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Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 5th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The business for the week commencing 9 March will include:

Monday 9 MarchSecond Reading of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on the Commonwealth in 2020.

Tuesday 10 March—Remaining stages of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill, followed by a general debate on LGBT+ health inequality and LBT women’s health week. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 11 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.

Thursday 12 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 13 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 March will include:

Monday 16 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 17 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 18 MarchOpposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.

Thursday 19 March—Debate on a motion on Government response to the Morse review of the loan charge 2019, followed by a general debate on the Horizon settlement and future governance of Post Office Ltd. The subjects for these debates was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 20 MarchThe House will not be sitting.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for the business. Is there any update on the list of ministerial responsibilities? He has given the business for the week of 16 March, but no departmental questions have been allocated. Will he say why that has not been forthcoming?

When will the Windrush lessons learned review and the report on Russian interference in UK democracy be published? The Leader of the House frequently says that the Prime Minister has seen it, but we are in a democracy—the last time I looked—and we would all like to have a look at that.

There is a debate in Westminster Hall today on Horizon. While this is an important topic, it will also be the subject of a Backbench Business Committee debate. I wonder whether there could be more co-ordination so that Members can contribute in the appropriate way.

We are all thinking about those who are suffering from the virus, covid-19. Can I ask for clarification through the Leader of the House from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care? Last week, he said that people must self-isolate on medical advice and that they will be entitled to sick pay. This week, he said that people have to self-certify for seven days, yet the incubation period is 14 days. I know that the Prime Minister said that everyone who is entitled to sick pay can get it from day one, but what is the position of those who we, as a country, are asking to self-isolate—those on zero-hours contracts and those, for example, who are not entitled to statutory sick pay? We know that the virus does not distinguish between who is on what sort of contract, so will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an urgent statement that whoever self-certifies in relation to the disease can get statutory sick pay from day one? Universal credit is not payable for five weeks.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that covid-19 is now a notifiable disease? I know that many small businesses have been affected by this and we need to know that that is also retrospective. The Secretary of State for Health has said that there is no additional funding and that there is no ring-fenced funding for local authorities. Tory-controlled councils such as Walsall council are using £10 million for consultants to try to show councillors how to build resilient communities. Is that a proper use of public money, where councillors are asked to build these communities with Lego? That is all the more reason why the money for this disease should be ring-fenced. The way to build a resilient community is, of course, to restore Pleck library, which cost only £800,000, to restore Palfrey Sure Start, to ensure that youth centres are open and, of course, to fund social care, which is a very important part of keeping people safe. So could we have a reassurance from the Chancellor that the money is emergency money to mitigate covid-19?

The Leader of the House will know that the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 contains all the powers that a Government need for emergency regulations, including under section 27, which allows parliamentary scrutiny of those regulations. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the shadow Secretary of State have worked very closely together. Are there any plans for further emergency legislation? Will he ensure that the Opposition parties are consulted? After all, we want to do things in the best interests of our country.

Twenty-three Members of Parliament in Iran have got covid-19. The Leader of the House will know that the UK Government, France and Germany have shown good faith and given money through the UN to Iran to help support its health system. Our British citizens Nazanin, Anousheh and Kylie need to come back so that we can look after our own citizens. Will the Leader of the House reassure us that that is put to the Iranian Government, given that we have supported their health system?

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that the House will not mind if I pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Bruce George, who sadly passed away last week. Bruce was born in 1942 in Mountain Ash, Glamorgan. He had a 36-year career here, and he made an important contribution to life in Walsall and this place. He was chair of the Defence Select Committee and played an important part in securing money from the previous Labour Government to rebuild the Manor Hospital. In recognition of his dedication to Walsall South, Bruce was made an honorary freeman of the borough. He was a keen football fan. Bruce was the founder, captain and goalkeeper of the parliamentary football team, the Westminster Wobblers. Bruce’s wife, Lisa, showed him tremendous support throughout the time that he was here and beyond, and I hope that the House will join me in sending our condolences to Lisa at this very difficult time. Bruce’s funeral will be on 20 March at Saint Matthew’s church at 1 o’clock. May he rest in peace.

