The business for the week commencing
Provisional business for the week commencing
What a lovely statement—something for everybody. It is a bit like a cracker, except I do not think that we are supposed to use crackers any more, as they are not good for the environment. I thank the Leader of the House for the statement, and obviously for the Opposition day. Depending on what happens later with the motion, he may have to return and make a further statement: we shall have to see.
I want to begin by thanking all the staff for bringing us back here and enabling us to carry out this very important day. Some of them were up until 4 o’clock in the morning. Many of them have produced call lists, and have arranged the business today at short notice. I thank everyone who has done that—they have actually been on the estate. The key thing is that we do not see them—they are unseen—and sometimes they do not have a voice. Both the Leader of the House and I are aware of the work that goes on behind the scenes. It was absolutely exceptional that we agreed the motion on virtual proceedings. Not even an hour later, our colleagues were able to take part and have a voice on one of the most important pieces of legislation. I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers will pass on our thanks to all the staff who have done that.
We have moved the Leader of the House, finally, to enable virtual proceedings, to allow our colleagues to take part in a virtual debate. I thank the Procedure Committee for the work that it has done, and for listening to Members who have expressed concern about their inability to take part in debates. Members are still moving around the country—we still have to travel here, but we know that the majority of the country is in tier 4. I want to ask the Leader of the House if he will look again at remote voting. Whatever we think about proxy votes, they work, but even when we use the card reader, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on, and we must make sure that Members’ staff and staff of the House are safe as well. I hope that he will look at that, and try to facilitate it, because the new variant is haunting the country. The Prime Minister has already announced—I think he has announced it outside, not necessarily to the House—that we might not be out of tier 4 until April, so—
Yes, well, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should be listening to Peston, not coming into the House.
I thank and pay tribute to all the NHS staff—all the carers, everyone in care homes and hospitals, and the ambulance drivers who are apparently lining up and are having to make decisions on who has an ambulance first, which is a terrible, terrible state to be in. The Leader of the House has announced a general debate on covid on Tuesday
The Leader of the House has announced a general debate on global Britain. He will now know that the incoming Biden-Harris Administration do not want to deal with the UK any more—they are going to deal with the EU directly, which is a pity—so it might actually be quite a short debate. But will he clarify the Foreign Secretary’s remarks when he said that British citizens should not expect support when they are abroad? I know the Leader of the House has been very assiduous, and I thank him and his staff for writing the letters to the Secretary of State when I have asked at the Dispatch Box, but has the British ambassador seen Nazanin and Anousheh? Certainly Anousheh also needs diplomatic protection, like Nazanin has.
Today was an unacceptable way to pass the most important piece of legislation that this Parliament is going to pass. Yes, we facilitated it, but that does not mean we agree with it. The EU has not said that this is the responsible thing to do. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will just hang on for a second and listen to what I have to say rather than heckle; I know it is pantomime season, but even so. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster seemed to spend more time deriding leaders of the Opposition parties than actually saying why businesses should have a bumpy ride. We heard about Brussels tape, but in fact we are going to see a lot more Tory tape from now on as goods move from one side to another and we have a border in the Irish sea.
Will the Leader of the House’s new year resolution be about allowing Parliament to be respected a bit more, with statements made to the House, and particularly, on all our legislation that is passed, that the House will be told first, rather than those outside?
On behalf of the Opposition, I pay my condolences to Brian Binley’s family. He was a lovely, lovely man, and very kind to new Members.
As we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, and how his music was used to unite countries after the terrible war, I want to say a couple of lines from the “Ode to Joy”—because Labour Members will still be singing the “Ode to Joy”: “All that custom has divided, All men and women will be brothers and sisters, Under the sway of thy gentle wing.” I wish everyone a very happy new year.
I think the answer is “da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah”, which I seem to remember is Morse code for “V for victory”, which is very much the spirit that we are in today.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her support on today’s business. It is the sensible way—the right way—to have conducted our business. It is one of the glories of our constitution that this Parliament—this nation—can be flexible when necessary. It has to be said that the debate on this subject has gone on for many years: there is hardly a new thing that can be said upon it. Therefore, it was quite right, it was suitable and it was appropriate that we met our international obligations in the way that we did.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her tribute to Brian Binley, who was a much loved Member of this House on all sides. He showed great personal kindness to new Members, including to me when I first got into the House. He was always available with a wise and friendly word. He never appeared grand or pompous in his approach to Parliament but was a committed and true parliamentarian. He will be sadly missed.
The right hon. Lady asked whether business might change subject to the vote later this evening. She is, as always, accurate in her understanding of parliamentary procedure. There is a vote on the Adjournment until
The right hon. Lady’s main point about thanking the staff is of fundamental importance. As she rightly says, they were up until 4 o’clock in the morning to ensure the papers were ready for today, but that is not the end of it. Many staff will be working late into tonight, once Royal Assent has been given, to ensure that the statutory instruments are available, and that is why I think the proposed recess extension is absolutely suitable.
MPs will be working in their constituencies, or should be working in their constituencies, and they should be attending to their constituents’ interests and seeking redress of grievances outside the Chamber, but we owe it to the officials, the professionals, the staff of this House, who have worked unceasingly over Christmas to ensure the business was ready for
It is not only just this last week, but this House sat an exceptionally long time in 2020, for 40 weeks, which is the highest since 2010. I am not saying it has not been higher over a longer period, but we have only checked back to 2010. We did not have the conference recess, so the staff of this House have really come up trumps for us and deserve great tribute. Hansard cannot see your elegant nod, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I hope the Hansard reporter from her eyrie will note in her report that you are nodding in agreement, because we owe them a great debt and the least we can do is allow them to have a few days off. But of course they and we stand ready to come back if circumstances require it. That has always been the case. Recall is an accepted part of our constitution, and it would not be impossible to speculate on the circumstances that might lead to a recall in this business session.
