The business for the week commencing 15 March will include:
Monday 15 March—Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 16 March—Conclusion of the Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing And Courts Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 17 March—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 18 March—Debate on a motion on the UK’s commitment to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, followed by a general debate on World Water Day. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 March—The House may sit on Friday 19 March for further consideration of private Members’ Bills. This is subject to the progress of business and to the approval of a sittings motion.
The provisional business for the week commencing 22 March will include:
Monday 22 March—Consideration of Lords amendments, including consideration of Lords message to the Trade Bill, followed by the remaining stages of the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [Lords].
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I hope he will join me in wishing for speedy boarding of the private Members’ Bills on Friday, with no disruption.
I know that the Leader of the House takes seriously a lack of responses to hon. Members from Government Departments. He will be concerned to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) has not received a response from the Department of Health and Social Care to a question from 9 October, or to two from 19 October. I know she has written to the Leader of the House. Can we ensure that she gets a response?
The Leader of the House is very keen to have us back here, but we seem to be having a lot more Zoom meetings. The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), is having a Zoom meeting, and the chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission has invited us to a Zoom meeting. It is quite difficult in terms of accountability, because not everybody can join these meetings. In addition, the Official Reporters work very hard to make sure that things are on the record. In keeping with what you have just said, Mr Speaker, we need to ensure that things are on the record, and the relevant people need to come to the House to provide accountability.
My hon. Friend the shadow Housing Minister has asked where the Building Safety Bill is. It was published in draft on 20 July, but it has not had its First Reading. It contains important improvements for the safety of residents in high-rise buildings and the building safety regulator. May we have an update?
I know that the Leader of the House will be concerned about the National Audit Office report on local government finances during the pandemic, which was published yesterday, 10 March. Many face significant gaps in funding. We are talking about statutory services such as adult social care and special needs libraries; all those may have to be cut. The shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has said that councils have lost 60% of their funding in the last decade. Will the Leader of the House confirm that we will have a debate on the NAO report in Government time, particularly as our constituents may have to pay for it in the 5% council tax increase?
We also need a statement on whether councils are actually getting, pound for pound, what they have spent during the pandemic. We know that the Government have got the money, because they had £37 billion for Test and Trace. I know that the Leader of the House, because he is very keen on making sure that public money is spent wisely, will want to debate the Public Accounts Committee report on Test and Trace, which was published yesterday. It said that there is
“no clear evidence to judge”
the “overall effectiveness” of Test and Trace. It was supposed to be a game changer. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has said that
“test and trace was having only a marginal impact on transmission”
and the NAO said that there was low compliance, yet there is £37 billion of committed expenditure. We now have Serco, one of the companies involved, paying out dividends to its directors. That is appalling.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your statement. I am going to ask the Leader of the House whether he will correct the record. Will he write and place a letter in the Library, having checked the Official Report from January 2020 to see what exactly the Opposition did? I will repeat it again. The shadow Secretary of State for Health said, “The House will not be divided on this.”
Let us see what the Minister said. He said that 1% for nurses’ pay would cost three quarters of a billion pounds, so—this is a rough calculation—2.1% would cost £1.5 billion. We know that the £37 billion is in the accounts of the Department of Health and Social Care. The head of NHS England said that 2.1% was allocated when the funding was agreed in 2018. We cannot trust the Government now to keep their word, to protect the NHS, or with the finances. May we have a statement on Monday clearing all this up, as the press secretary apparently cannot, or will not, announce it from the £2.9 million bunker?
It is wonderful news that Nazanin has had her tag taken off and that she will hopefully be home soon. There is no word on Anousheh. He was a dutiful son who was visiting his mother. Kylie Moore-Gilbert has said that if her ordeal was made public, she would not have had a 10-year sentence.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for celebrating International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day on Monday. It is Mothering Sunday on Sunday. I do not know whether you are aware of the survey by the Office for National Statistics, which said that, in the pandemic, women spent more time on household chores than men, and that three quarters of women were emergency educating compared with just over half of men. A Mumsnet survey found that women are worried that women’s equality is
“going back to the 1970s”
at work and home, and in society. We wish everyone a happy Mothering Sunday, and our thoughts go out to Sarah Everard’s family.
Indeed our thoughts do go out to Sarah Everard’s family. The right hon. Lady is right to raise that and the more general point about the burden that has fallen on women during the pandemic. That is a point very fairly and well made, and the men of the United Kingdom should be very grateful for that. It has been a very difficult time for many families.
I share the right hon. Lady’s pleasure that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her tag removed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to the President of Iran and made absolutely clear that there is no reason to hold, detain or keep Nazanin any longer. She ought to be free to leave. As the right hon. Lady knows, this is an issue that the Government take very seriously and have been working on consistently, and we must and will continue to do so.
