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Commons Chamber

Volume 655: debated on Monday 4 March 2019

House of Commons

Monday 4 March 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Authority Services

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effects of changes in the level of central Government funding for local authorities on the adequacy of services provided by those authorities. (909522)

The local government financial settlement confirmed that core spending power for councils is forecast to increase to £46.4 billion, a cash increase of 2.8%. This real-terms increase in resources will be key to helping local authorities to deliver local services, support vulnerable residents and build stronger communities.

Ofsted has said in its latest monitoring report that despite the good work of my council, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, it is still deeply concerned that children risk abuse due to unbearable case loads and a real problem in recruiting staff. Does the Minister think that that might have something to do with the £180 million in funding that the council has lost since 2010, and will he say whether the proposed community fund will fully and adequately restore the appropriate level of funding?

I recognise that, over some years, Sandwell has had some specific issues in relation to its children’s services. I hope that the hon. Gentleman therefore welcomes the increase in Sandwell’s core spending power to £268.6 million. He will also know that the funding that was set out in the financial settlement underlay additional funding for social care, and children’s social care in particular, but clearly we will keep in contact with the Local Government Association and others in respect of councils’ needs.

17. On Friday night, my community saw the despicable murder of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney in Harold Hill. If the Government’s serious violence strategy is to work, we need confidence that all parts of the system are adequately resourced, including councils’ children’s services and social services. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me on that front, and what conversations has he had with the Home Office to talk about these most serious of issues? (909538)

I am sure that the whole House will want to send its condolences to the family of Jodie Chesney, my hon. Friend’s constituents, and equally, to the family of Yousef Makki, who also lost his life over the course of the weekend. My hon. Friend highlights the appalling situation with knife crime, which has claimed too many lives. I assure her that my Department is working closely with the Home Office to look at issues of prevention and, through programmes such as troubled families, is seeking to provide preventive services. In the last couple of weeks, I have provided £9.8 million for a fund supporting families against youth crime, to help workers to intervene early to prevent such senseless violence.

I have previously raised with the Secretary of State the Government’s proposal to remove deprivation as an element from the foundation funding part of the local government allocation. Is he aware of the research done by the University of Liverpool and the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that although deprivation accounts now for only a 4% difference in spending, if we go back before austerity in 2010, in the early years before the disproportionate cuts in grants to the poorest communities, deprivation accounts for more than 10 times the amount of spending? In the light of that, will he review his decision to remove deprivation as a key element of spending allocations?

The hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, is obviously aware that there is an ongoing consultation on the formula. He highlights a point in relation to the primary formula and the way in which deprivation plays into that. We will look closely at the evidence that is presented to us and I encourage him to take part in that consultation.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. At its budget last week, the council confirmed that it will achieve a 10-year council tax freeze, and despite cuts in Government spending it has maintained all frontline services and support for the voluntary sector. Is that not an example that other councils should follow?

I warmly commend Kettering Borough Council for the work that my hon. Friend outlined, and indeed councils for the way in which they have risen to the challenges. I commend all the work of the members and officers in Kettering for being able to deliver good-quality services in an efficient way.

22. Surely local authorities that willingly step up to the plate as asylum dispersal areas deserve additional long-term central Government funding in recognition of the extra resources required to undertake that valuable work, and surely to goodness the Secretary of State would agree that the Home Office, rather than his Department, should pay for it. (909543)

I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about asylum dispersal and the costs of that. Obviously, the Home Office leads on how funds are supported in different authorities—indeed, in Scotland as well—and I will certainly pass on his points to the Home Secretary.

On funding to local communities and the Stronger Towns fund announced earlier today, can I get an idea of how much Crawley constituency will get? It has two of the most deprived wards anywhere in the south-east. I do not want to hear from the Front Bench that we are on the B list where we can bid for funding. This funding is needed now.

As my hon. Friend will know, there is a statement coming up later this afternoon, so I will save my comments for that, but it is a £1.6 billion fund, with a competitive element, and I would encourage people to bid into that.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) will be in his seat for that statement and will leap to his feet to make his point with his customary force and alacrity.

23. Nine of the 10 most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts almost three times the national average since 2010. Why is deprivation no longer to be a factor under the fair funding review? (909545)

I remind the hon. Gentleman of my response to the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). That issue is part of our consultation on the review of relative needs and resources, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take part. Our view is that a lot of the measures are based on population distribution, but we will reflect on the evidence as we see it.

I thank the Secretary of State and our excellent local government Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), for the additional moneys given to East Sussex County Council for this year, but rather than additional one-off funds to top up, can we have more certainty in the future so that all local authorities can plan for the future?

I recognise the desire for long-term local government funding, and we have the local government financial settlement, which the House recently approved. We also have the spending review to come, and I will certainly be making the case for a multi-year settlement.

The European regional development fund moneys of €476 million and the European social fund moneys of €465 million have had a significant input into local government funding the length and breadth of Scotland. With the removal of this EU cash imminent, can the Secretary of State tell us precisely how much money the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland will get after we leave the EU?

The hon. Lady will know the guarantees in place in relation to structural funds currently provided by the EU, but clearly we want new arrangements in place through the UK shared prosperity fund. We will come forward with the details of that fund, and the spending review will set out the monetary aspects.

After nine years of this Government’s slash-and-burn approach to deprived areas, the Secretary of State has announced a new fund for our left-behind towns, but since 2010 we have seen a cut to Wigan Council’s spending power—the Government’s preferred measure—of £67 million and a cut of £45 million to Blackpool’s. As a region, the north-west has lost almost £1.5 billion but will receive just £281 million over seven years under this initiative. Does he understand why Members across the House feel disappointed and patronised by his announcement today?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not recognised the additional funding that will be going into local government this coming year. The cash increase I have outlined is a real-terms increase to local government that is focused on supporting issues such as social care. Yes, the Government recognise the hard decisions that councils have had to make, but we are now supporting councils to do the right thing for their communities and ensure the improvement we all want to see.

It is only an increase for councils because it is predicated on those same councils’ increasing their council tax to mitigate a £1.3 billion Government grant cut. The announcement that the Minister has made today means very little, given that he plans to shift the funding formula away from those very same left-behind towns in future years to favour the wealthy Tory shires. Will he now remove any uncertainty, and ensure that deprivation is factored into any future fair funding review so that it is actually able to live up to its name?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has clearly not been through the consultation, which demonstrates on various issues such as social care where deprivation is firmly relevant. We are ensuring that we provide support for councils—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman keeps saying “baseline”; he seems to have gone into some kind of trance. We are providing £650 million for social care in the settlement for the forthcoming year because we absolutely recognise local authorities’ demands and needs; it is about seeing that local government is well supported for its communities.

New Homes

Last year more housing was delivered in England than in all but one of the past 31 years, but there is still much more to do, from reform of the planning system and developer contributions to deploying Homes England as the WD40 of the house building industry, working on the recommendations of the Letwin review, and accelerating decision making in the Department. We are stretching every sinew to build more and better homes across the country, and to build them faster.

Building homes that people want to live in should be a challenge that we set ourselves as we aim to tackle the housing situation. Modern methods of construction encompass new and innovative building methods, including off-site manufacturing, to produce more homes in less time. During a recent visit to a modular homes factory, I saw how well constructed, well insulated and adaptable homes for life can provide quality housing in weeks rather than months. Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities should recognise the diverse range of construction methods when developing their local plans to meet housing requirements?

With her usual accuracy and perception, my hon. Friend has put her finger on one of the most exciting developments that we are currently seeing in house building, which is indeed off-site manufacturing. That technique holds enormous potential, not least because it is deployed to a significant extent in other parts of the world. We have a £450 million fund to support its development, and the first payment was made to Welwyn Hatfield just last week.

Does the Minister not realise that this Government are not building enough new homes? Even the ones they are building are not in the right places for the right people. Is he not aware of the scandal—a situation my constituents cannot understand—that so much of the money that went to Help to Buy has ended up in the pockets of chief executives of building companies?

The hon. Gentleman is right, in that Governments of all stripes have failed to build enough homes over the last few decades. Indeed, our efforts to correct that were hampered by the destruction of 50% of the small house building industry in the crash of 2008, when his party was in government. We have tried very hard to correct that, and last year we managed to reach a total of 222,000 homes, but we must push forward to 300,000. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in encouraging civic leaders throughout the country to embrace that ambition, and to build the homes that the next generation needs.

The hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and, for that matter, for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) could all very legitimately shoehorn their inquiries into this question if they were so minded. That is merely a gentle hint; it is not obligatory.

20. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main concerns for young people is how to get on to the first rung of the housing ladder, and that using the new affordable Rent to Buy model is one option that should be encouraged? (909541)

I sincerely agree with my hon. Friend that the Government’s objective should be to create a big, wide menu of tenure options from which young people can choose at different stages in their lives, and depending on their circumstances. We want to ensure that everyone can acquire good-quality homes for themselves and their families, but critically that everyone in the country, at some point in their lives, should have a shot at ownership.

21. Last month thousands of children marched for a cleaner planet. What support are the Government providing to enable local authorities to bring about a genuine green revolution in new council housing schemes? (909542)

As I hope the House knows, this Government are extremely ambitious about our environmental targets and want to push further and faster in order to achieve them. The hon. Lady is right that there is enormous potential, particularly in the affordable homes programme and the new generation of council homes that we hope will be built to create higher environmental standards. I saw this for myself on a visit to a factory in Aldridge in the west midlands, where Accord Housing is producing modular homes for social and affordable rent. They said to me that so good are the environmental standards in those homes that they have lower arrears in buildings built that way because they are easier to heat and light.

Would not the best way to reduce the time taken to build new homes be to support my Housing Reform Bill? Since I have not yet persuaded the Minister for Housing of that, if I bring it back in the next Session with a few tweaks, will he undertake to take another look at it?

Mr Speaker, it will not surprise you to know that I am in constant conversation with my hon. Friend about his various ideas for the housing market from self-build to the reforms he is outlining, and I hope to continue those conversations. He is a veritable cornucopia of thinking and policy ideas in this sphere, and they are to be welcomed.

We need to build new homes but they must be the right homes. In 2017, the then Secretary of State the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) said:

“It’s unacceptable for home buyers to be exploited through unnecessary leaseholds”,

and added that “enough is enough”. He said that real action was needed and announced that the Government were banning the sale of leasehold homes. Last summer the current Secretary of State promised no new Government funding schemes for leasehold homes, yet the Government’s own figures show that Ministers are pouring hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into a state-funded racket by subsidising large house builders for the sale of leasehold homes through Help to Buy—some 17,000 homes over five years, half of which have been sold since the Government promised to ban that. Can the Secretary of State tell us: have the Government forgotten what they said, has he changed his mind, or can he let us know when he will deliver on his promises?

I enjoyed the hon. Lady’s question, but it would nevertheless have benefited from the generous application of the blue pencil.

I urge the hon. Lady to take care with her opinion of Help to Buy as a scheme: it is one of the few Government policies for which people actually stop me in the streets to thank me. [Interruption.] Even though it had nothing to do with me, I am quite happy to take the credit for the policy—for the origination of it in any case. Several people have stopped me and thanked me for it, because it gives young people access to homes that otherwise they would not obtain.

The hon. Lady is right, though, that problems have been experienced in the market with leasehold, and we are determined to bring about change. The new Help to Buy scheme will be used to bring about some of that change, and the Secretary of State tells me he has not resiled one ounce from his promises.

Future High Streets Fund

I am delighted to announce that this year will see the return of our Great British High Street awards, in proud partnership with Visa. That is part of this Government’s determination to keep high streets at the heart of our communities, not least supported by our future high streets fund.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Paignton town centre is in need of reshaping and regeneration to create an attractive destination for the future, hence it will be the focus of a bid for support from the future high streets fund. Can the Minister confirm that Paignton is precisely the type of town centre he has in mind that will benefit from this fund?

My hon. Friend is a redoubtable campaigner for his high street and I have previously met him and local authority leaders to talk about their ambition for their area. It is a competitive fund, but Paignton is indeed well placed to apply for this transformative cash, led I am sure, as always, by my hon. Friend.

One of the problems the Minister might encounter in improving the high streets could be described as a roadblock, because it is a roadblock: the problem is that our roads are just so poor. I was disappointed that Hull missed out on the transforming cities fund to improve a road that is notorious for being an absolute roadblock: Calvert Lane. Will the Minister therefore look favourably on Hull when it bids for this money again—or alternatively just give us the cash now?

I suspect that we are going to hear many special pleadings on behalf of hon. Members’ constituencies across the House. This is an ambitious fund that is designed to transform towns, just like the towns fund that we have announced today. I am sure that the hon. Lady and the area that she represents will bid for all the appropriate funds to drive forward her community.

One of the main findings of the recent Select Committee inquiry into town centres was that strong local civic leadership is crucial. Given that, may I ask the Minister to ensure that, when judging future bids to the fund, strong local leadership is a key criterion?

My hon. Friend, an expert in this area, rightly points to the excellent Select Committee report on high streets. He will be aware of the recommendation of Sir John Timpson, one of Britain’s best loved and best known retailers, that local leadership should be key to driving forward the future of the high street, and we will certainly be looking at that as part of these fund applications.

The Government’s plans for a puny 2% digital tax on mega online firms that avoid paying their fair share is an insult to shops on the high street in towns such as Grange, Windermere and Kendal. Will he support higher taxes on tax dodgers, which would raise enough money to slash business rates for our town centres and help to save our high streets?

The Government have been clear that online taxation in retail needs to be done as part of an international agreement, but we have also been clear that, if we cannot get such an agreement, we will come forward with our own 2% tax on online retail to ensure that we can continue, as we did in the last Budget, to give relief to those retailing on our high streets.[Official Report, 4 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 8MC.] This year, we have already slashed a third off the business rates of shops with a rateable value of under £51,000.

Homelessness: London

I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting question. Preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping are key priorities for this Government. We have implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and allocated more than £1.2 billion in funding through to 2020. Through the rapid rehousing pathway early adopters, we will enable more than 80 navigators to work with up to 1,600 rough sleepers.

Scots account for 12% of the homeless population in London. Borderline is the only charity that provides support to Scots in London, yet, astonishingly, the Scottish Government stopped its funding last year. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Borderline on the work that it has done and continues to do? What more can this Government do to support homeless Scots in London?

I thank my hon. Friend for his tenacious work in looking after Scots wherever they might be, north or south. The withdrawal of that funding is, sadly, a matter for the Scottish Government, but we have allocated more than £220 million of funding to London, largely through the flexible homelessness support grant and the Move On fund. Our expert advisers are supporting local authorities to tailor their services according to local need, particularly for our Scottish friends.

The number of homeless households seeking help in Hounslow—including some from Scotland—has doubled in the past 10 months. Hounslow has an admirable record, including a five-year programme of delivering 3,000 new social rent homes, yet it is losing council stock faster through the right to buy. Will the Government recognise that they have to take responsibility for delivering adequate numbers of social rent housing in order to deal with the homelessness crisis?

The hon. Lady is quite right to say that ensuring that we have enough affordable homes in London and elsewhere is a high priority for this Government, which is why we changed the rules on housing revenue account funding, and I look forward to the authority building even more houses than it has already.

Adult Social Services

This Government have recognised the pressures facing adult social services and have provided councils with access to an additional £10 billion of dedicated funding for adult social care for the three years up to 2019-20.

I thank the Minister for his response. However, 96% of all local authorities told the Local Government Association that there is a major national funding problem in adult social care. Demographics are changing and demand is growing. What are the Government doing to provide long-term sustainable support to local authorities such as Kirklees Council, so that they can deliver vital services to our most vulnerable citizens?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. In the short term, £1 billion of extra funding for social care services was announced in the Budget. In the longer term, the Department of Health and Social Care will soon outline its Green Paper and a longer term sustainable settlement. However, the answer is not just about the amount of money that we spend. Her council is a fantastic example of providing good outcomes for social care by using taxpayer resources prudently. Just last week, it was named a top 10 council for social care.

The Princess of Wales Centre dementia day-care facility, which is based in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) but serves the whole of Sunderland, recently announced that it will close in June, partly due to the cut in local government funding. What will the Minister do to help to support my constituents and those of my neighbour before the extra funding becomes available? Will he meet me and my colleagues to discuss the matter?

