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Topical Questions

Volume 748: debated on Monday 22 April 2024

SHiFT is an inspirational charity run by a visionary social entrepreneur, Sophie Humphreys. It works in order to ensure that young people at risk of engaging with the criminal justice system are diverted to better outcomes. On Thursday, two new SHiFT interventions will open in Middlesbrough and in Redcar and Cleveland, with the support of £3.9 million from my Department. That is proof that when it comes to intervening early to give young people a better life, it is a Conservative Government and a Conservative Mayor in Tees Valley who are delivering for the most vulnerable.

The levelling-up funding awarded to my constituency three years ago for the upgrade of the B714 has still not been delivered. However, when I have raised concerns that the funding is insufficient for the upgrade, given inflationary pressures, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up told me to raise the matter with the Department for Transport, which in turn referred me back to the Secretary of State. Can I have an explanation from the Secretary of State as to how approved projects can proceed as envisaged, even if funding is delivered, when inflation is not factored into the funding?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. I can offer her, and also the Member of the Scottish Parliament for North Ayrshire and North Ayrshire Council, a meeting with me, so that we can deliver this project, because I know that she is absolutely committed to ensuring that the levelling-up fund—UK Government money—is spent effectively in her constituency. That is proof that we work better together.

T4. Ynys Môn is looking forward to hosting the fourth Islands Forum on 7 and 8 May. It is an opportunity to showcase our heritage, culture and language. It is also an opportunity for Ministers to see at first hand how the £17 million from the UK levelling-up fund is transforming Holyhead. Will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to visit St Cybi’s church, the Ucheldre centre and the Newry beach shelters to see how the UK Government are creating jobs and a brighter future for Holyhead? And will he sign up to my Aldi to Amlwch campaign? (902420)

Diolch. I am looking forward more than I can say to visiting Ynys Môn. This is a fantastic example of a brilliant Conservative MP securing funding for Wales, for the Welsh language, for Welsh jobs and for Welsh investment. May I say that Anglesey has never flourished in the way it is now flourishing with her as its MP?

We know that the Tories continually prioritise their banker mates over the rest of the country. An example of that was in the spring Budget when the Chancellor announced levelling-up funding for Canary Wharf—an area that is home to some of the world’s biggest banks—which will receive more that £16,000 per head in funding commitments compared with Scotland. With the Leader of the Opposition and his Labour party backing Tory tax and spending plans and U-turning on capping bankers’ bonuses, does the Secretary of State agree that the Labour party offers no real alternative for the people of Scotland?

I think SNP press releases have suffered recently as a result of the travails that the chief executive of that party has been suffering, but as SNP press releases go, that has to be one of the weakest I have ever heard in this House. The Scottish Government are closing VisitScotland centres, they cannot deliver ferries, Scotland is plunging down the educational league tables, and, when it comes to delivering services in Scotland, theatres, community centres and councils are coming to us for cash. The Scottish Government are a disaster, and all the hon. Lady can do is repeat the failed talking points—

Order. Secretary of State, that is completely outrageous, after I had just said that we are on topicals. Please do not take advantage of your own Members. It is not fair to them and it is not fair to the rest of the Chamber.

T5. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to attract long-term landlords back to small coastal towns? (902421)

My hon. Friend has been a long-standing campaigner for balance within coastal communities. I know that both she and colleagues from the south-west and elsewhere are very keen to see some of the reforms that the Government are introducing on short-term lets and the changes to the planning system.

T2. In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the Government made this commitment:“We will continue with our reforms to leasehold including implementing our ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents to a peppercorn, and providing necessary mechanisms of redress for tenants.”That still has not happened, so either they did not believe it then, they had not thought it through, or the Minister has been nobbled by the Prime Minister. Which one is it? (902418)

Our Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is making great progress in the House of Lords. It is being debated today and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman supporting it when it comes back here and gets on to the statute book.

T3. Given the proximity to the local and general elections, can Ministers give an assurance that the joint election security preparedness unit has all the resources it needs to do the job? (902419)

This is a tremendously serious issue. My Department and other Government Departments, led by the Security Minister in the Home Office, are spending a huge amount of time, effort and resource in ensuring the safety of candidates; the safety, security and robustness of the process; and that all those who wish to take part in our democratic functions, in whichever fora they happen to manifest themselves, can do so safely and securely. That is a very firm commitment. The hon. Member will know that we are dealing with that as a serious matter.

T9. In constituencies such as Aldridge-Brownhills, our green belt is precious; and once it has gone, it has gone forever. But in the west midlands, thanks to the leadership and vision of Mayor Andy Street and his “brownfield first” approach, we have seen 16,000 new homes built, and thousands of new jobs on brownfield land. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that clearly demonstrates that we can build the new homes we need and protect the green belt, and that it is Andy Street who is setting the pace and leading the way in the west midlands? (902425)

That is spot on. It is Andy Street and Conservative councils in Walsall, Dudley and Solihull that are delivering houses and protecting the green belt. That is better for economic growth, better for the environment, and better than bankrupt Labour Birmingham.

T6. Over 1,000 families in Luton South are stuck in temporary accommodation, with wait times ranging from three to nine months for a one-bed property to eight to nine years for a three-bed. Across the country there has been a staggering 119% increase in temporary accommodation numbers since 2019. Does the Minister agree that that is just a direct cost of 14 years of Conservative failure on housing? (902422)

The Government are very focused on temporary accommodation. That is why we are investing £2.4 billion, of which £1.2 billion is specifically for the homelessness prevention grant. In the last Budget, we increased the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile. That is worth £1.2 billion. We have also increased the local authority housing fund.

