The business for the week commencing
I do not think there has ever been a time like this when it comes to the usual courtesies that help the working of this House, respect democracy and respect the Opposition. This is absolutely chaotic: we knew more about the menu for the dinner yesterday than we did about the business of the House for the forthcoming week.
I ask the Leader of the House, for the fourth time, when he expects the current parliamentary Session to end and when the House will rise for the Christmas recess. He mentioned the recess Adjournment debate, but that is not the same. This is an incredible discourtesy to the staff of the House, who, as Mr Speaker pointed out, have worked so hard to keep us going. They need to prepare. They need to check on childcare; there are all sorts of arrangements they need to make. When I asked the Leader of the House a fortnight ago, he said that he would be announcing the recess in the normal manner, but these are not normal times. We have a confluence of events—covid and Brexit—all coming at the same time.
This uncertainty is not good for the House, but it is also not good for businesses. Listen to the Food and Drink Federation’s chief executive, who said at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee:
“How on earth can traders prepare in this environment?”
We were promised frictionless trade, but what we got was lorry parks, red tape, forms and a border in the Irish sea. The Government reneged on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, then on Monday asked the troops to vote for something, only to change their mind on Tuesday. The arch-Brexiter Sir Jim Ratcliffe does not care about sovereignty—he is taking his business to Germany. When will the Prime Minister come back to the House and explain exactly what is going on? Can he do that on Monday?
Where is the vaccine Minister? I know he was sitting with the Secretary of State for Health at one point, but we have not heard anything from him. The vaccine tsar has resigned. She has appointed her deputy and then given out money to friends of the Government. Nobody has come to the House to tell us what is happening about the roll-out of the vaccine and the criteria that are going to be used. Why is the vaccine Minister so silent?
I do not know whether the Leader of the House has seen it, but on Monday the Procedure Committee published its report, “Procedure under coronavirus restrictions”. He will know about the motion on the 24th. The Committee has asked for that to be tabled again and for it to be done in a proper fashion, given the conditions. It also recommended that Members cannot decide to put their name on the call list and then withdraw it—hence collapsing the business, as they did on the 24th. Those are two important recommendations that need to be debated. Most importantly, on
I thank the Leader of the House for placing the letter in the Library about the International Development Committee. It is important now to amend Standing Orders because the two Select Committees—the IDC and the Foreign Affairs Committee—are doing different things. The DFID Committee, which has been in existence since 1969, did not have a Department to shadow until very recently. It is now looking across different Government Departments, so the Standing Orders should reflect a change of name. This is about transparency and accountability with regard to public money. When will the Standing Orders be amended?
Today is Human Rights Day. Her Majesty’s Opposition are proud that people of this country were the framers of the declaration on human rights, which then became the convention on human rights, which then became the Human Rights Act 1998. The Lord Chancellor needs to come here and explain the article where he says that judges can influence policy. They cannot.
How is the Lord Chancellor telling the judges what to do? If he reads their judgments, he will see that they are very careful not to interfere with policy. Then he says that the Government do not have preconceived ideas. Well, actually it was in their manifesto, and Minister after Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to say that they are going to repeal the Human Rights Act. So what is the point of the review?
This issue goes all the way back to Magna Carta. It is about the rights and obligations of our citizens, and it must not be changed. There is a letter co-ordinated by 140 well-known organisations who said, “Please don’t touch it.” This is a sad next chapter to our island story—that we do not respect all the rights from Magna Carta onwards, which I know the Leader of the House is very keen on.
Now, Mr Speaker, we say goodbye and thank you to Eric Hepburn. You and I and David Lidington were in the Chamber when PC Keith Palmer was murdered and Eric came to the House and explained what was happening. He has also been part of the change. We thank him for all his work and wish him well in the future.
The Leader of the House will have seen, I am sure, Elika and Gabriella lighting a candle for their parents, Anousheh and Nazanin. Each day that we have the covid virus is a day that they are separated from their parents, and Luke Symons’s parents are in Cardiff and his family are in Yemen. I ask again that something be done so that they can be released before Christmas.
Finally, I want to wish everyone in the Jewish community a happy Hanukkah, as they light the first Hanukkah candle.
May I join the right hon. Lady in wishing members of the Jewish community a happy Hanukkah? Lighting candles is something done very often in the Catholic Church as well, as she will know. Lighting candles is a very good religious symbol.
May I also thank Eric Hepburn for his service to the House, which has been very impressive and has led to a professionalisation of security in this House? I wish his successor well.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Lady that British citizens detained abroad unfairly and illegally ought to be released. The Government are doing what they can, and I can reassure her that every week I write to the Foreign Secretary reminding him that this issue has been raised in the House.
Now let me come to the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised. I would dispute very strongly that the usual courtesies are not being observed, but we are in a time when we are waiting for the end of a very important negotiation that may have legislative consequences. It would be absolutely disgraceful if this House were not able to facilitate any ratification of any deal that may or may not come. We have a duty to the country to ensure that the House of Commons is not an obstacle to ratification. If that means a degree of uncertainty about business, that is simply the political reality. It is an important political reality, which we should embrace rather than complain about, and I am surprised at the right hon. Lady that she would complain about it in that way.
