The business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week. May I just say that the voting on Tuesday and Wednesday was absolutely appalling? I cannot think of anything less productive than Cabinet Ministers queueing up in the way that they had to—and all of us, for that matter; we have better things to do. Also, there is still the exclusion of hon. Members from taking part in debates on legislation. I plead with him again to return to hybrid proceedings for substantive business.
Silence—that is the sound of the Prime Minister coming to the Chamber to announce the £5 billion financial package. I had not realised that Parliament had moved to Dudley. And that is slightly less than they have announced in Germany, which is £50 billion. It would have been nice for hon. Members to be able to question the Prime Minister. Is this new money or old money? Is it money that has been previously been announced, or new money? I note that the Leader of the House has mentioned the financial statement on Wednesday. Can he tell us whether there will be a money resolution attached to that?
The Leader of the House will know that the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said on
“The government is clear—no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home…These are extraordinary times and…we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.”
Given the masses of job losses in every sector—retail, food services, aerospace, hospitality, arts and music—and with the emergency legislation coming to an end and the furlough scheme winding down, this is going to be a perfect storm and people are going to be caught up in it. The shadow Housing Secretary, my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, wants to co-operate with the Government, so could the Leader of the House ensure that she and the Secretary of State talk about bringing back emergency legislation before it runs out in August? It cannot be in the renters’ rights Bill, because that is not coming to Parliament until the end of the year. We need to help people in this situation.
The shadow Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend Alex Norris, has reminded me that the independent medicines and medical devices safety review led by the noble Baroness Cumberlege will report its findings next Wednesday. Those who have suffered from Primodos, sodium valproate and surgical mesh have campaigned for this. I pay tribute to those campaigners and to hon. and right hon. Members from across the House who have ensured that we have this review. Will the Leader of the House find time for an oral statement to allow colleagues to discuss the next steps?
The Prime Minister said yesterday that the information on testing is provided. What he did not say was that it is provided two weeks later, making it impossible for any local authority to react in time. Labour in Wales publishes both pillar 1 and pillar 2. The Leader of the House will know that pillar 2 is provided to officials only if they sign the Data Protection Act, and only within their area because it is collected commercially. What was in the contract about releasing the data immediately, and why are the Government sitting on this data? Apparently Walsall is on the list for lockdown, but officials say that they are not considering a lockdown. So can we have an urgent statement on exactly what information is available, when it is available, and to whom?
I know that the Leader of the House is comfortable in various different centuries, but I am not sure how he can sit back and watch the destruction of the civil service. They are a professional civil service, they understand the public interest, they abide by a code, they follow policy set by the Government, and they act within the law. Instead, Whitehall is threatened with a hard rain. Could the Leader of the House tell the special special adviser that Malcolm Tucker is actually a fictional character? I think he has already been done—and he is not Alastair Campbell, who is in fact a pussycat.
A national security adviser has been appointed with no proven experience. The Intelligence and Security Committee still has not been set up. As I asked last week, and as many other Members have also asked, why are the Leader of the House and the Government taking a risk with our national security?
I know the Leader of the House keeps saying to hon. Members, “Don’t forget to ask that at Question Time”, but at FCO questions on Tuesday there was nothing about Nazanin, Anousheh, Kylie, who is still a British citizen, or Luke Symons. Could we have an update, please?
After last week—I am sorry that hon. Members are having a difficult time—this week our thoughts and prayers are for Guy Opperman and Flora.
I hope that all hon. Members will think about the NHS on Sunday and thank the NHS for 72 brilliant years and many more to come.
The right hon. Lady is always so difficult to follow because she so often ends with sad news. The news from my hon. Friend Guy Opperman was the saddest. There is so little one could say that could possibly give any comfort, other than for him to know that he has many friends in this place, and our hearts bleed for him. It is the saddest, the hardest, the most unbearable news, and we wish him and his wife every condolence and sympathy that we can.
To move on to politics, let me start with the right hon. Lady’s tribute to Mark Sedwill. She is obviously right to pay tribute to him—he is an enormously distinguished public servant—and to the civil service generally. The team that supports the Leader of the House is something that—dare I say?—the shadow Leader of the House should be enormously jealous of; I have a feeling she may be. I am brilliantly supported by extremely hard-working people who do a fantastic job. I have no idea of what their political opinions are at all, but they back the Government in what the Government are trying to do. The Northcote-Trevelyan approach to the civil service is one that has served us well for a very long time, but it sometimes needs a degree of updating. Even I am not so wedded to the 19th century that I feel nothing can be improved.
The appointment of David Frost as National Security Adviser is an utterly brilliant appointment. He is an enormously qualified man and a very distinguished diplomat, and many people are beginning to say that he is the Henry Kissinger of our time. He is a great and distinguished public servant, who will serve enormously well.
The hon. Gentleman is quite incapable of keeping quiet, even for a moment. His agitation and his degree of excitement may be slightly theatrical on this occasion.