As regards Members coming, Members have an absolute right to come to this House and have done so since 1340—not to this specific House, because it had not been built then—to attend Parliament, and that is a right we should defend. It is important that Parliament works.
As the right hon. Lady kindly said, the proxy system is working and also has the advantage of a fallback system so that if the card readers do not work, as we found when they did not work on one occasion, the vote can be taken immediately. That is of great importance, because it did fail in the House of Lords and they had no standby procedure. If it were to have failed today, imagine the inconvenience it would have caused, so having a robust, effective system is absolutely what we want. We really do not want to model ourselves on the House of Lords on this occasion, worthy and noble though their lordships are.
The right hon. Lady is right to thank the NHS staff, who have worked so hard and are doing such terrific work to ensure that people are vaccinated, and the reports I am hearing anecdotally from my friends who are 80 and older are very encouraging. On her request for a statement from the vaccine Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care himself spoke about the vaccine earlier, and it is going well. The vaccine is being rolled out and is fundamental to the hope we have for next year.
The right hon. Lady rightly raises the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe every week. I have always been with the former Foreign Secretary, Palmerston, who, at the end of the Don Pacifico debate—one where people were saying he was overreacting in defence of a British subject—said:
“the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum;
so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England, will protect him against injustice and wrong.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 112, c. 444.]
The Government always wish and always seek to defend British subjects from injustice and wrong. The Prime Minister has raised the case of Nazanin directly with President Rouhani, and the Foreign Secretary did so with his counterpart two weeks ago, on
I pass on to the Foreign Secretary the questions that have been raised in this House every time they are raised, and the right hon. Lady is right to raise them because it is fundamental that a state must defend its subjects when they are treated unjustly in other countries. That is what the Foreign Office tries to do wherever it can.
Finally, on new year’s resolutions and anniversaries, I cannot resist reminding everybody that yesterday was the 850th anniversary of the murder of Saint Thomas à Becket, a great defender of religious liberty.
I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman nodding in approval of the work of Thomas à Becket, who we remember and ask to pray for us. Respect for Parliament is always uppermost in the mind of Her Majesty’s Government. That is why we are having so many statements and so many debates, which is exactly what we should have.
Just over a year ago, I stood on a manifesto commitment of increased funding for the police and more bobbies on the beat. I welcome the work the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are doing to fulfil that pledge. However, in Greater Manchester, we now have a police force in special measures, following years of poor leadership and a lack of attention from the Mayor. I ask my right hon. Friend for a statement from the Home Secretary on what is being done to address those failings by the Mayor.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this deeply troubling issue. It is quite wrong that Greater Manchester police—the country’s second largest police force—has got itself into this position and has had to be put into special measures. The Home Office and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services have stepped up their efforts to work closely with the police force to improve its performance rapidly. The police force is, of course, operationally independent and it is not for a Minister to weigh in on its daily affairs, although I understand that it exhibited serious failings in how it recorded crimes.
It is, I suppose, a case of who guards the guards themselves when we find that a police force is in special measures. We do expect and hope—although this may be the triumph of hope over experience—that the Mayor of Greater Manchester will remember that his primary job as the local police and crime commissioner is to keep his local communities safe. I hope that MPs like my hon. Friend will continue to bang on his door and ensure that he is at least making some effort to do his job.
First, let me welcome the Leader of the House’s conversion to virtual participation. A big majority of those who participated in today’s debate did so safely and efficiently from a remote location. Can I ask him also to stop resisting remote voting and to switch the system back on, so that all Members can vote according to their own conscience and without breaching public health guidelines?
When are we to expect a third party Opposition day, which is now long overdue?
Today, we saw the Government push through their deal with a complete lack of scrutiny and examination. The Government created this timetable by refusing even a short extension to the transition period, hoping that Christmas and covid would provide a smokescreen for their awful deal. The Government, and probably the Opposition, will be hoping that this concludes the matter, but it does not. Many Members on the call list did not get taken today, and many more who wanted to speak did not even make it on to the list. I would have thought that the first order of business in the new year would be to continue the discussion of the deal and allow those Members the chance to participate.
I ask for a specific debate on the Scottish fishing industry, which has now been betrayed by this Government. The removal of quota swaps and leases, which this deal includes, means that in five years’ time fewer white fish will be landed in Scottish harbours than happens now. That is a major kick in the teeth for Scotland’s coastal communities and the Government ought to be prepared to debate how they will mitigate the effects of this disastrous deal on them.
The Leader of the House may be aware that earlier this afternoon, the Scottish Parliament voted by 92 votes to 30 not to give consent to today’s Bill. Given that, can we have a debate on the consequences of the deal for devolution and on what this House should do when people vote in the Scottish general election for the right to choose to become an independent country?
I heartily reciprocate the kind good wishes of the hon. Gentleman. I hope he has a splendid new year and that he, his party, his friends and family and everyone in this House have a very jolly new year and a better 2021 than perhaps 2020 has been.
Every week, the hon. Gentleman complains that he lost the referendum in 2014. However, that does not change the fact that he lost. And when he lost, it was said by the SNP, which we now know is nationalist with a small “n”, that the result was for a generation. It is still for a generation, that generation has still not passed and he has still lost. I basically just repeat what I have been saying for the past few weeks.
