Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

The business for next week will include:

Monday 1 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments followed by, motion to approve the draft Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2021 followed by, motion to approve the draft Electronic Commerce Directive (Education, Adoption and Children) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2021 followed by, motion to approve the draft Automatic Enrolment (Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band) Order 2021 followed by, motion to approve the draft Major Sporting Events (Income Tax Exemption) Regulations 2021.

Tuesday 2 March—Motion to approve the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 and the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions And Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 followed by, general debate on covid-19 and the cultural and entertainment sectors.

Wednesday 3 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 4 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 5 March—The House will not be sitting.

The Provisional business for the week commencing 8 March will include:

Monday 8 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 9 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 10 March—Estimates day (3rd allotted day). At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 11 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments (No.2) Bill followed by, business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 12 March—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the statement and for the motion on Westminster Hall that he has tabled. I know that the Chairs of the Procedure Committee, the Backbench Business Committee and the Petitions Committee will be delighted, but it must continue to be hybrid while there are still deaths happening.

I am not quite sure whether the Government have decided when Prorogation will be, but a number of Bills are hanging around, such as the Environment Bill. Will they be taken before the House prorogues, or carried over?

May I make a plea on behalf of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)? I know that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) has been pressed into service, but the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has had difficulty in attending today because he has a Select Committee. The business is clashing. I know that he is trying to resolve it by consensus, but I think that some of the Committee members are not enabling him to do that. I wonder whether I could prevail on the Leader of the House to talk to some of his colleagues about that. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire needs to take up his rightful place in this House. He has been appointed by his party, after all.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the excellent letter that you have sent to the ethics committee at King’s College. I know that hon. Members and our staff—I am sure the Leader of the House has had representations—will agree about how appalling it is to send out fake emails. Our staff have been absolutely amazing since last March, getting stranded constituents back and dealing with distressed people who have absolutely nothing. Some of them have even had covid. They have had to handle working from home and a new type of working. They have been amazing. I put on record my thanks to all my staff, and to all hon. Members’ staff. At a time when we have the worst death rate—182 per 100,000, according to the John Hopkins University, while the US has 152 per 100,000—to have to deal with fake emails is absolutely appalling. I wonder whether the Leader of the House will join me, and perhaps the leader of the Scottish National party, in writing a joint letter to say that the House absolutely condemns that kind of behaviour.

Next week is Foreign Office questions, as the Leader of the House said. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary will update the House on Nazanin’s case and Anousheh’s case. I thank Ambassador Macaire for raising Anousheh’s lack of telephone privileges, but Amnesty International has identified two further British nationals: Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz. Could we have an update on all those British national cases?

The shadow Home Secretary has raised the issue that almost 1,500 people’s claims under the Windrush scheme have not been paid yet. Only £4 million has been paid to more than 300 people. I know that the Home Secretary said that she wants to take personal charge of this, so I wonder whether she could come to the House and make a statement.

We gave the Government the powers that they wanted because we were in the middle of a crisis, but we did not know that they would throw an invisibility cloak over some of the transactions. I thank the Good Law Project for upholding the rule of law. It seems that only the Government’s friends, those in their social circle or those in their economic circle need apply. An applicant can have no previous experience, such as the new chair of the Office for Students, but why does it take a judgment to publish the names, and what is a technical breach? I do not think that the judge actually mentioned a technical breach. The Health Secretary has been found to have acted unlawfully, so could he please come to the House and explain it?

We also need an explanation of why frosts are disappearing, literally. Apparently, after Lord Frost’s new appointment to the Cabinet, he is on a leave of absence, so he is not accountable to the House of Lords. Yet he is now in charge of this new EU Joint Committee and he cannot come to the House. Could the Leader of the House say how we hold Lord Frost to account on the negotiations that he is having with the EU? Worse still, we had a press release on Friday from the Business Secretary and a written statement on Monday. He wants exactly the same kind of regime—he said “light touch”—for his new research agency. Again, we are talking about an invisibility cloak, because apparently we cannot make a freedom of information request for any of the contracts that are given out under it.

I am afraid that this time I am with the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) when he asks for local government to be held to account.

