Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 2 November will include:
Monday 2 November—General debate on covid-19.
Tuesday 3 November—Remaining stages of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.
Wednesday 4 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Blood Safety and Quality (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, the draft Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the draft Quality and Safety of Organs Intended for Transplantation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
Thursday 5 November—Debate on a motion on coronavirus business interruption loan schemes, followed by general debate on the UK Government’s role in ensuring innovation and equitable access within the covid-19 response. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 November will include:
Monday 9 November—Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business next week and for the motion extending proxy voting until 21 March. I do not know whether he has heard the outcome of the Public Health England visit, but I say again that the voting queues are not safe. On Monday, as we were walking round and round, it felt like something out of the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. We want remote voting because it is safest for Members and, most importantly, for staff, and it is quickest for staff behind the scenes.
The Leader of the House continually talks about democracy and “Erskine May”, but he is excluding Members from taking part in debate at this really difficult time, because some of them are in tier 3 areas that are in lockdown. Will he please reconsider remote voting? It is just for the pandemic, not for life. He will know that proxy votes do not count as a quorum for private Members’ Bills on Friday. We know that more than 25% of Members have proxy votes. I wonder whether he could consider, perhaps through the usual channels, a fairer way of enabling Members to take part via a proxy, so that those votes are not wasted.
Again, there is no update from the Foreign Secretary on Nazanin, Anousheh and Luke Symons, even though Iran is now in its third lockdown and other countries are having some success.
They came for our public money and wasted it. The Government have already spent £12 billion on Test and Trace, and yet they have accounted for only £4 billion, with the private sector consultants being paid £7,000 a day and everyone saying that this is a failed test and trace programme. The worst thing is that the Care Quality Commission has been told that its inspectors cannot have weekly testing when they go into care homes. That is one of the most important jobs that need to be done at this time. Could we have a debate on the whole test and trace programme? Who is getting the money? Let it be laid bare. It is difficult to get answers from the Government. Even if we table written questions, the responses are taking a long time to come back. The Government need to be accountable for public money during this pandemic.
Then they came for the Labour Mayors. The Government are now dictatorially moving areas from one tier into another. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has brought everybody together. The Conservative leader of Bolton Council, the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who has resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady)—a really serious person who has been in the House for a long time and is chair of the 1922 committee—have all said that they want to do the best for their community in Greater Manchester. On Tuesday, in response to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said:
“the cases were shooting up before we took action and then levelled off.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 1032.]
It would be nice to know what figures he is using. If cases are levelling off, why are the Government taking this action?
Let us look at the facts. Liverpool city region has received £44 million; that is £29 per person. Lancashire has received £42 million; that is £28 per person. After three months of restrictions, Greater Manchester was offered—by text—£22 million; that is £8 per head. Will the Government publish the funding formula behind those decisions? The shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), has called it a “phantom” formula.
Then they came for the trade unions. The union learning fund is about to be abolished, at such an important time. It was established in 1988, in the time of Margaret Thatcher. It is one of the most successful learning, training and reskilling projects currently running in British industry. It is value for money. For every £1 invested, there is a return of £12.30, with £7.60 going to the worker taking part and £4.70 going to the employer. The Trades Union Congress said that it contributes £1.4 billion to the economy at a cost of £12 million. Can we have an urgent statement on that decision or a reversal of it?
Yesterday marked the 54th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster when 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives. There was a one-minute silence on Wednesday at 9.15. We must remember them.
Our thoughts are also with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who is in hospital after testing positive for covid-19. We wish her well, as we do my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), who is an assiduous attender in the Chamber, and all other Members who may not have said that they have got covid.
Yesterday, the deputy leader of the Labour party, despite grieving for her aunt, Anne Irwin, who died of coronavirus last week, came to the Chamber and said:
“I come here wanting the Government…to succeed, because lives literally depend on it.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 1081.]
We say that there is another way: Labour in Wales’s two-week circuit break and £300 million package, just as was done in New Zealand. The Prime Minister of New Zealand memorably said that the tooth fairy was an essential worker, and we congratulate Jacinda Ardern and Labour party on their historic landslide victory. As they say in New Zealand, “Mihi.”
I hope the right hon. Lady will provide a translation for the benefit of Hansard.
The right hon. Lady kindly translated not only for the benefit of Hansard but for me. I believe the Prime Minister has also congratulated the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I absolutely align myself with the right hon. Lady’s remarks on the anniversary of Aberfan. I am sure it will be remembered. It was a great tragedy, and it was acted on, with most coal tips removed for safety reasons. I also very much join her in sending best wishes to the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). The hon. Lady is an assiduous campaigner, and the work she has done on Primodos is of fundamental importance. I supported her strongly from the Back Benches, and I hope that she will soon be back to resume her effective campaigning and holding Government to account.
On the union learning fund—£1.4 billion on £12 million? That sounds a little bit exaggerated. One can always find experts to come up with some figures if they are asked. With that sort of return, they ought to be in my former profession of investment management rather than in a union learning fund.
