Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 16 March will include:
Monday 16 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 17 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 18 March—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. The subject is to be confirmed.
Thursday 19 March—Debate on a motion on the Government response to the Morse review of the Loan Charge 2019, followed by general debate on the Horizon settlement and future governance of the Post Office. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 20 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 23 March will include:
Monday 23 March—Second reading of a Bill.
Tuesday 24 March—Second reading of a Bill.
Wednesday 25 March—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.
Thursday 26 March—Debate on a motion on errors in payments made to victims of the Equitable Life scandal, followed by a debate on a motion on human rights in Kashmir. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 27 March—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. He will know that the Opposition want to work with the Government on any new legislation that is put through, so could we ask for early sight of it through the usual channels and the shadow Front-Bench teams? I know that the Leader of the House was having a meeting with Mr Speaker earlier yesterday; I wonder whether the Opposition parties could also be included in those talks.
The Leader of the House will know that there is speculation in the press about the restoration and renewal programme. We are all mindful of the costs, but does he agree with the Lord Speaker and Chair of the House of Lords Commission that vacating the entire building is a far more cost-effective option? Will he find time to come to the House and explain the Government’s position, if it is changing?
We had the Chancellor here yesterday and, whoever wrote it, No. 10 or No. 11, he delivered the Budget; he got it done. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware—he must be, because I know that he likes procedure—that the Government chose to introduce the Budget resolutions on an income tax motion instead of following the usual custom and practice of moving an amendment of the law motion. Can he explain why? It affects the ability of the Opposition and hon. Members to table amendments to and scrutinise the Finance Bill. Is this another example of the Government trying to stifle proper consideration of their plans? Will the Leader of the House please explain why this decision was taken, given that such a motion is normally used only at the time of an election?
The Chancellor said that coronavirus was on everyone’s minds; it could be in our systems as well. We wish everyone well who is self-isolating and those who are ill a speedy recovery. I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of the eight people who have now died. However, the Chancellor said nothing about the key demographic of the over-70s, who are going to be affected by the virus and the most at risk. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to look again at free television licences for the over-75s? They need information, they need access to television; they may well be self-isolating.
The Leader of the House will have seen that our Front-Bench Treasury team were jumping up and down yesterday saying that the Budget contained absolutely nothing on social care—another thing that affects the over-70s demographic. If the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was revoked, we could move towards a more integrated system of health and social care. As a former member of the Health Committee, I know that in 2015 we were calling for cross-party talks with the shadow Health Secretary, now Mayor Andy Burnham.
It was amazing that the Budget statement contained nothing about the falling markets. We have seen the biggest fall in shares since 2008. The Chancellor has said that the UK has seen a
“decade-long slowdown in productivity.”
He forgot to say that his party has been in charge for the past 10 years. I know that he called the shadow Chancellor’s “little-read book” a fantasy book, but the Government are borrowing the shadow Chancellor’s big red Budget book: they are borrowing to invest.
The Leader of the House will know that people affected by the floods are also suffering from the coronavirus outbreak. I know that the Chancellor has increased spending on flooding to £5 billion, but as I have mentioned in the House previously, the Labour Government increased flood funding and this Government cut it. The Leader of the House will know that the Climate Coalition has produced a report saying that extreme rainfall has increased by 40%, and the number of people in the UK facing floods during the winter is more than the population of Birmingham and Manchester put together.
I know that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating the climate champions at the Green Heart Hero Awards, which is organised by the Climate Coalition—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and the hon. Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk).
I ask the Leader of the House again about Nazanin, Kylie and Anousheh. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was right when she said we had been here before. Nazanin was about to be released and nothing has happened; 70,000 prisoners have already been released; we have provided aid in good faith to the Iranian Government. When did the Foreign Secretary last speak to his counterpart? This is one thing that we must get done.
