Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 22nd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety (Lee Rowley)
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My hon. Friend has been a long-standing campaigner for balance within coastal communities. I know that both she and colleagues from the south-west and elsewhere are very keen to see some of the reforms that the Government are introducing on short-term lets and the changes to the planning system.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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T2. In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the Government made this commitment:“We will continue with our reforms to leasehold including implementing our ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents to a peppercorn, and providing necessary mechanisms of redress for tenants.”That still has not happened, so either they did not believe it then, they had not thought it through, or the Minister has been nobbled by the Prime Minister. Which one is it?

Citizens’ Assemblies and Local Democracy

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 16th April 2024

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I was not specifically aware of the citizens’ assembly in Northern Ireland, although I am aware of many across our nation states and in other countries. They are seen as a mechanism by which elected representatives can maintain contact with their constituents on various policy issues throughout a political cycle.

Polling from the Institute for Government recently showed that two thirds of constituents do not think that the current Government behave to high ethical standards. Likewise, polling from the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition found that two thirds of voters believe that UK politics is becoming more corrupt. We know that when socio- economic inequalities are narrow, trust between different communities and groups increases, and the reverse is true when the inequalities widen. Of course, that is the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

There are other good reasons for greater public engagement and deliberative policymaking, including through citizens’ assemblies. Before I was elected to this place, I served as a public health consultant and academic. My work was focused on tackling health inequalities and their main determinants—inequalities in income, wealth and power. It may surprise hon. Members to hear that there is an independent and universal effect on our health and wellbeing that relates to our status in a hierarchy. The process of engaging people in decision making and sharing that power has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing, in addition to leading to the development of better politics based on lived experience and consensus.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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How does a few people sitting in a citizens’ assembly enhance the involvement of the public? Is it not in fact completely undemocratic and contrary to the involvement of the public, who have the right to elect and unelect us?

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I will explain more about how it adds to and does not detract from the role of elected representatives, and the benefits of that.

The European values study and the world values survey have tracked changes in individuals’ perceptions of freedom and control over time. Worryingly, they found that low perceptions of freedom and control were associated with rising populist support. When people do not feel engaged in society and their local community, decisions are made about them without them. When politicians do not have their interests at heart, not only do they lose faith in democracy and seek political extremes, but it has an impact on their health. That is why citizens’ assemblies and active participative policy- making in general are important. By engaging with and empowering people on the issues that matter to them all year round, we help to give them more control over their lives and a far greater stake in our society.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Essentially, having a few people in a citizens’ assembly does not involve the public. The public will get involved this year in a general election; that is how the public get involved and engaged. They may feel that the results of that election are not reflective, because the great and the good and financial sources may influence things more than they should, but none of that affects the general public. The latest referendum in Ireland might demonstrate that.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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Again, I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I am afraid that the evidence does not bear that out. It does not replace the role of elected representatives, as he seems to suggest, but enhances it. I urge him to listen to what I am saying; I am happy to supply evidence of the evaluations of the benefits.

There may be questions about—even some resistance to—the notion of citizens’ assemblies because of the Burkean belief that policymaking is a job for elected representatives. Let me be clear that citizens’ assemblies do not replace the ultimate decision-making role of elected representatives: they enhance it by providing considered evidence and recommendations to inform that decision making.

Very briefly, citizens’ assemblies are representative groups of people, selected at random through the lottery principle. They are tasked with examining an issue in depth and making recommendations. Such assemblies have been used by many policymakers in the UK and elsewhere to assist in policy decision making. An evaluation is taking place in a swathe of the democracies that constitute the OECD, because of the value that has been seen. Citizens’ assemblies have been used by Governments in their policymaking, and have even formed part of some countries’ constitutions—for example, Ireland has that important role as part of its constitution. Famously, Ireland used citizens’ assemblies to examine delicate and sensitive matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I will, for the last time.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Did they use this in the recent referendum?

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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The last one they used it in was about 10 years ago, and we had an in-depth analysis from the people who ran that about two years ago.

In 2018, two Select Committees undertook a citizens’ assembly on social care, and in 2019-20, six Select Committees commissioned one to look at climate change. I was an official observer of that process. I was so impressed with how it was organised, from the selection of citizens and facilitation of the evidence sessions to the consensus on the development of recommendations. The interviews I did with participants were incredibly powerful, and everyone seemed to get so much out of it.

I have long been convinced of the importance of participative, deliberative decision making in policy development and reviews, and I believe that citizens’ assemblies could be an incredibly powerful tool for that. However, as a politician who believes passionately in evidence-based policy, the evidence from the recent evaluation of citizens’ assemblies, including an independent evaluation of the climate assembly pilot, is also encouraging. The “Evaluation of Climate Assembly UK” report states:

“Our overriding conclusion is that CAUK was a highly valuable process that enabled a diverse group of UK citizens to engage in parliamentary scrutiny of government on climate policy in an informed and meaningful manner. The case demonstrates a significant step forward in the UK Parliament’s public engagement strategy and based on our evidence, they should seek to establish more citizens’ assemblies in the future to feed into the scrutiny work of their select committee process.”

I hope that as we move towards the general election, we discuss not only what our policies will be but how we will develop and review them with people locally and nationally.

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Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz, and to reply to the debate ably introduced by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams).

Let me begin, as I always like to, by trying to find a point of agreement with whoever has raised the debate. The hon. Lady is right to talk about the importance of trust in politics and engagement in our political processes. Like all advanced, mature western democracies, we are living in difficult times. With social media, conspiracy theories, different people with competing views, the rise of populism and an uncertain world with many big geopolitical and environmental questions, no wonder a lot of people feel disconnected and discombobulated.

Public engagement is key. One of the strengths of our country, as the inbox of any right hon. or hon. Member will attest, is that we have very vibrant lobbying, including from the third sector, on a whole range of issues. I have been doing this job for eight and a half years and am still surprised by some of the groups out there that wish, perfectly properly, to make their views on certain issues known to their Members of Parliament .

We have vibrant, open and democratic political parties. Our advice surgeries are a wonderful opportunity to provide mini citizens’ assemblies, effectively, at which individuals or groups of constituents can come and talk to us about issues that are important to them.

I think we occasionally underplay our power to convene. We can convene all sorts of public or private meetings in our constituencies and invite people, either on a select list or via open invitation. I have done something very similar on environmental and climate change issues: I issued an open invitation and a whole raft of people in my constituency came, across the age groups. They certainly improved my knowledge and understanding of the issues. I hope also to hear, from the political perspective, some of the checks and balances and some of the challenges that the democratic process throws up.