What would the Leader of the House do if a councillor who worked for a Minister shoved through cabinet something that put a site in a Labour MP’s constituency, without there being any criteria in relation to air quality, residents’ views or even green spaces, when a site allocation document, which had been agreed and on which there had been consultation, stated that it should go in the Minister’s constituency? What would the Leader of the House say to that person? May we have a debate on local government accountability?

Finally, I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your statement on Julia Clifford. We all knew her for a very long time; she knew lots of hon. Members and looked after us. You have made a lovely gesture in naming the Tea Room after her. We send our good wishes to John, Ben and Jack. May she rest in peace. She beat cancer but then, with a reduced immune system, succumbed to covid.

There is a debate on Welsh affairs later today, and I want to praise the Welsh Government because they have reached their vaccination target. They were the first nation to reach their target in February and they are now on the second dose, which they have given to 60,000 people. For Monday, “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus”!

Before I call the Leader of the House, I want to reassure the House that I sent a letter to King’s College on behalf of the House and copied in its ethics committee. What happened was appalling, and I am waiting for a response from the university. It was totally unacceptable.

Mr Speaker, I also thank you for your statement about Julia Clifford and the loss to the House and, of course, to her family. She was enormously popular and loved by Members. We pray for the repose of her soul and send our condolences to her family.

I come to the detail of the right hon. Lady’s questions. The vaccine roll-out across the country has been a wonderful United Kingdom effort. It has been a terrific success. We are ahead of almost every other country in the world and this has allowed the road map for opening up to be brought forward. It is very positive and we should be very proud of what this country has achieved. That does tie into what the right hon. Lady was saying about the award of contracts, which needed to be done swiftly and effectively. That is why the vaccine roll-out has been such a triumph.

This infamous fox murderer involved with the Good Law Project is not somebody I am particularly interested in. He is fussing and wasting time over the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was getting on with ordering PPE rather than getting officials to spend time filling out forms to keep the fox murderer happy. I really do not think that is a good use of Government time.

As my right hon. Friend has said, it was a technical breach that was going to be put right in due course anyway. He was a fortnight late at a time when very pressing business was being attended to. I am afraid that the Opposition cannot have their cake and eat it, although that is sometimes said to be popular. They want the success of the vaccine project, but without contracts having been awarded swiftly. That is a completely inconsistent position.

The right hon. Lady mentions that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that she will take personal charge of the Windrush claims. I have every confidence: when my right hon. Friend takes personal charge of things, things happen—she is one of the most effective people in Government at getting things done. It is reassuring that she will be taking charge.

The two further cases that have been raised must be raised with the Foreign Secretary; I will pass those on to him immediately after business questions. As the right hon. Lady rightly says, Foreign Office questions are coming up soon. It is important that, during those questions, the House shows its strength of feeling by asking questions about Nazanin and the other dual nationals who are held improperly.

As regards King’s College, that was really deeply foolish behaviour. I do wonder what the point of an ethics committee is if it encourages dishonesty. Because that is what it is: writing to people with a false name is dishonest and it is cheating. It is the sort of behaviour that no respectable ethics committee would approve. I completely agree with what Mr Speaker has said and I am certainly happy to join in a letter with the right hon. Lady and the SNP shadow spokesman, depending on who that happens to be—the formal or informal one—because this is a serious matter. As the right hon. Lady rightly says, if there were ever a right time to do it, it was certainly not in the midst of a pandemic, when we all know how hard-pressed our parliamentary assistants were, and indeed continue to be.

As regards the meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Government do not have a majority on that Committee. It is therefore for the Committee to decide the timing of its meetings, although we generally find in this House that a degree of good will and compromise goes a very long way in sorting out problems—but that has to come in all directions, I think.

As regards Bills, Prorogation and all those exciting things, announcements will be made in due course in the normal way; you would expect nothing less, Mr Speaker. The Environment Bill has a carry-over provision, so every eventuality is taken into account. This is a Government who, in their wisdom, ensure that they are looking to all possible outcomes to make the legislative programme smooth.

Finally, I turn to Westminster Hall. The motion is down for consideration today. It provides for an extension to bring Westminster Hall into line with proceedings in the Chamber, and it is probable that we will look to extend that further, so there is no implication that there is provision until 30 March and that it then ends. The motion is very much to bring Westminster Hall into line with the Chamber.

