Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:11 am on 11th June 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

May I belatedly wish you many happy returns for yesterday, Mr Speaker? I hope it was duly celebrated across the land.

The business for the week commencing 15 June will include:

Monday 15 June—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Electricity Capacity (Amendment etc.) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020; followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Environmental Protection (Plastic Straws, Cotton Buds and Stirrers) (England) Regulations 2020; followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2020; followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (Remedial) Order 2020.

Tuesday 16 JuneOpposition half day (8th allotted day—1st part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve statutory instruments relating to the draft Over the Counter Derivatives, Central Counterparties and Trade Repositories (Amendment, etc., and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the draft Financial Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020; followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Public Service Vehicles (Open Data) (England) Regulations 2020.

Wednesday 17 June—Committee and remaining stages of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords].

Thursday 18 June—Motion to approve statutory instruments relating to the draft African Development Bank (Fifteenth Replenishment of the African Development Fund) Order 2020, the draft African Development Bank (Further Payments to Capital Stock) Order 2020, and the draft African Development Fund (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020;followed by a motion to approve statutory instruments relating to the draft International Development Association (Nineteenth Replenishment) Order 2020 and the draft International Development Association (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020; followed by a debate on a motion relating to the effect of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The subject for the debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 June—The 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 forthcoming business and for the unexpected treat of an Opposition day—we did not even have to ask for it—but could he also confirm the recess dates? He alluded to them being moved slightly over for the summer recess. It would be really helpful if he could, in his reply, give us those dates.

Mr Speaker, a belated happy birthday to you. It is a birthday you share with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. My hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq wants us all to join her in wishing Gabriella Zaghari-Radcliffe a very happy sixth birthday. How sad that an innocent child must suffer in this way. Clemency is all we ask for our British citizens: Nazanin; Anousheh, who is facing a covid-19 outbreak in prison; and Kylie. My hon. Friend Kevin Brennan has consistently raised the case of Luke Symons, who is being held hostage by the Houthis in Yemen. Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary to update the House next week on our British citizens? They belong here at home.

The other place is moving to a virtual Parliament and remote voting next week, while we are sort of moving backwards. However, I am pleased that the proxy voting system has been extended and I hope it is given the widest possible interpretation. Perhaps the Leader of the House will look again at the possibility of not excluding hon. Members from substantive proceedings, so that they can take part in legislative debates too.

I was quite surprised that, given the events of this week, the Prime Minister did not come to the House to make a statement on what the Government will do on the Black Lives Matter movement that is sweeping the world. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned inaction on a number of reports: the Public Health England report, the Lammy report and the Windrush report.

To that, I would add the McGregor-Smith review of race in the workplace. It was commissioned by the former Chancellor, Sajid Javid, and found that helping black, Asian and minority ethnic people to progress in their careers could add £24 billion to the economy. This is not an economic issue; it is a moral issue, too. Its report gave signposts for action. The only action we have seen is that by the chief special adviser marching a young BAME woman out of her job and out of No. 10.

These reports are so numerous that I hope they are not becoming a footstool for the relevant Minister in the race disparity unit. I asked last week which Minister is responsible for taking all those reports forward. I hope the Leader of the House can write to me and place the letter in the House of Commons Library at to who is responsible, because there seems to be a crossover between two Ministers. Could the Prime Minister make a statement on this race tipping point? We need points of action and a timeframe.

I notice that the No. 10 Downing Street spokesperson said that the Cabinet did not observe the minute’s silence that you, Mr Speaker, had across the House for George Floyd on Tuesday. I suppose it is too much to ask that they would take the knee. We also had a minute’s silence for those who died in Grenfell Tower three years ago. Is it too much to ask for an urgent statement for an update on what is going on now?

Speaking of the Cabinet, we see that zoos are opening next week, but the Secretary of State for Education has no plan for the reopening of schools. Headteachers, teachers and the teaching unions—who, let us remember, continue to work to teach our children—said that the return could have been eased back safely. The Government always talk about Labour in Wales, but Labour in Wales consults, discusses and then announces, while the UK Government seem to be announcing first and then scrambling back. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Education?