There are ways currently being deployed to maximise public engagement and therefore, hopefully, to grow and inculcate trust. However, I do not subscribe, and nor do the Government, to the hon. Lady’s argument. She has put forward a perfectly respectable argument, and she has evidenced it as she has seen fit, but it is a question of judgment. As we all know, to govern is to choose, and often there are competing options. I do not think that we would address some of the fundamental problems that she set out at the opening of her speech by defaulting to the creation of citizens’ assemblies.

The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) almost gave my speech for me.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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rose—

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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Almost as if the right hon. Gentleman had been pre-timed, he is on his feet. I give way.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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The Minister rightly says that the essence of exercises such as citizens’ assemblies is that they will deal with a narrow issue. The Government then have to choose between priorities: that is where essential political decisions get taken. There is then the opportunity for the British public to decide whether they like the direction of travel. Does he agree that we need to listen to campaigning groups, which play an important part in our democracy, but that ultimately it is the broader public who have to decide?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the great strengths of single-issue pressure groups is that they bring a whole wealth and range of in-depth knowledge on a particular system or issue. The downside is that a single-issue pressure group or campaigner does not look at the larger picture or take the balance. It does not have to govern by choosing. I have seen a lot of evidence to suggest that membership of single-issue pressure groups has gone up, but the mixed potpourri—the Woolworths pick ’n’ mix—of joining a political party, where people have to give and take and trim and tack, has proven less popular, particularly among younger people.

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Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We do ourselves no service, as a group of people called to this particular strand of vocational public service, if we try to set ourselves apart like plaster saints who are in some way separate and uncontactable. I agree that we have to be within our communities. I usually have a citizens’ assembly when I drop my kids off at primary school or when I am in the queue at the supermarket or the petrol station: “Hello, Simon! How are you? While I’ve got you, can I talk to you about this, that and the other?” That is what an engaged Member of Parliament does.

I hear what the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth says, but it is the ballot box that creates the forum for those citizens’ assemblies, a representative democracy. We cannot have elections every six months, every year or whatever—as often as we may change our socks or our stance on a particular issue—but that is how this country selects its representatives to take decisions.

One thing I have yet to be convinced about, with regard to the efficacy of citizens’ assemblies, is selection through a random postcode lottery, as the hon. Lady set out. They hear evidence from experts; who appoints and defines who these experts are is a moot point, but let us just work on the principle for the moment. They give up a lot of their time, they take evidence, they come to a conclusion, and in coming to that conclusion they will probably find themselves operating in exactly the same way that we do: “I’ll give way on that point; you’ll give way on this point. We will find a compromise.”

It may work once, but I can just imagine somebody saying, “There has been a citizens’ assembly in my constituency and they have decided this, and they want me to vote this way or do this thing.” That may be a luxury of opposition—something I hope I never get a taste of, but who knows?—or it may come from somebody on the Government Benches. The right hon. Member for Warley is a seasoned former Whip for his party. I am not entirely sure what our Whips offices would say collectively to the idea, but they might well say, “Well that is all fantastically interesting, but the party policy is X. You availed yourself of the benefit of standing for party X, Y or Z, and you will have to follow the Whip.”

If we go back to those people who gave their time willingly at a citizens’ assembly and say, “I hear exactly what you said, and thank you for all your effort, but you cannot mandate me to do anything. I am perfectly free to do as I will, but my Whips have told me that that freedom is fettered and I have to do this, that or the other,” I am not entirely sure that the dynamic of citizens’ assemblies would create a self-perpetuating success story. The cold reality of the delivery of governing to choose, or choosing to govern, would hit the slightly abstract, theoretical way in which a citizens’ assembly might be run.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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The Minister is identifying another part of the problem. First, Governments have to govern broadly and make trade-offs all the time. Secondly, those who attend citizens’ assemblies, and spend their weekends and everything else, are almost by definition not representative in the sense that we are. What makes us representative is that we are elected, but that does not make us normal in that sense. What it means is that ordinary citizens have other priorities, which is a very good and sensible thing. It does not mean that those who are prepared to participate are necessarily representative of the broader public.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I would add that another thing they are not is accountable. We are accountable: we are accountable in a society with a free press and media, and we are accountable through the ballot box. We can hold surgeries where people come to see us and ask, “Why did you vote for that and against the other?” and so on. It is about not just the representation element, but the accountability.

As somebody who started as a grassroots member of a political party and got involved in politics by joining an action group to save a field at the rear of a cathedral that somebody wanted to convert into a car park, I am hugely in favour of the power of the citizen to get involved and effect change. It is demonstrable and clear, certainly to my mind, because I am a product of it. As MPs, let us facilitate and empower more people. Let us convene more discussions locally to get people involved so that they can see the merits of this place and so that once again, or continuingly, they can see the House of Commons, their council chamber and other forums where elected people serve as their true, real, legitimate and representative citizens’ assembly.

Question put and agreed to.

Revised National Planning Framework

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s point has been heard loud and clear by the Minister. He is right that those are essential services on which all our residents now rely.

The updated NPPF deliberately does not provide an exhaustive list of the applicable exceptional circumstances. The NPPF now shows that exceptional circumstances are not to be drawn narrowly, which was too often asserted in the past by local authorities who readily chose to interpret them from case law alone. It is now clear that local authorities, including mine in Basingstoke, are able to set out their case for exceptional circumstances for a large number of reasons.

In Basingstoke, that could be the age demographics of our town. We are the most rapidly ageing population in Hampshire, with the number of over-65s growing by 77% in the last decade. The primary and most compelling factor that makes Basingstoke and Deane an outlier is our extraordinary levels of historic house building. At the start of the second world war, our population was just 13,000. By 1961, it had grown to 25,000. Today, our population is 186,000, so we have grown from 13,000 to 186,000 in less than a lifetime. Put another way, our population is now almost 1,500 times greater than it was in the second world war. Those are exceptional circumstances that have a clear bearing on the capacity of my community to absorb future high levels of house building.

Not only is such accelerated house building affecting our natural environment, especially our unique and irreplaceable north-flowing salmonoid chalk stream; it is also putting an unsustainable strain on public services, particularly our local roads and the NHS. The Government have invested record sums in my community, but we are fast feeling maxed out. There is to be a brand-new hospital, but not until 2032, and £60 million is expected on road improvements, but there is now no additional capacity technically possible.