I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues or, indeed, her local council. Obviously, as she just heard me say, the Budget announced an extra £1 billion for social care, which her local authority will be able to use on its own priorities, perhaps including the example that she raised.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Honours were even on Saturday.

I congratulate the Minister on what he has done on adult social care, but one problem is that many people are asset rich but cash poor, and early intervention is required to prevent those people from degrading. What can he do to encourage local authorities to intervene early so that people live a healthier, longer life?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right about the importance of early intervention, whether it is with young families and children or people who are older and frail. The Government recently announced an increase in the disabilities facilities grant, which does exactly what he says and helps people proactively to adapt their homes so that they can stay independent for longer. That is an example of the prevention work that he mentions, and he is right that we should focus on that in future.

Will the Minister join me in commending the excellent work of Conservative-controlled North West Leicestershire District Council? By building the new homes that our country needs and attracting business, investment and jobs, it has managed to freeze council tax since 2010 and it has pledged to freeze council tax for a further four years, if it is successfully re-elected on 2 May.

I praise North West Leicestershire District Council, which I know well. My hon. Friend is a well-established champion of the council and he is right to highlight its focus on creating a pro-growth culture in its area, using the tools at its disposal to drive economic growth, keep taxes low for its taxpayers and provide high-quality local services.

Has the Minister read the letter to the Prime Minister—it was sent last week but published over the weekend—from Health for Care, which is a new coalition of organisations that speak passionately about their view that social care is on the “brink of collapse”? Will he meet me to discuss the coalition’s concerns, the report published by the Health and Social Care Committee, which I chair, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, our findings and the work that we did with the Citizens’ Assembly?

I praise the work done by both Select Committees in producing some options for the social care Green Paper, and I know that they are being actively considered, as they should be. To the hon. Lady’s broader point, her characterisation is perhaps a little unfair, because good things are happening in social care. The recent publication of the delayed transfer of care statistics showed that they have halved since the peak of a couple of years ago, which shows that good progress is being made.

Public Services: Newcastle

The most recent local government finance settlement confirmed that core spending power in Newcastle is set to increase by £3.4 million in 2019-20. The North of Tyne devolution deal, for which there will be an election this May, will see £600 million invested in the area and, as part of the 2017 Budget, we announced our support for the £0.5 billion investment programme for the Tyne and Wear metro system.

Since 2010, successive Conservative Governments have cut funding for children’s social care in Newcastle by 40% and, at the same time, the number of looked-after children has risen by 40%, which is obviously untenable. Instead of talking about strengthening local authority funding when he has halved the amount available to Newcastle City Council, will the Minister instead say whether he agrees with the national charity Action for Children, which has called these cuts “devastating and dangerous”? Will he give us the money to look after our children?

We have just announced an additional £400 million to tackle exactly that. The hon. Lady and I have met in her city on occasion and talked about the northern powerhouse. I am sure she has heard me say that Charles Parsons, that great Newcastle inventor, is my inspiration for the northern powerhouse. A great danger for continuing growth in the north-east of England is the unfortunate selection of the Momentum, hard-left candidate for the Newcastle and North of Tyne election. I am inspired by the engineers of the north-east; he is inspired by Ken Livingstone and Derek Hatton. My hon. Friend the Housing Minister and I are from Liverpool, and we know where that leads.

Planning Reform: High Streets

We are determined to support our high streets and we have consulted on a package of proposals. A decision will be made shortly about how best to proceed.

The announcement that Bedford will lose its Marks & Spencer store after 100 years is a massive blow for our town centre. Will the Minister accept the recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report and commit to helping local authorities such as mine that need urgent funding to redevelop our town centres?

I said in response to an earlier question that I think the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s report is excellent, and we are considering it at the moment. I have sympathy with the local authority in Bedford and the challenge it faces with the closure of M&S, which is why I recommend that the hon. Gentleman, together with his local authority, makes an expression of interest in the Government’s future high streets fund by 22 March. The fund is designed to help areas to ensure that high streets remain at the heart of their community, which is exactly where they should be.

People who live in Spennymoor, Shildon and Bishop Auckland in my constituency feel that the decline in their high streets symbolises the fact that they are not listened to in general. So cannot the Minister understand that the proposal to bypass the planning rules on permitted development is exactly the wrong way to go? What we want is more involvement and more control for local neighbourhood communities.

On a recent visit to Bishop Auckland, I had the privilege of visiting the hon. Lady’s high street. I am sure she would agree that the inspirational work taking place at the Bishop Auckland project, where a charity, in partnership with the local authority, is coming forward with an ambitious plan to regenerate the high street, is exactly what the Government should be looking to support as part of their future high streets fund. Although I am sure we are both passionate about Bishop Auckland, I disagree with her, because one way we can ensure that high streets thrive is to ensure that the free market can determine planning and that people are free to open shops in the sectors they see fit at the appropriate time.

In high-value areas such as St Albans, previous planning reforms have meant that office space has been turned over to residential. Couple that with high business rates and there is a serious danger of losing much of our high streets in many areas similar to mine. What more can be done to help on business rates? The £51,000 limit is welcome, but it has not helped many of my businesses in St Albans.

The reduction in business rates for shops with a rateable value under £51,000 is, of course, part of a wider package. My hon. Friend, as a campaigner for her high streets, will appreciate that the change from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index, and the other changes to make revaluations more frequent—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) must not beetle out of the Chamber in the middle of the exchanges on his question. I know he has asked his question, but there are further questions on the matter. I feel certain that he is interested in not only what he has had to ask, but the views expressed by other Members.

You never know, Mr Speaker, but the hon. Gentleman might be interested in what I have to say, although I doubt it. [Interruption.]

The Whip says that the Minister is pushing his luck, but he must not get down on himself. People should be interested in hearing what the Minister has to say. The hon. Member for Bedford has, belatedly, stayed after all and we are pleased about that.

This is not just about the help the Government have set out on business rates; it is also about ensuring that high streets can remain fit for the future. It is all very well for the Opposition Front-Bench team to scoff against the free market, as they did during my response earlier, but let us not forget that the people who ply their trade and work as retailers on the high street are the embodiment of all that is good about British entrepreneurship.

Mendip District Council has made some excellent inclusions in our local plan for rejuvenating high streets in the district. Will the Minister commend the council’s work and look favourably on any bids it brings forward to help to fund the transformation of our high streets?

I absolutely commend Mendip District Council and my hon. Friend for their work on taking forward a bid for their high street. He and his area will be aware, as will all other areas in the country, that they have until 22 March to put in an expression of interest—100% of the boroughs that receive the cash will have applied for it, so I suggest they get on with it.


Tackling home- lessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for this Government. We are spending more than £1.2 billion on homelessness through to 2020, with our rough sleeping initiative delivering more than 1,750 additional beds and 500 support staff. We recently published our delivery plan for the rough sleeping strategy, which will help us see rough sleeping become a thing of the past.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I say to him unequivocally that there are still not enough resources going into rural shire counties such as Shropshire to deal with this issue and many others, but does he agree that the rapid rehousing pathway announcement will be crucial in solving rough sleeping?

I know that my hon. Friend has been a champion for Shropshire and I commend him for his work on homelessness and on other issues. He rightly highlights the rapid rehousing pathway. That is a key part of our rough sleeping strategy to see that support and care are provided quickly and to see people getting off the street into homes, with all the assistance they require.

Home- lessness in Birmingham has increased by nearly 1,000% and almost 100 people have died homeless in the past five years. This is a moral emergency. My interviews with homeless people show that collapsing healthcare services are part of the problem, yet the homeless people in our city have a primary care system rated as “inadequate”. What steps can the Secretary of State take to fix this—not when the service is recommissioned in two years’ time, but now, before more people die?

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s passion, and indeed we have spoken about the situation in Birmingham. I hope he will acknowledge the additional funding that will be going to Birmingham in the next financial year through the rough sleeping initiative and the funding that NHS England has committed to health services for rough sleepers. Clearly, I will want to know and be certain that funding is applied to Birmingham and those areas where we have seen an increase in rough sleeping, for the very purpose that he underlines; we can save lives.

Brownfield Sites

Our national planning policies are clear about the importance of making full and efficient use of brownfield land, supported by the requirement for every authority to publish and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing. The £4.5 billion home building fund also provides support for new housing, much of it targeted on brownfield land.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and for visiting the old power station site in Poole, one of the largest regeneration sites in the south-west. What more can he do to help to unlock brownfield sites such as that, which will provide the homes that we need and protect our green belt?

