Before I do, may I join you, Mr Speaker, in thanking the digital and broadcasting services? They worked over the whole of the Easter recess last year to make this possible. They gave up most of their holiday during most of last year to make our hybrid proceedings work, and thus ensured that there has been proper parliamentary scrutiny throughout the whole year and that our democracy has remained strong and effective. Our thanks are most sincere and heartfelt because they have done something of the utmost importance for our nation.
On the business statement for the week commencing on 26 April, the business will include:
Monday 26 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services Bill, followed by consideration of Lords message on the Domestic Abuse Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the National Security and Investment Bill, followed by a motion to approve the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) (High-Risk Countries) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 392), followed by a motion relating to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 150).
Tuesday 27 April—Consideration of Lords message on the Fire Safety Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve the draft Warm Home Discount (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2021, followed by a motion to approve the Trade and Official Controls (Transitional Arrangements for Prior Notifications) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 429).
Wednesday 28 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve the draft Double Taxation Relief (Federal Republic of Germany) Order 2021 and the draft Double Taxation Relief (Sweden) Order 2021, followed by a motion to approve the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Extension of the Relevant Period) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 375), followed by a motion related to the Immigration (Guidance on Detention of Vulnerable Persons) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 184), followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve the House of Commons Commission report on amendments to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
Thursday 29 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
The House will prorogue when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.
I am pleased to announce that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 22 July and return on Monday 6 September.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House in the thanks that have been expressed. I want to thank the Clerk of the House for his leadership in ensuring that the whole staff of the House, the broadcasting and everything else enabled us to be the first Parliament in the world to be a hybrid Parliament and to carry on with our business.
I also want to congratulate Lord Fowler on retiring and Lord McFall on becoming the new Lord Speaker. Staying with the Lords, I want to pay tribute to Frank Judd, who served as an MP in Portsmouth from 1966 to 1979 and was a Minister in the Wilson and Callaghan Governments. He was a director of Oxfam before being appointed a life peer in 1991. He was an outstanding Member of both Houses. May he rest in peace.
We had Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, and there was nothing about Nazanin or Anousheh. Mehran Raoof’s friend has contacted the Foreign Office to ask for help. He has a trial coming up on 28 April, but has not been allowed to see his lawyer. He needs a Foreign Office representative to be at the trial and he also needs a doctor. I wonder if the Leader of the House could ensure that the Foreign Secretary is aware of that. It would have helped if the Foreign Secretary had updated the House on Tuesday about the permanent adjournment —it looked like a continuous adjournment—of the court case, even though a Government Minister has said the debt should be paid. I am not sure why the Foreign Secretary did not update the House on the citizens.
A statement was put out yesterday at 5 pm on the cuts to overseas development aid, and it is quite upsetting really that that was not announced in the House on Tuesday. This is a massive cut and it is going to have a huge effect on the way Great Britain is seen in the world.
I wonder what Her Majesty’s official Opposition have done because we do not appear to have received the business, whereas other Opposition parties have. Normally, we get the provisional business the day before, but I think we are off the bcc and cc lists. Would the Leader of the House kindly tell us what we have done wrong when we do not get the business?
Last week, the Leader of the House did not answer my questions on the independent adviser on ministerial standards. There has been no list of Ministers’ financial interests for nine months and no list of donor meetings. He will also want to correct the record, I am sure, because he said that Greensill did not get public support, when in fact it did: it got it from the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme. So the lobbying did pay off. Greensill is the only supply chain finance firm accredited for CLBILS, despite not being regulated by the Bank of England or the Financial Conduct Authority. What is so special about Greensill and what is so special about Dyson? He took his business out of the UK.
Now, the Prime Minister was wrong. The shadow Chancellor has asked me to ask the Leader of the House to remind the Prime Minister that there were companies making ventilators in this country—Siemens and Airbus, to name a few—so I wonder if the Leader of the House could pass that on. She cannot find the Chancellor—we would like to know where he is—otherwise she would have passed the message on.
The Government are doing it again. The Cabinet Office and the civil servants are saying, “Please don’t do this.” They are going to appoint the head of space policy at Amazon to the Government’s own OneWeb, in which they have invested £400 million. This person will be working at Amazon as well as working with the Government. The Leader of the House needs to look at that. They have their own project, Kuiper. They are clearly going to have a competitive advantage. This is another case of fix it and flog it.
It is disappointing that the Leader of the House did not tell the House last week that the Prime Minister might have been in India. We got it from the presidential-style announcement in the £2.6 million press conference room, which is now going to be abandoned. It is good because the Prime Minister is not a president. It is odd to spend £2.6 million, and there is no mirror and no comb. The really nice spokesperson went from announcing geek of the week on “Peston” to leak of the week—effectively, it was a leak because those announcements should have been made in the House. She is now going back to geek of the week at COP26. She will have the same difficulty because she will have to explain contradictory Government policy. While the Government are about to reduce new emissions, they are still considering proposals for the first new deep coal mine in 30 years. Could we have a statement ruling that out before COP26?
