I am delighted to have been appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I cannot wait to get on with the job, and particularly to deliver the huge number of houses that are so vitally needed across the UK. It is a great Department that will affect many lives. I also thank the previous Secretary of State and his Ministers for doing such a fantastic job. They will be a hard act to follow.
I welcome my broad-shouldered colleagues to their front-row positions. Given the Labour city council’s decision in Lincoln last Thursday deliberately to hide from my constituents and taxpayers, and the local media, the true cost of rebuilding the White bridge in Hartsholme park, what is my right hon. Friend’s view of councils who misuse the rules on exempt information because they do not want to be held accountable for their incompetence?
My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about that issue. All councils have an obligation to disclose information unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. If he feels that the rules have been improperly applied, I recommend that he complains to the City of Lincoln Council, and if that does not work to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If that does work, he should come to me.
I, too, welcome the new Ministers, and particularly the new Housing Minister. We were both elected in 2010, we are both London MPs, and we have probably both seen our postbag grow with the housing crisis in London.
Last week the National Audit Office reported on the Government’s progress in selling public land for 160,000 new homes. Will the Minister confirm that although the aim was to achieve £5 billion of land and property sales this Parliament, one year in, the Government have delivered only £72 million-worth of sales?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words. I will write to her with the detailed figures, but I and the Secretary of State are committed to doing everything in our power to drive up the number of homes built in this country, and she is right to say that the release of public land is a key element of that programme.
I thank the Minister for his response; perhaps he will want to write to me about the following question as well. The Department’s forecast shows that to meet the commitment to sell land for more than 160,000 homes, the Government will need to dispose of five times as much land as they did last year. The National Audit Office says that there is no mechanism to monitor the number of houses built. Given those concerns, is the Minister confident that he will meet his target, or will he revise it?
We are absolutely determined to work with other Government Departments to ensure we maximise the amount of surplus public land we dispose of. As has been very clear in these discussions, there is a consensus across the House that we need to do everything we can to increase the number of homes being built.
In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his new position, may I seek his confirmation that he will support district councils that wish to retain their independence and status in two-tier local authorities?
My local authority measures the delivery of new social housing by issue of completion certificates. The Secretary of State’s Department does it by site starts. Given that it is impossible for a site start to equate to a physical replacement, does the Secretary of State agree that the like-for-like replacement statistics to date are one big con?
No, I do not accept that. The core of the Government’s policy is that, as we dispose of housing through the right-to-buy mechanism, replacement of housing is key. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to address the particular concerns he raises, but that is the existing policy.
Given the Secretary of State’s family connections in the west of England, he will be aware that it negotiated a unique devolution deal with his predecessor. Will he confirm that that devolution deal, which will bring much-needed funding to the west of England, will still go ahead?
I know my hon. Friend had some involvement in the deal, helping to achieve a consensus with local leaders. The west of England devolution agreement will see a new directly elected mayor and combined authority receive new powers to better manage transport across the area, linking new homes and people to the jobs and opportunities that we as a Government support with £900 million of significant new investment. The Government continue to work with local leaders to put in place the governance to deliver on the deal. I and my officials will continue to work to ensure that the Government deliver.
The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), refused to confirm that the £157 million of EU structural funds for the potteries will be matched by the Government, so can I try his boss? Will the EU regeneration funds be matched by the Government, or have the Brexiters sold north Staffordshire down the river?
First, the hon. Gentleman should just accept that Brexit means Brexit. The focus of the whole House should be on how best to deliver that. On EU funds, that is a fair question and a number of hon. Members have asked about that today. We need to reduce uncertainty. Now that the new Government are in place, we will certainly be working on this as an absolute priority.
The Minister will be aware that some people who provide social care are booked to do just a few minutes at each job and spend much of the day travelling at their own expense. This does not breach minimum wage legislation, but does the Minister agree that it is none the less wrong and that we should try to address it?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The law is very clear: workers who are travelling as part of their work should be paid at least the minimum wage. If that is not happening, it should be reported. If my hon. Friend is aware of abuses, he should certainly do that immediately.
By 2020, Wales is expected to have received £1.9 billion from the European Structural and Investment Fund. In the light of Brexit, will the Secretary of State ensure that Wales will receive this funding to 2020? Will he pledge that the Government will continue to match European funding after we leave the EU?
The right hon. Lady asks a very fair question. A number of firms and local regions have been asking just that. That is why, as I said earlier, this is an absolute priority now for the Government to make clear.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her warm words. The green belt is absolutely sacrosanct. We have made that clear: it was in the Conservative party manifesto and that will not change. The green belt remains special. Unless there are very exceptional circumstances, we should not be carrying out any development on it.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I have just started looking at this case, and he will understand that I cannot say too much publicly at this point, but it is being taken very seriously.
Order. I am sorry but we must move on. We have a very heavily subscribed set of exchanges today.