The business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week.
I start by sending our condolences to the families and friends of James Furlong, David Wails and Joe Ritchie-Bennett, described as three of the loveliest people. My hon. Friend Matt Rodda has worked tirelessly to support his constituents. It is a terrible shock to the whole community.
It is unlike the Leader of the House not to answer some of my questions, but answers were wholly absent last week, so let me ask again. The Opposition names are in for the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it seems that the Government names were in and then they were out. It is quite careless to lose two experienced members of the Committee—the right hon. Members for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) and for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers). The delay seems to be on the Government side, so could the Leader of the House update the House? Will the Committee members all have a letter of comfort from the Prime Minister that they will not be sacked if they vote against the Government? When will the Committee be set up? The list of ministerial responsibilities that I have is dated October 2019. Could the Leader of the House ensure that there is an updated document?
The Leader of the House is usually very courteous, but there was no mention in the Houser of the merger of the Select Committee on International Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Committee, other than the Prime Minister coming to the House. It was extremely chaotic, as the Chair of the International Development Committee was only told an hour before the announcement. It is not very female friendly, is it—losing a female Cabinet Minister, and then losing a female Chair of a Select Committee? And it is one of our Select Committees, too. When will the Leader of the House come here with an appropriate mechanism whereby that Committee can hold the Government to account over their work and in relation to money?
It is the Secretary of State for Education’s birthday today; we wish him a very happy birthday. The Government have allocated £1 billion for pupils to catch up, including £650 million for primary and secondary schools—but that is for the academic year 2020-21—and £350 million for primary tutors with the National Tutoring Programme. That seems incredibly bureaucratic. Why can the money not go straight to the heads, given that they know exactly what is needed for their schools? Worse still, 16 to 19-year-olds and pre-schoolers have been excluded. Will the Leader of the House ask the Education Secretary to come to the House to clarify that? I think the Prime Minister allocated £120 million following our Opposition day debate last week, but there is also £9 million that has been allocated to schools for summer food and activities. My hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson has asked whether that is still available and whether communities still have to bid for that money. We definitely need a statement clarifying that.
Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the report from the Childhood Trust that says that children are suffering post-traumatic stress because of the coronavirus? Why on earth, then, are the Government introducing the reception baseline assessment for four-year-olds? They have been through lockdown, some have been through bereavement and some of their parents are key workers. Will he please ask the Education Secretary to reverse that decision?
The Government response to covid has led us a merry dance—slow, slow, quick quick. The Prime Minister said on Friday that the country was moving from a “huge one-size-fits-all” to a “more localised” response, leaving public health officials baffled as to why the Government will not share the data. How can local communities and authorities respond when they do not have the information? Will the Leader of the House ensure that this information is disseminated to local authorities? And how do we get our information now that the press conferences have been cancelled? Do we table more written parliamentary questions? The scientists are saying that the crisis is not over, so could we have a weekly oral statement on what is happening with the coronavirus pandemic?
Finally, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition—and probably the whole House—may I ask the Leader of the House to convey our thoughts and prayers to Mr Paterson? The whole House is thinking of him at this very difficult time.
If I may begin where the right hon. Lady left off; I thank her for those words. I will certainly convey the condolences of the whole House to my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson at this saddest of all possible times. He is in all our thoughts and prayers.
I will also answer with regard to Nazanin, Kylie and Anousheh because the right hon. Lady is quite right to keep on raising this issue. Kylie is being dealt with by the Australian authorities, in agreement with them, and not by the British Government at the moment. Nazanin continues to have representations made on her behalf by the British authorities, and that will continue. As the right hon. Lady knows, she is currently out of prison on temporary release. We hope that that will lead to permanent release, and that she will be able to be fully reunited with her family. We say the same in relation to all the arbitrarily detained UK persons in Iran. The right hon. Lady’s efforts to secure their release are entirely admirable.
The right hon. Lady, as usual, asks a long list of questions, which I will come to. The ISC is going through the normal processes and we look forward to its being set up in due course. I hope that a motion will be brought before this House in due course. I had better not go into the discussions as to who is going in and out, whose lists are going where and which Members of which parties and what parties may or may not be putting their names forward, having their names taken off or putting their names back on again. I am not entirely sure that it is a one-way street in this regard, but let me leave it at that.
The right hon Lady asks about the list of ministerial responsibilities. They were last issued in October and they are updated periodically. The Cabinet Office is in charge of that and will I am sure come forward in the fullness of time with an up-to-date list to help and assist and to ensure smooth communication with Members, so they know exactly who they ought to be writing to.