We are celebrating International Women’s Day. We know that unpaid work that women do is worth £140 billion to the economy; the financial sector is worth £132 billion. Let us lead the way in unlocking women’s potential. Equal pay for equal work is just one area that we need to look at. Those high-profile cases are easy to see, but those other women down below also need to be encouraged. We need to support any claims for equal pay for equal work.

Finally, I wish everyone a happy World Book Day. We know that every child will get a £1 book token, but £1 books are available for adults as well. I pay tribute to our Library for the fantastic service that they provide us.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join the right hon. Lady in sending our condolences to Lisa George. It is always a sadness when a former Member of this House dies, but obviously the greatest sadness is for the family and, as the hon. Lady says, may he rest in peace.

I agree with the hon. Lady on paying tribute to the Library. We are enormously well served by the Library, and I hope everybody will use World Book Day as an opportunity to spend more time reading. They might want to read a book on the Victorians, which is still available in all good bookshops, probably at a highly discounted price by now.

I want to answer the important question on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Foreign Office officials in Tehran continue to lobby for the release of all dual national detainees, and I understand that the Iranian ambassador to the UK confirmed on Tuesday that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in good health and that she would be granted temporary release, so there is some slight good news at this stage. However, her family have understandably said that they wish to keep her symptoms under review and undertake any further testing as necessary. I reiterate my thanks to the right hon. Lady for raising this every week.

Inevitably, given that a reshuffle took place relatively recently, the list of ministerial responsibilities is being worked on, and will be released as soon as practicable. The list of oral questions is also being worked on because of changes in departmental responsibilities. It is important that we have the right questions to allow the Government to be held to account properly.

As far as I am aware, the Windrush report has not yet been delivered to the Home Office, but I am sure that the Home Office will review it in the normal way once it has been. The right hon. Lady also asked about the Russia report. The Committee has not yet been set up, but I have no doubt that when it has been, it will rush to publish the report. However, I remind her that the Prime Minister has said that it will probably be much less exciting than people think it will be. The joy of waiting for it is, perhaps, greater than the reality of what it will contain—not that I have seen it.

The right hon. Lady raised the issue of the Post Office and Horizon. I am glad to say that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is to conduct a parliamentary investigation into this very troubling matter, and I think that that is the right way to go about it. Parliamentary Select Committee inquiries can be very swift and effective.

The right hon. Lady asked a number of questions about the coronavirus. There are some very important points to make in relation to people outside the House, and also to people inside it. On sick pay, the right hon. Lady is right: people can self-certify for seven days, but the Government are asking businesses in these circumstances to use the discretion that they have not to require a doctor’s note for the second seven days. I think most businesses will understand that. I also think it is worth giving reassurance to people who may be eligible for sick pay about its availability. As for those on zero-hours contracts, Citizens Advice recommends that they discuss the matter with their employers, because some of them may well be eligible for sick pay. So steps are being taken. There are eligibilities, and other benefits are available to people who are not eligible. It is important that the welfare system will be able to take care of people who self-isolate or who are suffering.

I am not going to dwell on the right hon. Lady’s disagreements with her local council. MPs often disagree with their local councils. As hers is a Conservative council, I am sure that it is absolutely marvellous, but I understand why a socialist Member of Parliament does not take the same view. That is a fairly routine aspect of political life. [Interruption.] I am being heckled by the right hon. Lady.

Let me now turn to the issue of Parliament and the coronavirus. Many Members may have read a report in The Times today, and I want to reassure them that there are no plans to close the House down.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am glad that there is such rejoicing at that suggestion.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

It was just one voice.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

But it was one that represented many.

The public will expect Parliament to sit, and to get on with its job. Parliament has proved itself to be very resilient over the years. There is no medical reason, on current advice, to think that shutting Parliament would be necessary or helpful. I will repeat that: there is no medical reason, on current advice, to think that shutting Parliament would be necessary or helpful.

