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Prime Minister

Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Last week saw the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, BAE Systems alone employs more than 10,000 people across Lancashire, supporting the great work of our RAF, and it is taking on more than 250 apprentices in that part of the business this year. Will the Prime Minister come to visit Warton, meet those apprentices, and commit to doing all he can to secure those key jobs through support for defence exports and the Team Tempest programme?

I have no doubt that I will be coming to Warton in due course. Let me tell my hon. Friend that 1,800 highly skilled engineers and programmers are already involved in the project, going up to 2,500 next year, and that 800 of those are in his constituency. I look forward to his constituency’s being at the epicentre of the development of the next UK-led combat air programme.

Over the past few months, we have supported many of the economic measures announced by the Government, but the decision last week not to provide sector-specific support to those most at risk could end up costing thousands of jobs. One of the sectors, aviation, has already seen huge redundancies: BA has announced 12,000 redundancies, Virgin 3,000, and easyJet 1,900. If the Government’s priority really is to protect jobs, why did the Chancellor not bring forward sector-specific deals that could have done precisely that?

No one should underestimate the scale of the challenge that this country faces. That is why the Chancellor has brought forward a range of measures, which, by the way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported last week. They include the job retention bonus and the kick-starter programme for young people. We are also doing a huge amount to support the aviation sector. One of the companies that he mentions, Virgin, has now come out of the Birch process after extremely difficult, but in the end productive conversations. That is the work of this Government: getting on, helping companies through it and helping our people through it. If I may say so, Mr Speaker, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to work out whether he will support or oppose the Government’s programme to get people back into work. Last week, the shadow Chancellor said here in this House of Commons that she supported our programme. This week, he says that he opposes it. Which is it?

This is just such rhetorical nonsense. It is perfectly proper and right for the Opposition to set out the parts of the package that we support the Government on and to highlight where there are problems. The problem with the Prime Minister’s dismissal of this is that, since the Chancellor set this out last week, around 10,000 people have lost their jobs. The Prime Minister should focus on them, not the rhetoric. The Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday projected 3.5 million unemployed next year.

I want to press the Prime Minister further on the situation at BA, which is a huge employer and the national flag carrier. Alongside the 12,000 redundancies already announced, BA is trying to force through the rehiring of the remaining 30,000 workers on worse terms and conditions. That is totally unacceptable and it is a warning shot to millions of other working people. The Prime Minister sent an email to BA staff in which he said: “I have already made it clear that firms should not be using furlough to cynically keep people on their books and then remove them or change their terms and conditions.” That was on 2 June. It is now six weeks on. Will the Prime Minister now personally intervene and make it clear that actions such as those at BA cannot be allowed to stand without consequences for landing slots?

We have been absolutely clear that we want our great companies across the country to support their workers and keep them in employment where they possibly can.  I have made that point clear on the Floor of the House just in the past couple of weeks. Let us be absolutely clear: British Airways and many other companies are in severe difficulties at the moment, and we cannot, I am afraid, simply with a magic wand ensure that every single job that was being done before the crisis is retained after the crisis. What we can do—and what we are doing—is encourage companies to keep their workers on with the job retention scheme and the job retention bonus, as well as a massive £600 billion investment programme in this country to build, build, build and create jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what we are doing.

The Prime Minister knows exactly what I am talking about: it is the rehiring of 30,000 people at BA on worse terms and conditions, and he should call it out.

Yesterday, the Government’s expert advisory group published a report on the challenges this autumn and winter. It was asked to do so by the Government Office for Science. The report assessed the reasonable worst-case scenario for this autumn and winter, including a second covid spike and seasonal flu, and it set out strong recommended actions to mitigate the risks. The report was clear: July and August must be a period of intense preparation—i.e., now. Could the Prime Minister make it clear that he intends to implement the recommended actions in the report in full and at speed?