On the merger of the International Development Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, discussions are going on within the House. My hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, is, I know, involved in discussions with the various interested parties. I note the point the right hon. Lady makes about its being a Labour chairmanship that has been lost, and there are standard procedures in accordance with that, of which the Government are aware. However, I would stress that it is right that Select Committees follow Departments, otherwise we would end up with Select Committees that related to Departments that might have been removed years and years ago. For the House to ensure proper scrutiny, I think that principle is an important one.
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady wants to wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education a happy birthday. Can I remind the House that, apparently, if you sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands, that helps defeat the coronavirus? I prefer to stick to the national anthem, rather than “Happy Birthday” twice, but it has the same effect. I am sure many Members of the House will be singing “Happy Birthday” many times today, and will be thinking of my right hon. Friend and the marvellous job he has done in giving £650 million to headmasters and headmistresses up and down the country to spend on getting pupils back up to speed. I think it is absolutely the right thing to do.
The right hon. Lady mentions the Childhood Trust and the post-traumatic stress of children. I would encourage Opposition Members, and particularly her dear leader, to say loudly and boldly that going back to school is safe, as he has been encouraged to do by the Prime Minister on several occasions. That will encourage people, make them feel safe and make post-traumatic stress disorder or other problems less likely, so that is to be encouraged.
On communication with councils, there are the local resilience forums, which are used very effectively to keep councils up to date, so that they know what is going on.
Finally, on the issue of updates to the House, we have many updates to the House. We have had so many statements—regular statements—and the Prime Minister made the major statement. I must confess that I think there was revelry, Mr Speaker, in your office when the Prime Minister came to the House to make the statement, something you have consistently asked for. Mr Speaker says go and we goeth, and come and we cometh, like the centurion’s servant of old, for when he asks the Government that statements are made here, that is what happens.
I have been contacted by a number of driving instructors in my constituency, such as Tom Matthews of Viking driving school in Buckingham, who has set out comprehensive measures he has taken to be covid-secure and reports a long waiting list of people wanting lessons. While it is right that the economy is reopened cautiously and following the science, can I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that statements are made to this House to give the thousands of driving instructors in this country the guidance they need, so that they know when they will be able to reopen and get fully back to work?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Driving instructors are one of the unseen engines of the country. They train future generations of drivers, and I hope they can resume their important work safely as soon as possible. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency chief executive will be writing to all approved driving instructors on
There are now less than two weeks until Parliament’s emergency procedures are reviewed. Will the Leader of the House share his insights as to what should happen next? Will he move forward, allowing people to participate equally by switching the e-voting system back on and allowing all Members to contribute to debates; or backwards, disenfranchising those who cannot be physically present?
Last week, I informed the House of the decision of the Scottish Parliament to seek a review of the financial arrangements within which it operates, in order that it could better deal with the aftermath of covid-19. I asked when that request, backed by four out of five parties in Scotland, would be considered by this Parliament, and I did not get an answer. This week, we saw the publication of the report by the independent economic recovery group in Scotland, a mainly private sector perspective. Guess what its first recommendation was? It was also to loosen the financial straitjacket that constrains the Scottish Parliament. We do need to discuss this. The financial set-up of devolution was not designed to deal with the type of problems the Scottish Government now face, and platitudes about how wonderful the Union is will not address this serious problem.
May I ask about hospitality and entertainment, and I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? Many in the sector will have to stay closed beyond the lifespan of the current coronavirus support schemes. If a business is shut by public order, does the Leader of the House agree it should get public help? I know we have difficulty in getting the Chancellor to write a letter, but will the Leader of the House persuade him to come to this House and say what he intends to do beyond October?
We have six days left in which to seek an extension of the Brexit transition period. It is crystal-clear that the Government’s necessary focus on the pandemic has affected preparations. Why will the Leader of the House not allow the House time to consider extending the time available? Does he not realise that the Government’s Canute-like stance on this matter is looking increasingly foolhardy and cavalier, even to those who support leaving the European Union?
The hon. Gentleman has made the schoolboy error of not knowing what King Canute did. King Canute took his advisers down to the shore to show that he did not have the power to command the tide; he did not go there to show he had the power and was then embarrassed. The hon. Gentleman may be embarrassed that he has used the analogy incorrectly—as I said, it is a schoolboy error.
As we are on the subject of history, I thought that the hon. Gentleman might be a bit more cheerful today, because I happened to notice in The Times yesterday that it was the anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn in 1314. I thought that might have brought a smile to the hon. Gentleman’s face—but this is a very difficult task to achieve, as I see him looking sternly down upon me.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wishes to close down Parliament when it is just opening up the rest of the country, but we are back. We led the way. Things are really working extremely well. Voting is taking place. Next week there is a full programme of legislation. It is a proper Parliament; it is back to work. I am afraid the fact that SNP do not want to come here says more about their politics than it does about the state of the coronavirus.
