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Business of the House

Volume 680: debated on Thursday 17 September 2020

The business for next week will include:

Monday 21 September—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (day 3).

Tuesday 22 September—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (day 4).

Wednesday 23 September—Second Reading of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, followed by motion relating to proxy voting.

Thursday 24 September—General debate on the situation in Yemen, followed by general debate on the settlement and annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, followed by general debate on the Rohingya humanitarian crisis and the effects of the covid-19 pandemic. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 September—Private Member’s Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 28 September will include:

Monday 28 September—Remaining stages of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 29 September—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 30 September—Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No.2) Bill, followed by motion under the Coronavirus Act 2020 relating to the renewal of temporary provisions, followed by all stages of the Sentencing Bill [Lords], followed by debate on motions relating to planning.

Thursday 1 October—Proceedings on a Bill relating to social security benefits uprating.

Friday 2 October—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and you, Mr Speaker, for the statement you made on those two issues. I have to say that what happened yesterday was unacceptable, and I hope we can all sit down and talk about one or two of the incidents. I, too, want to place on record my thanks to the Clerk of the House, the House staff who managed to switch to a different system and the Doorkeepers who reminded us that we were on television.

If that was not enough, I do not know when the Government are going to make a statement about the chaos and the warning about the queues of lorries that will take place in Kent. Some 7,000 lorries will take two days to get through. More sites are being planned, such as the Waterbrook Park site behind the MOJO site, and local people know nothing about what is going on. A coronavirus test centre was abruptly closed to make way for a customs check. Staff were told out of the blue that it would be closing. When are we going to have a statement on what is going to happen in Kent after 31 December? Mr Speaker, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, they paved the garden of England and put up a lorry park.

It is interesting that the following week, on Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 September, there are further days for the conclusion of the Internal Market Bill; I thought it would all be over this week so that the Prime Minister could go to party conference and wave a piece of paper in the air saying, “Oh, we have Brexit done.” It was the Government who signed the agreement, with the protocol, on 9 January and have now done what looks like a handbrake turn. To paraphrase what happened on the Health and Social Care Act 2012, it was a U-turn so big people could see it from space—perhaps from the moon, even.

Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House tweeted:

“Starmer’s Socialists still suck up to Brussels.”

As I said, it has nothing to do with Brexit. What we are doing is sucking up to the rule of law. The Law Society president has said that that is non-negotiable. He said that clauses 41-45:

“Represent a direct challenge to the rule of law,”

and he is urging hon. Members to vote against it.

The Leader of the House will know that we are celebrating 10 years since Pope Emeritus Benedict’s visit. In his speech, the Pope said that the separation of powers in this country is “an inspiration” and so is our,

“respect for the rule of law”.

Those are the words in his speech; I urge the Leader of the House to read them. This country has an internationally renowned reputation for legal services and as a place for the administration of justice, and that is all going to change. We have a law officer who has just recently resigned.

Can we have a debate on saving British businesses? The Leader of the House will know that the founder of ARM has written to the Prime Minister to stop the sale to Nvidia.

He said it was

“an issue of national economic sovereignty…Surrendering UK’s most powerful trade weapon to the US is making Britain a…vassal state.”

Has the Leader of the House heard that phrase before? He has failed to act in the public interest. It is a powerful letter and the Government should take a golden share in ARM. Could we have a statement on the negotiations and ensure that a business such as that will put the interests of the British people first, rather than being used as a powerful trade weapon for the United States?

I know there is a health statement later, but where was the chair of the test and trace programme? She has made no statement since 19 August. Public Health England has been abolished. We have had mixed messages. Do the Government really think that people without symptoms are going to have a test? The number of tests returned within 24 hours has fallen from 68% to 8%. It seems to be all “talk, talk” and not “test, test”.

More importantly, I want to use the Leader of the House’s good offices, if he could speak to Ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) had a ten-minute rule Bill in July on how people who are terminally ill are treated in the benefits system. She asked a question and she was told by the Minister at the time that the outcome of the review would be done shortly. The Minister said on Monday he will have it done “as quickly as possible.” Could we have a statement as soon as possible, hopefully next week, on what is happening with scrapping the six-month rule?

I am sure that the Leader of the House has already seen the 250 to 300 statutory instruments that are coming down the line. Could he ensure that there will be proper scrutiny of those issues?

It was the fourth birthday that Sherry Izadi, the wife of Anousheh, has had without him. Anousheh also needs diplomatic protection. Nazanin had that terrible prospect of not knowing whether she was on trial. I know the Foreign Secretary has been to America, and I hope that in some way we are nearer to a solution, as the Defence Secretary has suggested. Of course, let us not forget Luke Symons in Yemen; I hope there will be a statement next week in the Back-Bench debate.

I hope the Leader of the House will join me in thanking the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew)—I forgot to mention him earlier—for standing in so wonderfully for him last week and also Marcial Boo, the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, who left last Friday. I thank him for his six years. He has made many changes and says that he has left IPSA in a better place. He never failed to deal with queries on behalf of my colleagues. He saw three elections, winding up offices and setting up new offices. We thank him for his service and wish him well in the future.

Finally, happy new year, shanah tovah, to the Jewish community. I know that it has been difficult to have the celebrations, but maybe Rosh Hashanah next year will be back to normal.

May I also wish the Jewish community a happy new year? Of course, celebrations are difficult this year under the regulation.