As regards the Manchester issue, the Government have provided £60 million of taxpayers’ money, not £22 million. In Lancashire, Liverpool and South Yorkshire, agreement was reached with the Mayors, whereas in Manchester we had this ridiculous fandango with the Mayor pretending he did not know when he had been told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government hours earlier. It was as if he was trying to go on the stage. It was the most ridiculous prancing performance that one could imagine when he should have been seriously trying to help the people of Manchester, which is what Her Majesty’s Government were doing. I am afraid he was playing party politics of the cheapest and most disagreeable kind, whereas people such as the Mayor of the Liverpool city region, who was clear in his political opinions when he was in this House, were able to work with the Government and put aside party political differences. He has shown himself to be a model of how to behave.
As regards test and trace in care homes, 120,000 test kits are made available to care homes on a daily basis, so the Government are doing everything they can to ensure testing in care homes. Of course, it is expensive to set up a system from scratch—that is not something people should be surprised about—but the system is now testing up to 300,000 people a day from zero earlier in the year, because nobody knew that test and trace would be needed. One should recognise that significant achievements have been made. Of course, I accept that it is expensive.
I will, once again, take up the issue of Nazanin, Anousheh and Luke Symons with the Foreign Secretary. I do so every week on the right hon. Lady’s behalf. She is right to carry on raising it. The Government are doing what they can, but obviously there are limits to what the Government can do when dealing with foreign regimes that are undemocratic.
As regards remote voting—we have discussed this on a number of occasions—it is important that MPs are here. MPs have a right to be here. They are essential workers, and all the advice that the Government have given, whether it be in tier 1, 2 or 3, states that people who have essential work to do must carry on doing it. We are in that category. We expect people to teach schoolchildren, and we expect other people in other categories to go to work, so we should do the same. We have, as yet, received no formal response from PHE on Divisions, but they seem to me to be working well and efficiently. We are getting through them in about 15 minutes, which is in line with the time that a Division takes ordinarily. The system is one that I think you came up with, Mr Speaker, and it is working extremely well.
In recent months, a number of constituents have written to me about completing processes online, and how it is assumed that they have a mobile phone that can receive a code, a smartphone on which they can download an app or, indeed, a good enough internet connection that will hold through multiple stages of a process. Given that more and more processes are going that way, may we have a debate about how we can ensure that our constituents are not indirectly excluded from being able to perform everyday tasks?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point, and I am sure that many Members across the House understand the challenges facing some of our constituents in today’s digital age, especially in the covid-19 era, which is replete with essential smartphone apps and fast-moving data. I assure him that the Government are driving forward access to the digital world, with £5 billion of spending to ensure that the whole UK benefits from world-class broadband infrastructure. Mobile coverage is improving, and 91% of the UK is covered by a 4G signal from at least one operator. Although 91% sounds quite good, I must confess that when I am at home in Somerset and I have no mobile signal, 91% is not good enough, so it needs to get better. As we become more digital, this becomes more pressing.
Let us head to the SNP spokesperson in Scotland.
You need to switch yourself on, Tommy. Unmute yourself. If the Leader of the House had worked in a textile mill, he would be getting this.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
We should, I suppose, be grateful for small mercies, so I welcome the Government’s intention to extend the limited virtual participation and proxy voting until Easter. At least that represents a recognition that normal service will not be resumed any time soon. It is a slightly more mature and considered approach than the histrionics of last week, when the Leader of the House likened MPs to essential service workers.
To be clear, this decision establishes a default position that, although it is better than nothing, hardly represents the optimum or enthusiastic use of technology to deliver democracy. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate at the earliest opportunity after the recess on how we can do it better, which includes switching the remote voting system back on and allowing full virtual participation? I know that he does not support either of those approaches, but he must accept that there is now a majority across the House, including many in his own party, who do so. Let us have an open debate on a Government motion that can be amended by others and, crucially, since individual MPs are affected in different ways, let us have a free vote on the matter.
This week will have brought home to many in northern England what it feels like to be Scottish. Devolved structures are created to allow the voice of people in particular areas to be heard, but if that voice differs from Westminster’s, it is ignored. Moreover, the representatives of the people are then attacked and vilified, just to be sure. I feel much empathy for the people in the great regions of England, but my principal concern is that the Government’s piecemeal approach in England has grave consequences for Scotland. The Barnett formula provides Scotland with a proportion of new public expenditure in England, but what happens when the extra spending is in only 10% or 20% of England? The Barnett formula was not designed for such a situation, and that is why I ask again for a debate on helping the Scottish Government to fight the covid emergency by removing the fiscal and policy constraints that the UK has placed on it.
The hon. Gentleman’s initial silence spoke eloquently for why we do not need a difference in the technology that we use. It showed why it does not actually work and why we are keeping this House sitting primarily in a physical sense, certainly for legislation: so that there can be proper scrutiny. It may be that some people like silence from the hon. Gentleman—most of us enjoy his questions—but that is not how to scrutinise Her Majesty’s Government.
As regards the funding for Scotland, UK taxpayers have contributed £7.2 billion to help Scotland, protecting 779,500 jobs. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) heckles me, saying “We are UK taxpayers.” Does that not prove how beneficial it is to have the United Kingdom? I am hoping that he will now become a Unionist and join our Benches, because it is the United Kingdom that has provided the £7.2 billion and is helping Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and all the regions of our great nation.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the support given to fairground and showground operators? Their livelihoods have been devastated by the restrictions placed on them by the coronavirus pandemic, and also by the taxation on red diesel.