Not only are we getting on with implementing the preparations for a potential new spike, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in record investments in the NHS of £34 billion. The House may not realise that, just in the last year that the Government have been in office, there are now 12,000 more nurses in the NHS and 6,000 more doctors. It was thanks to their hard work, and the hard work of the entire NHS, that we were able to prevent our health service from being overwhelmed this spring. We will take steps to ensure that it is not overwhelmed this winter either.

That is the whole point of this report, which sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it, so I am surprised that the Prime Minister is not committing himself to fully implementing it. It is vital that the Government learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made and act now to save lives for the future. One of the key recommendations in the report, commissioned by the Government Office for Science, is that testing and tracing capacity should be significantly expanded to cope with increased demands over the winter. The reality is that trace and track is not working as promised, as it stands today, and the report makes clear that it needs to be significantly expanded to cope with the risks of autumn and winter. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the system will be fit for both purposes in the timeframe envisaged in the report—i.e., by this September?

Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman attacks the test and trace operation, which is working on an absolutely unprecedented scale: 144,000 people across the country have now agreed to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus. He keeps saying that the test and trace operation is failing to contact enough people and failing to get enough people to self-isolate. Actually, it is doing fantastic work: 70% or 80% of contacts are found, and it is getting through to the vast majority of people who have the disease. I can certainly give the House the assurance that our test and trace system is as good as, or better than, any other system anywhere in the world—and yes, it will play a vital part in ensuring that we do not have a second spike this winter. Instead of knocking the confidence of the country in the test and trace system, now is the time for him to return to his previous script and build it up—that is what he needs to do.

The problem with the Prime Minister quoting the 70% of people who are contacted and asked to self-isolate is that that has gone down. It was 90% just a few weeks ago and every week it has gone down, so I would not quote the latest figure, looking at the trend. But I have to ask, in the light of the last few questions: has the Prime Minister actually read this report that sets out the reasonable worst-case scenario and tells the Government what they need to do about it in the next six weeks? Has he read it?

I am of course aware of the report and we are of course taking every reasonable step to prepare this country for a second spike. I may say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is up to him, really, whether to get behind what the Government are doing or not. He has previously supported our plan. He has previously come to this House and said that he supports our measures. He now says, I think, that he does not support them. I think what he needs to do is build up the confidence of the people of this country cautiously to get back to work and cautiously to restart our economy, which is what we are trying to do, instead of endlessly knocking the confidence of the people of this country: knocking their confidence in test and trace, knocking their confidence in the safety of our schools, and knocking their confidence in our transport network. Now is the time for him to decide whether he backs the Government or not.

It is perfectly possible to support track and trace and to point out the problems. Standing up every week saying, “It’s a stunning success” is kidding no one. That is not giving people confidence in the system. They would like a Prime Minister who stands up and says, “There are problems and this is what I am going to do about them,” not this rhetoric about “stunning success” when it is obviously not true.

This afternoon, Prime Minister, I am meeting the families of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, a group of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones. They say this:

“We won’t let the deaths of our loved ones be in vain. And we won’t allow the Government to risk a second wave of deaths without learning from their mistakes.”

They will be listening to the Prime Minister’s answers today, so what would the Prime Minister like to say to them?

I join with, I think, every Member of the House in mourning the loss of everybody who has died in this epidemic. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and through him the victims and their families, that we will do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic. That is why we are taking the steps that we are. That is why we have set up, as I say, an unprecedented test and trace operation. That is why we are investing massively in our NHS and our frontline staff, as I say, in the last year, recruiting 12,000 more nurses, as part of a programme to recruit 50,000 more, and preparing our NHS for winter. We will do absolutely everything we can to protect our country and to stop a second spike.

What the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to decide is whether he wants to back that programme or not. One day he says it is safe to go back to school. The next day he is taking the line of the unions. One day they are supporting our economic programme. The next day they are saying our stamp duty cut is an unacceptable bung. One day they are saying they accept the result of the Brexit referendum. The next day, today, they are going to tell their troops to do the exact opposite. He needs to make up his mind which brief he is going to take today. At the moment, it looks like he has got more briefs than Calvin Klein. We are getting on with delivering on our agenda for the country, getting this country through this pandemic and taking it forward.