May I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and Deputy Chief Whip? I was worried that last week he was far too good and that this week hon. Members would all be clamouring for him. Indeed, I fear that they are, but are too polite and kindly to admit it to my face, although I have no doubt that the call will go out on Twitter that Members want the Deputy Chief Whip.

I also add my thanks to Marcial Boo, who carried out a very difficult task with dignity and patience. He was always available to Members to hear representations and was always keen to put things right. I think he did very good public service in possibly one of the most testing jobs, in which there are 650 critics and very few defenders. I think he did it really admirably.

The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is right once again to raise the question of British nationals detained overseas, including Anousheh Ashoori and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is good news that the second trial has so far been deferred, and I hope that it will not take place. The detainees in Yemen can of course be raised in the debate coming up next week. The Government take this issue very seriously, but as the right hon. Lady knows, there are limitations to what the Government can do with a foreign nation that is determined to behave in the way that Iran behaves.

The right hon. Lady asked me about the scrutiny of statutory instruments. She will notice in the business that I announced that we are making time available for debate of statutory instruments where the Opposition prayed against them. It is the will of the Government, the habit of the Government and, indeed, the requirement of Parliament that where debates are requested, wherever it is possible and feasible in terms of the management of business, we will do our best to facilitate them and ensure proper scrutiny. That is of course up to Members as well. Some statutory instrument Committees do not take very long to perform their scrutiny, and we should all look to our own consciences as to how much we wish to debate statutory instruments when they come before Committees.

The right hon. Lady raises the point about the Department for Work and Pensions, and the terminally ill and the promise of an answer. I will follow that up for her; it is a reasonable request to have made. I will ask the Secretary of State to ensure a written response as to when we can expect an answer, even if we do not have the answer itself.

I am afraid that is where the sweetness and light has to end, because some of the other things that the right hon Lady said were really rather more contentious and have to be disputed. The UKIM Bill is a really important piece of legislation. It builds on section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which made it clear that the law in this country is made by Parliament. That has been our historic constitutional position. The Prime Minister himself has pointed out that the EU in these negotiations is not acting with good faith. If we are negotiating with somebody who is not behaving in good faith, we have to protect our interests, and we have a fundamental duty to protect the Good Friday agreement. It is absolutely clear in the Good Friday agreement that there will be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without agreement from the people of Northern Ireland. Putting tariffs on, banning food going from GB to Northern Ireland, would be such a fundamental change. It is our duty to stop that happening, because it is our duty to protect the Good Friday agreement and to support the United Kingdom. A fine piece of legislation has been crafted, and is being piloted through the House of Commons, that will do precisely that. It is the right law, it is good law and it will protect the position of the people of Britain.

The Government have consistently ensured that provisions are being made in Kent for whatever may be the result on 1 January next year. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and the Government are continuing to do that.

As regards testing, one has to be reasonable. I was not here last week because I was awaiting a test result, and that was quite right; people who have family members who have developed symptoms must self-isolate. The right hon. Lady’s right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, also did the right thing in self-isolating until the test result came back. We all have an obligation to try to stop a dangerous disease spreading, but we have gone from a disease that nobody knew about a few months ago to one where nearly a quarter of a million people a day can be tested, and the Prime Minister expects that to rise to half a million by the end of the October. Instead of this endless carping, with people saying it is difficult to get them, we should be celebrating this phenomenal success of the British nation in getting up to a quarter of a million tests for a disease that nobody knew about until earlier in the year. That is a success of our society, our health experts and our Administration. Yes, there is demand for more; yes, demand exceeds supply, but the supply is increasing and what has been done is really rather remarkable and something we should be proud of.

Finally, on the Division yesterday, well that is the great thing about being here physically: we had a fall-back plan, so we could all get through the Lobbies. Just think if we had all been remote: the business would have fallen and we would not have got the business through the House. [Interruption.] There is some cackling from the Opposition Benches. They seem to think that when technology fails you need even more technology, whereas as actually good, trusty turning up and saying “Aye” or “Nay” worked extraordinarily well.

I have one small issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew): he did not go back before the 16th century. I do wish my right hon. Friend to say a little bit about King Alfred. As he knows, earthquakes in Somerset are extremely rare, but there was a big one last December, just before Somerset County Council launched its bid to become a unitary. It made houses shake across the region. Was it the ghost of King Alfred rotating in his grave over the petty-mindedness and stupidity of the county council? Will my right hon. Friend give us a debate? The plan proposed by the district councils to reunite our wonderful county of Somerset and allow our famous king to rest in peace is worthy of Government time.

May 878, the Battle of Edington: it is from that battle and the defeat of Guthrum that the British nation, the United Kingdom, was founded. Without that, we would probably all be speaking Danish. It is thanks to King Alfred, who of course laid his plans on the Somerset levels. We should always remember that our great nation comes from Somerset, and Somerset should always be at the centre of our nation’s thinking. It is one great united country. Ted Heath’s chopping it up in 1974 caused me dyspepsia as a five-year-old and continues to cause me dyspepsia now. Somerset is a great county, and the more united it is the better.

It is good to be here, Mr Speaker, after so many months of absence to discuss matters with the Leader of the House in person.

