Today marks 12 months on from the Novichok attack in Salisbury. Our thoughts remain with all those affected by this appalling crime, and we remain determined to see those responsible brought to justice. I pay tribute to the people of Salisbury for the strength and resilience they have shown and for the way that the community has come together at a time of incredible challenge. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking not only those involved in the clean-up operations, but everyone who has worked so hard to support Salisbury’s recovery from this incident.
At a time when we need to show our resolve in standing up against division and hatred, I want to thank hon. and right hon. Members from across the house for their incredibly moving contributions during last week’s antisemitism debate and to everyone who supported yesterday’s “visit my mosque day”. Strong communities will be a key to success post-Brexit, and I will be making a statement to the House on the new stronger towns fund later this afternoon.
I remind colleagues that topical questions are very brief. A sentence or so is quite sufficient. We do not need a long preamble. Chris Philp, get in there, man.
Does the Secretary of State agree that promoting and encouraging home ownership is important? Recent figures on first-time buyers are, of course, encouraging, but what more can the Government do to encourage first-time buyers through starter homes and discount market homes and the prioritisation of first-time buyers over foreign speculators?
My hon. Friend has set out a number of important ideas. I certainly welcome the recent statistic showing the number of first-time buyers at a 12-year annual high. There are further measures through the national planning policy framework, which include an expectation that local authorities secure 10% of new units for affordable home ownership including discount market sales and starter homes.
No more than two sentences, I am sure—John Healey.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
One year on from the Salisbury poisoning, we stand with the people and the city, and we applaud their resilience. The other message from Labour is also clear: such foreign aggression on our soil will never be tolerated.
Four weeks to Brexit, yet the Secretary of State is part of a Government who still threaten the country with a final collapse in negotiations and a crash-out exit. He may say that a no-deal Brexit is not his preference, but he supports this remaining an option and he is part of a Cabinet preparing for it. How many fewer homes will be built each year in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman should be more positive as to the future for our country. Indeed, we look to secure a deal that can command support from this House to ensure that our country—our United Kingdom—can look proudly to the future. Rather than talking things down, we should be talking up what we can do as a country—and, yes, securing a deal that takes us out positively and that ensures that we have that bright, positive future.
Well, the Secretary of State has either not done the analysis or he refuses to share it. The Bank of England says that house prices could plunge by 30% on a no-deal Brexit—almost double the fall after the global banking crisis. A Labour Government kept Britain in business after that global financial crash with a big stimulus programme and a new low-cost house building programme as its centrepiece. If he still cannot say no to no deal, will he commit to a new stimulus of at least £4 billion for new low-cost homes next year so that, come what may, those who need new homes will not pay the price of this Government’s mess of Brexit?
That is interesting. The right hon. Gentleman might reflect on the mess that his Government caused in terms of crashing the economy. We have a £9 billion affordable homes programme, and £2 billion beyond that in terms of long-term investment in affordable homes, as well as the new flexibilities and freedoms that councils will have to borrow to build. This is about that focus on building the homes our country needs and the support that this Government are giving to achieve that.
I commend my hon. Friend for championing his constituents. I do agree that town councils can empower local communities. Southport electors can petition Sefton Council to be given their own town council through a community governance review, and I know he will lead them in doing exactly that.
A recent report from Shelter states that permitted development is a totally
“unsuitable method of solving the housing crisis”,
and a Guardian piece at the weekend gave an example of permitted development rights flat conversions that are smaller than tiny hotel rooms and have no natural light and no communal space. The Government are presiding over a new generation of slum development. When are they going to deliver the properly planned, good quality, safe and healthy homes that our country and communities desperately need?
Permitted development rights have produced 46,000 homes over the past three years. Those homes have to come from somewhere. They are not, as the hon. Lady said, slums. All permitted developments have to comply with building regulations. As she knows, we are currently reviewing building regulations to see what can be required. As part of the work on the social housing Green Paper, we may well also look at the decent home standards that could, in time, apply to the private rented sector.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She is passionate about the high streets in Millom and more widely across her constituency. The loss of the last bank is of concern. That is why we are supporting the Post Office banking framework, which will ensure that 99% of personal banking customers will be able to keep their face-to-face banking at their local post office.
Last week, the children’s sector told us that funding for children’s services has fallen by 29% in less than a decade, and councils, including my own in Stockton, have been forced to cut spending on non-statutory early interventions in half. Will the Secretary of State commit to press the Chancellor to come up with the desperately needed cash for these vital services?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of prevention and early intervention, which is why the Government have funded the troubled families programme by almost £1 billion over this Parliament. It is doing fantastic work, working with some of the most vulnerable children in our society, enabling them to stay out of care and out of harm’s way.