The Leader of the House will know that it is British Science Week. I was delighted to welcome the Royal Society of Chemistry and Lab Tots. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) came to see experiments and how to make lava lamps. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in thanking the dedicated scientists who are looking at research and development to find a cure for the virus, and developing the tests and interpretation of the tests. I place on record our thanks to Public Health England and the House staff, who are meeting daily to keep us safe. The Leader of the House will know that there is such a thing as society and community, and we will look out for each other.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to record our thanks to Public Health England, which has been remarkably helpful to the House authorities. As she knows, a representative saw the House of Commons Commission last night, and we are being kept fully up to date. Its advice is clearly well thought through and well presented, and we are following that advice along with the rest of the country, particularly in the Government’s approach. That is an important point, and she is also right to record thanks to the scientists, who are not making lava lamps but are doing the serious work of looking at the coronavirus and how it operates.
Going back to the beginning of the right hon. Lady’s questions, she says the Opposition are keen to work together on any emergency legislation that is necessary. I understand that today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be talking to the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and it is very much our intention to keep Opposition parties informed on what we are trying to do.
The devolved authorities have been kept fully informed and have been attending the Cobra meetings on these matters. The whole nation is coming together as one, and I am grateful for the support received so far from the official Opposition. The Government will do everything we can to ensure that co-operation continues to be given willingly, which is why I was not more specific about the Second Reading debates, because that will obviously depend on the talks.
The right hon. Lady raises restoration and renewal, which is currently a matter for the Commission, although there will be a handover to the sponsor body when the Act comes into force in April. There is always a regard to value for money, which must underpin everything we do, and there is widespread acceptance of the need to improve the mechanical and engineering plant—that is accepted—but some of the sums that have been mentioned are eye-watering, and Members should be concerned about that in relation to their constituents and tax purpose.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s warm words—as warm as she could manage—about the Chancellor’s speech. It is fascinating that the Opposition cannot find anything to criticise. We take that absence of criticism as the highest praise for a brilliant and very successful Budget. I am not sure that it is the greatest criticism if the only point that can be made is that the Budget was moved on an income tax motion, rather than on a change to the law, because that has been done with previous Budgets. The former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, used the procedure on a number of occasions, so it is not that unusual—[Interruption.] No, it is not that unusual. It has been done regularly over the past few years. This is the way of doing it. It is a perfectly reasonable way to do it, and I am sure the matters before the House will be debated vigorously and rigorously, because we will carry out proper scrutiny.
The medical advice for the over-70s will be coming forward, and we must not pre-empt what Cobra may say later today. Of course, the BBC should continue to give free TV licences to the over-75s. That is important, and it would be a great shame if the BBC failed to continue to support the over-75s. It is, of course, a matter for the BBC, but I think it would be right to do that.
The right hon. Lady is right to express her sympathy for the families of the eight people who have died from the coronavirus. It is a great sadness for those families and a worry for the nation at large that those deaths have taken place, which is why so much is being done to try to combat the effects of the virus.
Social care will obviously be an important part of tackling the virus, and the Government have asked for cross-party views to try to come up with a system of social care that will last, will have public support and will not be changed from one Government to another. It is important that we get to a settled view of social care and, therefore, the right hon. Lady’s views will be welcome in the consultation, as will those of other hon. and right hon. Members.
On share price falls, I spent most of my life before entering politics in financial services, so I know it is always unwise to predict what markets are going to do. I am glad that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s brilliant Budget will lead to a 2.5% increase in productivity because of the coming infrastructure investment, which is good news.
There is £5.2 billion going into flood defences, and I note that the Somerset levels, following a lot of mitigation efforts, seem not to have flooded recently, so it seems that the mitigation efforts work very successfully. There was an extremely interesting article on that in the Daily Mail a week or so ago, which I draw to the attention of hon. and right hon. Members.
Did you write it?
No, I did not, but the article, on the success of mitigation policies on the Somerset levels, is well worth reading. The levels are not precisely where I live, but they are not a million miles away.
As always, I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for keeping up the pressure in relation to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other dual nationals who are held improperly by the Iranian regime. We continue to raise their cases at the most senior levels. The Prime Minister raised those concerns with President Rouhani on 9 January, and our ambassador is in regular touch. The exercising of diplomatic protection in Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has formally raised it to a state-to-state issue, and there are concerns about the coronavirus in Evin prison, which we referred to last week. A number of prisoners have been released and we have asked, of course, for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released, but ultimately it is the failings and the bad behaviour of the Iranian regime that we are dealing with. That is not something that the British Government can control, but we are certainly pushing as hard as possible to get them to behave in a proper way.