On the ISC, as always, that will be set up in due course. It would be wrong to be “Russian” these things—[Laughter]—as I am sure Valerie Vaz appreciates. [Interruption.] No, it was not, actually; it was quite deliberate.
On the Cumberlege review, I actually gave evidence to that review in relation to Primodos. This is an opportunity for me to pay the greatest tribute to Yasmin Qureshi, who has campaigned absolutely tirelessly. I first met the hon. Lady when we were both elected in 2010 and had offices opposite each other, and she took up this issue when nobody else was really interested. She has transformed people’s thinking about it, and I look forward with great interest to what Baroness Cumberlege has to say about Primodos. It is a very important issue.
Going back to some of the other questions, the right hon. Member for Walsall South is a kind and generous person, and her sympathy for Cabinet Ministers having to queue is much appreciated by my right hon. Friends, who have to take on these onerous things which are otherwise unknown across the country. Our constituents never have to queue for anything because life is so smooth and easy, but she appreciates that right hon. Ladies and Gentlemen having to queue is so burdensome and tough, and makes us realise that we are really earning our living as we stand in a queue. Remarkably, it takes almost exactly the same time to pass through the Division Lobbies as it does when we are using the Lobbies without social distancing. The speed with which we got through them earlier this week was pretty much the normal speed and therefore things are working: Government business is getting through and scrutiny is taking place. I am not as kindly or as soft-hearted as the right hon. Lady, and I think a Cabinet Minister queuing for a few minutes is no bad thing, and probably spiritually enlightening and uplifting.
The right hon. Lady referred to renters who have lost income. Emergency provisions were made: £1 billion has been made available to help people who are renting. The Government are very conscious of the need to protect people who are in the private rented sector.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Prime Minister not making a speech in the House, but making it outside the House. However, the Prime Minister came to the House just a week before and made a statement. We are having a statement on Wednesday next week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government have been assiduous in maintaining the ministerial code’s requirement to make major announcements to the House first, and this is part of the natural process of government.
A lot has changed since plans were first put forward for Parliament’s restoration and renewal, and it is appropriate for the newly formed sponsor body now to review those plans. May we have a debate on the plans before the recess as a means for all hon. and right hon Members to take part fully in that process?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking responsibility by joining the board. He is right that this House ought to have an opportunity to have its say on the future of the Palace of Westminster, which it is right to protect and safeguard for future generations. When the last Parliament considered this matter, it did so on the basis of assumptions that are now five years old, and it is absolutely proper that the sponsor body and delivery authority are conducting a strategic review to reconsider their approach. I would urge Members to consider submitting evidence to the review, and to be mindful that the price tags widely reported are also now five years old. There are rumours that the potential costs now far exceed the £4 billion estimate made in 2015. We must be clear that when Parliament takes its final decision on how to proceed, there can be no blank cheque for this work. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 specifically requires the sponsor body to have regard to value for money.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor understands that we are still in the middle of this pandemic, and that before considering recovery after covid, we should ensure the survival of as many companies and jobs as possible? The Government will reduce payroll support to firms from
The Prime Minister’s package contains not a single penny extra for Scotland, so I must ask again when we can debate the necessary changes to the fiscal framework of devolution. When I asked about that before, the Leader of the House simply referred to the sums that the Scottish Government are spending under the Barnett formula. It is as if Scotland’s getting its share of UK spending is the result of Westminster generosity, rather than the return of taxes that people in Scotland pay to the United Kingdom. The question is not about amounts; it is about powers, and about changing the rules so that, for instance, the Scottish Government can do exactly what the PM is proposing for England, and bring forward future capital spending. Will the Leader of the House please answer that question about rules?
I appreciate that the Government are led by someone who thinks that the border does not exist, and who does not even recognise that the term “Scottish Government” was introduced in section 12(1) of the Scotland Act 2012. Grasping the subtleties of devolution may be difficult for him, but the problem of Scotland’s financial straitjacket will not go away, and we need to discuss it.
What a pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman looking as cheerful as ever. With his fine smile, he always manages to brighten up the whole House. He mentions borders, and I note that Nicola Sturgeon wishes to have a wall between England and Scotland—perhaps she is modelling herself on other leading political figures. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, there is no border between England and Scotland, and it was shameful to call for a border of that type to be erected to stop people travelling freely between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. One never thought that Nicola Sturgeon would model herself on American political figures and want to build a wall—at least a metaphorical wall, if not actually like Hadrian, with bricks and mortar.
We will hear the Chancellor’s proposals for recovery on Wednesday, but the Government have already been enormously ambitious with the scale of the furlough scheme: 9.3 million people, as well as 2.6 million self-employed people, have benefited and are being kept in employment. That is crucial, but it has to be phased, and we must move into the recovery stage. The hon. Gentleman wants to stay unreconstructed, and not to take advantage of things changing and opening up so that we get an economic recovery. That is what the Chancellor is doing, and I refer to the enormous amount of money that goes to all parts of the United Kingdom, because we are a single United Kingdom. The £3.8 billion that has gone to Scotland is because the UK is better together.