Order. Can I just say to the Prime Minister that we are going to work through the Chair? The audience is not that way, it is this way.

My constituency is home to many farms producing excellent British food. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new trade deals our Government are working on will safeguard our high food standards and provide fantastic new opportunities for the hard-working farmers in my part of Buckinghamshire? (904937)

Yes, I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. We will not only protect high food standards in this country and safeguard animal welfare, but open up new opportunities for farmers in Buckinghamshire and across the UK.

Tomorrow, this Tory Government will publish legislation for their biggest power grab since the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly for the Scottish Parliament in 1997. Westminster’s plan to impose an unelected, unaccountable body to rule on decisions made by the Scottish Parliament will not be accepted. The decisions of the Scottish Parliament must and will be decided by the Scottish people. We also reject any attempts to impose lower standards from one part of the United Kingdom on Scotland. Knowing that this Tory Government are prepared to sell out the food and agriculture industry to his pal, Donald Trump, will the Prime Minister confirm that his Tory Government are once again ignoring the wishes of the Scottish people and launching their hostile agenda against devolution?

On the contrary, what we are doing is possibly the biggest single act of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in modern memory. The right hon. Gentleman should be celebrating the 70 or more powers that are going to be transferred to the elected people in Scotland. What he wants, by contrast, is trade barriers between England and Scotland, and nobody being able to use sterling in Stirling. He talks about unelected and unaccountable people, but what he wants to do is hand the powers that we would give back to Scotland from this Parliament to Brussels, which is neither elected nor accountable.

Of course, the document that we will see tomorrow is going to talk about the benefits of the single market. It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not understand the economic value of the European single market and customs union.

This Prime Minister often states the need to respect referendum results. He should respect the decision taken by the Scottish people in 1997. We know that this Government are undertaking a full-scale assault on devolution: a Brexit settlement that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland, an immigration system that Scotland rejected is being imposed on Scotland, and a decade of Tory government that Scotland rejected has been imposed on Scotland. It is no wonder that the First Minister’s approval rating is three times that of the Prime Minister: effective leadership and respecting the will of the people, contrasted with the bumbling shambles coming from Westminster. Scotland has the right to have our decisions made by those we elect, not by bureaucrats appointed by Westminster. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that his plans will not be imposed on Scotland, and that we in Scotland will have the chance to choose for ourselves?

First, I must repeat my point. It is extraordinary for the right hon. Gentleman to attack unelected bureaucrats for any role they may have in Scotland when his proposal is to hand back the powers that this place is going to transfer to Scotland back to Brussels, where they are neither elected nor accountable to the people of Scotland. So I really do not know what he means. As for his point about respecting referendum results, the House will recall that there was a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence and breaking up the Union in 2014. They said at the time that it was going to be a once-in-a-generation event. I think they should keep their promises to the people of this country and to the people of Scotland.

My constituent, Eva Slapa, is a beautiful and brave nine-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumour. Wrexham has rallied round with the Unbeatable Eva campaign, but with the only suitable treatment option being offered abroad, the family are struggling to make travel arrangements. Will the Prime Minister offer reassurance that he will work with the family to look at ways in which Eva can access treatment? (904939)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Our thoughts are very much with Eva and her family, and we will of course look at everything we can do to support her and her travel arrangements.

Under this Prime Minister, we have suffered one of the worst death rates in the world and Europe’s worst death rate for health and care workers. Previously, he has refused my demand for an immediate independent inquiry, saying that it is too soon, even though, back in 2003, he voted for an independent inquiry into the Iraq war just months after that conflict had started. If he still rejects an immediate inquiry, will he instead commit himself in principle to a future public inquiry: yes or no?