This is Carers Week, and the deputy leader of the Labour party has said that one in four adults now has a caring responsibility. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that covid-19 deaths account for 28% of all deaths in care homes and nursing homes. We have previously raised the delay in the Government response to the virus. We ask again what happened in January and February. The Prime Minister missed Cobra meetings because he did not clock that this was a pandemic sweeping the world. We were told that sporting events could not be cancelled because people would meet in the pub. Public Health England said that we were two weeks behind Italy, so there were many countries we could have learnt from. That is why we need an urgent explanation from the Secretary of State for Health, not just about his bunions but about the breach in patient confidentiality.

Finally, it is our gracious sovereign’s official birthday on Saturday. Trooping the colour will take place in Windsor. We thank her for all her public service.

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

May I begin at the end? Yes indeed, that will be a proper occasion on which to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday and an extraordinary period of decades of service to the nation as our longest-reigning monarch. May the Queen live forever—amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen.

As for recess dates, those are always subject to the progress of Government business, and the right hon. Lady will be aware that the Government’s business has inevitably been delayed because of the current crisis, but I can assure her that as soon as it is practical to bring forward any changes to dates, they will be brought forward.

May I join the right hon. Lady in wishing a happy birthday to Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe? We remain very concerned about this situation, and I remain grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising it every week. It is continually taken up by the Foreign Office and by our diplomatic service in Iran. The Foreign Secretary will be here to answer questions later in the month, on 30 June, and the issue relating to Luke Symons in Yemen can also be brought up at that point, but the right hon. Lady knows that I pass messages on to the Foreign Office after these sessions every week.

As regards virtual participation, the Procedure Committee is looking into the possibility of people participating in non-interrogative sessions—or substantive sessions, if the right hon. Lady prefers—and we will have to wait and see what that Committee comes forward with.

In relation to the Government’s record on race and faith and equality since 2010, a great deal has been done. The race at work charter was launched, helping to create greater opportunities for BAME employees. The apprenticeships diversity champions network was set up. In other areas, the right hon. Lady mentioned the Lammy review of the criminal justice system. That is being looked at, as well as how to collect and publish more and better data on race, improving diversity in the prison workforce, and working towards incorporating ethnicity when gauging performance. So this is work that is under way within the Government. The Prime Minister was obviously here yesterday to answer questions, as he is every week. The Government are very well aware of these important and sensitive issues and are committed to improving equality in this country. We take the issue with the utmost seriousness.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the third anniversary of the Grenfell disaster. Once again, the Government would like to reiterate their heartfelt condolences to the survivors and recognise what a terrible tragedy it was. The Government are committed to ensuring that something like this does not happen in future. That is part of the reason the Fire Safety Bill was introduced and is making progress through the House.

Coming on to the schools question, the Secretary of State was here on Tuesday to make a statement with regard to what was happening in schools. It is an issue that we are all facing as to how things reopen in a way that protects safety and health.

The right hon. Lady referred to what has been going on in care homes. It is now good news that the deaths in all settings, including care homes, are falling, but every death is a tragedy—we must always remember that. Early death is something that Government policy has sought to avoid. That is why we have had the lockdown. It is why steps continue to be taken to help care homes, with testing kits, an overhaul in the way that personal protective equipment is delivered, and provision of very significant funds to local authorities, including the £600 million infection control fund to tackle the spread of covid-19 in care homes. In the face of an unprecedented pandemic and emergency, the Government have taken the steps that are suitable and the best steps that they could take at the time.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Will the Leader of the House introduce a measure next week which will efface all remaining trace that there was a Roman civilisation on this island?

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

My right hon. Friend, as so often, comes to the heart of the matter. I am surprised that he has not raised Stonehenge, which is known for being the site, or thought to have been the site, of human sacrifice. It does occur to me that if it were removed, then of course the A303 could be widened more easily, making it easier to get to Somerset.

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

First, may I associate myself with the comments of the shadow Leader regarding Black Lives Matter? I think most people will find it astonishing, given the depth of feeling in the country, that the Government do not wish to lead a parliamentary debate on the matter.