I agree with the right hon. Lady that it would be good if the private Members’ Bills that are down for tomorrow were attended to speedily, though that is out of my hands. I do know some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to filibustering, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not feel that they wish to use those tricks of the trade next week.
The right hon. Lady made the point that people coming to the House to make statements that are on the record is better than endless Zoom calls. That is quite right. I think that Zoom calls do have a place and it is very helpful to give cross-party briefings, but the Floor of the House is where the real business takes place.
As regards the draft Building Safety Bill, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is certainly working on that. That is a matter of Government policy and the Government intend to bring that forward.
Moving on to the right hon. Lady’s more contentious questions, starting with support for local councils, £35 billion is not bad going, is it? It is helpful to councils up and down the country, and £4.6 billion of that has been un-ringfenced, so there has been very, very considerable support. That has gone across the country, so £9.5 billion has gone to the north, with £6 billion for the midlands, £7 billion for London and £4 billion for the south-west. Councils have received huge financial support from the taxpayer. Ultimately, there is only one taxpayer and how taxes are paid is merely a question of how we divide it up. Great support has been given.
As regards Test and Trace, it has done astonishing things. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady is aware that 9.1 million people have been contacted, thanks to Test and Trace, who might otherwise have spread the virus. We are carrying out a minimum of 750,000 tests a day, and with the return to school and the lateral flow tests, that has gone to over 1 million in recent days. People are being contacted. They are being tested and, yes, of course this involves the private sector, but the private sector is part of how our economy is structured. We cannot say with any sense of reasonableness that the drug companies—big pharma—that have helped us to get the vaccine are marvellous, but that the companies involved in the roll-out of Test and Trace are somehow improper. They are not. They have done a fantastic job and it is a considerable success, in spite of what the much-respected Public Accounts Committee has to say. Even Homer nods, would be my answer to that.
Regarding the issue of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s comments, the right hon. Lady seemed to change the goalposts a bit. She started talking about a vote a year ago, whereas the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to something two years ago, so there is a lack of clarity about what on earth the Opposition are asking about. If the Opposition cannot bring themselves to answer clear questions, it is not surprising that they then do not understand the answer.
I am delighted to clear it up. Her Majesty’s Opposition voted against the Queen’s Speech at the beginning of this Session. The increases that this Government proposed in NHS funding were a centrepiece of the Gracious Speech, and their votes against the Queen’s Speech were an attempt to stifle the Government’s agenda before it had even begun. The Queen’s Speech made clear our intention to establish in law for the first time the NHS’s multi-year funding settlement, a testament to how seriously the Government take funding the NHS. We have delivered a 12.8% increase in nurses’ pay over three years and we are seeing a 34% increase in nurses’ applications. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did not ask about a Bill. He asked about a document, and it seems to me that the Queen’s Speech is a document because it is printed, on very fine paper normally—it used to be on vellum.
We have to live within our means. Everyone recognises that. There is not a single person in this country who does not recognise the phenomenal contribution made by the NHS over the last year, by doctors, nurses and all those who work in the NHS, but the Government—the taxpayer—have an enormous deficit, one of the biggest in our history, and what is happening is reasonable within the context that nurses have already received a 0.7% increase. They will receive a further 1% increase in the next financial year, as will all NHS workers. It is worth bearing in mind that the last time there was a 1% increase in NHS pay, it led to an average 2.7% increase for the average worker in the NHS because of grade increments. So actually, the situation is considerably better than is being painted by the Opposition, and the admiration and appreciation of what people who work in the NHS have done is shared across the whole country, but the country has to live within its means. That is a hard truth that the Opposition seek to run away from.
My right hon. Friend will see that the restoration and renewal sponsor body’s latest report, out today, recommends exactly the same as the report in 2014 and the report in 2016, and draws the same conclusion as the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill that I introduced in 2018. My right hon Friend must surely see that the risks of a major asbestos leak, a sewage failure, or, indeed, a devastating fire, such as we saw at Notre Dame, are very high and remain very high, and we have virtually no contingency for this place. My personal motto is JFDI, and I would like to offer that to my right hon. Friend to gird his loins to make some progress.
I always prefer the motto of Queen Elizabeth I: semper eadem—always the same—which makes a very good motto. Or, if you like, Mr Speaker, honi soit qui mal y pense, which is also a jolly good motto from the Order of the Garter.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of restoration and renewal. It is crucial that this building has its wiring improved and the basic services made effective. On the fire safety issue, a considerable amount of work has been done; the new fire safety system is being tested currently, and I am getting regular reports on that. It is a mist system with significant excess capacity, which means that there is the prospect of extending it further. I am glad to say that that has made considerable progress since my right hon. Friend was the Leader of the House.
