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Margaret Beckett: I have had the benefit of seeing the press release that the hon. Gentleman issued on the matter, which has the benefit of being wrong in two instances and of calling the scheme a proposal without
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substance. All I would say to him is that only the Conservative party would think that a proposal that attracts the support of 80 per cent. of the mortgage market is a proposal without substance.

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced our plans to go ahead with the scheme, he was extremely anxious, as was I—the hon. Gentleman will recall this, if he casts his mind back—to stress how important it is for people, first, to recognise that help can be made available; secondly, to go to their lenders for advice; and thirdly, to take independent financial advice. We thought it right then—and we think it right now—to draw people’s attention to those issues and, in particular, to the fact that there are already four or five other means of help available, but only to quite a narrowly defined group of people. That is why we thought it necessary to introduce the scheme, but of course it takes time to work up such details.

I am not familiar with the figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes, but they must, I think, be wrong. My understanding is that— [ Interruption. ] Well, they bear no comparison with any figures that have come from anyone else. I would simply say to him, first, that about 50 per cent. of mortgage lenders are participating directly in the scheme that the Government are offering and are able to take advantage of the guarantee that the Government have put in place. Secondly, in total 80 per cent. of mortgage lenders are either in the Government scheme or are offering provisions comparable to it. That is why we believe that it will be able to help many tens of thousands of people.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman, like the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), called on me to apologise to those who, despite the help that the Government have already made available, have lost their homes in the interim period. I am extremely sorry that those people lost their homes. As the House will know, in every year there are repossessions, despite, in this instance, help being made available by the Government. However, I am lost in admiration for the sheer gall of the Conservatives, who did not lift a finger to help a single family during the recessions of the ’80s and ’90s. All they did was to offer funds to buy up houses that had been repossessed, so we really do not need any lectures from them.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I very much welcome the scheme and the fact that it will help many thousands of people who otherwise might lose their homes. I also welcome the commitment to give publicity through the lenders, but could we also ensure that local councils are encouraged to give publicity? Finally, could we have a comprehensive monitoring arrangement put in place to look at the various schemes that help people in mortgage difficulties, and see whether some people might still fall through the various nets that are available, particularly private tenants, whose tenancies are put at risk when the owner of the property defaults on their mortgage?

Margaret Beckett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will be relieved to hear that he shares the view of the consumer organisations, which have strongly welcomed both the scheme that the Government have put in place and the speed at which we have been able to do so. That is completely unprecedented—the Conservatives did not
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lift a finger last time, as I said, so no one has any experience of putting forward such a scheme. In fact, the only people who have so far not welcomed what the Government are doing are the Conservatives.

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s view: we are very concerned and we are continuing to pursue the issue, especially the problem of tenants who may well be continuing to pay their rent in the proper way, but whose landlord may be defaulting on the mortgage. We have already put provisions in place whereby there should be a greater period of notice, but I take the view—I am confident that my hon. Friend, and perhaps the whole House, will share it—that although having seven or eight weeks’ notice to quit because the landlord has not paid the mortgage is better than two weeks, it still means that the person is without a home. We are looking as a matter of urgency to see whether more can be done here.

Infrastructure Planning Commission

4. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): What her most recent assessment is of the effect on the Planning Inspectorate of the establishment of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. [269446]

The Minister for Housing (Margaret Beckett): About 30,000 cases were received by the Planning Inspectorate in 2008-09. Of those, only 34 would have gone to and been considered by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, had it been in operation, and only 12 of those would have been dealt with by the inspectorate, had they all proceeded to inquiry. That is less than 0.05 per cent. of the cases received by the inspectorate in 2008-09, so we believe that the impact will be minimal.

Mrs. Lait: Given the likelihood that planning strategies will be in place for infrastructure, does the right hon. Lady really believe that only 12 planning applications will go in front of the IPC and that there will be only a minimal impact on the Planning Inspectorate? Is she really intending that so few planning inspectors should move from the Planning Inspectorate? Does she really believe that nobody will be hired to replace people in the Planning Inspectorate from local authorities? What impact does she expect that to have on housing, and why do not—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me say to the Minister for Housing that if she answers only one supplementary question, that would be fine.

