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Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Volume 736: debated on Monday 10 July 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of levels of antisemitism in the last 12 months. (905854)

We have paid close attention to the concerning figures produced by the Home Office and the Community Security Trust, which have shown the continued prevalence of antisemitism in our society. We are considering Lord Mann’s recent reports on the subject, which we will respond to in due course, and we have increased the annual Jewish community protective security grant to £15 million in 2023-24.

Did the Secretary of State see the research from King’s College London, showing that those who believe in conspiracies are most likely to be antisemitic? Much of that antisemitism takes place online and is legal but harmful. What is he doing to tackle conspiracism, misinformation and fake news; why are the measures to tackle them in the Online Safety Bill so weak; and why have the Government removed the legal but harmful provision, which would protect so much of the Jewish community?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a significant overlap between antisemitism and conspiracy theories, and many of the tropes that conspiracists use are drawn from the antisemitic library. However, with the Online Safety Bill it is important to balance the right to free speech with vigilance in dealing with hate, and this Government are absolutely committed to combating antisemitism wherever it rears its head.

Levelling Up

22. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of increases in the cost of living on his Department’s levelling-up agenda. (905876)

Levelling up is not just a slogan—it is an imperative, and that is why it is a driving mission of this Government. I fear that if I outlined every step we are taking to level up, my extensive answer would take us beyond time, Mr Speaker, but to name a few highlights, we are establishing investment zones and freeports to create high-quality local jobs, delivering billions of pounds of investment into vital local projects and empowering local leaders through devolution deals, putting power and funding back into local hands. That is levelling up in action, and there is more to come.

All those words are just empty rhetoric. It is a con trick. The truth is that in a single decade the Government cut £540 billion from public services, and by March they will only have put about £500 million—one tenth of that—back in through levelling up. Is it not clear that to level up properly, we need an end both to this Government and to the economic system they have established?

Absolutely not. This is a Government that have put levelling up at the core of every single thing we do. That is not going to change. The only way to ensure levelling up remains at the heart of Government is by voting Conservative at the next election.

Data from the Times Health Commission reports that nearly 11,000 people in England last year were hospitalised with malnutrition. Malnutrition itself has quadrupled since 2007, with a shocking rise in Victorian illnesses such as scurvy and rickets. Can the Minister explain how such shocking figures fit within her Government’s levelling-up agenda?

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that. She will know that the wider 12 levelling-up missions cover a range of areas, including health and healthy life outcomes. It is important that we all work together, across parties and across Government, to try to tackle this issue.

The Minister understands that regeneration of our high streets is key to the levelling up of our communities, yet she is aware that in Gosport that is being paralysed by unfair council tax being slapped on houses in multiple occupancy—very high-quality ones that are key to the future regeneration of our high street. As part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, the Secretary of State launched a consultation to address that question, but it concluded weeks ago and we still have not had the result. When will it be published?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her engagement with me and the Secretary of State on that vital issue. Unfortunately, I cannot give her a specific date right now, but I will meet her as soon as we have the result in place, because I realise it is a vital issue that we need to address.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for recent visits to Mansfield and the east midlands to support the many levelling-up projects we have going on in our region, from freeports to development companies, integrated rail plans, investment zones and levelling-up and towns fund projects, including in Mansfield. All that amounts to billions of pounds. What impact does my hon. Friend think that will have on my constituency?

My hon. Friend has done a great job of highlighting the incredible level of support going to Mansfield and the wider east midlands. A lot of that is down to great local leadership from him and his colleagues. That will have an enormous impact on the people living in the east midlands and on their opportunities to get on in life, which ultimately is what levelling up is all about.

Up and down the country, communities are struggling with the Tories’ mortgage crisis and the cost of living crisis. Those hit hardest often live in communities that were promised levelling-up funding, yet the Government sit on £1 billion of promised levelling-up fund money—money that could make a difference to those who need it most. Where on earth is it? Will the Government commit today to starting a process for the allocation of it?

I find myself a little confused, because we got a lot of criticism from the Opposition about round 2 of the levelling-up fund. They wanted us to get round 3 right, and we are taking the time to ensure that we get round 3 allocations right. We will, in due course, announce details on how we will allocate that money, which will change people’s lives.

Business Liquidation: Costs to Local Authorities

3. If he will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the capacity of local authorities to respond to unexpected costs arising from businesses entering liquidation. (905856)

The local government finance settlement of up to £59.7 billion for 2023-24 increases core spending power by 9.4%. Most of that funding is unringfenced, as local authorities are best placed to understand their local priorities. The Government also spend approximately £8 billion through targeted long-term investment in high streets and small businesses.

Residents in the Marsh area of Lancaster, Lancaster City Council and I are concerned about the future of a skip site on the Lune industrial estate that has gone into liquidation. The cost of clean-up is higher than the value of the land. Will the Minister make time to meet me and Lancaster City Council to discuss what steps the council can take to ensure that residents know that the environment they are living in is healthy and safe?

