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Business of the House

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 9 July 2020

The business for the week commencing Monday 13 July will include:

Monday 13 July—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill, followed by consideration of a procedural motion, followed by all stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Bill, followed by motion relating to the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Tuesday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill.

Wednesday 15 July—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.

Thursday 16 July—Second reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill, followed by general debate on restoration and renewal.

Friday 17 July—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business next week and for arranging the statement later today on Baroness Cumberlege’s report, “First Do No Harm”. I acknowledge the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who started asking questions in 2011 and has managed to lobby three Prime Ministers, as a result of which we have an excellent report and the survivors will finally get justice.

The shadow Chancellor said, “Thanks for the meal deal, but we were promised a new deal.” We do not appear to have had that new deal. We are encouraged to eat out, and I wonder whether, in the autumn statement, there will be vouchers for the gym.

The Chancellor was right that there is a nobility of work. Where is the nobility of work for the 12,000 staff at British Airways? Where is the nobility of work for the 3,000 Rolls-Royce staff, or the nobility of work for our manufacturing sector, with over 1,000 jobs being lost at JLR in the west midland? Our hard-pressed health workers have no pay rise, and the retail sector was again left out. There was nothing for local newspapers, which have said they would like a further business rate holiday. The News Media Association says that since the start of the pandemic advertising revenue has declined by 80%. Could that be inserted in next week’s debate?

The Prime Minister will not apologise. Will the Leader of the House give us a mea culpa? On 30 April, I received this from the manager of a residential care home in my constituency:

“We have only just had our number of deaths declared which is appalling. We alone lost eight residents…(our little family). We have let families see them when they are near to the end of their lives. We have had lots of sad moments and has a thought had been given to us? NO. We are the forgotten ones. Many sleepless nights have been done thinking of our beloved residents (family). WE WOULD JUST LIKE SOME EQUALITY TO THE NHS. We deserve a national badge like the NHS.”

Carers have left their homes to stay in residential homes to look after the residents there. The Prime Minister has said that too many care homes do not follow procedures, but does he really know about procedures? Is it following procedures to go to Durham for an eye test, or to a holiday home in Greece? If he will not apologise, perhaps he could cover the cost of TV licences for the over-70s. Age UK says that nine in 10 respondents said that TV was more important to them since the pandemic. Could coverage of that social policy be inserted into the package next week?

There is no business for the third week after this. Could the Leader of the House schedule time for a debate on early-day motion 593?

[That this House recognises the life-changing injustices experienced by subpostmasters throughout the Horizon scandal; notes with the deepest sadness that subpostmasters have served custodial sentences and suffered bankruptcy for offences they did not commit; recognises the role of the Government in prolonging this crisis through not fulfilling their role of shareholder representation on the board of Post Office Limited; expresses concern at the scope and formation of the inquiry currently outlined by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and strongly urges the Government to institute a judge-led public inquiry into this matter at the earliest opportunity.]

The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), said in the House that there would be an independent review on the Horizon IT scandal. It is now a month since he made that statement. The Government website said that the review would come “shortly”. The EDM is calling for a judge-led independent inquiry. People have served custodial sentences and gone bankrupt, and they were totally innocent. This is what the judge said when he gave judgment:

“the Post Office…has resisted timely resolution of this Group Litigation”.

That means that the Post Office was dragging it out so that the victims did not get any recompense or as much as they should have done—it was all tied up in legal fees. This was a terrible injustice and we need to learn the lessons.

May we have clarification on the statement on the £1.57 billion for the arts, because it does not contain clear guidelines on funding scope, timing or eligibility? The statement says that the guidelines will be made “shortly”. May we have a statement on exactly what the guidelines are and when “shortly” is?

I am a bit upset because the Leader of the House does not appear to be answering my questions on Nazanin, Anousheh, Kylie and, of course, Luke Symons. May we have an update, as we have had Foreign Office questions and even a statement by the Foreign Secretary on global human rights? Finally, may we have an urgent debate on our borders and smuggling, as it seems there might be some dispute within Cabinet?

Let me answer straight away the right hon. Lady’s question on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, because, as I promised last week, I have taken this up with the Foreign Office. I have spoken to a Minister at the Foreign Office and I can give her the reassurance, which I hope will provide some comfort, that this is absolutely top of their list of priorities and they are continuing to work to secure Nazanin’s release. The matter is taken seriously by the Foreign Office, as it should be.

I share the right hon. Lady’ wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on the terrific work she did, which led ultimately to the Cumberlege report. I was a member of her all-party group on Primodos, and I think the work done there is of fundamental importance. I am pleased with and welcome the Cumberlege report, which the Government are of course looking into before responding to fully. This is an example of how this place can be used to make things happen and to make things change using procedures within Parliament. That is always welcome.

