House of Commons
Thursday 5 November 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Tourism Sector: Covid-19 Support
Covid-19 has had a severe impact on tourism, which is why we have provided a range of targeted measures to see the sector through this period. On top of the Government’s wider economic support package, we have provided business rates relief and grants for many in the sector, as well as a cut in VAT for tourism and hospitality activities until the end of March. We are continuing to engage with stakeholders to assess how we can most effectively support tourism’s recovery across the UK.
Harrogate and Knaresborough is in the top 10% of UK constituencies for hospitality employment. That includes a significant number of teams at B&Bs and guest houses, which are suffering from a lack of international visitors and the closure of the exhibition sector. There is a market that could be developed further to help, and that is domestic tourism. As we emerge from the pandemic and lockdown finishes, what will the Government do to promote domestic tourism?
I know my hon. Friend’s passion for tourism and representing his fantastic constituency. As he knows, we currently need people to stay at home to reduce transmission and to ease the pressure on our NHS, but when holidays are permitted again, we will work with VisitBritain, VisitEngland and local partners, including destination management organisations, to champion the UK’s diverse tourism offer, as we did with the Enjoy Summer Safely and Escape the Everyday campaigns. We will continue to work with the industry to provide guidance and assurance about when people can safely go on holiday, as demonstrated through initiatives such as the “We’re good to go” industry standard mark.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend is a great advocate for tourism, particularly in her constituency. I am fully aware of how tough the new measures will be for the tourism sector, with businesses having already faced many months of reduced trade. There are significant packages of financial support in place, as the furlough scheme and self-employed support have been extended for the period of lockdown. Many businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector will also receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month under the local restrictions support grant scheme. An additional £1.1 billion is being given to local authorities to help businesses more broadly, such as those severely impacted by restrictions but not actually forced to close.
Loneliness: Winter 2020-21
As winter approaches, loneliness will be a concern for many people. That is why the Government, as part of our £750-million charity funding package, have put £18 million into charities that tackle loneliness and provide much-needed support, including through online social groups, virtual buddying, telephone helplines and other activities. That is on top of £44 million going towards mental health as part of the same package.
As we enter the latest lockdown, many people will be isolated in their homes. Age UK estimates that 2 million over-75s live alone. Research by the Library has revealed that more than 3,000 households in my constituency may lose access to their free TV licence. What impact assessment has the Minister made of removing funding for the free over-75s TV licence?
National League Football: Covid-19 Support
Our football clubs are the bedrock of their local communities, and it is vital that they are protected from covid-19. Many have benefited from the unprecedented multibillion-pound package of support that we have provided to all businesses across the United Kingdom. In addition, we have brokered a unique £10-million deal with the national lottery so that 66 clubs in the top two levels of the national league can continue to play behind closed doors.
Of course, this is not just about the national league. I am proud to represent two fantastic football clubs, Tipton Town and Tividale, which are at real risk of closure as a result of covid-19. Can my right hon. Friend reassure my clubs that the Government will do whatever they can to support them? Perhaps once he can, he might even come and meet the clubs to see the fantastic work that they do in the community.
I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency when that is permitted. Of course, I am immensely disappointed by the current situation and the position that we are in, but I know that football clubs large and small make a huge contribution to their community on and off the pitch, and I can assure my hon. Friend that they will not be forgotten. As soon as we are in a position to start lifting restrictions, grassroots sports will be among the first to return, but until then, we have made sure that families can keep exercising throughout this lockdown, and I urge people to get out and get fit.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Today, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has called before it the English Football League, the Premier League and the Football Association. We want to hear what they are doing in terms of community sport and, crucially, to see whether they can sort out the situation for 10, 12 or 15-year EFL football clubs that are potentially going under and ripping the heart out of our communities, as happened in Bury last year. Will the Minister join me in urging the football bodies to follow the example of other sports and finally put the squabbling aside and come to a proper deal for the good of the game?
I agree with my hon. Friend 100%. I am very disappointed by the current situation and the inability of football to reach that agreement. There is already £50 million on the table for league 1 and league 2 clubs to stop them falling into financial difficulty, which is a good start, and further discussions are taking place. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) met the Premier League and the EFL again this week to reiterate the need to reach an agreement in the interests of all fans.