Residents are clear about this. Thousands want to cut house building levels. They are living in a constant building site with more than 1,000 new homes being built every year, green space disappearing every day, and road works trying to squeeze the last ounce of capacity out of every road and junction. Enough is enough. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council published its local plan, which clings to the now outdated policy of standard method as its end point, as if it continued to be set in stone. As a result, the draft plan fails to slow down house building, ratchets up building rates over time to dizzying levels and completely fails to reflect our exceptional circumstances, which I have just outlined.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. People also have to live in those communities and be entertained. Does she agree that music venues are enormously important for the cultural talent pipeline? The agent of change principle sought to protect those venues from neighbouring development. That is why it was incorporated into the planning policy guidance. Does she therefore agree that this now needs to be enshrined in law to strengthen the protection for music venues and for our musicians of the future?

Maria Miller Portrait Dame Maria Miller
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The right hon. Gentleman may not know this, but I am the mother of two musicians and I would have to agree with him—for fear of the consequences if I did not. I hope that the Minister has listened to him as well, as he makes a valid point.

I know from conversations that I have had on the doorsteps in Basingstoke for many years that excessive house building is the No. 1 issue for many residents. It is so disappointing that the borough council has not yet exercised its new powers, especially given all the hard work that the Minister has put into changing the NPPF to better accommodate places with exceptional circumstances, such as Basingstoke.

Some of my councillors have supported a short-term approach, bagging the reduction in the five-year land supply to four years, but surely they should also share my concern that they could easily see further manipulation of developments being carried forward to make that apparent gain evaporate quite quickly. What we need is the long-term solution, not a quick fix.

None the less, I am an optimist. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council started its public consultation on 22 January and it will run until 4 March, so that residents who are interested in the local plan and in house building levels can take part, and also perhaps support my petition at the same time, calling on the council to use its new powers to make the case for cutting house building levels to the planning inspector. Nothing is guaranteed; that is obvious. Evidence must be presented, and the case—the case that is right for the community—also has to be made. And what is right for the community is certainly not continuing house building at the current level.

I hope to embolden Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council to make changes. I hope the Minister can answer a couple of questions to help them on their way. First, will the planning inspector be expecting new interpretations of “exceptional circumstance” following the recent changes to the NPPF? Too often in the past I have been told that it applies only to the greenbelt. My reading is that that is no longer the case. Does he expect every local authority to at least acknowledge the new NPPF policies in their local plan? And would he share the surprise of local residents if any local authority were to completely ignore the new NPPF policies and act as if no changes had been made at all?

Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that everyone in my constituency has a place to live in—an affordable home. It is the Conservatives who have made sure that, in my constituency, affordable homes make up 40% of all new homes. However, Basingstoke has for decades being making up for the lack of house building elsewhere—in London, throughout the south-east and beyond. The Government changes to the NPPF mean that now our local planning authority, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, can take responsibility for ensuring that its house building plans reflect the exceptional circumstances that I have outlined in Basingstoke, and indeed in neighbouring Oakley and other surrounding villages, where the vast majority of house building has taken place. The council must look again at its plans, which were drawn up before these important new Government policies were launched, and do what is right. I believe what is right is to cut house building to a level that is appropriate for our community, taking into account the sort of nuanced circumstances that the Secretary of State talked about when he launched those new policies.

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Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I am absolutely certain that there will be more cases for exceptional circumstances put forward in the future, and I encourage councils to consider them if they believe that they apply. Logically, I would then expect more cases for exceptional circumstances to be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, although that will also be for the inspectorate to determine on a case-by-case basis. It is the Government’s intention to indicate that cases for exceptional circumstances can be made, that local authorities should weigh up making them and that, if they feel that they have a strong case through the Planning Inspectorate process, they do so for the good of the communities they seek to serve.

Secondly, the revised NPPF now sets out that there may be situations where higher urban densities would be wholly out of character with the existing area, and that that could be a strong reason why significantly uplifting densities would be inappropriate. Thirdly, our changes to the five-year housing land supply policy mean that up-to-date local plans should no longer have to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. My right hon. Friend has articulated some of that already, and the considerations going on within her Hampshire constituency, but there is additional flexibility where local authorities are doing the right thing in getting their plans in place and making sure they are retained.

As someone representing a constituency that has suffered from planning issues over many decades, I recognise there is always difficulty around planning in individual local areas. I understand that, and it is one of the reasons why I am so keen to send a message that, while we are clear that we need more houses in this country—we absolutely do—they have to go in the right places. It would be incorrect, wrong and irresponsible of us to say “no more housing” when we need people to get on the housing ladder. We value the benefits to our society that a property-owning democracy brings and we celebrate every first-time buyer who gets on the ladder, because that opens up to them the opportunities that gaining and accreting capital provide.

At the same time, however, we have to accept that not every area, every place or every landscape is appropriate for building on. It is the responsibility of local councils to make sure that they are weighing that up properly, getting ahead of what will always be challenging decisions and having the conversations they need to have with local communities at the earliest possible stage.

Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this debate. She ended with three questions, and I want to touch on those before I conclude.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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This is not just a question of housing; it is also about public and private facilities and a community. As I indicated in my intervention on the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), part of that is about entertainment and social areas, particularly music venues, which are still under pressure. I do not expect an answer tonight, but will the Minister take away the issue of enshrining in legislation some strength for local authorities to protect not only local amenities, but the pipeline of talent for our enormously important cultural industries?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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I will certainly take that point away, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there always a balance about what to put in primary legislation. The law cannot mandate virtue, and we have to find ways to ensure that our statute book does not get too big and unwieldy—there is an argument that we are already heading in that direction after 30, 40 or 50 years of incessant legislating. However, I recognise the important point he makes and I will certainly give it further consideration, although I hope he hears my reticence to state automatically that legislation is always required in all cases.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke asked three questions at the end of her speech. I hope that I have covered the question of exceptional circumstances to some extent. It is absolutely the case that local authorities should put such cases forward where reasonable and proportionate, and where they have a clear case. I would expect more exceptional circumstance cases to be made, and it is for the Planning Inspectorate to determine their outcome based on the merits or otherwise of their individual circumstances.

Antisemitic Offences

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 9th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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

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Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards
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The hon. Lady is right. We see some great examples of communities working together. A few months ago, I visited the Jewish community in Birmingham, who told us about the support they had had from the mosque in Birmingham and faith leaders across the board. This by no means describes everything that is happening at the moment, but there are plenty of examples. We have a chance on Thursday to debate some of the more positive aspects of community relationships, but sadly today’s focus is on what is going wrong at the moment.