It was a great pleasure to spend some time with my hon. Friend and his esteemed neighbour, our hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), at the power station site in Poole. I would recommend it as a place to visit, not least to see the remarkable harbour bridge, which is a feat of British engineering worth visiting in itself. There is much that we can do in terms of applying funding, but the application of Homes England is critical to getting brownfield sites over the line. Homes England is becoming much more entrepreneurial and assertive in its use of the funds and the capacity we have given it to make these sites work. As we speak, it is releasing thousands of homes throughout the country.

The City of York Council administration has an abysmal house building record, and we have seen a net loss of social housing. We also have the largest brownfield site in the country, ready to be developed. In order to expedite matters, will the Minister say when he plans to announce the Government’s response to the right-to-buy receipts review, so that we can get house building moving?

I have not been a Minister for long, but I have learned to use a word well honed in government, which is “shortly”. We will respond shortly but, more than that, it would give me enormous pleasure to visit York at some point over the next few months and view what I know is a large site with great potential that Homes England has already talked about in excited terms. Having had a fantastic weekend with my family in York just last year, it would be a great pleasure to repeat the experience.

Those outside the Chamber observing our proceedings could usefully know that in government the word “shortly” sometimes contains elasticity.

24. Brownfield sites can bring forward supply, which is good for everybody, but what can the Minister do in particular for students to make the supply of their accommodation more easily available and fairer for renters? (909546)

That is a remarkably crafty attempt by my hon. Friend to shoehorn in a question about student housing. He is absolutely right that brownfield land offers enormous potential for all sorts of housing throughout the country. In fact, you might be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that in 2016-17 some 56% of all new homes were delivered on brownfield sites, and that will have included student accommodation. In truth, the secret to student accommodation is the same as that for all sorts of other accommodation: supply. The more there is, the cheaper it will be and the more providers will compete on quality.

EU funds have been used to decontaminate brownfield land, making it suitable for development. A prime example of that is at Shawfield in the Clyde Gateway area. The Clyde Gateway has received £6 million of EU funds for decontamination work in the Shawfield area in South Lanarkshire, which borders on Glasgow. Recently, hexavalent chromium contamination from the former J&J White chemical works has seeped into the Polmadie burn, and it will cost tens of millions of pounds to clear up. It would be good to hear from the Minister exactly whether the shared prosperity fund will include any mechanism to cover brownfield land. Otherwise, it will go unremediated in future.

There will be no intention to leave any sod of brownfield land unturned throughout the country in our quest for space to build the homes that the next generation needs. The hon. Lady makes a serious point and she is right that in the spending review and the consideration of arrangements as we leave the EU, we need to look to reproduce the capacity to deal with all that contaminated land, which is perhaps a relic of our industrial past but now holds enormous potential for the future.

Local Authority Finances

The hon. Lady will be aware that the recent settlement confirmed a real-terms increase in the resources available to local authorities. The Government responded to pressures faced by councils in the autumn Budget and supported financial sustainability with more than £1 billion of additional funding across this year and next.

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), we are very short of time so I hint that the hon. Members for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) could usefully seek to take part in the exchanges on this question, if they were so inclined. It would work perfectly well.

Since 2010, Sunderland City Council has been forced to make cuts of more than £290 million, yet the announcement today of the so-called stronger towns fund will see only £105 million for the whole of the north-east region put together. Given that our communities will be hit hardest by this Government’s Brexit plan, does the Minister seriously expect us to be grateful for this announcement, and does he expect us to support another decade of Brexit-driven austerity and decline?

I gently point out to the hon. Lady that the towns fund that she talks about has the highest per capita allocation exactly to her area, and it is something that she should be welcoming for her constituents. Beyond that, the only way sustainably to provide and fund the services that we care about is to drive economic growth, efficiency and innovation. I am glad that her council participated in our digital innovation programme, and that 100 other local authorities are benefiting from our business rates pilots to keep more of their economic growth in their local community.

11. From the £1.6 billion post-Brexit stronger towns fund, how much can Yorkshire and Humber expect to receive after we leave the EU, and will this money be used to get fair funding in place? (909532)

I know that the Secretary of State will be making a more detailed statement on the towns fund later when I am sure that he can address my hon. Friend’s specific question. This is a separate process from the fair funding review, which is, I know, something that all colleagues are interested to hear. That process is regarding ongoing spending and that will be done through the spending review later this year.

Will the Minister say how the financial sustainability of local government is helped by what amounts to negative rates support grants, where councils are paying in more to central Government than they get back?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not here for the recent local government settlement. It is exactly because of the threat to sustainability that this Government eliminated negative RSG, which is something that the sector had asked for and we were pleased to meet that concern at the recent settlement.

14. The historic funding settlement does not reflect the shift in population by many families and older people from city to county areas, increasing the demand in those areas for high-value services. Will my hon. Friend say what more we can do to make the finances of local government in county areas more sustainable? (909535)

We take funding for county areas extremely seriously, and it is of course important that the new funding formula accurately reflects needs brought about by changing demographics on the ground. I can assure my hon. Friend that I will continue to work with him, the County Councils Network and others to ensure that our new formula is fit for the future.

Topical Questions

Today marks 12 months on from the Novichok attack in Salisbury. Our thoughts remain with all those affected by this appalling crime, and we remain determined to see those responsible brought to justice. I pay tribute to the people of Salisbury for the strength and resilience they have shown and for the way that the community has come together at a time of incredible challenge. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking not only those involved in the clean-up operations, but everyone who has worked so hard to support Salisbury’s recovery from this incident.

At a time when we need to show our resolve in standing up against division and hatred, I want to thank hon. and right hon. Members from across the house for their incredibly moving contributions during last week’s antisemitism debate and to everyone who supported yesterday’s “visit my mosque day”. Strong communities will be a key to success post-Brexit, and I will be making a statement to the House on the new stronger towns fund later this afternoon.

I remind colleagues that topical questions are very brief. A sentence or so is quite sufficient. We do not need a long preamble. Chris Philp, get in there, man.

Does the Secretary of State agree that promoting and encouraging home ownership is important? Recent figures on first-time buyers are, of course, encouraging, but what more can the Government do to encourage first-time buyers through starter homes and discount market homes and the prioritisation of first-time buyers over foreign speculators?

My hon. Friend has set out a number of important ideas. I certainly welcome the recent statistic showing the number of first-time buyers at a 12-year annual high. There are further measures through the national planning policy framework, which include an expectation that local authorities secure 10% of new units for affordable home ownership including discount market sales and starter homes.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

One year on from the Salisbury poisoning, we stand with the people and the city, and we applaud their resilience. The other message from Labour is also clear: such foreign aggression on our soil will never be tolerated.

Four weeks to Brexit, yet the Secretary of State is part of a Government who still threaten the country with a final collapse in negotiations and a crash-out exit. He may say that a no-deal Brexit is not his preference, but he supports this remaining an option and he is part of a Cabinet preparing for it. How many fewer homes will be built each year in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

The right hon. Gentleman should be more positive as to the future for our country. Indeed, we look to secure a deal that can command support from this House to ensure that our country—our United Kingdom—can look proudly to the future. Rather than talking things down, we should be talking up what we can do as a country—and, yes, securing a deal that takes us out positively and that ensures that we have that bright, positive future.

Well, the Secretary of State has either not done the analysis or he refuses to share it. The Bank of England says that house prices could plunge by 30% on a no-deal Brexit—almost double the fall after the global banking crisis. A Labour Government kept Britain in business after that global financial crash with a big stimulus programme and a new low-cost house building programme as its centrepiece. If he still cannot say no to no deal, will he commit to a new stimulus of at least £4 billion for new low-cost homes next year so that, come what may, those who need new homes will not pay the price of this Government’s mess of Brexit?

That is interesting. The right hon. Gentleman might reflect on the mess that his Government caused in terms of crashing the economy. We have a £9 billion affordable homes programme, and £2 billion beyond that in terms of long-term investment in affordable homes, as well as the new flexibilities and freedoms that councils will have to borrow to build. This is about that focus on building the homes our country needs and the support that this Government are giving to achieve that.