Swimming Pools and Gyms: Covid-19 Closure
Sport and physical activity are incredibly important for our physical and mental health, as well as a vital weapon against coronavirus. That is why we made sure that people could exercise even during the height of the previous lockdown, and we opened up grassroots sport and leisure facilities as soon as it was safe to do so. From today, there are significant restrictions on some sectors of the economy, including the closure of indoor and outdoor leisure. Exercise outdoors, however, will be allowed with our own households, on our own or with one person from another household, which is different from last time. Of course, no Government or Minister wants to see these kinds of restrictions in place, but we believe they are necessary to help to get the R number down and to get the virus under control.
Initiatives such as “Healthier Fleetwood” show that people in the town I represent take seriously the poorer health outcomes that we have in the town and are serious about making a difference, but our swimming pool has been closed since the beginning of the first lockdown and was not reopened when restrictions allowed it to be. Wyre Borough Council and the YMCA, who run it, keep telling me that they are concerned about the level of footfall not being financially viable to reopen the pool. What conversations has the Minister had with Treasury colleagues about financial support for swimming pools in areas of deprivation?
I completely understand the challenges facing many leisure facilities right across the country. Some of them have been able to open, but some have not. Some are open, but we are aware that they are in a precarious financial state. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working closely with Sport England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the design of a £100 million scheme to help leisure centres and leisure facilities. Further details of this will be released shortly, and once the fund is open, we urge leisure centres to bid for the money and urge people to make the most of these precious facilities.
I want to ask the Minister about the broader issue. Many people in this country wanted the lockdown to come sooner than it has, and perhaps the most compelling cases I have heard come from those who work in the NHS, but those same people know that the NHS cannot by itself make our country fully well. That requires us all to live healthier lives. So while we live through the frustration of closed gyms and swimming pools that have been shut since March, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) has described, will the Minister explain what exactly he has done to write a plan for our country’s wellbeing, starting with explaining, now, precisely what is going to happen on 2 December?
Of course, through Sport England and other bodies, we have provided financial support to the tune of more than £200 million to help facilities during the coronavirus crisis, as well as having a clear plan to open both elite level sport and grassroots sport. Our intention is very much to get back to opening as many sports facilities as possible, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined a few moments ago. None of us wants these measures in place, but we have pressed the pause button. Everybody can make an individual case for a particular sport, but the problem is that if we take individual parts away, the whole thing falls down. We are asking everybody, unfortunately, for this temporary period to make sacrifices and not do some of the things they would love to do, to help to get the virus under control.
Charity Sector: Covid-19 Support
Nobody works harder for their constituency than my hon. Friend, and I know she welcomes the fact that the Government have funded 13,000 charities, social enterprises and other community organisations, including St John Ambulance, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, FareShare and a host of others. That includes £45,000 going to charities in the Hyndburn constituency.
Despite the suffering caused by the coronavirus, it remains the case that funds are lying unused in dormant accounts. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the continued funding his Department has secured from identifying and putting to good use the money left in dormant accounts?
The dormant assets scheme is a great success; it has unlocked more than £745 million for social and environmental causes in the UK to date, including £150 million released in May to support charities, communities and individuals affected by the pandemic. Work is also under way to expand the scheme to a wider range of assets and enable hundreds of millions of pounds more of forgotten money to be put to good use.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said he would be
“doing much more over the winter to support the voluntary sector”.—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 41.]
The sector provides vital support and services to people across our communities. It already has an accumulation of a £10 billion deficit over just six months, because of the loss of fundraising, and 10% of organisations are due to fold, so can the Minister say exactly how he and the Prime Minister are going to rescue our charities and address that deficit, and what further money will be forthcoming, as charities are never more needed and never more in need?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that charities have performed an immensely valuable role, and they will continue to be more important than ever. I would point her to the £750 million package, and she will know that the Chancellor will be making a statement later on, which I am sure will not be the last one he will be making over the course of this pandemic.
This Government are aiming as high as we can on the delivery of better broadband across this country. We have spent £1.9 billion on the superfast programme, taking more than 96% of UK premises to superfast connectivity. As part of our plans for nationwide coverage, we are also committed to investing £5 billion to delivering gigabit-capable broadband to those in the hardest-to-reach areas.
I thank the Minister for that answer. In my constituency, rural constituents seeking to use the universal service obligation to obtain better broadband speeds are increasingly flabbergasted at the costs coming from BT, which seeks to offer fibre to the premises when fibre to the cabinet is sufficient to meet legislative requirements. Will he use his position to stress to BT that it should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good?