I am not sure whether the right hon. Lady welcomed the new deal or not. She was just a little grudging about this incredible support being provided to businesses up and down the country. The record is remarkable: 9.3 million jobs on the furlough scheme, costing the taxpayer £25.5 billion; and 2.6 million self-employed people being supported, at a cost of £7.7 billion. If that does not show that the Government understand the nobility of work, I do not know what does. The Government have put taxpayers’ money where their mouth is to ensure that jobs are protected and kept, and that the structure of the economy is maintained. The next package is a £30 billion one. It is really important to understand the fundamentally different nature of this crisis from the one that hit in 2008. Then, we were facing a crisis of over-expenditure, bad management of the economy and fundamental failings, whereas now we face a collapse in demand created by a pandemic and the right response is fundamentally different from the one we had in 2010, which has very successfully left us in a position where we can afford these extraordinary but necessary measures.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the concerns about care homes. The work done by people in care homes has been remarkable, in the most difficult circumstances, and the Government have done everything they can to support them. That has partly been through the funds sent to local authorities, with the £600 million infection control fund to ensure that the money is there to help care homes; through the overhaul of the way personal protective equipment is delivered, to ensure that that is available to people in care homes; and through ensuring that the workforce is expanded through a new recruitment campaign, so that people are there to help where they are needed. But I share her view that the work done in care homes is of fundamental importance, and I would dispute her conclusion that they have been forgotten—they have not been forgotten and they are very much valued.

On TV licences, I think the right hon. Lady’s message will be heard by the BBC and let us say to Auntie, “Come on, let’s be nice to the over-75s as they are some of your most loyal viewers and listeners, and it would be right to allow them to continue to watch television for free.”

On EDM 593 and the Horizon scandal, there is no worse scandal than imprisoning people or unjustly taking away their livelihoods when they are accused of crimes that they did not commit. The seriousness of what the right hon. Lady has raised is well known, and again it shows how the procedures of this House may be used to right wrongs—our historical role of redress of grievance.

We had an urgent question on the money going to the arts, and amazingly, for once, a Government package was actually welcomed by everybody. I think it was a great triumph generally for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, who managed to put together an amazing package supporting some of our most valued institutions, and that is extraordinarily welcome.

Finally, the borders issues will be sorted out—things are working, and there is a deadline set for July of next year—and we will always emphasise the unity of the United Kingdom.

The Chancellor’s eat out to help out voucher scheme for August is an absolute lifeline for the local economy in Eastbourne, and it will—I hope—promote wellbeing in bringing people together. With the ministerial team working so hard at present to bring back gyms, leisure centres and pools, might we consider, as complementary to that scheme, access to those places so that we can equally promote the physical wellbeing and get the nation up and running?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I cannot claim to be a native gym-goer personally. I did have to go occasionally in my childhood, and I have never quite recovered from the experience. However, many people up and down the country will be very keen to get back to sports centres, gymnasiums and swimming pools to get themselves into peak physical performance—and they can then compensate by eating out to get back the calories that they have just burned off in the gymnasium. The voucher scheme is time-limited to boost hospitality businesses and encourage people to unleash the latent demand that has been pent up over the past few months in a particularly vulnerable sector employing millions of people. I hope she understands that we are not able to offer such support to all sectors of the economy, but I am sure that my right hon Friend the Chancellor will look to support some industries that come under acute pressures in the coming months.

The Chancellor must be peeved that his grand announcement yesterday received such a mixed response, with many industry bodies saying it is insufficient. When we debate these plans on Monday, will the Leader of the House try to persuade his right hon. Friend to listen to others and seek consensus? It is increasingly bizarre that the Chancellor insists on a one-size-fits-all approach to business support, when everyone else knows that different sectors are affected differently. The fact is that, come the autumn, there will be many businesses which would in normal circumstances be perfectly viable that cannot trade because of public health restrictions. As the chief strategist of J. P. Morgan said yesterday:

“Removing the furlough scheme before activity has recovered is like building three quarters of a bridge and not finishing it because it is becoming expensive”.

Secondly, I want to ask again for a debate on the financial straitjacket under which the devolved Administrations are forced to operate. Every time I ask about devolution powers, the Leader of the House gives me an answer about money. I am not sure if he is evading the question or he does not understand it. The fiscal framework of devolution was not designed to respond to a global pandemic, and it needs to be changed. To give this week’s example, the arts rescue package announced on Monday includes repurposing capital spending in England, so why will the Government not allow the Scottish Government to do the same? We hear from many Cabinet members that Scotland’s salvation is due to the strong arms of the Union, implying that only big countries can deal with the pandemic, but that is not true. In fact, many small countries have proven more agile and effective, but if the Leader of the House does believe this, can he explain why support for Scotland becoming an independent country is now running at 54%, an all-time historical high?

Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm whether, in next week’s debate about restoration and renewal, the Government will bring forward their own, revised plans? In particular, does he believe that the decision to build a complete replica of the House of Commons Chamber for a temporary decant is profligate and ought to be reviewed?

The hon. Gentleman is concerned that the Chancellor is peeved, but as his own happy countenance looks down upon us, we know that he himself, in his cheerful, jolly and bonhomous way, would never be peeved—it is hard to think of a less peevish person.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the furlough scheme, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is absolutely right: the furlough scheme cannot go on forever. It has been an amazing effort by the taxpayer to ensure that the structure of the economy is maintained and, therefore, that we can have a V-shaped recovery. However, the Government—the taxpayer—cannot afford indefinitely to provide this level of support. Therefore, October seems to me to be about the right date.

