Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 22 June will include:
Monday 22 June—Second Reading of the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 23 June—Remaining stages of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill followed by motions relating to the establishment of an independent expert panel to consider cases raised under the independent complaints and grievance scheme.
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 June—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments followed by a debate on a petition relating to the recognition and reward for health and social care workers; followed by a debate on a petition relating to the support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Petitions Committee.
Friday 26 June—The House is not expected to be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. Let me start by sending my condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family and friends. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The Queen mentioned some of the songs that we all know: we will all meet again someday.
I thank the Leader of the House for allotting another Opposition day. Obviously, we will be dealing with highly topical subjects. I do not know what we have done to deserve another day, but we may yet force another U-turn, as we did through our “Holidays Without Hunger” campaign. He has not announced the recess dates and it is important for us to know them, as well as details of the business, as we are keen to get on with the legislative programme that he says he wants to get on with. Mention has also been made of a mini-Budget in September, and it will be useful to know when the Session will end—whether it is to be in November or in May.
Can the Leader of the House say when the Intelligence and Security Committee will be set up? It looks as though the Government are either hiding something or incompetent—perhaps it is both.
The Environment Bill is in Committee and is apparently due to report on 25 June. The shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary has said that about 18 sittings have to be completed, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House could enlighten the House on that.
“it’s reign of terror now and, inevitably, reign of error next”.
Those were the words of Tim Montgomerie, lately of the Leader of the House’s parish. It seems that we are already into the reign of error, because shop workers, who have worked their socks off, keeping us all in food, and who have been so polite and helpful, may be asked to work extra hours on Sunday—that is cruel. We are opposed to that, and I hope the Leader of the House will do a Marcus Rashford and work with the Opposition to make sure the Government do a U-turn on that. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has just done a survey, finding that 92% of shop workers oppose the move and two thirds of them feel they are under pressure when they are asked to work on a Sunday.
What about the reign of error on school meals? That went right to the wire. The Government were going to vote against us until it went right to the wire; the shadow Secretary of State for Education was about to stand up and then she had to admit that the Government had done a U-turn.
Again on the reign of error, not one but three former Prime Ministers think that the Prime Minister is wrong. I do not know whether the Leader of the House heard what the Prime Minister said:
“it is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 674.]
That shows that the Prime Minister does not understand international development.
We can look at international development, first, as reparation for former colonialism. It goes to organisations on the ground. It is about education and health, and economic development. It provides support to people in their own countries so that they do not feel that they have to leave their countries to search for a better life somewhere else. Most importantly, it gives people hope and it was the right thing to do. I know that the Foreign Secretary said that we are following Australia and Canada, but we in Britain lead, we do not follow. I want to say thank you to Jan Thompson, the acting high commissioner in India, for bringing back all my stranded constituents. She is a diplomat; she is not dealing with international development. It is diplomats who are involved in freeing Nazanin, freeing Anoosheh and freeing Kylie, who, if reports are correct, has been beaten because she has started a choir. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find out about that. May we have a statement, not just an urgent question granted by Mr Speaker, from the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on exactly how the Department will be set up? This is chaos and incompetence, without any idea for the infrastructure of the machinery of government.
Another machinery of government change was slipped out in a written statement last week. Apparently, border controls are now in the Cabinet Office. It seems that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wants to wear a uniform and a cap so that he can count people in and count people out. But, really, are we to have border controls in the Cabinet Office? We need an urgent statement on what that is going to look like.
We see the reign of error again in the chaotic and incompetent policy announcement on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Prime Minister obviously does not trust any of his Ministers to do the work, but for those who cannot remember, it was a Labour Government in 1976 who put through the Race Relations Act and the Commission for Racial Equality, which said:
“We work for a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued. We use both persuasion and our powers under the law to give everyone an equal chance to live free from fear, discrimination, prejudice and racism.”
Those of a younger generation who do not think they face racism—it is because we had the Commission for Racial Equality, which changed society.
The Government have to stop dragging the BBC into politics. They know that the over-75s commitment was made by political parties. The BBC has educated, informed and entertained us through this lockdown. The Government must do the right thing in the middle of this crisis and fund the free television licences.