I understand that the hon. Lady is in touch with the Environment Agency about that, and that there is an ongoing investigation. Although she will appreciate that I cannot comment on any specifics of the case, I would, of course, be happy to meet her to discuss the wider issue of waste remediation. Our Government are committed to tackling waste crime: we have increased the Environment Agency’s budget by £10 million per year and tightened the law to make it harder for rogue operators to find work in the sector and easier for regulators to take action against criminals.

Community Ownership Fund

The community ownership fund has been a significant success, and has so far awarded £36.8 million to 150 projects across the UK. A total of £25.5 million has been allocated in England, £5.2 million in Scotland, £3.2 million in Wales and £3 million in Northern Ireland.

Does the Minister agree that the community ownership fund provides tremendous potential for community organisations in Clwyd South and elsewhere to take ownership of assets and amenities that risk being lost, and that the current bidding round is benefiting from the positive changes to the fund that were announced on 12 May?

I agree that the community ownership fund has huge potential in Clwyd South and, indeed, across the UK. The changes that my hon. Friend alludes to—extending the maximum funding available from £250,000 to £1 million, reducing the match funding required, and allowing applications from parish, town and community councils—will mean that even more cherished assets and amenities can be saved for local communities. I remind the House that window 1 of round 3 will close on July 12.

The community ownership fund is an ideal fund to support Udney Park Community Fields Foundation, which has been working tirelessly with the community in Teddington and Twickenham to bring Udney Park playing fields and the war memorial pavilion back into community use for the benefit of local grassroots sports organisations. The site has gone to rack and ruin since two successive and badly advised developers bought the site eight years ago from Imperial College London. As the site goes back on the market, will the Minister agree to look favourably on any application from the foundation for that asset of community value?

As the House will understand, I cannot comment on individual bids, but the hon. Lady makes a compelling case. The relevant Minister is happy to meet her.

Local Authority Funding

5. What recent assessment he has made of the potential implications for his policies of the impact of increases in inflation on local authority budgets. (905858)

We recognise that councils have faced challenges since covid, which is one of the reasons why we allocated billions more in subsidies to local authorities in the financial year 2023-24. Discussions on public spending often require hard choices and trade-offs on many worthy intentions, but we hope that the additional billions allocated demonstrate the Government’s commitment to local authorities.

Council budgets have been impacted by huge costs due to covid and the triple whammy of increases in demand for services, fuel prices and inflation. The Minister will know that people are scared and running out of hope, so will he outline what support is available now to ensure that councils can still provide the vital services that people need?

As I outlined, we have allocated additional funds to local authorities in this financial year. It is also a statement of fact that a number of local authorities in England have increased reserves as a result of covid. In the last financial year, additional grant funding of nearly £7 million has gone to the hon. Gentleman’s local council, Bury Council, for adult social care.

Does my hon. Friend share my view that one way to support local government finance and to reward well-performing local authorities such as Bromley Council would be to introduce multi-year funding settlements? Will he commission a review into the merits of this, so that local authorities can better plan for the future?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a testament to the good work of Bromley Council that he can demonstrate this and talk about it with knowledge and experience. Multi-year financial settlements are something that we all aspire to. One of the reasons we brought forward the policy statement for financial year 2024-25 was to ensure greater clarity for councils at the end of this spending review, and we hope to be able to return to multi-year settlements in future Parliaments.

Discretionary housing payments administered by councils are a vital resource in staving off homelessness. The figures—£140 million in 2021-22, £100 million in 2022-23 and remaining flat for the next two years—show a £40 million cut and further cuts owing to increasing demand and inflationary pressures. Section 21 evictions are not slowing down, the number of households facing rent arrears is soaring and the number being forced into temporary accommodation is skyrocketing. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has ultimate responsibility for homelessness, so when will Ministers at the Department tell their colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to wake up and smell the coffee?

One of the reasons why we have given local government additional funds in this financial year, as I just told the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), is precisely that we recognise that there are challenges. The Government have also allocated an additional £100 million for the most vulnerable households, to be administered through local authorities, which demonstrates the commitment to both local authorities and the most vulnerable in our society.

Local Authorities: Long-term Funding

6. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on long-term funding for local authorities. (905859)

The Chancellor, his Ministers and his officials are in regular contact with the Secretary of State, me and departmental officials on matters pertaining to local government finance. The final local government finance settlement for this financial year, 2023-24, makes available up to £60 billion for local government in England.

Local authorities have lost £15 billion of funding since 2010, as the Government have sought to outsource both the pain and the blame for their punishing approach to the public finances, with only a fraction allocated back on a piecemeal, time-limited and ad hoc basis. The reality for local authorities up and down the country is that it is increasingly becoming far too difficult to deliver all the services that local residents rely on. When will the Secretary of State stop treating local government like a pawn in his political games, and start treating local government finance with the seriousness that both residents and hard-working local government officials need?