As I say, this Government will always aim for the gold standard on connecting people, but because my hon. Friend understands the value of connectivity to his constituents, he is absolutely right; on the USO, we need not only to wait for the outcome of Ofcom’s investigation of BT’s current approach, but to make sure that the perfect is not the enemy of the good.
Entertainment Venues: Covid-19 Support
We are continually engaging with the entertainment sector about the ongoing challenges to venues up and down the country. Our unprecedented £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund is helping to preserve the cultural fabric of the country, from museums to music venues, from cinemas to theatres.
Pavilions, a performing arts venue in Teignmouth, in my constituency, did not apply for the original round of funding from the cultural recovery fund, as at that time it was in an acceptable financial position, and that was very responsible of it. Unfortunately, a huge decline in business is now affecting it, so will the Minister consider a new round of funding for the arts and entertainment industry that Pavilions might apply for?
My hon. Friend is right to bring this issue to our attention. We understand that this remains a challenging period for many organisations in the arts and entertainments sector. Some £258 million of the cultural recovery fund has been held back with a view to offering further support based on evidenced need later in the financial year. Meanwhile, organisations can, of course, take advantage of the financial support measures that were made available by the Government and recently extended, including the various business grant and loan schemes, and the furlough scheme.
Public Singing: Covid-19
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has engaged extensively with Public Health England to provide clear guidance on singing. The development of the guidance enabled both professional and non-professional activity to take place in a covid-secure manner in a range of settings and contexts over recent months. However, in line with new restrictions coming into force today, amateur activity can no longer take place.
I am sure that, like me, Mr Speaker, you are holding your breath until the day that we can both enjoy my right hon. Friend’s impressive falsetto once again, but in the meantime I am pleased to confirm that performing arts professionals may continue to rehearse, train and perform for broadcast, recording or livestream purposes. Of course, the intention after this four-week period is for an easement of restrictions back into the tiered system that previously operated throughout the country, in which case my right hon. Friend will be able to be in fine tune, to all our great delight, once more.
Creative Freelancers: Income Support Scheme
Our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them. We are working hard to help freelancers in those sectors to access support, particularly if they do not qualify for the self-employed income support scheme. Arts Council England has made available £119 million to individuals, of which £23 million has already been distributed. Around £96 million is currently still available to apply for.
The hon. Lady will know that the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund will benefit freelancers because it enables the assisting of organisations to reopen and restart performances, perhaps in a digital or livestream capacity. It will help many organisations to put on cultural activity in this financial year, which they would not otherwise have been able to do. I am sure the hon. Lady will be delighted that in her own constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, for example, the recovery funding has enabled the sharing out of more than £571,000 between six organisations. I am sure it will be a lifeline for many of them.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but the reality is that the number of performances will be a fraction of what it would normally be. I have been contacted by constituents who are performers, make-up artists, instrumentalists and other freelancers in the creative sector who work in the west end; they have been excluded from all Government support. In west London, universal credit barely covers or fails to cover even the cost of rents, meaning that people now face going through lockdown with no additional support, adding to the queues at food banks. What will the Minister do to help them?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the plight of freelancers, without whom, of course, our cultural institutions are simply bricks and mortar. We know that what they want to do more than anything is to get back to doing what they love, which is why I am so delighted that nearly 1,400 of the successful culture recovery fund recipients announced on 12 October set out in their applications how the support would enable them to deliver more than £150 million-worth of cultural activity before the end of March 2021, which they would not otherwise have been able to do. As the hon. Lady will know, well over half a million pounds of that money is being spent in her constituency.
No one is disagreeing with the Minister that additional money has been put into the arts and culture sector. That amount of money is always welcome, but the Minister must understand that the reality is that there are growing numbers of freelancers, musicians and performance artists who are excluded from getting any support from Government and are not benefiting from the individual grants to cultural centres in any part of the UK. There are growing numbers of organisations calling for more support specifically for musicians, whether it is ExcludedUK, the Incorporated Society of Musicians or the Musicians’ Movement. What is the Minister or, indeed, the Secretary of State doing to lobby Treasury Ministers to ask them to change their mind to ensure that these freelancers get support so that we have some sort of cultural society left after the pandemic is over?
As I have already articulated, there is £119 million-worth of Arts Council England funding for which freelancers can bid, and I am sure that the Welsh Government are doing something similar with their share of the cultural recovery fund. It is also all about protecting opportunities for freelancers. Even in the latest restrictions that come into force today, we have ensured that there are exemptions for professional music, recording studios, film and TV production and live stream and digital performances. It is all about enabling those opportunities for people to keep doing the jobs that they love and that they are so brilliant at.