Margaret Beckett: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the hon. Lady, who clearly has a number of detailed questions about the work of the Planning Inspectorate, would like to write to me, I would be happy to reply providing more detail in response to the different issues she wishes to raise. We think that about 34 cases would have gone to the IPC. The House needs to recognise and take into account the fact that a completely new—and, we believe, much better—system is being put in place whereby policy statements will be made about the overall issues, and then individual applications will be assessed against those policy statements. That, we believe, will simplify and streamline the process. That is why we believe that it will have a beneficial impact—not the impact that the hon. Lady suggests.

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Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Is it not in everybody’s interests to ensure that planning applications are dealt with as quickly as possible? When the IPC helps to achieve that, will it not have the knock-on effect of speeding up the present Planning Inspectorate?

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend is entirely right. In so far as one can assess these matters, we believe that the average time of about 100 weeks for major applications should come down to about 35 weeks. Assessments have been made of savings of some £300 million a year as a result of a more streamlined system. The emphasis placed on pre-application consultation will, I believe, be beneficial to the constituents of every hon. Member. People will have a clear understanding of what might be being proposed at a stage when it is possible to influence the shape of those proposals.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): The Infrastructure Planning Commission is set to cost taxpayers £15 million in the first year and £9 million for every year after that. Based on an estimate of 34 cases, that is going to be quite a lot of money per case. Given that even Sir Michael Pitt has admitted that it will be subject to legal challenges, how much taxpayers’ money does the Minister estimate will be spent on judicial review cases in the UK and further disputes in the European Court of Justice? I am sure that Members of all parties anticipate belt tightening in tomorrow’s Budget, so would not the best way to start be to remove a bit of quango flab, such as the IPC?

Margaret Beckett: I am interested to learn that that remains the view of the Conservatives, because the business community has made plain—not least when the Planning Act 2008 was going through the House of Lords—that it totally disagrees with them. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) a moment ago, the assessment is that, on average, the establishment of the IPC will save around £300 million a year. The hon. Lady may think that of no significance, but I assure her that the business community does not.

Violent Extremism (Prevention)

5. David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): What recent representations she has received on the Government’s programme to prevent violent extremism. [269447]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I receive a wide range of representations relating to the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism programme, and my Department has regular contact with community groups from across the country as well as with the three advisory groups for young Muslims, Muslim women and the local delivery of our Prevent programmes.

David T.C. Davies: When I last raised this issue, I asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that not one penny of Government money was being given to extremists or to violent extremists. She was unable to give me that assurance at the time, but the Department has now had a year to look into the issue. Can we
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possibly be given an assurance today that not one penny of Government money is being given to extremists. If not, why not?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he has raised the issue before. I am delighted to be able to tell him about the range of work that has been done in the last 12 months. First, extensive guidance was published for all local authorities in June last year, setting out exactly the criteria according to which groups should be funded. We fund groups that stand up to tackle violent extremism and uphold our shared values. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), I undertook to place in the Library of the House, by the end of April, full details—they are held in our Government offices—of the projects being funded.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Many people of different ethnicity live in my constituency. A number of them believe that they are seen as second-class citizens and are undervalued in the community, which has led to the view that that fuels violent extremism. Has the problem been drawn to my right hon. Friend’s attention over the past year, and if so, what is her Department doing to resolve it?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend has raised this matter in a typically sensitive way. As she suggests, young people in particular become radicalised for a range of reasons, some of which relate to social conditions in their areas in connection with deprivation and poverty. The Government as a whole are tackling those issues. My hon. Friend will be aware of the range of tremendously positive projects that are being undertaken with, in particular, young Muslims and women in our communities. I am afraid that we hear far too little about the huge range of community work being done by dedicated people to try to ensure that young people in this country have a positive sense of their identity in the future, regardless of their ethnic background, and feel properly valued.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the Secretary of State has answered this question herself, may I first say to her that we believe she had no alternative to the course that she took in suspending relations with the Muslim Council of Britain?