Difficult decisions were taken in the years after 2010 precisely because Labour failed to make those decisions in the years before 2010. One of the reasons why we have made available additional funding for local government in this financial year is to demonstrate that we understand the challenges local authorities face. Ultimately, however, as I said to the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), this sort of issue requires hard choices and trade-offs—something the Labour party continues to fail to demonstrate it understands.

As inflation impacts on local authority budgets, planning departments are becoming especially squeezed. Councils are meant to approve big planning applications within 13 weeks, but over the last year only 19% have been approved in that timeframe, down from 57% ten years ago. What can the Minister do to improve funding for local council planning departments?

My hon. Friend highlights an important place where further progress is needed. We recognise that there are challenges in this area, and I know that the Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who is the Housing Minister, and the Secretary of State are well aware of these challenges and seeking to address them. My portfolio includes nationally significant infrastructure programmes, and we have brought forward the NSIP action plan, demonstrating our commitment to speed up projects and decisions within them as much as we can.

Shropshire’s Conservative-run council is trying to save £1 million a week just to balance its budget this year and restore its reserves to a safe level. Part of its problem is that the funding allocated to rural councils does not reflect the additional cost of delivering services in rural places. Will the Minister consider reassessing that allocation, so that rural councils can get the revenue they need to support the cost of the services they need to provide?

We are absolutely aware of the challenges that rural councils face. That is one of the reasons why we increased the rural grant within the most recent financial settlement by £10 million. Where there are pressures in local government finance in the coming years, we will continue to work with colleagues across the House to address them.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is facing unprecedented pressure, particularly because there are now over 1,000 children in the care of the city council, as well as multiple education, health and care plans that require children to be taken out of the city to find the provision that they deserve. Will my hon. Friend meet urgently with the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Councillor Jane Ashworth; its chief executive officer, Jon Rouse; and Members of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent to quickly find a way forward and ensure that our finances are in the best possible position going forward?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with knowledge and experience on these issues. I would be happy to meet Members of Parliament from Stoke-on-Trent to talk about this matter in further detail.

Devolution in England

We have made significant progress in our mission to extend English devolution. In the past year, we have announced five mayoral devolution deals, which will bring devolution to over half of the English population. Most recently, I was delighted when the wonderful new leader of East Riding council, Anne Handley, signalled her ambitions for greater devolution.

Last week, I attended an evidence session for the all-party parliamentary group on the east midlands’ inquiry into investment in the region, which has been historically underfunded. Business leaders told me that the east midlands combined authority needs to be headed by someone with sharp elbows to get things done in the region. I know there is a man in Mansfield who meets that description, but can my right hon. Friend commit to giving that combined authority the powers to effect meaningful change, including considering west midlands-style powers?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point: there is a man from Mansfield who would be an absolutely outstanding metro Mayor for the east midlands, and we need to give him all the power he needs. He has not only sharp elbows but a keen intellect, and he has the interests of the east midlands at heart. What Andy Street has done for the west midlands, Mr Ben Bradley can do for the east midlands.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the West Midlands Combined Authority that the selfsame Andy Street presides over is the second worst performing CA in the UK, judging by its growth figures. In that circumstance, should the public of Warwickshire not have a say in any potential merger with that combined authority, as is proposed in the Secretary of State’s levelling-up Bill that is going through the House of Lords?

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but why does he think that Warwickshire cannot compete on the world stage as part of the West Midlands Combined Authority? Why does he have such little confidence in the people of Warwickshire? He has referred to the Mayor of the combined authority. Andy Street is the Mayor who has done most to deliver and, indeed, exceed housing targets as Mayor of the west midlands. Who has done the worst? Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

Renters (Reform) Bill

8. What assessment he has made of the implications for his polices of the Regulatory Policy Committee statement on the Renters (Reform) Bill impact assessment, published on 3 July 2023. (905861)

What a facile answer! Does my right hon. Friend not accept the criticisms of the RPC that the impact assessment is very weak in that it fails to address the impacts of the Bill on competition, innovation and investment, and on landlords who run small businesses and microbusinesses?

I was very pleased that the impact assessment gave the Bill a green rating. I was particularly pleased that it indicated that the likely additional cost would be £17 a year, and that the benefits—both monetised and non-monetised—would be significantly greater than that. It is a progressive measure, which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to join me in supporting.

Renters’ reform is important, as is safe housing. Residents of Norfolk House, a block of flats in my constituency, have suffered burst pipes, dangerous cladding, and sewage and hot water leaks that have ruined multiple flats. Residents have called it a “ticking time bomb” to see whose ceiling will collapse next. Both Galliard, the property developer, and Southern Housing, the housing association, are refusing to address those issues. Will the Minister commit to looking into that case, which has blighted the lives of residents for years?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that, and of course we will. Both the housing association she mentions and the developer she mentions have come to the attention of our Department before, so I am not surprised, but I am disappointed, and we will take action.

