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Commons Chamber

Volume 746: debated on Monday 4 March 2024

House of Commons

Monday 4 March 2024

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

New Member

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

George Galloway, for Rochdale.

Oral Answers to Questions

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rough Sleeping and Homelessness

1. What steps he is taking to support rough sleepers and homeless people to move into accommodation. (901760)

We are investing almost £2.4 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, which is an unprecedented amount. That includes over £1.2 billion through the homelessness prevention grant, which councils can use flexibly to prevent homelessness and help families to move out of temporary accommodation. Last week, an additional £107 million was allocated to councils through the single homelessness accommodation programme, providing 808 homes for people sleeping rough.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but the number of people in temporary accommodation has risen by 10% over the past year, and the number of rough sleepers has risen by 27% across the country. Clearly, the money is very much needed—all London councils report that they are spending more than the temporary accommodation money that has been allocated. Equally, the pilots for Housing First have been outstandingly successful, so can we ensure that Housing First is introduced across the country and more investment is made, in order to take people off the streets and provide them with a permanent home, as they deserve?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for everything he has done in the homelessness space. The other day, I was looking at the figures from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—we have supported 708,000 families courtesy of that Act, in order to prevent homelessness. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have seen an uptick in rough sleeping and homelessness, which is disappointing. However, with rough sleeping we are still 9% below pre-pandemic levels, and 18% below the highs in 2017. I agree with him about the success of Housing First. We have invested £42 million in those pilots, and we are investing a further £30 million through the rough sleeping initiative.

There are 142,000 children living in temporary accommodation—a record high that is costly to taxpayers, but devastating to the lives of children and families—and the Government’s own data shows that they have utterly failed on their 2019 manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has just said, rough sleeping has risen by 27% in the past year, and I remind the Minister that it is 120% higher than in 2010. Is she happy for children and families to be paying the price for 14 years of Tory failure on housing?

This Government have made a concerted effort to tackle homelessness and eliminate rough sleeping. I am not happy with the numbers in temporary accommodation, which is why the last autumn statement contained a series of measures to address the issue, including an additional £450 million for the local authority housing fund—taking that to £1.2 billion—in order to improve the quality of temporary accommodation. We have also uprated the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, which is worth £800 per family.

Southend has an abundance of accommodation that is deemed inexpensive by local authorities, and our city is picking up the tab for social care, education and long-term housing when other local authorities are not informing our city council that they are placing people in the city. Under section 208 of the Housing Act 1996, all local authorities should give prior notice when placing people for homelessness within 14 days. Will my hon. Friend assist me and Southend-on-Sea City Council in dealing with this issue?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: if a local authority places people into temporary accommodation outside the borough, it should notify the relevant local authority. I am very happy to assist in getting that message across.

Analysis by London Councils shows that, on average, the equivalent of one child in every classroom is homeless and that London local authorities are now spending a staggering £90 million a month on temporary accommodation for those who are homeless. What conversations has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury about raising the cap on the housing benefit subsidy for temporary accommodation and also supporting local authorities to buy up property, as Richmond Borough Council is doing, so they can rehouse people locally in decent accommodation?

As the hon. Lady will understand, I cannot talk about any discussions that we may have had with the Treasury, but clearly the Budget is on Wednesday. However, I would point to the increase in the local housing allowance rate, which will take effect in April, and the local authority housing fund is intended specifically to help local authorities to buy properties for temporary accommodation.

I hear what the Minister says about the housing fund for temporary accommodation, but what we need to be doing is reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation. Four years have passed since the Government first promised to end section 21 evictions, and now 70,000 children are coming home from school each night to sleep in temporary accommodation. For a child being brought up in a hotel room, doing their homework on the bathroom floor and eating their dinner perched on the bed, the opportunity to make the most of their life is out of their control. So I ask the Minister how many more children must face eviction before she meets the promise?

We are absolutely committed to repealing section 21—there is no question about that. As I have said, the numbers for those in temporary accommodation are disappointing but we do have a very holistic approach: building more housing, building more affordable homes, and enabling local authorities to go out and build and purchase temporary accommodation.

Levelling-up Fund

We are transforming communities the length and breadth of our United Kingdom through our £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, improving transport, regenerating high streets and rebuilding pride in place.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, and I am delighted that we have recently been able to bring £78 million of investment to Clacton. Freeports will be a major contributor towards levelling up, and in my view levelling up also means better transport infrastructure, but not enough is getting through to bus services in my patch. Will he support my campaign outlining that Freeport East in Essex needs to show its social value in Clacton by helping to improve connectivity for everyone across the Tendring district, including for buses?

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his campaign. Buses are the most popular form of public transport in our country. They are an essential element of our national transport system, playing a vital part in levelling up. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging the huge amount of levelling-up funding going into Clacton and am keen to work with him to see how we can help people in Jaywick as well.

My borough, Hackney, was successful in its bid for levelling-up funding, but there was a delay to the bid being put in, because the Government changed the timetable, and a delay to the final decision, again because the Government delayed the timetable, which has contributed—it is not the only factor—to a nine-month delay in the programme and getting the funding. Will the Minister look at that? Given that it is a Government flagship programme, is he not a bit disappointed that the timescale problems are down to his own Department?

I absolutely commit to looking at that. We have introduced the project adjustment request process, and I am more than happy to talk to the hon. Lady and her local authority about how they can utilise that to meet the changes that she outlines.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the great strength of levelling-up funding is that it supports projects that are generated by local communities, rather than by officialdom? When the Borders levelling-up partnership is considering projects, the projects in my constituency at the Crook Inn at Tweedsmuir and the George Hotel in Walkerburn are ideal for such funding opportunities.

I was grateful to meet my right hon. Friend recently to discuss those exact priorities. We are hoping to invest £20 million into the levelling-up partnership he mentions. I am sure that those priorities will be part of our considerations as we design the partnership.

Communities in Northern Ireland experienced no benefit from the last round of levelling-up funding, because of the Government’s flimsy excuse that the Assembly was not sitting. Now that the Assembly is sitting, can the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with the communities Minister to ensure that the millions of pounds that he said was set aside will be available for projects in Northern Ireland?

I can absolutely commit to having those discussions, and I offer to meet the right hon. Gentleman following Question Time.

I am proud that Morley has received £24 million in funding from the Conservative Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that transparency and care with taxpayers’ money is vital. Will he look into the concerns that a number of constituents have raised about Morley Town Council, including the controversial plan to install £80,000-worth of TV screens in a conservation area, whether it followed the correct tendering process and whether any vested interests among those involved were fully declared?

I will absolutely look into those concerns and ensure that my officials can meet my hon. Friend to discuss them further.

The success or otherwise of levelling up will be tested by whether people in communities feel better off and whether inequalities in those communities are removed. What assessment has the Minister made of an area such as Tameside, which has had three successful levelling-up bids, but feels poorer because its council is £200 million worse off?

Across the north-west, we are investing £2.2 billion through our different levelling-up fund streams. We are working closely with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, giving him more powers and more funding to help deal with the exact issues the hon. Gentleman mentions.

The Government talk about levelling up, but local councils and communities are on the brink due to policies made in Downing Street that affect every single local authority in the country. Funding has been slashed, the fair funding review delayed, and the business rate reset postponed, while reserves are depleted, community assets have been sold, accounts go unsubmitted, and more and more councils are lining up for emergency support. Is it not time to end the sticking-plaster politics and have a long-term plan for all our communities’ sake, or are the Government doing what the country is doing: waiting for a Labour Government?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the long-term plan for Oldham, which is in his constituency and where we are investing £20 million over the next 10 years. Since 2019, we have invested £15 billion of levelling-up funding across the country. We are committed to levelling up right across the country.

Local Government Finance: Potholes

5. If he will make a comparative assessment of trends in (a) the level of local government financial settlements and (b) the number of cars damaged as a result of potholes in the last 10 years. (901764)

We have made available up to £64.7 billion for local authorities through the 2024-25 local government finance settlement. Local authorities can decide how to spend the majority of that funding. The Government are also investing more than £5 billion into local highways maintenance in this Parliament. In October, we announced a further £8 billion to fix our roads.

GoCompare’s recent pothole report described the potholes in Tory-run Derbyshire as the very worst in England. The Conservative council leader was clear in his view that it is funding decisions from central Government that have forced the county to adopt what he called the totally ineffective “sticking plaster and patching approach”. He said that the funding from the Government

“doesn’t touch the sides of the issue for counties”

across the country. Why should Derbyshire motorists pay a Tory pothole tax, with tyres, springs and suspensions all constantly needing repairing as a result of the state of our roads?

For the hon. Gentleman’s benefit, let me repeat those figures of £5 billion for local highways maintenance and the additional £8 billion announced in October. That will fill holes, including in Derbyshire and his constituency, to support motorists, the economy and people going about their business.