I am in so much sympathy with my hon. Friend. In normal summers I spend a lot of time at fairgrounds. That is one of the things about having six children; what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon but try to find a fairground? This year I missed the opportunity to do that or to open the Clutton flower show, which has lots of amusements attached.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. The Chancellor announced in the 2020 Budget that the Government will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture, fish farming, rail and non-commercial heating. The policy is designed to ensure that the tax system incentivises users of diesel to improve the energy efficiency of their vehicles and machinery, invest in cleaner alternatives or use less fuel. That is the argument for it, but let us hope that fairgrounds flourish.
I call the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for guaranteeing time for Tuesday’s very timely and successful debate on Black History Month. Our Committee has been able to fill all the slots available to us in Westminster Hall for the majority of November, and we have two Backbench Business debates scheduled for Thursday 5 November: a debate on a substantive motion on the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, and a general debate on the UK’s role in ensuring innovation and equitable access in the covid-19 response.
I am also the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters. Last week, England’s six richest Premier league clubs put forward a disgraceful proposal, Operation Big Picture, to restructure the league. It was laced with bribes to English Football League clubs, many of which are under extreme financial duress, to secure their agreement. Thankfully the proposal was rejected, but the hares are running. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and a debate in Government time about the future of our national game, which is in the hearts of millions in our country?
The Black History Month debate on Tuesday was indeed a very successful debate, brilliantly wound up by my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities. I am delighted to hear that Westminster Hall is using its time efficiently, which is very important. It is a reason for getting Westminster Hall back up and running, and another reason why we are here physically: to ensure that the Government can be held to account, not just in the main Chamber.
As regards Operation Big Picture, I must confess that the detailed workings of the football leagues is beyond my remit and realm of knowledge; if the hon. Gentleman had asked about the County championship, I would have been better placed to answer. However, I think he should ask his own Committee for the debate, because it would be very well subscribed and of great interest to many Members.
Is the Leader of the House aware that over the years we have had several debates about unfair practices by the operators of private car parks, culminating in the passing into law of my private Member’s Bill, now the Parking (Code of Practice) Act 2019, which he supported? Now that the consultation period for the new code of practice has closed, can the Government avoid the need for further debates by acting quickly to bring the code into force and bring transparency, fairness and justice for motorists when parking?
My right hon. Friend knows the level of sympathy I have for that cause, which he has championed so effectively. He, like the Conservative party, is a fantastic supporter of motorists generally. He is a model for how we should back motorists and ensure efficient, fair and well-priced parking, which is one of the essential cogs in our local communities, and much of our local economy depends on it. Rogue private parking firms—they are not always private, it has to be said—have made drivers’ lives a misery, with improper fines, harassment, intimidation and over-zealous enforcement. I am very glad that the consultation has started, and I look forward, as my right hon. Friend does, to the implementation of the parking code of conduct, restoring fairness and accountability, and barring rogue parking firms from accessing Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data. I hope the rogue parking firms are listening, because it is getting that DVLA data that has allowed them to make such a nuisance of themselves.
No sector has been harder hit by the pandemic than live music, and research this week says that the UK’s live music sector faces the loss of 170,000 jobs, which is nearly two thirds of the workforce. The culture recovery fund helped to some extent, but we did not help the thousands and thousands of freelancers who make up a big part of the industry. Could we have an urgent statement on what more we can do to help our fantastic, viable—when we are through the pandemic—and world-leading music scene?
The hon. Gentleman referenced the culture recovery fund, which is important, at a total of £1.57 billion. The Arts Council has spent £160 million of taxpayers’ money on an emergency package supporting more than 10,000 organisations and individuals. In addition, £3.36 million has already been allocated to 135 grassroots music venues. Action is being taken, but I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is particularly difficult for freelancers in this area.
May we have a debate about how many Select Committees we have in Parliament and the use of cross-departmental Committees to scrutinise money spent over a variety of Departments?
Select Committees are ultimately a matter for the House and they have the opportunity to set up cross-cutting Sub-Committees among themselves. For the examination of cross-departmental spending, the Public Accounts Committee plays the crucial, most important role, but other Select Committees can, as I say, collaborate if they wish.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal held that Home Office regulations used for the removal of people under immigration rules, which have been used in an estimated 40,000 cases, were unlawful. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make a statement in relation to that judgment, or are the views of the judges at the Court of Appeal to be dismissed as those of a bunch of lefty lawyers?
The Home Secretary has the greatest respect for our judicial processes, as do all members of Her Majesty’s Government. The Home Secretary will be here for oral questions on 9 November. The good news is that the Home Secretary has announced that legislation on this matter will be coming forward, which will no doubt increase the clarity over the immigration law.
Ahead of COP26 and during the lead-up to the UK hosting the presidency of the G7, does the Leader of the House agree that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to lead the world, and will he agree to a debate titled, “Keeping the lights on while reducing greenhouse gases”?
My hon. Friend—or, rather, Ynys Môn—leads the world in this respect. The nuclear power plant in her constituency can keep the lights on and the radiators warm in this country for decades for come, and that is a way of providing green energy. The UK is committed to delivering an ambitious and inclusive COP26 in 2021, to reaching net zero emissions domestically by 2050, and to doubling our international climate finance commitment to £11.6 billion from 2021 to 2025—but I think the answer is that where Ynys Môn leads, the United Kingdom and then the world follow.