Affordable Housing

10. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the provision of affordable housing in (a) Chesterfield and (b) England. (905863)

The Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, which is why, through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, we will deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes for both sale and rent in communities up and down the country. When it comes to Chesterfield, I am aware that the local plan was adopted in July 2020, but ultimately local authorities are responsible for plan preparation and decision making, and they interpret national policy and guidance according to local circumstances.

I am grateful, but that is not really an answer to my question of whether the Minister considers that the amount of affordable housing is adequate. Under the Conservatives, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%, and there are now 27,000 fewer socially rented homes built each year than there were under a Labour Government. Meanwhile, hard-pressed mortgage holders are facing the highest interest rates in a generation. Is it not clear that neither renters nor buyers can afford another year of this Tory Government?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that Chesterfield Borough Council is under the control of the Labour party, which, with the assistance of significant Government grant funding, is responsible for delivering affordable housing in the area. It is up to Chesterfield Labour party, in control of that council, to work with developers to make sure that planning obligations deliver the houses that local people need.

We know that a lack of affordable housing can contribute towards an increase in homelessness. Of course, it is a big responsibility for different areas to tackle homelessness, and I am proud of what Ipswich does, particularly through organisations such as the Ipswich Housing Action Group. I am concerned to hear, though, that neighbouring authorities in the eastern region are sending their homeless people to Ipswich. Does the Minister agree that those authorities should shoulder the responsibility to tackle homelessness in their own areas and not send those homeless people to Ipswich? Will the Minister confirm that the Labour-led council can stop that happening if it wants to do so?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this vital issue to our attention on the Floor of the House. Of course, we expect local authorities to work together to tackle homelessness and to alleviate those pressures on the most vulnerable people. It is right for his Labour council to work with any other council that has responsibility for that.

Strength of the Union

The Union, and support for the Union, is strong, and I was delighted to note that, in the most recent opinion polls, support for independence in Scotland is plummeting.

That is a very interesting definition of “plummeting”, when that support consistently remains higher than it was in the independence referendum of 2014. We were told during that campaign and afterwards that Scotland would have one of the most powerful wee devolved sub-state legislatures in the entire world, if not the universe, so what is the Government’s baseline for that? Can the Secretary of State give us some examples of Parliaments that are more or less powerful than the Scottish Parliament?

I would just note that, at the referendum to which the hon. Member refers, support for independence was at 45%, but it is currently at 37% in the polls, and 37 is eight less than 45. More broadly, the Scottish Parliament has significant powers. It is a pity that the Scottish Government do not use them and, unfortunately, as a result Scotland’s people are let down when it comes to education, where Scotland is tumbling down. Scotland, sadly, does not have the reforms that we have had in England, which have seen us rise up international league tables. It used to be the case that Scotland’s education system was the pride of the globe, but it is now England that has the best readers of the western world.

I want to ask the Secretary of State some questions on his role as the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations and drug policy, of which he has said a number of interesting things. He is on record saying this:

“public health measures, which are backed by strong scientific evidence, which follow the lead of the doctors, the clinicians, we should look seriously at them.”

Drug consumption rooms and the decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of drugs have been proved to work throughout the world, and they have now been proposed by the Scottish Government. Does the Secretary of State accept that the outright rejection of that by the UK Government at the weekend—out of hand—undermines the Scottish Government, undermines those campaigners and those who help drug users, and undermines the Union?

No, I do not accept that, but the hon. Gentleman raises a very serious question. I have had the opportunity to discuss with the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) some of the challenges that she faces in her constituency. The hon. Gentleman and I both know that drug deaths in Scotland are unacceptably high, and there is no single answer to that problem, but I believe, as was outlined clearly by politicians from both the Government and the principal Opposition party, that the Scottish Government’s proposals are the wrong proposals at the wrong time.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the heads of all 31 UN agencies have called for possession decriminalisation, and more than 30 countries have made changes that have cut deaths and incarceration. There is no reasonable, rational and evidenced cause for the UK Government, or the Labour party, to reject the proposals out of hand. May I ask him seriously, in his role as Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, to be the grown-up on his side of the Chamber, and work and engage with the Scottish Government and drug campaigners on the issue?

As the hon. Gentleman points out, this is a complex, challenging and heartbreaking issue. It is right that the Governments should work together, and with the NHS, law enforcement and others, to deal with this challenge, but I believe that the specific proposals for decriminalisation of possession proposed are not the best way forward.

House Building

House building is a priority for this Government. We have announced £10 billion-worth of investment in the housing supply since the start of this Parliament, and ultimately, our interventions are due to unlock over 1 million new homes. We are also investing £11.5 billion in the latest affordable homes programme, to provide tens of thousands of new homes across the country.

As my question concerns Wolverhampton, with your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to Councillor Ian Brookfield, the leader of City of Wolverhampton Council, who sadly passed away last week, aged only 57. Ian worked with many Ministers and the Secretary of State when the Ministry’s second headquarters moved to the city of Wolverhampton. He will be greatly missed by many people.