Does my right hon. Friend share my admiration for the sheer calm stoicism of so many people who work in this place? We are greeted by the police officers when we come into the building, as though nothing has changed, and the Clerks of the House carry on servicing the business of this House as though nothing has changed, despite the anxiety that the whole country is feeling about the coronavirus. Will he join me in recording our thanks to everyone who works in this place who will keep the show on the road? Does that not set the best possible example to the rest of the country that we should keep things going and remain calm to make sure that we carry on making rational decisions in this crisis?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Yes, indeed, I would like to record our thanks to the people working in the House who are ensuring that it is kept open, which is of the greatest importance. As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary said yesterday,
“we have resolved that we will keep Parliament open…the ability to hold the Government to account and to legislate are as vital in a time of emergency as in normal times. Our democracy is the foundation of our way of life.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2020; Vol. 673, c. 377.]
This is of fundamental importance. I can tell the House that our security and frontline staff, including catering staff, are going to be briefed in the same way as people in the Border Force, and that will take place later today. We are trying to make sure—again, Public Health England is being extremely helpful in ensuring this—that people in this House who are working to ensure that democracy is effective and that accountability is working will be treated properly.
First, I want to return to a matter I raised last week to do with the establishment of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Last week, the Leader of the House implied that our party had filibustered a decision on that matter and that somehow we did not want the Scotland Office to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what we are seeking to do is establish a Scottish Affairs Committee that will properly scrutinise the Government rather than one that is jam-packed with Government placemen and women. That is why we have now submitted amendments to the Selection Committee’s proposals that are with the Table Office, and we stand ready to debate them and to test the will of the House on them. Will the Leader of the House make time available for this matter to be discussed so that we can establish a Scottish Affairs Committee?
I too want to ask about the coronavirus and what it means for how we do our business in this place. We are commendably focused across the House on dealing with this emergency, but there seems to be an attitude that what we do here is keep calm and carry on, perhaps mitigating what we do in some respects but doing the best we can in the way that we normally do it, with the implication that there will come a point at which that is not possible, when we will simply stop. I put it to the Leader of the House that there is actually a middle way: we can fundamentally change the way we do things in order to keep ourselves and the public with whom we deal a lot safer. For example, starting next week, we could use the deferred decision procedure in place of having to stand in Lobbies for up to 20 minutes in an extremely confined space with 600 other people. That could be done from the Budget debate onwards for as long as this emergency lasts.
We could also look at ways in which people can vote without having to be here for an extended time, for example, by concentrating all the votes, on all the topics on which they are required, into a single period of the week, so that people have to attend then and not at other times.
We must also surely be aware that the process of self-isolation, which may rapidly increase in the weeks to come, should not mean that we abandon our ability to act as political representatives. In this day and age, the technology is available for people to be able to function from the confines of their own house. Surely it is incumbent on us to look at how we can do that by using teleconferencing for Select Committees and other matters, and allowing people to engage in discussions and debates even if they are not able to attend this building.
I will deal with the second half of the hon. Gentleman’s question first, because this is an area where we want to have as much cross-party support as possible. It is of fundamental importance that we keep this place open, but it is also important that we are treated, and we treat ourselves, in the same way as the rest of the country, and that we go ahead at the same pace as the rest of the country. There should not be a difference in how Parliament is behaving from the advice that is being given to our constituents. That is important; we should not seek to be a special case for ourselves. After the Commission meeting yesterday, I went into the Division Lobby with the expert who had presented to us from Public Health England, and his view, which I am allowed to share with the House, is that the Division Lobby is not a high risk and the only step he would recommend is that we open the windows, because a flow of air would be beneficial. On the basis that the Division Lobby is not high-risk, making major changes to the way we operate would not be the right response, but we wait upon the medical and scientific advice being given to us by the Government and if that changes, we will of course consider whether any procedural changes need to be made. Currently, that is not the case. On those who self-isolate, it will be better to use the pairing system than to try to introduce other measures, partly so that people who are self-isolating or who have coronavirus may maintain patient confidentiality. Some people who may be affected may not want everybody to know, and if we introduce novel methods, that confidentiality may be harder to maintain.