Our approach will be guided by the best scientific evidence and medical advice, and we will take all necessary measures to deal with this outbreak. I can assure the House that I am engaging with the parliamentary authorities to emphasise how important it is that any decisions are taken in line with the advice of the chief medical officer. A cross-parliamentary group of senior managers is meeting daily to plan the response to covid-19 and ensure business continuity, with input from Her Majesty’s Government. The Commission will consider an update at its meeting with the House of Lords Commission on Monday. I can reassure the House that we are taking this very seriously, and that we will act on professional medical advice.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

When the capital city had a Conservative Mayor, he cut crime. May we have a debate on why the current Labour Mayor is failing to get a grip on the worrying rise in serious violent crime in London?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point. It is extraordinary how effective the previous Mayor of London was in cutting crime; it is no surprise that he has gone on to even greater things—and it is no surprise that his socialist successor has failed to cut crime. I am glad to say that this Government will provide an extra 20,000 police officers, and are reinforcing stop-and-search powers to ensure that crime can be reduced across the country.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons

At a time when almost the entire country is focused on coronavirus and its implications, observers of our proceedings will find it strange that the matter does not appear on our agenda. Would it not be proper to have a discussion in the Chamber that gave the opportunity for more in-depth consideration than can be afforded by a series of 20-second questions to a Minister? I do not for one second suggest that we should try to second-guess the medical response to the virus—we should simply take the expert advice and make sure that the resources are available to implement it swiftly—but it is clear that there will be profound social and economic consequences from the virus that will require a public policy response from this Chamber. The sooner we start on that, the better.

I am thinking in particular of those companies that will be more affected by the virus than others. Obviously, there will be an effect on every company, but for some, particularly those producing public events, the difference will be between living and dying; the virus will potentially put them out of business. I am thinking of such events as the Edinburgh festival, which is important to not just the city but the entire Scottish and UK economy. Decisions on it are being taken now; the risks are being taken now. Those involved would take succour from Parliament deciding in principle, though perhaps not providing details, that support will be given to people engaged in these activities. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The Leader of the House will know that on Monday, the House ran out of time to discuss a proposition from the Committee of Selection on the composition of the Scottish Affairs Committee—the rather bizarre proposal that the Conservative party’s representation on that Committee be increased, even though its representation in the country of Scotland as a whole reduced by 50% in the recent election. When will the House have the opportunity to conclude that debate, and when can we put amendments before the House to ensure that the composition of the Committee reflects political opinion in Scotland?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

To answer the second part of the question first, it is of course very sad that the SNP decided to talk out the motion establishing a Scottish Affairs Committee. It is surprising that a party that calls itself the national party of Scotland does not want to have a Committee looking into Scottish affairs. The Government will of course deliberate and consider when it is right to bring forward a motion on the subject, but it is ironic that those who wish for more Scottish debate are those who decided not to have a Scottish Affairs Committee. I know a little bit, dare I say, about the procedures of this House, and I know when somebody is trying to talk something out, and that is exactly what happened. One might think, if it were not disorderly to suggest it, that the SNP were filibustering—to stop themselves having the opportunity to discuss things. It was a filibuster with remarkably little point.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

You’re repeating yourself.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

We are not playing “Just a Minute”; I am trying to answer serious questions.

Tommy Sheppard is absolutely right about discussions of coronavirus. The Health and Social Care Secretary is committed to updating the House regularly. I think that is important and the best way of proceeding, because we are trying to proceed on the basis of medical, expert advice, and giving Members the opportunity to ask questions, so that advice can be given to a broader audience and more widely understood, is the right approach to take, though I hear his request for a debate. Obviously, if or when there is a need for emergency legislation, there will be a full debate on it.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons

Could I just say that I am expecting to run business questions until 11.15 am?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers on violent crime, last year, in the London Borough of Harrow, the number of notifiable offences rose to 17,329, up from 14,897 the year before. Meanwhile, our do-nothing Mayor spends his money, which he is given by the Government, on public relations and spin doctors. He has been given £5 billion to build 116,000 new homes across the capital, and has failed to do that, and yesterday a third of tube trains were running late because of faulty trains. Could we have a debate on the failures of this do-nothing Mayor?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend makes a compelling case for the failure of the do-nothing Mayor, but fortunately the people of London will have the opportunity to vote for Shaun Bailey in May.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Labour, Camberwell and Peckham