It was announced not in Parliament but by press release that mobile phone masts up to 30 metres tall are about to get the green light to be put up in our countryside. That is a 20% increase on the current maximum. The shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), has said rural communities have become an afterthought. He wants everyone to be encouraged to take part in the rural England policy review to protect our countryside. Could we have a statement on that in the House?
I know the Leader of the House eats “Erskine May” for breakfast, but he does not seem to be absorbing anything. He knows that the job of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account, but he has presided over the marginalisation of Parliament. It is not me or the socialists saying that, but a paper by Professor Meg Russell, Dr Ruth Fox, Dr Ronan Cormacain and Dr Joe Tomlinson, which referred to no scrutiny of regulations and no meaningful debate. The House of Commons Library—I would not call it a bastion of socialism—said that Ministers can spend up to £469 billion before they get parliamentary approval of departmental spending plans. It would be interesting to hear what the Leader of the House thinks about that. Could we have a debate on restoring Parliament and the checks and balances on the Executive?
Later, there will be an apology for how black and Asian soldiers were treated. George Floyd is a movement. He died at the age of 46. A knee was on his neck for double the amount of time that I have been speaking. It was the right verdict. A young man who was about to become an architect would have been 46 today. We remember Stephen Lawrence; today is Stephen Lawrence Day.
Mr Speaker, you will be pleased that the fans got it right—no super league. They will be singing “Que Sera, we’re on the way to Wem-ber-ley”. We will all be going to Wembley, not just Leicester City and Chelsea, but we wish them well for the FA cup.
Yes, of course, we are right to commemorate Stephen Lawrence and Lord Judd— may both their souls rest in peace—and to congratulate Lord McFall on becoming the Lord Speaker. I am sure that you and he will have an excellent working relationship, to the benefit of both our Houses, Mr Speaker.
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady thinks she has not been doing the job of scrutiny very well over the last year, and that the procedures we have had have not been satisfactory and therefore the Opposition have been incapable of holding the Government to account. That is really the problem of the Opposition, in failing to use the tools to hand, of which there have been many. We have ensured that any serious change in the rules has been subject to a debate and a vote; we have had legislation passed and when it has been emergency legislation it has had the agreement of the Opposition; we have operated by consent—a year ago, when we introduced the hybrid measures, they were with the consent of the Opposition to do that, to ensure that scrutiny could continue. We have had really effective scrutiny available to the Opposition, if only they had chosen to use it. If they have not used it, that is their problem not mine, because we have made sure that Parliament has been at the centre of the national debate and that we have been able to sit. MPs have an unquestioned right to attend Parliament if they wish and if they do not wish to do so, they are able to Zoom in. So I completely dispute the interpretation of the proceedings we have had over the past year, and this is why we were all thanking the broadcasting and digital team for the work they have done.
On Nazanin and Anousheh, I will of course pass on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the points the right hon. Lady has raised, but I must make it clear that there must be and is no linkage between the improper, unlawful detention of British citizens and any debt that there may or may not be between the United Kingdom and a foreign state. Those two issues must always be separate.
As regards overseas aid, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is appearing before the Select Committee today, so it is only right that the statement was made yesterday—it will no doubt form the basis for much of the questioning he will face. This is a proper way of ensuring that Parliament is respected and that the rights of Parliament to hold the Government to account are maintained.
On the issue relating to the adviser to the Prime Minister on the ministerial code, an announcement is going to be made on that shortly. A recruitment process has been under way. The key is that the lobbying did not pay off; as was clear from the messages between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the former Prime Minister, the lobbying did not lead to any change.
Then we come on to the terrible muddle the Opposition are in about procurement of ventilators. An Opposition spokesman said:
“The Ventilator Challenge is an example of how UK manufacturers, a world class workforce…have come together”.
They were all in favour of it. The Public Accounts Committee said that this national effort is undoubtedly a “significant achievement” and a “benchmark for procurement”. So what the Prime Minister did was to ensure that things happened. This is the dither and delay of the socialists. They do not want to do things; they want to put the process ahead of succeeding. It is not, as used to be the socialists’ mantra, that the end justifies the means, but that the means justify the ends, so if the ends had been no ventilators but they had followed some endless bureaucratic process that took six months, the socialists would be happy. Instead we got on and did it, and we got 30,000 ventilators in a matter of weeks—that was up from 9,000. It was a phenomenal achievement, and let us praise Dyson for all that he has contributed to British manufacturing, the huge success that he has been and the commitment—£20 million of his own money—that he put towards ventilators. That is a proper patriotic gesture by a man I hold in the highest esteem and we should praise.
As we are praising people, let us also praise Allegra Stratton, who has made a marvellous contribution to the Government and will do so for COP—the conference of the parties—as well. In her various roles, she has succeeded in holding politicians to account. I remember being quizzed by her in one of her various journalistic roles. Indeed, I was “geek of the week” on one occasion on the Peston show. Some Members may think I am geek every week, but I once got that particular award. I note that the office that has been so nicely done up is the Privy Council office. As Lord President of the Council, perhaps I should be putting in a claim to use it for a good and worthy purpose of Privy Council business.