I come to the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He was right to say that it would be wrong if he thought that I had implied that the Scottish National party Members had talked out the establishment of the Committee. I made it clear that I thought that they had talked it out. There is no question of my implying it; that was exactly what they did. They talked out the establishment of the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Government are now considering the way forward, including of course the amendments they have tabled. Deliberation will be given to these important matters.
May I suggest that we run these questions until about quarter-past?
My right hon. Friend will doubtless be aware, as will the Whips, you, Mr Speaker, and the Deputy Speakers, that, along with many longer-serving Members, the 2019 intake, from across the House, are having incredible problems with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Surely it is time for reform? This is groundhog day, and, 10 years on, what does IPSA cost the taxpayer each year compared with what the Fees Office cost to do the same tasks pre-2008-09?
It is of course concerning to hear about any problems new Members are having with IPSA, but the House will appreciate that IPSA is independent of government. I am a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, so if my hon. Friend would like to write to me with his concerns, I would be happy to raise them on his behalf. I point out that we, as SCIPSA, are raising a number of points with IPSA, and the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has brought a number of concerns from Opposition Members on these matters.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Will he give us an early indication of his thinking as to any Backbench Business Committee time that might occur on either Monday 30 March or Tuesday 31 March, in order to help us with our planning for and with Members from across the House?
I now come to a constituency issue that I raised with the previous Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). A constituent of mine, Mariam Lamidi, has again been refused asylum in this country and in my constituency with her children, who are two, six and eight, despite the fact that her two-year-old daughter would undoubtedly be subjected to female genital mutilation should she return to her district in Nigeria.
On the first point from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, yes, I will try to give him an early indication in respect of the 30th and the 31st. Very often, the day before a recess is available to the Backbench Business Committee—that might be a helpful comment. As regards the very important constituent case, if the hon. Gentleman is having difficulties with the Home Office in getting replies, I will obviously help, but I assume that he is taking it up in the normal way.
Notwith- standing the kindly overtures from the shadow Leader of the House, may we have a debate in Government time on restoration and renewal, particularly given the National Audit Office investigation into the shambles of the Big Ben restoration? We cannot afford to spend upwards of £6 billion on this place when there are better value-for-money options available that do not involve a full decant.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, this is a new Parliament and a new House of Commons, and it will be entitled to make decisions as it sees fit. It is accepted that the mechanical and engineering plant needs replacing, but some of the costs that one has read about are eye-watering. We have to focus on value for money, so I am sympathetic to the approach that my hon. Friend is taking.
I was recently contacted by my constituent Vikki Lewis, who, because she is paid every four weeks instead of on a monthly basis, has received two payments within the universal credit assessment period and so has had no choice other than to fall into debt to ensure that she can house, feed, clothe and care for herself and her six-year-old son. As there was absolutely nothing about universal credit in yesterday’s Budget, may we have a debate in Government time about the failures of the cruel current system? We need a system that supports and protects people like Vikki, and many others across Newport West, who are paid not on monthly but rather on four-weekly pay systems.
I am aware of the problem of four-weekly payments, because constituents have brought it up with me, but I point out that the universal credit has been a successful policy: 200,000 more people are in work; the withdrawal rate is significantly lower, at 63p in the pound of benefits, down from the more than 90p in the pound of other types of benefit; and 700,000 families see around £285 a month of extra money that they are entitled to. Without beginning to pretend that it is a perfect system, it is an improvement on what was there before, and its measured roll-out has been the right thing to do.
