Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 19th 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 12:30 pm, 19th March 2020

The right hon. Lady is right to keep our spirits up, and to remind us that tomorrow is the first day of spring. I hope that will put a suitable spring in our step. I am very grateful for the support given to the Government in these difficult times by the Opposition; the right hon. Lady; the Leader of the Opposition; the shadow Health Secretary, who has been working very closely with the Government; and of course to the Opposition Chief Whip, who is invariably a means of ensuring that mechanisms in this place work.

I also record my thanks to parliamentary counsel for the phenomenal work that they have done in bringing forward the emergency legislation that will be presented later today. They have been working all weekend and late into the night on drafting the Bill. I note the point made about the sunset clause; it will have been noted. We want to maintain co-operation with all parties across the House, and I am sure that there will be discussions over the weekend on that point, but it is not for me to make commitments. I am genuinely grateful for the support.

On statements to this House, the Chancellor did indeed apologise for not making his statement here first. He was bringing forward financially sensitive information; those kinds of statement can be more difficult than others. I am glad to say that the Education Secretary made his statement here first, before holding a press conference. It is not an easy issue, because we need to inform the country at large, but maintain parliamentary accountability at the same time. Obviously, we will work closely with you, Mr Speaker, to ensure that Parliament is kept properly informed, and that we do not find things out purely from news reports, but it is important to get information out to the country at large as well.

With regard to our return on 21 April, it is very important that Parliament continues to sit. The position of Her Majesty’s Government is that Parliament will continue to sit. It is a point of significance. We need to be held to account, and to legislate. As for Bills in Committee, we will be able to ensure that those Committees continue as long as the House is sitting, but we may need discussions on precisely how the House operates. The shadow Leader of the House asks about voting arrangements. I thank the Opposition for not calling Divisions this week; that has been helpful in the circumstances. We need to work together closely to ensure that the mechanisms that we use are effective, to ensure that we hold the Government to account, and to legislate properly. We will have to look at this matter; I do not think it is right to make an immediate decision from the Dispatch Box. Let us see what the situation is when we come back on 21 April. There will have to be cross-party agreement; that is of fundamental importance to how the House works.

With regard to sick notes—I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for mentioning this to me in advance—as I understand it, they can now be obtained by going online with 111, so people will not need to get them from their doctors, though I reiterate the Government’s encouragement to businesses to be flexible about it. British businesses in many ways are leading the way. One hears all sorts of pieces of good news. For example, BP is offering free fuel to emergency service vehicles and things like that. Business is being community-spirited, and I encourage the business in the specific case she mentions, and in other similar cases, to behave in that way.

The right hon. Lady makes very good points about the centralisation of information. It is important that we have a reasonable balance rather than constantly bombarding Ministers to get information that is straightforwardly available already. The more information is collated, the better that will be. That was an extremely valid point, as was the point about the expertise of others. I also heard the interview with Gordon Brown, who had many interesting things to say, and I can assure the House that the Government are taking suggestions from a wide range of sources. As one can imagine, ideas are pouring in to the Government, and that is welcome.

On the over-75s, Lord Hall was on the radio this morning saying that the issue was under review. It is not therefore an August deadline and that is it—it is a decision that has been made until then. The BBC will consider it further, although I think we are going to have the opportunity of watching lots of repeats if we are staying at home. There are some wonderful programmes that were made not so many years ago, so that will not be too much of a burden, I would have thought.

I share the right hon. Lady’s pleasure about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is really very good news that she has been released. To update the House, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Foreign Minister Mr Zarif on 16 March about all the dual national cases, so the Government are continuing to push on that. One piece of good news is welcome; let us hope there is more good news to come.