I begin with your very welcome statement, Mr Speaker, about what happened last night. The Leader of the House ought to be a little less nonchalant in his approach. What we presented to the public and the world last night was quite an unedifying spectacle, to be honest. The conga line going through this House involving Members, many of whom clearly had some difficulty with social distancing, was not a good example to set. When we had the remote voting system, it did not fail; it worked perfectly well on every occasion it was put to the test. It is a system that was fit for purpose, and as he well knows, the Procedure Committee has recommended that whilst the pandemic persists we should go back to that form of voting, which is not only secure but safe and allows people to vote without coming into proximity of one another. I hope that when we discuss these matters next Wednesday at the debate he has announced on proxy voting, we will be able to consider alternatives as well, and I hope we will be able to take some action on this prior to the present arrangements running out at the beginning of November.

Secondly, I invite the Leader of the House to comment on the resignation yesterday of Lord Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, who reached a point where he found it impossible to continue to serve in the Government because of their intention to proceed with breaking international law. Does he think he will be successful in finding a qualified Law Officer in Scotland who will be prepared to countenance breaking the law in the future?

Finally, I want to ask the Leader of the House about the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, both of which we will discuss in Backbench Business debates this afternoon. Members across the House who will be participating in those very well-subscribed debates look to the Government to bring forward proposals for what will happen after 31 October, when many businesses will have to remain closed by Government order. If that is the case, it seems to me that the public purse has to assist them in getting to the other side of this pandemic. It is not enough to simply close down the scheme and say, “That’s it.”

It is a pleasure that we are back face to face. When the hon. Gentleman appeared remotely, he looked like one of the rather more bad-tempered Old Testament prophets, but face to face, we see his natural joviality shining through. He is very welcome back, and I am sorry that I was not here last week.

Yesterday, the votes worked—that is the key. Had the technology failed remotely, we would simply not have been able to get the business through. It is proving that this House is back to work as the rest of the country is coming back to work. We are leading by example, and we should be proud of that.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about my noble Friend Lord Keen, who is a distinguished lawyer. He has indeed left the Government, and I am sure that there are many brilliant Scottish lawyers who can be found and asked to fulfil the role of Advocate General. The pool of wisdom in Scottish legal circles is very deep, and I have absolute confidence that we will find someone of comparable genius to the noble Lord to take the role that has been vacated.

The issue here is a very important one: do we defend the national interest of the United Kingdom when the EU is acting in bad faith, as the Prime Minister has said? The answer is yes, we must defend our national interest and our United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman does not want the United Kingdom to exist. That is a perfectly respectable position for him to take, and it is put forward by his party in Scotland, but it is not the position of the Government or, indeed, of the majority of people in the United Kingdom, who have an affection, an attraction, a devotion and a patriotism towards their country and want it to succeed. Its success will be determined by laws passed in this House.

As regards the job support scheme, it is worth reminding the House what has been done by taxpayers. There has been £160 billion of support from taxpayers across the United Kingdom, with £35 billion on the furlough scheme, £8.5 billion for 3 million self-employed people, £15 billion on coronavirus business interruption loans for small and medium-sized enterprises and large businesses, and £35 billion on over 1 million bounce back loans. That is an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money, but taxpayers’ money is not unlimited, so the schemes cannot go on forever, but I am sure that the debates later today will be informative.

May I also wish shana tova to the Jewish community in my constituency and across the globe?

Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for young people to not only get into work but get a valuable qualification in the process. Being a keen supporter of apprenticeships, I have recently taken on two to work in my Radcliffe office, so that we are not only helping constituents but helping young people to earn and learn. Given the Prime Minister’s announcement that young people should be guaranteed an apprenticeship—which is much needed, given the increase in youth unemployment during the pandemic—will the Government lead by example and commit to offering as many young people as possible apprenticeship programmes across all areas of government?

My hon. Friend is right and asks an important question. I am glad to say that my own office has a good track record in this. We have an apprentice at the moment, and another member of the team was an apprentice before being promoted to a full-time appointment. I hope the Government will indeed follow my hon. Friend’s suggestion. In his plan for jobs, the Chancellor announced measures to ensure that young people have access to an offer of work-based training, work experience and training programmes, but apprenticeships are an excellent way of getting people on the jobs ladder, and the Government fully support them.

I am glad to see the Leader of the House safely back in his place, and I hope he recovers from his dyspepsia quite soon. I thank him for announcing the business for next week, including the Backbench business for Thursday 24 September, although it is a bit regrettable that we will not get Thursday 1 October, as we have just under 30 remaining applications, including some that are time-sensitive for late September and early October.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will shortly make a statement introducing significant restrictions on the people of Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear, including my constituency of Gateshead, to combat the considerable growth in the number of positive cases identified in those areas, despite local testing capacity having been reduced, as I have previously mentioned. Will the Leader of the House urge the Health Secretary to make regular statements to the House on the situation, as it is fast-moving and serious? Restrictions on time preclude many Members who would want to from putting questions to him when we get the opportunity.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is pleased that there is Backbench business both this Thursday and next Thursday. I give a reminder that it is still the intention to restore Westminster Hall from 5 October, so that will provide more time for Backbench business. The Health Secretary answered an urgent question earlier this week and is making a statement later. Who is on the call lists is really a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than for me, but I think the Health Secretary has been admirable in his willingness to come to the House to explain what is going on and to ensure that people are kept up-to-date.

I trust that my right hon. Friend will be very much looking forward to the county championship final next Wednesday between Somerset and Essex. I think I did predict in this place a few months ago that the championship would be a struggle between those two great counties, but I did not think it would come down to a showdown at Lords in the way it is. I look forward to discussing that with him next week.

