House of Commons
Monday 6 June 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Specialist Domestic Violence Refuges
Domestic abuse is a devastating crime, and we are determined to ensure that support is available to every victim. We have secured £40 million in the spending review for this purpose, and we will shortly publish a national statement of expectations, drawn up with local government and domestic violence charities, which will set out what every area should offer to ensure victim safety.
The Secretary of State knows how devastating domestic violence is and how the services provide a literal lifeline. However, specialist services, particularly LGBT and black and minority ethnic services, face a huge funding crisis and many are going to the wall. In the national statement of expectations, will he commit to supporting and ring-fencing money for those specialist services?
Yes, it is important that we have specialist services. That is part of the discussions we are having with the charities through the drawing up of the national statement. We have secured more funding than has been available—three times as much funding—and that will be important. I think there is a wider point here, too, because there are connections between the public space and the domestic space. It is incumbent on all of us to maintain a public sphere in which women are safe from abuse, bullying and harassment, and that example should start from public life.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has just said about the statement and about the additional money, but a recent Women’s Aid report stated:
“One major challenge facing specialist refuge provision is the awarding of tenders to large generic providers”.
The report also includes the shocking fact that one in six specialist refuges has closed since 2010, and it states that on one particular day, 103 children and 155 women across the country were turned away because a place was not available. What part does the Secretary of State feel the Government’s cuts may have played in this loss of services, and will he agree immediately to review the present procurement practices to ensure that the best possible quality of specialist refuges is available in every single community?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there needs to be total confidence. Any person who suffers from domestic violence should be confident that they can have a place of safety. That is behind the statement of expectations that is being drawn up, and he will be pleased that that is continuing. He should know that the number of bed spaces in refuges has increased in the last two years, according to UK Refuges Online, but we need to make sure that that confidence is there. I am sure he will agree that true success is when women do not have to move from their homes because they have been the victims of violence by their partners. True success is when women can be confident in staying there, and when the perpetrators of such abuse have to leave.
The Government are implementing our manifesto commitment to extend to young people the opportunity to own a home of their own. Working with councils, housing associations and builders, the starter homes programme will bring that opportunity to 200,000 young people across the country.
The Secretary of State will know that there are some situations in which it is not viable to have shared equity on properties—perhaps on infill or brownfield sites. In such situations, the local housing association may still be keen to build, but to rent. Will my right hon. Friend commit to meet to discuss a specific situation and consider support funding?
I am always delighted to meet my hon. Friend. It sounds as though there is the prospect of another trip to Gloucester, which is always very enjoyable. We want to see more housing of all tenures, and our funding provides housing for rent as well as to purchase, but starter homes provide a big opportunity to people who have been losing out on meeting their aspiration to own a home of their own. That is true on brownfield sites as well as on any other site. I hope that in his city of Gloucester, there will be starter homes on those brownfield sites.
How can these homes be called starter homes when someone would have to be on £90,000-plus to have a shot at even a one-bedroom version in my constituency? They are not starter anything; they are ending the hopes of a generation for whom affordable housing to buy and social housing to rent have all but vanished.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady. She will know that the average price that a first-time buyer pays outside London is £181,000, which, with the discount of 20%, is £149,000, and under the very successful Help to Buy scheme, that would require a deposit of £7,500. That is making home ownership possible for the rising generation of young people.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in villages in places such as North East Hertfordshire, it is very expensive for young people to own a home. Will this scheme or any other scheme the Government are promoting at the moment help young people in villages in areas such as North East Hertfordshire to make a start with getting a home of their own?
It will, indeed. We have embarked on the biggest programme of house building since the 1970s. Unfortunately, when they were in office, the previous Government accumulated a housing deficit and debt of similar proportions to the financial deficit and debt. This Government are correcting that: we are building homes for young people across the country so that they can do what previous generations did, which is to count on having a home of their own.
That is slightly misleading, because only 7% of local authorities think the new starter homes initiative is any good and 60% think it will be useless in their area. Is that not a fact? Look at this all-male, middle-aged group on the Government Front Bench who are saying to young people in our country, “There’s no hope of a home—not in their lifetime.”
There is nothing misleading, inadvertently or otherwise, about our commitment to giving many hundreds of thousands of young people the chance to have a home of their own. I would have thought that, for the next generation in his constituency, the hon. Gentleman would be promoting the availability of starter homes, giving people who have not been able to buy a home the possibility of doing so. He should get behind that scheme.
Many brownfield sites in my constituency had planning applications granted before the introduction of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. What advice does the Secretary of State give developers who are now looking to change those planning applications to ensure that they can integrate starter homes into the plans?
It is always possible for developers to have discussions with local authorities if they want to—they are not bound by such applications—but I hope they will press ahead with making available the homes that are needed in my hon. Friend’s constituency as well as in other parts of the country.
The Secretary of State must be getting used to headlines in the housing and planning press that say, “Starter homes will crowd out genuinely affordable homes”, or “Traditional affordable rented homes are being swapped for discounted Starter Homes”. Will he therefore tell us how many genuinely affordable homes for rent or equity share will not be built as a result of the starter homes initiative, and what specific measures is he taking to prevent that from happening?
We are building more homes than have been supported by Governments since the 1970s— 400,000 starter homes. The hon. Lady should be delighted to know that £8 billion of funding has gone in to providing them. With every decision we make, whether on starter homes or in giving the right the buy, we are putting ourselves on the side of the ordinary working people of this country who want a home of their own. In their opposition to such measures, Labour Members are showing how much further they are drifting from understanding—still less, representing—the ordinary working people of this country.
The Government have a strong track record on delivering affordable housing. We want to go further and to expand the definition of affordable housing so that we can deliver starter homes for young people who want to buy their own home.
How will the Government policy to subsidise starter homes address the affordable housing crisis for low and middle-income earners—cleaners, social workers, teachers, middle managers, nurses—given that it is estimated that, in London, one needs a household income of £97,000 and a deposit of £20,000 to afford an average starter home?
I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a few moments ago. In this country, first-time buyers pay £181,000 on average for a new home, so, with a 20% discount and a 5% deposit, her figures do not quite add up. Given that 86% of our population want the chance to own their own home and that first-time buyers are the generation worst hit by Labour’s recession in terms of housing, I am proud that we have doubled the number of first-time buyers. We want to deliver 1 million during this Parliament, and the starter homes initiative is just part of the solution.
As the Minister says, 86% of the population want to own their own home. Surely the term “affordable home” should now be expanded to include low-cost home ownership, including schemes such as the excellent Wiltshire Rural Housing Association, which has a variety of shared equity schemes. Surely those homes should also be affordable, as well as homes for rent.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, highlighting exactly the point I was making. As 86% of the population want to own their own home, most people have always found it slightly bizarre and illogical that when we talk about affordable homes we talk only about homes to rent. People want to own their own home, so it is absolutely right that affordable homes should also include homes that are affordable to buy.
The Government’s housing plans sit alongside their policy of neighbourhood planning. The Minister will recall that in the Adjournment debate he answered earlier in the year he recommended that the people of Haughton Green went away and produced a neighbourhood plan. They have started that process, so what assurances can he give them that the Two Trees site will not be brought forward for development by Tameside Council before they have had the opportunity to say how they want the site to be sustainably developed?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot comment on any particular planning application owing to the quasi-judicial role. As I said in that debate, neighbourhood planning is at the heart of our planning model. It delivers more homes than are delivered in areas that do not have a neighbourhood plan and allows the local community to work out where homes should be and what type of homes best suit them. It is fantastic that more than 200 plans are now in process and approved, and more than 2,000 are coming through. I look forward to seeing the conclusion of the plan in his constituency.
