Deaths of cleaners who worked at the Ministry of Justice during the Covid-19 pandemic must be examined as part of an independent investigation, Labour has said.
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said leaked emails, interviews and messages show cleaners were “forced” into the department during the lockdown period and “denied” personal protective equipment (PPE).
Seven outsourced staff have had “consistent symptoms” for coronavirus and two are now dead, Mr Lammy told MPs.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said the matters have been “looked at” but she would be happy to consider any further points.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lammy said: “On May 5, the shadow minister for prisons and probation wrote to the department regarding concerns raised about the treatment of cleaners at Petty France during the pandemic.
“The secretary of state’s reply on May 29 made clear that he thought there was no issue in terms of management, access to PPE, social distancing or sick pay.
“However, hours of interviews, leaked emails and text messages confirmed that these cleaners were forced into the department during the lockdown period, denied PPE, offered no support and had medical issues consistent with symptoms for coronavirus.
“Seven outsourced staff on the site have had those consistent symptoms, two are now dead.
“The department had to be guilt tripped into backdating sick pay.
“Will the minister live up to the Ministry of Justice’s name by committing to a full independent review as to what happened to those cleaners working in the Ministry of Justice?”
Ms Frazer replied: “As (he) has mentioned, these matters have been looked at and very happy to take on board any further points that the shadow secretary of state would like to make.”
Outside the chamber, the Ministry of Justice said: “We are complying with Public Health England guidance and there is no evidence to suggest there is or ever has been a coronavirus outbreak at Petty France.”
Elsewhere in the questions session, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said more than 14,000 court cases have been heard remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Buckland said cases have been “flowing” through the system and the Ministry of Justice is exploring “all necessary and appropriate options” to increase capacity further.
Tory MPs also called for more funding for domestic abuse charities amid a recent rise in reported cases.
Christian Wakeford (Bury South) said: “Most domestic abuse charities reported an increase in cases during the lockdown and fear a further surge in cases as restrictions are lifted.
“Whilst I appreciate the money that the Government has made available for charities during lockdown, will (Mr Buckland) fight for additional funding to support the expected surge in demand for domestic abuse survivors?”
Mr Buckland replied: “He will be glad to know that of the £76 million that we announced in May to help the most vulnerable people in society, £10 million of that has been allocated for charities providing safe accommodation such as refuges, £2 million for national and other non-local charities providing support for victims of domestic abuse in the community and then £25 million which is already being allocated via police and crime commissioners for support services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
“And finally an additional £3 million to specifically fund independent sexual violence advisers for the next two years.”
Responding to fellow Conservative MP Mark Pawsey’s (Rugby) question about what steps are being taken to ensure cases of domestic abuse “are heard at the earliest opportunity”, Mr Buckland said: “He’ll be glad to know that we are promoting access to the family courts via video or telephone, as well as through the 157 priority courts that remained open throughout the pandemic for essential face-to-face hearings.”