Proposed British Jewish History Month

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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The motion that has been so ably put before the House today poses the question of the potential merits of a Jewish history month. Potential merits? We have already heard some wonderful stories. This is not about merit; this is a necessity. We must have such a thing so that we can promote learning, as the Father of the House said, as well as understanding and historical knowledge, because it is through an understanding of the historic place that the wonderful contribution many Jewish citizens have made across these islands that we will ensure that the hatred and antisemitic attitudes that have prevailed too often will be done away with. So I commend the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for moving this motion, and I say, “Yes, absolutely; we must have such a month.”

The Holocaust Educational Trust, which has been cited by Members already, has demonstrated how necessary historical knowledge of the torture and persecution of the holocaust is for the children of today. Taking forward that lesson, let us therefore apply it in this way.

Many people today have proudly boasted of the great contribution that Jewish people have made, and not only in their own lives and those of their own constituencies, but across this country. The President of Israel is Isaac Herzog, who I think previously held three ministerial posts. His father, Chaim Herzog, who was the sixth President before him, was born in Cliftonville Avenue in Belfast. His father, Rabbi Herzog, who lived in Dublin, was known, believe it or not, as the Sinn Féin rabbi because he was so in favour of the new Dáil Éireann that had been created, and he was recognised as such.

It hurts my heart today to see the horrible attitude that some people—I just say some people—from a republican background now have towards the Jewish people and towards the state of Israel. So strong was the history of the Jewish tradition within the history of the Irish that some of the founding fathers of the Israeli state actually hailed from Ireland, both north and south, and they have made a wonderful contribution.

Indeed, in our own history, in our great shipbuilding heritage of Harland and Wolff, guess who Mr Wolff was. He was a prominent Jewish politician from Belfast, and he made a wonderful contribution. He was a close friend of Sir Otto Jaffe, a leading politician and twice Lord Mayor of Belfast. He was also president of the Belfast Hebrew congregation, and he served our country so well.

Let us embrace that remarkable history. Rather than hiding it under a bushel, we must let it shine, so that people can understand that the rich tapestry of the Christian, the Hebrew and the Arabic heritage that pertains on these islands is strong and must be encouraged for all to see, so that we can understand our future.

Draft Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, Recall Petitions and Referendums (Ballot Secrecy, Candidates and Undue Influence) Regulations 2023 Draft Representation of the People (Franchise Amendment and Eligibility Review) Regulations 2023 Draft Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 Draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2023 Draft Representation of the People and recall Petition (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Tuesday 12th September 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

General Committees
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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That is a valid question. The hon. Gentleman will recall that there have been multiple parliamentary debates in both Chambers on the principles of the Elections Act. That Act was passed by both Houses and we are now implementing these detailed proposals. I refer him to those debates for much more information than I am able to provide in this narrowly focused Committee.

The regulations also introduce an identity check at the point of application or reapplication for a postal or proxy vote, mirroring similar checks that are already in place in Northern Ireland. The elector will be required to provide their national insurance number, which will be checked against Department for Work and Pensions data. Where the elector cannot provide that information, they will need to give a reason as part of the application. Where an individual does not have a national insurance number, the electoral registration officer may request other specified documentary evidence or an attestation to demonstrate their identity.

In addition, we are committed to ensuring that our elections are modern and accessible by creating a new digital route for electors in Great Britain to apply online to vote by post or by proxy. The new digital system will remove the reliance on cumbersome paper-based processes and will operate similarly to the register to vote service, passing absent vote applications on to the relevant electoral registration officers for processing. The revisions of postal and proxy rules will apply to all elections reserved to the UK Government in Great Britain, as will the online application service.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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We already have this digital process in Northern Ireland, as the Minister knows. It is very good, but there is an issue; when someone loses their digital number, it is not like resetting a lost password on a computer—the person actually has to make contact with the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland and it can take days before that digital number is returned to them. Is there any way of speeding up that process or enabling instantaneous access to a digital number, given that if it is the day before the election, that person essentially loses their vote?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I thank hon. Gentleman for raising that very relevant point. Of course, all of us in this place are deeply concerned with those practicalities of voting. We have all been knocking on doors and have all experienced glitches in systems, which is why we are making improvements. I am sure that he will be aware that I am not normally the Minister leading on this policy area. I am standing in for the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who is unfortunately not well today, but I am happy to pass that request to her to see whether she can continue to work with him and the devolved Administration to tackle some of the problems that he has rightly raised.

The proxy voting rules will also apply in Northern Ireland and the digital service will be introduced in Northern Ireland at a later time. Two of the instruments that I bring before the Committee—the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2023 and the draft Representation of the People and Recall Petition (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023—make provisions that are specific to Northern Ireland elections. It is necessary to split the provisions into two instruments, as Northern Ireland local elections changes must be made by a separate Order in Council. In addition to implementing the proxy voting limit to a maximum of four people, and a number of smaller measures to ensure consistency across elections and recall petitions, the two statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland also make two Northern Ireland specific changes.

The Elections Act places a duty on the chief electoral officer to provide dates of birth lists to polling stations in Northern Ireland for the purposes of checking a voter’s or proxy’s exact date of birth in specific circumstances. These instruments ensure the protection of the sensitive personal information that the lists contain, so that only the police and the courts may access them. In a further Northern Ireland specific measure, the existing provisions allowing retention of entries on the Northern Ireland register following a canvass is being extended. This will avoid a cliff-edge loss of electors from the register. Data checking has given the chief electoral officer a high degree of confidence that the voters concerned are entitled to remain on the register, and the Electoral Commission is supportive of extending the period of retention.

I turn to the EU voting and candidacy rights instrument, the draft Representation of the People (Franchise Amendment and Eligibility Review) Regulations 2023. The Elections Act amended the franchise to reflect the UK’s new relationship with the EU and protect the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries, and this moved us to the principle of a mutual granting of rights through agreements with individual EU member states. Qualifying EU citizens from EU member states that have bilateral agreements with the UK will have the right to vote and stand in relevant elections.

We also preserve the existing rights of all EU citizens who choose to make the UK their home prior to the end of the implementation period. As such, EU citizens with retained rights will continue to have the right to vote and stand. [Interruption.] I would like to add for the record that it is good to welcome the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Vauxhall to her place. I know she has missed my opening remarks, but she can refer to Hansard to see what has been read into the record. The long-standing voting rights of Irish citizens remain unchanged. Likewise, the voting rights of Maltese and Cypriot citizens, as Commonwealth citizens, are not affected by these changes.

On ongoing registration, this instrument provides for a new registration process for EU citizens, which includes clear information about the new eligibility criteria for electors. Persons applying under the retained rights criteria will have to make a legal declaration that they have been legally resident in the UK since the end of the implementation period. Registration officers will be able to accept that declaration as sufficient evidence of eligibility, or if they deem it necessary, they will be able to require further information and evidence from the individual to make a determination.

Electoral registration officers have a legal duty to ensure that the electoral register remains accurate, so the instrument requires them to conduct a one-time review to determine the eligibility of all registered EU citizens. The bespoke eligibility review process is designed to be fair and transparent for review subjects, and to minimise burdens on registration officers. As far as possible, it has been based on, and benchmarked against, existing practice and processes.

Initially, registration officers will use data already available to them to confirm an elector’s continued eligibility without the need for an elector to take any action. Where a registration officer is unable to confirm eligibility using existing data, the instrument requires them to contact the elector to request the information necessary to determine eligibility. In the event of no response, a registration officer must make at least three attempts to contact the elector in writing and at least one attempt to contact the elector in person before they may determine them to be ineligible. All those reviewed will be notified of the franchise change and the review outcome, with the contents of all review communications prescribed for consistency.

Where a person is deemed ineligible and removed from the register on the basis of non-response, they will be invited to reapply if they believe they are eligible to do so. We anticipate that the end-to-end review process will take up to three months to complete. Registration officers will have a nine-month implementation window, from 7 May 2024 to 31 January 2025, to undertake the one-time review. The SI requires registration officers to report on the operation of the review process to the Electoral Commission upon completion.

The instrument will apply only to polls that are reserved to the UK Government. That includes UK parliamentary elections, all local elections in England, and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. A separate instrument will apply the franchise changes to Northern Ireland elections, and that was laid in the House on 4 September.

I turn to the draft Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, Recall Petitions and Referendums (Ballot Secrecy, Candidates and Undue Influence) Regulations 2023. This instrument is largely technical in nature and updates the relevant electoral conduct rules to implement measures in the Elections Act 2022 and the Ballot Secrecy Act 2023.