Last week, I missed our Chief Whip’s birthday. I want to put on record his fantastic record. It was on Saturday, the same day as the Queen’s official birthday. He has served five leaders over four decades, and two Prime Ministers, and we thank him for all his work, and also thank Sir Patrick Duffy, formerly of this place, as Member for Colne Valley and for Sheffield, Attercliffe. He is 100. He published his autobiography at 94, and the title is “Growing up Irish in Britain and British in Ireland and in Washington, Moscow, Rome and Sydney”. Sir Patrick, I am sure the whole House wishes you a very happy birthday.
I agree with the right hon. Lady that the whole House sends its condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family. She sang uplifting tunes that ensured the nation’s morale was good at a time of desperation. It is noticeable that when we had a difficult time recently, it is once again her words that our sovereign reached for. We look forward to “bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover” as we get blue passports back, so as people come in they will be looking for bluebirds waving their blue passports. We commemorate and remember her for the great contribution she made to boosting the nation’s resolve and morale.
I appreciate the right hon. Lady’s gratitude for Opposition days. I always do my best to ensure that there is contentment on the Opposition Benches. In that spirit, may I add to the celebratory comments about the Opposition Chief Whip’s birthday and his service to Parliament, for which I think he has a genuine commitment and love? I think that has been good news for how this place has operated in some, although not necessarily in all, ways, because he is also a very effective party politician. [Interruption.] I am in favour of effective party politicians. I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. There is no criticism in that; it is part of making a democracy work.
Recess dates are always subject to the progress of parliamentary business and that remains the case. As soon as I can bring an update to the House, I will do so. The Environment Bill is an important Bill. Obviously, because there were no Public Bill Committees during the period when we were entirely hybrid, there have been delays. It would be very unlikely for it to be out of Committee at the date currently proposed.
I am very glad the right hon. Lady welcomes the Government policy on free school meals. The Government are a Government who listen, and that is quite right. It is very odd that the Labour party should come late to a party asking for something, and then when the Government give it, complain that the Government have given it. I do not really see the logic in that. I think the Government have done absolutely the right thing.
As regards the merger of DFID and the Foreign Office, this is an absolutely brilliant policy. It is one that commands support across the country, because it is putting British interests first. It was not from this Dispatch Box, but from a Dispatch Box in a very similar place—it had to be replaced after the damage caused by the bomb—that Lord Palmerston pointed out that we have eternal interests. Our nation’s interests must be served by the structures of government, and that is what is being done. We must ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent, and taxpayers have a right to demand that their money is used carefully.
The Prime Minister has been here to make a statement to the House. You, Mr Speaker, rightly keep Her Majesty’s Government on their toes when announcements are not made to this House, and sometimes they creep out at press briefings, which is something you deprecate, but when the Prime Minister comes and makes the statement to this House, does he get the laurels that he deserves—the paeans of praise that should come to him? No, not at all; we get grumbling, moaning and complaining that it is not enough. It has to be said that some people can never be satisfied.
The right hon. Lady called for a uniform for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; I can tell her that as Lord President of the Council, I am entitled to a uniform but, as I understand it, the uniform has not been worn by any Lord President since the coronation of George V. I therefore do not intend to resurrect that ancient tradition. [Interruption.] I do not have the uniform and nor will I be seeking to get the uniform. I do believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is entitled to have a flag on his official car, but I understand that that practice has also fallen into disuse.
The right hon. Lady referred to the Government’s commitment to racial equality, which is a very important subject. It was clear in our manifesto that we will ensure that Britain is a fairer society and tackle racial and ethnic inequalities where they exist. The new commission has been set up to have a fresh and positive approach to try to ensure that we have as fair a society as we possibly can. The seriousness with which the Government take the issue is shown by the seniority of the person put in charge of the commission, working from Downing Street.
Finally, the right hon. Lady questioned whether the BBC was being brought into politics. It is noticeable that it is the left that likes to see much higher funding for the BBC; I wonder why that is.
I thank the Leader of the House for confirming that the Prime Minister will make that statement here first.
May we have an urgent debate on aviation, for two reasons? First, because many of us want to express our support for BA staff, who are currently having a very difficult time with their management; we need to stand up for them. Secondly, because the 14-day quarantine in aviation is such a good policy that it needs rapid improvement to air bridges or testing. We need to get the aviation industry going and those two issues need fully to be discussed in the House.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important question. Many of us represent constituents who have worked for British Airways and given long service over many years, and there are concerns about the way that they have been treated. This matter has quite rightly been brought before the House under an urgent question, and I think could be debated next week in the Petitions Committee debate relating to support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The matter clearly comes under that heading, so the debate will be available.