The fishing industry, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is one of the great beneficiaries of Brexit. Is it not extraordinary that the Scottish nationalists, with a small “n”, wish to hand it back to Brussels and lose all the opportunities for Scottish fishing, so that they can be regulated from Brussels? It is quite extraordinary. It must be—what is it?—Stockholm syndrome that they have got. They have been imprisoned so long by the EU that they cannot bear to leave and want to be controlled, even at the cost of their fishing communities.
The hon. Gentleman complains that the debate was not long enough. Well, it was long enough—it was probably 50 years of debate over our membership of the European Union in truth—but if he wants to speak further on it, I know that the House will be waiting with bated breath for his contributions in the global Britain debate, which will be held on
As regards the prospect of increasing the period of transition, that would have been a very unwise thing to do, because it would have potentially entered us into billions of pounds of risk, as it would have taken us into the new multi-annual financial framework. It was fundamentally important that we did not take that risk and that we left when we said we would. It is also quite important to stick to commitments made to voters. We had promised the voters that we would leave, and so we did.
Proxy voting allows people to vote effectively and safely, and with their conscience. The hon. Gentleman might not have noticed, but the Deputy Chief Whip has facilitated people voting against the Government, if that is what they wish to do. The votes are being recorded according to the Member’s desire, not what they are ordered to do, because one cannot order Members. Members vote of their own accord, although occasionally their friends give them helpful advice.
As regards the move to more hybrid technology, the hon. Gentlemen is in Scotland and may not have noticed that London has gone into tier 4. We have therefore adopted a similar scheme to the one we had earlier in the year, when the highest level of restrictions was in place. This is merely responding to the reality in the country at large, which we always said we did. It is therefore consistent, but I look forward to us getting back to normal and having a full, bustling Chamber, without Perspex screens, plastic markings and signs facing this great Chamber.
It is great news that the Oxford vaccine was approved today. Can we have a debate at the earliest opportunity on the delivery of that vaccine? It is desperately important that it happens quickly. People are desperate to get their jobs, their businesses and their lives back, and the only way to do that is to make sure that jabs start being delivered as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend’s wish is my command. I am glad, therefore, to say that there will be a debate on covid on
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for his stated intention, with the rescheduling, to move our first Backbench day from
I am afraid that, despite the Secretary of State for Education’s exhortations otherwise, the links to the info on the reopening of primary schools is not apparent on the front page of the gov.uk website. Will the Leader of the House make sure that it is easily flagged up for headteachers, so that they can see exactly what is expected of them when they return to school?
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I also take this opportunity to wish you, Members across the House and all House staff a very happy new year—or as happy as might be possible—and to thank our NHS staff, Gateshead Council staff and every worker across the board who has kept things going to keep us safe, and to keep shops and services going to sustain us and all our constituents in these most difficult times? Happy new year.
I am glad that we are able to move the Backbench Business debate. I wonder if I may make a plea in return to the hon. Gentleman that he might protect those whose debates in Westminster Hall need to be moved, because one of them is present in the Chamber, and it is obviously a concern that people do not lose the debates that they had.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point about the website on what schools will have to do, and the Secretary of State for Education’s statement that it will be up and running and that headmasters and headmistresses will be able to use it efficiently. I am sure that is right, but immediately after this session I will check with the Secretary of State to ensure that is taking place, because if there are gremlins in the system, the gremlins need to be removed.
May I endorse the Leader of the House’s comments about the great Northamptonshire MP Brian Binley? He will be greatly missed, but, as someone who wanted to come out of the European Union, I think he will be smiling down on us today. When my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove and I founded GO, the Grassroots Out campaign to leave the EU, our goals were to end the free movement of people, to stop spending billions and billions of pounds each and every year with the EU and to make our own laws in our own country, judged by our own judges. Today, the Prime Minister has delivered on that pledge. He has delivered for the people. Given the historic nature of the treaty and the fact that so many Members of Parliament could not participate in the debate today, will the Leader of the House arrange for a series of debates on the treaty, rather like those we have on the Queen’s Speech?
We are going to have a debate as soon as we are back on global Britain, which allows us to look to the future now that we have left the European Union. I thank my hon. Friend: he has been a tireless campaigner in the Eurosceptic cause as long as I have known him and is one of the people who ensured that we got the referendum victory, so today is in many ways thanks to his efforts. I thought he was going to ask for a public holiday, and I was going to suggest that he could have one, not tomorrow, but the day after.
I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that it was totally unacceptable that the Education Secretary laid a written ministerial statement before the Christmas recess only after a press release had been issued by the Department for Education. I think he will also agree that it is worse still that that was issued on the last day of term—in fact, many schools had already broken up. The goalposts have been shifted again today, and headteachers, teachers and support staff also deserve a well-earned rest after a year of busting a gut for children and young people across the country. Can he understand why those staff, who are being asked to return to work on Monday, will look aghast and with horror at the fact that this House is proposing to give itself an extra week, at the Government’s suggestion? On that basis, does he not agree it would be right and proper, if teachers and support staff are back on Monday, that we should be back here too?
On the issue of written ministerial statements, the House ought always to be informed first, but I would point out that what is going on at the moment is changing rapidly in response to the course of the pandemic. Therefore, things often change and statements are made later than would otherwise be hoped for, because of the necessity of keeping up with the new information.