My constituency seems to be largely ignored by the Welsh Government. We receive one of the lowest local government allocations in Wales, and we are bottom of the league table for things such as NHS dentistry and broadband speeds. That was before covid-19 hit. The UK Government have made an unprecedented amount of financial support available, but I am deeply worried about how rural areas such as mine will recover. Like me, the Leader of the House represents a rural constituency, so may we have a debate on rural recovery, and how rural areas such as mine will recover from covid-19?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She represents a particularly beautiful constituency, which, through its beauty, suffers from the difficulties that rural economies have. Many other Members with rural constituencies appreciate that and the great contribution that rural areas make to our national life. They are home to a quarter of the country’s businesses. The Government are committed to helping them get back on their feet as a matter of priority. Some of the measures already taken have benefited rural businesses, such as furloughing, the small business grant fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund. Some 244,000 grants, with a value of £2.8 billion, have been delivered to vulnerable rural businesses, and £5 billion of public funding has been announced to support the roll-out of gigabit broadband in the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country. That will be fundamental to rural economies, because it brings them into not just the national but the global economy.
Let us head to Gateshead and a very happy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, following last night’s result.
On a much more serious note, I want to express my sincerest condolences and deepest sympathy to Guy Opperman and his wife Flora for their devastating loss. It is so deeply sad. Guy is a near neighbour of mine in constituency terms, and we are all deeply sad for him.
We have a queue of over 20 Backbench Business debates that are currently untabled and unheard, with a number of widely supported debate applications on subjects such as support for the tourism industry after covid-19; the future of and redundancies in the aviation sector; the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with a focus on the arts; and shorter, geographically focused debates on important subjects such as the west bank, Yemen, Sudan and the plight of the Rohingya—many of those debates might fit nicely into any end-of-day 90-minute slots that become available. Will the Leader of the House think about a way that he could shoehorn in time for Backbench debates?
I have raised the issue of information flow to public health bodies with the Leader of the House previously. It seems that the covid-19 testing contract with Deloitte does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England or relevant local authorities. Is the contract not therefore contrary to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010? That is not a partisan point, but a crucial point to the safety of the public we serve.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, in the current circumstances, there have not been as many Backbench Business debates as there would otherwise have been. Westminster Hall, where a number of the debates would normally be held, is not an operation, for good reason. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The reason is to do with staffing of the House. It is not to do with the Government’s reluctance to be held to account. It is a question of ensuring that there are sufficient Committee Rooms with social distancing that can be used to make sure that Government business can make its progress in the normal way. Westminster Hall was removed before Easter and has not been back. Obviously, there is a desire to bring it back, which will provide more time for Backbench Business debates.
The Floor of the House is being used to catch up with the backlog of business, which is going well. I am glad to say that the supply days next week are being used to debate subjects recommended by the Backbench Business Committee, so that is effectively Backbench Business. We tried, before the Backbench Business Committee was established, to provide Government time for debates that were requested by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his about-to-be-formed Committee. With regard to Deloitte and contracts, that is a detailed, technical question which I think is best referred to the Department of Health and Social Care.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, has heard from many constituents over the last few weeks about the need to preserve monuments and statutes around the country. I know that constituents also want us to protect the historical buildings we have across the United Kingdom. I was concerned to see on social media earlier this week that masonry was reported to be falling from this building. Can the Leader of the House update us on plans to ensure that this remains a safe workplace and that it is restored for future generations?
I completely endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. We should be enormously proud of the great figures of our history. I am tempted to run through some of them, but we will get more people in if I do not start—I would begin with Alfred the Great, as usual. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of the closure of the St Stephens and Cromwell Green entrances on
Last week, we had a covid outbreak in Cleckheaton, in my constituency, and this week we have a covid outbreak in a bed manufacturer in Batley. We know from the Government that companies can now re-furlough staff, but my colleague the shadow Economic Secretary asked in yesterday’s Finance Bill debate whether companies that re-furlough staff are going to have to start paying contributions and, unfortunately, received no answer. So may we have a statement from the Government that will give us more clarity, so that we can encourage companies that have an outbreak to work with councils and not offset economic downturn for the business against health implications for our wider community?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. The Government have given unprecedented support to businesses. Obviously, questions arise in relation to areas that have had localised shutdowns and what the considerations around that will be. The good news is that the Chancellor will be here to make a statement on Wednesday, which will be the right point at which to ask these detailed questions.
May I echo the request for the Leader of the House to reconsider on shielded Members such as myself being able to participate in debates,? If he did so, I would be able to participate in a debate I would like to see on education, which would allow us to pay tribute to those teachers who have valiantly been providing lessons throughout the lockdown period, either remotely or where the schools have remained open. Perhaps that would also give us the opportunity to look at the exam timetable and get some certainty for parents and children, particularly in Buckinghamshire, as to whether the 11-plus exams will be held in October. Of course, I cannot take part in that debate unless he reconsiders the position of shielded Members such as myself.