When will the Secretary of State for Health next come to the House to update us? People will have seen reports on last night’s news that two patients at King’s College Hospital in my constituency have been diagnosed as positive with coronavirus. That has immediately raised questions in the minds of patients who are due for appointments this morning. Should they go in or not? Would visitors be turned away if they went to visit their friends and relatives? Should GPs be referring now? Until the point at which I came into the Chamber, there was nothing on the King’s website to say what the situation is. I understand that it is business as usual in King’s College hospital, and I want to thank all the staff for their work, particularly those in A&E, but we need to have more immediate real-time information as well as the important work that is being done in the national health service.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. and learned Lady raises the right points. The Health Secretary will be in the House on Tuesday for routine questions, but he has committed to making more frequent statements if that is necessary. May I add the important piece of advice that anybody who is worried about symptoms of coronavirus should ring 111, and not go into A&E. I reiterate her thanks to the people who are serving on the frontline in the NHS in dealing with this problem.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

May we have a debate in Government time on the role of managing agents? Many of my residents are suffering from unscrupulous residential managing agents, including those who are charging fees for services they do not provide and those who are not enforcing the rebuilding of their property or even establishing a sinking fund. Many of my constituents feel that they are being ripped off, and I believe that the Government could take this opportunity to show that we are on the side of our constituents.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

We will be having a renters reform Bill, as was announced in the Queen’s Speech, and powers will be coming forward within the legislative programme that look at leaseholds, so I am glad to reassure my hon. Friend that there will be opportunities during this Session of Parliament to look at these issues.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee

The Backbench Business Committee is back in business. As well as the business that has been announced by the Leader of the House in this business statement, we have determined that on Thursday 12 March in Westminster Hall there will be a debate on freedom of religion or belief, led by Jim Shannon, and that on Tuesday 17 March in Westminster Hall there will be a general debate on tackling alcohol harm, led by Fiona Bruce.

May I also announce and tell my right hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, the shadow Leader of the House, that there is a debate scheduled on the Horizon settlement. I know that that appears to replicate something that is happening today, but it will not replicate it, because we were convinced by the application that there were many aspects of the Horizon settlement that were worthy of further debate in this Chamber. That is why we agreed to allot that time.

Finally, the Leader of the House has said that there are no plans to close Parliament and that Parliament has been very resilient over the years, and of course we should be about our business, but is anything being said about planning to restrict public access in any way?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The current medical advice is that there would be no advantage in doing that, but the House authorities will be guided by medical advice.

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

Continuing with the issue of reducing crime, Warwickshire police, under the guidance of the Conservative police and crime commissioner, Philip Seccombe, has been successful in a bid to the Home Office to increase the proportion of officers equipped and trained in the use of Tasers from 20% to 28%. May we have a debate on how the use of such equipment can assist the police in keeping us safe?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Considerable resources are being devoted to allowing more police officers to carry Tasers. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise this point, because ensuring that the police have the equipment they need—I am glad to say that Conservative police and crime commissioners are doing this across the country—will help to keep the country safe.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

In Blaenau Gwent 39% of ATMs charge people for accessing their own cash. The cashpoint network LINK says that without Government intervention, the system that allows free access to cash will collapse within two years. May we therefore have a statement on how the Government intend to protect free access to cash?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The issues surrounding bank closures and ATMs are raised regularly in the House. Banks have committed, since May 2017, to the access to banking standards, which commit them to working with customers and communities to minimise the impact of closures. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it will be discussed within the Government. I suggest that an Adjournment debate is the most suitable debate for specific constituency matters.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

On Saturday 22 February, Ipswich man Richard Day was sadly killed in the town centre. It is not the first time Ipswich has seen such a brutal incident. At about the same time there were two burglaries, when a hair salon and a café were broken into. We welcome the extra 54 police officers that Suffolk will be getting, but it does not go quite far enough. Suffolk currently receives £152 a year per head of population for policing, while the national average is £192. May we therefore have a debate on the future of the police funding formula, to level up police funding so that we can increase the police presence in Ipswich and ensure that such tragedies do not happen again?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Nationally, 20,000 more police are being recruited—the process has already started—which will benefit every single police region across the country and help to bring down crime.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

My constituent John has been out of work since 2017, despite his best efforts, due to overwhelming mental health issues. He has been signed off by his GP for that period. He was awarded a personal independence payment and employment and support allowance in 2018, yet later that year he was deemed fit for work and lost his ESA, much to the shock of his family and his doctor. Latterly there have been monumental administrative blunders at the Department for Work and Pensions, but the overwhelming issue here is the disparity of esteem between mental and physical health. Will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate on this important issue?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

