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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
04 March 2019
Volume 655

House of Commons

Monday 4 March 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Authority Services

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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2. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the time taken to build new homes. [909523]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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rose—

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Oh, very well done, Mr Henderson!

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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A smörgåsbord, I am sure.

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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?

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

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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

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3. What plans he has to use the future high streets fund to transform town centres. [909524]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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4. What steps his Department is taking to reduce levels of homelessness among Scottish people in London. [909525]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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5. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of funding for adult social services. [909526]

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16. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of funding for adult social services. [909537]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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I call Bob Blackman.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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6. What steps he is taking to help ensure that public services in Newcastle are adequately funded. [909527]

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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.

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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?

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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

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7. What steps his Department is taking to deliver planning reform for high streets. [909528]

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18. What steps his Department is taking to deliver planning reform for high streets. [909539]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Homelessness

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8. What steps his Department is taking to reduce homelessness. [909529]

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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.

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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?

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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, providing all the assistance they require.

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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?

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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

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9. What steps his Department is taking to support building on brownfield sites. [909530]

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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.

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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?

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It was a great pleasure to spend some time with the hon. Gentleman and his esteemed neighbour, my 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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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]

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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.

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Well, I am somewhat better informed, and I thank the Minister for that.

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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.

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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

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10. What assessment he has made of the financial sustainability of local authorities. [909531]

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [909547]

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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No more than two sentences, I am sure—John Healey.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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 in half. Will the Secretary of State commit to press the Chancellor to come up with the desperately needed cash for these vital services? [909548]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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indicated assent.

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I am giving the hon. Gentleman ideas, I know.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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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.

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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?

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Thank you. I will respond, but let me hear the other points of order on this matter.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

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rose—

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I assume the hon. Lady wishes to raise a point of order appertaining to the same matter.

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indicated assent.

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Finally, I call Alison Thewliss.

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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?

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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

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on knife crime.

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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.

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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.

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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 about 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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ah yes, an Altrincham knight: Sir Graham Brady.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Are sentences served long enough?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Following another tragic wave of violence over the weekend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care dismissed treating it as a public health issue, contradicting the Government’s apparent plans to tackle violence with a public health approach. Has the Home Secretary spoken to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care at all about the Government’s plans to adopt a public health approach?

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I mentioned earlier that serious violence and the priority of tackling it was discussed in Cabinet in the past few weeks, and the matter is being taken seriously in every Department. The Department of Health and Social Care is key if the public health approach that I have talked about is to be success.

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The impact of knife crime across London has been horrific in recent months, but has the Home Secretary seen the recent extraordinary comments from the Mayor of London? He said that it would take him 10 years to deal with the London knife crime epidemic—longer than anybody has served as Mayor—yet his website says that he has responsibility for the “totality of policing” in London. My constituents and other Londoners will not wait 10 years, so what discussions has the Home Secretary had with the Mayor of London?

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The Mayor of London is an important partner in this, and he is a member of the serious violence taskforce. We do not have 10 years to deal with this, of course not. There are certain things that will take time, but there are also things that could be done that would have a much more immediate impact, such as some of the legal changes that will be brought in by the Offensive Weapons Bill. My right hon. Friend highlights the need to work together in partnership.

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The public health and public education approach, together with more police officers, is obviously right, but was not the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner correct this morning when he said that, ultimately, our young people need to know they are better off not being in possession of a knife than having that knife? Therefore, is it not time for us to have clearer mandatory sentencing for those caught in possession of a knife without just cause?

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When the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Hogan-Howe, speaks, it is important that we listen. I have great respect for him and for others who have served in our police. The issue of sentencing is very important—I mentioned earlier that there have been some changes in sentencing—and it is also about making sure that we have the right laws in place, which is why I welcome the support across the House, including I believe from the hon. Gentleman, on the new Offensive Weapons Bill.

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The Home Secretary has outlined some important measures, including this year’s police settlement, which means 100 extra officers in Leicestershire, but what role does he see for longer sentences and stiffer penalties for knife possession as part of his strong plan?

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Changes were made to the sentencing regime in 2015, but it is right that, when we consider the responses to the rise in serious violence and, especially, the tragic deaths that have occurred, we make sure our sentencing is right. That is why, through the work being done across the Government, it is time for us to look again at sentencing.

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I grew up under the cloud of gang violence in Birmingham. When I was a teenager, it was really quite bad. It was dangerous for us when we lived there, and in the years since, I have found myself working tirelessly to try to improve the situation, which we had managed to do. Now I receive letters from my children’s inner-city comprehensive school about how to spot whether my children are in a gang. We have gone straight back to day one. Nothing the Home Secretary has said allays my fears as a parent of a teenage boy in Birmingham. There used to be a police officer based at almost every inner-city school in Birmingham. None of them is there now. Why is that the case?

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I hear what the hon. Lady says very clearly, and I am listening carefully. I also grew up in a place that, sadly, had lots of gangs and crime, and no one wants to see that in any community. I understand what she says. She specifically asks me about policing, and just last week I went to see some of the work that West Midlands police are doing with other police forces. Much more resource is going into fighting both gangs and drugs. As I mentioned earlier, the increased resourcing will directly lead to many more officers on the frontline.

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My right hon. Friend talked in the past of suspending social media accounts as one tool to help tackle this dreadful scourge and the needless loss of life we are seeing. How are his discussions going with the social media companies, which are integral to achieving that aim? Does he think we need to look again at sentencing policy?