The Elections Act updated the existing offence of undue influence for reserved elections and referendums, including UK parliamentary and local government elections, and all elections in Northern Ireland. The revised offence better protects voters from improper influences to vote in a particular way, or to not vote at all. It also provides clearer legal drafting to assist authorities in enforcing the offence. The purpose of the regulations is to apply the updated offence to police and crime commissioner elections, recall petitions, local authority referendums and neighbourhood planning referendums.

Political intimidation and abuse have no place in our society, which is why part 5 of the Elections Act introduced a new disqualification order aimed at offenders who intimidate those who participate in public life. The order introduces a five-year ban on standing for or holding public office. The Elections Act also extended the powers of returning officers to hold a nomination paper invalid where a candidate is disqualified under the new order, and requires candidates to declare that they are not disqualified under the order. The changes applied to Northern Ireland, local and UK parliamentary elections.

The Act also amended the relevant vacancy rules, including for UK parliamentary elections, to reflect the timing of vacancies occurring as a result of the new order and to ensure that those disqualified vacate office. The SI replicates the changes for nomination for police and crime commissioner elections as well as local and combined authority mayoral elections, and updates the vacancy rules for combined authority mayors.

In addition, the Elections Act introduced a new measure to permit greater flexibility in the use of commonly used names by candidates on nomination and ballot papers. The change means that candidates can use their middle name as a commonly used name and amends the existing rules for UK parliamentary elections, elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections in Northern Ireland. The instrument makes the same change to the conduct rules for local and combined authority mayoral elections in England, and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. It also amends the nomination paper completed by candidates at those polls to reflect the new provisions.

I now turn to the provisions concerning the Ballot Secrecy Act 2023; I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow)—I had thought he was behind me, but in fact he is not in the room—for his work on this important new measure. The 2023 Act introduced two new offences: the first, for a person to be with another person at a polling booth; and the second, for a person to be near a polling booth while another person is at that booth—with the intention, in both cases, of influencing that other person to vote in a particular way or to refrain from voting. The Act, which applies to UK parliamentary elections and local elections in England, as well as elections in Northern Ireland, aims to provide polling station staff with a firmer basis on which to challenge suspected inappropriate behaviour in polling stations.

The provisions complete the implementation of the Act by extending the new offence to police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales, MP recall petitions across the UK, and local government, council tax and neighbourhood planning referendums in England. I hope that, in setting out the details of these three statutory instruments, I have enabled the Committee to appreciate their careful and considered design. I commend them to the Committee.

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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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Protecting the democratic framework of our country is essential, so these are welcome measures. I am delighted that the both the Government and the Opposition recognise the importance of tightening up the regulations to protect the integrity of the electoral system.

I notice that there is a reliance on data protection in the Northern Ireland measures. Obviously, that has been brought to the fore in recent weeks by the massive data leaks that we have had in Northern Ireland. I am sure it will come as a shock to the Committee that the advice being given to police officers in Northern Ireland and to general staff who work in police offices includes that the best way to protect their identity is to remove themselves from the electoral register. That is appalling. We have to do some work to ensure that people know that they can register to vote and have their name removed from the publication of the register so that they are protected. Advising people that they should remove themselves totally from the electoral register is really worrying in this day and age. They should not be encouraged to do that; they should be encouraged to stay on the electoral register and exercise their democratic franchise as they so choose.

At the last general election—I made this point to the Minister earlier—thousands of people were denied a vote because of problems with digital registration, and that needs to be sorted out. It is not an avalanche of a problem, but we have identified where the problem rests and it should be fixed. We have made representations to the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland about the confusion and lack of awareness caused by the digital registration number process, and have made representations to the commission and to that office regarding the high numbers of those refused postal applications due to missing DRNs or digital registration numbers for the past couple of elections. People lose passwords; it is a natural thing. Maybe they are only voting once every five years, and do not realise how important it is to protect and keep that DRN safe for future elections. We have asked the Electoral Commission to make that number more readily and easily available to a registered person if they do happen to lose it, as losing that number should not be allowed to stand in the way of them exercising their democratic right.

Generally, we welcome the tightening up of the regulations. I am sorry that there is nothing in them regarding an electoral identity card. I know that parties here oppose that, but it was imposed in Northern Ireland by the last Labour Government, and it is an excellent system. Having an electoral identity card allows people immediate access to their vote and parties here should genuinely consider such provision at a future time.

New Housing Supply

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Monday 5th June 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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It is good to follow the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse); I think I agreed with everything he said. I will focus my brief comments on public housing supply across Northern Ireland. We have a chronic under-supply of homes across the country. In terms of public supply, I believe that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive remains the largest public housing organisation not just in the United Kingdom but in Europe. By and large, it does a fabulous job in very difficult circumstances. It used to be the organisation that managed some of the largest housing estates across Europe. Many of those estates were sold off, and some were bulldozed because they were not effective or efficient. The impact resulting from those decisions is that we do not have a good supply of public housing.

Unlike other public housing authorities, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has a statutory duty to meet need for the homeless when they present as homeless. This is difficult enough in normal UK housing circumstances, but in Northern Ireland community tensions flare up from time to time, which puts additional pressures on public bodies, not least the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. For example, last year we had a feud between certain sections of the community, and that internecine dispute between rival groups and organisations impacted on people’s lives. Threats were levelled at people, and people were put out of their homes. The crisis became a real problem going into a particular weekend during the year. On that crisis weekend, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive had on its books five properties across the whole of Northern Ireland that it would have been able to give people if they presented as homeless. It is little wonder that we have a housing accommodation emergency in Northern Ireland. Those five properties were for the entirety of Northern Ireland, not just for dealing with that particular one-off situation of the feud. Those properties were all that was available to deal with all the other problems relating to the lack of housing supply.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has to deal with other routine housing need. Levels of homelessness are hidden from sight, more in Northern Ireland than anywhere else. Indeed, post pandemic, the levels of homelessness have been exposed. The opportunity to sofa-surf at a relative or friend’s house is no longer available. However, the number of properties available is nowhere near the level necessary to meet the need, despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is still the largest provider of public housing.

The figures are significant. The demand for temporary accommodation—a marker of homelessness—soared from a pre-pandemic level of 3,000 placements in Northern Ireland in 2019 to 9,000 placements last year. This week, I got new figures from the Housing Executive to suggest that we will probably exceed the 10,000 mark this year. Those are the most up-to-date figures that the Housing Executive has presented to me in recent days. As an elected official for more than 26 years, I have worked very closely with the Housing Executive. It is an amazing organisation that is staffed by great people who care, but they are struggling to meet very intense need, which must be addressed by a new strategy.

The Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area is not coterminous with all my North Antrim constituency, but it gives a sample of what the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is up against. From November 2022 to January 2023, 438 people presented as homeless and 252 of them were offered temporary accommodation. The rest could not be facilitated. That is approximately three families a day presenting in one part of my constituency and the biggest public housing provider does not have stock available. This is not sustainable and radical action is required to fix it.

Across Northern Ireland, households stay in temporary accommodation for up to 32 weeks on average. Thankfully, the average is lower in the Mid and East Antrim area, at about 16 weeks—it is about 14 weeks in the Causeway Coast and Glens area—but it is still a massive problem. There is so much reliance on private landlords, who are themselves working in a squeezed marketplace.

Migration and immigration have had a knock-on impact on Northern Ireland’s housing need, too. Northern Ireland is pulling its weight with both refugees and migrants, doing proportionately more than some parts of Scotland, but the impact on the availability of housing and temporary accommodation has been challenging.

Hostels and hotels have now become a Home Office policy, and they are regularly filled by long-term contracts for migrants and refugees. They are not available to meet indigenous housing and homeless need. A number of hotels in the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council area are now full-time occupied, so their availability for urgent temporary accommodation has gone.

I would like the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to be given power to assist in two ways. First, I would like it to be permitted to buy back stock and to add to its asset base, including by being permitted to buy no-longer-used nursing homes, hotels and other such facilities to start to address the 10,000 people who require homes. Secondly, I would like it to be able to borrow money and engage the market, instead of having to fight in a buoyant housing market with one hand tied behind its back while housing associations are not restricted in the same way. Allowing the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to borrow money would enable it to compete on a fair basis.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive invests hundreds of millions of pounds in housing stock each year, and it is regularly the choice of tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who want a happy, settled, good-standard home, but in the modern era it must be able to invest to improve and compete.