There is broad support across the House for giving a higher priority to the treatment of mental health conditions, and there is extra spending, to record levels, going into mental health. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the concerns about his constituent, and I assume that he is taking them up with the relevant Department. If at any point he needs my assistance in that, I would be delighted to meet him to discuss it.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement on the days for debating the Budget. Ahead of the Budget, and following the question from Nick Smith on access to cash, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to convey to the Chancellor the message that the Budget is in fact an opportunity, as identified by the Association of Convenience Stores, the Federation of Small Businesses and others, to secure the long-term future of access to cash? A recent report identified that 8 million people across the United Kingdom could not cope at this time with a cashless society, and many of them live in large rural constituencies such as mine.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend has made an eloquent plea to the Chancellor, and put it more finely than I possibly could, so I will ensure that his words are extracted from Hansard and sent to the Chancellor so that he may consider them while preparing his Budget.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

I took the Leader of the House’s previous advice and wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport on 11 February, to request a meeting on the decrepit state of Luton’s train station. I still have not received a response and the train station is in urgent need of vital investment. Will the Leader of the House advise me on how I can prompt a response from the Transport Secretary?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Lady has proved, in an excellent way, that she needs no advice from me, but her point is noted and I will give the Department for Transport a gentle reminder on her behalf.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

It has been brought to my attention that the affairs of a business allegedly producing counterfeit antiques have been made the subject of a consent order, now known as a non-disclosure agreement, with large cash settlements being used to enable the perpetrator not only to escape justice but to threaten those who seek to bring these matters to light. Indeed, a journalist who wrote about the matter in a very small antiques journal was financially ruined and narrowly escaped a custodial sentence back in June 2018. Can we therefore please have a debate on the scope and use of non-disclosure agreements where there is evidence that they are being used to escape potential criminal prosecution?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Non-disclosure agreements cannot prevent any disclosure that is required or protected by law; nor can they preclude an individual from asserting their statutory rights under either the Employment Rights Act 1996—including, of most importance, whistleblowing—or the Equality Act 2010. There are often legitimate reasons for parties to seek to enter an NDA, such as preventing commercial information being shared inappropriately or protecting intellectual property, but they should not be used, and may not be used, to conceal criminality.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

The infected blood inquiry reconvened last week to hear expert evidence from people in the fields of HIV and hepatitis. Sir Brian Langstaff, in his closing remarks at the end of the week, said that there is a clear need for psychological support services for those affected and infected. Can we have a statement from the Government on how they intend to respond to Sir Brian’s significant ask of them at this stage?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Once again, I commend the hon. Lady for her work and campaigning on the issue. Where the Government err, it is incumbent on them to put things right. She asks for a statement, and I will take it up with the two relevant Departments—the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care—to see whether I can get her a fuller response.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

I would not want to be seen as too much of a stickler on these things, but my right hon. Friend will no doubt be distressed to note that the Union Jack above Portcullis House has been flying upside down for some time. It could be a mistake, and I doubt the building has surrendered to anybody, but can we have a debate in Government time on whether it is the building that is in distress or the MPs within it?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is a deeply troubling matter that the Union Jack should be flying upside down. [Hon. Members: “Union flag.”] Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The pedants are wrong. It is the Union Jack, and it has been referred to as such for many centuries. There is a pedantic but erroneous view that it should be called the Union flag, and it is held by people who are more pedantic than they are wise.

I am sorry that this has happened, and I am glad it has been brought to the attention of the House authorities. I imagine that, as we speak, somebody is going to correct this. [Interruption.] I see that the Clerk of the House of Commons is taking action immediately. Things sometimes happen swiftly, and I assure my hon. Friend that Members of Parliament are not in distress.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Private Joseph Berry, a 21-year-old soldier who sadly lost his life while deployed on operations in Kabul serving with the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment. This tragedy coincides with the announcement that a peace deal has been reached by the US Government and the Taliban. There are many concerns about the agreement, not least the degree to which the Afghan Government have or have not been involved. Given the commitment our country has made to Afghanistan and the lives that have been lost, does the Leader of the House think we need a debate on the political situation in Afghanistan so that hon. and right hon. Members are afforded the opportunity to discuss these important matters?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I join the hon. Gentleman in sending condolences to the family of Private Joseph Berry. It is the greatest sacrifice that people in our armed forces make for us and for the safety not only of our nation but internationally.

