Christmas, Christianity and Communities

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your guidance, Dame Maria, and a privilege to follow several hon. Friends, in particular my friend the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for being bold enough to secure this debate, and for delivering a great speech. I hope that I have done nothing that he needs to forgive me for.

Christmas, Christianity and community are all massively important. It is great to have this debate at this time of year. Over the past few days, I have had the joy of visiting Christmas markets at Shap and Orton, and Grange Christmas tree festival, where I gave a little talk. I read a lesson at Kendal parish church carol service, and attended the wonderful nativity at Kendal’s Dean Gibson Roman Catholic Primary School, which included the privilege of giving the award to the winner of my Christmas card competition, Anna Kay. Her design of a Herdwick sheep inside a Christmas wreath—it could not be more Lake district—is being delivered by our wonderful volunteers to 40,000 houses.

I visited several other schools that had taken part in the competition, and joined in their Christmas celebrations. What a joy all of that is. At my church in Kendal, our Christmas celebrations reach many more people than would normally attend our services. I know that is the case for churches the length and breadth of Westmorland and Lonsdale and, indeed, the whole country. I do not need any persuading that Christmas is important to communities, locally and nationally. It brings us together, family by family, street by street, village by village, town by town.

The shared acknowledgement of the importance of this festival as a time of rest and a time for family is significant for the collective life of our country. However, for those working in healthcare, social care, the police, the fire services, hospitality and many other professions, including some in my close family, it is a time of continued, if not enhanced, busyness. We are grateful to all those people; we pay tribute to them and thank them.

Traditions are important, and we have them in our family. We decorate a tree in the midst of the woods near our home in Westmorland. We do the same family walk every year on Christmas eve. We share the annual festive disappointment of an en masse family trip to Blackburn Rovers, and we watch the same films over and over. Without even checking, I know the entire script of “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2”—not “Home Alone 3” or “Home Alone 4”, because they are abominations.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Happily. Is the hon. Gentleman a defender of “Home Alone 3”?

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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No, the most wonderful Christmas film is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, with James Stewart. That tells everything about everyone’s story, and how people influence one another. That is what we do in this House, so to me, that is the best Christmas film ever.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I would say it is a tie between “Home Alone 2”—because I think Tim Curry makes it—and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The other tradition on Christmas eve is watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”; then I sit around with my brothers-in-law and watch the “Father Ted” Christmas special—I know all the words to that, too.

Some decry the loss of the Christian message from Christmas, seeing that as an undermining of British values. I understand that concern, although I do not think it is anything particularly new. Commercialism and escapism have been displacing the Christmas message for decades if not longer, and a nice, feel-good, schmaltzy, vague magic has been allowed to displace the meaning of the nativity for longer than I have been alive, at least. I have had the best parents, but I was not brought up to go to church, although I was raised in an era when the assumption was that we believed in God—probably the Christian version. Nevertheless, the first Christmas story that I remember having read to me as a very small child was “The Night Before Christmas”, which begins:

“’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”.

I remember the thrill of being read that by my mum, as I perched on my bed on Christmas eve, ready to be tucked up. I was aged three and a half. There was an empty stocking hanging expectantly, and a tingling sense of excitement. Lovely and traditional though it was, it has no more to do with the Christian message of Christmas than “Home Alone”, “Love Actually”, “Elf”, or any of the other stories that we enjoy at this time of year, so before we get too upset about Christmas being joylessly erased by winter festivals and all that, let us not forget that the Christian message has always been seen as something of an inconvenience—something uncomfortable to be brushed aside, whether it is Christmas or not. In fact, Christmas is one of those rare occasions when you can more easily get away with talking about Christianity. This debate is a case in point.

My contention is that Christianity has always been and always is counter-cultural. It is meant to be. It is deeply disturbing and even offensive. I am reminded of Lucy asking Mr Beaver about Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. She asks nervously, “Is he a tame lion?” “Oh no,” says Mr Beaver, “he’s not tame, but he is good.” He is good. Jesus is not tame; Christianity is not tame; and Christmas is not tame, but He is, and they are, good. I would say to people: if you are prepared to allow yourself to be disturbed and offended, you will discover that He is good—good for you, even.