Across the UK, in the days following Hamas’s barbaric massacre on 7 October to 13 December, the Community Security Trust recorded 2,098 antisemitic incidents. That figure is expected to rise and 2023 is expected to be the year in which the highest ever number of antisemitic incidents was recorded in the UK. The figure of 2,098 dwarfed the 800 or so incidents recorded up until 7 October and was the highest ever number reported to the CST across any similar period, even during other conflicts in the middle east. To clarify, that is 2,098 incidents of antisemitism as a result of a massacre of innocent Jewish men, women and children in Israel. The impact of this is massive and should not be underestimated.

Whereas the police require only for victims to say that they have been the target of a hate crime, the CST requires evidence of antisemitism. The CST logged at least another 1,288 incidents, which have not been classed as antisemitic. Those include criminal acts affecting Jewish people and property, suspicious behaviour near Jewish locations and anti-Israel activity that is not directed at the Jewish community or does not use antisemitic language. Many of those potential incidents involve suspicious or hostile activity at Jewish locations.

The 2,098 incidents included hateful comments, threats of violence and death threats. Among them were 95 assaults, 165 direct threats, 127 instances of damage and desecration of Jewish property, and 1,677 incidents of abusive behaviour. One hundred and thirty-three incidents related to schools and included the abuse of schoolchildren and teachers; I will talk about universities later.

Meanwhile, some of the focal points of the recent rise remain a source of concern. Rallies have taken place across our nation weekly. Of course people have a legitimate right to protest, but that is not the same as feeling free to support terrorist groups or attack Jewish people. The Select Committee on Home Affairs recently investigated the protests, and I think that it will be helpful to highlight some of the contributions from the CST’s Dr Dave Rich.

Dr Rich explained that 7 October left the Jewish community in the UK “completely traumatised and grief-stricken”. He explained that within 24 hours of that largest murderous assault on Jews since the holocaust, the first pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations were beginning—some of them while the attack was still continuing. The protests appeared supportive of the barbarism: for example, the announcement on Facebook about one such march called the attack “heroic”. More people have been on these marches than there are Jews in Britain. The CST has had impact statements from British Jews explaining that they feel unsafe living in this country and are changing dates of hospital appointments, forbidding their children to get on the train, and so on.

There have been some 300 arrests at protests—instances where the police have identified, located and arrested someone. There have been antisemitic placards and expressions of support for terrorism, which the organisers are not doing enough to stamp out. Their communications about a rally must include warnings not to engage in antisemitic conduct or support for terrorism, and the communications of the police during the rally must prioritise accuracy over speed. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister set out what the Government are doing to ensure that the rallies are not hotbeds of antisemitism, and how much it has cost to police them effectively.

Social media platforms must act too. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology has been holding meetings with the companies, asking them to set out their actions and policies. Despite that, the companies are failing in their duty of care to the users. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found a fifty-fold increase in antisemitic comments on YouTube immediately after the 7 October attack. It found a major rise in threats made against Jewish institutions and individuals, as well as posts on X supporting and glorifying Hamas’s terror attacks. By 12 October, this content had been viewed more than 16 million times on the platform. TikTok has insufficient systems for monitoring live-streamed content, including antisemitism voiced at rallies. The Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Woolf Institute have already demonstrated a number of trends across social media platforms, including antisemitic supply rather than demand on Instagram. There are two antisemitic tweets for every Jewish person in the UK per year on X. It would be helpful if the Minister set out in detail the work that Ofcom is doing in relation to not just the platforms that I have mentioned but small, high-risk platforms such as 8kun and Rumble, both generally and specifically with regard to hate being spread by technology systems during the current middle east conflict.

The situation on university campuses, no doubt compounded by social media, is dire. Since the 7 October attacks, antisemitism on campus has risen sixfold, with 157 recorded incidents according to the CST. Jewish students have been the victims of death threats, physical assaults and violent abuse. There has been explicit support for Hamas and calls for an intifada. The Union of Jewish Students has provided examples, including a student in Scotland being pelted with eggs, graffiti on a poster in Manchester encouraging students to kill more Jews, and participants in an online lecture at Queen Mary University of London joking about Hitler’s gas bill and about getting a Hitler reboot card. The result is that some students remove visible signs of their Jewish identity, while others simply avoid campus altogether.

The Union of Jewish Students has been running training for thousands of union officials up and down the country. Are Government willing to support that effort? Last year, we witnessed what many had hoped would not be possible: three grown adults unable to clarify whether calling for the genocide of Jews was problematic, arguing that it depended on context. Those were not uneducated women; they were university leaders, and not just any university leaders; they were leaders of some of the most respected universities not just in the US, but in the world.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Lady for for introducing this very important debate, as we see the oldest hatred in the world resurfacing so badly. Should we also deal with the argument about free speech? Free speech and discussion is vital in a democratic society but, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes of the US Supreme Court, it is not

“the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre”.

Words have consequences. Should not universities and public authorities be cracking down on this and taking determined action?

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards
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I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Just in the past few days, I have been alarmed by the responses I have received on Twitter, having reported an antisemitic incident to the police, and by the support for Hamas, but also by the number of people who do not understand why hate speech, tweets and what they call freedom of speech are being reported to the police. They do not understand the consequences. The statistics I have read out today about the number of Jews living in the UK and the number of antisemitic tweets—two antisemitic tweets per year for every Jewish person in the UK—show why it is important to crack down on it.

Since 7 October, the call for an “intifada until victory” has been plastered up and down campuses, and a model motion calling for that was passed at University College London and the University of East Anglia students’ union. Does the Minister agree that motions passed that call for an “intifada until victory” are disturbing, and that calls to globalise the intifada are extremely worrying? Perhaps we could have some clarity on the legality of the term in those contexts. Will he say something about the role of the prevent duty in relation to speakers and other activity on campus? Will he make it clear that support for Hamas, whether voiced by individual students or groups such as the Socialist Workers party, must be investigated by the police, because support for proscribed terrorist organisations, including Hamas, is illegal?

As we begin 2024, let us be clear. Policing must be robust, with zero tolerance. Sentencing must not be lenient. Education must be improved and widespread. Relevant authorities, whether they be universities, councils or companies, need to work to support Jewish colleagues, employees or students, and ensure that they recognise their duty of care.

This is my message to those engaged in antisemitism in response to a conflict in a place they are unlikely to have visited or know much about. Last week, I met people my age who had survived a massacre at a music festival purely because of their immense courage and chance. I met heartbroken but determined families of hostages and people killed. I witnessed a nation still overcome with grief. For those who diminish what happened on 7 October—or worse, seek to justify it—I hope they will never witness what those strong and brave people did. I watched 47 minutes of the gleeful spree and slaughter by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as civilians. Nothing will erase those images from my mind: the look of fear in their eyes that I did not know was possible. Nothing will ever be the same again for Jewish people around the world following that dreadful day in October last year, so have some humanity, recognise the impact of your language and ask yourself what you stand for.

