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Business of the House

Part of Transport – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:32 am, 12th March 2020

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to record our thanks to Public Health England, which has been remarkably helpful to the House authorities. As she knows, a representative saw the House of Commons Commission last night, and we are being kept fully up to date. Its advice is clearly well thought through and well presented, and we are following that advice along with the rest of the country, particularly in the Government’s approach. That is an important point, and she is also right to record thanks to the scientists, who are not making lava lamps but are doing the serious work of looking at the coronavirus and how it operates.

Going back to the beginning of the right hon. Lady’s questions, she says the Opposition are keen to work together on any emergency legislation that is necessary. I understand that today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be talking to Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and it is very much our intention to keep Opposition parties informed on what we are trying to do.

The devolved authorities have been kept fully informed and have been attending the Cobra meetings on these matters. The whole nation is coming together as one, and I am grateful for the support received so far from the official Opposition. The Government will do everything we can to ensure that co-operation continues to be given willingly, which is why I was not more specific about the Second Reading debates, because that will obviously depend on the talks.

The right hon. Lady raises restoration and renewal, which is currently a matter for the Commission, although there will be a handover to the sponsor body when the Act comes into force in April. There is always a regard to value for money, which must underpin everything we do, and there is widespread acceptance of the need to improve the mechanical and engineering plant—that is accepted—but some of the sums that have been mentioned are eye-watering, and Members should be concerned about that in relation to their constituents and tax purpose.

I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s warm words—as warm as she could manage—about the Chancellor’s speech. It is fascinating that the Opposition cannot find anything to criticise. We take that absence of criticism as the highest praise for a brilliant and very successful Budget. I am not sure that it is the greatest criticism if the only point that can be made is that the Budget was moved on an income tax motion, rather than on a change to the law, because that has been done with previous Budgets. The former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, used the procedure on a number of occasions, so it is not that unusual—[Interruption.] No, it is not that unusual. It has been done regularly over the past few years. This is the way of doing it. It is a perfectly reasonable way to do it, and I am sure the matters before the House will be debated vigorously and rigorously, because we will carry out proper scrutiny.

The medical advice for the over-70s will be coming forward, and we must not pre-empt what Cobra may say later today. Of course, the BBC should continue to give free TV licences to the over-75s. That is important, and it would be a great shame if the BBC failed to continue to support the over-75s. It is, of course, a matter for the BBC, but I think it would be right to do that.

The right hon. Lady is right to express her sympathy for the families of the eight people who have died from the coronavirus. It is a great sadness for those families and a worry for the nation at large that those deaths have taken place, which is why so much is being done to try to combat the effects of the virus.

Social care will obviously be an important part of tackling the virus, and the Government have asked for cross-party views to try to come up with a system of social care that will last, will have public support and will not be changed from one Government to another. It is important that we get to a settled view of social care and, therefore, the right hon. Lady’s views will be welcome in the consultation, as will those of other hon. and right hon. Members.

On share price falls, I spent most of my life before entering politics in financial services, so I know it is always unwise to predict what markets are going to do. I am glad that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s brilliant Budget will lead to a 2.5% increase in productivity because of the coming infrastructure investment, which is good news.

There is £5.2 billion going into flood defences, and I note that the Somerset levels, following a lot of mitigation efforts, seem not to have flooded recently, so it seems that the mitigation efforts work very successfully. There was an extremely interesting article on that in the Daily Mail a week or so ago, which I draw to the attention of hon. and right hon. Members.