At the end of this debate, I do not expect the Minister to be able to address all these issues. I respect her greatly, and I know I will not hear any platitudes from her about how this is best addressed through the Northern Ireland Office or how this would all be sorted out if we just got the Government sorted out in Northern Ireland. None of the issues I have raised requires a Northern Ireland Government to be in place; they require the housing sector to be liberated to do the things I have asked. I encourage the Minister to speak to her Cabinet colleagues and to encourage our Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to push for these issues to be addressed, to allow the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to borrow money and to buy back housing stock, otherwise the housing crisis in Northern Ireland will deepen.

Future of Social Housing

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Wednesday 19th April 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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Can hon. Members remain standing so that I can see who wishes to speak? I do not want to put a time limit on Members, but if they can keep in mind a maximum of three and a half minutes when they make their speeches, it will give everyone an opportunity to speak. This is a very well-subscribed debate, and I know Members have important things that they wish to say.

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Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on securing this debate. We have heard fantastic, powerful speeches, particularly from Labour Members. I add my voice to say that the UK faces a severe housing crisis.

As the Member of Parliament for Luton South, I find that housing is the most common issue that local residents contact me about. High rents, poor quality housing and low rental stock mean that many Luton residents struggle to access affordable, safe, healthy and secure housing. Luton council has over 8,000 families on its housing waiting list, many with complex and multiple needs, and over 1,000 families in temporary accommodation. That is completely unsustainable and getting worse with the increase in section 21 no-fault evictions in Luton. Alongside low pay, rents in Luton are high mainly because of the town’s proximity to London, and the average house price is £289,000. That is 10 times the average wage in Luton, so owning their own home is a pipe dream for many.

We can see that the Government do not recognise the importance of a good affordable home. Around 2 million private renting households—about 38% of the total of those in the private rented sector—receive housing costs support through either universal credit or housing benefit. Yet the Government have chosen to freeze local housing allowance rates at the same time as rent inflation continues and new cost of living pressures have emerged. In Luton, Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that there is now a £100 deficit in the local housing allowance rate in comparison with the lowest rents in the area. That does not acknowledge the types of properties that people need, as high demand for family homes means that the average rent for larger homes continues to grow.

In Luton, all homeless applications are placed in band 2 on the choice-based letting system. For a three-bedroom property, which is where the high demand is, the likely wait time is four to five years. That is four to five years of bringing up children in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation. Without action, it will get worse over the coming years. The Government’s decision making is forcing people in Luton South and across the country into poverty.

I am proud that the Labour party has committed to be the first Government in a generation to restore social housing, including council housing, to the second largest form of tenure. The next Labour Government will rebuild our social housing stock and bring homes back into the ownership of local councils and communities. Home ownership will be opened up to millions more. For those in private renting, we will put into law a new renters charter and a new decent homes standard. Unlike the Tories, we know that housing is not a market, but a fundamental human right. The title of this debate is “Future of Social Housing”, but, as so many have said today, the future is social housing; the future is council housing.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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Before I call the SNP spokesperson, I thank colleagues for self-disciplining themselves brilliantly and making sure that we got to this point without my having to call anyone to order. I call the SNP spokesperson, Chris Stephens.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I noted that your friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), exercised self-discipline, which is not always the case.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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It is because I am in the Chair.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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I noticed your strict chairing, Mr Paisley, but it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I thank my good friend, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), for opening the debate. He said a number of things that resonated with me; in fact, I got flashbacks when he talked about the challenges in the private rented sector. To this day, I remember the exchange I had with the landlord associations in the Work and Pensions Committee. They told me there was no such thing as “No DSS” and no adverts put out that said it, and then I managed to find one that said, “No DSS. Small dogs considered.” I am still waiting on an answer to the vital question in that exchange: did the small dog have to provide proof of income to get a property? Colleagues raising these types of debates, and the work of the Select Committee system, ensured that that particular policy was put in the bin.

The hon. Gentleman talked at great length about the very real need for social housing. I will touch on that, but not only is there a need for social housing; we need to acknowledge the support provided by social housing providers to their tenants on a daily basis. They must provide those wraparound services because of the effects of Government policy and a broken social security system, such as the challenges people face getting pension credit or disability benefit, or getting deductions at the very start of a universal credit claim, and all the other problems that social housing providers have to support their tenants with.

A number of colleagues have talked at length about the level of rents. With that comes food price inflation—currently at 18.2%. I thank the Linthouse housing association for providing the Linthouse larder, along with Good Food Scotland and Feeding Britain; Southside housing association for opening the Cardonald larder; and the Wheatley Group, which has opened the Threehills larder in Glasgow South West. These Glasgow housing associations have a vision of ensuring that there is affordable food for their tenants right across the great city of Glasgow. What is the benefit of that? It has been calculated that someone who uses an affordable larder saves £20 a week on their weekly shop. That goes a long way to help tenants to not only afford their rent, but buy other things, and it helps them with this Tory-made cost of living crisis.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government are leading the way in the delivery of affordable housing across the UK. They have delivered 115,558 affordable homes since 2007, over 81,000 of which were for social rents; that includes 20,520 council homes. The Scottish Government are working intensively with social landlords to develop an agreement on a below-inflation rent increase for the next financial year.

The Scottish Government are also committed to tackling disrepair in housing, which many colleagues have talked about, by driving a culture in which good maintenance is a high priority. Social landlords in Scotland are already required by law to meet the tolerable standard, which forms part of the Scottish housing quality standard. That requires housing to be substantially free from rising or penetrating damp. Compliance is monitored annually by the Scottish housing regulator.

One of the challenges we face in Glasgow South West is that housing provision for asylum seekers does not often meet the Scottish housing quality standard. The Home Office has argued that there is no need for asylum accommodation to meet the Scottish housing quality standard. I must say, I find that a disgrace, but I am sure Glasgow is not the only asylum dispersal area where we find that housing standards for those seeking sanctuary in the UK do not meet basic standards.

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Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.

I start by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on securing this incredibly important debate and on the compelling remarks he made to open it. His personal commitment to tackling the housing crisis in all its manifestations is second to none. He made a passionate case today for doing what is necessary both to tackle the present chronic undersupply of genuinely affordable social homes and to drive up standards in those that already exist. I thank all the other hon. Members who have contributed this afternoon in an extremely powerful set of speeches, particularly those of Labour Members, who really brought home the human cost of the neglect in recent years.

A wide range of issues has been raised in the debate this afternoon, but the vast majority of them have related either to the pressing need to build more social homes or to the equally pressing need to ensure that our existing social housing stock is well managed and of good quality. I will seek to address each issue in turn, starting with supply.

It is beyond dispute that England’s social housing deficit is now immense. Over 1.2 million households are now on local authority waiting lists, and that number is almost certainly a significant underestimate of the number of families for whom social housing would be an appropriate tenure if it were available. The point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) that because successive Governments have failed to build enough social homes, millions of families are trapped in overcrowded or unsuitable properties, an increasing number of low-income households have been forced into insecure, unaffordable and often substandard private rented housing, and the number of households in temporary accommodation has rocketed from 48,000 in 2010 to 99,000 in 2022.

The cost of this tenure shift has been borne not only by those trapped in inappropriate housing, who are often at risk of homelessness, but by the state in the form of a rapidly rising housing benefit bill, which now stands at a colossal £23.4 billion per year. That sum amounts to more than the total running costs of several Government Departments, yet when it comes to social housing supply, the record of successive Conservative-led Governments since 2010 has been nothing short of woeful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale mentioned, the Department’s own data makes it clear that just 7,528 social homes were built last year. At the same time, 21,638 were either sold or demolished. That is a net loss of 14,110 genuinely affordable homes when we know that we need to build around 90,000 a year if we are ever to meet housing need.

That meagre 2021-22 output figure is not an aberration. By means of slashed grant funding, the introduction of the so-called affordable rent tenure, increased right-to-buy discounts and numerous other policy interventions, Conservative-led Governments have actively engineered the decline of social housing over the past 13 years, presiding over an average net loss of 13,000 social homes in each and every one of them. For all that the present Secretary of State waxes lyrical about the need to build more social homes, the steps that the Government are actually taking—namely, slightly tilting the balance of affordable homes programme spending towards social rent and providing local authorities with some additional flexibilities around the use of right-to-buy receipts—are not only too little, too late but undermined by other measures that Ministers are committed to enacting; not least, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the introduction of a new infrastructure levy that will almost certainly deliver less affordable housing overall than is provided through the present developer contribution system. Labour is the only party seriously committed to a marked increase in social house building. We will set out plans ahead of the general election that will make clear the level of our ambition and how we intend to meet it.

