The business for the week commencing
The House will rise for the Whitsun recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday
Provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the business.
We all share the horror at the reports of antisemitic hate speech and attacks this week, yet some people are falsely defending antisemitic hate speech on university campuses under the guise of free speech, which the Government plan to make into some sort of law. Can I ask the Leader of the House, genuinely, if he will ask the Secretary of State for Education to consider working with, rather than against, universities on how to respond to antisemitism? The priorities of free speech and protecting people from incitement to racial hatred are both important, and his Government will need to exercise care, not a blunt instrument, if our universities are able to call out antisemitism “at every stage”, as the Prime Minister rightly said we should do yesterday.
It is Dementia Action Week. One in three of us will develop dementia in our lifetimes and 1 million people in this country will have the condition by 2025. There was moving testimony this week from people living with dementia at the Health and Social Care Committee. No one here can ignore the heartbreak of this cruel disease: those who live with it and those who love them. This last year has been awful for everyone, but people living with dementia and its consequences have had a particularly difficult time with isolation, people caring at home and those in residential care. And yet, 666 days since the Prime Minister promised the people of this country that his plan for social care was ready to go, yesterday he was unable to answer a simple yes or no question from my hon. Friend Justin Madders on the whereabouts of the plan. Could the Leader of the House help?
Last week, the Leader of the House said at business questions in response to Owen Thompson that the Government can do anything they want because they have a majority of 80—it was that or thereabouts. Well, if they say they can do anything they want, we can only assume that if they do not do something, it is because they do not want to. This week, as well as deciding not to fix social care, the Government have decided not to fix building safety. After telling the House—and, more importantly, the thousands of people across the country affected by this scandal, some of them constituents of Government Members—that residents would not be left to pay for the mess made by some parts of the building industry, the Government voted down Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech this week to sort this out urgently. People across this country who have been so profoundly let down by the Government on this issue will have noticed that their Tory MP has failed them yet again.
This was also the week that the Government continued not to reward dedicated key workers, including nurses and NHS staff, with an adequate pay rise. Yesterday my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter asked the Prime Minister what he thinks when he hears Jenny McGee, the nurse who cared for the Prime Minister when he was so ill with covid, say of NHS staff:
“We’re not getting the respect and now pay that we deserve. I’m just sick of it. So I’ve handed in my resignation.”
But all the Prime Minister could do was trot out a load of waffle, and clearly that does not pay the bills. What does the Leader of the House have to say to Jenny and other key workers, so that they might feel valued, protected and respected?
Finally, may I wish the right hon. Gentleman an advance happy birthday? I am fascinated to discover that he is, in fact, my junior—“No, no!” Members cry—but what to give the man who already has a hedge fund of his own? Perhaps some legal advice, so that he can sue all those shocking websites selling shoddy goods featuring his likeness—the calendars, the mugs, the folderols. Or perhaps a session for the Cabinet with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, to try to work through their many and varied disagreements—whether or not Brits can travel abroad, for what reason and under what circumstances, or to help the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the International Trade Secretary and the National Farmers Union decide which of them knows more about food and farming.
I could take the right hon. Gentleman for a parkrun. Surely there is a pent-up runner lurking in there, longing for release. If he could only get his Government to give parkruns the green light—and we all know about green lights—so that we can all taste again that joy of running 5 km up a hill together; he looks puzzled, but I can tell him that it is fun. The nation’s fitness and mental health would benefit, as could his.
But no, it is obvious. For his birthday, I hereby present the right hon. Gentleman with the happy knowledge that, despite his Government’s continued failure to fix social care, reward key workers or act urgently on climate change, his constituents—the good people of North East Somerset—have had another week under the transformational leadership of the man they voted for as his metro Mayor and mine: Labour’s Dan Norris. Happy birthday to the Leader of the House.
I am absolutely delighted and honoured to receive such kind birthday wishes from the hon. Lady. I do not think anybody in the House will believe that I am younger than her. That simply cannot be true, although it would be improper of me to suggest that the House has been misled. If looks are anything to go by, I have aged less well than her.
The hon. Lady suggests all sorts of excellent presents. They are already there, wrapped and splendidly arrayed, because we know exactly what the Government’s position on travel is. The law is clear, and the guidance is clear. The law is that people may travel if they need to and there are requirements when they get back. There is a testing environment if someone goes to a green country; there is a quarantine regime at home if someone goes to an orange or amber country; and there is further quarantine if someone goes to a red country, whereby they have to stay in places approved by the Government, to ensure that people are kept safe. It is a very sensible way of approaching these things and accepts that people will be making choices for themselves, which is inevitable as we come to the end of this pandemic.
Free trade is one of the greatest advances of prosperity that has ever been known. We saw this in the 19th century, which reminds me that my birthday is also the anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. In the good old days, it used to be Empire Day, and we got a public holiday, but alas, no longer; I was rather sorry that the hon. Lady did not call for the public holiday to be restored. Free trade has been absolutely essential to this nation’s prosperity, and the more free trade we have, the better it helps consumers and producers alike. It helps producers to become more efficient and more globally competitive while providing lower-cost goods and food and so on for consumers.