My constituent Ewan Cameron was involved in an accident and assaulted. He undertook successful private litigation because, basically, his insurance company did not want to know. It then rebuffed his complaints while withholding information from its own solicitors. The Financial Ombudsman Service found against Ewan, although the complaints handler did make some criticisms of the FOS. The regulator now refuses to engage with me, saying the matter is closed. So can I have a Government statement advising how the regulator is regulated and how I get clarity for Ewan over a saga that has spanned a few years now?
Once again, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the way he highlights issues for his constituents and regularly does so at Business questions. Regulators are, ultimately, accountable to this House, either via the Treasury Committee or via a Treasury Minister. I will happily take this matter up with the Minister responsible immediately after Business questions. I think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has responsibility for this area, but I will certainly take it up with whichever of the Ministers it is.
My council, Kensington and Chelsea, is at the forefront of rolling out electric vehicle car charging. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to invest in our electric vehicle infrastructure, so we can phase out diesel and petrol cars sooner than 2040?
I quite like petrol engines, I must confess, with some old cars. However, the Government have consulted on bringing forward an end to the sale of new petrol and—
I think that is a jolly good heckle, don’t you, Mr Speaker, though for the record, I deny that I model myself on Mr Toad. The policy on petrol and diesel cars will be beneficial, and a consultation is taking place on bringing it forward earlier. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the key to making this happen will be changes in behaviour driven by the ease with which people are able to charge their cars, and that means having more charging points. There is £500 million over the next five years to support the roll-out of infrastructure for electric vehicles, so taxpayers’ money is being spent in this direction.
I thank both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their kind words over recent weeks about my tandem skydive for local charity. I would also like to express my gratitude to the brilliant tandem instructor at Black Knights, Lee Rhodes, for safely delivering me back to earth without the need for a Denton and Reddish by-election. I did the jump for Florence, a six-year-old girl with a very rare life-limiting genetic disorder called GM1. Can the Leader of the House help find time for either a statement or a debate on GM1 and other extremely rare genetic conditions to help raise awareness across the House?
It is very reassuring to see the hon. Gentleman, albeit virtually, all in one piece. I join him in congratulating Black Knights on ensuring that everything happened safely. How inspirational it is of him, as a local constituency MP, to be raising money for such an important cause, GM1. I suggest, initially, that this is very suitable for an Adjournment debate, which would of course receive a ministerial response.
Does the Leader of the House agree that at a time of national crisis it is essential that Parliament continues to conduct its business of holding Government to account and representing our constituents in this place whenever possible? Will he commit to doing all in his power to enable Members of Parliament to continue to come to this place in person to enable us to do our duty?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Free, unhindered attendance at Parliament is one of our most ancient rights, going back to 1340. There is no law and no local lockdown that may prohibit elected Members from attending Parliament. But let us understand what we do in this House. Let us not downgrade our role. We are an essential service. It is crucial that the Government are held to account when extraordinary powers are taken, powers that many of us never thought a Government would be taking in our lifetimes. These must be scrutinised and voted on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to use the word “duty”, which you personify, Mr Speaker. You have done your duty every day and we should do our duty, too.
The Government’s view of devolution is that they dictate and local government must obey. The Transport Secretary has written to the Mayor for London, setting out his plans to expand the congestion charge to the north and south circulars. That excludes any opportunity for my constituents to have a say, because he wants it to be imposed in October 2021. Can we have a debate on devolution so we can speak up for our constituents against this dictatorship from the centre?
The hon. Gentleman overstates his case. He needs to remember that the finances of Transport for London were extremely difficult prior to the coronavirus. The Mayor was not running Transport for London well. He was failing voters in London and running a deficit. Do I want a widespread extension of congestion charging? Does the Prime Minister want that? No. The Prime Minister has said he does not wish to see that because we all know that congestion charging is a means of taxing the motorist. But Transport for London has to be paid for, and the Mayor has singularly failed to do that.
Last week I received a letter signed by eight local primary school headteachers. They are concerned about the state of their local leisure centre in Appleton, which has not been able to reopen since covid. That means that children cannot do PE lessons, at a time when we need to ensure that they are outside and getting lots of exercise. Set against that, Warrington Council has borrowed £1.6 billion to invest in offices in Manchester, supermarkets in Salford and even an energy company—all that while facilities in my constituency are run down and cannot be used. Can we have a debate in Government time to consider how local councils have accessed the Public Works Loan Board to fund reckless commercial investments, rather than using loans to support public facilities such as Broomfields leisure centre in my constituency?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the use of borrowing by councils, particularly if they are not providing the services they are meant to provide. I hope that the good people of Warrington have been able to enjoy other leisure facilities in the meantime, possibly even private sector ones. The Government are clear: councils should not borrow more than they need in advance of their own requirements, purely to profit from the investment of the extra sums borrowed. Councils are not speculators and they should not behave as if they were.
A memo that was recently leaked to the Bloomberg news agency revealed the view of senior Tories that the majority of people in Scotland support independence. Will the Leader of the House make a statement to set out why he believes that support for Scottish independence is at record levels? Does he agree with the view in the memo that continuing to dismiss calls for an independence referendum in Scotland is counterproductive?
