Before I call the Leader of the House to answer business questions, I want to say a few words about Mark Hutton, who retired from the House of Commons Service yesterday. Mark joined the House on this day 35 years ago and, since then, many hon. Members across the House will have benefited from his wise advice and his authoritative approach to many issues—procedural, practical and political.
As Principal Clerk of the Committee Office, Mark pioneered a digital-first approach to publication that led to the process of business change which underpinned that. In recent years, as Clerk of the Journals, he has provided me and my predecessor with authoritative advice on matters of privilege. His most lasting monument will be the 24th and 25th editions of “Erskine May”, for which he successfully was deputy editor and co-editor. The House is grateful to Mark for all his service and for enabling “Erskine May” to be available to all Members and to the public online.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The business for next week will include:
The provisional business for the week commencing
Right hon. and hon. Members will also wish to be aware that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Friday
I thank the Leader of the House for the business and for announcing the Opposition day and the recess. I also thank him and his office for forwarding all my requests to Ministers. We just need to find a way round the use of “in due course” and “shortly”. My hon. Friend Jessica Morden has received a “soon” on her 10-minute rule Bill on access to benefits for terminally ill people.
We did not get a very helpful response from the Foreign Office Minister, and I would say, in relation to Nazanin, Anousheh and Luke Symons, that we well remember how Jill Morrell kept the names of John McCarthy, Brian Keenan and Terry Waite front and centre so that people would not forget them, and that is what we must do now. These are innocent people who have done no wrong.
Mr Speaker, I know that the whole House—maybe apart from the Government—agrees with your statement and supports it.
“for significant national measures…we will consult Parliament”,
but I thought the Government had to consult Parliament anyway on anything that is supposed to come into effect. He also said that
“wherever possible, we will hold votes”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 681, c. 388.]
But there is no guarantee of a vote. The Leader of the House will know that the regulations on self-isolation, including the £10,000 fine, came into effect seven hours after publication, but the media were briefed eight days before, so there was plenty of time for a debate.
This so-called new convention only deals with national measures, not local measures, which is what right hon. and hon. Members want to know about, because they want to know what is going on in their constituencies. Last week, the Leader of the House said that there is regular scrutiny and debate, but that is not true, is it? Without the hybrid proceedings, many of our colleagues are excluded from taking part in debates on legislation, so the Government cannot have it both ways.
Let us look at the statutory instruments. Some of them are made through the negative resolution procedure, which means they are signed into law and are debated only if they are prayed against. Mostly, they are administrative and technical, but extending pre-trial custody from 56 days to 238 days deserved a debate, and in any event, the Government decide whether there is time for a debate. What about affirmative SIs? They are laid before the House only after they are signed into law.
Can the Leader of the House say why the majority of the regulations have been made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, which is meant for emergencies, and not the coronavirus legislation, with its safeguards? Will he guarantee that we will have a debate or even a short statement on any new regulations that are proposed? We want it in the House, not in No. 10 from behind a lectern.
That lack of transparency is everywhere. In the Government’s White Paper on planning, they are removing the requirement to place planning application advertisements in local newspapers. That is already happening in my constituency, where Walsall Council has decided, without any consultation, that it will not do an environmental impact assessment for one of the most important projects there, the route for a sprint bus. It is totally discredited; there will be more traffic; and no one wants it apart from the current Mayor.
Mr Speaker, you mentioned someone who is really good at transparency, and that is Mark Hutton. I, too, agree with your statement and want to pay tribute to Mark Hutton. He has been in this House for 35 years. As you say, one of his greatest legacies is “Erskine May” online, and he was the co-editor, with Sir David Natzler, the 25th edition. In fact, his nickname was “Erskine” Hutton. He always saw the potential of digital, and his advice was quite strategic across the House, both on procedure and how it related to the legal side and on how the House works. When he was at university, apparently he liked directing plays, so obviously he came to work here, because he likes the drama. He has left a great legacy.
The Leader of the House and I were on the Governance of the House Committee, which was very controversial at the time, but Mark managed to get us through that. Also, we agreed the report digitally, and it went through in record time. Mark has not only left online “Erskine May”; he has patiently taught the next generation of Clerks. Mark, we will miss you. Thank you for your work. The House is very grateful, and we hope to see you when you get back—and when we all get back, maybe at a do in Speaker’s House. [Interruption.] We hope you do, Mr Speaker; we are looking forward to your dos.
It is Black History Month. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the birth of Gandhi, and it was lovely to see a photo of Dr Martin Luther King in his dining room with picture of Gandhi. Both of them worked for justice in a non-violent way. Today is also the mid-autumn festival for the Chinese community.
Finally, on behalf of the whole House, I want to send our very best wishes to my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne, who is jumping out of a plane on Sunday, weather permitting, for six year-old Florence, who has a life-limiting disease and a rare genetic condition. He is not on the call list today, but we hope will see him next week at business questions, hopefully without a plaster cast.
We all wish Andrew Gwynne and, of course, Florence well. It is a brave thing to do.
I used to live in Hong Kong, and the mid-autumn festival was a public holiday, so I am sorry that I cannot tell the House that we will have a public holiday similarly.
The right hon. Lady began by mentioning the dual nationals and the need to keep their names at the forefront of the national debate, which she has been doing fantastically every week, so that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri and Luke Symons are remembered. The Government are made aware of this every week: the right hon. Lady mentions it to me, and I mention it to the Foreign Office. It is known. We are trying our best, but, as was found with hostages before, it is very difficult to get obdurate states and obdurate organisations to move.