Regardless of all these reports, regardless of what people have suggested, this has to get value for money for the taxpayer. We have suddenly heard talk of costs of £10 billion to £20 billion coming up. We cannot say that to our constituents. We in this House have the responsibility to protect taxpayers’ money. The other place, it must be remembered, does not. We are responsible, responsive and answerable to our constituents. Yes, we need to redo the wiring. Yes, we need to ensure that this place is safe and secure, but we must not turn this House of Commons into Disneyland.
The transition period continues, and I again make a plea to the Leader of the House to do all he can to ensure the speedy return of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) to his place in this situation.
I also welcome today’s debate on the celebration of International Women’s Day. However, while we battle the covid pandemic, there is a hidden pandemic of domestic abuse during lockdown. The World Health Organisation has reported that one in three women globally—around 736 million—have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their homes during this pandemic period. I ask the Leader of the House to do all he can to ensure that the Government take steps finally to ratify the Istanbul convention, as had been agreed in 2017 under the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill presented by Eilidh Whiteford, a colleague at the time. I hope that that can be brought forward with some speed.
Last week, I asked for an Opposition Day debate in the name of the Scottish National party. It has been granted, and I commend the Leader of the House for the pace at which that was brought forward. I have no doubt that he is eagerly anticipating the topics to be debated. However, I am aware that the time for that debate is not protected, so may I ask whether it is possible for it to be protected, or that every step possible is taken to ensure that we have the full time available to us?
Last month, the Prime Minister claimed that directly awarded covid contracts were there on the record “for everyone to see”. We now know that this was widely removed from the actuality. Indeed, the Government broke the law. Does the Leader of the House agree that supporting my Ministerial Interests (Emergency Powers) Bill would help to rebuild public trust, enable our procurement systems to be protected, and enable us to build back better as we come out of the pandemic?
Finally, I echo the comments of the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House about Sarah Everard and send my thoughts to her family at this very, very difficult time.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) celebrated his birthday this week, so may I, on behalf of the House, wish the hon. Gentleman many happy returns of the day?
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) is absolutely right to raise the issue of domestic abuse. I am glad to say that the Domestic Abuse Bill is making good progress in the House of Lords. I hope it will come back to this House in reasonably good time, so we can have a Bill on the statute book that helps people, protects people and secures people. It is, of course, about more than just passing laws and conventions; it is about changing society’s attitude, and an understanding that domestic abuse is wrong, that it is serious and that a domestic assault is just as serious an offence as any other assault outside the domestic context.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s plea for protection for his Opposition day debate. I would say in response that having managed to get the Opposition day debate—ask and it shall be given; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto ye—but I am not sure I can promise protected time. However, Mr Speaker has no doubt heard the request in regard to urgent questions and I have heard it in regard to statements. It is sometimes a very difficult balancing act when Members feel a statement or urgent question is necessary, but it is, generally speaking, the aim to ensure that Opposition days are reasonably protected.
Finally, on covid contracts, I just fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think we can be really proud of the honesty of our governmental systems in this country, regardless of the party in power. I do not think we should throw around charges of dodgy dealing lightly, because we should have great confidence in the honesty of our public systems. Normally we have a system that takes three to six months to award contracts. We faced an emergency. It would have been ridiculous for red tape to hold up the delivery of contracts. The contracts were given to Labour-supporting people as well as to Conservatives, so it is recognised that people who have interests in party politics can also provide PPE. We went from producing 1% domestically to 70%, and the vaccine roll-out has been a terrific success, dependent on the private sector. I think we should take great comfort from the efficiency of our private sector and the honesty of our governmental systems.
Farmers in my constituency, like others across the UK, suffer great emotional and financial loss every year as a result of dog attacks on livestock. National Farmers Union Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales have been working with the north Wales police rural crime team to make the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 fit for purpose in the 21st century. Will the Leader of the House support me in finding time for a debate in Government time on this important subject?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Representing a rural constituency, I appreciate how serious a concern it is. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had a recent livestock worrying roundtable, which sounds a deeply uncomfortable thing to have. None the less, it had a livestock worrying roundtable last week with the north Wales police rural crime team and representatives from veterinary organisations, where technical questions on the use of DNA sampling in prosecuting an attack were discussed. I am aware it is something DEFRA is looking at. I encourage my hon. Friend, in her effort to make sure DEFRA considers it more and more, to seek an Adjournment debate on this matter, but I will pass on her comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
We have been led to believe that it might be the Government’s intention to retain Thursday 25 March for Government business, which will no doubt be a disappointment to, among others, the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). However, as always, should any time on days other than Thursdays become available, the Backbench Business Committee has a number of tasty morsels to add to the parliamentary menu.
