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Commons Chamber

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2020

House of Commons

Tuesday 8 December 2020

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Prison Capacity

We have committed more than £4 billion to deliver 18,000 additional prison places across the prison estate by the mid-2020s to support the Prime Minister’s commitment to crack down on crime. Those 18,000 prison places include the 10,000 places being made available through the construction of four new prisons, the expansion of a number of other prisons, refurbishment of the existing prison estate, and the completion of our ongoing prison builds at HMP Five Wells and Glen Parva.

Wymott bowling club has been based at HMP Wymott, near Ulnes Walton, for about 42 years. It is a fantastic part of the community, with a library in a portakabin because the old building associated with the prison estate had to be knocked down. It has some big ideas for a really good community resource, but it needs to know when the Ministry of Justice will finalise its plans. Can my hon. and learned Friend share when the community centre can have some certainty and get its exciting plans under way?

I am happy to do that. I really understand the value of community centres, and I am aware of the brilliant plans that Ms Kitching, the chair of Wymott bowling club, has for a new community centre. Work is under way to determine appropriate sites for other prisons, and we need to ensure that we do not release land we own that we might use in the future. We expect to make a decision on this in spring 2021. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my officials are planning to meet Ms Kitching in mid-December to discuss this matter in more detail, and I would be happy to keep my hon. Friend updated.

Can my hon. and learned Friend confirm what types of offender will be prioritised for these new prison places and that the most dangerous criminals will be kept off our streets?

We anticipate that the additional places will deliver a mix of places based on population type and category, which will enable us to ensure that prisoners are kept in the right security category according to their risk assessment. In September, the Lord Chancellor published “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”, which sets out our plans for a system that protects the public. These reforms will ensure that serious sexual and violent offenders and those who are dangerous are kept in prison for longer.

England and Wales already have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe. Shocking figures released last week show that the prison population is going to explode from 79,000 to 100,000 by 2026. Overcrowded, understaffed and crumbling prisons can never be safe. In 2016, the Conservatives pledged 10,000 extra prison places by 2020, but they have only managed 200. They pledged another 10,000 last year, but the Ministry of Justice says that the business case has not yet been approved. Trust matters in politics. It is fatally damaged when pledges are missed and promises are broken. The Secretary of State said last week that he would provide 18,000 new prison places. Why should anyone believe him?

The right hon. Member mentioned the fact that we had overcrowding. I would like to point out that overcrowded accommodation has gone down since the Labour Government in 2004. He also mentioned the increase in the prison population. That is not something that has just occurred under this Government. Labour failed to reduce the prison population, which increased by nearly 25,000 between 1997 and 2010. We have already made significant progress on the development of two prisons, and we have made a commitment to build others. Those plans are well under way, and we will be delivering them.

Government and Parliament: Relationship with Courts

What plans he has to review the relationship between Government, Parliament and (a) the Supreme Court and (b) other courts; and if he will make a statement. (909920)

As set out in our manifesto, we are looking at the broader aspects of our constitution, including the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts. Our independent courts and legal system are respected around the world, and I would like to protect our world-class judiciary from being drawn into political matters. I am interested in reviewing the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, and I will update the House on arrangements in due course.

My right hon. and learned Friend will share with me—indeed, I suspect the whole House will share with me—the respect we have for our Supreme Court and its judgments. Nevertheless, it is called in from time to time to look at issues that are highly political and highly contentious. Does he not agree with me that we urgently need to establish some sort of framework so that we can decide precisely what the Supreme Court should be looking at and what issues are perhaps beyond or different from its remit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I understand the concern that he outlines. Of course, the Supreme Court does not of its own volition investigate matters. It hears cases and answers the questions before it on arguable points of law of general public importance. However, as I have already said, I think it is important that we look again at the balance. As a full-throated supporter of an institution that brings together the three jurisdictions of our United Kingdom, I want to make sure that its future is indeed a secure and a bright one.

The terms of reference for the Government’s review of the Human Rights Act 1998, which were announced yesterday, include the relationship between domestic courts and the European convention on human rights. But of course human rights themselves, as opposed to the Act, are not a reserved matter, and Scotland’s courts play an important role in supervising human rights protections under the Scotland Act 1998. So can the Lord Chancellor give me a cast-iron guarantee that the British Government are not planning to interfere with the competence of the Scottish Parliament in respect of human rights and the jurisdiction of Scotland’s separate legal system in enforcing human rights protections?

I am happy to assure the hon. and learned Lady that the terms of reference have been carefully couched to make it clear that we have distinctive contexts and natures in each of the jurisdictions, and that they will be considered where that is necessary. I am also content that where there are particular questions on devolved matters or of a devolved nature, the independent review will be approaching or inviting engagement from all appropriate parties. Of course, it is only the first stage in making recommendations. I can assure her that any proposals that will come forward will of course involve the fullest consultation with the devolved Administrations and, indeed, of course the fullest respect for the devolved settlement.

Can I welcome the tone of my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement and his very clear commitment to supporting the independence of the judiciary? That is an absolute and fundamental principle of our constitution, and should never be undermined by anyone. Can I also welcome the terms of reference of the review, which are balanced and measured in relation to the Human Rights Act and, in particular, the quality of the panel that has been appointed? I happen to have known Sir Peter Gross throughout my professional career, and he is known as both a man and a judge of the highest independence and integrity, as are the other members of the panel. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend can reassure us that they will have a completely free hand to act as they think is appropriate within the terms of reference, without any pressure on their independence from any quarter.

My hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee is absolutely right to highlight the impeccable credentials of the chair, Sir Peter Gross, not only as a distinguished former Lord Justice of Appeal, but of course as the judge responsible for international relations: he understands very well the issue of judicial diplomacy, which is very much at the heart of this review. I am glad that the geographical representation also includes an academic from the Republic of Ireland, because it is my fundamental belief that we need to look at the position in all parts of our islands to respect not only the human rights settlement, but the Belfast agreement.

The independent review of the Human Rights Act will have an enormous impact on the basic rights and freedoms that British citizens enjoy. The Government caused outrage by failing to publish submissions to the independent review of administrative law. Transparency and accountability are fundamental parts of our democracy. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that both the submissions to the human rights review and the review itself will be published in full?

I think perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is to be forgiven for his descent into hyperbole when it comes to the ambit of this review. It is all about the mechanism, and comments about fundamental rights being affected are way wide of the mark. First, with regard to the process in the review, it is a matter for the review as to what precise submissions it publishes, but I can assure him that the outcome of the review and the Government’s position will of course be published in full, so that he will be able and others will be able to digest it and we will be able to debate the matter.

Court Cases: Backlog

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog of court cases that has accumulated as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (909942)

Justice systems around the world have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but I am pleased that the court system in England and Wales has been among the world’s leaders in recovering from that pandemic. Magistrates court disposals are now exceeding receipts, and 260 Crown Court jury rooms are operating—more than we had before the pandemic. Substantial additional resources, both people and money, have been put into the system, to ensure that our recovery continues to be world-leading.

The Lowry theatre in Salford is being used as a nightingale court, which I think is a good idea and model because it brings income to a venue that has been hit hard by the crisis. However, it is one of only 16 courts that were up and running by the end of November, and the chief executive of the Courts Service has said that we need 200 to clear the backlog. What number does the Minister think we now need to clear the backlog?

As the hon. Gentleman says, 16 nightingale courts are up and running, and the Ministry of Justice has secured a total of just over £110 million in additional funding from the Treasury, to support not just those nightingale courts, but many others as well. We intend to open further nightingale courts in the future. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the use of the Lowry theatre—we all do—and as I said, up to 260 Crown Court jury rooms are now open and operational, which is more than we had before the pandemic.

The backlog for individual cases in employment tribunals has already passed the post-2008 financial crisis record, with 37,000 workers in the queue. Analysis by Citizens Advice suggests that if that continues to grow at the current rate, the number of outstanding claims could pass 500,000 by spring. When will the Minister take action at the scale necessary, and stop the Chancellor’s jobs crisis becoming a justice crisis, by targeting much needed support to employment tribunals?

As I said, we are putting a great deal of extra resources into the justice system, including employment tribunals, to ensure that we recover from coronavirus. There is £110 million in total extra this year, and a further 1,600 staff of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service across the entire system. The hon. Lady mentions employment tribunals, and I am pleased to report to the House that since the beginning of October, disposal rates in the employment tribunals have been running at 740 a week. That is higher than the level of disposals pre-pandemic, which was 718 a week. We hope and expect that that recovery will continue.

There has been a welcome focus from the Department on domestic violence and sexual assault cases, including the landmark recent Domestic Abuse Bill. We know that a delay in bringing those types of cases to court can lead to a significant increase in attrition rates, and therefore convictions. Will Ministers focus particularly on bringing those types of cases to court quickly, and will they meet me and the Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, to discuss what more we can do?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that important area, and it is certainly a matter that Ministers are mindful of and focused on. The judiciary decided early on in the pandemic to prioritise domestic violence protection orders, so that even when much of the court system had stopped functioning in the immediate aftermath of the first lockdown, DVPOs continued. As judges consider which cases to list, they are mindful of my hon. Friend’s point about protecting vulnerable witnesses and victims. In addition, we have committed £28 million extra to support domestic abuse services, and we have provided £800,000 to the finding legal options for women survivors project, which provides free legal support to victims—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) has been leading on that work. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, who is doing a fantastic job for the people of Kent, and I look forward to that meeting happening in the near future.