I think you know, Mr Speaker, that I believe that claims that there will be pestilence and war if we leave the European Union might be inadvertently misleading. The latest claim, that house prices will fall if we leave the EU, is, if true, possibly a good thing for creating affordable housing. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I agree with my hon. Friend on many things, but on this I have to say that the problem is that people who own their own home would end up in negative equity, people who are looking to buy would struggle because supply would fall through lack of investor confidence, and, given that as mortgage rates go up the cost of buying also goes up, affordability could get worse.
Tayside Region City Deal
4. What progress has been made on discussions on a Tayside region city deal. (905266)
Discussions on a Tayside city deal are going well. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland met Dundee City Council on 16 May to further those discussions. More work is being done but we welcome what has been done so far.
A Tayside region city deal will be great for people across Tayside and for my constituents in South Perthshire. Will he set out the timescale agreed for finalising the deal, and, more importantly, whether the UK Government expect that they will be the majority funder of the project or, as is the case in Aberdeen, they expect the Scottish Government to underwrite the majority of the investment?
I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusion of the discussions that are underway. As I said, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland met Dundee City Council on 16 May. He is meeting the leaders of Scottish cities again on 8 June. I hope the deal can be concluded quickly, with agreement, as it will benefit not only all those who live there, but the UK economy as whole.
The Government have always been clear that the most vulnerable will be protected and supported through our welfare reforms. Following our review of supported housing, which is due to report shortly, we will continue to work with the sector to ensure that appropriate protections are in place.
That is all very well, but why then do St Mungo’s, Centrepoint, the Salvation Army and the National Housing Federation, to name just a few organisations, all think that the Government’s proposals will hit supported housing hard and will reduce the number of places available? Should the Minister not listen to the people who are providing the service rather than to his own political dogma?
I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of St Mungo’s Broadway, has said:
“This is a sensible and reasoned decision by the government”.
The chief executive of YMCA England has said that the Government
“has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.”
We have decided to delay things for a year while we work with the sector to make sure we have a good and well-protected sector in future.
I welcome the Government’s review of supported housing and their commitment to preventing homelessness, both financially in the autumn statement and Budget, and in a likely statutory duty to prevent homelessness. Does that progress not fly in the face of putting a local housing allowance cap on supported housing, which in effect would pull the rug from under very vulnerable tenants who the Government are supporting at the moment?
My hon. Friend rightly points out that the spending review put in £400 million of funding to deliver 8,000 new specialist affordable homes. As I said, the delay of a year is to work with the sector, and the review that we have commissioned jointly with the Department for Work and Pensions will be published shortly. We have made it clear from the beginning that we will ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected and supported through all the reforms.
If the Government continue with their rent and benefit changes it is likely that most supported housing will close, so it is welcome that they have instituted the review. In that review, will the Minister consider an issue that has been raised with the Communities and Local Government Committee as part of its inquiry into homelessness, which is whether, when people who are out of work and homeless go into supported housing, costs are covered through housing benefit? Under current arrangements, people who are in work can find themselves worse off than those who are out of work, so in the review will the Minister consider whether that problem can be rectified, along with the other issues?
Recently published research by Scottish Women’s Aid in partnership with survivors of domestic abuse in Fife reveals that women and children are often forced to make themselves homeless to be eligible for domestic abuse support. The recently proposed cap on local housing allowance will also have a devastating impact on the future provision of specialist refuge accommodation in Scotland, which is largely in the ownership of local authorities and housing associations. What steps are being taken to protect the provision of support for survivors of domestic abuse under those circumstances?
As the hon. Lady will know—it was outlined a few moments ago by the Secretary of State—we have put extra funding into women’s refuges, and we have introduced a delay of a year while we work with the sector and the review is completed. That review will be published shortly, and all those issues will be taken into account when ensuring that we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Perhaps the Minister will give us a wee bit more assurance on that. The delay for a year is welcome, but many domestic abuse charities are worried about what will happen at the end of that. They need a bit of certainty and to be able to plan in the years ahead for those vital services on which women and children depend. Can he give us any more certainty about when the review will be published?
First, we have outlined a further £400 million to go into providing 8,000 more homes, which shows our commitment to that sector. We have always been clear that we want to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, and that the right provision is in place, and that is what the review is about. It will be published shortly, and we will respond to it. That is why the sector has widely welcomed the year’s delay, and as I said earlier, we are working with the sector to protect those most vulnerable people.
Violence against Women and Girls
Our manifesto commitment is to create a secure future for women’s refuges, and in the new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, we set out our ambition for prevention, not crisis response, to be the norm. We are determined to ensure that victims get the help they need when they need it, and we will fund local areas to make the changes needed.
Some interpretations of sharia law advocate and condone violence against women, and women’s rights groups such as One Law for All are concerned at the spread of sharia courts in the UK. What support are the Minister and his Department giving to women’s groups such as One Law for All, which want to protect women against religiously sanctioned violence?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are strongly committed to women’s rights. The independent review of sharia courts announced by the Home Secretary will enable us to understand the extent to which sharia law is being applied in a way that is incompatible with UK law, and we will then be in a position to identify whether further actions are required to promote women’s safety.
Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Regional Deal
Discussions continue positively on a city deal for Edinburgh and south-east Scotland. Officials have had a number of meetings and progress is being made, and Members across the House hope that an agreement can be reached so that something can be delivered that will benefit the hon. Lady’s constituents and our economy as a whole.
I have heard that one local authority involved in the Edinburgh city region deal, West Lothian Council, has distanced itself from the development of the deal and now appears to be intending to step away altogether. How will the Minister encourage it back into the ring on that deal?
The processes are by agreement, but we hope that all local authorities look to see the positives in what can be delivered, and the difference that can be made to the local economy, when city deals are agreed. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary at the Scotland Office will meet the leaders of Scottish cities on 8 June. I will draw his attention to the hon. Lady’s comments in the hope that he can bear them in mind and perhaps overcome some of the obstacles.
Order. Edinburgh and south-east Scotland are a very long way from Hove. Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s considerable ingenuity, I find it hard to see how he can relate this to Hove. He should be patient and have another go on another question. Keep waiting, man, and keep in good spirits. We will get you in somehow.
Social Care Costs
The spending review provided up to £3.5 billion of funding to help to meet the demographic pressures on social care—more than the £2.9 billion that local government and the directors of adult social services estimated was needed in their submission to the spending review.
Social care in Hull is facing a perfect storm, and GPs tell me that it is starting to impact on hospitals. We have had the deepest cuts in local government since 2010, and the national living wage is adding to costs. Will the Secretary of State accept the clear evidence of a growing funding gap that outstrips the social care levy, and that it is worst in areas of greatest and rising demand?
The hon. Lady never misses a chance to be miserable about Hull, a great city that is on the rise. Hull has benefited to the tune of nearly £7 million a year from the local government settlement—it is one of the biggest gainers in the country. The last time she made that point, the leader of her council wanted not to take what she said at face value, and said:
“I do wish people would stop talking the city down. There is so much going on here…and a lot to look forward to.”