Christmas is all about stories: there is Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”—best performed, of course, by the Muppets—“It’s a Wonderful Life”, the “Home Alone” films and the many legends of Father Christmas and the trials of his reindeer. The Christmas story, however, is a different kind of tale altogether. It is told in just two of the gospels in the New Testament—Matthew and Luke—and the jarring thing is that the writers expect us to believe that the nativity is history. Just before Luke launches into the account of the nativity, he starts his book with this:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

Those four short verses tell us something pretty shocking about the story that is to follow, in which the God of the universe writes himself into our story. He comes into the world that he created as a baby, born in poverty in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. He comes into the world for one chief reason: to suffer and die in our place, so that sinful human beings can be forgiven our wretchedness and have eternal life. Luke’s verses tell us that this story cannot be a fairy story. It cannot be a fable or a feel-good, festive yarn. Given Luke’s introduction, this story can only reasonably be one of two things: fact or fabrication. When we look more carefully into the evidence of the eyewitnesses, we see that fabrication soon falls away as a plausible theory, too.

Maybe we get a shiver down our spine when we think of the magic of Christmas. How much more of a shiver might we get if we realised that what we read about in the nativity is true? The fact that millions have accepted that continues to be crucial to our society. The nativity tells the story of a teenage mum who, along with her husband and new child, becomes a refugee from a tyrant, lost in an empire that cares little for them and that values them as nothing more than tax fodder. There is so much there for so many people to identify with. It is a reminder that God never considers us an irrelevance or an insignificant and anonymous number; every hair on our head is numbered, and our names are written on the palm of His hands. Commercialism and escapism will not make Christmas mean anything, really.

Maybe our difficulty is that we feel inclined to miss Christmas, or at least to celebrate less, because, after all, look at the state of the world—what is there to celebrate? God looked at the world and saw the mess it was in. He did not hide under the covers; He entered in at enormous cost, because He loves us. Christians are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, running the food banks, providing support for those in debt or poverty, housing the homeless, befriending the lonely, and loving our neighbour in practical ways. That is not because we seek to earn God’s favour, but in joyful response to the fact that by His Grace, we already have it, and Christmas proves that we have it.

If the Christmas story is true, yes, it is disturbing, but it means that there is justice. It means that evil does not win; good does. It means that there is love beyond our wildest dreams. It means that there is ultimate truth, and that there is meaning in every life, and in every part of every life. It means that human rights actually exist. They are not just a passing 21st-century fashion; they are the invention of the inventor of everything. Because we have ultimate dignity of bearing the image of God, that means every other human being does, too. No Parliament, President, despot or dictator can change that one jot.

Christmas is also a time of personal sadness for some. It may be the time when we feel the loss of loved ones the most. Christmas is a time of great joy for me, but all the same, this Christmas will be my 20th without my mum. I mentioned earlier that the first story I remember my mum reading to me was “The Night Before Christmas”, and the last thing I read to my mum in her hospital bed was this from the last book in the Bible, the Revelation:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with humans, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

If Luke is to be believed that the nativity is eyewitness testimony, we can believe those things, too. It means that there is real hope, even for a scumbag like me. Happy Christmas.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 4th December 2023

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. All of us approach any conflict with a sense of horror and foreboding for what it may mean for innocent civilians, and it is in that spirit that the vigil that he mentions was held. It was great to see people from across communities expressing solidarity. I had the opportunity last week to talk to leaders from various Muslim community groups across the United Kingdom, and I pay tribute to them for their work in challenging extremism of all kinds.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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If we are to tackle the reality of antisemitism in the present, it is vital that we learn from the past. In the summer of 1945, 300 Jewish children who had survived the death camps in Nazi Germany made their lives and were rehabilitated on the banks of Windermere lake at Troutbeck Bridge. They are affectionately and proudly known by all of us as the Windermere boys. As we work together to celebrate their legacy, and to use that legacy to ensure that we fight antisemitism in every part of our country, will the Secretary of State meet me and the people involved with the project to discuss how we can build a lasting memorial to the legacy of those wonderful young children who built a new life in this country and overcame the horrors of Nazi Germany?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of that episode in our history, and I would be absolutely delighted to work with him to ensure that that signal moment in our history is properly celebrated. It has been a feature of the United Kingdom that we have always recognised the importance of standing up against antisemitism and providing refuge to those fleeing persecution, so I look forward to talking to him in due course.

