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Commons Chamber

Volume 717: debated on Monday 27 June 2022

House of Commons

Monday 27 June 2022

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

New Members

The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:

Simon Robert Lightwood, for Wakefield.

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Richard John Foord, for Tiverton and Honiton.

Speaker’s Statement

Before we come to questions, I wish to make a short statement. I am exercising the discretion given to the Chair to waive the usual restrictions on references to matters sub judice in respect of the ongoing or adjourned Grenfell Tower inquests and cases relating to cladding. This is to allow debate to take place on the relevant policy matters, rather than discussion of the details of individual cases. This waiver applies to today’s questions and ongoing relevant proceedings.

I should also note that earlier copies of the Order Paper had today’s questions printed twice in error. I can reassure the Ministers they will only have to answer each question once—depending on how they behave!

Oral Answers to Questions

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Housebuilding: Urban Densification

1. What steps his Department is taking to increase housebuilding through densification of urban areas using local authority-approved building codes that pre-approve buildings. (900712)

We want to build good-quality homes in the right places, and to give communities a greater say in the planning process. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill includes provision for new “street vote” powers which will allow residents to come together and bring forward the development that they want to see on their streets, in line with their design preferences. That will incentivise communities to consider the potential for development, especially in areas of high demand, and will support a gentle increase in density through well-considered, well-designed and locally supported proposals.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and agree with him that the “street votes” idea—which the Secretary of State described as “a cracking idea” a few months ago from that very Dispatch Box—is extremely welcome and at the core of the Bill. Will he consider applying the same principles of local consent and design codes on a slightly larger scale to increase supply and create wealth across whole neighbourhoods rather than just single streets, as outlined in chapter 4 of my recent paper “Poverty Trapped”?

My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity to promote his paper, and I commend him for it. Of course we want to ensure that every community has an opportunity to build the houses that it needs within the local plan that it is developing. I welcome many of the points that my hon. Friend raised in his paper, and look forward to working with him in future to see how we can develop them further.

Does the Minister agree that high density does not equate to high rise? In the light of tragedies such as Grenfell Tower, Ronan Point and others, will he look less than kindly on applications for high-rise developments?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not able, in a quasi-judicial role, to comment on individual planning applications. It is for local authorities to make those decisions. Density can come in a range of different ways, and it is for local communities to decide what housing they want built in their area.

Brownfield Development

2. What progress his Department has made on promoting responsible development on brownfield sites. (900713)

The Government strongly encourage the use of brownfield land and we have introduced new planning measures to make the best use of previously developed land while also boosting the delivery of new homes. A total of £550 million has now been allocated to the seven mayoral combined authorities in the north and midlands for brownfield development, including £120 million announced in the levelling-up White Paper.

In the heart of Keighley we have a unique open area known as the green space, and the town council, local residents and I are all determined to keep it green. However, despite there being many other brownfield options, Labour-run Bradford Council is determined to build on this green space and we will now have a public referendum on the issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that responsible brownfield development involves local authorities listening to what local people want, and that Labour-run Bradford Council should not ignore my constituents?

My hon. Friend will know that, due to the quasi-judicial role, I cannot say too much about individual plans or proposals, but I know that he fights incredibly hard for his constituents in Keighley. What I can say is that when a planning application comes forward, there is a period for local consultation. That consultation needs to be local, and the council should listen to the concerns. Much of what we are introducing in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will make it easier for the development of local plans and easier for people to engage so that they can decide what is built where in their communities.

Will the Secretary of State and his gang be honest with the British public? All the time I hear people on the Government Benches saying that we have to build on brownfield land, but if it is brownfield land that can be built on and it is where people want to live, it has usually been built on already. The fact is that if this Government want to build houses, they will sometimes have to build them on green-belt land and other sites, and they will have to be imaginative about it. Do not con the British people. Brownfield land building will not meet the needs.

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that we have run a national register and it has identified more than 28,000 hectares of developable land, which is enough for 1 million homes. I make no apology for wanting regeneration, and I make no apology for wanting brownfield before green belt.

At this moment there are 20 million tonnes of wheat locked up in Ukraine and we are facing a significant food shortage across the world in the years to come. Does the Minister agree that, at a time like this, using good productive land in the UK for solar farms is disgraceful and that the forthcoming national planning policy framework ought to discourage the use of agricultural land for solar farms rather than encourage it?

I know that my hon. Friend has recently secured a Westminster Hall debate on this issue. Where agricultural land is needed, we always suggest it should be the less good agricultural land, but we also need to ensure that we are producing our own energy for this country. That is a balance that needs to be struck locally.

Spatial Disparities: Annual Reporting

3. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of requiring Government Departments to report annually on the impact of spatial disparities across the UK on targeted outcomes. (900714)

The Government will publish an annual report on progress towards delivering the 12 levelling-up missions designed to address the UK’s spatial disparities. The obligation to publish the report will be established in statute, creating a regular point for Parliament and the public to scrutinise progress towards levelling up.

The levelling-up missions fall far short of what we really need to make progress in this country. They are nothing more than the Government marking their own homework. Communities desperately need a cross-Government approach that focuses on the different outcomes for people and places in health, education and so many other areas. Will the Minister consider working with colleagues to set clearer lines of accountability on levelling up across Government Departments so that they can be assessed on their effectiveness and on real outcomes for people?

The hon. Lady will find that the levelling-up White Paper and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill do the very things she is asking. On marking our own homework, she misunderstands the point. The fact is that these missions should not be set in stone. As the economy adapts, so might the missions to reflect the changing environment and the lessons learned from past interventions. Some targets cut across spending review periods, for example, and it would make sense to be able to review them before the next period begins.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is hard to deliver the long-term, ambitious levelling-up plans set out in law without a long-term mechanism for funding them? Will she agree to meet me and members of the Northern Research Group, which has called for a levelling-up formula to equalise Government spending across our United Kingdom?

Resolution Foundation research indicates that the true cost of levelling up is billions higher than accounted for by Ministers, owing to the continued investment in the south-east of England offsetting the productivity boost in other regions. How will Ministers look holistically at socioeconomic inequalities to better understand how to close the gap?

The Resolution Foundation’s report raises some very interesting findings, and it highlights the urgency of levelling up across the UK and the fact that the cost of living crisis is making levelling up more challenging and necessary. The UK shared prosperity fund will help to unleash the creativity and talent of communities that have been overlooked and undervalued. If the hon. Lady would like to raise anything specific with me, I would be happy to respond in writing.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

4. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of local and devolved government in Scotland and Wales on the UK shared prosperity fund. (900715)

7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of local and devolved government in Scotland and Wales on the UK shared prosperity fund. (900718)

8. What assessment he has made of the impact of the allocation of the UK shared prosperity fund on real-term funding levels for communities. (900720)

22. What recent discussions he has had with elected members in the devolved Administrations on the (a) equity and (b) transparency of the (i) levelling-up fund and (ii) UK shared prosperity fund. (900734)

The UK shared prosperity fund will deliver funding to all parts of our United Kingdom, and our allocation approach gives every region and nation a real-terms match with EU funding. Details are published on We have engaged with the devolved Administrations at all levels on the design of the fund, and their input has helped to inform the most appropriate mix of interventions and local allocations for each part of the United Kingdom.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that by directly investing in local communities, such as my Bridgend constituency, levelling up is extended so that all of Wales benefits?

My hon. Friend puts it very well. The UK shared prosperity fund, the levelling-up fund and, indeed, the community ownership fund, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is championing today, together help communities such as Bridgend, which my hon. Friend represents so effectively, to provide more opportunities to more citizens.

My right hon. Friend will share my surprise to hear that the Welsh Labour Minister for the Economy wrote to all council leaders in Wales on 14 June saying

“Welsh government will not help deliver UK government programmes in Wales we consider to be flawed.”

Will my right hon. Friend assure the residents of Aberconwy that such directions will not be allowed to frustrate the sharing of prosperity in Wales?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I am disappointed. Vaughan Gething is a nice guy but it is a mistake, when we are decentralising power and resources to local government in Wales, for the Welsh Government and the Senedd to take that position. It is vital that we work together in the interest of the whole United Kingdom. This Parliament has been clear about ensuring that funding is available to local government and councillors in Wales of every party. The Welsh Government’s approach does not serve Wales well.

This Government fought and won the last election with a commitment to ensuring that post-Brexit funding will, at a minimum, match European Union subsidies, but the shared prosperity fund allocated to the Liverpool city region is £10 million a year less than we previously received from the EU. Will the Secretary of State concede that this is the latest in a long line of broken Tory promises? And will he commit to reforming an out-of-date, inadequate and wholly arbitrary funding formula that has seen some of the most deprived communities in the country lose out on vital sources of funding?