As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now, in the middle of combating the pandemic as we are, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry, but of course we will seek to learn the lessons of the pandemic in the future, and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened.

After such a difficult few months for everyone, people with mental health conditions are especially suffering from increased anxiety, the effects of isolation, months without treatment and, most importantly, a lack of early intervention. Will the Prime Minister outline what steps the Government will take to make sure that people with mental health conditions are not left alone or behind? (904940)

I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning on this issue, which is, of course, incredibly important, and has been particularly so during lockdown. Overall, we have massively increased our funding for mental health care to £12.5 billion, but we are also, as he knows, now publishing our national strategy for disabled people, which will cover all types of disability, including physical and mental health.

On Monday, in announcing new immigration rules that will prevent people coming to work in social care, Ministers said that care workers should be paid more. That is right —they should. The chair of the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee said that they should receive around 50% more than current rates. The Government are the primary funder of social care, so will the Prime Minister commit to providing the additional money to pay those higher rates? (904935)

I can tell the House that we have already taken steps to support local authorities—through another £3.2 billion to support them, a £600 million contribution to fight infection—and we are incredibly proud of what our social care workers do. What this Government have done, in sharp contrast to the previous Government, is not only introduce a national living wage, but increase it by the biggest ever amount.

On Friday, the last surviving battle of Britain air crew member, Group Captain John Hemingway, turns 101 in the week that marks the 80th anniversary of the start of that pivotal campaign. In common with that golden generation, he will not seek any recognition for himself, but we ought to shine a spotlight on the sacrifice of those who defended freedom, and particularly the 1,500 from all Commands who fell. Will the Prime Minister give some thought to how we might recognise Group Captain John Hemingway not for himself, but as the final representative of the few? (904942)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I will indeed think about what we can do. As he knows, these are matters for the honours committees, which are independent of Government, and I urge him strongly to make his representations to them.

Last month, the Chancellor received a letter from all Tayside councils, including my proud city of Dundee, requesting urgent action to finally sign off the Tay cities deal after more than 18 months of waiting. Six thousand jobs hang in the balance while this constant delay continues, and the situation has been described, quite rightly, as “ridiculous” by the chief executive of the region’s chamber of commerce. Two previous Prime Ministers have failed to deliver when asked, so will this Prime Minister personally guarantee that he will sign off this vital city deal without delay? (904936)

I know that we have done a number of growth deals in Scotland recently and that we intend to do more. The best I think I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I will write to him with an answer about the Tay cities deal.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.There is a sense of great celebration in Thanet and east Kent with the positive development consent order for Manston airport, allowing that asset to fly once more, but we have one part of the jigsaw puzzle to solve—Thanet Parkway station. It was deemed desirable before the DCO; it now has to be deemed essential. Unfortunately, owing to covid pressures, Kent County Council feels unable to raise the £17 million through a Public Works Loan Board loan to support the final part of the jigsaw. Can my right hon. Friend use the influence of his great office to encourage the Chancellor and Ministers to find that £17 million to complete the regeneration of Thanet and east Kent? (904943)

I have good news for my hon. Friend, because the Department for Transport has received a bid for funding Thanet Park railway station. It is going to be assessed in the third round of the new stations fund, and I hope he will hear good news in the near future.

On 23 June, and again on 24 June, the Prime Minister said to the House in respect of financial support for businesses and workers during local lockdowns that “nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 1178; Official Report, 24 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 1307.]Last week, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was unable to give any details to my Committee at all about this vital future local support. Can the Prime Minister today be crystal clear for the towns and cities preparing for local lockdowns about whether he will be penalising businesses and workers for doing the right thing, or not? (904938)

In addition to the £160 billion of support that the Government have given to people and firms across the country, we have supported areas and cities in lockdown with considerable grants. There was £20 million for Leicester, business rates relief of £44 million, and £68 million in spending on business grants. The best thing possible is for all areas to work hard, as Blackburn with Darwen has done, for instance, to get the virus down and to make sure they are able to open up again.