Six years ago, in the year of our Lord 2014, a referendum was held in Scotland to decide whether Scotland wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland, in their wisdom, voted to remain in the United Kingdom, and that is why they are benefiting from £7.2 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to help them through the coronavirus crisis. The benefits of the United Kingdom are enormous. But I would say this, as an Englishman: I think it is absolutely wonderful that we are a single country to which Scotland has contributed enormously over the centuries. We are all kith and kin. We should be so pleased that we are a single country and grateful for the contribution of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Carshalton and Wallington residents living in New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge recently woke up to find that they had no heating or hot water for the eighth or ninth time in a few short months, thanks to the failings of the local Lib Dem district energy network. The scheme has tied residents into a long contract with no option to switch suppliers, and despite the patchy services and high utility prices, they cannot do anything about it. Can we have a debate about decentralised energy networks and how we can protect consumers such as those living in Hackbridge?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, every single week, manages to come up with another example of absolute incompetence by Lib Dem councils. Perhaps he should ask the Backbench Business Committee for a more general debate on why the Lib Dems cannot run anything and why it would be better voting Conservative.
Across the country, the hospitality, sports and leisure industries and their millions of workers are facing closures and restrictions, despite very little evidence being provided that they will have any significant impact on the pandemic—especially the 10 pm shutdown. May we have a specific debate, in which the Government can finally provide the basis for such draconian actions and we, the industry and the public can debate them and be clear whether the benefits really justify the costs of these measures? Frankly, they seem to be driven more by the need to be seen to be doing something than by any evidence.
It is always difficult, when a debate has already been provided, when one is then criticised for not providing quite specific enough a debate. In a broad debate, any range of subjects can be raised relating to the coronavirus crisis. There is a debate later today, and one on the Monday when we come back, when these points can be raised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made regular statements to the House, where he can be questioned on these issues. Therefore, I think parliamentary time has been provided, while recognising the real difficulty that people in the leisure and hospitality sectors find themselves in. It is very tough for them, but the Chancellor is making a statement later, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will want to listen to that with care.
Town centres such as Accrington and Haslingden are struggling. We have some of the most amazing businesses, such as the Unscripted boutique, D. T. Law and the Lancashire Tea Room. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on high street and town centre regeneration so that we can discuss how we can support amazing businesses such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of support for town centres. There is the £3.6 billion town centres fund, which is making really important efforts to help rejuvenate town centres. Town centres are important as community centres as much as for the economic activity they provide, but their economic activity is crucial. I cannot provide a specific time for a debate, but I think it is a good issue for a Backbench Business debate.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you do not need me to tell you that rugby league clubs are the lifeblood of cities such as Hull. Yesterday I spoke to the owner of Hull FC, who explained the serious short-term challenges the club faces. May we have a Government statement to scrutinise the evidence behind the decision to close all open-air stadiums and what support can be given to rugby league clubs if the ban remains until April 2021?
As I have said before in the House, the Government are keen to look at ways of allowing spectators to go back in safely, and will consider proposals as they are made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be here to answer oral questions shortly after we come back, on 5 November, and that will be a good opportunity to raise this with him.
We all need a little light diversion in these grim times, so may we have a statement in support of the annual world puddle jumping championships, which take place at the much-loved Wicksteed Park in Kettering? This year, due to the pandemic, the championships are going virtual and children across the land are being encouraged to send in video footage of their jumps, which will be judged on the basis of height of jump, enthusiasm, distance of splash, and the amount of mud covering the participant. Is this not just the sort of tonic we need in these difficult days?
This is a brilliant idea, and who cannot recall the episode of “Peppa Pig” where Peppa decides to go and jump in a muddy puddle, that being her favourite activity? She is joined by her brother, George, by her father and her mother, and I have a feeling even the grandparents join in, and they all get covered in mud. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that that will be what the Rees-Mogg household are doing on world puddle jumping day, but certainly a number of my children will enjoy doing it very much, and he is to be commended for ensuring that world puddle jumping day has a wider audience.
And we mustn’t forget the Vicar of Dibley.
I have “follow me, follow, down to the hollow” ringing through my head now.
May I ask, I am afraid, about the Select Committee on Standards? As the Leader of the House knows, the Standards Committee is meant to have a majority of lay members who are able to vote. We have a lot of very important business; we have already done 11 reports in this Parliament, and we have a major review of the code of conduct going on. We need a full quota of lay members. I am really grateful to the Leader of the House for tabling the single motion, which is down on the remaining orders, that would allow for Melanie Carter and Michael Maguire to be added to the Committee. I know that Standing Orders say we have to have a one-hour debate. Can I do a deal with the Leader of the House? If I promise that I will not speak in that debate and he promises that he will just move the motion very quickly, we could have a very short debate, and maybe we could get that done very quickly so that the Standards Committee can get on with its job.
When Standing Orders provide for a one-hour debate, it is only right that that time is properly provided, should Members wish to use it, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are concerns over the way the recruitment process was carried out. There is disquiet in certain quarters with regard to that, and that is why the motion has not at this stage been brought forward, though it is under discussion.
My right hon. Friend will recall the treaty of Wedmore in Somerset, by which, as he knows, the Vikings were finally kicked out of Wessex, and perhaps there are lessons there for us. Today, we have a counterfeit county council pretending to represent the whole of Somerset, and it wants to become yet another faceless unitary authority. It reminds me of the Viking army of Ivar the Boneless—all brawn and no legs. Thankfully, the Government have promised to look at every option, including the excellent ideas—and they are excellent—from Somerset district councils, which capture the true spirit of King Alfred. The districts want to bring our county together, not divide it still more, and I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has invited all Somerset councils, including our two existing unitaries, to submit ideas. Can we please have a debate on these matters soon because this county council, this narrow-minded Ivar the Boneless, wants to destroy our history? King Alfred must prevail.