The hon. Gentleman complains that he does not like the answer I gave him on the fiscal settlement for Scotland, but I have good news for him: the figure I gave him last week is lower than the figure I shall give him this week. Owing to the strength of the United Kingdom, the Barnett consequentials have led to £4.6 billion being available to be spent in Scotland. That shows the success of the economic management of the United Kingdom over 10 years of coalition and Conservative Government. The ability to answer the challenges of 2008 and to ensure that the public sector finances got back into proper shape so that we could afford to deal with a fundamentally different crisis, which required a different response and the expenditure of taxpayers’ money, is a tribute to the strength of the United Kingdom. Where would Scotland be had it gone for independence in 2014, with its revenue dependent on the oil price, which has subsequently collapsed? It would be bankrupt. The hon. Gentleman calls for bankruptcy; Her Majesty’s Government have provided solvency and support for the people of the whole United Kingdom.

In regard to restoration and renewal, we will debate that next week.

Buckinghamshire has more microbusinesses than any other county in the country and, consequently, a large number of directors of very small companies. Many of those directors pay themselves primarily through dividends, to reflect the variations in their cash flow. Sadly, they have not been able to benefit directly from the Government’s extremely generous support schemes for salaried workers and the self-employed. Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the value that small company directors bring to our economy, with their spirit of entrepreneurship, their willingness to take risks and the employment opportunities that they bring to others?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the crucial matter of the value that small company directors bring to our economy—or rather the directors of small companies; they themselves are not necessarily small. Many excellent small businesses exist in his constituency, and I am sure they will be grateful to him for bringing our attention to them today and, indeed, in yesterday’s general debate on the economy following the Chancellor’s announcement. It is absolutely fundamental that small businesses are supported, which is why so much has been done. The lifeblood of the economy flows from small businesses; they are the ones who generate our wealth and who allow us to pay for the public services that we need, so it is crucial that the self-employed are helped, as they are being by the Chancellor’s comprehensive plans.

Given that we have another scheduled general debate in Government time next Thursday, can I again appeal to the Leader of the House for time for Backbench Business Committee debates? I know that these are exceptional circumstances, but we have had only one day and 90 minutes’ worth of debate since the general election. This week, there are two days of estimates debates, and although the subjects were determined by the Committee, we do that work on behalf of the Liaison Committee, whose time it really is. The first estimates day, on Tuesday, was not afforded any measure of protected time, resulting in three 80-minute debates, severely restricted speaking time and some Members missing out.

We are also getting requests for time from Select Committee Chairs who want to make report launch statements, but we cannot facilitate them. We know we do not have time next week, so if the Leader of the House, in the course of today’s exchanges, refers Members to the Backbench Business Committee, given that more than 20 debates are waiting to be held, that suggestion will lack a measure of legitimacy. I suggest to Members that, if the Leader of the House does refer them to the Backbench Business Committee, they look at him wistfully—and possibly disapprovingly—while shaking their finger, because it will be a response, given the record, that currently lacks validity.

The Backbench Business Committee does very important work in ensuring that issues that Back Benchers are concerned about are brought to the wider attention of the British people. There were a number of Backbench Business debates facilitated by the Government, as general debates, before the Backbench Business Committee was established, and we did our best to ensure that the general debates early in this Session were of interest to the Backbench Business Committee, but the hon. Gentleman rightly points out the pressures on parliamentary time. Members want urgent questions answered and statements delivered, and that inevitably pressurises the timetable. We have also given time to the Petitions Committee, because without Westminster Hall, it does not have its general slot, so I think the overall record of delivering time for Back-Bench debates has been generous, even if it has not specifically benefited the hon. Gentleman’s Committee.

In the light of the 1,400 redundancies announced at Airbus in Broughton this week, which will seriously impact on my constituency, will my right hon. Friend find time for my fellow north Wales blue wall MPs and I to have a debate on Government support for the aviation and aerospace sector to see what more could be done over and above the £6 billion of sectoral support that has been provided to date?

Six billion pounds is an important amount of support, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight the work being done by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and HM Treasury over the past week to support local jobs in his constituency. Aviation and aerospace companies are vital to the economy, which is why the support has already been there, including time to pay, support for employees and loans. These are designed to ensure that companies of any size receive the help that they need to get through this difficult time—airports, airlines and the wider supply chain. We will continue to work closely with the companies affected and we are open to offering further support, so long as all other Government schemes and commercial options have been exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors. We will consult on what we can do on aviation taxes. The Chancellor will say more on that in due course.

I welcome the answer that the Leader of the House has just given, because aviation, aerospace and our local airports are all struggling and need help. I hope that there will be time for a full and proper debate, but was the Leader of the House as shocked as I was by the Northern Ireland Health Minister, who proposed to close air links between Great Britain and Northern Ireland as part of his public health strategy? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is completely and totally unacceptable, and will he ensure and make a commitment from the Dispatch Box that links with Northern Ireland will remain open as a priority?

I am as astonished as the hon. Gentleman, and I was even more astonished when I discovered that the comment was made by a Unionist. It sounded more like Nicola Sturgeon’s famous wall that she metaphorically wishes to build, and I am sorry that a Unionist would ever take that view. We are one United Kingdom and we must maintain all our links.

The business community in Padstow has highlighted an anomaly with me today around street trading. We currently have henna tattooists and braiders working from the quay while our beauty salons and tattoo parlours are closed. Will the Leader of the House bring forward some time to discuss this loophole, to see how we can help legitimate businesses in Padstow that are paying business rates, rather than those that pay no rates and are currently using the system?

We will inevitably discuss these issues. My hon. Friend is championing his constituency interest in the way he always does—in a noble way—for which he deserves great credit. Obviously, businesses are opening up at a different pace and it is a question about spreading the risk to ensure that more and more businesses can open safely, but Her Majesty’s Government are keen that all businesses should be able to open safely.

Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment that, nearly 24 hours on from yesterday’s summer economic update, the Scottish Government have yet to have the full extent of the Barnett consequentials of that announcement confirmed? It is not an uncommon situation for the Scottish Government to have to wait several days for that detail to feed through, which makes the UK Government look rather incompetent and discourteous. As somebody who clearly takes great care to be neither of those things, will the Leader of the House be good enough to arrange for a relevant Minister to come to the House to make a statement on behalf of the Treasury to explain why these problems appear to be a built-in feature of the Treasury’s approach to such matters, rather than just an occasional glitch in the system?

I am glad to say that the Barnett consequentials so far are £4.6 billion, so there is a substantial amount of money, thanks to the strength of the United Kingdom, going to the Scottish Government. The Barnett consequentials relate to a well-established formula. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Joel Barnett, a very distinguished Labour figure, established the formula, I think in the prime ministership of Harold Wilson—it was either Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan—and it has been the way in which money has been distributed ever since. That money flows, and that is the important thing.

Last month at Great Western Park and in the Ladygrove area of my constituency, we had unauthorised Traveller encampments descend. Local residents were subjected to noise, mess, vandalism and other antisocial behaviour for close to a week. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are developing proposals to actively tackle that, so that our constituents do not have to deal with it for so long, and that those proposals will be brought to this House as soon as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and commend him for the work he is doing to champion the concerns of the people of Wantage, which is the birthplace, of course, of Alfred the Great. Although the majority of Travellers obey the law, we recognise that unauthorised encampments can cause significant distress to local residents with antisocial or criminal behaviour. The Government consulted on measures to enable the police to tackle unauthorised encampments more effectively and will publish a response to the consultation in due course. As the then Housing Minister, now the Foreign Secretary, said when launching the consultation:

“We must promote a tolerant society and make sure there are legal sites available for Travellers, but equally the rule of law must be applied to everyone.”

Please may we have a debate on what the Government can do to support our steel industry? Today, Community union and others are launching a campaign to highlight how we need our steel. A debate would give hon. Members an opportunity to press Ministers to commit to using Britain’s steel as we rebuild, and to getting all Departments signed up to the steel charter.

The hon. Lady is a great champion of the steel industry and has been for a long time, and the Government are very keen to help all industry. That is why the plans that have been put in place are to help the whole of the British economy, and that seems to be working well. It seems to be helping keep people in work, which is absolutely essential. As regards a specific debate, quite often before the start of a recess there is an Adjournment debate that allows a wide range of topics to be debated. I would not like to give away what I am going to say next week, but it may be possible that such a debate will be facilitated.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the live export of animals? I was horrified to learn that yet again we will have more consultation on the subject. All Members are being inundated with emails about the import and export of real fur. Exporting live animals is cruel and needs to stop. We do not need any more consultation.

My hon. Friend makes his case as always with passion and energy. One of the manifold advantages of leaving the European Union is that we will be able to make these types of laws for ourselves, and we will not have to give way to a higher power. His energetic championing of these issues in Parliament will have its consequences.

On 12 May, I told the Chancellor about Ranjith Chandrapala, a bus driver from Hanwell in my constituency who died of covid-19. I asked the Chancellor to extend the Government’s covid-19 life assurance scheme for health and care workers’ families to others, including the families of bus drivers such as Ranjith. The Chancellor did not answer directly and his team said I should ask the Transport Secretary. I have now received a response from the Minister responsible for buses saying that support provided to key workers on the frontline will continue to be reviewed across Government. Will the Leader of the House invite the Transport Secretary to make a statement before recess explaining once and for all whether and when the Government will do the right thing and extend the life assurance scheme to the families of transport workers like Ranjith who have died during the outbreak?

The hon. Gentleman raises a sad and important case and an issue that should concern us all. I will happily undertake what he has asked me to do and raise this issue with the Secretary of State for Transport to try to ensure that he gets a complete answer.

I am privileged to be the honorary president of the Buckinghamshire Campaign to Protect Rural England, and its latest report, which is called “Greener, better, faster”, makes great reading. It sets out how the countryside itself can provide many of the solutions to tackling climate breakdown. Can the Leader of the House encourage his colleagues to hold a debate on this report in Government time to give us the opportunity to highlight further the ways in which we can support the transformational change needed across society to reach net zero emissions and at the same time preserving our landscapes, habitats and the wildlife living in them? I understand that Ministers have responded positively to the recommendations, and such a debate would enable them to put on record their support for the CPRE’s sterling work, which benefits us all.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her question. I have not yet read the report that she refers to, but I hope she will agree that the Government want to ensure that our economic recovery is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Many of the measures announced by the Chancellor yesterday will ensure that that is the case. We are already championing innovative and eco-friendly technologies, and our ambitious Environment, Fisheries and Agriculture Bills will enable us to protect our precious natural environment and diverse ecosystems for years to come, in line with the legal commitment for a net zero economy by 2050. Along with my right hon. Friend, I and many others representing rural constituencies want to see the country’s rural economy coming firmly back to life in the next few months. Our countryside is far more than an attraction to preserve in aspic; it is made by the millions of people who live and work there, and I believe the Government must do all they can to support rural lives and livelihoods throughout this recovery.