Rural Councils: Funding

Tim Farron Excerpts
Wednesday 29th November 2023

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an absolute honour to serve under your stewardship this morning, Mrs Latham. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), who made a very good speech. It is great that he introduced this topic for us to coalesce around, although I will say something that right hon. and hon. Members might not like to hear: I have analysed the 6,366 words that the Chancellor used in his autumn statement last week, and not a single one of them was the word “rural”. That might be an accidental and pedantic omission, or it might tell us more than the Chancellor intended. It certainly rings bells with rural communities in Westmorland, who feel ignored and taken for granted.

I want to make two or three quick points about the formula for funding rural councils. First, authorities such as mine are inadequately funded to take account of the number of temporary residents in our communities. Some 227,000 people live in the area administered by Westmorland and Furness Council, and we have something like 20 million visitors to the lakes and dales every year. Some stay overnight, but most come as day visitors. The pressure they put on the roads and other parts of our infrastructure is significant. Every single one of them is welcome, but it seems wrong that we are not in any way compensated, particularly with highways funding, to acknowledge the fact that we are the biggest visitor destination in the country outside London. I congratulate the council on doing its job and making a methodical, good effort to tackle the state of our roads, but it is not fair that it is not funded for the people who visit.

Secondly, others have mentioned sparsity. I have a mere 130 schools in my constituency, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), but they cover a huge area, with many primary schools with fewer than 20 children and many high schools with fewer than 200. Of course it is more expensive to provide services in such dispersed areas, and sparsity is not a sufficient part of the funding formula. All that is against the backdrop of unfair funding for rural councils in general. On average, a person living in a rural community such as mine receives £105 less in central Government funding than their urban counterpart, and pays £104 more in council tax.

I want to make two points about second homes. First, the people who are lucky and well off enough to have a second home in a community such as mine can come and buy a home in Ambleside, Grasmere or Appleby, and they may turn it into a holiday let for a few weeks a year. They can therefore not pay any council tax, and because they are a small business they pay no business tax either. That means that people on very low incomes in Appleby, Kendal, Ambleside, Windermere and so on are subsidising wealthy people to have a second, third, fourth or fifth home in our communities.

I am pleased that the Government have said that they will allow councils to double council tax for second homes. That is good news. Westmorland and Furness Council reckons that will bring in an extra £10 million to help local residents. The council, which plans to start this scheme in April, has done its duty by giving second home owners the necessary 12 months’ notice. My question is: have the Government got their house in order? Will they be permitting councils to double tax on second homes from April 2024? If they fail to do that, will they compensate the councils that were planning to make use of this new and welcome power?

Let us talk briefly about social care. Rural councils get an average of 14% less funding for social care than urban councils. However, in many rural areas—certainly mine—the number of older people who require that care is much greater. The average age of my constituents is 10 years above the national average. Our area also has a complete crisis in affordable housing for both private and social rented homes, with average house prices about 12 times the average wages. So where do the workforce live? As a consequence of the housing crisis and our older population, we have a serious care crisis in our area. Earlier this year, 32% of our hospital beds were occupied by people who were fit to leave hospital but could not receive a care package. Why? Because there are not enough homes for the people who work in social care. We are not paying those people enough money. The Government have made promises before but have failed to act, letting down our old people and our rural communities.

Let us talk briefly about transport poverty, which is a huge issue that we all have in common in our rural communities. The £2 bus fare is very welcome, but it is of no use whatsoever if we have no bus. We need to fund our younger people to get them into further education—sixth forms and apprenticeship posts—but we need to make sure that there are working buses to do that. One reason that is not the case now is that the Government have not devolved the powers that they devolve to urban areas to rural ones. Why will they not allow communities like ours to have full devolution so we can have our own bus companies and fund rural bus services? They will only allow that for urban areas that have a Mayor, and that is disadvantaging rural communities. I hope the Minister will answer that.