The hon. Gentleman went on to wanting more money for the Scottish Government. They have already had £3.7 billion from UK taxpayers, and without the strength of the UK economy I hate to think what situation Scotland would be in had it been independent. The separatists’ arguments are crumbling away day by day, and that is absolutely crucial.
As regards industries that have been closed, there has been an unrivalled package of taxpayer support, with 9 million people who are currently furloughed getting support. The Chancellor has said that everybody will be looked after, and that is what has been done.
My immediate plans for a tattoo or for tanning are on hold, but a kind gentleman did have tattooed on him “Moggmentum” a year or so ago, though this has not taken off as a trend.
I very much understand the issue that my hon. Friend raises. It is an important one, because it is difficult for businesses that are closed by compulsion, but the road map was set out on
We head to the north-east with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. The Backbench Business Committee has made the following determinations regarding estimates day debates in early July—we believe that the time allocation will be in the week beginning
The Departments that have been chosen to have their spending scrutinised are, on the first day, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and on the second day, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We also have a significant number of other Back-Bench debates on our waiting list waiting for allocated time from the Government.
Lastly, the Leader of the House mentioned local resilience forums to my right hon. Friend Valerie Vaz. To the best of my knowledge, local resilience forums are being kept no better informed than local authorities about national testing data relating to their locality; they literally do not know.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for notifying the House broadly of the plans for the estimates days. I note his point on protected time. I will take that up in the usual way with other people who have interests in these matters and will try to bring him an answer when we announce the business that includes the estimates days, but I do note his point that the Committee has set out very clearly what it wants debated.
I am aware that Back-Bench debates have reached a point of logjam to some extent. As the hon. Gentleman will notice from today’s business statement, there is a lot of legislation to be got through—the virtual Parliament did not allow us to get through business as fast as we would have liked—but I hope to get back to a full programme of Back-Bench debates in the fullness of time.
Just outside the mother town of Burslem, in Longport, stand the grade II* listed remains of Price & Kensington teapot works. Sadly, the site is in poor condition due to a rogue owner who has allowed the site to crumble, at a big cost to Stoke-on-Trent City Council. Sections 215 and 216 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are not tough enough to deter such recklessness, so will my right hon. Friend allow parliamentary time for a debate about protecting heritage assets and the creation of tougher punishments for those who negligently let them rot?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is becoming one of the House’s most ardent and enthusiastic defenders of our country’s history and heritage, and he quite rightly stands up for his constituency. I think he may himself be listed in the not-too-distant future—I think grade I rather than grade II or II*. Local authorities do have relevant powers that they can enforce, and in the first instance I would encourage him to get the local authority do that. After that, I think an Adjournment debate would be the next way to raise this matter in the House.
Many of my constituents have expressed concern at the merger of DFID and the FCO. The 0.7% contribution is for the alleviation of suffering and the improvement of developing nations, not an arm of British foreign policy. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that we have a debate on what should be a moral position, not an administrative decision?
I think they are two sides of the same coin. One can do good work in the world while also promoting the British national interest, and one should not be ashamed of the British national interest. It is an important consideration, and when hard-pressed British taxpayers are providing substantial sums of money, the interests of British taxpayers ought also to be taken into account. If we can use British firms and they can do things in the poorest countries in the world, paid for by the British taxpayer, that is not something to be ashamed of.
I note that the Leader of the House rarely mentions the safety of House staff. Many have highlighted how they have felt invisible as people have breached safe social distancing since Parliament was recalled. Before any further changes are made in this place, will the health and safety of House staff be put first, with full consultation and negotiation with the trade unions until agreement is reached, and will the Government look once again at extending virtual procedures to everyone so that less risk is brought on to the estate, particularly when people want to participate in debates?
The House authorities have done magnificent work—dare I say, led by you, Mr Speaker—in ensuring the safety of House staff, which is of the greatest importance. We are very lucky in the staff we have in this place, who have a wonderful pride in the Parliament in which they work. They know that this is one of the greatest, most ancient, most historic forums of democratic debate in the world, and most of them are proud to be here. However, those who are not well enough to come or who have to shield are being looked after, which is absolutely right and proper. We have gone away from a fully hybrid system and come back to physical working to ensure that business takes place, but we have ensured that people who cannot be here for a range of reasons can vote by proxy and that they can participate in interrogative proceedings. I think that is a very fair balance.
We go over to Bob Blackman, who is clear to land his question.