May I associate myself with the comments about Julia Clifford? It is impossible to imagine the Tea Room without her, and it is wonderful to know that her name will live on and that we will all remember Julia every time we go and buy that cup of tea.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the motion on today’s Order Paper about reinstating Westminster Hall. I recognise that it is a compromise, and every compromise that we have made during the pandemic has been difficult because of the precedent it might set, but it is absolutely the right decision and I thank him for making it. He has referred to the motions that will expire at the end of next month, and indicated that he is looking to extend them. Could he perhaps confirm whether there will be a road map out of lockdown for Parliament, much in line with the road map out of lockdown for the whole country that the Prime Minister set out on Monday?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I am very pleased that the reopening of Westminster Hall has been so widely welcomed. As regards the road map for the reopening of Parliament, the road map that the Government have set out for the country at large will obviously have an effect on what is going on in this House. Particularly important for the Chamber will be any changes on social distancing, because this Chamber will not be back to full, proper operation until the social distancing measures have been altered. That will be fundamental to any decisions that we have to make.

May I also associate myself and my party with the comments of the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, in relation to Julia Clifford? The proposal that has been made is a very fitting one.

I also echo the comments of the shadow Leader of the House in welcoming your letter, Mr Speaker, to King’s College and its ethics committee.

When I stood in at business questions a couple of weeks ago, I said that I hoped the transition to my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would be a smooth one, but it is not turning out that way. My hon. Friend would very much like to be in his place this morning as the SNP’s shadow Leader of the House, but the Scottish Affairs Committee, which he chairs, meets at the same time, and Conservative members of that Committee are refusing to change the time of meetings to allow him to be here. My hon. Friend has already apologised to the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for not being in his place, and he was hoping to apologise directly to you in person, Mr Speaker. I hope that the Leader of the House can use his considerable influence to encourage Conservatives on that Committee to join in the spirit of co-operation and good will that is taking place in so many areas just now, to free the Perthshire One and help stop these pointless political games.

With national and local elections on the horizon, will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a statement to update the House on the democracy programme? Confidence in our democracy at this time, particularly in the circumstances we face, is more important than ever. This week we have had a number of discussions about the Government’s procurement processes, which normally protect the public purse, but which are currently being bypassed under covid emergency regulations. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time to consider what action can be taken to improve transparency and to mitigate any increased risk of corruption in line with their own anti-corruption strategy, and will he encourage Government colleagues to support my own Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and thank him once again for standing in for the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). The Scottish Affairs Committee makes decisions on when it meets as a Committee. The Government do not routinely interfere with Select Committees—indeed their independence is part of the scrutiny process. I point out to him that the Conservatives do not have a majority on that Committee and therefore it cannot purely be the Conservative Members who are refusing to change the time, because if the full Committee turned up it could outvote them.

As regards the democracy programme and the upcoming local elections, the Cabinet Office will issue a statement in relation to campaigning and what will be allowed. This area will begin to open up on 8 March in accordance with schools. Obviously, it is really important, and most people would argue that democracy, as we show in this House, is essential work, and it is fundamentally important that campaigning is possible in a safe way in advance of the elections across the United Kingdom in early May.

On the procurement process, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—that it was absolutely right, during the height of the pandemic, that contracts were issued swiftly. The normal procurement process would take three to six months to agree a contract. That would have meant that we would not yet have a vaccine. It would have delayed absolutely everything. We would still not have personal protective equipment. The UK used to produce 1% of its PPE requirement; that is now up to 70%. That has safeguarded our supplies, safeguarded people, and safeguarded lives. It was right to act quickly, but the hon. Gentleman is also right that that expenditure must be checked. We have in this country one of the most honest public sectors of any country in the world. We have an absolutely excellent system through the Comptroller and Auditor General of ensuring that expenditure is properly checked and carried out and that there are ways of scrutinising it ex post facto. That is the right approach to be taking, but it was absolutely right to award the contracts during the height of the pandemic.

As the Foreign Secretary said at the Human Rights Council this week, our Government will continue to work with partners internationally to uphold freedoms of people right around the world, including freedom of religion or belief. Many women suffer persecution doubly as a result of their beliefs and their gender. Can we have a debate on how our Government are taking forward the declaration of humanity, announced last autumn in support of survivors of sexual violence in conflict, and on how to help prevent such things happening in the future?

