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It was a pleasure to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent, who made a powerful and compelling case for Government action. I am pleased to tell him and all campaigners that we will outline the consultation before the Easter recess to take this important measure forward, and I look forward to his contribution.

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T7. Coastal erosion is a growing issue in Cornwall due to our more extreme weather patterns, and there is particular concern about the risk to cliff-top developments. The Newquay neighbourhood plan seeks to limit clifftop development through declaring the whole parish coastline a coastal change management area. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the neighbourhood plan team on their proactive approach? What more can we do through the planning system to limit inappropriate cliff-top development? [908861]

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My hon. Friend is continually effective in bringing the issues of his constituency to this House. He will know that I am unable to comment on a specific neighbourhood plan, but I confirm to him that planning policy is clear that planning done through neighbourhood plans should be safe and should take coastal change into account.

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T5. The Liverpool city region is one of the poorest in the country, yet its councils have faced some of the biggest cuts. The Secretary of State knows that services cost more in more deprived areas. Is not the only conclusion to be drawn from this targeting of cuts at the poorest areas that this Government simply could not care less? [908859]

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How typical it is of the Labour party to measure success only by what is put in. We believe in the northern powerhouse, which is about creating a growing northern economy. We have created 200,000 jobs since 2010, we have created an historic mayoral devolution deal, including across Liverpool, and foreign direct investment in the north is growing at twice the national rate. Our approach has grown the northern economy by £22 billion in two years; the approach of the last Labour Government grew it by £4 billion in three years.

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What steps is the Department taking to help to ensure fire safety in buildings, particularly those with a residential sleeping risk?

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I note my hon. Friend’s experience of this, and we are working carefully across the board to implement the Hackitt review to ensure that building safety standards are raised. Indeed, we are currently consulting on approved document B. We are looking at continuing experience and, if there is experience from Scotland, we will certainly reflect on that, too.

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Today’s Centre for Cities report is absolutely devastating, highlighting that cuts have fallen hardest on deprived communities in the north of England—including Liverpool—that are enduring the highest poverty rates. It is very disappointing to see the Minister grimacing and laughing, because this is a very serious matter for the communities we represent. Does he agree with the conclusion of the Centre for Cities that the Treasury review of public spending, which is due for the autumn, must find extra funding for all councils if authorities are to remain sustainable?

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Issues of future funding are, of course, for the Treasury. As someone who was born and bred in the city of Liverpool, I delight every time I visit to see that this Government’s mayoral devolution is driving Liverpool’s economy in a way that we have not seen for a generation.

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Will the Housing Minister extend his motto to “More, better, faster, safer” by introducing a requirement for carbon monoxide detectors in all new homes that have gas-burning appliances?

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My hon. Friend is to be applauded for the constant pressure he keeps up on the Government on safety issues. He is right that we are looking at the introduction of carbon monoxide detectors. We have gathered evidence, which we are looking at, and we will be coming forward with a response shortly.

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We had two debates in the Chamber last week on dangerous cladding, which shows the incompleteness of the Government’s response. Can we have a comprehensive strategy from the Government this year that deals with all types of building, all types of cladding and all types of landlord?

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We provide regular updates that specify the work taking place through the remediation programme to deal with this very serious issue of combustible cladding. The hon. Gentleman will well know the work that is in place, both in the public sector and in the private sector, but I underline to him the urgency I attach to this and how I am not keeping anything out of consideration in making sure that people are safe and feel safe.

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I understand the desire to build a lot of new homes, but I share the concern of many of my constituents that this could lead to large housing developments of identikit houses. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to enable small builders to bid for smaller areas of development? That would support our excellent small builders and encourage a more beautiful built environment.

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I recognise and appreciate my hon. Friend’s championing of good design and the sense of place and space, which is something the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission firmly intends to achieve. We have specific funding to support small builders so that we can have a strong, diverse economy in housing.

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The Local Government Association chair, Lord Porter, recently said:

“We are unanimous that deprivation should be in”

the foundation formula. Why does the Secretary of State disagree with his Conservative colleague?

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As the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) said, we are consulting on the fair funding review in setting out that new arrangement for local government. As he has already set out, that is a means of ensuring that spending is felt effectively and fairly across the country and there are different ways of doing that.

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On council tax and rent to be paid during the migration period of universal credit, will the Minister confirm that local authorities will be asked to take into account these exceptional circumstances and provide leeway when tenants fall behind on payments?

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We are working closely with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions on the implementation of universal credit, issues relating to housing and the connection that local government has on the frontline in the delivery of these issues. We are therefore ensuring that this will be done effectively, as my hon. Friend appropriately says.

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Today, it has been revealed that Barnsley is the local authority hardest hit by Government funding cuts. Can the Minister really justify targeting cuts on the poorest in society?

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This Government are committed to ensuring that every resident in this country gets the funding they need to have the services they deserve. The upcoming fair funding review is based on transparent, simple analytics and I am happy to hear from any colleagues if they disagree with the numbers.

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Residents across my constituency and beyond are extremely concerned about the Rivenhall incinerator development, which was originally approved by the last Labour Government. With revised planning applications being considered, will the Secretary of State listen to my constituents and act by calling this application in?

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I note the way in which my right hon. Friend is championing her constituents in her customary powerful and passionate way. She will understand, on the issue of calling in, that this is quasi-judicial and I am therefore unable to comment. However, I note the way in which she has championed the cause.

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The fact that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) served with distinction as a headteacher and the fact that she has been waiting so patiently are, in my judgment, not unrelated.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether any assessment has been made of the number of homeless people who have a history of special educational needs that may not have been appropriately supported in the past?

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I recognise the hon. Lady’s own experience in raising that issue, some of the background, some of the challenges and some of the issues that may have led to someone falling through the gap and ending up on the street. We are determined to get better data and better analysis, so that we can provide more targeted help. That is precisely what we are committed to doing through the rough sleeping strategy.

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Residents of Goxhill in my constituency are mindful that the village needs to expand and that new homes are needed, but does the Minister agree that local authorities and planning inspectors need to be mindful of the fact that there must be a limit on new homes in villages?

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Goxhill is lucky to have such an assiduous representative in my hon. Friend. I agree with him that we need to balance the aspiration for new homes for the next generation against the need for sensitive and appropriate development. I urge him to work with the residents of Goxhill to put in place a neighbourhood plan, which would mean that they would no longer be victims of the planning system, but its bosses.

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The Secretary of State will know that the battering of Birmingham next year will be all the more severe for his decision to rule out access to the council’s reserves. Birmingham’s MPs have written to him to ask for a meeting. When he finally wrote back, he refused to meet. May I say to him that he can take these decisions but it is incumbent on him to front them up to Members of this House?

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I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am happy to meet him and his colleagues because, obviously, I am focused on ensuring sustainability and stability in the finances in Birmingham. We took that decision carefully and in a considered way, but I recognise the points he makes and I am happy to meet him.

Venezuela

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Venezuela.

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Last week, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest against Nicolás Maduro’s continued presidency, after deeply flawed elections last May and his unmerited re-inauguration earlier this month. Those demonstrations were the latest of many that have taken place over the past two years, and represent what can be interpreted only as a cry for change in a country that has been rendered destitute by Maduro and his cronies. Venezuela is becoming a state that is run by cartels and criminal gangs. We know that it harbours groups such as the ELN—the National Liberation Army—that threaten to destabilise Colombia’s hard-won peace agreement, and increase the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons and drugs. The bomb attack in Bogotá last week was perhaps a recent example of just that.