I have been alerted to the fact that we have a situation in our schools where, if a student has a covid positive lateral flow test in school which proves to be a false positive when countermanded by a negative polymerase chain reaction test, the current guidance is that they still have to self-isolate and unnecessarily miss even more of their schooling. Can we have a ministerial statement to clear this up and get these young people back to school—and their families back to work, because isolating has to happen for the whole family?
I note the hon. Member’s request for 25 March and for time when available. Of course, 25 March is the feast of the Annunciation, so it may be an opportunity to have a debate on the importance of the Annunciation in the general development of our nation. I appreciate that he would like other days to be available too.
I understand that one in 1,000 lateral flow tests are false positives, so it is a rare occurrence. The circumstances that the hon. Member outlines are therefore usual, but he makes a good point about the secondary test not being authoritative, and I will take that up on his behalf with the Department of Health and Social Care.
Now that we have a road map of sorts for the House of Commons, what are my right hon. Friend’s plans for proceedings in the Chamber, including for voting, by which I mean what does he see as temporary and what does he see as permanent? Put another way, with reference to his earlier quote, will he be channelling his inner Elizabeth I with respect to this place?
Yes, but I encourage my hon. Friend to come to the Chamber to make his brilliant points, because there is no restriction other than the numbers within the Chamber. MPs have a right dating back to 1340 to come to this House, and I encourage them to exercise that right now that schools are back.
The return of MPs and staff gradually to the estate was approved by the Commission earlier this week, and it broadly mirrors the national road map. Many of these matters are for the Commission and Mr Speaker, and some of them are for decision by the House. However, the measures were agreed by consensus on the basis that they were temporary. If people want to keep some of these measures permanently, they must make the case for them and bring them in at some later date, but we must restore the status quo ante first, because that was the basis on which people agreed to the changes, and they would feel cheated—and rightly so—if anything else were done.
The Department for International Trade’s parliamentary export programme launched this year. Businesses in my constituency will be able to participate in a series of briefings over the coming months run by the Department and assisted by Scottish Development International and Scottish chambers. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on how the UK Government can support companies to start exporting or expand their exports and adjust to the changing trade environment after Brexit?
The hon. Lady raises a really important point. The Government have a wide range of measures with which they support businesses that wish to export, including the export credit guarantee scheme, the use of embassies to help people to export and guidance that is available. To give that a higher profile so that more people know what support is available is extremely worth while. While I cannot promise a specific debate, her point is one that I am sure the Department will want to follow up on.
May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the issue raised so eloquently in last night’s Adjournment debate by our hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski): the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the strategic threat it constitutes to our central and eastern European friends and allies? The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), agreed with the analysis by our hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham but stopped short of agreeing with his recommendations for action we can take. This is a very serious matter, and it deserves deeper and wider consideration.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the important Adjournment debate that was held yesterday by our hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). It is a useful example of how important Adjournment debates can be in raising issues of national significance. There are currently no autonomous UK sanctions being imposed with respect to Nord Stream 2, and it would not be right to speculate on future sanction designations from the Dispatch Box this morning. None the less, the UK remains concerned about Nord Stream 2 and its implications for European energy security and the interests of Ukraine. Our focus continues to be on regulation, diversification and decarbonisation of sources of supply, and we will continue to work closely with our European allies on these issues, although the implications of the pipeline may be something that my right hon. Friend’s Intelligence and Security Committee is interested in looking into.
Like women across the country, I have not been able to stop thinking about Sarah Everard; my thoughts are with those who knew and loved her. All women know the fear of walking home at night. We hold keys tightly between our fingers, we quicken our pace, and we pretend to make phone calls. It is almost second nature.
But women should be able to walk home without fear. Does the Leader of the House agree that we, as parliamentarians, should make it clear that the emphasis must be on tackling violence against women and girls and the norms that too often sustain it, rather than victim-blaming narratives that say women should not be on the streets at night?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady—she is absolutely right. Everybody in this country should feel free to walk the streets at night safely and securely, and women should be as free to do that as men. The best way to ensure that is by tackling crime, making our streets safer and getting the extra 20,000 police on the street.
There is nothing more reassuring than seeing a police officer in uniform when walking the streets, and that is a comfort that we in this country hope to be able to continue to take, and to take more of, as more police join the various forces up and down the country. I never thought I would agree so wholeheartedly with a question from the hon. Lady.
TSB in Radcliffe recently closed, and it was the only bank in the town. That has resulted in footfall in the town decreasing drastically, as I discussed with representatives from Radcliffe market recently, and TSB’s branch in Prestwich in my constituency is due to close next month.
As we are talking about levelling up and the regeneration of our towns, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the importance of banking and cash machines so that we can access cash on our high streets?
I know that the presence of bank branches on the high street is a concern for many Members and their constituents. Her Majesty’s Government recognise the importance of cash and access to banks to the daily lives of millions of people throughout the United Kingdom, and particularly those in vulnerable groups.