As regards any coalmining planning applications, once called in they are, as the right hon. Lady knows, in a quasi-judicial process and it would be wrong of me to go into the details of them. Let me finish by reiterating the point that if there has not been proper scrutiny, she knows where the failure to scrutinise has come from .
There is widespread dismay and outrage across the Kettering constituency that the organiser of a huge Irish Traveller funeral, held right in the middle of Kettering during the covid lockdown in November and attended by 150 people, in clear and flagrant breach of the pandemic regulations, has not been prosecuted. He was served by police with the notice of a £10,000 fine, but the Crown Prosecution Service this week at Northampton magistrates court decided not to pursue the case, and his legal costs are to be reimbursed. In contrast, hundreds of local families who have lost loved ones over the last year have respected the rules and encountered much distress in limiting the number of mourners at funerals. I have already contacted the Solicitor General about this important issue, but can we have a Government statement on the fact that once again, it appears that there is one rule for Gypsies and Travellers and another for everyone else?
I am concerned about what my hon. Friend is saying, because, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”. That is a fundamental principle of justice in this country. I am obviously not familiar with the details of the case that he raises and the CPS is operationally independent in its charging decisions. Cases ought to be decided by the CPS on their own merits, on the tests set by the code for Crown prosecutors. I note, however, that he has already raised this with the Solicitor General and I will pass on his comments to the Attorney General.
I join the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in thanking all in the House who have contributed to ensuring that Members have been able to continue to participate virtually. It has not always been a smooth passage and there have often been disagreements about the process, but we have got there. Indeed, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your part in that process, because you have made so much of this possible.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister indicated that he would “immediately” publish his personal correspondence relating to covid contracts, so will the Leader of the House update the House by telling us what the Government consider to be the meaning of the word “immediately”? When will the Prime Minister actually release this correspondence?
Given that the Prime Minister has promised to “fix” tax issues for billionaires over text message, will the Leader of the House also support a full public inquiry into lobbying practices under this Government and potential breaches of the ministerial code? Perhaps the Government could also advise the 3 million left behind and struggling without any support how they can get the ear of the Prime Minister, or is this only for the elite group with the phone number who are able to influence policy?
It is not just Opposition Members who are making suggestions about some of these issues. As a great believer in honest and fair procurement practices in the UK, I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will be alarmed to read the results of the Transparency International UK report, “Track and Trace”, which concluded that the absence of competition in awarding contracts has been “unjustifiable” and that
“arrangements for enabling scrutiny over the use of taxpayers’ money”—
have been “woefully inadequate” due to “systemic deficiencies in how” the Government
“accounts for the use of public funds”.
Will the Leader of the House now champion tougher action from Government, including backing my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill, to ensure that Government contract decisions are not riddled with crony accusations and that decisions are being taken in the best interests of the public purse?
Finally, as a believer in market forces, I am sure that the UK Government will have a view—I would be keen to know what it is—on the supermarket wars that currently threaten the diversity of chocolate larvae lepidoptera. What will the Government do to support the campaign to free Cuthbert, or do they, in fact, back the protection of the species for Colin?
I think the last matter is clearly one for an Adjournment debate, so that every possible ramification of it can be considered.
If I may come to the mainstay of what the hon. Gentleman raised, it is really important that contracts are awarded properly. That is why correspondence will be published and why the contracts will be published as well. A proper process of transparency is taking place, but it is also worth remembering that there was a great deal of urgency. We went from 1% of personal protective equipment being produced domestically to—I think, excluding gloves—70% of PPE being produced domestically. We managed to have an extraordinary success in our vaccine roll-out programme, where we were fleeter of foot than other countries—indeed, of our neighbours in the European Union—and that was because we were able to get on with things. That had widespread political support while it was taking place last year, and people from all parties benefited.
It is worth reminding the House that £135.5 million-worth of Chinese ventilators went to a company that was incorporated not that long ago called Excalibur Healthcare Services. Its chairman, Sir Chris Evans, is a very distinguished biotech entrepreneur and a supporter of the Labour party. He is also a very distinguished and successful businessman and is somebody who is held in the highest regard across the House. He got a contract for a newly incorporated company of a very significant amount of public money not because of cronyism—it would be very odd cronyism to stuff the purses of socialists with gold—but because we needed these goods and we needed them quickly.
We have a very good and strong Public Accounts Committee, the most long-standing Select Committee in this House, which has kept a review of public expenditure for now well over 100 years. It is chaired by a distinguished Member of the Labour party, who is respected in all parts of the House, and the Committee brings forward reports to ensure that expenditure is proper, and I am all in favour of that. It is right that we must examine contracts and how they are awarded, but we should not cast aspersions purely for temporary political advantage, undermining the confidence that people can have in the fundamental honesty of the British state.