It is normal in these circumstances to invite a Minister to visit a constituency. The Minister is welcome to visit my constituency, The Wrekin in Shropshire, and the Telford and Wrekin borough, but if he visits the Telford and Wrekin borough bit, could he bring a spare tyre? The potholes there are enormous. I thank him for allowing £32 million to be released over the next 11 years to ensure that those potholes are filled. Rather than a pothole tax, may I thank him for the pothole fund? Finally—[Interruption.] I will not give a “finally”, but he is very welcome to visit. Bring a spare tyre!

As I struggle with my Lenten observations, I need no lessons about spare tyres—it is all about trying to get rid of spare tyres, as far as I am concerned. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments. The Wrekin is a part of Shropshire that I know well. Those sums can and should be used by upper-tier authorities, which are the highways authority, to ensure that their networks are working well, smoothly and safely. That benefits all, and the Government are putting up the money to allow them to do that.

Public service workers and local leaders across the country are working incredibly hard to improve their local areas and provide vital services, so rather than the begging bowl culture that makes them bid for money, will the Minister take forward Labour’s commitment for a long-term, more secure funding settlement to allow them to plan for the future?

I am intrigued by what the right hon. Lady proffers to the House. Only a few weeks ago, in the debate on the local government finance settlement—none of her colleagues apart from the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who chairs the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, and those on the Front Bench could be bothered to turn up and speak on it—the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who is sitting next to her on the Front Bench, said:

“As I will come on to say shortly, we will have a review to look at the long-term plans. We understand the problems that local government is facing.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2024; Vol. 745, c. 326.]

May I say to the right hon. Lady that part of the job of being in Opposition is to work out the policies that she may want to deliver in government?


We have been clear that anti-Muslim hatred has absolutely no place in our communities. I feel that strongly, as I represent one of the most diverse constituencies in the country. We have provided over £6 million to the anti-Muslim hatred monitoring and support service Tell MAMA, and just shy of £13 million to schemes protecting mosques and faith schools. Funding for both measures had been uplifted in response to increased reporting since October.

An extreme right-wing Conservative MP was allowed to go on an extreme right-wing Conservative-funding TV station and make a series of vile Islamophobic remarks. The MP was not suspended for Islamophobia; he was suspended for refusing to obey an order from his party leader. Does the Minister understand why it is that, not only among Muslim communities but across a much wider range of believers and non-believers, people are becoming increasingly concerned that, in the eyes of this Government, Islamophobia is seen as somehow less abhorrent than other forms of racism?

The Government were absolutely clear that those were not appropriate comments. That is completely clear. Any form of religious hatred is not acceptable in our society.

The recent rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents and crimes is really worrying. Will the Government do everything they can to improve education so as to improve multi-faith understanding and tackle this scourge?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Education is critical, and we need to bring our communities together. Last weekend, I was delighted to attend an inter-faith event in my constituency that included Holland Park synagogue, where it was hosted, and al-Manaar mosque. That inter-faith work and communities working together is critical.

For almost two years this Tory Government have failed to appoint an independent adviser on Islamophobia. The former adviser has criticised the Government for their failure to engage, and revealed that he could not even get them to provide terms of reference for his role. Does the Minister agree that this Government lack the political will to tackle this pernicious hatred, or even to call it out?

I strongly disagree. We plan to appoint a new independent adviser on anti-Muslim hatred, and we will update the House shortly.

Like so many, I am fearful of the inability to call out Islamophobia becoming a scaremongering tactic to stoke fear and division and garner support for the extreme far right. It makes life difficult or even dangerous for Muslims. Across all four nations, more can and should be done on a cross-party basis to tackle that hatred. That starts with being able to call out Islamophobia when it occurs. Could the Minister clarify the line between being wrong and being Islamophobic?

There is no question but that those comments were wrong. I face the Mayor of London in opposition all the time, and I could criticise him for many things—housing, policing, fire or transport—but I would never accuse him of being in any way under the influence of Islamists.

That response will give people little comfort. Let me paint a picture for the Minister of what life is like for many Muslims growing up and living across these four nations. A month after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, my local mosque in Carfin was petrol bombed. The two men were sentenced to one year and nine months respectively. If asked, most Muslims will have their own stories. Muslims are not asking for special treatment. They work, pay taxes, send their kids to the same schools and support the same football teams. The Government have had ample opportunity over the past few weeks to commit to tackling this stain on society, but there has been no substantial change in policy. Next Friday 15 March marks the UN’s International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Will the Government use that opportunity to commit to adopting the definition of the all-party parliamentary group?

I want to make it clear that this Government will not tolerate religious hatred towards Muslims or any other faith group. That is a red line. This Government are aware, very sadly, of incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, which is why we put in place an extra £4.9 million of protective security funding for Muslim mosques, faith schools and communities. We are 100% behind our Muslim communities.

7. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of section 21 evictions on levels of homelessness. (901766)

9. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of section 21 evictions on levels of homelessness. (901768)

14. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of section 21 evictions on levels of homelessness. (901773)

The Department publishes official statistics on homelessness duties owed, including the number of households threatened with homelessness following service of a valid section 21 notice. We are committed to the abolition of section 21 through our landmark Renters (Reform) Bill, which will deliver a fairer private rented sector for both tenants and landlords.

In 2019 the Government promised to abolish section 21 no-fault evictions, but the Bill that they finally published five years later, which the Minister mentioned, does not actually abolish section 21 no-fault evictions. Meanwhile, 140,000 children are living in costly temporary accommodation. In my constituency we get one or two cases every week. The problems are piling up. When will this Government do what they promised—stop delaying, stop dithering, and abolish no-fault evictions?

As I have already said, we are absolutely committed to abolishing section 21. The Renters (Reform) Bill is going through Parliament and I look forward to debating it with the hon. Lady when it returns to this House.

My borough of Enfield topped London’s league for section 21 evictions last year, setting a grim record and resulting in a dramatic rise in homeless families approaching the council for help. At its peak, the borough had 400 families approach the council for help in one month, yet Ministers are unwilling to stand up to their own Back Benchers. The Minister says the Government are committed to abolishing section 21 evictions. Can I please ask him when? When will he bring the Bill back, so we can bring an end to no-fault evictions?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who I have heard campaigning on this issue a number of times. I am well aware of her concerns for her constituents. As I said, we are absolutely committed to abolishing section 21. We will bring forward the Bill as soon as we are able to do so. I would also say to her that the Mayor of London is not building enough homes. He is not building enough homes to meet the Government-assessed need for London. He is not even building homes to his own targets, so I encourage her to have a conversation with him as well.

In Salford, from April to November last year, approximately 466 individuals presented to Salford City Council in crisis because of section 21 notices. Salford’s social housing waiting list is currently in the thousands. Private market rents are outstripping incomes and local housing allowance rates at a frighteningly exponential rate. There are no affordable homes to go to once someone is evicted from a property, so homelessness is now at acute levels in Salford. This is not just a housing crisis; this is a homelessness crisis in Salford. When are the Government going to bring back the Renters (Reform) Bill, with robust amendments finally banning section 21 evictions? What action will the Minister take to ensure that my constituents urgently have long-term secure tenancies?

Again, I have heard the hon. Lady talk about this issue a number of times. We are absolutely committed to the abolition of section 21. I am personally committed to that. We will bring back the Bill as soon as we are able to do so.

In resisting Labour’s efforts to strengthen the Renters (Reform) Bill, Ministers have repeatedly argued that the legislation as drafted strikes precisely the right balance between the interests of tenants and those of landlords, yet by watering down protections for renters and further delaying the long-overdue abolition of section 21 evictions, the package of draft Government amendments to the Bill that we saw last week will tilt the playing field decisively back towards the landlord interest. Are we to believe that the Government have honestly decided, at the 11th hour, that it is landlords who need more rights and powers, or is this not simply a crude attempt to manage an increasingly fractious Tory party at a shameful cost to hard-pressed private tenants?

The hon. Gentleman, like various Members who have spoken, is a committed campaigner on this issue. I enjoyed our time together in the Public Bill Committee. We need to strike the balance he has just spoken about. That is why we are discussing the Bill with both landlord groups and tenant groups. We are meeting colleagues on the Government Benches and the Labour Benches, and those in the smaller parties, too. We are ensuring that when we bring the Bill back it is in the best possible shape so that it affords protections and security for tenants, but protections, in fairness, for landlords too.

Flood Recovery Framework

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am pleased to report that the review of the flood recovery framework has already begun and I expect the work to be completed by autumn this year. We will, of course, update Parliament in the usual way when that review is completed.

My constituent Lucy owns Ride Leisure Events on Wyboston Lakes, which flooded again during Storm Henk. She cannot get insurance and her business is not entitled to compensation under the flood recovery framework because of the Government’s arbitrary decision to expect cash-strapped councils to cover the cost if fewer than 50 properties are impacted. It is very unfair that my constituent has fallen through the safety net. She will not be the only one, with property in Kempston regularly affected by flooding. Will the Minister crack that anomaly in the framework and help my constituent save her business?

I am sorry to hear about that case, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me giving details of the business, I will of course look into it. As for Storm Henk, 2,241 properties have been identified as eligible for grant support. That covers 16 upper-tier local authorities, and to date payments of £788,743 have been reported by authorities to impacted householders and businesses. There always has to be a rubric in these cases, and this issue will be considered during the flood recovery framework review, on which, as I have said, we will report back to the House. However, the offer is there: if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I will happily look at what he has to say.