Although I can understand the dissatisfaction when banks close their branches, decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis. It would not be right for the Government to intervene in such decisions. Banks must balance customer interests, market competition and other commercial factors when they consider their strategies. Since May 2017, the major high street banks have been signed up to the access to banking standard, which commits them to work with customers and communities to minimise the impact of branch closures.
Nature is declining all over the world at an unprecedented rate. Every year we are losing species and habitats, yet nature is important to our survival, quality of life and mental health. The next international convention on biodiversity is imminent; will the Leader of the House commit to bringing the Environment Bill back to the House as soon as possible after Easter, so that the UK will have ambitious targets to restore nature?
The Environment Bill is in the other place and the Government have every intention of bringing it back as soon as it can complete its passage. It is subject to a carry-over, so there is no risk of it falling at Prorogation; it is a highlight of the Government’s programme. The commitment to nature is enormous, as has been shown in the ocean designations that have been created around British territories to ensure that the oceans are safeguarded. We have done more in that regard than almost any other country in the world.
Our high streets have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with many businesses forced to close. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate to consider the support available for reopening our high streets, especially across Stoke-on-Trent, so that our retailers, hairdressers, beauty salons and hospitality businesses can start off on a strong footing when they are allowed to reopen?
The Government have set out their road map cautiously to ease lockdown restrictions, including the reopening of non-essential retail no earlier than 12 April, subject to the data. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have reconvened a small working group of retailers and local authorities to discuss and work together on how best to reopen the relevant sectors, so the Government’s approach is co-designed with the business community.
So far, the Government have provided local authorities in England with £50 million of taxpayers’ money through the reopening high streets safely fund, with grants being available to apply for until the end of June 2021. In addition to the financial support already provided, the Chancellor has announced that Her Majesty’s Government will provide additional one-off restart grants for businesses in England in the non-essential, retail, hospitality, leisure, personal care and accommodation sectors. That new restart grant scheme will provide £6,000 for non-essential businesses.
The Government continue to provide eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties in England with 100% business rates relief until 30 June 2021, followed by 66% business rates relief from the period 1 July 2021 to 1 March 2022. A great deal is happening, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue because we want to see our high streets come back booming when we reopen.
I thank the Leader of the House and all House staff for the restarted hybrid petitions debates; just this week, petitions signed by more than 370,000 petitioners have been debated.
I want to raise an issue pertinent to this week, which marks International Women’s Day. As a precaution, all pregnant women are automatically classed as clinically vulnerable to covid-19. The Petitions Committee recommended back in September that furlough be extended to expectant mothers who cannot socially distance at work or work from home. Government funding through the furlough scheme cannot be used for that purpose, and we have heard worrying reports of pregnant women struggling to come to fair arrangements with their employers.
I again urge the Government to reconsider and listen to calls from Maternity Action and others for expectant mothers to be eligible for furlough if they are unable to work safely. Will the Leader of the House find time for a broader debate on how we prevent the pandemic from deepening pre-existing gender inequalities in the workplace?
I am delighted that the hybrid Westminster Hall is getting important petitions debated. It is a very effective way of ensuring that the matters of the greatest concern to our constituents are aired.
It is obviously important that businesses work with their staff to ensure that they are comfortable going back to work and that there is consideration for all sorts of factors that may have an effect on people returning. Pregnancy, inevitably, is a very important one of those. Employers have a duty—a legal obligation—to ensure that their workplaces are secure. I think these issues are best left between employers and employees, rather than having potentially heavy-handed Government intervention.
Will my right hon. Friend make parliamentary time available this Session for the Second Reading of my private Member’s Bill—the Pets (Microchips) Bill? Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law campaigners have fought for many years to protect the welfare of dogs, cats and other pets, together with the rights of their owners. I believe that it is a Bill that the whole House will be eager to support.
My hon. Friend has written to me on this matter, and he will be aware that there is a sitting Friday tomorrow for the remaining stages of eight private Members’ Bills to take place. As I said when sitting Fridays were suspended, I brought forward the motion reluctantly following representations made to me from across the House. I committed to ensuring that a motion was brought forward to bring back sitting Fridays at the earliest opportunity when it was possible and practical, which is why there will be a further motion for 19 March if tomorrow goes well and if it is a productive and useful session. That would allow for Second Readings.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, because he is using parliamentary procedures entirely properly. A ten-minute rule Bill does not normally become legislation in the Session in which it is introduced, but it begins a campaign that raises the heat on the Government to do things. I note that he is turning up the gas mark with his question to me today.