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My hon. Friend raises another important issue on the role that social media might be playing in spreading serious violence. Late last year, I provided £1.4 million of funding for a new social media serious violence hub so that the Metropolitan police can work with social media companies and specifically focus on this very issue. He knows that the Government will shortly be publishing an online harms White Paper, which will also look at this important issue.

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I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that behind every fatal stabbing and shooting is a young person’s future cancelled, and a family left grieving and wondering for the rest of their life, “How could this have been prevented?” He has demonstrated that he knows what needs to be done—it is about interrupting the drugs industry, early intervention and having more police on the street—so why on earth we need yet another consultation is beyond me. What we do need is for him to come back to this House, within the next week, with a definite plan about how to deal with this and proper resources behind the plan. I ask him to do that, because he already knows what needs to be done.

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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he talks of the tragic deaths, lives being cut short, all those opportunities that are forever gone and the impact on those families. I think he was referring to the public health approach and asking why it would require a consultation. That is because it is supposed to be a statutory approach. We could have taken the non-statutory route. That would have been quicker, frankly, but I think it would have been less effective because I need every Department—colleagues have mentioned the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education—to make this a priority. We have talked about the experience in the other parts of the UK and in other countries. It has been a statutory approach. With very few exceptions, there is a requirement with such an approach to have a consultation to make sure it is legally watertight.

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Warwickshire police are currently recruiting an additional 150 officers and extra officers are part of the solution here. My right hon. Friend has talked about a wider cross-Government approach and using resources of the whole of the Government. Can he say more about how we can get those resources and that approach down to the local level, where it is really going to make a difference?

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I welcome the announcement by Warwickshire police. On other resources, a vital one that I mentioned earlier is support for organisations, mainly community organisations, to tackle the issue early on, through early intervention, especially to try to turn young people away from what might become a life of crime. The early intervention youth fund has already allocated funds to more than 20 projects, but the new youth endowment fund, which I said I would be publishing information on very shortly, will be allocating some £200 million very shortly to do just that work—early intervention.

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Jodie Chesney, Charlotte Huggins, Tudor Simionov, Nedim Bilgin, Lejean Richards, Dennis Anderson, Aliny Mendes, Simbiso Aretha Moula, Sarah Ashraf, Asma Begum, Kamil Malysz, Bright Akinleye, Glendon Spence, Che Morrison, David Lopez-Fernandez, Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck, Brian Wieland and Jaden Moodie—I am not sure that that is a complete list of everyone who has been killed by a knife in London this year alone, but I can tell the Home Secretary that the taskforce, the consultations and the more reports are not working. What on earth will it take for him to recognise that this is an emergency that requires an emergency response?

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The hon. Lady reminds this House that this is such a tragic loss of life. She talked of those lives cut short in London. There are colleagues here representing seats across the country where we have, sadly, lost lives. She is absolutely right to highlight this but, as I said, I really wish standing here that there was just one simple answer—just one single thing that could be done. We require action across multiple fronts and the best way to achieve that is for all of us to recognise that and to work together to deliver it.

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As I regrettably advised the House earlier today, on Friday night, 17-year-old Jodie Chesney was murdered in my constituency. She was a bright, beautiful and kind young woman and she did not deserve to die in this way. The public are losing faith in our ability to control our streets and they need to see and feel a step change in our response to public safety concerns. Can the Home Secretary tell me what he is doing at all levels of governance—at Home Secretary level, Prime Ministerial level, Mayoral level and local council level—to draw together our response to these tragic incidents? Will he join me in paying tribute to the members of the community and the police officers who came to Jodie’s aid when she was lying there in her final moments?

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I thank my hon. Friend for what she has said and remind the House of the tragic loss of life when Jodie was murdered this weekend. As I said earlier, the whole House will want to send their condolences to her family and loved ones. My hon. Friend is right to point to the work of the police and emergency services and how they responded to that tragedy, and of course I join her in commending their work.

My hon. Friend asked specifically about the work being done across Government. This issue is a priority for all of Government, across all Departments, some of which are more important to this issue than others. Obviously, I am starting with my own, but we have also heard in the House about the work in the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care. We have also heard about the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—for example, the extra funding that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced for the troubled families programme, to try to help to reduce violence. That kind of approach is what is going to be required to make a huge change and to reduce this senseless violence. It is going to be necessary for all Government Departments and public agencies to work together, and that means in respect of not only resources and co-ordination, but this new statutory approach, which will make a big difference.

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Lord Hogan-Howe said today that the Government do not have a grip on this national crisis. Given the fact that there have been more than 100 knife offences every day over the past year, he is of course right. The Home Secretary said that he needs every Government Department to take part, but there is a silence from the very heart of Government: the Prime Minister has made no speeches, she has held no crisis meetings, she has not called Cobra meetings and she has not led any kind of serious cross-party campaign. In the past, Prime Ministers have activated Cobra because of crime levels and led cross-Government programmes that have successfully changed big societal issues of the kind we face today, and we know the evidence for what works, so does the Home Secretary not think it is now time for the Prime Minister herself to step up and lead?