20. I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s visit to Shrewsbury the other week. He will have heard from the council of the big pressures it is under as a result of increasing costs in adult social care services. We have more senior citizens in Shropshire than the national average and the number is growing at a faster rate than the national average. What lessons has he learned from his visit to Shrewsbury, and what further assistance will he give my council to deal with that very important issue? (905282)
I enjoyed my visit to Shrewsbury, as I enjoyed my visit to Hull. One thing that was welcomed in both places was a review of the underlying needs assessment, which has not been changed for many years, to ensure that the underlying pressures are properly reflected in the new settlement that, as a result of the Government’s reforms, comes in when 100% of the business rate is retained by local government.
Clinical commissioning groups in my county of Norfolk have told the county council that they are withdrawing the money from the better care fund that was available for the protection of social care last year, leaving at least a £7.5 million gap. What is the Secretary of State doing in his discussions with the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that social care is protected? The risk of elderly, frail people and disabled people losing out more is very real.
The right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in the Department of Health how important it is to ensure that the social care system and the healthcare system are joined up. Part of the integration of health and social care is ensuring that people, whether they are NHS patients or cared for by the local authority, have the best care available delivered in the most efficient way.
Unitary councils have been established in that manner—with the health service embedded within them. What evidence is there that combining health and social care means that those services will be delivered more effectively and more efficiently?
We know that where relationships are most embedded and advanced between local authorities in the NHS, people can be confident that they will have the best level of care without falling between the cracks of the two systems. Local government can do that working with the NHS, which is why that has been a prominent feature in some devolution deals.
Pay to Stay
The Government believe that tenants on higher incomes should contribute towards a fairer level of rent. More than 90% of tenants will be unaffected by our plans. Many above the threshold will be protected from big rent rises through our tapering approach. This is not about forcing households from their homes.
Given the gap between social and market rents, many of my constituents—teachers, nurses, junior doctors, electricians, bricklayers, call centre staff and shop workers—will pay thousands of pounds extra a year. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that the Government have abandoned any claims to being the workers’ party?
Despite the hon. Lady’s tone, I am sure she agrees that social housing should be prioritised for those most in need. I reassure her and her constituents that the assumption that in the first year thousands of pounds extra could be paid in rent is definitely not the case. We have a taper: for every £1 households earn over the income threshold, they will pay only an extra 15p in rent.
In the past week my local newspaper, Cambridge News, has run a series of articles about the impact of the housing crisis in a high-cost city such as Cambridge. The council warns that the Pay to Stay proposals will affect a significant number of families on modest incomes and in some cases cost them an extra £3,000 a year. What advice can the Minister give to those people? Where should they move to? Should they quit their jobs or do fewer hours?
As I outlined a few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman and the council seem to be basing their figures on a false premise. Once the policy comes into effect, the average cost of housing for people affected will be about 15% of their income, bearing in mind that they are higher earners. In the private rented sector, people are having to pay 50% of their income.
My constituents are always keen to hear news about improving work incentives and making work pay. What will the Minister say to my constituents who have written to me about the Pay to Stay proposals, saying that their introduction will mean a choice between cutting hours, turning down a pay rise or refusing promotion, because it is not economically worth their while to earn extra income?
Departmental Civil Servants: Coventry
There are currently no plans for the Department to open new government offices in Coventry, but we welcome the significant economic growth the city has enjoyed and we welcome the £89.4 million investment that the Warwickshire and Coventry growth deal is delivering for the local economy. We want Coventry—in particular, its private sector—to continue to grow. The contribution of businesses in Coventry is quite incredible. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question in focusing attention on the good work that has been done.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm, but at present there is no intention to relocate existing offices of this Department to Coventry. In April 2010, 3,382 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Coventry. We welcome the fact that, thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, that number has fallen to 1,284. We want that trend to continue. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: as we devolve power to local areas, giving more responsibility to local economies and the people in them, we would like rebalancing to take place.
Enterprise zones have made a significant contribution to growing our economy. Those announced in 2012 have contributed to more than 620 businesses and to nearly 24,000 jobs. Nearly £2.5 billion has been invested in those enterprise zones to support our economy and create employment for our constituents.
Daresbury enterprise zone in Weaver Vale employs thousands of people, including 500 scientists working on cutting edge technologies such as big data. With nine enterprise zones in north-west England, does my hon. Friend agree that this highlights the Government’s commitment to closing the north-south divide and rebalancing the economy by building a fantastic northern powerhouse?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We saw in the autumn statement a doubling of enterprise zones in the north of England and investment in the northern powerhouse. He has been a passionate advocate for this enterprise zone in particular and has impressed on me its importance and contribution to our economy. I hope that I might visit it soon with him to see at first hand what he is delivering for his constituents, working with this Government, as we stick to our long-term economic plan.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question; he is a passionate advocate for his constituency and the enterprise zones that lie within it. I have visited Samlesbury but not yet Warton—perhaps my namesake enterprise zone is due a visit shortly, and I would be delighted if he were to welcome my joining him in attending it. We will offer what support is needed to ensure that enterprise zones are successful, create jobs and drive forward our economy. I am always happy to talk to him about the particular needs in his constituency.
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s question. He knows as well as I do that local government has been asking for many years for the localisation of business rates, which will give real incentives to drive local growth. He also understands that enterprise zones already sit differently within the business rates regime from local authorities, which we will have to take into account as we develop the system.
Local Enterprise Partnerships: Growth Deals
During the last Parliament, we devolved £7.7 billion of central Government funds in local growth deals, and in March, I invited applications for a further £1.8 billion of funds to further support local growth.
Solent local enterprise partnership supports the regeneration of Dunsbury Hill Farm business park, which is creating more than 3,000 new jobs in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State continue to support LEPs, through the growth deals, to continue job creation in Havant and across Britain?
I will indeed. My hon. Friend has been a big champion of the Dunsbury Hill Farm link road, which was funded by the LEP. I understand that the business park has its first tenants signed up and is creating 3,500 jobs, which is a further boost to the very successful time already being enjoyed on the Solent and in Havant in particular.
Right to Buy: Low-cost Housing
16. What assessment he has made of the effect of the right-to-buy scheme on the availability of low-cost housing for people on low incomes. (905278)
Within England, a new affordable home has been provided for every additional right-to-buy sale since 2012 under a reinvigorated scheme. Under the groundbreaking voluntary agreement, housing associations will also deliver an additional home nationally for every home sold.
The right to buy has had a disastrous effect on the availability of affordable housing. The SNP Scottish Government have had the courage to abolish it and have built more than 6,000 new council houses in Scotland. Has the Minister carried out an assessment of the effect that abolishing the policy would have on the supply of housing UK-wide?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted the fact that the Scottish Government spends 85% more per head on social housing than England and Wales. Unlike the UK Government, the SNP Government are hitting their targets for affordable homes. Does the Minister acknowledge the abject failure of the UK Government’s policies to increase the affordable housing supply?
I am proud that the Conservative-led Government in the last Parliament were the first to finish a Parliament with more affordable homes than they started with. We lost 420,000 under the Labour Government, who sold 170 homes for every one they built. That is why the one-for-one provision increases housing supply. We went ahead of our target in the last Parliament and we now have the largest building programme since the 1970s. That is something for us to be very proud of.