Last Wednesday, on 23 January, Juan Guaidó, the president of the Opposition-controlled and democratically elected National Assembly, condemned the illegitimacy of Maduro’s regime and declared himself, under the Venezuelan constitution, the interim President. Within 24 hours, regional countries from the Lima group and the Organisation of American States, along with the United States and Canada, had declared their support, recognising Mr Guaidó as the interim President. The EU also issued a statement saying that the voice of the Venezuelan people could not be ignored, and called for new credible elections to take place.

On 24 January, the Foreign Secretary made clear, in a statement made in Washington ahead of his meeting with US Vice-President Pence, that we no longer regard Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. On Saturday, I attended an emergency UN Security Council meeting in New York, where I said that we believe that Juan Guaidó is the right man to take Venezuela forward and that we will recognise him as constitutional interim President if new elections are not announced within eight days. This is a position shared by the French, German, Spanish and Dutch Governments. On 26 January, the EU also called for the urgent holding of free, transparent and credible presidential elections in accordance with international democratic standards and the Venezuelan constitutional order. We are in close consultation with our EU and international partners on this issue, and the Foreign Secretary will discuss Venezuela with EU Foreign Ministers later this week in Bucharest.

The UK and our partners cannot and will not stand by and allow the tyranny of Maduro’s regime to continue. He has caused endless suffering and oppression to millions of his own people. He has grossly mismanaged the economy for his own benefit, and his regime stands accused of serious crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Alongside others in the international community, we must urgently help to pave the way to a brighter future for the Venezuela that Maduro has so culpably ruined. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and other allies in saying that the National Assembly and its president, Mr Juan Guaidó, are best placed to lead Venezuela to the restoration of its democracy, its economy and its freedom.

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Venezuela should be one of the richest democratic countries in South America and the world. It has the largest proven oil reserves of any country, with 297 million barrels—more, even, than Saudi Arabia. It also has an educated population and large areas of arable land, yet today there is mass poverty and the economy has collapsed under the rule of the United Socialist party. The daughter of the late President Hugo Chávez, María Gabriela Chávez, is the country’s richest woman, with an estimated worth of $4.2 billion.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says that there are 4.1 million people with malnutrition in Venezuela. The Catholic charity Caritas says that 41% of Venezuelans are now feeding on waste in markets. There is a shortage of medicines, including vital antibiotics for children, and blood banks are collapsing. Two thirds of buses in Caracas are out of action because there are no spare parts. An estimated 1 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring Colombia.

The economic collapse, as the Minister says, is a direct result of the corrupt, incompetent, kleptocratic regime of Nicolás Maduro. The Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition won the National Assembly elections in November 2015. It is a centre-left alliance, including two Socialist International member parties, the Popular Will and A New Era. It won 112 out of 167 seats, and that should have led to the end of 16 years of PSUV rule, but it did not. Maduro refused to co-operate and doubled down on his repression, and the country continued its economic collapse. The rigged presidential re-election has rightly been criticised by international observers. The decision by National Assembly president Juan Guaidó to be declared interim President is correct—it is a game-changer. So far, as has been said, that has been recognised internationally by many countries, and to that list, I add Australia and Israel, which have also done so recently.

The people of Venezuela do not need the weasel words of a letter to The Guardian, from assorted Stalinists, Trotskyists, antisemites and, apparently, dead people, and also from members of Labour’s Front Bench. What they need is our solidarity with the legitimate, elected, social democratic president of the National Assembly: interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. The European Union has called for credible elections, but Nicolás Maduro has already rejected that. What humanitarian assistance will we give to people in Colombia? What steps will we take within the UN? What further action can we take with the European Union? And when will our Government recognise Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela?

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Order. These are most serious matters. I know that the hon. Gentleman will take it in good heart when I say that he is deeply versed in the history of Stalinism and Trotskyism, as many Members of the House can testify, because they have heard him expatiate on the subject, usually one to one, over many years, but I notice that he did manage to include in his oration two or three questions right at the end. The normal form in an urgent question is to make a brief commentary followed by a series of inquiries. I have a sense that he was perhaps slightly more interested in what he had to say to the House than in what the Minister might have to say to him, but we shall see.

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May I profoundly thank the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for enabling this urgent question to be discussed today in the House? I also thank him for his knowledge about, and passion and concern for, Venezuela, which we admire. They are, I can tell, widely shared across the House, except in some corners of it, which is, I think, to be deplored.

The hon. Gentleman is right that Venezuela should be pretty well the richest country in Latin America. It used to be, and it could be still. He painted an accurate picture of the human misery that has been caused by what he describes as the corrupt, incompetent and kleptocratic regime of Nicolás Maduro.

The National Assembly, which was elected, is legitimate, but as soon as it won and had a majority against Maduro, Maduro trumped it with the fake election of a Constituent Assembly, which he deemed, against the words of the Venezuelan constitution, to be more powerful than the National Assembly. The world knows that the National Assembly is legitimate, and the Constituent Assembly, and hence the subsequent flawed election of Nicolás Maduro, is not legitimate. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we should all be saddened that, in our midst, there are people who still seem to have sympathy for the regime of Nicolás Maduro despite what it has done to poor people. It has made them not just poorer but destitute, and, in many cases, has forced them to flee. Let the signatories of that letter in The Guardian today be pinned on every wall as a list of signatures of shame.

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I pay enormous tribute to my colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), whose voice of clarity in this House has been missing for some time on the question of Venezuela. I also pay tribute to the Minister, whose work at the United Nations in co-ordinating a joint response against tyranny has been so essential. Does he agree that those Members who side with the despots and the dictators against the democrats and the free people should be ashamed of themselves? This is appeasement. This is wrong: it is a crime and it cries out for justice. Thank God we have the Minister in his place, and no one else.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has been following the situation closely, as have all members of that Committee. I am pleased to say that I am not the only one who is doing what he says. The entire Government are, and I sense that our view is shared by many Opposition Members.

We have clear opinions about what the plight of the Venezuelan people is, but some say that our concern is based on a colonial mentality. It most certainly is not; it is based on genuine concern for the plight of millions who have had their faces driven into the dirt by Maduro. The steps that may have to be taken are based on law, and we are looking at the legitimacy of their Government, not just our view of the state of the people.

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Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for securing it.

Last Saturday, I condemned Venezuela as one of those countries where democracy has ceased to function in any meaningful way. Sadly, what we have seen over the past week has simply confirmed what I said then. The political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is totally dire and will get ever worse as long as the Maduro Government continue to ignore human rights, free speech and the rule of law. What the Venezuelan people need instead is a Government who respect the rule of law, and uphold human rights and democracy—a Government who understand the scale of the crisis they face and who have a clear plan to resolve that crisis. Judging by their record in recent years, the Maduro Government fit none of those descriptions.

I also believe that it is a mistake in such situations simply to think that every problem will be automatically solved by changing the leader, let alone the kind of US-led intervention being threatened by Donald Trump and John Bolton. Instead, if we all genuinely believe in resolving the crisis in Venezuela and in restoring peace, democracy and stability, I hope that the Minister will agree that our chief priorities should be encouraging all parties to engage in dialogue, working towards a peaceful resolution and, ultimately, allowing the Venezuelan people themselves to decide the way forward through the holding of new free and fair elections.

The Minister will be aware that, across the Caribbean sea in Honduras, there were similar violent protests this weekend against another repressive, authoritarian Government who abuse human rights and jail their opponents. But our Government do not criticise them; instead, they sell them arms and surveillance equipment. Only two months ago, they sent them what the Foreign Office boasted was

“the most senior British trade mission in…years”.

Will the Minister tell us why this double standard exists and why the Government are not consistent in their condemnation of all Governments who abuse human rights?

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May I, at the very least, welcome the right hon. Lady’s condemnation of the Maduro regime? In that, at least, we find common ground, which I hope can be shared across the House. I am only sorry that it is not even shared across her own Front Benchers, as it is quite clear that the sympathies of the shadow Chancellor are at odds with the tone of her contribution to these proceedings.