On parliamentary scrutiny of the coronavirus—the issue that the right hon. Lady focused on—I note that Labour Members did not actually take part in large numbers. I think a very small number of them voted yesterday. It is a bit worrying if, when we actually have a vote, the official Opposition sit on their hands, so they call for something and then they are absent without leave. They do not formally need leave, of course, under the procedures of the House; it a long time since attendance was demanded. The right hon. Lady asks but the Whips Office does not necessarily want.
On the debates that we are bringing forward and have brought forward, we have had 40 oral statements in relation to covid in this House, in addition to the urgent questions that Mr Speaker has facilitated. This week, we had a full day’s debate. The whole of Monday after questions was devoted to a covid-19 debate, and of course we had the renewal of the orders yesterday. Next week, we will have a vote. We had a vote yesterday, but Labour Members did not take part. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is heckling—it is unlike her to heckle—saying, “Vote, vote.” Well, they did not vote. It is not my fault they did not vote. I cannot make Labour Members vote. I have no influence over the Labour Whips Office to get them to turn up and do their job. If they want to sit at home idling away the happy hours not voting—not going through the Division Lobbies—what can I do? I can appeal to your good offices, Mr Speaker. I can ask the Doorkeepers to encourage them. We have set things out in a covid-safe way. But Labour Members decide not to turn up when we give them a vote, which they keep on asking for.
Not to vote, they didn’t. There will be opportunities to vote on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, and there will be a debate on Tuesday
I want to pay tribute, as the right hon. Lady did, to Mark Hutton. Thirty-five years’ service in this House is a pretty good innings. He has been an absolutely authoritative source of advice on procedure and parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege is one of the most interesting topics of discussion: it is such an important part of how we do our work. He has obviously been a distinguished Clerk of the Journals. He has been very ready to give advice to Members on knotty procedural problems. He has been involved with three editions, two as deputy editor and then as co-editor, of “Erskine May”. I must confess that his career is practically what I might like to have had, so in paying this tribute to him, I am a little bit envious of his distinction, his learning and his capability. I served—I think the right hon. Lady may have done as well—on the Committee chaired by Jack Straw looking into the governance of the House. That Committee was handled by the two of them with such effectiveness and subtlety that it came up with a very good answer. I would like to record my gratitude to him, not just personally but also on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.
The right hon Lady mentioned that this is Black History Month. I am a great encourager of all history. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, for countless generations, people of African and Caribbean descent have been shaping our nation’s story, making a huge difference to our national and cultural life and helping to make Britain a better place to be. The more we learn from our history, the better.
The Leader of the House will know how important it is to patients to be able to receive their treatment as close to home as possible, so will he join me in welcoming the new haematology and oncology unit at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby, which will provide chemotherapy locally for Rugby residents? The soft furnishings and equipment there have been provided by the Friends of St Cross. May we have a debate about the great support that is provided by local health charities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The work done by the St Cross hospital is fantastic. It is so important that people with very serious illnesses should receive the best possible treatment and should receive it locally. The work he is doing in supporting local charities is first class, and the St Cross hospital has the particular respect of this House.
First, may I, on behalf of the third party, associate myself with the remarks made by you, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House regarding Mark Hutton? He has been a friend of this party over the years, so much so in fact that our Chief Whip takes rather more pride than might be expected in a Scottish nationalist in having his signed copy of “Erskine May” in his office.
I want to begin by talking about our procedures and paraphrasing Kipling by saying “If you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, you probably don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.” I think that is what is happening in this Chamber, where we are maintaining this façade of normalcy whilst we know that there is a crisis gripping the country. I do wonder if we are devoting enough urgency to looking at how we can revise and improve participation by remote means in our discussions, given that large parts of the country are now again in lockdown and that these measures may intensify in the weeks and months to come. In that regard, I am particularly disappointed to see that next week Westminster Hall will resume its sittings in a business-as-normal- type way. Surely if there was ever an opportunity to try to test creatively the opportunities presented to us by technology and to have virtual conferencing, it would have been in the setting of Westminster Hall. As it is, these debates will take place with the vast majority of Members of Parliament unable to participate in them, and it is a great wasted opportunity.
I also want to talk about the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is trundling its way through Parliament. It is now clear—it is no longer a matter of speculation—that the devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom will not give consent to this ridiculous piece of legislation, and I want to know if we can find the time to debate in this Chamber the consequences for the devolution settlement of that being the case and of the United Kingdom Government choosing to ignore the wishes of the devolved Administrations and steamroller the legislation through anyway.
For my final point, on the job support scheme, I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It was welcome that the Chancellor came to the House to discuss this last week, but there are still enormous gaps. When can we find the time to debate what we can do to assist those companies in this country that are viable, safe and good businesses but that are closed, by order, to meet the public health imperative? Are we simply to say that all those businesses and all those jobs are unviable and they are to be discarded, or are we going to step in after
The hon. Gentleman has continued to ask for us to change our procedures and to do things more remotely; it is worth noting that yesterday the remote voting system in the other place fell down and therefore it will have to redo the votes on the business it was supposed to be doing. I think we have to press on with our important business in serving the country, ensuring that we have the debates that are asked for. From the point of view of Government business managers, we have the demand, on the one hand, for debates and votes, quite rightly, and on the other, that we should not be here. People cannot have it both ways. The technology did not provide satisfactory scrutiny and has fallen over in voting in the other place. When we had a problem in our Division Lobbies, we had a fall-back solution and we could carry on with the business. Losing a day’s votes on Report stage of a Bill makes proceeding with Government business exceptionally difficult.
