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Topical Questions

Volume 725: debated on Monday 9 January 2023

On 28 December, we announced an historic devolution deal between the Government and the local authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham. A new Mayor for the north-east will ensure that local priorities are at the heart of decision making and will provide £1.4 billion to level up the area over the next 30 years. We have now struck deals with eight of the 11 areas identified for devolution in the levelling up White Paper, putting more power in the hands of local leaders representing over 7 million people in England.

Will the Government remedy the completely unacceptable situation whereby thousands of homes are built in areas such as mine—and in Rugby and elsewhere—without adequate general practice capacity? What will the Government do to put that right in areas where that has happened?

My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience on this issue in his area, as well as having raised it nationally. I was very pleased to discuss it with him and the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care today. It is important that all the necessary infrastructure for a housing development is built, whether in relation to education or GP surgeries. The infrastructure levy will facilitate that even further—[Interruption.]—but it is important that we work together.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I wish the Secretary of State well and thank him for advance notice of his unavoidable absence today.

What do the Government have to say to the 1.4 million households who woke up this morning to find that they are facing eye-watering hikes in their mortgage interest payments this year?

The hon. Member will know that the Government are already taking steps to help people with the cost of living. We have already taken steps to help people with their energy bills. I know that she will know, because she is a shadow Minister on top of her game, that the Chancellor met banks at the end of last year and put in place a package of measures to ensure that bankers are helping people with their mortgages, whether through flexibility or further switching.

I think “Sorry” would have been a good start. But seriously, it is chaos, isn’t it? Rents are rising at their fastest rate for seven years and mortgage payments are going through the roof since the Government crashed the economy. Leaseholder reforms have stalled and half a million people are still stuck in unsafe homes with unsafe cladding five years after Grenfell. Where is the mortgage emergency plan? Where is the end to no-fault evictions? Where is the affordable housing we were promised? What are the Government actually doing all day?

From 1980, this Government have delivered 2 million social homes. This Government have a proven track record: the period since 2020-21 has seen the third highest annual rate of additional homes built in the last 30 years. This Government have provided people with £37 billion-worth of support. This Government are on people’s side, helping them through this difficult time as well as when times are good.

T6.   The all-party parliamentary group for the east of England has carried out a review of levelling up in the region. It has found that although a good start has been made, there are five of the White Paper missions in whose delivery there is low confidence, four in which there is medium confidence and only three in which confidence is high. I would be most grateful if the Minister provided a full written response to the report, but in the first instance will she seek to make Lowestoft’s enterprise zone an investment zone? That would underpin and support levelling up. (903007)

Pitch for Lowestoft heard loud and clear! The Chancellor announced at the time of the autumn statement that the existing investment zones programme would be refocused to

“catalyse a limited number of the highest potential knowledge-intensive growth clusters”.

Our Department will work closely with key partners on how best to identify and support those clusters. My officials have read the APPG’s report; we will respond in full in due course.

A very happy new year, Mr Speaker. In September, amid the political chaos, the then Minister, the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), published the Government’s rough sleeping strategy. Despite all the good intentions, the problem is evidently getting worse, not better. Data from CHAIN, the Combined Homelessness and Information Network—the most up-to-date rough sleeping snapshot for London—has confirmed that between July and September 2022, numbers were up 24% on the previous year. Figures published earlier in 2022 show that rough sleeping rose by 89% in the west midlands, 68% in Yorkshire and the Humber and 65% in the north-west—a shameful indictment of this Government’s record. Can the Minister rise—

This Government have made an unprecedented commitment on rough sleeping and homelessness. We are investing £2 billion over three years. We do see seasonal fluctuations, but the rough sleeping numbers are at under 3,000 at the moment. Every single person sleeping rough is one too many, but we are very much on top of this.

T7.   If we can spend huge sums of money housing people who come to this country illegally, as was attempted in a hotel in my constituency, how can it be remotely acceptable that we have a single rough sleeper on the streets of our country? (903008)

We are absolutely committed to ending rough sleeping. In September we came out with a strategy to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. As I say, one person sleeping rough is one too many.

T2. I am pleased that the Government have committed to banning no-fault evictions, but the law on illegal eviction must be reformed at the same time to stop frustrated landlords taking unjustified action against their tenants. The current law on illegal eviction is very difficult to understand and is rarely enforced. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government intend to reform the law on illegal eviction alongside banning no-fault evictions? If not, will she meet me to discuss the matter? (903003)

We have committed to taking a renters reform Bill through this Parliament. I am very happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss her particular issue.

T10.   Will the Minister update the House on his discussions with developers about replacing unsafe cladding? What process is in place to resolve disagreements between residents and developers when a dispute arises about the level of remediation needed, as has happened at Morello Quarter in Basildon? (903011)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is working to bring forward the developer contract; it has been discussed and debated for several months and we hope to have progress on it shortly. We are very clear that building owners ultimately have the responsibility to remediate these properties and make sure that leaseholders can continue to live their lives as they should be able to.

T3. Last month, Barclays announced that it was replacing its Ellesmere Port branch. We are losing shops in the town centre weekly. We have put in a levelling-up bid that we hope will address the issues, but every previous application has been rejected, so we are not hopeful of success this time around. What is the Government’s plan B for areas whose levelling-up bids are not successful? (903004)

We keep that under constant review. We are looking at the provision of further funds, but also at simplifying funding through schemes such as the UK shared prosperity fund, to empower local areas to make decisions on what is best for them.

Vital infrastructure for new homes includes upgrades to the sewerage networks that are needed to service them. Bringing schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 into effect would remove the automatic right to connect, which would mean extra money to upgrade those systems. The Government are reviewing it, but are they going to do it?