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I mentioned earlier that the issue of serious violence and what more can be done to tackle it was discussed in Cabinet this year, so very recently. The Prime Minister herself is making sure that all Government Departments are playing their role and is very supportive of the measures that have been set out, and also the measures I am taking to make sure that we are listening to the chief officers, police and crime commissioners and others to see what more can be done.

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Just over five years ago, Hollie Gazzard was murdered in the hairdressing salon where she worked in Gloucester city centre. In an extraordinary act of courage and determination, her family created the Hollie Gazzard Trust, which worked with the police, the Gloucestershire constabulary, to learn lessons from their handling of the incident and then to fund and deliver an education programme to schools, to advise young people on the early warning signs of abusive relationships. So positive things can be and have been done at a local level to share best practice.

I am particularly interested in what my right hon. Friend had to say about Dame Carol Black’s forthcoming report, because it seems to me that, in Gloucester, as elsewhere in the country, there is this huge link between drugs and drug dealing and serious knife crime that leads to deaths. The more we can learn about what best practice is in the handling of such incidents, the better we can try to tackle it in our own constituencies.

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I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned the work of the Hollie Gazzard Trust and reminded us of how, through that tragedy, the family and friends came together to try to turn it into something that could help others. Indeed, I think the victims Minister met Mr Gazzard as well.

My hon. Friend asked me about the work that is being done to look into the drugs markets and drugs misuse. That is vital work because one thing that is clear is that sadly the changes in drugs markets seem to be driving much of this violence. If we can understand those changes better, we can come up with even more policy responses.

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Has the Home Secretary tasked any individual to drive through the co-ordination, the prioritisation and the expenditure and to report back to Ministers? I simply say this because, when we faced this challenge in Government 10 years ago, we appointed the chief constable of Warwickshire to drive forward, across Government, a knife crime reduction plan, which reduced knife crime incidents through co-ordination and reporting to Ministers. He should look at what was done then and replicate it.

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The right hon. Gentleman mentions an important issue about leadership. This is such an important issue that it requires, as we are seeing, leadership across different levels—not just at national level, but in local government. We have talked today about some of the mayors and their responsibilities, the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. It is important that all that work is co-ordinated as well. The work of the serious violence taskforce, for example, is important in this, as is the work that the National Police Chiefs Council co-ordinates and the work of the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre. So leadership at many levels is required.

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The gangs operating on our streets are

“complex and ruthless organisations, using sophisticated techniques”—

to recruit children—

“and chilling levels of violence to keep them compliant.”

So says the children’s commissioner in an important report published only last week. That report identifies 27,000 gang members in England and a further 34,000 children who know gang members and have experienced violent crime. That is 61,000 young people, yet only 10% of that number are known to the authorities. The children’s commissioner identifies serious failings among local safeguarding boards, which, in too many cases, have not made any serious attempt to understand the level of risk in their area. I understand and recognise the Home Secretary’s commitment to tackle this issue, but it seems that we are starting from a very long way back if we only know now 10% of the children who are most at risk from knife crime. How are we going to improve that intelligence picture?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. He has referred to the report just last week of the children’s commissioner, who is on the serious violence taskforce. I very much welcomed her report. She is absolutely right to look at this whole issue of vulnerable children who have been drawn into these gangs. Hon. Members have talked about the pupil referral units in that regard as well. There are some very sensible recommendations in the report and we will be working with her and others to see what more can be done.

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The past two years have seen six tragic knife murders in my constituency, including, in the past month, the murders of Dennis Anderson in East Dulwich and Glendon Spence, who died after being chased into a youth centre in Brixton. For every tragic victim, there are countless families who are living in daily fear. One mother told me recently of her teenage son. She said:

“I pray when he leaves the house and I don’t breathe until he is home again.”

The public health approach cannot be implemented by public services—whether health, education, police, social services, youth services or housing—which have been decimated by nine years of austerity. When will the Secretary of State commit to not just piecemeal pockets of limited funding, but a reversal of the devastation of our public services, which is resulting in our communities living in fear?

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What I have outlined today, or summarised again for the House, are what I think are some very significant increases in resourcing: the increase in police resourcing, the largest since 2010, and the record amount invested in youth intervention, including the £200 million endowment fund. Those are very significant investments. I am not suggesting for a second that the hon. Lady cannot be right that more resources might be needed. If that is absolutely necessary, of course, that is what will happen, but it would be wrong to say that they are piecemeal resources and in some way insignificant.

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When I asked the chief constable of Bedfordshire what was driving the increase in knife crime in my county, he mentioned the fact that there were too many homes where there was not a father telling young boys that carrying a knife was wrong. I hugely welcome the 160 extra officers in Bedfordshire this year, but what more can we do to support parents and families to tell all young people that real men do not carry knives and that this an unacceptably evil thing to do?

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I will give my hon. Friend two responses. First, last year, we started our #knifefree campaign, which is about sending messages to young people, on the social media they use and in more traditional advertising, about the dangers of carrying a knife. Secondly, we are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, through its troubled families programme, to see what more we can do with those families, who are perhaps going through family breakdown or facing other issues, to get across the message that there is never an excuse to carry a knife.