Ivar the Boneless was given his marching orders actually from Nottingham by Alfred the Great with his brother Aethelred I—not to be confused with the unready one who comes a little bit later. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ivar the Boneless must be moved out of Wessex—he ended up disappearing from history, as it happens, and is thought to have died in either 872 or 873. I have so much sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying. Somerset is a great, single, individual county. It always seemed to me to be rubbing the salt in the wound of the 1974 local government reforms when Somerset County Council put up signs saying “Welcome to Somerset” when people were just going into its administrative area and not entering the great county.
Can we have a debate on the proposition that every child matters? I notice that this morning the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell), who was a Parliamentary Private Secretary, has resigned from the Government over yesterday’s debate and vote, no doubt because the tone of some of the speeches seemed to undermine that proposition and just wanted to attack the footballer Marcus Rashford who, following what happened said:
“Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality. A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.”
Every child matters—can we not all agree on that proposition?
Of course we can agree that every child matters. It is a fundamental view of all civilised people. It is not a party political issue. It is not a Government/Opposition matter. The debate yesterday was very clear: it is about how we look after people, not whether we look after people. I would point out that there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty than there were in 2010. There are 780,000 fewer children growing up in a workless household. An additional £1 billion childcare fund giving parents the support and freedom that they need is being established, so the Government are taking great steps to support every child and ensure that every child has the best start in life.
I represent many fantastic communities in Redcar and Cleveland, but in Redcar town itself we have a specific problem with car crime. Every day we see images on social media of young lads in the middle of the night shining torches in car windows to look for valuables, and all too often the windows get smashed. I have raised this issue with my local chief constable, Cleveland’s acting police and crime commissioner, the Secretary of State for the Home Department and, now, the Leader of the House. Can we have a debate in Government time on how we can best tackle this recent surge in car crime, and does my right hon. Friend agree that the police and the courts should consider using all the mechanisms at their disposal to root out the yobs who are terrorising my communities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue and to encourage the police to use all the powers they have to root out car crime, which is a particularly unpleasant form of crime. It must be very difficult for my hon. Friend’s constituents who are suffering in this way. The Government are recruiting 20,000 extra police officers, and several thousand have already been recruited. That will ensure a bigger police presence for communities across the country, including in Cleveland. My hon. Friend will be able to raise these questions further with the Home Secretary, but in this House there are many ways of raising issues to up the political pressure—Adjournment debates, Backbench Business debates, urgent questions—and I am sure that with your advice and wise counsel, Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend will find all the ways he can use to keep this issue at the front of public attention.
National Mentoring Day is on 27 October, and the all-party parliamentary group on mentoring, which I chair, is, in conjunction with the Diana Award, absolutely delighted to have over 100 MPs from across this Chamber signed up to mentor a young person next week. I had hoped the Prime Minister might sign up, but I hope he will tune in this morning, and perhaps have a look at this again and lend his support. May we have a statement or debate on the importance of mentoring in building resilience in young people, alongside the long-awaited mental health of children strategy?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on what she is doing on mentoring. It is a way of giving young people a real chance to get ahead in their lives and make their mark. I am delighted to hear that 100 MPs are supporting her initiative. I will ensure that a message goes after this to No. 10 Downing Street so that the Prime Minister is aware of her request, although I cannot promise what the answer will be. I really thank her for what she is doing. It is so important and such an important initiative.
We now go to Harrow airways and, with permission to land, Bob Blackman.
Thank you, ground control.
Harrow Council is currently considering three very controversial planning applications for building high-density, multi-storey flats on Stanmore, Canons Park and Rayners Lane station car parks. These have received thousands of objections from residents all over Harrow who are concerned about the loss of car parking and the imposition of these high-rise developments. Harrow Council planning committee is likely to consider the Canons Park station application in December and the Stanmore one in January, but for some strange reason, Rayners Lane is going to be delayed till June. Stanmore and Canons Park are both in Conservative-held wards, and the Labour-run council has decided to postpone the Rayners Lane application until after the mayoral elections next year. Could we have a debate in Government time on political interference in the planning process, which reeks of corruption?
I think that is a bit too long a question.
My hon. Friend raises a point that is deeply concerning and he raises a very serious charge. Politically motivated interference in matters such as planning is improper, and I will ensure that the Housing Secretary is made aware of this. It is, of course, a matter for Harrow Council, but once the internal process has been exhausted, it may be possible to involve the local government ombudsman. Local authorities have to abide by a code of conduct, and to make planning decisions for electoral gain is thoroughly improper.
My constituent Mr Latimer has for nearly two decades campaigned to halt the flow of illegal sewage dumping on to Seaburn beach behind his home. A ruling eight years ago stated that the levels of sewage breached legal guidelines, and new evidence shows that to this day dumping levels continue to be breached. This Government and the Environment Agency are ignoring him, the Whitburn neighbourhood forum, and my pleas to try to sort this out. Why is this, and when can we have an urgent debate on this matter?
This is a matter of great concern. It was raised last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), who represents Dover and Deal. There are legal requirements on water companies to ensure that sewage is not dumped illegally. This must be taken up with Ofwat, and enforcement action must be taken if this is happening. I will ensure that the concerns the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) has raised are passed on. I cannot think of anything more disagreeable for her residents than to have to be suffering from this.
