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Topical Questions

Volume 730: debated on Monday 27 March 2023

Today, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister launched the cross-Government antisocial behaviour action plan. My Department plays a critical role in ensuring that the facilities are available to divert young people from antisocial behaviour and into productive youth work.

Regeneration is taking place across Burnley and Padiham thanks to this Government, but to realise the potential we have to crack down on antisocial behaviour in our town centres. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to crack down on ASB in town centres?

My hon. Friend is right. Across the country, we need to have more uniformed officers in crime hotspots and faster justice, so that those who are responsible for damaging an area make reparation. Above all, we need to ensure that the moral relativism that those on the Opposition Front Bench have taken towards crime is at last countered by a robust, pro-law-and-order response from this Government.

It takes some brass neck from a Government whose Prime Minister has two fixed penalty notices to accuse us of “moral relativism” when it comes to antisocial behaviour. In fairness to the Secretary of State, he has had a busy weekend: another week, another promise and another press release—he is at least consistent with that. But I have here a document that reveals that, even on his flagship levelling-up policy, he has been able to get only 8% of his funds out of the door. He is good at getting press releases out the door—why not our money?

In the Budget just the other week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for making sure that tens of millions of pounds were spent, including £20 million in the hon. Lady’s constituency and tens of millions of pounds across the country, in order to level up. We heard during earlier from Members across the House who have received support, had projects delivered and seen change delivered. This Government are impactful, effective and focused. On the other side of the House, I am afraid all we hear is the cackle of impotence.

The desperation is absurd, Mr Speaker—8% of the levelling-up funds have been spent. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Budget, because in just one day his Government spent three times more on a tax cut for the richest 1% than they have managed to spend on the whole of the north of England in well over a year. Doesn’t that just sum the Government up? They can get their act together when it comes to the 1%, but when it comes to investment in our town centres, local transport, decent housing and delivering on a single one of the levelling-up missions, why do the rest of us always have to wait?

The hon. Lady does not have to wait for the truth. The truth is that, in the Budget, we adopted a policy put forward by the Labour shadow Health Secretary to get waiting lists down. Now that a Conservative Government are actually acting, the Labour party turns turtle on it. That is no surprise coming from the hon. Lady. When we published our White Paper on levelling up, she said that our levelling-up missions were the right thing; in fact, she wanted an additional mission. Now she says that those missions should be scrapped. One position one week, another position the next. Inconsistency, thy name is Labour.

T2. Next month, as I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, is National Pet Month. Sadly, I have been contacted by a number of constituents renting in the private sector who have been refused pets. Will he confirm whether he is still committed to enshrining, in the renters reform Bill, the right for tenants to request a pet and for such a request not to be unreasonably refused? (904334)

May I say, as a dog lover myself, that my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. Pets can bring joy, happiness and comfort, which is why the Government will prevent landlords from unreasonably refusing a tenant’s request to have a pet. We will give landlords more confidence by allowing them to require insurance to cover pet damage.

May I add to the Secretary of State’s congratulations to Humza Yousaf, who shares many constituents with myself? It is a great day for Glasgow Pollok and Glasgow South West. May I ask the Secretary of State some questions on intergovernmental relations? A third tranche of levelling-up funding is yet to be distributed, £90 million of which should go to Scotland. Rather than the botched and broken system, seen in the last month or so, of funding distribution from this place, is it not time to devolve the funding to devolved Administrations to enable its fair and efficient use?

I welcome the desire of the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Scottish Government, to work with us on levelling up. I hope that that means there will be a legislative consent motion passed for our Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. We will work with the Scottish Government to ensure that funding is spent as effectively as possible, but it is UK Government money that supplements the block grant, over which the Scottish Government have total control.

Before the spring Budget, the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, sent a letter to the Chancellor raising several concerns, all of which were ignored. What does it say about the state of intergovernmental relations when the UK Government refuse to consider even a single concern raised by devolved Administrations at Budget time?

We not only consider, but meet regularly with our colleagues across the devolved Administrations. Last year, we had over 270 intergovernmental ministerial meetings, bringing together colleagues. Of course, from time to time, given our respective positions, we may disagree, but there have been a number of significant successes where we have agreed, not least the delivery of two green freeports in Scotland—an example of both Governments working together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom.