The Scottish National party did not oppose the motion to establish proxy voting last night, because we believe that something is better than nothing, but the Leader of the House should not think we are in any way satisfied with the Government’s defence of democratic expression in the age of coronavirus—we are not. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the right of Members to vote by proxy if they cannot attend in person, why does he continue to oppose electronic voting through a system that has already been perfected by our staff? Switching that back on would not only allow Members to vote remotely, but would permit those on the premises to vote safely without the need to congregate in one place.

Secondly, does it not seem odd that there is no place in our future agenda for Parliament to debate the overall approach of the Government to the covid-19 pandemic? We need a full debate on that, not just glib 20-second answers and well-rehearsed soundbites. Given that the Government seem to be losing their grip and are in danger of losing public confidence, is this not the time to reach out and engage all parties in a renewed consensus?

Finally, can I ask for a statement on the Government’s willingness to answer questions from elected Members? Many of us have raised repeated questions with the Chancellor on behalf of our constituents relating to the various support schemes run by his Department and its agencies—most notably, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It now seems that the Treasury is refusing to answer individual queries and has taken to issuing generic circulars instead. That is not acceptable, and it marks a serious departure from the way in which the Government are held to account in Parliament. I am well aware that things are not normal at the moment, but elected representatives must be able to get answers from those who serve the public. Does the Leader of the House agree?

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

With regard to the final part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I agree absolutely. I view it as one of the roles of the Leader of the House to take it up with Departments when answers are not felt to be satisfactory by Members, and I will unquestionably take up what he has said with the Treasury. Answers ought to be specific to the question raised by a Member of Parliament. That is one of our rights as a Member of Parliament, and if that is not happening, that is a lacuna in the service the Government are providing, so I assure him that I will take that up.

The hon. Gentleman started by saying that he was not satisfied. I so look forward to the day when an SNP Member stands up and says he is satisfied about anything of any kind whatever. He conjured up this fascinating image of my being dragged kicking and screaming. I have to confess that since my earliest infant years I have not been one of the greatest kickers or screamers in any circumstances. [Interruption.] Valerie Vaz says I am now, but no, no kicking, no screaming; just listening and seeing how things can be done and working out a system that ensures we have a physical Parliament that can get through the Government’s busy legislative programme. We now have three Public Bill Committees up and running, and we will have four. That is very important and it is why we had to come back physically, while recognising that circumstances require some Members to be absent from this House.

Tommy Sheppard sort of made my point for me, because he asked for an overarching debate on the coronavirus. He has clearly forgotten that we had one lasting two days when we had a virtual Parliament. Clearly, what went on in the virtual Parliament was so unsatisfactory that it has passed from people’s memory.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on Sessional Orders, which determine how close to this building demonstrations can take place? Over the weekend, Winston Churchill’s statue was desecrated, a flag was burned at the Cenotaph and two wicked people threw bikes at horses. Parliament needs to act.

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

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been quite clear about these criminal acts, which are entirely unjustifiable. We are lucky in our police who, according to Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing, police with consent. It is absolutely right that peaceful protest should be allowed. That is part of a democratic system, but people have to obey the law. That is incumbent upon all of us, but my hon. Friend will know that to ensure access to Parliament, discretion is given to constables by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis under section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 to

“disperse all assemblies and processions of persons causing or likely to cause obstructions or disorder on any day on which Parliament is sitting”.

In the past, both Houses passed Sessional Orders at the beginning of each Session, but the effectiveness of that is a matter of debate, and something where I think you and I do not necessarily share the same opinion, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

Mr Speaker, we have something in common, because you share your birthday with the Duke of Edinburgh, and I share my birthday with Her Majesty the Queen, so we are a match made in heaven.

We anticipate an allocation of time in early July for debates on departmental estimates. I remind Members on both sides of the House that applications for those debate days should be submitted to the Backbench Business Committee by a week tomorrow—19 June.