Antisemitism is centuries old, but it still persists. It does not give up, so neither should we. We must remain unwavering and uncompromising in our efforts to challenge it, and I thank all colleagues present for doing so. I hope this debate will play its part in doing that.

Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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My I help out the Secretary of State? He is aware of the Grove Lane site on the Sandwell-Birmingham border, in which the West Midlands Combined Authority and its Mayor are also interested. It is opposite the new Midland Metropolitan University Hospital site and it is an ideal brownfield site for housing. Will his Department get on with it?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who refers to the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, the only metro Mayor to significantly exceed housing targets in the delivery of new homes. He is that rare thing: a Labour MP who welcomes house building in his own constituency. Of course I will support him.

Unfinished Housing Developments: Consumer Protection

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 18th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that sensible intervention; I will make a very similar suggestion in my speech.

The leader of the council declined my request to undertake a case review of the sequence of events that led to the situation at The Brambles to understand whether the council could have prevented the situation at any point as it evolved. As the law stands, it would appear that she is right. The Building Safety Act 2022 does not cover issues relating beyond the house itself, and the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman declined to consider the case, arguing that:

“Caselaw has established that where a council issues a completion certificate and the work is later found to be substandard, liability for any defects rests with those who commissioned the work and those who carried it out. We cannot therefore hold the Council responsible for substandard work by the developer and we could not achieve any worthwhile outcome for”—

my constituent by investigating the complaint.

This is a very serious case—the most serious case I have seen in North Shropshire—but there are numerous instances in which roads have not been completed to a standard suitable for adoption, streetlights are not installed, shared areas are not landscaped as per planning permission and, in some cases, even the plot sizes vary from the original plan.

I can provide further examples. A development at Isherwoods Way in Wem has been without streetlights and a surfaced road for 10 years; although the situation is about to be resolved, it is not quite there yet. On the west side of my constituency, a site that I cannot name because legal proceedings are under way features an unadopted sewerage system that has not been completed to the required standard. A development in Ellesmere was left without an adopted road and open space when the developing company collapsed. The situation is only being resolved now that the development has been purchased by a major national house builder. The developer of another site in Wem has applied for insolvency despite the road being unadopted, the open spaces not having been landscaped and concerns having been expressed by residents about the water drainage system.

The cost to residents of these sites is not only financial. Untold distress and emotional strain have been caused and an enormous amount of precious time has been spent on resolving the situation. At a recent constituency surgery, one resident told me, “I’m a truck driver. I don’t have time to become an expert on planning control.” His neighbour, a construction worker, described the strain of worrying about everything that could go wrong with the drainage system, and about the cost involved in digging up the road to rectify the faults.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I have a similar problem in Cranford Street in Smethwick. I find it utterly deplorable that Severn Trent, which is making hundreds of millions and whose chief executive is paid millions, will not take over any responsibility for the sewage that is backing up into people’s homes. People have bought the home of their dreams and are now finding that it has turned into a nightmare.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan
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I thank the right hon. Member for his intervention. I have had some productive discussions with Severn Trent on the issue and am about to propose a solution that I hope will help to rectify the situation.

It has become apparent that residents are tied into an impossible situation. They no longer want to live in their homes, but realistically they cannot sell them until the defects are rectified. There are also wider financial ramifications because if any resident defaults on their mortgage, a bank will not be able to sell the property to recover its investment.

The other common theme emerging from all these developments is that homebuyers will be expected to contribute to the costs of maintaining shared areas via a management company to which the title for the shared areas has passed. These companies typically pass on the management cost to the residents at zero profit. However, the ones that I have investigated then subcontract the work to a profit-making company. I am sure that the House will not be surprised to learn that in many such arrangements the subcontractor is related in some way to the original developer.

The companies can charge uncapped amounts indefinitely to the homebuyer, in what is known as a fleecehold—I am aware that several hon. Members have raised the plight of fleeceholders on previous occasions. The management company can be used not only to pass on to the homebuyer the financial responsibility for completing the development, but to extort money for years to come, often for substandard management services. I am aware that the Government have indicated that they will legislate to control such management charges. I urge the Minister not only to commit to a date for such legislation, but to ensure that protections are included to cover previously unfinished developments.

To tackle the issue up front, however, I propose a different course of action. I believe that it is possible for a water company or a local council to obtain a financial bond when a section 104 or section 106 agreement is put in place, such that when critical infrastructure is not completed, funds are still available to complete the work. In addition, there are mechanisms such as section 38 agreements incorporating financial bonds that can be used to ensure that roads are of an adoptable standard. Having spoken to colleagues, I believe that some councils, such as Oxfordshire County Council, use financial bonds for that purpose and to avoid the distressing situations that I have described. I have not been able to establish why that is not standard practice for all councils.

I urge the Minister to consider using the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to require councils to take a step involving a financial bond before planning conditions are discharged, so that unsuspecting homebuyers are not left with unmanageable costs if their developer goes bust before the site is completed. The principle has already been established in the Government: National Highways requires a bond from local authorities if they propose works affecting the strategic road network, so that significant disruption is avoided if the works are not completed. I am concerned to learn that the changes proposed to the Bill would reduce councils’ ability to use section 106 agreements for smaller developments and would remove current powers to protect homeowners.

The rationale for planning deregulation is that it will enable house building targets to be met by removing barriers to completion, but I would argue that, certainly in the case of North Shropshire, it is not necessary. The evidence does not show that planning regulations are behind slow rates of house building. Shropshire’s local plan contains a target of 30,500 new homes by 2038, but there are already 18,000 planning applications on which consideration has not yet commenced. The current build rate of just under 1,900 houses a year does not suggest that planning permission is the issue holding things up.

I appreciate that requiring a financial bond from new house builders might deter smaller companies from entering the market, but first I question whether homebuyers and council tax payers should be taking on the risk posed by a financially unviable housebuilder; and secondly, it should be possible to find an alternative, such as an investment bond, to combat that risk.

I am extremely concerned about the fact that councils lack the tools they need to ensure that the buyers of new-build homes do not fall victim to rogue developers, and the fact that the effectiveness of the tools they do have may be reduced by the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. I hope that the Minister will agree to consider making the use of financial bonds as part of section 106 or similar agreements a required practice for councils and water companies, to protect both homebuyers and councils’ own taxpayers from high-risk housing developers.