As our economy goes digital, it is not just about retail; money is going digital, too, and there have been predictions that ultimately we will be a cash-free society. However, that cash-free trend is going at different paces in different places. There are implications for business and risks of people in certain groups being left behind, and there are implications now, because access to cash is becoming harder despite it being the main payment type for many transactions. May we have a debate to explore the changes to cash access and cash use in our society?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: 2.2 million adults in the UK use cash as their main way to make a payment day to day. There was reference in the Budget to the fact that the Government are going to bring forward legislation to protect access to cash for those who need it and to ensure that our cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long term. My hon. Friend may wish to raise the issue in the Budget debate, because that has been announced and will happen.
Yesterday, I welcomed the students of Deyes High School in my constituency to Parliament, where they were looked after extremely well by the education service, which does a fantastic job for schools throughout the country. The students in years 12 and 13 raised with me the very serious concern that they have about what might happen to teaching in the event of disruption in schools throughout the country, and about the impact that that would have on GCSEs and A-levels. Would the Leader of the House care to comment on that concern and how it might be addressed, either in emergency legislation or in other measures that the Government are going to bring forward?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that deserves to be answered at the right point. We need to wait for the Cobra meeting later today and for the Government to set out how plans will evolve. I emphasise again that we must act on the medical and scientific advice and not try to take pre-emptive steps, which may not have the benefits that people assume that they will have. We will be guided by the medical and scientific advice.
Sadly, 63% of people in Kidsgrove are no longer physically active since Labour’s closure of Kidsgrove sports centre. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group and the Conservative-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council on having found a long-term plan to refurbish and reuse this important community asset? Will he set out the Government’s plan to use local sports centres as part of a long-term plan to promote healthy lifestyles?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and congratulate all those involved from Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and the Kidsgrove Sports Centre Community Group on their excellent work. Places such as the Kidsgrove sports centre are vital in helping local communities to come together, be more active and live healthy lives. The Government’s Sporting Future strategy emphasises the important role that facilities play in encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to get more active. Through Sport England, from 2017 to 2021 we are spending more than £120 million on grassroots facilities, to make sure that everyone, regardless of where they live, is able to access high-quality sports facilities. It is levelling up for sports facilities.
So far, Ministers have given very little clarity on what help will be available for people who are self-employed and on zero-hours contracts. I realise that there are statements and that legislation is in the pipeline, but unless there is clarity, people who are ill and have been told to self-isolate will carry on going into work. Discussions need to be held with the relevant Departments. Will the Leader of the House make clear that this issue has to be addressed?
This was referred to by the Chancellor in his statement yesterday and solutions are being brought forward. Department for Work and Pensions staff stand ready to support anyone affected. We encourage them to get in touch to discuss their situation. Universal credit will be paid up front to people who will need it: 100% of the first month’s payment may be made. Steps are being taken to help people who are self-employed. I think £1 billion extra is being devoted to the welfare budget, to help people who are in difficulties because of the coronavirus.
I apologise for not being present at Transport questions, due, ironically, to a delay on the Jubilee line. It is extremely welcome that the Budget announced that local authorities are going to be allowed to build more council homes and to borrow money at a cheap price from the Public Works Loan Board. However, local authorities up and down the country have used the very low interest rate to buy retail centres, which are high-risk ventures, in order to generate income for the future. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate or a statement to make sure that local authorities do not abuse their new powers and that, rather than buying retail centres, they get people the homes they need?
That was why the Public Works Loan Board interest rate was raised earlier and is now being reduced for councils that will be building council houses. It is absolutely right to raise that in the Budget debate, but it is fair to say that the Government are conscious of the issue.
The very high standards of agricultural production in Angus, Scotland and the UK do not come for free; they come with significant costs of production. Those costs are not borne by foreign imports. What will this Government do to protect agriculture after Brexit from very cheap, lower standards of production from foreign producers of food?
May I begin by saying how much I enjoy Angus beef and commend the hon. Gentleman’s constituency for the wonderful food it produces? He is absolutely right that the UK has the very highest food standards—higher often than those of the EU. Not only did the UK ban veal crates fully 16 years before the EU; we also want to go further than the EU in banning the live shipment of animals. The UK already ensures that, without exception, all imports of food meet our stringent food safety standards. Our independent Food Standards Agency will ensure that that will remain the case, regardless of trade arrangements. In all negotiations the Government will ensure that any future trade deals live up to the value of farmers and consumers across the United Kingdom.