Whiston has been flooded repeatedly over the past decade, and there is a huge ongoing issue, but Rotherham council recently approved the building of 450 new homes there. Whiston Parish Council, which is independently aligned and thus not party political, called a special public meeting about the plans, which show water running uphill—which I believe it does not do—and floodwater draining into a non-existent stream. This surely demonstrates that Rotherham Council does not understand the issue of flooding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all councils, including Rotherham, have a responsibility not to build on floodplains?

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Between them, the local planning authority and the Environment Agency should always find the most appropriate sites for development and take hydrology and water management into consideration. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), will have heard what my hon. Friend has said, and may contact him in due course.

Private Roads

10. Whether he has had recent discussions with local authorities on adopting private roads on new estates. (901769)

The adoption of roads is largely an issue for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who leads on that policy, but I know—because we have spoken about this in the Committee considering the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill—that the hon. Gentleman has a significant interest in this matter. We understand the strength of feeling about it, and we are considering it further.

Across the country, homeowners in a state of adoption limbo are being left exposed to exploitative and often unaccountable management companies. Despite their warm words, sadly the Government did not take any of the actions that the Competition and Markets Authority urged them to take in order to end the issue of fleecehold once and for all. Given that the Secretary of State is rumoured to be on the lookout for legacy accomplishments, will the Minister urge his colleagues to finally act on this issue during the current Parliament, or will fleecehold be yet another issue left for the next Government to tackle?

With the best will in the world, the CMA report was published a few days ago, and the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill had been progressing through the House for a number of months before that. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I hope he will accept, as other Members, including his colleagues, have done, that the Bill is a significant improvement for estate management, providing the right of redress to a tribunal, further information and the right to absolute clarity on service charges. All those changes have been rightly demanded by residents, and we are considering carefully whether there is anything further than we can do.

Town Deals

My Department is engaging with all town deal recipients to support delivery through our performance monitoring process, and we have a particular interest in progress in Ipswich following the allocation of £25 million, secured by the hon. Gentleman, for 10 projects there.

I am very grateful for that investment. As the Secretary of State will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) had to intervene because of the slow production of the business cases. We got over that hurdle, but sadly, years later, we are still desperately waiting for delivery on the ground. When bodies other than the Labour-led council are responsible for projects, they are delivered—no problem—but when the council is in the driving seat, what we see is no delivery. Whether it is cock-up or conspiracy, it is not good enough. Will the Secretary of State please intervene to let the council know that it is not right to put politics before the delivery that the people of Ipswich so desperately need?

My hon. Friend is a bonnie fechter for Ipswich, and he is absolutely right about, for instance, the local shopping parades project and the former R&W Paul Silo building. I am afraid that we have not seen the progress that we would expect. It is indeed the case that the Labour Council in Ipswich is not delivering for the people of Ipswich in the way that my hon. Friend so brilliantly does.

I thought that the Secretary of State’s Government were introducing all these deals in order to help the parts of the country that were struggling and where more people on low earnings lived. Like him, I have been looking carefully at who is getting the money. Why does so much of it goes to Tory marginal seats? Is that fair?

First, Ipswich is an area that deserves investment—an area that has been overlooked and undervalued under Labour Governments. Secondly, on Friday I was proud to be able to announce additional investment in a mass transit system, which will enable the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Huddersfield to travel more quickly across West Yorkshire to Leeds and Bradford. Sadly, it is the case at the moment that we do not have Conservative MPs in Leeds or Bradford, but we know that the Labour marginal seats in Leeds and Bradford, and of course the marginal seat of Huddersfield, will very soon have Conservative representation.

Community Ownership Fund

The £150 million community ownership fund is open to voluntary and community organisations or parish, town and community councils from all parts of the United Kingdom that have a viable plan for taking ownership of a community asset at risk and running it sustainably for community benefit. So far, we have awarded £71 million to 257 community projects, including £1 million to Gigg Lane, the home of Bury FC. Detailed guidance on the criteria is available in the prospectus on

Silsden Methodist church in my constituency has not been used for worship for some time, but it is a really important community space, where a wide range of community groups meet regularly. Sadly, I understand that the Methodist Church may now sell the building, threatening the future of these groups, but Silsden Parish Council has managed to have the building listed as an asset of community value. Could my hon. Friend tell me whether the community ownership fund might be a suitable source of funding to secure the future of the building, or which other funds the parish council should be looking at?

It sounds as though the church is eligible, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss eligibility further. Applicants can bid for up to £2 million in capital funding from the community ownership fund, with additional revenue funding available, but in the first instance I would recommend that interested applicants read the prospectus on, as this will cover all they need to know regarding eligibility requirements, funding available and the application process.

Would my hon. Friend consider amending the criteria for community ownership fund applications to include the potential community purchase of redundant council assets? It would bring back to life many publicly owned buildings and spaces that are currently serving no purpose or are underused.

I thank my hon. Friend for his advocacy for the fund and for his constituents in Bury. The community ownership fund works alongside existing community asset transfers and supports them by funding the costs of renovation and refurbishment. We cannot fund the cost of purchasing publicly owned assets where the public authority would credit a capital receipt, except in the case of parish, town and community councils, but I am happy to meet him to discuss this issue further.

In many communities in Westmorland, the pub is the centre of the community and is often under threat. In some cases, the local pub—such as The Ship Inn in Sandside—has closed down altogether. The community ownership fund is clearly a very good way of allowing the community to bring such businesses back into public use, but does the fund allow communities to go through the process of compulsory purchase, so that a building can be taken from an owner who is unwilling to sell and made useful again for the local community?

I think the CPO process is probably a bit too lengthy for the fund itself, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the project directly. We are very happy to help fund community pubs through the community ownership fund.

The Citizens theatre in Glasgow is a much-beloved institution and has been undergoing refurbishment for several years. It has had a range of funding from Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland, but, due to inflation and various measures, it still requires additional funding to make up the balance and complete its really significant refurbishment programme. Is the community ownership fund something that the Citizens theatre might be able to avail itself of?

Once again, it sounds as though the theatre may be eligible. I cannot comment on its eligibility today, but I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss whether the fund is appropriate for the Citizens theatre.

Local Authority Finance

13. What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the financial sustainability of local authorities. (901772)

We have made available up to £64.7 billion for local authorities through the local government finance settlement for 2024-25—an above-inflation increase of up to £4.5 billion, or 7.5% in cash terms, on 2023-24. Of course, that includes an additional £600 million of funding, which was announced by my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government on 24 January.

Aside from potholes, the issue that has caused the most angst for Derbyshire County Council is the significant rise in the cost of residential placements for looked-after children. The council believes that the market for this is now completely out of control and that prices are excessive. Is there more that the Government can do to help councils financially to pay these bills or to find a better way to structure that market so that the bills are not so high?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are spending £500 million additionally on adult and children’s social care, but he is right to say that the cost of residential homes for looked-after children is excessive, and a number of private equity firms are operating like bandits in this area. I have talked to the Minister responsible, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston), and action will be forthcoming.

The Select Committee recently produced a report on local government finance in which we said that the Government must act now if local authorities are to survive this severe crisis. What has the Secretary of State done? He has asked every local authority to produce a productivity plan. That sounds a bit like advising councils how to spend better the money they have not got. He has asked local authorities to identify

“ways to reduce wasteful spend”.

What does he think they have been doing for the last 13 years? In particular, he has asked them to identify waste on

“discredited staff equality, diversity and inclusion programmes”.

How much does he think that will save when it comes to avoiding section 114 notices?

The Chairman of the Select Committee is right to say that local government is facing challenges, but there are outstanding councils—North Lincolnshire and South Norfolk, for example—that are continuing to ensure that they can build up surpluses and deliver effective services. That is because they put productivity first. There are some local authorities, lamentably, that are not putting productivity first. They include South Cambridgeshire, with its plans for a four-day week, and St Albans, which is still spending money on discredited forms of training that only increase division rather than bringing communities together. It is no coincidence that both those local authorities are Liberal Democrat.

Property Repairs: Recourse for Renters

16. Whether his Department is taking steps to ensure that there is appropriate recourse for renters if property repairs and safety concerns are not adequately dealt with by landlords. (901776)

Where landlords fail to keep their properties in an acceptable condition, local authorities can issue improvement notices and impose penalties for non-compliance. Social tenants can already access the housing ombudsman service, and the Renters (Reform) Bill will establish a new landlord ombudsman service so that private tenants can also seek free redress.

While these changes in legislation are welcome, it is clear that more must be done. Too many rental and leasehold residents in my constituency face ongoing issues in ensuring that landlords and freeholders face up to their responsibilities. Will the Minister work with me to ensure that my residents in precarious situations with unresponsive landlords or leaseholders are able to access the correct course of remedial action in a timely and effective manner?