Last week I launched my “Towns of the future” campaign to help preserve and protect our high streets locally. What steps is the Department taking to minimise the number of empty properties on our high streets and persuade landlords to find new tenants?
The people of Morley and Outwood are extremely fortunate to have in my hon. Friend a Member of Parliament who can bring detail to retail, given her lifelong experience in the sector. I absolutely support her “Towns of the future” campaign. I am sure that she is aware of the Government’s “Open Doors” pilot, which is working with landlords and local authorities to help fill empty shops.
The week before last, the teenager Kamali Gabbidon-Lynck lost his life to multiple stab wounds. The local authority has dug deep to help with community safety, but will the Government consider a special fund for children at risk of school exclusion?
I recognise the important point that the hon. Lady makes. Indeed, the specific fund I referenced earlier, through the troubled families initiative, is focused precisely on those steps, to ensure that we can support troubled young people who might be drawn into gang crime, but I am happy to discuss with her further the specific issue she highlights in her constituency.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the visit of the Philippine ambassador to Southend this morning to explore investment opportunities and joint partnerships after we leave the European Union, during which he expressed his astonishment that Southend is not already a city?
I am not unsympathetic to my hon. Friend’s long-standing campaign to turn Southend into a city, given that it is my birthplace. I therefore welcome any initiatives that see investment in Southend, and I commend the work that he is doing.
Indeed, Southend will probably judge that it should have its very own ambassador from the Philippines—not merely an ambassador visiting Southend, but an ambassador to Southend.
I am giving the hon. Gentleman ideas, I know.
I met the leader of the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership only last week, and we discussed progress on its growth deal. We remain committed to working with it to see when progress can be made, but it is absolutely vital that the leaders of the three unitary authorities and all the Members of Parliament affected renew their commitment to the deal if we are to make progress.
I have visited the 60 houseboat owners at Chelsea Reach many times, and all of them are under threat as they do not have the same legal protections as, for example, static caravan tenants. What action could the Government take to improve the legal protection for owners of permanently moored houseboats?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question; he has been fighting for this cause through high seas and low seas, and I congratulate him on all his work. Houseboat owners are protected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. The consumer rights Green Paper published by the Government last year set out principles to further improve the rights of all consumers, including houseboat owners, and the Government’s response will be published this year.
Labour leaders of Burnley and Hyndburn Borough Councils have joined Conservative leaders of Pendle Borough Council and Lancashire County Council to raise their serious concerns about the Government’s proposal to remove deprivation as a factor when determining local authority funding. Will the Minister listen to that cross-party call for fair funding and today announce that he will drop the proposal?
As one of the Members of Parliament from east Lancashire covered by the proposal, I can say that we certainly welcome the discussions that are taking place more widely across east Lancashire. The Department has only just received the letter—despite the press release being sent out last week—and is giving it some consideration, but surely we could make more progress if every council in east Lancashire supported it.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The green belt should only be used in exceptional circumstances, after local authorities have demonstrated that they have exhausted all other options, including the use of brownfield, co-operating with their neighbours and looking at further density in their developments. We strengthened protections for the green belt in the national planning policy framework published in July 2018, and that should be a last resort.
The permanent secretary recently confirmed at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that the Government have undertaken no evaluation of the impact of permitted development rights since they were expanded in 2013. While the Minister states that more than 46,000 homes have been delivered under the policy, he can have no accurate idea of the quality of those homes. Amid increasing reports of appalling quality unsafe homes being delivered under permitted development rights, will he pause this policy so that a proper evaluation can be undertaken?
There is obviously a concerted attack taking place against permitted development rights, which I find distressing, given the sheer number of homes that they have produced for people who are desperate for those homes. As I have said, all homes, whether under permitted development rights or normal planning permission, have to comply with building regulations, and it is down to local authorities to ensure that that is the case.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should deliver more affordable homes to purchase in the form of discount market sale, which remain affordable in perpetuity?
My hon. Friend is indefatigable and has raised that issue at every opportunity when I have been at the Dispatch Box. He is right that, as part of our affordable homes programme, we would like to see more discount market sales, particularly to younger people across the country. I urge local authorities, which we hope are bringing forward authoritative and forward-looking plans, to embrace that type of tenure.
The number of homeless families in Coventry has more than tripled over the last three years, while the number of homeless children has increased eightfold in the last five years, with more than 600 children spending Christmas in temporary accommodation. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless families and children has increased so significantly under this Government?
The factors that lie behind this are complex, but I can assure the hon. Lady of our absolute commitment to deal with the challenges of rough sleeping and homelessness through the £1.2 billion that we have committed, as well as the initiatives announced at the end of last week on opening up the private rental sector to deal with temporary accommodation pressures. I can assure her of our resolution to increase supply, prevent homelessness and deal with some of the challenges we see today.