We have invested more than £120 million across the UK through the coastal communities fund, which is helping to create or safeguard more than 18,000 jobs, provide more than 12,000 training places and attract more than £200 million of match funding. We have also announced a £90 million four-year extension to the fund.
I should hope that fracking would not have an impact on tourism as such, although I understand the sensitivities involved in that issue. We are doing a lot to support tourism in the hon. Lady’s constituency through the coastal communities fund. Wyre Borough Council was given a £1.55 million grant in 2014 to create new attractions along Fleetwood seafront to attract more visitors throughout the year. Lancashire County Council got just under £250,000 in 2015 to unlock the heritage potential of Lancaster’s historic St George’s quay. I believe the fund is doing well around the country, particularly in the hon. Lady’s constituency.
I welcome what the Minister has said about support for coastal communities, but he will be aware that they have been particularly badly affected by membership of the European Union and the impact of the common fisheries policy. This has resulted in much derelict and redundant dockland. What additional support can the Government offer to regenerate our now redundant dockland?
Returning briefly to the coastal communities fund, I should point out that it has been highly successful and has helped to generate a tremendous return. For every £1 invested by the fund we get about £8 back. We regard that as highly successful, which is why we have extended the fund over another period of four years, with a budget of £90 million. In England, bidding for round four is now open. I believe the coastal communities fund would do very well for the coastal communities of our country, whether or not we are in the European Union.
Coastal tourism is valued at more than £8 billion and is a key contributor to the UK economy. A recent report from the National Coastal Tourism Academy identified significant opportunities for further growth and highlighted the need for strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. What is the Minister doing to foster these strong partnerships?
I thank the hon. Lady for pointing out the National Coastal Tourism Academy report. From memory, we helped to fund the creation of that body, so it looks as though we are getting good value for money there, too. She talked about the importance of partnerships; we entirely agree. We have set up 118 coastal communities teams around the country to bring together in partnership local authorities, voluntary groups, charities and residents to design an economic plan for the revival of their areas. We will be celebrating the success around what we now like to call the Great British coast with a Great British coastal conference in Brighton on 30 June. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to come down in a spirit of partnership and celebrate it with us.
We have already seen a revolution in neighbourhood planning, with 193 neighbourhood plans approved at referendum and nearly 2,000 groups across the country involved, covering nearly 10 million people. We announced in the Queen’s Speech that we will introduce a new package of measures further to strengthen neighbourhood planning in the forthcoming neighbourhood planning and infrastructure Bill.
My constituents are strong supporters of neighbourhood planning as a way of influencing the planning system in their local areas. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the forthcoming Bill and how it can give more weight to neighbourhood plans, local views and, indeed, permitted development where neighbours agree?
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. Neighbourhood plans are one of the most important successes of the Localism Act 2011 and they are catching fire across the country as more and more communities want to be able to shape the character of their communities. It is notable that when they go to referendum, the average yes vote is 89%. I think either side of the referendum campaign would regard that as emphatic.
Some councils, including Leeds City Council, are prioritising “easy” areas with neighbourhood plans and ignoring and not properly assisting those where it is difficult and there are huge pressures, such as Aireborough. Will the Secretary of State look at the guidance issued to councils, particularly as developers can carry on developing even though neighbourhood plans are being produced?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will involve himself in the scrutiny of the new Bill, which is designed to help precisely those neighbourhoods where support from the local authority has not always been forthcoming and enthusiastic, so that they can insist on that and proceed apace.
Brownfield Land/Green Belt
We are committed to retaining strong protection of the green belt, and its boundaries can be changed only in exceptional circumstances. Brownfield land has an important role in delivering new housing, and we have taken steps to maximise the number of dwellings built on suitable brownfield land.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The approach to ensuring that brownfield land is built on and that the green belt is protected is absolutely the right one. What plans have the Government made available to support the remediation of brownfield sites?
My hon. Friend has pushed passionately in her own constituency to ensure that the maximum use for brownfield land is found. Through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, planning permission in principle for brownfield registers is coming through, and there is a £1.2 billion fund for starter homes, which is obviously applicable to the brownfield sites. We have also made more money available in the spending review, which will be put in the public domain later this year, to make sure that we get planning permission for 90% of all the brownfield land by the end of this Parliament.
Stoke-on-Trent has swathes of brownfield land, yet vulturesque developers are trying pounce on green sites off Meadow Lane in Trentham and down in Lightwood. If the developers get turned down at the planning stage, they get right of appeal after right of appeal, but if my communities lose, that is it—they are dead in the water. They want to know why they cannot have the right of appeal to stop developers building on green sites when there are so many brownfield sites available.
The best protection for these areas comes from having not just a local plan but neighbourhood planning in place. We have made it clear that a neighbourhood plan should be respected and has weight in law. The appeals system is part of natural justice when it comes to how the planning system deals with the landowners’ use of their own land, as we outlined in the last stages of the Housing and Planning Act. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local residents to get a neighbourhood plan in place. That will give them the best protection to make sure that they have development they think is appropriate in their area, and put pressure on the local authority to make the best possible use of its brownfield land.
22. It is vital to take steps to unlock the potential for brownfield housing developments while continuing to protect the precious green belt, which is integral in areas such as Aldridge and Streetly in my constituency. Will the Minister assure me that where brownfield sites are clustered together, as parts of a combined authority or in plans such as those for the black country garden city, each local authority will retain control and responsibility for planning decisions under its control? (905284)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The planning authority is the local authority, which has planning and decision-making power over its own land. I stress that for all such areas a neighbourhood plan has weight in law, and thanks to the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local authorities will make brownfield registers available to identify and make it clear for developers where the brownfield land that can be developed is located. They can then look to getting the funding together to develop it.
Planning and Development: Local Views
Local planning authorities are required to determine all planning applications, including those on their own land, in line with their local plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise, having regard to the views of local people. Planning policy provides strong protection for open space.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Local people are supportive of North Lincolnshire Council’s desire to develop the former Brumby resource centre site, but are anxious for the green open space that has been there for generations to remain so. Does the Minister agree that North Lincolnshire Council needs to think very carefully before building houses on a green open space?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment on what sounds likely to be a live planning application. However, I can tell him that the national planning policy framework recognises that access to high-quality spaces is an important contributor towards the health and wellbeing of communities, and that it is quite clear that existing open spaces should not be built on unless replaced by something similar.
Since our last questions, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 has received its Royal Assent. I would like to thank parliamentary and departmental colleagues for their incredibly hard work on a landmark piece of legislation. With two further Bills set for the new Session, there can be no doubting the centrality of housing and devolution to this Government’s agenda.
Since our last questions, a respected leader of local government, Darren Cooper, the leader of Sandwell Council and deputy chair of the proposed west midlands combined authority, died at a young age. He was a champion of devolution for the black country and the west midlands, and I would like to pay tribute to him and his work.
More happily, last month marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Department for Communities and Local Government. It was my privilege to pay tribute to officials for their dedicated service. I do regret not inviting former Ministers in the Department to the celebrations. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) would have been greatly encouraged by the progress made by the Department over the last six years, especially after the calamities of its first four.
The number of civil service jobs has been cut in most parts of the country, but the proportion of such jobs in London has increased by 16% since 2010. Why condemn people to live in overcrowded London, with its grossly polluted air and sky-high house prices, when they could live in the broad green acres of Wales where the air is sweet and the house prices are genuinely affordable?