The Government have made a series of big investments in Wolverhampton, and that has positioned it as the centre of the home building industry. That includes millions of pounds for the National Brownfield Institute, the city learning quarter, and the Modern Methods of Construction taskforce. Will my hon. Friend the Minister support my campaign for an investment zone in Wolverhampton North East, stretching from Springfield brewery to the science park? That would help attract businesses to Wolverhampton, where they could capitalise on the expertise that our city now has in home building technology, and attract high-quality jobs to my constituency.

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute, on my behalf and on behalf of all Ministers in the Department, to Councillor Ian Brookfield.

I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. She is an absolutely superb advocate for her constituents and the city of Wolverhampton. I am pleased to tell her that the investment zone programme is under way; a shortlist of eight places in England selected for inclusion in the programme was announced in the spring Budget, and the west midlands is one of them. We are co-developing proposals, and we will look very carefully at her proposal, for the reasons that she set out.

I draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to the uncertain future of the housing development in Long Eaton in my constituency. It has been at a standstill since the termination of the house builder’s contract 10 months ago. What further support is available to encourage the site owner to complete the more than 100 homes planned for the site, so that the development is not left to deteriorate beyond repair?

I am of course concerned to hear about the situation that my hon. Friend highlights, and I would be pleased to discuss it with her in more detail, if that would be helpful. More generally, we are introducing a range of measures to increase transparency about build-out, to ensure that when development proposals are brought forward, the development actually gets built.

Labour-run Kirklees Council is taking in millions of pounds from housing developers through the section 106 levy, but local people are losing confidence in the system, as they just do not see the money being spent on local schools, local roads or local health services. Does the Minister agree that developer contributions, which are given to improve local infrastructure that is affected by major housing developments, should be spent on just that?

My hon. Friend highlights a most unsatisfactory state of affairs from Labour-run Kirklees Council. We are introducing a new infrastructure levy that will bring much-needed transparency. Local authorities, including Kirklees, should be spending that precious money on the infrastructure needed for local people.

With the growth in development of new housing across my constituency, we must ensure that adequate provisions are in place to meet the essential needs of residents, such as at the Bramshall Meadows development, where residents are waiting for the play space they were promised, and at Branston Locks, where new healthcare services are needed to support that development. Can the Minister provide an update on what is being done to guarantee the successful and timely integration of these vital facilities in new housing developments?

My hon. Friend highlights well on behalf of her constituents the vital and pressing need for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which includes measures to tackle exactly the issues she has highlighted. It will introduce a new infrastructure levy, which will reform the system of developer contributions, bringing certainty and transparency over the infrastructure needed to be delivered alongside development.

To address the housing crisis, we need to be building more homes for social rent, and planning departments must be properly resourced in personnel and funding. Will my hon. Friend set out the steps she is taking to address those two specific issues?

My hon. Friend speaks with considerable expertise on these matters. We know that many local planning authorities are facing capacity and capability challenges, which is why we have developed a programme of support, working with partners across the planning sector, to put more skills and capacity into planning authorities. Our levelling up White Paper is committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes across the country.

Lib Dem-run Eastleigh Borough Council, which is developing 2,500 homes on Horton Heath, last week passed a planning amendment to recklessly remove all affordable housing obligations, despite its being the developer of the site. Will my hon. Friend condemn that cynical move and assure me that no Homes England money will be used to backfill the gap?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the reckless behaviour of his Liberal Democrat-run council. I completely agree that it is a disgraceful state of affairs. The council should be using that funding secured to deliver the affordable housing that his residents rightly need and deserve. As he suggested, Homes England will definitely not be contributing to backfilling that need.

I do not doubt the Minister’s good intentions on house building, but does she accept that, according to her own Department’s figures, housing starts fell by 12% year on year in the first three months of this year? That is down to a figure of just more than 37,000 starts, which is half the figure needed to hit 300,000 homes a year. On that basis, does she conclude like me that not merely is her policy not succeeding in hitting the housing targets, but it is considerably contributing to their failure?

The hon. Gentleman brings his considerable knowledge to this matter, but I will take no lectures from him and the Labour party on house building. This Government delivered 242,000 houses in 2019-20—that is the highest level for more than 30 years, including the entire time that the Labour party was in government.

We do not just need to build affordable homes; we also need to build high-quality homes that are fit for the future and climate-resilient. In the past six years, the average cost of repairing a home from flood damage has been £60,000 a property, and Aviva calculates that one in four homes is now at risk of flooding. Will the Government ensure that their proposed national planning policy framework will finally prevent unprotected homes from being built in flood risk areas?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. The consultation on the NPPF has been well subscribed. We are analysing the responses now, but I am sure we will be able to say more in due course.