The Lord Chancellor was keen to talk up his court successes in his statement on Thursday, yet the situation remains dire in many parts of his Department, according to answers to my written questions. The number of effective trials was down from 19,000 in 2010 to 12,000 last year, and that was before covid; expenditure on recorder sitting days has halved from £19 million to less than £10 million since 2018; and disposals in care proceedings within the legally required 26 weeks have collapsed to just 34%. This is about people’s lives, so will the Minister outline when victims, witnesses and families will get the court system they desperately need and justice will be properly served?

The shadow Minister makes reference to a reduction of trial numbers last year. Of course, that is because crime is significantly down since 2010, when Labour left office. If there are fewer crimes being committed, there will be fewer trials in consequence; that is a symptom of success. The outstanding case load in 2019 was in fact at a 10-year low.

As I have said already, we are fully committed to making sure that the justice system recovers from the pandemic. That is why we have more Crown court jury trial rooms open now than we did before the pandemic, we are consulting on having extended operating hours to allow more cases to be heard, we have put £110 million of extra money in, we have recruited 1,600 extra staff—[Interruption.] It is working, as evidenced by the fact that there are more magistrates court trials now than there were before the pandemic and disposals are exceeding receipts. We will continue this work and make sure that the recovery in this jurisdiction continues to lead the world.

Homophobia in Football

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward legislative proposals to strengthen sentencing to tackle homophobia in football. (909922)

All hate crimes, including where motivated by homophobia, are unacceptable. The courts already have powers to treat hostility based on sexual orientation as a factor that aggravates the seriousness of an offence. However, hate crime laws in England and Wales are complex and are spread across different statutes. That is why the Government gave a commitment to carry out a comprehensive review of hate crime legislation. That review is currently under way.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer and in particular for the review being done by the Law Commission at the moment, which is looking specifically at the incidence of homophobic abuse in sports grounds. As the Minister will know, the Football (Offences) Act 1991 defines “racialist” abuse—that is the word it uses, which shows how old the Act is—but not homophobic abuse. Clearly, there is no space for abuse of any kind in a sports environment. In particular, match day stewards and officials seem unclear of their powers in these situations.

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on this issue. It has been noted and appreciated. He is absolutely right; from memory, it is question 57 of the Law Commission’s review of this precise issue. I hope that that work progresses. The extraordinary thing about football is that so much of an advance has been seen in respect of racism, yet homophobia still seems to exist, although I have to say that there is much better work going on in the women’s game than the men’s. The men need to catch up.

Covid-19 in Prisons

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked really closely with Public Health England to respond to any outbreaks in prison and to keep our staff and those in our custody safe. We are taking a number of measures, which include compartmentalisation—keeping separate the vulnerable, those who are symptomatic and those who are coming into prisons from outside—as well as increased testing and more use of personal protective equipment, including face masks, where it is appropriate.

During these tough times of covid, health and safety is more important than ever. Will the Minister consider introducing a hotline for staff so that they can report health and safety breaches, particularly around the covid question but in other regards as well, given that prisons are a difficult place to work?

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her suggestion. There are a number of hotlines available to staff. We work very closely with the unions on a local level, as well as a national level, but I am very happy to take away her suggestion to see whether it is necessary.

Youth Justice: Racial Disparity

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909925)

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909941)

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909946)

We have taken important action across the review recommendations. For the three recommendations specific to youth, we have promoted parental and community involvement in referral order panels and evaluated an update of the Youth Justice Board’s ethnic disproportionality toolkit. Beyond that, we have now ended automatic disclosure of youth cautions on criminal records. We have put equalities plans in all young offenders institutions and are piloting the Chance to Change alternative to charge, which was one of the recommendations of the review. However, there is no quick fix and more work will continue to be done.

With fewer than half of the Lammy review’s recommendations having been enacted and with many others from many other reviews into deaths in custody still outstanding, what can the Secretary of State do to assure black, Asian and minority ethnic communities that the Government are not just dragging their feet on racial disparity in the justice system?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is far from the case. Indeed, 16 recommendations have been completed. There are two recommendations that we did not take up, but of the 17 that are still in progress, we aim to complete 11 within six to 12 months. I am being told that the further six will take slightly longer. That is not good enough for me and I will be going back to my officials to make sure we make earlier progress. I can assure him that, as overall numbers go down in the youth estate, what concerns me is that we are still seeing a disproportionate number of BAME children being held in custody, even though the overall numbers are now dramatically fewer. There is clearly more work to be done on that front.

The Lammy review was published in 2017 and it said that racial inequality and unfairness runs rife throughout our country’s justice system. At that time, zero Supreme Court judges were black. That number is still zero. In fact, not a single Supreme Court judge is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. Why does the Secretary of State think that is and what are his Government doing to change it?

Like the hon. Lady, I want to see far more people from a diverse and BAME background in the senior judiciary. The truth is that the senior judiciary is often a product of the supply into the legal professions some 20 or more years ago, when we know things were not as promising when it comes to diversity as they are now at the Bar, in solicitors’ practices, or for legal executives and Government lawyers, for example. However, we cannot use that as an excuse, which is why I am working hard with the senior judiciary and the chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, as part of the Judicial Diversity Forum. We are meeting again this week and in my convening role I am pushing all sides, the Bar Council and the Law Society, to come up with more plans and more engagement, so we can help and support BAME candidates ahead of any application processes to level that playing field.

In a 2020 update on progress against the Lammy review, the Secretary of State said:

“It is crucial, if everyone is to have confidence in our system, that the people working in it reflect the diversity of Britain today.”

Yet in written answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the Ministry of Justice confirms that there are zero BAME staff working for the Youth Justice Board outside London. What is the Secretary of State going to do to make sure the system reflects the communities those people are serving?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know the new chair of the Youth Justice Board, Keith Fraser, will be particularly concerned about that figure. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that in many other areas we are seeing BAME representation higher than the national average. For example, there is an extremely encouraging figure for the probation service. I will look at that particular issue and discuss it with the chair of the YJB, because clearly he feels strongly about BAME issues and he will want to take appropriate action to see what we can do to improve that.

In 2016, 22% of kids sentenced were black and minority ethnic. Now, it is 27%. Some 41% of youth prisoners were black and minority ethnic. Now, it is over half. The proportion of black and minority ethnic young people subject to the use of force in youth prisons has gone up from 41% to 48% since the Lammy review. This Government have been in power for 10 years. It has been two years since the Lammy review. It is not that not enough progress has been made; things are going backwards. Why should anybody have faith that this lot can sort it out?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is just wrong about that—totally wrong. In the last 10 years, there has been a fall of 83% in the number of children receiving a caution or a sentence, and last year there was a fall of 19%. That means in actual numbers of lives and families, the number of children and BAME children affected is reducing. I accept the point about disproportionality—I acknowledged it earlier—but it is a calumny to say that the Government are inactive or uninterested in the issue. We have made incredible progress in 10 years. The child population in our young offender institutions or other institutions is now down to about 500. That is a generational low, and he should pay tribute to the Government for presiding over such dramatic change.

Child Trust Funds: Children with Learning Disabilities

What steps his Department is taking to improve access to child trust funds for parents of young adults with learning disabilities. (909926)

As a young person turns 18, the contents of their child trust fund belong to them and them alone, whether or not they have a learning disability, which is an important point of principle, but for those loving parents who, for good reason, want legal authority to access those funds, we want to make the process more cost-effective and more straightforward. As a result, fees can now be waived in appropriate cases and we have set up a working group to work quickly alongside the judiciary to review the process, with a view to streamlining it while maintaining vital safeguards.

I thank the Minister for that answer, the work that he is doing on this issue and the letter he wrote to me this week about my constituents who are affected. As he knows, around 200,000 disabled children could be affected by this in the coming eight years, unable to access their Government-backed child trust fund, so I urge him to continue the good work that he is doing and to really make sure that applications to the Court of Protection are the least onerous possible for the parents of these disabled children.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that issue on behalf of his constituents. He makes an incredibly important point. We have a duty to make sure that the rights of those individuals are maintained, but it is also important that, when there are loving parents and all they want to achieve is the best for their children, they are able to access that money in the interests of their children with the minimum of fuss, the minimum of bother and, frankly, the minimum of expense.

Female Offender Strategy

The female offender strategy launched an ambitious programme to improve outcomes for female offenders and make society safer by tackling the causes of offending. It will take several years to deliver, but, two years on, we are making good progress. We have invested over £5 million in 30 women’s services across England and Wales, and we are in the process of allocating a further £2.5 million to increase the financial stability of those providing these important services.

Under the Bail Act 1976, the courts can remand an adult to prison for their own “protection” or a child for their own “welfare”. This even happens when the criminal charge cannot result in a conviction. We are restricting a person’s liberty—usually someone with complex mental health needs, and often women—because of the failure to provide the appropriate treatment, care or support in the community. Will the Minister support the repeal of this outdated, offensive and draconian power, which is contrary not only to human rights, but to human decency?

The hon. Member will know that we are looking at the Mental Health Act 1983 provisions and reviewing them. We never think that it should be appropriate to use prison as a place of safety. Combined with that, we recognise the need to tackle mental health issues in all those who come through the justice system, particularly women, because women have a high incidence of mental health needs. We will be looking carefully at how we can commit further funds to ensure that women and men get the services they need to help to turn their lives around.

We know that the majority of women sentenced for non-violent crimes are given short prison sentences, which are totally ineffective in rehabilitation but can split up families, put children into care and lead to eviction from the home—all things that we should not want to happen. Women’s centres are successful, as we know in Greater Manchester. They are cost-effective, but also much better in human terms and better for society. Can the Minister guarantee that we will enhance the investment in those centres and get women who should not be in prison out of prison and into the kind of care that makes a difference to them and to society?