The Government are rightly committed to levelling up and creating opportunities. Two small changes to the admissions code would change the life chances of so many summer-born children. Could we have a debate in Government time on making changes to the admission code, to benefit the summer-born?
With children born in June and July, I am well aware of the issue that my right hon. Friend raises. I think an Adjournment debate would be a suitable place to begin, but that is in your hands, Mr Speaker, not mine.
This summer the British transplant games will be held in Coventry. Nine hundred transplant athletes will travel to the city to take part in the event, which aims to raise awareness of the value of organ donation and to encourage transplant recipients to stay active post-transplant. Will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging transplant recipients to register to compete in the games, and will he arrange debates on the life-saving benefits of organ donation and on the health benefits of sport in general?
May I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this matter to the attention of the House, because I must confess that I was entirely unaware, in my ignorance, of the transplant games? It is a wonderful thing that she has brought attention to the games, and I hope that people who follow our proceedings, and other outlets, will become aware of them. I hope that her local paper will also pick up her advocacy for the games. She is absolutely right to encourage transplants, and to encourage people with transplants to show what successful lives they can lead.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Budget debates that he has announced allow an opportunity to highlight that yesterday the Chancellor announced an additional £640 million for Scotland—far more than the Scottish Government anticipated—which, in addition to the £1.3 billion already announced, means an additional £2 billion bonus for Scotland? Does he also agree that there will now be opportunity to call the Scottish Government to account to introduce the same measures for Scottish businesses as will apply in the rest of the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend makes an absolutely brilliant point. What this Government are doing is helping the whole United Kingdom, and £2 billion extra for Scotland from United Kingdom taxpayers is a real commitment to the United Kingdom. It is extraordinary that however well we do things, the SNP always complains.
The UK Government consider Saudi Arabia an ally and important trading partner. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what influence he thinks the UK Government should bring to bear to enlighten Saudi Arabia’s medieval and backward attitudes towards women and homosexuals, such as a woman being owned by her eldest male relative and the fact that homosexuality is punishable by death—usually by public beheading or perhaps by crucifixion, of which there were 134 last year?
Saudi Arabia is indeed an important ally of this country, but that does not mean that we are unaware of human rights abuses that take place in friendly allied countries. The Government do raise the issues of such abuses with those countries. It is always harder for us to make representations about foreign nationals than about our own nationals. It is easier, for example, to make representations about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but we do raise these important issues, and the hon. Lady is right also to raise them in this Chamber.
At the start of the month I welcomed my constituent Amanda Richardson, who is chief executive of the charity Action Cerebral Palsy, to Parliament. Her charity is concerned that children with cerebral palsy are not getting the best possible care and education in a timely fashion due to the lack of a national understanding across Government Departments, local government and the NHS as to the level of need. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate in Government time on what the Government can do to remedy this, and better support children with cerebral palsy?
I commend my hon. Friend for bringing this crucial issue to the attention of the Chamber. All children with cerebral palsy and other disabling conditions should get the support they need from the health service and schools. General practitioners play a key role in co-ordinating the care of disorders such cerebral palsy, and the condition is identified as a key area of clinical knowledge in the Royal College of General Practitioners’ curriculum. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published best practice clinical guidance on cerebral palsy for adults and children to support clinicians to manage cerebral palsy effectively.
It is absolutely right that the attention of the Government and businesses is currently focused on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, but I do wonder whether there will be sufficient capacity in the system to finalise our new trading arrangements with the EU, so I ask the Leader of the House—in all sincerity—whether, in these circumstances, it is appropriate to begin considering an extension to the transition period?
There is absolutely no need to extend the transition period.
As the advice from the Government on coronavirus changes and reaches a stage where many people are recommended to stay at home, a lot of people will want to watch sport on television. But, of course, major sporting events now take place on Sky and BT Sport. Would it be possible, while this emergency occurs, for those events to be screened on terrestrial television, so that people at home could watch them?