There will be change on
There will be a debate on covid on Monday, when the roll-out of the vaccine can be raised. I am always asked for debates, but when I provide them, the hon. Lady ignores them, but we have got one. She can raise those questions, and other hon. and right hon. Members can do so too.
The right hon. Lady also referred to the Procedure Committee and its plethora of recommendations, which the Government will of course reply to, in accordance with the Osmotherly principles, although I would say that injury time encourages interventions, and interventions are an essential part of debate. I would therefore be nervous about taking away something that adds to the flow of debate.
I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is pleased about the International Development Committee being retained. It has been going, as she said, since 1969, which is a vintage year because it happens to be the year of my birth, so I have a certain prejudice in favour of that date. I think we have come to a good solution to ensure proper scrutiny, and it reiterates the Government’s commitment to scrutiny.
Let me come to Human Rights Day. In our island story, which the right hon. Lady referred to, we should be so proud of the fact that we have led to the world in having proper protection of the subject in relation to the state. Bear in mind that in 1215 at Runnymede what they did was confirm ancient rights, which they thought—almost certainly incorrectly, as it happens—had been drawn up by Edward the Confessor. However, the principle was that they were confirming ancient rights, not inventing ones. Exactly the same happened when habeas corpus was passed into law in the reign of Charles II: they were confirming rights of antiquity, so that we would not have the illegal detention of people without the prospect of a trial or the process of a court. It is worth bearing in mind that at that point in France it was still possible to hold people on the word of the King. There were letters of cachet that meant that people could be locked up simply on the word of the King.
Then, in the 18th century, we had the Mansfield judgment, one of the judgments we should be proudest of in this House, with the understanding that in the United Kingdom there is no such thing as a person who is not free. We then led the world democratically in 1832 with the Reform Bill. We are model to the world of rights, which are our rights—United Kingdom rights—and other countries have followed behind. We should recognise that we know how to do it and we have done it extraordinarily well, to the prosperity of the British people and the solidity of our constitution.
I call Andrea Leadsom. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was gobsmacked, just wishing I could have been such a class act as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, with his vast knowledge. That was a real history lesson. I want to ask him what news there is on the Elizabeth Tower, as we are all aware that the restoration was very much over budget and over time. It is an iconic part of our great United Kingdom history. I am particularly keen to know what disability access has been installed in Elizabeth Tower so that everybody across the UK can access that wonderful site.
My right hon. Friend has led the way in this, because it was her pressure to ensure that the Elizabeth Tower should have disabled access when she was Leader of the House that has ensured that one of the ventilation shafts will have a lift in it, which will make disabled access possible. The lift will improve safety and help reduce the time it would take to evacuate a mobility-impaired person from the Tower. In more general terms, the Elizabeth Tower team is back working at full productivity, and the work is continuing across all sites, in line with advice from the Government. The Commons is working with its supply chain to update its programme of work, ascertaining and limiting the impact of covid-19 on all projects. It is encouraging that the work is going ahead full steam and that there will be disabled access, and I thank her for the contribution she has made to ensuring that.
It seems the Conservative party’s toxic political cocktail of British exceptionalism and arrogance has hit the buffers of the real world. We await Sunday, but if there is a deal, it will be a sordid and pitiful affair. Can the Leader of the House at least answer this: in what fashion will the Government involve Parliament in this endgame? Will they put down a resolution, introduce a Bill, table a statutory instrument or simply make a statement, which we can neither amend, nor agree? With three weeks to go, if the Government do not yet know how they will present to Parliament our future relationship with the EU, is this not only a failure of statecraft, but a shocking level of domestic political mismanagement?
It seems that the people of Northern Ireland will get to march to a European beat after all. In consequence, the Government have withdrawn part 5 of their United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, but the assault on devolution remains, so may we have a debate on why Scotland is the only nation within the UK that is getting a hard Brexit against its will? If a bespoke solution is available for Northern Ireland, why is there not one for Scotland? The arguments against are unconvincing. A border is a border; it has the same legal and economic status whether on land or on the seabed. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was effusive about what he called the “primacy of democracy”, saying that it is
“for the people of Northern Ireland to decide”—[Official Report,
Vol. 685, c. 849.]
their future. May we debate why the Government take that view regarding one part of the UK but not another? May I give the Leader of the House another opportunity to say whether he will respect the outcome of the Scottish general election in May next year? That is something he has refused to do so far.
Finally, today is international Human Rights Day. Given his comments a moment ago, will he support a debate on the Justice Secretary’s plan to review the Human Rights Act and give an assurance that it will not weaken the protection of the European Court of Human Rights or the authority of the devolved Administrations in these matters?
What a joy it is, as always, to hear from the hon. Gentleman. He is an uplifting advocate for the United Kingdom, because he comes on and talks about sectionalism, but what is the most sectionalist party? Oh, good heavens: it is the Scottish National party that is the one trying to split up the United Kingdom. I would say “pot and kettle”, but it has to be said that there is no kettle, only a pot. He then says that Her Majesty’s Government believe in the primacy of democracy—unlike, it must be said, the Scottish Government or the SNP.
