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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 4:54 pm, 16th October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Ronnie Cowan, who made a good case for his constituency and for Scotland as a whole.

The Gracious Speech has released a whole series of opportunities for the country and for my constituents in the post-Brexit world that I look forward to. I will touch on a couple of those important aspects. On the Bill on voter ID, the reality is that there have been allegations of impersonation in a large number of constituencies up and down the country. The proposal will end those challenges and end the way that the electorate have been fooled in certain places. When I was elected in 2010, a series of people came to me to say that they were recorded as having voted but they could not have done because they were in India at the time. We have to take this matter seriously.

On health, I have the honour of representing the seat that contains the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. For 30 years before I was elected, it was promised that it would be redeveloped. I am delighted that we now have the first phase of redevelopment. In coming years, I look forward to the further phases of redevelopment and to advancing the case for our hospital to receive the money from the Government as we move forward.

I note that the Gracious Speech did not mention the prevention strategy on health-related matters, for which the consultation ended on Monday. I am looking forward to the Government making further proposals for smoking cessation and to assist people to live longer and healthier lives. I also look forward to the eventual release of the adult social care Green Paper, so there can be an end to that challenge across the piece.

On education funding, I ask the Secretary of State for Education to look at how schools receive per pupil funding. It is often a year after the count is done that they get the increased funding as a result of an increase in the number of pupils on the register. That means that a school is required to employ more teachers and more staff, but does not get the funding until a year later. That has a big effect in my constituency, where a large number of people come to the country for a short period; they bring their children into school but then move on.

One area that is unfortunately not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but is desperately important across the country, is housing. We have a desperate need for a proper social housing programme to build housing units that people can afford to live in. Given what I did on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to assist people who are threatened with being homeless through no fault of their own, I am rather angry that we still have the challenge of local authorities not being able to provide homes for those people to actually live in. We have rightly put the responsibility on local authorities to assist people who are homeless, but we must ensure that there are homes for them.

A huge number of consultations conducted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government over the years have never been brought to fruition. It is about time that some of them came forward. One such area, leasehold reform, was mentioned earlier. This is a Parliament with a minority Government, where there needs to be support from across the House. There is clearly strong support for leasehold reform, so the Government could bring it forward and get it on the statute book—albeit with revisions, as appropriate—on an all-party basis. I was party to a Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report that recommended a series of measures that could be quickly legislated for.

As the 2017 Act has been in operation for some time, by next March we will have full figures on what local authorities have done. We put the provision in the Act that, if local authorities do not abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law, the Secretary of State can introduce a statutory code by which local authorities will have to operate. I think we may have to implement that.

The use of public land is another issue that I will address in the brief time available. We have to move away from the position whereby we sell public land to the highest bidder, get overpriced housing developed, charge exorbitant rents or exorbitant prices, and then pay housing benefit to subsidise that housing when people cannot afford them. That has to end. We have to get to a position where we take the cost of land out of housing development, and then charge rents and property prices that are affordable, to ensure that people have the dignity of being able to fund their own housing costs. That would save the Treasury a great deal of money and needs to be brought forward. I think we need a comprehensive housing Bill so that many such proposals can be introduced for the benefit of this country.