T3. Does the Minister agree that town councils can help to strengthen the voice of constituencies like mine and that cynical attempts to divide this would weaken Southport’s voice, not strengthen it? (909549)

I commend my hon. Friend for championing his constituents. I do agree that town councils can empower local communities. Southport electors can petition Sefton Council to be given their own town council through a community governance review, and I know he will lead them in doing exactly that.

A recent report from Shelter states that permitted development is a totally

“unsuitable method of solving the housing crisis”,

and a Guardian piece at the weekend gave an example of permitted development rights flat conversions that are smaller than tiny hotel rooms and have no natural light and no communal space. The Government are presiding over a new generation of slum development. When are they going to deliver the properly planned, good quality, safe and healthy homes that our country and communities desperately need?

Permitted development rights have produced 46,000 homes over the past three years. Those homes have to come from somewhere. They are not, as the hon. Lady said, slums. All permitted developments have to comply with building regulations. As she knows, we are currently reviewing building regulations to see what can be required. As part of the work on the social housing Green Paper, we may well also look at the decent home standards that could, in time, apply to the private rented sector.

T5. When the last bank in town moves out, as is happening in Millom in my constituency, what is being done to ensure that remote and rural communities do not suffer economic and social hardship? (909551)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She is passionate about the high streets in Millom and more widely across her constituency. The loss of the last bank is of concern. That is why we are supporting the Post Office banking framework, which will ensure that 99% of personal banking customers will be able to keep their face-to-face banking at their local post office.

T2. Last week, the children’s sector told us that funding for children’s services has fallen by 29% in less than a decade, and councils, including my own in Stockton, have been forced to cut spending on non-statutory early interventions by half. Will the Secretary of State commit to press the Chancellor to come up with the desperately needed cash for these vital services? (909548)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of prevention and early intervention, which is why the Government have funded the troubled families programme by almost £1 billion over this Parliament. It is doing fantastic work, working with some of the most vulnerable children in our society, enabling them to stay out of care and out of harm’s way.

T6. Last week I launched my “Towns of the future” campaign to help preserve and protect our high streets locally. What steps is the Department taking to minimise the number of empty properties on our high streets and persuade landlords to find new tenants? (909552)

The people of Morley and Outwood are extremely fortunate to have in my hon. Friend a Member of Parliament who can bring detail to retail, given her lifelong experience in the sector. I absolutely support her “Towns of the future” campaign. I am sure that she is aware of the Government’s “Open Doors” pilot, which is working with landlords and local authorities to help fill empty shops.

T4. The week before last, the teenager Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck lost his life to multiple stab wounds. The local authority has dug deep to help with community safety, but will the Government consider a special fund for children at risk of school exclusion? (909550)

I recognise the important point that the hon. Lady makes. Indeed, the specific fund I referenced earlier, through the troubled families initiative, is focused precisely on those steps, to ensure that we can support troubled young people who might be drawn into gang crime, but I am happy to discuss with her further the specific issue she highlights in her constituency.

T7. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the visit of the Philippine ambassador to Southend this morning to explore investment opportunities and joint partnerships after we leave the European Union, during which he expressed his astonishment that Southend is not already a city? (909553)

I am not unsympathetic to my hon. Friend’s long-standing campaign to turn Southend into a city, given that it is my birthplace. I therefore welcome any initiatives that see investment in Southend, and I commend the work that he is doing.

Indeed, Southend will probably judge that it should have its very own ambassador from the Philippines—not merely an ambassador visiting Southend, but an ambassador to Southend.

T8. Cheshire and Warrington were promised a decision on their devolution growth deal by November 2017. Why the delay? When are we going to get a decision? (909554)

I met the leader of the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership only last week, and we discussed progress on its growth deal. We remain committed to working with it to see when progress can be made, but it is absolutely vital that the leaders of the three unitary authorities and all the Members of Parliament affected renew their commitment to the deal if we are to make progress.

T10. I have visited the 60 houseboat owners at Chelsea Reach many times, and all of them are under threat as they do not have the same legal protections as, for example, static caravan tenants. What action could the Government take to improve the legal protection for owners of permanently moored houseboats? (909556)

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question; he has been fighting for this cause through high seas and low seas, and I congratulate him on all his work. Houseboat owners are protected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. The consumer rights Green Paper published by the Government last year set out principles to further improve the rights of all consumers, including houseboat owners, and the Government’s response will be published this year.

T9.   Labour leaders of Burnley and Hyndburn Borough Councils have joined Conservative leaders of Pendle Borough Council and Lancashire County Council to raise their serious concerns about the Government’s proposal to remove deprivation as a factor when determining local authority funding. Will the Minister listen to that cross-party call for fair funding and today announce that he will drop the proposal? (909555)

As one of the Members of Parliament from east Lancashire covered by the proposal, I can say that we certainly welcome the discussions that are taking place more widely across east Lancashire. The Department has only just received the letter—despite the press release being sent out last week—and is giving it some consideration, but surely we could make more progress if every council in east Lancashire supported it.

Amber Valley Borough Council is holding a planning meeting tonight on building 2,000 houses on the green belt across a number of sites. Can the Minister confirm that that should be a last resort and that the council has to show exceptional circumstances for each site before it does that?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The green belt should only be used in exceptional circumstances, after local authorities have demonstrated that they have exhausted all other options, including the use of brownfield, co-operating with their neighbours and looking at further density in their developments. We strengthened protections for the green belt in the national planning policy framework published in July 2018, and that should be a last resort.

The permanent secretary recently confirmed at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that the Government have undertaken no evaluation of the impact of permitted development rights since they were expanded in 2013. While the Minister states that more than 46,000 homes have been delivered under the policy, he can have no accurate idea of the quality of those homes. Amid increasing reports of appalling quality, unsafe homes being delivered under permitted development rights, will he pause this policy so that a proper evaluation can be undertaken?

There is obviously a concerted attack taking place against permitted development rights, which I find distressing, given the sheer number of homes that they have produced for people who are desperate for those homes. As I have said, all homes, whether under permitted development rights or normal planning permission, have to comply with building regulations, and it is down to local authorities to ensure that that is the case.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should deliver more affordable homes to purchase in the form of discount market sale, which remain affordable in perpetuity?

My hon. Friend is indefatigable and has raised that issue at every opportunity when I have been at the Dispatch Box. He is right that, as part of our affordable homes programme, we would like to see more discount market sales, particularly to younger people across the country. I urge local authorities, which we hope are bringing forward authoritative and forward-looking plans, to embrace that type of tenure.

The number of homeless families in Coventry has more than tripled over the last three years, while the number of homeless children has increased eightfold in the last five years, with more than 600 children spending Christmas in temporary accommodation. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless families and children has increased so significantly under this Government?

The factors that lie behind this are complex, but I can assure the hon. Lady of our absolute commitment to deal with the challenges of rough sleeping and homelessness through the £1.2 billion that we have committed, as well as the initiatives announced at the end of last week on opening up the private rental sector to deal with temporary accommodation pressures. I can assure her of our resolution to increase supply, prevent homelessness and deal with some of the challenges we see today.

Point of Order

Ordinarily points of order come after urgent questions and statements, but I have a sense that the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order relates to today’s business, and therefore I will take it and any related matters now.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. You may recall that on 1 May 2018, in new clause 6 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, this House resolved that the overseas territories must establish registers of beneficial ownership by the end of 2020. It has recently come to our notice from statements made by a Foreign Office Minister in the other place that it is the Government’s intention arbitrarily to extend that date by no less than three years to the end of 2023, in a flagrant breach of what was agreed by this House.

That is made yet worse by the fact that, at the urging of the Foreign Office, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), with whom I tabled new clause 6, only agreed to extend the date to the end of 2020 in view of the terrible damage done to many of the overseas territories in recent hurricanes and storms. The Hansard report of our proceedings makes that absolutely clear. Mr Speaker, how can this House seek your protection from the egregious sleight of hand being proposed by the Foreign Office?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I concur entirely with everything that has been said by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). I see this as a blatant, deliberate and arrogant snub of this Parliament, and I ask you, with your excellent experience, to support us in taking this forward.

