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Topical Questions

Volume 738: debated on Monday 16 October 2023

Last Thursday, I was privileged to be invited to join a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary at which we heard from the Community Security Trust about the deeply unfortunate rise in antisemitic incidents following the terrorist attack that we marked at the start of today’s sitting. The increase in antisemitic incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust and its partner, Tell MAMA, is 494%. It is a melancholy trend, and I know that everyone in this House will join me in doing everything we can to defeat antisemitism and to promote peace and justice.

I welcome the comments that the Secretary of State has just made, but may I take him to task about some of the comments that he made earlier? He talked about having conversations with Hull City Council about transport. This comes after the Government’s decade-long refusal to back the electrification of a line to Hull. It also comes after the exclusion of the northern Mayors in the decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2. Why should any of the people in Hull and East Riding—

Order. Topicals should be short and sweet. The right hon. Lady should just finish her question very quickly.

I am a huge fan of the right hon. Lady. The proof of the pudding will be in the continued engagement that we have with the people of Hull and, indeed, with their Liberal Democrat council.

I have been running a “fair deal for new estates” campaign in my constituency to ensure that new estates are completed in a timely manner. I am talking about not just the housing, but the play areas, the planting, the drainage and the pavements. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this campaign, which is important locally and is achieving progress for residents in Harrogate and Knaresborough?

My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in raising the concerns of his constituents on the Floor of the House. I know that those concerns are also raised with many other colleagues. That is why, in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are strengthening planning enforcement powers, including powers to tackle uncompleted developments. I hope his constituents will welcome that, and I would be pleased to meet him and discuss it in more detail.

It is a pleasure to face the right hon. Gentleman for our first questions. I hope he enjoyed his party conference, cancelling a meat tax that nobody had planned, abolishing seven bins that do not exist and announcing that they would build a series of transport links that already do exist—not so much conference season as panto season. I shall keep my question to a problem that definitely does exist. One million families are waiting for social housing. How can he justify handing back to the Treasury billions of pounds that are desperately needed to tackle the housing crisis?

It is because we spend our money effectively. The affordable homes programme—the £11.5 billion investment that we are making—will lead, and has led, to investment in social and affordable housing across the country. The right hon. Lady has a challenge when it comes to credibility on social housing. She secured the deputy leadership of her party by saying that the Labour party should be building 100,000 social homes every year, and yet its current target is zero. Why did she retreat?

The right hon. Gentleman just comes out with flannel—I think he is auditioning for panto season this afternoon. He can dress it up however he likes, but the truth is that he could not spend this vital funding quickly enough in the middle of a housing crisis. It is clear that the Prime Minister shares his disregard for struggling families. In his hour-long speech in Manchester, the Prime Minister did not mention housing a single time—not once—but the Housing Minister did tell conference that renters are not all weed-smoking gangsters, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows all about, as he mentioned gangsters earlier today. Can the Secretary of State assure us that, despite the tone of those remarks, the Renters (Reform) Bill will not be scrapped before the King’s Speech?

Yes, we are bringing reform to the rental market, but I note that at her own party conference the right hon. Lady shared with the public not just her policies but her recipe for a cocktail called Venom, which apparently contains a bottle of vodka, a bottle of Southern Comfort, 10 Blue WKDs and a litre of orange juice. We know what the real lethal cocktail from the Labour party is: a mix of unfunded spending commitments, massive borrowing, greenbelt development and hypocrisy on housing.

T7. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the amazing Hope Centre in Northampton, which for 50 years has been turning the lives around of people who have been homeless, getting them into a home of their own and into a secure job. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the staff and volunteers at that amazing charity? (906541)

I am delighted to congratulate the staff and volunteers at the Hope Centre on 50 amazing years of supporting venerable people in Northampton. That work is critical in meeting the Government’s commitment to reduce homelessness and to end rough sleeping for good, which is backed by a Government investment of £2 billion over three years.

Antisemitism is abhorrent and hateful, and there must be meaningful legislation to protect Jewish people. I appreciate that the Department introduced the anti-boycott Bill to help to tackle that, but as the Minister may recall, in Committee the Bill was not supported by many human rights organisations and no Opposition amendments were accepted. We need to work on a cross-party basis, so will the Secretary of State and the Minister meet with me to discuss what support the SNP can provide to tackle the hatred of antisemitism?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the way in which she couched her question. I take this opportunity to thank the First Minister of Scotland who, in his visit to a synagogue in Edinburgh last week, I think spoke for all of Scotland in expressing his solidarity with the pain being felt by Scotland’s Jewish community. I look forward to working together on a cross-party basis if we can.