Given the chronic shortage of social homes across England and the corresponding lack of choice available to tenants, it is critical that what social housing stock remains is of decent standard, yet we know that the lives of far too many social housing tenants are blighted by poor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions. The shared recognition across these benches of that fact and the consequential need for the Government to act—[Interruption.]

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. There is a vote in the other Chamber, and there will be at least two votes, possibly three. Hopefully, we will be back here at about a quarter past the hour to complete the debate.

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On resuming
Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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I thank colleagues for making their way back so promptly; that is very helpful. I call the Opposition spokesperson—you have six minutes, or thereabouts.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Paisley. As I was saying, the shared recognition that exists across these Benches of the fact that the lives of far too many social housing tenants are blighted by poor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and of the consequential need for the Government to act, enabled the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to complete its Commons stages in short order.

However, when it comes to ensuring that standards in social housing improve markedly and rapidly, the Bill is not a panacea. The onus to drive reform is, of course, ultimately on the sector itself, and the steps being taken following the publication of the “Better Social Housing” review are a welcome sign that it may be doing just that. However, the Government are ultimately responsible for the state of social housing in England and, subsequent to the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent, the Government will still have a significant role to play in assisting social landlords to improve their stock and tackle the underlying causes of problems such as damp, mould and leaks.

The problem is that political choices made by successive Conservative-led Governments have piled significant financial pressure on to social landlords. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) argued earlier, the cumulative impact of having to build new, affordable homes despite swingeing grant funding reductions; the four-year 1% rent cut imposed between 2016 and 2020; the fact that the shortfall arising from this year’s 7% rent cut is unfunded; and the long-term challenges posed by decarbonisation and building safety in the absence of adequate Government support cannot be overstated.

Social landlords who wish to improve their existing stock face a monumental challenge. We need a Government who at least recognise that situation and are willing to explore what more is required from them, not least in funding and financing mechanisms to support social landlords to upgrade their stock, yet we see no signs that the present Government are giving the issue the attention it deserves. It is therefore likely to be yet another task that will fall to the next Labour Government.

The historical and ongoing failure to build enough social rented homes has seen growing numbers of families trapped in overcrowded, unsuitable, insecure or unaffordable properties. Those families suffer in terms of diminished health, wellbeing and life chances, and the state also pays in the form of an eye-watering and ever-rising housing benefit bill. Social housing is at the heart of the solution to the housing crisis, and the Labour party is committed to its renewal and rebirth through a substantial programme of social house building and further measures to drive up standards in our existing stock.

When it comes to social homes, “more” and “better” must be our watchwords. It is high time we had a Government who do not just pay lip service to the importance of social housing, but are wholeheartedly committed to providing decent, safe, secure and genuinely affordable homes for all who need them.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I call the Minister—our third Rachel of the day.

Rachel Maclean Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Rachel Maclean)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to serve under you, Mr Paisley. Before I start, may I seek your guidance? How much time do we have for the debate?

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

You have 10 minutes, Minister; we probably have another 12 minutes left.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you—I will crack on, then. I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for today’s really important debate. It is a pleasure to be here and to respond for the very first time on this particular issue in this Chamber.

The hon. Member powerfully articulated the case for building more social homes not just in his constituency, but across the country—that is reflected in the Members here. It goes without saying that that is an objective we all very much share. I will be responding to the comments made by Members, both in the course of my speech and at the end, and I thank every Member for making powerful contributions.

I start by reaffirming the unshakeable commitment of the Government to driving up both the quality and quantity of this nation’s social housing stock. It is a core tenet of our levelling-up agenda, and that has been reflected in recent years, starting with our affordable homes programme. The Government have been clear that they are entirely committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing in the country. That is why we launched the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme in 2020, with a commitment to deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes for both sale and rent.

At this point, I would like to say a bit about the social rent component of our affordable homes programme. We recognise how vital these homes are to building and maintaining thriving communities, and I was particularly struck by the very fluent remarks of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on this point; she really brought it to life and I thank her for doing so.

I know that every hon. Member will agree that homes for social rent are a fundamental part of our housing stock—a lifeline for those who would struggle to obtain a home at market rates. It was absolutely right for us to bring social rent homes into the scope of the affordable homes programme, as the Government did in 2018. Since then, we have doubled down in our levelling-up White Paper on our commitment to increase the supply of social rented homes, while also improving the quality of housing across the board in both the social and private rented sectors. The affordable homes programme has been changed to meet this commitment, with further increases to the share of social rented homes we are planning to deliver.

However, although social rent is a key element to our approach, we are also a Government who truly believe in supporting aspiring homeowners to take their first step on to the housing ladder. We understand what a difference that increased sense of security can make to all aspects of someone’s life and the lives of their family. That is why home ownership continues to be a fundamental part of the affordable homes programme offer and we will continue to deliver a significant number of homes through our shared ownership tenure.

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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very soon—Members do not have long to wait. They will have all their questions answered in due course.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) for his excellent speech on social housing. I reassure him that social housing will be part of the infrastructure levy, and it was a pleasure to meet his small builders and business experts. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) for her considerable expertise in the sector and for bringing to us the Operation Homemaker programme. I thank her for all the work she is doing to help us.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who highlighted similar issues in Northern Ireland; the hon. Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Stockton North and for Vauxhall; the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who will know that we are committed to introducing the measures she has called for to control Airbnbs; and the hon. Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). I thank everybody who has contributed. We will not stand for any tenant being mistreated—[Interruption.] I forgot to thank the hon. Gentleman from the Scottish National party Front Bench, the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), for his contribution. That is all I will say on the matter—[Laughter.] We are committed to working with all hon. Members across the House to ensure that we get the safe and decent homes people deserve.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Minister. It is clear that Mr Stephens needs to try harder to get noticed. Mr Amesbury, you have one minute to wind up.

Middlesbrough Development Corporation

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Tuesday 14th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I will call Andy McDonald to move the motion and I will then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up; that is the convention for 30-minute debates, as he will no doubt be aware.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Middlesbrough Development Corporation.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley.

On Friday 24 February, Middlesbrough Council held an extraordinary general meeting, convened by the monitoring officer, to determine whether the council supported the proposal to create a Middlesbrough development corporation. The proposal was put to the vote, and 13 councillors voted to approve and 17 voted against. Many councillors from the ruling Tory-independent coalition did not attend, although they were all given proper notice of the meeting. Obviously, not all councillors can be expected to turn up for every single meeting and there will be good reasons for some absences, but, quite frankly, the appallingly low turnout for such an important vote was pathetic.

The council decided not to approve the MDC, but three days after the council had made that decision, 25 councillors, led by the elected Mayor, Andy Preston, wrote to the Government saying that the council decision should be ignored and the Minister should instead accept their letter of acquiescence as being the true position of the council. I do not need to stress just how ridiculous it is that the Government, in their determination to overreach local democracy, are prepared to ignore the formal council decision.

Indeed, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has subsequently written a letter in which he outrageously describes the vote of the local authority as being born of “misinformation and mischief making”. That is incredibly partisan language from the Secretary of State, but perhaps we should not be surprised.

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Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer
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I wanted to intervene on the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) because he mentioned my constituency.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has the floor, and he will speak and not be interrupted. If he wishes to give way, he will indicate that he will give way.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Paisley.

Other people have been proposed to serve on this board as well. They include Paul Booth—a former executive of SABIC, the Saudi Arabian petrochemical company—who will be chair. I have known Paul for years. Although he is not a resident of Middlesbrough, he undoubtedly has well-intentioned views about what he thinks is in Middlesbrough’s best interests—but no one has elected him.

Other non-elected appointees include the chief constable of Cleveland, who does not even live in the Cleveland police force area, let alone in Middlesbrough. He is, of course, a senior police officer, but I am not sure what experience he has of urban regeneration. His best contribution to our town would, in my view, be to do his job and make our streets safe for residents and businesses.

Similarly, another board member will be the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Cleveland, Steve Turner—a man who, let us not forget, received a caution from Cleveland police for theft from his employer. Again, he does not reside in Middlesbrough, I am not aware that he has any urban regeneration experience or expertise, and that is not his job.