Stoke-on-Trent is one of the fastest growing economies and one of the top places for jobs growth in England. Added to that, we have excellent connectivity with the M6 and the A50 corridor; four international airports within 60 minutes; and a 90-minute train ride to London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with Staffordshire police, Staffordshire chambers of commerce, and Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent citizens advice bureaux, there could be no better second home for the Home Office other than Stoke-on-Trent under the places for growth programme, bringing high-skilled and well-paid jobs for the Stoke-on-Trent talent pool and seeing a former resident, the Home Secretary, return to her adopted city?
I thought that my hon. Friend was about to make an application to become the Home Secretary, rather than move the Home Secretary. The Government are committed to ensuring that the administration of government is less London-centric and to locating more civil service roles and public bodies outside London and into the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. The places for growth programme is working with Departments on their relocation plans and a number of announcements have been made. That includes the Cabinet Office establishing a second headquarters in Glasgow; a joint headquarters for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in East Kilbride; the Department for Transport building on its presence in Leeds and Birmingham; and a new economic campus in Darlington. My hon. Friend should keep on campaigning, and I will pass his message on to fellow Ministers, particularly to the Home Secretary.
May I first pass on my deepest sympathy, love and condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) following the sad passing of her husband, Ray? Mr Speaker, Ray was a long-standing North Tyneside councillor, a fellow Newcastle fan, and a thoroughly lovely man.
Obviously, we are disappointed that there is no time for Backbench Business Committee debates to be scheduled next week, but should any gaps in the Government’s schedule occur before Prorogation next week, I am sure that we could organise debate sponsors to be on standby to fill any such void.
Lastly, after this week’s so-called big six European super league shenanigans, I was delighted to see the Government make their proposal for a fan-led review of football in England. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ensure that the review fulfils the Government’s manifesto commitment to being truly fan-led?
May I join the hon. Gentleman in passing on our condolences to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) at a very sad time for her and for her family? We will remember Ray in our prayers.
As regards time for the Backbench Business Committee, next week will really be about sorting out ping-pong. Unless the hon. Gentleman is going to join us in a game of what some call whiff-whaff, we may not necessarily have time for Backbench Business debates.
To come to the fan-led review of football, this will be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who is herself a very committed footballer and fan of football. She knows everything about the subject very much from the point of view of a fan and will cover the financial stability of the men’s and women’s games, governance and regulation, the merits and the independent regulator, and, crucially to the hon. Gentleman’s point, how fans can have a greater say in the oversight of the game. I think, therefore, that it is a case of ask and you shall be given.
As we move along the road map towards normality, Ministers are rightly reminding the public of the mantra “Hands, face, space”. Does the Leader of the House agree that in future ministerial statements, there should be an additional message to the public, particularly to those visiting tourist areas such as East Yorkshire—namely, “Hands, face, space, but don’t be a disgrace. Take your rubbish and litter away and bin it”? Does he agree that we should be keeping Britain tidy as well as safe?
I remember an occasion when Margaret Thatcher went to St James’s Park to pick up litter—actually, the litter had to be put down for her to pick up because there was not any immediately to hand—and she had the slogan “Bag it and bin it and that way we’ll win it”. Those words and the words of my right hon. Friend are ones that we should all bear in mind.
May I associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on the passing of Ray, the husband of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon)?
The Government’s flagship education recovery scheme, the national tutoring programme, has reached 96% of its target numbers in schools in the south-east and 100% in the south-west but under 60% in the north-east. I share concerns expressed by the director of Schools North East that the Government’s one-size-fits-all approach does not account for the significantly higher levels of long-term disadvantage in regions such as the north-east or regional variations in how well established tutoring is as an intervention. We must see our recovery from covid-19 closing inequality gaps, not broadening them, so can we have a debate in Government time on making education recovery more responsive to local circumstances and trusting school heads to know the best way to support their pupils?
The Government are very committed to the levelling-up agenda and therefore ensuring that all parts of the country receive their fair share of support. The hon. Lady raises an important point. I ask her to point out to the Government—via my office, if that would be useful—where there are any blockages, so that the Government can ensure that those are removed, because it is fundamental that we should be fair and level up across the country.
A year ago today, I asked Parliament’s very first virtual question, and here I am doing so again. Does the Leader of the House agree that, as society reopens and resumes a closer to business-as-usual model, we in Parliament should be doing the same thing in a safe and secure way?
May I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? I hope that once he has finished Zooming, he will have an appropriate celebration, possibly leading the way as the public houses reopen outside. I agree with his point: Parliament needs to lead the way, and we need to get back to normal as soon as it is prudent and sensible to do so. I congratulate him on his efforts to hold the Government to account and to carry out scrutiny, and I am glad that he has been doing it, even if Her Majesty’s Opposition feel that they have not been able to scrutinise the Government, but we want to get back to a proper Chamber as soon as possible.
I have noticed that whenever my colleagues from the SNP have a question for the Prime Minister, regardless of the subject matter, the response always seems to revert at some stage to a tedious and tendentious diatribe against the supposed shortcomings of the Scottish Government. It is quite clear that the Government are keen to unburden themselves in some regards with respect to the Scottish Government’s record. Would the Leader of the House be good enough to make time next week for a general debate in the House on Scottish affairs, in order that Members can explore some of the reasons why voters in Scotland seem to be on course to re-elect the SNP Government and sack the Conservative Opposition?