My right hon Friend the Foreign Secretary has made a statement on the agreement between the US Government and the Taliban, and he said it is important that the Taliban and the Afghan Government are able to settle things in their way, rather than necessarily having things imposed upon them.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

To celebrate World Book Day and the joy of reading, will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out his support for a zero VAT rate on digital and audio books in the forthcoming Budget, to bring them into line with print publications? Does he agree that VAT on e-publications is a barrier to childhood literacy and has a disproportionate impact on those with disabilities, inhibiting their capacity to read if they cannot handle print books?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It is an unwise Leader of the House who makes personal statements about the Budget a few days before it, so I am not going to fall into that trap. I would, however, urge the hon. Lady to raise these points on Wednesday or Thursday of next week, or Monday or Tuesday of the one after.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

Almost £6 million of pension credit was unclaimed in my constituency—we are talking about more than 3,000 households—and the figure for Wales was more than £200 million. Given that fall in take-up rates, may we have a statement or a debate in the House to show what more the Government are doing to increase awareness and take-up of pension credit?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am glad to say that we have Work and Pensions questions on Monday, which is the right opportunity to raise that matter. The Government are keen that people who are entitled to claim money do so, and significant amounts of additional money have been claimed following the roll-out of universal credit.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South

Over the weekend, the life of a young Coventrian was tragically taken by knife crime, and my thoughts are with his loved ones. That was the second death of a young person from knife crime in the city in a matter of weeks. On its own, having additional police is not enough to solve this, so will the Government give time to discuss the urgent need to take a public health approach to knife crime?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Government are considering a number of ways of tackling knife crime, including having additional police, increasing stop-and-search powers and revisiting sentencing, to ensure that people who commit the most serious offences spend longer in prison.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

Last year, Huma Younus, a 14-year-old Pakistani Catholic girl, was one of an estimated 1,000 young girls, mainly from Christian and Hindi communities, who was kidnapped, forced to convert and made to marry an older man. Last month, the high court in Karachi told Huma’s distraught parents that because she had had her first menstrual cycle her marriage was, in its eyes, legal. So, on the eve of International Women’s Day, may I ask the Government to raise Huma’s case with the Pakistani authorities? May we also have a Government statement to reassure this House that those in receipt of UK aid money are protecting children such as Huma?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

There was a debate in Government time on the issue of the persecution of Christians. We raise that issue regularly with foreign Governments in respect of the treatment of their nationals and the protection of women’s rights. The overseas aid budget is committed to doing that. These issues are well raised on the Floor of this House in order to remind the Government to raise them with the relevant Governments.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

May we have a debate about banking? As the Leader of the House will know, the best part of £50,000 has now been raised by people in the Rhondda for those who have suffered as a result of the recent flooding. That is an amazing amount of money and it would be good to get that money to people, but HSBC, which has the money sitting in the bank account, has said that we cannot possibly transfer it out until next Tuesday because we have to go to see a business manager in Cardiff, some 15 miles away. That seems preposterous. If ordinary businesses regularly have to go through this business of having to make an appointment, days ahead, to see a business manager so as to be able to transfer funds, this must surely be madness.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman has raised this point in the House. It is a fundamental principle of banking that the owners of the money should be able to move their money; that is the basis on which people make deposits, and banks that try to frustrate that are not operating properly. He has made his point about the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and it is now on the record.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

One series of debates that I am not that keen on hearing is the one asked for by Conservative Members, which seems to be about playing the election campaigns of their candidate in the London elections. May I respectfully suggest that this is not the place for running those election campaign debates, given that the candidates are not in this place?

I want to raise the issue of Secretaries of State coming to this House to discuss coronavirus. We are grateful for the work that the Health Secretary has done in coming to this House to answer extensive questions, but many of the issues we are raising cover issues under the purview of other ministries. I did get an answer to a question I raised about the Home Office and immigration, but I have had an email from an under-fives nursery provider in my constituency who has told me that there is no insurance cover for her business in the event of any coronavirus-related closure. That applies to all under-fives nursery businesses and probably to many other businesses in this country, so may we ask that the Business Secretary comes to this place to answer questions for businesses?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am not surprised that Opposition Members want to avoid debating Sadiq Khan—it should not surprise anyone that they want to brush his record under the carpet. However, to suggest that this House should not raise party political matters is the triumph of hope over experience.