This is not just about changing the leader, as the right hon. Lady put it; it is about applying the proper constitution of Venezuela, which is why the legitimate claimant to the presidency has been very careful to describe himself as the interim President, which is exactly what is stated in the constitution. On the back of that he, like every right thinking person, is calling for prompt fair and free elections so that the people of Venezuela can properly elect the leader they want to govern them.

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The catastrophe that has befallen Venezuela under Maduro—cheered on, incidentally, by the Leader of the Opposition, his chief lieutenant and various other Poundland Lenins—has led to the ruin of a nation. Does the Minister agree that we must take the greatest care that such ruin never happens here?

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I certainly share the opinions of my right hon. Friend in all senses. The sympathies of the Leader of the Opposition with the likes of Maduro are very distressing. Clearly, in terms of his sentiment, he finds himself more in line with Cuba, China and Russia than he does with all democrats across the world.

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I thank the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) for bringing this urgent question to the House and the Minister for his statement.

We would like to reflect the calls of the Minister and of Federica Mogherini that democracy cannot and should not be ignored. There is a desperate need for free and fair elections. We condemn the violence and we condemn the regime carrying out the violence. That has also been condemned by Amnesty International, and we would do well to reflect on its remarks. Venezuela should be a wealthy country, yet so many people have been left in dire poverty.

Let me say to the Minister—I am glad that he reflected on this, as did the hon. Member for Ilford South—that we cannot ignore the humanitarian situation and the millions of refugees, with 1 million, as the Minister rightly said, in Colombia alone, which is going through its own peace process at the moment. How are we working with our European partners, in particular, and what is our long-term strategy in terms of free and fair elections and standing up to this regime? Will the Minister set out his response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, as some humanitarian organisations are concerned that that has been lagging a little bit in the past?

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May I thank the hon. Gentleman for—if I may put it this way—the responsible nature of his questions and observations? I had a very extensive conversation on Friday evening with High Representative Federica Mogherini on exactly his question. We obviously want to see the maximum possible unity between the views of the Lima Group, the Organisation of American States, the United States and the EU. The EU, of course, has many citizens living in Venezuela and therefore has a direct interest in the plight of that country.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, those who have left Venezuela are in staggering numbers: well over 1 million have gone to Colombia; well over 1 million to Peru; nearly half a million each to Ecuador, Argentina and Chile; and 180,000 to Brazil. This is the biggest movement of population we have ever seen in Latin America, certainly of those caused by one person’s bad government rather than some kind of drought, famine or natural disaster. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Minister will speak at length to EU colleagues in Bucharest on Thursday, when he will be at the Gymnich meeting, and we will do all we can to make sure that there is unity of approach should the eight days not be met with a promise of having elections from President Maduro.

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Our thoughts must be with the people of Venezuela at this extremely difficult time, and they must also be with our embassy staff. Caracas is already a very dangerous capital. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that everything will be done to ensure their safety? Furthermore, will he look at reinstating the Foreign Office budget that allowed regional ambassadors to meet in the region at least twice a year so that they can come up with a better co-ordinated response? This budget was cut and I believe that that should be revisited.

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My right hon. Friend was a very distinguished Minister for the region when he was himself in the Foreign Office, and he knows an enormous amount about the subject. I can assure him and the House that I have been in regular contact with our excellent ambassador in Caracas, Andrew Soper. I am confident that, certainly at the moment, their wellbeing is fine and that they are not under threat. That must remain the case, of course. In terms of the budget, we are of course looking at where we will be when we leave the European Union, and Latin America is a very important focus for many of the bilateral and regional relationships that we want to develop and enhance.

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I was appalled by the letter in The Guardian this morning, but more importantly, it was factually incorrect. America still buys 500,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela and props up the economy. It could withdraw from that, but has declined to do so because it would have an impact on the Venezuelan people.

I am concerned about the 4 million migrants, half of whom are children. I think that Members will be deeply concerned about their welfare, because they are destitute and struggling in the countries that the Minister has named. I have written to him many times since we came back from the summer recess about what the United Kingdom is doing. We are organising nothing; we are not involved in anything. Ministers come to the Dispatch Box with warm words, but it appears from the replies that he has given to me that our aid programme is no more than £10.2 million. When are the Government going to step up to the plate and look after these vulnerable people whom we should be looking after and caring for?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his concern for those who have fled. We have to recognise the extraordinary generosity of the neighbours of Venezuela, who have had to take these people on. Our scope to do an enormous amount is limited, in that we have to work largely through multilateral organisations, as this is not an area in which the Department for International Development has had much historical involvement. We cannot just turn that on a sixpence, as I well know from my time in DFID, but the UK always steps up to the plate when it comes to helping people who are in trouble. Most of all, we should applaud countries such as Colombia that have welcomed well over 1 million refugees and ensured that they have been able safely to escape the perils of remaining in Venezuela.

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Though frightful for Venezuelans, this does serve as a powerful object lesson, does it not?

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In many respects, indeed it does. One always has to be aware of my right hon. Friend’s very short and pithy questions. It is always better to just say, “Absolutely, yes; he is quite right.”

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) on securing the urgent question. Maduro is presiding over a corrupt regime after rigged elections and is inflicting misery on his own people. He has no legitimacy. While the shadow Foreign Secretary suggests that recognising the democratically elected president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, would be interventionist, does the Minister agree that these exceptional circumstances merit such an approach if no free and fair elections are forthcoming, not least because of the intensity of the human tragedy that is unfolding and the rigged elections that the presidency of Maduro is based on?

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I totally agree with the hon. Lady. What the Venezuelan people have had to suffer at the hands of Maduro is beyond contempt. Across the Floor of the House, we all believe that it is very important to champion human rights. I remind those who think that it is appropriate to support Venezuela at the moment on the one hand, and then on the other believe that they are also champions of human rights, that it is Venezuela’s neighbours who have referred not only the person but the entire state, for the first time ever, to the International Criminal Court, citing 8,000 extrajudicial executions, 12,000 arbitrary arrests and 13,000 political prisoners in custody. If people want to champion Venezuela, they are also championing that, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

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I have been listening carefully to these exchanges because I visited Venezuela quite frequently until about 10 years ago. I remember it as a very attractive place with a rapidly emerging economy and a reasonably democratic constitution. Does my right hon. Friend share my slight trepidation and sense of powerlessness about exactly what the United Kingdom and our various allies are going to do? When he is consulting with the United States and the European Union, will he advise against just imposing more economic sanctions, which will cause even more poverty to the population of Venezuela, probably without moving the Maduro Government unduly? Will he consider targeted sanctions aimed at shifting the military elite, who are obviously solely responsible for keeping this dreadful Government in power? Will he consult not only the European Union and the United States, but friendly countries in the rest of Latin America? Governments such as that of Colombia will be the best guides to what might be done to change something in this completely failed and disgraceful regime.

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As usual, my right hon. and learned Friend offers the House some very wise advice and guidance, and I am able to say yes to pretty much everything he said. First, when it comes to sanctions, it is important to target individuals rather than cause increased pain to the citizens of Venezuela. On the other hand, most of the money that goes in gets stolen anyway and goes to the elite, so although one might think that sanctions would in normal circumstances often cause more damage to the country, they in fact do more broadly target the elite.

When it comes to talking to Venezuela’s neighbours, that is exactly what we in the Government and I personally have been doing for well over a year. The Lima Group, which is championed, as the name suggests, by the Foreign Minister of Peru, have been acting very closely together, and they are the ones that have been very tough on Venezuela—in some cases, removing ambassadors and calling for early elections and the removal of Maduro—and we are talking to them. It is from Venezuela’s regional neighbours that we perhaps take our most detailed steer and guidance in knowing how to approach this very difficult issue.