The tap has been turned on: we have an allocation of time for a Backbench business debate next Thursday on the important issue of coronavirus and its impact on black and minority ethnic communities. However, there is other business that day, and there could be urgent questions or statements, so would the Leader of the House please look at providing a measure of protected time for that debate? It is an important subject, and it would be dreadful if the debate was foreshortened by other business that came up on the day.

Can we arrange a better flow of information from Government sources to local health public health officials about the results of covid-19 tests? Quite often, local public health officials are in the dark as to the whereabouts of someone in their locality who has tested positive through the national testing system, so could we have a better flow of information to local public health officials? That is vital.

Lastly, in his response to the shadow Leader of the House, the Leader of the House did not mention the recess dates. If there is to be a change, Members on both sides of the House would welcome knowing about it sooner rather than later.

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

Celebrating birthdays is becoming a theme, which we should try to bring up at all business questions. My birthday happens to be shared with Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, so we all have some royal association somewhere or other.

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

If only I were as time honoured as that would indicate.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about protected time.

I am not unsympathetic to that, but I will ensure that it is discussed, in the way these things are. As regards co-ordination with public health officials, there are the local resilience forums, which are probably the right place for that to be organised.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, during the coronavirus crisis, local papers have provided an essential lifeline for many in our communities? However, as we come out of the crisis, we also need our papers to help bolster our economy. Will he join me in applauding the Rotherham Advertiser’s Restarting Rotherham campaign, which will help to get the local economy back on its feet? May we have a debate in Government time to discuss that important issue?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and commend him for highlighting his local paper’s superb initiative. I hope it will devote pages to his campaigning for the interests of his constituents. That is one of the important contributions that local newspapers can provide, as one of the public’s most trusted and cherished sources of news, and they deserve credit for their journalism and local campaigns. The spotlight of media attention has always played an important role in encouraging considered decision making. Local newspapers, radio and television are fundamental to our democracy, holding local government to account in much the same way that national press and broadcasters hold the Government in Whitehall to account. I commend my hon. Friend’s local paper, and I commend him for bringing the issue to our attention.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Labour, South Shields

After my repeated questions regarding the locations, admissions, recorded deaths and usage for the Nightingale hospitals and temporary mortuaries, the Government’s responses have been nothing short of stonewalling. When it comes to the costs and the private firms that built the Nightingales, they simply will not say anything. Will the Leader of the House explain what the Government are trying to hide and how I can get answers to these very straightforward, simple questions?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that. The Government always seek to provide information in a timely fashion. I would point out that the relevant Departments have been exceptionally busy recently dealing with the coronavirus crisis, but if any right hon. or hon. Member is concerned about the quality of answers being received, I am happy to take that up. If people get in touch with my office, I will see what I can do to assist.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I am afraid I can claim no royal birth connections, but I do share my birthday with Muhammad Ali, which is my best bet. I am sure that like me, my right hon. Friend wants to see the UK sign a trade deal with the EU before 31 December. He will be aware that if that does not happen, the disruption threatened to my constituency and large parts of east Kent will be huge, and disastrous for the local economy. Will he guarantee that the Government will not only keep this House updated regularly on the progress of the negotiations, but do everything in their power to avoid the terrible disruption that would come with a disorderly end to the negotiations?

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

My right hon. Friend no doubt, like Muhammad Ali, floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee with his political insights and precision. The negotiations between the Government and the European Union on our future relationship continue, but we did get a deal back in January, and that is the basis for now going on to a future relationship. However, I assure him and his Kentish constituents that planning for the end of the transition period is well under way to ensure that we are ready to seize the opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union. We are engaging with industry, including ensuring that our borders are ready by the end of the year, and we will continue to do so. I hope that my right hon. Friend can share my confidence in our ability to manage our borders both as the global pandemic continues and in relation to the EU. I am happy to say that our negotiators are working valiantly with their European counterparts to reach a deal on our future relationship, but whatever the outcome of the negotiations, we will be leaving the single market and customs union at the end of the year and plans are being made for that.