The hon. Member makes a very important point: we need to ensure that we support women not only in custody, but outside it. He will have heard me mention that we are in the midst of a £2.5 million funding exercise, in which some of the money will go to community centres. However, we are doing other things as well, such as improving pre-sentence reports to ensure that women get the right order and go into the community, not into custody, where that is appropriate. He will also have heard me announce recently our first residential women’s centre, which will be in Wales and which we are progressing with. It is for those women who are on the cusp of custody, but whom we do not want to put in custody where we can avoid that, so that they can instead be ordered by the court to go into a residential women’s centre, which will better look after their needs.

The female offenders strategy published in 2018 by the then Justice Secretary and Prime Minister got it right. One woman in every three in prison self-harms. They are twice as likely as men to have mental health needs and more likely to have drug problems. According to those Ministers, short-term prison sentences

“do more harm than good”,

but last year, half of all women’s sentences were of less than three months, and the plan is to increase the women’s population by 40%. Why have these Ministers so quickly abandoned the promises made by their predecessors?

I refute the claim that we are changing our policy in any way. As the police are funded to search out and investigate further crime with our 20,000 additional officers on the beat, it is inevitable that some further women will go to prison as a result, and it is our obligation to ensure that there is a safe place for them to go. We, too, are concerned about women coming through short sentences, but the judiciary makes those independent decisions on short sentences, and we are ensuring that when people do come through on short sentences, they will have specific probation officers looking after them in the new, reformed probation system to ensure that those women, and men, get the support that they need.

Desecration of Corpses: Criminalisation

What assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of criminalising the desecration of a corpse. (909928)

The bodies of those who have died should be treated with dignity and respect. Where that does not happen, the criminal law can intervene and there are a number of offences that may apply: preventing the lawful burial of a body, outraging public decency, perverting the course of justice, removing human tissue without consent and so on. We will of course keep the law under review.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am supporting the campaign of the mother of Helen McCourt, whom we know in this place for successfully campaigning on Helen’s law, but who is equally determined, while understanding the points the Minister has made, to see further reform so that the criminal justice system adequately reflects how we would feel if one of our loved ones was desecrated after death. Will he agree to meet me and discuss with Helen McCourt’s mother further steps we might be able to take?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that excellent point and for paying tribute to Mrs McCourt, whose brave campaign has led to Helen’s law, as he rightly indicates, getting on to the statute book, having recently received Royal Assent, in large part because of her campaigning activity. We keep the matter under review, and I would be delighted to meet him, as he suggests.

Drug Use in Prisons

Justice colleagues work closely with our Health partners, and since April 2018 a national partnership agreement on prison healthcare in England has been in place. Tackling drugs is a priority within that agreement. In April last year, we published the national prison drug strategy, which focuses on three strands: tackling drugs in prison by restricting supply, reducing demand and helping to ensure that we turn people’s lives around by building recovery from drugs and substance misuse.

I know that the Lord Chancellor and his Department have previously made known their support for the Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). Given that the Bill would make such a difference in this area, will my hon. and learned Friend reaffirm that support today and give an indication of the timescale according to which we might expect the legislation to appear?

I am so glad that my hon. Friend has raised this question, because we wholly support the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). It is going to help us to tackle illicit substance misuse and help people to get their lives back on track by identifying who is taking drugs and how we can better support them. I am pleased to note that the Bill is scheduled for consideration on Report and Third Reading on 22 January, and, should it receive Royal Assent, we will be implementing the provisions at the earliest opportunity.

As the Minister will be aware, it is equally as important to ensure that there is proper rehabilitation and support on substance dependency when people are released from prison. That is equally important in ensuring that we break the cycle of reoffending, but, far too often, arrangements are not in place adequately to support people once they are released. What can she do to reassure me that the Government are taking this issue seriously and will put in place better arrangements to support substance misusers with dependency issues once they are released from prison?

My hon. Friend raises a really important question. We are doing a number of things, and I shall highlight two of them. First, as I mentioned, in relation to our probation services, we are getting that help to people earlier, so that a probation officer will be working with a prisoner on his or her release at an earlier stage, so as to help them to get that support organised in the community. The second thing that we are doing, working closely with NHS England, is rolling out our Reconnect service. That service links up the healthcare in the prison with the healthcare in the community, which are not always aligned. The Reconnect service is being rolled out across the country.

Sentencing Regime for 17-year-olds

I thank my hon. Friend for his correspondence regarding the reforms in the sentencing White Paper. All offenders, including 17-year-olds, who commit the most serious offences and who pose a risk to the public should serve time in custody that reflects the seriousness of their offending. To reduce the gap between the sentencing of older children and younger adults for murder, we plan to replace the blanket starting point of 12 years for murder committed by a child with a sliding scale to reflect age and the severity of the offence.

Young Ellie Gould was brutally murdered in her own home in Calne in my constituency last year. Her assailant, Thomas Griffiths, was given a sentence of 12 and a half years because he was 17. The sentence was further ameliorated by the fact that he did not bring the weapon to the murder scene, but picked up a kitchen knife at the scene. He was 18 when he was convicted and given 12 and a half years. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister is considering this matter. Does she not agree that 12 and a half years for a crime of that sort committed by a boy aged 17 years and eight months is woefully inadequate? He should have got the 15 to 25 years he would have got had he been an adult.

I cannot begin to imagine what Ellie Gould’s parents must have been through. In addition to the point that I made about introducing a sliding scale to reflect age and severity, I want to make it clear that we are considering a particular minimum threshold for those who are 17. My hon. Friend mentioned the knife already being present at the scene of crime, in the home. He will know that the Sentencing Council has produced guidelines for judges on domestic abuse, which outline that the domestic setting of the offending behaviour makes it more serious. As he knows, these are matters that we are looking at in our sentencing White Paper.

Community Sentence Treatment Requirements

What steps the Government are taking to increase the use of community sentence treatment requirements. (909932)

My hon. Friend is right to raise community sentence treatment requirements as an important area to push, expand and develop. The Government firmly believe that, where someone has mental health problems, or drug or alcohol addiction causing the offending behaviour, treating the causes of the offending is very often a much better sentence than a short custodial term in terms of rehabilitation and reducing reoffending. So we certainly intend to expand the roll-out of these. They operate already in 14 areas and we intend to make sure that half the country is covered for mental health treatment through CSTRs by 2023-24. We are looking at other ways in which we can speed up the roll-out even further.

The new probation system is set to be in place in the next few months, with unpaid work and key programmes to stop criminals reoffending to be delivered by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service from next June. Seetec has recently been awarded a Ministry of Justice contract for a co-financing organisation activity hub in the south-east region, to deliver support to help offenders reintegrate back into society. The hub will be based in Chatham, with a satellite provision in my constituency at St Leonards-on-Sea. Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is still a role for the private sector in offender rehabilitation, even if not by community rehabilitation companies?

My hon. Friend asks a good question. CRCs are being transitioned out and the probation service will take over organising this activity, but within that there will be opportunities for private sector, or indeed charitable sector, organisations to bid to provide certain kinds of activity and certain kinds of rehabilitation work via the dynamic framework. We envisage eventually spending about £100 million a year on procuring these services via the dynamic framework. Any organisation, such as the one she mentions, that has something to offer and can help with rehabilitation is, of course, strongly encouraged to bid for those services to make sure we are drawing on the full range of available services as we try to rehabilitate offenders and build a better life for their future and protect our constituents as well.

Topical Questions

Justice is a vital public service and a cornerstone of our success as a society, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced huge investment in the system as part of his recent spending review. Part of that money will go towards the recovery and restoration of justice from the effects of covid-19, notably in the Crown courts, and to support victims as they make their difficult journeys through the system, including the family courts and tribunals. The spending review announced £105 million for the maintenance of courts and tribunals, and there was also £4 billion to build back better in the prison estate, with 18,000 additional places in the pipeline plan for the mid-2020s, helping us to deliver modern, green prisons that can be launching pads for rehabilitation. We are moving at pace with the first of our new prisons, HMP Five Wells, which is opening in 2022, while continuously increasing resources for the maintenance of our existing prison estate. This investment continues to deliver on the Government’s crime agenda, keeping the public safe, delivering a green revolution and bringing our prisons into the 21st century.

I thank the Justice Secretary for that, but judicial review is the only way in which the public can challenge the Government when they believe the Government have acted unlawfully. It is important that we keep that protection in place for the public to hold the Government to account, so will he commit today to fully publishing the independent review of administrative law?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the central importance of judicial review, and he will remember that that is set out in the terms of reference. The review will report shortly, the Government will respond and the whole documentation will be published. The question of submissions to the review is a matter for the review, but I assure him that the outcome will, of course, be published as part of the Government’s policy position in due course.

Last week, a three-week consultation was launched on proposals for a new prison adjacent to Grendon and Spring Hill prisons in my constituency. With nearby communities already dealing with massive pressures and parish councils overstretched with day-to-day issues with the construction of things such as HS2, three weeks is just not long enough to ensure that everyone has their voice heard. So will my right hon. and learned Friend commit to extending the consultation, so that everybody in my constituency can have their say? (909980)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he met my colleague the Minister of State for Prisons and Probation at the end of November to discuss the issue of the consultation. I know the site well, having visited both Grendon and Spring Hill, and I pay tribute to the staff and, indeed, to the community for supporting the prisons that exist in that part of his constituency. We are considering all comments and suggestions sent to us through the consultation before we submit any outline planning application. I can assure him that the local community will also have an opportunity to provide further feedback once a planning application is submitted. I am happy to extend the public consultation and my officials are in communication with the local council regarding that.