In my constituency of Filton and Bradley Stoke, well over 20,000 people are directly employed in the aerospace and defence sectors, and 17,500 people are employed in the supply chain throughout the south-west region. Those jobs are not only vital to the individuals and families supported by them, but crucial to the economy of our region and our country at large, our future export prospects, connectivity, and our sovereign defence manufacturing capability with programmes such as Tempest, the next generation of fighter aircraft. When will the Prime Minister announce a wide-ranging support package for the aerospace industry, which must include a scrappage scheme for old and highly polluting aircraft? When— (904947)

I will examine the idea of a scrappage scheme for old and highly polluting aircraft, but I can tell my hon. Friend that long before then, we are putting £3.9 billion into the Aerospace Technology Institute. As I am sure he knows, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has set up, with the Department for Transport, a joint taskforce to create “Jet Zero”, a zero-emissions passenger plane in which this country will lead the world.

Last week, the Chancellor said that he could not save every job or business. Councils across England are facing a £10 billion black hole, which could see many of them issue section 114 notices, effectively declaring bankruptcy. Many councils are already beginning to make severe lay-offs. Will the Chancellor save local councils? Does the Prime Minister feel that the support that his Government have already provided is enough for our most vulnerable communities, and will not lead to council cuts and another era of austerity? (904941)

Yes, indeed. In Bradford alone, we have allocated £30 million to help deal with the pressures of the virus. As I said to the House just now, I think we have now put in £4.2 billion in support for local councils across the country. I pay tribute to the work of local councils and their services for helping us to get through this pandemic, and we will continue to support them.

Out and about talking to the good people of South Ribble, I find that they are worried about the economic effects of covid, although they do also say, “Thank God that other lot didn’t get in, because I can’t imagine how much trouble we’d be in right now.” Can the Prime Minister confirm that while there might be tough days ahead, this Conservative Government are throwing the kitchen sink at fixing it?

It is not only the kitchen sink, but every part of the kitchen. We are going to build, build, build our way forward. We are going to be supporting the building of 300,000 new homes a year. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that we get jobs, jobs, jobs throughout this country. Whether by installing kitchen sinks or any other part of the house, we will take this country forward.

I refer the Prime Minister to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). Owing to a covid outbreak in Kirklees, we are now an area needing enhanced support. The council is being brilliant. It is testing workforces and closing operations, but there is a cost to that, which is not only to the business, but also to the worker put on statutory sick pay. May I ask the Prime Minister to help us in the council and in communities such as Batley and Spen? Can we have daily postcode data? Will the Prime Minister commit to a package of support so that businesses can close and individuals can do the right thing to benefit all of us? (904944)

Yes, of course we are committing to sharing as much data as we have with councils so that they can get on at a local level, as they have been, with dealing with the pandemic. Actually, some of them have been doing an absolutely outstanding job—Kirklees, in particular. We will continue to support councils up and down the land as they engage in local action to make sure that the whole country can start to get back to work.

It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, which is based in my constituency of South Derbyshire, is the leading producer of low emission hybrid cars in the UK. Its aim, like the Government’s, is to achieve zero emissions from its vehicles. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me about the importance of recognising and promoting the role that hybrids can play as we move from the vehicles that we have today to zero emission transport?

Yes, indeed. Hybrids and plug-in cars can certainly make a huge difference and are an important part of our transition to zero emission vehicles, in which this country—certainly in battery technology—leads the world.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.My constituent Daniel Caplan, who has just turned 17, has been diagnosed with a diffuse midline glioma—a brain stem tumour. That is a terminal diagnosis and an absolutely crushing one. There have been no new treatments for conditions like Daniel’s for 40 years, so no progress in treating childhood brain stem tumours. Will the Prime Minister join me in supporting Daniel’s family in their call for a renewed focus on research and for a light to be shone on awareness of childhood brain stem cancers, so that other families in future do not have to face the heartbreak that Daniel and his family are facing today? (904945)

Yes, indeed. I know that everybody will sympathise very much with Daniel Caplan and his family. I will do what I can to ensure that the hon. Lady is able to make representations to the Department of Health about ensuring that childhood brain stem cancers are properly understood and properly tackled by this country.