I would like to touch on the issue of pet theft. We have seen a significant growth in pet theft over lockdown. Our pets have never been more important to us. For many, they have been our companions throughout lockdown. Pet theft continues to grow and there is a strong sense among many campaigners that the penalties are not there to deter pet theft from growing in the way it has done. There is a petition of well over 100,000 people who would like the issue to be debated in Westminster Hall. We have had a virtual meeting so far, because we could not have that debate, but would my right hon. Friend commit to bringing back Westminster Hall debates as soon as possible, so that pet theft and many other critically important issues can be thoroughly debated by us Members?

This is an issue that concerns people. I can tell the House that recently I bought a cocker spaniel for one of my children, which is a very popular addition to the Rees-Mogg household. I confess it was for my little girl, Mary, who has been asking for a dog for many years, and I finally gave in. The thought of it being stolen is one that I know would be of great concern.

The dog’s name is Daisy. It was named by my daughter, as Members would expect. I had all sorts of extravagant names for the dog, as Members might also expect, but my daughter held sway in the matter. The issue is of concern to people. Pets are being stolen—I am aware of that—and there will be an opportunity after 5 October to have debates on this type of matter in Westminster Hall.

This year private schools saw their proportion of top A-level grades double. Does the Leader of the House accept that it is a disgrace that 60% of young people at Barnsley College saw their A-levels downgraded, compared with 40% nationally? Can we have a Government statement about how they will avoid this scandal happening ever again?

The hon. Lady calls for it never to happen again, and we hope that people will be back to doing exams and that therefore grading will not be done by assessment in future. That is certainly the plan. I obviously do not know the specific circumstances of Barnsley College, but I will take the matter up with the Secretary of State for Education and try to get her a fuller answer.

The BBC is a fantastic employer. One of its employees recently received a £1 million-a-year pay rise, paid for by the great British public. However, the residents in Ashfield were not consulted over the pay rise. Does the Leader of the House agree that there should be a debate in this House so that the people of our great country can have a choice over whether or not their hard-earned cash should be used to subsidise BBC presenters’ £1 million salaries?

As a public service broadcaster funded by the licence fee—i.e. taxpayers—the BBC has a responsibility to lead the way in promoting equality in the workplace, ensuring overall pay restraint and value for money. That is why the Government requested that the names of all BBC staff and talent paid more than £150,000 be published. But there was one thing that horrified, appalled and shocked me about the list that came out: the name of Jonathan Agnew did not appear higher up the list. I could not believe that there were people being paid more than £1 million and that one of them was not our leading cricket commentator, Aggers himself. This is a great injustice, and I hope that somebody will request a Backbench Business debate to try to put this right. Fairness for Aggers!

From cricket to football—yesterday, the chair of the national league wrote to the Culture Secretary asking for permission to start the new season on 3 October. National league clubs such as Bath City Football Club are such important community facilities for people of all ages. They are not our shiny premier league clubs, which get income from TV deals; they depend on their supporters to physically attend. If these national league clubs cannot reopen in October due to a Government decision on covid guidance, all these clubs will go under. Will the Leader of the House make representations to the Cabinet, particularly to the Culture Secretary, to make sure that these clubs can reopen in October, while also being covid-safe? I understand that they made very special plans over the summer to make all provisions to make it safe for people to attend. Perhaps face coverings could be suggested in those circumstances. But it is vital that these clubs can actually reopen and that supporters can see the games in person from October.

The hon. Lady makes a very fair point. Local clubs are important—they are important community facilities—and they do not have the huge amounts of money of the premier league clubs. In my own constituency, both Paulton and Keynsham have very good football teams and it is going to be difficult without a clear path as to how they can reopen. The Secretary of State will be answering questions next Thursday and I am sure he will be able to give more information on this.

I know that my right hon. Friend and, indeed, the shadow Leader of the House are both as committed as anybody here to ensure that we change the culture of Parliament for the better. I would like him to please update the House on where we are on the 18-month review of the complaints scheme. In particular, when I met with him on this subject, we discussed the fact that it takes too long for a complaint to go from the initial phone call to the helpline through to whether it is upheld or refused. We all know that justice delayed is justice denied. So can he say what he is doing to ensure that this House is putting our own house in order and being the role model to the rest of the country that we all want to be?

First, I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that she did to improve and change the culture, because she really drove this forward with considerable energy to the benefit of Parliament. I think that we are all agreed that we need a new culture and that there is no place for bullying, harassment or sexual harassment in Parliament. We should be a place of excellence where people feel safe and secure in their employment and where people are treated properly. As regards the 18-month review, there is a paper in front of both the Lords and Commons Commissions to be considered to try to get this review done and done speedily. There have inevitably been some delays because of the coronavirus, but I entirely agree with her on the issue of speediness when people make a complaint. It is unfair both on the complainant and on the person accused if inquiries drag out indefinitely. She is right to raise that and I hope that it will be part of the inquiry—the 18-month review—though obviously that is not for me to decide because it will be independent.

The statutory requirement for the House to debate fuel poverty annually has not been met since 2018. Will the Leader of the House kindly inform us when Ministers plan to rectify this situation with a debate in Government time?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are enormous pressures on Government time, but there are many ways of raising things in debate and bringing them forward. Parliament allocates its time in accordance with its Standing Orders and the requirements of the law, and any statutory requirements that there are to have debates will be upheld.

Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) said, may we have a debate in Government time on the salaries paid to BBC presenters—£1.75 million and £1.3 million, to mention just two, and for what? Yet the BBC has the audacity now to charge 75-year-olds the licence fee. These salaries are outrageous and shameful, and it is about time the Government put an end to them.

Slightly warming to my earlier theme, I am not entirely sure why a retired footballer is paid more than Vic Marks, a distinguished Somerset cricketer who regularly appears as an expert summariser on “Test Match Special”. I would have thought that he was deserving of much more money than a retired association footballer.

I do think that the BBC has been unfair on pensioners in requiring them to pay the licence fee. The hope was that it would not do that. It is basically stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners’ night-time drink by charging them the licence fee, and it is losing licence fee payers: it has lost a quarter of a million licence fee payers in the last year, as people vote with their feet. I think the BBC needs to pay attention to what my hon. Friend says. When it charges some of the least well-off in our society and gives the money to some of the most well-off in our society, there are people who will rightly question that—especially when it is not giving it to cricketers.

In my constituency in the last week, we have been desperately trying to avoid a local lockdown—to be honest, with little help from the Government. Last week, I took it upon myself to work with a local charity, Sindh Doctors Association UK, to deliver some IT equipment to my lovely old primary school, which was gratefully received for distribution to disadvantaged students.

Just last year, the Office for National Statistics said that around 700,000 young people, including those at secondary school but not those at primary school, do not have proper access to the internet, or a tablet or computer. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the provision of IT equipment, including tablets, routers and all the other equipment that young people will need if our country is heading into further localised lockdowns or even, as rumoured today, a potential national lockdown? Our pupils have already suffered enough in the last year, and we want the Government to take every opportunity to ensure that they do not fail again to deliver such technology, which they said they would deliver but then did not, to so many young people.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about ensuring that there is support for young people who do not have access to the necessary technology. There is a £350 million national tutoring programme, which is a package of targeted funding for the most disadvantaged pupils to try to ensure that they can catch up on anything that they have missed, in addition to a £100 million fund to boost remote education, which is obviously helping with the technology. The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point; I think it is worth asking for an Adjournment debate on this issue, but the Government are taking steps in a direction that I hope he will approve of.

A few weeks ago, residents in Wednesbury and Tipton suffered incredibly bad flooding, which saw many houses washed out and possessions lost. This is not the first time that that has happened in those communities, and many people now cannot get flood insurance. I managed, luckily, to speak to Severn Trent Water, which raised with me the fact that most of the time it is not consulted on potential flooding issues with new developments. I have been somewhat concerned by the lead flood authority’s attitude to engagement with Severn Trent on trying to resolve these issues for the long term. May we have a debate in Government time on flood protection, particularly in the Black Country, an area that is often overlooked when these issues are discussed?

The Government absolutely recognise the devastating impact that flooding can have on communities across the country; it is very tough on those affected. The Government are acting to drive down flood risk and announced a £5.2 billion expenditure programme of taxpayers’ money to build 2,000 new flood defences over the next six years. However, the point that my hon. Friend makes about the lack of co-ordination is important, and I am happy to take that up with Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on his behalf to get him a fuller answer as to why these engagements are not taking place.

Last year’s “State of Nature” report found that 41% of UK species are in decline, with one in 10 threatened with extinction, and just this week a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds noted that we have seen a “lost decade for nature”, with the Government failing to reach 17 out of 20 biodiversity targets they signed up to 10 years ago. May we therefore have an urgent debate on how the Government plan to turn that around, including by introducing legally binding targets to restore nature by scrapping the reckless £27 billion road building plan, which is already subject to judicial review, and by restoring the funding to organisations such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, whose budgets have been slashed by 30% in the past 10 years alone?

It is very important that we have roads and that people can get about the country. The road building plan will help the economy. It will be a boost to the economy and a boost to jobs. The last thing we should be doing in the current crisis is making it harder for people to get jobs and for the economy to grow. However, the Government have a very good record on dealing with environmental matters. They have committed to the net zero target by 2050. Perhaps most importantly, we will take back control of our agricultural policy from 1 January and will be able to ensure that expenditure in that area goes towards protecting diversity and the environment, rather than being squandered on EU-sponsored schemes we are not in favour of and burdening our farmers with bureaucracy. Things are getting very much better thanks to the Conservatives and Brexit.

Residents in the village of Long Crendon in my constituency currently face the prospect of losing their GP surgery and being asked to go to a village poorly served by public transport that is at least an £11 taxi ride away. May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time to explore the provision of rural GP services, so that, as the Government deliver on our commitment for 50 million extra GP appointments, rural communities keep local, village-based GP services?

Living as I do in a small village, I am well aware of the importance of rural GP services and the need for them to be accessible by people living in rural areas who do not necessarily have any public transport and need to be within reasonable distance of a surgery. However, there are countervailing arguments about having larger centres which may be able to provide a higher level of service and more appointments. There is a balance within that. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue, which is very suitable for a Backbench Business debate, because it may well be of interest across the House.