Back to the independent review of the Human Rights Act. The Lord Chancellor has said that, after 20 years, it is time to see whether the Act is working effectively, but the terms of reference do not actually contain any reference to an analysis of whether it is working effectively. Recently the Joint Committee on Human Rights found that most black people living in the United Kingdom believe that their human rights are not equally protected compared with those of white people. That is a shocking finding. Does not that finding alone justify a proper examination of whether the Act is working effectively and, if so, why is that not in the terms of reference?

The hon. and learned Lady knows that I gave evidence to the Committee of which she is a member about a week or so ago and acknowledged the important point made by the Committee. I think it was important for us to set up a very focused review as to the machinery of the Human Rights Act. It is not about the rights themselves; it is about the way in which they interact with our domestic law and the interplay, therefore looking in particular at sections 2, 3 and 4, for example, of the Human Rights Act. However, I am sure that these wider issues will become part of the debate as we see the recommendations come forward and as this place has an opportunity to play its part in those deliberations.

I commend my right hon. and learned Friend and his Department for the minimal impact that the covid pandemic has had on our courts system. Can I ask when it will return to normal? Can I also ask that he review contingencies should they be needed in the very near future? (909981)

My hon. Friend can be reassured that the Courts and Tribunals Service is working daily to review its plans. I am sure that he will be glad to note that, in the magistrates courts, we are now exceeding receipts and we expect the position to return to pre-covid levels by about Easter time or the early summer. The position of the Crown court is more challenging, but the funding that we have obtained through the spending review will allow us to start dealing with the backlog. We also constantly review the social distancing measures. The current assumptions are that social distancing will apply until the end of June. If there is any progress on that front, clearly we will recalibrate, which will give us even more capacity.

The chief constable of West Midlands police, MPs, local councillors and others have all expressed concern about the large number of people being released from jails all around the country to unsuitable exempt accommodation in Birmingham. How can that possibly help with rehabilitation and getting these people back on the straight and narrow? (909982)

The hon. Gentleman will be glad to note that, throughout this pandemic, the Ministry of Justice has funded accommodation support for people who otherwise would be released into rough sleeping and homelessness. Indeed, we are working on plans as result of the spending review to scale up and improve approved premises and the other type of accommodation that can house in an appropriate way people who are released from custody. I shall furnish the House with an update as soon as it is received, but he can be assured that we are working on this issue because we recognise the scale of the problem.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission is the only body in its area of jurisdiction with the authority to send cases back to an appeal court. It is imperative that this process must not be delayed, as it has the propensity to overturn cases and clear the names of those innocent of conviction. Can my right hon. and learned Friend outline the steps that he is taking to ensure that the CCRC enacts its duty in a timely manner, especially for more sensitive cases, including those of our frontline workers and police officers, such as my constituent Danny Major? Mr Major has been miserably let down by the CCRC. (909983)

Order. Unfortunately, questions are meant to be short and punchy. We cannot have a statement beforehand. Minister, can you deal with that, please?

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point.  I understand his consternation on behalf of his constituent and his wish that that case in particular be dealt with speedily. No doubt the commission will have paid attention to his concern. We have recently invested significantly in the commission, with hundreds of thousands of pounds in capital funding to ensure that its IT is up to scratch. It is within a whisker of reaching its target of 36 weeks as the average time taken to deal with a case, and of 85% of cases being dealt with in under 12 months. It is very important for the integrity of the judicial system not only that we convict the guilty, but that we make sure that innocent people who are erroneously convicted have their sentences corrected.

Increasingly we have seen individuals with a gambling addiction committing crime to fund their habit. These crimes inevitably end up being punished with custodial sentences, yet the gambling industry—which is often complicit, encourages these individuals to continue gambling and always profits from the situation—is not held accountable and escapes prosecution. Will the Lord Chancellor meet me and the officers of the gambling related harm all-party parliamentary group to discuss how we can rectify this outrageous and indefensible lack of accountability? (909985)

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her consistent and passionate campaigning on this important issue, which is an addiction for far too many people. As she knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will make a statement on gambling later, which I know she will broadly welcome. Of course, I will be happy to meet her and members of the APPG. Primarily, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport holds the brief on this issue, but no doubt there are wider criminal law ramifications on which I am happy to engage with her.

Will the Secretary of State outline to the House what steps he has taken so far to ensure that the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements will be ready for the end of the transition period, so that it can effectively monitor the rights of European Union and European economic area citizens? (909984)

My hon. Friend is right to raise an important issue that we undertook to get ready by the end of the year. I am confident that it will be ready by the end of the transition period to provide EU, EEA and European Free Trade Association citizens here in the UK with an additional layer of assurance that their rights will be safeguarded. We have had a dedicated project team in the Ministry working on that, and the IMA has taken up residence at headquarters in Swansea, my old stamping ground—with tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris).

Over the last few weeks, there have been concerning reports that there were more cases of covid in prisons in October than in the previous seven months combined. In some prisons, that has led to restrictive regimes that have had a real impact on mental health. What conversations has the Lord Chancellor had with the Secretary of State for Health about when we should be vaccinating prisoners in order to protect prison staff and prevent hotspots from forming? (909988)

It is important to note that, as a result of increased diagnosis and testing, we have been able to establish with greater certainty the number of prisoners who are symptomatic or asymptomatic. We were not able to do that in the first wave, so the true numbers of covid sufferers were probably not clear to us; they are much clearer now. With regard to vaccination, it is important that we prioritise those who are the most vulnerable and at risk of death or serious illness. That is why, as with the rest of the population, we will be inoculating the older part of the population and those who are vulnerable. That will inevitably include staff, on whom I place a very high premium, and some prisoners. We will continue to work with Public Health England and Public Health Wales to ensure that we bear down on covid in our prisons.

Some very impressive work is done by the charitable sector in supporting ex-offenders to deal with addiction problems. Will the Lord Chancellor ensure that his Department takes very seriously the importance of rehabilitation of offenders by enabling them to leave the substance abuse problems behind them, in the past? (909986)

My right hon. Friend raises a critical issue for us in the prevention of crime, behind which so much substance abuse lies. While she is right that the charitable sector has a huge role to play, so do we. She will be pleased to know that earlier this week I had an interview with one of the first recipients of our alcohol sobriety bracelets, who has, for the first time in his memory, been alcohol-free for the last two months. He said to me—it was very moving—that it had literally saved his life. As well as doing good to his society, we have done good for him.

The Government have made countless mistakes during the coronavirus crisis that could have been unlawful, including failing to provide health and care staff with adequate personal protective equipment, and sending hospital patients back to care homes without testing them. Will the Secretary of State confirm that any changes to judicial review will not affect cases related to Government failure over coronavirus? (909989)

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he perhaps misses the whole point of the judicial review—independent review—which is all about making sure that the current ambit of administrative law is in the right place, in the sense that we want to make sure that our judiciary are not brought in to a merit space or a political arena. As for individual cases, it is clearly stated in the terms of reference—and I will say it again—that the Government utterly support the right of citizens to challenge their actions or omissions by way of judicial review.

A long-term view of victim funding will lead to better services and outcomes for victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and serious violence. I therefore ask the Minister to provide an update of work within the Department to develop a long-term victims funding strategy to support those affected by crime in our communities. (909987)

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. When I was on the other side of the table as an eager recipient of Whitehall largesse, it long frustrated me that I had to spend six months spending the money and then six months planning to bid for the next round of money. She will know that in particular in this area, where we want to build resilience, out of the hidden harms summit earlier this year came a commitment to create a victims funding strategy, which is currently under way, but she will also know that we have awarded three-year funding through to 2022 via the rape support fund, to give sexual violence services greater stability in the future. I hope that will progress into all the areas that are concerned with this particular offence.

According to solicitors in Warwick and Leamington, the court system dealing with criminals is at breaking point. They see it as being completely chaotic. I appreciate that in the spending review the Government have announced additional money—£337 million—but the Law Society is calling for more. Will the Government actually accept what the Law Society is calling for and give additional funding to break the backlog? (909991)

The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that both the Law Society and the Bar Council agree that this year’s settlement was encouraging. Of course, it is not the end of the story, and I have talked about us beginning to turn a corner. The good news in the magistrates courts is that receipts are now behind disposals, so we are dealing with the overall number of cases in the magistrates system. In the Crown court, we continue to scale up the number of trials being heard. In fact, in the past week or so, I have been looking at figures of effective trials, crack trials and trials that have been dealt with by way of a guilty plea: the numbers are now in the high 300s. We need to get that up, and I am confident that we can do that in the new year to return us to the pre-covid levels, and then work even harder.

Earlier this year, another child was tragically stillborn after a failed forceps birth at an Essex hospital. There were calls for a coroner’s investigation until it was pointed out that coroners have no power. But of course they do under clause 4 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, which was passed 19 months ago. When will those regulations be laid so that coroners have the power to investigate those tragic stillbirths? (909990)

I am a great admirer of my hon. Friend and his persistent and effective campaigning on issues that are dear to him, but also to many people across the country. I understand his impatience on this issue and I know he has been given assurances previously in the House about it, but he will understand that the effect of the pandemic, which has ruined so much, has also delayed our consideration of the consultation on this matter. We will be publishing as soon as we possibly can, recognising the enormous impact that this has on particular families across the country.