Reports suggest that more than 2.5 million children have not received any education or done any schoolwork since the middle of March. Clearly, those young people need to catch up, to ensure that they recover their education as fast as possible. Given that many of them will be requiring free school meals and a nutritious meal at lunch time, could we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on what catch-up measures will be introduced and what attempts will be made to ensure that people attending also receive a nutritious meal at lunchtimes?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope he will join me in welcoming the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary’s confirmation of a catch-up plan to help headteachers provide extra support to children who have fallen behind while out of school. Some £650 million will be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020-21 academic year and, importantly, it will be distributed by headmasters and headmistresses, who will know best how the money should be spent.
In addition, there is £350 million for a national tutoring programme, which will increase access to tuition for the most disadvantaged children. It is a comprehensive package. My hon. Friend will know that free school meals have been extended through the summer, so efforts are being made to ensure that children will be well fed during this crisis and, indeed, at all times.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson pointed out this morning that more than 100,000 people are employed in the leisure industry. Large gymnasiums, swimming pools and lidos such as the one in my constituency can open safely, whether it is 2 metres or 1 metre, and people are incredulous that we are opening pubs, restaurants and cinemas, but not allowing these important facilities and local amenities to open. They cannot wait for a taskforce. Can the Government urgently review the situation and allow them to open alongside pubs and cinemas on
I think everyone welcomes the reopening of pubs. People have been locked in for quite long enough and they want to go and have a drink, which is a jolly good thing and should be encouraged and welcomed. They will do it safely and properly. I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman’s slightly curmudgeonly attitude towards the pubs being reopened. As regards other things, they must be opened in a phased way. There is a degree of risk that can be taken, but that risk must be managed and measured. Of course the Government want things to open up more, and that is being implemented as far as it is safe to do, but it has to be in an orderly way.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on support for women who are suffering from endometriosis? Frankly, not enough is known about this condition. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, women who suffer from endometriosis have experienced delays in their treatment, the waiting list has grown and, most stressful of all, operations have been cancelled. These women are suffering, and they need help.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this important question, which has been raised with many of us by our constituents. The NHS has begun to restore services that were rightly suspended while it had to deal with the initial impact of covid-19. The NHS is working on the principle that the most urgent treatments should be brought back first, and that will be driven by local demands on the system. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has kept the House updated and will continue to do so. The point that my hon. Friend raises is a really important one, and he is right to raise it. People who suffer from this condition need to get the treatment that they require.
Nothing highlights the deep failings in the Government’s response to coronavirus like our shockingly high deaths per million rate, in comparison with that of many other countries. We are very near the top of the deaths per million table, and that is a national scandal. Our deaths per million rate is six times higher than that in Germany, 100 times higher than that in South Korea and 150 times higher than that in Australia and New Zealand. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on comparisons with other countries’ handling of coronavirus so that we can learn from best practices and help to protect lives in our country?
Every death from the coronavirus, whether it is in South Korea or the United Kingdom, is a tragedy, and the sadness for the families affected is very great and very real. However, a wide range of factors have affected death rates in different countries. Even things as simple as the weather may have influenced how the virus has spread, and so may the practices of individual cultures and societies. I think, therefore, that these headline comparisons are not necessarily enormously illuminative.
I would have sung a “Te Deum” after the Prime Minister’s statement on Wednesday, but for the fact that singing remains forbidden. Now that we have seen the full extent of the exemptions list and some of the guidance, will the Leader of the House allow us to get some of the frustration off our chests by debating it next week?
Te Deum laudamus, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend is right to be concerned about things not all opening up at once, and to wish to raise this on the Floor of the House, but the Government have to proceed at a cautious and sensible pace. I know that he raised with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the question of nail bars. It is a matter of national concern that the nails of my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne may not be in perfect condition, but it is also a serious matter for those who run nail bar businesses. The Government are very conscious of that, but there is a way of progressing that will keep things as safe as possible, and that is what the Government are trying to do.
Many of us are concerned by the comments of Bank of America analysts, who said:
“We believe sterling is…evolving into a currency that resembles the underlying reality of the British economy: small and shrinking with a growing dual deficit problem”.
Can we urgently have a debate on the matter in Government time, before the option to extend the Brexit transition passes and further exacerbates the situation?
This week, I spoke to the landlord of the King William Inn at Scaftworth in Bassetlaw about our plans to allow pubs and restaurants to reopen from
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his excellent question, because I think there is a very easy answer in pubs, and that is that people should go back to drinking a yard of ale. If they drink a yard of ale, they will maintain social distancing while enjoying an extra-large drink to celebrate the fact that they are back in the pub.