T9. The new Levelling Up Minister has got off to a flying start by awarding £20 million to Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. Barry is Wales’s largest town and has been ignored by the Welsh Government for decades. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give me that local priorities will determine how that money should be spent? (906543)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is a persistent champion of Barry in his constituency. I am delighted that Barry has been chosen as one of the 55 towns and will receive £20 million to deliver its plan. I look forward to working with him to see Barry’s potential realised.

T2. Chester, like city centres up and down the country, as well as rural and coastal areas, is seeing rents going up and the supply of long-term private rented lets going down. The Government consulted on short-term lets earlier this year. What progress has been made in tackling the issue? (906535)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that question. As she rightly points out, the abuse of short-term lets is a significant issue in rural and coastal areas, and we will respond to the consultation shortly.

Over 200 of my constituents at the Mill development in Ipswich have been living in a cruel form of limbo for over 10 years. The building has deep cladding and structural problems. RSM, the administrator, could run out of money next March or April. My constituents fear that they could be turfed out of their homes. What steps are the Government taking to support my residents, give them clarity over their future, and come to a lasting settlement that funds the problems of the building and allows residents to move on with their lives?

Like my hon. Friend, the Department and the Government want to see a resolution to the Mill, which is complex and challenging. We accept the points that he makes. I look forward to continue meeting with him, and we will try to find a positive resolution.

T3. Local authorities are struggling to retrofit ageing rural council housing stock, which has allowed mould to set in. What will the Minister do to avoid councils having to spend huge sums of council taxpayers’ money on positive input ventilation units to provide mould-free homes? (906536)

The scourge of damp and mould, particularly but not exclusively in the social and private rented sector, is an issue that the Government recognise that we need to tackle. That is why we are providing additional support to local government and to housing associations in order to deal with that issue. I look forward in particular to dealing with the hon. Gentleman to assess the situation in Tiverton and Honiton.

I thank the Secretary of State for the tremendous support he has provided to Blackpool, with more than £140 million in levelling-up moneys allocated so far. Is he able to provide an update on the plans for further housing-led regeneration in the Bond Street and Revoe areas of my constituency?

I fully recognise the importance of supporting Blackpool and places across the country in their ambitions for regeneration. Homes England and my Department are continuing to work closely with Blackpool Council to level up the town and improve the quality of housing. I look forward to my Department’s saying more about that in the future.

T5. The Secretary of State, in our consideration of his Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill tomorrow, intends to remove reducing child poverty as a levelling-up mission. Does he think it is possible to level up without reducing child poverty, or is it just the case that the Government do not care? (906539)

That is a fair question. Of course we care about reducing child poverty; that is why the steps we are taking across 12 levelling-up missions, including on education and welfare, are designed to reduce poverty across the United Kingdom.

Berkeley Town Council has created a much-needed regeneration plan that will make the town worthy of the tourist attractions nearby, such as Berkeley castle and the Dr Jenner’s House museum, but we have little faith that the Green and Labour-led district council will get the levelling-up bid over the line. It failed before and its local plans have also been withdrawn. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue?

T6. Some 4,240 households in London alone were evicted last year using the no-fault possession grounds that the Government first promised to scrap four years ago. How many more households will be evicted before the Government meet their promise? (906540)

We are committed to introducing our Renters (Reform) Bill, which will end section 21—something that, when Labour were in government, it did not do.

Levelling up is about levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom—north, south, east and west, including areas that did not get levelling-up funding in rounds 1 or 2 or the recent announcements, such as Gillingham town centre. Will the Secretary of State visit Gillingham with me and ensure that we get our fair share and allocation of resources?

T8.   Some 54 months ago, the Government promised the Renters (Reform) Bill. Since then, 10,000 Londoners have been threatened with eviction and renting is simply too insecure. We are trying again to ask this: when will the Government be bringing in the Bill? (906542)

That is a good question; I liked it even better when the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) asked it. As I explained, we will be bringing forward our legislation shortly.

As he is reforming the national planning policy framework and introducing a new infrastructure levy, how will my right hon. Friend ensure that our constituents get the doctors and dentists capacity that must go with new homes?

The infrastructure levy that we are bringing forward will ensure, through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, that the money is there to provide services when new development takes place. We will work with the NHS to ensure that GP and dental provision is part of that. We have a plan for an infrastructure levy; Labour has no plan.