T3.   I applaud the announcement today by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State on cracking down on the tiny minority of scumbags and scrotes who fly-tip, deal drugs and commit antisocial behaviour. In Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, we have launched a campaign for safer streets, with 400 constituents signing so far for new alley gates and CCTV in places like Smallthorne, Cobridge and Tunstall. Will the Secretary of State add his support to the campaign and meet Staffordshire police and crime commissioner Ben Adams to see how we can get that funding to our local area? (904335)

I absolutely will and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work he has done to ensure that our antisocial behaviour action plan hits criminals where it hurts. I should add that apparently the Leader of the Opposition was in Stoke-on-Trent North the other week. He gave a speech on crime, taking over 30 minutes, without any new policies. He should be arrested for wasting police time!

T4. Does the Secretary of State believe that the concept of levelling up across struggling communities with hard-pressed families is undermined by footage of MPs in his own party grubbing around for £10,000-a-day contracts on top of their MP salary and other earnings? If so, will he condemn his Tory MP colleagues’ behaviour? (904336)

Obviously, the capacity of people who are Members of this House to do work to supplement the role they perform here is one that is properly—if there is anything improper about it—a matter for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Privileges Committee. I should say, however, that the hon. Gentleman was happy to serve under the leadership of Alex Salmond when he was, at one point, a racing columnist for the Glasgow Herald and, at another, a paid—

Order. Secretary of State, please, try to help your colleagues. They all want to put a question to you. You’re that popular, but you won’t be if you keep talking for too long.

T5. Home ownership is an important milestone in many of my constituents’ lives. Many have excitedly bought new build homes, particularly on the Harron Homes estate in Wickersley, or the Redmile estate in Aston, only to move in and find major problems that developers are refusing to make good. Does the Secretary of State agree that they should rectify them immediately? (904337)

That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing it to our attention. We are committing to providing buyers of new build houses with strong powers of redress. We have legislated to establish the new homes ombudsman scheme in the Building Safety Act 2022, membership of which will be mandatory for developers.

T6. The one good thing about the Elections Act 2022 was giving overseas voters the right to vote. But with the election likely no more than 18 months away, there is a real risk that they will again be denied their vote. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of the regulations and provide assurances that they will be in place for the next election? (904338)

T7. Local elections are fast approaching, but my local council has said that, from now until 4 May, I can continue to send in casework but it cannot reply. I will not know whether the council has lifted eviction orders or responded to dangerous damp conditions—the list goes on. I champion my constituents’ situations, but that will compromise what I can do to support them. Does the Minister agree that the council’s ruling is wholly disproportionate? (904339)

T9. The leasehold system too often traps homeowners, including many of my constituents. They have complained to me of fire safety risk, poor building maintenance, astronomically high service charges and poor customer service. Labour has been calling on the Government to end feudal leasehold systems. Will the Secretary of State bring forward legislation on further leasehold reform in this Session, so that all homeowners can live in a safe, decent and affordable home? (904341)

The shared prosperity fund is vital for many people, as it replaces EU funds. Last week, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard from First Steps Women’s Centre, Women’s Support Network, Mencap and the Kilcooley Women’s Centre, among others, about their huge budget problems, particularly given the lack of a functioning Executive. Can the Secretary of State update us?

My hon. Friend has been vigilant on behalf of communities in Northern Ireland. We will make a statement later this week. The Minister for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), and I will do everything we can to ensure continuity of funding for those services.

The south-west is one of the least affordable areas in the UK. The Liberal Democrat council in Bath wants to build at least 1,000 more social homes for rent by 2030, but faces significant barriers to purchase land. Will the Secretary of State give councils the first right to purchase public land as it becomes available, so that they can build desperately needed social housing?

We will do everything we can. I congratulate Bath and North East Somerset Council on wanting to build more social homes. It must be a first that a Liberal Democrat council is in favour of homes for its residents—normally, they oppose such developments. I am glad to hear it.

A number of charities make sure that all play parks, both new and refurbished, are fully accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. That is a given in my patch and a Government commitment, but the national design codes are still too vague. Will the Minister hurry the officials up and unlock this for all children?

At a meeting in Leeds on Saturday of leaseholders affected by the cladding scandal, nearly two thirds said that they have absolutely no idea when their home is going to be made safe—six years after Grenfell. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is completely unacceptable? What is he going to do to make their homes safe?