On parkrun, I am not quite sure I see myself in running kit. I was surprised that the hon. Lady did not mention the football that is coming up—the euro games, with England, Scotland and Wales all involved. The selection of the Scottish team caused greater interest, I understand, than the reshuffle of the Scottish Administration. That will be fun and fancy for people to have.
Let me come to the really serious points that the hon. Lady raised. I entirely agree that this Government and this country must root out antisemitic hate speech. It has no place in a civilised society. It is the most wrong and wicked of all the unpleasant and wrong prejudices that people have, bearing in mind the history of Europe over the past 100 years. There is absolutely no place for it. Incitement to racial hatred is illegal, and that is not in contradiction to the right to freedom of speech.
On Dementia Action Week, the hon. Lady is again so right in saying that dementia is the cruellest disease. It is sometimes crueller on those who are caring than on those who are suffering. The long time it has to be borne can seem endless. It is a great burden for families, and the last year has been simply horrible for people with family members suffering from dementia whom they have not been able to see in the normal way. However, I reassure her that a social care plan is being brought forward; there will be one by the end of the year. It is not easy, and everybody recognises that. The last Labour Government—although that is now, by the grace of God, some years ago—had a royal commission and two Green Papers on the subject. If it were easy, it would of course have been done already, but it is difficult, and it is important that it is got right, and it is therefore right that time has been taken to do it.
The building safety Bill was in the Gracious Speech, which we have thanked Her Majesty for with an Humble Address, which will be delivered in due course to Her Majesty. I do not quite know whether it has gone yet. The Whips take it in fine fettle and parade, and they will come back at some point carrying a wand; we will see it all splendidly done. However, the building safety Bill will be brought forward, and there will be a clear declaration of policy as to how the paying for the difficulties with the removal of unsafe cladding will be taken forward. Buildings taller than 59 feet in the social housing sector that have cladding of the type that Grenfell had have either already had it removed or a plan for it to be removed is in place.
Finally, the hon. Lady mentions nurses’ pay. A 1% pay increase is being given to nurses. Over the last year, 56,900 more people have begun working in the NHS. That is a real success. It shows that the recruitment is right, which usually indicates that the pay is right.
I have been inundated with correspondence from residents in Tividale in my constituency who are unable to access GP appointments. A campaign is now being spearheaded by Emma Henlan, a local campaigner trying to ensure that her community can get GP appointments. We know that the Government are committing £1.5 billion to primary care, but can we have a debate in Government time on the future of primary care? We know that our GPs want to step up, but we need to ensure that there is a real integrated strategy that allows them to provide the services and ensures that people like Emma and her residents and my constituents can access those vital GP appointments.
Let me reiterate what I said last week: all practices should offer face-to-face consultations where appropriate. That is absolutely right. They have an obligation to do that. To help expand general practice capacity, Her Majesty’s Government have made available an additional £270 million of funding from November 2020 until September 2021 to ensure that GPs and their teams are able to continue to support all patients, and those who require face-to-face appointments should and must be given them.
I join the shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, in wishing the Leader of the House a very happy birthday when it comes—he does not have too long to wait—and in her comments on Dementia Action Week. It is very important, particularly this year, that we mark and remember it. I certainly welcome next week’s debate, in which a great many Members will take the opportunity to have their say and make a contribution.
Last year, a young constituent of mine had to defer a place that they had been awarded at the United States basketball academy because of late cancellations of a visa appointment at the US embassy. The family are frustrated because they are facing the same situation again this year. The embassy appointment is scheduled for just days before he is due to travel, and, despite a number of efforts on our part to see what we can do, we are struggling to make any progress. Will the Leader of the House do anything in his power to see what the Foreign Office could do to assist with any interventions to make sure that young talent such as my constituent are able to undertake the options they have before them to pursue exciting careers?
I was disappointed that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to protect workers’ rights or to stop the tactics of fire and rehire. My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands had a private Member’s Bill in the previous Session, but that has obviously now fallen. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House would undertake to bring back, perhaps in Government time, something in the terms of the Bill that my hon. Friend had introduced, so that we can consider and resolve these issues.
Last week, when I raised the issue of arms licences, the Leader of the House indicated that they were “extremely carefully controlled” and that we
“sell arms only to those countries with which we have the closest relationship”.—[Official Report,
Will he therefore advise us of whether credible evidence of weapons being used in breach of international law, even by allies, is a criterion that results in the suspension of these licences? Can he provide time to review the rules on arms sales to ensure that the UK never turns a blind eye to war crimes?
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, the licences are indeed carefully controlled and kept under continuous review. So, yes, of course it is expected that the arms we sell are used, even by friendly nations, in a proper way, and I am absolutely confident that our close allies are using any arms we sell to them in a proper way.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of his constituent who hopes to go to the US basketball academy. I cannot promise immediate access to the US embassy but I will certainly take this up immediately after this session with the Foreign Office to see whether anything can be done to help his constituent. I cannot promise more than that.