Housing in Tourist Destinations

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 28th November 2023

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your guidance this afternoon, Sir Charles. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) for bringing a really important debate to this place.

The value of tourism is enormous. I am proud to represent the Lake district, the Yorkshire and Westmorland dales and many other beautiful places that do not happen, for the time being, to be in a national park. We are proud of the fact that there are 18 million visitors to our area every year, that 60,000 jobs in Cumbria are created and sustained by tourism and that there is a £3.5 billion economy. There is much to be proud of, and we also take seriously our role as curators and stewards of this beautiful landscape that millions of people come to visit—it is a privilege for us to take on that role.

However, as right hon. Members and hon. Members have pointed out, we cannot ignore the damaging impact that the lack of regulation has on our housing sector. A consequence is the simple fact that, in our communities, the average house prices are 12 times the average incomes, which is the highest rate in the north of England. During the pandemic, 80% of house sales were to the second home market. Over 50% of the homes in the town of Coniston are not lived in full time and, in the villages in the Langdales—Chapel Stile and Elterwater—over 80% of homes are not lived in.

We have seen the number of short-term lets grow significantly, particularly over the last three years, as well as the eating up of homes that were lived in by the workforce. The Government rightly brought in the moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. They then ended it a year later, and within a matter of weeks, we saw an explosion of people being expelled and evicted from their homes under section 21, with those homes becoming Airbnbs. In the first year following the ending of the eviction ban, there was a 32% increase in the number of holiday lets in South Lakeland alone. A massive number became even more massive, and those were homes that people had been living in.

We have seen section 21 being used by landlords to move from long-term let to short-term let. I am very encouraged that Sykes Cottages has agreed that it will take no properties on to its books that have been made available because somebody was evicted in that way. Airbnb and other platforms have not said that, and I challenge them to follow that example.

The human impact has been massive, with families being uprooted and divided. I am thinking of a couple in Ambleside: he was a chef and she was a teaching assistant, and they had two kids—one was in school and one in nursery. They were evicted from their home; their home became an Airbnb; they had to leave the whole area; their kids were taken out of school; and they have to give up their work and find something else in an entirely different place.

As for the impact on hospitality and tourism, 63% of hospitality and tourism businesses in Cumbria cannot meet the capacity of the demand they have, because they simply do not have the staff to do so.

In the care sector, more than around a third of the beds in our hospitals are full of people we cannot get out of hospitals and into care because there are not the carers. Why is that? Because there is nowhere for the carers to live. The knock-on effect on our hospitals, A&Es, ambulance response times and every part of our health service is huge and tangible.

People who have been offered decent jobs in health and education in our communities have to give back their word once they have checked out the local housing market. I was at the wonderful St Martin and St Mary Primary School in Windemere, headed by the fantastic Mr Towe and his great team. They have lost two to three classes because of a reduction in the number of people who live in those communities full time, and they are not the only school that has faced that impact.

The new builds that we see are not really affordable, so what are the answers? We talk about affordable housing, but “affordable housing” often means 80% of the market value. Well, that is great: a £400,000 home rather than a £500,000 home—a fat lot of good that is to my communities. What must we do? We must have the new planning categories, including the one that the Government have promised in order to make short-term lets a separate category of planning use, giving councils and national parks the power to maintain homes for local people. Like other Members on both sides, I want them to crack on and do what they promised by bringing in the new category of planning use.

I also want the Government to do what they have so far failed to agree to do, which is to make second homes a separate category of planning use. I urge the Government to give national parks and local authorities the enforcement power to make sure that they can retain homes for local communities and local families. When we build new homes, let us give our national parks and councils the powers to enforce and to ensure that every single home that is built is affordable for local people and people who will live locally.

We have to remember that these beautiful places exist in a broken housing market, and that we will see ourselves with broken communities as a consequence of that broken market. We lose our young people, and the most tragic thing is that only the very few wealthiest can return. I urge the Minister to act now to save communities like mine.