I have significant concerns about the basis on which the Tees Valley Mayor, Mr Houchen, will select board members. He will have the power to appoint and dismiss them, much as we have seen him do at the South Tees development corporation. That has been evidenced in a raft of investigative articles by Private Eye, which he dismissed as a comic book. Private Eye has unearthed, in great detail, squalid and questionable dealings at the South Tees development corporation, and it has exposed the squandering and misuse of hundreds of millions of pounds of public money. That money was primarily deployed to make the private joint venture partners even wealthier beyond imagining. In respect of that, there will one day be a reckoning.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I refer back to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about the involvement of the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable. We in Tees Valley understand the challenges and difficulties that antisocial behaviour brings to the regeneration of a town. The hon. Gentleman has significant antisocial behaviour issues in his constituency and, in my view, the involvement of the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable on the board is really important.

Just last week in Darlington, Labour councillors voted against planning permission for investment in Teesside International airport. What is it about the Labour party in Teesside that means it has to oppose and stop every investment?

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the point the hon. Gentleman made about Darlington, the Labour party often gets the charge that it is somehow anti-growth. That is utter tosh. It is the most pathetic jibe, and Conservative Members would be better served by engaging in intelligent debate.

On his original point, if the hon. Gentleman genuinely wants to talk about crime, disorder and public order on our streets, I suggest that that is what the police should be doing. I do not expect them to be serving on regeneration boards. They should get out, do their job and ensure they have people on our streets looking after our businesses and making sure people are safe. Serving on regeneration boards is not their function, and they should get on and do the job they were put there to do.

There are lots of questions emerging about how the South Tees development corporation and others have operated. My clear preference would be for the much-needed urban regeneration in central Middlesborough to sit with the elected council. In turn, the council can rely on its internal officer expertise, and, where necessary, external expertise from established professional organisations with track records of successful urban regeneration. Dealing with regeneration in that way ought ordinarily to ensure accountability and transparency.

Although I share the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke) about how duties have been discharged by the current political leadership of Middlesborough Council, which runs until May of this year, I fear that the likelihood of there being proper scrutiny and accountability of the proposed MDC is very low. Yet again on Teesside, a board made up of hand-picked individuals will be making important decisions about how valuable public funds are used without any meaningful accountability or scrutiny. Indeed, the MDC will acquire planning powers that currently—and rightly—belong to the council, which will now lose valuable fee income and business rates. That will inevitably place more pressure on the council, which could lead to further cuts.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No; the right hon. Gentleman will get his say. He asked me if he could participate in the debate, and I said yes. I will not give way any further, because I want to give him the opportunity to make his contribution.

Those pressures could lead to further cuts in Middlesbrough. We could be walking into yet another public-private joint venture that will end up transferring assets out of the domain of the MDC and into private hands, as per the recent shenanigans at the South Tees development corporation.

Of course I want investment in Middlesbrough. After 13 years of this Government, almost half the children in our town live in poverty. The town mayor and the executive have just voted through a budget that will turn off the street lights, reduce our libraries and seriously deplete our warden service. I see economic growth and development as one of the key levers to turn that around. In addition, we need a more equitable settlement from central Government, but that is a debate for another day.

We have done some great work in Middlesbrough, despite difficult economic times. Here are some examples of the significant successes. TeesAMP, next to Newport bridge, is a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing park. It hosts many high-quality businesses at the cutting edge of their respective industries, providing high-quality, high-wage jobs. Boho Digital City is a great success story, with over a decade of starting up and sustaining digital businesses. Centre Square in Middlesbrough brings in the likes of GB Bank and AXA UK, to name but two. The historic quarter around Exchange Square works with Historic England, which has funded some wonderful work. The regeneration and redevelopment of our railway station—a subject very dear to my heart—brings better connections and opportunities for the much-needed economic growth of our town.

All those achievements were begun under previous administrations. The clear evidence is that we already have the systems in place to make this work and to enable Middlesbrough to attract investment. It makes little sense, in my mind, to create another layer of bureaucracy. All those achievements were made by people working together through the various democratic institutions. In particular, they were often in partnership and co-operation with the Tees Valley Combined Authority—from when it was set up before Mr Houchen was elected by what were then five Labour councils across the Tees valley, and continuing subsequent to his election.

There is no reason to suppose that those sorts of arrangements could not work again. We should deploy funds in a way that works, and that holds in our institutions of local democracy. All too often, the rules on good governance, integrity and sound money are undermined, with democratic and accountable control taken away from the people and given to chosen individuals to enable them to use vast quantities of public money as they see fit. I fully anticipate that the Government will plough on regardless, but they need to know that the MDC, despite the absence of transparency and democratic integrity within its structure and architecture, will be held to account by the people of Middlesborough for its decisions. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

In line with protocol, Mr Simon Clarke sought permission from the mover of the motion and myself to make a short speech. I will give you about four minutes to make that speech, Mr Clarke. The Minister is being very flexible with you as well.

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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have nothing but huge admiration for my hon. Friend. She put her case so well. The Government are squarely backing democratically elected local Mayors. I remind the hon. Member for Middlesbrough of how much power and accountability we have given effective Mayors from all parties, including the Labour Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham; the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street; and the Labour Mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotheram.

It is important to stress that the Secretary of State is required by law to establish any development corporation requested by the Mayor for a development area and give it the title as requested—in this case, the Middlesbrough development corporation. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has tried to make out that a land grab is under way, but I have set out very clearly that proper process has been followed.

We want the planned multimillion-pound investment in Middlesborough, spearheaded by that corporation, to go ahead. It will bring big improvements to culture and education, including through the expansion of the Northern School of Art, and improvements to local transport through the development of Middlesborough train station.

The Middlesbrough development corporation is just the next chapter in the town’s levelling-up story. It is proudly backed by the Conservative Mayor, Ben Houchen, and my Conservative colleagues representing Teesside. Long may that continue. This economic resurgence is being led, in no small part, by the leadership of Tees Valley Combined Authority. I stand squarely against the allegations that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough has made, and I will continue to work night and day to level up Middlesbrough and Teesside.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Thank you for the feisty debate.        

Question put and agreed to. 

Child Bed Poverty

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Monday 19th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Welcome to today’s debate. Before we start, I remind colleagues that it is a 90-minute debate. I think it was advertised as being slightly longer.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 604509, relating to child bed poverty.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. The petition asks the Government to bring an end to child bed poverty by creating a national sleep strategy. It states:

“Bed poverty is affecting educational outcomes for children across the UK

A national sleep strategy must resource local authorities to identify, address and ultimately end bed poverty”.

When I was presented with the title of the petition, as part of the Petition Committee’s normal deliberations, I was frankly shocked. I could not help but question how bed poverty could be a thing in our country, but after listening to the petitioner and taking evidence on the issue, it evidently, and shockingly, is. Here we are, just days away from Christmas, and it is utterly depressing that some children will be saying to themselves, “All I want for Christmas is a safe place to sleep.”

I express my admiration for the creator of the petition, Bex Wilson. As well as being a hard-working deputy headteacher, Bex has founded her own charity, Zarach, which provides beds for children living in poverty in the Leeds area. I congratulate Bex on the recent arrival of a healthy baby girl, Viola. I also thank Buttle UK, End Furniture Poverty, the Sleep Charity, Orange Box North East and a number of parents with lived experience of bed poverty for sharing their insights and experience with me ahead of the debate.

It is a distressing and shameful truth that in this country child poverty has become a pervasive issue. More children than at any other point in the last decade are growing up in households that are unable to meet their most basic needs. The latest available figures suggest that in 2021 3.9 million children across the UK were living in poverty. Since then, uplifts to universal credit and local housing allowance have been scrapped, inflation has reached heights not seen in 40 years, and an absence of support has pushed millions more families into desperate circumstances.

To those who work on the frontline of crisis services, it is undeniable that the figure of 3.9 million has been dwarfed by reality, but child poverty is more than just a statistic; it is a painful, grinding experience for each child living through it. It means growing up in stressful households, going without the same educational and development opportunities as their peers, going to school hungry or spending their evenings in a cold and damp home. For many children, it means not having a safe space to sleep at night.

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Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank hon. Friends who have contributed to the debate, both from the Labour Front Bench and Back Benches. I would thank the Minister for his response, but I expected more. It is very concerning that the Government do not seem to recognise that there is an issue, nor commit to understanding the extent of that issue. All we have heard is a list of actions that they are apparently undertaking, but that are clearly not solving the problem.