I respectfully disagree with the hon. Gentleman. If we look at not just the UK shared prosperity fund but the other investment in the Liverpool city region, we will see that this Government are absolutely committed not just to matching but to exceeding the support that was given under the European Union. I am looking forward to visiting the Liverpool city region later this week to discuss with the combined authority Mayor Steve Rotheram and others how levelling up is working on the ground.

The recent Public Accounts Committee report reminds us:

“Economic development is a devolved power”,

but decisions that would previously have been made according to Scottish Government priorities are now

“based entirely on UK Government’s assessment of priorities.”

In short, that is not decentralisation; it is a power grab. What will the Department do to address the PAC’s scepticism about how closely devolved priorities have been accommodated within the shared prosperity fund and other policies?

The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, be aware that I had the opportunity of speaking to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee, which covers these questions. I was struck by the fact that Scottish National party MSPs and, indeed, a Green MSP were all eager for the UK Government to play an even more assertive role in deploying the levelling-up and UK shared prosperity funds. The rhetoric of a power grab 12 months ago has been replaced by a desire to work constructively. I should note, of course, that the Chairman of that Committee is the partner of his party’s Front-Bench spokesperson here, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). Those MSPs are, I think, closer to their communities than distant West—Westminster figures.

I know. Some politicians don’t eat their own words—I swallow mine whole.

It is those MSPs who are closer to their communities, and unlike the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), they want the UK Government to work with them.

It has been very good to work closely with Pembrokeshire County Council over the last 12 months on a successful bid to the levelling-up fund to improve Haverfordwest town centre. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to Wales, local authorities really value the new direct relationship with the UK Government, and that the levelling-up fund creates new opportunities for partnership that do not exclude devolved Government and provide more opportunities for local Members of Parliament to get in and help their communities work on solutions?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I talk on calls to local authorities in Scotland, as well as local authorities in Wales, it is striking how grateful they are that the UK Government are taking a pro-devolution, pro-decentralisation approach. That is in stark contrast to the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government, who are centralising power in Cardiff and Edinburgh and not listening to the communities so well represented on these Benches.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), South Yorkshire will also be disadvantaged because of a miscalculation in the previous round of funding that has been baked into the new allocation process. This means that while Cornwall will get £229 per head, South Yorkshire will get £33 per head. I do not begrudge Cornwall a penny of that money, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will understand why I want a fair deal for my constituents in South Yorkshire. Will he help me get it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point and for reminding the House that we have stuck to our manifesto commitment to ensure that, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Cornwall was absolutely protected. I take his point about the calculations for South Yorkshire. I look forward to working with him, South Yorkshire MPs and Oliver Coppard to ensure that appropriate resource is provided. Just the other week, I had the opportunity to see the great work that is being carried forward in both Sheffield and Barnsley on his behalf.

Despite a manifesto promise to

“at a minimum match the size”

of the EU structural funds, the shared prosperity fund means £371 million less a year for English regions, as illustrated by hon. Members in the Chamber today. Of course, that cut comes at a time when the Conservative-led Local Government Association rightfully argues that the current council settlement falls £2 billion a year short of what is needed because of sky-high inflation. How does the Secretary of State plan to respond urgently to that plea?

It is important that we fund local government appropriately, and we can do so only because of the way in which our economy has been well managed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Interruption.] I am afraid that every time we hear from Labour Front Benchers, we hear another plea for more spending, but never, ever do they give an explanation of where the money will come from. The last time there was a Labour Chief Secretary, he left a note saying that there was no money left. Lord preserve us from another Labour Government, who would borrow and spend and take this country back to bankruptcy.

Despite the Secretary of State’s bluster, he will be aware that the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy has written to him—I have the letter right here—to express her deep concerns about the UK Government’s lack of engagement during the drafting of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and about how it cuts across devolved responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives from the Scottish Parliament specifically to discuss the democratic imperative of respect for the powers of that Parliament? Or does he simply not recognise the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament?

I love to visit the Scottish Parliament; all sorts of wonderful folk serve in it, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), and others who do such a brilliant job in holding the Scottish Government to account—

Well, he is holding the Scottish Government to account. Nobody else is doing it.

I had the opportunity to appear in front of Mr Ken Gibson a few months ago—what a pleasure it was. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are our partners in making sure that we can make levelling up a success. An example of that is the fact that the Cabinet Secretary whose letter the hon. Lady so elegantly holds has been working with the UK Government to deliver two new freeports in Scotland that would not have been possible if we were still in the European Union. I am glad to see the Scottish Government embracing one of the benefits of Brexit.

Tower Block Remediation Deadline

5. If he will impose a legally binding deadline for remediation works on tower blocks in England that are deemed unsafe as a result of (a) cladding and (b) other associated fire risks. (900716)

The Government are providing funds to remediate unsafe cladding in buildings above 11 metres and have secured unprecedented pledges from developers to fix the buildings they constructed. Today, I have written an open letter to all building owners of properties with critical building safety defects to remind them that we have taken powers, through the Building Safety Act 2022, to compel them to fund and undertake the necessary work to make all buildings safe.

We still have no legal deadline in place to fix cladding and fire safety issues and no justice for Grenfell, and thousands of buildings, including in my constituency, are still unsafe. The Government have been dodging their responsibilities for more than the past five years. In January, the Secretary of State said that leaseholders are “blameless” and that it would be “morally wrong” for them to pay. Why, then, does he think it is fair for so many leaseholders, including in my Battersea constituency, to potentially have to pay £15,000 for non-cladding costs to correct problems that they did not cause?

The hon. Lady makes a number of important points. It is fair to say, and most people in the House would acknowledge, that, although progress over the past five years has not been everything that it should be, in recent months we have succeeded in securing commitments from developers to remediate the buildings for which they are responsible. With the publication of the open letter today and the passing of the Building Safety Act, a requirement has been placed on freeholders to pay for the work that is required. We have a cap on the commitments that any leaseholder has to enter into and that cap is consistent with the precedent in Florrie’s law. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady, as an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, to make sure that those whom she serves are relieved of any obligation beyond that which is fair to ensure that their buildings are safe.

Most of the new build properties built in North West Durham are built to a high standard, but sadly some are not, and when they are not, people get in touch with my constituency office. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that by further extending the rights of residents to seek compensation for issues arising from poor workmanship during construction we will help millions of new homeowners throughout the country to have the opportunity to pursue developers for poor workmanship, so that no one is left in substandard new housing?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant campaigner not just for his constituency but for those who are in poor housing. Although the overwhelming number of new homes are built to very high standards, some do not meet the quality and decency thresholds that they should. I will work with my hon. Friend to achieve precisely the goal that he outlined.

Housing Regeneration: Former Industrial Areas

6. What support his Department is providing to deliver housing regeneration in former industrial areas. (900717)

Our levelling-up White Paper makes a new offer to support transformational regeneration in towns and cities across the country. We have already announced our support in Wolverhampton, Sheffield and Blackpool We are providing billions of pounds to support regeneration through our brownfield housing funds and levelling-up fund.

Will the Minister and his colleagues look at the wider remit of the Department, namely levelling up and communities, to deliver a workable policy on private-sector housing regeneration? My constituency suffers from a plethora of absentee landlord-owned derelict properties that are often a focus for crime and antisocial behaviour. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister listen to communities in Blackhall, Horden, Dawdon and Easington Colliery, which are in desperate need of levelling up in the form of housing regeneration, and come forward with a workable plan based on need rather than a beauty contest?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that matter, and we do take it incredibly seriously. Officials were up in his area not so long ago looking at those very issues. We are proud of the fact that we are getting a lot of support from political leaders of all persuasions to work with us in our mission to level up and address the very issues that he has just highlighted.

We all know that Stoke-on-Trent was the beating heart of this country’s industrial revolution. It is thanks to this Government and their investment in brownfield sites that we are building, on average, 1,000 new homes a year, of which 97% is on brownfield land, such as the Royal Doulton site that the Secretary of State recently visited. We have a game-changing agreement between Stoke-on-Trent City Council, ably led by Abi Brown and Carl Edwards, the portfolio holder, and Homes England to bring transformative and quicker housing to the city of Stoke-on-Trent. Will the Housing Minister welcome this landmark local council agreement?

