Business of the House

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 11:11 am, 24th September 2020

May I begin with the debate on coronavirus on Monday, which is welcome and will give Members an opportunity to raise matters of concern to their constituents? However, it would be a missed opportunity if that debate, as well as being general, were unfocused and unstructured. I therefore ask whether the Government can give serious leadership and direction to that debate, and whether Ministers can spend the weekend formulating specific proposals to put to the House on Monday.

In that regard, I would like to raise the matter of four-nation co-operation and co-ordination in response to the pandemic. The Leader of the House may be aware that the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote to the Prime Minister last night asking for urgent talks. She also stated the obvious, which is that even further, more restrictive public health protocols may be necessary to keep the infection rate down in the weeks ahead, and that, if that is to happen, it would be beneficial if there were a co-ordinated four-nation response. That is not to say that things have to be exactly the same in every part of the UK, but there needs to be an integrated and consistent approach. In particular, there needs to be consideration of whether the powers and money available to the devolved Administrations are sufficient to deal with the crisis.

That brings me to the Budget, which the shadow Leader of the House mentioned. I appreciate that the UK’s finances are in such a perilous state that there may be a disinclination to discuss these matters in public, but simply keeping a problem secret will not make it go away. A particular problem that arises as a consequence of the Budget delay is that the devolved Administrations are unable to plan their budgets except in the most provisional of terms. Given the covid-19 crisis and the additional expenditure that has been required, the situation is less than desirable. What alternative do the Government have to the Budget in terms of giving direction to the devolved Administrations as to what their planning horizons might be?

Finally, I want to raise unfinished business from last night’s debate, when we discussed extending the voting arrangements in the House. Several Members asked the Leader of the House what the justification is for Members being able to participate virtually in some business but not in other business. If the public health restrictions are indeed going to intensify, and if we need to show more leadership as a House, should we not extend the virtual arrangements to debates as well as to Question Time, to make sure that Members can participate in all the proceedings of the House safely and securely?