My right hon. Friend will know that the Competition and Markets Authority recently published its findings on the leasehold-selling scandal, which has affected constituents in a number of areas across Warrington South, including Steinbeck Grange in Chapelford and Chaise Meadow in Lymm. I am pleased to see that the Government have promised legislation to tackle future behaviour with regard to mis-selling. Will the Leader of the House give us Government time to consider how those people who have been mis-sold can be compensated?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and commend him for being such an ardent champion of his constituents’ concerns about leasehold mis-selling. His is a model example of a Member of Parliament seeking redress of grievance. The Government welcome the CMA investigation into mis-selling and the onerous terms in the leasehold market. The CMA has said that it will engage with the Government as it moves towards enforcement action, and we look forward to seeing the next stage of its work. My hon. Friend may want to take the matter up with the Chancellor at the next Treasury oral questions on
Last Sunday, 20-year-old Brad Gledhill was violently stabbed to death in Batley in my constituency. I wish to take this moment to send my condolences to the family, friends and neighbours. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child in such violent circumstances. With knife crime offences at a record high in 2019, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on knife crime? We have not had one for more than a year.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her question, which allows me to give, I hope, a better answer. I join her in sending condolences to the family.
Knife crime is a terrible evil that Members on both sides of the House are committed to eradicating. I hope I can assure the hon. Lady that tackling knife crime is one of the Government’s absolute priorities. The Government are supporting the police to tackle these crimes: the amount of funding available to the policing system for 2020-21 will increase by more than £1.1 billion, totalling £15.2 billion, and we have committed to recruit 20,000 new police officers over the next three years. Furthermore, we are introducing a new court order to give the police new stop-and-search powers in respect of anybody serving all or part of their sentence for a knife-possession offence in the community. That will increase the likelihood of such offenders being stopped and send a strong message that if they persist in carrying a knife, they will be punished and will face a custodial sentence.
I fear that what we say about what we will do in future is of remarkably little comfort to the families who are bereaved, but perhaps there is some comfort in how seriously the issue is taken and in the fact that what they have suffered will be a spur for action, not just from the Government but from the Opposition and from all across the House, to try to tackle this terrible scourge.
I was slightly surprised when the shadow Leader of the House referred to me in her opening comments; I did not know anything about that and it would have been a nice courtesy to have let me know. More importantly, people should not believe everything they read in the press. I probably wrote that sort of thing many years ago when I was a journalist.
A more important issue to my constituents is the future of a new hospital in Hemel Hempstead, an issue that I have raised in the House many times. The Prime Minister quite rightly and fantastically announced six new hospitals in the initial plan. However, my local trust, West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, has no intention of building a new hospital; it wants to refurbish an old Victorian hospital next to a football ground in Watford. May we have a debate on how we hold trusts accountable? I have tried several times with Adjournment debates and have asked the Leader of the House about this issue. Many Members of this House have said to me that they feel frustrated that they cannot hold their own local health trusts to account when things like this are going on. This is nothing to do with the frontline—it is nothing to do with the brilliant work that has been going on over years and in respect of covid; it is to do with the management of trusts and how we can hold them to account.
My right hon. Friend raises a fundamental point about how we are governed and how we hold Administrations to account. Historically, that was done through Ministers, who had direct responsibility for and authority over how things were done. However, in recent years, and indeed decades, there has been a tendency to pass things over to unaccountable bodies, and that is a matter that the House is justified in wanting to debate.
We are long overdue a statement from the Culture Secretary or perhaps even the Chancellor about what further fiscal measures will be taken to support our music venues, music festivals, recording studios, theatres and other cultural assets. When I originally raised this with the Leader of the House in March, he said:
“The Government are inevitably conscious that when we close places by order and that has an effect on people’s livelihoods, there is a societal responsibility.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 674, c. 27.]
I completely agree with that. When will we have a statement, before we suffer irreversible damage to our cultural landscape?
I reiterate the amount that has already been done: 9.1 million jobs are being protected and furloughed, at a cost of £20.8 billion to the taxpayer, and 2.6 million self-employed people are being supported, at a cost of £7.6 billion. This benefits all sectors, including the cultural sectors. We are at the stage in this programme where helping everybody is the right thing to do, because everybody is being affected by the closures. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is in discussions on how other support may be provided as things change and evolve, but I will pass on to him the hon. Gentleman’s desire for a statement.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the fact that I am a grower and farmer member of the National Farmers Union. We must have a debate in Government time on banning disposable barbecues in areas of outstanding natural beauty, upland areas such as the west Pennine moors and our national parks. As you know, Mr Speaker, an uncontrollable wildfire has burned above your constituency of Chorley and my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen, caused by a disposable barbecue. This is having a huge impact on agriculture and, most crucially, the huge conservation efforts that we are making to protect our blanket and peat bogs in the area. There is no place for open flames on our moors or in the other areas I have referred to.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point. People taking fire into areas that will be particularly damaged by wildfires are deeply irresponsible, and there are laws in place to deal with that. I think that banning all portable barbecues may be going too far. The inclination to ban things in a general way where there is a specific problem is not necessarily the right approach, but he would be wise to ask for an Adjournment debate on that issue.