As for workers’ rights and fire and rehire, the ACAS report has been produced and sent to the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy, which is considering it and will update the House in a reasonably rapid fashion. That is not a commitment as to timing, but this is certainly at the forefront of the minds of those there, as is an employment Bill, which will be brought forward, as the Prime Minister said, when the time is right, to protect and enhance workers’ rights. I have said before that fire and rehire is one of the things that gives capitalism a bad name. It is usually in the interests of businesses to co-operate and work with their employees, who provide them, ultimately, with the profitability that ensures that the nation’s economy grows and strengthens.
Covid infection rates in my council area of Kirklees remain some of the highest in the country, although, thankfully, hospitalisations are low. Last night, the Health Secretary announced surge testing and extra vaccination capacity to help reduce those infection rates and protect local people across Kirklees. May we please have an update statement from the Health Secretary early next week? Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging all those eligible for their jab to come forward and get it when it is offered?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he is of course absolutely right; we want as many people as possible to be inoculated—to come forward for their jab—as this provides the best possible protection against the virus. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has been absolutely assiduous in attending this House and keeping it updated, and I am sure he will continue to do that. With 36 million people having had their first dose and 20 million people having had both, the percentage take-up rate is really encouraging. Some 90% of people say that they want to have the jab—obviously, that includes those who have already had it. There is enthusiasm for it, it is working extraordinarily well and it is helping us to get back to normal. So people must roll up their sleeves and expose their upper arm, as His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge did yesterday, and get jabbed.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker.
I wish the Leader of the House a very happy birthday for Monday, and thank him for his follow-up letter after last week’s exchange. I welcome the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, to her place and I thank her predecessor, Valerie Vaz, who was a pleasure to work with in the role. I am hoping that the Backbench Business Committee will be open for business as soon as possible—I truly hope by next week.
We are now in the third decade of the 21st century. Based on statistics that the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs published in March this year, and research by Loughborough University, the number of children living in poverty in my constituency of Gateshead has risen by almost 12% since 2015, meaning that 38% of children in my constituency now live in poverty. These are the Government’s own figures, and they require an urgent cross-Government response. Can we have a debate in Government time about what the Government’s immediate plans are to end the scourge and waste of child poverty in the United Kingdom in 2021?
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his unopposed return? We can continue our Bill and Ben act of his asking for more time for the Backbench Business Committee and my telling people who ask for debates that they should ask him, rather than asking me. I am looking forward to continuing that, and I congratulate him most warmly. It is a sign of the House’s confidence in him that he was returned without opposition.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. Progress has been made, and I am sorry to hear that his constituency has not been reflective of the nation as a whole, where, since 2010, the number of children in absolute poverty has fallen by 100,000. This is because of a number of policies that have been and continue to be introduced: the national living wage, which is worth around an extra £4,000 a year; the doubling of the personal tax threshold, which is worth an extra £1,200 a year; and an extra £1.7 billion going into universal credit work allowances by 2023-24. A number of steps are being taken and continue to be taken. They have been successful in the past, and I am sure they will continue to be successful in the future.
The family were delighted when the former Home Secretary and then Prime Minister, Mrs May, set up an independent panel to investigate all this in 2013. That has now completed its work, and the understanding, because it says so in the terms of reference laid out by the Home Office, was that the Home Secretary would only arrange publication to Parliament—not review it, not redact it, not interfere in any way at all, but publish it to Parliament. She is refusing to do so.
Will the Leader of the House please make sure that this is no longer delayed? Otherwise, it is an outrage to the family—a “kick in the teeth”, as they have said themselves. Can we have the report published on Monday? Can we have an oral statement from the Home Secretary herself, so that we can get to the bottom of this and, most importantly, give justice to the family of Daniel Morgan?
The issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is one of great importance and great concern, which is why the former Home Secretary set up this inquiry. The hon. Gentleman is unfortunately wrong, because the Home Secretary has not received the report from the commission. The Home Secretary will follow her statutory responsibilities—
This was checked with the Home Office this morning. I was told that the Home Secretary had not received the report, so I asked the obvious follow-up question: is it in the post room of the Home Office? It has not been received by the Home Office as of yet.
With Greater Manchester police in special measures for poor leadership, I wish to reaffirm and put on record my support for our bobbies on the beat. With the Government’s commitment to the delivery of more policemen, including 348 already in place in Greater Manchester, may I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time on the importance of neighbourhood policing and the benefits to the community?
I so agree with my hon. Friend that neighbourhood policing is extremely important, effective, reassuring and helps to reduce crime. The Government are doing everything they can to help policing and we should show our admiration for the constables who keep us safe, not least the constables around the parliamentary estate. Their numbers are being added to—not particularly on this estate, but around the country at large. Twenty thousand additional officers are being recruited; 6,600 have already been recruited. The police are, of course, operationally independent and that is an essential part of our Peelite tradition, but “The police are us and we are the police” is the fundamental basis of how we are policed by and with our consent. Local police forces—neighbourhood policing—is fundamental to that.