In Westmorland and Lonsdale, average house prices are 12 times average household incomes. The danger we have is that when we see houses developed, we are meeting demand, but not need. Should the Government not give us far greater planning controls, so that we can ensure that we do not see 100 homes built that are a waste of bricks going into the second home market? Instead, we should ensure that they are affordable homes, socially rented for local families.

Local authorities have a huge amount of freedom. They have been given the tools by the Government through legislation, through developer contribution powers and through Homes England grants to deliver affordable homes. The hon. Member will also know about the wider work we are doing on second homes to enable local authorities to raise council tax. I hope he can see that the direction of travel will help alleviate some of the pressures he has highlighted.

The Government are notoriously bad at disposing of public land—I need only look at NHS Property Services and the seven-year wait on the Bootham Park hospital site, and at Ministry of Defence land—so will the Minister look at how that can be co-ordinated and handed over to Homes England so that we can get building the housing that is desperately needed in places such as York?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that this is a priority for us. I take issue slightly with her comment that we have a poor record of disposing of public land. Often, that public land is needed by hospitals and the MOD. So we are working closely and looking at where such land can be brought forward for housing. If it can, we absolutely will be doing that.

Among the SNP failures that the Secretary of State chose not to mention is the fact that, since the SNP came to government in 2007, we have been building new council and social-rented houses at nine times the rate of any Government covering England. Does the Minister accept that if successive Labour and Tory Governments had followed the SNP’s example in Scotland, the housing crisis in England would be far less than it currently is?

I thank the Minister very much for her responses. One of the key issues is for urgent planning decisions to be made. The Minister has a keen interest in Northern Ireland, where the population has risen by about 100,000 up to 1.9 million. One thing that needs to be done is on infrastructure decisions, which need to be made here nationally, not regionally. What discussions has she had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that those decisions can be made to the benefit of all of us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I thank the hon. Gentleman so much. He is an active participant in all the debates we have on these issues. I continue to work closely with him and his colleagues in Northern Ireland, because we can work together and learn lessons from each other.

Do the Government realise how absurd all of this sounds? Their own flagship Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords, has measures in it to block new homes from being built, and yet the Minister stands here berating councils for getting in the way. All of this is happening because Conservative Back Benchers have more control of housing policy than their Government. So when the local Conservative MP in Cambridge says that his latest scheme “will not happen”, he is probably right, is he not?

I do not quite know how to give that a serious response. I have just set out in huge detail all the work backed by public funding—taxpayers’ money—going into delivering the houses that people need up and down the country. As far as I can see, the only people blocking housing development are those such as the hon. Lady, who is objecting to developments in her own constituency.

It is literally in the Government’s own Bill—they are trying to block new houses from being built. They have had 17 housing Ministers and three planning overhauls, and house building is at its lowest level for a generation.

The Secretary of State wants to talk now—why did he not take the question? I suspect it is because he has again run into so much opposition from his Back Benchers about a story briefed only yesterday that he has had to abandon it. One hundred small and medium-sized house builders have been protesting to Downing Street and mortgages have gone through the roof. It really does take some brass neck to present that as anything other than an appalling record.

I have in my hand an analysis that shows that all this chaos will cost the economy £44 billion. Are the Government the only people left in Britain who cannot admit that the housing crisis, the mortgage crisis, the cost of living crisis and the economic crisis have one cause: Tory government?

That was a flight of fantasy with several hundred questions. I am happy to engage with the hon. Lady on the detail of the clauses in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, but I am proud of the Government’s record in bringing forward levelling-up across the whole country, with house building backed by billions of pounds of public funding and taxpayers’ money. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), our house building record is greater than that of her party for the entire time they were in government.

Rough Sleeping

The Government are committed to ending rough sleeping. Last year we published our cross-Government strategy “Ending Rough Sleeping For Good”, which set out how we are investing a huge £2 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. In 2022 there was 25% less rough sleeping than the 2017 peak, and 28% less than in 2019, before the pandemic.

The best way to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness is to increase the supply of houses for people to live in. A joint report has been released today by the all-party parliamentary group for housing market and housing delivery, which I chair, and the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). The report found that we could bring 20,000 houses on to the market through conversions. Will the Minister meet me and a local charity that is very keen to do that, to discuss how we can take that forward?

I would be delighted to come to Milton Keynes to meet my hon. Friend and his local charity. I want to reassure him that this Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and to ensuring that all houses are safe and of a decent standard. I look forward to reading in detail the APPGs’ recommendations.

Topical Questions

I have been delighted to confirm that Lord Morse will be the new chair of the Office for Local Government. We are advertising the post of chief executive, which would suit someone with experience of local government who is looking for a new role, so I will pass on details to the shadow Secretary of State.

Following the wonderful news that the Leslie Sports Foundation, based at Shelley Community football club, has been awarded £318,456 from the community ownership fund, will Minister visit the foundation to view its existing facilities and discuss its exciting plans for the newly funded one?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a brilliant advocate for that project. I have no doubt that the work of the Leslie Sports Foundation will make a huge difference to the lives of people in his constituency. The Minister for Levelling Up, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), would be delighted to visit.