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The call from my hon. Friend the shadow Minister and others for Cobra to be convened is not just about recognising this as a national emergency, which it is; it is also about ensuring that the cross-Government approach, which the Home Secretary says he recognises, is actually delivered on the ground, right across the country, with the resources needed to back it up, whether through early intervention work to identify the young people most at risk of getting involved in gangs and knife crime, or by reducing the level of school exclusions, which in all too many cases is a route into knife crime. I put it to him that what he said about resources rings pretty hollow in the west midlands, given that we have lost 2,000 police officers over the past nine years and are facing nearly 300 incidents of knife crime this year already. Will he now respond to the call from the West Midlands police and crime commissioner for an emergency funding package so that we can address this problem in a consistent and effective way?

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The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of a cross-Government approach. It is something that is needed not just today; it has to be a long-term, sustained approach, with Departments and public agencies working together. That is why our serious violence taskforce involves Government Departments as well as other agencies and public authorities. It is also important that we listen to all levels of Government. He rightly mentioned West Midlands police, a force I have visited on many occasions—I visited it only recently to look at some of the work it is doing to combat serious violence. I will always listen carefully to all local police forces, including West Midlands police, to see what more can be done.

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I welcome the overall tone of the Home Secretary’s responses to the questions asked by Members today. Does he agree that the approach needed to tackle this will vary dramatically across the country, from large urban areas such as London to places with towns and smaller urban areas, such as Devon and Cornwall? Will he commit to working with the police and crime commissioners for those areas, not only to co-ordinate national action, but to ensure that the local response reflects local needs?

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My hon. Friend is right that we must ensure that we have the right approach for each area, and he has talked about the differences between some urban areas and more rural areas. Last month I was near Exeter, meeting officers from Devon and Cornwall police, including the police and crime commissioner, and I was pleased to see just how seriously they take this issue, and they talked about how the new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre is already making a real difference.

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My constituent Sam Cook was stabbed to death a year ago in Liverpool city centre, on the night he was celebrating his 21st birthday. His mum, Gill Radcliffe, asked me to tell the Home Secretary to remember that this is not just a London issue, but a national problem. When he meets the police chief constables in a couple of days’ time, the chief constable of Merseyside police will remind him that the consequence of the scale of cuts in Government funding for Merseyside is that there are now 1,200 fewer police officers keeping our streets safe. He will also know of a 30% cut in probation services. Sam Cook’s killer was on licence, having committed another knife offence, when he killed Sam. The probation service had not given the monitoring of Sam’s killer sufficient attention, which allowed him to kill Sam. Will the Home Secretary please take this seriously across Government and address the concerns that have been caused by the scale of the cuts in multiple Departments since 2010?

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First, the hon. Gentleman raises the tragic death of Sam Cook. It may have been a year ago, but it is still as tragic today as it was then, and he is right to remind the House of it. He talked about the importance of recognising that this is not just a London issue. Absolutely, it is not—it is across the country, as we have just seen this weekend, again very tragically, with the terrible death in Manchester. He raised the issue of probation and making sure that it is the best it can be. Again, he is absolutely right to do so. I know that lessons have already been learned from the case of Sam Cook, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point to the issue, and also to stress the importance of cross-Government work and making sure that that includes the Ministry of Justice.

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For those of us who, at the turn of the century, worked in inner-city youth organisations to try to turn young people away from the dangers of crime, this latest epidemic of knife crime is not only deeply depressing but amounts to a reversal of the good work that has been done. The Home Secretary has said that he is open-minded to all solutions and that there is no one solution to this. Will he look again at the proposal that knives for sale in retail outlets are prohibited from being anywhere outside of a locked cabinet?

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It is good to remind the House of the importance of early intervention. That is why we are making this record allocation of over £220 million, altogether, in early intervention projects. The retailing of knives is partly being addressed through the Offensive Weapons Bill. My hon. Friend has raised another aspect of that. As I have said, nothing should be off the table, and I would be happy to discuss it with him.

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Last week, a knife attack led to the death of one of my constituents, and before Christmas three people were attacked outside a GP surgery. People are living in absolute terror. Although this is affecting young people in particular, it is affecting all communities up and down the country. Since 2010, 21,000 police officers have been taken out of our system. If the Home Secretary wants our support, he absolutely has it in lobbying the Prime Minister and the Chancellor so that we can have those police officers reinstated. The one thing he can do is to shore up our police services, because they are at breaking point and desperately need support to bring an end to knife crime. I cannot, and I know other colleagues cannot, bear the thought of having to return to this House in weeks and months to come having witnessed stories of further fatalities and deaths. That is why the Home Secretary needs to take action. Labour Members will support him to lobby for more funding, but he needs to put pressure on his Prime Minister and his Chancellor to fund our police service urgently and reinstate 21,000 officers in our system.

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First, the hon. Lady rightly reminds us that these tragic crimes are of course affecting all communities—not just young people but communities of all ages. She talked about the importance of police resources. I hope that she will welcome the increase in police funding, which is the largest increase since 2010 and will help to make a big difference on the ground, including to policing in London. But I hope that she also recognises that this cannot just be all about resources. There is a need to look at police powers as well, and that is why the Offensive Weapons Bill is very important. It is also about resources in other areas such as early intervention.

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The Secretary of State spoke of other countries using the public health approach. The Scottish violence reduction unit’s methods have been shared with South Africa, Jamaica and Lithuania, for instance. That unit was set up in Scotland in 2005. While we will never be complacent, as recent terrible events in Edinburgh showed, the unit’s approach has broadly been extremely successful. I want to ask him, because it genuinely puzzles me, why has it taken so long for the UK Government to take a serious interest in this proven national strategy for reducing serious violence and knife crime?