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The Maduro regime has clearly been a disaster for the people of Venezuela, with the humanitarian catastrophe, as we have heard, and the appalling abuses of human rights documented by Amnesty International and others. I agree that pressing for fresh, free and fair elections must be our priority, but may I urge the Government to tread carefully in how we get there? Let us be honest, United States interference in Latin American countries has a pretty tragic and troubled history. Surely it is best for us to pursue the correct objective of seeking fresh elections via negotiation and mediation first.

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Yes, I think pressure is also needed to bring about those elections, which is why countries across the world are working very closely together. I think the unity of opinion among such a broad collection of different regions—America, including Canada; the EU; and the immediate neighbours—has the same view. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should be cautious, because the narrative of US interference in Latin America can stir up counterproductive voices. At the moment, what we want to do is solve the problem, rather than relive some of the difficulties of decades ago.

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It is only two weeks since the BBC 2 film “Revolution in Ruins”, on the legacy of Hugo Chavez, was broadcast, previewing what became worse with Maduro. Will my right hon. Friend invite the socialists who had the letter in The Guardian to come and see him to get them to explain whether they think things went wrong because of the personalities of Chavez and Maduro, or because of the policies and practices followed by those two Presidents?

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Tempted though I am by my hon. Friend’s suggestion that I should meet the signatories, it is a temptation I will choose to resist. Instead, I might send them the speech I gave in Chatham House last November about Venezuela so that they can learn a little bit more about history than they could perhaps impart to me.

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Put it in the Library, if it is not there already. [Interruption.] Very good.

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When I visited Venezuela in 2009, I was shown around a theoretically brand-new hospital, which was meant to be fully operational. Those showing me around must have thought I was a complete and utter idiot because every ward I went into had exactly the same patients—they were scurrying around from one ward to another. The truth is that the Venezuelan Government have lied for years and years to their people and to the outside world, particularly Russia and China, and the people who are feeling the damage are the poor children on the streets and the parents who are unable to feed their children because there is nothing in the shops.

My biggest fear is what this may do to Colombia, however, because the peace process is very tender and Iván Duque’s election is not necessarily moving towards restabilising it. Could the Foreign Office in this country perform a very useful function in working with the Spanish Government to try to bring security and stability to Colombia, which is facing such an enormous influx from Venezuela?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the reasons why the United Nations is interested is that this is not a domestic issue for Venezuela; it has regional and therefore international implications. One of those implications, as I said in my opening response, is that Venezuela is harbouring some of the elements who would undermine the peace process in Colombia. He is absolutely right, and he has a long-standing interest in and has supported the Colombian peace process. We need to understand that process fully and to realise that these matters are linked. Therefore, solving the problem in Venezuela can significantly help with the challenges, which are increasing, in Colombia.

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It is seven weeks since one of my hon. Friends wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the chairman of the Bank of England about the gold being held on behalf of the central bank of Venezuela. I followed that up with letters to the Governor, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the first letter sent to a foreign Head of Government by interim President Guaidó was to the Prime Minister on 26 January about the gold being held on behalf of the central bank of Venezuela? The president of the central bank of Venezuela is unconstitutionally appointed, because he has not been approved by the national assembly. What are our Government going to do?

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I am aware of the letter, and, for the benefit of Members, if they do not know already, I confirm that the Bank of England holds a significant amount of Venezuela’s gold under a contract. The answer to my hon. Friend is that this is a decision for the Bank of England, not the Government. It has to make the decision on this, and no doubt when it does so it will take into account that many countries across the world are now questioning the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro and recognising that of Juan Guaidó.

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Why does this matter to the streets of Harlow? It is because 50% of cocaine shipments come through Venezuela. If there is a new regime there, will the Government work with it to stop cocaine reaching our shores and affecting the millions of people on hard drugs?

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My right hon. Friend is right. This has significance across the world because large amounts of drugs are trafficked through Venezuela. Of course, one cannot tackle that problem with the Government of Venezuela because they are party to that inappropriate drug trafficking themselves. Therefore, the solution for the streets of Harlow when it comes to Venezuela is to deal with a legitimate Government who are prepared to tackle the problem head-on in Venezuela.

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After a proper ballot and, hopefully, the election success of Juan Guaidó— whose party, incidentally, is a member of the Socialist International—Venezuela will still face an existential crisis, with the Maduro legacy of economic meltdown, a collapsing oil industry, hyperinflation, food shortages and 3 million citizens in exile. Should not the UK, the EU and the international community be preparing a Marshall plan for the reconstruction of Venezuela?

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One of the tragedies of Venezuela is that it has massive resources of its own. If only they were properly used, invested in and managed, no Marshall plan would be necessary in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggests. The country would be able to take advantage of having some of the greatest oil reserves in the world.

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The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire is poised like a panther about to pounce. Let us hear the fellow.

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It is the only way to be noticed, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the urgent question. For too long, the House has stood by and watched Venezuela, which should be a prosperous country, slip into tyranny and destitution. Did my right hon. Friend hear the comments made on the radio by Ken Livingstone, the former Labour Mayor of London? He said that the reason for the problems in Venezuela was that the Marxist regime, when it seized power, did not execute enough people.

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This is all very well, and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State, but it is fair to say that he has no responsibility for the pronouncements of Mr Livingstone, and is probably pleased not to have.

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It is always a pleasure not to even have to let the name pass my lips. However, it allows me to echo what I said earlier today—those who support the regime and make excuses for it, instead of focusing on the absolute degradation of human life that it has created, bring shame on themselves.

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The Venezuelan economy has been crippled by US sanctions. The first UN rapporteur to visit the country for 21 years is quoted as saying that US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred De Zayas said that the US is waging “economic warfare” against Venezuela.

The issue is that there is a real danger. Venezuela is divided. There is no doubt about that. The truth is that millions support the Maduro Government and there is huge opposition to it. Intervention from the United States could precipitate a civil war and lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. Will the Minister explain why there are the double standards? Is it that he wants to facilitate another humanitarian catastrophe, as we are seeing in Yemen with British arms? Does he want to see the same in Venezuela? Does he not support the self-determination of peoples around the world, rather than intervention from western powers?

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) referred to “Poundland Lenins”. I have just seen in this House one who is not even worth a penny, let alone a pound. I recognise when I see it, as do Members on the Opposition Benches, unreconstructed ideological nonsense—he is a throwback and he brings shame; indeed, I am astonished he has even been prepared to show his face in this House today. If he wants self-determination I can offer it to him: it comes from legitimate elections in Venezuela when the Venezuelan people can determine who shall run their Government.

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It takes a special kind of socialist incompetence to turn a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world into one where 90% of the population live in poverty and 3.5 million citizens, 10%, have fled to neighbouring countries. The Minister has quite rightly insisted that there be full, fair and free elections in that country. What role will the United Kingdom play in ensuring that the elections are fair?

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When it comes to elections, we often offer very substantial advice and assistance to ensure that electoral registers are properly drawn up, and that the conduct of elections is properly monitored and financed. In this case, I hope it will be far more than just the UK taking an interest. I hope there will be a global effort to ensure that, together across the world, we can help to rescue the country from the tyranny it has been facing from Maduro.

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Does the Minister not agree that the hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Venezuela and the millions fleeing that country are not doing so because of some grand Trump-oil conspiracy, but because they are starving? They are starving and they are suffering because of Maduro’s corrupt communism. Would it not be better if those who have been hailing that discredited ideology took this opportunity to apologise and admit they were wrong?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good sense and for his sense of humanity in analysing what is going on in Venezuela. I noticed that, as he said what he said, he cast a glance at his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). It astonishes me that some of those who are so unreconstructed, who are nothing more than throwbacks to an old communist era, bleat about the poor and are then happy to support someone who has done nothing other than make poor people poorer.