People living with phenylketonuria—PKU— which is a genetic condition that means they cannot process proteins well, have been waiting for a drug called Kuvan for many years. It has been available for 11 years, and it is long overdue for them to be able to access that therapy. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time to look at how we can ensure that people are able to access Kuvan for the benefit of their health and their lives?

When each and every one of us as constituency MPs has a case where there is a drug available and there is a constituent who cannot get access to that drug, it is one of the issues we always pursue with the most single-minded vigour, and that is absolutely the right thing to do. I have had representations made to me by my constituents about PKU, and I therefore have great sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. I would encourage her to continue making that case, and the hint I gave about the Adjournment debate may also be useful to her.

Laughing gas or nitrous oxide, as it is also known, is becoming the cigarette butt of our time. I am sure Members across the House are seeing an increasing number of those toxic silver cannisters piling up across their neighbourhoods, as in Bolton. This is a scourge on our society and no parent wants their child exposed to that sea of silver. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are in need of a new debate on how to put an end to what is no laughing matter?

My hon. Friend is getting into the bad pun territory that I thought was the preserve of the Leader of the House.

I understand the seriousness of this issue, and I sympathise with the point that he is making. It is very unpleasant to see this type of litter and he is right to understand the concerns that parents have. It is an offence to supply nitrous oxide if the vendor knows or is insufficiently aware of the fact that it would be used for psychoactive effect. Concerns about the supply of nitrous oxide for its psychoactive effects can be reported to the police and problems caused by the consumption of intoxicating substances in public places can and should be reported to local authorities. I am pleased to say that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to put his views directly to Ministers during the Adjournment debate on tackling the misuse of nitrous oxide on Tuesday 21 July.

Today the Leader of the House will receive a letter from me and other MPs setting out why it was illegal to pass a rule that said that 250 MPs should be excluded from parliamentary debate, that Parliament is in fact not empowered to remove the source of its own legitimacy, and that the vote itself was illegal because it excluded those 250 MPs. Will he undertake to ensure that he responds to this letter within seven days, with a view to resuming hybrid operations in this Parliament, or else at least sets out in full the counter-arguments to these arguments? Will he make arrangements for a full debate on this matter that includes all those people who have been excluded, without personal risk, in order that we can all get back to full operational work in this place, using the technology available, and do not have to resort to the courts?

I have not yet received the hon. Gentleman’s letter, although I look forward to doing so with bated breath—the excitement that awaits me at the end of this session is almost overwhelming. However, this House made its decision. It made its decision in a legitimate vote. We have exclusive cognisance of our affairs. We made the right decision. We are back to work. We are legislating effectively. The Government are being held to account. It was absolutely the right thing to do, and the hon. Gentleman, when he feels that he is well enough to come back, will be enormously welcome. [Interruption.]

I do not think that is quite acceptable from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and I hope he will be sending an apology to the Leader of the House.

Local bus services have been particularly hard hit by coronavirus, but this decline is nothing new: we are seeing a third fewer bus journeys in Stoke-on-Trent than a decade ago. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate in Government time to consider how we might reverse this trend and aid our recovery?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising a matter that is of great importance to all our constituents, as I am sure that his constituents in Stoke-on-Trent would agree. Buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food, and for all the other purposes where public transport is needed. The Government have committed over £650 million to keep buses running and increase services for those who need them, while also allowing for social distancing while travelling. We have announced a £5 billion package to improve local bus services, as well as a new national bus strategy, which will include Britain’s first-ever all-electric bus town and new low-fare, high-frequency super-bus networks. Bus services received £2.1 billion last year, and since 2010 annual support from the public sector has been 16% higher in real terms than it was under the last Labour Government.

Again the Prime Minister’s special adviser is in the news. As well as regularly sharing his many views on our nation’s defence on his very public blog, he is now going to be visiting sensitive MOD sites in the middle of a defence review. Could the Leader of the House find some parliamentary time so that the Minister for the Cabinet Office can share with us what changes have been made to the code of conduct for special advisers?

It is quite right that those who advise the Prime Minister are able to get access to information, acting on the Prime Minister’s behalf. It is entirely proper and a normal thing to happen.

Tomorrow I shall be visiting a beauty salon in Cleethorpes. I hasten to add that this will not be for treatment, although I am sure that hon. Members would say I am probably in need of it. In answer to an earlier question, my right hon. Friend said that businesses must open safely. I think that beauty salons deserve an explanation as to what is needed in order to open safely. They are frustrated and angry. Could he arrange for a statement on Monday to explain the situation?

I cannot understand why the Adonis of Cleethorpes could possibly need to visit a beauty salon. Indeed, the people of Cleethorpes are renowned for their beauty across the nation. [Interruption.] Of course, except Somerset. The beauty sector is an important one, and it holds a key to our communities’ economic recovery. I understand the anxiety of those who own or work in such establishments and commend their keenness to return to work. My hon. Friend will be aware that non-essential retail can open, provided that they have been made covid-secure. Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, as well as museums and places of worship, are now able to reopen, provided they are covid-secure. Our hope is to reopen gyms and leisure facilities in mid-July. Other close-contact services and tattoo and nail parlours will follow as soon as possible. The Government have been clear that they want to reopen the economy carefully and gradually, which is why some businesses that involve less sustained contact between people have opened before others.