As it seems that the SNP has been doing its best to make the Borgias look respectable in recent weeks, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman would wish to have such a debate, but it would be an opportunity to point out how the SNP Government are failing Scotland in terms of its education and its policing. The SNP Government recently stated that they would have done just as well with the vaccine roll-out by themselves, when under a year ago, the SNP spokesman was asking why they had not joined the European scheme and whether it was a great failure not to have joined it. So a debate on the failings of the SNP, its lack of success and its lack of drive in its position in charge of the Government of Scotland would be one that would have many speakers and there would be a great deal to say. However, over the next few days we have to deal with ping-pong with the House of Lords, so I regret to say that there will not be time for that pleasurable discussion.
May I also wish my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) a very happy birthday? On this celebratory day of the one-year anniversary of the hybrid Parliament, may I thank the digital team, your team, Mr Speaker, the Doorkeepers and the Clerks for remaining physically present in Parliament during the pandemic? Will my right hon. Friend update the House on plans for the physical return of Members to this House so that we can all grace these green Benches?
Between now and 21 July, there will be discussions as to what can be done in line with the changes taking place across the rest of the country and whether, when places of entertainment are allowed to have every other place full, this House will be able to do that. However, Mr Speaker will rely on the advice of Public Health England for that. All the restrictions fall by the motions we have in front of us around 21 June, at which point we will be back to normal. However, I would say to Members that they are entitled to come into the Chamber. There is a limit on seating, but that limit is not used on most occasions, and I would no longer discourage anybody from coming into this House. I think this House is better when it is physical. It is more immediate, and the quality of our debate is significantly improved.
May I also thank you, Mr Speaker, your team and the House authorities for keeping us all safe during a difficult year?
Too many deaf people are still facing social exclusion, and there is no more timely example of that than our still waiting for a British Sign Language interpreter at Government press briefings more than a year into the pandemic. British Sign Language is used by over 151,000 people in the UK. However, 18 years after it was formally recognised as a language by the UK Government, it has still not received legal status. Will the Leader of the House outline when the Government plan to bring forward legislation finally to give BSL legal status?
It is worth pointing out to the hon. Lady that, under your auspices, Mr Speaker, there is sign language for some parts of our parliamentary proceedings, routinely including Prime Minister’s questions. Whether it can be used more, and whether there is sufficient demand to make that worth while, is being looked at. It is taken seriously by the House authorities, and the broadcasters also provide it as a service. Great steps are being made. In terms of the legislative agenda, we will have a Queen’s Speech quite soon and that will contain the agenda for the coming Session.
I congratulate Lord McFall on his election as Lord Speaker and offer my sincere condolences to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) on the death of her husband Ray. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on funding for research into motor neurone disease and related illnesses? This disease has a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and their families as I understand from a number of my constituents. Further funding is vital to continue the advances being made in the treatment of MND and to find a possible cure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an unquestionably important issue. The Government recognise the immense challenges faced by people with motor neurone disease and are currently working on ways to boost significantly further research into the disease. In the past five years, the taxpayer has spent £54 million on motor neurone disease research through the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation via the Medical Research Council. The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed to doubling funding for dementia and neurodegenerative disease research, including motor neurone disease research. The Government are putting plans in place on how to deliver on that commitment, but I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate to discuss it further.
In recent summers in Nottingham, our excellent community sector, supported by the city council, has on a shoestring put together brilliant activities and food programmes for local children. This year, the city has secured significant resources to make that programme even better, so that it operates all year round and reaches thousands of local children. We want groups to come forward to be part of it. Can we have a debate in Government time about the importance of excellent holiday activities for our young children?
Holiday activities are extremely important for children, particularly during the long summer holidays, and I am delighted to hear that charitable activity in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is allowing people to do the sorts of things that children want to do and enjoy doing. In my area, Longleat is an enormously popular safari park. People like to see the lions, tigers, giraffes and elephants—[Interruption.] I do not think there are any buffalo there, but there may be. Ensuring that there are enjoyable activities for children in school holidays is admirable, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the efforts he is making in that regard.
Over the past few weeks, I have been knocking on quite a few doors in the Chantry area of Ipswich, where the Leader of the House has quite a few admirers, as it happens. The key issue is the growth in antisocial behaviour and potential drug dealing and taking in the area, particularly in Stonelodge Park. We know that increased police presence and regular patrols are part of deterring that kind of illicit activity, and I welcome the extra 45 police officers, but would the Leader of the House find space in Government time for a debate about the national police funding formula, which I and the police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, believe is not fair for Suffolk?
I am delighted to hear that I have a following in Chantry. There is also a Chantry in Somerset, so it is clearly a very good name for a place.