I note the point that my hon. Friend makes about the quarantine regulations, which of course are for a period and will be reviewed. The issue of safe countries is being looked at, as the Foreign Secretary said on the wireless this morning.
First, may we have a debate on how the fiscal framework within which the devolved national Administrations operate should be changed to improve their capacity to deal with the current pandemic and its aftermath?
To date, the Scottish Government have spent more than £4 billion on covid-19. Most of it will be funded through Barnett consequentials, but several hundred million has had to be diverted from other priority spending. For the UK Government, that would not be a problem, as they can overspend if necessary and borrow unlimited amounts to cover the cost. Neither of those options are available to the Scottish Government under the fiscal framework. I hope the Leader of the House will agree that when the framework was devised, no one had in mind the need to cope with a crisis on this scale. On Tuesday, four out of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament united behind a call for additional fiscal responsibilities. Their motivation was practical, not ideological. When can we discuss this Parliament’s response to that call?
Sticking with responses to coronavirus, we have discussed previously how the crisis sadly brings out the worst in some people, and we now hear that companies such as BA are intending, under cover of the pandemic, to execute mass redundancies and then hire back fewer people on worse pay and conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has launched a Bill, with cross-party support, to outlaw such Dickensian employment practices. It would be an easy matter—would it not?—for the Government either to make time to discuss that Bill or to bring forward proposals of their own.
Finally, I return to the matter of voting during the current emergency. It seems the Government are determined to do just about anything to stop Members voting remotely, including introducing new technology, as we have seen this week. Why do they not stop messing about and do the common sense thing by switching the e-voting system back on: a tried and tested system that not only allows Members who cannot attend to vote but makes it much safer for those who are on the premises?
To take the last point first, voting was carried out using parliamentary passes very effectively last night and with a proxy scheme that means that people can be present in the House. I think my hon. Friend the deputy Chief Whip voted for more than 40 Members of Parliament, and a similar figure was true for a leading Whip on the Opposition Benches. There are advantages for the Whips in the scheme, but it ensures that people are able to express their views, and that we have Parliament back, which means that we are getting the work done.
We have four Bill Committees up and running. We are working through the legislative programme, which we committed to doing in the manifesto. The British people expect us to be back at work. We are leading by example, and it is right that people are back, and that we have made provision for people who cannot be back. In that context, private Members’ Bills will be coming back in early July. That will be the opportunity for the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) to introduce his Bill, so that it can be considered in the normal way for private Members’ Bills.
As regards money, £3.7 billion has gone from the central Exchequer to the Scottish Government—their share from the extra expenditure in relation to the coronavirus—so the funds that are going through are very substantial. Of course, part of the devolution settlement is that the Scottish Government have discretion regarding how they spend money and what they spend it on, and they have to work within that discretion.
The failure of the diplomatic community to end the plight of hundreds of thousands of seafarers stuck at sea is shameful—all down to covid travel restrictions. Without our mariners working in a healthy environment, our supply chains will be damaged and obviously world trade will be as well. Will my right hon. Friend consider an urgent debate to call on the diplomatic network of the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s global Britain agenda to get an agreement internationally on crew changes?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point that will be of concern to others in the House. There are Transport questions on 2 July, but I suggest that she applies to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate to begin the process of the matter being discussed more fully.
We are heading up to the north-east with Ian Mearns, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I am grateful for your indulgence. I hope that the Leader of the House enjoyed the coronation of George V, which I believe was 110 years ago. Will the Leader let us know when the anticipated estimates days debates are due to take place, and how many days of such debates the Backbench Business Committee will have to allocate? We probably need to do that work next week.
Also, this afternoon the House will debate the effect of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Although I welcome the measure of protected time, it would be a great shame if contributions to such an important and well-subscribed debate had to be limited to only two or three minutes.
