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Topical Questions

Volume 669: debated on Monday 13 January 2020

From Kensington to Sedgefield, and from Workington to Wrexham, this Government were elected to represent all parts of the country. My Department is focused on repaying that trust by levelling up every community with a renewed focus on those areas that have been overlooked and undervalued for too long. We will ensure that local government is properly supported to deliver the services that we all rely on with the best financial settlement in a decade. We will keep building the homes that this country needs with investment in infrastructure and affordable housing, while making the dream of home ownership a reality for everyone, and we will redouble our efforts to bring about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.

This year, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the world war two concentration camps. I ask the Secretary of State, in his communities role, what is being done to mark the occasion, and furthermore, what is being done to tackle antisemitism more generally wherever it occurs?

On 23 January, I will accompany His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to the holocaust forum at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, which brought an end to the murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children, but as we know, did not bring an end to the cancer of antisemitism. The Government have provided an additional £2.2 million for schools to teach lessons from Auschwitz and £1.7 million for visits to Bergen-Belsen, the camp liberated by British troops. I will continue to champion the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, including requiring all councils to adopt it forthwith.

Council funding cuts under this Government have created a shortage of safe accommodation for vulnerable children, and now thousands of at-risk young people are being placed in care homes that are illegal, miles from their school or unregulated. Does the Secretary of State agree that responsibility for this injustice lies at the feet of his Government?

We have recently published, and will be debating shortly, the most generous settlement for local government for a decade. It will provide a 4.4% real- terms increase in funding for local government and will include a £1 billion grant for social care. These are important issues that we need to take forward. I am aware of some issues with supported housing, for example, and the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), is taking that forward, but as a result of the economic renewal that the country is undergoing, after almost a decade of economic growth, we are now able to invest more in local government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and all Members of the House will support the local government settlement next month.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the excellent market town of Marlow for its thriving high street, with local stores such as FourState, which sources eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical products, and what is his Department doing to provide a better deal for towns and high streets that have been overlooked and undervalued by Whitehall for far too long? (900141)

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I know that she, together with the Centre for Social Justice, has been active in this area for many years, which is why I am delighted to tell her that we have a £3.6 billion towns fund, which will support an initial 100 town deals across England, together with the £1 billion future high streets fund. We are working with local government up and down this land to ensure we fight for the future health of our high streets.

T5. Last week it was reported that the new Minister for Housing was lobbying the Secretary of State for more funding for council house investment as opposed to failed ownership schemes. Does the Secretary of State agree with the case she was making? (900144)

As I have already said in previous answers, the Government want to build more homes of all types. If we are to tackle the housing crisis, we will need to spend more on infrastructure, which we are doing; further reform the planning system, which I intend to do; and invest more in affordable housing, and we have already invested £9 billion through our affordable housing programme and made a manifesto commitment to introduce another one that is even larger. But do I believe that people in this country fundamentally want to own a home of their own? Yes, I do, and we will do all we can to help more people on the housing ladder.

T3. As my right hon. Friend has mentioned, this is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Will he join me in commending the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does such brilliant work to enable survivors to inform young people about the horrors of antisemitism and where it ultimately leads? Will he also join me and others in signing the book of commitment in the House of Commons so that we can eradicate racism and antisemitism wherever they rears their ugly head? (900142)

My hon. Friend, who has campaigned on this issue for many years, speaks for the whole House. I will of course be signing the book. I am informed by the Leader of the House that there will be a debate in the House on or around Holocaust Memorial Day in the usual way. We must all continue to fight the cancer of antisemitism, in all its forms, on every occasion, and this Government will always do that.

T6. The Minister will know that when the north prospers the nation prospers, and a recent independent study showed that the One Yorkshire devolution project could bring £30 billion to our region’s economy, so will he finally allow us to bring power home by letting One Yorkshire devolution go ahead? (900145)

I am sure that, like me, the hon. Lady is delighted that one of the first policy commitments of our new Prime Minister before the general election was to say that we should have devolution—mayoral at that—across the whole of the north of England, and I am delighted to report that we are not only proceeding well with negotiations in West Yorkshire but having good discussions with South Yorkshire—[Interruption.] The rest of Yorkshire is in discussions with us as well. [Interruption.] As I do not think the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) knows, given that he represents Brighton—though he is chuntering from a sedentary position about One Yorkshire—proposals have been submitted to the Government, but the area did not meet the requirement to having a coherent economic geography. I am pleased, however, that we are able to forge ahead with all forms of devolution in Yorkshire. What happens in Brighton we will have to wait and see.