If the Minister rejects such a solution, however, will he agree to meet me and other stakeholders, such as the Local Government Association, to formulate a practical mechanism to prevent the distress and financial hardship caused by unfinished housing developments? Homebuyers, councils and the wider community need to be confident that they will not be left to the pick up the pieces when a developer fails to deliver. The owners of The Brambles are victims of a rogue developer, and we should act to ensure that their experience is not repeated elsewhere.

--- Later in debate ---
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
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The United Kingdom Government are always keen to indicate to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government where we might be able to work together and where we think that elements of policy might work for Scotland as well as they work elsewhere in the Union. Occasionally, the Scottish Government are not that keen to listen to His Majesty’s Government, but perhaps, given the hopeful outbreak of consensus on the desire to make progress, that will not occur on this particular subject. I am happy to consider the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly and properly makes.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I think we need to look at two separate, although related, problems. One is about the individual build quality of the houses. The other is about the infrastructure of the estate, which is certainly a problem that I and neighbouring Members of Parliament in the west midlands conurbation are finding. We have to find a way through that. In addition, if a developer goes bankrupt, the titles revert to the Crown Estate, so does not the Crown Estate have an opportunity to play a proactive role here? At the moment it seems to be playing a fairly passive role.

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will come to those two points, because I agree there are different elements that we need to consider and unpack. I would be happy to discuss the second point with the right hon. Gentleman in more detail, should he wish.

On completing new housing developments—I accept the hon. Member for North Shropshire made a broader point about further down the chain—the Government are clear that developments should be built out as soon as possible once planning permission is granted. The frustration of local communities where that does not occur is completely understandable. We expect developers and local authorities to work closely together to make this happen.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is in Committee today, will increase transparency on build-out, helping councils and residents to better understand what they can expect from development proposals and putting in place sanctions should the homebuilder fall short. Of course, there are examples where developers will need to vary their approach to building and constructing properties, and of course timeframes will both elongate and reduce as part of that process, but in general we are keen to see that when development is granted permission, often through difficult and sometimes controversial processes, and the clock starts ticking, the development should get moving and conclude as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire rightly highlighted infrastructure. Taking roads as an example—she mentioned a number of examples—when a new development is granted planning permission, councils can currently use section 106 planning obligations, as she indicated, to secure a commitment from developers to construct roads to a standard capable of being adopted by the local highway authority. It is up to developers and local planning authorities to agree on specifics such as timescales and funding, which may include the provision of a bond. This is currently a local decision and, notwithstanding the difficulty she rightly highlighted—she made a constructive suggestion on potential compulsion in this area—there are going to be different circumstances in different instances.

I encourage councils to use bonds where they think it is appropriate. Equally, I do not know whether we want to be so prescriptive as to mandate that from the centre, as there may be instances where it is neither appropriate nor necessary. Hundreds of thousands of houses are built each year in very different parts of the country, so we have to have regard to the fact there are different circumstances. None the less, I accept the premise of what the hon. Lady indicates and, where good practice exists—she indicated the good practice in Oxfordshire, and it also happens in Derbyshire—I encourage councils to use it, where appropriate and reasonable.

Supported Exempt Accommodation

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 9th February 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered regulation of supported exempt accommodation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I am pleased to have secured the debate today to discuss something that is a huge problem in my constituency, in my city, and in many other places across the country.

If someone had asked me a few years ago what supported exempt accommodation was, I would not have been able to tell them. I know it confuses people even now. Given my difficulties in dealing with the issue in my own constituency, I have become quite a world expert. I will set out for all exactly what we mean when we talk about supported exempt accommodation.

Supported accommodation is a broad term that describes a range of housing types: group homes, hostels, refuges, sheltered housing, and so on. An offshoot of supported accommodation is referred to as “exempt”. It is basically a resettlement place or accommodation provided by a council, housing association, charity or voluntary organisation, where a person or organisation provides the claimant with—in theory—care, support or supervision. I say “in theory” because too often that is not the case in reality, and that is what I will discuss in detail in my speech.

Exempt accommodation is supported housing that is exempt from housing benefit regulations. If we provide someone with that type of housing, we get access to enhanced housing benefit and can access more money to house this group of mainly vulnerable tenants who are in need of care, support or supervision. We can see why that has happened. The cost of housing vulnerable people—care leavers, women fleeing domestic violence, ex-offenders, people with addiction issues, and so on—is higher. The costs of helping those individuals are higher, so the exemption from housing benefit regulations—the ability to access higher payments to house such people—was designed to allow providers to access adequate sums of money to help individuals as they seek to turn their lives around. Too often, that is very much not what happens in practice.

I stress that there are some good, legitimate providers of this type of housing, who do important work with people in desperate need of housing and help. There are still those who are committed to a social and indeed moral mission to help people to get back on an even keel, recover from addiction, turn their lives around and play a full part in society once again. However, there are too many rogue—I describe them as cowboy—providers who have clocked that this is a lucrative money-spinning opportunity and who take full advantage. They get access to larger sums of money to house housing benefit claimants who need care, support or supervision, and then they do not provide it.

In law, it is the case that all a provider has to do is provide care, support and supervision that is, in legal terms, “more than minimal”. Those three words have plagued me as I have navigated the complex world of supported housing while trying to help my constituents—those who live in such properties and those in communities where there is a proliferation of those types of properties.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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That is the nub of it, is it not? The hugely greater rents and support that landlords can get means that families are priced out of streets, and the problem spreads rapidly down these streets. The behaviour of many of those who get no support makes those streets places where people no longer wish to live. My hon. Friend talks about shady landlords, but is there not a real danger that there is so much money to be made now that organised crime is moving in, in a big way?

Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. I will come to his point about the connection with organised crime, which is becoming a real problem. He is right that the distortion in the housing market in these communities means that working families are being priced out of good, viable family homes. Other social tenants cannot access them either; when a person cannot get enhanced housing benefits, they are subject to the local housing allowance

In fact, this lucrative loophole is causing huge problems not only for the tenants, who often get trapped in unsuitable properties, but for the communities living in those in those areas and those who might wish to live in them, too. It is exactly those nefarious operators moving into the sector who are causing problems in my constituency and across the country.

In practice, “more than minimal” means hardly anything at all. I have heard providers say that installing CCTV in communal areas or having a manager who might visit the property once in a blue moon counts as adequate supervision of vulnerable people. That sort of so-called supervision would certainly pass the “more the minimal” test, but the idea that that is what was meant by the regulations that determine access to larger pots of housing benefit is utterly outrageous.

