Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 29 April 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 2:07, 29 April 2020

The business for the week commencing 4 May will include:

Monday 4 May—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Automatic Enrolment (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020 and the draft Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Automatic Enrolment) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Tuesday 5 May—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Greater Manchester Combined Authority (Fire And Rescue Functions) (Amendment) Order 2020 followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Employment Allowance (Increase Of Maximum Amount) Regulations 2020.

Wednesday 6 May—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Census (England And Wales) Order 2020.

Thursday 7 May—The House will not be sitting.

Friday 8 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 May will include:

Monday 11 May—General debate on covid-19.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:08, 29 April 2020

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. This is my first opportunity to speak in Parliament virtually. It is good to see that Parliament is functioning as it is and has risen to the challenge.

I thank the Leader of the House’s office for arranging a walkthrough of remote voting, which I will be doing tomorrow. I, too, send my congratulations to the Prime Minister and Ms Symonds on the birth of their baby. We had a baby born today, and, tomorrow, Captain Tom will be 100. We wish them both well on their life journeys.

The Chancellor said earlier this week that we were all in this together. I was wondering if there was a new definition of “together”. Does it include offshore? As the Leader of the House will know, some countries are not providing support to those companies that cannot be bothered to support the country by paying their taxes while they are using its services. May we have an updated statement to set out that the emergency measures will not apply to those companies that are paying dividends or that are offshore? Can that loophole be tightened, because some businesses are collapsing? That phrase has been used by dentists in my constituency. I know that the Minister sent out a helpful letter for emergencies, but businesses will no longer be there. One of my local dentists said that he is sick of giving antibiotics and self-administered fillings. I know a dentist who—[Inaudible]—a PPE kit that allows him to tend to his patients. Whom should he contact? We know that our teachers are doing a fantastic job in keeping schools open, as they are doing in Darlaston and Walsall South. They have contacted me to say that they are running out of PPE. Whom should I contact on their behalf to get them that vital PPE?

I have been contacted by a number of road haulage businesses requesting urgent Government support. Some 85% of the transport market in the UK is made up by small and medium-sized businesses—they keep the UK’s economy moving. They need a cash injection—a grant—to literally stay on the road and move our food, goods and medical supplies. May we therefore have a statement on what support road haulage firms will get? I emailed the Treasury, via the covid-19 email address, on 9 April, but I have not received a response, so I have nothing to say to those companies, which are literally at the end. Will the Leader of the House assure me as to what I can say to them?

May I ask for the Leader of the House’s help on another matter? He will know that I have been waiting on responses from various Departments—all on the covid-19 helplines that I use—since as early as 4 April. I am waiting for three from the Treasury, two from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and one from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport. Interestingly, the Department of Health and Social Care, the DFT and the Treasury circulated an incorrect email address to MPs in a “Dear colleague” letter sent on 26 April. Will he look into circulating an updated list?

When are we likely to have a statement on Brexit negotiations, which the Leader of the House did not mention in relation to next week’s business? Yesterday, the whole country stood for our frontline workers who have died looking after us during this pandemic. It is International Workers’ Day and Labour Day on Friday. Let us remember the dead but continue to fight for the living.

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

The connection was not perfect, so I am not sure I got all the points, but I will answer them as far as I can. First, I completely agree with the right hon. Lady in congratulating the Prime Minister and Carrie on the wonderful news of a baby. As a father of six, I know that there is no greater joy than a new life suddenly appearing in the room, and this is a huge joy for the whole country. I believe the Prime Minister joins an exclusive club of Members who are fathers of six, along with my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. I do not know if there are any others I am missing out, but it is a great club to belong to.

As regards who can apply for the support from the Treasury, the rules are relatively clear and well set out. Companies that are not contributing, or that have not contributed, to this country and do not have their operations in this country will not particularly benefit, but employment in this country will benefit. As regards dividends, that, in a way, is a matter for companies. I notice that BP is going to carry on paying its dividend to try to help pensioners, and that is a decision for companies where I do not think it would be right for the Government to intervene.

We know the figures on PPE, as they have been set out, but there is a global shortage and every effort is being made to ensure that PPE gets to people who need it. The Government are working very hard on that and are investigating offers of supply from around the world. I notice that the Daily Mail and its readers are making huge efforts to help as well, so it is a national effort in which we are all involved.

I am concerned that the right hon. Lady says that she has not had a response from various Ministries and that email addresses have not necessarily been working. Particularly during periods of recess it is of great importance that Ministries respond in accordance with their own timelines. I know that there have been strains on certain Ministries, which is understandable, but holding Ministers to account is part of our role, and I will take that up with the Ministries that she mentioned and ensure that correct email addresses are made available.