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

I invite the Leader of the House to reflect on his answer to my hon. Friend Tommy Sheppard, and may I gently suggest that it was offhand, dismissive and wholly inadequate? Members across the House are experiencing significant problems in getting responses, be that to parliamentary questions or letters—particularly from the Treasury but I am waiting for a letter from the Health Secretary that was promised a month ago. We are aware that there is a pandemic happening, but Ian and Lesley McIntosh have been waiting nine and a half weeks for a reply to a letter that I sent about an urgent tax matter on 7 April. An airy assurance from the Leader of the House is not sufficient. We are aware there is a pandemic. We are aware that officials are stressed, but the House is experiencing a systemic problem in holding the Government to account, and we need a proper debate on it.

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

The hon. Gentleman simply did not listen to what I said—that is the problem with not listening and having a pre-prepared question. I have given really serious consideration to these issues and will continue to do so because I think they are of fundamental importance. The role of this House to seek redress of grievance for our constituents, and Ministers have to respond to questions that are asked. That is what I said to Mrs Lewell-Buck and to his hon. Friend Tommy Sheppard. I have continued and will continue to take up these matters up with other Ministers to ensure that proper responses are received. My office is looking very carefully at the level of responses to written parliamentary questions to ensure that Departments are doing well. I add one crucial caveat to that: I do have sympathy for the Department of Health and Social Care particularly, under these current circumstances, because the people drafting the answers are the people who are dealing with the pandemic, and I think that the House must have patience with that Department.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Can we have an urgent debate on changing from a 2-metre to a 1-metre social distancing rule, because that is the only way we will save hundreds of thousands of jobs in pubs and hospitality, tourism and hotels?

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

My right hon. Friend raises a crucial point. The Government are, of course, considering this with their scientific advisers, but we need to think back to our school days, because it is all about Pi R squared—if the radius is doubled, the area quadruples. That is the difference that is made, but it applies both to the numbers we can include in an area and the transmission of disease, and that is why the Government are considering these issues in both directions.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has published this morning its six-monthly report on Hong Kong, and for once I can tell the Leader of the House that it is a refreshingly robust piece of work in both its tone and content. Can we have a debate in Government time on our relationship with Hong Kong and China? It is something about which I wrote to the Prime Minister, along with 58 other Members across all parties in this House. We need to hear in detail, and with some urgency, exactly what the Government mean when they say that they will provide a “pathway to citizenship” for British national (overseas) passport holders.

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

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that crucial topic again, because we obviously have, as the Prime Minister said, a duty to those with British national (overseas) status. If China continues down the path it has gone down, undermining the principle of one country, two systems with its national security legislation, the Government will look to amend the arrangements for BN(O)s, to allow them to come to the UK and apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months. The Government are deeply concerned about China’s plans. This is very important. The Chinese Government need to remember that they signed the joint declaration, which Deng Xiaoping authorised in agreement with Margaret Thatcher, and it is expected that the Chinese will follow their international obligations.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

Last November, a horrific mass brawl broke out on Norwich Road in Ipswich. Last month, only one of the 11 people required to attend Suffolk magistrates court in connection with the incident bothered showing up. So far, one of the 10 has been arrested, and Suffolk constabulary is currently working with the other EU country in question to try to locate these individuals, because they are all foreign nationals. Will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate how we can ensure that such people are brought before our courts, even after the end of the transition period, and will he urge his colleagues in government to work with Suffolk constabulary to fulfil any European arrest warrants issued?

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

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. He raised the issue of law and order, which should be taken with the utmost seriousness by the Government and by society as a whole. That is part of the reason why the Government are seeking to recruit 20,000 more police officers. With regard to the specific case he mentions, it is shocking and outrageous that 10 out of 11 suspects refused to attend court and fled the country. I will pass his concerns to the Home Secretary, who is always very robust on these matters and will, I am sure, follow up with great seriousness.