The hard-hit creative industries face not only the challenge of covid, but the looming threat of Brexit. The live music industry contributes more than £1 billion annually to the economy. EU nationals, are, of course, a vital part of this picture, with 750,000 music tourists visiting the UK. Barriers to travel—inevitable after Brexit—could lead to many of them going elsewhere in Europe. Brexit is not only a problem for those attending festivals from the EU, but a threat to those who perform at or work for festivals. There is endless red tape in the form of ATA carnets and the necessity for individual work visas. The Government are yet to come up with a viable solution to any of these problems. Given that, does the Minister accept that disruption to the ability of essential EU industry professionals and European visitors coming to the UK will harm this sector and damage the economy at a time when its success could not be more important?
No, I do not accept that. My Department has been regularly engaging with a range of creative industries, including the live music and cultural sectors, to make sure that the support is put in place for businesses, freelancers, visitors and the creative and artistic economy as we move towards the transition period.
Rugby League Clubs: Financial Support
I know just how precious rugby league clubs are to their local communities—and, indeed, to you, Mr Speaker, as you never tire of reminding me, quite rightly—and to Hull, which is blessed with two Super League clubs and will be hosting next year’s Rugby League world cup. That is why rugby league was the first to benefit from Government support with a £16 million emergency loan. That money is going out the door now, and I continue to work with the Treasury on what can be done to provide further support to the sports sector.
May I offer you, Mr Speaker, belated congratulations on having been elected Speaker one year ago yesterday? I pay tribute to you for the work that you have always done to promote rugby league at all levels.
I am very grateful to the Sports Minister for his helpful engagement with me about rugby league, but it is very unlikely that fans will be back in stadiums for some time, so can the Secretary of State offer more financial support to ensure that we do not lose clubs, such as Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull FC, both of which are incredibly important to our city?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis, which is why the Sports Minister and I are working tirelessly with the Treasury. We wanted to get fans back in stadiums from 1 October. No one wanted that more than the Prime Minister, myself and the Sports Minister, but it was not possible. We know that we need to provide support to those sports that were looking to rely upon fans and we are engaging very closely with the Treasury on that.
Advertising Ban: Fat, Sugar and Salt
The Government published an impact assessment alongside the 2019 consultation on HFSS advertising that considered both the health benefits and the costs. We will publish the Government’s response to that consultation by the end of this year, and hold a short consultation as soon as possible on a total ban for advertising online.
No one would question the Government’s wish to reduce childhood obesity, but influencing this is a hugely complicated task that the Government should take time over. The proposal to restrict advertising products that are high in fat, salt and sugar brings the risk of displacement. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any ban will not come into force until all factors have been properly considered, and that any strategy regime will hold online platforms to the same restrictions as broadcasters, along with similar sanctions?
My right hon. Friend himself is an advertisement for the benefits of healthy living, and he is absolutely right to draw attention to the risk that, by imposing measures in one area, one may simply displace advertising into another. That is why the Government have been absolutely plain that restrictions on post-watershed advertising on broadcasting will come into effect at the same time as a ban on HFSS advertising online.
I know that the restrictions introduced in England from today are causing huge anxiety for many sectors covered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which continue to be some of the hardest hit by covid. Of course, these restrictions will not continue a day longer than is necessary, and we have worked closely to ensure that covid-secure venues are able to remain open where work is taking place. Unlike in March, elite sport including football, as well as theatres, and film and TV production, will all continue behind closed doors. I also know, though, that the new restrictions will badly affect jobs and businesses, which is why we have extended our multi-billion pound furlough scheme and increased support for the self-employed. In addition, over £500 million has already been allocated from the cultural recovery fund, and we are working to finalise the sports package with the Treasury.
Without the safety net of league-wide sponsorship and TV broadcast deals to fall back on, second tier rugby clubs will not make it through the pandemic without financial assistance. Will the Secretary of State commit to a £1 million support package to ensure that Bedford Blues—a cherished and viable small and medium-sized enterprise with an attached charity at the heart of our community—survive the season?
I share my hon. Friend’s desire for that to happen, and I know what a champion of Wicksteed Park he is. As he will know, the park received almost £250,000 from the heritage emergency fund in June and almost £250,000 from the culture recovery fund in October; that was on top of other awards totalling £2.7 million over the past couple of years.