A subject access request to Pioneer Academy has revealed that it sent covert participants to planning meetings of the “Save Moulsecoomb Primary School” campaign, taking notes to use against the school community and parents. Compared with Moulsecoomb, Pioneer Academy has more schools with worse results than it has better. After last month’s alleged incident of the Pioneer Academy boss manhandling a child outside the school, 96% of parents now balloted are against the academisation. The local authority, all the unions and the parents are against it, and now even Ofsted is saying that the school has made progress in the two years since it was last inspected. Can the Leader of the House suggest a way that I and my community can stop this level of intimidation, take back control of their local school and keep it for the local community?
I say two things in response to that. One is that the academisation programme nationally has been an enormous success, has helped to raise standards in education and is giving people better life opportunities. It was part of the levelling-up agenda before we even embarked on the levelling-up agenda and it is fundamental. However, I add that any organisation must follow best practice and the law of the land in whatever it does. If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples of where the law has been breached or guidance has not been followed, he would be right to take that up with the Secretary of State for Education. If I can facilitate any correspondence between him and the Secretary of State, I will, of course, be happy to do so.
On Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting the brilliant staff and pupils at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School, alongside Tony from our local business, What More. Not only did we see their eco-classroom, answer their questions and read about their eco journey so far, but Tony was able to talk to them about how his business reuses and upcycles plastic, proving that not all plastic is drastic. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking both the staff and pupils for the work that they are doing to protect our environment and will he allow a debate in Government time on how we encourage others to follow their lead on our journey to net zero?
I obviously join my hon. Friend in thanking the pupils and staff at St Mary’s for doing their bit. Of course, May is the month of Mary, so it is a very good time to be visiting Catholic schools named in honour of Our Lady. It is a reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting our planet. The United Kingdom will continue to lead the way in acting on climate change, hosting COP26 in November and moving the United Kingdom to a net zero economy by 2050. Rather remarkably, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, since 1990, we have cut our emissions by 40% and have grown our economy by more than 70%, so we can have economic prosperity, economic growth and levelling up, as well as make our way towards net zero.
May I also congratulate the Leader of the House on his upcoming birthday? I wonder who is going to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Perhaps it will be a rendition by one of the wonderful choirs and choral societies that exist across Bath and North East Somerset. They include the Golden-Oldies, a charity that uses singing to tackle loneliness. However, unlike professional organisations, amateur choirs are not allowed to rehearse with more than six people, although the covid risk is exactly the same. Does that reflect somewhat the mistrust of the Government in voluntary organisations—a feeling that they are less responsible and less organised? Do the Government not value the contribution that voluntary organisations and amateur choirs make to society at large? Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to explain this unfair treatment of amateur choirs compared with professional ones?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind wishes. I think the House will be sitting until 10 o’clock on Monday, so I probably will not get the rendition—from my children, on their trumpets—of “Happy Birthday” that I would get if the House were not sitting so late. None the less, I am actually the patron of the Mendip male voice choir, which is a marvellous choir in North East Somerset. They invited me to be their patron many years ago and I have thoroughly enjoyed their concerts, which are to the highest standard. Indeed, they have performed in Bath Abbey in the hon. Lady’s constituency to great acclaim and success. I completely understand the point she is making and am very sympathetic to amateur choirs, but it is a road map and things are gradually unlifting across the country, with
It is clear that we need more housing, and in particular more affordable housing. However, we need the right houses in the right places and houses that are in keeping with their local areas. Would my right hon. Friend contemplate a debate so that we can talk about how can we achieve those ends?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. The planning system has failed people. It has not always given them the houses that they want. Surveys have always indicated that people want houses, ideally with gardens—although that may be difficult in my hon. Friend’s constituency—and then clever people have thought that they should be given tower blocks, which they have never wanted; this is shown in surveys going back to the 1940s. I have always thought that we should look at where and in what sort of houses the architects and the politicians live. By and large, that is what we should then provide for our constituents and we should have a planning system that does that.
I am glad to say that the Government are bringing forward ambitious planning reforms that will deliver for the British people, and reinvigorate the home owning democracy of which we used to be so proud and in which home ownership has declined in recent years. This is a fundamentally Conservative thing to be doing: allowing people to achieve their lifetime’s ambition of owning their own home and doing so earlier in their life, rather than later in life. What we were able to do before we were 35, people are now no longer able to do so easily. We must ensure that that is able to happen again, and that will be done through the planning reform Bill.
The Leader of the House may be aware of a report published today by the Social Mobility Commission into the composition of the civil service. The report found that, among top Whitehall civil servants, some 59% attended private schools, compared with 7% in the general population, and that there is a culture in the civil service that seems to favour polish over performance, creating a class ceiling that prevents people from poorer backgrounds from achieving the top jobs. Would the Leader of the House be good enough to arrange for a debate in Government time to allow Members to discuss the findings of this report, and how we might begin to ensure that ability and potential future contribution—rather than the privileges of background—become the key determinants of success and allow the civil service to become a beacon of inclusivity that sets an example to other employers elsewhere in the country?