Yes, what? Quite right. Tommy Sheppard does not believe in democracy. He is against it, because there was a vote in 2014 that was a generational vote. He may think that a generation means the generation of the fruit fly, but I think the generation in question is the generation of a person, a voter, and we have not got close to a generation. It is fascinating that he does not want to talk about the success of the United Kingdom and the £8.2 billion provided by the UK taxpayer to help Scotland, or the disaster that the SNP is at the moment, with its failures in governing Scotland, its failure in education, its failure in health and its failure in law and order.
The hon. Gentleman does not want to get on to the rather juicy gossip that is coming out of the SNP, either. What do we have? The chief executive of the SNP, when he is at home, never talks about politics with the First Minister—no, of course not—he only talks about cooking. That makes it sound as if his household is even more old-fashioned than mine, because I must confess that in the Rees-Mogg household we spend a lot of time talking about politics; it seems improbable that such a highly-politicised family never talks about such interesting things. Scotland is beginning to see through the SNP. We had a vote, and the vote has been respected; we also had a debate on Europe, and that vote is being respected too.
As the Leader of the House is aware, the hospitality sector has suffered very badly during the pandemic and continues to do so. Is he aware, though, that many businesses, including pubs, still need more financial aid to enable them to survive? Irrespective of any future debates, can we have an assurance today from the Leader of the House that the plight of the hospitality sector and the financial support given will remain under constant review by the Government? As he may know, in a number of areas, such as East Yorkshire, the sector is vitally important to the local economy.
Our hospitality sector and our pubs are a glory of the British nation and provide much pleasure to people as well as employment and business activity. Efforts have been made, very serious ones: VAT has been reduced, cash grants of £3,000 a month have been made available and money has been made available to local councils. The Government greatly understand and appreciate the problems that the sector has faced during the lockdowns that have been necessary because of the coronavirus. Support has been made available, but ultimately this is taxpayers’ money that is being spent and, while it is right that the Government continue to work out how they can support the sector, ultimately, there is not unlimited money.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. I note that the debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment next Thursday will be held in Government time, not Backbench Business Committee time. I assume that that is to allow the Government flexibility to change things should they need to do so, but may I ask the Leader of the House for any time that might become available, even at relatively short notice? We can have Back-Bench debates oven ready to fill any slots that might open up to the House.
I also echo the comments of the previous speaker, Sir Greg Knight; the hospitality sector across the tier 3 north-east needs urgent support. The policy needs urgent review and upgrade, or many businesses and jobs will be lost. Lastly, Mr Speaker, I live in the midst of and represent a large Orthodox Jewish community here in Gateshead, so I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, and of the Leader of the House, in wishing the whole community that I represent a very happy Hanukkah.
An oven-ready debate sounds like a very tempting idea. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the forthcoming Adjournment debate will be in Government time. He is also right that this does allow for flexibility. It is important to recognise that there is a balance to be struck when providing time for debates where Members may do a great deal of preparation and a great deal of work beforehand, and then find that Government business has to supersede them, potentially, at relatively short notice—be that statements, debates or even legislation in the event of a deal. Therefore, I hope the House will understand that next week particularly we need to maintain flexibility, but I am well aware of the Standing Order requirements to provide Backbench Business debates.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the hospitality sector. There is not a great deal for me to add to what I said to my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, but it is something the Government are concerned about. Its being raised by so many Members is a reminder of this House’s facility to seek redress of grievance for the constituent, and that is a proper thing for this House to be doing.
My right hon. Friend once revealed to the House that he likes
“a good, proper, plain, British banger.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 526, c. 703.]
However, proposals to restrict the online advertising of certain foods are currently under consultation. If accepted, they would ban farm shops, butchers, restaurants and pubs—from North East Somerset to Dewsbury—advertising their delicious bangers via social media, local newspaper websites and even email newsletters. Given the pervasive impacts of the proposals and the flimsy evidence base, will my right hon. Friend commit to holding a debate before any proposals are taken forward?
My hon. Friend raises an exceptionally important point. In 2020, of all years, I think it is right that we do all we can to support small businesses in our food and hospitality sectors. I must confess that I would not hold up my own diet as being a model for anybody else, child or otherwise. I have a predilection for Creme Eggs that is probably not to be encouraged, and I did even once have a deep-fried Mars bar, which was absolutely delicious.
I am glad to see that there is something on which I agree with the Scottish National party.
Reducing obesity levels is a key priority of this Government—and rightly so, bearing in mind the effects of obesity on covid—and our ambition is to halve childhood obesity by 2020. However, I understand that the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are currently running a consultation on how to proceed with their proposed policies on food advertising, and I would urge all hon. and right hon. Members, and indeed members of the public, to respond. My hon Friend might like to write in and remind people that
“A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”.
I think we need more work at the moment.
Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute this morning to a valued member of staff of the House, my former Clerk of the International Trade Committee, Lydia Menzies, who sadly passed away last week at the age of just 38. Lydia was a fantastic Clerk—knowledgeable, helpful to Committee members, and a friend and mentor to her colleagues as well. Lydia’s wonderful sense of humour and wit made working with her enjoyable for everyone. In fact, the tie I am wearing this morning was a present from Lydia, of her own tartan, when she left the Committee. Such was her nature: she gave presents at moments like that. It was indeed a privilege to work with Lydia, and I understand that the Leader of the House worked with her, too. Doubtless he will join this morning in paying tribute to Lydia. My thoughts and those of the tremendous ITC staff and colleagues from across this House are with her husband, Greg, her 18-month-old daughter, Orla, and her wider family.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to Lydia Menzies, who was a very valued member of the House staff and a distinguished Clerk. She served on several Committees, including his, and was in the Table Office for a period, and many Members will have come across her there. I have always found that the Table Office provides a wonderful service in helping Members to avoid mistakes and to enable them to craft their questions in a way that will be orderly, and she was very helpful to me when I was visiting the Table Office. She was seconded for a period to the Department for International Trade, so also had some experience of Government, and she was also a great teacher and source of inspiration to colleagues. Her early death is a great loss to the House service, and I pass on my condolences to her husband, Greg, and to her daughter, Orla.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.
May I, too, add my comments and say that I have sent a letter to the family? Lydia’s death was a shock to all of us. She has been robbed from this House far too soon and from her family. She had a great career ahead of her. It is a sad time, but, as the Leader of the House says, all our thoughts and prayers go to the family.
I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the Chairman of the International Development Committee and me about keeping that Committee, because we recognise its value, and I am really pleased to see that he does, too.
My question is related to hospitality businesses, and has been raised before. Many of them have spent not just thousands of pounds but tens of thousands of pounds to make themselves covid-secure, but in tier 3 they cannot open at all. They can do takeaways, but they are losing money hand over fist. Could we have a statement, or a debate in Government time, to look at the plight of hospitality businesses, because in my constituency many of them are covid-free but cannot be used? That is not logical.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s approval of our decision to keep the overseas aid Committee going. She and the Chairman of the Committee made a compelling case in meetings with me and with others.
As regards the hospitality sector, the Government absolutely appreciate the enormous sacrifices that businesses and the hospitality sector have made to ensure that their premises are covid-secure. The decision to place restrictions on them has not been taken lightly, but for the clear need to suppress the coronavirus. It is right that the Government should support the sector how it can. The rent is being covered by cash grants worth up to £3,000 for each month a business is forced to close. We estimate that this will cover rent for around 90% of small and medium retail, hospitality and leisure properties in England. Pay is being covered by furlough, with employers only paying national insurance and pension contributions. Businesses facing reduced demand in tiers 2 and 3 can receive cash grants worth up to £2,100 a month, but, as I have already said to other hon. Members, it is quite right that this matter is brought to the Floor of the House, because this is how we carry out our historic responsibility of seeking redress of grievance.
Yesterday, the front page of the Financial Times informed the House that the Government would not be applying the tariffs awarded by the World Trade Organisation against the United States. That may well have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of jobs at Airbus and its suppliers and on the UK steel industry, but there has been no statement to this House—not even a measly written statement. Can we have an urgent debate on why this Government are happy to sell British jobs down the river to the fag end of the Trump Administration?
The Department did notify two Select Committees about its intention and wrote to the Chairmen of those Select Committees notifying them, so Parliament was informed, although I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that a written statement would have been preferable, and I am passing that view on to the Department.
As regards the issue of tariffs, these are the reverse of mercy. Mercy is known to bless both the giver and the receiver, but tariffs harm both the payer and the imposter of the tariff. Therefore, removing tariffs and encouraging free trade is something that we should always welcome. It is good economic policy.
Employability organisations such as Safe Opportunities and Seetec Pluss and employers such as AO.com and charities such as Community Recycle Cycles work incredibly hard in my constituency to secure employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Like me, they are concerned about the impact of coronavirus on jobs going forward and their ability to carry on with that work. Will the Leader of the House inform us of what opportunities we might have coming forward to raise those important issues on behalf of our constituents who struggle with employment and disability?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Supporting people with disabilities to find dignified and fulfilling work is one of the most important things our welfare system can do. The coronavirus pandemic has posed huge challenges to our welfare system, and I am pleased to say that the Department for Work and Pensions has managed to withstand and address them. We are actively working on policies to prevent ill health-related job losses, and we provide specific employment support for disabled people out of work. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he might wish to be called in the pre-Adjournment debate, when he can raise the issues specific to his constituency and praise those firms he is working with to help disabled people find employment.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s 10-point green strategy for the entire economy. I wonder whether the Leader of the House agrees with me that the £600 million spent each year through the bus operator grant to subsidise the purchase of diesel fuel for buses is no longer fit for purpose in the light of that green strategy. Will he agree to a debate on a policy shift that would allow and encourage the purchase of zero-emission buses and allow for a green transport strategy across the entire country to increase employment for our entire people?