In regard to matters that are not specifically the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in relation to the coronavirus, I would advise that those are dealt with by correspondence with the relevant Ministry in the first instance. That may get faster answers than trying to raise everything on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Earlier this week, the chief executive of the Vauxhall Motors car plant in Ellesmere Port said that no investment decisions will be made there until at least the end of the year. I understand that that is because they want to see the shape of any free trade deal with the EU, but this uncertainty is causing huge anxiety in the constituency. It really is possible now for Government to say that they will make sure that, whatever the shape of future trading, there will be no impediments and no extra costs to the automotive sector. If the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy could make that statement now, it would be a huge relief for the whole constituency.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Government are seeking a free trade agreement with the European Union on the basis of being sovereign equals. That is the policy—that has been announced—and a great deal of background paper has been issued in relation to it. Businesses will be able to understand that and to make their investment decisions on what is already known.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Last week saw two drugs summits in Glasgow, with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council hosting one on Wednesday and taking the recommendations, which included supervised drug consumption rooms, to the UK Government’s drug summit on Thursday. The Leader of the House will understand that I do not want to treat this issue as a political football, particularly when I have people dying in my constituency, and when constituents are opening their doors to find people injecting themselves in the groin and needles all over the place. However, without any movement from the UK Government, we face the prospect of people in Glasgow setting up drug consumption rooms illegally. I am sure that, to save lives, the Leader of the House would want to avoid people acting illegally, so could I ask him to help me facilitate a meeting with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to move this issue forward as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As the hon. Lady rightly says, there was a summit in Glasgow last week, which brought together healthcare professionals, drug recovery experts and senior police officers, as well as Ministers and officials from the UK Government and devolved Administrations, to discuss drug misuse in the UK and explore further action around these issues. At the moment, there is no change on the matter of consumption rooms from the point of view of Her Majesty’s Government. I am happy to pass on the message from the hon. Lady, but I think I would be giving a misleading impression if I suggested that there was an intention to change the policies.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

Could I ask for a debate in Government time on the infrastructure required to manage the transition to electric vehicle adoption in the UK? The Leader of the House will be well aware that transport is the largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the country. We have had debates on HS2, but I would argue that EV infrastructure is more important than HS2. Can we have a debate on it?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That is probably more of a Backbench Business debate, but I can give the hon. Gentleman some comfort, in that there will be Transport questions on Thursday next week, when I am sure he will want to raise this important point.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth Prime Minister on Sunday morning, leading to political unrest. Rhetoric against non-Muslims has escalated following the change in Prime Minister, and radical Muslim groups are being emboldened to propose that the new Government pursue an agenda that will significantly limit the right to freedom of religion or belief in Malaysia. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on this urgent and pressing matter?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The UK recognises the right to manifest religious belief as one of fundamental importance, and the hon. Gentleman knows how much I share his concerns in this area. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are vital and interconnected rights. Exercising those rights requires civility, restraint and judgment from everyone. The UK is committed to defending freedom of religion or belief and promoting respect between communities of different religions and those of no religion. Freedom of religion or belief is a universal human right, which intersects with many other human rights.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

The Leader of the House is the person in charge of policies on bullying and harassment in this House, and under him and the new Speaker, we do seem to be making progress. I wondered whether he wanted to send a message today to all those who may wish to come forward to the inquiry into the current Home Secretary that they should do so without fear or favour, without any fear of their jobs, and without anything being predetermined by those on the Government Benches? They need to feel that they can trust in those on the Treasury Benches actually being able to hear them.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme within this House is of great importance, and I encourage all members of staff and hon. and right hon. Members to use it if they have complaints, because it can do things at a variety of levels. With regard to my right hon. Friend, she is one of the most brilliant Home Secretaries that this country could possibly have. She is a most determined, capable and forthright person. I should like to make it clear that she rejects the allegations that have been made against her. She is a dynamic and effective Minister. As a Back Bencher, I found that if you wanted something done, she was one of those people who simply got things done. She is a superb Minister and does a wonderful job. The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to establish the facts relating to allegations, but we in this country believe that people are innocent until there is any evidence of guilt. Although I have full support in my right hon. Friend who denies these allegations, an inquiry has been set up, and the Prime Minister has asked for the facts to be established.