My right hon. Friend has already managed to make the point that she might have made in the debate, so I am glad to say that our hybrid procedures facilitate the involvement of all Members. On debates more generally, I know that the Procedure Committee is looking at that question. The issue is: how do we allow debates to run properly and in a free-flowing way, with interventions and so on, with people who are not present? We await with interest what the Procedure Committee has to say. I know that there are tremendous grammar schools in her constituency, and this country has been very well served by grammar schools over the years, decades and centuries. The Government are working with the sector to provide guidance, and I hope she will join me in welcoming the Education Secretary’s statement later today on further measures on the autumn opening of education settings.
Two weeks ago, I held a virtual meeting with constituents working in the creative sector, many of whom have fallen through the cracks of Government support systems. The cultural and creative sector is a huge part of our cultural identity, in the north-east and across the country, so may we have a debate in Government time on a strategy for supporting the cultural and creative industries, and on their future, both in the north-east and across the UK?
This is a very important point, and I know that many Members are concerned about it. The Government recognise the huge contribution the arts and culture sector makes, not only to the economy and the international reputation of the United Kingdom, but to the wellbeing and enrichment of the British people. The general package of support has been unprecedented, but in addition to that, the sector has drawn down £653 million from the job retention scheme, and Arts Council England announced a £160 million emergency response package. But that does not answer the reopening question, and the Government want to support our vital cultural sectors to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts to return to rehearsal and performance safely will be published in due course. These matters are worthy of debate during the general economic debate next week, but the Government are very much on the same side as the hon. Lady.
Since the weekend, the parish of Nursling and Rownhams has seen acts of vandalism and revoltingly, as one of my constituents emailed me this morning, defecation in public places. That will cost the parish council thousands and thousands of pounds for the clean-up, which is absolutely essential not only to replace security fencing around the recreation ground, but to make sure it is safe for children and families to use in future. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for a debate on whether trespass should be a criminal rather than a civil offence?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point—that type of trespass is absolutely revolting. The commitment to make trespass a criminal offence was in the 2019 manifesto, and the Government intend to deliver on that particular commitment. I understand the Home Office has recently concluded a consultation on this matter, and the Government will publish a response in due course. That will give Members the opportunity to discuss this issue in greater depth, but the Government are on the same side as my right hon. Friend.
Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group shows that women will be disproportionately affected by the ending of the furlough scheme later this year, and that the half-heated plan that the Prime Minister announced earlier this week did nothing to address the disproportionate impact on sectors that often employ more women. I am aware there will be a statement next week and a debate. Will the Leader find time for a specific debate on the need for more support from the Government for those sectors that will not be looked after and supported following the Prime Minister’s statement? It is not fair on the women of this country and it is time that Ministers stepped up to offer that support.
What we need is an overall economic recovery. The number of women in employment in this country has been at record levels as a percentage and as the actual number. If we both protect the economy, which the emergency package has done, and manage to achieve a recovery that comes sooner rather than later—which the chief economist, the very distinguished figure of Andy Haldane, has said now looks likely—it will help everybody in the economy and will protect the people that the hon. Gentleman is most concerned about.
I notice that the Solicitor General has recently had some good results in court by increasing sentences in very serious cases. That is good news for my constituents in Ashfield who wholeheartedly approve of those increased sentences for some of the worst criminals in society. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in this Chamber to highlight some of those cases and the increased sentences passed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for the tribute he paid to the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, who work extremely hard to ensure that just sentences are passed. I seem to remember—others may correct me—that the law that allowed that to happen was introduced when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, so it is another Conservative success. My hon. Friend is right to highlight it and raise it in the House: perhaps he should ask for an Adjournment debate to discuss specific cases where the punishment is fitting the crime.
It is very clear now that if the easing of the lockdown is to be effective in tackling coronavirus, it will happen at different paces in the different nations of the United Kingdom but also in different parts within those nations. We see the situation in Leicester, and there may be others—who knows—and we know that some sectors will be affected for longer than others. The Leader of the House rightly said that where the state says a business cannot operate, the state should step in to provide financial assistance. I heard what he said to my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin, but I do not understand whether the statement from the Chancellor next Wednesday will be just a 10-minute statement with questions for perhaps an hour—in that case, I urge him to make it more like three hours—or one with a proper series of debates so that we can get into the nitty-gritty. By the way, can I still have my £2.5 million for the tip in Tylorstown?
May I help a little? It will be a minimum 20 minutes from the Chancellor, and it will be run long, with many more questions than normal.
Schools in the Borough of Barnet are among the best in the country, and I pay tribute to all the teachers who have been doing brilliant work in difficult circumstances during this emergency. Can we have a debate on the return of children to school in September to ensure that Ministers are engaging with teachers and unions such as the National Education Union so that we have a clear plan to bring children back to the classroom safely?