It is now over four years since the Conservatives promised to ban section 21 no-fault evictions. It needs strengthening, but the Government finally published a Renters (Reform) Bill in May this year. Given the desperate situation that many renters are currently facing, and the urgent need to provide them with greater security and better rights, why have the Government not lifted a finger to progress that legislation in the weeks since it was published?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to do more to help people in the private rented sector but, as he will have heard, we wanted to make sure that we had a fit-for-purpose impact assessment so that the House could reflect on the changes that we are making and the benefits they will bring.

T3. What assessment has the Department made of the use of cash retentions in the construction industry and of possible measures that could prevent the practice, which causes cash-flow issues and costly administrative burdens for subcontractors, including those involved in house building? (905882)

My hon. Friend will know that that policy area is led by the Department for Business and Trade. Nevertheless, it is important that we work closely with a wide range of stakeholders and businesses to achieve a consensus. It can sometimes be challenging, but we are clear that any solution must be a sustainable one that works for the industry and its clients, addressing the need for surety and fair payment.

T2. It has been more than 50 days since the Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced to Parliament. Despite ample parliamentary time, the Government have failed to set a date for Second Reading. In the last few weeks alone, the House has finished at 2 pm and 5 pm due to the Government bringing forward no business. Why do the Government not care about renters? (905880)

The Bill, as you know, Mr Speaker, is beautifully formed, but the impact assessment that goes with it, as I pointed out earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), needs to be read in the round to see what a great piece of legislation it is. One thing that would enable us to bring forward legislation is if the Labour party were to end its pointless opposition to our Illegal Migration Bill. It is curious that the Labour party seems keener on being on the side of people smugglers than it is on the side of the private rented sector.

T5. The recent transfer of the administration of home equity loans from Target to Lenvi has gone appallingly badly, with my constituents reporting unanswered emails and phones that ring out with no reply when they are looking to transfer their home in a time-critical phase. Will my right hon. Friend update me on what is going on with the administration? (905884)

I have been having daily meetings with Homes England and the service provider. It is the case that there have been some issues with the transfer, as my hon. Friend highlights. I want anyone listening to this to know that they can contact either their local MP or the service line, and we will resolve it. I have insisted that additional call centre staff are available and extended working hours. We are very much seeing the issues being worked through at pace now.

T4. According to figures from PricedOut, over the last 50 years housing has become over 13 times more expensive and tenants are now spending up to half their income on rent alone. If that trend continues, only one in three people born this year will own a home before they are 50. The Government’s scrapping of housing targets and surrendering to Back Benchers opposed to new housing will only make the situation even worse. When will the Government grow a backbone, stand up to those MPs and build the houses we need to avoid catastrophe? (905883)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman but, as was pointed out earlier in these questions, the area of the country where housing numbers are worst, where planning permissions are being built out most slowly and where the fewest planning permissions are being granted overall has been London, under a Labour Mayor. I want to work with the Mayor to see him emulate what the Conservative Mayor in the west midlands, Andy Street, has done to deliver housing.

T7. My right hon. Friend will know from my constant lobbying of him that it is my belief that the revenue support grant mechanism is inherently unfair and means that rural authorities such as Dorset, and particularly in West Dorset, receive little if any revenue support grant compared to the tens of millions that many urban areas, such as Wandsworth, receive. Will my right hon. Friend kindly tell me what he is doing to restore that balance and fairness for rural areas? (905886)

My hon. Friend has absolutely made this case on multiple occasions, both to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to myself. He is a champion for West Dorset and for rural communities in general. We will continue to work with local MPs who are concerned about this, but I would just gently point out that the primacy and the desire of the local government sector in this financial year has been for clarity and consistency, which is what we have provided to them through the local government financial settlement this year.

T6. While the Government drag their heels on section 21, thousands of families are being evicted through no fault of their own by rapacious landlords—let’s be honest about it—with 2,000 families in May alone this year. That is not acceptable. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State has been having cosy meetings with private landlords’ associations, which gives the impression he is on the side of the landlords and not the renters. Will he at least say now that the Bill will come back in September? (905885)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch heard the careful case he prosecuted when he said I was on the side of the landlords. In fact, I am on the side of a healthy private rented sector. The overwhelming majority of landlords do a brilliant job and I want to pay tribute to the National Residential Landlords Associations and Ben Beadle for their effective work in this area.

T8. The Department has a very large number of consultations either going out to consultation or being assessed right now. Now that my private Member’s Bill, the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill, has received Royal Assent, when will my hon. Friend start the consultations required to enact it, so that we can kick out rogue landlords? (905887)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent private Member’s Bill, which the Government were happy to support as it tackles a very real problem. The Bill has received Royal Assent and will become law on 29 August; we will start the consultation as soon as is practicable thereafter.