May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend on her work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief? I cannot think of anybody better suited to the task. She has campaigned for this throughout her time in Parliament and does it incredibly effectively and persistently and raises an important subject again and again. I really thank her for that, because it is fundamental to how we see ourselves as a nation.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government place the promotion and protection of human rights at the top of their list of international priorities. We condemn utterly and totally all acts of conflict-related sexual violence towards any person at any time in any circumstances. The Government do all they can to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and to protect all persons vulnerable to such violence, including marginalised minority groups and those of other faiths or beliefs, recognising that adherence to a faith or a belief can itself result in additional vulnerability. The Government continue to work internationally to uphold freedoms of people around the world and they are obviously particularly concerned about women who have their rights affected.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business, and echo the sentiments expressed about the very sad passing of Julia Clifford.

May I wish my Jewish neighbours, friends and constituents a very happy celebration of deliverance, as they commemorate Purim tonight and tomorrow? I also thank the Leader of the House for his communication to me and the Chairs of the Procedure and Petitions Committees regarding the very welcome reopening of hybrid debates in a replacement Westminster Hall.

I truly hope that we can secure ample time for Backbench Business debates on Thursday 11 March, as we have two time-sensitive debates lined up to commemorate International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day, both of which are on Monday 8 March.

Could we have a debate on the extraordinary practice of universities taking tuition and maintenance fee payments in cash from overseas students? This amounts to more than £50 million in payments taken in cash over the last five years from students from places such as China, India, Pakistan and Nigeria, and it seems to warrant at least ministerial investigation.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for various steps we have taken, and I note his appeal for the time-sensitive debates that he hopes to host on 11 March.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very serious point. It sometimes seems that anti-money laundering regulations make it impossible for a Member of Parliament to open a bank account but allow people to pay very large sums in cash in a dishonest way, and I think the balance is not quite right. We should perhaps ask King’s College how it is doing on its money laundering when we ask it about the letters it is sending to Members of Parliament. He raises an important point, and I will certainly pass it on to the Treasury.

The impressive Gatwick and Manor Royal freeport bid has now been submitted. That would be an effective way to help to level up the area’s economy, which has been devastated by covid-19. Can we have a statement on how such excellent initiatives could help to recover and regenerate airport communities and the UK economy more widely?

My hon. Friend has a marvellous idea, as he so often does. His local bid for a freeport will be one of the many that I will be cheering on, including, of course, the proposed freeport in Somerset. Freeports will be national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the United Kingdom by attracting new businesses and spreading jobs, investment and opportunities to towns and cities up and down the country. Freeports policy brings together a comprehensive set of tax measures to incentivise private business investment, carefully considered planning reforms to facilitate much-needed construction and additional targeted funding for infrastructure improvements. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is leading a fair, open and transparent selection process, with successful locations to be announced in due course.

Coronavirus has meant that multiple measures affecting us all seem to be being rushed through with no meaningful consultation of communities. With Friday sittings now gone, can the Leader of the House advise me how, as an Opposition Back Bencher, I might be able to bring forward legislation to mandate maximum transparency and engagement on dramatic proposals such as major planning applications and reconfiguring our roads, some of which were dreamt up way before the new normal? Does he agree with such an approach, to counteract widespread feelings of citizen powerlessness?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question because it is a really important one. Some councils have abused the extra funding that has been provided and the ability to implement measures without proper consultation, particularly in relation to low-traffic neighbourhoods, and the measures they have implemented have caused great inconvenience to motorists and not much benefit to residents. She is right to raise this. The House provides many means of raising issues, and when we get back to normal—when that good and happy day comes—there will be even more ways of raising them, because this House is a very effective way of seeking redress of grievance and achieving it, as she is showing.

Year in, year out, our caseworkers do an immense amount of good work. That has been especially true during the coronavirus pandemic, when casework has gone up immeasurably. They are dealing day in, day out with parents’ fears about their children’s education, businesses on the verge of collapse and people frightened about getting healthcare treatments. So now is completely the wrong time for King’s College London, endorsed by its ethics committee, to be sending many hundreds of spoof emails to Members of Parliament, which caseworkers have to deal with. I have seen an estimate that dealing with these spoof emails has consumed about 650 hours of caseworkers’ time. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning this? The tradition in the House is to ask for a debate, perhaps in Government time, to discuss this important matter, but does he agree that it would probably be better for King’s College to sit down quietly and dwell on the ethics of what it has done?