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I would like to answer the hon. Lady’s question directly. The reason is probably that serious violence in England had been falling quite significantly for some time, but as I said at the start of this urgent question, we have sadly seen a significant rise in the last two or three years especially. That has rightly led my predecessors and me to work with others and look at what more can be done. It is right to look at evidence across the nation. She talked about the very important example in Scotland, which is being looked at.

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I want to express my thanks to the emergency services for their rapid response to a stabbing in my constituency last week. There is a huge amount of fear and concern in the community, and people understand that this is not a problem with one solution. Does the Home Secretary understand, as my constituents do, that whether it is the legs taken out of community policing by police cuts, slower referrals because of cuts to children’s services, the conditions that children are living in in temporary and overcrowded accommodation or the fact that youth services have been gutted, there are many facets to tackling knife crime, and they all have one thing in common: the policies of this Government for the last nine years have made it harder, not easier, to tackle this crisis?

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First, I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the emergency services for the work they have done in his constituency and elsewhere. He highlights the importance of recognising the need for a cross-Government response; it is not just about the Home Office, although we have the most important role to play. For other Departments to play that role, they need to make it a priority, which is why a statutory public health approach is very important. We also need to ensure that Departments have enough resources and that those are prioritised.

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I agree in principle with multi-agency working. I know that it works, because when I got elected in 2001, it worked. When the police were properly funded, when Sure Start centres were properly funded, when youth services were properly funded and when schools were properly funded, it worked, because we eliminated gang crime, knife crime and gun crime by the middle of that decade. We worked together with the community and the police, who attended community meetings, to do that. We do not have the staff at the moment to come to those meetings, let alone attend some of the crimes. If the Home Secretary wants to do something about this, let us not talk about piecemeal funding. Let us look at the real figures about the police and community support officers we have lost and talk about how he is going to get them back, to save our future generations.

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First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support of the multi-agency public health approach. I hope we will have his full support for that when it comes forward in Parliament. He talked about the importance of resources. He said that there is a piecemeal increase in resources, but the increase in police resources is hugely significant—it is up to £970 million, which is almost double what was there the year before and the biggest increase since 2010—and the £220 million on early intervention is a significant increase.

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The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) rightly said that we need a step change in response to this national emergency. There are two starting points for the Home Secretary: first, he needs to brief the Health Secretary on what a public health response to this epidemic is, and secondly, he needs to advise the Prime Minister to convene Cobra, so that we can focus properly on this issue.

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If we take all the responses, especially in the last two years and since the adoption of the serious violence strategy, it is a step change. As I said earlier, I really wish that just one single thing could be done, but this requires action on multiple fronts. That is why the public health approach is so important. The Department of Health and Social Care is an important partner in that, and the Health Secretary understands that.

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If this nationwide knife crime crisis is not a good reason to call Cobra, what exactly is?

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Responding to the increase in serious violence requires a sustained effort, with action that needs to happen now, building on the initiatives I have already set out, and long-term, sustained action, which is exactly why we have the serious violence taskforce. It is important that it remains a cross-party taskforce to make sure that we are looking at all the things that can be done and that we sustain that effort.

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Young men and women are dying on the streets—three in recent days in Birmingham alone, mourned by their families—and I meet teenagers in Erdington who are now afraid to go out at night. Of course a public health approach is vital, and we urge the Home Secretary to back the bid for a violence reduction unit to bring together all agencies to combat growing knife crime effectively.

However, that is not enough; we need more police officers. Forgive me if I say this, Mr Speaker, but the Home Secretary spoke about record resources. The previous Government put 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 police community support officers on the beat. This Government have cut 21,000 police officers, including 2,100 in Birmingham alone. Does the Home Secretary not accept that there is an inevitable link between falling police numbers and rising crime, and in particular rising knife crime?

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As I have mentioned, the increase in police resources this year is a record increase. It will take total police resourcing to approximately £14 billion, and the increase is the largest since 2010. It will lead to a significant increase in officers: almost 3,000 officers—I think, at least 2,700—across the country. When it comes to the local response—the hon. Gentleman mentioned the west midlands; he is right to do so, and I welcome the focus on serious violence by the local force—I am more than ready, as I have already been doing, including with his force, to sit down with the police and see what more can be done.

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Sadly, Southwark is one of the communities worst affected by knife crime, with the two most recent stabbings in my constituency on 24 February. The Prime Minister has apparently said today that more must be done to tackle this problem, after nine long years in the Home Office and Downing Street. Will this Home Secretary please meet me, representatives and organisations from across Southwark that are working to tackle this problem, especially those representing the families directly affected?

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First, I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. He is right to highlight what he has seen in his area. Recently, I visited one of the leading hospitals in south London that deals with patients who may be hurt through knife crime, and I saw the work of Redthread, a social organisation that helps to turn young people away from a life in crime. It is an organisation we are supporting with more funding for early intervention, and I hope he welcomes that. As I say, I would be happy to meet him.

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Since the tragic murder of 17-year-old Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in my constituency, I have been meeting local community groups to see what we can do to try to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs, gang violence and drug dealing. There is a move to glamorise this lifestyle through social media, so I hope the Secretary of State can imagine my horror at discovering, just over a week ago, that films are still available on social media—showing violence, drug taking, making money out of selling drugs and, indeed, abusing young women—starring members of the gangs who are themselves currently on trial for murder. What can the Secretary of State do? Does he agree with me that he needs to work with other members of the Cabinet right across Government, and that convening Cobra will enable that to happen? We cannot afford to have this sort of glamorisation of a gang lifestyle still available on social media.