My right hon. Friend raises one of the crucial points of current political debate. It is important to emphasise that going back to school for children is safe. I think we are still waiting for the Opposition to make it clear that they agree it is safe, though perhaps they will eventually get to saying that clearly, boldly and loudly. The Government strongly encourage eligible children to attend their school, nursery or college unless they are self-isolating or clinically vulnerable. It is very disadvantageous for children to miss out on education, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged to start with, so getting children back to school is a matter of urgency. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will make a statement following this, where he will be able to provide more details on our plans for schools in September.
People in Luton are rightly proud to welcome leading businesses such as easyJet and Vauxhall, but 4,500 easyJet staff face losing their jobs and Vauxhall PSA needs reassurances now on recovery from the pandemic and on the threat of walking away with no deal. If the Government are serious about saving jobs in Luton and other airport towns, there should already be a plan in place. Does the Leader of the House know if the Government even have one? Will he make time for them to present detailed plans to save both aviation and manufacturing jobs?
The Government have made enormous steps to protect jobs with more than £124 billion of support from taxpayers’ money, which I will reiterate just in case the hon. Lady was not listening earlier. The job retention scheme is supporting 9.3 million jobs at a cost of £25.5 billion, and 2.6 million self-employed people are being supported at a cost of £7.7 billion. There have been 52,000 loans through the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises at a cost of £11 billion. There have been 359 loans for larger companies at a cost of £2.3 billion. There have been more than 960,000 bounce-back loans, worth over £29.5 billion, plus £10.57 billion for business grants for 861,000 firms. What the Government have done is to ensure that the economy lasts through the crisis so it may recover when the crisis ends. That has been the right thing to do.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the courage and bravery of the staff who work within this House who, during covid-19, carried on the traditions of this House despite that risk? I pay special tribute to the Doorkeepers, the Serjeant at Arms and his team. Even when we did not know what the outcome would be, they were here, bravely carrying on. We would not have had the House of Commons and its traditions without them. I also pay tribute to your team, Mr Speaker, of Helen, Ian and Jim, to the catering, security and Estate managers, and to the Norman Shaw North team. I also pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for carrying on. Thank you. I say thank you on behalf of all Members.
My hon. Friend is so right, and it is a bit sorrowful, isn’t it, that Chris Bryant titters when we are thanking people who have done their duty? I agree with my hon. Friend that the commitment to this House and to Parliament of the Doorkeepers, the caterers, the cleaners and, Mr Speaker, your team, is quite remarkable. May I be indiscreet? I asked a senior member of your team yesterday—and this will give the game away—whether she was pleased to be back, and she said:
“How could you be away from doing something that is so important?”
Being in Parliament is fundamental to the governance of the nation and people have made sacrifices to be here, and, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I am grateful.
The Environment Bill was delayed because we had an election and we need to restart it again. It has now been delayed because of covid, and has been put back until September or perhaps even later. I am sure that we would all agree that the world has changed in those six months, particularly around covid and the relation to air quality where we now know that a 1 microgram increase in air pollution increases covid deaths by 15%. Will the Leader of the House speak with his colleagues and see whether we can organise additional evidence sessions before the Committee starts its line-by-line scrutiny again, so that we can take the additional evidence about covid and air quality and other areas around the environment, so that we ensure that the law is right and that it reflects the world in which we now live?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have been delays in the progress of legislation, though we are getting back on track, and we have lots of Bill Committees now up and running and that makes it possible to work through. The question he raises is an interesting one, because the longer a Committee takes evidence for, the more it is delayed. We have to balance the need to get legislation passed in a timely way with evidence. In some ways, Select Committees are better placed to take evidence over longer periods. If the Bill Committee were to take evidence it might merely delay the process further.
I am delighted that Meir station in my constituency is one of the 10 successful projects moving forward as part of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate in Government time about reopening rail stations and lines to help aid the recovery of our economy from coronavirus?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is a wonderful Flanders and Swann song about the old railway stations that were closed by Beeching, and it includes, of course, Midsomer Norton in my own constituency. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituency—[Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says, “Sing it”. I think I had better not. Meir station is one of those that will benefit from the Government’s determination to improve infrastructure around the country. The Restoring Your Railways Fund idea is about levelling up and improving connections between communities. It is inspired by communities affected by the Beeching cuts, but not limited to Beeching line restoration. If we can improve a service and provide a solution to a transport problem that involves levelling up the economy, that is exactly the kind of proposal that the ideas fund is interested in.
May I begin by wishing the hon. Gentleman a swift recovery, and I am sorry to hear that he is suffering from these debilitating after-effects of covid-19. The Health Secretary makes regular appearances at the House, and I am sure it would be suitable to raise this question with him, and I am sure it is among many other things that are being looked into as people learn more about this disease.
Can we please have a debate about local government restructuring? In Somerset, the county council has unfortunately been far too busy looking for unitary instead of attacking covid-19. Believe it or not, it is now trying to persuade the Government to let it become a huge new unitary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timing of this bid is at least insensitive and that the future of our other two struggling unitary councils in Somerset must be included in any future reviews of Government restructuring in Somerset?