I have always thought that the best way to deal with some of the historical problems that the Rhondda faces is getting the Senedd to work hand in hand with Parliament as a team. That is especially true because we have some major infrastructure projects that really need financial support. We have already talked about the tips that need sorting out, and there is the Rhondda Fach relief road, the Rhondda tunnel and a whole series of drains that have major problems because of the honeycombing underneath that results from the historical legacy of the mines.
Will the Leader of the House please make sure that there is a proper discussion of the levelling up fund so that this really is a case of Westminster and the Senedd working hand in hand? Will he make sure there is an opportunity for valleys MPs to sit down and discuss this properly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Then perhaps we can have a debate in the House.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. It is important that all parts of the United Kingdom are able to benefit from efforts to level up. One of the advantages of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 is that it has made it possible for Her Majesty’s Government to fund schemes across the United Kingdom rather than simply in England. He is right to call for further discussions to see how this can be done.
There are applications going in for the levelling-up fund now, and there are a further 49 deals to be awarded. It is about working together as one United Kingdom. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is very keen to settle these issues, too, so I think that there may be considerable cross-party agreement among Welsh MPs in this House on the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Rugby league is of great cultural importance to communities like Leigh; I am sure that my right hon. Friend will welcome the return of Leigh Centurions to the rugby super league. Will he join me in supporting Leigh Centurions fans to create a category 1 rugby league academy? Furthermore, may I ask for a debate on the benefits such academies can provide to young people in constituencies like Leigh across the north?
I congratulate Leigh Centurions on their fantastic achievement. I do not really know how fantastic their achievement is, but it sounds extremely good, and I hope that my hon. Friend will explain it to me in more detail at some point.
Hosting the rugby league world cup later this year will provide a fantastic opportunity to recover, grow, and bring people together. It is the start of our efforts to unite and level up outcomes for people in communities across the UK as we seek to build back better. If I have not confessed it already, I think my knowledge of cricket is a little bit greater than my knowledge of rugby league, but I am looking forward to being educated by my hon. Friend—and, by the looks of it, by Mr Speaker as well.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that it has been an extremely difficult week for the family and friends of the 16-year-old who was killed in my neighbouring constituency of Rhondda, as well as for the loved ones of Sarah Everard, whose case I know we are all closely following. No one should live in fear of male violence, which is a topic we should be regularly speaking up on, and not just in an annual debate to commemorate International Women’s Day. Will he therefore commit to a debate on male violence in Government time?
The hon. Lady makes a really important point, which I would perhaps answer in a slightly different way. What this House does that is of the greatest importance is not to have debates on particular issues but to legislate. That is why I am particularly pleased that, unusually for a Second Reading debate, we have two days on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, because when we legislate we change the law—we actually do things. When we have debates, we may develop views but we do not actually do things. Likewise, the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is in the House of Lords, does things. We should really focus the mind of this House on legislating so that we can improve things in the way the hon. Lady is calling for.
The anniversary of the first lockdown—the day that changed everything in this country—is rapidly approaching: it will be with us on 23 March. I am working with Variety, the children’s charity, among others, to ensure that that date is commemorated so that we remember those who died and those who have lost so much, thank those who have done so much, and also look forward to a brighter future as lockdown lifts. Can the Leader of the House assure me that the House, too, will commemorate that date and have a minute’s silence? In doing so, can I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your willingness to ensure that the House commemorates 23 March—the National Day of Reflection?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is going to be important for us to remember the people who have died during this national pandemic. Obviously the proposal for a minute’s silence is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, but there would be absolutely no objection—indeed, there would be support—from Her Majesty’s Government. It may be, Mr Speaker, that your Chaplain would like to hold a service on that day to have a commemoration. I think that it will be a prayerful day for the nation.
As Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, I have raised the issue of the £400 million that the UK owes Iran with three Prime Ministers and four Foreign Secretaries so far. In a call to the Prime Minister yesterday, Iranian President Rouhani all but confirmed that resolving this debt was the key to diplomatic progress, and could help Nazanin’s case. Will the Leader of the House finally admit that there is a clear link between the two, or at least allow a debate in Government time to test their arguments?
No. The hon. Lady has quite rightly campaigned for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as has the shadow Leader of the House. However, it would be quite wrong to link payments of any money to the release of somebody who is improperly detained. Once Her Majesty’s Government go down that route, every badly run country in the world will hold us to ransom via our citizens; we must not do that. We must be absolutely clear that the UK Government do not pay for the release of hostages, whether they are held by states or by individuals. To link these two issues would be a dangerous change of very, very long-standing Government policy.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
It saddens me to say that Labour-run Hyndburn Borough Council announced that it will be closing the baths at Mercer Hall in Great Harwood. We saw the same happen with Labour-run Rossendale Borough Council and Haslingden baths. All Labour councillors also voted against a fully costed amendment by the Conservative group to put capital investment into saving the baths and providing disabled access. There is a now a petition urging the council to listen to the wants of the residents of Great Harwood, but will the Leader of the House also allow a debate in Government time as to how best to protect valuable local leisure facilities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point. It is regrettable that a Labour council—a socialist council—would close a local facility that is loved so much by the residents of Great Harwood. It is a shame to see the people of Hyndburn let down in this way.