I actually think that the civil service is a model of good employment practice. Since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms in the middle of the 19th century, it has been merit based, and that is absolutely how it should be. People get on in the civil service if they are good at their job and perform it well. Our civil service does a remarkable job, and in some cases—looking towards the Box, if I may—an outstanding job, of serving the people of this country. In my own office as Leader of the House—a small office—we have an apprentice, and we had an apprentice before who has been promoted and is succeeding considerably within the civil service. That is a good way of improving accessibility to jobs within the civil service to a broader range. I have not read the report, although I have heard of it and heard some of the headlines about it. It seemed to be concerned that people in the civil service remained calm in a crisis. It seems to me that it is essential to remain calm in a crisis; that is exactly the sort of thing we need from our civil servants.
My right hon. Friend knows that I have been an advocate for the Places for Growth programme, and he will bear witness to my fight to move Government Departments out of London to Rother Valley as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. In the light of this groundbreaking decentralisation, why cannot we have the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport based in Dinnington, the Attorney General’s Office in Aston, the Department of Health in Hellaby, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Thurcroft and the MOD in Maltby? But levelling up is not just about moving Government Departments north. Will my right hon. Friend agree—and speak to the Government about this—that the Places for Growth programme should be expanded so that other bodies, such as the National Lottery, can move to Rother Valley, which will spread prosperity across the north, as was envisioned when the lottery was founded?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for his constituency, Rother Valley. I think the last movement of the capital of this nation was from Winchester to London, and he now suggests that it move from London to Rother Valley. I slightly warn him to be careful what he wishes for, because that would be quite a change in the nature and composition of the Rother Valley, but his broad point is really good: it is not just those organisations directly under the control of Her Majesty’s Government that should think of moving; quangos should also think about whether they best serve the nation by being in London or could move elsewhere. He has raised the idea and I hope they will take notice. I remind him that the Government plan to move 22,000 civil service roles to the regions and nations of the UK by 2030. To return to the previous question, from Richard Thomson, I think that will help by including more people who are more likely to apply for civil service jobs near where live, rather than our having the London-centric focus that we have. I am not, though, in favour of moving our capital city to the Rother Valley quite yet.
I add my birthday wishes to the Leader of the House for Monday. However, I fear that, for an increasing number of children in this country, their birthdays are not so happy. Between 2015 and 2020—the five years before the pandemic hit—child poverty increased by more in north-east local authorities than it did in any other region. My constituency, Newcastle upon Tyne North, has seen child poverty increase to 33% over that period—that is one in every three children, even before taking into account the impact of covid-19. It is shocking and appalling. How can the Government talk about levelling up when ever-increasing numbers of children and young people in the north-east are growing up in poverty on their watch, even while their parents are mostly already in work? May we have an urgent debate on the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle child poverty—something that was conspicuously absent from the Government’s agenda for this Parliament?
I am grateful for these birthday wishes, although they are beginning to get a little embarrassing; I normally keep my advancing age quiet, rather than showing off about it quite so much as I have been doing this morning.
The hon. Lady’s point is fundamental to the Government’s agenda. This is what was set out in the Queen’s Speech: it was about levelling up and continuing the work that has been done. As I said to Ian Mearns, there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than there were in 2010. That is an important achievement. The national living wage; the personal tax threshold; the national insurance threshold; the extra money into the universal credit work allowances; the tax-free childcare; expanded free school meals; and the temporary extension of universal credit—all those things have helped people to get out of absolute poverty, which is a very important part of what the Government are doing. The levelling-up strategy, to ensure that all parts of the country can be more prosperous as the years go by, will help to reduce poverty further.
In the town of Kimberley in Broxtowe, residents are currently participating in a levelling-up consultation so that we may submit the strongest possible bid for the second round of the fund. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the deadline for the second round of levelling-up funding, so that towns such as Kimberley can have the best chance of receiving long-overdue investment? Also, may we have a debate on levelling-up long-forgotten communities throughout the east midlands?
This is a golden opportunity for a Backbench Business debate to discuss the levelling-up agenda broadly, although of course people debated it during the debates on the Queen’s Speech. There will be £4.8 billion in the levelling-up fund, to spend taxpayers’ money in a way that improves infrastructure and helps everyday life across the United Kingdom, including by regenerating town centres and high streets. The application deadline is one of those great days of the year—one of those anniversary days that nobody can ever forget: Waterloo Day.
During the pandemic people have not been able to take their practical driving test due to covid restrictions. Many of those who have taken their theory test may have to take another one because of the time lapse between their practical and theory tests, which is obviously no fault of their own. May we have a debate or statement from the Government about what they intend to do to correct the situation and whether the Department for Transport can extend the expiry date of the theory test certificate for those who have been unable to take their practical driving test due to the covid-19 pandemic?