Almost a year ago, I challenged the Prime Minister that his Brexit withdrawal agreement would not only put a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea, but weaken our Union. Because he is not a details man, and without reading it line by line, he proceeded, amid much fanfare, to sign the agreement, extol its virtues as the best deal and an oven-ready deal, and impose it into law on a three-line Whip. Does the Leader of the House agree, now the Prime Minister has woken up and wants to break international law, that while the Prime Minister may need a United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to supposedly protect him from the European Union, what we actually need is a Bill that protects our country and its people from the seemingly limitless ineptitude and incompetence of this Prime Minister and his Government?

The hon. Gentleman may perhaps overstate his case just a little. It seems to me that the withdrawal agreement is a very good agreement, but it depended on the good faith of the other side. Had that been forthcoming, there was no question of tariffs on goods that were going to Northern Ireland and were going to stay there. That was provided for. There was no question of food not going to Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the obduracy, the stubbornness, the pig-headedness of the European Union has put us in a position where we have to protect our interests. In terms of legislation around this Government, the greatest voice we had was that of the British people and they decided just last December who they wanted to run their affairs. They decided they wanted a Conservative Government who would deliver a departure from the European Union in the British national interest. That is what is being doing and that is why so many people across the country in historically socialist seats decided to put their faith in the Conservatives.

I was very cheered up at the beginning of business questions when I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), the Deputy Leader of the House, sitting next to my right hon. Friend. Last week, my hon. Friend undertook to go round to No. 10 and tell the Prime Minister off for making announcements to the media before making them to the House. Will the Leader of the House take that a little further? The rule of six, which limits the British people to gatherings of no more six, is a major change to the way this country works. Should not Parliament discuss those major changes first and vote on them? Could we have a statement next week, outlining that in future, before a major change in regulations relating to covid is made, an amendable motion is debated and approved in the House before the regulations come in? Perhaps it would be useful if the Deputy Leader of the House made that statement.

I apologise to my hon. Friend, but there was some problem with the technology. He was kindly helping my argument that technology is not the answer to every possible problem and that sometimes good old-fashioned turning up in person is helpful. However, I got the broad impression that my hon. Friend is not very pleased. I wish to correct the record. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) did not undertake to go round to see the Prime Minister and tell him what my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) wanted him to say. I think that probably, had he answered the question at greater length—he was under pressure of time—he would have said that was going to go round to Downing Street to tell the Prime Minister what a wonderful job he is doing and how lucky we are to have such inspired leadership, with which I hope my hon. Friend would concur. However, I can assure him that there will be a debate. A debate is scheduled on the continuation of the Coronavirus Act 2020 provisions on Wednesday 30 September. That will be the opportunity for those points to be raised.

Parents held vigils around the UK yesterday, including my constituent Rachel Rankmore, whose son, Bailey Williams, has very severe epilepsy. They were holding those vigils because they are still paying thousands of pounds in private prescriptions to get hold of medical cannabis. In Northern Ireland, the Administration are helping financially. May we have a debate on why that is not happening in the rest of the UK?

There is always great sadness about children who are suffering from these very difficult conditions and questions about the drugs that are made available and who pays for them. Obviously, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has a responsibility to investigate that, but I will happily pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that the incompetently run Lib Dem council in Sutton is again not listening to Carshalton and Wallington residents, this time about road schemes, which are causing travel chaos across the borough. May we have a debate in this place about those road schemes and the way councils should consult residents properly?

My hon. Friend is right. The Lib Dems hate the motorist, of course, and want to make life as difficult as possible for motorists whenever they can. The emergency active travel fund, which was announced on 9 May, comprised £225 million of funding in two tranches for local authorities. The local authorities have the responsibility for how that money is spent, but the Government will ensure that if they do not demonstrate that it is providing improvements, the funding will be withheld.

It is estimated that around 320,000 private renters have fallen into rent arrears during the pandemic. Many have lost work, fallen through gaps in support or struggled on reduced earnings on furlough. On Sunday, the evictions ban ends, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of eviction and tens of thousands at risk of homelessness. For private renters in Coventry South and across the country, will the Leader of the House give Government time to urgently discuss measures to stop the crisis, such as extending the evictions ban for at least a year, scrapping no-fault evictions, as promised in the Tory manifesto, and cancelling rent arrears?

Nearly £1 billion of support has been provided for renters, increasing the generosity of housing benefit and universal credit so that the local housing allowance covers at least 30% of market rents in local areas. Measures to ensure that no tenant has been forced out do indeed come to an end on 20 September, but landlords have not been able to evict for the past six months and there is a balance to be struck between landlords and tenants, and the Government have spent a great deal of taxpayers’ money trying to support tenants.

Earlier this summer, I spent time campaigning to get my constituents in Oadby and Wigston out of our local lockdown, and nobody wants to go back into those kinds of measures, but unfortunately the number of coronavirus cases, particularly in Oadby, has gone dramatically up. I have told the Health Secretary that any new measures must be extremely well targeted and proportionate, so that they do not affect people’s businesses and livelihoods. May we also have a debate on how we best handle local restrictive measures?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that restrictions are precise and aimed at the areas most at risk. Local outbreaks require local action and may be a feature of our lives for some time to come, but the Government’s aim is to enable as many people as possible to live their lives as close to normal as possible. I hope that he will have an opportunity, depending on the call list, to quiz the Secretary of State for Health in a moment.

On 16 July, the Youth Violence Commission, which I chair, launched its final report and recommendations. I sent a copy to all Members and peers the following week. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister has read the report, and will he grant us a debate on youth violence so that we can discuss these urgent recommendations and hear the Prime Minister’s response?

