Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:11 am on 24th September 2020.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:11 am, 24th September 2020

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right: we should of course have a cup of coffee tomorrow to help Macmillan, which I know is trying to raise a larger amount of money than it raised last year. My coffee of choice is Alta Rica, which I strongly recommend to anybody who enjoys a nice cup of instant coffee. People may also want to have a cake with it.

May I also join the right hon. Lady in her condolences to the families of Sir Harry Evans and Sir Terence Conran? Sir Harry Evans was my father’s opposite number at The Sunday Times for 14 years, while my father was editing The Times. My father thought of him as one of the finest editors of his generation and his campaigns were really very remarkable; he made The Sunday Times a truly great newspaper.

Coming to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, there will be opportunities to raise issues with the Foreign Secretary in coming weeks. I always pass on to the Foreign Office issues raised by the right hon. Lady. I note her particular inquiry about the diplomatic question for Anousheh Ashouri, and I will take that up specifically to try to get her a direct answer on that.

The right hon. Lady says that responses from officials are not satisfactory. I thought this might come up. It reminds me that when I was at school, if something was handed in that was unsatisfactory, it was given back by the schoolmaster with a little tear at the top of the paper and it was asked that it be redone. I would suggest that if Members have responses from officials that they think are unsatisfactory, they do exactly that and send it back to the Ministry asking for a new response. Responses are expected from Ministers. It was known as a rip. So if you want to let rip, send these letters back, because it is deeply unsatisfactory and has been coming up more and more often at question time.

On unfairness in child maintenance, as a constituency MP I deeply sympathise with this. I have found the various guises of the child maintenance organisations to be one of the hardest issues to deal with on behalf of my constituents. We need to continue to bring to the attention of Ministers the fact that these organisations ought to provide a better service for families. As the right hon Lady mentions, it is desperately unfair when somebody has done the right thing, has made all the payments, and then finds that a further claim is made, usually because of administrative inefficiency.

That is, I am afraid, where the agreement comes to a sad end. Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box with great regularity and have made statement after statement. They have brought things to the House. The Prime Minister has been here. The Chancellor will be here very shortly. The Health Secretary has been here. The Foreign Secretary will be here shortly. The House has been kept up to date. Baroness Hale has now, of course, retired from the Supreme Court, and is as entitled to her opinions as any other Member of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] Of course the noble Lady is, and she can make speeches in the House of Lords that I am sure people will pay great attention to and be interested in. However, I think she is out of date as to what is going on in this House and the level of scrutiny that we have—indeed, that we are having next week, with the general debate on covid-19 but also the debate on the six-month extension of the regulations if that is what the House wishes to do. It will be a decision of this House, as the legislation was in the first place. The idea that the House is not doing its job is absurd. There is regular scrutiny and regular debate, and quite rightly so.

On the question of statutory instruments being made, the point at which they are laid and subject to subsequent debate is a form of this House—a form that this House has used for many years to ensure that swift action can be taken where necessary. The debates that are required will be held. Statutory instruments that are made on that basis have to be approved by the House; otherwise they fall if the House were not to approve them. That is very important.

I note what the right hon. Lady says about BEIS and the Select Committee. The House does have the power to call for persons and papers. That is a power delegated to Select Committees, which can of course use various methods to increase pressure on people to come. I will take up with the Secretary of State the specific issue she raised, but there are sometimes good reasons why officials cannot be present at Select Committees.

Finally, the House has made unconscious bias training available, and if people want to do it, that is a matter for them.