As of December, the amount of Child Maintenance Service arrears in my constituency was £599,000—a staggering amount being denied to hard-pressed families. That situation is now exacerbated by shortfalls in payments due to paying parents’ loss of income during the covid-19 emergency. Can we have a debate in Government time on the operation of the Child Maintenance Service and how this vital family income can be protected?

It is obviously important that child maintenance is paid and that families have access to the funds they need. Universal credit has been working extremely well in helping families. Increased advances of up to 100% of a monthly payment and cutting the taper rate so that people keep more of their money are helping families in need, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about maintenance payments.

Can we have a debate on building standards for homes? Across our country, many more homes are being built, but more could be done to improve the standards to which they are built, particularly on the environment and digital connectivity. There are examples of new homes being finished very poorly. Constituents have contacted me to highlight disturbing quality problems and poor levels of customer service from some house builders in putting things right. If we have a debate, we will be able to address both issues.

I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend says. I think all of us have had constituents come to us who have bought new homes that have not been up to standard. I have one constituent whose home was actually unsafe in the way that it was delivered to him. It is important that we build more homes, and we need to be Macmillanesque in our ambition, but they need to be good-quality homes. They need to be safe, comfortable and energy-efficient but also beautiful, in the hope that they will survive through the generations in the way that some of the houses we have in this country have survived. Those living in new build homes must feel confident that their property is safe and of high quality. We will ensure that a new houses ombudsman is established and legislate to require developers to belong to it. That will offer better protection for homebuyers, resolve disputes and improve quality. The Government have taken bold steps to reopen the housing market safely in recent weeks following the crisis, and we are taking a number of legislative measures to make construction easier and quicker and to bring forward transactions by suspending stamp duty for house sales under £500,000 until next March.

I, too, welcome many of the measures announced yesterday, particularly the further support for the hospitality sector. The Leader of the House has just said that the Government’s intention is for gyms to reopen in mid-July if those leisure facilities are deemed to be covid-safe. The Prime Minister said last week that a statement on their future was imminent. Can we have an indication from the Leader of the House of when that statement will happen, so that our gyms, pools and leisure centres—and, for that matter, remaining retail businesses such as beauticians—can begin to plan for the new normal?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome of what is being done for the hospitality sector; I am grateful for this level of cross-party support. Imminent is imminent. I cannot do more than reiterate the Prime Minister’s words, although perhaps we should consult the great dictionary of Dr Johnson—not an ancestor, I believe—to see what “imminent” means.

Education is meant to be something where science, technology, history and philosophy come together and where diversity of thought is debated and explored—where children are taught how to think, not what to think. Sadly, that seems to be less often the case. Several students came to me yesterday and said, “We no longer feel that we are allowed to share our opinions if they are contrary to that of the pervasive world view within the school and integrated curriculum.” Can we have a debate in Government time on the importance of protecting free speech and diversity of opinion in education? Like the BBC’s remit, why should schools not be required to present multiple sides of political, historical and philosophical debate?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Freedom of speech is fundamental to how our society operates. Democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and the rights of property are the four pillars on which our constitution is built—a constitution that has thrived through the centuries. If we take away freedom of speech, we undermine all the other pillars that have supported our constitution.

It is a requirement in state-funded schools to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at schools, and that must be done in a way that encourages freedom of speech. The key to that is that we all have to accept the right of people to express views not only that we do not like but that, on occasions, we even find offensive. If we accept only views that we like and find unchallenging, there is no freedom of speech.

There are 16 Members still trying to catch my eye. I would like to get you all in, but succinct questions and answers, please.

Earlier this week, I chaired a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health. We heard about a worrying rise in urgent mental health referrals and a similarly worrying reduction in routine referrals, flagging up a probable pent-up demand on mental health services. May we have a debate on how the NHS can be helped to deal with the mental health consequences of the pandemic?

This is a matter of concern to everybody across the House and has become a major priority. Mental health funding increased to £12.5 billion in 2018-19, and that will go up by £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 to support an extra 380,000 adults and 345,000 children. There has been £9.2 million of additional funding to mental health charities during this crisis. This is an issue that the Government take really seriously, as do Members across the House.

May I say how delighted I am that the Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill is coming forward? As co-chair of the APPG on local democracy, I know that town and parish councils across the country have had to pay huge amounts over the last few years to try to keep public toilets open, and that many have faced huge financial pressures that have forced them to close toilets. The Bill will be a lifeline to many of them, especially with the extra covid costs they have faced. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, alongside the many other recent measures we have introduced to help local councils, this will be a major additional boost, ensuring that public toilets remain available and are not closed, and helping our high streets and those with hidden disabilities?

The taxation of toilets has been an issue since the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, who famously said “pecunia non olet”—“money does not stink”. He thought it was quite reasonable to tax lavatorial facilities. Her Majesty’s Government take the opposite view and are keen to remove these taxes, and I hope it will be a relief to one and all.

On 26 June, The Telegraph’s news site announced that half of the UK’s imported covid-19 infections are from Pakistan. That had no basis in fact and no reference to expert evidence, but it was followed by The Sun, MailOnline and, soon afterwards, far-right groups stoking anti-Muslim propaganda. This was nothing short of hate speech, and I know that just by raising it I will be targeted by those on the right. Will the Leader of the House condemn The Telegraph and other media outlets for this irresponsible, offensive and racist reporting; will he report this incident to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, as I have done; and will he contact all media owners, including those in social media, to demand a stop to this hate propaganda?