I can do nothing but welcome my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for his city and for the amazing work that has been going on there. The collaboration between the Department, the Government and the city council under Abi Brown’s excellent leadership, shows that there is transformational change happening in Stoke-on-Trent, thanks to the fact that it has Conservative representation.

I welcome the initial support—it is initial I am sure—that the Government are giving towards regeneration in my constituency. However, there is a problem. Initially, Sheffield Council was planning under the local plan to build around 40,000 homes in the next 15 years. With the metropolitan uplift, that has increased the number to more than 50,000. That will mean unnecessary building on greenfield sites, which otherwise could have been saved, and it will take the impetus away from building on regeneration brownfield sites. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the council to discuss how we can avoid this double disaster from happening?

How could I possibly turn down an invitation to meet the Chair of the Select Committee? On the uplift, we are clear that this should be about the identification of existing sites and the regeneration of brownfield sites to meet that uplift. I will of course meet him to ensure that that happens. Regeneration is what we want, and I am glad that we are helping out in Sheffield.

Will the Minister take action to remove the excessively high housing targets that the Mayor of London has inflicted on the London suburbs, because they are making it harder and harder to turn down proposals that amount to overdevelopment?

My right hon. Friend has knocked on my door on many occasions to raise many of the issues that she has highlighted in her constituency. I would be happy to meet her again to talk about exactly what she has just raised with me.

There are nearly 200,000 fewer council housing properties today than there were in 2010. How have a Government who are committed to levelling up allowed that to happen?

Because we have given people the opportunity to become home owners for the first time in a generation. I am proud of the fact that we have done that, but my right hon. Friend and I are determined that we will do all we can with our £12 billion affordable homes programme to create more homes in constituencies such as that of the hon. Gentleman.[Official Report, 30 June 2022, Vol. 717, c. 6MC.]

As the Minister will be aware, both my constituents and I are deeply concerned that Three Rivers District Council continues to delay publishing a local plan until at least 2025. Local Liberal Democrat councillors are telling residents that it is Government targets rather than the lack of a local plan that is destroying our beautiful green spaces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils such as Three Rivers District Council need to publish a local plan as soon as possible to protect our beautiful green-belt land rather than blaming Government housing targets?

What a surprise that the Liberal Democrats are trying to spell out myths in my hon. Friend’s constituency. If they care so much about this issue, it is a shame that not a single one of them is in the Chamber for questions today. He is right that his council needs to get on with the local plan, and I encourage it to do so, because that will give the people in his community surety about where houses will be built.

Housebuilding: Social Homes

The provision of affordable housing is a central pillar of this Government’s plan to level up the country. We are investing £11.5 billion in affordable homes over the next five years. We recognise that there is a significant need for social housing; that is why our affordable homes programme will aim to deliver 32,000 social rent homes, double the figure of the previous programme.

I am inundated with casework on a daily basis from constituents living in shocking conditions, facing problems with mould, disrepair and overcrowding that are seriously impacting their quality of life and mental health. There are more than 4,000 families on Enfield’s waiting list for social housing alone. How can the Minister justify fewer than 7,000 social homes having been built in England last year?

The hon. Lady highlights an equally important point about the quality of the social homes we have. I hope she will welcome the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill already making its way through the other place, which is intended to reduce the number of non-decent homes by 50% by 2030. We are doing that not just in the social rented sector, but in the private rented sector.

I welcome more social housing, but in the rural parishes of east Sussex the housing provider Optivo is selling off stock to the private market, citing the cost of meeting rental requirements. I have tried to reason with Optivo and suggest that it only do so where it or other social housing providers are building more housing in the same parish. Can I meet the Minister to discuss that and to discuss accountability of social housing organisations?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the accountability of housing associations. It is our drive, through the Government’s work and the new Bill, to ensure that that accountability is increased. I am assured that the Housing Minister will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue with Optivo.

Having overseen the net loss of a staggering 135,000 genuinely affordable social homes over the past 12 years, the Conservative party now seems to have conceded that the country does not have enough and the Government need to do something about it. When it comes to reversing 12 years of failure on social housing, it is deeds, not words, that matter to the 1.2 million people now languishing on waiting lists across England. Can the Minister tell the House precisely how many extra homes for social rent the Government now plan to deliver by the end of this Parliament?

It is slightly disappointing when the hon. Gentleman turns up with a written question that I have already answered in the response to the previous question. However, it is equally important to note that during the 11 years where we had a Labour Government, they built fewer affordable homes than the Conservative Government have built subsequently, so I do not think we are in a position to take lessons from the Opposition.

Rough Sleepers: West Midlands

11. Whether he has had discussions with the Mayor of the West Midlands on steps his Department is taking to help rough sleepers into long-term accommodation. (900723)

The first thing Andy Street did when he became Mayor of the West Midlands was to convene a taskforce to tackle rough sleeping in the west midlands. He is a valued member of the Government’s rough sleeping advisory panel, where I welcome his advice regularly, and the Government have supported the west midlands with funding for a range of accommodation, including £1 million for new homes under the rough sleeping accommodation programme.

I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Mayor of the West Midlands—oh my gosh, I have forgotten his name; oh yes, it has come back to me—Andy Street. How does the Minister assess the effectiveness of the Housing First pilot that the Mayor has initiated in addressing rough sleeping in the west midlands?

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, has been a strong champion of the Housing First programme and the pilots. That has already achieved 552 individuals securing a tenancy through the programme. They are provided not just with accommodation but with the incredibly vital support that is necessary to help people to sustain a tenancy.[Official Report, 5 July 2022, Vol. 717, c. 10MC.]

I read a rather lovely interview with the Minister in a recent issue of The Big Issue where he reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to end street homelessness by 2024. All Labour Members want that to happen, and I actually think the Minister does too, but can he honestly tell the House that this pledge has his whole Department’s backing when the Secretary of State, sat next to him, is seeking to bring back the universally hated, cruel and antiquated Vagrancy Act 1824? If this Government really believe their own promise that they can end rough sleeping within the next two years, why are they seeking to recriminalise it now?

Our ambition to end rough sleeping in the lifetime of this Parliament does not just require the wholehearted investment of our Ministers but of Ministers right across the Government. We are working incredibly closely with Ministers from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that we do genuinely achieve that ambition. I look forward to working with Opposition Members in order to help us in that cause.

Digital Connectivity: Hardest-to-reach Premises

13. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on improving the digital connectivity of the hardest-to-reach premises as referenced in the levelling-up White Paper. (900725)

I am in regular contact with other Ministers on this subject, which is very important for rural areas. Through Project Gigabit we are investing £5 billion in better broadband. At the start of 2019, just 7% of Welsh households could get gigabit internet; now 51% can. We are investing a further £1 billion in the shared rural network, which will increase 4G coverage in mid and west Wales from 86% to 97%.

The Minister will be aware that some 19% of properties in Ceredigion currently receive broadband speeds of under 10 megabits per second. Although there are plans to improve connectivity in a number of these areas, there are other communities in villages such as Plwmp, Brynhoffnant, Blaenporth, Penrhiwllan, Ffostrasol and Rhydlewis that are not currently subject to any plans. How will the Government ensure that such communities will benefit from improved connectivity even when commercial companies have not thus far brought forward any plans?

That is a very important observation. I mentioned some of the huge investments that we are making and the pace that things are moving, but we want them to happen even more quickly. I have a lot of respect for the hon. Member, and if he would like to discuss further how we can make the new roll-out go even faster, I would love to do that.

Levelling-up Funds: Criteria

14. What recent assessment he has made of the impartiality of criteria used to award levelling-up funds. (900726)

The levelling-up fund targets money at those places that are most in need, using an index that includes metrics such as productivity, skills, unemployment and commercial vacancy rates. In round 1 of the fund, over half the money allocated went to the 20% most deprived local authorities.

I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Barnsley East to meet the Coalfields Regeneration Trust to discuss its regeneration proposals. He will have seen from his visit how, by every measure, Barnsley is deserving of levelling-up funding, so despite our previous two bids being rejected, will he consider Barnsley in the upcoming round?

The hon. Lady will know that the allocation is a completely transparent process. If she wants to find out more about the help sessions for local authorities, we can provide information on how they can improve their bids.

It is likely that Ipswich is going to be connected to two levelling-up bids, one from the county council and one from the borough council. Does the Minister agree that investing in sports opportunities for young people, particularly in deprived areas, can be transformative for levelling up, and will she therefore welcome our plans to transform Gainsborough sports and community centre? Will she confirm that the civil servants will work as quickly as possible so that my constituents can see results on the ground, like with the towns fund, where the civil servants are currently reviewing the business cases?