The eyes of the world will turn again towards Hong Kong next week, when the
The Foreign Secretary will be in the House next Tuesday for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, so there will be an hour-long opportunity to question him. I will reiterate what the Government have said so far. Our approach to China remains clear-eyed and rooted in our values and our interests. That particularly means upholding the joint declaration, which China signed with us in good faith to protect the liberties of Hong Kong for 50 years from 1997. If the Chinese Government do not honour that commitment, there is a route map to support British nationals (overseas). Of course, more details will be brought forward depending on whether China implements its law, but the British Government strongly urge the Chinese Government to respect in good faith the joint declaration.
Following the question asked by Kevin Brennan, my right hon. Friend is aware that theatres and cultural venues are suffering greatly during the covid-19 crisis. Without support, some of our most famous theatres may have to close. Members with theatres in their constituencies will be aware that for every £1 spent in theatres, £5 is spent in the local economy. Given that my constituency is home to the west end’s theatreland, with more than 30 theatres, the impact on the local economy cannot be overstated. Will the Government bring forward a statement or debate on support for theatre owners and producers, to ensure that it is not the final curtain for our theatres?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point, and as a former leader of Westminster City Council, she knows how important it is. I am not convinced that extending the congestion charge to 10 o’clock at night will help the theatres when they do reopen. It will be a big disincentive to people coming into the centre of London to go to the theatre—typical of the socialist Mayor of London—but the Government are taking steps to help the artistic community, as we are helping the whole of the economy. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that social distancing makes staging performances exceptionally difficult for theatres and that the industry will need a different approach from other sectors. He is consulting industry, medical experts and advisers in the hope that a solution can be found, but if I may say so, the show must go on and the Government must support the show going on, as they have been with the measures that they have introduced so far.
I unusually find myself in accord with Sir Desmond Swayne in calling for a debate in Government time about how well their guidance on lifting lockdown is working. The Leader of the House referred to pubs reopening. In my constituency, they have stayed open, selling alcohol off the premises, and this has caused havoc, with people drunk, urinating and defecating in our parks, causing a huge challenge for our police and park wardens and a huge cost to the taxpayer to keep on top of it. It is time that we had a proper discussion about the practicality of many of the measures that the Government are proposing in order to ensure that they work for everybody.
I think the changes that are being made have the great virtue that they are not going to be compulsion, but they are advice. In their good wisdom, the British people can determine what they do, subject to the very clear guidance that the Government are giving. The restoration of our ancient freedoms that have never previously been so restricted is clearly the proper approach for the Government to be taking. As for a debate, the consideration of a procedural motion followed by all stages of the Business and Planning Bill will cover many of the issues that the hon. Lady is concerned about, so there will be chance to debate this on Monday.
On Saturday, I was drawn to my local cricket club. I strode to the middle, stopped at the end of my run, the wicket looked superb, and, for a few moments, I imagined the crack of ball on willow, the ripple of applause from the boundary and the occasional shouts of “Howzat!” But I was imagining it. [Interruption.] Yes, in my case, it is imaginary—they always unfairly turn me down. Up and down the country, thousands and thousands of men and women, boys and girls are desperate to play competitive cricket. England is not England without cricket. Leader of the House, would you persuade the chief umpire to stroll across from No. 10 next week and make a statement in the House that play can resume?
I think very few right hon. and hon. Members miss cricket as much as I do. All my tickets to watch various test matches over the course of the year and my visits to Taunton have had to be cancelled and, worse still, there was a chance that Somerset might win the county championship for the first time in its history—[Interruption.] Not Lancashire, Mr Speaker—it could not possibly be Lancashire. Somerset was so close, other than the points that were meanly taken off us by some unfair people.
Leaving that to one side, it is a real loss for this country that cricket is not coming back, but we have to be as safe as we possibly can be. People can play with their families, so they can get some practice in. But there is some good news: my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch pointed out to me this morning that the MCC, the Marylebone cricket club, has its first female president in its history, in the form of Clare Connor. As I think, second only to being sovereign, being president of the MCC is the highest post in the land—even, Mr Speaker, above the Speakership or the Lord presidency of the Council —may I congratulate Clare Connor warmly on behalf of the House?