The police funding formula remains the most reliable mechanism that we have to distribute core grant funding to police and crime commissioners. The funding settlement will be £15.8 billion in 2021-22, up £600 million on the previous year. Obviously, it is then about how that money is spent, and getting more police on the beat—I am delighted to hear that there are 45 more in my hon. Friend’s constituency—is key. The presence of a police officer is a sure way of reducing crime and antisocial behaviour.
On behalf of a constituent battling repeated malicious allegations, and another who, out of the blue, has been deducted for a 30-year-old social fund loan with no proof that it ever existed, can we have an opportunity to press Department for Work and Pensions Ministers on why it is taking, on average, a ludicrous 63 weeks for a complaint to be allocated to a caseworker? If I send the Leader of the House the details of those two cases, would he take it up with a Minister for me?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend and I are both committed democrats who believe that the voice of the people always deserves to be heard. In the Somerset County Council area, there will soon be a referendum to test public opinion about the rival plans for local government reform. I think my right hon. Friend and I would prefer that it were the whole of Somerset, but that is beyond the power of the council. The Secretary of State, by letter, said that this is a distraction, but I believe he is quite wrong. Elections to the county council have been shelved, and I am afraid the Government’s consultation was cheap, unfair and totally indifferent to the views of the residents. The chance to vote is now vital, and the Government ought to listen very carefully to the result before making any decision. Lawyers are spoiling for a fight about this, but democracy is an issue that cries out to be debated as soon as it can in this House first.
Vox populi, vox dei, but I refer my hon. Friend to what I said last week: it does not include the whole county of Somerset, and I think that is a great mistake. Somerset’s history goes back into the mists of time. It is one of the oldest counties in the country. As a whole, it is a complete, entire, perfect county that was cut up by Ted Heath in the 1970s to the disadvantage of people across the whole county. I would like to see the whole thing put back together. If only we could have the expertise of Humpty Dumpty.
May I offer my sincere condolences to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) on the death of her husband?
I have previously asked the Leader of the House about a promised Bill on access to cash, which has not materialised. Can he confirm that it will be included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech to provide certainty to those—mainly vulnerable people—who rely on cash? Will the Government agree to back the Banking Services (Post Offices) Bill, lodged by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), to place responsibility on banks to provide their services through post office branches?
I think that for me to pre-empt the Queen’s Speech would be lèse-majesté, but I can say that the Government recognise the importance of cash to the daily lives of millions of people across the United Kingdom, particularly those in vulnerable groups, and that we are committed to protecting access to cash for those who need it. The Government held a call for evidence on access to cash, which closed on 25 November 2020 and which set out our legislative aims—the legislative aims are there—for protecting access to cash throughout the United Kingdom. It sought views on cash withdrawal and deposit-taking facilities, cash acceptance and regulatory responsibilities for maintaining cash access. Although I cannot give the hon. Lady the direct promise that she asks for, I can say that the issue is very much at the forefront of the Government’s mind.
As we speak, the Foreign Secretary is being held to account by the Select Committee on International Development, following his written statement late last night. One thing in his statement that was rather confusing, because it is difficult to check like with like, is the fact that all budgets are being slashed dramatically. We know that the Foreign Secretary and others have decided that the 0.7%, which is enshrined in law, will become 0.5%, but we really ought to have a vote on that to see whether such an incredible slashing of funds is the will of Parliament. Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can have that vote? I know that various people think that we do not need one, but the 0.7% is enshrined in law. We cannot just say, “It is enshrined in law, but we will take no notice of it.” When will we have a vote, please?
The law is very clear and envisages circumstances in which the 0.7% target will not be possible to reach, for a variety of reasons including economic ones that may affect the Government’s ability to meet it. It sets out the requirement for the Secretary of State to make a report to Parliament, to be accountable to Parliament in the event that the target is not reached. The law is being followed—what Parliament decreed is being followed—and that is, of course, the right thing to do.
I have been horrified by reports from constituents—frontline customer-facing service workers across a range of sectors from retail and call centres to rail staff—of the abuse and violence that they have faced from customers. This is not a local issue. In polling commissioned by the Institute of Customer Service in 2020, 1,000 customer-facing workers reported increasing levels of hostility directed towards them in recent years, with more than half having experienced abuse from customers during the pandemic. This is clearly unacceptable. When Parliament is prorogued shortly, the private Member’s Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris)—the Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill—will fall, despite widespread public support. I hope that the Leader of the House will outline when we can have a debate in Government time on increasing protections for service workers in law in line with protections that emergency service workers receive. Abuse should never be part of the job.
The hon. Lady raises a point that concerns hon. Members across the House. People working in retail ought to be protected, and are protected, by the full force of the law. The Queen’s Speech debate is an opportunity to raise a very wide range of issues; that opportunity will be provided once Parliament is recalled, and there will be a new ballot for private Members’ Bills for the next Session. I hope that we will get through all 13 Fridays in more normal time than we have had over the past year.
May I add my deep condolences to the lovely hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon)?