Lastly, could the Leader of the House crave the indulgence of some of his colleagues in the Business team to look at what Newcastle United are doing in terms of being an outlier within the premier league by completely and unnecessarily withholding refunds for tickets for games that they know will not be played in front of fans? It is withholding those refunds from fans: paying customers, many of whom, frankly, in the current climate could do with the money.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the estimates days. I will bring forward business in the normal way. We have, as he will know in terms of Backbench business more generally, been prioritising Government legislative business to start with, but we are beginning to get back to a more normal way of working, with another Opposition day next week, and using time, admittedly for the Petitions Committee next week rather than his Committee, to ensure that all the important subjects that get raised have time to be aired.
Time limits on speeches are really a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than me, but we hear the hon. Gentleman’s requests for protected time, to ensure that debates have a reasonable amount of time, subject to the other business going on in the House.
As regards refunds, it would not be fair of me to talk specifically about an individual company or sports organisation making refunds. This is an issue across the economy, with many businesses very stretched for cash but consumers expecting to get their money back. It is a problem that the Government are aware of, and there are a variety of routes for people to get their money back. If the company directly is not able to do it, sometimes the credit card company may be able to help.
May I say that Dame Vera was a true friend of our white cliffs country, working with us to see off the planned sell-off of the port? She has the thanks and prayers of our community.
In Dover and Deal, we are already working on an exciting local recovery plan, but we cannot do it by ourselves because it includes duty-free cruises to France, border controls and new trade and customs activities. In drawing up the legislative programme for the remainder of this year, will my right hon. Friend give time for the House to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to maximise the opportunities of Brexit and secure recovery and prosperity for us all?
My hon. Friend is right that there are great opportunities to be had from the restoration of powers from the continent to the United Kingdom. She and her predecessor have both been exemplary in their championing of Dover and Deal, to great effect. The town has never been better served than it has been in the past decade. It is thanks to the commitment of Members on both sides of the House, in their role as lawmakers, that we have returned physically and are making progress with key legislation that will allow us to take back control of policy making, whether it be agriculture, immigration or trade. From that, there will be more bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.
I welcome the robustness of the Government’s latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong. I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 616 on China’s national security law, which I co-signed with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and other Members across the House.
[That this House notes with surprise and concern the decision by HSBC Bank Plc and Standard Chartered Plc to support China’s proposals for a new National Security Law in Hong Kong; recognises that financial institutions, particularly those enjoying the benefits and protections of being based in the UK, have a duty to uphold and promote democratic principles and human rights around the world, wherever they may trade; warns that the proposed National Security Law is likely to be in direct breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration; and calls on the Government to set out the measures it will take to encourage HSBC and Standard Chartered to review their support for that proposed legislation from the Chinese Communist Party, which has a serial record of violating human rights and undermining democratic principles.]
What more can we do in the House of Commons to show our fullest support for all the promises made in the joint declaration and the upholding of democratic freedoms and rights enshrined in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and show our unequivocal support for Hongkongers to live peacefully and without fear in a free society?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. The rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are something that the Government take deeply seriously, and I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a priority for the Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has updated the House and, I am sure, will continue to do so. He last did so on 2 June, when he provided a statement on Hong Kong.
The Government are deeply concerned about China’s plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and have urged it to reconsider. Imposition of this law by China would undermine the principle of one country, two systems, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy, and it would be in direct conflict with China’s international obligations under the joint declaration—a UN treaty—which was signed on our behalf by Margaret Thatcher and is something that the Chinese Government ought to be proud of. If China continues down this path, we will look to amend the arrangements of those with British national (overseas) status, to allow them to come to the UK and apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months. This House will share the role of ensuring that the Chinese Government are under no misapprehension about the fact that Her Majesty’s Government are very serious about expecting the joint declaration to be observed.
Will the Leader of the House consider giving time for a debate in which the House can discuss how the Chancellor could best reshape the economy to lead the country out of recession? Could such a debate take place in good time to inform the Chancellor’s deliberations prior to any statement on the economy?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work of the Chancellor, who has managed an unprecedented crisis with characteristic ableness, crafting a considered and suitably bold approach. Our priority has been to support people, families and businesses through this crisis, but there will be more steps to be taken, and the wisdom of this House will be invaluable in helping the Government to shape policy for the future. As I announced earlier, there will be a debate next Thursday 25 June that will allow the economic circumstances around the pandemic to be discussed in broad terms, and I am sure that Ministers will pay careful attention to that debate.