Does the Secretary of State have a plan for live music and other live performances reopening fully—stage 5 of the route map after 2 December? Will he give an indicative date to allow businesses to plan ahead and take the decisions they need to in order to allow our world-class creative professionals to get back to what they do best?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. There are three main elements to it. First, I very much hope that socially distanced performances will be able to return once we are through this lockdown period. Secondly, we are providing support throughout the covid crisis through the culture recovery fund, and hundreds of millions of pounds have gone to that sector. Thirdly, I very much want to give that date for return. At the moment, I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate that it is very difficult to give an accurate date, given the wider context. I want to be able to do that as soon as we can.
The Government knew on 21 September—nearly seven weeks ago—that a national lockdown was necessary to slow the spread of the virus, so why did the Secretary of State encourage cinemas, theatres, venues and other organisations to spend large sums of money on preparing, resourcing and marketing loss-making, reduced capacity productions, knowing that almost all of them would have to close for an extended period of time?
As the hon. Lady will know, we sought to have a regionally based approach, and that was working. Ultimately, though, we could not sustain it, so we had to have this period of lockdown. I am hopeful and confident that once that period of lockdown ends, those productions will be able to continue. I note that we have ensured that rehearsals for them can continue behind closed doors during this lockdown period, which was not the case previously.
I know that all those areas in my hon. Friend’s constituency struggle with coverage. That is why we agreed a £1 billion shared rural network deal with operators that will see them collectively increase mobile coverage throughout the United Kingdom to 95% by 2025. I am confident that her constituency will be a beneficiary of that.
I would be delighted to attend my right hon. Friend’s all-party group. Heritage is often an overlooked part of our cultural sector. That is why I am delighted that we have been able to support over 150 museums up and down the country as part of the culture recovery fund. That includes, in his own area, Bristol’s iconic SS Great Britain getting £900,000, and more than £500,000 for the aerospace museum in Filton.
I understand the many challenges faced by freelancers and I hear about this every day in my capacity as Culture Secretary. Across the economy, 66% of freelancers can benefit from the Treasury scheme, which has been increased again by the Chancellor. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman knows, as a result of Barnett consequentials and the culture recovery fund, there are opportunities for almost £100 million to be spent on this by the Scottish Government.
As my hon. Friend will know, it is a cause of great regret to me, and indeed to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, that these restrictions had to be imposed. Put simply, they are necessary to help to control the virus, which thrives on social interaction. However, I can assure him that I am working closely with other Ministers across Government to ensure that those places will be at the front of the queue to return when the restrictions expire.
Brexit and covid are proving to be a devastating double whammy for the creative sector, including iconic events like the Edinburgh Festival and Celtic Connections, and the artists in my constituency who perform in them. They are crying out for certainty and support. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with organisations like the Musicians Union about their proposals for a creative passport for post-Brexit travel that would help to provide some of that certainty?
As we leave the European Union and leave the transition period, we are looking at what we can do with replacement funds from EU funding to ensure they benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, and those discussions are going on with the Treasury. In addition, we are having the festival of the United Kingdom in 2022. That is £120 million, more than £10 million of which will go to Scotland.
I recently met Luton’s Unite retired members, who expressed their deep concern over the Government’s removal of the TV licence concession for the over-75s. The covid pandemic has shown how important TV can be for the elderly, not just as a source of news and entertainment, but also companionship, especially for the 40% of over-75s who live alone. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Department of Health and Social Care regarding the impact of the removal of the TV licence on the mental health of the over-75s?
As the Minister for Media and Data, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and I have made repeatedly clear from this Dispatch Box, we did not want the BBC to do this. I welcome the fact that at least the most vulnerable are covered and will continue to get support.
The Attorney General was asked—
Legal Profession: Government Criticism
I speak regularly with Cabinet colleagues, including the Home Secretary, and I am in no doubt whatever that this Government are rightly proud of the UK’s legal tradition and our legal profession. We benefit enormously from the contribution of our excellent and hard-working lawyers, and I will always champion our profession and lawyers of all stripes, whichever side they represent, but sadly from time to time there are those who take advantage of their position and abuse the court process. In those instances, to pretend that lawyers are somehow beyond criticism is not only naive, but does the public a great disservice.
I listened to that answer, but does the Attorney General agree that she has to speak out and say that she does not condone these attacks? Will she explain what steps she has taken to address the matter with Cabinet members? Can she give me and the House assurances that these attacks, which are corrosive and undermining the legal profession, will cease immediately?