I saw reference to that meeting on the right hon. Gentleman’s Twitter feed. I owe him a visit to Leeds to talk to his constituents about that.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming up to Hinckley only last month to hear about the problems we are having with the Liberal Democrat-run borough council, which does not have an up-to-date local plan. The biggest problem it causes is to my community, who put in neighbourhood plans that are ridden roughshod over. What is his message to my constituents?

Well, I think the message has to be “Vote Conservative”, because as we have heard there is a Liberal Democrat council in Eastbourne that is not answering letters, a Liberal Democrat council in Hinckley and Bosworth that is not ensuring that it has a local plan in place, and a Liberal Democrat council in St Albans that is paralysed in the face of the need for new housing. The message is very, very simple: if you want action, get the Liberal Democrats out.

This Friday, hundreds of groups across Northern Ireland will face a situation where their funding finishes and they will have to close their doors. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the problems with the shared prosperity fund, which was meant to replace the European structural funds, will be sorted out and that those groups, including Monkstown boxing club in my constituency, will be given an assurance of funding?

The Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) has been working incredibly hard. I am grateful to Members of Parliament from the DUP and to the Chairman of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee for holding our feet to the fire.

Devon needs a devolution deal to deliver new powers and money to the towns there. A good deal would give local leaders the levers they need over affordable housing, public transport and local skills. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can get the best deal for Devon?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a formidable champion for Devon, unlike the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord), who is not in his place today when these issues are being raised. I do not know what he is doing, but what he is not doing is working for people in Devon, which my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp) does so effectively.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s words in the media yesterday, saying that it is unacceptable for private sector landlords to raise rents above the level of inflation, which is a big issue in Vauxhall. Just last week, someone in Brixton contacted me to say that their rent had been doubled in a year. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State needs to hurry up, put words into action and bring forward the renters reform Bill now?

First, I thank the Secretary the State for the money for the Eden Project Morecambe; it has been gratefully received in Morecambe.

However, we have another problem that I would love to meet the Secretary of State to discuss. The town council or the parish council has raised the precept from £200,000 two years ago up to £1.5 million. Apparently, that is to buy a piece of land that is already owned by the public for a knock-down price of £1 million, when it was bought for £3 million. If that is not the case, the remaining money will go into a fund. As we both know, funds cannot be raised against what is already there, unless it is half. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the issue as soon as possible?

Order. Topical questions are meant to be really short and not as long as hon. Members wish. I think we need to give the hon. Gentleman an Adjournment debate. Come on, Secretary of State.

We can definitely meet. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being reselected as the Conservative candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale, with a unanimous vote. I look forward to him being re-elected as MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Do Ministers still intend to honour their manifesto commitment to make sure that no region loses out as a consequence of the loss of EU structural funding?

Solar companies across the country are cynically putting in for just 49.9 MW to avoid having to get national approval from the Government for their solar farms. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss this playing of the system and the Mallard Pass solar farm proposed in my constituency, which will be built with Uyghur blood labour?

Those are three very important points; I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. We must not have the system gamed. We certainly need to be vigilant about any commercial ties with firms that exploit people in China, but we do need more renewable power.

Will the feudal system of leasehold finally be kicked into the history books with the next tranche of legislation in the King’s Speech—yes or no?

In response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State said how important locally-led planning policies were, but frequently the Planning Inspectorate drives a coach and horses through decisions made by local planning authorities, as was recently the case in the village of Wootton, in my constituency. What is he going to do to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate takes more notice of local opinion, expressed through local councils?

Our changes to the national planning policy framework are designed to do exactly that. I talked to the new chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate earlier last week to reinforce the point that my hon. Friend has consistently made on behalf of his constituents in Cleethorpes.

Earlier today, the Minister was keen to pray in aid the Electoral Commission in support of the Government’s voter ID plans. Will she remind the House: in the commission’s detailed analysis of the 2021 elections across the whole of Great Britain, how many cases of voter impersonation produced enough evidence to lead to a police caution? If she does not know the exact number, I will give her a hint: it is half the number of people on the Government Front Bench right now.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The point is to ensure that the integrity of our democratic system is maintained, which is something I will never apologise for.

I, too, have many constituents who are leaseholders and who are stuck in limbo and facing astronomical bills through no fault of their own. Meanwhile, developers such as Galliard have refused to sign the Government’s latest pledge. What is the Secretary of State doing to fix that aspect of the building safety crisis?