Obviously, youth violence is a very important issue, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing it to the attention of the House and on the work that she has done. This is very suitable for a Backbench Business debate, and I imagine that there would be considerable support across the House for that. It would be bold of me to tell the Prime Minister what he ought to read, but I will certainly ensure that the copy she sent him has arrived.

For more than half a century and throughout all parts of the United Kingdom, historic counties have been divided, merged, replaced and abolished, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know only too well with his beloved Somerset. May we please have a statement from the Cabinet Office on respecting our traditional counties, perhaps via the lord lieutenancies?

The Lieutenancies Act 1997 sets out that the ceremonial counties will be the historic counties, and it was a rather splendid Act because it reunited Somerset and other historic counties that had been bowdlerised by Ted Heath’s Administration. The historic counties are an important element of British history. They support the identity and cultures of many of our local communities, giving people a sense of belonging, pride and community spirit, and I hope that the counties will be recognised. As I am addressing an hon. Friend from Sussex, I think it is worth reminding him that the conversion of Sussex to Christianity was delayed because the woodland was so thick that it was hard for the converters to get through, but I am glad that he stands up for his county.

I do not know how familiar the Leader of the House is with the concept of no recourse to public funds, but it has resulted in one of my constituents being left close to destitution while caring for her grandchildren after their mother died of cancer, because she cannot get her status sorted with the Home Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a Minister to look into this specific case, and may we have a debate on the wider issue so that a Minister can come to the Dispatch Box to explain how this Government can continue to justify their inhumane, hostile and violent immigration policy?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise a constituency issue of this kind on the Floor of the House, and I will certainly take it up with the Home Office and ensure that he gets an answer.

I welcome the sentencing White Paper that the Justice Secretary introduced yesterday, as it restates the Government’s commitment to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment. However, it is now nearly three years since the Government first announced this change, and the families waiting for justice have waited long enough, so will the Leader of the House tell us exactly when this legislation will be introduced, to give the bereaved families the justice they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for the campaigning she has done on this important issue and for her success in developing policy in this area. Her influence and questioning have helped the Government to come to our policy decisions, which, as she knows, the Lord Chancellor announced yesterday. As regards the precise timing of the Bill, I cannot give an absolute answer on the day it will take place, but the White Paper sets out a serious Government priority. It will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows and the Bill has been written, and that is in the not too distant future. I hope that that answer is at least encouraging.

Given that the Prime Minister yesterday refused to rule out changes to the International Development Act 2002, may we have a debate in this Chamber about the implications for international development assistance for the poorest people in the world? Who in the House will actually be scrutinising what is happening?

The House decides how to set up its own scrutiny, and Select Committees are a matter for the House. The scrutiny will continue as it currently is, I believe, until the end of the year and then the House will have to come to a decision.

Tomorrow, I will announce my Angel awards recognising the people, organisations, businesses and public bodies that have done so much to support our communities across Blaydon in the coronavirus pandemic. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all those people who have done so much, and will the Government bring forward a scheme to recognise people across the country who have gone above and beyond to support their communities?

I thank the hon. Lady for her marvellous initiative. It is important that we thank people and recognise the incredible outpouring of community spirit that there has been during a very difficult time. She is doing absolutely the right thing. It seems to me that if the Government can piggyback on the work that she has been doing, that would not be a foolish thing to do, so I will certainly bring it to the attention of other Ministers.

Every year in England, more than 100,000 people in problem debt attempt to take their own lives. It is complex, and there are a range of factors that lead to somebody in debt becoming suicidal, but research shows that a key factor is receiving intimidating letters from lenders. That is a real concern with millions more people facing debt as a result of the crisis. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Chancellor to make a statement outlining how we make provisions for a small change to the rules contained in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 on the content of debt letters to simplify the language and signpost people to advice? I understand that could be done quite simply by statutory instrument, and it could save lives.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that should concern the whole House. A great deal of support is available from organisations across the country for people who are in debt that they cannot afford to repay, and the ability of debt counsellors to help debt to be rescheduled and to help to lift the burden from people is there. I agree that it would be helpful if that were more widely known. All of us, as constituency MPs, sometimes point our constituents in that direction. I understand his point about changing the wording. Letters sent out by debt collectors ought not to be threatening. That is quite clear. I understand his point, and I will pass it on to the Chancellor.

I was delighted to see the Government launch a taskforce to reopen Hammersmith bridge in London, the closure of which has been a congestion nightmare for hard-working Londoners, but as part of the levelling-up agenda at the heart of the Government, we need to bridge the gap between London and some of our left-behind communities. On that note, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will display the same strength up north in reopening the Whorlton bridge in my constituency, the closure of which for more than a year has cut off communities?

I understand that the Whorlton bridge was built in 1831, a year before the Great Reform Act—[Interruption.] No, I wasn’t here at the time. It is a fine example of 19th-century engineering—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) says that I am a fine example of 19th-century engineering. I am not quite sure that is entirely true, but I will take it as a compliment. The bridge is the responsibility of Durham County Council, which ought to listen to my hon. Friend. Bridges connect communities and ought to be repaired.

Scotland is a dynamic, forward-looking nation and is ambitious to retake its position on the world stage by adherence to the international rules-based order. When it makes an agreement with a future ally, it will stick to it, by contrast to the way that the Government are behaving this week with the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and their ambitions to break international law. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Scottish Government would be perfectly within their rights if, in seeking a section 30 order in preparation for our upcoming referendum, one is not forthcoming, they just decide to carry on regardless?