--- Later in debate ---
Lee Rowley Portrait The Minister for Housing (Lee Rowley)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on securing this important debate. I know that colleagues in Cornwall and Devon have returned to this issue time and time again and that there are very strong views about it. As clear advocates of their constituencies, they have highlighted the issues they see in their individual areas. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay for all the work he has done with colleagues, both today and more broadly, to highlight this issue.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about the role of Housing Minister being sponsored by a certain company, and I liked the role so much that I came back a second time. I recall some of the discussions I had when I was first in this position, and the issue before us was one of the bigger ones raised by colleagues who are in the room today. In my first debate back in this role, it is a pleasure to be able to talk about it and to understand the continuing challenges faced in not just the south-west but other parts of the country. Colleagues have seen first hand, and have heard from constituents about, the benefits of tourism but also the challenges that come with it. I pay tribute to all the work they do.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp) rightly highlighted, there is a balance to strike. First, in responding on behalf of the Government, I acknowledge, as all hon. Members have done, the benefits of tourism. It is an economic, social and cultural asset, and it is hugely valuable for parts of the country such as not only Cornwall and Devon, but mine in North East Derbyshire. It employs 1.7 million people and contributed nearly £74 billion, pre-pandemic. Up to one in five jobs in Cornwall is supported by it, and that is one of the reasons why we need to get this right—so that people who work in the sector can live. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) highlighted the staffing challenges.

To enjoy the tourism offer, people need somewhere to stay and to rest. This is not a new issue, but it has come into sharper relief in the past 10 or 15 years, particularly with the rise in digital platforms and the sharing economy. That change has accentuated the offer in many parts of the country, but it has also created significant challenges, which were outlined.

Tourism has brought benefits, but we know and have heard about the challenges and the impact on communities, including the growing number of lets, which limits the availability of housing for people permanently resident in the community, and the reduction in the permanent population. That translates into problems for families and neighbourhoods, and issues with public services. Those are problems of popularity, of desire, and of people wanting to experience and enjoy the benefits of such areas, but as colleagues have indicated, they are still problems, on which it is reasonable and proportionate to take action.

As I am sure hon. Members will appreciate, the same issues do not apply in all parts of the country. We have to be cautious in how we approach this issue, to ensure that we deal appropriately with the different challenges and opportunities found in the south-west and in the city of Chester, which the hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) highlighted. Areas such as mine might not face the same kind of tourist issues as other areas, despite it being even prettier than Cornwall, Devon, and Strangford—a point that I will take up separately with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Hon. Friends and colleagues have asked me to talk about our work in Government, but it has been described already, so I will not go through it in extraordinary detail. As has been outlined, my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have consulted on a registration scheme that we intend to introduce under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023, which received Royal Assent a short time ago. That is a tool to provide local authorities with stronger evidence. It was consulted on earlier this year, with more than 2,500 responses received. We are part of the way through analysing those receipts, and the Government will respond as soon as we can. I assure the House that I have heard what Members say about the importance of moving quickly, and I will pass that back to colleagues in my Department, and in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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Will the Minister give way?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am usually delighted to give way, but given the limited time, I will demur in this instance. On the consultation on use-class changes and short-term lets, I have heard clearly that there is a desire for clarity and speed. We are moving as quickly as we can. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar) highlighted the Scottish example, which I will refrain from commenting on, apart from to emphasise that it took four years and a delay to get to that point. I do not anticipate ours being a four-year journey, but we need to ensure that we do this correctly, and work through the issue in the depth that it deserves. I assure hon. Members that we will try to do that in the time we have available. Given that I have made up a little time, I am happy to hear the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron).

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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The Minister is a good man. During my enjoyable time on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Committee, his predecessor guaranteed to me that the change in planning use class for short-term lets would come in this April. Can he deliver on that promise?

Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to talk about that separately. I will try to move that as quickly as I can, recognising that we have had a large number of consultation responses, which we are working through as quickly as we can.