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Is my right hon. Friend as shocked as I am that the average Venezuelan lost 10 kg of their bodyweight in 2018 as a result of this regime?

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As the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) said, there are very many in Venezuela who are absolutely starving. This could be the richest country in Latin America, yet it has been reduced to poverty and destitution by the regime. Many are starving and many of the Venezuelans who are not are those who have managed to escape the country and go to generous countries next door.

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May I start by putting on the record my disgust at the fact that Baroness Massey, my friend who sits in the other place, had her name wrongly attributed to the letter in The Guardian this morning? That is a disgrace, as indeed is the letter. Every right-thinking Member of this House should unite in condemning the Maduro regime and call for his removal. Once that has happened, we will need significant support for Venezuela to organise free and fair elections. I know the Minister addressed this point earlier, but will the UK take a lead in ensuring that all necessary global support is given to Venezuela? It will be one of the biggest challenges faced by a country coming out of a dictatorship for many, many years.

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The Government absolutely recognise that Baroness Massey’s reputation is intact. We fully acknowledge that her name was wrongly put on that letter, and we in no way associate her good reputation with the other signatories.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that it will take a lot of international effort to replace the corrupt electoral practices with ones that can be trusted. I will speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, and it will be absolutely central to the Foreign Office’s policy for Venezuela that we do all we can to assist in the holding of free, fair, trustworthy and properly democratic elections as soon as possible.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) on securing this urgent question, and I support the Minister’s words.

Since the 1530s, the indigenous nations and peoples of both Americas have suffered untold cruelty due to the political elites that have ruled them. When a legitimate, democratic Government returns in the future, will the UK Government, through the United Nations and other support agencies, support the immediate return of those indigenous peoples to Venezuela and ensure that the land that is rightfully theirs is given to them?

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One of our hopes is that most of the many millions who have fled to neighbouring countries will want to return. Venezuela is not like Syria, where the infrastructure has been completely flattened by conflict. We will design plans with our allies and partners, and I hope that many of those millions will want to and will return to their homes and livelihoods in Venezuela.

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I thank the Minister for his very strong answers and his determined stance on TV last night—well done! We all endorse that. A Venezuelan teacher who was fleeing across the border was interviewed on the TV news last night, and she said that her teacher’s wage could buy only 12 eggs because of the inflation under a communist regime. Does the Minister agree that that is indicative of the shocking state of Venezuela? Shame on Sinn Féin for its unsurprising, disgraceful support of a system that put President Maduro in place with no hint of a democratic process! This House must send a strong message, and that dictator must not be endorsed.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is one of those rare moments in history when a country’s inflation must be measured in millions of per cent. It is almost impossible to get one’s mind around that extraordinary statistic.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my appearance on television. Normally, I appear much more on foreign television screens, and therefore am much better known and popular abroad than at home.

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We are grateful to the Minister and all colleagues, led by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), in this important matter.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on the teacher recruitment and retention strategy.

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Last year, we recruited more than 34,500 trainee teachers into the profession—more than 2,000 more than the year before—but the growing number of pupils means that we need even more teachers at a time when we have the most competitive labour market on record. Today, the Government launched the teacher recruitment and retention strategy, outlining our priorities ahead of the spending review. First, we are creating the right climate so headteachers can establish the right culture in their schools. Secondly, we are transforming the support for early career teachers. Thirdly, we are building a career structure that remains attractive as teachers’ lives and careers progress. Fourthly, we are making it easier for great people to become teachers.

At the heart of the strategy is the early career framework. Developed with teachers, headteachers, academics and experts, and endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation, it underpins what all new teachers will be entitled to be trained in at the start of their career, in line with the best-available evidence. The early career framework will underpin the fully funded two-year package of structured support for all early career teachers, including additional time off-timetable for teachers in their second year and fully funded mental health training.

By the time the new system is fully in place, we anticipate investing at least an additional £130 million every year to support the delivery in full of the early career framework. This will be a substantial investment, befitting the most significant change to the teaching profession since it became a graduate-only profession. In addition, the recruitment and retention strategy outlines how the Government will create the right climate for headteachers to establish supportive cultures in their schools in which unnecessary workload is driven down. This includes consulting on replacing the floor and coasting standards, with Ofsted’s “requires improvement” as the sole trigger for an offer of support.

The recruitment and retention strategy, including the early career framework, has been developed closely with the sector. Its publication marks a crucial milestone for the profession, as well as the start of a conversation between the Government and the profession about how best to deliver on the promise of this strategy.

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The publication of this strategy is a credit to the school leaders, teachers and trade unions who have campaigned for years on this issue. Any serious attempt to tackle the workforce crisis, however overdue, is welcome, but today’s words must be matched by actions. Perhaps the Minister could start by acknowledging the scale of the problem. He has missed his targets six years running, and teacher numbers are declining as pupil numbers are increasing. Can he confirm that between 2016 and 2017 the number of full-time equivalent teachers in our classrooms fell by over 5,000?

The Minister mentioned the £180 million of funding, but at least £42 million of it was announced back in December 2017. How much is new money? The framework talks about

“at least an additional £130 million pounds a year”.

Is that new funding from the Treasury, or is it being taken from other education spending, and if so, where from? Has the Treasury committed to this funding in the upcoming spending review, and does the “at least” mean that more money will be available if needed?

The concept of the new framework is welcome and long overdue, but can the Minister guarantee that every new teacher will be able to benefit from it? Specifically, will academies also be required to offer the additional time off-timetable for newly qualified teachers in their second year? For many schools, timetabling makes part-time work challenging. Where will they find the additional staff needed to make job shares work? Has he made any assessment of the number of teachers this could keep in or bring back into the profession?

On initial teacher training, how will the Minister ensure that smaller teacher training providers, such as school-centred providers, will not lose places? He pledged a review of teaching schools. What issues will this address and how will it be carried out? The strategy suggests that their functions will be taken on by multi-academy trusts. Will other schools be excluded? Will the strategy offer something for more experienced teachers? His most recent pay deal means that 250,000 teachers—the majority, in fact—are facing another real-terms pay cut. Can he confirm that today’s strategy does nothing to stop continued real-terms pay cuts in our schools? Surely, he can acknowledge that teachers need more than the offer of part-time work.

Finally, the teaching workforce crisis cannot be separated from the years of cuts to pay and education budgets. Our teachers do invaluable work every day raising our next generation, and I thank them all. I hope that the Government will start valuing them with more than just warm words.

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I do not really know how to react to the hon. Lady’s tone. This is a very effective recruitment and retention strategy, which has the support of the sector, and I should have thought that she would want to support it as well. The concept and structure of the strategy were driven by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and the details were developed by officials and by me in close consultation with the profession, the teachers’ unions and academics. I do not regard that as a matter for criticism.

The hon. Lady asks whether the £130 million is new money. It reflects what we think schools will need to support a 5% timetable reduction for early-years career teachers, for mental health training and time and for the training programme. The Government are clear that they are committed to that funding, and it is new funding. It does not include the £42 million teacher development premium.

The hon. Lady asks about more experienced teachers. As she will see when she has a chance to read the strategy, it includes support for non-leadership career pathways for teachers who want to remain in the classroom. There will be a teacher development national professional qualification to enable them to enhance their careers without necessarily taking on leadership positions. We shall be announcing a procurement tender for initial teacher training providers and others.