Cowboy operators know that they can access more money per tenant, and they do not have to spend very much—or indeed anything at all—to demonstrate that they are providing care, support or supervision. So, what is the upshot? Lots of cash is available for those who know how to game the system.

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Eddie Hughes Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Eddie Hughes)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) for securing this important debate. It is a topic that she and I, and a number of familiar faces across the Chamber today, have spoken about.

It goes without saying that problems with supported exempt accommodation are a serious matter that impacts not just the housing benefit bill but hundreds—possibly thousands—of vulnerable individuals across the country. Having previously worked as the deputy chief executive of YMCA Birmingham, I have seen at first hand the challenges that vulnerable people face and the real difference that good-quality support can make. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning the fact that there are good-quality providers who make a difference. I have a strong personal interest in improving the quality of exempt accommodation, and more importantly the life chances of those people living in it.

As a Government, we are determined to tackle the problems that have dogged the sector for too long, but we also want to do more to support the high-quality supported housing providers that deliver services to some of the most vulnerable people in society. We really need them to continue to operate successfully, so that people who need supported housing receive support and a roof over their head.

As the Minister responsible for homelessness and rough sleeping, I know the key role that good support and the right accommodation play in helping those who have fallen on hard times to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives. As the hon. Lady said, this kind of support is not always given. Right now, there are too many cases of rogue providers benefiting from taxpayers’ money without providing anywhere near the right kind of services for residents. The growth of exempt accommodation concentrated in specific areas of towns or cities is also creating neighbourhood issues, antisocial behaviour and criminal behaviour, as a number of hon. Members highlighted.

The Government are doing everything in their power to tackle rogue providers. Officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have engaged with Birmingham City Council and local charities to build a better understanding of the issues, including the scale of the problem, the drivers of its growth, and its impact on residents and local communities.

Birmingham is obviously not the only city to experience such problems—the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) raised concerns about her area. At a national level, the Government have raised the bar on the standard of exempt accommodation across the board. In 2020, the Department published “Supported housing: national statement of expectations”, setting out the Government’s vision for better ways of working in supported housing and a much higher minimum standard of accommodation. The guidance was critical in showing what good looks like, and highlighted where providers and councils are working in joined-up and innovative ways to drive up quality. Ministers and officials have engaged with councils, housing providers, the regulator of social housing and other regulatory bodies to improve standards and our understanding of the issues.

That effort has been matched with proper Government funding. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood will, of course, be aware of the pilots. We have provided £5.4 million for a year-long pilot in five local authority areas in England. The pilots have been critical in helping us to understand the issues and the differences that we can make. The participants, including Birmingham, bring together teams from across different services, such as housing, revenue and benefits, environmental health, social care and, in some cases, the police and probation services, to address the different issues that residents face. Although I have not yet received the final report from the independent evaluation team, I know that the pilots are delivering real results and acting as models of good practice for councils to adopt.

Birmingham has developed a new charter of rights for residents of supported housing, along with a programme of support reviews and scrutiny of housing benefit claims. In Blackpool, the council has carried out a review of the support provided in accommodation for victims of domestic abuse to ensure that there is sufficient and tailored support.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

The problems with exempt accommodation are spreading rapidly because all sorts of crooks are getting in on it. Neighbourhoods are being ruined. Quite frankly, they want action now. When will the Minister bring forward regulations to enable councils to do something about this?

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fully accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but part of the purpose of the pilots is to understand not just the scale of the problem, but, more importantly, what type of interventions work most effectively. It is all very well saying, “We know what the problem is. Therefore, we know how to address it.” I am not sure that is completely the case, given that different interventions have had different successes in different pilot areas. It is important, having spent £5.5 million, that we get the full value from the pilots and understand the best-quality interventions to make.

Coronavirus: Supporting Businesses and Individuals

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

[Interruption.] My apologies for the cough, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to thank hon. and right hon. Members for raising so many important points here today. I should confess that this is the first debate I have ever had the pleasure of closing, and it has been wonderful to be able to sit and hear properly from all parts of the House—and indeed all parts of our virtual country—some of the really important messages that colleagues wanted to share. We have heard some really powerful and passionate speeches, and I am grateful to everyone who has been able to contribute today.

Let me address some of the important issues that have been raised by our colleagues. The business grant scheme has continued to provide support to businesses across England during the periods of national and local restrictions. I do not think that any of us underestimate the challenges, particularly for many of our small businesses, as a result of these changes, but they have been incredibly resilient and the Chancellor has continued to provide the support that was needed. The Government have introduced unprecedented packages of support to assist those businesses that have been mandated to close, as well as those that have been severely affected by the restrictions. Indeed, many colleagues have highlighted their own constituency business situations, from Darlington to Brecon and Radnorshire and from Stourbridge to Stoke-on-Trent, once my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) was correctly dressed.

The depth of support and continuing commitment from the £280 billion that the Treasury has found has been extraordinary. It is the largest package of emergency support in post-war history, of which the loan guarantee schemes are an important and successful part because they have protected, created and supported jobs. We are committed to protecting those jobs, and we have extended the coronavirus job retention scheme until the end of April. The Chancellor will set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and protect jobs at the Budget next week. It would be remiss of me not to say that it is well beyond my pay grade to even begin to guess what he might have prepared for us. That is a question that we would all like an answer to. It has been asked many times today, not unreasonably, but the Chancellor will be here next week, when he will give us a plethora of solutions, I am sure.

Retailers have a history of responding to change. They are continually innovating and adapting to market pressures. That is what they do. That is the art of the retailer, and much of that dynamism has had to play out under the pressures of the last year, but we absolutely recognise the challenging environment that this sector has been operating in. Retail will always be a vital part of our local communities, and I want it to be at the heart of our high streets where our constituents live, shop, use those services and spend their leisure time as we return to normal. Traditionally, the hospitality sector has been the first to recover from an economic downturn, helping to drive our economic recovery more generally. As a result, it is more important than ever that the hospitality sector is able to play a leading role in our post-covid-19 recovery, not only economically but for the health and wellbeing of their customers, too. We all know and understand—indeed we have seen it for ourselves—that too many of our constituents are really struggling with the mental health pressures: the challenges of having to work from home; of having to teach their children at home, and of having to worry about the state of their finances. There are so many pressures, and, quite genuinely, the hospitality industry is part of the recovery not only of the sector itself but of all of us.