I will indeed work with my hon. Friend to ensure that his residents, who he is such a brilliant champion for, can access redress. We are committed to protecting tenants from the minority of landlords and agents who provide a poor service. Where a property is managed by an agent, residents can seek redress through the property ombudsman or the property redress scheme, as well as the housing ombudsman for social tenants and the new ombudsman for private tenants. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill will require freeholders who manage their property to join a redress scheme, too.

Too many children across the country are still being hospitalised because there is mould in their private rented homes. Repairs and concerns especially about mould are the subject of Awaab’s law, which is being brought in, but private landlords are being let off the hook. Will the Minister consider supporting my private Member’s Bill to extend Awaab’s law and ensure that private landlords fulfil their responsibilities to fix mould?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the time we have spent together discussing her private Member’s Bill. Through the Renters (Reform) Bill we are introducing a new decent homes standard for the private rented sector, which I believe covers the majority of her Bill, but I would be happy to continue those discussions with her further.

Norfolk Devolution Deal

My Department is supporting the implementation of the Norfolk devolution deal, which is progressing well. Norfolk County Council, under its brilliant leader, intends to vote to change its governance in July, leading to the election of a directly elected leader in May 2025.

The Budget, in a couple of days’ time, could do two things for Norfolk. First, it could announce the county deal to give Norfolk control of its future. Even more importantly, it could provide the vehicle for my Sheringham roundabout, which the Secretary of State knows all about. The roundabout will be wonderful for my North Norfolk constituency, so has he convinced the Chancellor to announce it yet?

I cannot reveal the nature of any discussions I have had with the Chancellor, but Sheringham roundabout is one of the single most important infrastructure investments in Norfolk. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) has convincingly made the case to me, and I hope we will be able to get motoring on it before too long.

Social Rented Housing

Our £11.5 billion affordable housing programme will deliver thousands of affordable homes for both rent and purchase right across the country. The levelling-up White Paper committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes, and a large number of the new homes delivered through our affordable homes programme will be for social rent.

In Bolton, 20,000 people are on a housing waiting list. There is an 18-month wait for a three-bedroom house and, on average, 800 to 900 people apply for each home that comes up. Families are often referred to the private rented sector, which they are not able to afford—we know that rents are sky high. After 14 years of this Tory Government failing to build affordable homes, will the Minister now apologise to my constituents who are stuck in temporary accommodation?

The hon. Lady mentions the last 14 years. Well, since 2010, we have delivered over 696,000 new affordable homes, including over 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,000 are for social rent. We are committed to building more homes for people like her constituents.

Topical Questions

On Friday, at the convention of the north, I was delighted to confirm enhanced devolution deals for the Liverpool city region, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire and additional investment in Blackpool, Sheffield and Blackburn. That includes £1.5 million for Tony’s Empress Ballroom, which—as you know, Mr Speaker—is an iconic northern soul dance hall. I look forward to visiting it with you and the shadow Secretary of State soon.

A constituent recently came to my surgery with her seven-year-old son to show some appalling photographs of the private rented accommodation in which they live. The little boy asked me whether he is going to die because of the thick mould in his bedroom. Given the housing ombudsman’s recent remarks, particularly emphasising the link between housing conditions and health, what urgent action will the Secretary of State take to address the appalling situation in the private rented sector?

We will shortly say more about the decent homes standard and the extension of the ombudsman’s powers to deal with precisely the sort of situation that the hon. Lady raises.

T2. My local housing association, Flagship Newtide, has sold off three more homes in Aldeburgh at auction since the last Levelling Up, Housing and Communities questions. However, it is failing to take action on the antisocial behaviour that is affecting several of my constituents in Saxmundham. What powers can we apply to make sure that people who do the right thing and want to live peacefully in their home are not surrounded by people who deal drugs, breed illegal pets and make other people’s lives a misery? (901786)

Tackling antisocial behaviour is a priority for this Government, which is why we have published our antisocial behaviour action plan, backed with £160 million of new funding. We have committed to a “three strikes and you’re out” ASB policy, and landlords will be expected to evict tenants whose behaviour is disruptive to neighbours. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, from 1 April, the social housing regulator will require registered providers of social housing to work with the appropriate local authority, the Department, the police and other relevant organisations to tackle antisocial behaviour.

This week’s Budget will be a big one for young people—16 and 17-year-olds—who are starting work or making important education choices, yet they currently have no say on who will be the next Government. We on the Opposition Benches believe in our young people. Will the Government act now to give 16 and 17-year-olds a say in the next general election?

The hon. Lady makes a case for lowering the voting age—one that I do not support and the Government do not support. The age of 18 is seen as the age of maturity in this country and many others across the world. It seems to have served us pretty well up to now and I see no particular reason to change it.

T3. Will the Minister join me in congratulating South Staffordshire Council on serving an enforcement notice to rebuild the Crooked House pub? Will he also look favourably at measures I will be bringing forward to ensure that heritage pubs are better protected, because, as he will know, the Crooked House and many others have had no protections at all? (901787)

My hon. Friend makes an important argument, and the case of the Crooked House reinforces what he has long campaigned for: better protection for heritage pubs. I look forward to working with him and Lord Mendoza to achieve just that.

T4. The Secretary of State is a strong supporter of green urban spaces, so will he urgently meet me to discuss the ancient Haven Green, which is currently under threat and on which he is due to make a decision soon? (901788)

Obviously, I cannot speak to the hon. Lady about specific planning applications. I do cherish urban green spaces, but I also cherish more homes being built in London. It would be regrettable if she were to be a blocker, not a builder.

Since my election, I have urged Wolverhampton City Council to focus on city centre living, to bring footfall back to our city centre. What more can the Government do on that? I am delighted that the council is now changing its plans, but how can we get upper storeys converted as well, to really bring that footfall back?

My hon. Friend is a brilliant champion for Wolverhampton and for Wulfrunians everywhere. In particular, she has been the single most effective voice in attracting investment to the heart of Wolverhampton. She is right to say that, as well as commercial investment, we need new residential opportunities, and our extension of permitted development rights should provide just that.

T5. Will the Minister for the Union tell me what discussions he has had with devolved Administrations, and with the Chancellor, on the very important matter of infected blood compensation? Does he recognise the frustration and dismay from many campaigners at the delays? They have waited almost a year since Sir Brian Langstaff reported on his compensation framework. (901789)

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Those who have suffered as a result of the infected blood scandal are, of course, in the forefront of our minds. This is directly a Cabinet Office responsibility, but I know from my time there how seriously the Ministers charged with that responsibility take it. I will talk to them and update the devolved Administrations on progress towards appropriate compensation.

The Government are to be commended for taking through the first leasehold reforms for 20 years, but as the Bill now goes to the Lords, will Ministers go further and agree: first, to empower the 3 million to 4 million people trapped on fleecehold estates; and, secondly, to fundamentally end this scammy, dodgy, corrupt model once and for all?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about making sure that we strike the right balance. We have brought forward significant reforms in the Bill, but I am happy to continue to talk to him and other Members who are interested. The Government continue to look at what more can be done.

T7. Last week we saw, for a second year running, rough sleeping numbers up by more than a quarter—that is a lot of people to criminalise if the Criminal Justice Bill remains unamended. More than 100,000 households, including 140,000 children, find themselves stuck in temporary accommodation, yet the mere mention of temporary accommodation sees Ministers pivot away from the subject entirely. This should be a source of shame for this Government. So where is the national plan to end all forms of homelessness? I sincerely hope it is not in the same place as the Government’s plan for ending section 21 evictions. (901791)

This Government have a clear plan that we introduced last year: ending rough sleeping for good. We announced £2 billion behind it and the figure is now £2.4 billion. We are giving unprecedented amounts of money to this very important task.

Haden Hill leisure centre in my constituency is to be part rebuilt and part refurbished by a £20 million investment from the levelling-up fund. Does the Minister agree that the Department needs to continue to be engaged with the local authority, which is appointing contractors, to make sure that this project gets delivered on time and on budget?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his constituents. I am happy to meet him to discuss the delays as soon as we can. The project adjustment process is available to the council if it needs to use it.

T9. In 2010, total wealth per head in the north of England was 16% lower than in the rest of England. Last week, the Institute for Public Policy Research released a report that estimated that by 2030, this gap will have grown to 21%. Can the Secretary of State confirm that this Government’s policies have achieved levelling up? (901793)

I was delighted to be in West Yorkshire on Friday outlining the additional investment that we are making in that region. The agreement that we have reached with the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, will see significant additional funds going in to help with housing, adult skills and transport, all of which will contribute to a revolution in devolution that has occurred under this Conservative Government.

Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the high energy costs we have seen in the last two years. They are 150% more vulnerable to fuel poverty. Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils on the frontline of high rural costs are seeing a spate of homelessness? Great councils, such as Breckland Council in my patch, are now spending 50% of their net budget on relief. Would he support me in urging the Chancellor to increase that relief in the Budget on Wednesday?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are concentrating on ensuring we can level up the north and the midlands, but we also need to recognise that levelling up encompasses making sure that those in rural areas, who contribute so much to the life of our nation, are supported through the challenges that the cost of living crisis has generated.