Let me now return to the question. The House will have noted that, for the second time, the Secretary of State was unable to give my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) the guarantee that he seeks that extremists have not got their hands on taxpayers’ money. As I know from correspondence with her, the reason is simple: no system exists to check who receives the cash before it is given. That is frankly scandalous. Can the Secretary of State at least guarantee that when she publishes information on where last year’s Preventing Violent Extremism money went—she has promised to do so—she will publish the details of who received the money, down to the very last penny?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that there is no system for checking the allocation of those funds to community groups. There is a system, for local authorities, the police and a range of other
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organisations, to ensure that the funds are allocated to groups that uphold our shared values and are committed to standing up to tackle extremism.

I have told the hon. Gentleman that this is not a ring-fenced grant, for the very reason that we want the work to be embedded as mainstream work for local authorities, and to draw in funding from other sources to ensure that it can be done in a proper, comprehensive fashion. I have also told him that we will place the information in the Library. We have told local authorities that the grant is not ring-fenced, but because of its exceptionally sensitive nature, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), has written to local authorities saying that we will continue to monitor it extremely carefully. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that if we want this work to be embedded as mainstream activity, we must be prepared to make sure we are working in proper, effective partnership with our local authorities.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Department’s funding for tackling violent extremism and enhancing community cohesion is welcome, but may I caution the Secretary of State that there is a growing feeling among certain ethnic minority groups, particularly the Sikhs, that her Department has not got the balance right and that it keeps throwing money at Muslims—we understand why—and is ignoring other groups? I urge her to look at that balance again; will she assure me that she will do so?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend is right that concern is sometimes expressed among a variety of groups, and I am therefore keen not simply to work with the Muslim community, because tackling violent extremism in our country is not an issue for the Muslim community on its own; we must all make sure that we have resilient communities. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are now doing much more work across a wider section of the faith community—the inter-faith week will be held later this year. I am also keen to do more to tackle far-right extremism. All of us want to create communities where hatred and division have no part to play.

Building Developments (Access)

6. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What planning guidance applies in respect of access to public sector building developments by means of transport other than car. [269448]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): Planning policy guidance note 13 on transport encourages access to public sector building developments by sustainable transport modes. It requires travel plans, which evaluate site access, for applications with significant transport implications. The transport options are then agreed with local authorities and transport providers as part of the planning process.

Mr. Bone: I am so grateful to the Minister for that reply that I almost want to sit down, but in my constituency the NHS is moving an out-patient facility from the centre of the largest town in the district to which 20 per cent. of people travel either on foot or by public transport
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to a small town whose bus service runs only once an hour and which is obviously inaccessible to most pedestrians. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what appears to be a flagrant breach of planning policy?

Mr. Wright: I would certainly be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. In respect of the provision of health facilities—or, indeed, of any major improvements to public services—a local planning authority would need to ask about the travel plans and travel assessments required to allow customers to use such facilities. I imagine that the local planning authority did that in this instance, but I look forward to meeting the hon. Gentleman shortly to discuss the matter.

Retained Firefighters

7. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What representations she has received on the effect on retained firefighters of the abolition of the working time directive opt-out. [269449]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Sadiq Khan): I have received a number of written representations about the potential impact on firefighters working a retained duty system of the abolition of the working time directive opt-out, including from hon. Members, Members of the Scottish Parliament, and the Retained Firefighters Union. I also had a meeting with the president and national general secretary of the RFU earlier this month at which the loss of the opt-out was discussed. I have also received representations from members of the Local Government Association fire services forum and others.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. In my constituency of Forest of Dean our fire service is provided solely by retained firefighters. I have had the opportunity to go on a training exercise with those based in Cinderford to see their excellent work. Given the importance of that opt-out, without which the Chief Fire Officers Association has said the retained service could not function, why have Labour MEPs been voting against retaining it, thereby letting down the people of my constituency and our country?

Mr. Khan: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that retained firefighters do an invaluable job. He referred to his rural constituency, but there are 17 fire and rescue authorities where retained firefighters comprise more than 50 per cent. of the operational work force. The Government take the possibility of the opt-out very seriously. We are in conciliation talks with the European Commission, representatives of the European Parliament and the presidency, which represents the Council of Ministers, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the next round of conciliation talks is set for 23 April and we are keen to ensure we have the proper resilience arrangements in place by keeping the opt-out.

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