As regards Westminster Hall, the hon. Gentleman says that most Members will not be able to attend, but most Members do not attend Westminster Hall anyway; very few debates are full in Westminster Hall, and although there will be formal limits, considering the numbers who are at most Westminster Hall debates, those formal limits will not be unduly stretched. The resources of our broadcasting teams are being used in other ways, and there are limited resources. Again, people wanted Westminster Hall back, and we have got Westminster Hall back, and that presents an opportunity to hold the Government to account; I think this is a good thing and the right thing to be doing.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a fantastic Bill. It is one of the best pieces of legislation passed by the House in recent times. It also devolves 70 powers to the devolved Administrations. SNP Members are modelling themselves on Oliver Twist—they are always asking for more. They cannot have more on this occasion. They have a great deal of devolution coming through that Bill, and the Bill will ensure that we have a functioning internal market. The hon. Gentleman effectively asked for further debates on the Bill. It is worth noting that two of the days in Committee were not completely used, so Members are on stronger ground complaining when the time provided by Government has been used up.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the job support scheme. I remind the House that £190 billion of taxpayers’ money has gone to support the economy so far. That is a very substantial amount. As the Chancellor has said, not everything can be protected, but an enormous amount has been protected.
In Cornwall, our town and parish councils are struggling financially in the wake of covid-19 due to their revenues being highly dependent on car parking, and leisure centres are on their knees due to the lack of financial support from Cornwall Council. After months of us asking for it, Cornwall Council has only this week given leisure centres financial support. That is despite Cornwall Council being allocated £39 million of un-ringfenced money to spend on local issues such as these. Will the Leader of the House consider holding a general debate on how local authorities have used this un-ringfenced money during the covid pandemic, and does he agree that public finances should always be open, transparent and accountable?
My hon. Friend is right that the spending of taxpayers’ money should always be open and accountable, and I am glad that he is making it accountable by asking his question. The Government rightly have given taxpayers’ money un-ringfenced to local councils, but local councils have a responsibility to their communities to spend it wisely, and MPs have a right to hold them to account for how it is spent and bring it to the House when they feel it is not spent well; I am sure my hon. Friend will continue to do that.
I thank Mr Speaker, his team, House authorities and staff for their combined efforts to support the reopening of Westminster Hall. We have some debates already lined up for Westminster Hall: on Thursday
We do not have Backbench Business time in the Chamber on
We might need to put the record straight on something. In answer to a question from myself and my hon. Friend Chi Onwurah, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care earlier mentioned additional financial support of £10 million for LA7 north-east councils. The leader of my local authority in Gateshead is totally unaware of any additional financial support for businesses given to local authorities in north-east England. That is what we were asking for—additional financial support for businesses.
I think the last point needs to be followed up privately with the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman’s local council, but I am sure that if the Secretary of State said that funds are available, they are. I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee is using the time available in Westminster Hall so effectively. I note the hon. Gentleman’s requests for further time. We are catching up, but the availability of Westminster Hall means that the Committee will be able to start getting through its backlog of requests.
Research from the Children’s Commissioner shows that spending by clinical commissioning groups on speech and language therapies ranges from £17.61 per child in the NHS north region all the way down to £10.20 per child in the NHS midlands and east region. When may we have a debate on those regional disparities and on support for children with speech and language difficulties, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this crucial matter. The Government recognise that speech, language and communication skills are important for child wellbeing, and as a father of six I know how important this issue is for children as they grow and develop. The Government will continue to prioritise the improving of early speech and language outcomes across education, health and social care, to narrow inequalities. The NHS long-term plan recognises the importance of speech and language therapists. It proposes that
“local areas will design and implement models of care that are age appropriate, closer to home and bring together physical and mental health services.”
Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, has disappeared, but I hope he is watching the Parliament channel and therefore will have noted my hon. Friend’s request for a Backbench Business debate.
This week, I received urgent concerns from a major meat-processing company in my constituency about its ability to export to EU countries post the Brexit transition phase. It is particularly concerned about the ability to process animal health export certificates, agreement from the EU on animal origin identification, and the export of frozen and fresh groupage products. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make an urgent statement addressing these areas of concern?
It is obviously important that we are able to export our food around the world. It is good news that UK beef has at last gone back into the United States, with a shipment going from Northern Ireland to the United States. Markets are reopening, but the negotiations with the European Union are continuing and we will see what the results are. In terms of a debate, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know how to get an Adjournment debate, which is a suitable way to raise a constituency matter on the Floor of the House.
My right hon. Friend may know that I am a keen supporter of electric vehicles and believe that this emerging industry could help to level up areas such as Don Valley. May we have a statement on what the Government are doing to help to incentivise electrical-vehicle production in this country?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. Electric vehicles are going to be tremendously important and are a central tenet of the Government’s economic agenda in supporting innovative industries in our manufacturing heartlands. The Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Transport are aware of that, and the Government want to see the UK become a world leader in the manufacture and use of electric vehicles. Some £1.5 billion has been committed jointly by taxpayers and industry, through the Advanced Propulsion Centre and the Faraday battery challenge, to research, develop and commercialise local carbon or automated innovations. Funding is, therefore, available, and I hope that levelling up in my hon. Friend’s constituency will benefit from it.