Cicero said something along the lines of, “There’s nothing so foolish that some philosopher has not said it.” One rather feels the same of ethics committees: there is nothing so unethical that some ethics committee has not come to the conclusion that it is all right. I was appalled by my hon. Friend telling me that 650 hours of time have been wasted, which shows how deeply foolish the behaviour of King’s College has been, especially in the context of the pandemic. This is clearly being taken up by you, Mr Speaker, but I hope the condemnation of the whole House rings out in the ears of this unethical ethics committee.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen many civilian employees step up and go the extra mile to keep our country running. At the very outset of this pandemic, the military were called upon to run the covid testing facilities, with little time to train and limited personal protective equipment, on Operation Rescript. They then very quickly built the Nightingale hospitals. As ever, both regulars and reservists were ready to serve their country in a time of need. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that the contribution of the military be recognised and that a debate be held in this House on the Government’s plans to recognise the service of the armed forces, particularly the plans to award them a medal for their selfless service?

The hon. Lady makes an excellent and, if I may say so, strongly Unionist point. Her Majesty’s armed forces have played an incredibly important role in supporting us throughout the pandemic, from its earliest stages to assisting with the vaccine roll-out throughout the entire kingdom. I am sure all Members across the House will join me in paying tribute to the invaluable efforts the armed forces have made during the pandemic. We are committed to providing service personnel with the recognition and gratitude their service deserves, and I hope the establishment of the armed forces covenant in law by the Armed Forces Bill will go some way to marking this recognition.

During a recent meeting with Leigh Miners Rangers rugby league club, I was pleased to learn of its bid for rugby league world cup legacy funding to help improve its sporting facilities for children and young people in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this funding would be transformative for my constituency? May I also ask him for a debate on the cultural and economic importance of rugby league to regeneration in deprived communities in the north-west of England?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of the work done by his local rugby league club for the people of Leigh. Sports clubs often show some of the greatest community spirit, and we should commend the many thousands of people who volunteer for them and offer local children, especially, a rich and rewarding experience. The Government have worked with Sport England to agree a £220 million package of support to help community clubs throughout the crisis. Sport England has also committed an additional £50 million to help grassroots sports clubs and organisations. We have provided £100 million of taxpayers’ money to further support local authority leisure centres, alongside £300 million to support professional sport through the winter. In addition, there is a £16 million loan scheme for rugby league. So may I congratulate my hon. Friend and Leigh Miners Rangers rugby league club on the work that they both do?

St Andrew’s College in my constituency is one of many English language schools that have seen a significant drop in income because of covid. They have had zero turnover in the past 18 months, which compares with £10 million in 2019. So can we have a debate on the contribution of English language teaching to our society and economy, and the urgent need for additional support in the Budget next week?

The Government support has been very widespread for a whole range of businesses—it totals £280 billion, including the suspension of business rates and the furlough scheme to help to keep employers in place. I appreciate the difficulties that English language teaching will have suffered from, particularly during the pandemic, in the absence of foreign travel, and I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments to the Secretary of State.

Yesterday, the Union of Jewish Students and the Bristol Jewish Society held a virtual rally to call on the University of Bristol to finally take action against the lecturer David Miller, who brazenly states that Jewish students are an “enemy” that must be “defeated”, that prominent Jewish people and organisations are a “pillar of Islamophobia” and that Jewish students who have the audacity to complain about his comments are part of a Zionist “lobby”, which is a well-known antisemitic conspiracy theory. The rally was called after the university failed to take action, despite the complaint being originally placed in 2019. Can we have time for a debate on the need to improve university complaints procedures, which are failing Jewish students?

My hon. Friend brings to the attention of the House comments that are deeply wicked and the sort of thing that decent people simply do not say. We expect higher education providers to be at the forefront of tackling antisemitism, making sure that higher education is a genuinely fulfilling and welcoming experience for everyone. Providers should have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, to investigate and to swiftly address hate crimes, including any antisemitic incidents that are reported. Antisemitism is one of the most evil creeds and thoughts. It has been a blot on the history of the world for hundreds of years and it has no place in our society. Universities must be part of ensuring that antisemitism ceases to exist.