As regards this House and schools, this House does not sit at the same times as schools—we have come back today—and, as I said earlier, the fact that the House is not sitting does not mean that MPs are not working. Members of Parliament ought to be working, but we have to think about the staff of this House. The hon. Gentleman is being unfair on them. The hours that some members of staff have been working are really heroic, and they have done that to make our democracy function. We should be proud of them and praise them; we should not say, as Rehoboam said to Solomon, that having been scourged with whips they should now be scourged with scorpions. I think the whips have been quite enough.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that preventing the spread of covid-19 within workplaces is paramount? Can he therefore explain what additional measures are being considered to allow MPs to participate physically when we return after recess? I also take this opportunity to thank House staff for making today’s sitting possible.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. We want to get back to people’s participating physically as soon as possible. The House has been running an effective testing system for people who may have covid, and the question of flow testing has been considered, but other priorities have meant that the facilities are not there for that. Obviously, higher-risk Members of Parliament will be vaccinated in accordance with their turn. That will begin to take effect and I assume that some of the older Members of the House are beginning to get appointments to be vaccinated or, indeed, possibly are being vaccinated. It is important, however, that we get back physically so that we have the proper cut and thrust of debate, operate in the normal way on behalf of our constituents, and are in the same state as the rest of the country.
It is a great shame that the UK Government elected to leave the Erasmus scheme, which has supported thousands of young Scottish people to study and work abroad, as well as youth work, adult education and vocational training. Many elements of Erasmus support are not replicated in the proposed new Turing scheme, so thousands will lose out, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Can we have an urgent debate on resolving the problems caused by this short-sighted and damaging decision?
When I was a schoolboy, I had to learn to construe the letters of Erasmus from Latin into English, which I was never very good at, and I am afraid that rather than seeing him as a great figure of renaissance and learning, I found that he mainly complained about his lumbago and the poor dinners he was getting. None the less, the Erasmus programme is being replaced with a better programme, one that encapsulates what we are looking at. We are leaving the European Union and we thought that participation in the Erasmus programme would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom, but we are going to be looking globally, because that is what we are doing: we are taking our eyes from the narrow European focus and lifting them up to the horizon of the globe.
The Leader of the House is already aware of my concerns about the House not sitting next week. Of course, like my colleagues, I will continue to represent and work with my constituents across Wealden, but I do that best when I am here in the House. Will he confirm that the reason why the House will not sit next week is that we need to protect the staff who enable this House to perform? If that is the case, will he work with all other authorities in the House to make sure that there is enough resilience among staff and that we use the best technology possible so that we do not find ourselves in this situation again? Covid has changed everything, and the House must change too.
Very quickly, will the Leader of the House confirm when the Trade Bill will return to this House from the other place? One of the beauties of the Prime Minister’s new trade deal with the EU is that we have our parliamentary sovereignty back and can make our own trade deals, and we want to make sure that our trade deals with anyone with whom we wish to engage are done in accordance with values and ethics based on human rights.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I quite like one question, too—it makes it easier to answer—but I will do my best to answer both questions. With regard to the recess, I cannot agree to what my hon. Friend says. We have the right number of staff and the right level of expertise. We cannot duplicate such fine figures as the Clerk of the House. That is one person and to have the in-built redundancy of a spare Clerk of the House would be enormously expensive and, I think, very inefficient. We have to recognise that our staff are absolutely fantastic at taking on the extra load when that is necessary, but we must not burden them when it is not necessary.
As regards the Trade Bill, one of the interesting things about the past few months and the way in which we and the Lords have operated is that in our mainly physical presence we have managed to get through business rather quicker than their lordships, so it would be wrong of me to speculate as to when their lordships might have chewed through the Trade Bill.
Before the corona crisis, there was already a rising mental health problem in Britain, with unprecedented numbers of people trying to access mental support, which was often inadequate and they did not get any, and an increasing number of suicides, particularly among young men. The corona crisis has thrown this up and made the situation even worse, with many not getting the support they need, many left isolated, and 1.5 million children going through a profound mental health crisis or stress. I ask the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about consulting local health authorities and local government to see what we can do to increase support for people going through mental health crisis, and to consider what can be done to alleviate isolation through the appropriately managed opening of libraries and indoor sports facilities. That would give people in my constituency and many others some space beyond the very small and overcrowded flats in which many of them have to live, and which make their stress levels worse and worse. This is, I hasten to add, a very serious crisis, and if we do not deal with it now, it will be even worse when we finally come out of the corona lockdown.
The right hon. Gentleman is so right to raise this issue, and I think this concern is shared by Members from across the House. The stresses of covid have exacerbated the problem, and people who are living in accommodation that is small or does not have outside space must be finding this particularly difficult.
I can say what the Government are doing in terms of overall funding, with £13.3 billion in 2019-20. There will be the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation, with an extra £2.3 billion by 2023-24 to support 380,000 more adults and 345,000 more children. I am glad to say that the Mental Health Act 1983 will be updated; that was a manifesto commitment of the Government, and work is going on towards that. We must all make a great effort to ensure that there is proper care and proper concern for people with mental health difficulties, because, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is a serious problem, which has been getting more serious.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Brexit deal will greatly facilitate future business of the House, because Parliament can now ensure that there is a Brexit dividend? There can be a cost of living dividend, because we can control our VAT rates fully and cut energy bills; a skills dividend, as we train up our young people with the lifetime skills guarantee; and a social justice dividend, as we can spend the multi-billion-pound annual membership fee that we used to give the EU and establish a redistribution fund so that that money can go to disadvantaged and poorer communities across the UK instead.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have this authority. VAT rates will not be set by the European Court of Justice or by any European body; they will be set by this House. We have taken back control. As the Prime Minister himself has said, it provides us with the freedom to manoeuvre and govern our own affairs once again. The restoration of parliamentary sovereignty will be the engine of our future prosperity. It will drive our ambitious legislation for the future, the use of new and exciting technologies, regulatory freedom and independence and, of course, the levelling-up agenda. Above all else, Members such as my right hon. Friend will know who is responsible for decisions. Decisions will be made by and through this House.