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House set out what assessment he has made of the cost and safety of the enormous amount of mechanical and engineering work that is required to restore this beautiful UNESCO world heritage site, the Palace of Westminster? Will he confirm that he agrees that although taxpayers’ value for money is absolutely at the heart of the restoration project, so too must be the importance of a contingency arrangement for our democracy to keep functioning should there be a disastrous fire, asbestos leakage or other disaster during such time as any restoration were to take place?
My right hon. Friend obviously knows a great deal about this subject. She will be aware that the sponsor body is currently drawing up its business plan, which will take into account all the risks. I can give my right hon. Friend the important reassurance that a great deal of fire safety work has already been done, so there are now 7,112 automatic fire-detection devices, 4,126 sprinkler heads in the basement of the Palace and 8 miles of pipe for a new sprinkler system in the basement, to ensure that in the event of a fire, life can be protected. That work has been completed in recent years to a high standard to ensure safety.
As regards contingencies, it is not normal to discuss their details on the Floor of the House, as my right hon. Friend will know, but obviously there will be some consequences of how we have operated over the past year when it comes to working out how any contingency could or should be carried out.
I too send my love and condolences to my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon).
I asked the Lord Chancellor how many civil service jobs were moving to York and was given some vague percentage; however, a subsequent question indicated that the Department did not know. It appears that the Government’s distribution of job relocation and funding bids lacks transparency. With the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund soon to be administered, and with no matrices or frameworks having been published, will the Leader of the House raise my concerns with his Cabinet colleagues and ask them to come to the House before the recess to make a statement on their methodology—if indeed there is one?
As we discussed earlier, Government spending of taxpayers’ money is always carefully examined by various Committees in this House and by proper procedures within Government. The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will be an important way of ensuring that economic prosperity is possible throughout the country and that we build back better.
The hon. Lady made a detailed point on the Ministry of Justice’s moving to York and seeks a detailed answer; I will try to help her to get as detailed an answer as is available.
We have important local elections coming up, which inevitably leads to more residents seeking information and clarity on council services and who is the best value for their votes. In Nottinghamshire, we have contrasting fortunes: the Conservative-run county council has been able to support local people throughout the pandemic, while protecting services and balancing the books, whereas Labour-run Nottingham City Council has just about bankrupted itself, and residents will pick up the pieces. The money that the city council has blown on Robin Hood Energy alone could have built leisure centres in Mansfield or regenerated our high street. Will my right hon. Friend make time to debate these failings at the Labour city council, to aid our understanding of how it managed to make quite such a mess of it, openly assess the impact on taxpayers and ensure that such wasteful incompetence cannot happen again?
My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally good point. Every week, business questions throws up another example of appalling mismanagement by socialist councils. It is vital that Members of this House hold their local authorities to account; they have in this place a special and valuable platform that they must use for their constituents’ benefit. It is remarkable how many Members happen to complain about hare-brained energy schemes from socialist local authorities of both the red and yellow variety. Perhaps the people suffering under the red yoke in Nottingham might look enviously to the greener grass of the Conservative county council and use their vote accordingly on 6 May.
The all-party parliamentary group on disability, which I chair, is committed to ensuring that MPs support opportunity in employment for all. As a vital step, in early June we are undertaking an online Disability Confident workshop—supported by the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and the Department for Work and Pensions—through which we hope to sign up at least 100 MPs’ offices as accredited Disability Confident employers. Will the Leader of the House support this work, alongside further progress and debate on disability inclusion in Parliament?
It would be an honour to do so. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this. I do a podcast on why Parliament works, and I did an interview with my noble Friend Lord Hague, who introduced the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, which has been so important in improving disability rights and employment opportunities for the disabled. Anything I can do through the office of the Leader of the House to further the work that he started, I would be privileged to do.
Eston swimming baths have been closed since the start of the pandemic, and will sadly remain closed for at least another year because of the state of disrepair, which it is estimated will cost almost £3 million to put right. I have said from the start that I am committed to having a swimming pool in TS6 for the people of TS6, and I am working with the council on a plan for a brand-new pool there so that everyone in South Bank, Normanby, Teesville, Grangetown and Eston can have a pool that they can use for decades to come. Does the Leader of the House agree with me on the importance of community swimming pools, and will he make time for a debate on this in the next Session?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has been doing to save the Eston baths, and I know that he has raised this matter with Ministers. He is an absolutely brilliant champion for his constituents in Redcar, and for ensuring that they are kept in the swim, so to speak. This is important work and the Government have provided unprecedented support to businesses throughout the pandemic to ensure that these vital facilities remain for people to enjoy after the pandemic has come to an end. This includes the £100 million national leisure recovery fund and £270 million from Sport England.
First, I would like to offer my commiserations and sympathy to my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) on her recent tragic loss.
Over the past few months and years, we have seen the behaviour of Prime Minister Modi of India becoming increasingly violent and aggressive towards the people that he and his Government see as their opponents. There are still eight journalists held in prison on charges of sedition, a number of politicians are also being held, and 100 people are still missing after the farmers’ protest. This comes on top of all the appalling behaviour by the Government and the Indian Army in Kashmir. We know that talks are coming up between our Prime Minister and his opposite number, so could the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will be raising human rights issues, as well as trade, at that meeting and that he will then report back to the House of Commons?