During the current negotiations, the EU has asked for a guarantee that the UK will not do away with domestic law giving effect to the European convention on human rights, but the UK has refused. Does that not tell us what the review of the Human Rights Act announced yesterday is really all about? (909998)

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wholly misinformed. That certainly is not my understanding of the negotiations, and he will forgive me if I say I am a little closer to them than he is. The review that we announced yesterday was about looking at the mechanism 20 years on—nothing to do with undermining or changing fundamental human rights. We believe in them. It was British Conservatives who wrote the convention, and I will always stand for and uphold the importance of the European convention on human rights.

What steps are the Lord Chancellor and his team taking to address the widespread perception among my constituents that detention arrangements in prisons are not sufficiently robust to act as a deterrent? (909992)

I understand that my hon. Friend is concerned about the perception of his constituents, but I hope he will explain to them that we have quite interesting and clever plans to deal with offenders, not only in prison but after prison. For example, from early next year, we will GPS tag every single burglar who leaves prison on licence so that we are able to locate them, particularly when a burglary takes place in their community, so that we can at least rule out those prolific offenders in the future. There is lots that we can do in the criminal justice system that is much more smart than severe.

A third of prisoners transferring from HMP Altcourse to HMP Berwyn last month tested positive for covid. I understand that Berwyn has requested a stop to transfers. Will the Secretary of State agree to that request, considering the extreme concerns about community infection?

The hon. Lady knows that, since the beginning of this pandemic, we have taken unprecedented steps. All new arrivals in prison receptions are quarantined as part of our strategy of compartment- alisation. We are also now testing new arrivals at HMP Berwyn. That is an additional measure that allows us to identify positive cases early and put the right precautions around those individuals. It is with testing that we can improve the way in which we administer the prison system through this crisis.

Ministers will be aware that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service was already experiencing a workload crisis pre pandemic, which has only worsened through the lockdown. Although the Ministry of Justice has provided additional welcome short-term funding, do the Government have a longer-term strategy to ensure that CAFCASS can better retain staff and deliver a service that truly meets the needs of children and families?

The hon. Lady will be glad to know that an extra £3.4 million has been allocated to CAFCASS to help it through the crisis. Indeed, I take the point about long-term planning. In fact, we are looking wholesale at the way in which family cases are dealt with. The family harms report published this year was a no-holds barred analysis of what is wrong with the system, and both I and senior judiciary within the family division will do something about it.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will make a statement on the covid-19 vaccine roll-out.

At 6.31 this morning, 90 year-old Margaret Keenan from Enniskillen, who lives in Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive a clinically authorised vaccine for covid-19. This marks the start of the NHS’s Herculean task to deploy vaccine right across the UK, in line with its founding mission to support people according to clinical need, not ability to pay. This simple act of vaccination is a tribute to scientific endeavour, human ingenuity and the hard work of so many people. Today marks the start of the fight back against our common enemy, coronavirus.

While today is a day to celebrate, there is much work to be done. We must all play our part in suppressing the virus until the vaccine can make us safe and we can all play our part supporting the NHS to deliver the vaccine across the country. This is a task with huge logistical challenges, including the need to store the vaccine at ultra-low temperatures and the clinical need for each person to receive two doses 21 days apart. I know that the NHS will be equal to the task. I am sure we will do everything we can—everything that is humanly possible—to make sure that the NHS has whatever help it needs.

The first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are already here in locations around the UK and the next consignment is scheduled to arrive next week. This week, we will vaccinate from hospitals across the UK. From next week, we will expand deployment to start vaccinations by GPs and we will vaccinate in care homes by Christmas. As more vaccines come on stream in the new year, we will open vaccination centres in larger venues, such as sports stadiums and conference halls.

People do not need to apply. The NHS will get in touch at the appropriate time and, when that time comes, we have one clear request: please step forward for your country.

I want to thank all those involved—the international team of scientists; the globally respected regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency; Public Health England; the vaccines taskforce; all the volunteers who took part in the trial; all those who have come forward for vaccination so far; and all those who will do so in future. Months of trials involving thousands of people have shown that this vaccine works and is safe. By coming forward, you are taking the best possible step to protect yourself and your loved ones, and to protect the NHS.

Help is on its way and the end is in sight—not just of this terrible pandemic but of the onerous restrictions that have made this year so hard for so many—but even while we can now see the route out, there is still a long march ahead. Let us not blow it now. There are worrying signs of the virus growing in some parts of the country, including parts of Essex, London and Kent. Over the coming weeks and months, we must all keep following the rules to keep people safe and make sure we can get through this safely together.

The pictures today of 90-year-old Margaret Keenan receiving her vaccine, given by May Parsons, a nurse originally from the Philippines, is a wonderful moment bringing home to all of us that there is now light at the end of this very long tunnel. We are all beaming with pride for our NHS today. Let me put on record my thanks to all our NHS staff working so hard today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks months in administering these jabs. I again pay tribute to all our medical scientists, clinical researchers, regulators and trial participants who have made today happen. We should applaud them on our doorsteps.

I want to put a number of specific questions to the Secretary of State. May I ask him about those areas that do not yet have a designated hospital hub? My city, Leicester, has effectively never really left lockdown, impacting hugely on the wellbeing of our people and the economic prospects of our city. We are a diverse city with a high proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, who we know are more at risk from the virus. My constituents, Leicester University and the Leicester leadership are all deeply disappointed not to see Leicester on the hospital hub list. I have been lobbying the NHS about this in the past 48 hours, and people in Leicester will get vaccinated, but can he say when areas like Leicester and other areas currently without a hospital hub will get one? When will local primary care network hubs be announced, and when will the mass vaccination centres’ locations be announced? Can he assure us that all vaccination centres and communications will be accessible for those with disabilities and that staff will be appropriately trained?

On care homes, I am grateful for the update the Secretary of State gave us when he mentioned Christmas. Does he anticipate that all care homes will have access to the vaccine by Christmas?

Of course we have to vaccinate NHS staff—that is really important. Can he confirm that that includes student nurses, medical students, physiotherapy students and so on? What plans are in place to ensure that harder to reach groups—such as the homeless, for example—have access to the vaccine?

The Secretary of State has presumably seen the reports today in the Health Service Journal that £567 million of requested funding for covid projects was turned down. Can he guarantee that the NHS will get all the resources it requests to ensure the smooth and rapid roll-out of the vaccine?

The Secretary of State indicated in the newspapers at the weekend that the tiers could be loosened by March if uptake is successful. In the same way that we receive daily published figures on case numbers and tests processed, could we receive daily updates on vaccination doses administered, and could it be by priority cohort?

Finally, what are the plans to tackle anti-vax harm online? I have literally just been sent a WhatsApp video claiming that this is all a global plot to change our DNA. We know that harmful content circulates on Facebook and other platforms. This is garbage: how can we deal with it?

This is indeed a momentous day, and we can all look forward to a much better 2021.

That is right—we can all look forward to a much brighter 2021. We must stick with it for now, but we can see the way through this.

The hon. Gentleman asked several very reasonable questions. We start today vaccinating in 70 locations across the UK, and we will expand these locations over the coming days. Today we will set out the next tranche of hospital hubs, including Leicester, and vaccinations in Leicester will start in the coming days.

On access to the vaccine, of course we need to make sure that it is available to all, and that includes all with disabilities and all our most vulnerable people, like those who are sleeping rough. This will be best accomplished when we get the primary care community vaccination model rolled out, which will be in the coming weeks. We need to make sure that how we get the vaccine physically out into the primary care networks can be assured as safe, because obviously that is one step more difficult than vaccinating from a hospital, hence we have started in hospitals and then we will get out into primary care and community delivery, and then into the vaccination centres after the new year.

The hon. Gentleman asked about NHS students. The definition of NHS and social care staff set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is those who are patient-facing, for obvious reasons. We will set out more details in due course.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the publication of data on the number of vaccines that have been administered, and according to which priority groups. We will set out those details when the vaccinations have taken place, so that people can see how the programme has been assessed. Overall, may I join him in saying how wonderful it was to see the pictures on the TV this morning—emotional for many of us—and that I am delighted that we have been able to make this progress?

Like many, I would like to congratulate our scientists; I would like to congratulate the Health and Social Care Secretary himself, the vaccines taskforce and NHS frontline staff, all of whom have made this extraordinary day for our country possible. It is very, very cold outside, and the question on many people’s minds is: are they now able to book a summer holiday? What is my right hon. Friend’s answer to that question, and is there anywhere in particular that he would recommend if the answer is yes?

It makes me very proud that we have managed to start this vaccination programme sooner than many people anticipated. People told me that it was not going to be possible and that it was all very difficult. It has been difficult, but we have got there, and we did so because of international science, working with German scientists and American pharmaceutical companies, and people right around the world working on this project. I have high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one, without the sorts of restrictions that made the summer of 2020 more restricted. I have booked my holiday—I am going to Cornwall.

The commencement of a safe and effective vaccination programme is extremely welcome, but recent studies have shown that as little as 54% of the UK population are certain to have the vaccination. There is a clear need to counter misinformation, whether online scare stories or jingoistic nonsense, so what extra steps will the Minister take to ensure public trust in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and to encourage take-up? What assurance can he give that there will be fairness in access to the vaccine until it is widely available, and when does he think it will be available to anyone who wants it? During that period, will the UK Government commit to a similar strategy to that of the Scottish Government of pursuing the eventual elimination of the virus? With a vaccine now available, that is more possible than ever before.