And Lancashire will still win.
Last night, we saw once again unsafe bottlenecks in the corridors and behind your Chair, Mr Speaker, as Members queued to vote and then queued to leave after voting. Of course, we had a perfectly good remote voting system that had been developed and refined and was working well until the Leader of the House insisted on abandoning it. Can he tell us the cost of developing that system and the total cost of the various iterations of voting systems that have been developed in recent weeks? If he does not have the figure to hand—I would not necessarily expect him to—I am happy for him to write to me.
That is a matter for the House of Commons Commission. However, the hon. Gentleman should be proud to be back. It is wonderful that this House is back and doing its duty in getting legislation through, and that people are here and we are operating as a proper Parliament, not going for country walks while voting on serious matters affecting the lives of the British people. We should be really proud that we are back.
Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the importance of levelling up infrastructure in north Derbyshire, and, in particular, the need to build a purpose-built road between the M1 and Shirebrook so that we can unleash the economic potential of the powerhouse that is Shirebrook?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The constituents of Bolsover, and Shirebrook in particular, are incredibly fortunate to have such an assiduous and capable campaigner advancing their cause. The name of Shirebrook conjures up images of such beauty that it surprises me that anyone wants to leave it to join the motorway. None the less, I would urge him to take the matter up with the Transport Secretary at the next oral questions on
A Bank of America report in the Financial Times yesterday suggests that, post Brexit, the pound will be weak and volatile—a situation that the Leader of the House will fully recognise will only help the spivs and the speculators. Before we move to third-world currency status, will he agree to a debate in Government time on the weakness and volatility of the pound in a post-Brexit Britain?
I spent decades in the City and you could always find some silly analyst to write some silly report and the FT to report it.
Public toilets are essential facilities, particularly in rural and coastal tourist areas, but many in Cornwall are now operated by small parish councils that are struggling to fund their running, particularly in a covid-safe manner. In 2018, the former Chancellor announced that public toilets would be exempt from business rates, but the Government did not manage to find time to bring forward the legislation in the previous Parliament. Can the Leader of the House confirm that this legislation will be brought forward and give an idea of when it will be, because that would bring great relief to many?
My hon. Friend knows how to play the cistern—he is doing it extremely well—and he will soon, I hope, be flushed with success, because I can assure him that this does remain Government policy. Although business has been under considerable pressure, using up a lot of parliamentary time, and legislation has been prioritised accordingly, I hope that we will find time for a Bill in due course.
This sounds a very serious matter of which I must confess I was not previously aware. I will take it up on behalf of the hon. Lady with the Home Secretary, who will be in front of the House on
For what it is worth, I think that Essex probably has the edge and for the third time in four years will win the county championship when it gets started.
Some 700,000 people have had their hip and knee replacements cancelled as a result of covid-19. Will my right hon. Friend find time for us to have a debate in this place about how we tackle that backlog, but also in a way that keeps services as close to people as possible so that we do not have a situation that has been proposed by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust where it strips back our elective orthopaedic service in Ipswich and moves it to Colchester? This is very unpopular in Ipswich and, in my view, would be detrimental to my constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, leaving aside his jibe about Essex county cricket. I commend him for his stalwart representation of the people of Ipswich in this House. We know that fewer people are coming into the NHS when they need to. That is why the NHS has begun restoring services that were rightly suspended while we dealt with the initial impact of covid-19. It is working on the principle that the most urgent treatment should be brought back first, and this will be driven by local demands on the system. The matter in his constituency sounds like a worthy subject for an Adjournment debate to highlight it more broadly.
I feel phenomenally fortunate that I completed my cancer treatment before lockdown started, and I am delighted to hear that Tracey Crouch has been able to catch her breast cancer very early—I wish her a full recovery. Unfortunately, the situation across the country has not been great for potential cancer sufferers: I believe that 290,000 urgent referrals for suspected cancer were not sent out during this period; 1.2 million screening invites for bowel cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer have not been sent out; chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery has often been cancelled or delayed for a long time; and lots of clinical trials have been put on hold. So may we have a specific debate on cancer and coronavirus? We really need to get back on track on this. Otherwise, there will be more excess deaths from cancer than from coronavirus.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point we are all aware of. The crisis did lead to some diagnostic treatments being rescheduled, in order to protect vulnerable patients. I am very glad that he successfully completed his course of treatment, which I think is welcomed across the House. Everyone wishes him well. [Interruption.] Genuinely, however much we may disagree with him or find some of his interventions less than illuminating, we all wish him extremely good health. The problem he raises is a serious one, and the Health Secretary is aware of it. As for finding time for a specific debate, I am not sure I can promise that, but this issue is certainly worth raising in questions, and the Health Secretary has been assiduous in making statements to the House.