That would be difficult because there are long-standing commercial agreements, and many people already have subscriptions to the services mentioned by my hon. Friend.
Can we have a statement from the Government about whether it is now time for the Intelligence and Security Committee to become a full Select Committee of this House, thereby allowing us, as Members of Parliament, to vote on who we would like to see in the Chair of that Committee?
There are very good reasons for the process around the Intelligence and Security Committee being what it is, including the sensitive nature of the matters that it handles. Therefore, I do not see there being any plans to change the process that is set out in statute. Unlike other Committees, it is a statutory Committee under the Justice and Security Act 2013 and I foresee no changes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your endeavours to allow as many of us to ask questions as possible.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to pass on congratulations to the Chancellor on bringing forward a £400 million brownfields housing fund? That is absolutely the way to go. Will he consider a debate on relieving the real stress and strain on my constituents from repeated planning developments on greenfield countryside?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on having a constituency in which so many people want to live because it is so beautiful? My right hon Friend the Secretary State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is going to make a statement later about reforming the planning system. I think my hon. Friend’s concerns would be suitably raised in an Adjournment debate on his constituency.
I clearly was not happy with the Budget yesterday. Wales bore the brunt of Storm Dennis. Nearly half the people who were affected across the whole of the UK were in one local authority area, and there was not a single extra penny from the Government yesterday for the families, for the businesses or for the local authorities in Wales that are going to have to pick up the tab to the tune of many, many tens of millions of pounds. When it came to the business arrangements for coronavirus, perfectly sensible measures were being introduced in England, but there was not a single penny to make them available in Wales as well. Surely we are one United Kingdom and there should therefore be fair money for all the different parts of the United Kingdom.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is ever happy, so there is no pleasing some people. However, I would point out that over £600 million extra is going to the Welsh Government’s budget—the biggest day- to-day funding settlement for the Welsh Government in a decade—and there will also be the concomitant Barnett consequentials from yesterday’s Budget statement. So it is simply not accurate to say that Wales is not receiving extra funding.
I refer the House to my entry in the register. There were some very welcome moves on coronavirus in the Budget yesterday, and some very practical advice from the NHS. I understand the need to keep schools open if the risk is low to children, so as to keep workers in important work positions, but the same applies to nursery schools and other forms of childcare, which do not appear to have been covered in the Budget yesterday, or in advice. I have had a letter from a constituent with a nursery today saying that
“Morton Michel, one of the biggest childcare insurers in the UK”
“refusing to add Covid-19 to its list of insurable diseases”,
which could result in many childcare places going bust. Could we have guidance, and a statement from the Treasury and from the Department for Education, specifically for childcare providers, and also for children in care?
My hon. Friend raises a significant subject. I will take it up and get a reply to him as to what action the Government are taking on the matter.
In recent days, the price of oil has plummeted, yet in the Chancellor’s Budget yesterday there was not a peep in relation to this hugely important industry. Does the Leader of the House share my concern in that regard, and will he commit to a debate in Government time on this hugely important matter?
The oil sector is obviously important and the price of oil affects the whole of the economy. However, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that, yesterday in this House, his right hon. Friend the leader of the SNP raised the matter in the Budget debate, so it has just been raised.
Can we have a debate on disabled access to public transport? I want very quickly to highlight the situation in the beautiful village of Chinley, which has a growing population and a highly successful special school academy, yet the railway station has no step-free access, denying a huge number of people access to public transport. In 2020, this situation is quite simply unacceptable.
This issue affects many railway stations and it is one that is taken seriously by the Government. My hon. Friend has raised his point today, and it would be well worth asking for an Adjournment debate on the subject.
When will we see progress on the fire safety and building safety Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech? Thus far, the Government’s policy on the issues raised by the Grenfell Tower fire has been a ragbag of consultations and guidance notes. Are we not overdue clarity and comprehensive action on both those life and death matters?