It is only with a vaccine that we can finally defeat this virus and get life back to normal. This UK project has made huge strides forward, and I am very, very grateful to NHS Scotland for the work that it is doing right now in making sure that the vaccine can reach people across Scotland, as the NHS is doing in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. It is a big team effort, and it is because the UK vaccines taskforce was the first out of the blocks on buying the vaccine, along with the smart approach taken by the MHRA, that we have been able to get to this point before any other country.

The hon. Gentleman asked about fairness in access. Absolutely—fairness is critical, hence we will follow the clinical advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation on priority, again, right across the UK. Finally, I agree strongly with him—the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) also raised this, and I did not respond to it, so I shall now—that countering disinformation is incredibly important. That is best done with positive information and explaining objectively why and how the vaccine is safe. Something that we can all do in the House is talk positively about the benefits of the vaccine for keeping people safe and keeping their community safe. I pay tribute to all those who have been willing to come forward and talk in public, and I thank those who have already had the vaccine—since 6.30 this morning—and have been willing to tell their story publicly to help others have the confidence to do the right thing. Finally, surveys of the UK population show that we have one of the highest acceptances of taking the vaccine in the world. The numbers who are enthusiastic about it are rising at the moment, and we need to keep that going.

I echo the Secretary of State’s thanks to the MHRA for its tremendous work in ensuring that this vaccine is safe. I look forward to having my jab as soon as it is my turn, and I will encourage everybody I love to do the same. Earlier this week, we learned that Scunthorpe General Hospital was not among the first group of vaccination hubs. Can my right hon. Friend provide further clarity on how those hubs are allocated, and can he reassure me and my constituents in Scunthorpe, who are currently in tier 3, that we will receive the vaccine in the very near future?

Yes, absolutely. We have started at 70 hospitals across the UK. Those are the ones that are best able to deal with the difficult logistics of a vaccine that has to be stored at minus 70° C. I understand the desire for every hospital to get on that list, and we will publish a further list later today. My local hospital, the West Suffolk, is also not yet administering vaccines. The other critical part of this is the primary care networks—the community roll-out—which will get us to many, many more sites where people are able to access the vaccine, so that in Scunthorpe and across the whole of the UK, everybody is able to access this vaccine as fairly and safely as possible.

It is brilliant that the vaccine programme is beginning, but unfortunately, there are real question marks over who is benefiting from some of the covid-19 contracts. How will the Secretary of State ensure that cronyism and profiteering do not become features of this stage of the covid-19 response?

Thankfully, as the National Audit Office set out, they have not been a feature of any of the response to coronavirus, so that is good.

Those on the frontline normally face bullets, so my right hon. Friend and his entire team deserve the bouquets that they are receiving today. I am delighted that the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford is already dispensing the vaccine. Does he agree that one of the groups in greatest need who deserve it first are residents of care homes, who have faced such a miserable 2020?

Yes, I do, and I hope that we can get the vaccine out to residents of care homes as soon as is feasibly possible. They are in the top priority group clinically, and it is simply a question of how quickly we can operationalise getting the vaccine out to care homes. I hope that that can start before Christmas. I pay tribute to everybody working at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford this morning, administering vaccines already and helping to protect the lives of my right hon. Friend’s constituents.

May I start by saying what a joyful moment it was this morning to see those first vaccinations and thank everybody who has been involved in making this happen? I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s optimism about our summer holidays next year. However, I gently point out that we have seen setbacks from some of the manufacturers in terms of when the doses of vaccine will be delivered. With both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, it will apparently be 3 million doses arriving by the end of the year, rather than the 30 million that were originally forecast. Does he still think it is feasible that the most vulnerable will be vaccinated by the spring, and how many of those of us who are healthy under-50-year-olds might be vaccinated by the school summer holidays?

I understand why the hon. Lady and many others want to know what the speed of the roll-out will be. Because we are reliant on the manufacturing process, which is itself a difficult challenge, we cannot put figures on when the roll-out will be. We hope that we will be able to lift the measures by the spring, and we hope that we will all have a much more normal summer next year, but I do not want to put too much more detail on it than that, and I cannot put more in terms of the numbers, because there are so many contingencies. What we can be sure of, and what we can work and plan for, is the NHS being able to deliver the roll-out at the speed at which the manufacturers can manufacture.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for all he has done in his fight against the coronavirus, and may I thank the Department for this roll-out of the vaccine? It is actually a monumental step in our fight against the coronavirus—just in time for Christmas. It is the Christmas present we all wanted. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, because the UK was one of the first countries to secure the vaccine, we should be able to move more quickly out of local restrictions in the new year, as the vaccine is rolled out?

Well, I very much hope so, but there is some time between now and then, so we have got to temper our joy and enthusiasm at today’s announcement with the need to keep on keeping each other safe between now and then. Let us not blow it, since we can see that the answer is on the horizon.

I reiterate the point that my hon. Friend made about the team in the Department, because my civil servants and special advisers have been amazing during this year. They have worked so hard—seven days a week, often 18 hours a day—and they deserve enormous praise, because this is a team effort and nobody can do this sort of thing on their own.

First, could I say what a positive news story it was this morning when Margaret Keegan got her jab, followed by a fellow called William Shakespeare, which I thought was quite interesting? I thank the Secretary of State and all those who have made this happen, because it is really good news. Will the Secretary of State outline whether he has liaised with the Treasury to secure the funding needed to roll out this vaccine in the devolved nations, bearing in mind that we are behind on our flu vaccine roll-out and both cannot be carried out at the same time? Further, what discussions have taken place with the Secretary of State for Defence to provide trained military assistance in the devolved regions to make it happen?

This year, I have sometimes turned for inspiration to the bard:

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

So it was a delight and a coincidence to find that Mr William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon, a constituent of the vaccine roll-out Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—by coincidence; Members should not get any ideas—was called forward to be the second person to be vaccinated by the NHS. It is absolutely terrific to see that people right across this United Kingdom are being vaccinated right now according to need, and I hope it can bring us all together.

Can I start by joining my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the scientists, clinicians, trial volunteers and many others who have made it all possible? They have given us the light at the end of the tunnel. We have to remember that there were no guarantees that we would get any vaccine; to have at least one is fantastic. I am glad to see a number of sites in the north-west have been allocated for the roll-out, but my constituents will probably be asking for and expecting somewhere closer to home—for example, at Leighton Hospital near Crewe and Nantwich. What are the plans for expanding the sites available for vaccination?

Yes, we will keep expanding the sites available. Of course, I understand why people want their local hospital to be dispensing the jab. Alongside hospitals and those vaccination centres, we will make sure that we have sites in the community, and we will get them going just as soon as it is safely possible.

This brilliant news, on which I also congratulate everyone, contrasts with the rather alarming revelations last night that we may be veering towards a no-deal Brexit. If that does occur, could the Secretary of State guarantee that there will be no disruption to the supply chains for all these different vaccines—AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer—and will he also rectify the rather Ealing-shaped hole in hospital provision in north-west London? We have 360,000 people, and we were No. 1 in London for cases recently, so that does need fixing.

There is very significant provision for vaccination in London. I will take up the specific point about Ealing, but London, thankfully, is a very well connected and interconnected city. To assure the hon. Member on the point about logistical disruption, we have five contingency plans in total to ensure that we can continue with the vaccination supply no matter the differing types of disruption.

I am delighted that Stepping Hill Hospital in my constituency will be part of this historic day as the coronavirus vaccine programme begins. Along with rapid testing, tracking and isolating, we aim to bring our covid rates down further, prior to the tier review next week. In welcoming this fantastic news, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must not lose sight of the importance of “Hands, face, space” as a key way to keep us virus-free while the vaccine is rolled out to the rest of the population?

Yes, my hon. Friend is completely right. We must all keep doing the basics—“Hands, face and space”, respecting the rules, and living carefully with personal responsibility, so as to minimise the chance of passing on the disease asymptomatically. We must keep doing that even while we have this great news of the vaccine which, as many have put it, is the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a momentous day, and I look forward to receiving my vaccine when it is my turn. I thank those who are being vaccinated, those who took part in the trials, and all those who worked to make this happen. I understand that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has set a priority list for vaccines based on clinical vulnerability, but that has made people who were on the frontline of the crisis, including unpaid family carers, feel as if they are being ignored. Our immediate priority during this phase of vaccinations has to be reducing deaths, but once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, will the Secretary of State say whether unpaid carers will become a priority for vaccination?

The hon. Lady and I agree that clinical need must be the priority, and once we have reached all those with a significant clinical need, as set out by the JCVI, we will set the next stage of priorities in due course.

I, too, commend the titanic effort of all those involved in the creation, manufacturing and distribution of the covid-19 vaccine. As more and more of us are vaccinated against covid-19, will my right hon. Friend outline what plans there are to ease the most draconian measures across the tier system, so that people and businesses can sensibly return to normal?

While the vaccine rolls out, the best way to get any area down through the tiers is to continue to follow the restrictions that are, unfortunately, still absolutely necessary to keep people safe. Having said that, because we have a vaccine, the faster we can roll it out, the sooner we can get to the point where we get rid of the system altogether.