Last week at business questions I raised the case of Tyrrell Court in Wakefield, where the social landlord, Wakefield and District Housing, has added a new service charge for communal lighting on top of the charge for window cleaning and communal cleaning, despite people having been tenants for 20 years without ever being charged that fee before. It adds up to £125 extra per year. Is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am that landlords are introducing these charges when people can afford them least?

T9. Property management companies are undoubtedly holding back home ownership. New homeowners are often obliged to sign up to contracts that they cannot leave. That leaves them stuck with inflated fees, and very often with poor services. I am sure the Minister agrees that management companies need their activities curbed; they need legislation imposed on them so that we can get back to a fairer system of housing. (905888)

I agree entirely. I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent debate that he brought to Westminster Hall, in which we discussed these issues in detail. I am happy to reiterate to the House that we will legislate, when parliamentary time allows, to deal with many of the issues that he has raised that are affecting freehold homeowners.

The Secretary of State said that he had the noble aim of abolishing the feudal leasehold system. Could he update the House on his progress on the abolishment of that feudal system?

The A38 is the main route to the largest city on the Devon and Cornwall peninsula. This nationally significant route needs substantial work between Carkeel and Trerulefoot in my constituency. What work is the Department doing with the Department for Transport to make that a reality?

My hon. Friend highlights the importance of nationally significant infrastructure programmes all across the country. It is vital that we speed up those projects and make sure that they deliver for local people more quickly. My hon. Friend is a champion for the A38; I know that she will be talking to the Department for Transport, and I am happy to do so as well.

The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Government are not using the powers that they have, but it is his Government who keep vetoing Scottish Government policies and legislation that has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. Does that not just show that the Conservatives never wanted devolution in the first place and can now barely contain their glee at getting to roll back the powers of devolution?

No, it was the Scottish National party that did not want devolution; it wants independence. It is in the name, isn’t it? They are nationalists and they want to break up the United Kingdom; we extend devolution within England and we support it in Scotland.

Thanks to the Government’s brownfield land release fund, Solihull Council is getting on with the job of regenerating Kingshurst village centre, including by building new environmentally friendly houses. With that in mind, will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to see at first hand the progress of the regeneration of Kingshurst village centre, and see how it can be supported further by a successful levelling-up fund round 3 application?

Once again, my hon. Friend makes a brilliant case on behalf of the residents of Solihull borough.

Fife Council is currently working on the details of the levelling-up fund, which gave us some of our own money back under the last round. Most of that money—over £14 million—is for connectivity projects related to the very welcome reopening of the Levenmouth rail link. Since the bid was put together, it has become clear that by far the most important connectivity project associated with that reopening is the construction of a pedestrian footbridge to maintain the ancient public right of way at Doubledykes crossing in the middle of my constituency. If it becomes clear that the project has support from the community, will the Secretary of State allow Fife Council to reallocate the funding—

Order. Please—these are topicals. I have given you the advantage of having two goes. Don’t take advantage of the rest of the Members, please.

I will investigate the matter. It is important that public access is maintained. I do sympathise with the hon. Gentleman: given that there are now no Labour Back Benchers left to ask questions, he has to take the Opposition responsibilities on his shoulders.

May I thank the Levelling Up Minister for her time when we met to discuss community projects in Bracknell? East Berkshire would also welcome its fair share of levelling-up love, so could she please advise on the how and when for the next tranche of funding?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for outlining the concerns of local residents, showing why levelling up is also needed in parts of the country like Bracknell. We will imminently announce full details of levelling-up round 3, and I will, of course, provide him with those details when we have them.

To strengthen the Union, and with the Windsor framework not able to answer all the difficulties due to the Northern Ireland protocol, what recent discussions have taken place with Cabinet colleagues on pressing the EU for a common-sense approach and on making the necessary adjustments to keep Northern Ireland a functional and integral part of the UK, which is the will of the people?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is the clearly expressed will of Northern Ireland’s people to be embedded in the United Kingdom, and we need to make sure that the EU takes a constructive approach, following on from the publication of the Windsor framework. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary are taking that forward.

Eastbourne secured £20 million in round 1 of the Government’s levelling-up fund, part of which is set to transform a disused dairy and downland farm into a world-class visitor centre. Will previously successful constituencies, such as mine, be eligible to apply for the forthcoming round 3? We have big plans for the seafront.

My hon. Friend continues to be a fantastic champion for Eastbourne. We will be announcing full details of levelling-up round 3 in due course, but we are taking on concerns, from those who have previously received funding and from those who have not, to make sure that we get this third round absolutely right.

Playgrounds are often a godsend for stressed parents. They are great for kids’ development, and they are free entertainment during all these cost of living pressures. Will my right hon. Friend consider earmarking a fund so that parish councils and community groups can bid to improve areas that are in a poor state or that lack the inclusive equipment we all want to see?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for better provision of playgrounds and stronger support for families and young people. The community ownership fund is available for some of the purposes she mentions, but I look forward to working with her to do more in this area.