One mother who spoke to me when I was taking evidence for this debate said that, as a child, she had fled with her mother from domestic violence. She remembers how traumatic that was, but when they moved she said she felt cushioned by a state that supported them into a new home. She does not remember not having a bed when she was growing up. She remembers being looked after and supported in what was clearly a traumatic situation. She has faced that again herself—she has fled domestic violence with her children—and she was shocked at how little support there has been; there was nothing for them. They managed to secure a house, but it had no furniture in it. She said they have lived with one lightbulb, which they move from room to room, and no beds for the children.

It is the charity sector that has helped them, not the Government. That is the case up and down the country. Food, clothing, housing and furniture are being provided by the charitable sector, not by the state. People in the most desperate circumstances no longer have a safety net. As much as the Government and the Minister have set out the support they might be giving, it is clearly not working. It is clearly not reaching the right people.

I did not intend to say that at the end of this debate. I have been quite moved by the evidence I have heard, but I am left not angry, but I think a bit despondent, by the Minister’s response. I hoped that the Government, of all things, would want to tackle children without beds—would want to know how many children do not have a bed and discuss how we can solve that. Obviously, whatever the Government are doing is not working, because the number is growing not reducing. But that is anecdotal; we do not actually know, because the Government have not found out or even asked the question.

I would like to see the Government go away and think harder about this issue. It is about not just those individual children but a lifetime cycle of sleep deprivation that results in adult mental health issues, because if someone has not slept well as a child they will have that for the rest of their life. It will affect their education, mental health, development and wellbeing. Surely we want to put a stop to that, and ensure the basics of having a bed and somewhere safe to sleep. I hope the Government go away and think again. I appreciate that it is not all down to the Minister. The fact that we were not quite sure who was going to respond to the debate is telling of the Government’s lack of focus on child poverty as a whole.

The Department for Education has an interest in children. The Department of Health and Social Care should have an interest in children’s health and wellbeing. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and local government, should have an interest in ensuring that support is delivered at a local level. The Department for Work and Pensions looks after those households that need extra support. None of them appears to be talking to each other to develop a holistic strategy to ensure that more children do not fall into poverty, that they have a bed to sleep in and that we finally turn this around. I really hope the Government listen. If they will not, I really hope this country votes in a different Government who will.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I thank Catherine McKinnell for that impassioned wind-up.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 604509, relating to child bed poverty.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is a distinguished archaeologist and antiquarian—although still a youthful-looking antiquarian. Yes, we will have that meeting; it will happen before 22 July and I will invite both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

The Secretary of State has mentioned that there will be more opportunities for all of the UK as a result of the levelling-up programme, and of course we welcome that. He also knows there is a subsidy control mechanism in operation in Northern Ireland that prevents Northern Ireland from benefiting from levelling up and other generous benefits that flow from this place. Will the Secretary of State today ensure that everyone on his side of the House—and I encourage Members on the Opposition side of the House to do this too—votes for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, in which clause 12 will remove that impediment to progress?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Foreign Secretary will open the Second Reading debate, and I hope people will listen to everything that she and indeed the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland say, in order to make sure Northern Ireland can fully participate in all the benefits of being part of the UK.

Social Housing and Building Safety

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, absolutely. The hon. Gentleman’s question gives me the opportunity to say thank you to Ministers and officials in all the devolved Administrations who have been working with my Department to learn some of the lessons about building safety. We have also been discussing how some of the progress that we have made at a UK Government level in getting money from developers in order to contribute to remediation can also apply in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In particular, I thank Jayne Brady from the Northern Ireland civil service for the work that she has been doing with officials from my Department in this area. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s own party and others are committed to learning appropriate lessons.

I mentioned the importance of making sure that we had a fit-for-purpose new regime and that we took the appropriate steps necessary. One other person I would like to thank is Dame Judith Hackitt. The work that she did has ensured that we could pass the Building Safety Bill into law in order to make the Building Safety Act 2022 an effective framework for regulation. We have a new building safety regulator, led by a new chief inspector of buildings, which operates within the Health and Safety Executive. We will have a new national regulator for construction products and a new homes ombudsman to improve oversight and standards. We have new statutory duties placed on those carrying out design or building work to make sure that they have the relative competence for their roles, which means that building control will be a properly regulated profession and that all construction products marketed in the UK will be properly regulated in future. To follow on from the very good point made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), if products are unsafe, they can be withdrawn from the market. There are also strengthened provisions in the legislation to hold industry to account.

As well as the Building Safety Act, the Fire Safety Act came into force this year, and it implements in principle the first nine of the inquiry’s 15 phase 1 recommendations. Changes to regulations include the requirement that the owner and manager of every residential building, whether or not it is high rise, should be required by law to provide fire safety instructions, including instructions for evacuation. We have taken steps, as I mentioned earlier, to say to all developers that they must contribute to both remediating the buildings for which they were responsible and contributing to a fund to ensure that neither taxpayers nor leaseholders are held liable for problems that they did not create and for which they should not pay.

I should stress that, as well as introducing effective regulation, we have made it clear that many of the materials that are unsafe have been banned. It is the case that combustible materials on the external wall of any new residential building more than 18 metres high are banned, and there is a provision for sprinkler systems in all new blocks of flats that are higher than 11 metres.

We are making sure that we have the right regulatory system in place, that we get developers to pay and that the most dangerous materials are banned. All those steps are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We also need to make sure that those companies that have operated in a way that genuinely brings the system into disrepute know that we are coming after them. That is why, when it came to the particular case of Rydon Homes, one of the companies that was part of the group that was responsible for what happened in Grenfell Tower, I have been clear that they are suspended from any participation in the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. I have also been clear that Kingspan, one of the organisations responsible for the material that contributed to the fire, was a wholly inappropriate partner for Mercedes-Benz when it was suggested that it should somehow seek to launder its reputation by sponsoring Mercedes-Benz’s Formula 1 team. It is also the case that I will be taking steps to ensure that freeholders who at the moment are evading their responsibility to pay for and to contribute to remediation can be pursued. More will be announced by the Government in the days to come to make sure that we take all the steps necessary to deal with everyone who has responsibility in this matter.

I should also say that, as well as making sure that Government do everything they can to bring people to justice, when the inquiry concludes, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, quite properly independent organisations, will be making their own decisions about whether criminal prosecution will be necessary. I know that that is an issue of profound concern to the community. I can assure them, having talked to both the police and the CPS, respecting, of course, their operational independence, that both have worked hard to ensure that the evidence is there for any action that they consider to be appropriate to be taken in due course.

As well as making sure that we learn the right lessons on building safety and get the new regime that tenants deserve, we also must ensure that the wider voice of social tenants everywhere is heard loud and clear. I thank the inspirational young campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa, who I know is in the House today, who has done so much working with ITV and others to draw attention to the continuing plight of social housing tenants. Kwajo’s work, and the work of so many other campaigners, has underlined and redrawn to our attention the fact that there are people who are living in our capital city today—five years after Grenfell—in circumstances that are beyond squalid and inadequate. It has been the case that some housing associations and some local authorities have been heedless and neglectful of their obligations, and the steps that we need to take are clear. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), is bringing forward new legislation to give effect to the changes in social housing that are required.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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I appreciate what the Secretary of State has said because, obviously, there is a job of work that needs to be done, particularly for young people, with regards to housing. I therefore encourage him to take up the offer by Órla Constant from Centrepoint to visit the work it is doing and to share the lessons learned, and the opportunities available, from those projects for young people to get them into housing and to encourage them to start a better life for themselves and their families.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I know he is passionate about helping young people, particularly those at risk of homelessness and those who need decent homes. It is thanks to him that I have had the opportunity to meet people from Centrepoint, an amazing charity that has done such good work for so long. I look forward to the opportunity to see more of the work it is doing, which he has championed, to help those who are most in need of support to have a safe and decent roof over their heads.

I mentioned the legislation we are bringing in, which of course follows on from the publication of a new vision for social housing by my late colleague James Brokenshire. I think we would all want, as we reflect on James’s life and legacy, to recognise that one of the issues about which he was most passionate was making sure that the vulnerable and the voiceless had a champion in Government. It was his determination to set us on a path to stronger rights and better protections for tenants in social housing that has resulted in the legislation that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North is bringing forward.

Under that legislation, we will ensure that tenants know that they will be safe in their home, that they will be able to hold their landlord to account and that complaints will have to be dealt with promptly. They will know that they need to be treated with respect and that those who work in housing, to whom I am enormously grateful, will have the support and the extra professional training that they need to ensure that they work effectively with tenants. We also want to ensure that, in those circumstances—I hope they become progressively rarer—where there are real and genuine problems and an urgent need for action, there are new powers for rapid inspection and for unlimited fines, to ensure that appropriate steps are taken.