I, too, welcome the return of Westminster Hall debates, so thank you very much. I also agree completely with the comments made with regard to the email sent by King’s College. I directed the email to researchers and I am happy to share the responses I received if that is at all of interest.

As the host nation for COP26, the UK should be leading the way on ambitious climate action. Last year the green homes grant was trumpeted as the Government’s flagship policy for getting to net zero, but mismanagement of the scheme has meant that only 5% of the allocated budget has been spent and the Government are now not rolling over the budget to 2022. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on how the Government intend to tackle emissions from homes, which are one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the UK?

The Government have an incredibly strong record, including the 10-point plan that is the blueprint for a green industrial revolution. This includes over £3 billion of taxpayers’ money to transform energy efficiency in homes and public buildings, about £3 billion further in grants for plug-in vehicles and funding for rolling out charge points, £2 billion to kick start a cycling and walking revolution, £1 billion for infrastructure to enable carbon capture and storage by 2030, £640 million for a nature climate fund, £350 million to cut emissions in heavy industry, £160 million to make the UK a world leader in clean wind energy, and £100 million for research and development in greenhouse gas removal technologies such as direct air capture. All of these will have an effect on making the United Kingdom a world leader—the global first in terms of ensuring that there is a green industrial revolution.

Across the length and breadth of our great kingdom there is a yearning for justice to be delivered. In scripture, wise King Solomon delivered common-sense justice, but in Wakefield, the heart of God’s own county, we are unable to hand down punishment upon wrongdoers due to the sad demise of our magistrates court. As a consequence of the pandemic, Her Majesty’s Government have opened Nightingale courts to assist in mitigating the backlog that has developed, but this is only a temporary measure. Would my right hon. Friend find Government time for a debate on the need to open new, permanent magistrates courts, including one for Wakefield?

There are also wrongdoers, like my hon. Friend, who get confused about which county is God’s own county. For the record, it is Somerset, not Yorkshire, nice place though Yorkshire is. [Interruption.] Lancashire, Mr Speaker, is marvellous too, just to make that clear, but only Somerset is God’s own county.

On courts, £142 million of taxpayers’ money has been put into the biggest expenditure in courts estate maintenance in more than 20 years, and £110 million has been spent on emergency measures to ensure that courts are covid-secure. There are obviously challenges ahead, and the plans to expand capacity include opening new Nightingale courts. With regard to Wakefield magistrates court, a decision was taken, following a public consultation, to close it in 2016. The reasons for that decision are a matter of public record, as published through the consultation, and the Ministry of Justice has advised me that it has not seen deterioration in capacity or workload that would mean wanting to go back on that decision. However, we have Ministry of Justice questions on 16 March and my hon. Friend may well want to raise this issue with the Lord High Chancellor.

Can I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1342, regarding the tragic and unexplained death of a young man, Mohamud Hassan, following his release without charge from police custody in Cardiff on 9 January?

[That this House mourns the death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan following his release without charge from police custody in Cardiff on 9 January 2020; offers its deepest condolences to Mr Hassan’s family and friends; notes that South Wales Police has, as is standard practice following a death after police contact, self-referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct; calls for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr Hassan’s death; recognises legitimate concerns arising from evidence that people of Black and Ethnic Minority ethnicity die at a disproportionately higher rate as a result of the use of force or restraint by police; and calls for systematic and institutional change to end racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.]

The early-day motion notes that this was self-referred by South Wales police to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. An investigation is ongoing. This is obviously a matter of significant concern to my constituents, but first and foremost to his family, who are also my constituents. Would the Leader of the House agree that it is crucial in cases such as this that there is a full and independent investigation that is seen to be so and that follows the evidence and the full facts without fear or favour; and that this is done comprehensively and swiftly to secure full answers for both the family and all the parties involved?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very troubling issue. All deaths in custody of the state are matters that should concern us, as those who believe that the state should always behave extraordinarily well to people in its charge. The death of Mohamud Hassan has rightly been referred to the IOPC, and I think confidence in our systems is enhanced by proper, thorough and independent investigation. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that that is what must happen—it must happen

As businesses large and small need more orders to power jobs and economic recovery, can we have a debate on Government buying? Can we learn from the great success of buying so many vaccine doses from UK science and facilities, and buy more innovative and competitive goods and services from companies here at home?