The principal challenge that we face in teacher recruitment is the fact that we have a strong economy, with record numbers of jobs and the lowest unemployment since the 1970s. We are competing with other professions, such as commerce and industry, for the best graduates in our economy. A strong economy is not a challenge likely to face any Labour Government. Whenever Labour is in office, it damages the public finances, damages the economy and destroys jobs, whereas the Conservatives repair our economy, take a balanced approach to the public finances and create jobs—millions of jobs.

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I strongly welcome this announcement—particularly amid the Brexit fog—and I welcome the work that my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State are doing. Has either of them considered the idea of establishing local teacher training colleges in areas of strong deprivation, possibly linked to further education colleges, to encourage people in those areas to take up teaching?

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The purpose of the phased bursaries that we have piloted with maths in particular is to stagger the payments of those bursaries after three years. For those training to teach maths, there is a £20,000 bursary, followed by a £5,000 payment after three years and a further another £5,000 after five years. In areas where there is a record of recruitment challenges, or areas of deprivation, the £5,000 figure becomes £7,500. There is a range of other measures intended to incentivise people to train in the areas to which my right hon. Friend has referred.

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I, too, welcome the new strategy, but it is long overdue. We have been raising these issues in the House for a number of years, and the Minister, and other Ministers, seem to have been in denial about what is causing them. That has been echoed in some of the Minister’s comments today. Tackling teacher recruitment and retention is not about a growing economy; it is about pay, workload and job satisfaction, so will the Minister now address those three key issues in a more strategic and substantive way than we have seen them addressed thus far?

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We have been addressing those issues. For instance, we started to deal with workload in 2014. The workload challenge produced 44,000 responses identifying the top three issues: excessive marking work, data collection and lesson preparation. We addressed those with some workload review groups, and accepted their recommendations. This strategy, however, includes more measures to deal with workload. For example, the new Ofsted framework will include tackling teacher workload as an element of the leadership and management judgment that schools will face.

We are also doing more to ensure that the culture of schools is right. We are changing the accountability regime. There will not be a “football manager” approach. We are consulting today on replacing a floor and coasting as triggers for support for schools with the simple “requires improvement” judgment of Ofsted. We have been engaged in a range of measures since 2010, and we are taking a strategic approach to these issues as well. I think that if the hon. Lady reads the strategy, she will find that it addresses all her concerns.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he share my hope that this new strategy marks the end of excessive marking and data entry, so that our teachers can spend more time doing what they came into the profession to do, which is teach, and not be overburdened by administration?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Department and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take very seriously the issue of tackling excessive workload. Teachers in this country work eight hours a week above the OECD average but work the same number of teaching hours as the OECD average. Those extra eight hours are spent, as my right hon. Friend said, on things such as excessive data collection and excessive marking. We have been addressing those issues, and this strategy continues to address them including through a new approach by Ofsted.

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I appreciate that the strategy announced today is urgently needed to address the growing crisis in our schools, but should the Government not be taking time to recognise why there is such a dire need for a recruitment and retention strategy, and is it not a fact that stripping schools of resources and inflicting years of pay cuts have left teachers demoralised by the current regime in our schools?

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The hon. Lady will know that we are spending a record amount of money on our schools: £43.5 billion by next year. Every local authority is seeing an increase in funding for every pupil in every school in the country. The School Teachers Review Body recommended a 3.5% pay rise for teachers on the main pay scale, and we have accepted a 2% pay rise for teachers on the upper pay scale and have agreed a 1.5% pay rise for headteachers on the leadership pay scale. We are funding that through a teacher pay grant over and above the 1% already budgeted.

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I welcome the fact that this plan has been co-signed by all the teaching unions. What measures will the Minister put in place to support rural teachers, particularly in underfunded areas such as mine in Cheshire, where they often face additional hurdles around accommodation and transport?

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As I have said, we are taking a number of measures to tackle areas that have suffered particular historical challenges in recruiting teachers, including rural and coastal areas and areas of deprivation. The evidence suggests that within those areas different schools face different challenges, so it is often a school-level challenge, but we do have measures in place to direct funding particularly to areas of challenge, and we are rolling out this strategy to areas, including the north-east, Manchester and Bristol, that we know face particular social mobility challenges.

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Is it not the case that to reduce workload in any significant way we simply need more teachers and more support staff in schools, and therefore does the Minister agree that until the Treasury commits to a long-term plan that includes a significant real-terms increase in the education budget, the most he can hope for is to make marginal improvements?

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Teaching remains an attractive profession. There are 450,000 teachers in the profession. Last year, we recruited 34,500 teachers, which is over 2,000 more than the year before, and that year we recruited more teachers than the year before that. We accepted the recommendation of the STRB of a 3.5% pay rise for teachers on the main pay scale. We added an extra £1.3 billion of school funding, which we announced in the summer of 2017. The Chancellor announced an extra £400 million in his Budget for small capital projects. We have announced an extra £250 million recently for special needs funding. And we have issued a pay grant to fund the pay increases over and above the 1% that schools will already have budgeted.

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May I put on the record my thanks to all the teachers in Redditch, who give all our young people such a great start in life? I, too, welcome this strategy, and note in particular the comments from the body that brings people from other professions into teaching as well as the support for the early career framework. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to use best practice to attract the best people into the teaching profession?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The early career framework is built on best evidence of the approach to teaching. It is a welcome framework and focuses on those issues that teachers need to be trained in to be effective as teachers. I was struck by how different it is to enter into the teaching profession compared with other professions, such as chartered accountancy. There is a lot of support in the first few years of training to be an accountant, once one is in work. In the teaching profession, there is a steep learning curve in those early years, and we have been concerned about the high drop-out rate in the first few years of people’s careers.

The strategy seeks to give more support to teachers in those early years, because it is not just a recruitment strategy; it is also about increasing retention of those very highly able people so that they stay in the profession—a profession they almost certainly love when they come into it, and which they can be driven out of by excessive workload and a lack of support.

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Having done both that job and this one, I can absolutely agree that starting out as a teacher is harder than starting out as an MP. Although I welcome this strategy, which is long overdue, it does nothing to stem the real reasons why teachers are leaving: the toxic culture created in large part by this Government, the reduction of children to data points, and cuts to school budgets that have spread teachers’ good will as thin as it can get. The strategy will not fix that. We need to tackle the core issues, for example by abolishing Ofsted and putting in place something that teachers absolutely trust and by increasing massively the amount of high-quality professional development. What are the Minister’s plans to tackle the real reasons why teachers are leaving in the first place?

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I agree with some of what the hon. Lady says. Data collection has been a burden and there has been an over-obsession with data and its collection. Ofsted has made it very clear in the new framework that it will not be seeking that data; it will not want to see any internal assessment data on the progress that pupils make. It will be looking at the wider curriculum and more substantive issues when schools are inspected.

The hon. Lady is right about workload, and both I and the Secretary of State take that very seriously. That is why we had the workload challenge in 2014 and why we have taken a series of measures to reduce both workload and data collection. We have a data collection toolkit and we have a leading academic from the Institute of Education looking into the question of data collection to try to get rid of some of the unnecessary data collection points that she mentions. Ofsted has just published its new framework for consultation, and that has landed well with the sector. When the hon. Lady has a chance to see it, she will see that it focuses on those things that really matter to a child’s education.

On CPD, one aim of the recruitment and retention strategy is to create a more diverse range of options for career progression, including a new teacher development national professional qualification—[Interruption.] I think I have said enough, Mr Speaker.

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I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 33 years and I must say that he has a mildly eccentric approach to these matters. Nobody could accuse the Minister of State of excluding from his answer any matter that might at any stage to any degree be judged to be material—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has not stood, but I have just been advised that he has been twitching. Let’s hear the fellow.