Will the Minister advise me how many people took up the offer of the former help to buy ISA scheme? Has another such scheme been considered to allow young people to get on the seemingly impossible first rung of the property ladder?

As a Government, we continue to bring forward as many interventions as we can to support young people to get on the housing ladder. Some 800,000 first-time buyers have managed to do that since 2010. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk more about the points he has made.

Today, the Charity Commission issued new guidance for charities that refuse to accept donations. That comes after the Royal National Lifeboat Institution turned down a donation from Dungarvan Foxhounds Supporters Club in the Republic of Ireland. Declining a donation from a lawful source may not be consistent with the legal duty of trustees to “further their charity’s purpose”. Will my right hon. Friend support the right of communities throughout the British Isles to donate to charities of their choice?

My right hon. and learned Friend, the former Attorney General, raises a very important point. We want to do everything we can to encourage charitable giving. I will look closely at the case he mentions, and raise it with the Cabinet Office and Orlando Fraser KC, the distinguished chair of the Charity Commission, who is doing such a good job.

There are businesses in York that have not been able to trade for over four months because of flooding. The flood recovery framework precludes them from getting funds, whereas those in the Tory shires are able to access funds. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the fact that businesses in my constituency cannot get funding? Let us find a way forward so that they do not miss out.

Councillors will not be covered by the newly passed Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 and are at risk of losing extra responsibility allowances if they have a child who spends time in neonatal care. Will the local government Minister issue guidance to councils, asking them to ensure that all parents are protected if their councillors find themselves in those most difficult of circumstances?

My hon. Friend has worked on this campaign. We spoke about it last week and I understand entirely the merits of the argument he makes. So powerful is he as an advocate that I have already put work in hand to deliver what he is talking about.

On the community ownership fund, it is welcome that the match funding requirements for local organisations have been reduced to 20%. In future rounds, could the criterion around match funding take account of prior investment by the community, such as the very many small donations that people in the Axe valley area gave to build Seaton community hospital?

1244 was the date of the first market charter awarded to Wellington in Shropshire, in my constituency. In the last three years, £3 million from the towns fund, £10 million from the levelling-up fund and £800,000 from a fund I cannot remember have provided record investment from this Government into the 800-year-old market town of Wellington. The Labour council has just taken over the market, so will the Secretary of State please ensure that the council do not mess it up?

We will do everything we can. Wellington is very lucky to have such a brilliant advocate. I hope my right hon. Friend sits on the green Benches for many years to come, but when he is transferred to another place, he deserves to be the next Duke of Wellington.

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Office if he will make a statement on the publication of 13 reports by the former independent chief inspector of borders and immigration on 29 February and how the inspectorate will now operate in the absence of a chief inspector or deputy?

We recognise that independent scrutiny, such as that provided by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, plays an important role in ensuring that we have an effective immigration system. In January, the Home Secretary made a promise to the former chief inspector to publish all overdue reports as soon as possible, which I repeated in the House last month in response to an earlier urgent question. Last Thursday, we delivered on that promise by publishing all 13 reports that were outside the eight-week commitment to review and respond. We take ICIBI reports seriously and we do not wait until publication to act on its findings. Indeed, some of the reports’ recommendations have now been implemented and work is ongoing across the Department to implement others. That includes action to strengthen border security and improve the system for processing asylum claims.

The final two reports from the former chief inspector will be published in the established eight-week period. There is no requirement for a chief inspector to be in place for that to happen, but the process of appointing his replacement is under way, with the advert going live the day after the former chief inspector had his appointment terminated. An appointment will be made following robust competition, in accordance with the governance code on public appointments. In addition, we are looking at options to appoint an interim chief inspector. We will, of course, update the House on the outcome of the appointment processes. We will also continue working with the right hon. Lady’s Home Affairs Committee in relation to these matters.

The security and effectiveness of the UK border is of paramount importance. The Government recognise that, which is why we have taken wide-ranging action to tackle illegal migration and reform our asylum system. Our efforts are paying off, but there is more to do. We will never compromise on this. We will always put the safety and interests of the British people first.

I agree with the Minister that the role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration provides indispensable scrutiny of vital Home Office functions. On Tuesday 20 February, the Home Secretary sacked David Neal. Eight days later, the Home Office published 13 of the 15 reports that the chief inspector had submitted during his tenure, none of which had been published within the agreed eight-week deadline following receipt.

The reports raise multiple serious concerns about the Home Office’s handling of border security and immigration operations. Will the Minister confirm what action is being taken to address the report findings that the protection of borders at airports is “neither effective nor efficient”, with border posts being left unstaffed? What steps will the Minister take to remedy the serious failures identified in attempts to discover illegal goods at airports? Does the Minister accept the conclusion that attempting to clear the legacy backlog at all costs

“has led to perverse outcomes for claimants and staff”,

with quality assurance “sacrificed for increased productivity”? With the new chief inspector not expected to be in post for six to nine months, and with no deputy to step up and exercise statutory responsibilities, will the Minister explain exactly how the inspectorate will operate during that period? Is all inspection work now on hold, and what happens to the inspectorate’s 30-plus members of staff?

Last week, David Neal told the Select Committee of his concerns regarding Wethersfield asylum accommodation centre relating to suicide, violence and the lack of expertise to manage the situation. Will the Minister now agree to the Committee’s request to visit Wethersfield?

The Committee last week published the 10 changes that David Neal thinks need to be made to improve the effectiveness of the inspectorate, including the power to publish its own reports, creating a deputy position, and providing access to commercial contracts entered into by the Home Office. Does the Minister have any plans to implement any of those recommendations? Finally, will he comment on the joint letter sent by seven national home affairs editors complaining about the decision to publish a slew of Home Office reports on the same day as the Sarah Everard report?

I am grateful to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee not only for asking those various questions but for the opportunity to respond to today’s urgent question.

It is rather surprising that Ministers are being criticised for doing precisely what they said they would do. I was pressed a couple of times on when the reports would be published. I said that it would happen soon. I subsequently said that it would happen very soon, and that commitment was fulfilled. I give the right hon. Lady this undertaking, because this issue is important and I care about it, as I know she does: the two outstanding reports will be responded to in full and in the proper way within the eight-week window. I refer back to the commitment that my late friend James Brokenshire made to the House. She will appreciate that I came back to the Department in December. I would argue that we have made progress in publishing the reports. I assure the House that the existing reports that have not yet been responded to will be dealt with within the eight-week window. We will return to that approach in dealing with these matters, which is the right thing to do.

On the recommendations in the various reports, we have obviously responded to those reports. A number of recommendations have been accepted, a number have been progressed, and a number have been completed. The reports speak for themselves, and give an indication of the direction of travel that we intend to take. We also want to engage with the next inspector regarding that performance, to ensure that they have an important role in overseeing the delivery of the commitments that we have made in response to the issues that were understandably raised in the reports.

General aviation falls within the reports that are still to be responded to. As I say, that will happen within the eight-week window. I undertake to fulfil that commitment. On the asylum backlog, it is fair to say that there has been pressure from this House to get on and process asylum claims. I would argue that the teams have done remarkable work in delivering on the commitment to get on and process the legacy backlog. There has been much learning along the way, which we will take forward into future processing. There will be increased sampling in the way that the inspector recommended, as well as improvements to IT.

Arrangements for the ICIBI functions in this period are under consideration. The Minister for Countering Illegal Migration is the lead on that aspect of the Department’s work. I know that Ministers will update the House accordingly. I am happy to consider the request from the Home Affairs Committee to visit Wethersfield.

One of the most frustrating things about all of this is that if Mr Neal had not gone to the media in the way that he did and put that information into the public domain in a way that was in breach of the terms of the agreement that he had with the Department to take on this capacity, he would still be in post and would be able to engage in the dialogue this week.

To follow up on some specific questions from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee that the Minister did not pick up on, is it not the case that David Neal was dismissed by Teams call by a civil servant? Why was he not afforded the courtesy of seeing a Minister? Is it not also the case that, despite the recruitment process having started last November, no suitable candidates came forward and the post had to be readvertised at a higher salary?

Thirdly, the Minister has not mentioned anything about how the inspectorate actually operates. Is it not the case that the 30 civil servants are unable to carry on their work on the reports they are currently working on, unable to carry out any inspections, unable to pick up the schedule of reports that has been programmed, and unable to comment on any responses to the reports?

Finally, can the Minister assure me that there were no redactions and nothing was removed from the 13 reports published en masse last week, because there is no inspector or deputy inspector to challenge the contents of the reports that have been put into the public domain?

On my hon. Friend’s final point, I will go away and check, and I will write to him. This is clearly an important function. The recruitment process was restarted the day after Mr Neal left the role. We are keen to make progress in appointing a new independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, and I encourage people to put themselves forward. It is an important role, and the Government value it. The relationship with the ICIBI will be in the terms that I set out: it will get on and publish reports within the eight-week framework for the existing workload. We will continue to work constructively with it when Mr Neal’s successor is appointed. The second permanent secretary is engaging with the administrative team at the ICIBI, and we are looking at what can be done in the interim to bridge the gap between Mr Neal leaving and the new inspector taking post.