My hon. Friend tempts me when he asks for a debate on Somerset. Dare I say that I feel that all parliamentary time could well be devoted to discussing the virtues, joys and successes of our great county, which has been a county since antiquity. I think that the county of Somerset was formed in about the eighth century; it was certainly a very important county in the time of Alfred the Great, so debating it is something that is close to my heart. My hon. Friend raises an important point about local government reorganisation, of which the Secretary of State is well aware, as my hon. Friend and I both know.
If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition believe that there is no border between England and Scotland, perhaps we can have a debate on the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, which took 6,000 square miles of fisheries territory from Scottish jurisdiction and moved it to English jurisdiction just before devolution began. If there are no borders in the United Kingdom, I think that might be a surprise to the people of Leicester, who have discovered that they have to respect internal boundaries pretty strictly. I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us when the powers to deal with the financial implications of enforcing these measures are going to be provided to the relevant authorities throughout the United Kingdom. In particular, what would happen if there were a spike or an outbreak in the City of Westminster? What implications would a lockdown here have on the operation of this place?
I never realised that our separatist friends would model themselves on an Ealing comedy. It seems to have become “Passport to Pimlico”. There are no internal borders in the United Kingdom; it is one country, I am glad to say. [Interruption.] There is a difference between borders, and districts and areas. That is self-evident. A border is something that one may stop people crossing. Even I am not suggesting that we make people from Gloucestershire present their passports before coming into Somerset.
As the hon. Member for Rhondda will remember, in the film “Passport to Pimlico” Pimlico was thought to have belonged to the Duke of Burgundy or some such, and therefore had become an independent state within the United Kingdom. Our separatist friend wants to do the same by insisting on passports to Scotland, and Mrs Sturgeon wishes to build a wall. [Interruption.] Unfortunately Mrs Sturgeon’s policy is not fictional. Many of us wish that it were and that the separatists were a bit more fictional, but they are not. They are here and they bang on about it constantly, but we are still one country and Scotland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see early-day motion 675, which is sponsored by me, my hon. Friend Mrs Grant and other hon. and right hon. Friends, and which is attracting all-party support? It calls for the Government to include in their general review of equality issues an assessment of whether to set up a national museum of black, Asian and minority ethnic history and culture, somewhat similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Could we have a debate in Government time to set out the benefits of such a decision? [That this House recognises the important role played by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC since it opened its doors to the public on
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for highlighting his early-day motion to me in advance. He raises an interesting and important subject that is worthy of fuller debate. I am afraid that I am going to have to refer him to the Backbench Business Committee, when that is back up and running. With so much cross-party support, as he indicates, that may well be a topic that the Committee will smile favourably on in terms of granting a debate when there is more time available to it.
May I first send my sincere condolences to Guy Opperman and his wife? I can only imagine what they are going through.
Oldham Council has estimated an in-year deficit of over £19 million as a result of covid spending to support our communities and businesses, as well as a loss of income. Across Greater Manchester, this deficit is £368 million. Will the Leader of the House ensure that this issue is conveyed to the Chancellor, and that he does whatever it takes to address the needs of all local authorities and the communities they serve in next week’s financial statement?
The Government are well aware of the difficulties that councils have faced up and down the country, and each individual council has suffered in particular ways, depending on the structure of its financing. That is why £3.2 billion of extra funding has been made available to support councils, in addition to a £900 million fund for what are referred to as shovel-ready local infrastructure projects to ensure that they can take place, plus £600 million for infection control. There will be a debate on Wednesday where those issues can be raised and the Chancellor can be questioned on them to ensure that all that can be done, is being done. The Government’s record so far is very good.
Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing to improve the treatment of domestic abuse victims through the court system in the UK and to end stalking? My constituent Charlotte Budd suffered unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable trauma both as a victim of stalking and through her experience in the family court system. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Office what steps are being taken to ensure that the correct guidance and education is in place for members of our judiciary when dealing with domestic abuse cases, such as that of my constituent?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that deeply troubling matter in the House, particularly with reference to his constituent. The constituents of Harlow are lucky to have him as such a champion fighting their causes and taking up their grievances. Tackling domestic abuse is one of the Government’s highest priorities. I know that he will welcome the rapid progress of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament in recent weeks.
As Ministers in the Ministry of Justice recently confirmed, the Government are making progress to support victims of domestic abuse in the courts. The Department is overhauling the family courts following an expert-led review into how they handle domestic abuse that raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.
Furthermore, new stalking protection orders will allow courts in England and Wales to move faster to ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their homes or places of work or study. That will grant victims more time to recover from their ordeal. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to campaign on the issue, but I hope he feels reassured that the Government are making every effort to support victims of those terrible crimes.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for valproate and other anti-epileptic drugs in pregnancy, I take a huge interest in the Cumberlege review, which will be published on Wednesday. Members on both sides of the House have campaigned on sodium valproate, surgical mesh and Primodos for many years. Can the Leader of the House reassure us that, on Wednesday, we will receive an oral statement on the Floor of the House? The outcome of the review will have huge implications for many victims who have suffered for far too long.