Photo of Bell Ribeiro-Addy Bell Ribeiro-Addy Labour, Streatham

As other Members are talking about important anniversaries and dates, I would like to remind the House that today is the 33rd anniversary of black Members being elected to this House. I, for one, am proud to be part of the most diverse Parliament we have ever seen. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

I was going to ask about the farcical parliamentary procedure, but something that the Leader of the House said irked me. He did not really respond to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House, and I would like to associate myself with the remarks of Tommy Sheppard. They asked specifically whether there would be a statement from the Prime Minister on Black Lives Matter and asked for a debate. I would like to take it one step further and say that it is very important for us to have a full debate on this country’s history with slavery and colonialism and the racism that has stemmed from it. No one is born racist. Rather, it is something that we learn. It is very important that this is in our education system. Some of the comments that I have heard give me the view that people do not really understand the mood of the country at the moment. We in this House far too often find ourselves removed from the public mood, so I think it is very important that we have this type of debate. I would like a straight answer from the Leader of the House: will he ask the Prime Minister to make a statement, and will he give us a debate in the House?

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

May I, as I noticed those on the Benches behind me did, join the hon. Lady in celebrating the 33rd anniversary of the election of the first black person to the Houses of Parliament and the desire for this Parliament to represent the nation as a whole, which is fundamental to the way our debates are conducted? She will know that the Prime Minister is here every week at Prime Minister’s questions, and that regular interaction with the Prime Minister is a very important part of how the Government are held to account. She will understand that the difficulty for me in promising individual debates is the pressure of parliamentary time and the loss of time over the coronavirus period. We are behind with the legislative programme delivering on the commitments made to the electorate last December, but we have made time for both an Opposition half day and a Backbench half day, and therefore there are opportunities to get the debate she wants outside of Government time.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

May we have a debate, or at least a statement, specifically on incorporating black history into the national curriculum? I say that quite aside from recent events; the period when the former colonies gained their freedom and the people who took part in that struggle is now slipping from memory and into history. We do not want that collective memory to be lost. Just to add one other thing, the first non-white person to be elected to this place was actually Shapurji Saklatvala, who was elected just after the first world war. I would like that to be on the record.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point. It is always important that we have as full an understanding of our history as possible. By understanding our history, we avoid making mistakes in the future, so I am always sympathetic to requests for debates on our history. The difficulty is the pressure of parliamentary time and the full legislative agenda that we have.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Mr Deputy Speaker, I am the chair of the all-party group on Belize—[Hon. Members: “Mr Speaker!”] Goodness me! That’s it: I am finished—I’m dead. I am so apologetic. It is not your birthday as well, is it, Mr Deputy Speaker? [Hon. Members: “Mr Speaker!”] Oh, that was yesterday. I had better get back on track, as we were told to keep our questions short.

I am the chair of the all-party group on Belize, and I once commanded the north of Belize for six months in the defence of Belize, so I have a lot of sympathy with Belize and like it a great deal. May we have a debate about how we can support smaller Commonwealth countries such as Belize after the implementation period? Belize in particular is very worried about its trading relationship with the United Kingdom, as are a lot of the others.

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the economic health of our Commonwealth allies is of key concern to this country. One of the great opportunities—one of the reasons why I have supported Brexit so enthusiastically—is that we have the ability to strengthen our economic ties with our friends throughout the Commonwealth, be it the giant that is India or the littler powerhouse of Belize.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

If any schoolchildren are watching our proceedings rather than being at school, I should point out to them that the Leader of the House’s hand gesture when describing the radius of a circle earlier indicated, in fact, the circumference of a circle. I do not know what they teach at Eton College, but it was important to clear that up, just in case.

On a more serious point, I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for mentioning the case of my constituent Luke Symons, who is held captive by the Houthi rebel regime in Yemen. May we have a debate on Yemen? I know that Foreign Office questions are coming up before the end of the month, as the Leader of the House quite rightly said, but in a debate there is an opportunity to range more widely than at Foreign Office questions and we can cover a number of subjects. Will he give that some consideration?

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

For the sake of clarity, I was talking about the area of a circle, which is obviously encompassed within the circumference. I hope that is helpful to any schoolchildren—

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

I was talking about the circumference, which is 2πr, and the area, which is πr2, as we all know.