The Government are committed to spending £2 billion of taxpayers’ money to improve local bus services and we are committed to buses that have low emissions. I understand that some of those buses are made in Northern Ireland, possibly even in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, so I hope that there will be employment, prosperity and success in his constituency and in Northern Ireland as a whole.
Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of attending a Zoom call with Schools North East and local headteachers from Whitworth Park Academy in Spennymoor and Thornhill Primary in Shildon. They raised concerns about the cost of covid to education budgets, particularly with regard to supply teacher provision and the cost of additional cleaning equipment. One of the key concerns is that those schools, which have worked incredibly hard to balance their budgets and make this work, cannot access the extraordinary funding that schools that have perhaps not been so prudent with their finances can access. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend if he will raise this with the Education Secretary to ensure that the views of local headteachers right across the north-east are taken into account on this.
I can assure the House that after business questions I always pass on to all Secretaries of State any points that are relevant to their Departments that I feel ought to be raised with them, and I return their answers to Members accordingly. However, it is worth pointing out that we have supported schools throughout the pandemic, and they have been able to claim up to £75,000 for unavoidable costs such as the additional cleaning that my hon. Friend mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced during the recent spending review that school funding would increase by £2.2 billion next year, so the Government are doing everything they can to help schools by providing the necessary taxpayers’ money to help them to get through this difficult period.
The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc has been a major project that the Government have been considering for some years, but the detail seems to have been lost in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport. The highly unpopular road link has been paused for a year and there is still no clarity on whether the east-west rail link will be an environmentally friendly electrified line or a diesel line. Can we have a statement from the Minister—some Minister—to provide clarity on this subject?
Transport connectivity is absolutely essential to economic growth. In the arc to which the hon. Gentleman refers there has been enormous economic growth recently, and ensuring that there is good transport infrastructure will help that to go further. As regards a specific debate, I cannot promise him one, but it is a great advantage that we have an end-of-term Adjournment debate, because I can offer that to almost everybody for any subject that they may wish to raise.
The great British pub has had a difficult year, not just being closed for much of it but also bearing the heavy brunt of the restrictions when they are permitted to open. Our pubs, restaurants and hospitality businesses in Carshalton and Wallington have been in touch to tell me about the struggles they have been having, so could we have a debate about support for hospitality so we can help them to thrive once the pandemic has passed?
I am noting that a lot of people are asking about the hospitality sector. That shows the strength of feeling about this in the House, and it may well be something that people will want to raise in the debate on covid that will take place on Monday. We all know the difficulties that pubs in particular have faced in the extraordinary circumstances of this year. I would reiterate that the restrictions that we have placed on them have not been done lightly, but because of the clear need to suppress the virus. The Prime Minister announced last Tuesday that an additional grant of £1,000 will be provided to all of what are so inelegantly referred to as wet pubs, but what we in this House like to call boozers, in tiers 2 and 3 in December, benefiting around 27,000 businesses, and VAT has been cut to 5%. Ultimately, however, there will be broad sunlit uplands, at which point we must support our pubs. It will be our patriotic duty to go and drink a yard of ale.
Under the Erasmus+ programme, every year over 250 students study at the University of Bath alone and there are many thousands of students across the country who also study under the programme. We cannot underestimate the value it brings, not least in financial terms, to our universities. In three weeks’ time, the transition period ends and the Government do not seem to have any plan, beyond allowing students who are already on the programme to finish it. The all-party group on Erasmus has already asked for a debate on this issue, but short of a debate, may we have a statement on what the Government are planning with Erasmus+ and International Student Exchange?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising a question that I know will be of interest to many across the House.
Under the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, the UK will continue to participate fully in the current 2014 to 2020 Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes. This means that the projects successfully bid for during the current programmes will continue to receive EU funding for the full duration of the project, including those where funding runs beyond 2020 and the end of the transition period. Negotiations are obviously continuing with the European Union at the moment, but in parallel with those negotiations the Government are continuing to develop a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+ as a contingency measure. The spending review 2020 provides funding to prepare for a UK-wide domestic alternative to Erasmus+, in the event that the UK no longer participates in Erasmus+, to fund outward global education mobilities—which I think means people studying abroad. The Government will set out further details in due course, but if the hon. Lady feels that that is not a comprehensive enough answer, if she would write to me I will take it up further.
Just a gentle reminder that we do have a lot of business to get through this afternoon, including a hugely subscribed debate on the high street, so if we could have fairly succinct questions and answers that would be superb.
With that in mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will just say to my right hon. Friend that, as he knows, there are two plans for local government reform in Somerset. One of them, from the districts, is an extremely good plan and it will restore our wonderful county back to its grandeur. The other one, from the county council, just does not cut the mustard and is rubbish. The panic now setting in with the management there is getting embarrassing. County staff have been told that they are not to allow difficult questions to the management or the councillors. This sort of desperate intimidation was used by the Vikings. We need a full debate to expose the county council’s tactics and the bullying it is up to. My right hon. Friend knows that King Alfred beat Guthrum and the Vikings retreated to Essex—obviously. Surely, no one in Somerset deserves such a fate.