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As I said in October 1990 when I raised the question of leadership with the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher—especially mentioning Peter Dawson, who had run Eltham Green before becoming general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers—the culture that good heads can set, followed by other senior teachers, can bring people in not just to teach first but to teach second, bringing the experience of their own careers to expand our schools and academies. They can do a great deal of good for children across the country.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Headteachers play an important part in creating the right culture in schools, and the Government have a role to play in helping headteachers to create that culture. We want schools to acknowledge that we live in a strong economy with low levels of unemployment and a competitive jobs market so schools, like other employers, will need to be more flexible in their recruitment approach to allow more professionals to come into the profession on a part-time or flexible basis. We had a flexible working summit last year, because we want to encourage people to teach more flexibly.

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It is good that the Government finally accept that there is a recruitment and retention problem, but when does the Minister hope to wake up to the budget problems that are causing neglected repairs, reduced swimming and music lessons, curtailed extra-curricular activities and insufficient teaching assistants, particularly for special-needs children?

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We acknowledge the cost pressures on schools. As I said before, we are spending record amounts on schools, but there are of course increased pressures. We are asking schools to do more. Standards are rising, more children are reading more effectively earlier, we have better maths teaching, and more young people are taking at least two science GCSEs today than several years ago. That is why we are helping schools to tackle budget pressures, including through buying schemes for energy, insurance, computers and so on. We are also helping schools to balance their budgets when it comes to deploying staff. Tackling workload will be an important part of easing the cost pressures on schools.

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I welcome this strategy. Two primary schools in the villages of Breachwood Green and Redbourn in my constituency have talked to me about the specific challenges they face because they are small rural schools. Will the Minister explain how the strategy will help to deal with such problems? Will he also meet with me to discuss the specific issues in those particular primary schools?

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I am happy to discuss funding issues relating to particular schools with my hon. Friend. Small schools receive a fixed sum that helps to deal with some of the fixed costs appropriate to such schools, and there is also the sparsity funding element of the national funding formula. The formula is geared towards helping small or rural schools, but I appreciate that they will face cost pressures, and we are helping schools to tackle them with a range of measures.

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After talking to school leaders in Bristol South, I challenge the Minister on whether the money is sufficient to support them in delivering on the commitment. Given the existing large burdens on headteachers, what will he do to support the middle tier of teachers into becoming headteachers and future leaders?

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We are investing in new and existing leadership qualifications and will do so disproportionately in more challenging areas of the country. As I said before, we are also developing our new national teacher development professional qualification for teachers who want to rise but do not necessarily want to go into leadership positions.

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I welcome the intention behind the strategy, but I would like it to contain more than warm words. What measures will the Minister put in place in high-cost areas that do not receive outer-London weighting and where there is severe pressure on schools?

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The national funding formula contains an area cost adjustment that takes into account the cost pressures of employing both teachers and non-teachers in such areas. This strategy involves £130 million of new funding, because we strongly believe that we want teachers in the second year of their careers to have time off timetable so that they can develop their teaching skills with support from a mentor and teacher training programmes.

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It is welcome that the strategy finally acknowledges the need to tackle excessive workloads for teachers if we are to bring the recruitment and retention crisis to an end. Given that secondary school pupil numbers are set to rise by 15% in the next decade, can the Minister guarantee that the funding that our schools need to implement the strategy will be provided quickly and effectively?

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The funding will be provided when the strategy is fully rolled out in September 2021. We are rolling it out earlier, in September 2020, to Bradford, Doncaster, Greater Manchester and the north-east—I think I said Bristol earlier, but I actually meant Bradford. The strategy will be fully funded, and £130 million has been agreed with the Treasury despite the fact that it goes into the next spending review period.

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I very much welcome this long overdue strategy. There is some evidence of burnout for teachers in mid and later career. Is the Minister looking to see which academy chains and local authorities perform well in teacher retention and which perform less well, and is he learning appropriate lessons from that?

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As I mentioned earlier, the new Ofsted framework will be looking at things like teacher workload, as part and parcel of the leadership and management judgments made about a school. The Government take teacher workload extremely seriously, which is why we set up the three review groups to look at data management, excessive marking and lesson preparation. We have accepted all the recommendations of those three review groups.

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By definition, the most experienced teachers are the most expensive. One of the reasons for poor retention is that schools, particularly smaller primary schools, have to lay off those teachers because they cannot afford them within their budget. Will the Government look at how we can keep those teachers teaching, as they are the best because of that experience?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The national funding formula is distributing funding across our schools system in a far fairer way than in the past, and this recruitment and retention strategy should ease the cost pressures on schools. We have also introduced a teaching vacancy website, which is a free resource to enable schools to recruit free of charge, as the profession has been calling for a long time.

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Now that the Minister has acknowledged the scale of the recruitment and retention crisis, will he commit to funding the 3.5% pay offer in full? No ifs, no buts: in full.

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We have already said that we are funding the pay rise to which we have agreed. The 3.5% is being funded, over and above the 1% that schools have already budgeted. That is what the pay grant is all about, and we are distributing over £500 million this year and next year to fund that pay rise.

Point of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a result of being moved on to universal credit, some disabled people lose out on vital premiums, including the severe disability premium. I have tabled multiple written questions asking how many severely disabled people have been naturally migrated or moved on to universal credit since June 2018, and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has responded that the information could be provided only at a disproportionate cost. That is despite information having been provided for the period between May 2015 and February 2018.

This information is of national importance, as the Government have tabled secondary legislation to backdate payments for severely disabled people who have lost out on these vital premiums as a result of moving on to universal credit. Mr Speaker, can you advise me on how I can obtain this information from the Department for Work and Pensions and ensure that it is published?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intention to raise this point of order. It is understandably frustrating, disconcerting and irritating for an hon. Member not to receive substantive replies to the questions that she or he has put, so I understand and empathise with her. It is an experience that I often had as a Back-Bench Member. The words, “Can be provided only at disproportionate cost” were always, at the very least, disappointing.

My advice to the hon. Lady is that she should make the short journey from here to the Table Office, where she can be advised as to the avenues open to her to try to extract the information. That may be through the reformulation of questions, it might be by pursuit of a debate, or it could be by use of other means to ensure the public provision of the information she seeks. The distinguished staff of the Table Office are always keen to help and, if she beetles across to the Table Office, I feel sure that they would be keen to do so.

Bill Presented

Drone (Regulation) (No.2) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Peter Bone, supported by Esther McVey, Gordon Henderson, Jonathan Lord, Philip Davies, Henry Smith and Steve Double, presented a Bill to require drones to be marked and registered and to broadcast certain information electronically; to place restrictions on drone flight near aerodromes; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 8 February, and to be printed (Bill 325).

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Second Reading

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I should inform the House that I have not selected any of the reasoned amendments that appear on the Order Paper.

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

Concern over uncontrolled immigration was at the heart of the debate in the run-up to the European Union referendum. The result left no doubt: people in the UK want control over our borders. They want a fair system that works for the entire UK, that attracts the brightest and the best from around the globe, and that allows access to the UK based on what someone has to offer, not where they come from. Leaving the EU means just that. For the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver this by putting control over who comes to the UK firmly in our hands. Ending free movement is the first step, and that is what the Bill delivers.

This is not about closing our doors—far from it. That is something I would never allow. We will continue to be an open, outward-looking and welcoming nation, because immigration has been invaluable to Britain. Immigrants to this country, such as my own parents, have been essential to the success of our society, culture and economy. They have powered—indeed, they have often created—many of our businesses. They have helped to deliver vital public services. Their experience has brought new perspectives and expertise, stimulating growth and making us the tolerant, outward-looking nation we are today. Far from slamming the door on immigration, the end of free movement will be a clear path to a fairer immigration system, helping us to welcome the most talented workers from any country while cutting net migration to sustainable levels.