Solar Farms and Battery Storage

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Wednesday 8th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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James Gray Portrait James Gray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right and I am grateful for his intervention. It must be done with local consent and enthusiasm. The notion that solar farms can be good for biodiversity is, of course, complete nonsense. No shepherd worth his salt would graze his sheep on a solar farm. The grass is low quality. I do not think there is one single solar farm in the west of England currently being grazed, and the notion that they could be is nonsensical. Equally, the notion that, somehow, wildflowers thrive on solar farms is simple nonsense; it is simply not true. There is not a single wildflower that I have ever seen on any of the solar farms that I have ever visited. Therefore, the notion, which the developers put forward, that solar farms are somehow biodiversity-friendly is absolute nonsense.

The heart of the problem is that Wiltshire Council, and probably many other councils too, interprets the nation policy framework very conservatively. For example, the NPPF seems to indicate that it thinks that grade 3a land should not have a solar farm on it, but that grade 3b land could do. It is not absolutely clear, but it seems to be moving in that direction. Anybody who knows anything about a farm will know that some of it will be grade 3a and some will be 3b; it is extremely hard to make out which is which. One field may be half 3a and half 3b. Therefore, what we should be saying is that all viable agricultural land should not be used for solar farms—full stop. Never mind grade 3a, 3b, 2 or 1: all agricultural land should be exempt, under planning law, from solar farms.

Equally, we ought to be making much more use of carve-outs for protected designations such as national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty. Most of my constituency is an AONB, and if AONBs were exempted, there would be no solar farms. We must take account of a landscape’s special characteristics, which we are not doing under the NPPF.

Councils also ought to be more ready to make the argument about the cumulative impact of solar farms. The NPPF seems to intimate that cumulative impact is allowable, but the planning inspector is unclear about that. We must be certain that the more solar farms there are in a particular place, the less likely it is that planning permission will be granted.

We must also develop arguments about food production as a legitimate economic consideration. Under the NPPF, if there is a legitimate economic consideration connected to a planning application, it will not go ahead. It is currently unclear whether food production is a legitimate economic consideration. Officers—and indeed, I think, officials in the Department—have said that it is quite hard to know whether or not agriculture could be classed as a legitimate economic consideration. I think that it definitely should be.

Let me give the Minister a list of things that I would like him to consider. He will not be able to answer them this afternoon, I am sure, but I have taken the opportunity of sending the list to the Department, so that he can consider it at his leisure if he wants to. I and—it seems—many of my colleagues in the Chamber this afternoon have a wish-list. There should be changes to national planning policy, allowing local authorities more scope to object to applications so that they can object on a much wider scale. Perhaps we should make the process similar to that for wind turbines. At the moment, it is much easier to turn down a wind turbine plant than a solar farm, but I think that solar farms and wind turbines should be treated in the same way in planning applications.

As I have said, there should be a prohibition on using grade 3 land, whether it is 3a or 3b, and we must not allow battery storage solutions to take land out of food production for use for solar. There should be much more of an imperative towards smaller installations on barns, factories, warehouse roofs and all the kinds of places that the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) mentioned a moment ago, instead of huge installations on greenfield sites and farmland.

An interesting point is that the prescribed limit on the distances involved must be shorter. We cannot have these solar farms 10 miles away from grid connection; the distance to grid connection must be shorter, so that we have solar farms where there is a grid connection. At the moment, partly by using battery storage solutions, developers are coming up with sites that are miles and miles away from the connection to the grid, which of course produces even further damage to the countryside.

Visibility is an important point. In my opinion, no solar farm should be generally visible within one mile of listed buildings or protected landscapes; I think the Minister would probably agree with that. That limit should also be extended to cover views, which planning law does not currently cover. Under planning law, people have no right to a view and a view cannot be considered under planning law. In the case of solar farms, a view is terribly important and therefore we should allow people to object to a solar farm because it damages their view. The views in the countryside are incredibly important. Such a change would demand a change to the NPPF, but only a very small one, and I think that allowing local people to object to a solar farm because it would destroy the view is perfectly legitimate.

In general, the point I am making is that at the moment local authorities are scared. They are scared that if they do not interpret the NPPF correctly—if they get one word wrong—the inspectors at appeal will, perfectly correctly, overturn their decision. What our local authorities need is absolute clarity. At a time like this—post-Ukraine—we value our agricultural land and we do not want to see our countryside being covered in solar farms and battery storage solutions. We think that producing food is important; indeed, food security is an incredibly important issue for the future.

We must provide local authorities with clarity of language in the revised NPPF, so that they can say straightforwardly, “No, you will not have that solar farm on this particular piece of agricultural land”, with the confidence that the inspector will agree with them rather than overturning their decision, which is what seems to be happening more or less automatically at the moment. We need to give local authorities that strength, that clarity and that power. If we do so, and if the developers, who are watching this debate today, know that they will not get permission for a development, they will not put in the application and will go somewhere else.

I just want that clarity. When the NPPF review comes out—I hope that will be shortly and certainly this year: the Minister may be able to update us on that soon—let us see some of these things written into it, to give local authorities that clarity and that strength when they come to turn down some of these ghastly applications.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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I will see who else is bobbing and feels worthy to follow Mr James Gray today, after his Sermon on the Mount. Members themselves can see who is bobbing. I want to call the Opposition spokesman at around 5.10 pm, so we are talking about four to five minutes each for each contribution; I do not want to set a formal time limit.

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Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) and the other speakers, who made some very interesting points.

I am very much in favour of a sensible approach to this issue that balances the importance of energy security and tackling the climate emergency with not creating eyesores in the countryside. I am proud of our record in my area of central Berkshire. I represent an urban seat, but we have a strong tradition of solar power from our borough council and neighbouring local authorities, and in land nearby. Much of it is on the roofs of buildings and on brownfield land. I want to get across the positive message about using those types of land. There is a large amount of brownfield land in southern England, although I appreciate the points made by colleagues from slightly further west. There is also the issue of developers looking for land in the south, where sunlight is slightly more plentiful.

I want to say a few words about Reading Borough Council’s excellent work over many years of putting solar panels on the roofs of council houses, schools and other public buildings. Wokingham Borough Council was Conservative-run—I am afraid to say to Government Members that it is now under a different administration—when it planned a large solar farm in its area of Berkshire, which is suburban and semi-rural. The councils there were mindful of the visual impact, and I respect their work on that. I hope we can progress in a sensible, cross-party and consensual way and look at the opportunities.

I want to pay tribute briefly to the private individuals and charitable bodies that have driven alternative energy schemes in our area. I also want to highlight the importance of low-flow hydro. We have a small scheme on the Thames, the Queen has one at Windsor castle, and other landowners along the Thames have such schemes. They use water power, which in the past would have been used to drive mills, to generate electricity. It is a simple, low-tech but very effective form of hydroelectric power at a local level, which has a very limited impact on the environment near the river.

I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, but my experience of solar farms has been somewhat more positive. I draw his attention to the site at Pingewood in Berkshire, which is next to the M4—indeed, he may well drive past it. It is on a former landfill site next to a motorway, and is very close to grid connectivity because of the pylons running through our county. It makes one realise that there are actually sites in locations that already have visual intrusion from infrastructure, which could be used and perhaps should be prioritised. I had the pleasure of visiting there with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who I shadow. We were looking at the scheme on that land, which is supported by one of the energy providers and is used for pension investments. I know that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) is a huge enthusiast for auto-enrolment. Auto-enrolment savings are being used to invest in solar on brownfield sites. Surely that is the sort of model that we want to encourage.

In the south of England, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire rightly said, there are sites that used to be airfields or military installations, as well as transport land, the roofs of car parks and many other things, which should be prioritised. I genuinely hope that we can come to some agreement to do that. In my constituency there are many flat building roofs, whether on garage blocks or large businesses. The tragedy is that there is not enough incentivisation to use the large acreage of land that exists in areas with high amounts of solar radiation where it would be ideal to place solar panels, such as in the south of England and London.

I hope the Minister can address that point about whether it is possible for the Government to look at incentivised development of that type of site, and to support local authorities and community groups more. There is obviously going to be an economy of scale with the very big sites. However, is it somehow possible to encourage development in a sensitive way that makes good use of currently wasted space in areas with high levels of sunlight? When large public buildings are built, such as hospitals, schools and stations, could the default position be that solar is included in the roofs? Will the Minister consider that? As a way of removing pressure from valuable agricultural land, and given that build costs would be lower if solar was installed at the point of construction, is there a way of incentivising that through the planning system? That way, businesses would have a genuine incentive to put solar on new builds, in a way and on a scale that does not currently exist.