Somerset is the glory of our nation and a whole united Somerset would be of great advantage to the United Kingdom. It is worth remembering that, if Alfred had not retreated to the Somerset Levels and worked out how to defeat the Danes, our country would never have achieved the greatness that it has achieved.
Please may we have a debate on the fast growth of the buy now, pay later sector, as highlighted this week by Martin Lewis in the Treasury Committee? These firms are targeting predominantly under-30s who in the run-up to Christmas are shopping online with what is an explosive form of credit that may leave many in debt. Even some in the industry acknowledge that this form of credit needs to be regulated.
The hon. Lady once again raises a really important issue at business questions and I am grateful to her. Whenever new forms of credit come along, they often produce risks that people are not aware of until some time has passed, at which point it is too late to do anything. So I think looking at these things early on is important. From the Government’s point of view, we had better wait for the Treasury Committee’s report to see what it recommends in this direction, but she is right to highlight the risks of credit, particularly to younger people.
Last Saturday, a gentleman called Simon Royce-Dexter was taken ill in the mighty Shirebrook in my constituency. A group of young adults were nearby. They called an ambulance, looked after Simon and kept everybody calm during the incident. Simon wrote on Facebook afterwards that Keane, Max, Charlie, Megan, Keegan, Shay and many others were a credit to their parents and to their community. In that spirit, may we have a debate on community champions, so we can praise not only these fine young people but the dozens who have been made heroes of Bolsover in this most difficult of years?
It is wonderful to hear what my hon. Friend says and encouraging that young people, who often get a bit of a bad press, are actually heroes too, so may I join him in congratulating Keane, Max, Charlie, Megan and the others, who are community champions—they got involved, modelled themselves on the Good Samaritan and did not walk by? The community champions scheme will support those groups at greatest risk from covid-19 to ensure key public health advice is understood and safer behaviours are followed, but it seems to me that people can do things—can be Good Samaritans—without being told what to do by Her Majesty’s Government.
Yesterday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report describing a “rising tide of destitution” across the UK, including the shocking finding that the number of children experiencing destitution rose by 52% between 2017 and 2019. This means families unable to access absolute essentials—a roof over their head, food, heating and lighting, clothing and footwear, and basic toiletries. Food banks and charities such Sharewear and Shoe Aid are doing incredible work to try to help, but, as the report says:
“In a society like ours, this is intolerable.”
Can we have a debate on how this Government’s policies have led to such a shameful situation and the urgent measures needed to address it?
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the gloomiest bodies around and it ignores the success of the Conservative party in government. We have doubled free childcare for eligible working parents and will establish a £1 billion childcare fund, giving parents the support they need and freedom to look after their children. We are having a £400 million scheme to support children, families and the most vulnerable over the winter and through 2021. Child poverty has gone down in absolute levels by 100,000 since 2010. So there is a good, strong record and we should be proud of that. There is always more to do, but more is being done.
As the National Infrastructure Commission will be publishing its recommendations on the integrated rail plan next week, can my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity for us to impress on the Government that there is cross-party support for the HS2 east midlands hub to be at Toton and the eastern leg to extend to Leeds? We cannot level up in part; we must level up in full.
My hon. Friend is right to be a champion for levelling up, and the integrated rail plan will focus on sequencing and delivering transformational rail improvements along the HS2 and northern powerhouse rail routes so that their benefits are delivered to communities as quickly as possible. On the eastern leg, the integrated rail plan will consider how to sequence delivery to ensure that the benefits are realised sooner and to ensure it is integrated with plans for northern powerhouse rail and other rail investment projects. I recognise that there are concerns about what the NIC is likely to suggest in its report, but it is an independent body so it is right that we wait to see what it has to say in its evaluation of the evidence and in undertaking its assessment. Once the report is published, Ministers will consider the conclusions. I hope that provides a degree of reassurance to my hon. Friend.
First, may I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pass on to Mr Speaker my thanks and congratulations to everyone involved in the outdoor socially-distanced carol service that took place in New Palace Yard yesterday? It was a lovely occasion.
May I ask the Leader of the House if we can have a debate on sovereignty? The briefing pack for his party’s Back Benchers keeps banging on about how the United Kingdom is about to become an independent sovereign nation, and I wonder if that means that it is Government policy that other EU members, such as Germany, France, Spain and the rest of them, are somehow not independent sovereign nations, because I think that would be news to them. If he does think that sovereignty is so important, will he confirm that in May next year he will support the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs?
There will be an election in Scotland and whoever wins it will form the Government in Holyrood; that is an obvious state of democracy. It is also an obvious state of democracy that people voted in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom, in the great wisdom of the Scottish people. As regards the point the hon. Gentleman makes about the UK being independent on
Last week, Chris Bryant sent me a message hoping that I would vote for the amendment in the names of my hon. Friend Mr Baron and himself. He then proceeded to talk out the provision that would have allowed clinically vulnerable MPs to participate remotely in debates. His message was an empty gesture. Twice this motion has been blocked, and it means that all elected MPs are not treated the same in this House.