We think of the family and friends of the seven-year-old who lost her life in the channel this weekend. It matters more than ever that we stop the criminal gangs and dangerous crossings that are undermining border security and putting so many lives at risk.

The Tory Home Secretary has shamefully tried to bury or hide 13 inspectorate reports and one National Audit Office report with damning revelations about Britain’s borders, and now he has gone into hiding himself. He should be doing a statement on those reports, which show shocking border security failures, including border and customs posts not staffed. In one airport, the inspectorate was told,

“customs is shut down for the summer”.

It found that equipment was

“either broken, not available, or untrusted”,

and that there was

“a lack of anti-smuggling capability”.

Mr Neal said that

“protection of the border is neither effective nor efficient”.

Will the Minister tell us how many times customs and border posts have gone unstaffed this year? Does he even know? How many high-risk private flights were not checked in person? How long will there be no inspector in post?

More findings: only two people have been removed under the inadmissibility process that the Government claimed would cover tens of thousands, and 147 unaccompanied children who went missing have still not been found. On Rwanda, £400 million of taxpayers’ money will have been spent even if no one is sent. If 300 people go, it will be £580 million. That is over half a billion pounds on a scheme that will cover less than 1% of UK asylum arrivals —nearly £2 million per person. I say to the Minister: do not give us any garbage about the Tories having a plan. That is not a plan; it is a farce. Why do they not stop wasting that money and instead put it into rebuilding border security and stopping the criminal gangs? That is Labour’s plan.

Finally, there is the revelation that the Home Office has gone a shocking £5 billion over budget this year because it failed on the backlog, on returns, on hotels and on Rwanda—14 years of Tory Government, wasting taxpayers’ money, weakening Britain’s security. They have bust the Home Office budget and broken Britain’s borders. Instead of hiding and running away, why do they not just get out of the way and let someone else do the job properly?

That was a contribution to the House full of soundbites, as ever, but light on policy substance. We hear time and again from the right hon. Lady and her colleagues a lot of criticism of what the Government are doing and absolutely no credible policy alternative in response. It is incredibly frustrating. It just will not do, and the British people see straight through it.

I share the right hon. Lady’s sentiments about the terrible incident at the weekend when that young girl lost her life. In the last few weeks, we have yet again seen lives lost in the channel, and that is a source of regret for all of us. That is why the Government are absolutely determined to put an end to these channel crossings. We are making progress—that is why the number of crossings last year was down by over a third compared with the year before, and Albanian arrivals are down by over 90%—but there is more work to do, and we will continue to see through the plan that is delivering those results.

The right hon. Lady mentions Rwanda. We have a fundamental point of difference in that the Government believe that the Rwanda policy is an important part of the answer in putting those evil criminal gangs out of business. It is not acceptable to spend £8 million a day in the asylum system. However, it does not take many spends of £8 million a day to get to the figures that have been provided to the NAO in a transparent manner. We will continue to publish those through the annual report and accounts. We think that advancing that policy and putting those criminal gangs out of action is the right thing to do, recognising that the policy is novel and has been challenging. She will, of course, have the opportunity to vote for the Rwanda legislation when it comes back from the other place, and I certainly encourage her and her colleagues to be in the Lobby with us, because it just will not do to have no credible plan.

The right hon. Lady refers to one of the comments made in the report. We do not accept it. The inspection covered only a small part of our border operations at a specific location and over a limited time period—it is a snapshot—and it is inappropriate to draw unsubstantiated wider conclusions through sweeping statements based on a three-day inspection. Ultimately, Border Force facilitates 132 million passenger arrivals last year, processing over 96% of passengers within service standards. Significant progress has been made since the report was commissioned to increase the number of officers trained in vulnerability and behavioural detection, and that is set to continue. We treat the inspector’s recommendations with the utmost seriousness; we get on and deliver on those recommendations and, as I have consistently set out to the House, we now have a commitment to respond to those reports within eight weeks.

Following on from that point, there is clearly an issue with publication within eight weeks. Bearing in mind that the public purse is funding 30 civil servants and a chief inspector of immigration, has my hon. Friend considered a statutory basis for the eight-week requirement—or whatever requirement is necessary or proportionate—for the publication of such reports, to ensure efficiency in the system?

In his usual way, my hon. Friend comes to the House with constructive suggestions for how the Government can go about their work. I am happy to put that suggestion to the Minister who leads on these matters in the Department. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that there is a commitment to engage with the reports within that eight-week window, which I would argue is within both the letter and the spirit of what the late great James Brokenshire said a few years ago.

I thank David Neal for his work. Nobody can doubt that he was an independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, and his reports bear testament to that work. He called out the Home Office for being particularly poor at communication, and for its data being “inexcusably awful.” In relation to Border Force, he highlighted

“basic stuff not being done”.

He shone a bright light on the shoddy treatment of unaccompanied children in hotels, some of whom are still missing to this day and have not been found by the Home Office. He highlighted the

“lack of grip and poor leadership”

that resulted in those children becoming lost. He also highlighted the chaos and the secret policies being operated as part of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme—utterly unacceptable.

What happens now to the planned inspections that are stuck in limbo? Those inspections include adults at risk, which is crucial as people have committed suicide in asylum accommodation. Small boats are all the more critical given the tragic loss of a seven-year-old wee girl just this week. On high-performance visas, on Rwanda, on Georgia and on age assessment, what will happen to the work plan that the chief inspector set out, and to the staff—expert inspectors—who are in place to deliver it? Will David Neal’s recommendations be taken on by whoever follows him in that post? What will the Department do for future reports? Next time a report is published, will the Minister make a statement to the House, rather than being brought here by an urgent question?

I am very grateful to the SNP spokesman for that variety of questions. I too, actually, want to place on record my thanks to Mr Neal for the work that he did—[Interruption.] There is chuntering from Opposition Members, but it is perfectly right and proper to thank him for his work.

There are recommendations that the Government have accepted and are taking forward. We treat the outcomes of those reports with the seriousness that they warrant. We will continue to work through those recommendations; even in the absence of an ICIBI, we will continue to make progress against our commitments. Obviously, we want to get on and appoint a replacement for Mr Neal, and that process is under way. We want to do that as quickly as possible, while also making sure that we properly engage the Home Affairs Committee in that process, and we will do so in the way that that Committee would rightly expect.

It is welcome that we no longer have any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children hotels under the auspices of the Home Office, but the recommendations that were made within the report still stand and, again, we treat them seriously. As I said at an earlier Home Affairs Committee appearance, I treat tracing missing asylum-seeking children with the utmost seriousness, and with better relationships with the police, improved guidance and other steps, we have managed to track down more of those children since we met at the Home Affairs Committee.

We continue to see Afghans arriving under the ACRS. That is welcome, and we will continue to evolve that scheme and make improvements where we can. We have made commitments around the scheme, and it is of real importance to me: fulfilling our promises to those who worked with the British Government and to others is a responsibility that I take incredibly seriously.

I want to make sure that we go about this recruitment process in the proper way, involving the Home Affairs Committee. The second permanent secretary is leading engagement with the secretariat at the ICIBI, and we will get on and appoint a successor.

I pay tribute to David Neal. It is fair to say that when we did his pre-appointment scrutiny at the Home Affairs Committee, we had doubts, but he has proved himself to be a diligent and dogged public servant in some of the most difficult circumstances. Notwithstanding the fact that he has not been reappointed, the 13 reports that have been published raise significant issues, whether that is the border at London City airport, Afghan resettlement, or child asylum seekers. Even though those reports have only just been published, what assurances can the Minister give that work has been undertaken on them? Will he also give me his thoughts on the excellent suggestion that the post should be made independent so that the chief inspector can publish reports when they are ready, rather than dropping them into the Home Office memory hole and hoping for the best?

My hon. Friend is a diligent member of the Home Affairs Committee. It is fair to say that where recommendations are made, we engage with them constructively, and progress will quite often be made against those recommendations even in advance of reports being published. He can absolutely have an assurance from me that we will continue to work through the commitments that we have made in responding to various recommendations in those 13 reports and, having made this promise to this House, that future reports will be published within an eight-week window.

My hon. Friend has raised a point about procedure. I am happy to take that point away and raise it with ministerial colleagues who have direct responsibility for the ICIBI relationship.

As colleagues have said, the Home Affairs Committee found Mr Neal to be a very diligent and committed public servant. Does the Minister share the chief inspector’s concern about unaccompanied child migrants? He reported on them playing very unsuitable games—trying to bet which one of them would be the first to go into foster care—and on their ages being overestimated, resulting in children sharing bedrooms with much older adults. Does the Minister propose to follow up on any of the issues that the chief inspector raised?