Please can my right hon. Friend set out what the Government are doing to ensure that more young people can live in their own home as early as possible in their adult lives, and specifically whether greater consideration can be given to mechanisms that result in only one affordable payment being made a month, rather than one mortgage payment and one rental payment?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need to look to reform both the mortgage market and our planning system. We will bring forward further steps on both in the coming weeks.

T7. In communities such as Kendal, Appleby, Allithwaite and Milnthorpe, developers have used viability assessments to renege on building desperately needed and genuinely affordable homes, so will the Government give planning authorities the power to declare null and void any planning permission where the developer cannot or will not deliver the affordable homes that they had promised? (902423)

I know how important it is to deliver affordable homes in the Lake district, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We will take a close look at the examples he cites, to ensure that we are not killing the geese that lay the golden eggs.

Tourism is vital to Bournemouth’s economy, and half our visitors come by car. A few choose to park on double yellow lines for the day, as the parking penalty is only £35, unlike here in London where it is £65, increasing to £130 if not paid promptly. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be immensely helpful, and would ensure that emergency vehicle access is not blocked, were Bournemouth allowed to operate the same penalties as we have in London?

My right hon. Friend is right: antisocial parking is a blight outside London, and we need to review extending the powers that are currently exercised in London to other parts of the country.

T10. Time and again, leasehold owners come to me with unfair bills for service charges. They are inflated, and they are even for undelivered services. When I get involved, they are often dropped by a third instantly. What will the Government do to ensure that developers are not trying to rip off homeowners, and instead get bills right the first time? (902426)

Fair point. Frank Dobson said that he was going to reform the leasehold system in 1995. We are doing it now. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), is piloting, will bring relief to leaseholders.

A raft of Labour councillors in Kirklees have resigned from their party, with one of them describing their leadership as a “toxic swamp,” so it will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend that the local Conservative campaign to split Kirklees and get better leadership and accountability is really gathering momentum. Does he agree that leadership needs to be locally driven, and that the best way to achieve that is to vote for more Conservative councillors on 2 May—

Order. This is not fair. Just tell me which questions you don’t want, and it will make my job easier.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need change in Kirklees. The best way in which people can demonstrate their desire for change and the reconfiguration of Kirklees is by voting Conservative on 2 May.

Today is Earth Day. The Government introduced the zero carbon homes standard and the code for sustainable homes and then scrapped them. The future homes standard now has centralised support, but local authorities such as Leeds want to go above planning policy to reach higher standards. Why will the Secretary of State not allow Leeds to build even better zero carbon homes?

We have a good relationship with Leeds City Council, and indeed with its leader and chief executive, so let me investigate.

Ben Houchen has done a remarkable job of saving our airport, overseeing the redevelopment of Teesworks, and securing new jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given Ben’s record of delivering and the promise of more, voters should back him on 2 May?

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), for his reply to my letter of 21 March. He said that a short paper on the topic of the Union was prepared by officials and presented to the UK Government in July 2020. However, a media report at the time suggested that an employee of Hanbury Strategy had provided data and helped to prepare that paper for the Cabinet. Was public money used for the insights that Hanbury Strategy prepared for that paper, and when will the public get to see them?

Once again, I have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Scottish National party Members talking about the misappropriation of cash. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Scottish Government’s budget has led to the closure of 25 tourist information centres and a variety of other ventures that are trying to get investment into Scotland, whereas the UK Government are providing investment in Scotland—proving once again that we are better together.

My constituents are increasingly concerned about the number of planning applications being approved—particularly in rural areas—when the infrastructure and public services quite evidently cannot cope with the demand. What plans do Ministers have to ensure that local residents have more say in future?

The new national planning policy framework, as enacted by this Front-Bench team, will ensure that local voices determine the shape of local communities.

My constituents who live on the Abbottsmoor estate in Port Talbot are locked into paying unjustified and extortionate ground rent fees and charges for poor maintenance. Will the Secretary of State commit to strengthening the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill by ensuring that all leaseholders have the right to vary their lease, setting ground rents to a peppercorn, ensuring that premiums are as cheap as possible, regulating managing agents, and abolishing forfeiture?

I always listen with respect to arguments made by a Kinnock, and in this case, I think the hon. Gentleman is broadly—broadly—in the right territory.

What steps are being taken to ensure that planning authorities and, more importantly, the Planning Inspectorate are utilising the powers in the new NPPF to protect land use in food production?

The NPPF could not be clearer about that. The new chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate is very aware of how important it is to ensure that there is public confidence in the NPPF.

My constituency has some of the highest levels of health inequalities in the country, which have been further increased by the cost of living crisis and the continual cuts to our council budgets. If the Government are serious about levelling up, why was Bradford East’s bid to reduce health inequalities knocked back?

The Labour leadership in Bradford Council must look to its performance. I think there is a distinction to be drawn between the Labour leaderships in Leeds and in Bradford—Bradford could learn a lot from what Leeds has done. This is not a party political point; it is a point about failure specifically in Bradford.

My constituents have significant concerns about crime and antisocial behaviour in the town centre. Public space protection orders can play an important role, but the local Labour council refuses to use the powers it has. We have groups of men drinking alcohol in the middle of the town centre, and the council does nothing. Does the Secretary of State agree that, yet again, Ipswich Labour should step up?

It is sad, but not surprising, that Labour in Ipswich has failed again. That is why it is so important that people vote Conservative at the police and crime commissioner elections on 2 May. There are few more effective scourges of crime than the Conservative police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, and my hon. Friend, who does such a brilliant job in Ipswich.