The fire safety Bill will be brought forward, and the Chancellor announced £1.5 billion to deal with the cladding issue yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how the English Football League must do more to protect the interests of fans and towns such as Bury from unscrupulous club owners? The recent EFL report stating that the Football League could not have saved Bury FC defied belief. It is an organisation that is clearly not fit for purpose. We must ensure that other clubs and their fans are protected and not sold out like Bury FC.
I commend my hon. Friend for his campaign to save Bury football club, on which he has been a leader. I can give him good news: the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has whispered to me that the Government will try to do what they can to help Bury football club. Action is being taken by some authorities, if not by the football league.
On Tuesday, the deadline passed for applications for the next set of Six Nations broadcasting rights. As I outlined in early-day motion 237, it looks likely—indeed, packages have been designed in such a way to ensure—that live coverage will be lost by terrestrial TV.
[That this House notes with concern that Six Nations organisers have refused to rule out the possibility of the tournament going behind a £300 million pay per view paywall in 2022 following the start of a new broadcast rights period; believes that by ruling out joint bids by terrestrial broadcasters Six Nations officials are making it inevitable that the rights to broadcast the tournament will be secured by a pay-to-view subscription service; is concerned that this move risks losing an audience that has been built up and will stymie the ability of the sport to attract young players to the game; notes that the Six Nations tournament has a long tradition of being aired on free-to-view television in the UK and that any decision that would limit access would be a retrograde step; calls on the Six Nations organisers to reconsider their decision on allowing joint broadcaster bids; and further calls on the Government to ensure that the long-cherished Six Nations tournament is given full protection under Group A listed event status.]
Six Nations Rugby Ltd apparently did not receive my email or letter requesting a meeting to discuss the issue, but there is another solution. Can we have a debate on listed events, so that we can discuss moving the Six Nations to group A protection?
The hon. Gentleman has raised that point, and it is heard. I encourage him to go to the Backbench Business Committee, because I have a feeling that this may win a lot of support from Members across the House representing all parts of the United Kingdom.
My office is inundated with pleas for assistance from leaseholders who cannot sell or remortgage their properties because of post-Grenfell advice on cladding and building safety. I have applied for a Westminster Hall debate, but can we have a debate in Government time about the mortgage crisis and cladding? It is clear that the external wall system process is not working as it should.
The Government are working on that. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who is sitting next to me, has said that he would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter.
Can we have a debate in Government time about the implications of the increase in the immigration health surcharge from £400 to £624 per person per year? At a time when we face a global pandemic, can we have some answers on why the Government feel it is a good idea to put barriers in the way of public health?
That was a manifesto commitment, and therefore the British people have voted for it. It is a national health service, not an international health service. It is quite right that people coming to this country should pay if they are going to use the national health service—that is only reasonable.
At last week’s business questions, I asked for a debate in Government time on electric vehicle and hydrogen infrastructure. If the Leader of the House had been in Transport questions earlier, he would have heard many questions put by Members, including the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), about the confusion in the sector. Will he grant time for such an important debate on the industrial strategy needed for the provision of these new technologies?
I am greatly flattered, because last week I suggested that the hon. Gentleman raise that in Transport questions, and he has followed my advice. I am glad that my advice is providing a useful service to the House.
I recently attended the finals of the Go4SET competition in Hamilton, which encourages young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. It was great to see so many girls taking part in the competition, with all three school teams from my constituency being gender-balanced. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Stonelaw High School’s science department on winning the pupils’ choice award? Will he commit to a debate in Government time on encouraging more young girls and women into STEM careers?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on encouraging more young ladies into STEM careers. That is very important, and it is something the Government wish to do. I also congratulate her high school. That is admirable and has the full support of the Government.
Heart failure is a long-term, life-limiting syndrome, which often gets worse over time. Current estimates suggest that 920,000 people are living with heart failure in the United Kingdom, with 200,000 new diagnoses of the condition every year in the UK. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on that very important health issue?
Mr Speaker, you saved the best for last with the hon. Gentleman, who is an assiduous attender of these sessions. Of course, heart disease is an important issue. I am not sure that there will be Government time for a debate on it, but he has raised it today, and I know his persistence will ensure that a debate is held on it one way or another in the not-too-distant future.