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this issue and the need to work across Government. He asked about social media and the way in which some parts of it glamorised violence. I, too, have seen some of the material to which he referred, and far too much is available on social media. Some of it is generated in the UK and some abroad, but it all glamorises this type of violence.

What are we doing about it? Last year, I funded a £1.4 million project on social media capability, run from London, to look at what can be done to try to tackle some of this material online, but we need to do much more. We need new powers to do that, which is why I am working with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a new online harms White Paper. The intention is to give the state more powers to tackle exactly what the hon. Gentleman was discussing.

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rose—

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I call Jim Cunningham.

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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You have been very tolerant. May I tell the Home Secretary that it was useful to meet the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service about a fortnight ago? I want to reinforce the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) made. We need more community police on the streets—there is no doubt about that—and they could do something about youth services, but 20,000-odd police officers have been cut over the past seven years, which is a very low base on which to build.

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The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, is right to raise the issue of resources. I have mentioned the increase in resources in this year’s policing settlement. When it comes to his local force in the west midlands, as I have said to his colleague, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), I am more than happy to meet the West Midlands force again. I visited them only last week—it is a force that I regularly visit—and I am always looking to see what more we can do.

Privatised Probation System

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on the future of the privatised probation system.

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I am pleased to be called to address this urgent question, and fully understand why the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) has raised it. As the House will be aware, we have been looking very carefully at the future of probation services, and this gives me the opportunity briefly to set out the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, some of the challenges, and our response.

As the House will be aware, Transforming Rehabilitation was strongly influenced by a Labour pilot—the Peterborough pilot—which demonstrated that by bringing in non-state providers, concentrating on a cohort of short-sentence prisoners who had not previously been supervised and paying providers for reducing reoffending, it was possible to achieve significant improvements. Transforming Rehabilitation was a coalition Government commitment and built on those principles by contracting the private sector and others—in Durham Tees Valley, for example, that included the local authority—and undertaking to pay the providers if they were able to reduce reoffending. The contracts were left flexible to encourage innovation. This private model was applied only to low-risk offenders—high-risk offenders continued to be supervised in the usual way by the state. The new model has delivered in some ways, but as the National Audit Office has pointed out, it has not delivered in others.

There has been a reduction in the binary rate of reoffending, although there has been an increase in the separate frequency measure. Some 40,000 additional offenders are currently being supervised who were not supervised under the old system. Some innovation has come into the system, and it has saved the taxpayer money. Even though the hon. Gentleman would point out that through changes to the contracts, more money has gone in, we are forecast to spend significantly less than we originally anticipated—perhaps as much as £700 million less.

The programme was challenged by external factors, some of which were difficult to model and predict. For example, societal changes and different sentencing decisions by judges meant that the case load given to community rehabilitation companies shifted, and the accredited programmes that were allocated were fewer than expected. That meant that the income streams of those companies was less than anticipated. Broader issues such as drugs, housing and treatment programmes also made it difficult for providers to control all the factors in reoffending, which led to the companies losing significant sums of money. We have therefore taken a new approach that seeks to address all those problems.

We have just conducted a consultation and are carefully studying the responses. Our intention, first, is to remove the dependence in the new probation system on unpredictable case loads and to improve co-ordination with the national probation service. We are emphasising overall quality of service in future, not just the reoffending rate. We will be ending the existing contracts two years early. We will be setting minimum conditions for offender supervision, and we have invested over £20 million in through-the-gate services. Our objective, while retaining the benefits of flexibility and innovation, is to create a much higher-quality probation service that focuses on good-quality delivery and protects the public.

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The National Audit Office report on probation privatisation is another damning indictment of the current Transport Secretary. Once again the Conservatives’ part-privatisation of probation has been exposed as a dangerous experiment that left the public less safe and out of pocket. The NAO highlights a 22% increase in reoffending. Will the Minister now admit that this privatisation has put public safety at risk in a reckless pursuit of running justice for private profit?

The NAO says the Ministry of Justice will pay at least £467 million more to failing private probation companies than was originally required. Does the Minister believe that rewarding failure in that way is the best use of much-reduced Ministry of Justice resources? Despite such failings, the Conservatives are recklessly planning to sign new private probation contracts. Will the Minister halt the current tendering plans to allow an independent review into whether probation should be returned to the private sector, or are they just ideologically driven?

Last month, Working Links, one of the largest probation providers, collapsed. Will the Minister explain the tendering process by which it was quietly handed to another private company? Will he guarantee that there will be no further staff losses under this new arrangement? Another private provider, Interserve, is in deep financial difficulties. Does the Minister have an emergency probation plan ready for if or when Interserve goes under?

Finally, private shareholders should be left in no doubt: Labour will return probation to the public sector. Will the Minister guarantee today that new probation contracts will include break clauses, so that a future Labour Government can put an end to this disastrous privatisation if his Government will not?

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As you would anticipate, Mr Speaker, we do not feel that this is simply an ideological choice between the private and the public sector. There are things that we can learn from the private sector. There have been some significant improvements in the way that services are delivered and in IT. We must also remember that this is not just a question of the private sector. In certain areas, we are working with local authorities and the voluntary sector.