My own constituents correspond with me about this issue. It always seems to me that the Government must treat people fairly and when they ban things, for whatever good reason that ban may be, constituents should not lose out because of that ban. I am therefore very sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The decision is, of course, one for the Department for Transport. The Secretary of State for Transport is on his feet to talk about trains later, so I do not suppose that this will be within that remit, but I shall ensure that it is taken up because the hon. Gentleman is rightly seeking redress of grievance for his constituents.
Hampshire has a significant Nepalese community, many of whom are deeply worried about family and loved ones in Nepal, where covid has taken a terrible grip and there is inadequate access to oxygen and ventilators. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House about what assistance the UK can give to help Nepal come through this crisis?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question, because I can provide her with the answer as to what has been done by Her Majesty’s Government. The United Kingdom has provided £548 million to COVAX, which has already delivered over 59 million doses across three continents, including 348,000 to Nepal. In total, COVAX has allocated almost 2 million doses to Nepal, which will be delivered free of charge. In response to the first covid wave, we repurposed a large portion of our programme to ensure that we were able to focus on Nepal’s recovery. In response to the immediate covid crisis, among other things, we have just provided a new £180,000 duplex oxygen generation plant to Nepal Police Hospital in Kathmandu to help address oxygen shortages and treat covid patients. I hope that that information will help reassure some of my right hon. Friend’s constituents.
I am sure that you and the Leader of the House will join me, Mr Speaker, in sending best wishes to Warrington Rylands football club, who are playing at Wembley in the FA vase final on Saturday. Non-league and grassroots football have taken a massive kicking during the pandemic, without the resources of clubs higher up the football pyramid. While Warrington is most famous for our rugby league sporting successes, we have a vibrant football scene as well, whether it is the newly promoted Warrington Rylands, Cheshire league teams such as Greenalls Padgate St. Oswalds FC, or Warrington Sunday league clubs, including Wolfpack FC, Cheshire Cheese FC and Winwick Athletic FC. Can the Leader of the House please arrange for a debate in Government time on support for grassroots and non-league football, including improving facilities across towns such as mine so that this sport can grow and thrive in the interests of players and fans?
I pass on my congratulations, and to Bolton Wanderers on getting promoted.
I pass on my congratulations, too, to Warrington Rylands football club. I must say, I think the Cheshire Cheese football club is the best name for a football club that I have heard recently—it is an absolutely splendid name—although if the Cheshire Cheeses were to play the Cheddar Cheeses, I would be on the side of the Cheddar Cheeses for obvious Somerset-related reasons. The point that the hon. Lady makes is right: it has been a tough time for grassroots football. Obviously, the higher levels of the game have carried on getting money in and various schemes have been proposed to help ensure that the grassroots game prospers. In the initial instance, this is absolutely a Backbench Business debate, but one that I think would be very well supported.
And it used to be Lancashire cheese before they renamed it with the boundary change.
The 2019 MP intake had little time to get their feet under the green Benches and learn about parliamentary protocol before covid struck, and procedures in this House rightly changed so that Parliament could function. Structure replaced spontaneity and call lists replaced bobbing. As we emerge from the shackles of covid, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to resume normal procedure as soon as possible so that we can scrutinise Government and represent our constituents?
I hear a very loud “Hear, hear!” from my hon. Friend, who I am so pleased to see in his place, as I teased him last week for not being—I am delighted that he is here. I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend Sarah Atherton: we need to get back to do it properly. The key is that scrutiny is good for the Government, as it is for our constituents and for seeking redress of grievance. The tougher the scrutiny, the better policy is thought through, the better policy is presented and the more it becomes possible to avoid making mistakes that may prove an irritant to our constituents. Getting back to the Chamber and doing things properly is absolutely essential. We have
The issues around severe court delays are well documented in this place, but I would like to draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the real impact that these waiting times are having on my constituents. One is a 100-year-old woman, whose fraud case against a former carer has been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service and amounts to more than £250,000. This case was discovered and initiated more than four years ago, yet court delays mean that she is unlikely to see justice served in her lifetime. Will the Leader of the House please urge his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to step in to seek a resolution, and at the very least will he grant a debate on this issue in Government time?
It is always difficult to suggest any degree of intervention with individual cases, because those are obviously matters for the court, although I will of course pass on what the hon. Lady has said to the Lord Chancellor. Let me just set out what the Government have done to try to ease this problem, because it is one that has been recognised and, along with other effects of covid, is one of the greatest seriousness. The Government have committed a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money to a covid recovery. Additional space has been created to hear more cases, with 60 Nightingale courtrooms that have been opened, and plexiglass, as we see in our own Chamber, has been installed in 450 rooms. More than 20,000 hearings using remote technology are taking place each week, which is an enormous increase from March last year, so things are being done. Now, 2,000 cases a week are being completed in the Crown court, which is similar to pre-pandemic levels, so it is a question of working through the backlog. However, the issue the hon. Lady raises is one the Government take seriously, and as I have said, I will of course pass on the details to the Lord Chancellor.