As I said earlier, the Cumberlege review will be extremely important. I already mentioned the efforts of Yasmin Qureshi in that regard. I am looking forward to the review, because I actually gave evidence to the committee. Wednesday may not be the best day for a statement, because there will be the financial statement and debate afterwards, but I hear what the hon. Lady has said in regard to the interest in the House on the issue.
As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on small and micro businesses and in west Oxfordshire, I have seen the challenges that small businesses are facing and the extraordinary efforts and imagination that they are using to continue trading as we build from covid. Can we have a debate in Government time to share best practice and consider what they need, as we build back better and reignite the economy after this terrible crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that small businesses are the heart of the economy. They are the engine and the creators of new jobs. The Government have done a lot to support small businesses during the pandemic, beyond the furlough scheme, as I have outlined before. We do now need to think about how we move to the future and get the economy going again. The Prime Minister made an excellent speech on Tuesday and we will get more information from the Chancellor next week. My hon Friend is right to champion small businesses.
The BBC has been reporting all morning that it has been told by Government sources that there will be an announcement today or before the end of the week of the list of countries to which air bridges will be established. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that announcement, when it is made, is made here first.
In fact, that announcement could be made by the Prime Minister, who could then explain his views on the fact that his father has apparently jetted off to Greece in defiance of the guidance. It may be—I do not know—that he needed an eye test or something like that, but we would all welcome an explanation.
I seem to remember that it says somewhere in the Bible that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons, but I do not remember it ever being the other way around, so I think the right hon. Gentleman is fishing desperately to try to make any criticism of the Prime Minister in that regard. As regards the countries that we may or may not have on a list, information is given to Parliament when Parliament is sitting. Parliament will not be sitting tomorrow, so I cannot promise that there will be a statement if the information comes out at a time when the House is not sitting.
Slightly more than half my constituents live in Oadby and Wigston so are included in the Leicester lockdown area. I support the lockdown because it is essential to stop this killer virus in its tracks, but there are lots of things that we need to make it successful. For example, we need urgent publication of timely data for lower-tier local authorities, and while the extra money for our local authorities is very welcome, if the lockdown goes on for longer than the two weeks that are planned, more may be needed, so can we have an urgent debate on how we make local lockdowns work well?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care made a statement on Monday and was questioned at length on this, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was questioned about it yesterday, so I think the Government are doing everything they can to provide information to keep people fully informed and are working very closely with local authorities to help them through this difficult period.
One year and four days ago, the Government’s call for evidence about violence and abuse targeted at shop workers closed, and in that one year and four days we have heard absolutely nothing from the Government. However, during that time there have been 153,000 incidents of violence and abuse against our shop workers, who have done so much for us during this challenging period. Can I have a commitment from the Leader of the House that that call for evidence will be published immediately and that we will get an oral statement and have a debate in Government time on the matter?
Criminal activity is always wrong, and the police need to have the resources to enforce the law. Therefore, I can give the hon. Gentleman the good news that of the commitment to employ 20,000 more police officers we now have achieved 3,005 of them, so the numbers are going up. This is about enforcing the law as it exists and we could not have a more doughty champion of law and order than my right hon Friend the Home Secretary.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible to have an early debate on the importance of regulatory impact assessments in public policy making? As he knows, social distancing rules have a different impact in different sectors of the economy and on different activities, and we would be able to get a lot more consistency in Government advice on this if we had regulatory impact assessments, which seem to have been ignored, not least in relation to social-distancing rules in this House.
The problem is that if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown. We have to move at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner, and I am a bit surprised that my hon. Friend is calling for bureaucratic folderol, rather than getting on with things—this is out of character for him. We need to do things properly and one sector or another will do it differently, but, as the opening up takes place, people must to some extent use their own wisdom to work out what they have to do.
Following on from last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the need for a statement from the Culture Secretary about the reopening of venues, or support if they cannot be reopened, and today we have seen the launch of the “Let The Music Play” campaign by UK Music, the Music Venues Trust and so on in order to get more support from the Government. All we have had from the Culture Secretary is a road map, and I am afraid a road map will get you nowhere when you are running on empty. Next week, let us have that statement from the Chancellor and let us have substantial, not just minor, support to make sure that we do not lose this important part of our cultural landscape.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier, because I gave some detail on this, but the Chancellor’s statement will be a further opportunity to raise this issue.
The Prime Minister’s comments about newt counting earlier this week suggest that he is prepared to let developers ride roughshod over environmental concerns, so can the Leader of the House offer me some reassurance that this is not the case? If the Environment Bill is not due to come back into Committee until September, which I understand is the case, how on earth is the Bill going to get through both Houses to enable the Office for Environmental Protection to be established in Bristol before we end the transition period? Will there not be a regulatory gap as far as environmental protections are concerned?