The recent report from the Public Accounts Committee was a huge blow to the way in which the Government are seeking to level up and it exposed once again the debilitating impact of beauty parades and unclear allocation criteria. If the Secretary of State thinks that was praise, then goodness me! This can be resolved in future by the Government accepting our calls for proper, sustained funding that is targeted at need. Therefore, to make sure that we are never in this situation again, will the Minister commit to accepting amendment 13 to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will start this process?

No, I will not commit to that. While we hold the Public Accounts Committee in high esteem, we reject much of the criticism and we will publish our response to its report in the summer.

Development: Water Treatment Infrastructure

15. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that the development of homes and commercial buildings does not overload existing water treatment infrastructure. (900727)

The national planning policy framework is clear that, through their local plans, local authorities should make sufficient provision for the development and infrastructure required in their areas to help deliver sustainable development. Water companies are expected to plan their future infrastructure investment to accommodate future growth and ensure that adequate infrastructure provision is not a limiting factor.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that it would be appropriate for water companies to become statutory consultees for local authorities and that their views on water treatment capacity should be sought before local authorities grant consent for significant developments?

There already is a statutory requirement in place for local planning authorities to consult water and sewerage companies on the preparation of local plans. Developer contributions can also be used to secure infrastructure improvements, including for wastewater. I understand that my right hon. Friend has already been in touch with the office of the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), on these matters and that the Minister is happy to meet him to discuss this in greater detail.

Topical Questions

I had the enormous privilege on Wednesday last week of attending the unveiling of the Windrush memorial, which marks the fantastic contribution made to this country over more than 70 years by migrants from the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth. I wish to place on the record my thanks not just to the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), but to Baroness Floella Benjamin for the fantastic work she undertook to ensure that that fitting memorial could be unveiled.

I welcome the proposals to extend the decent homes standard in the private rented sector in the just published, “A fairer private rented sector” White Paper. Is it the Government’s intention to include their stated targets on private rented sector energy efficiency in homes in the decent homes standard? If they do that, what sanctions will the Government be proposing for landlords who fail to make their properties energy-efficient?

The hon. Gentleman is right that energy efficiency is a critical part of making sure that homes are decent, safe and warm, and we will be considering what steps and what proposals we might be able to put in place to ensure that landlords live up to their responsibilities.

T3.   Local authorities such as Suffolk County Council are facing major challenges in recruiting social care staff. That is cascading right through the health and social care system and causing major difficulties for hospitals in discharging patients, getting on top of the backlog of operations and getting ambulances quickly back on the road. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outline the discussions he has had with local government to remove this logjam? (900739)

Local authorities such as Suffolk County Council are facing major challenges in recruiting social care staff; that is cascading right through the health and social care system and causing major difficulties for hospitals in discharging patients and getting on top of the backlog of operations. I agree with my hon. Friend and want him to know that I have been working on the issue very closely with my counterpart in the Department of Health and Social Care. We have provided £462.5 million to local authorities to support them with those workforce pressures, and there is more that we will continue to do.

We have had a week of travel chaos while the Transport Secretary has sat idly by, and there is another crisis on the horizon: the local government cleaners, social workers and refuse workers who cannot afford to feed their families on the wages they are paid. They need and deserve a pay rise. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities knows that workers and council leaders struggling with record Tory inflation cannot square the circle alone. Nobody wants rubbish piling up in the streets, nobody wants older people left in their homes, and nobody wants families left to break. Will he commit to making a better fist of this than his hopeless colleague at the Department for Transport? He should do as they ask and come to the table to protect our vital workers, who kept this country going during the pandemic, and the communities they serve so well.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady talks about “Tory inflation”—presumably the inflation in Germany is Social Democratic inflation, inflation in France is En Marche inflation, and inflation in the United States is Democrat inflation. The truth is that when it comes to dealing with the cost of living crisis and ensuring that our economy is on the right track, she and her colleagues would be better served by using their links with the trade unions to get workers back to work, rather than she and her colleagues supporting the RMT in strike action that gets in the way of our economy moving forward.

It would be laughable if the Government’s failure to do their job had not brought this country to a standstill and was not about to get much worse. The Secretary of State talks about Labour Members doing their jobs, but the last time we had strikes on this level was under the Thatcher Government in 1989, and he was on a picket line—I prefer his earlier approach. If he is serious about getting the economy moving, why does he not do his job?

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) talked about the billions of pounds that the Government have poured down the drain on levelling up, because the Secretary of State does not have the first clue how to spend it. He knows that the only way out of this low growth, high tax spiral that his Government have created is to get the economy firing on all cylinders. Can he remind me again whose job that is? It is his. If he will not do it, why will he not get out of the way and give that money to local council leaders so that they can?

That was beautifully scripted. I offer my support to the hon. Lady in her leadership bid; I am behind her 100% of the way, as, I am sure, are her friends in the RMT and that other figure who joined Labour MPs on the picket line last week: Arthur Scargill. She talks about going back to the future, but she would take us back to the future of the ’80s with strikes, inflation and borrowing. She is the Marty McFly of politics: someone who lives in the past, even as she aspires to greater things.

I say to both Front Benchers that it is totally unacceptable to take that length of time in topical questions. Back Benchers are the people who are meant to be asking topical questions, so please consider the rest of the Chamber.

T6. Wrexham’s levelling-up gateway bid is supported by a 16,000-signature petition, which we will present to No. 10, to redevelop the Kop stand at the racecourse and create an international sporting stadium in north Wales for the first time. Does the Minister agree that people are at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and the amount of people who have signed the petition shows its true value? (900742)

Will the Secretary of State confirm his willingness to meet me, North Ayrshire Council and key partners to discuss the robust proposals for a fusion energy plant at Ardeer in my constituency? Does he agree that a successful Ardeer bid would provide a step change in local and regional economic prosperity, as well as being a catalyst for long-term sustainable investment in North Ayrshire?

Yes and yes. Even though they are not in my party, I must say that North Ayrshire’s elected representatives in this House and in Holyrood do a fantastic job for their constituents in championing nuclear power.

T2. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There is an alcohol harm paradox, whereby people in the most deprived communities drink less but suffer larger consequences. In Liverpool, 88% of alcohol is sold at below 50p a unit, and 24% of the population drink at high risk. More and more premises are seeking to open. Will the Secretary of State look again at making public health a licensing objective and review the way that licensing fees are set nationally so that they could be set at a local level? (900738)

I am sure the whole House knows of the hon. Gentleman’s courage and principle in campaigning on such questions. He makes a valid point. A health disparities White Paper is forthcoming soon and I will discuss his precise point with my right hon. Friend the Health and Social Care Secretary.

T9. Planning applications have a major impact on communities, but too often communities feel excluded from the decision-making process because they are unaware of the procedure for the local plan. Could Ministers ensure that, in the planning reforms they bring forward, they will make changes so that communities can take an active part from the beginning? (900746)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is one of the key ambitions of the measures being introduced in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. We want there to be opportunities for communities to influence and comment on emerging local plans, and we will make sure that those powers are enhanced and that the planning system is digitised so that it is easier for people to engage, because local people need to decide where the local housing should be provided.

T5. The Secretary of State promised an overhaul of the building safety fund to put an end to the endless delays to the funding that people in unsafe buildings desperately need, but the delays continue. Three blocks in my constituency—the Swish building, the Radial development and Percy Laurie House—have all been pending for well over a year now, and they have heard nothing from the fund. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss these blocks, and stop these and many applications getting stuck? (900741)

Absolutely. In the first instance, I will ask Lord Greenhalgh to investigate, and then we will of course follow up with a meeting.

Burtree in the north of Darlington has been granted garden village status. However, the current difficulties posed by nutrient neutrality guidance from Natural England are causing delays not just for this developer, but others. What can my right hon. Friend do to rectify this situation? Moreover, can I press him to do all he can to unblock the bureaucratic backlog between Homes England, the Treasury and his Department, to enable Burtree to progress?

Absolutely. On nutrient neutrality, we are working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England to resolve this question. On the second point, I will apply appropriate pressure to tender parts.

T7. The Secretary of State will be aware of my interest in flood prevention from my ten-minute rule Bill—the Flooding (Prevention and Insurance) Bill—and how important the issue is to Hull and the East Riding. Will he be following the Labour Government in Wales in enacting schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 for England, which would ensure minimum standards of sustainable drainage systems on every new property? (900743)

Sustainable drainage systems are a vital part of future developments, so I will look closely at the recommendation the hon. Member makes.