Regarding particular statements, the right hon. Lady will understand that there is great pressure for statements and urgent questions at the moment. We are sitting for three days, and we have had a statement every day. Today, there is a business statement as well, so there are two statements today. All requests for statements are taken seriously, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will note that the many requests we received for a general debate on covid-19 have been taken up. Finally, she mentioned 1 May. She omitted to say that it is the feast of St Joseph the Workman, so it is a good day to celebrate.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset

My right hon. Friend will agree that is nice to have an Exmoor man having a new child. I congratulate the Prime Minister, especially as he is a local.

My right hon. Friend and I have something else in common—Somerset county—and we are both proud of the area we live in. Big counties have received the lion’s share of the very good grants—and I am grateful to the Government—that have been given out to cope with this awful pandemic. However, I must question how some of them are using the money. I have received next to nothing from the county of Somerset, while Devon next door is keeping me enormously informed about what it is doing and how it is spending its money. When the time is right, will my right hon. Friend allow us to have a debate about the way in which counties and districts have handled this crisis in what has been a difficult time for us all?

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

What a pleasure it is to hear from my hon. Friend in his Somerset fastness—assuming that is where he is—and to admire the collection of ornaments behind him, so elegantly displayed for our delectation.

The spending of public money must always be held to account. It is of utmost importance that what is taken from taxpayers is spent responsibly by the authorities who spend it. The Government have provided £1.6 billion extra for local councils, and £3.2 billion will come in the fullness of time. That money must be accounted for by all councils, even those covering the great county of Somerset.

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

First, will the Leader of the House confirm that he will introduce a motion to establish the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs for our next meeting on Monday? He will know that the SNP has withdrawn the amendments that we had tabled on that matter, so there is no need for a Division, and it is important that that vital Committee is up and running as quickly as possible.

Secondly, may I express concern about the speed with which we are progressing on implementing electronic voting? I am well aware that there are some Members of Parliament who view such proceedings with suspicion and, indeed, disdain, but I hope that any attempts to placate those views are not the reason for the delay. Perhaps the Leader of the House would update us on when we might expect firm proposals.

Thirdly, how does the Leader of the House intend Members to contribute in learning from the experience of using digital platforms this week, and in how we might develop that facility? It seems that this hybrid Parliament—while I welcome it and the great effort that has been made by many people to make it happen—has a fundamental flaw. It is not really a virtual meeting—it is a means by which some of us can contribute remotely to physical proceedings in the Chamber, so it will always create two classes of participant, whether we like it or not. As an experiment, I wonder whether we can consider having at least one sitting of a full Parliament in which everyone participates on the same basis and does so remotely, so that there is a level playing field and we can at least consider whether that is something with which we wish to continue.

Finally, I note that on 11 May we will have a general debate on the covid crisis and the Government’s response. Rather than that taking place in the abstract, with people chipping in whatever they want from their constituencies, there would be a more focused discussion if the Government could bring to the Chamber at that time their proposals for the second phase of their response. We are now more than halfway through the first phase, and unless we have the opportunity to consider what happens next, I fear that many of our citizens will get increasingly frustrated and disenchanted with what the Government are doing. We need to keep them on board, so having firm proposals to discuss would be exceptionally welcome.

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

I am glad to bring pleasure to the hon. Gentleman, in that the motion on the Scottish Affairs Committee will be back on Monday. May I say that I am delighted that the Scottish National party is now removing its objections? There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth, etc.

As regards electronic voting, all that is being done is temporary, and it is worth emphasising that. We would not have achieved the consensus across the House to allow these procedures to be implemented if there were any thought that it were permanent. It is being done on a temporary basis, and implemented as quickly as possible. I hope that we will be able to experiment with electronic voting on 11 May, subject to the Procedure Committee considering the proposals and to testing with a large number of Members to ensure that it works.

As regards the hybrid Parliament or all being virtual, I think the hybrid Parliament is actually working well. It is a good indication that those who need to come into work are right to come into work. That has always been the Government’s policy, and people coming in is something that they are entitled to do. It is of great antiquity that we have a right to attend Parliament; it goes back to 1340. I think the way you have run these proceedings, Mr Speaker, has made it quite clear that there is only one class of Member of Parliament and that every Member is given exactly the same treatment: there are no interventions, there is no extension on speaking time and there is no ability to intervene for those who are in the Chamber. I think there is only one class, and it is first class, because of the work done by the House of Commons authorities to get this system up and running as rapidly as possible.

Finally, on 11 May, it will be a general debate. It would be too early to pre-empt what may be said and whether the Government’s five tests have had any fulfilment by that stage—that is still quite a time off—but I was responding, as Leader of the House, to the many requests from Members to have a general debate.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would like to convey my congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on their new arrival, and to you on bringing forward this virtual Parliament and handling it in such a way that we can actually be in Lancashire, or wherever we are in the country, to make these points heard.