I can take the rough and tumble of this place as much as anyone, but some of the language we heard yesterday was abhorrent, particularly the use of the word “scum”. Now, I am sorry, but I got a phone call at half-past 11 last night from my mum saying that she had had people using that type of wording down the phone at her because she is my mother, and today my staff members have been called with that type of abhorrent abuse. It is absolutely not on. Can my right hon. Friend give us a debate in Government time on the standard of conduct we have in this Chamber, because the language we use impacts on people beyond us, and perhaps he will bring the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) here to apologise not just to us, but to my mum, who has had to abhor that today?
My hon. Friend is right to say this. His mother should be enormously proud of his being a Member of this House. There is no greater service one can give to one’s fellow Britons than being a Member of Parliament. It is the highest honour that one can have and the greatest service that one can do. I am sure his mother was aware of that before I said it, but I hope he will ensure that she does know that is a high position that he holds and that it is one of honourability.
The Chairman of Ways and Means dealt with the issue yesterday in the way we would expect from the Chair and dealt with it extremely clearly, but I remind Members of “Erskine May” paragraph 21.21:
“Good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language.”
Inevitably when discussing heated political matters, people state their case forcefully, but they must do so politely.
The Government have used negotiations with Transport for London to impose longer operational hours, the congestion charge, and the removal of freedom passes and under-18 passes for transport. Only this week, leaked Government plans have shown their intention to expand the congestion charge to the north and south circulars and to impose above-inflation fare rises. Instead of levelling unfounded and unfair criticism at the Mayor of London—criticism that has not been levelled at private firms that the Government have bailed out during the pandemic—can we have a debate in Government time on these leaked eye-watering proposals that are likely to impact 4 million Londoners, including my constituents in Enfield North?
The Mayor of London has always done everything he possibly can to make life miserable for the motorist, and no doubt he wishes to continue to do so. He is no advocate of the motorist. The Conservative Government on the other hand are, with the largest road-building programme in decades and a real commitment to making motoring easier and helping people drive in the way that they wish to do. The reason Transport for London has run out of money is that it was running out of money before the coronavirus, because it was badly managed by an incompetent Mayor.
While it is important that our workplace is covid-secure and that we lead by example in Parliament, can my right hon. Friend advise how we avoid overstepping into a territory of impractical, unhealthy working conditions that overstretch even Government guidance and instead have an effective, safe, yet sensible working environment for colleagues and staff across the House? What is the process for reversing the unpopular measures that have already been employed, as and when we eventually emerge from this pandemic?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the House authorities, obviously to you, Mr Speaker, and to Marianne Cwynarski. Between you, you have done amazing work to ensure that the House’s proceedings are carried on in a covid-secure way and that the staff of the House and of Members are kept safe in the House of Commons while we have been following Public Health England’s guidelines. My hon. Friend is right to say that we provide an essential service and we must be here, and that the restrictions must be lifted as soon as they can be. They are all temporary. I look forward to this Chamber being full and bustling once again, but that will have to come when it is safe to do so. I look forward to not having to wear a face mask, but again that must be done when it is safe to do so. We must lead by example to the country at large, both in our dutifulness and in our adherence to the rules.
This Sunday, our clocks will go back one hour as part of daylight saving time. According to a recent Government report, 59% of the British population would rather remain on summer time, and I think we can all agree that the last thing our country needs is another hour of 2020. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time to discuss the practice of moving clocks backwards, so that we can follow the EU in scrapping this outdated and unnecessary practice?
Until the hon. Lady said “follow the EU”, I might have been tempted, but I am afraid that I always enjoy the extra hour in bed. It is such a luxury to find that the clocks are going back to Greenwich mean time and one has that extra hour’s sleep. More importantly, people in Scotland in particular would have very late mornings if we did not change the clocks. This was debated in 2010 and 2011, and it has been considered recently. When it was last tried, it was then unwound in both the UK and Portugal, so I am not sure that the appetite for change—and certainly not the appetite to follow the EU—is all that great.
In constituencies such as mine, the closure of the events and conference industry has hit local B&Bs and guest houses hard. Harrogate and Knaresborough are popular places to visit, even when there is not a pandemic. The House will be aware of the parks and gardens and Mother Shipton’s cave, and I know that my right hon. Friend is familiar with Bettys. With international travel being more difficult, can we have a debate on how best to support our domestic tourism sector and all the excellent hospitality businesses that are part of it?
I am indeed familiar with Bettys, because when I went to speak for my hon. Friend, I was provided with a goody bag of delicious provisions at the end of the evening. I also note that Harrogate has been declared the best place in the country to work—I am sure that that is because it has such a fantastic Member of Parliament, and the broadband is merely incidental.
The Government are trying to do what they can to help tourism. With our wider economic package, we have given one-off grants to eligible hospitality and leisure businesses, and VAT has been cut from 20% to 5% until the end of March. Tourism is obviously seasonal, and therefore the situation is being watched closely to ensure that the right policies continue to be implemented. My hon. Friend may want to raise further questions with the Chancellor—if you have been kind enough to put him on the call list, Mr Speaker—shortly after this.
Last month, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), called for free school meals to be provided for every primary school pupil in the country, stating:
“I just want to make sure no-one falls through the cracks”.