This is an affront to democracy, especially when unelected Members in the other place can participate remotely in debates. It is a shameful position for the mother of Parliaments and a very poor international example. Mr Speaker and his office have been supportive throughout on this appalling situation, but can the Leader of the House please bring back this motion, perhaps as a 90-minute debate at the end of the day, so that we do not continue to gag vulnerable MPs and we allow them to contribute to debates? Otherwise, it makes a mockery of business questions; what is the point of requesting a debate when people like me cannot take part in it?
My right hon. Friend knows the sympathy I have with her, and that is why we brought forth the motion to allow her and others who are clinically vulnerable to participate in debates. It is quite extraordinary that the debate was talked out—indeed, by somebody talking out his own amendment, which is an unusual use of parliamentary procedure. I can assure my right hon. Friend that our efforts in this regard are kept under review. I would very much like it to be possible to allow people who are seriously clinically vulnerable to be able to participate, but I cannot give her any firm date at the moment.
I want to raise the issue of universities. Will the Leader of the House make time available next week to debate the pressures on universities as they deal with the return of students next term in order to control the pandemic? Issues such as isolation payments for students, testing for students from home and overseas and payment for accommodation that students are not able to return to need to be debated.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a famously left-wing organisation. It always takes up left-wing causes, and that is not a surprise; that is what it does.
In relation to a debate on covid and universities, there is a debate on Monday on covid generally. That will be a good opportunity to bring up these issues, which I recognise are important and on which universities will want formal answers from the Government.
Having heard from the tourism and hospitality industry in Devon this week, I am gravely concerned that tier 2 could be the death knell for a huge number of these businesses. Will my right hon. Friend secure Government time to debate how this vital sector can survive when households cannot meet indoors in tier 2 and these businesses are entitled to far less support than the revenue they are missing?
I will reiterate what I said before: these decisions were not taken lightly, and there is support available. I understand exactly the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I am very aware that this point has been raised more than any other during this set of business questions. The debate on Monday will be an opportunity to raise it, but I can assure her that the points made by her and other Members will be passed on within Government.
I join others in wishing my Jewish constituents chag urim sameach.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave comfort to the 3.6 million leaseholders who are in unsafe buildings because of unsafe cladding that they would not have to pay for the remediation of that cladding. However, the £1.6 billion fund allocated by the Government runs out on
I think some comfort has been brought forward with the most significant building safety reforms in almost 40 years, providing £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding, making homes safer, sooner. Almost 80% of buildings with dangerous Grenfell-style cladding have had it removed or are in the process of doing so, rising to 97% in the social housing sector. Over 100 buildings have started remediation on-site in 2020 so far, despite the continuing backdrop of the global pandemic—more than in the whole of 2019—and we are clear that works to remove unsafe aluminium composite material cladding must be completed by the end of 2021. I hope that this will provide some reassurance to leaseholders, but I accept that there are others in difficult circumstances, and my hon. Friend is right to raise this issue.
The Leader of the House has just stressed that we are coming out of the EU on
“We are developing a package of proposals to reform the UK’s procurement regulations”,
and he goes on to say:
“We still plan to publish our proposals later this year and bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows”.
This was on
There is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repented than the 99 who never needed to repent in the first place. I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman becoming such an ardent Eurosceptic and welcoming the advantages of leaving the European Union, in that we can set our own procurement rules and, if we choose, help local firms and British businesses. That will be a matter for us to decide as a country, and my noble friend, Lord Agnew, has written to the right hon. Gentleman and set out the position pretty clearly.
Following the answer given to my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan, may I press the Leader of the House further on virtual participation in debates and endorse the opinions of the Procedure Committee that we should complete the debate started on
My hon. Friend will be able to vote, because there has been a system set up for proxy votes. We had two hours of debate on this issue, and some hon. Members deliberately decided to talk it out and not allow the House to come to a conclusion. We notice in business questions the pressure of time from Members asking the Backbench Business Committee for debates on specific subjects. Having provided two hours of debate, it is difficult to know what more the Government could have done.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s engagement with faith groups? The Department’s faith engagement review closes tomorrow night, but ironically and shockingly, it quietly removed Ahmadi Muslims from the list of Muslim denominations after angry representations from radical groups such as Khatme Nubuwwat. Given that His Holiness the head of the Ahmadi faith and thousands of Ahmadis have sought asylum, support and safety in the UK because of precisely this sort of persecution in Pakistan, is it not shocking that a Department of the British Government would seem to act in a similar way?
May I begin by thanking the hon. Lady for doing something that she does not know that I know she is doing in helping a member of my parliamentary team who happens to be her constituent? I am very grateful for that and much appreciate what is being done for a member of my team.
The point the hon. Lady raises on the Ahmadis is deeply concerning, and I assure her that I will take it up with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It should not be for other groups to decide which groups are listed. It should be for the groups themselves to determine whether they are identified as specific groups.