T4. My constituency is 93% green belt. My district council has put together a plan that meets 90% of housing need while protecting the green belt. The planning inspector is indicating the plan should not be adopted. Will the Minister urgently look into the conduct of the Planning Inspectorate in this matter? (900143)

I welcome my hon. Friend to these Benches. She will be a terrific addition to this place, and I am delighted that she is dedicated to the green belt and supporting her constituents. That is only right, and the Government, too, are committed to that. Planning inspectors are appointed to independently examine plans. Given my quasi-judicial role in the planning system, it would not be appropriate for me to speak on this matter, but I cheer my hon. Friend on in all she does for her constituency.

The Government’s consultation on closing the loophole that allows second home owners to avoid paying any council tax whatever by pretending to be a small business ended 12 months ago. Will the Government take action to protect communities in south lakes and elsewhere, or have they decided not to bother?

We will absolutely help communities like the hon. Member’s. The Government have removed the requirement to offer council tax discounts on second homes amounting to 75% of the full rate. He is quite right: the consultation closes on 16 January, and then we will make decisions on it. If he would like to discuss his suggestions with me, I will gladly meet him.

T7. There has been a lot of talk about the blue wall of the north; less, however, has been said about the blue doughnut of Nottinghamshire. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the people of Rushcliffe that this one nation Conservative Government will deliver on our promises to support communities and businesses across the east midlands, to truly get the midlands engine revving in top gear? (900146)

I welcome my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour to the House. I think she is the first new Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe for 49 years. She has a lot to live up to, but I look forward to working with her as we power up the midlands engine. I think her constituency was the only Conservative constituency in the county of Nottinghamshire in 1997. Today, all the constituencies are Conservative. One area that we will of course work on together is delivery of the new development co-operation at Ratcliffe power station, which is a brilliant opportunity for the whole country.

Across the country, children’s care is in crisis. The Secretary of State made welcome reference to the funding settlement, which provides some relief, but that is for the next financial year. Can the Minister confirm that the extra funding will be provided in every year of this Parliament? Will the Government also continue to work with councils to ensure that funding settlements reflect the escalating demand for, and cost of, these services?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question; I know how important this issue is in his constituency. I can certainly confirm that the social care grant will continue every year, including the additional £9.2 million for his local authority into the next year. I am very happy to meet him to discuss this further.

T8. I welcome the fact that house building is at a 30-year high under this Conservative Government, but my constituents and I are concerned by the extremely high local house building target. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how new homes in East Surrey will be supported by much needed investment in road, rail and GP provision? (900147)

I welcome another hon. Friend to these Benches. She is quite right: we have to ensure that we have the right infrastructure. We pledged in the manifesto to ensure that infrastructure first, as set out in the Queen’s Speech. We have the £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund, but we will introduce a bigger, single housing infrastructure fund to provide the infra- structure that she rightly wants for her constituency and that other Members want for theirs.

Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), may I suggest—given that the only difference in the crisis facing many of our constituents is that they have problems with high pressure laminate or other forms of external cladding, as opposed to aluminium composite material—that it would be sensible to extend the coverage of the fund that the Government have established for the private sector to cover those blocks? Otherwise, the residents will face a very bleak future.

I am grateful for the right hon. Member’s comments, and I saw the early-day motion that he laid in the House to that effect, but we must be guided by the evidence. My predecessors chose to provide the £600 million remediation fund in relation to ACM in high-rise buildings because the expert panel which advises us had said that that was the urgent challenge that needed to be addressed. We have commissioned experts from the Building Research Establishment to carry out further tests on a range of materials, including HPL. I will publish the information shortly, and will say more at that time.

T10. I declare an interest, as a member of the Crawley towns fund board.Can my right hon. Friend say a little more about how he envisages the realisation of the £3.6 billion that the Government are investing in our town centres and high streets? (900149)

I too declare an interest, as a member of the Darwen towns fund board.

I think that we shall be hearing a bit more about that as we work with Members of Parliament, local authorities, businesses and community groups, and ask them to come forward with exciting long-term plans for the rejuvenation of not just their high streets but their towns. We must all remember, Mr Speaker, that there is a reason why you no longer have a tallow merchant in the high street in Chorley. High streets and town centres have always been changing, but with our stronger towns fund we can ensure that we are the handmaidens of that dynamic change.