May I confess to one fear, however? My right hon. Friend is such an effective campaigner that by the time he has set his sights on VAT, fuel duty and heaven knows what else, I am not sure that Her Majesty’s Government will have any revenue left.
From tomorrow, three quarters of the country will be placed into tier 4, meaning millions more businesses will have to shut overnight. Since tier 4 was created, we have heard nothing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about what is being done to support businesses that are being forced to close again. Does the Leader of the House not think that people who are facing financial ruin will find it absolutely appalling that Parliament will not be sitting next week, and that that sends a terrible message about the importance his Government place on support for businesses, who might not be able to wait another week to get the answers that they need?
The action taken so far has been absolutely unprecedented. Over £200 billion of taxpayers’ money has been dedicated to helping the economy; 12 million jobs have been protected through the furlough scheme and self-employed schemes, at a cost of £56 billion; thousands of businesses have been helped with over £100 billion-worth of support in loans, VAT deferrals, business grants, business rates relief and targeted grants and VAT cuts; the furlough scheme is continuing during this period for all parts of the United Kingdom until March; and the self-employed grant covers up to 80% of profit. A great deal is being done to help businesses, and local authorities have specific funds that they can use to help businesses that may otherwise not be able to achieve help through the specific schemes. A great deal is being done, the Chancellor has come to the House regularly and there will be a debate on covid on the Tuesday after we return.
A very happy new year to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and indeed to all the staff and the Leader of the House. Two weeks ago, the inquiry I chaired for British Future, that respected independent think tank, published its “ Barriers to Britishness” report, seeking a new approach to British citizenship policy. Its recommendations included the awarding of honorary British citizenship to migrants who have contributed in an outstanding and exemplary manner to our British society. Would the Leader of the House support a debate on how we can improve on citizenship policy?
I am tempted to go back to Don Pacifico, because he was a British citizen by virtue of being born in Gibraltar, yet his British citizenship was upheld by the then Government—by Palmerston—regardless. I think that British citizenship is equal among all of us, and that all British citizens, whether they have been British citizens through their families for hundreds of years or they became a British citizen five minutes ago, are equally British citizens, equally subject to the protection of law, equal in front of the law and equally part of our democratic society. We should all give that message, and everything my hon. Friend does to encourage that I fully support.
LEAP Sports Scotland, in my constituency, does fantastic work to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in sports and to break down barriers. It has been among many non-academic groups that have benefited from the wide opportunities afforded by Erasmus+ and is most concerned that it would lose out under the Turing scheme. So may we have a debate on facilitating Scotland’s continued participation in Erasmus+ as has been afforded to the people in Northern Ireland?
There will be opportunity to debate the Turing scheme when we come back and discuss global Britain, and to think about how much better it is for the whole country to look globally rather than at the narrow European sphere. It has to be said that the Scots have led the world in this; over centuries, Scottish explorers and adventurers—great figures from Scotland—have done so much in their travels abroad, and I hope that that will continue under the Turing scheme.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, the staff of the House and all Members a happy new year. Despite tier 4, I know that my constituents are excited about and welcome today’s vaccine announcement, which shows that we are hopefully in the final furlong—final furlough, I should say—of the pandemic. I am glad to see the debate on global Britain happening in the new year, and I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that we shall have plenty of these debates, now that we are free from the shackles of the EU. I hope they will be regular debates, particularly on both our new trade agreements and on our new year’s resolution, which is doubling down on levelling up for constituencies such as mine.
I hope we are in the last furlong of the furlough scheme, which was perhaps what my hon. Friend was getting at, with “furlong” and “furlough” all coming together. Yes, we must have lots of debates on the opportunities that face us, and I am sure that we will and that when we are back that will set us off to a good start. We will get the Trade Bill back from the House of Lords, and there will no doubt be Lords amendments to consider, and we will have an exciting legislative programme as well. He is absolutely right: double down and level up. That is a wonderful mixed metaphor and it is mathematically extremely complex, but, none the less, it is what we should be doing.
Before I ask my question, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I take the opportunity to wish you, the Leader of the House, fellow MPs and members of staff a happy new year? May I also take the opportunity to educate the Leader of the House on a great German composer, as “da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah” is Beethoven’s fifth symphony, whereas “Ode to Joy” is the ninth? But hey-ho.
When the fisheries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Victoria Prentis, held the call for MPs on Christmas eve, the answer she had for most questions was “I don’t yet know.” Since then, we have worked out some details for ourselves. Fishermen now want to know how they have ended up with a small increase in some quotas but will in fact be able to catch less fish than before. May we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so that he can explain to the fishing communities what has actually been done to deliver the sea of opportunities that he has promised?