While currently only local authorities can initiate levelling-up fund bids, has my right hon. Friend given consideration to giving other organisations, such as community interest companies or charities, the ability to submit LUF bids, so long as they have the backing of the local MP?

That is an intriguing idea, and it would be a significant development. My hon. Friend is, I think, probably the most effective Member of Parliament in the borough of Wigan, and can I say that I look forward to working closely with him on that?

Since the Tories came into power, 800,000 fewer households aged under 45 own their homes, nearly 1 million more people now rent—often at a cost higher than a mortgage—and the number of truly affordable homes and new social rented homes being built has fallen by over 80%. Is the Secretary of State ashamed of this record, which is failing a generation of young people?

I was very proud when this Government repealed the Vagrancy Act 1824 under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, and the last thing we should do is demonise and criminalise people who rough-sleep and beg. I absolutely appreciate that there can be antisocial behaviour with aggressive begging, but we have legislation —more robust and more modern legislation—that deals with that. Therefore, I was concerned to see that clause 187 of the new Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill disregards the repeal of the Vagrancy Act. When is a repeal not a repeal?

There will be no return to the Vagrancy Act. We will work with the Home Office to ensure that there are appropriate measures to deal with any form of antisocial behaviour, but criminalising rough-sleeping and begging is not on the agenda.

I have leaseholders in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington who are unable to sell their properties because the properties have not been painted for 40 years, despite the freeholder’s obligations. Why have the Government actually postponed their leasehold reforms from this Parliament?

Is the Secretary of State aware that in 2019 I took through Parliament the Parking (Code of Practice) Act with all-party support? This measure mandates the Government to introduce a code to make parking fairer for motorists. In view of the overwhelming support for this measure on both sides of the House, why are the Government now dragging their feet on the matter?

There is a challenge to some of the proposals we are putting forward, with which we have to deal in the courts.

Scotland receives 40% less money from levelling-up funding than it received from the EU. When does the Secretary of State estimate Scotland will get the same amount of funding as we had as a member of the EU?

Scotland is just as generously funded as ever before, but it would be even better for Scotland if the Scottish Government were not spending £20 million on campaigning for independence, because as we all know, breaking up the United Kingdom would be an economic disaster for Scotland.

Ministers are aware of the long-standing limbo the learned societies of Burlington House find themselves in because of the proposed rent increases from the Government, and I declare an interest as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Apparently the Secretary of State has promised the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) a meeting to get everybody around the table to sort this out. May we urgently have that meeting before the summer recess, and will he give us a date now?

My hon. Friend is a distinguished archaeologist and antiquarian—although still a youthful-looking antiquarian. Yes, we will have that meeting; it will happen before 22 July and I will invite both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

The Secretary of State has mentioned that there will be more opportunities for all of the UK as a result of the levelling-up programme, and of course we welcome that. He also knows there is a subsidy control mechanism in operation in Northern Ireland that prevents Northern Ireland from benefiting from levelling up and other generous benefits that flow from this place. Will the Secretary of State today ensure that everyone on his side of the House—and I encourage Members on the Opposition side of the House to do this too—votes for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, in which clause 12 will remove that impediment to progress?

The Foreign Secretary will open the Second Reading debate, and I hope people will listen to everything that she and indeed the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland say, in order to make sure Northern Ireland can fully participate in all the benefits of being part of the UK.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

There are two villages in my local area that will essentially become one due to a development that was granted approval on appeal. How is the Secretary of State addressing the current problem of the lack of a five-year land supply circumventing local planning decisions?

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and our forthcoming national planning policy prospectus will address precisely that question.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s new-found enthusiasm for the Scottish Parliament. Does that enthusiasm extend to recognising the mandate that Parliament has to honour the manifesto commitments on which a clear majority of its Members have been elected in 2021, 2016 and 2011?

In 2014 the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and were told at the time by the Scottish National party that it was a once in a generation vote. Eight years on from that vote it would be folly indeed, at a time when there is war on the European continent, we face cost of living challenges and we are all committed to working together to deal with the legacy of covid, to spend even more money attempting to break up and smash the United Kingdom instead of working to heal and unite.

Eastleigh Borough Council is scheduled to have £670 million of debt by 2025, with no sign of it reducing. Does the Secretary of State think this is acceptable, and what plan does his Department have to tackle such profligate councils?

As Eastleigh Borough Council is so profligate, I presume—I do not know; I do not have the facts in front of me—it must be a Liberal Democrat-controlled council, because profligacy and fiscal incontinence on such a level could only be engineered by the opportunistic gang that masquerades as the Liberal Democrat party.

Draft Mental Health Bill

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our plans to bring the Mental Health Act 1983 into the 21st century. Today, just as we pledged in the Queen’s Speech, we have published a draft Mental Health Bill to modernise legislation that was passed by the House almost 40 years ago and make sure that it is fit for the future.

Last year, we invested £500 million to support those with mental health needs who were most affected by the pandemic and, as we set out in the NHS long-term plan, we are investing record amounts into expanding and transforming mental health services. That will reach an extra £2.3 billion each year by 2023-24. Later this year, we will also publish a new 10-year mental health plan followed by a 10-year suicide prevention plan, which, as I set out in a speech on Friday, will place a determined focus on this major source of grief and heartbreak so that fewer people will one day get the news that turns their lives upside down. But we cannot make the critical reforms that we need and that are so essential to the country’s mental health system without making sure that the law that underpins our country’s mental health system is up to date, too.

Since the 1983 Act, our understanding of and attitude towards mental health has transformed beyond recognition, and it is right that we act now to bring the Act up to date. The Mental Health Act was created so that people who have severe mental illnesses and present a risk to themselves or others can be safely detained and treated for their own protection and that of those around them, but there are a number of alarming issues with how the Act is currently used. Too many people are being detained. They are also being detained for too long, and there are inequalities among those who are detained. The previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), asked Professor Sir Simon Wessely to lead a review into the Act. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her tireless commitment to this most important of issues and to Sir Simon for his illuminating report, which made a powerful case for reform and was rightly welcomed on both sides of the House. It made for uncomfortable but essential reading, vividly showing how currently the Act fails patients and their loved ones and deprives people of autonomy and control over their care.

The draft legislation that we have published today builds on Sir Simon’s recommendations as well as those in our White Paper, which was published in partnership with the Ministry of Justice last year. Just like Sir Simon’s report, the White Paper was welcomed by both sides of the House. It was also welcomed by leading charities including Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink, countless mental health professionals and, critically, the people who use mental health services and their loved ones. Today, we are showing how we will put the vision into action. The Bill is a once-in-a-generation reform, and I would like to set out briefly to the House the important themes that sit behind it.

First, the Bill rebalances the criteria for detention so that it will take place only as a last resort when all other options have been explored and considered. Under the new criteria, people will be detained only when they pose a significant risk of harm to themselves and others, and patients should be detained only if they will benefit from the treatment that is made possible by their detention.

Secondly, the Bill shows how we will give patients more control over their care and treatment. It will ensure that, in most cases, clinicians can administer compulsory treatment only if there is a strong reason to do so. In future, all patients formally detained under the Act will have a statutory right to a care and treatment plan, drawn up between the patient and their clinician, and personalised based on the patient’s needs. It will give them a clear road map to their discharge from hospital.

There are some cases when patients are not able to make decisions about their own care or feel that they could benefit from greater support. Currently, patients are not always able to choose who can represent them, as their nearest relative automatically qualifies to act on their behalf. The Bill will change that, allowing patients to choose a nominated person who they believe is best placed to look after their interests. The Bill will also increase the powers of that nominated person, so that they can be consulted about the patient’s future care.

Thirdly, the Bill will tackle the disparities in how the 1983 Act is used. Black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Act than white people, and 10 times more likely to be placed on a community treatment order. The Bill provides for greater scrutiny of decision making, including through greater use of second opinions on important decisions, and through expanded access to independent tribunals; that will help us to address the disparities in the use of the Act.

Fourthly, the Bill will enhance support for patients with severe mental health needs who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Under the 1983 Act, too often, people in prison experience delays in getting treatment in hospital. Courts are sometimes forced to divert defendants who require care and treatment, some of whom have not been convicted, to prison as a so-called place of safety. The Bill will make crucial improvements so that vulnerable offenders and those awaiting trial can access the treatment that they need. It will tackle delays and speed up access to specialist care by introducing a new statutory 28-day time limit for transfers from prison to hospital, and it will end the use of prison as a so-called place of safety, so that patients can get the care that they need in the appropriate hospital setting.