In the few minutes I have left, I turn to some of the points made. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay, who secured the debate, raised a concern about the implications for parish councils. I am grateful to him for doing so, both in the debate and a short time before. I spoke with officials in advance of the debate, and we are unsure about some of the challenges that are experienced. I am very happy to receive direct information on that from the parish council in Mevagissey—I tried to pronounce that; I hope that gives me some credit. If the parish council gets a power of competence, as it can, it should be able to spend the money that it talks about in a more flexible way. I am happy to speak to my hon. Friend about that, if that is helpful.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon rightly talked about balance, and the importance of the broader tourist ecosystem, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about a taskforce, but I think we have clarity about the challenges, at least as far as I can see from this initial debate with colleagues who are impacted by tourism. The need now is to move at the greatest pace to hopefully bring in measures that we have said we are looking at.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) highlighted some of the more extreme instances of these issues; in particular, she mentioned the single child in Portloe, who is now in school. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford for the Northern Ireland perspective, as ever. This is day 11 in this job, and I have not yet spoken specifically to colleagues in Northern Ireland, but I look forward to doing so through our inter-ministerial groups.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) talked about the importance of building housing, and the opportunities to build it in the right place. That is absolutely at the core of what we are trying to do in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities: to build more housing, but in the right place. Where there are opportunities in rural areas as well as urban ones, we should take them.

Finally, given the comments from the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and for City of Chester, let me gently ensure some balance in this debate, in the short time that I have left. I understand that we have challenges around housing, but taking a broader perspective, home ownership has started to rise again in this country for the first time in many years. It is important for that to be recognised and anticipated. Three of the years with the greatest house building in this country have been in the last five years. We also have the largest number of first-time buyers in many years. There is always more to do—I would not want to suggest otherwise, particularly in this debate, when there are specific, localised issues that need to be dealt with—but that needs to be placed in the wider context of the progress that is being made.

I conclude by saying again how grateful I am for the opportunity to debate this important issue, and I recognise the challenge in individual areas. We have to get the balance right, and recognise that there are many different circumstances, as well as areas that are impacted and those that are not. The impact may be felt in differently in different parts of the country. I acknowledge and recognise the points made, the challenge that has been set for us to move as quickly as possible, and the opportunity to make progress on this issue, for the benefit of all the areas represented in the debate.

Renters (Reform) Bill

Tim Farron Excerpts
Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which gives me an opportunity to apologise to the House, on behalf of the Government, my Department and in particular myself, for the delay in responding to a number of Select Committee reports that have been put forward. The Chairman of the Select Committee knows that I hold him and his Committee in the highest regard. I deeply regret the delays in responding to the many excellent reports that the Select Committee has put forward. The reasons for that relate to policy discussions within Government. We wanted to make sure that we had a clear and settled position in response, but that does not excuse us of the need to do better. I have discussed with Ministers and others in the Department the vital importance of responding quickly and showing respect for this House, so may I again apologise to my hon. Friend and to the Chairman of the Select Committee?

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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The delay has cost hundreds of families in my constituency their homes. Section 21 evictions have been carried out on so many families, as the sector has moved into the Airbnb short-term let market. Will the Secretary of State apologise to those families? Will he also very quickly bring in the change of use designations that I know he is considering, to ensure that short-term lets and also second homes are separate categories of planning use, so that we can protect our lakes and dales communities and ensure that they can survive?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have an enormous amount of respect for the work that he does in this area. I would draw a distinction between the response to the Select Committee’s report and the bringing forward of legislation, but he is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that we need to consider—and we are—our responses to the consultations on registration and on changes to planning use requirements in the short-term let market. We hope to come forward shortly with our response to those consultations. I should also say that I had the opportunity last week to talk to the founder of Airbnb, and I outlined concerns very similar to those that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The Father of the House makes a very important point. Of course, his beautiful constituency—situated as it is between the sea and areas of outstanding natural beauty—has already seen significant development and we do need to ensure that settlements have the green belts around them protected.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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On developing brownfield sites, will the Secretary of State consider giving powers to councils such as Westmorland and Furness, and to planning authorities such as those in the Yorkshire dales and the Lake district, to ensure exclusive provision for affordable and social rented housing so that we do not see communities such as ours dying out because all the houses built end up being sold for second homes?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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From his perspective as an assiduous constituency Member, the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but may I commiserate with him? At the recent Liberal Democrat conference, I am afraid he was defeated, and his party adopted a housing policy that he describes as Thatcherite. It is a source of sadness to me to be outflanked on the right by the Liberal Democrats, but may I welcome more defections to the Thatcherite cause from those who once embraced my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) as one of their own?