May I first report that yesterday I spoke to Pat Duffy, who not only was in very good spirits and fine form, but was polishing off his first glass of champagne to celebrate his 100th birthday? Yesterday, I also raised with the Equalities Minister the ongoing scandal of the operation of the disclosure and barring service—the DBS. This can blight people’s lives, often for minor crimes or even cautions in their youth, for decades. It prevents people from turning their lives around and is highly discriminatory. Members from both sides of Parliament and across the political spectrum recognise this injustice, as indeed did the Equalities Minister yesterday. The blockage seems to be the dead hand of the Home Office, so will the Leader of the House mobilise his office to knock departmental heads together, not for another study, inquiry or commission, but for rapid change, action and then a statement to the House?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point: with the DBS system, it is important to recognise that people can reform and that people ought to be given, in a fair society, a second chance, and that is something we as politicians should be very committed to. I will use my office in whatever way I can to try to encourage other Ministers to come to a conclusion on this and to look at it in the serious way that he suggests, though I may be a bit cautious about knocking heads together, because I am not sure that meets the requirements of social distancing.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on procurement practices across the public sector, so that we can ensure that the businesses across the country that stepped up and provided the personal protective equipment we needed have a fair chance to bid for longer-term contracts?
This is an important issue, and we will have considerable freedom as to how procurement is developed and used once we have left the European Union, when we will be much less tied in to the very dirigiste approach taken under the single market. The Government have done remarkably well in opening up to other suppliers, especially during this crisis, to try to get the best available equipment where necessary.
The chemical and pharmaceuticals industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing exporter, and during the covid-19 pandemic, it has played a positive and essential role. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time, or, at the very least, a statement, on the work of the sector and how we stimulate its economic demand while supporting a decarbonisation-focused national recovery that will provide for a realistic energy transition, enabling the industry to deliver clean water, effective medicines and sufficient food production?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the pharmaceutical industry. The UK’s pharmaceutical industry is world beating and has made an enormous contribution in recent months. In terms of the debate that he is asking for, once again, that is a matter that could be raised under the debate next Thursday in response to the Petitions Committee.
It is widely accepted that our coastal communities are set to be most severely impacted on by the coronavirus crisis, and it is reported that the town of Newquay, which I have the honour of representing, is set to be the most severely impacted on in the whole country. Can we have a ministerial statement on the Government’s strategy for supporting and investing in our coastal communities to ensure that economic recovery happens as soon as possible, as we come out of lockdown?
Again, this is a point of the greatest importance, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question about support for coastal communities. He is a true champion of his community—an idyllic part of the world—as much of the Chamber is for those in the coastal communities he refers to. The communities on our coastline are of huge importance to this country, and their tourist economies have been particularly hit by the economic downturn of the pandemic. This is a matter that can be taken up at the next Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs oral questions on 25 June, but once again, it can also be raised in the debate next week on the general economic effects of the crisis.
We are a resilient community in the Rhondda, but I honestly do not think that we can take any more without significant help from outside. We had some of the worst flooding in the country earlier this year—hundreds of homes lost everything, many of them without any insurance at all—and last night, we had another bout of flooding, which has affected about 200 homes. I spoke to one woman last night who was in floods of tears because she had only just managed to get builders to sort her home out. She was about to move back in and now it is all ruined all over again. On top of that, we have a tip, half of which has fallen down into the river. Sixty thousand tonnes have to be moved and the whole thing has to be made safe, because we do not want another Aberfan. The council is completely strapped for cash. We know that we need £60 million to mend the culverts, to make sure that this does not happen all over again in three months’ time, in six months’ time or in a year. We need £2 million to move the 60,000 tonnes of earth. Please—I do not want a debate, if I am honest; I really just want the Leader of the House to make sure that we get the support we need in the Rhondda.