Yesterday I received an email from the TSB informing me that three branches in my constituency—at Anniesland, Drumchapel and Partick—are to close. One of those branches is in an area where digital exclusion is extremely high. This issue will affect many Members from all parties and the scandal must be addressed, so may we have a debate in Government time on the importance of maintaining these vital lifelines?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue, which many Members from all parties have raised in the past. People’s access to vital services is of great importance and has been debated in the House previously. The hon. Lady is also right to raise her specific constituency issues and put pressure on the service providers to continue to provide the services that their customers and local residents need.
May we have a debate on the use of sky lanterns? Is the Leader of the House aware that they pose a fire risk to farmers’ crops and are a danger to animals if ingested? As they are, in effect, hazardous airborne litter that invariably lands on someone else’s property, why do we not ban them?
I am very well aware of the concern my right hon. Friend raises, because it has been raised with me by my own constituents, and I am aware of farmers’ concerns about sky lanterns. However, I am always reluctant to jump to the immediate conclusion that things should be banned. There may be a way of enjoying sky lanterns without endangering crops and livestock. The knee-jerk reaction to ban is something politicians should always be a little bit careful of.
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 884, in my name and the names of others?
[That this House recognises the constructive approach taken by GMB Union and Unison in negotiations around their members’ pay and conditions with British Gas and its parent company Centrica; condemns the tactics employed by that company in commencing those negotiations with threats to dismiss and re-engage its UK workforce on lesser terms; commends British Gas workers who while furloughed during the covid-19 outbreak voluntarily delivered thousands of food parcels with the Trussell Trust; and calls on the company to do the right thing, withdraw the Section 188 notice of potential redundancies and negotiate in good faith with workers’ unions.]
It is about Centrica’s outrageous threat to sack its entire workforce unless they agree to new and far worse terms and conditions and pay. We have not seen this practice universally, but across one or two sectors of the economy, and it seems to be growing and proliferating. If ever there was a strategically important industry, it is Centrica. If, through the short-sightedness of the management, Centrica finds itself without a workforce, we will be in serious trouble. Can we have a statement from the Business Secretary?
Again, the hon. Gentleman is so right to raise this matter. We are all, individually, champions for our constituents, and it is our job to seek redress of grievance when they are treated badly, whether that is by the state or by private companies, and to ensure that companies behave in a way that understands their societal obligations, as well as their shareholder obligations. I congratulate him on bringing the issue to the Floor of the House. It is a problem that the Government are aware of and I would encourage him to keep on asking for debates so that the issue can be examined more carefully.
Carshalton and Wallington is home to some of the best schools in the country. However, there is a worrying lack of secondary school places due to the incompetent Lib Dem council’s handling of school place provision, trying at once to block a new school at Rosehill on what has been described as an ideal site while trying to force a school on a tiny and inappropriate site at Sheen Way. Can we have a debate in this place on school place provision to ensure that every child has a good or outstanding local school place to go to?
I have a nasty feeling that when my hon. Friend says “incompetent Lib Dem-run council”, he is guilty of a tautology. I have not yet come across a competently run Lib Dem council. Supporting local authorities to create sufficient school places is one of the Government’s absolute priorities. [Interruption.] I am sorry. I hope I have not upset Wera Hobhouse. We share a local authority and I do not want to be too mean about it.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend. I am sure many Conservative MPs share his pain in dealing with Lib Dem-run local authorities and their flawed approach to planning in education. We provide funding for all the places that are needed based on local authorities’ own data on pupil forecasts. This is why we have announced nearly £750 million to provide places needed for 2022. The Government’s pupil places planning advisers will work alongside councils to provide support for any local authority that fails to provide sufficient school places. We announced that Sutton local authority will receive £16.2 million to provide new school places for 2022, taking its total funding between 2011 and 2022 to £141.8 million.
It might surprise the Leader of the House to learn that I miss him dreadfully. As an active parliamentarian, I miss so much the ability to ask him questions on a Thursday, but, as I have the chance this morning, can I ask him for an early debate on the future of new buildings in Parliament and the holocaust memorial and learning centre? Can we have an environmental impact assessment of all the contracts? Can we start using the River Thames so that it goes back to being the conduit that it was—the heart of our transportation system? Can we have a debate on that?
Secondly, I am a pretty new boy on the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union. These are hazardous and tumultuous times for my constituents and those of the Leader of the House, and it seems strange that this all-party Committee, which does such good work, will be wound up at the very time we will need the scrutiny of this House as we move into uncharted territory. Is there anything we can do to prolong the life of the Committee?
We miss the hon. Gentleman too and look forward to seeing him back here in due course. I was pleased to note that he asked a question to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care earlier, so he remains an enormously active Member of Parliament, although I recognise his general point that it is harder to get in during Question Time than it was before.
With regard to building works in the Palace, I am delighted to be able to say that that is a matter for the House of Commons Commission. The spokesman for the Commission answers questions periodically, and I am sure the matter will come up next time. We all look forward to seeing Mr Sheerman back here in due course.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a review of the parliamentary art collection should be an opportunity to celebrate Parliament’s rich and central role in our nation’s history and heritage, rather than a political exercise to edit, rewrite and impose woke contemporary interpretations of history on a place of such national importance?