I simply add that today’s business has been delayed: it has been deliberately taken off the Order Paper by the Government. Today’s business included an amendment, in my name and that of the right hon. Gentleman, which would have not just extended public registers to Crown dependencies, but reiterated the point in relation to overseas territories. We were so angered by the action of the Foreign Office that we wanted to reiterate the decision of Parliament, which was passed unanimously by Parliament last summer, in the amendment we were proposing today, but that opportunity to reiterate our determination has been removed from us as well. I again urge you, Mr Speaker, to advise us what we can do and what you can do to ensure that the Government do what Parliament tells them to do in legislation.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. First, this matter, even were it dealt with in 2020, would have been long overdue. It was an issue that was critical for the Public Accounts Committee when I was the Chairman of it many years ago, so it is a long overdue issue. Secondly, it is not a question of the will of the House, but of the laws passed by this House. The intention of the House was that the instruction to bring an Order in Council in 2020 ought to be carried out in 2020, and that is clear from the Hansard of the time.

As the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) says, the business that has been pulled today was about protecting the reputation of the City of London. That reputation will not be protected if it is felt by our competitors around the world that our family, as it were, are allowed to have standards that are lower than those of the City of London. Mr Speaker, will you will seek advice from Speaker’s Counsel about how we can ensure that laws passed by this House are carried out by this Government?

Further to those points of order, Mr Speaker. Not only is tackling financial crime and money laundering essential for the reputation of this country, but if the Government feel that they can get away with changing a date contained in an amendment to legislation passed by this House in relation to this Bill, what is to stop them doing it on lots of other bits of legislation?

Further to the Government’s decision today to pull the Bill at the last minute—I think that is a discourtesy to the House, since it was on the Order Paper—have you, Mr Speaker, been given any indication by Government Ministers about when and whether they intend to return the Bill to the House not only so that we can fix what they have tried to do, but to add further protection in this matter covering the Crown dependencies as well as the overseas territories?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. To follow on from where the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) left off, this Bill—the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, left the Public Bill Committee on Tuesday and, at business questions on Thursday, it was notified for today, which meant that amendments had to be laid by Wednesday—the day before. Then we arrive this morning to find that the Bill has been pulled from the House with absolutely no notice or explanation. Will you tell the House, Mr Speaker, whether you have been given any indication about how long the Government will be running scared for?

First, may I say to the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), before I turn to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), that it is a most unusual state of affairs, although extremely welcome in parliamentary terms, that two former Secretaries of State for International Development from either side of the political divide and two former Chairs of the Public Accounts Committee from either side of the political divide should be present in the Chamber at the same time and, apparently, acting in concert to highlight their grave consternation about this important matter? Their efforts, which may or may not have been co-ordinated, have been underlined and buttressed by the hon. Lady.

Those points of order warrant a response, and this is mine. First, to a degree—although, I accept, only to a limited degree—the right hon. and hon. Members have found their own salvation in the sense that they have taken the opportunity to air their disquiet, not to say extreme dissatisfaction, at what is by no means an unprecedented but a most unusual turn of events, and those points of order are on the record. No business has been pulled as yet, although I gather that it has been heavily trailed that this afternoon’s main business—the first and primary piece of business—is intended, I say for the benefit of observers, not to be moved by the Government; that is to say, it cannot proceed today. Beyond that, I have no power to act on the matter, but it is a most unusual state of affairs.

Members ask whether I received any advance notice of this from Government. The answer is no, and there has been no indication of when Ministers intend to bring forth that business, but I want to say this. The business was announced only on Thursday, so it was clearly the Government’s intention on Thursday last that the business should be treated of by Parliament today. It is, if I may say so, a rum business, to put it no more strongly—all of a sudden, the business that was scheduled for today has been evacuated from Parliament; it has been air-lifted from the premises; it has suffered a mysterious and hitherto unexplained disappearance.

It is a very odd state of affairs altogether. One can speculate as to why that may be so, but it is a most unusual state of affairs, and it is at the very least very discourteous to the House of Commons. It probably reflects a degree of anxiety and, if I may politely say so, perhaps just a little inexperience. It is not the sort of thing that would happen when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was in a senior position with responsibility for Government business, but things change and people who are perhaps less well-versed in these matters than him have been left to handle things as best they can.

That is the first thing. The second thing that I say to right hon. and hon. Members is that the legislation may have been delayed, but presumably it will have to come back. Here is the substantive point. Members have asked what I as Speaker can do. The answer is that Members have been complaining about the perversion of the purpose of a new clause that was accepted in earlier legislation. That purpose, and any current new clause or amendment, can feature again in the business. Insofar as it is for the Chair to select a new clause or amendment, people would expect that the Speaker would give an indication of his thinking. I had certainly intended to select either a new clause or an amendment on this matter today. For the avoidance of doubt, because I know that there has been some private lobbying on this matter, the proposal emanating from the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, was entirely orderly. Whatever others thought of it outside this place, or even beyond this country, it would have been perfectly proper for it to have been debated and voted on in this House. If Members wanted to know whether I would have selected that proposition for debate and a vote, the answer is absolutely yes, because it was proper for Parliament to treat of it. It will have to come back, and doubtless it will be considered. I just hope that Parliament will be treated with rather greater courtesy in future on this matter than it has been until now. People really do need to raise their game. I hope that that is clear. [Interruption.] Very well.

Knife Crime

This weekend two teenagers, Jodie Chesney and Yousef Ghaleb Makki, were stabbed to death. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express my deepest condolences to their families and their loved ones; two young lives, tragically lost. They are the latest victims in a cycle of senseless violence that is robbing young people of their lives right across this country. There is no hiding from this issue. Serious violence is on the rise. Communities are being torn apart and families are losing their children. Last year, 726 people were murdered in the UK, 285 with a knife or bladed weapon, the highest level since records began.

After the horror of this weekend, I welcome the chance to come to the House and address this issue. We all wish that there was just one thing that we could do to stop the violence, but there are no shortcuts and there is no one single solution. Tackling serious violence requires co-ordinated action on multiple fronts. First, we need a strong law enforcement response. This includes the Offensive Weapons Bill, currently before Parliament, which will introduce new offences to help to tackle knife crime. We also need to give police the confidence to use existing laws, such as stop and search.

Secondly, we must intervene early to stop young people becoming involved in crime. We have amended the Bill to introduce knife crime prevention orders, which will help to prevent young people from carrying knives. Alongside our £200 million youth endowment fund, the £22 million early intervention youth fund has already funded 29 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners.

Thirdly, we must ensure that the police have the resources to combat serious violence. I am raising police funding to record levels next year—up to £970 million more, including council tax. On Wednesday, I will meet chief constables to listen to their experiences and requirements.

Fourthly, we must be clear on how changing patterns of drug misuse are fuelling the rise in violent crime. I launched the independent drugs misuse review, under Dame Carol Black, in response to that.

Fifthly, we need all parts of the public sector to prioritise tackling serious violence. That is why I will very shortly be launching a consultation on a new statutory public health duty to combat violent crime and to help protect young people.

We must all acknowledge that this is an issue that transcends party lines. Politics can be divisive, but if there was ever an issue to unite our efforts and inspire us to stand together, then surely this is it.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting today’s urgent question. I thank the Home Secretary for making time to respond to it.

Today, the House is united in grief and shock at the tragic toll of the past couple of weeks, adding to the hundreds of children murdered in our communities over the past year. In Birmingham, over the space of just 12 days, three teenage boys have lost their lives: Sidali Mohamed and Abdullah Mohammad, both 16 years old; and student Hazrat Umar, 18 years old. On Friday, Jodie Chesney was killed in a knife attack in an east London park as she played music with her friends. She was 17. Yousef Makki was stabbed to death in a village near Altrincham. He was 17. It adds to a 93% rise in the number of young people being stabbed since 2012.

These senseless murders are a national tragedy that must cause us to reflect on how the promise that these young boys and girls represent could so senselessly be extinguished. But it must also be a cause for action. One life lost in an act of violence is one too many; one mother who will never see her son or daughter again is one too many. This is a national crisis, and it requires national leadership from the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to provide whatever support is necessary to help the police investigate and fight this outbreak, and to provide communities and services with whatever resources are necessary to protect our increasingly vulnerable young people.