One of the great advantages of leaving the European Union was that we escaped from the protectionism of the superstate. Free trade agreements give more choice to the consumer and lower prices. Could the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on a substantive motion, to allow Government Members to indicate how united we are behind free trade agreements and see whether the Opposition will support us?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: free trade is one of the great advantages of leaving the European Union, which has always been essentially a protectionist racket and has led to higher prices for many staples of daily life in this country. The Government are a believer in free trade. We have rolled over any number of trade agreements, with the fantastic work done by my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade in ensuring that this has happened and in the negotiations with other countries. Free trade is good for both sides, but it is particularly good for the side that reduces tariffs. Why? Because we lower prices to consumers, which means they have more disposable income to use on other things, be it on investment in their country or buying other goods and services. So we grow the overall economy, reducing the tax burden on individuals because tariffs are taxation, and taxation on staples is not necessarily the best way to lead to economic growth, but it also helps producers because producers have to be more competitive, and that means that, globally, they will do better. For economic growth, free trade has always been the way forward, and God bless the late Sir Robert Peel.
I hope the Leader of the House cleared that with the Prime Minister, because on
Since we have left the European Union, we have much greater freedom to buy British first. We do have some international agreements on procurement to ensure that we do things fairly and properly, and that other countries do the same, but it seems to me perfectly reasonable, as there is good and affordable British produce available, that we should decide—where we can, and where it is prudent and affordable—to have a preference for British meat over non-British meat. I do not think that is unreasonable, and I hope the House of Commons will do the same.
My constituent Rosie Aldridge’s son, Alfie, was diagnosed at eight with adrenoleukodystrophy. He can no longer walk, chew or swallow. Rosie describes this as every parent’s nightmare, and my heart goes out to her. In the United States, a post-natal heel prick is routine, and the question is whether this simple procedure could have meant a very different outcome for Alfie and others like him. Will the Leader of the House advise the House whether a debate could be held to consider the case for adopting a similar practice in the UK?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue with the House. It is of great concern, and I offer my sympathies to Alfie Aldridge and his family. As constituency MPs, we all know that these are the most heart-rending cases, and the families go through so much in looking after a child who is unwell.
The Government recognise that ALD is a devastating disease and acknowledge that the physical, mental and financial effects harm not only the individual but their families. The UK National Screening Committee advises Ministers and the NHS in all parts of the United Kingdom on aspects of population screening and supports implementation. The UKNSC continually reviews the evidence for newborn screening tests and is currently reviewing the evidence on screening for ALD, following a public consultation, which closed on
Comparison of population screening programmes such as the newborn blood spot with other health systems can be misleading. In the UK, newborn screening is quality-assured and includes all parts of the pathway for babies, through tests, retests, referral, diagnosis and treatment. In other countries, such as the USA, that is not necessarily the case. I would therefore recommend, in the first instance, that my hon. Friend apply for an Adjournment debate, but I will of course pass on the issue she has raised to my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Around this time last week, the residents of Kenmure Street in Pollokshields safely and peacefully assembled to prevent a Home Office immigration removal van from leaving. The cry, “These are our neighbours—let them go!” rang out in the streets for many hours. I am still awaiting a response from Home Office Ministers as to why they sought to remove two of my constituents in a pandemic and on Eid al-Fitr. Can we have a debate on the practice of so-called dawn raids and why they have no place in civilised society?
Last weekend I was pleased to volunteer to direct constituents having their covid vaccinations at my GP surgery in Hendon—a programme that involves a partnership between several local practices. However, my office has since received a number of calls from people who have passed the 12-week interval after their first vaccine and who cannot get an appointment for their second. This is usually where the first vaccination has been via another GP; on one occasion, the reason given was that the practice did not have any vaccine. Will the Vaccines Minister make a statement about the autonomy of practices in inviting their on-list patients to attend surgeries to ensure that eligible patients receive their second vaccine within the 12-week period?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point and for volunteering service—he is a model to us all in his public service and the service he provides to his constituents.
It is essential that everyone receives their second vaccine dose at the agreed time, and recent figures indicate that very large numbers of people are receiving their second vaccines at the right time. Established systems and procedures are in place to ensure that second doses can be booked easily. The national immunisation management system is the centralised service for the management of the covid-19 programme established by NHS England.
It is obviously concerning for patients if they fear a delay in their second dose. In some exceptional circumstances, people may not receive an invitation for their second dose from their GP practice. If a full 11 weeks have passed since the first dose, and no offer of a second appointment has come, people should arrange a jab through the national booking system on the NHS internet page or by calling 119. I will obviously pass my hon. Friend’s concerns on to the Vaccines Minister and the Health Secretary, but I suggest that he goes back to his constituents and says, “Go online or ring 119” if 11 weeks have elapsed.