Talking of technology—we have been talking about virtual voting—could we not include in the debate an app, or application, so that with such technology we can move around to see our relatives when the lockdown is eased? Speaking personally—and on behalf of lots of my constituents whose views are in my inbox—I have not seen my elderly father for seven weeks; he is in his mid to late-80s. A lot of people in my constituency are starting to ask me how we can start to ease the lockdown and move around. Would not an app be better?

Mr Speaker, it is very surreal to be talking on my computer to the rest of the Chamber. However, I congratulate you on everything you have done to enable this to happen.

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

It is a great pleasure to hear from my hon. Friend, and not surreal for us as we see him in glorious technicolour addressing us. With regards to the lockdown, it is of course difficult for the elderly and for those of us with elderly parents, but we must follow the rules, because that is actually working. No doubt the sun will shine eventually and the restrictions will be lifted, but now is not the time to forecast when.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

I think that 1 May was also the feast day of St Panacea, which may be of interest to Donald Trump.

I want to ask about cancer, because 367,000 people a year in this country contract cancer and 165,000 die of it. When I last spoke to my oncologist, he said he was terrified of a tsunami of people, who have not contacted the doctor now because they are frightened of going to a hospital in case they contract coronavirus or because they just do not want to take up the NHS’s time, presenting with their cancer too late for doctors to help. Is not it important that we get out the message, whether through a debate or statement in the Commons, that if people are ill, the NHS is still there for them now and that delaying taking a dodgy mole or something in their bowel that is worrying them to the doctor is a big mistake?

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

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am glad to say that the health service is opening up for people to go back for continuation of treatments that were suspended and to have tests for potential new illnesses. That is important and was part of the whole strategy to ensure that the NHS could cope and that lives could be saved from other illnesses as well as the coronavirus.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I would like to place on record my congratulations to the Prime Minister and his fiancée on the birth of their first baby.

The Treasury has done a remarkable job in coming forward with various schemes to help people through this terrible pandemic. However, some people have still been left behind. People who run a small business from home and people in professions, such as dentists, solicitors, accountants and others, have complained to me that they seem to be deliberately excluded from the Government’s schemes. May we have an updated statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what measures he will introduce to enable those key people, who are fundamental to our economy, to be supported through the crisis until the economy can recover?

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

The Chancellor did make a statement on Monday. The schemes for small businesses are pretty comprehensive, including 100% loans, which have now been announced, the suspension of rate payments, the funding for entrepreneurs and the self-employed and so on. That Government are doing what they can, but those matters could be covered in the general debate on 11 May.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

The hybrid Parliament is a great achievement, but I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that it does not come close to replicating the true cut and thrust of proper Commons debate, with interventions and so on. Does he intend to continue to proceed by consensus and to introduce only uncontested business at this time, unless it is urgent and absolutely necessary to do otherwise?

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the real thing is better than a virtual Parliament. I will not give an advert for Coca-Cola, which views itself as “the real thing”, but there is a lot to be said for the real thing. However, the Government have a legislative agenda that they must get through, so, no, I will give no guarantees that there will not be contested business. That is why we need to have votes: so that Members may express their views.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott Conservative, Sevenoaks

I want to place on record my thanks to the House authorities for the extraordinary speed at which they have moved to implement a virtual Parliament. It has been a real benefit for scrutiny, and for our constituents who can see what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. I welcome the move to remote voting in the coming weeks. I know there are strong views across the House on that, but, although it is temporary, I would welcome a debate afterwards on how it has worked, because it could bring benefits for those who have caring responsibilities, health conditions and other access requirements, and we should discuss that in the aftermath.

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 hon. Friend for her kind words about the House staff, which are worth underlining and reiterating. I emphasise the temporary nature of what is being done—that is why there has been such widespread consensus and support for it—but the Procedure Committee may want to look into what we can learn from the experiences in future.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I appreciate that there is a general covid-19 debate scheduled, but I urge the Leader of the House to make time for a specific debate about insurance companies and particularly business interruption insurance. There is real anger and, I believe, a real appetite across the House to properly discuss business interruption insurance. A number of small and medium-sized companies took cover in good faith that does cover infectious diseases, but because it does not specifically cover covid-19 a number of insurance companies have been posted missing. They need to be held to account. There has been a failure of regulation. There is a need for state intervention on this, and we need to debate it soon.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that has been raised by a number of other hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are concerns about how such insurance policies have worked. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this can be brought up in the general covid-19 debate, but it can also be taken up directly with the Treasury, and I have no doubt that it will be.

More than 20 minutes having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the business statement, the Speaker brought those proceedings to a conclusion (Order, this day).