If I had not been on the call list for this urgent question, I would have been joining friends and colleagues of Leslie, to pay our final respects to a warm-hearted man who sadly lost his life to the virus. Thinking of his family, and what happened to him, brings home to all of us how urgent it is to get a vaccination programme up to speed as quickly as possible. That can happen only if a significant proportion of the population accept the vaccine. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) has highlighted the dangers if too many people are taken in by the scare stories circulating on social media, and people can also be put off if they see politicians responding with too much bombast or jingoism to the start of the vaccination programme. May I commend the Secretary of State sincerely for the measured tone that he has adopted today? Will he encourage his ministerial colleagues to be similarly measured in any future pronouncements that they make about this important day in the battle against covid?

All of us in Government feel encouraged by today’s progress, but we are also determined and resolute to get through this in the safest way possible, and out into the brighter seas beyond, when we can get rid of the restrictions altogether. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about how important it is that we all keep that resolve, not least because of the example that he set out, and I send my commiserations and those of the Government to his constituent. Many of us have suffered loss during this pandemic, and we want it to be over as soon as we can. We must keep going until it is safe to do so.

May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and the many people who got us to the heart-warming images that we saw this morning? A lot of the highest priority groups in my constituency live in more remote villages rather than in towns, and there are issues from transport connections to a fear of going out. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those factors that affect more remote locations are being included in the planning for the roll-out?

One hundred per cent. That is a very important point, and it is important right across the country, especially, if I may say so, in Scotland and Wales. We have the primary care network community roll-out, which aims to get the vaccine out into the community as close to where people live as possible.

The start of vaccinations is excellent news, and it is excellent news for my constituents that Aintree Hospital is one of the first in the country for the roll-out. The Health Secretary rightly said, “Let’s not blow it.” We still need to fix the gaps in contact tracing and in financial support for those who need to self-isolate. Only 11% of people are being contacted, according to the figures that I am getting, and we still need to learn from contact tracing in east Asia. Will he put resources into local public health teams, which are much better placed to fill those gaps, so that contact tracing plays its part while we wait for the roll-out of the vaccine across the country?

The hon. Gentleman is right in principle that contact tracing and the testing roll-out are still critical while the vaccine roll-out happens. I am glad to say that his reports of only 11% being contacted are not right; the figure is much higher than that. I am also really pleased that in the Liverpool city region, which includes his Sefton constituency, we are now rolling out community testing much more widely, with the support of local teams. I hope that he will help us all in putting a shoulder to the wheel in that effort.

I do not actually think it has happened by accident that we are the first country in the world to have approved this vaccine. We saw very emotive images today, and I make no apology for being proud of that. This is a proud day to be British. I would like to thank the NHS and all our wonderful scientists for being part of that, and the regulatory authority.

I was glad last year to hear—last year? A couple of days ago. [Laughter.] I was glad to hear that East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust is going to be one of the first to get the vaccine. Unfortunately, Ipswich currently does not have the facilities to store it. I am obviously keen for my vulnerable constituents to get access to that vaccine ASAP, so I just want to know what the plans are in the very short term, before any community roll-out, to make sure that Ipswich constituents can get access in Colchester, and for storage facilities in Ipswich Hospital to make sure that we can move forward.

My hon. Friend’s constituents will be able to access the vaccine in Colchester from now, and some will be being called forward. Like many others, he rightly asks for the vaccination roll-out to reach Ipswich itself, and it will reach Ipswich itself just as soon as we can get that sorted. I have a lot of sympathy with what he said about two days feeling like a year!

It is a great day for medicine, science and the population, but in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), the Secretary of State was somewhat dismissive of an important National Audit Office report that raised serious concerns about the letting of contracts in Government—contracts being published late; missing paperwork; the establishment of a high-priority lane, with one in 10 of those applying via that route awarded contracts; and an overall lack of transparency. As the NAO says, the lack of documentation of key decisions, including

“why particular suppliers were chosen”,

is important. It is taxpayers’ money that is being spent. In relation to the vaccine roll-out, are private companies involved, and will the Secretary of State commit to being open and transparent and publishing the contracts and all the paperwork that goes with them?

Of course I will defend to the end the work that we did to get the PPE roll-out to which the hon. Lady refers. Of course we had priority contracts, because we wanted, when somebody had a good lead, to be able to see if we could make an arrangement as fast as possible, but that was all done through the proper processes, as the NAO report sets out. She asks—I have a lot of respect for the hon. Lady, but really—whether private companies will be involved in the vaccine roll-out. Try Pfizer or BioNTech, the people who came up with and are manufacturing this vaccine. Without them, we would not have a vaccine at all, and a bit of a thank you would do well from the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

I join the Secretary of State in thanking the NHS staff in my Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust who are in the first 50 hospitals to be rolling out the vaccine. That is very welcome, including to my constituents. Given that he was right to be a little cautious about the speed at which we will be able to get this vaccine rolled out, it seems to me not right that we should keep every single restriction in place until we have rolled out the vaccine to the entire population. The onus still remains on the Government to justify every restriction and the balance between the benefits of reducing covid, the economic impact and the non-covid health harm. May I ask the Government to set out that detail before the House is asked to take another decision on these restrictions in January?

The House might be relieved to know that my right hon. Friend and I agree with each other on the need to ensure that, as the vaccine is rolled out to vulnerable groups, we monitor the impact of the vaccine on reducing cases, reducing hospitalisations and reducing the number of people who sadly die from this disease, and take that basis for the judgment of how soon we can lift the restrictions. He and I want to lift the restrictions as soon as is safely possible, and the question of the judgment on how safely is one that we will have to monitor and debate in this House over the coming weeks and months.

When we speak about vulnerable groups, will the Secretary of State assure me that we will not forget those who are homeless? We know that people who are homeless, especially those who are sleeping rough, suffer many disadvantages and barriers to accessing healthcare at the best of times, quite apart from any pre-existing mental or physical health conditions that they have. What steps is his Department taking to ensure that we reach all vulnerable people, whether they are homeless or not?

That is an incredibly important consideration, both on the grounds of social justice and because all of us can pass on the disease to others, so it is right, fair and practical that we must ensure that everybody has access to the vaccine. The community roll-out will be the primary means by which we can reach some of the most vulnerable, including the homeless, whom the right hon. Gentleman mentions. That will be an important consideration in the roll-out.

Will my right hon. Friend outline how his Department is working with local authorities, such as Darlington Borough Council, which is keen to move out of tier 3, to inform our constituents about how, when and where they can access the vaccine?

I am delighted that the James Cook University Hospital in Teesside is one of the first and is vaccinating today. There is a lot of work to be done to make sure that we roll out the vaccine across Teesside, but in the meantime I pay tribute to everybody in the Tees Valley, including in Darlington, who has followed the rules. The numbers are coming down quite sharply, but we have to keep at it, because until this vaccine is rolled out to protect the most vulnerable, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) put it—until that day—we have to make sure that we keep the virus suppressed until the vaccine can make us safe.

Today is a great day for Britain and the world, and I thank all those involved on a global level to ensure that we have light at the end of the tunnel, and hope and optimism. People in Cheshire West and Chester and Halton who have loved ones in care homes are desperate to visit them. When can those who are resident, the carers and the family members expect to get the vaccine?

I understand how important this is. The roll-out of testing to allow for visiting by Christmas is under way. In terms of the vaccine, care workers, because they can travel, are already—today—being vaccinated, and I hope that we can start the roll-out of vaccines to those who live in care homes, where the vaccine needs to be taken to them, before Christmas.

I welcome the fact that hospitals in Derbyshire are in the first wave of the vaccine roll-out as well. Will my right hon. Friend assure those who are living at and not able to leave home that the roll-out plan will include home visits for those who really need them?

Yes. That is the hardest part of the vaccine roll-out to deliver by its nature, because of the minus 70°C requirements of the vaccine, but it is absolutely a part of the plan.

We already know that poorer areas have fewer GPs, so it is crucial that they receive extra resources to ensure that they are not left behind in the roll-out of the vaccine, on which I congratulate everyone involved. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the vaccine will be fairly distributed across the UK and that working-class communities such as mine in the north-east will not be put at the back of the queue again, as they have been so many other times during this pandemic?

I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that the fundamental principle of the roll-out is that it must be done according to clinical need and fairly right across every part of the UK, and that is what we are delivering to.

Having been under a variety of restrictions since August, and being now in tier 3, my Colne Valley constituents are incredibly welcoming of the roll-out of the vaccine. We are looking forward to reopening hospitality businesses and starting to get back to normal in the new year. The chief medical officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals has confirmed that his team are ready for the roll-out of the vaccine across West Yorkshire as soon as it arrives, so can the Secretary of State please confirm that this week we will start to see the roll-out of the vaccine across West Yorkshire?

Today we are seeing the very start of that roll-out, and I absolutely hope that that will expand across West Yorkshire over this week.

I, too, pay tribute to everybody in the NHS who will be administering the vaccine. One of the concerns I had at the beginning of lockdown was that many of my asylum-seeking constituents who have no recourse to public funds were very much left behind in the original lockdown. What work will the Government and the Red Cross in the United Kingdom be doing to liaise with the Home Office to ensure that no one is left behind? After all, covid does not adhere to people’s nationality.

We have a programme under way to ensure that those without an NHS number can get vaccinated; the NHS number is the basis of the calling system to invite people to be vaccinated, but of course not everybody has an NHS number, and we must ensure that those without one get called forward too.

I pay tribute to everyone involved in administering the vaccine from The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough today. Looking ahead to the next stage of the roll-out, I have been contacted by a GP surgery in Berwick Hills in my constituency that is concerned about the resource implications of delivering the vaccine, since it is severely under strength and serves one of the most deprived communities in England. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look at their case and discuss what extra support might be made available to surgeries that find themselves in that position?