I am so sorry I was not clear; I thought that everybody knew that “da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah” was the fifth symphony. It was, of course, used as the signature tune of the BBC during the second world war to indicate that freedom was coming to Europe. As regards fishermen, the deal delivers for our fishermen. It recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas in the next few years. There will be a rapid increase in quota—an uplift of up to 25%—by the end of five and a half years, beginning at 15%, before annual negotiations mean we can steadily increase beyond that point. In addition, £100 million will be spent in a programme to modernise the fishing fleet and the fish processing industry, so this is a great new opportunity for fishing. As the Prime Minister said in his speech earlier, it is putting right the wrongs of the common fisheries policy. May I finish by wishing my neighbour in Somerset a very happy new year? I am sorry that both Bath and North East Somerset are going into tier 3 from midnight tonight, or one minute past midnight tomorrow morning, but at least we will be able to have happy celebrations among ourselves.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his sterling personal contribution to securing the full Brexit of our dreams, but may I remind him that there is an organisation still frustrating our power to control our own borders and laws? I am referring to the European Court of Human Rights. Can we have a debate about that Court, particularly in light of its judgment, reported in The Times law reports yesterday, in the case of Unuane? That is a case where we deported a foreign national offender who had been sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment for very serious immigration offences—facilitating other people to break our immigration laws. The Court has said that deportation was unlawful. Can we have a debate to discuss judge-made law, which the Court itself referred to? It said that it was interpreting the law itself, although it is not spelt out in article 8.
The official Home Office line is that the Home Office is disappointed with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, as it has a duty to protect the public by removing foreign criminals who violate our laws, and that is obviously right, but I would say to my hon. Friend that there is one fundamental difference between the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights: ECJ judgments became our law automatically, but judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have to come through Parliament at some point to make our law compatible, but that ultimately is a choice. He will remember that was a choice we were very reluctant to make over voting rights for prisoners. The European Court of Human Rights has a different status—a lesser status—and the great protector of human rights in this nation is this House of Commons, not any court outside the country.
I thank the Leader of the House for his reply to my letter regarding his Scrooge-like attack on charities helping British children just before Christmas. When will he allow time to debate all the efforts of organisations such as UNICEF to support UK children so negatively affected by his Government’s policies, such as universal credit? Will he say what was neglected in his letter, which is when he will visit Southwark to see the excellent UNICEF-funded School Food Matters work here?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. People do think that UNICEF will be funding people in Yemen, and that is where it boasts of spending money and helping people who are in dire need, and that is quite right. That is a worthy service, and it is where it has support from British Government. Domestically, the British Government’s record is absolutely first class. We are working incredibly hard. We have expanded free school meals to all five to seven-year-olds, benefiting 1.4 million children. We have doubled free childcare for eligible working parents, and we will establish a £1 billion childcare fund, giving parents the support and freedom to look after their children. We are spending £400 million of taxpayers’ money to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter and through 2021, and we are putting an additional £1.7 billion into universal credit work allowances by 2023-24, which will give families an extra £630 a year. In addition, over 630,000 fewer children are living in workless households than did in 2010—the best route out of poverty—with 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty between 2010 and 2019. That is a very strong record. UNICEF does admirable work outside the United Kingdom.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will do everything to get this Chamber back up and fully operational as quickly as possible, since we are here to scrutinise Government and there is important legislation we need to get through in the new year, such as the fire and building safety Bill, which is very important for my constituency?
My hon. Friend and I are completely at one on this. It is so important that we get this House back to normal. Scrutiny is more effective when it is spontaneous and it is more spontaneous when it is not dialled in. Debates are better when there is the free flow of interventions that make it lively and exciting. It keeps people on their mettle, rather than reading out speeches they wrote a week ago. That is not a proper debate. That is not holding people to account. That is not developing thought in the way that a debate does. The sooner we are back to normal the better, but we are living within the constraints of the pandemic. However, with the vaccination programme being rolled out and the temporary orders remaining until the end of March, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and the Leader of the House have just confirmed that my debate on
The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the operation in his constituency that supports people in Swaziland. It sounds a really noble and worthy effort. As regards a debate, I sometimes feel, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman knows more about how to get debates in this place than I do. I feel that telling him how to get a debate is teaching my grandmother to suck eggs.
Will the Leader of the House join me in commending the staff of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union for enabling us to publish a report overnight one working day after the deal was published? Will he use one of the five sitting days when we get back to give the Committee some more time to do a proper job of scrutinising the 1,200 pages of the agreement? That is, after all, the Committee’s main job and we have not had much time for parliamentary scrutiny today.
My hon. Friend once again highlights the amazing work done by the people who serve us in this House and their fantastic commitment to democracy to make sure that the wheels of democracy turn properly. I am in correspondence with Hilary Benn, the Chairman of the relevant Select Committee. Of course, my hon. Friend Sir William Cash chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, which looks at similar matters. The two of them may wish to confer.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website states:
“We are responsible for:…supporting British nationals around the world through modern and efficient consular services”.
It has been widely reported that British citizens arrested overseas through no fault of their own no longer have the right to Government assistance or protection from the Foreign Office, even if they are tortured or held as diplomatic leverage against their country. Can the Leader of the House explain what his Government believe to be the consular functions of the FCDO? Can he confirm whether they have changed? What measures have been considered for support on a discretionary basis that the FCDO currently says it provides? If there have been any changes to the consular functions, will he ensure that they are brought to the House for full, open and transparent debate and scrutiny?
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office supports 30,000 British nationals overseas each year—from victims of crime or personal accidents to complicated, long-running cases, such as of those who have been detained. I think the issue is that the FCDO is saying that it is harder to help dual nationals, but the Government are absolutely clear that one of the great responsibilities of any Government is to defend Her Majesty’s subjects. I will certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the hon. Lady’s desire that this should be done, because the defence of the realm and of Her Majesty’s subjects is at the heart of government.
From tomorrow, most of England will be in tier 4, causing great difficulties for many businesses, but particularly for hospitality and related sectors, many of which have been unable to receive covid support because of state aid de minimis limits. May we have a debate on how, following the passing of the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, we can use our new freedoms to make sure that businesses big and small get the support that they need during this pandemic?