The right hon. Lady should know that that is an area we have been very concerned about. The issue of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should never, ever be the subject of a game. I think all of us were horrified to hear about that incident, and following those inspection findings, the Department launched an immediate investigation into the inappropriate behaviour of the support worker, who was removed from site immediately and did not return. As I have said, all seven hotels used to accommodate unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have since closed. The Department has taken the recommendations seriously, and there is a lot of learning there for the future as we take forward our work, including our wider work with local authorities on safeguarding the most vulnerable children.

I welcome the Minister’s earlier assurance about Afghans who fought with or otherwise supported our troops against the Taliban. Can he explain, for the benefit of those of us not au fait with the details of this dispute, for what reason these reports were not published earlier, and at what level the decision not to publish was taken? Had they been published sooner, would the inspector have been out of a job, and would we have been looking for a replacement?

We have gone into the termination of the inspector’s appointment before in this House: he lost the confidence of the Home Secretary, and information was shared in the media that ought not to have been shared; it was confidential, and outside the appropriate publication process. On the publication of reports, I cannot speak to earlier decisions made under previous Ministers, but I said very clearly on a number of occasions that we would get on and respond to the reports, and that is precisely what we have done. I also reassure the House today—I think this is important, and that the House is interested in this point—that we will respond to the reports within eight weeks. That arguably lives up to both the letter and spirit of the commitment that James Brokenshire made all those years ago, when he held this role.

These reports are, cumulatively, a remarkable catalogue of past failings, but may I invite the Minister to look ahead? He has referred to the Rwanda scheme; does he agree that the incoming independent inspector must be allowed to examine the workings of that scheme, and that it should not be implemented unless and until the next inspector has given it a satisfactory bill of health?

It will of course be for the next inspector to decide on their programme of work, but I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on his latter point. I would argue that lives are at stake, and that every day that people lose their lives in the channel is one day too many. We are making progress on seeing through our commitment to put an end to these channel crossings, but the Rwanda policy is absolutely front and centre; it is the next piece of the jigsaw when it comes to putting these evil criminal gangs out of business, and we should not wait any longer than is absolutely necessary to get on and deliver on that work.

The Rwanda policy has cost over £500 million —an approximate cost of £2 million for each individual the Government are seeking to transport to Rwanda. Will the Bill ever be implemented, and is it good value for the taxpayer?

I hear a lot of criticism there, but no constructive suggestion on what the hon. Gentleman would do in the absence of the Rwanda policy. As I have said, we engage properly and thoroughly with the National Audit Office on the figures, and we continue to be committed to providing transparency around those figures through the annual report and accounts. The Rwanda policy is an important part of our answer when it comes to putting an end to these criminal gangs and the terrible criminality that they oversee. Crucially, this is about saving lives, and we will get on and deliver the policy. He will, no doubt, have the opportunity in the next few weeks to vote for that Bill, and so help us to operationalise that policy and put those evil criminal gangs out of business.

The borders inspectorate found that staff working in a Home Office-run hotel made unaccompanied asylum-seeking children play a disgraceful game to find out which child was next to be placed in foster care, a practice certain to cause more distress to already traumatised children. The same report found that agency workers employed to look after children as young as nine had insufficient background checks and training. What has the Minister done to ensure that he understands the full extent of the risks to children in the asylum system, and what steps is he taking to end such disgraceful practices, and to guarantee that everyone working with children is properly vetted and trained?

The hon. Lady is right to say that everybody working with children has to be properly vetted. We have taken seriously the recommendations that Mr Neal made in response to that issue. As I said to the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), this was a terrible situation. There was accountability in relation to the individual who thought it appropriate to play that game, which was, to any Member of this House and any right-minded person, abhorrent. The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) is right to say that we are talking about children in difficult circumstances who have been through an awful lot. All those individuals—I would use the word “professionals”—have a responsibility to care for those children, and to behave in an appropriate way befitting their role. There are no longer any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels open under the Home Office’s remit, but there is value in the recommendations, which should carry through into the work that we do with local authorities.

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, raised concerns about Government policy on trafficking and slavery. Her contract was not renewed, and that crucial post was vacant for 16 months. David Neal, as the ICIBI, raised concerns about immigration, and he was sacked. That post will be vacant for months. The Minister has said that independent scrutiny plays an important role, but does he not agree that under this Government, independent scrutiny is not only not valued, but becoming a sackable offence?

I have been clear with the House about the basis on which Mr Neal’s contract was terminated. I do not think it was appropriate for him to share confidential information in the way he did; it was outside the process for publication. However, as I have said repeatedly, we want to get on and appoint a successor. The chief inspector of borders and immigration has an important role and remit; the House and the Government see value in it. We are looking at what can be done to bridge the gap in the absence of a full-time, permanent chief inspector. We will no doubt say more once that work has been concluded.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa, I met David Neal a number of times. He was incredibly impressive, robust, well-informed, all over the detail, and entirely independent. It beggars belief that the Government ignored his reports for so long—publication is essential for scrutiny—sacked him over Teams, and dumped all the reports out at once. Does the Minister believe that the Home Office is so perfect, and that everything is going so well, that it should be above scrutiny? Or is it more the case that everything is going so badly, including on Rwanda, the asylum backlog and our border security, that there is no hope of improvement until we have a change of Government?

That is an interesting observation, but what sits behind it, I am afraid, is a lack of policy and a lack of an alternative, credible approach to borders and immigration. Mr Neal said this in response to the reports being laid before Parliament last week:

“I think it’s a real positive that these reports have been published. I think it bodes well that the home secretary has gripped his officials in getting these reports published so quickly”.

I agree with him. I promised that we would lay those reports before Parliament; we have got on and done it, and we will table the outstanding reports within the eight-week window, moving forward.

Last week’s figures showed 46,000 people still in asylum hotels. David Neal’s report said:

“There is no evidence of a Home Office strategy to end hotel use, as recommended by ICIBI in 2022.”

He is right, is he not?

I am afraid that what is right is that the hon. Lady consistently votes against the strategy to end the use of hotels, as do her colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench and Back Benches. The way to address the issue of hotels is: to diversify the accommodation offer; to ensure that local authority areas engage properly with dispersed accommodation—I encourage all Members of this House to take an interest in the performance of their local authority—and to bring into being larger sites, such as those that we have brought forward. Crucially, we have to reduce the flow of people coming across the channel and arriving in our country illegally. Every time Opposition Members have the chance to do something about the flow of people arriving, which undoubtedly leads to the pressures that she touches on, they refuse to do so. That is where the scandal really lies.

Is the Government’s failure to tackle the asylum backlog, the Minister’s inability to grapple with the asylum hotel issue, or the staggering cost of the Rwanda deal, at £2 million per person taken out of this country, the reason why the Minister has broken the Home Office budget, and will come to Parliament cap in hand next week, asking for an extra £5.5 billion of funding for the Home Office?

I am afraid that the hon. Member is yet another Opposition Member with no credible alternative to speak of—just lots of complaints about the work that the Government are doing. We are making progress. As I have said, last year, the number of people who arrived via the channel was down by a third compared to the year before. The population accommodated in hotels is going down, and the number of hotels open is reducing.

The hon. Member can keep parroting figures and chuntering from the Back Benches, but I would rather he came forward with a credible alternative plan. Perhaps then we could have a conversation.

The shambles that is the ongoing mismanagement of our borders and the Government mismanagement of the huge asylum backlog, which was just referred to, is now enhanced by the additional shambles of an unnecessary interregnum. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), the Minister seemed to imply that independent oversight would not be necessary in the next few weeks and months while there is an interregnum over the Rwanda deal. If the Government are right—in the best-case scenario, from their perspective—1% of all asylum seekers will go to Rwanda. Apparently, that is so important that independent oversight is not necessary during this period. Will the Minister confirm that until a new inspector is formally and fully appointed and in post, there will be no further progress in deporting anybody to Rwanda?

It is rather ironic that the hon. Gentleman argues for due process on the one hand, and says that we should dispense with it on the other. The contract of the chief inspector of borders was terminated because of respects in which his actions were not in accordance with the agreement around the post. That was not an acceptable situation. The Home Secretary lost confidence in him, and that was why steps were taken.

I welcome oversight and accountability. There will be opportunities for scrutiny of the work on Rwanda. On the point that the hon. Gentleman sought to suggest that I had made, I was clear in saying that we should not waste any time when lives are at risk in the channel. We should not waste a moment in getting on and operationalising that Rwanda policy, but there will of course be plenty of opportunity for scrutiny of that work.

May I put on record my thanks to the Minister for all the work that he did for one of my constituents last week, and for ensuring that one of the Ukrainian babies got back to Northern Ireland?

We should bear in mind the gap that has been left in this vital component of our immigration response. On the role of civil servants and the importance of ministerial oversight, most recently, the difficulty in Northern Ireland, where there was an absence of Ministers in situ, was that although senior civil servants could make decisions, they were loth to do so; and those who made decisions did not provide the usual accountability or explanation of decisions. How will the Minister ensure that that does not remain the case until a replacement for the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration is in place?