The Localism Act 2011 introduced the community right to buy, which is a way in which communities have come together to protect local assets by making the case to their local authority to list the facility as an asset of community value; local people can be assured that the amenity will not be lost without them being notified and being given an opportunity to bring the building into community ownership. To date, the Government are aware that over 4,000 assets of community value, including leisure centre facilities, have been successfully nominated by community groups in England. I encourage my hon. Friend to have an Adjournment debate to keep raising the subject, so that support may be built up for using the community right to buy.
The Government have announced a consultation to reform aviation tax, including air passenger duty, and a commitment to decarbonise. These commitments come at a time when our travel and aviation industries are facing the biggest crisis in their history, and at the time of the Union connectivity review. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether we will have the opportunity to debate how our domestic airports and air travel, as part of UK connectivity, can be pursued with a green agenda?
The Government have made it very clear with the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan how green we are going to be, while ensuring that there is good economic growth; that is absolutely at the heart of what the Government are doing. The proposals for aviation tax are to encourage connectivity across the United Kingdom. I am sure that these matters will be debated over the coming weeks and months in the House of Commons, because they are important to the development of the country’s economy.
I am a little concerned that Ministers are now casting doubt on the reliability and efficacy of the vaccine, but we have been told by scientists that the first dose brings substantial protection, and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said that it offers between 70% and 90% efficacy. We must follow the science and trust the data—or so we are told. We must believe in the vaccines, and we must lift restrictions in line with the protection that the scientists are telling us that the vaccine brings. I do not believe we should keep the country in lockdown any longer than necessary. We have to get people out, because of the substantial harms that lockdown brings. Will my right hon. Friend talk to Government Ministers and ask them to stop changing the test for lifting restrictions every time we get past what we think might be the finishing line? I would also like to say to the Leader of the House that I am looking forward to joining him in going to Annabel’s or anywhere he chooses.
That’s a date, then, although I am certainly not a member; perhaps my hon. Friend is.
The vaccination programme has been a huge success and is a key part of the road map to get back to normal. The Government’s aim is to offer a vaccination to everyone in the first nine priority groups, including everybody over the age of 50, by 15 April, and to all adults by the end of July. The road map that has been set out has been set out clearly so that we can stick to it and the goalposts do not get changed. I think she and Government policy are at one on this.
Inspectors this week issued an absolutely scathing report about conditions at Napier and Penally barracks, into which the Home Secretary has crammed hundreds of asylum seekers in the middle of a pandemic, and hundreds have become ill with coronavirus. It is challenging to say the least to reconcile that report with what Ministers have previously told this House. When will the Home Secretary be making a statement in response, and will she be correcting anything that she has previously told us about the conditions at Napier and Penally barracks?
The £67 million awarded to my borough of Sandwell from the towns fund is a great success for the Government’s levelling-up agenda. However, my communities in Wednesbury and Tipton were the only parts of the borough of Sandwell to receive nothing from the towns fund. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my communities in Wednesbury and Tipton, through a debate in Government time, on how the measures announced by our right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week in the Budget can ensure that towns like Wednesbury and Tipton get equal access to funding opportunities, just as much as towns like West Bromwich?
The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will spend taxpayers’ money on local infrastructure that improves everyday life across the United Kingdom, including regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and spending money on cultural and heritage assets. The fund will operate UK-wide, extending the benefits of funding for priority local infrastructure across all regions and nations. The prospectus published at the Budget provides guidance for local areas on how to submit bids for the first round of funding for projects starting in 2021-22. That includes guidance on the process for submitting bids, the types of projects eligible for funding and how bids will be assessed. To reassure my hon. Friend, there are still 49 deals to be awarded, and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government will be making further announcements in due course, which will be the opportunity for other communities in his constituency to apply.
Two weeks ago, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published its provisional assessment of the drug Kuvan, for the treatment of phenylketonuria, or PKU. While it is good to see NICE recommend it be made available for children up to 18, it is hugely disappointing that it has not recommended making it available for adults. People with PKU have already waited 12 years for access to this treatment. Can we have a debate in Government time on access to medicines for rare diseases, such as Kuvan for PKU?
I have a great deal of sympathy with the point that the hon. Lady is making. When we represent constituents who need drugs for rare diseases, it is important that we get them. I think the principle that NICE is independent in making these decisions is also a sensible one, but it is crucial that its decisions are made in a timely way and appear to be reasonable to the country at large. NICE is a matter that will come up for debate, but it may be that the hon. Lady will want an Adjournment debate on this specific issue. I had one on Batten disease before joining the Government, and the Government proved very sympathetic to the quest for my constituent.