That enticing invitation to come to live and work in Wales will have been heard across the country, and I think the same applies to our great cities, towns and counties right across the country. Part of our devolution agenda is to take away the powers and resources that have been locked up in this city and to make them available across the country so that they can be locally led and bring about the revival that the hon. Gentleman refers to.
T2. Sabden, one of my beautiful villages, has a population of about 1,500. It has just had its bus service withdrawn by the operator. That service was part-subsidised by Lancashire County Council, but the council now refuses to subsidise even a skeleton service, which means that the elderly and the young have been set adrift: they cannot get into work or go to the doctor. Will the Secretary of State consider top-slicing the necessary money from the county council and giving it to the districts so that local people can get the service they deserve? (905224)
Clearly, that is a great disappointment for my hon. Friend’s many constituents who rely on those services. In the local government financial settlement, we have been able to make available a flat cash settlement over four years to councils across the country, giving them the certainty of four-year funding. That is intended to allow them to plan ahead for precisely the sort of services that he describes.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s tribute to Darren Cooper. For many of us, he was not just a good local Labour council leader but a good colleague and a friend.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the answer he gave the House in reply to Question 2, when he talked about the Government’s housebuilding programme? The latest official figures show that the number of new homes is down by 9% and that, six years on, it is still a third below the peak achieved under Labour. This is the housebuilding recovery that never was. Does he not agree that when housing policy fails so badly, it gives an opening to those who want to fuel resentment and division? Will he therefore today disown the comments of his Cabinet colleague the Leader of the House who blames the fall in home ownership on EU migration? Will he point out to the Leader of the House that it is possible to have a healthily growing population alongside higher home ownership, just as Britain did during the baby-boom years under Macmillan and Wilson?
I lay the blame for the shortage of housing on what happened during the tenure of the Labour party and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who was the relevant Minister at that time. Ignominiously, he will go down in history as the Housing Minister who built the fewest homes in the peacetime history of this country, with only 85,000 being built in 2009. He is the man under whom we saw a fall in home ownership of a quarter of a million. The most significant thing is that when he was commenting on that, he said:
“I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.”
Under this Government, the proportion of building is rising again; we have 250,000 planning permissions and more than 170,000 additions to the housing stock. We have doubled the rate of growth of housing compared with the rate that he presided over, so he might talk about lessons from the past, but we will be looking closely at his record to see what actions to avoid.
May I suggest that the Secretary of State go back to the Department and call in his Government statisticians to put him right on these figures? The Labour record speaks for itself: 1 million more homeowners, 2 million new homes built, and the largest investment in social housing in a generation. That is a record that the present Housing Minister would give his right arm for; it might even get him a Cabinet promotion. May I, however, bring the Secretary of State back to the question of the European Union? Does he accept that the European Union is helpful to housebuilding in Britain? Does he agree that the European Investment Bank’s commitment of £1 billion to build almost 20,000 new affordable homes is now needed more than ever, not least because this Government’s housing investment over this Parliament will be only half what it was under Labour?
The right hon. Gentleman should go back and check his record—as a former Minister, I am sure he has access to the files. Under the previous Labour Government, including during his time as Housing Minister, 420,000 homes were lost from this country’s affordable housing stock.
An important source of investment in housing, including in social and affordable housing, comes from the European Investment Bank, which has invested £2 billion in our housing stock over the years. It is important that we continue to have access not only to that investment but to investment from private sector bodies, all of which benefit from the confidence and stability that we have had through our arrangement, including the wholehearted commitment of a Government determined to increase house building.
T4. The Minister will be aware that the average council tax increase in England has been 3.1%, whereas it has been 3.6% in Wales. Does that not clearly demonstrate that Conservative policies are delivering better services at a better price than anything that Labour can achieve? (905226)
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. One only needs to look at the parallel between the Labour Administration in Wales and when the Labour party was in Government: council tax doubled over 13 years. Since 2010, council tax has been reduced in real terms by 9%.
T3. When I bought my first home in Luton in 1969, house prices were three times average earnings. The same house in Luton would now cost at least 12 times average earnings. Unsurprisingly, home ownership as a tenure has been falling. Is it not utterly cynical of the Government to pretend that everyone can become homeowners when what millions of families need, and what many say they want, is a decent council house? (905225)
The hon. Gentleman will therefore be pleased to know not only that in just five years we have built roughly double the number of council-run social homes that Labour built in 13 years, but that we are focused on ensuring that people can have the chance to own their own home. Home ownership fell from 2003 and right the way through the Labour Government’s time. We have stalled that decline and are determined to see home ownership increase, which is why we are delivering starter homes for 200,000 people. We want to see a million more first-time buyers over the course of this Parliament.
T5. South Hayling Island’s coastal community team was awarded a £10,000 grant last year to help the local economy by improving local signage. Will the Minister congratulate Rosemary Satchwell and the whole team on their hard work in promoting local businesses? (905228)
I am very happy to congratulate Rosemary Satchwell and the South Hayling Island coastal community team. Its economic plan highlighted the importance of signage in boosting business and tourism on South Hayling Island. I hope that Rosemary Satchwell will attend our “Great British Coast” conference in Brighton on 30 June to tell us more about it.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the discussions in the north midlands are well advanced. While a top-down process, dictated from Whitehall, might be tidier than the current negotiated process, in which proposals are made from the bottom up, I think he would accept that that would be to miss the point.
T6. During a glorious bank holiday weekend in Salisbury, the city council hosted an international market as part of the Love Your Local Market campaign. Does he Minister agree that thriving high streets and local markets are good not only for the local economy but for a city’s sense of community? (905229)
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that, and I am delighted to hear about the continental market in Salisbury and his support for Love Your Local Market fortnight, when more than 3,000 events took place across the country. This concept is now in its fifth year; it is the biggest celebration of markets and it is estimated that 1,500 businesses have started up during LYLM fortnight, with many still trading six months later.
City, regional and growth funds have the potential to transform areas across the country, from Edinburgh North and Leith all the way down to Hove. The Secretary of State had a meeting with Brighton’s council recently. Many areas in the south-east showed enthusiasm for these funds in the early days, but this has not translated into deals being struck. I know he had a constructive meeting in Brighton and Hove recently, so will he update the House on his thinking and on how he is going to get the balance right between urban areas and the hinterlands and the countryside, to make sure that cities do not lose the power they need?
As I said to the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), it is very important that these proposals come from the bottom up, and that requires local agreement. Discussions are taking place locally in the south of England, as they are in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, as to what is the right geography of a proposed deal. It is very important that these things are determined locally, rather than by my getting a pen and drawing lines on a map. I hope the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) will use his good influence to bring people together, so that we can advance what should be a very important and attractive deal.
T7. Empty homes are a blight on our local communities, with some becoming derelict and dangerous, meaning that not only are local people deprived of somewhere to live, but entire areas can appear run down or unkempt. What is the Minister’s assessment of the number of empty homes and what is his Department doing to improve the situation? (905230)
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and he has made the case to me before outside the Chamber about ensuring that we make the best use of the housing stock we have. I am pleased that under our Government we have seen a drop to the lowest level on record—a third down on the peak—and that in Thurrock the number of empty homes has dropped from 319 homes to 214. But we need to keep going, which is why our changes on the powers over council tax and the new homes bonus give a real incentive to local authorities to make sure we get these empty homes back into use. We should keep pushing.