The hon. Member always goes about his business in the House diligently, and he speaks with great passion about Northern Ireland; I am delighted that we now have Ministers back in government there. I look forward to engaging with counterparts in Northern Ireland on these issues. I reassure him that that engagement will be the cornerstone of the work that we do. There is a commitment to engage thoroughly and extensively. As I said, we want to get on and appoint a replacement inspector; it is an important role for everybody in the United Kingdom. The functions that the inspector oversees matter to everybody the length and breadth of this country, and we will make that appointment as soon as we can.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I extend my thanks to your office and to the Clerks for preparing for this point of order.

On Friday 1 March, during the debate on the Conversion Practices (Prohibition) Bill, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) spoke of the need for LGBT Members and staff to feel safe coming to work in this place. In response, I asked her:

“In fact, people in the LGB community are often referred to as “bigots”, “transphobes” and other slurs just because we have concerns about legislation such as this and want to make sure that young LGB people are protected —and trans people. Does the hon. Lady agree that that rule must apply to all sides of any debate, not just to the side that she favours?”The hon. Member responded:

“The hon. Gentleman is entirely right, but there was one letter missing in his LGB: the letter T. We do not divide the LGBT community in this place. Members can say that they have concerns about what we are doing, but by removing the T, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that transgender people do not exist. He is suggesting that they are less than other LGB people, and I will not stand for that, because it was trans people who stood with gay people at Stonewall; it was trans people who fought alongside them for LGB rights. I will happily discuss the intricacies of legislation with the hon. Gentleman, but when he chooses to eradicate, that is wrong.”

Later in the debate she made the following comment about the UK’s only gay rights charity:

“that includes the LGB Alliance, who have also removed the T”. —[Official Report, 1 March 2024; Vol. 746, c. 556.]

That raises the following serious concerns. Despite specifically mentioning the safety of trans people immediately prior to asking my question, the Member launched into what felt like a targeted attack on my character. Furthermore, it felt like that was aggravated by my protected characteristics of same-sex attraction and gender critical beliefs. In addition, the Member, a heterosexual woman, felt it appropriate to lecture me, a homosexual male, on the boundaries under which she believes I should be permitted to exercise my rights and protections. Specifically, she demanded that this should centre the needs of the completely separate protected characteristic of gender reassignment—commonly known as force-teaming. The Member then gave an inaccurate account of the Stonewall riots, which has been corrected repeatedly by eyewitness testimony.

As a direct consequence, various news outlets have wrongly accused me of “dropping the T” and have ignored the context of a straight woman lecturing a gay man about what rights he is permitted to use. Given the sensitivity of these matters, that is deeply concerning. I have had five years of abuse, including murderous threats, mainly from heterosexuals who claim to be allies—but they are allies of queer theory, not lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transsexual people. That outburst felt deliberate and targeted. I consider these behaviours emblematic of the modern-day homophobia that has been insinuated into our culture by organisations such as Stonewall and Mermaids. In response to the clip on social media—

Mr Speaker, this is the text that was agreed with the Clerks.

In response to the video clip on social media, prominent transexual campaigner Dr Debbie Hayton said:

“We trans people value the right to organise separately from the LGB as trans people. My LGB friends need and deserve the same right to organise separately from us. We can still organise together when it serves both groups. Nobody is ‘lesser’”.

A statement issued by the Gay Men’s Network noted that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton’s comments were

“not characteristic of an otherwise civilised debate. We urge her to reflect on these comments and consider apologising.”

I agree. At the very least the Member should apologise—not just to me but to others who may feel threatened by her remarks. Any further consideration will be contingent on that.

After the debate, two Members—the Members for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) and for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome)—both gave inaccurate accounts of the outcome of the day’s debate, laying blame for its failure at the doors of opponents. The truth is that the Bill failed to garner sufficient support in the closure motion proposed by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle). Again, in this sensitive policy area, that shows a lack of concern for the safety of all Members, and risks whipping up targeted harassment. These posts should be removed and the Members should apologise. Thank you.

I am very disappointed that the Clerks agreed to such a long text. This is an important issue and the hon. Member is quite right to raise his concern, but I am concerned about the length of time it has taken. I therefore hope that I will be speaking with the Clerks.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his point of order and for giving notice of it. I hope he notified hon. Members that he intended to refer to them in the Chamber. Hon. Members are responsible for the content of their own speeches, provided that they remain within the House’s rules of order. I understand the strength of the hon. Member’s feelings, but the Chair heard nothing disorderly in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on Friday. He is correct in his observation that the Conversion Practices (Prohibition) Bill did not make further progress because fewer than 100 Members voted for closure. It is also true that the House continued to debate the Bill until the moment of interruption, which is unusual, although Members are entirely within their rights to do so. I thank the hon. Member again for giving me notice.


I beg to move,

That this House has considered farming.

I am delighted to open the debate on behalf of the Government, but I am also incredibly proud to speak on behalf of the many thousands of farmers I represent. Hon. and right hon. Members may be confused as to why I am opening the debate, but it is precisely because the Government believe in the importance of our Union and the industries that sustain it that I am here this afternoon. The Government understand that farming drives rural Britain. It generates jobs and growth in rural areas. My constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire is home to proud beef, sheep and poultry farmers—365 days a year, they produce world-class food that is good for our health, good for our economy and good for our environment.

That brings me to the key reason I am here today. A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister told the National Farmers Union conference that we, the Conservative party, will always have their back. To farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, I give that commitment again.

Farming has unique potential to address the world’s biggest challenges: feeding a growing world, reducing emissions and restoring nature. Those huge tasks have been complicated by the recent reality of volatile global prices, as well as by changes in weather patterns and climate, but to address the long term, it is the immediate challenges that need to be dealt with. The Government have been working to tackle one of the biggest drains on farm incomes. Inflation is down from 11% last year to 4% now. Beyond those immediate challenges, we have a plan for supporting British farming, bolstered by the Prime Minister’s announcements a fortnight ago. The plan to back our farmers has three elements.

First, we are investing in farmers. Our commitment to farming is absolutely solid and every penny of England’s £2.4 billion annual farming budget will be spent on farmers across this Parliament. In England, we are stepping away from the bureaucratic and dysfunctional common agricultural policy. Instead, our new system focuses on long-term food security by supporting and investing in the essential foundations, from healthy soils to clean water. Our plan is starting to pay off, as nearly half of all farmers are now in one of our schemes in England. January 2024 brought about the biggest upgrade to farming schemes since Brexit gave us the opportunity to design our own agricultural support. A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister went further still to support farmers. He announced our biggest ever package of grants, expected to total £427 million in 2024.

I recently visited Andrew Gilman at Statfold Farm. He has a biomass boiler, he has solar panels on the roofs and he even has a wind turbine, but what he wants from the Government is help with mechanising the milking process—he wants some robots. Is that the type of thing the Government would support?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that point, and I congratulate Andrew on his innovation. That is exactly the type of thing that the Government want to support, which is why we have announced the biggest ever package of funding—as I have said, about £427 million.

I look forward to debating this subject with the Minister in Westminster Hall tomorrow. I think that the Government have left themselves open to the accusation that they have neglected farmers’ interests in the post-Brexit trade deals that they have signed. What assurances can she give the House that in future trade deals the interests of farmers will be at the top of the pile?

I would not want to give away all my best lines before tomorrow’s debate in Westminster Hall, and I look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman there. I will say, however, that I do not agree with his assessment of the trade deals that the Government have been able to strike outside the European Union. They represent real opportunities for farmers across England and Wales, and he would do well to support them.

I thank the Minister for her commitment to farming as a whole across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is important to us in Northern Ireland, including my constituents. Will the Minister commit herself to working with the regional Administrations—and the Northern Ireland Assembly is now up and running, with a new Minister—to ensure that we can work together within this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Together, we can do great things.

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. I am certainly committed to working with Ministers in all the devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom in my role in the Wales Office, and I know that DEFRA Ministers are as well.

On innovation, we have a grant package upgrade that will make a concrete difference to British farms, for example by bolstering the improving farming productivity fund, which will allow farmers such as Andrew—mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes)—to invest in robotic equipment and barn-top solar.

Secondly, we are changing our approach, and building a culture that is based on trust. Farmers have asked for a fairer and more supportive regulatory system, so in England we have reformed our approach and have already cut penalties for minor issues by 40%. We have ended the harsh EU cross-compliance system, instead choosing a fairer and more preventative approach to regulation. No one cares more about the land, or the ability to pass on a healthy farm to future generations, than farmers themselves.

This is about more than just passing on a farm; it is about producing food for the nation, and we are proud that our farmers do that. Can my hon. Friend confirm that this Government will always back farmers as food producers rather than wildflower growers?

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. What we are seeking to deliver is a combination of the two, certainly in England.

Farmers deserve that trust, and we have announced that we will deliver on our promise to cut the planning red tape that is preventing them from diversifying. In April we will introduce legislation enabling them to create bigger farm shops, commercial space and outdoor sports venues. Farmers have raised the issue of the often unfair pricing that they receive for their products, so a fortnight ago we introduced new regulations for the dairy sector, and we are also launching a review of the poultry sector. We will introduce similar regulations for the pig sector later in the year, with regulations for the egg sector to follow.