To address the specific challenges that the hon. Gentleman raised, he pointed out that the frequency rate of reoffending has gone up, but the binary rate of reoffending has in fact gone down through the course of these programmes. On the question of cost, it is true that more money has gone in, but it is still much less money than anticipated. Broadly speaking, we were anticipating that we would spend about £3 billion over the course of the contract. The companies committed to spend about £1.8 billion and the Government put in an additional £400 million. That still leaves us spending perhaps £700 million—something of that sort—less than we anticipated. So the public have spent less money than they expected to over the course of this programme.

The Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company is a good provider and we are confident it can step in successfully, but we also have the national probation service working with it to ensure that it operates well in the Working Links areas.

On the broader issue that the hon. Gentleman raised about whether we have looked carefully at the lessons, we absolutely have. As I explained, we will make absolutely sure that we look very carefully at the consultation requirements and that anything we do in the future carefully learns those lessons, de-risks, focuses on quality, improves performance and protects the public.

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In the field of justice policy, as in the field of health policy, arguments are being reduced to a notion that if the public sector provides a service it is automatically better than if the private sector does so. That is completely irrelevant and just a lazy substitute for producing any real ideas on what can be done to improve rehabilitation. I am very attracted by the Department’s idea that we might replace prison sentences of six months and less, because prison tends to toughen up the inadequate and unpleasant people who get those short sentences and need to be punished. It is essential that we strengthen the effectiveness of our probation-based rehabilitation services alongside that. I welcome what the Minister has announced, but does he accept that we need more trials of what can be done in various parts of the country so that we can carry public confidence, if we change the sentencing system, that people can be punished, but punished in a way that might more effectively stop them committing more crimes against the public when they are released?

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Absolutely. As my right hon. and learned Friend points out, if we are to reduce the number of people serving ineffective short prison sentences, we must improve the quality of community sentences. That means that we need better supervision of offenders, better sentence planning and more use of technology, including electronic monitoring. One of the key objectives of the reforms that we will be bringing into probation is to reassure not just the public but the sentencers that good community protection exists.

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In Scotland, the probation service role is carried out by criminal justice social workers, who are part of local authorities’ social work departments—in other words, it is a public service, and I believe that that is as it should be. Effective reintegration and rehabilitation of offenders is at the heart of the Scottish system—rather than profit and hitting targets—and lately in Scotland, of course, we have had great success with getting rid of short-term sentences, which has led to a fall in the rate of reoffending. Does the Minister accept that probation should never be run for private profit and that reunifying the probation service under public control is the only way to properly protect the public across England and Wales?

Finally, this fiasco is part of a long list of scandalous wastes of public money for which the Minister’s colleague the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has been responsible in his roles as Secretary of State for Justice and Secretary of State for Transport. This is one of two such scandals that have come to light over the weekend. We are hearing rumours that he is not coming to the House later today to answer the urgent question about the ferry tendering disaster, so I ask the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect—I realise that none of this is his fault—to tell us when the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is going to be held to account for his shocking irresponsibility with taxpayers’ money.

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As hon. Members would expect me to say, these things have more nuances and complexities. The basic idea that it is impossible for anybody except the Government to deliver good probation services was disproved, in fact, by the Labour pilot—the Peterborough pilot—which by bringing in the voluntary sector and social investors was able to reduce reoffending by a staggering 9%, particularly by providing something that we are developing at the moment and that does not fully exist yet in Scotland: a fully integrated through-the-gate service linking the prison officer in the prison with probation in the community. We need to take into account that this is not a binary choice.

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I am very slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend referred only to the Peterborough pilot, which we inherited when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and I arrived in the Ministry of Justice in 2010. By the time that we were moved from the Ministry of Justice—for me, that was to spend more time with the Kaleidoscope Trust and with you, Mr Speaker—we had at least 20 different pilots, putting responsibility for the rehabilitation of offenders on the probation service in Wales and Staffordshire, three police services, three local authorities and eight health authorities dealing with issues such as drug addiction. We were waiting to see what was going to work best when all these pilots were swept away and the probation service was broken up. Will the Minister look at trying to make the system more coherent by establishing a link between the probation service and police and crime commissioners in the community to make the justice system rather better joined up across the community?

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First, I pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend for the work he did on piloting many of these ideas. We can learn a great deal from those pilots. Central to our reforms will have to be co-ordination—having the right relationship between the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies, and thinking about the geography—and part of that will be thinking about how the CRCs work with the police and crime commissioners.

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I know that the Minister has done a lot of work on brain injury in prisons. Is it not vital, where prisoners with a brain injury have started some form of rehabilitation in prison and have been receiving advice and support, that that is carried through into their experience in the outside world? Otherwise, there is a strong likelihood that they will simply go back inside.

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First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done on acquired brain injury. As the House will be aware, he has argued very strongly that brain injury frequently suffered as early as childhood can have a long-lasting effect, particularly on behaviour, and contribute to reoffending. The major question is about getting the right relationship with the NHS. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), is leading some interesting work, drawing on some of the extra funding now available to the NHS, to make sure we have the right programmes in the community, not just on acquired brain injury but on everything stretching from mental health issues to addiction services provided by the local authority.

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Does the Minister agree that, although CRCs need to improve and perform better, we need to focus on reducing the rate of reoffending, which is what we are seeing, and not on ideological concerns about how a service is provided?