The way we have organised the primary care roll-out is through networks of GP practices—primary care networks, as they are called—so that if one GP practice is under particular pressure, for instance because it may be carrying vacancies, the effort can be put together over a wider network of GP practices. The funding support for GPs to deliver this vaccine, as with the flu vaccine, is negotiated and agreed with the British Medical Association and is part of the operational roll-out of the vaccine in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere across the country.

First, may I add my thanks to everybody who has put in the effort to ensure that we get the vaccine? That is lovely news, but unfortunately once again this Government are failing to plan. My clinical commissioning group was given 24 hours to get together the GP practices to roll out the vaccines, and the criterion was 1,500 over-80s. The fact that places such as Bradford West and inner cities have nine years’ less life expectancy and 16 years’ more ill-health means that the three centres that have been set up are in affluent areas. Not a single one is in inner-city Bradford, yet the Government’s own review accepts that covid disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic communities. When will the Government stop discriminating against those who live in inner-city areas, and prioritise them because of their health risks?

The roll-out of the vaccine is being managed by the NHS, and it is entirely unfair of the hon. Lady to describe the NHS in that way.

It was a delight to turn on the radio this morning and hear some good news for once, but my right hon. Friend is right to describe the roll-out of this vaccine as a Herculean task. In the light of that, what measures is he putting in place to accelerate the development of capacity to make more vaccine, and also covid therapeutic antibodies?

Yes, today has been a celebration of progress we have been able to make, but there is a huge amount more to do, not just in the roll-out but in making sure we have the future vaccines that may be necessary, and the capacity in this country to manufacture and deliver the next generation of vaccine technologies. The advance in vaccine technology over the past 11 months globally has been extraordinary and it is critical that we in the UK have that future capability. That is something the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), the Minister with responsibility for vaccine roll-out, is concentrating on very clearly.

Thank goodness for science, thank goodness for international co-operation and thank goodness for our NHS. As a Member of Parliament representing the capital city of Wales, obviously I am very interested in how the different parts of the United Kingdom are going to get the vaccine. Can the Secretary of State tell us a bit more about the work his Department is doing with the devolved Administrations to make sure the vaccine is distributed quickly and fairly to all four nations of our UK?

Yes, this is a UK project that is being done through the NHS in the four nations. The Welsh Government are playing their part. I spoke to Vaughan Gething, my Welsh opposite number, last night to ensure the roll-out was co-ordinated and the final details put in place. There are seven hospitals in Wales that are injecting the vaccine today. I want to thank everybody across Wales for their forbearance. This has been a tough time in Wales. There are still sacrifices to be made while we keep the virus under control until the vaccine can get rolled out through enough of the vulnerable population and we can return life more to normal.

With the vaccine now being rolled out, I was thrilled to see this historic moment—in the world, no less—being administered in the west midlands. I urge my constituents of Stourbridge, when the call to arms comes, to please do take up the vaccine. This question has been asked already, but I do not think there is any harm in my right hon. Friend reiterating his answer. Does he agree with me that we must keep adhering to social distancing, and face, space and hands, and that never more so than now is that a moral imperative, so we can all get back together sooner as a non-socially distanced community, with covid-19 confined to a memory only?

Yes, my hon. Friend puts it very well for the people of Stourbridge and right across the west midlands. We must keep our resolve and stick to the rules. She is right that we have a call to arms, in more sense than one, because we are injecting hope into the arms of people from today. If people are asked to come forward by the NHS then, like her, I urge them to do so.

The Secretary of State will not be surprised, bearing in mind his track record in rolling out testing and tracing, that the hope offered today comes with some serious concerns about the delivery and administration of the vaccine. He has said repeatedly this morning that there are five contingency plans for delivery in the event of failed Brexit talks. What are they?

As I said, we have those five contingency plans. The hon. Lady will understand that ensuring we have high security around those plans is also very important. I want to put on the record my thanks to the people of the north-east, who have done so well over the past few weeks in bringing the number of cases under control, in part thanks to the huge injection of testing we have been able to put in because we have built up testing capacity. I look forward to the day, Mr Speaker, when she and I can work together in the public interest, as we do everything we can to keep people in the north-east safe.

May I join in paying tribute to the NHS, the scientists and indeed my right hon. Friend for today’s amazing news? Carshalton and Wallington residents were touched to hear the words of George Dyer this morning, who, in next door Croydon University Hospital, was the first Londoner to be vaccinated. He said that he was looking forward to going to the shops at Christmas and seeing his family once again. Can my right hon. Friend tell me a bit more about how the vaccine roll-out will roll over into next door Carshalton and Wallington, so that people can share in George’s joy?

Some of the stories we have heard this morning have been really heart-warming, of people being able to have the confidence to do the things that in normal life we take for granted. I heard the story that my hon. Friend refers to and it was truly charming. I look forward to seeing the roll-out in Carshalton and Wallington, and then I look forward to building a new hospital in Sutton for his constituents.

Huge demands are being placed on our NHS staff and they are being asked to step up yet again today, so we thank them for all their efforts. Let me ask about one thing the Secretary of State could help with: instead of every vaccine being individually prescribed, he could issue a patient group directive. Is that in his plan? Will he be doing it?

I join colleagues in thanking the Secretary of State and his team for their incredible hard work, which has brought us to this place. Today is indeed a really good, positive day for the whole United Kingdom. Although the past nine months of pandemic may at times have shone a spotlight on some of the division and tension inherent in our system of devolved government, does he agree that what today fundamentally demonstrates is that when we work together—when we collaborate as a strong family of nations—what we can achieve as a United Kingdom is truly remarkable?

Yes, I could not put it better than my right hon. Friend, who speaks with such power on this subject. I truly believe that it is only because we, as a United Kingdom, went in so early to be buying and developing these vaccines, using all the strength of our United Kingdom, that we have been able to get to this point before any other country in the world.

Like many others, I welcome today’s developments and agree with the Secretary of State that we can look forward to the new year, when, we hope, further vaccines will come online. He will be aware that there has been some discussion of the relative effectiveness of different vaccines, so will that influence the Government’s distribution strategy in any way? Specifically, will certain vaccines be prioritised for certain groups?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, should it be approved, does have easier logistical and distributional qualities—it does not have to be stored at minus 70°—so that helps. Of course, the JCVI will consider the clinical properties of any vaccine that comes forward when deciding who it can be distributed to, so that is taken into account. Finally, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that this has been an international as well as a UK success. I had a text exchange with my German opposite number this morning to thank, through him, the German scientists who have done so much to make this possible.

I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a practising NHS psychiatrist who has been working on the frontline throughout this pandemic. The Secretary of State will be aware that mental health patients are often an afterthought of policymakers, although I am sure that is not the case for him, and that many of them have multiple medical comorbidities, which make them more vulnerable to covid-19. Will he reassure me that patients in mental health services, particularly in-patients, and NHS staff who work in in-patient mental health services will be prioritised for this vaccine and will not be an afterthought?

Absolutely. NHS staff are in the second priority cohort set out by the JCVI, and that includes all patient-facing staff in the NHS and social care. Patients who are clinically vulnerable to covid absolutely have their rightful place in the prioritisation, according to clinical need.

The roll-out of the covid-19 vaccine today is welcome news, especially for the exciting sporting calendar for 2021, with events such as the Olympics and Paralympics in Japan, the Euros, the Lions tour to South Africa and the women’s rugby world cup in New Zealand, which I must not forget. Concerns have been raised with me about whether sporting competitions will be subject to compulsory vaccination, so what assessment has the Secretary of State made of that—not only for elite sport, but for all competitive sport in 2021?

I think I have sat through every single urgent question and statement that the Secretary of State has done, but the fact that it says “Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out” on the annunciator screen is still hard to believe. The Secretary of State said earlier that we had got there because of international science. We will deliver global health security only through an international effort—put another way, no one is safe until everyone is safe—so I wonder whether he can update us on how we will work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to help the poorest countries in the world, and of course, those nearest to us who are not the poorest countries, but with which we have a lot of inbound and outbound travel? How can we get them on the same page as us quickly?

The UK has put more money into the international search for a vaccine, and the distribution of a vaccine to the countries that otherwise would not be able to afford it, than any other state of any size, and we should be very proud of that. The way that we have managed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is to ensure that it is available on a not-for-profit basis, essentially, worldwide. We have taken this approach because, to put it exactly as my hon. Friend did, nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is a global pandemic and we need to address it globally. That is the only fundamental way to solve this for the long term. In the short term, what we all need to do is keep following the rules.

The vaccine is indeed welcome news, but until it is fully rolled out, the north-east will continue to be harmed by the lack of economic support that accompanies tier 3 restrictions. The Health Secretary stated that the restrictions were based on

“cases among the over-60s; the rate at which cases are rising or falling; the positivity rate; and the pressures on the local NHS.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 1000.]

Can he therefore tell me precisely what level these figures will have to be at for the north-east to be moved into tier 2?

We consider all those figures, and because we consider them alongside special factors such as whether there is an outbreak, we do not put a specific figure on that, as the hon. Lady well knows. But what we have done is put in more economic support than almost any other country in the world, as the International Monetary Fund has recognised. We have tried as best we possibly can to support people through what has been an incredibly difficult year. We have not been able to save every job, but with the economic measures of support for business and the furlough scheme in place, we have put in very significant support. But the best support that people in the north-east, and elsewhere in the country, can have until this vaccine is rolled out is to continue to follow the restrictions that are necessary and then, if they get the call from the NHS, take that vaccine.