I think the whole House will have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say and the emotion with which he said it, and the effect this must have on his constituents. It is hard to think of anything worse than that which his constituents suffered—just having got back to a house that was redecorated and restored and then having it flooded and destroyed again—and the worry that must remain in any community with a tip in it where people think back to Aberfan and know of the terrible disaster that that caused.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will speak to the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s local council today about the flooding overnight. There are significant Government funds available—£2.6 billion—but I am aware that when I speak from this Dispatch Box about large amounts of Government money when people are sitting at home worrying about whether a tip may collapse, that is not enough. I will take it up with Ministers, and I will ensure that the message he has brought to this House is known across Government.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on VJ-day on 15 August? Because of the national crisis, VE-day celebrations were somewhat muted. I have been talking to Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, Virginia, and I very much feel that we should make this a very special celebration. We owe her mother a great debt of gratitude for the way her wonderful voice lifted spirits during our darkest hours. To quote Dame Vera, she very much felt that our boys in the far east had been forgotten.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important occasion. The Government fully recognise the importance of VJ-day, 15 August. That is also the feast of the Assumption, so it is a day that many celebrate every year for other reasons too, but we will be celebrating particularly on this 75th anniversary of VJ-day. I do not actually know what anniversary it is of the Assumption; I am not sure what year that happened in.
This important anniversary is an occasion for us to acknowledge once again the sacrifices made on our behalf by the veterans of the campaign, and to remember all those who lost their lives and the many military prisoners of war and civilian internees who suffered in captivity. The Government and our partners will take into careful consideration the changing national situation as we continue to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. We will always put the health and wellbeing of our veterans at the forefront of our plans. We are committed to creating a programme that will allow members of the public to remember and give thanks to the second world war generation in appropriate and fitting ways, but my hon. Friend is right that we must not allow those troops who were in the far east to be forgotten.
May we have a debate on the vital importance of the theatre and arts sector to the economic and social recovery of our societies? Local theatres such as the Howden Park Centre in my constituency bring so much to our community and economy, but in an interview with The Observer, Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the National Theatre, revealed that without additional Government support, 70% of theatres will be boarded up by Christmas. Festivals such as the Edinburgh fringe recently received a £1 million support package from the Scottish Government. Will the Leader of the House press for a debate in Government time and put all possible pressure on his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury to step up and support these vital sectors?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the concerns of the theatre and the arts. The general context is of a Government that have taken enormous steps to help a wide range of businesses. It is worth bearing in mind that 8.9 million people are currently using the job retention or furlough scheme, which cost taxpayers £19.6 billion. That is in addition to the £7.5 billion that has gone to the 2.6 million self-employed, which is perhaps particularly relevant as so many people in the theatre and the arts are self-employed. In addition to that, there are business bounce-back loans. There are many schemes in place to help businesses survive, but the hon. Lady is none the less right to highlight the particular problems of theatre and the arts.
It is unusual for me to follow on from an SNP comment that I rather agree with. We do have to look after our arts sector; it is enormously important.
Can we, before too long, have an update on the restoration and renewal project? Although the country is going through very difficult times, we must remember that we have a legal duty to maintain this world heritage site. We must not lose sight of the very real problems with this building’s infrastructure. If we leave them untouched for too long, it faces disaster. I ask the Leader of the House to provide an update in due course, and to remain committed to a project that I believe we have a legal, moral and historic duty to maintain.
My right hon. Friend is a very distinguished predecessor in this role, and did a great deal of the work to ensure that people understand the problems that the Palace a whole faces. With the then Leader of the House of Lords, he chaired a Joint Committee, which I sat on, that looked into this issue. His question is of great importance. Everyone in the House recognises that the Palace needs a significant amount of work. It is a masterpiece—a showpiece of our belief in our democracy and our willingness to ensure that it is something we can be proud of across the world. As he knows, the Sponsor Body has been established, and it now has the responsibility for the plans to implement the strategy for R and R. It is reviewing the situation that it has inherited and the current circumstances, but it must ensure that whatever is done represents good value for money. There is not a bottomless pit of money.
Can we have a debate on the fact that, yesterday, the UN extraordinarily removed the Saudi-led coalition from the blacklist for violating children’s rights in Yemen, despite admitting that it killed or injured 222 children in Yemen in the past year? My constituent Luke Symons, who is held captive by the Houthis, was in Taiz in 2015 when the Saudis bombed and devastated it. He was on the phone to his relatives in Cardiff at the time, and they heard the carnage that was going on. Can we have some pressure from the Foreign Office for a total ceasefire from the Saudi-led coalition so that humanitarian aid can go in and we can arrange for the release of prisoners such as my constituent Luke?