My right hon. Friend, as always, raises interesting and important points. The Government are planning on creating a much simpler and nimbler procurement system, which will open up procurement opportunity to small and medium-sized businesses. However, I hope he will contribute to the Budget debate that is coming up, which will be an opportunity to talk about these matters at greater length.

The mortality risk from covid-19 among ethnic minority groups is twice that of white British patients, and the poorest areas of England have suffered more than twice as many covid deaths as the richest ones. The Government talk about levelling up, but without concerted action, these communities will continue to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic and its aftermath. So can we please have a debate in Government time about addressing these shameful health inequalities?

My hon. Friend the Equalities Minister is looking at the reasons for the higher rates of infection among minority communities, and is expected to produce a report shortly on that. It is obviously important that we level up across the whole country, and that is what Government policy is dedicated to doing. It is fundamental that we ensure that everybody in this country has an equal chance.

Can we have a statement or a Government policy announcement authorising that more robust action be taken in future to reduce the risk of flooding? Are there not valuable national lessons to be learned from Somerset, which should now be applied elsewhere, including in Yorkshire—namely, that higher levels of river maintenance and river dredging do work in reducing the flood risk?

My right hon Friend raises a very good point—that dredging worked extraordinarily well in the Somerset levels. The Government have a major policy plan to deal with flooding, including £5.2 billion to be invested in flood and coastal defences—double the previous expenditure of taxpayers’ money—which will protect 350,000 homes over the next six years, on top of the nearly 300,000 properties that are already better protected compared with 2015. So he has raised an important point and, yes, I hope, as always, the nation will learn from Somerset.

Families are struggling across the country, and one of the biggest bills they face is the school uniform bill. A school uniform Bill has been brought in—a private Member’s Bill—by my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury). I was on the Bill Committee back in September, and I know it has cross-party support. It is a small Bill that will make a big difference to families across the country. Will the Leader of the House set a date for that Bill to be brought back to this House, debated and passed, so that it will have that impact on families before September? Time is of the essence.

I can never promise that a Bill will be passed, but I said I would ensure that Fridays were brought back as soon as was practicable and possible. There are discussions going on at the moment, and I am full of hope that something will happen and that I will be able to make an announcement, possibly next Thursday, but I do not want to make an absolute promise of that kind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Freeport East bid for the freeport at Felixstowe-Harwich is the biggest freeport bid? It will make the biggest contribution to levelling up, the biggest contribution to the UK economy and the biggest contribution to imports and exports in this country. How will the bids be scrutinised by Parliament after they have been decided on Budget day? Will there be specific Government time to ensure that the best bids are approved?

It is very encouraging that there is so much interest from so many Members in creating freeports; it shows what an exciting and innovative policy that is. There will obviously be a chance to debate that, and how it will be implemented, after the Budget speech—four days will be set aside for that debate—but all Government decisions are open to scrutiny by the House in its various ways, through oral questions or Select Committees. My hon. Friend is well aware of how effective Select Committees can be in holding the Government to account.

The Leader of the House knows that across this country of ours there are many parcels of land, especially in the industrial north, that have been contaminated by years of industry. Such pieces of land are sometimes looked at by developers with a view to building houses and so on. That often causes concern to local communities about the impact of contamination. I have been trying for some time to find out about the Turner Brothers Asbestos site in my constituency, and about the Spring Mill site just across the boundary in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), but without success. May we have a debate on the need for the right of access of communities when land that is contaminated, or thought to be, is being put on the market, or being put forward for development?

There are very strong regulations about the development of contaminated land, and there are some very successful projects between the public and the private sector to decontaminate such land. I actually visited one in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), where the Mayor of the West Midlands had been heavily involved in ensuring that a large brownfield site that had been contaminated could be brought forward for development. So there is a role for the public and private sector in dealing with this, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that land that is contaminated will not be developed unless it is decontaminated first.