The Bill will also amend the Bail Act 1976 so that courts are no longer forced to deny a defendant bail if the judge’s sole concern about granting bail has to do with the defendant’s mental health. The Bill will allow the judge to send them to hospital instead, so that they can be in the best environment for their mental health and can receive any treatment that they need.

Finally, the Bill will improve the way that people with a learning disability and autistic people are treated under the 1983 Act. One of my priorities in my role is personalised care. The current blanket approach cannot be allowed to continue; it means that too many autistic people and people with a learning disability are admitted into institutional settings when they would be better served by being in the community. The Bill will change this. It limits the scope for detaining people with learning disabilities and autistic people for treatment unless they have a mental illness that justifies a longer stay or they are admitted through the criminal justice system. It also gives commissioners of local authorities and integrated care boards new duties to make sure that the right community support is available instead.

I look forward to working with hon. Members in all parts of the House as we take these plans forward. This momentous Bill deals with one of the most serious and sombre responsibilities of any Government: their responsibility for the power to deprive people of their liberty. Mental ill health can impact any of us at any time. It is essential that we all have confidence that the system will treat us and our loved ones with dignity and compassion. That is what the Bill will deliver. I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of the statement, and for sharing his family’s experiences over the weekend. I am so sorry to hear about the circumstances surrounding his brother’s tragic death.

This overhaul of the Mental Health Act 1983 is long awaited. We welcome the draft Bill, and the fact that the Government have accepted the majority of the recommendations from Sir Simon Wessely’s independent review of the Act. It was interesting to hear, in the statement, of the Government’s focus on keeping people in crisis out of A&E, and of their plans to reduce the use of general ambulance call-outs for those experiencing a mental health crisis. In 2020, there were over 470,000 calls to 999 because someone was in a mental health crisis, which took up an estimated 66,000 hours of call time. In my email inbox, I have numerous examples from across the country of children being stuck in A&E for over 24 hours waiting for a mental health bed. One child waited over three days. When I work shifts in A&E, I see more and more people coming into hospital in crisis. The increased frequency is deeply concerning. Conditions are getting worse and illnesses are going untreated. We would not allow that in cancer treatment, so why is it allowed in mental health treatment?

Deprivation of liberty and the use of coercion can cause lasting trauma and distress. That is especially true for children and young people who find themselves in these most difficult situations and whose voices are often not heard when decisions are made. We are pleased that patients will have greater autonomy over their treatment in a mental health crisis, and we are glad that the Government have been working with organisations to listen to the experiences of those with learning disabilities or autism, but will the Secretary of State explain what safeguards will be put in place for people with learning disabilities or autism should the worst happen and they find themselves in prison? This is not a straightforward issue. Many people with learning disabilities or autism also live with serious mental illnesses, and we have to make sure that they have their rights protected and have dignity in their treatment.

In our communities, we witness the harsh reality of the health inequalities that so desperately need to be addressed. As the Secretary of State said, black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

We need to advance the mental health equality framework and there must be culturally appropriate services and the freedom for local areas to look at their specific populations in order to have the most suitable approaches. Culturally appropriate community provision is vital for mental health services that are truly joined-up and effective and that, crucially, work well for patients. Will the Secretary of State also provide reassurances on the future of community care and on how they will work with local authorities across the country to deliver community provision that works?

Mental health staffing levels are absolutely crucial to ensuring that mental health services are fit for purpose. More than a year and a half ago, I asked the Secretary of State’s predecessor about the future of mental health staffing. The proposals that have been set out today go well beyond what has been committed to in the long-term plan. Labour has a plan: to recruit an extra 8,500 mental health staff to treat 1 million additional patients a year by the end of our first term in office. Will the Secretary of State outline when we will get the workforce settlement? What reassurance can he give on filling training places?

For too long, the Government have had their head in the sand when it comes to mental health. They have failed on eradicating dormitories from mental health facilities, failed on cracking down on the use of restraint, and failed on getting on top of waiting times. We cannot have this kicked into the long grass and, if it gets lost in the political quagmire of Conservative in-fighting, should the Government call an early general election, people will suffer. We cannot have the Government fail on mental health legislation any longer. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity; we simply must get this right for everyone who depends on these vital services.

I thank the hon. Lady, particularly for her remarks at the start of her response about my personal experience.

I think the hon. Lady agrees with me, as does everyone in this House, that the 1983 Act is outdated. Society has learned since then, rightly, that people’s mental and emotional wellbeing is as important as their physical wellbeing. That was recognised in the Health and Care Act 2022, which came before Parliament recently, and this draft Bill does a lot to change the situation as well.

The hon. Lady talked, rightly, about the importance of mental health services. The NHS is putting record funding into NHS services. Some 1.25 million people were seen through the NHS talking therapies service, despite the pressures of the pandemic, and an additional £500 million of resources was put into mental health services because of the pandemic.

On the workforce, today in the NHS, we have around 129,000 health professionals focused on mental health. That is the highest number ever, and the number has gone up by some 20,000 since March 2016. As for the NHS’s strategic workforce plan—the 15-year plan on which it is currently working—having the correct provision for mental health will, of course, be a very important part of that.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement and thank him for his kind comments. I also join the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), in commending him for sharing his family’s experience. It shows that this is not just a piece of legislation from a Secretary of State; it comes from somebody who understands the issue.

I welcome the publication of the draft Mental Health Bill. While it is necessary for it to be given proper scrutiny, does my right hon. Friend join me in believing that we need to get these new provisions on the statute book as quickly as possible, to ensure that all those who are going through a mental health crisis can indeed be treated with the dignity and compassion that they deserve?

Let me thank my right hon. Friend again for the crucial role that she has played in getting the House to this point today with the publication of the draft Bill. It was her commitment to giving mental health parity with physical health that has led us to this important point. I agree absolutely with her. The draft Bill is before the House today. No doubt there will be prelegislative scrutiny, which I strongly welcome, to have the Bill ready as quickly as possible for First Reading in this House and to make sure that it becomes legislation as quickly as possible.

I welcome this statement from the Government, but I am concerned about constituents who have a mental health crisis and present at A&E departments. Because of long waiting times, they are usually unable to wait to be seen by a psychiatrist. Can the Secretary of State say how that will be addressed in the Mental Health Bill to make sure that people get the urgent treatment they need when they present at A&E departments?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the matter. I can tell her— helpfully, I hope—that the Bill is not that important in terms of getting what she wants to see, which is more care for people when they present themselves at A&E with mental health challenges. That is work that is already prioritised with the NHS. During the pandemic, as she and other hon. Members will understand, there were increased issues around mental health and people not getting care in the normal way; that is why we have put record resources into the NHS, including into A&E provision of mental health services.

I commend my right hon. Friend’s courage in talking about his family’s tragedy, which is one of the most difficult things to do in politics. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for her commitment to mental health, which is unparalleled among any Prime Minister I have known in this place; it made an enormous difference to me when I was Health Secretary.

I support wholeheartedly what the Health Secretary has said today. I hope that he does not mind my saying that in one instance it does not go far enough: there are still 2,000 people with autism and learning disabilities in secure institutions, effectively incarcerated, even though they would be better off in the community. It is a human rights scandal. As part of the remedy, would he consider changing the rules on sectioning so that, after a short period, anyone who wanted to keep someone in a secure unit would have to reapply for sectioning every week or two, so pressure is put on the system to find a better solution?

We are determined to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autism who are in mental health hospitals. As part of those plans, we will shortly publish the cross-Government “Building the right support” plan to drive progress; I will have more to say about that shortly. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend’s suggestion and would be happy to meet him to discuss it further.

I was incredibly moved to learn of the Secretary of State’s personal experience with this issue. I commend his courage in talking about a deeply personal issue.

In his statement, the Secretary of State outlined that patients will be able

“to choose a nominated person who they believe is best placed to look after their interests.”

Could he outline what rights that nominated person might have? I have a particular issue in my constituency: somebody has been moved from one part of the country to another, but their next of kin was not asked for permission and only found out after the event. I think that it is incredibly important not only that there is a nominated person, but that that person has outlined rights that can be enforced in these situations.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes the change that will come about through the Bill. The draft version has only just been published, and I appreciate that she will need time to digest it, but it does explain how the nominated person—who does not have to be a family member, but can be anyone whom the individual chooses and trusts—will be able to co-produce the treatment plan for that individual and work with him or her very closely.