We will continue to work very closely with the sector. I would like to put it on record, and I know that the sector and colleagues will support me, that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) has been incredibly committed throughout this period, working with the sector and really trying to support it, and providing a constant voice and listening ear to make sure that he can do the best he can for it. I know that all those hospitality businesses are ready and waiting to recover quickly as soon as it is safe to open fully. They are ready to bounce back stronger and greener.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Hansard - -

If premises are physically covid secure, and their customers have vaccine certificates, why will the Government not let them open earlier?

Anne-Marie Trevelyan Portrait Anne-Marie Trevelyan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The roadmap sets it out very clearly, as the Prime Minister has done as well, that we will open safely and steadily, making sure that we do not have to return to any kind of lockdown. We want to go at the right speed and steadily to make sure that we can get there.

Let me return now to my green point. When discussing support for individuals and businesses across our constituencies, we must touch on our plans to build back greener, supporting those green jobs, accelerating to net zero and creating that long-term advantage in low-carbon sectors, such as nuclear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) highlighted earlier in her speech. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment to unlock three times as much in private sector investment by 2030. This will help to level up regions across the UK, supporting up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs. That will include quadrupling our offshore wind capacity to 40 GW by 2030, committing £500 million for low-carbon hydrogen production across the decade and investing £1 billion to make our homes, our schools and our hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient—an area of policy that I consider to be extremely important. The 10-point plan will be driving a revolution in electric vehicles and hydrogen buses, and enabling all of us to change how we live our lives in a way that is genuinely sustainable. Our businesses will have opportunities across so many sectors to drive to net zero.

We cannot avoid the fact that coronavirus is indeed one of the greatest challenges that the UK, and, indeed, all across our planet, have faced this past year. The Government recognise the significant disruption that individuals, businesses and public services have experienced as a result of the steps that have had to be taken to manage it and to protect our citizens.

To protect people’s jobs and livelihoods, the Government have provided immediate support on a scale unmatched in recent history, but as restrictions ease and the economy is gradually and safely reopened, the Government will carefully tailor the level of support to individuals and businesses to reflect the changing circumstances. The Prime Minister’s road map will set out our commitment to give businesses large and small the support and clarity required to plan ahead and manage everything from staff to supplies. Indeed, it will help businesses such as Leckenby’s tearoom in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) to be able to open safely for customers once again.

We will build on our short-term response to ensure long-term economic growth, working towards our longer-term objectives, boosting productivity and giving businesses throughout the country the confidence to invest as we put them at the forefront of new opportunities. The Government stand—

Hospitality Industry: Government Support

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 11th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

The fact that there are two petitions shows how important this issue is. To my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I would say that Marston’s is an excellent brewery that really looks after the trade.

The hospitality industry is a huge driver of our economy, as many hon. Members have said. It employs millions directly and in its supply chain. It is an energetic innovator—my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) talked about how it responded to the pandemic and how businesses opened. In many small businesses, there are individuals who have invested their lives, savings and hopes in the industry and see them at grave risk.

The industry is also a vital part of our social fabric, our communities, our sense of self and our wellbeing. Our hospitality and entertainment environment is one of our big attractions to the wider world. It not only attracts tourists, but is one of the reasons why companies and workers come here, rather than go to many other countries.

Of course, the industry pays a huge amount of tax, but it is on its knees. It has been hit time and time again by Government restrictions, often brought in with notice of only a day or two. Pubs and clubs, restaurants and hotels, betting shops and casinos all put in huge effort and cash to make their premises covid secure and keep their customers safe. They were being responsible but, frankly, Ministers took precious little notice of that. They did not understand the industry and just shut it down at short notice because they wanted to be seen to be doing something.

What better example than the 10 pm curfew, which made no sense? Ministers took no notice of representations from those who work in the industry—especially pubs, restaurants and casinos. Incidentally, there was very little data to show that the industry was a major cause of the spread of disease. In fact, I talked to the public health officer in my area of Sandwell, and it was quite the contrary.

The petition for a Minister for the industry is perfectly understandable, because the industry falls between different Departments. It represents hundreds of thousands of establishments and falls between the bureaucratic cracks. It needs someone to be its champion in Whitehall.

One quick example is the coach industry. That key part of domestic tourism was left out in the cold, devastating thousands of family businesses and undermining the hospitality businesses they serve. The industry needs someone to understand the whole economic ecosystem and join the dots. A Minister might also have pointed out the chaos and waste that would occur when firms had to dump tonnes of food and barrels of beer because they were not able to plan. That was bad for the businesses and bad for the environment.

Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 5th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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What steps his Department has taken to help places of worship open safely during the covid-19 outbreak.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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What steps his Department has taken to help places of worship open safely during the covid-19 outbreak.

Robert Jenrick Portrait The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick)
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As Communities Secretary, ensuring places of worship can reopen and remain open has been a priority for me and my Department. Their contribution to our country as places of solace, as well as for significant moments such as weddings and funerals, is clear to us all. Places of worship remain open today for more than six people for communal prayer and services with existing covid-secure requirements continuing to apply.

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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Like the hon. Gentleman, I want to praise and thank the Muslim communities throughout the country for their forbearance. We have worked closely with them through our places of worship taskforce that the Prime Minister and I set up. I have had the privilege to meet representatives from mosques, including the London Central Mosque on the eve of the Eid celebrations, to thank them once again for their forbearance. We have put in place detailed guidelines to help mosques to reopen safely and will continue to work with Muslim groups in the weeks and months ahead.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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It is clear from what the Secretary of State has said that he recognises that in these troubled times places of worship are more important than ever in providing for the spiritual and material needs of their congregations and in combating loneliness and mental health problems. However, they face their own challenges in making their premises safe for their worshippers and meeting the costs of that as well as for their own people. What help is the Department giving directly to places of worship to facilitate that provision, and is it engaging with them regularly to ensure that this can be effectively implemented?

Robert Jenrick Portrait Robert Jenrick
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The right hon. Gentleman makes a series of very important points. At the start of the pandemic, I recognised that places of worship needed to be prioritised. They should not be relegated behind other activities, whether shops, casinos or other important things that we want to keep open to protect people’s livelihoods. Places of worship matter for those with faith, and we needed to ensure that they could reopen. I worked extremely closely with faith leaders through our places of worship taskforce. That work continues, and we have very good relationships with all the major faiths. The guidelines are in place and are now extremely detailed. They cover not only basic guidelines for all faiths, but very detailed guidelines for individual practices for particular religions. We saw that prominently recently, for example, with the Jewish holidays, when we worked out detailed guidelines for Yom Kippur. We will continue to work closely with faith leaders in the weeks and months ahead.