I am proud to chair the all-party group on parkrun. I bet every MP in this House has a successful community parkrun. We know that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of our constituents want to put on their running shoes on a Saturday morning at 9 o’clock, and see their friends and run a timed 5 km race come rain or shine. Our all-party group wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday asking him to bring down the barriers which parkrun UK says are holding back this brilliant public health initiative from beginning again in June. It was good that the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport supported parkrun from the Dispatch Box earlier, but may we please have an urgent update and a statement highlighting the practical actions in hand to get us all on the run again?
I get into terrible difficulties with these areas, because it is very much do as I say, not as I do—I am afraid I am not running three miles for all the tea in China. Talking of running shoes, I did actually discover, in an unopened cupboard, my old cricket boots from when I was a schoolboy. I am not even going to put those on. They are splendidly old-fashioned in the way of cricket boots of the late 1980s now are.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is helpful for health reasons, and for fun, for people to get involved in sport as a collaborative and collective activity. He raises issues relating to the regulations that are making that difficult. I will take that up and get him a proper answer, rather than telling people to do things that I do not want to do.
Would it be easier for the Leader of the House if we called it the 5K?
I think, Mr Speaker, it’s a case of howzat.
My right hon. Friend may have received, as I did, a letter from the leader of Somerset County Council, which was sent to every household across Somerset at huge public cost. It is actually full of false flannel and bare-faced lies, unfortunately. It was another attempt to fool the Somerset voters about a referendum that is being organised by the district council to find out what people really think about the different plans for local government. Somerset County Council wants its plan to succeed, so thousands of these spoiler letters suggest it is a waste of time because the Government will not listen, which I believe came from the Government. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State helped to fuel this when he told district councils that the referendum was a mistake. However, the people of Somerset take a dim view of being dictated to. As you well know, Mr Speaker, we do not like being told things by tinpot county councillors or, dare I say, out of touch Ministers. May we have a debate on this, because I’ll tell you what we think of it—[Interruption.] We don’t like it. We never have.
My hon. Friend is beginning to model himself on Corporal Jones. I thought he was about to say, “They don’t like it up ’em,” but he did not quite go that far. I am absolutely intrigued as to what false flannel is. Is that flannelette? I am not entirely sure. Obviously, documents sent out by county councils should be accurate and factually true. The Government are running a consultation on the new structures for Somerset. My hon. Friend knows my preference. I think Somerset should be restored, reunited, returned to being not quite one holy catholic and apostolic Somerset, but that is the direction in which we both believe in heading. But this should be a fair and properly conducted and civilised debate.
I wish the Leader of the House many happy returns for Monday. We do not count the years anymore, the Leader of the House and I and others, but instead we make the years count. We look forward to that.
The newly released 2021 annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom warns that the Chinese Communist party’s hostility towards certain groups, for example Tibetan Buddhists, was among the most troubling developments seen in 2020. Under the CCP’s systematic campaign of “sinofication”, many minorities are seeing their religious identities suppressed and their beliefs persecuted. The religious activities of Tibet’s 8 million Buddhists are severely restricted with state surveillance, harassment, arrests, forced labour and the detention of religious leaders. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on this matter?
The hon. Gentleman raises a point that is rightly raised in this House. The treatment of Tibetan Buddhists should be of the gravest concern to the House, and to anyone who believes in freedom of religion, but the communist regime in China does not respect any religion. It is an atheistic creed; it does not respect Buddhists, it does not respect the Uyghurs and it does not respect Catholics. It has consistently persecuted and borne down on religion in China, and that is something that ought to be condemned.
About 14 months ago, a much-loved Ipswich man, Richard Day, walked back after a night out with his brother, minding his own business. He was set upon by three youths who attacked him. One of the youths punched him in the neck, and that was a fatal blow. As Richard lay dying on the floor, they stood over him laughing and rifling through his pockets to steal his belongings. The individual who threw the fatal punch was actually awaiting sentencing for another similar crime. The people of Ipswich are shocked that that individual was given a sentence of only four years in a youth offenders institution. He will be let out automatically halfway through, and he has already served 14 months on remand, so in 10 months he will be back out, presumably on the streets of Ipswich. My constituents are furious that justice has not been done, and there is also a question about the public safety of my constituents if he is back out on the streets of Ipswich. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for us to debate sentences such as these and what we can do to restore the trust of the British people in our criminal justice system?
My hon. Friend raises a deeply troubling case. The sadness for Mr Day’s family and the burden that they will carry all their lives is one of unimaginable distress. It is hard in these circumstances to go through the reassurances about the Government taking tackling crime seriously, which of course they do. This is where general national policy meets the individual circumstance, and it is so important that, in the individual circumstance, the right, appropriate and just sentence is passed. Parliament gives the power to the courts to do this, and the maximum penalty for manslaughter is a life sentence. We have independent courts, but it would be wrong to pretend that our courts always get the individual judgments right. It is therefore quite proper for people such as my hon. Friend to seek redress for the grievances of their constituents and to raise these matters in the House so that the judiciary may know what concern there is when light sentences are passed on people who, by a violent murder, have destroyed the happiness of a family.
I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.