I think about that every day when I go to Reading station, which is a wonderful new piece of infrastructure in our area, and one that serves colleagues further west. The trains there are electric, so why on earth does that station not have solar panels all over its roof? It is a huge area of space that could be used for solar without any intrusion into green space, and would actually protect rural areas by giving us more capacity. Can the Minister address those points? It has been a pleasure to speak today and I hope we can agree a consensual way forward.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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Anthony Mangnall, you have until 10 past 5.

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Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It should come as no surprise that even in south Devon we have heard about the issues concerning Mallard Pass. I encourage all residents of Grantham and Stamford to take part in that consultation, and to register their voices—as indeed should all our constituents.

Secondly, we have a food security crisis at the moment, but we also have a global supply chain crisis. We must now have a national target that pushes us to produce food. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) mentioned 75% as a potential target, and we should look at doing that. Anything that takes out productive agricultural land from farming must be reviewed. Solar panels have got to be in the sights of Government to stop that from happening.

Thirdly—I will make this point in my last 33 seconds—a year ago, the Local Electricity Bill was tabled as a private Member’s Bill. We should look at finding local sources to power the network and feed back into the grid. The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) was bright and clever enough to make an excellent point about his station in Reading: every time I pass through that station, I will think about that proposal, and I would certainly support it. Tidal, wind and solar, in the right places and the right spaces and used in the right way, are absolutely essential.

My last point is about brownfield sites. If I understand correctly, the CPRE report on brownfield sites identifies 21,000 sites across the country totalling 26,000 hectares, equating to what would be 1.3 million houses. Let us use those brownfield sites and commercial spaces, and make sure we keep our countryside as beautiful as possible.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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Thank you, Mr Mangnall—an example of less is more. Well done.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Paisley. Naturally, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray) on securing this important debate and acknowledge his track record on environmentalism, which was stated clearly at the beginning of the debate and throughout.

Many Members have today taken the opportunity to talk about developments in their constituency, with a common focus on what is termed brown-belt and former industrial sites first, such as the roofs of car parks, warehouses, schools and housing developments—I think even trains were suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda). That was acknowledged and concurred with by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) and others. A significant number of interventions were made by Members who are no longer present.

I have a sizable farming community in my Weaver Vale constituency. At a recent meeting of the National Farmers Union at Warburtons Farms in Frodsham, the consensus was that fertile agricultural land should not be used at scale for solar farms, a point that has been eloquently made in today’s debate. Unfortunately, too many farmers feel that they have little choice but to sell land for development, whether that is housing development or solar farms. In part, that is driven by the insecure nature of the financial support in the new subsidy arrangements that farmers now face. They were promised not a penny less, but the reality is somewhat different.

The justified concerns about the local impact of solar farms must be weighed against our inescapable need to build renewable energy, and lots of it, over the coming years in order to meet our net zero target by 2050. Renewable energy, including solar energy, must be built, and it must be built somewhere. It is always easy for someone to say that they are in favour of renewable energy in principle; it is much harder to say that they are in favour of renewable energy in a specific location. Members from across the Chamber have made very considered speeches about the circumstances in which we should build solar farms, and I agree that we need to be clear about the need for a strategic approach, so that we can understand exactly what we need and where it needs to go. However, it certainly needs to go somewhere, and that should be our starting point.

With the costs of fossil fuels soaring, wind and solar power are the keys to bringing down costs for customers, ensuring energy security in the face of the Ukrainian war and fighting climate change, yet the Government are intentionally limiting access to the cheapest, quickest and cleanest forms of new power by stopping the production of enough onshore wind and solar energy to power 3 million homes. Members have today made some great suggestions regarding where that energy capacity should be built. Instead, we have a Chancellor who has just handed a £1.9 billion tax break to producers of oil and gas that could pump nearly 900 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Our climate and our constituents will pay the price for the Government doing the unthinkable and backing the fossil fuel industry, despite claiming to have the admirable target of reaching net zero by 2050. What assurances can the Minister give that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s apparent green light for the fossil fuel industry will be revisited with a sense of urgency and with funding redirected to renewables, developed in the right places? Why not incentivise, as people have said? We simply cannot reach the kinds of targets that we need to be reaching by limiting ourselves to small-scale urban solar farms. That will involve larger-scale projects over the 50 MW rate that at the moment qualifies a proposal as a nationally significant infrastructure project.

Where we have common ground in today’s debate is in our desire on location. The negative impacts should be minimised using sensitive planning that focuses on previously developed and non-agricultural land that is not of high environmental value. Indeed, that is stated in the national planning policy framework. Surely a locally led planning system should shape developments and they should not be dictated—that could be done by the current Secretary of State or, certainly, future ones.

Unfortunately, the centralisation and power grab by the current Secretary of State is given rocket fuel by proposed new subsection (5C) of section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, in clause 83 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is having its Second Reading today. That subsection states that any conflict between the development plan and a national development management policy

“must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.”

I look forward to seeing the amendments, which will inevitably be laid, and attempts to remove that provision in favour of locally led planning systems and arrangements.

Testing has been carried out on the benefits of solar energy, and the overwhelming evidence is that, despite small impacts, the benefits of solar outweigh the costs as long as appropriate land is used. The public support a move to renewables, but they know that we need to build in the right place, using the appropriate land. I ask the Minister—I think the need for this has been reaffirmed today—to look again at some of the clauses in the current Bill that centralise the planning process and override local concerns, but also, very importantly, to incentivise renewables.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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The mover of today’s motion is a polar explorer, a writer of books, and a provider of written interventions for colleagues. Minister Hughes, you have a lot to live up to.

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Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the absence of the Minister responsible for housing and planning, I undertake to share with him the views that have been raised, although I am sure he is aware of this debate and will read it subsequently.

The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) mentioned a current planning application in Walsall. As a planning Minister, I cannot comment on that. I feel a degree of assurance that Walsall Council will be able to handle that application. In relation to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, I can assure her that this Government certainly intend to continue to protect the green belt.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn raised a scheme that I can only imagine is of national significance and therefore will be determined by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That falls outside my purview, but I will make sure that BEIS Ministers are aware of her concern.

I share the ambition of the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) to maximise the use of brownfield sites or put more solar on top of existing buildings, squeezing solar in everywhere that will not impact on the enjoyment of the countryside.

Finally, it is good to see the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) at the Dispatch Box again. The war in Ukraine has told us that we need to maximise our energy security by making sure that we have access to oil, because that is clearly how we generate lots of our electricity, while continuing our commitment to a transition to net zero by doing things such as scaling up our solar power production dramatically.

As I said at the start, Mr Paisley, I am a poor substitute for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing. I will convey the thoughts of Members present to him and I look forward to him responding to Members in due course.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
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James Gray has 50 seconds to wind up.

Oral Answers to Questions

Ian Paisley Excerpts
Monday 7th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Having local authorities with well-developed local plans to ensure that they are ready and prepared to build the houses that their local area needs is incredibly important. The affordable homes programme that the Government have announced, with £11.5 billion-worth of investment, will help to secure that, so that we can try to deliver the 180,000 homes that that is expected to deliver.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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2. What recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on the potential opportunities for Northern Ireland of the levelling-up agenda.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O’Brien)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State met the then First Minister of Northern Ireland when the levelling-up White Paper was published to discuss the many opportunities for Northern Ireland as part of that agenda, and I met Conor Murphy, the Minister of Finance, last Thursday to discuss the delivery of the UK shared prosperity fund in Northern Ireland. I look forward to working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on this in the coming months.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for meeting me last week to discuss these important opportunities for regions such as Northern Ireland. The levelling-up White Paper identified hydrogen bus development as a key economic boost. So far, five strategic schemes have been put in place for zero-emission buses across the UK, and all five are very welcome but they are battery electric. Will the next five schemes be driven by hydrogen? Can the Minister ensure that there is joined-up thinking on this across the Departments?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify an important opportunity for Northern Ireland through the hydrogen agenda. As part of all the things we are doing on levelling up, including the third increase in research and development spending outside the greater south-east, the strengthening places agenda, or the many things we are doing with higher and further education in Northern Ireland, there are many opportunities to advance the important agenda that he has prioritised.