Let me turn to the important issue of Mr Symons. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who knows the House’s procedures extraordinarily well, that an Adjournment debate would be the suitable way to start, as it is a specific constituent matter. The whole House sympathises with what he is trying to do. It is important always to encourage the Foreign Office to do its best.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the excellent idea from my hon. and gallant Friend James Sunderland, so far supported by 125 colleagues, of a desecration of war memorials Bill? Such a Bill would enable special circumstances and special penalties to be considered when memorials to those people of all races who saved the world from Hitlerism and Nazism are attacked. I hope it is common ground on both sides of the House that we want to honour those who died, including such people as the black airmen of the Tuskegee squadron, led by one of my personal second world war heroes, the great Benjamin Davis.

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

In our island story, we have stood up against tyranny in the 16th century, twice in the 18th century and twice in the 20th century, and that has led to a lot of lives being lost by brave warriors, and they are commemorated across the country. They are commemorated at the Cenotaph in a coming together of our national sentiment about people who gave their lives, they are celebrated in every village churchyard across this country, and they are commemorated abroad in the churchyards that are run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The desecration of these sites is contemptible, and there is no Government, no Minister, no Member of this House who would think anything else. Therefore, the Government will undoubtedly consider earnestly any proposals that are made.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

It would be very ill-mannered of me to miss this opportunity to thank the Leader of the House for granting me the right to vote by proxy; I am grateful, my constituents are grateful, thank you.

Tourism is crucial to the economy of the highlands. It employs many young people. Tourism has been clobbered by the pandemic. Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be appropriate to have a debate about how we can safely look after tourists for the next 12 months, and by “safely” I mean in a manner that will not spread the virus?

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

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s characteristically kind words and gentle approach to parliamentary proceedings. His question is very important. Tourism is the industry that is most affected by these closures, and the Government have taken huge steps for the economic revival of the country, with the furlough scheme, the schemes to help small businesses get access to loans from banks and the rate cancellations so that they have less cash outflow, but no doubt other things will need to be done to help people get the confidence to travel once again without risking the health of the nation.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Following on from the previous question, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate in the House on supporting seasonal businesses as we move out of the covid-19 crisis? One in five jobs in Cornwall depend on tourism, but actually the figure is much more than that as we have a lot of musicians and actors, and people who work in sectors such as the music festival industry and outdoor theatres, who are also struggling with what they are calling “the three winters” of poor trade or no trade at all. It is incumbent on us as representatives to find time, if we can, to discuss how we can best support those businesses going forward.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and know that the tourism and hospitality industries are exceptionally important to the economy of her constituency and indeed to her county. It is essential that we make every effort to try to restore the economy to full health, and as the economy opens up I hope that the seasonal economy in and around Cornwall will benefit, although I note her point about three winters, and it is particularly difficult. I would reiterate the points I have made about the huge sums of money the Government have provided to businesses struggling in the pandemic—more than £33 billion of loans and £10 billion of grants offered to small and medium-sized enterprises, and the abolition of business rates—but my hon. Friend makes a good point about musicians, actors and the festival industry beyond what one naturally thinks of as the tourism industry, and that is of course a matter of concern.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)

Following our convivial meeting pre-covid-19, what progress has the Leader of the House made on re-establishing the Scottish Grand Committee?

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

We did manage to get the Scottish Select Committee up and running, after objections and filibustering from the Scottish National party at an earlier stage, but there are no immediate plans to re-establish the Scottish Grand Committee.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

May we have a debate on the production of personal protective equipment by volunteers? In my constituency, people like Aaron Shrive, Chris Lee and Thomas Barwick have been working through the night to produce much-needed equipment, but they have been stopped in their tracks by the costs of getting accreditation. I know Lord Deighton is working on pre-accreditation, but this is an urgent issue that we must solve, so may we please 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

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Finding enough PPE is an international challenge that many countries are facing, and I commend his constituents for their vital public-spirited efforts to manufacture equipment for careworkers. Such work is something in which the whole country should take pride.