T4.   Building cost inflation is having an adverse effect on the proposed refurbishment of Edinburgh’s historic King’s Theatre, and a levelling-up application has been made to try to cover the shortfall in its fundraising. Will the Minister meet me so that I can brief her on this problem and tell her all about the fantastic project, which has been specially designed to benefit the whole community in Edinburgh? (903005)

My life peaked last month when I finally got to cut the ribbon on the Poundland in Owen Street, Tipton, which was opening after years of negotiation. A high streets strategy will be an important part of our levelling-up agenda. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can make the most of the true beating heart of the Black Country, including the high streets in Tipton and Wednesbury?

My hon. Friend has been a fantastic champion for his constituency. I congratulate him on his ribbon cutting, which I am sure was a moment of real joy. I should be delighted to meet him to discuss how best we can move forward with our high streets strategy.

T5. What recent discussions has the Department had with the Scottish Government about the gap in funding for remediating unsafe cladding, following the Building Safety Act 2022? (903006)

As the hon. Lady knows, this is a devolved issue. I shall be happy to talk to the Scottish Government if it is appropriate for me to do so, but I know that they, along with the UK Government, are absolutely committed to resolving the situation at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Dinan Way extension in Exmouth and the Cullompton relief road are two major projects that are needed to cut congestion and improve air quality locally. My hon. Friend knows that I have made the case for those bids previously, but may I make one final plea now?

My hon. Friend is another fantastic champion, not just for his constituency but for the whole of the south-west. We will announce the outcome of the bids in due course, but his question has been heard loud and clear.

T8.   Answers to parliamentary questions have revealed that the Government’s spending guidelines relating to local authority delivery of the holiday activities and food programme have seen, in just one year, more than £37 million wasted on the likes of publicity and marketing, as opposed to being spent on food for hungry children. Why is that? (903009)

As the hon. Lady knows, local authorities need to make a set of decisions whenever any money, such as grants, is made available. If she wants to provide any further information, the Department will be happy to respond to her.

Stroud’s levelling-up bid works with the private, public and charity sectors, which means that if we are successful, we can deliver jobs and meaningful change very quickly. However, in the light of the delayed announcement, will the Minister clarify whether we need to submit updated information, and will she meet me to discuss the matter?

My hon. Friend is yet another fantastic champion for her constituents. No further information is needed at this stage, but I should be happy to meet her to discuss the issue that she has raised.

T9. First we saw footage of the Prime Minister admitting to activists that he had diverted money away from urban Labour-voting areas. Then we saw the ex-Culture Secretary, the right hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), saying that the decision to defund the English National Opera was “politically motivated” and a “stunt”. To avoid accusations that levelling up is based merely on Tory targets and is anti-London, can the Minister tell us which funding formulas were changed, with what justification, and on whose authority? (903010)

A great deal of transparent information is available on, which I should be happy to send to the hon. Lady.

Devolution has been a resounding success in places such as Teesside and the west midlands, but in Labour-controlled South Yorkshire it has been an absolute disaster. Will the Minister meet me, and my South Yorkshire colleagues, to see what we can do to turn its fortunes around?

We believe that local empowerment is the right way forward, but it takes the right local leadership. I shall, of course, be happy to meet my hon. Friend and his South Yorkshire colleagues to see how we can improve things for the great people of South Yorkshire.

Hard-pressed tenants in my constituency have been contacting me, worried about losing their homes and about unaffordable bills and rent. Well over three years after the Government promised to end no-fault evictions, when will they finally stop dithering and bring in the renters reform Bill?

The Government are giving unprecedented support to help with the cost of living. We have been very clear that we will bring in the renters reform Bill in this Parliament, as soon as parliamentary time allows.

I believe a mistake was made when the levelling-up parks fund was announced, because Stoke-on-Trent did not get any money. When will the Minister correct that, so that I can put pump tracks in Middleport and at the old BMX track in Norton and Ball Green?

That is another fantastic pitch from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, Talke and Kidsgrove—I am not sure I have got all the titles in there. I would be happy to meet him to discuss it further.

Last month, 51,000 people came to the end of their placement under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, leaving them desperately needing somewhere to live. However, with the private rented sector unaffordable and council waiting lists already overwhelmed, families are having to choose between returning to a war zone and being homeless. What will the Government do about it?

We are delighted to have welcomed more than 150,000 Ukrainians into this country. We thank all the sponsors. On homelessness, 1,720 homelessness duties were owed to households who arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That is a small fraction.

An essential ingredient to levelling up is the ability to trade within a country to get the best prices and products. In Northern Ireland, that cannot happen because of the imposition of EU law, which has obstructed trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Will the Minister accept that only by removing the Northern Ireland protocol and abiding by the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill can this iniquity be removed?

The right hon. Member will know that the Government have brought forward legislation on the Northern Ireland protocol, recognising that it is not working at the moment.

The reason the British countryside looks different when driving down the motorway is that the Labour Government in 1945 banned out-of-town advertising hoardings. Why have the Government allowed them to start appearing on every single motorway in the land? When will they get rid of these horrible excrescences?

That is a very interesting point. I am sure a Minister will take that up and consider it with the hon. Member.

Cheshire West and Chester Council and I have put in an excellent bid in round 2 of the levelling-up fund for the corridor at Winnington bridge. On what day in January can we expect a positive outcome?

I cannot promise a positive outcome at this stage. All bids are under consideration, but there will be an outcome before the end of the month.

Over a million households and growing have real housing needs. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Minister’s Department has seen the largest proportional reduction across Government in post-2025 spending plans. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that there is adequate funding for social housing?