We should take such pride in the history that is displayed through the art in this House. It might be a slightly Whiggish view of history, but if we go to Committee Room 10, we see Alfred the Great defeating the Danes, starting our great island story. If we walk from here to the House of Lords, we see on the walls the whole process of the civil war, with King Charles I raising his standard at Nottingham, and we see the birds that flew—we see the history of our nation. It is something that we should be proud of, for we are a great nation; a successful nation; one of the greatest nations the world has ever seen; and we have done so much good, not just at home but abroad, and we should be proud of that. We should recognise that how our forefathers have recorded our history is not something we should dispose of. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said:
“Statues and other historical objects were created by generations with different perspectives and understandings of right and wrong…
they play an important role in teaching us about our past…
Rather than erasing these objects, we should seek to contextualise…them in a way that enables the public to learn about them in their entirety…
Our aim should be to use them to educate people about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, both good”— in my view, primarily good—and occasionally bad. The word “occasionally” is an edit of my own.
Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House to help ensure that the Prime Minister read the Youth Violence Commission’s report, and whether we could have a debate on it. He said that he would not be so bold as to tell the Prime Minister what to read, but I think he is a bold fella, and I just wonder whether he has had any success.
I want to begin by paying tribute to PC Ratana, who was killed last week while serving his community. More than 1,600 police officers have paid this terrible price while serving their country. I come from a policing family and I know what it is like to hear about the death of a police officer on the news and wonder for a moment whether it is a family member. We cannot bring PC Ratana back, or others such as PC Andrew Harper, but we can ensure that in future families such as theirs get justice. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate so that we can support the campaign, led by PC Harper’s widow, Lissie, and others, to introduce whole-life sentences for people who kill police officers and other emergency service workers?
I know that that issue is close to my hon. Friend’s heart, as he is a volunteer special constable. I take this opportunity to thank and commend him for his public service in that regard, and for the courage that is required to be a serving police officer. It was with great sadness that we heard of the death of Sergeant Matt Ratana, and the Prime Minister recognised that, and Mr Speaker organised a minute’s silence for him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. The Government are committed to improving and strengthening sentencing for violent criminals. The justice system exists to keep the public safe. The Government recently published the sentencing White Paper, which outlines our approach to sentencing, including the introduction of tougher sentences for murderers and a review of the use of whole-life orders. But those who serve us, who are brave in carrying out their duty, deserve protection.
Yesterday, in my capacity as co-chair of the beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing APPG, I virtually met some truly inspirational women who were being supported by an incredible charity, Changing Faces. These women, like one in five people in the UK, have a scar, birthmark or skin condition that makes them visibly different. As a result of this, they experience discrimination and exclusion in their everyday lives. Changing Faces and Avon Cosmetics have launched the Pledge to be Seen campaign. Will the Leader of the House join me in championing that campaign, and encourage businesses and Government services to recognise that being different should be embraced and reflected in all advertising and campaign material?
The hon. Lady always brings the most cross-party campaigns to the Floor of the House, and I am genuinely grateful to her for that. It shows how politicians can work together. I also notice that most of the campaigns that she brings to the Floor of the House are successful, and that is a tribute to her doggedness and determination. In light of that, many Members across the House will be sympathetic to the Changing Faces campaign to support children and adults with facial differences who may have suffered from isolation, stigma and discrimination in their lives. It is important as a fundamental principle that we value everyone as an individual and what is inside, not what is necessarily outside.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Since 1988 Armenia has illegally occupied Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. That led to a war that took place between 1988 and 1994, when a ceasefire was agreed, backed up with a United Nations Resolution in 1993. On
Her Majesty’s Government are deeply concerned about the situation on the ground, including the continuing violence and reports of high numbers of civilian casualties. We call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to dialogue, as the only lasting settlement to this conflict is a peacefully negotiated one without preconditions.
My hon. Friend asks what the Government have been doing, and I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has issued a joint statement with the Canadian Foreign Minister calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Minsk group. On Monday my hon. Friend the Minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas spoke to Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Bayramov and urged a return to dialogue on the OSCE Minsk group to ensure a peaceful and sustainable settlement.
A recent report by the Electoral Reform Society “Democracy in the Dark” demonstrated the unregulated wild west of online political campaigning; millions were spent on secretive dark ads before the 2019 general election. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a pressing need for meaningful regulation of online campaigning, and may we have a debate in Government time to consider these much-needed reforms?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very valid point: anything that we send out on paper is heavily regulated, and things that are done online are almost unregulated—not entirely, but broadly. There is a discrepancy between those two, and I know that the Government are considering this matter. A debate via the Backbench Business Committee would be a good starting place to get the ball rolling on this discussion.
One of the many awful aspects of the coronavirus crisis has been the doubling of assaults on shop workers. These people are heroes who went into work every day while we were all locked down at home, and ensured that we had food and provisions; yet, the thanks that many get is to be abused and assaulted by customers. As somebody who worked for Asda for 12 years before entering the House, I feel very strongly that the despicable people who assault shop workers should face much tougher sentences from the courts. Can we have a debate to see whether the majority of the House agrees with that sentiment and so that we can show our deep gratitude for all shop workers?
My hon. Friend, as he so often does, puts his finger on the right issue. Shop workers have been fantastic, phenomenal and brave, because they all stayed at work at a point when we knew much less about the disease than we do now and thought that it might have been much more risky even than it has turned out to be; they were a real frontline emergency service. Without them, the crisis would have been infinitely worse, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tribute he has paid to them. I can reassure him that there are already offences that cover assaults against any worker, including those in the retail sector, such as common assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. In July, the Government published the findings of a call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop workers, and we will continue to work with the British Retail Consortium and other partners to stop these crimes. I pay tribute to the British Retail Consortium for the work that it has been doing to highlight this important issue, and encourage my hon. Friend and the BRC to continue raising it.