Further to Question 6, will the Minister give a pledge now that if the Home Secretary reports that sharia courts and other institutions have been over-reaching themselves, he will fund the appropriate women’s organisations at a level that means that they can protect women who are vulnerable?
I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done, that a £40 million fund is being put towards women’s refuges across this Parliament. That is an unprecedented amount of funding, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be carefully considering bids from across the country, from organisations and charities representing all types of groups, such as the one he mentions.
T9. Thanks to the Conservatives in government, community groups now have the right to protect facilities and other much loved buildings or land by listing them as assets of community value. How many of these assets have been listed in such a way and, more importantly, what support is available to local communities to take up this exciting opportunity? (905232)
More than 3,000 assets of community value have been listed to date, including 256 sports facilities. On the support we are offering, we fund the My Community website and network, which provides information, case studies and resources for people interested in taking up community rights and getting involved in their local neighbourhood. I congratulate my hon. Friend, as I understand he has organised another massive fundraising day, which this time is a golf day rather than a cricket day. I wish him every success, because over a number of years he has raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity.
Does the Secretary of State agree that children’s services and child protection are a crucial part of local government, for which he is responsible? Has he talked to his colleagues in the Department for Education about this? Has he seen the evidence showing that as the departmental influence on education and schools continues, the ability to get children with special educational needs into good schools becomes more and more difficult?
Yes, I have regular conversations with the Secretary of State. As with other areas of local government responsibility, sometimes its responsibilities cross the lines of departmental boundaries. We make sure, very particularly, that we join that up and reflect in the responsibilities and the funding of local government the full range of its commitments and needs.
Office for National Statistics figures state that 3.3 million extra people will come to our country in the next 15 years. How on earth are we to make sure that there is enough land and that output will be increased enough to support the number of buildings required for that number of immigrants?
One of the biggest pressures on our housing stock is the fact that not enough has been built in the past three decades, primarily due to the failures under the last Labour Government. It is good news that we are all living longer and living in our own home longer, but ultimately it is local authorities’ key job to make sure that they assess the land needs in their local area to provide the housing their local residents need in their local plans.
Removal of Foreign National Offenders and EU Prisoners
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to explain how she will address her continued failure to remove 13,000 foreign national offenders remaining in UK prisons and communities, and specifically the removal of EU prisoners, who make up as much as 42% of all foreign national offenders in prison, back to their EU countries of origin.
That was a bit cheeky of the hon. Gentleman. He will have an opportunity to dilate in due course, but in the first instance, he should stick to the terms of the question—and the puckish grin on his face shows that he knows he has gone a bit beyond the boundary.
Since 2010, the Government have removed over 30,000 foreign national offenders, including 5,692 in 2015-16—the highest number since records began. The number of removals to other EU countries has more than tripled, from 1,019 in 2010-11 to 3,451 in 2015-16. We aim to deport all foreign national offenders at the earliest opportunity; however, legal or re-documentation barriers can frustrate immediate deportation. Increased rates of detection can also lead to the population of foreign national offenders increasing despite a record number of removals.
Over 6,500 of the FNOs in the UK are still serving a custodial sentence. The Ministry of Justice has been working to remove EU prisoners under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which is a compulsory means of prisoner transfer that allows us to send foreign criminals back to their home country to serve their sentence. The record number of FNO deportations we have achieved has been due to changes made by the Government. We have reset the balance between article 8 of the European convention on human rights and the public interest in deportation cases. We have also introduced a “deport first, appeal later” power, which means foreign national offenders may appeal against deportation only from their home country, unless they will face a real risk of serious irreversible harm there. More than 3,500 foreign national offenders have been removed since that came into force in July 2014, and many more are going through the system.
The police now routinely carry out checks for overseas criminal convictions on foreign nationals who are arrested, and refer them for deportation. In 2015, the UK made over 100,000 requests for EU criminal record checks—an increase of 1,100% compared with 2010—and in December, the European Council agreed that conviction data relating to terrorists and serious and organised criminals should be shared systematically. We must never give up trying to improve our ability to deal with FNOs and tackle the barriers to deportation: we have just legislated to GPS-tag FNOs who are subject to a deportation order, and we are legislating to establish an FNO’s nationality as early as possible to avoid delays during deportation proceedings.
Before 2010, there was no plan for deporting foreign national offenders. Their rights were given a greater priority than the rights of the public here, and they were routinely abusing the appeals system to avoid deportation. This Government have put in place a strategy for removing foreign national offenders, which is increasing removals, protecting the public and saving the taxpayer money.
Does the Home Secretary agree, given that today, 6 June, is the anniversary of the Normandy landing, that those who fought and died there did not do so to enable convicted EU rapists, paedophiles and drug dealers who are now here in prison to be protected under new European human rights laws, including the European charter, and the European Court; that they should be deported; and that the Home Affairs Committee was clearly right to indicate that, in these circumstances, the public will
“question the point of the UK remaining in the EU”?
Furthermore, why have the Government failed to introduce our own Bill of Rights and remove us from the EU charter? Does it not make a mockery of the Queen’s Speech that the Government continue to uphold, as they say,
“the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”?
I accept that my hon. Friend has his own personal reasons for remembering very much the impact of the D-day landings. It is true that those who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy did so to protect our freedoms. The Government, as I indicated in my response to his question, have put in place a number of measures, and we continue to work to do more to ensure that we can protect the public from those serious criminals—rapists and others—who may choose to come here from whichever country they come from. My hon. Friend referred to the Bill of Rights: it is the Government’s intention to bring forward a Bill of Rights, and that was referred to in the Gracious Speech that we heard a few weeks ago. I can assure him that the action that the Government have taken, for example in rebalancing the interests of the public and the interests of foreign national offenders, in the reference to article 8, show that we take seriously the need to ensure that the human rights of the British public are recognised when we deal with these issues.
While I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) on securing this question, I hope that he will not be too offended that I do not agree with every word of his opportunistic election broadcast on behalf of the leave campaign. Is it not plainly the case that this is not an EU question but a question of the competence, or lack of it, of his Government and his Home Secretary? As last week’s Select Committee report makes clear, while there has been progress on the deportation of foreign national offenders, it has been too slow.
Does the Home Secretary agree with what the Prime Minster told the Liaison Committee in May? He said that she and the Home Office “should have done better” on this issue. This is not the first time that the Home Secretary has been warned about these failings. In the last Parliament, the National Audit Office found that more than a third of failed removals were the result of factors within the Home Office’s control. Despite that, we now learn that the problem is getting worse, not better, in some areas. The Select Committee said that it was deeply concerned that there were nearly 6,000 foreign national offenders living in the community—the highest figure since 2012. Can the Home Secretary explain why the figure is so high? How many of those people are still subject to active deportation proceedings, and what is she doing to bring the figure down? She urgently needs to get a grip on the issue.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is much easier to do that while remaining part of the European Union, and that leaving would make it harder to deport people? Is it not the case that the prisoner transfer agreement at least provides a framework to speed up the process and that country-to-country deals are far harder to achieve? Is it not also true that our access to the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system helps us to stop criminals arriving here, and the European arrest warrant means that they can be brought to justice?