May I put the following questions to the Home Secretary? Back in 2000, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, took the decision to activate the emergency Cobra committee and set a target for bringing violent street crime, which was then at a peak, under control. We need to see similar leadership today from our Prime Minister. Will she step up and convene a crisis summit backed with emergency funding? Will the Home Secretary confirm that that will take place this week? If not, why not?

Underpinning the cross-Government effort the Home Secretary mentioned has to be a public health approach to tackle the root causes of violence. This was something we thought the Government favoured too, encompassing youth services, school exclusions, housing, social services, mental health and health as a whole. It was therefore shocking to hear the comments from the Health Secretary on LBC this morning, when he did not appear to know that this was the approach adopted by his Government and criticised the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, for using public health terminology. Will the Home Secretary confirm whether the public health approach to tackling knife crime has been discussed at Cabinet, what action has been agreed as a result of this cross-governmental approach, and how the Department of Health and Social Care is supporting it? He has further committed to legislation to underpin the public health approach; when exactly will that be brought forward?

Finally, we cannot pretend that the cuts to policing have not made our country less safe. Sadly, the Prime Minister and other members of her Cabinet continue to deny this crucial link. In the coming weeks, police will have the heavy responsibility of running investigations into young lives lost and bringing perpetrators to justice. The funding settlement that we voted on last month is completely inadequate to allow them to do that, especially for the forces hardest hit by violent crime. Will he urgently review the funding settlement to ensure that the forces that have seen the biggest increases in violent crime are given whatever they need to fight this outbreak?

This country is facing a crisis. It is time for leadership from our Prime Minister and our Home Secretary, for clear action and a united vision from all arms of Government, and for emergency funding for the police and prevention programmes to keep our children safe. Warm words are no longer enough.

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. She started, quite correctly, by talking about how the House is united in its grief with regard to all the deaths that we have seen, particularly of young people, not just in recent days but over the last number of years, when we have seen an increase in these tragic crimes that are dividing communities and causing so much pain for so many people.

The hon. Lady asked me three questions. First, this is a huge priority across Government. That is why, almost a year ago, the Government set out a serious violence strategy with over 60 actions taking place that involve not just Government but other public agencies and bodies. To help implement those actions, we also set up a serious violence taskforce, which is cross-party and includes people such as the Mayor of London, so that we can make sure that we are working well not just within central Government, but across public bodies.

That brings me to the hon. Lady’s second point: the public health approach, which I announced towards the end of last year. Again, that came through listening to experience both from other parts of the UK and other countries that have seen a similar rise in serious violence. We should learn from wherever we can. It is important to have such an approach, which requires all Departments and agencies of Government to treat serious violence in the way we would treat, for example, a disease—to prioritise it and make that a statutory duty. That is why I welcome the support for that approach from hon. Members across the House. As I said, because it is a statutory duty, it will require legislation. That begins with a consultation, which is to take place shortly.

Thirdly, the hon. Lady asked about funding and resources. As I mentioned, I have long recognised that in tackling serious violence, there is no one single course, but having the right amount of resources is vital. That is why we set out in the House earlier this year an increase of up to £970 million for policing—almost double the increase in the year before and the largest increase since 2010—which will lead to a significant rise in capabilities, including in the number of officers. Finally, alongside that, we have announced a record allocation to early intervention, especially helping young people through the £200 million youth endowment fund, which is the biggest such investment that any Government have ever made.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

The other day I went out on patrol with the police in my area. In two and a half hours in the borough of Waltham Forest, we attended two knife attacks, one threatened knife attack and a shooting, and that was not even prime time. None of those made it into the media, by the way, so what is being reported is only the tip of the iceberg.

I want my right hon. Friend to ensure that we do this. There is enough evidence now of what works and what does not work. The Glasgow concept—of this being a public health issue—is not just about public health; it is about the co-ordination between the police and all the local authorities. Will he direct someone to co-ordinate the actions of all 32 London boroughs, focus on the safer streets process, which allows action to take place, and agree to immediate expenditure for voluntary sector organisations that can get children out of the gangs?

I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work, particularly through the serious violence taskforce, which he regularly attends. He made an important point about being led by evidence, and he pointed to the public health approach and rightly mentioned Glasgow. He also rightly highlighted the importance in a capital city of greater co-ordination. It is to ensure just that that we are working closely with the Mayor of London, local authorities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The recent spate of murders by stabbing of children and young people across Greater London and England has shocked and horrified everyone. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I extend our deepest condolences to all those bereaved by these senseless acts of violence.

We are acutely aware of the problem of knife crime in Scotland, because until recent years it was a terrible scourge, but, as others have alluded to, as a result of a radical change of approach to the problem, the incidence of knife crime in Scotland has greatly reduced, and crimes of handling an offensive weapon decreased by 64% between 2007-08 and 2016-17. I think we all know now that this occurred because of a holistic approach that involved the creation of a violence reduction unit, initially in Glasgow and now for the whole of Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, that treats violent crime as a public health problem and a social problem.

Scotland has also employed a whole-systems approach to young people at risk of offending that, rather than criminalising, labelling and stigmatising young people, provides early and effective interventions that keep young people out of formalised justice settings, and this includes the No Knives, Better Lives youth engagement programme.

All of this has been a huge success, which is why the Mayor of London, senior representatives of the Metropolitan police and senior representatives of the UK Government, including the Solicitor General, have all been up to Scotland in the last year to explore what lessons can be learned. The public health approach to knife crime is also advocated by the World Health Organisation. What specifically have the Home Secretary’s Government colleagues learned on their visits to Scotland? Can he tell us the precise extent of his plans to follow the Scottish model? If he is planning to do it, when is he going to do it?

The hon. and learned Lady rightly points to Scotland and its own experience. It is important in tackling serious violence that we learn lessons from across the UK, and indeed the world—the public health approach she talked about has been tried in other countries and cities as well. I said we needed action across multiple fronts, but it is hugely important that we pursue that. It will require a consultation, because it is statutory, which is important to make sure that hon. Members and others have the opportunity to have an input, mould it and make sure it is as effective as it can be. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the consultation, but there is a strong sense of support. The cross-party serious violence taskforce, which I referred to earlier, had a presentation on this last year where we heard from experienced people about how it can help, and it is something that we plan to pursue. I look forward to working with friends and colleagues in Scotland to see how they can help.

Will the Home Secretary ask the Mayor of London to consider as a matter of urgency adopting the plan put forward by Shaun Bailey for funding an extra 2,000 police officers through reducing waste at City Hall and public affairs spending?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to ensure that everything is being done throughout the United Kingdom, including our capital city, to deploy as many resources as possible to law enforcement and efforts to prevent young people from turning to serious violence in the first place. The work being done by Shaun Bailey and others is important in that regard, and I hope that the recent increase in central funding will help as well.

Fatal stabbings are now at their highest level since the second world war, and the number of youth stabbings has doubled in five years. Teenagers are dying on our streets, and families are being devastated as a result. I agree with what the Home Secretary said about a public health approach, but that is why it was so concerning to hear the Health Secretary dismiss such an approach—the Home Secretary did not respond when his comments were raised earlier. That creates a feeling that there simply is not the right sense of urgency and grip across the Government on this crucial issue: this morning a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned of a lack of national leadership.

Does the Home Secretary believe that all the measures that he talked about earlier will lead to a fall in knife crime and in the number of serious stabbings in the next 12 months? If he does not, this is not a good enough plan.

I welcome the right hon. Lady’s comments. I do believe that the action that we are taking is the right action, but I am also very open-minded about considering what further action can be taken. I think it important to listen to police chiefs, police and crime commissioners and others, and to consider whether other measures can be introduced. The idea of knife crime prevention orders came directly from the police, the Mayor of London and others, and we acted very quickly to pursue that.

As for the public health approach that the right hon. Lady and others have mentioned, it is important for all public Departments to buy into it. I want it to be statutory because I want Departments including the Department for Health and Social Care, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education to make it a priority: I think that they all have an important role to play.

What action are the Government taking to ensure that enough resources are available and preferably targeted on this priority, and what further action can they take to spread best practice from places that have had more success?

My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue involving co-ordination and the need to make the most of the resources that are there. Last September I launched the national county lines co-ordination centre, which was intended to ensure that police forces and the National Crime Agency worked together. It is early days, but, having visited three police forces across the country over the last few weeks to see how the system was working, I know that it is bringing real results through co-ordination.