Over 15,000 people have died in our care homes—many because of the Government’s shameful policy of discharging patients with coronavirus from hospital into care homes. Both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary confirmed to me from the Dispatch Box that they took full responsibility for those deaths, and the policy then changed. But my local trust recently issued new guidance stating that covid-positive patients are again to be discharged back into our care homes. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to come to the House and explain this dangerous policy?
The Government take this issue with the utmost seriousness and have been doing a great deal to help care homes, including issuing more than 100,000 tests a day to care homes across the country, overhauling the delivery of personal protective equipment to care homes and setting up a £1.1 billion infection control fund. The issue that the hon. Lady raises is one of great seriousness. I assure her that it will be taken up on her behalf with the Secretary of State for Health immediately after this statement.
I know that my right hon. Friend, because he is a sensible fellow, did not visit Minehead funfair a few days ago. The idea that Minehead Town Council could actually have a funfair at this time is daft, stupid and dangerous. As my right hon. Friend is aware, infection rates in Somerset are going up, but Somerset County Council’s public health department has not acted to stop it; in fact, it has not done anything. I am afraid to say that the county council is far too busy fighting to form a half-baked unitary authority without the backing of the people of Somerset. I am afraid that promoting this ridiculous idea and using £1 million of public money to do so may cost us lives, and, as has already been mentioned, King Alfred would not tolerate it. Could we have a debate on some of the more stupid things that councils are doing during this appalling situation?
My hon. Friend refers to half-baked proposals and then King Alfred, so I cannot help but remember that King Alfred, as a baker, was not invariably successful.
I do indeed. I was not there at the time, but I was paying close attention to events.
I have always thought that our great county is thought of by the people living within it as one, not as various little dissected bits, and I do have concerns with public bodies spending large amounts of taxpayers’ money campaigning for their own preferred interests. It is indeed an issue that we should take seriously and be concerned about. As regards closing funfairs, I will consult my children and see what they think.
This year, because of covid, the only “DIY SOS” Big Build, which was completed for Children in Need, was in Gower. Last week, I visited this unique, one-of-a-kind facility, which has been provided for Surfability UK. It gives people of all ages with disabilities the opportunity to take to the waves of Caswell bay. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking the two men behind it—both called Ben—who took up this concept and continue to bring joy to the lives of so many? Will he also acknowledge the generosity of trades and businesses across Swansea and south Wales? Moreover, will he urge the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to highlight to the new director-general of the BBC the immeasurable impact “DIY SOS” has on our communities across the UK?
The hon. Lady is so right to bring this issue to the attention of the House. Yes, I would like to thank Ben and Ben for what they are doing, which sounds wonderful and inspirational, and I would like to know more about it. I also thank the people and businesses of Swansea and south Wales for funding it, and “DIY SOS” for what it does, which sounds truly inspirational in helping people, and I would love to know more about it if the hon. Lady is willing to send me further information.
The Leader of the House will know that I am forever banging on about rural issues, and today is no exception. Residents in Builth Wells in Llandrindod Wells find it almost impossible to access NHS dentistry. This has been going on for a long time, since well before covid. I have raised the issue with the Welsh Government, but they simply acknowledge the difficulty of services in rural areas, and nothing seems to change. However, this is a fundamental, basic service, and I should not have to campaign on this issue. Will the Leader of the House grant time for a debate about what we can do for constituents who are denied access to basic health care by the Welsh Labour Government?
My hon. Friend says she bangs on, but this is clearly not true. She stands up for her constituents and seeks redress of grievance in the right and historic way that Members of Parliament do, and she is a noble champion for her constituency. She is right to campaign for better dentistry provision in her constituency. It is a devolved matter, and the Welsh authorities are responsible—they are, of course, socialist-run Welsh authorities—but I am afraid there is a problem with the provision of health services by the devolved Welsh authorities, which do not manage to run their affairs as well as they should. The good news is that there is going to be an election in May. Next May, people can vote Conservative, and then they will have better, cleaner, fresher teeth—and if they use Aquafresh, their teeth will be cleaner still.
Given my right hon. Friend’s great affinity with history and the natural environment, does he agree that a quarry on Briggens Estate in rural Hertford and Stortford would be a huge blight on the area and local people? I am keen to ensure that Hertfordshire County Council engages with me and local residents on the putative minerals plan, so will the Leader of the House assist me in securing a debate on this important local issue?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I understand that it has been rumbling on for quite a few years in Hertfordshire. It is for local authorities to develop their mineral and waste plans and then to consider subsequent applications. At all stages, the local authority is required to give consideration to the environmental effects of activities on residents. Any minerals and waste plan will be supported by a strategic environmental assessment, which will have regard to site allocations and activities, and any planning application should be supported by an environmental impact assessment. However, I suggest to my hon. Friend that she apply for an Adjournment debate, because this is exactly the sort of issue that is well highlighted in Adjournment debates.
Last night, a group of activists carried out a night-time video projection on this building, detailing the human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist party against Hong Kongers, Uyghurs and Tibetans. Pema Yoko from Tibetan Community UK said:
“Under Xi’s rule, Beijing has tightened its grip on restrictions on communication in Tibet in an effort to cut Tibet off from the rest of the world”.
This coalition of people fighting the severe human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist party is calling on our Government to take much more co-ordinated action. Will the Government make time to debate the systematic human rights abuses by the CCP against minorities in China, and consider the Private Member’s Bill laid by Tim Loughton on reciprocal access to Tibet?