Will my right hon. Friend look at a book published this week by Liz Cole and Molly Kingsley of the UsForThem parents group, which discusses the damage to children’s mental health during lockdown? We know that the number of referrals has increased by 60%, and that eating disorders among young girls rose by 400% during lockdown. Will my right hon. Friend set out measures to help children with their mental health? Given the damage that social media companies do to children’s mental health, will he consider a social media levy to raise money to fund mental health resilience, and will he also consider introducing a longer school day with extra sporting and wellbeing activities to help those children further?

My right hon. Friend has made the important point that children need full mental health support in normal times, but need it particularly when experiencing the impact of a pandemic. I will take a look at the book that he mentioned. Levies, as he will know, are a matter for the Treasury, but I am sure that he welcomes some of the measures in the Online Safety Bill. I should be happy to meet him and discuss some of his other proposals further.

I think the whole House will welcome many of the changes that the Bill represents. I especially welcome the section on black mental health and on the situation of people who are being incarcerated in the mental health system, but many of my constituents have suffered the effects of eight years of systemic and catastrophic failure on the part of their mental health trusts. What provisions in the Bill will make a difference to them following nearly 1,000 excess deaths in our mental health trusts? I know that he has committed himself to meeting me to talk about this, but will he also commit himself to meeting many of the victims of those eight years of failure who will be coming to Parliament next Tuesday to discuss what has happened to them? Perhaps he will be able to tell them how the Bill will turn their lives around and make a difference to them and their families.

I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees with me—as I think he does, given the way in which he framed his question—that the Bill is a huge step forward, especially in respect of the important issue of dealing with some of the inequalities in provision which we all know have existed, and which he mentioned at the beginning of his question. The way in which we change things will be not just through the Bill but through continued investment, and by ensuring that, when trusts are failing, those failures are addressed. As the hon. Gentleman said, I will be meeting him, but the Minister for Care and Mental Health will be happy to meet the constituents he mentioned.

I commend the statement, and I commend my right hon. Friend’s bravery in sharing that story. After speaking to friends, I decided to share my own story: twice I attempted to take my own life. Thankfully I did not succeed, but when I needed help, I was lucky enough to be able to get that help. Sadly, that is not the case for too many people throughout our United Kingdom, at a time when 40% of GP appointments are related specifically to mental health.

As my right hon. Friend will know, I am supporting the No Time to Wait campaign, led by my good friend James Starkie, who is trying to ensure that there is a mental health nurse in every GP surgery in the country to help with the early intervention that we know is so critical. There is a great example in Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, led by Lisa Dymond. Will my right hon. Friend, in the course of his work on this draft legislation, engage with that trust to see the work that it is doing to ensure that we can provide the access that people so desperately need?

May I first commend my hon. Friend for sharing his story and for being so open about it? There is no doubt that that will help a great many other people. I am sure he will welcome the Government’s plans for a new 10-year suicide prevention plan. I agree with him about the need to continue to work on improving provision, and I believe I will be having a meeting with him and Mr Starkie to discuss his campaign further.

I warmly commend what the Secretary of State said over the weekend. Many of us have experienced suicide in our own families, and it is good when people like him can share their experience; I think it helps an awful lot of people around the country.

Can I ask the Secretary of State about brain injury, which he knows I am a bit obsessed with? I visited three units—in Newcastle, Birmingham and Sheffield—the week before last. The big problem is that people are being given what is called a neurorehabilitation prescription, which is very similar to what he has described, but unfortunately, the moment they leave the trauma unit, the services that they require simply are not available in vast parts of the country. There are not enough occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists or psychiatrists to do that work.

The most distressing thing I heard was at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital—it does not have a hydrotherapy pool, which would be useful; nor does any other children’s hospital in the UK—which saw a 70% increase in brain injuries in children during covid from parents attacking their children. How are we going to get the workforce we need in order to make a difference to those people’s lives?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the investment already going into the workforce is at record levels. As the NHS sets out its 15-year workforce strategy, it will look into acquired brain injury, and rightly so. I thank him for the work he is doing with the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), on the ABI strategy. I understand that the call for evidence has just closed. That process will also help to bring about the change that he seeks.

I met some amazing young people from my constituency last week during the “It’s our Care” lobby of Parliament, and one issue they raised was mental health among looked-after children. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the mental health needs of looked-after children are taken into account, so that they, too, can thrive?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We have increased to a record level resources for mental health services for children, including looked-after children, but we need to ensure that the strategy is fit for the future. This will be a key part of our 10-year mental health strategy.

Global research into psilocybin has shown that it has significant potential for the treatment of mental health conditions, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia and alcohol addiction. However, its schedule 1 status under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 is hindering research in the UK and condemning thousands of people to unnecessary suffering. The organisation Heroic Hearts, which supports military and emergency services veterans with PTSD, has to facilitate patients’ travel abroad to access treatment that they should be able to receive here, where appropriate. Can the Secretary of State please tell the House what conversations he has had, or intends to have, with the Home Office about the rescheduling of psilocybin to ensure that this vital area of mental health research can be progressed and treatment can be brought into the 21st century with this Bill?

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. As she has said, rescheduling is an issue for the Home Office, and I will make sure that I take this up with the Home Secretary.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on autism, a role I took on after we lost Dame Cheryl Gillan. From her position in this place, she was tireless in highlighting the fact that there is a difference between those who suffer lifelong development disabilities such as autism and those who have mental health conditions, although it is fair to say that those with autism suffer with a higher proportion of mental health conditions. As things stand, 61% of those in mental health hospitals have autism as a condition—that is 1,200 people—and the figure used to be 38%.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s draft mental health Bill. Will he meet members of the all-party parliamentary group to discuss what the Bill will do for those with autism? Can I also parrot the call from the Chair of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), about the need to review the sectioning of those in mental health provision? There are far too many people languishing, and they need our help.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The reforms that we have set out today in this draft Bill mean that, in the absence of a mental health condition, learning disability and autism will no longer be a reason for people to be detained in a mental health hospital after an initial period of assessment. I would be happy to meet him and his APPG.

I am disappointed that, yet again, the Department has not produced all the papers for me in large print; it has produced all the papers in standard print. I hope the Secretary of State will take that away and ensure I receive my papers as soon as possible.

I am sure the Secretary of State will share my disappointment that, in England, 24% of all children’s mental health referrals are closed before the child receives any support. In my Adjournment debate last week, I highlighted the importance of children’s mental health services and trauma support and care, so will he reassure the House and me that he will do everything in his power to make sure children receive timely mental health support?

Of course the hon. Lady should get the Bill and any other documentation she needs in large print, and I am sorry that she has not. I will take that up. I apologise to her, and she makes a very important point.

Support for children, even before the pandemic, was rightly a priority. Funding will increase to record levels by 2023, with an additional £2.3 billion in total so that an additional 345,000 children and young people can be seen. We put in an additional £79 million during the pandemic, and we will set out in our new 10-year mental health strategy exactly how we will do more.

I commend the Secretary of State for bringing forward this draft Mental Health Bill. I have met key individuals across Keighley in recent months who provide mental health and wellbeing support and advice, including Nick Smith, Ryan Anderton, Bill Graham and one of our hard-working GPs, Caroline Rayment. They are all passionate about this subject, and I am sure they will be pleased to see greater autonomy in providing personalised care. A key issue they have raised with me is that of adults and children with learning difficulties. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Bill will help those with learning difficulties to engage further with mental health and wellbeing services?

Yes, it will. I set out in my earlier answers some of the Bill’s changes for those with learning difficulties and autism. I think my hon. Friend will also welcome the publication of the new 10-year mental health plan.

The Secretary of State may recall that I am very much involved with the Autism Commission, and I hope he has seen our recent report on autism’s lifelong impact on families. I support everything he has said this afternoon, except one thing. We need a deep cultural change in this area, whether it is GPs understanding more and having more proficiency, or teachers and schools recognising early signs of difficulty and struggle. If we believe in levelling up, why do only wealthy people get easy access to therapy? As I found when I chaired the Education Committee, we need more therapists and more therapy to be available.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about cultural change. Whether we are talking about teachers or healthcare professionals, we need to make sure they have a certain level of training on autism. I am sure he knows the NHS has started rolling out a type of mandatory training on autism, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss how we can go further in the light of that report.

This is an enormously welcome Bill, not least in my constituency, where I have campaigned endlessly for better mental health services and for a hub at our wonderful Cromer Hospital. As Norfolk has the slowest ambulance response times and the most mental health referrals in the UK, how can we access the £7 million-worth of specialist mental health ambulance services?