Finally, would not the British people be better off listening to the two former Met commissioners and other senior police who, at the weekend, said that our membership of the EU helps us to fight crime, rather than to the unpleasant scaremongering of the leave campaign?
The right hon. Gentleman’s early remarks do not sit well with the facts that I have presented to the Commons. Last year, we deported a record number of foreign national offenders. Of course, the Government should always do more and always seek to ensure that we can improve our ability to do so. He talked about the higher numbers of people in the community, but it is also the case that because of the number of criminal record checks that the police now undertake with other countries we have secured a higher level of identification of foreign national offenders, which has increased the number available for us to deal with, and for all of them we make every effort, and continue to make efforts, to deport.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s final point, I agree that it is easier for us to deal with these issues as a member of the European Union. He mentioned a number of tools and instruments available to us. On the figure I quoted in relation to foreign criminal checks, he mentioned ECRIS and SIS, which mean that information is available to us at the border which would otherwise not be available.
When I was the Home Secretary’s colleague as Justice Secretary, it was my pleasure to bring to a conclusion in the Council of Ministers the negotiations begun by the previous Government to get the EU-wide agreement that prisoners could be compulsorily returned to the their own country. Progress of course depends on the efficiency and priority applied to that by the bureaucracies of every Government across Europe, but I congratulate her on the very good progress being made here. Will she point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) that if we were not members of the European Union, we would go back to a system where we had absolutely no ability to deport anybody to their country of origin unless we could persuade the Government of that country to accept them?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work he did on the prisoner transfer framework decision, which was an important step forward. Crucially—this relates to the latter part of his question—that decision enables us to deport people compulsorily from the United Kingdom to serve their sentences elsewhere, whereas arrangements that may have been in place previously were about voluntary transfer, where the prisoner had to actually agree to move. The current arrangement gives us far greater scope in being able to remove people from the United Kingdom, and it is another reason why it is important to remain part of the European Union.
Removing foreign national offenders is important and rightly attracts public interest, but it does require sensible and measured debate. As the Home Affairs Committee report pointed out last week, and as the Home Secretary has said, the Government have been making some progress on this issue. Does she agree that being in the European Union gives us access to criminal records sharing and prison transfer agreements, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has just said, and helps us better to identify people with criminal records, allowing us to send them back to their home countries to serve their sentences? Does she agree that there is really no evidence that leaving the European Union would help rather than hinder the removal of EU offenders? Finally, does she agree that it is a shame that some other good work and powerful recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee have been overshadowed by Brexiteers determined to twist any issue to their cause, even in the absence of logic?
I agree with the hon. and learned Lady that being a member of the EU does give us access to certain tools and certain instruments that help us to share information that otherwise would not be available to us, and that is very important in the sharing of criminal records information. There is more for us to do, and I am working with others to ensure that we can enhance our ability to share that information so that we have more information available to us. On her latter point, I have to say that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee rarely allows himself to be overshadowed.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her changes to UK law and her success with non-EU criminals, but is it not the case that freedom of movement and a series of court judgments and decisions by the European authorities have made it much more difficult to tackle the problem of EU criminals?
The important issue for us in being able to prevent people from entering the UK, should we consider that they are individuals whom we do not wish to have in the country, or in being able to deport people is retaining our borders, which we do. It is important that we have at our border controls information available to us to help us make those decisions. That is why membership of SIS II is an important part of the tools and the framework that we have to enable us to deal with criminality. Of course, in the deal that was negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in relation to our membership of the European Union, we have enhanced our ability to deport people with criminal records and to prevent people from coming here with criminal records. We will also be ensuring that certain decisions taken by the European Court of Justice are overturned.
Time and again, the Home Affairs Committee has warned successive Governments—not just this Government, but way back to the last Labour Government—about the need to remove foreign national offenders. Credit should be given to the Home Secretary. She has relentlessly pursued people such as Abu Qatada out of the country; in fact, I was surprised that she did not pilot the plane that took him back to Jordan at the end of that saga. The fact remains, however, that eight of the top 10 countries are either Commonwealth or EU countries, and there is, frankly, no excuse for friendly countries and key allies not to take back citizens of theirs who have committed serious offences. Eighteen months ago we made a very sensible and simple suggestion, namely that the passports of foreign national offenders should be taken away from them at the time of sentencing. Has that now been implemented?
The right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have been consistent in raising this issue, and I am sure that he welcomes the fact that we are now removing record numbers of foreign national offenders. We are taking a number of steps in relation to the identity and identification of foreign national offenders. In most cases, passports will be taken away, although some individuals will have destroyed their documentation. That is one of the difficulties involved in returning people to countries when they have no documentation; getting the correct identity is one of the challenges faced by the recipient country, regardless of where in the world it is.
The Home Secretary will be as aware as anyone of how difficult it is to deport a foreign criminal to any country and that it is all but impossible to do so to some countries. Does she agree that the EU prisoner transfer framework directive gives us a much better chance with those countries than with any other country, including Commonwealth countries; that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has his way in the referendum, that would make it more, not less, difficult to deport foreign prisoners and that our prisons’ problems would therefore continue; and that that would be, by any standards, a perverse outcome?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has experience of these issues from his time as the Immigration Minister. Membership of the European Union gives us access to information sharing and instruments that help increase our ability to deal with foreign national offenders and criminals. Crucially, as I indicated earlier to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the ability to return people on a compulsory basis, rather than requiring the prisoner themselves to agree to that return.
Does the Home Secretary recall that when her right hon. Friend the now Leader of the House served as the Secretary of State for Justice, he told the Home Affairs Committee that it was
“very obvious to me that it is…in our national interest to be part of”
the EU prison transfer agreement. Does she agree with that statement, as I do, and does she happen to know whether her right hon. Friend still holds that view?
My right hon. Friend has rather candidly admitted that it is more difficult to control immigration while we are a member of the EU. Does she agree that two of the reasons why we have 4,000 EU nationals in our jails are, first, that if we deport them and our EU partners do not choose to keep them in prison, they have the right to come straight back here and be free to roam our streets because they are EU citizens; and, secondly, that these people now have access to the EU charter of fundamental rights, which the Prime Minister said he wanted a complete opt-out from, but he did not get that in his renegotiation?
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been misinformed about the impact of the deportation of a foreign national offender. It is not the case that a foreign national offender who is deported to another EU country would be able immediately to come back. The point of the deportation is that they are not able to return to the UK, unless they apply to have that deportation revoked. Of course, it would be for the Government to decide whether it would be revoked.
Some of my constituents who were born in this country, who are able to serve in the armed forces of this country, and who do not hold passports in many cases—they can even be MPs—find themselves facing deportation for historical reasons because they are citizens of the Republic of Ireland. There is statute for that special arrangement. Could the Home Secretary tell the House what her views are in respect of citizens of the Irish Republic currently in British prisons?
As I understand it, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the last Labour Government and the Republic of Ireland Government, which means that we are not currently transferring prisoners between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. That is an issue that others have raised, but my understanding is that that is the current situation.
Can the Home Secretary confirm—I fear she cannot, but if she can, I for one will be delighted—that everybody entering this country from an EU destination has their passport checked not only against possible terrorist links but against whether they have a criminal record? I fear that these passports are not checked, so even if we can deport these people, they can, in reality, come straight back.