India is a most important ally of the United Kingdom. It is the largest democracy in the world, and it has the rule of law in addition to being a democracy. It is a nation with which we want to build and maintain the friendliest relationships in the coming decades and, indeed, centuries. Of course, with all countries with which we have close relationships and friendships, it is right to remind them of the high standards that are expected of nations of the standing of India, one of the most important nations in the world, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will always mention this when he is meeting foreign leaders.
May I add my condolences to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon)? She is a dear friend from across the House.
This week, my constituency celebrates the opening of the Congleton link road. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating and thanking all who have worked on it, including community leaders, past and present councillors, council officers, contractors and the business people who worked so hard to secure it? It will help to reduce congestion, make getting to school safer, shorten commute times and improve air quality, and it was facilitated not least by the investment of some £50 million from national Government. Does not this demonstrate that this Government are committed to delivering infrastructure improvements in the north for the real-life daily benefit of the people who live here?
In the list of people who deserve thanks, my hon. Friend forgot to include the most distinguished Member of Parliament, who worked tirelessly to ensure that the link road was built. She brought people together, campaigned with them and made sure that it happened. She is looking slightly embarrassed as I say this, but I think she really does deserve a good deal of credit herself. This fits in with that the Government are trying to do. We will spend more than £600 billion of taxpayers’ money over the next five years, and £19 billion in transport next year alone. This is part of the levelling-up approach and building back better to ensure that the whole country benefits, and I am delighted that Congleton is benefiting from a bypass.
Perfect Getaways, an independent travel agent that is based in my constituency, is a perfect example of how a small family-owned business can grow and be a success, but of course the continued uncertainty around international travel has severely impacted its income. Although being able to access the restart grants for non-essential retailers is welcome, at the moment more holidays are being cancelled than booked, which is obviously causing it real difficulty—far more than for a lot of other non-essential retail outlets. Can we please have a debate on what more can be done to help those in the travel and tourism industry, who really need some sector-specific support for a considerable period yet?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the case of Perfect Getaways. It must be really difficult for people in the travel industry at the moment, because there is still so much uncertainty. We do not know about the progression of the disease in other countries. We do not know clearly how safe it will be to travel. The red list is currently going up rather than down with the addition of India later this week. It is difficult for businesses in that category and he is right to raise the matter. He may want an Adjournment debate in the first instance, but I am sure the House will return to the matter in the new Session.
Tomorrow, residents in Carshalton and Wallington and across England will celebrate St George’s Day. Although many celebrations cannot take place this year due to covid restrictions, could we have a debate to mark this day and celebrate all that is great about this green and pleasant land?
This week is actually a very interesting one for English saints’ days, because the 19th is that of St Alfege, who was murdered by the Danes for refusing to pay extra tax—a saint I have always particularly admired—and the 21st is that of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had a great row with William Rufus over the powers of the Church against the state. Then of course there is St George, who famously slew the dragon and did other great and noble things, and became our patron saint really in the reign of Edward III. He is the patron of the Order of the Garter as well, and a chivalrous saint, or very much thought to be. We should celebrate and discuss the great history of our nation and the interesting agglomeration of saints who pray for us on a daily basis, praying for the success not just of England but of the whole of the United Kingdom. St Andrew, St David and St Patrick—all the great saints—should be celebrated and commemorated.
Today is Earth Day, so it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the environmental damage caused to marine habitats by the clearing of unexploded bombs and mines at sea, which is highly disruptive to marine mammals which rely on their auditory systems for navigation and communication. Indeed, such damage threatens their very survival. Will the Leader of the House make a statement as to when the Government will progress regulations to favour the deflagration technique, which is several hundred times quieter than the current method of clearing unexploded bombs and mines at sea?
The hon. Lady is obviously right to be concerned for marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and porpoises, who, when seen, give such pleasure to people, and are an important part of the marine environment. I know that there are campaigns in relation to how munitions that have been dumped at sea are best destroyed, and I will happily pass on her representations.
Fly-tipping is a blight on all our local towns and villages, from Haslingden to Belthorn and Great Harwood to Huncoat. Locally we have some amazing community groups that are working to keep our streets clean, like the Baxenden Wombles, the Ossy litter pickers and Rossendale’s Civic Pride. Unfortunately, our Labour-run councils clean up an area time and again at the expense of the taxpayer, but we fail to see a tough stance taken through fines and prosecutions. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we make sure that our local councils take stronger action against the minority who ruin it for all residents such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
My hon. Friend raises a point similar to that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight). Local councils do have that responsibility, and the availability of tips provided by the council can be very important in deterring fly-tipping, because if it is easy to dispose of waste, most people will do it, but if it is difficult and expensive, that may be a more complex issue and may lead to fly-tipping. It is, as I say, a council responsibility; but fly-tipping is wrong, it is illegal, and people should dispose of their waste properly and not put costs on to taxpayers by disposing of it illegally—and the law should of course be enforced.