First, I commend my hon. Friend on the work he has done. I remember meeting him to discuss this important issue, and I welcome his support for the Bill. He may know that the extra support of around £150 million announced today includes £7 million of support for mental health ambulances.

Clause 31 states that transfers from prison to hospital should take place within 28 days of a referral notice,

“unless there are exceptional circumstances”,

and makes it very clear that those exceptional circumstances do not include a shortage of staff or beds. That is welcome, but at the moment about 50% of prisoners who are assessed as needing transfer to hospital are not transferred because the beds are not available. What can the Secretary of State do to make sure that that is not an issue by the time the Bill becomes law?

The NHS is already preparing for this change. Of course, this is not law yet and we can make progress before it becomes law, but I believe that once it does become law, subject to the will of this House, it will galvanise more parts of the NHS to make sure that that commitment is met at all times.

I very much welcome the Bill’s focus on autism and special educational needs. Having a learning disability often means that your brain is wired a bit differently, and often you feel like you are not understood, and that can contribute to mental ill health. On Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust, we have been languishing for seven years and that has led to hundreds of people losing their lives. Will the Secretary of State assure me that this Bill will be part of ensuring that never again will we let failure last so long and the cost be so high?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Sadly, we have instances around the country where certain trusts have failed local people when it comes to mental health. He mentions Norfolk and Suffolk. We need to do better. This Bill and the resources behind it will make the difference.

Through my role as a lay manager for Birmingham and Solihull mental health trust, I know that a major problem in the west midlands is the availability of beds for individuals detained by the police under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This is having a huge impact on A&E services in our area, because that is where the police take patients if there are no mental health beds available. How does the Secretary of State plan to improve bed availability for mental health patients?

I know that the hon. Lady speaks with experience, and I listen carefully to her when she speaks on these important issues. She may have seen the announcement earlier today that the additional support of around £150 million will go towards addressing her exact point about more provision, including crisis houses and sanctuaries—I also mentioned mental health ambulances earlier—and I think that will help.

This is an enormously welcome Bill on an issue on which I have campaigned and spoken to the Secretary of State about previously. North West Durham has an historic and ongoing issue, with suicide rates at double the national average. I commend him for speaking about his personal situation, and I look forward to the 10-year mental health plan and the 10-year suicide prevention plan. Will he outline how the Bill will reform the totally outdated Mental Health Act; how it will make a particular difference to those with serious mental health issues in my constituency, including children with anorexia issues whose parents have brought them to see me recently; and how it will deliver for people and their families as they go through really difficult treatment, making it more personalised for them?

I commend my hon. Friend on all the campaigning he has done on mental health and suicide prevention ever since he entered the House. The meetings I have had with him have gone directly into the publication of this Bill. The Bill will make a difference. I have summarised how it will result in more personalised care. Alongside the new resources, it will really help his constituents and many others.

I welcome the Bill. The acuteness of people’s mental health challenges while in the community is escalating before appropriate intervention is taken. How will the Bill ensure that earlier interventions are made, so that people do not have to go into secure accommodation for their safety?

Once the Bill is law, it will require the use of secure accommodation to be limited to those who absolutely need to be detained, either for their protection or for the protection of others. Alongside the Bill, we need to make sure that the right resources are there. I mentioned earlier the extra resources that are going in, to a record level, including today’s announcement of the £150 million.

I, too, thank the Secretary of State for sharing his personal experience, which it is so important to do. Will he tell me how he will match up the welcome provisions in the Bill with the need to ensure that action is taken? How will the resources match the responsibilities in the Bill?

When it comes to resources for mental health, we have not been waiting for the Bill. Although the Bill is an important part of ensuring that people get the right treatment, the commitment to resources began with the NHS’s long-term plan, which means that an additional £2.3 billion a year will be going into mental health services by 2023-24. Alongside that, an additional £500 million at least has gone in to support people with mental health needs because of the pandemic.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Far too many people are sent to mental health and learning disability placements out of their area. In April 2021, the Government committed to end the practice, but in March 2022 some 670 people were in out-of-area placements and, most concerningly, 50 of them were more than 300 km away from their homes. When will the Government meet their target and end out-of-area placements? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about the issue of commissioning?

This is a very important issue on which the Government have been working with people across the sector, including in the NHS. We will shortly publish information on how we will build in the right support in the community plan.

I am afraid we are overseeing a scandal brewing in compulsory treatment as a result of covid. Because of the lack of available tier 4 beds, children up and down the country are in medical wards, and we see unsettling reports of restraint being used to feed them even though, when they get to see a mental health professional, they should not be force fed. I am conscious that the Secretary of State has answered a question about this already, but will the Government commit to starting to record restraint for feeding, no matter where patients are in the system and including in medical wards?

We of course want to ensure that children with mental health challenges, including eating disorders, get the support that they need. That is why during the pandemic—just last year—we put in an additional £79 million specifically for children’s mental health services. That is providing many thousands more children with that support.

The Bill’s focus is on individuals who are sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which is important, but I refer the Secretary of State back to the issue of waiting times raised by many Members. In December, I spoke to my constituent who was concerned about the welfare of his child who suffers from an eating disorder. At every stage, it has impacted his mental health. Despite the local services, this child is still waiting, six months on, just to see a specialist. The limited staff available cannot cope. What is the Secretary of State doing now to address the issue so that we do not see more young people suffer?

We are putting in record amounts of new investment, with newer services. During the pandemic, we established for the first time a national 24/7 all-age mental health helpline. I would like to make that permanent, beyond the pandemic. When it comes to NHS talking therapies, I mentioned earlier that some 1.25 million people were seen last year. We aim to get that up to 1.9 million over the next couple of years. When it comes to waiting times, the hon. Lady is right that there is a waiting time for high-intensity mental health services, and the NHS is of course working to bring that down. For low-intensity mental health services we have managed to bring the median waiting time down to 14 days nationally.

I thank the Secretary of State for his clear commitment to make things better. We are most grateful for that. I wholeheartedly welcome the strategy in his statement on mental health, but I am of the belief that the lockdown has impacted and exacerbated mental health issues in each corner of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With that being the case, can the Secretary of State tell me what discussions have taken place with the relevant Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Furthermore, the Secretary of State said that £2.3 billion had previously been allocated for this. How much will come to Northern Ireland through the Barnett consequentials, taking into account the fact that Northern Ireland has the largest percentage of mental health disorders in the United Kingdom and is in need of similar radical reform and, indeed, additional funding as well?

Much of the work that has gone into the publication of this draft Bill, such as that carried out by Sir Simon as well as the work that went into the White Paper, would apply equally to Northern Ireland. We stand ready to work with our friends in Northern Ireland to help them if they wish to go down a similar route. I can also confirm that the Barnett consequentials for the £2.3 billion would have gone to Northern Ireland.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will no doubt be aware of the judgment of the Supreme Court in America on the case of Roe v. Wade at the end of last week, which put women’s reproductive rights back 50 years by removing the constitutional right to access abortion services. Given the leadership that the United States plays in the world and the fact that the right-wing American groups and media will now feel fully emboldened to campaign for the rolling back of women’s rights in the United Kingdom, have you had any indication or notification from the Government of a statement that will be made to this House about the human rights of women in the United States, in the United Kingdom and, indeed, around the world, and, if not, how can we put it on the record that we are very concerned about what has happened in the United States?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I have not received any notification that the Government are intending to make a statement on this, and I do not believe that the Speaker’s Office has either. However, I am sure the Treasury Bench will have heard her comment. Obviously, she has also put on record her concern about this issue.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise: there are three parts to this.

On 23 May, I raised a point of order about the failure of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to respond to my correspondence on behalf of my constituent, Mr Brian Price of Treorchy, since I first wrote to the Government on 25 November 2020—not 2021. Eight letters, one parliamentary question and a point of order later, and a month after that, guess what? Still no reply. What can I do?

Likewise, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary making a formal subject access request to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on 8 March of this year. I was told that I would get a formal response within a calendar month. On 20 April, the FCDO wrote to give a new date to respond—20 June. Guess what, Madam Deputy Speaker? Last week, I received this reply:

“We cannot at this stage give you a definitive date of when we will be able to issue our reply.”

But the law requires answers to subject access requests within a calendar month. What can I do?

So far, this month, we have had 42 passport cases in my constituency—and that is just this month—and 16 new passport cases today. My constituents ring and ring and ring, but they get no answer. When my staff ring on their behalf, they often get an answer on the phone, but, again, there is no substantive answer at the end of all of that. What can I do?