The public health approach in Scotland also involved a cross-party approach, with much of the work beginning under Labour and continuing under the Scottish National party. The whole House wants the Home Secretary to succeed, but we have been on alert since Tanesha Melbourne-Blake was killed in my constituency on bank holiday Monday almost a year ago.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for allowing me to be part of the taskforce in that cross-party spirit, but the questions today are really about the Government’s grip, because of what we heard from the Health Secretary this morning. What more can the Government do? I ask that question particularly because county lines is being driven by a demand for drugs, and we have cut our Border Force as a result of austerity.

First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work that he does, in the taskforce and elsewhere, in combating and helping to combat serious violence. He is right about the importance of a cross-governmental approach, and of ensuring that all parts of Government are joined up.

The right hon. Gentleman understandably raised the issue of drugs and drug seizures, and he mentioned the Border Force. Last year, the amount of class A drugs seized by Border Force was threefold higher than in the previous year, so it is up. That said, the volume of these types of drugs across the world has increased dramatically, and that is leading to some of the gang warfare we are seeing, especially the spread of county lines. So more needs to be done: more needs to be done both through the public health approach but also the other interventions I have just set out.

May I first give my deep condolences to the family of Yousef Makki, the young man whose life was tragically taken in my constituency on Saturday evening, and may I also thank Greater Manchester police for their rapid response to give some reassurance to the community?

The Home Secretary has spoken of increased resources going to the police. When he meets senior officers in the coming days, will he urge them and seek to persuade them to make sure as much as possible of that new resource goes to increasing the numbers of frontline officers, to give greater reassurance to communities the length and breadth of our country?

I join my hon. Friend in the condolences he just expressed; it is a truly senseless loss of life. He is also right to commend the response of Greater Manchester police to the tragedy.

My hon. Friend asked about resources. In terms of the increase in funding I referred to earlier—£970 million this year—it is good to see that almost all police forces across the country, including GMP, have responded by saying they will be hiring a significant number of officers to add to the frontline. The figure is almost 3,000 in total so far, but it is good to see that police forces across the country are looking to see what they can do to make a real difference.

No one doubts the Home Secretary’s desire to do something about knife crime across the country, but does he not recognise that for months this House has been crying out for the Government to get a grip: it has been crying out for the Government to do more about this? Belatedly, we all seem to be recognising that it is a national crisis—a national emergency. In the face of national emergencies—whether terrorism, flooding, or foot and mouth—the Government convene Cobra, because Cobra drives the Government forward with an urgency and passion that is lacking at present. Will the Home Secretary go back to the Prime Minister and say that we need to convene Cobra—we need to bring the right people together to drive forward with the enthusiasm and desire that this needs to be tackled as the national emergency that it is?

This is a hugely important priority issue across the Government: it was discussed very recently, just in the past few weeks, in the Cabinet, and just a couple of weeks ago we had a debate in this House on serious violence, both to set out the Government’s plans but also to listen to hon. Members across the House on new initiatives that can be taken forward. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about this being an urgent priority, and it is important that we all work together to see what more we can do.

My right hon. Friend will know that, as recently as 2015, changes were made to sentencing for serious violence crimes, including with bladed weapons. While it is right that the courts make decisions on sentencing based on the evidence and the facts in each case, we have seen a rise in custodial sentences. That is important, too, to make sure the right message and right deterrent are set out for these horrible crimes.

A primary school in my constituency recently told me that the three and four-year-olds who are likely to be vulnerable to gangs can be identified in the nursery, often because they have grown up in households afflicted by domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse, or where other family members are in gangs. Yet our school budgets and Sure Start centres have been cut, making early intervention far more difficult. Has the Home Secretary had any conversations with the Treasury about proper funding for very early intervention, and if not, why not?

The hon. Lady raises the important issue of early intervention, including very early intervention. A ministerial taskforce is looking at this issue and trying to do more in this space, and work is being done. Through my Department, work is already being done on the early intervention youth fund, which has made allocations to more than 20 social enterprises, including those that are helping people to exit from gangs. Also, the draft Domestic Abuse Bill sets out to help young people who are more likely to be vulnerable to committing crimes themselves, perhaps because of their own life experiences.

I, too, extend my sympathy to the families affected by those two ghastly crimes. Has my right hon. Friend asked the chief constables how many more officers they all need to put on to our streets? Has he ever asked that question, and as he had an answer? How many officers are needed to physically patrol the streets of our country?

I regularly speak to chief constables across the country about their needs, in regard not just to serious violence—although that is of course a priority for almost all of them—but to the whole host of crimes they are trying to deal with. The information that we get from chief officers will then feed back into the annual police settlement. This year, as I have mentioned, the police settlement has the largest cash increase since 2010.

I should also like to add my condolences to the families of the recent victims. I am a mother of four, and I cannot even begin to understand what those families are going through. Extensive research now shows that adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect or a parent in prison, can severely harm a child’s development. Too many children with multiple adverse childhood experiences are excluded from school, which in turn can lead them to become involved in gangs and violence. If we are to tackle this epidemic of youth violence, we need an approach—perhaps we can call it a public health approach—that is trauma-informed to care for children with ACEs. We also need much lower numbers of school exclusions. Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Department for Education on school exclusions, please?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s points about young people suffering from trauma and who may have witnessed abuse, including in their own household. She is absolutely right to raise this. We talked earlier about experiences in Scotland, and there have also been some valuable experiences in Wales, especially on trauma-based therapy. She is also right to mention school exclusions. I welcome the independent work that is being done on this by Edward Timpson, and we will be working with the Department for Education to take that forward.

The Home Office has told me in a written answer that it does not collect statistics on the association between knife crime where people are killed or maimed. However, the serious violence strategy that was published last year tells us that in 57% of all homicides, either the victim or the offender is either a drug dealer or a drug user. The Secretary of State has asked Dame Carol Black to carry out an honest assessment of our capability and capacity to address this threat, but she is not allowed to consider whether we can take this threat out the hands of criminals altogether. The Americans learned a very hard lesson in the 1920s and 1930s when they prohibited the drug alcohol, and the entire world has learned a very hard lesson in the global war on drugs over the past 50 years. Why cannot we carry out an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of prohibition?

This Government do not support the legalisation of these types of harmful drugs. I respect my hon. Friend’s firmly held views, but the class of drugs that we are talking about is hugely harmful to anyone who takes them, especially young people. The answer is to look at how the misuse of drugs is driving violent crime and other crimes, and that is exactly why we have asked Dame Carol Black to look into the misuse of drugs. There is no question of legalising any of those harmful drugs.

While I appreciate the Home Secretary’s tone, I am unsure whether the reality totally matches up with what he is talking about. On school exclusions, he talks about an evidence base and following the evidence, but the overwhelming evidence is that those who are excluded from school end up getting involved in drugs, youth violence and gang activity. The Timpson review is long overdue, and we are not expecting it to be all that powerful. Given that we have been raising such issues for a long time, will the Government now look at the powers that local authorities need to ensure that children in their communities are getting an education? This atomised, fragmented school system means that too many are falling through the net.

I agree with the hon. Lady that it is vital that the whole issue of exclusions, alternative provision and pupil referral units is looked at properly, and it is vital that we follow the evidence. She seems to prejudge Edward Timpson’s report, but I have a great deal of confidence in him. He is an experienced individual who will take the issue incredibly seriously, and we need independent evidence. However, if the hon. Lady is suggesting that we do not need to wait for that to do more work, she is right about that, too. Work is already ongoing between my Department, the Department for Education and others, but the report will certainly help.

Following on from the previous question from the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), although I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, the fact is that 40 children are excluded from our schools every day, either on fixed or temporary exclusions—4,000 such children have special educational needs—and a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said that that is a major cause of knife crime. We know that excluded children are twice as likely to carry knives and that children are being off-rolled. We must ensure, as the Education Committee report suggested, that schools are accountable for the pupils they exclude, that there is transparency and that this approach is the No. 1 priority for dealing with knife crime.

My right hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge of this issue, and I welcome the work that he and his Select Committee have done. Like the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) before him, he is right to raise the issue, which is critical if we are to deal with serious violence and drug misuse properly. The number of exclusions seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and it is important that we look at the links between that and crime. I welcome what my right hon. Friend says and the work that he is doing through the Education Committee.