Like many others, it was a delight for me to spend Small Business Saturday in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke visiting local retailers such as Goldenhill Garden Centre, Scott’s Barbers in Butt Lane, Barewall Art Gallery in Burslem, Abacus Books and Cards in Milton and the lovely Margaret Thelwell, with her vanilla custards, at Tunstall indoor market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we back our local high streets after they have made so many sacrifices to protect us and our NHS, and can we find parliamentary time to celebrate local independent retailers?
Margaret’s vanilla custards at the Tunstall indoor market sound mouth-wateringly good to those of us who have a sweet tooth. My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of supporting our high streets during these difficult times. Small Business Saturday was a great opportunity to show support for businesses across the country. The Government have supported businesses throughout the pandemic, approving nearly 1.4 million bounce back loans for small and micro-businesses worth over £42 billion, and nearly 80,000 coronavirus business interruption loans worth nearly £18.5 billion. If we all follow the lead of my hon. Friend and visit shops such as Goldenhill Garden Centre, Scott’s Barbers, Barewall Art Gallery and Abacas Books and Cards, we will find that our bank balances may be lower, but the high street will be higher.
Diolch yn fawr, Dirprwy Lefarydd.
A disturbing development this year is the use of military camps in Folkestone and Penally to house asylum seekers. The Home Office is shrouding its actions in secrecy—from not releasing details of the scoping exercise used to select camps, to reportedly using non-disclosure agreements to prevent refugee support groups delivering winter clothing from telling the outside world what is happening inside. With legal challenges being prepared, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the use of military camps for this purpose?
Immigration policy is evolving at the moment, as we leave the European Union. We are committed to delivering a firmer, fairer, points-based immigration system, and to ensuring that people who are here are here legally and legitimately. This, of course, has to be done humanely and with respect for people’s individual dignity, and I believe that that is what the Government are doing. If the right hon. Lady were to raise this matter next Thursday in the debate before the forthcoming adjournment, it would be an opportunity to get a ministerial response.
Across the country and in towns like Eston, our high streets have large empty units on them that get in the way of much-needed redevelopment. Eston Square has been held back by the Precinct building, like Redcar has been constrained by Marks & Spencer and B&M. Can we have a debate in Government time on what powers can be given to local communities to help free up these large units?
The Government recognise that this is a challenging time for everyone in the country, and the coronavirus is having a significant effect on our communities, town centres and businesses. Now more than ever, it is vital that we continue to help our local economies by supporting town centres and high streets to recover, adapt and evolve. To support our high streets, we have also introduced reforms of use classes to enable the more flexible use of existing buildings. These came into force on
My caseworker’s husband, Alan, is a self-employed mortgage adviser, and applied for a mortgage holiday. Nationwide, their lender, confirmed that it would not affect their credit rating, yet when they went to move home and wanted to transfer the mortgage, the company would not allow it; it actually penalised them and confirmed that their credit rating had been affected. Alan had even made payments during the holiday period to eliminate the risk of this. Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing to ensure they keep their promise that credit ratings would not be affected by mortgage repayment holidays applied for during the pandemic?
That sounds like an appalling way to behave. The hon. Gentleman is right to come to this House and hold Nationwide to account for not treating his constituent fairly. He has now put it on the record. I will take it up with my ministerial colleagues, but the issue at hand is that people who took mortgage holidays were assured that their credit ratings would not be affected. When this is something that is said, it is something that ought also to be done.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for debate on British nationals held in custody overseas? I am delighted to say that my constituent, Lakhbir Sandhu, was recently found not guilty on all counts by a Czech court, but he did spend a considerable time in prison. I thank our embassy there for all that it did to help. I now have another constituent who was held in prison in Spain. He wants to clear his name; again, any support would be welcome.
This is a reminder that the points made by Valerie Vaz on this subject are more widespread every week, with more Governments sometimes holding British citizens when they should not. Consular staff aim to help people and contact a person who is arrested as soon as possible after hearing of the arrest or detention, so that they may assess how the Government can help—although that may depend on local procedures—with an aim of providing assistance according to individual circumstances and local conditions. However, I encourage my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to raise such issues regularly to ensure that the Foreign Office is alerted to them and that pressure is applied, particularly with friendly nations with which we have good relations and which we hope will recognise that Palmerston had something to say about this subject.
Some leaseholders who are affected by the cladding scandal are now starting to declare bankruptcy, because of the escalating service charges that they are being forced to pay. That gives the question of who pays for the fire safety remediation work renewed urgency. There is an opportunity for the House to debate this when the Fire Safety Bill comes back for consideration of Lords amendments, but the programme motion allows for only one hour of debate. Will the Government amend the programme motion to allow sufficient time for a proper debate of Lords amendments and Commons amendments in lieu of Lords amendments and, crucially, to allow MPs to vote on the issues?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this. The Fire Safety Bill is an essential piece of legislation which this Government have brought forward to bring about real improvements in fire safety across the UK. We are committed to implementing the recommendations made following phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. As regards the programme motion available for consideration of Lords amendments, I have heard her appeal. These things always depend on the availability of parliamentary time and the other pressing issues that we may need to debate, but what she said has been noted.
I thank the Leader of the House. We will now have a three-minute suspension to allow for the safe exit and entry of right hon. and hon. Members.