This week is Armed Forces Week, and I believe we have the best armed forces in the world. They have really stepped up during this pandemic to provide fantastic logistical support for our brilliant NHS. So on behalf of the people of Ashfield and Eastwood, the people in this House and the people in this great country of ours, will the Leader of the House please say a big thank you to our armed services?
King Alfred is reputed to have founded the Navy and his army defeated the Danes and kept us safe. The British Army, the British Navy and the Royal Air Force have saved our country and provided wonderful service to it, over not just decades and centuries, but more than 1,000 years. My hon. Friend is right to bring to the attention of the Chamber this important event and to make sure that the people of Ashfield are known to be backing our armed services. He is right to do so and I am grateful to him for raising this matter.
I wholeheartedly associate myself with the comments made by Lee Anderson about the armed forces, particularly this week. It is good to see questions being raised about the leasehold mis-selling scandal and to see other Members, on both sides, raise concerns about all sorts of issues that leaseholders face, particularly in major apartment blocks. May we therefore urgently have a comprehensive and full debate about the responsibilities of building developers and their liability for building defects, including in my constituency? Leaseholders are having to deal with a shabby situation. These issues often relate not just to fire safety, but to the actual construction of buildings, to water and to all sorts of other things. The situation is completely unacceptable.
I think all of us, as constituency MPs, have had constituents complain that they have bought a new house that has had defects and they have found it extremely difficult to get those defects put right and have suffered considerable inconvenience. For one constituent of mine, the defects were dangerous, because of the poor quality of work that was done. This is a real issue, because although we need to build more houses, we need to build them safely and people need to have some form of redress if mistakes are made.
My hon. Friend represents what was called Albertopolis at one point after the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the wonderful museums that are in her constituency. I refer her to what I said earlier about the Government being aware of this issue, the support that has been available for all businesses, and the Secretary of State’s knowledge that there are particular problems in certain sectors.
Will the Leader of the House allow an urgent debate on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on shielded and disabled people, and will he allow shielded MPs like myself the opportunity to participate? I need to correct him: we do not think there is a fair balance in Parliament at the moment, and we are definitely not going for country walks. We have a lot of important stuff to contribute, so please stop excluding us.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is clearly not excluded, because we have just heard from her very clearly and heard her thoughts in a very straightforward way—[Interruption.] The issue with legislation is: how do we have people appearing remotely in a debate? It is perfectly practical with interrogative proceedings, but debates and interventions are different. I believe that this is being looked into, but we have a system that is working. It is delivering the legislation that is needed. I can reassure the hon. Lady that the Government have said that shielded people will be free to return to their full activities after the end of July, so after the summer recess, people will be able to come back into this House.
In Crewe and Nantwich, we have recently had the difficult news that Bentley, a key local employer, is to make up to 1,000 redundancies. I am sure that many Members will share my concern about the potential for such job losses to hit the economy later in the year. Will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate how best the Government can prepare people who lose their job to find new skills and new opportunities in our economy?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I have a particular affection for Bentleys, as I have both a 1936 and a 1968 version, and they are the most wonderful cars. Bentley is a great company, of which the country can be very proud, and of which he, as its representative in his constituency, can be very proud. We have to try to restore our economy to full health, and there is a range of support that I have already mentioned. There is a debate this afternoon on the support being offered to UK industries during the pandemic, and it will be worth bringing up at that point how things will need to evolve and how the economy will change fundamentally because of this crisis.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the support group Excluded, which has been established to assist the 3 million self-employed people and personal services companies in the UK that have been left without any Government support during this pandemic. The Prime Minister said to me on Tuesday in this place:
“There are some people who perhaps have not got the support that they felt they needed, because of the difficulties in identifying what is appropriate and because of technical difficulties of all kinds.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 677, c. 1192.]
There are not “some people” left behind. There are 3 million construction workers, cleaners, caterers, photographers, sound engineers, architects and consultants, including many in my Angus constituency, and there is not a constituency on these islands that has not been so affected. It is not too late to put this right, so may we have a debate to establish how and when the Government can assist these people to ensure that their businesses trade into the future?
I think the debate later on will cover this subject, but I would point out how much the Government have done: 9.1 million people are in the furloughing scheme; 2.6 million self-employed people are receiving help; 2.3 million people have got on to universal credit since
Order. In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival that those participating in next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order,