The hon. Lady raises something that it is absolutely right to raise in this House. The activity in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs is an egregious breach of human rights and the sort of thing that a civilised country would not be involved in. Communists do not always observe human rights. The spiritual leadership offered to the people of Tibet by the Dalai Lama is recognised across the world, and we will continue to play a leading role internationally, working with partners, to hold China to account for gross human rights violations. With regard to Hong Kong, we have offered a route to citizenship for British nationals overseas because of China’s failure to honour the joint declaration.
The pandemic has highlighted how essential access to high-speed broadband is. I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time to discuss the importance of rural broadband roll-out, so that constituencies such as mine can become better connected.
I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are offering huge support for rural broadband, including £5 billion of taxpayers’ money committed to fund gigabyte-capable broadband in the UK’s hardest-to-reach areas, on top of £1.9 billion spent on the Building Digital UK superfast programme to ensure that more than 96% of premises have access to superfast broadband. She is absolutely right that reliable broadband is a necessity for households and businesses; representing a rural constituency myself, I know what a difference it makes to the opportunities for businesses.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be familiar with hospitality venues across Swansea, including Wind Street. Across the UK, such venues are having their trade restricted for public health reasons. When will we have a debate on how, given that that is in the public interest, the public purse should pay the costs, rather than individual business owners? Will the Leader of the House ensure that such a debate includes all right hon. and hon. Members, in accordance with my Remote Participation in House of Commons Proceedings Bill, by allowing them to participate and speak remotely? That Bill, of course, was presented on my behalf by my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner, because the Leader of the House would not allow me to speak. When will he lift restrictions and allow us to debate the important issue of ensuring that businesses do not have to pay the cost of public health restrictions?
The House has made the decision, quite rightly, that debates require personal participation. Debates do not run properly when people are remote and interventions are not possible. The support given to Wales by taxpayers is a total of £4 billion, protecting 400,000 jobs under the furlough scheme and 110,000 jobs under the self-employed scheme. What has been done for Wales is very significant, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to come to the House to sing the praises of the Government for what they have managed to do, we will lay out the red carpet for him.
Does the Leader of the House agree that, were the Prime Minister minded to answer the letter sent to him on
My right hon. Friend refers to the intimate details of the Prime Minister’s correspondence, but what I can assure him of is that, before the latest series of lockdowns, which is to say after
As the Prime Minister has said, the most important thing is that everyone now follows the guidance that we have set out, so that we can stop the spread of the virus. All measures are kept under constant review, and changes will be announced in the usual way. This has often been by oral statement rather than by written statement, which, by and large, I think the House prefers on matters of this importance. I hope my right hon Friend will welcome the Government’s recent commitment to offering the House greater opportunity to scrutinise coronavirus measures before they are implemented and, as always, we remain very grateful for his full support.
May we have a debate on the importance of keeping highly skilled engineering jobs in the UK? Konecranes in my constituency has this week decided to cease manufacturing with the loss of many jobs despite the fact that it appears to be in line for contracts linked with the UK defence industry, which will, as I understand it, be instead considering manufacturing in Czechoslovakia. What more can be done to ensure that companies, particularly those bidding for local contracts, encourage, support and protect local jobs rather than outsourcing them?
The hon. Lady raises a matter that is of great importance to the Government and to the country, which is that, if we are to earn our living over the coming decades, we need high-skilled jobs. That is why it has been right for the Government to give huge support to businesses through the coronavirus crisis, essentially to maintain the structures of the economy, so that when demand returns the businesses are still there and the demand can be met. Although, as the Chancellor has said, not every job can be protected, £190 billion of taxpayers’ money has been very significant.
I think the hon. Lady is right to ask for further discussion on this. In this instance, referring to her specific constituency issue, an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate will be suitable now that Westminster Hall is back up and running, and will provide direct answers from Ministers in this crucial area.
I would like to associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend Joy Morrissey earlier. Yesterday, a review and audit of art across Parliament by the Works of Art Committee was announced. At the height of the global coronavirus pandemic, Durham County Council launched a similar review, spending days of officers’ time on a pointless exercise looking at works of art across County Durham. We all want to see the very best of Britain showcased in this Parliament and see the context of historical pieces. However, does the Leader of the House agree that, at this time of the global coronavirus pandemic, Parliament can do better than following a panicked Labour-led Durham County Council in bending the knee to woke political agenda?
We should take, as I have said before, pride in:
“This royal throne of Kings, this sceptred island,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
Had William Shakespeare lived in a later day, he would have said, “this United Kingdom”, because that is what we should take pride in, and, no, we should most certainly not be overwhelmed by wokeism. Members may wonder why I read that quotation today. Well, it is National Poetry Day, so I thought it only appropriate that we have a proper quotation and that we stand up for our great nation.
The furlough scheme was obviously welcome, but, as the GMB has pointed out, those on lower pay who return to work after being furloughed and then fall ill may find that they are not entitled to statutory sick pay as it is based on actual earnings. Can the Leader of the House ask Ministers to address this?
The Government have taken steps to help people on low incomes who have to self-isolate because of the coronavirus with a special payment of £500. Therefore, steps are being taken to try to help people on lower incomes when affected by illnesses relating to the coronavirus.
I welcome the news that the overwhelming majority of customs declarations for freight leaving the UK will be completed online post
I congratulate my hon. Friend on standing up for his constituency in the way that he has. There is a £470 million fund for infrastructure, as part of the wider package of £705 million for the GB-EU border. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has committed to spending £15 million of taxpayers’ money on road and rail infrastructure to ensure that goods and freight flow to and from our ports as quickly as possible. I cannot promise that that money is going to Warrington, but my hon. Friend’s point has been noted and I will pass it on to the Secretary of State.