Local councils do have £4.6 billion of unring-fenced funding, which they can use to help businesses, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of hospitality businesses, which are particularly badly affected. It has been a very hard time for them. They do usually benefit from the normal schemes—the furlough scheme and the rate reduction scheme, and of course all benefit from the VAT reduction scheme—but I think that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, along with Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers, would not look askance at such issues being raised on the Monday and Tuesday when we are back from recess, as they are covered by both the debates I mentioned.
The pandemic has highlighted the lack of a safety net for the self-employed, including in respect of issues such as paternity and shared parental leave. May we have a statement on when we will see the employment rights Bill that was promised in the Queen’s Speech?
May I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and everyone in the House a happy and healthy new year, and extend that to my 91-year-old mother Beryl, who received the covid vaccine yesterday?
First, may I say happy new year to the hon. Gentleman and to his mother Beryl, and how delighted I am that she has received the vaccine? All of us with parents whom one dare not call elderly but who are no longer in the first spring of youth are greatly relieved when they receive the vaccine, so I think the whole House is pleased on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf.
As regards what is being done to help the self-employed, the self-employed schemes have given support directly: 80% of income has gone to self-employed people if they have been self-employed for long enough—I accept that some people have not been eligible—so there has been some element of safety net for them. That has been important, but people who are self-employed know that they are aiming to get greater rewards and taking a higher degree of risk, so their employment rights are inevitably different from those of people working under contracts of employment.
The tourism sector has been hit particularly hard by this year’s restrictions, which have had a significant impact on coastal communities such as Blackpool. Many of my local businesses, including the world-famous Blackpool Pleasure Beach, have seen their revenue decimated and now face a difficult winter period until they can reopen. Will my right hon. Friend therefore look to hold a debate in Government time on how we can support the tourism industry and ensure that it can reopen safely in 2021?
I absolutely recognise the severe impact of covid restrictions on tourism and hospitality, which is why the Government have provided a range of targeted measures to see the sector through this period. On top of the wider economic support package, the Government have provided business rates relief and one-off grants for eligible hospitality and leisure businesses, and VAT has been cut from 20% to 5% for tourism and hospitality activities until the end of March. The Government are committed to working with the sector to develop a tourism recovery plan, which will ensure that the UK’s tourism industry can build back better and warmly welcome visitors to all parts of the UK as soon as it is safe to do so. My hon. Friend may want to have a word with the chairman of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend Amanda Milling, and lobby her to get the party conference back to Blackpool. I know that many people enjoyed it greatly when it used to be held there.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you and all the staff of the House a very happy, peaceful and healthy new year.
Given the current escalation in the pandemic due to the new covid strain, and given that we as Members of the House have been encouraged to keep ourselves and parliamentary staff safe by working remotely, when will we move back to online voting? Now that we have got Brexit done—allegedly—is it not time for the House of Commons to level up with the other place and resume electronic voting? After all, the system is shovel-ready.
In wishing the hon. Lady a happy new year, I congratulate her on her ability to get Brexit slogans into her question. This is almost a bingo game that we can play at future business questions to see who can get the most into any one question.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady, but the proxy system works extremely well, and it is robust. As we all know, the House of Lords system failed, and if it had failed on a crucial occasion such as today, that would have caused a real problem. I do not think we want to model ourselves on the House of Lords in this instance. It is interesting quite how many people are currently voting in the House of Lords—it is many more than normal.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody all the best for the new year.
Swathes of the country are now moving into tier 4, including, disappointingly, Hyndburn and Haslingden, where constituents have faced restrictions for longer than most. This morning’s vaccine news was another real positive, but can I urge that the vaccine is distributed as quickly as possible? However, can the Leader of the House assure me that everything is being done to make sure that Parliament is covid-secure to keep it functioning physically and virtually, so that our constituents are represented properly in the Houses of Parliament?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she touches on what I and others have been trying to do since we rose for the Easter recess in March. It is so important that Parliament operates, and I take this opportunity to thank the shadow Leader of the House, who has been very supportive in ensuring that Parliament could operate, and, obviously, Mr Speaker and the Clerks. It is reassuring to know that Members across the House are so enthusiastic for our proper business to carry on. Early on, people wondered whether a functioning democracy was actually an essential part of the nation’s activities. We always felt that it was and that we had to ensure that democratic representation went on, because the best Governments are the ones that are well and effectively scrutinised.
If the Leader of the House thinks that the current arrangements represent a covid-secure Parliament, he must have been attending a different Parliament from the one I attended in the last four weeks before Christmas, and if he thinks that that represents a functioning democracy, he must be living on a different planet from most of us.
My Trade Agreements (Exclusion of National Health Services) Bill is due to receive its Second Reading in early January—in fact, there may be a decision of the House on that later today. A large number of MPs have told me that they would be keen to speak in that debate, and it would be perfectly easy to allow them to do that remotely, but the Leader of the House is determined that they must instead travel from all over the United Kingdom to Westminster, inevitably creating an additional risk of spreading the virus. Will he agree to reconsider his dogmatic and irrational opposition to allowing full participation in all proceedings of the House so that MPs who want to speak in support of our NHS can do so without themselves running the risk of placing an extra burden on our health services?
I am a bit puzzled, because I irrationally and dogmatically brought forward a motion earlier today that allows exactly what the hon. Gentleman wants.
I really welcome ongoing progress with virtual participation, although it does fall short of where the House needs to be. Given that our role in this place is ultimately to serve others, and given that no self-respecting MP would wish to jump the queue, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to bring in testing and perhaps also to advance vaccinations for Members of Parliament?