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The Home Secretary is giving a good account of why immigration is good for this country. Does he think that people who voted leave voted against free movement of labour as a policy, or against immigration?

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For many people who voted leave in that referendum, immigration was one of the big, key issues. Many of them would have wanted, first, to see immigration coming down to more sustainable levels. It was certainly my experience that many of them wanted us to end freedom of movement and reform the process so that we could have more control over our borders.

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I am sure that the Home Secretary, like many of us in the Chamber, has received emails from people expressing concern about how the health service will get labour from abroad—from Europe or wherever—and asking what protections British nationals abroad will have. Those people also perform a function at work in the various countries that make up Europe, so what protections will they have, as a quid pro quo on this?

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There are two issues there. First, on protections for British nationals working in other parts of the EU, we very much hope that other EU countries respond in the same way we are doing—we are guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights whether there is a deal or no deal. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the importance of immigration to our public services, including the health service, which I just referenced a moment ago. That will very much be retained under the new immigration system.

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Is not the crucial balance to strike between people’s ability to come here in search of work rather than for a specific job, which is what has caused so much tension in constituencies such as mine, and our ability to make sure that we do all we can to attract the vital skilled labour that the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) mentioned, such as nurses and doctors?

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I very much agree with how my hon. Friend describes the issue. This is about putting the UK in control of who comes to the UK, so we can be certain that that will benefit our economy and society.

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The Home Secretary makes a good case for the importance of a firm but fair immigration policy, but does he accept that when we implement such a policy, it also has to be civilised? With that in mind, does he intend to do anything about the national shame of the 10,000 migrants in holding centres in this country?

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I assume that my right hon. Friend is referring to detention centres. He will know that detention policy is not covered by the Bill, but he asks an important question and I want to make sure that I answer it. Our policy makes it absolutely clear that detention should be a last resort in respect of immigration control. Some 95% of individuals who are subject to removal are managed in the community—I know that my right hon. Friend would approve of that—and if anyone is detained, it is absolutely a requirement that we must be certain that there is a reasonable prospect that they can be removed in a reasonable time. Despite those protections, I have also tried to make sure that we are doing all that we can, which is why I welcome the work that has been done independently through the Shaw reports. We are trying at all times to see what more we can do further to improve the policy.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is deep concern on both sides of the House about administrative detention in excess of 28 days. Under the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the right hon. Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will seek to amend the Bill, at the appropriate stage, to stop people being administratively detained for more than 28 days.

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I welcome the raising of this important issue, because it is important that we constantly look into how we can improve our detention policy to make sure that at all times it is seen as fair and compassionate. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue, his concern about which seems to be shared by other Members. If it would be helpful, I would be happy to discuss the issue further with my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members who are concerned about it. It is important that we continue to look into the policy and see what more we can do to improve it.

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How can we talk about fairness and compassion? My Bridgend constituency office takes on very few immigration cases; most of the immigration into Wales comes from England. Where I have problems—despite the English—is in cases in which my constituents have married abroad and cannot then get their partners and children back into the UK. One of my constituents, Mr Jenkins, has been told that his wife will have to leave when their youngest child reaches their 18th birthday. How can that be fair and compassionate? How can I tell EU citizens in my constituency to trust the new legislation when we do not even know what it is?

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The hon. Lady refers to the policy on family reunion or bringing spouses to this country. The rules, which include a minimum income requirement, are the will of the House. They are what the House has previously decided in legislation, and I think it is fair to have rules on bringing spouses from abroad into this country and on family reunion. That is right, but it is also right that we constantly review the rules to make sure that they continue to be fair at all times.

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A part of being fair is dealing with matters promptly. When the former Labour Government were in power, about 15,000 people who were here illegally were dealt with every year and returned. That number fell to 5,000. Does my right hon. Friend aim to improve those numbers so that we actually deal, fairly and quickly, with people who are here illegally, rather than detaining them for a very long time in the sort of circumstances that were described earlier?

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My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that the 5,000 number to which he refers is with respect to foreign national offenders only. When it comes to removing people from this country, or deporting them because they are here illegally, the number is, I think, a lot higher, but his point is important, and we need to make sure that we properly enforce the rules that we have in place.

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Are we not already conflating issues in a way that clouds the whole of the immigration debate? There are people who come here primarily to work who are legally entitled to do so either because of our membership of the European Union or because they have the requisite visas. There are people who want to come here to work but do not have a right and often enter illegally, and then there are those who, in escaping the terrors of war or some other horrors, quite rightly seek asylum in our country. It is important not only to draw these very distinct differences between them but, in any event, to treat everybody fairly and with dignity.

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I agreed with every word that my right hon. Friend just shared with the House. She reminds us that there are different parts of and different routes within our immigration system, and that we should always try not to conflate them. I very much welcome her intervention.

It is also important that we get the tone of the debate right, which is why my message to the 3.5 million EU citizens already living here has also been very clear. I say, “You are an incredibly valued and an important part of our society; we want you to stay. Deal or no deal, that view will not change. Our commitment to you is very real. We have listened to your concerns and we are, for example, removing the fee for the EU settlement scheme.” There must be no barriers to those who want to stay, and I urge other EU countries to follow suit and to waive any fees for UK citizens.

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Some people have already paid that fee. Will my right hon. Friend reassure everyone by confirming that those who have paid the fee will be reimbursed?

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Yes, absolutely. Anyone who has paid the fee under the scheme will be reimbursed in full.

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rose

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I will make some progress and then give way later.

Given the concerns that were raised in the referendum, we must control immigration to make it fairer and more sustainable. We wanted to ensure that our proposals were based on the very best evidence, which was why we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to review the impact of European migration on the UK’s economy and society. It was clear that, with free movement, we could not guarantee that we would maximise the benefits of immigration, so it recommended a system that was focused on skilled workers. We heard that, and our White Paper, which was published before Christmas, proposed a skills-based system welcoming talent from around the world, with no automatic preference for the EU.

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May I caution the Home Secretary about setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Committee? For years, as he will know, I have been talking to various Immigration Ministers—they come and they go—about trying to get fishermen from other parts of the world to work on boats on the west coast of Scotland. Northern Irish Members and Members on the east coast of Scotland have been talking to them about that as well. The advice that comes back is that fishing is not a skilled business. If it is not skilled, can I get some of these guys from the Migration Advisory Committee to go and work on the boats so that they can understand the business? The point is that we need people to come, but they are not coming, because the Secretary of State is setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Council.

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Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is down on the speaking list—save something for later.

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Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that that was the hon. Gentleman’s speech, so you can take him off your list.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Let me emphasise that the evidence that the MAC has considered is reflected in its recommendations. He will know that, in our response in the White Paper, while we have very much based things on the evidence presented, there are still things that require further engagement before we design and settle on exactly what the future system looks like.

We also asked the MAC to review the position of international students. It recommended that there should continue to be no limits on the number of international students we welcome to study in our country, and that will of course remain our approach. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has strongly campaigned for, we will continue to be an open and welcoming country for international students. Our word-class universities will continue to be able to attract global talent, and we will make it easier for the brightest and best graduates to stay and work here.

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Will the Home Secretary just confirm for the record that the Government are formally dumping their commitment to a net migration target—to reducing migration down to the tens of thousands? If I am wrong, will he at least confirm that international students will not be included in that ridiculous target?

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There are no targets in our White Paper, which sets out our approach to the future immigration system. That said, we are still very clear, as I have already set out, that we must continue to work to bring net migration down to more sustainable levels.

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Would the Home Secretary just clarify the exact position of students? He only half answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) regarding international students, and he knows my hon. Friend’s commitment to excellent tertiary education here in the UK.

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I am happy to clarify that there is absolutely no cap on student numbers. There is no limit on the number of students we wish to welcome into our country.

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