I am not sure when my hon. Friend last came into Heathrow or Gatwick, or into St Pancras through the juxtaposed controls in Brussels or France, but he will have noticed that his passport was indeed checked as he came through, as are the passports of those who are not British citizens. As I have indicated in response to a number of queries, we now have more information available at the border through being a member of SIS II. That is one of the EU arrangements on justice and home affairs matters that the Government chose to rejoin and that this Parliament unanimously agreed to rejoin.
Is the Secretary of State aware of how thankful I am for the work that she and her Department have done to educate me over recent months, as I campaigned to bring back, through extradition, people accused of foul crimes against constituents of mine in Huddersfield and other people in the UK? She educated me about how complex that is, and about how, without the European Union and the help of our fellow EU members, we would never have got those people back to face justice in this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reference to how complex some of these cases can be. That is the point. Very often there are barriers, such as lack of documentation, which need to be overcome before we are able to make these deportations. As a number of people have indicated, in the EU, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the framework under which we can deport foreign criminals from European member states.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the problem, which is of some standing and goes way back to the early part of this century, when the Labour Government faced it, is not one of law or the interpretation of legal instruments, but one of proper administration? Is there not a second problem, in that there are far too many barrack-room lawyers who keep following their own advice?
The answer is that nobody knows how long it would take to negotiate those bilateral arrangements. Of course, under the arrangements of the treaty—under article 50—two years are set aside for negotiations for a member state leaving the European Union, but that does not necessarily cover the bilateral arrangements that would need to be in place if we were outside the co-operative arrangement of which we are members in the EU. It is very uncertain how long it would take to put any such arrangements in place.
This is a shocking record to defend: 13,000 foreign national offenders—equivalent to the population of a small town—wandering around our country. We have heard all this before. The issue has been before the Public Accounts Committee, and in 2012 the Home Secretary gave me undertakings to improve the situation when I introduced my European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication) Bill under the ten-minute rule. If she wants to deal with the issue of foreign national offenders upstream, she must deal with protecting the border. On that basis, will she explain why her Department is today stonewalling on legitimate freedom of information requests about migrant incursions on the coast? Is that the case, and if so, why is she not giving that information to media and other outlets?
On the last point, I simply say to my hon. Friend that he should not always believe everything he reads in the newspapers in relation to the action that is taking place. He refers to the record and says that all 13,000 foreign national offenders are wandering the streets; I should be very clear with the House that they are not doing so. A significant number of them are serving custodial sentences and are therefore within our prison estate, and some of them, having been detained, are within our immigration detention estate, waiting for their deportation.
I am clear, as is my hon. Friend, that we need to do more in this area. That is why the Government have made a number of legislative changes to make it easier for us to deport people, and to rebalance the system in reference to article 8. We will continue to put forward changes that we think will improve our ability to deport foreign national offenders.
The Home Secretary mentioned the European arrest warrant. If we voted to leave the European Union, what would happen to the implementation of the European arrest warrant system, and would it make it more difficult or easier to get people back from other countries when we want to imprison them in this country for crimes committed here?
I think the European arrest warrant is a very useful tool for us to access as a member of the European Union. That is why, when we considered the justice and home affairs opt-in/opt-out decision, I proposed to the House that we should go back into the European arrest warrant system, and the House voted to do so unanimously. If we were not a member of the European Union, we would have to negotiate alternative arrangements, but that might not be possible with every country. For example, some member states of the European Union will not allow the extradition of their nationals to countries other than members of the European Union.
These figures were given to me by the Secretary of State in answer to a question in May. I also received an answer saying that we actually refuse entry to 20 times more non-EU applicants than EU applicants. Border controls are therefore important. That shows that the bar is much higher for non-EU countries. If border controls are so important, will she explain why we have only six boats patrolling our waters, when Italy has 600 and France has 600? Surely we should have stronger border controls in all areas.
Perhaps a prison ship might deal with the question.
Of course our border controls are important because we want to ensure, where we can, that we are able to identify those whom we do not wish to have in the United Kingdom, to make sure that they do not cross our borders and that, when we identify them in the United Kingdom, we are able to take action to deport them. As I said earlier, as part of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels, it will be easier for us in future, should we remain in the European Union, to both deport criminals from other EU countries, and ensure that they do not reach the UK in the first place.
My constituent Elsie lives with the actions of a foreign national offender each day, following the tragic murder of her son Mark at the hands of a Polish national. Does the Home Secretary agree that the tawdry tabloid treatment of this serious subject does little to address the very real problems and daily agony of people such as Elsie, and will she join me in calling for all debates on this topic to remain measured and respectful?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, which is that behind the figures we exchange across the House lie the lives of people who have been seriously affected by the impact of criminality. Such an impact occurs whatever the identity of the criminals, but there are cases such as the one to which she referred. Our hearts must go out to Elsie given the fact that, as the hon. Lady said, she lives day to day with the impact of the actions of a foreign national offender.
The number of foreign national offenders deported at the end of their sentence reflects the efficient way in which my right hon. Friend has run her Department, and she is to be congratulated on that. The difficult challenge is getting sentenced prisoners from the EU to return to their country to serve their sentence under the EU prisoner transfer framework decision, which was negotiated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) when we were at the Ministry of Justice, where I was his junior Minister, responsible for prisons. It is four years since we departed from the MOJ; how many people have actually been deported to serve their sentence in other EU countries since then?
I do not believe that I have the exact figure to hand, but I will give it to my hon. Friend. We are seeing an increase in the number of people who have been deported under the prisoner transfer decision, because it is being put in place by other member states. As I am sure he will recall from his time in the Ministry of Justice, Poland had a derogation until December 2016, so at the end of this year Poland will become a part of the prisoner transfer decision. Two countries—I believe they are the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria—are yet to implement it. There is movement, and there has been an increase in the numbers being transferred under that decision.
My constituents’ pride in giving hospitality to and assimilating newcomers for the past 150 years was put under strain last year, when a foreign national offender who was deemed too dangerous to be located in London—his home—was placed in my constituency, where he committed crimes for which he is serving a four-year sentence. Would it not be far better for public acceptance of migrants if there was a fair and even distribution of asylum seekers and other migrants throughout the country? My constituency takes 500; will the Home Secretary tell me how many there are in her constituency, and whether there are still none in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor?
I have answered that question previously, and the hon. Gentleman knows the figure. He has carefully elided the issue of prisoners with the overall issue of the dispersal system for asylum seekers, which, as has been pointed out in the House before, is exactly the same as that operated by the last Labour Government.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answers so far. Does she recognise that the Government’s failure to deport more EU murderers and rapists undermines the case for remaining in the EU, particularly when housing EU convicts in UK jails costs the taxpayer some £150 million each year? What has been done to reduce that drain on our financial resources?
At the beginning of this year, a Dutch resident entered through Gatwick airport, very swiftly assaulted a member of staff there, went before the local magistrate, and was released, without having any address, on to the streets of Crawley. Several days later, they hammer-attacked two female police officers. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the difference between the rhetoric about sharing criminal records and the reality as experienced by all too many of our constituents?
I am aware of this case, as my hon. Friend came to see me to raise it. Given the circumstances that he has set out, I can fully understand why he chose to do so, and why he has raised the case again today. He referred to criminal records exchange. The tools are there, but operational decisions will be made by those involved at any point in time. As I have indicated, the police have significantly increased the number of criminal record checks that they make, but whether and at what point they make those checks are decisions for them.