The House authorities have worked hard to implement a robust and efficient system of PCR testing for those who work on the parliamentary estate and experience symptoms. We are fortunate that that testing provides highly accurate results in a short turnaround time. The current testing regime, combined with the social distancing and covid security measures on the estate, has enabled Parliament to continue to function effectively, but—I agree with my hon. Friend—less effectively than when we are fully physically present.
The House authorities have been working with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care to explore the potential use of lateral flow tests. That work continues, but currently the roll-out of lateral flow testing has been prioritised to other sites, such as schools, hospitals and care homes. We are working to ensure that all MPs will be able to participate remotely in debates and use the proxy system that has been in place for some time. That is the right compromise for the time being, but we celebrate the news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is now available and will be rolled out, and that once a sufficient number of people have been vaccinated and it is safe to do so, this House can get back to normal. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it would not be right for us to jump the queue.
I am delighted to hear from my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, that his mother has received the vaccine, and I am delighted that the Oxford vaccine has been approved—I pay tribute to all the scientists behind that—but we are in a race against time now. We have heard this afternoon that there will be only 530,000 doses of the vaccine available next week, not the millions that were promised; Jonathan Van-Tam has been telling us that there is a global fill and production capacity issue; and the Prime Minister is now refusing to give guarantees on the number of doses that will be administered each week by the NHS.
Will the Leader of the House therefore speak to his colleague the vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, and ask him to make an urgent statement to the House? I think that we should be sitting next week, virtually. If we do not, will the vaccines Minister do a virtual session online for Members of Parliament? The last one, before Christmas, was an absolute shambles, which hardly gives us confidence. Our constituents want to know what is happening with the vaccine, and they want to know now.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enthusiasm for the vaccine, which at least was the preamble to his question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was here earlier this afternoon answering questions about the vaccine. As soon as we are back—the day after, on the Tuesday—there will be a debate on covid, which will be another opportunity to raise questions. One has to be realistic about this. The vaccine is being rolled out as swiftly as possible. This is very important. It is a great achievement. We have been one of the first countries in the world to license a vaccine and get it into people’s arms, and that is going to make the country safer earlier than would otherwise be the case. I think one should look at the good news rather than being too Eeyore-ish about it.
I was surprised by the lack of Government business in the forward look from the Leader of the House. I had assumed that Ministers would be jostling to come forward with ways to use all the new freedoms we will have following independence day on
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. His views of what should happen and mine are very close. I would point out to him that there are quite a few Bills currently in their lordships’ House, which they are working through patiently; of course, every peer has important views that they wish to express on many of these issues. Those will come back, and as they come back, that will take up our time. But there is good news for my right hon. Friend: although it is not necessarily right for me to announce the Bills that are coming, because other Secretaries of State may wish to announce them individually, I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary may be cooking something up that he will like very much.
I am sure that the well-informed and intelligent Leader of the House will know that written on the first page of every UK passport is a commitment to
“afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary,” yet the Government this week stated that British citizens unlawfully arrested and detained abroad have no right to consular assistance. There is serious concern among my constituents in Hampstead and Kilburn that the Government are not taking seriously their responsibilities to British citizens abroad, so may we have a debate in Government time about the UK’s duty to help those such as my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held hostage in Iran for nearly five years now?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, and the shadow Leader of the House, for their tireless campaigning for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which is a model of how Members of Parliament ought to behave when seeking redress of grievance for their constituents. Tulip Siddiq is absolutely right. The words in the passport are:
We are, I believe, the only country that both requests and requires. When Government documents say such things, I expect them to be factual. The Foreign Office helps 30,000 British nationals each year. As I said earlier, it is a fundamental point that the British Government must protect Her Majesty’s subjects.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole have an infection rate of about 220 people per 100,000. We are being moved up two tiers; we will be in tier 4 along with areas such as Thurrock, which has seven times that infection rate. People turning up to spend the new year in Bournemouth hotels are being turned round and sent back home with less than eight hours’ notice. This is a disaster for local businesses. If the health nutters are determined to ruin businesses in Dorset, can they at least set out clear criteria for doing it?
The problem is that the rates have been increasing very rapidly even in areas where they are very low, and this new strain seems to be infecting people more quickly. Obviously, there is hope from the vaccine. I assume that my hon. Friend did not get in on questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care; if I may, I will pass on his question directly to our right hon. Friend for, perhaps, a more comprehensive answer.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all the House staff, for making today possible.
This Friday, Northern Ireland enters into its celebratory centenary year. What an exciting year! Nationalists tell us that it is the end of the Union, but we are just beginning. Could the Leader of the House, who I know wants the Union to flourish, bring together all his Cabinet colleagues to put together a list of things that they intend to do to promote Northern Ireland throughout the coming year, to help us all celebrate, and to establish that this is the first year of the second century of Northern Ireland? I look forward to the party that the Leader of the House intends to throw for Ulster.
That sounds like a date. Once the restrictions are lifted, we must celebrate the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland, and of the United Kingdom in its current form. We should always celebrate our nation. The hon. Gentleman has given me an excuse to have a second glass of champagne tomorrow night—and in the spirit of good will to our European friends, it will of course be champagne. I can have one at 11 o’clock to celebrate the end of the transition period, and another at 12 o’clock to celebrate 100 years of the United Kingdom in its current form. It has to be said—I do not know whether you know this, Madam Deputy Speaker—that the parties in Northern Ireland are absolutely fantastic. I went to speak in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and it was absolutely brilliant: at the end of their events, they all stand up and sing the national anthem. I am tempted to suggest that we do that at the end of the Adjournment debate every evening in the House of Commons.