Well, last night he failed to vote for free school meals, and his five Scottish colleagues voted against them. Can we have a debate in Government time on how many children in England will fall through the cracks as a result of his Government’s refusal to extend free school meals?
As I said earlier, the Government have done a great deal to alleviate poverty for children and have provided £380 million in food vouchers for families in need over the summer. Free school meals have only ever been intended to support pupils during term time. There has been an increase in universal credit of £1,000 a year, an increase in local housing allowance, £180 million in discretionary housing payments to councils, a £63 million local welfare assistance fund so that councils can help those in financial difficulties, and £16 million for food charities.
The Government take this issue really seriously and have taken great steps to help people who are finding life difficult due to the consequences of the coronavirus. We must sometimes understand in this House that we seek the same end, but by different means. There is nobody in the House who does not want to alleviate food poverty, but there are different ways of doing it. We think it is best done through the normal functioning of the welfare system and by the additional measures that the Government have taken. That is an honest disagreement, but it is not a lack of concern.
Last Friday I visited the Grimsby seafood village—which, despite its name, is in my constituency—and met businesses that had established themselves or, indeed, expanded during the covid pandemic. We will need those sorts of businesses to develop and establish themselves in order to ensure that the economy recovers after we get through this crisis. Could we have a debate to discuss how we may support new businesses?
First, I congratulate Grimsby seafood village on doing so successfully in the current circumstances, and my hon. Friend on being a promoter of it. The Government are taking unprecedented action to support jobs and livelihoods across the UK, with more than £200 billion of taxpayers’ money being spent, including £11 billion in business grants and £10 billion in business rate relief. The summer economic update contained £33 billion of support through the job retention bonus and the eat out to help out scheme. The Chancellor will be here momentarily, and I am sure the Cleethorpes champion will be asking for Cleethorpes to get its fair share.
On 13 August 2020, some 60 parliamentarians from 28 countries around the world sent a letter to the Vietnamese President, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned Vietnamese human rights activist Nguyen Bac Truyen, who was abducted by Vietnamese police on 3 July 2017 in Ho Chi Minh City. Truyen’s ongoing imprisonment highlights the issues that many face in Vietnam in the exercise of their right to freedom of religion or belief. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this very pressing issue?
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps the House’s most tireless campaigner for freedom of religion and for the protection of religious minorities against persecution, and he has a great deal of support for what he does. The UK is committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all and promoting respect between different religious and non-religious communities. Promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief is one of the UK’s human rights policy priorities, as it should be. The UK remains deeply concerned about the severity and scale of violations and abuses of freedom of religion in many parts of the world, and this issue will be raised with the Vietnam authorities at all suitable opportunities.
While answering the hon. Gentleman, may I congratulate him? I believe that, this week, he has become a grandfather for the fifth time, although he does not look old enough to have possibly managed this.
A number of Members across the House have been campaigning all their political lives to get this country free from the shackles of the European Union. Therefore, it is exceptionally good news that the European Union has recently changed its position on a comprehensive free trade agreement and that Mr Barnier is coming to London this afternoon to try to finalise that deal. Will the Leader of the House recommend to the Prime Minister that Parliament should be recalled next week for a statement and a debate if such a historic agreement is reached?
I am sure that my hon. Friend took the same pleasure that I took from Monsieur Barnier’s decision that he might come to talk to us on Trafalgar Day, which seemed to have a certain historic resonance. I do not think that it would be right to recall the House next week for a statement, but the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and, indeed, the Prime Minister have regularly kept the House up to date with developments in the negotiations.
Can we have a debate on how we can help our high streets and small businesses? I want to highlight Buxton’s future high streets fund bid, which has been shortlisted by the Government. I sincerely hope that it is successful. Buxton high street has had some difficult years, but there are lots of reasons for optimism, such as Buxton Crescent, which has just reopened after a £70 million heritage refurb into a five-star hotel and spa. That is just another of the brilliant reasons why everyone should come to visit Buxton, Britain’s best spa town, as soon as it is safe to do so.
Buxton is a wonderful spa town. I might slightly quibble about “best” seeing as my constituency is so close to Bath, and I might upset my neighbours if I were to—[Interruption.] Ah, it is a city. We can agree then, although Harrogate might be upset. I had better not say which is the best in the country, but Buxton is certainly a very beautiful spa town. I am delighted to hear about the reopening of Buxton Crescent after the £70 million refurbishment. As I said earlier, high streets are essential to our towns and our sense of community, and it is really important to use the £3.6 billion towns fund well. My hon. Friend is such a fantastic champion for his own area, and this is important because we want people to visit our great and historic towns and cities and spend money there and keep the economies going and thriving.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seriously worried about the Leader of the House’s answer about the Standards Committee, because we do need to be fully functioning. It is in the interests of the reputation of the House that we have all seven lay members appointed. It is nearly six months now since we went down to five lay members instead of seven. It is three months since the House of Commons Commission, which you yourself chair, Mr Speaker, agreed the names that came forward through a process in which I was not involved at all. I note that the legislation says that the motion can be brought forward by any member of the Commission, but I wonder whether there is any means of you making sure that we are able to function fully as soon as possible.
That is not a point of order for the Chair, but what I will say is that the Leader of the House has heard what has been said. I do not want to continue the debate from earlier, which, as an expert like yourself knows, I should not be doing. I do not want to make any further comment, so we shall leave it at that.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.