Some people overstate their case by saying that the state of this building is ruinous, but one thing that is certain is that the public finances are in ruins. So will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to make it clear that, when it comes to the restoration and renewal of Parliament, the absolute first priority of Government is value for money? In this context, will he note that the House has never voted to demolish the grade I listed Richmond House? It is a listed building, and there is the issue of carbon and all the other issues. Can the Leader of the House have an open mind about it and learn from our experience of working virtually by perhaps not having a September sitting and, above all, getting on with the work now? In this report, where it says, “What is the cost?”, the whole thing is blanked out. What is going on here? Let us have value for money. That is what the taxpayer wants.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that taxpayers’ money has to be spent wisely. The proposal for Richmond House and the Queen Elizabeth II Centre was that there would be about £1.5 billion of expenditure on temporary Chambers. This cannot have been a sensible thing to do even in less straitened financial times; in the current circumstances, it seems to me to be for the birds. We have to focus on value for money, and I agree with my right hon. Friend.
I am not the greatest advocate of hybrid proceedings—they are better than nothing, but they are not as good as real physical participation in debate—but I would rather have hybrid proceedings for a little bit when we could not use this Chamber than spend a billion and a half pounds. We as Members of Parliament have a responsibility to our constituents when their money is being spent to accept that, while great reforms or restorations are taking place, we may have to put up with a little bit of discomfort. There may be, occasionally, a little bit of banging and noise being made, and we cannot be too fussy about that if we are to keep this as a working operational building. But the key work needs to be done, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, with value for money at its heart.
Please could we have an opportunity to raise with the Steel Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—the news that one of Liberty Steel’s main financial backers has gone into administration and the company is looking to refinance? We have an important plant in Newport at Uskmouth, with a dedicated workforce, and we need to hear what contact the Government have had with the company and that Ministers will do whatever they can to protect our steel jobs.
I thought that the hon. Lady would raise this important point, because I am obviously aware of the reporting this week on Liberty Steel, which is worrying for the company’s employees. I can reassure her that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is following the developments closely. It remains a strong advocate for the steel industry and continues to work closely with the steel industry to support the sector’s transition to a competitive, sustainable and low-carbon future. It has made some funding available for this, with £500 million of taxpayers’ money in relief for the steel sector since 2013 to make electricity costs more competitive. It is obviously important, however, that the Government and the company are working as one to ensure a good prospect for the steel industry in these difficult times, with regard to the background of Liberty Steel.
We all understand that the pandemic has led to a substantial increase in correspondence between Members and Government Departments, and I do thank the Leader of the House for his efforts to ensure that this correspondence is responded to in a timely fashion. However, may I gently suggest to the Government that extra resources need to be committed to the Department of Health and Social Care’s correspondence teams in particular? On occasions, I have been waiting for up to six months to receive a substantive response to my inquiries on behalf of constituents, despite chasing through the normal channels, and I know I am not alone. Such a situation does not reflect well on either the Government or Parliament.
I have taken up far too many Members’ issues with Departments relating to correspondence. I said last year that I had considerable sympathy with the Department for Health and Social Care because of its excess workload. I must confess that that sympathy is no longer as great as it once was. My hon. Friend is right that more resources need to be dedicated to the matter. We have a right and a duty to hold the Government to account, and the Government have a duty to respond to Members. Speaking on behalf of the Government, I also think that scrutiny leads to better government, so it is in our interest as the Government as much as in that of Back-Bench MPs that scrutiny takes place, and therefore responses should be timely.
New research from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service has found that two thirds of people believe that the Tory two-child limit for universal credit and child tax credit should be scrapped, not least because there is evidence that the policy is pushing women to terminate a pregnancy rather than bring a third child into the world. Can we have a debate in Government time on the urgent need to scrap the pernicious two-child limit and the rape clause that stands part of the policy?
As the father of six children, I have rather exceeded the two-child limit. Children are a great joy to families and the country as a whole, but there are limited public resources, and that is part of the difficult choice that Governments need to make. Parents have a responsibility to their own children. It is fundamentally a parental responsibility, but anything that leads to a termination is a deep sadness.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the role of the monarchy? During such a debate, I very much hope that the argument could be made that it is never wise for a family dispute to be aired in public, with everyone getting damaged and hurt by the fallout. Perhaps during such a debate, we can celebrate the fact that we are so blessed to have had our monarch for 70 years, compared with the alternative of having a president as our Head of State, which we very nearly had under Tony Blair.
Were we to have a debate to praise our sovereign lady, it would take up all the legislative time available in the House, so all I will say is:
“God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen.
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all!”