It may be helpful if I give the hon. Gentleman the latest update on Luke Symons that I have from the Foreign Office. Officials are in touch with his family, but we have no consular presence in Yemen, which means that we are unable to provide direct assistance. That has been the case since 2015, but the Government continue to press the Houthis to release Luke on humanitarian grounds. The case is being raised at the most senior levels within the Houthi regime, and we continue to call for Mr Symons’s release regularly, particularly in the light of the coronavirus. The Government are committed to doing everything we can to ensure his release.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those broader points about the situation in Yemen. It is troubling, and the Government have previously called for a ceasefire.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when we can expect a statement from the Secretary of State detailing when the tourism and hospitality industry can safely reopen so that it has sufficient time to prepare and put social distancing measures in place?
My hon. Friend represents a constituency that relies heavily on the tourism industry, and this is a particularly difficult time. The strategy for reopening the country is conditional and subject to the five tests being met, but as soon as it is safe to do so, we will be encouraging everyone to get out, book a great British holiday and support our brilliant tourism industry. Ministers have regularly provided statements in the House, and I am sure they will be eager to do so again as soon as we can encourage more of our hospitality and tourism sector to open its doors, and encourage people to have a staycation this year to help boost our domestic economy.
On Monday 15 June, the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, published a report, which was launched on Zoom, entitled “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide”. The report found that Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that urgent and dire subject?
The House is always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to persecuted minorities and for trying to ensure that their persecution is known around the globe and that Governments who allow persecution are shamed. The Government are trying to do what we can to protect persecuted communities. I cannot promise him time for a debate, but I remind him—he probably knows this already—that Foreign Office questions are coming up on 30 June.
Politicians have a duty to set a good example, especially during these difficult times. The missing Mayor of London refuses to condemn mass gatherings during this pandemic. Will the Leader of the House please remind MPs that it is irresponsible and foolish to gather in mass demonstrations, and will he also remind the Mayor of London of his responsibilities to the citizens of London and to our brilliant emergency service workers?
My hon. Friend raises a crucial point. We have put in place clear and strict guidance on social distancing, and I believe that our elected officials have a responsibility to see it upheld. We strongly support the right to protest peacefully, but it is vital that people stick to the rules to protect themselves and their families. These are not normal times, and to protect us all and stop the spread of coronavirus, any gatherings of more than six people are unlawful. The actions we have seen over the previous weeks were not the right way to be proceeding, with dozens of police officers injured. The police have our full support in tackling any violence, vandalism or disorderly behaviour, and I would like to echo my colleague—my colleague? I mean my right hon. Friend—the Home Secretary’s view that those responsible will face the full force of law. That is the right way to proceed, though I fear it is unlikely that the Mayor of London will take any advice from me, because if I were to advise him, I would say: make way for a Conservative.
The right hon. Gentleman has been flattering himself with his belief that MPs can only do their job by physically attending a Parliament that can hold only 50 people. Given the fact that £1.3 million has been invested in the hybrid proceedings, allowing Members to vote and participate in debates remotely, it is scandalous that the Government are already attempting to dismantle it at every turn. Would he agree that it is far more cost- effective, inclusive and safe to reinstate full hybrid proceedings, and that abandoning them is both undemocratic and discriminatory?
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady, interesting though it is to observe the guitar that is behind her, given the fascination that we have in being nosey about where people are calling in from. We have ensured that the proper Parliament can continue. When scrutiny was impossible without hybridity, we had hybridity. Now that it is possible for reasonable numbers to come back, we are coming back as far as possible while continuing to make arrangements for people such as the hon. Lady to vote by proxy if they so wish and to appear remotely in interrogative sessions. That is the right way to proceed. People who can go back to work because they need to be back at work should go back to work, and we are leading by example.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day”.
May we therefore not allow another moment to creep by without a debate on British theatre? All the world’s a stage, but today the British stage is dark, from the west end to community theatres such as the Richings Players in the Ivers in my constituency. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on British theatre and the performing arts, in the context of a wider debate on preserving our British cultural heritage?
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.
My hon. Friend makes her point extremely well. As we have heard previously, these are matters of concern across the House. As I said earlier, the Government are taking steps to help the artistic community, as they are helping the whole of the economy. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that social distancing makes staging performances exceptionally difficult for theatres, and that the industry will need a different approach form other sectors. We might end up with different ways of going to the theatre and with more live streaming and so on. Over the next few weeks my right hon. Friend will be convening experts in a targeted way and bringing together our leading performers from theatres, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers in the hope that a solution can be found that will preserve our heritage in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).