In this national effort, I hope that we can make it as easy as possible for small producers to contribute to the PPE supply, just as the little boats assisted the Royal Navy in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Some 1.7 billion pieces of PPE have been delivered, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight the frustration when bureaucracy stops people doing what the country needs, and what everybody wants to see done. I shall therefore take up the matter within Government.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

Yesterday, I met in a safe, socially distanced manner with small hospitality traders in Heaton Chapel in my constituency, including the award-winning Heaton Hops and Feed. They are concerned that they will still be unable to trade within the guidance when the food and drink restrictions are lifted because of the lack of space available to them. Will the Leader of the House relay those concerns to the relevant Ministers, and can we have a statement from Ministers on how the Government will assist the small independent hospitality sector to continue when the measures are eased?

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

The concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises are well appreciated. It comes back to the issue that was raised with me earlier about the six-and-a-half-feet rule, which is based on the scientific advice, but the Government are keeping that rule under review.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Many children in Buckinghamshire are due to take their 11-plus examinations in September, but given the obvious disruption to so many of their educations due to covid-19, our excellent grammar schools are looking to the Government for advice on how they may push them back to October or November. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent statement to give our grammar schools the advice and guidance that they need?

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 raising that crucial point. It is an unsettling time for children facing important exams, and I will pass on his concerns to the Education Secretary to see whether a full reply can be given to him in that regard. I remind him that Education questions are on Monday 22 June, but again, the subject may well be suitable for an Adjournment debate.

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

I regret that the Leader of the House did not announce the albeit unlikely Second Reading of my Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill, which would protect workers across the UK. Perhaps he would facilitate a debate on the protection of workers such as those at a hotel in Erskine in my constituency, which was bought over. The appropriate paperwork was filed with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but the real-time information was sent one day after the arbitrary and retrospective cut-off. Some 73 employees have had continuous employment but no wages and no follow-up support from the Government.

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

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is very difficult when some bureaucratic accident leads to a perceived unfairness for a constituent. That is exactly why we are here: to seek redress of grievance. I assume that he is taking it up with the relevant authorities, and if my office can give any help in seeking a detailed answer I will certainly do what I can to facilitate him.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the return of the physical Parliament, as well as the measures to allow Members who cannot be present to contribute, and could he update the House on how many Bills are now progressing through Public Bill Committees, such as the Immigration Bill Committee, on which I am sitting and to which I shall return shortly?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to a physical Parliament and for taking up his share of the burden by being on a Public Bill Committee. We have three Public Bill Committee going at the moment, and we will shortly have four. That means that the sausage machine of legislation is back in action. We in the Chamber essentially create the outer covering, but it is the Committees that push the meat inside before it comes back here to be finally tied up and sold in strings—or sent in strings, actually, to the other place. That process is now back in operation. The sausage machine is working and the sausages that we promised in our election manifesto will soon be barbecued.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

Will the Leader of the House ask the Government to review the role of Babylon GP at Hand in the NHS, following the extraordinary breach of personal data security whereby subscribers were given access to private consultations of up to 50 other patients, especially because the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is not only the leading cheerleader for Babylon but a patient? He, presumably like all the other 2.3 million patients, is entirely ignorant of the breach.

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

Breaches of data are always a serious matter, and we have the general data protection regulations in place, which are there for the Information Commissioner to take action if there are these breaches. This is, in essence, a legal, rather than a political, matter.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

We all appreciate the great work that our charities are doing, and last week’s national Volunteers’ Week gave us a great opportunity to show that appreciation to the likes of the Friendship Circle and the blind society in Whitefield in my constituency. I appreciate the funding that the Chancellor has provided to charities so far—and I have done my own bit by shaving my head for The Fed and raising vital funds for it in my constituency—but will the Leader of the House commit to a debate or a statement on the impact of covid-19 and on what further support is needed as we come out of lockdown?

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his noble efforts on behalf of charity. I am not going to follow his example, but people are doing wonderful things to raise money for charities across the country in these difficult, unprecedented circumstances. That is why the Government have provided a package of support, so that charities can help vulnerable people who need it most. We have spent up to £750 million of taxpayers’ money for frontline charities, including hospices and those supporting domestic abuse victims. On top of that, charities can benefit from the coronavirus job retention scheme and the coronavirus business interruption loan schemes, but he shows that charities actually do best because of individual effort by committed people of good will, and he is leading by example.