The hon. Lady is right to report things that she thinks are inaccurate to IPSO; that is the purpose of the body. The press is self-regulated, and that is quite right. The Government should not intervene in the regulation of the press—if they seek to do that, they risk undermining freedom of speech—but equally, those protections are there. IPSO is there, and the hon. Lady is right to use it.

In recent decades, unfortunately, the environmentally important Sussex coast kelp forest has been seriously degraded. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on the proposed signing of a byelaw to ensure that that kelp forest is protected for the future?

My hon. Friend always raises important points in this House. This, I understand, has been passed through the normal processes and a formal application is awaited by the relevant ministry. However, I will try to find him more information on the details of the subject.

It was good to hear from the Leader of the House about the motion on terrorism on Wednesday. I hope that that is to ban one of the extreme right-wing organisations that a number of us have been campaigning on, such as the Order of Nine Angles, which should not be operating in this country. I have heard that there are significant delays proposed to the online harms Bill, which comes on the back of the “Online Harms” White Paper. Will he explain what the Government’s plans are to bring that forward? As we heard in a group meeting with the all-party group against antisemitism this week, many extreme right-wing organisations that have antisemitic, racist, Islamophobic and homophobic ideology are organising, recruiting and grooming new followers online.

There is a full legislative programme, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and Bills are being brought forward and processed rapidly by the House. We are doing well at achieving our constitutional obligations. In relation to the online harms Bill, the absence of the Bill does not remove the responsibility from the providers of these services to ensure that they are run and provided properly and that antisemitic material has no place on any properly run website.

Nail bars, beauty therapists, masseurs and tattoo artists, along with similar businesses, are an important part of our high streets, while dance studios, gyms, small outdoor festivals and swimming pools are an important part of our cultural life. All are very keen to get back to work and reopen. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to make themselves covid-safe, yet they have not yet opened. May I echo the call for an urgent statement on the specific reasons why certain sectors cannot open, what the barriers to opening are and how those barriers could be addressed?

Indeed. What is being done is ensuring that things open up in a progressed way so that the lowest risk activities open first and the higher risk ones open later to ensure that it is safe to do so. The programme being followed is being followed very safely and seems to be working. I said earlier that some further openings will happen in mid-July and that is now not very far off, so there is good news coming. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to be championing those businesses. They want to get back to business. The Government want them to be able to get back to business, but it has to be safe.

Feasgar math, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is good to see you. UK productivity is at the best of times 15.1% lower than the G7 average. When methods of improving productivity are found, it is always foolish to go backwards. Parliament should surely set an example to businesses and workers, so instead of me taking two flights to London to a Chamber which, as we can see behind the Leader of the House, has pandemic restrictions, we should continue with a safer, inclusive and more productive hybrid Parliament where votes can happen on an island Hebridean croft with exemplar efficiency compared with the overseas Westminster conga lines.

The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar makes his own argument for bringing Parliament back. May I say how much we miss him? Normally, we have some entertainment and forthright debate. We have the people of Na h-Eileanan an Iar beautifully and brilliantly represented. Whether the subject has anything to do with the hon. Gentleman or not, there is always a cat call or a few words of wisdom coming forth. Now, what do we have? We have some silent mutterings. He is on mute and we miss his dulcet tones. We want him back. He is the great argument for Parliament coming back physically.

Professional football clubs such as Blackpool FC are at the heart of their local communities, but many of them, especially those in leagues one and two, are suffering considerable financial difficulties because of the lack of matchday revenue. With no imminent prospect of gates returning any time soon, the fear is that over the summer successive football league clubs will enter administration because of covid-19. Does my right hon. Friend think it would be in order to have a debate in this place about sustainable finances for football league clubs and the steps that the Government can take to support them?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. Football clubs play a key role in the health and joy of communities throughout the country, especially in many of the northern towns and cities, like those in his constituency. Those clubs are not just sporting institutions, but vital for many local economies and livelihoods. I appreciate that the return of broadcast competitive sport behind closed doors does not really touch the joy and excitement of a full stadium of fans, whether we are talking about football, cricket or rugby—cricket is slightly more commonplace in my constituency. Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions took place only this morning, and I advise my hon. Friend to take the matter up further with that Department.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) about job losses at Airbus, I was pleased to hear the suggestion from the Leader of the House that help might now be available to prevent them. I am surprised, because when I asked the Chancellor about it yesterday, he was very clear that no more support was forthcoming. Although this U-turn is welcome, it is important that we get the Chancellor back to give another statement and confirm whether there will, in fact, be an aviation sector deal to prevent us from losing these highly skilled jobs, which we cannot afford to let go.

I will reiterate what I have said, because this has been Government policy for some time. We will continue to work closely with the companies affected and we are open to offering further support, so long as all other Government schemes and commercial options have been exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors. I think it was on the news this morning that a major company is at least keeping that option open. It is not all for the Government to do; existing investors have a responsibility as well. The position is that so long as all other Government schemes and commercial options have been exhausted, the Government are open to offering further support. That has been the position for some months.

Crime and antisocial behaviour continue to blight my communities in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton. I have been inundated by communications from residents of Tividale who have had to organise themselves into a street watch to combat crime and antisocial behaviour. Mr Speaker kindly granted me an Adjournment debate earlier this year, and I have raised this issue with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who came to my constituency and met my constituents. What advice would the Leader of the House give me and my constituents in Tividale about how to ensure that this issue is not brushed under the carpet and that they finally, after 20 years of broken promises, get their voices heard?