There is an incongruity in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He says, quite rightly, that Scotland is a forward-looking, fine, upstanding nation, but then he wants to kow-tow to the European Union, and take Scotland’s fish and give them all away to the fisherfolk of the European Union. He cannot have it both ways. Either he maintains his pride in Scotland, shared with the United Kingdom, or else he wants to go and be a vassal of the European Union.

In my constituency, we have a local landmark on a road called Woodmere Avenue, but it is all for the wrong reasons. As cars navigate through it, they get scratched. Local residents feel like they are between a rock and a hard place, or between a post and a scratched car, in the sense that local bureaucracy going back and forth over many years has meant that they have not been able to get this changed. May we have a debate to look at how we can unwrap local issues around bureaucracy so that we do not keep going through a groundhog day of residents requesting change, having to do petitions to try to get change, and then it not happening? Can we please get pavement politics back into government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We really need to discourage councils from their war against the motorist. We should be backing the motorist. Driving is a great sign of one’s independence, liberty and exercise of historic freedoms. But local authorities are, quite rightly, independent, so the answer is to campaign to get in a Conservative council.

On 22 June, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s periodic assessment regulations for universal credit were illegal. The next day, the Minister for welfare delivery said that the Government would now begin the process of carefully considering possible solutions. Three months, several written questions and an early-day motion later, there has been no update. Tens of thousands of people are affected by this. One of my constituents has continually had her passported benefits wrongly taken away because of this problem—devastating at any time but especially during covid. Will the Leader of the House therefore speak to the Minister for welfare delivery and encourage him to come before this House to provide a meaningful update on the Government’s plans?

When court cases do not go the Government’s way, it is obviously right that things are considered very carefully. It is worth saying, though, that there has been £9 billion of support for universal credit following the coronavirus crisis. An enormous number of people have received extra support during that period, and the Government have been making the money available to ensure that that happens. But it is only right that when there are court judgments, they are examined carefully.

In common with many Members, I am having trouble getting timely responses to written questions from many Departments. I have about 30 outstanding at the moment, some of which are more than three months old. One in particular, though, will be of interest to all Members, as it relates to preparations for Remembrance Sunday. All Royal British Legion branches up and down the country are beginning to think about what we can do to have a covid-secure Remembrance Sunday, so can we please have a statement from the relevant Minister as a matter of priority?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point about timely ministerial responses. I will confess that I put in an envelope letters outstanding to one Ministry from April, May, June and July in the hope that I might get a reply to them. If I do not get a reply, I will, in due course, tell the House which Ministry it is, but at the moment I will keep that quiet. Remembrance Sunday is one of the great important national days. I have absolutely heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I will take it up with the relevant Secretary of State.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that our negotiating position has been strengthened as a result of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill passing its Second Reading. That said, the European Union continues to act in bad faith, and the Government must be prepared for an orderly departure with or without a deal. So can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government have made all the necessary preparations in the event that an agreement is not reached next month?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says about the UKIM Bill strengthening our hand. We left with a deal in January, and planning for the end of the transition period is well under way, co-ordinated by the XO—Exit Operations—Cabinet Committee, to make sure that we are ready to seize the great opportunities of being outside the single market and the customs union. With the Bill going through Parliament, I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will have full legal ability to maintain the sovereignty of our nation and the integrity of our internal market. We have launched a comprehensive communications campaign to make sure that people and businesses know what they need to do to prepare for the end of the transition period. That remains a central priority of the Government and Departments.

May I first correct the Leader of the House’s assertion, which he repeated again this morning, that those of us who are working from home are somehow not at work? That will certainly be news to my wonderful constituency team, who dealt with a fourfold increase in casework this year without having to set foot in our office.

The Leader of the House says that he wants Parliament to be a safe place for people to work. He must know that some Members of Parliament are making it a more dangerous place by deliberately flouting safe distancing requirements in the Chamber, the voting queues and elsewhere. What steps is he taking to ensure that all MPs set a good example by complying with health and safety requirements in the House, and by being polite to members of staff whose job it is to help keep everybody safe?

The hon. Gentleman’s very last point is of fundamental importance. Mr Speaker, both you and I have made it clear to all staff of the House, particularly the Doorkeepers and security people, that they are allowed to remind Members, and all other people on the estate, of the need to maintain social distancing. It would be quite wrong for any Member to be high-handed when asked to remember the requirements of social distancing. I do not think one should be too critical because inevitably, human nature being what it is, things will not always be perfect, but the work that has been done to make this a covid-secure workplace is terrific. There are markings on the floor, things are spaced out and the seats in the Chamber have been limited to ensure that we are covid-safe. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to come down and see how well it is working.

Does the Leader of the House share my concerns about the safety of women, following accounts of serious medical complications after some women have taken abortion pills at home, as is temporarily allowed during the pandemic? Should we not therefore look to revert as soon as possible to confidential in-person consultations being available for all women before such serious procedures are undertaken?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this deeply troubling issue. It is important that safeguards that used to be in place are put back in place as soon as possible. Of course, anything to do with abortion is not a matter where the Government have a policy; it is a matter for one’s private conscience, but she knows that her conscience and my conscience align on this matter.

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 a few minutes.

Sitting suspended.