I seek assurances from the Leader of the House, as the representative of Parliament in Cabinet, that he will raise my significant concerns about our lack of opportunity as constituency MPs to raise our serious concerns about the job loss tsunami that we are about to face. The Chancellor’s announcement last week will not save my constituency from mass job losses. We have solutions, but we need the Government to engage to save those jobs. Will the Leader of the House raise this matter in Cabinet to ensure that Ministers meet us to discuss the pending crisis? In addition, may we have a specific debate about the job losses that are about to hit our nation?
I will always try to facilitate meetings for hon. Members, if they need them, with particular Ministers. As for a debate, there is an Opposition day debate coming up, and this may well be a subject that the Opposition think it worth debating, because it is clearly very important. I would add that the Kickstart scheme will help to get people back into work, and particularly to get young people into work. The Department for Work and Pensions is also taking on many, many more work coaches to help people, but it is widely accepted that this is a difficult period, and the hon. Lady is right to focus our minds on it.
Our town centres have been particularly impacted by coronavirus. In Stoke-on-Trent, we have not been a beneficiary of the town deals funding, so will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time about what more can be done to help our high streets?
My hon. Friend raises a key point. The Government are committed to supporting and reviving Britain’s high streets, many of which are in real need of regeneration. As I understand it, officials from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are meeting Stoke-on-Trent council leaders to discuss the town’s progress in applying for towns fund investment. The Government welcome proposals from local authorities for towns fund investment, which will be assessed on the quality of their business case. There is another round of money forthcoming, and I am sure my hon. Friend will encourage the local authority to apply. This is a fund of £3.6 billion in England. Many Members across the House will see their constituencies benefit from this use of taxpayers’ money, as I am in North East Somerset, in Keynsham and Midsomer Norton.
Last night Gateshead Council supported the WeMakeEvents initiative to pave the way for the return of live events by lighting Gateshead International Stadium in red. Events companies in my constituency such as MandyLights, Sound Inc studios and Atlas Band Touring are facing huge difficulties while their respective industries are on hold. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can ensure the safe return of the events industry as soon as possible?
Obviously the events industry is particularly badly hit because of the difficulties in managing large gatherings. My right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport set out a significant package of support for live events and cultural events, which is the basis of what is available to the companies affected. As for a debate, this might also be the subject of an Adjournment debate relating to the specific concerns in the hon. Lady’s constituency.
As well as being National Poetry Day, today is Lincolnshire Day, and the county was of course the birthplace of the former poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. At long last, the top-tier authorities in Lincolnshire are agreed on a devolution deal—we now need the Government’s go-ahead—which will finally expunge the past links with county Humberside. Lincolnshire could be united again. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the appropriate Minister to give us the go-ahead and let us get on with devolution to Lincolnshire?
My only worry about creating this great Lincolnshire state is that my hon. Friend may then declare UDI for Lincolnshire and become its king—a role he would carry out with enormous distinction. It is the policy of the Government to devolve, to centralise and to give more power to local communities. Building on the programme of mayoral combined authority models, conversations on further devolution are continuing. Lincolnshire is unquestionably a great county, and I think that bringing counties back together is always welcomed by the people who live within them.
I have a constituent whose life has been ruined following a mesh implant. She is constant pain and it has cost her her marriage. She can only work part-time and it is in a more junior role, so that causes her financial hardship. Despite using a walking stick she still suffers falls. She cannot venture out for leisure activities on her own as her life revolves around toilet stops. Yet she was refused the mobility element of the personal independence payment. Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House outlining how the DWP can award my constituent the mobility element she deserves without her having to suffer another assessment?
The hon. Gentleman is, dare I say it, a model of an active Member of Parliament as a champion for his constituents. We have all had occasional cases when things have gone wrong with assessments. One of the ways to put them right is by direct application to Ministers, which I have found has ensured, in all the cases that I have raised where there have been mistakes, that they have been put right. If he sends me more details of the specific case, I will undertake to take it up with the Secretary of State and try to get him a full answer. I thank him for going into bat for his constituent in such a proper way.
Last month, it came to light that a neighbouring council, Brighton and Hove, had, without any consultation with Eastbourne Borough Council, quietly moved over 130 homeless people into Eastbourne hotels. Those who it had moved along the coast in this way could not possibly be cared for at arm’s length by Brighton and Hove, nor could they be properly cared for in Eastbourne, unprepared and unaware as we were. Could we debate the framework that sits behind the way in which local councils operate together to consider whether aspects that are currently considered good practice might need to be raised to the level of a duty to make sure that a sorry situation such as this does not repeat itself?
This is an example, is it not, of what goes wrong when the hard left are in charge? [Interruption.] I would not accuse Valerie Vaz of being from the hard left—not today, at any rate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter. The homelessness legislation guidance sets out that in the first instance local authorities should try to place homeless households within their own area, and when this is not possible they should place them as near as possible to the original local authority area. We are clear that local authorities should, as far as possible, avoid placing households outside their borough. We are aware that, on occasion, in some areas where there is a limited supply of suitable accommodation, it is necessary to place households in temporary accommodation outside the local area, but this should be a last resort. If a local authority places a household in accommodation in another local authority area, it is required to notify that local authority of any placement. My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue and to put pressure on the relevant local council to do better.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and all those who have participated today. In order that we can have a safe exit and the safe arrival of Members for the next statement, I am suspending the sitting for three minutes.