My hon. Friend does not need any advice from me. He clearly knows how to use parliamentary procedures to raise an important issue that affects his constituency. It is our duty as MPs to help to ensure that our communities are safe and secure, and that their law-abiding members feel confidence as they go about their business. The Government are doing the right things. We have already taken on an extra 3,000 new police officers, which is part of the aim to employ another 20,000 in total. I commend my hon. Friend for what he has done so far and encourage him to carry on badgering us all until he is satisfied.

The Ministry of Defence owes Iran more than £400 million and has said that it wants to pay that debt, but the Government have fought paying that debt for more than 20 years in the international courts. In 2017, the Iranian ambassador put on social media that the money was about to be sent. Can we please have a debate in Government time about the delay in settling our debt to Iran?

Iran is not necessarily the most friendly regime to the United Kingdom, and we have to look at our relationship with Iran in the round, but I will happily take up the hon. Lady’s point with the Foreign Office.

According to reports, an estimated 40 million people across the world are victims of modern slavery. In the UK we have first-rate legislation to combat modern slavery, but we have recently heard the stories of what has occurred in Leicester, where victims of modern slavery are also becoming victims of covid-19. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the measures the Government are taking to combat modern slavery and bring to justice the evil perpetrators so that they suffer for the crime that they are committing against humanity?

My  hon. Friend is so right to raise this point. The evil of modern-day slavery should not be underestimated. We were the first country to publish a Government statement on modern slavery setting out the steps we have taken to identify and prevent modern slavery in supply chains, and that was one of the great achievements of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). The Home Office has launched a new single competent authority to handle cases of modern slavery and a new digital system, making it easier for those on the frontline to refer victims for support, and that has allowed us to identify more victims than ever before.

Last year, over 10,000 potential victims were referred—52% higher than 2018—and it is worrying in itself that there should be such a high number. A high number is an indication that we are introducing policies that help, but it cannot be an indication of success, because if there is any modern-day slavery, that is in and of itself not a success. Some 1,600 police operations are ongoing, which is not far off tenfold the number only four years ago, but we have to go further. Modern-day slavery is an evil, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight it.

I realise that the Chancellor had a lot on his plate yesterday, but unfortunately there seemed to be no announcements regarding the green potential of hydrogen. The UK is well placed to leap forwards both in hydrogen production, especially from wind farms, but also vehicle manufacture, notably buses from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire and construction vehicles and trucks. May we have an early debate to stimulate not just discussion, but some urgent decisions?

Thanks to the Chancellor’s innovative scheme, we will all have a lot on our plate on some days in August—more on our plate than we might have been anticipating. As regards hydrogen, the right hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important point about an environmentally friendly source of energy. Yesterday’s statement was 20 minutes long and inevitably could not cover everything. As I said, there may possibly be a debate on matters to be considered before the forthcoming Adjournment, which will be an opportunity to raise the subject, but the right hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian and knows better than I do how to get things raised in this House.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has just started a full investigation into the Electoral Commission to see whether it complies with the seven pillars of standards in public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. It is clear to me that the Electoral Commission complies with none of them following its political pursuit of leave campaigners after the EU referendum. May we have a debate on the Electoral Commission? Such a request would normally be for Westminster Hall, so is there any chance that we can get back to Westminster Hall and have a debate on the Electoral Commission?

My hon. Friend raises some serious concerns. The Electoral Commission should clearly be like Caesar’s wife: it should be above suspicion, and there should be no stain on it or fear of partiality of any kind. If there is any question, it is right that it is raised in this House in the way that he has done. Time for a full-length Government debate will be difficult to provide. However, any appointments made to the Election Commission do come before this House, so there are occasions when we are able to consider matters relating to the commission.

As the Leader of the House will know, Nottingham is home to two internationally renowned universities, and usually many thousands of students, but as the country went into lockdown, many students returned to their family homes. As university campuses reopen and students return to our city, local residents are understandably anxious about the impact on social distancing in local shops and on services, and the potential risk to public health. Students and their parents are also concerned about safety, and particularly about wellbeing and mental health, especially in halls of residence. May we have a statement from the Minister for Universities to set out what she is doing to support our institutions to address some of those issues?

As always, the hon. Lady raises an important and interesting point. Inevitably, before universities reopen, there will need to be reassurance, both to the communities in which they sit and to the people going back to university—the students themselves—that it is safe for them to do so. That will tie in with the return of schools at the beginning of September. Usually, universities go back a little bit later, so there is a little more time to allow for them to go back. The hon. Lady is also right to raise the issue of mental health; I mentioned earlier the figures relating to mental health, and it is an issue taken seriously throughout the House.

The Department for Transport has been absolutely right to empower local councils such as Southampton City Council to introduce temporary cycle lanes and bus lanes during the pandemic, to see how they work, but does my right hon. Friend agree that before any such temporary measures become permanent, there should be a requirement for there to be a full public consultation among residents? Will he ask the Department for Transport to make a statement?

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good and important point. As a motorist, there is nothing more frustrating than when one sees a bus lane that is meant to be in operation and one has not seen a bus go down it for weeks, let alone that day. It is important that bus lanes are put in the right places and that the interests of motorists and communities are not overlooked.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Before we move on, the House is suspended for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.