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That is absolutely right. The key thing is learning what works and how to do it in a way that works for the Government budget. We are increasingly learning that although it is about treatment programmes, but it is also about housing, getting people into employment and dealing with addiction issues. Getting all of this properly integrated from within the prison out into the community will be the key. That is how we will protect the public.

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The problems with Transforming Rehabilitation were entirely predicted in 2014, so the NAO report should come as no surprise to Ministers.

I want to ask the Minister about women. There is a great deal of evidence that many CRCs are not offering good-quality tailored provision to women. As he and his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), know, women’s centres do a much better job. Will he now consider removing women wholly from the remit of the CRCs and making full use of the provision in women’s centres to address the causes of their offending behaviour?

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That is a very interesting proposal. The London CRC attempted to do it by setting up a programme designed for women entirely separate from the male programme. There were challenges, however, that were then criticised by the independent inspector of probation. I am happy to sit down with the hon. Lady and talk through some of the complexities of doing that.

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rose—

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No less celebrated a denizen of the House than the Chair of the Justice Select Committee is among our number. We are deeply appreciative of that fact. Let us hear him.

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I am very grateful, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the Minister’s frank and honest response to the findings of this report, which, as he knows, mirror almost entirely the conclusions of the Select Committee’s report last June. As well as confirming, as I am sure he will, that the Government accept the three principal recommendations in paragraph 21 of the NAO report, will he reflect particularly on the division between CRCs and the national probation service in two respects? First, the division by categorisation of risk has been much criticised, because risk levels vary and change during the process of supervision and the current categorisation does not reflect that. Secondly, the separation and distancing of the CRCs, which deliver the programmes, from the sentencers in court has undoubtedly undermined sentencer confidence in community sentences and alternatives to custody.

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Of the two arguments, I think that the second is the stronger. The fact that CRCs are not involved in the pre-sentence reports, in particular, is a real issue. Shifting caseloads is also an issue. We have seen a 48% variation in caseloads, with more focus on serious crime, and we need a way of responding to that, such as better integration between the NPS and CRCs.

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The reckless fragmentation of the probation service back in 2014 has predictably led to this sorry end. I appreciate what the Minister is saying—it did not happen on his watch, and he has been put there to put it right—but I want to reinforce what was said by the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill): what we need is a coherent system with no gaps through which people can fall. Will he achieve that?

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I absolutely agree. I could not have put it better. That is exactly what we are trying to achieve; that is exactly what the consultation is about; and its delivery is exactly what I expect people to judge me on over the next few months.

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The Minister has engaged fully with the Justice Committee’s report, which our Chair mentioned a moment ago, but I should be grateful for further clarification of what he intends to do about the increasing number of people who are recalled to prison. Specifically, I should like to know whether a way can be found to monitor that number. Transforming Rehabilitation increased the number of people who were included in work on reoffending, so it is difficult to establish whether or not the number of those recalled is in fact increasing.

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One of the key measures in Transforming Rehabilitation was the supervision of 40,000 people who had not previously been supervised and whose sentences were shorter than 12 months. Previously, we had no idea what they were doing, because they were not being supervised by any probation officer. By supervising those 40,000 people—they tend to be a cohort of prolific reoffenders—we end up with many more recalls than happened previously. The answer must be to consider on a case-by-case basis whether the recalls are justified, but we must also acknowledge that it is a good thing to supervise 40,000 more people. When they were not supervised, the public were more endangered.

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Order. Speaking to school students in Twickenham on Friday, and subsequently giving a talk at Royal Holloway College, London University, in Egham, I referenced the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), not least for his tendency to yell “Shocking!” “It’s a disgrace,” or, alternatively, “Be’ave!” at the Treasury Bench. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s profile is now substantially higher at both those institutions, and I am sure that, if they are listening, they will listen to him with great interest.

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This situation is indeed shocking. [Laughter.] I do wonder: either very senior civil servants follow the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) around giving him really bad advice, or he is in fact just incredibly incompetent. Which is it?

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I look at this very seriously.

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It is very serious.

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Yes, it is. Big lessons need to be drawn from it, not just for the purpose of probation reforms but for the purpose of any other reforms that we make in government. One of the big issues concerned is our ability to predict the consequences of large-scale system change, and in particular to predict the shifts in caseload. As the National Audit Office points out, there was a modelling of a 2% shift, and the reality was a 48% shift. Drilling down into how that advice was given and responded to is one of the ways in which we can draw those lessons.

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In Chelmsford, we have a very busy prison and people want to know that when people leave prison they do not reoffend. Can the Minister confirm that although some people have gone on to reoffend more, the number of people reoffending has reduced?

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First, may I pay tribute as always to my hon. Friend, who has been a real supporter of the prison officers in her prison and the turning around of Chelmsford prison? It is true that the frequency rate of reoffending has gone up, which means that very prolific offenders continue to offend more, but the absolute number and proportion of people reoffending has decreased—the binary rate has come down—and that is a good thing and worth celebrating.

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The National Audit Office says there is limited time to procure the new contracts, that persisting with the split between the National Probation Service and the community rehabilitation companies still poses risks and that the transition to new contracts threatens service quality. Having wasted millions of pounds and failed miserably to reduce reoffending, why is the Minister intent on pursuing this two-tier system?

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