Nutrient Neutrality: Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 5th September 2023

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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I am aware that my hon. Friend represents an area with acute environmental sensitivities and he is right to raise those concerns on the Floor of the House. We work across Government not only to tackle the storm overflow issue to which he refers, but to find a way to allow house building and other types of building that is much needed to drive jobs and investment, and to support businesses in his constituency, without that having a weakening effect on our environment.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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I wonder if I could pick up on something the Minister said a moment ago. Natural England is not a Government partner; it is a Government agency. So far as this issue is concerned, it is literally the Government. This rule has existed since 2019 and the Government’s guidance on it has indeed got in the way of genuinely affordable, environmentally sustainable housing schemes in the Lake District and, I am sure, elsewhere. The answer was not to scrap it but to change the guidance to make it more intelligent, so that we protect our waterways and our landscapes from pollution without preventing vital development. Why did the Government spend four years dithering before panicking, overreacting and then acting in line with their own nature by damaging British nature?

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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The hon. Gentleman makes his points in his usual way, but without confronting the reality of the situation that affects his constituents. Of course Natural England is a Government partner and a Government body. We work in partnership with Natural England. We work constructively with it to tackle these complex legal issues. I am sure he would be the first to jump up and complain if we took action too quickly without considering the consequences. As it is, what we are doing is a sensible, proportionate measure to allow much needed development in the Lake District: homes for his constituents that have the planning permission to be built—finally.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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In Westmorland and Lonsdale, average house prices are 12 times average household incomes. The danger we have is that when we see houses developed, we are meeting demand, but not need. Should the Government not give us far greater planning controls, so that we can ensure that we do not see 100 homes built that are a waste of bricks going into the second home market? Instead, we should ensure that they are affordable homes, socially rented for local families.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean
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Local authorities have a huge amount of freedom. They have been given the tools by the Government through legislation, through developer contribution powers and through Homes England grants to deliver affordable homes. The hon. Member will also know about the wider work we are doing on second homes to enable local authorities to raise council tax. I hope he can see that the direction of travel will help alleviate some of the pressures he has highlighted.

Oral Answers to Questions

Tim Farron Excerpts
Monday 5th June 2023

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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I can think of few things I would enjoy more. I always enjoy visiting Peterborough, which gives me an opportunity not only to work with my hon. Friend, who is such an effective advocate for Peterborough, but to meet the stellar council leader Wayne Fitzgerald, who did so well in the recent local elections—a vote of confidence in Conservative leadership in Peterborough.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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One of the clearest examples that rural communities are in desperate need of levelling up is the shocking state of bus services and the decline in access to them. The £2 fare is very welcome, but it is of no use to people who live in a community with no bus service. In the next few weeks, we face the withdrawal of the 530 Cartmel Peninsula service and the S1 Sedbergh to Kendal service. What funding and additional powers can the Secretary of State promise to the new Westmorland and Furness Council to make sure such communities retain their buses and that less well-served areas get new services?

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The hon. Gentleman is right to say that bus services are vital, not least for rural communities such as those he represents. I would like to talk to him and to Westmorland and Furness Council, which is relatively newly formed and Lib Dem-led—at the moment. I am looking forward to talking about what we can do to provide, with the Department for Transport, suitable services for his constituents.

Short-term Holiday Lets: Planning

Tim Farron Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd May 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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It is an honour to serve under your tutelage and guidance, Dame Caroline. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) for securing the debate and leading with a very thoughtful introduction. Without wasting time, I endorse all the wise procedural questions he asked the Minister, who can take them from me as well.

We are talking about the problem of short-term lets. Representing the lakes, dales and other beautiful parts of Cumbria, I want to say clearly that we value the tourism economy. It is of massive significance, with 20 million visitors a year and 60,000 jobs in the sector. It is not just about the economy; we believe we have a duty to steward that beautiful part of the world for others to visit.