Will the Government find time for a debate on the importance of bringing civil servants out of London and across the nation, as part of the vital levelling up agenda? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Stoke-on-Trent would be an excellent location for a Government Department?

It might be difficult to move the Leader of the House’s office to Stoke-on-Trent, for obvious reasons, but I agree that it would be a fine place. The Government’s Places for Growth programme is working alongside Departments to finalise relocation plans, as we work to ensure that our geography of locations covers as representative a distribution across the UK as possible, with the aim of having decision makers based in locations to create and distribute opportunities, jobs and investment across the country. I am sure that hon. Members welcomed the announcement that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will create a second headquarters in Wolverhampton. None the less, it is important to note that that will not affect Ministers’ commitment to their duties in Parliament. So yes, that is the policy, and Stoke-on-Trent is a wonderful place.

May we have a debate on the Government’s strategy for the Jobcentre Plus estate? Three years ago this month Glasgow saw a raft of jobcentres closed, including three out of four jobcentres in part of the east end of Glasgow alone. Imagine my surprise when, only yesterday, I got a response back from the Government suggesting that they are now looking at reopening jobcentres in large metropolitan areas. So does the Leader of the House agree that it was short-sighted for the Department for Work and Pensions to butcher the Jobcentre Plus estate, and can he confirm whether there will be a new temporary jobcentre in Glasgow?

I cannot confirm the precise location of individual jobcentres, but I can pass the message on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is obviously important that the jobcentres are in the right places depending on need, and need will change over the years; it will not be completely static.

Unfortunately, I must report to the House disturbing information revealed online yesterday, showing the Labour leadership in my Dudley North constituency promoting anti-vaccination propaganda. Councillor Zafar Islam has promoted doubt and fear among my constituents at the same time as other black, Asian and minority ethnic community leaders and I have been trying our best to promote the vaccine to save lives. We are talking about a senior elected official who may have caused serious harm to my constituents. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the leadership role of all elected Members in relation to the management of anti-vaccine information, and will he join me in condemning Councillor Islam’s reckless behaviour?

It is indeed reckless to subscribe to the anti-vaccine effort, but I point to the success of the roll-out of the vaccine in this country, with 18 million people now having received at least one dose. That has led to a decline in hospital admissions and a decline in deaths. It is an enormously successful roll-out, with extremely high take-up and no reports of any damaging side effects. It has been an absolute triumph of medical sophistication, and people can be very confident that the vaccine is safe, to their benefit and to society’s benefit. People in elected office therefore ought to be really careful and think through what they say. If they say foolish things, they deserve to be held to account.

Every 62 minutes, somebody dies from an eating disorder, so ahead of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which begins on Monday, can we have a debate about the issues of stigma, lack of understanding and lack of investment in adequate services for people with eating disorders?

The hon. Lady raises something that will concern the whole House. It is of great importance, and I think it ties in generally with the whole mental health concerns that we have across the country and the need—accepted on a cross-party basis—to do more to help with mental health. That is very much the policy of the Government, with increased mental health funding to £13.3 billion to 2019-20. I was not previously aware that every 62 minutes somebody dies of an eating disorder. That is a figure that will trouble the whole House and is a reminder and a reinforcement that our efforts in regard to mental health must go further, and I think that is something that has cross-party support.

I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to raise this very important issue. Could we have a debate in Government time on the future of faith schools? Ampleforth school in my constituency has had problems in the past, it is fair to say, but those are now behind it. Yet there are some in the education system who are using some relatively minor issues more recently as a pretext for the potential closure of the school. Could we have a debate in Government time so that we can send a very strong message that this House believes that faith schools are an important part of our education system going forward?

Faith schools are fundamentally important, and it is a right of parents to choose to have their children educated in their own faith. That is something of importance to all communities. My hon. Friend rightly says that Ampleforth has had very serious problems in the past, but I understand it now has a new headmaster who has reformed matters and that a decision is awaited from the Secretary of State on its future for admissions. I will pass on to the Secretary of State what my hon. Friend has said, but I absolutely underline what he says: faith schools are a right to which parents ought to be entitled. Speaking as a Catholic, I think that Catholic education is of very considerable importance and worth supporting, and Benedictine education is a particularly noble part of that.