Some people are anxious to return to work and some people find that they are actually as happy and productive working at home as they would be at the office. But does the Prime Minister agree with me that the worst reason for staying at home is to follow blanket Government advice that takes no account of safety? Will he commit himself to revising that Government advice urgently?

As I am sure my hon. Friend will see from studying the Government advice, we say very clearly that it is important that business should be carried on and that employers should decide, in consultation with their workers, whether it is safe for those workers to come into work or whether they should continue working from home. I happen to think that employers in this country have made huge strides in making work places safe, and that is the message that we should all be conveying.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that men who mock women have no place in our society. Yet according to Baroness Cumberlege’s report last week on the hormone pregnancy test Primodos, sodium valproate and vaginal mesh, that is exactly what happened to thousands of women at the hands of some male medical experts. She said that many women were gaslighted and not believed. Will the Prime Minister commit to implementing all the recommendations in the baroness’s report? Will he meet me, Primodos campaigner Marie Lyon and my constituent Wilma Ord, who suffered as a result of Primodos, to ensure that women are heard and not denied essential care, and that those affected get the recompense that they are rightfully due? (904946)

I am sure that I speak for many Members in this House when I say that I have had direct representations as a constituency MP from women who have suffered from exactly the conditions identified by Baroness Cumberlege and her committee. I also assure the hon. Lady that the Government take that issue with extreme seriousness. I have absolutely no hesitation in acceding to her request for a meeting, either with myself or with the Department of Health, to make sure that she feels that we are addressing the issues in the way she would want.

The Government want green energy. The Government want security of energy supply. The Government want to boost economic development in the regions. The Government want to encourage apprenticeships and youth employment. The Government want to increase innovation investment and to have a dynamic supply chain. That is all on offer in Cumbria. Will the Prime Minister support, with Government financial backing, the building of nuclear power generation facilities in Cumbria?

We believe that nuclear power is a significant potential contributor to our net zero ambitions, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to ensure that Cumbria continues its long, historic tradition as a pioneer of new nuclear technology.

It is exactly a week since 18-year-old Donnell Rhule was murdered with a knife on the Kingswood estate in my constituency, leaving his family devastated and a close-knit community reeling. It is exactly two years since the Youth Violence Commission published its interim report, setting out irrefutable evidence for the introduction of a cross-Government approach to tackling serious violence, yet the scourge of knife crime across the country continues. The Youth Violence Commission will publish its final report tomorrow. Will the Prime Minister commit to accepting its recommendations and act immediately to introduce a cross-Government public health approach to tackling serious violence and stop any more families suffering such terrible loss? (904948)

I know that everybody’s sympathies will be with the family of the victim in the hon. Lady’s constituency, as they are with the families of all victims of knife crime. I think that there are two things we have to do. First, I entirely agree with her that we need a cross-departmental medical approach focused on the needs of the families with the kids who particularly get involved in knife crime, and we need to put our arms around them and stop them being diverted into the gangs that are so often the root cause of the problem.

But we also need a tough policing solution. I have been concerned for the last few years that in London in particular, part of which the hon. Lady represents, we have not seen the approach that we saw under the previous Mayor, for instance, when there was a significant reduction in knife crime and a significant reduction in murder by dint of having proportionate policing that included the use of stop-and-search to stop young kids carrying knives. We need to have zero tolerance of kids going out on the street armed with a bladed weapon. That is absolutely vital. [Interruption.] An Opposition Member says, “Shocking.” In my experience, the people who are most supportive of taking the knives off kids on the streets of our city are the mothers of those kids who are most at risk of being killed. They support stop-and-search, and I hope the hon. Lady does, too.

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 suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).