It is usually afternoon when the House sits. Carry on!
Gussie Fink-Nottle is indeed fictional, and he was not really arrested in the fountains in Trafalgar Square when he thought that there were newts there after boat race night. It is important both that we protect the environment and ensure that building takes place. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was saying was that it is a question of doing this in a timely manner and not allowing research on newts to be a delay to projects. That does not mean that research does not need to take place. It merely means that it must not be an excuse for delay and preventing things that ought to happen from happening.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on Gizmo’s Legacy, founded by my constituent Helena Abrahams? Gizmo’s Legacy has developed into a national campaign calling on local authorities to scan microchips in cats if they are found deceased, as they would do with dogs. This would allow much loved pets to be reunited with their owners.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I commend the work of Gizmo’s Legacy and its national campaign. The Government have said that they will bring forward cat microchipping in England, and we will publish the summary of responses to our call for evidence on this subject in due course. This is a worthy subject for an Adjournment debate under the right concatenation of circumstances, and I hope he will avoid catastrophic issues occurring.
May we have an urgent debate on the aviation sector? First, we need to discuss air bridges, and the sooner we get them the better. Secondly, we need to discuss BA’s treatment of its staff, which is a disgrace. Thirdly, we need to look at the whole sector and the support available, particularly for those in engineering who are going to suffer. I notice that the French Government have supported their sector.
In general terms, I would reiterate the points I have made about the support that the Government have provided for all industries. My hon. Friend is not alone in having constituents who have been poorly treated by British Airways; I have one myself. Treating people who have worked for a firm for very long time unfairly is not a way that reputable companies should behave, and bringing this to the attention of the House is therefore the proper thing to do. I would suggest that most of what he is asking for can be brought up in the economic debate next week.
On Saturday, pubs and restaurants will reopen, and that is welcome, but if they are to remain safe, the number of customers will be far lower than usual and the need for Government support has simply not gone away. For other businesses that bring life and soul, and revenue and jobs, to Nottingham, including the Arena and numerous live music venues, nightclubs and theatres, the recovery stage that the Leader of the House referred to earlier is nowhere in sight. When will we hear from the Government on action to save our cultural sector, and when can we have a proper debate on this? Surely this is too important to be relegated to a footnote in a general economic debate.
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave earlier on the cultural sector, which is of great importance. I welcome her good cheer about the pubs opening on Saturday. Last week, I suggested that people use a yard of ale to measure their social distancing, and I am glad to say that I have had a yard glass delivered. I am looking forward to visiting the Crown in West Harptree on Saturday to see whether I can get in the two and a half pints that I believe a yard of ale contains. Whether I then drink the same is another question.
You will be timed!
My right hon. Friend’s downing-in-one of a yard of ale is a very good idea, and I am happy to try to match him. Could he consider more time for Backbench debates, not least so that we can discuss the fine merits of Somerset and perhaps Devon as well, but also so that we can discuss the UK’s role in tackling gender-based violence and ending the silence that so many suffer?
It is important that we get back to having the more general debates that my hon. Friend calls for. We have in the Standing Orders the number of debates that we must provide in this Session, and we will work with Ian Mearns to ensure that the Backbench Business Committee can schedule its debates when things are more back to normal. I commend my hon. Friend for his campaign on gender-based violence, which is important for us to highlight and to try to eradicate.
Many people are rightly concerned about the implications of the Leicester lockdown and quarantine and how any future outbreaks might be handled. They are concerned about travel to, from and within that fine city, the health of individuals there and how the outbreak might affect others. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on what powers there are for travel and other restrictions to be imposed on specific areas and the people from those areas? In particular, we need to know what powers some parts of the UK have to protect themselves against the virus being imported.
The import of the virus is an issue that the Government have tackled with the quarantine, which has been an important step in trying to deal with that. Certain powers are available, but most of what is being done is relying on people to use their good sense. The British people should be very proud of the way they have coped with the crisis. They have not needed to be harried and arrested as they went about their business— they had the sense to decide to stay at home and follow guidance, which is a much better way to proceed in a free country.
We have the runway cleared for Bob Blackman to land his final question.
I warmly welcome the comments from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on offering support to the citizens of Hong Kong, but the existential threat from China still exists. It threatens Taiwan. It has military involvement in Sri Lanka. It attacked Indian soldiers in Ladakh—in Indian territory—and it is setting up atolls across the ocean and then claiming territorial waters. Can my right hon Friend arrange for a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what further work we will do to combat this threat from China and what we can do in the UK to ensure that the citizens of Hong Kong are protected?
The Foreign Secretary made a statement on that issue yesterday, but my hon. Friend is right: we must stand up for British citizens. As always, we should quote Palmerston, who said:
“as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum;
so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.”
British nationals overseas are British nationals. The Government are right to protect Her Majesty’s subjects wherever they happen to be, and not, in the Foreign Secretary’s words, to “kowtow” to foreign powers, however powerful they think they are.
In order to allow the safe exit of Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.