We are a national park where people can visit the Brathay outdoor education centre on Sunday, or the Outward Bound Trust centre at Ullswater. We live in a place that we want people to visit. It is a privilege to do that and to look after them. We are not denying that holiday lets are an important part of the tourism economy. There needs to be visitor accommodation, and that includes Airbnb, which is a neutral platform. The rules within which it operates are the problem.

We have to accept that, in my part of the world and that of many others in the Chamber today, there is not just a housing crisis, but a catastrophe. There are three principal causes: a lack of genuinely affordable homes being built; excessive numbers of second homes gobbling up full-time residential accommodation; and a short-term rented sector that has gobbled up the long-term private rented sector.

The register looks like an important step in tackling issues to do with standards and quality but clearly, as alluded to by the hon. Member for Torbay, it is a potential window to creating a separate category of planning use, which is necessary if we are to allow authorities such as the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and Westmorland and Furness local authority the opportunity to regulate and keep a high minimum of long-term properties available for local people to live in.

The pandemic saw lots of things change. One was the stamp duty holiday, introduced by the now Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, which saw a massive boost in the number of second homes. Of all house sales in that period, 80% went to the second-home market in my part of the world. We saw an enormous increase of long-term rented properties collapsing principally into Airbnb, largely because the Government did not scrap section 21 evictions at the time they said they would.

The consequences are huge and human. I think of the couple with two small children in Ambleside, she a teaching assistant and he a chef. They were evicted from their flat because the landlord wanted to go to Airbnb. They had literally nowhere else to go, so the children were out of school, a teaching assistant was lost to the local primary school and a chef lost to a local hotel. They had to move 25 miles away and out of the area.

In Sedbergh, a relatively small town in the dales at the end of my constituency, 25 households were evicted at the same time—all chasing zero homes available for long-term rent. I think of a mum and her 15-year-old son, who lived their entire lives in a village just outside Grange before they were evicted. Again, there was nowhere they could remain within the community. When people are evicted, there is nowhere else to go.

I have some quick figures. There are 232 long-term rental properties available in the whole of the county of Cumbria, and there are 8,384 short-term lets, of which 75% are Airbnbs. When someone is kicked out of their home because their landlord wants to turn it into a short-term let, there is literally nowhere they can go in their community. The consequences are vast: hollowed-out communities, schools with falling rolls—many really good schools have seen 20% to 30% of their rolls disappear in two or three years—and a national park that only very wealthy and privileged people can afford to visit and stay in. It is devastating for our economy, too: 83% of hospitality and tourism businesses in Cumbria report that they have difficulty in recruiting staff. Some 63% are operating below capacity and are unable to meet demand because they cannot recruit the staff. That is for the tourism economy, which is worth £3.5 billion a year in the lakes and the dales of Cumbria. We are under-meeting the demand that exists because of a lack of staffing, as there is nowhere for people to live.

It is not just the tourism economy that is affected, but the care sector and other professions. At one stage, earlier this year, 32% of hospital beds in Morecambe bay were blocked. Why? The bottom line is that we cannot get people out of hospital because there are not enough carers. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to live.

What the Government are proposing may be locking the stable door after the horses have bolted, but I am glad that at least they are thinking of doing that. I am optimistic about a better and fairer housing market in the lakes, the dales and elsewhere in Cumbria, but it will need ambitious regulation. Part of my frustration is that this catastrophe is avoidable and obviously fixable. Short-term lets need to be a separate category of planning use so that local authorities can ensure that there are enough homes, not just in national parks but in places such as Grange, Kendal and Appleby.

The Government also need to tackle the number of second homes, although they show no intention of doing so. Why is a separate category of planning use not being considered for second homes? It is good that the Government have allowed local authorities to double the council tax on second homes, and we in Westmorland and Furness are gladly doing that. We also need to tackle the issue of new homes being affordable, which does not mean £300,000 a year. It requires giving not just national parks, but authorities outside them, the ability to say, “The only things you can build here have got to be affordable and available for local people.”

The housing catastrophe can be overturned, but with the Government planning to think about tackling only one of its three causes, those of us in Cumbria and communities like ours will remain of the view that this Government do not understand much, do not care much either, and are rather taking us all for granted.