I am proud of the profession, and in my role as head of the Bar, I will not hesitate to champion the interests of our lawyers. Indeed, given that it is Pro Bono Week, I take this opportunity to thank the thousands of lawyers out there who regularly give their time and their services free of charge on a pro bono basis, helping some of the most vulnerable in our society. I was pleased earlier this year to acknowledge the winners of the LawWorks and Attorney General’s student pro bono awards, and I know that the Solicitor General himself has recently met with members of the community. That is a real mark of a compassionate profession.
At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister said he would prevent the whole criminal justice system being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtlessly like to call lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders. On 9 October, the chair of the Bar wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, copied to the Attorney General, asking the Prime Minister to withdraw those comments. Will she at least see that the chair of the Bar gets a reply to that letter sent a month ago? Those comments are leading to attacks—not just verbal, but often physical—on lawyers.
Lawyers play a vital role in our justice system and in upholding our democratic society. However, I find the words of the Lord Chief Justice very useful. He recently took the opportunity in the Court of Appeal to make the general point that
“it is a matter of regret that a minority of lawyers have lent their professional weight and support to vexatious representations and abusive late legal challenges.”
I find his words prescient and very relevant to this debate. As a friend and ally of the profession, I know the vast majority of our profession uphold the highest standards, but we cannot deny that there is a minority who do not.
I welcome the tone of the Attorney General’s remarks. Does she recognise that it lies in the hands of parliamentarians and legislators to correct faults in the system that are abused? At the same time, will she confirm that the Government are firmly committed to the robustness and public value of an independent legal profession and judiciary and to enhancing that by ramping up the work that we do in public legal education, so that people are generally more aware and better informed of the valuable work that the profession and the judiciary do for us all?
My hon. Friend and I are in total agreement on this. I know that during his years of practice at the Bar, he will have been part of a profession that upheld the highest standards. Generally, the profession is very well policed. We have a robust code of conduct. We have regulatory authorities that call out and discipline those lawyers who fall short of the standards. He is absolutely right that we need an independent and robust profession as part of a fair society, and his role has been critical, not only in public legal education but as a champion for justice as Chairman of the Justice Committee. As he was Master of the Bench of Middle Temple at my own Inn, I can definitely vouch for his overall fabulousness.
Lawyers, like all of us, have the right to work without fear or intimidation. Early in the pandemic, lawyers were rightly identified by this Government as key workers, yet the language used by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister was not only wrong, it was reckless and does a huge disservice to an entire profession. I am certainly proud of the legal profession. The Attorney General says that she is too, so will she today condemn the references to criminal defence lawyers and immigration lawyers as “activists” and “do-gooders”?
Yes, I know that the hon. Lady had an esteemed career as a lawyer, and we share a common interest in upholding the position of lawyers in our society. Any violence—I must make this clear—is utterly deplorable against any lawyer or anyone going about their work. But we have to be clear that, more broadly, there are lawyers who have gone on the record to make it clear that they are pursuing politics through the courts. There are judges who have felt compelled in their decisions to remind counsel that judicial review is not and should not be regarded as politics by another means. Everyone in the profession needs to take heed of those observations in making their professional decisions.
I think many in the legal profession will be horrified by the approach that the Attorney General is taking today. She must, like the Lord Chancellor, accept that the comments from the Home Office and the Prime Minister went way beyond legitimate criticism, devaluing the values of lawyers and questioning their motivation. Will she join the criticism of the remarks that were made? Will she also investigate whether sources in the Government and Whitehall have been responsible for identifying individual law firms and lawyers when anonymously briefing newspapers about activities that the Home Secretary and No. 10 are angered by?
The hon. Gentleman refers to law firms and, by implication, the incident, which was very serious and, as I say, deplorable. It is not something to trivialise or politicise, and we should be careful not to draw conclusions about any incident that is under investigation. I know that he specialised in immigration law. I defended the Home Office for many years in the same field of law. We know that the vast majority of lawyers who specialise in immigration law are upholding the highest standards, are devoted to their clients and are working to secure justice. But we only have to look at the records of the Bar Standards Board or the Solicitors Regulation Authority to see that there are those who fall short of those high standards, and it is right that action should be taken to stop that sub-optimal delivery of service.
Serious Fraud Office: Proceeds of Crime
In 2019-20, the Serious Fraud Office secured more than £13 million in new financial orders against criminals it investigated, with payments received against previous orders totalling more than £7 million. That strong performance has continued this year. In July, the SFO secured confiscation orders totalling £5.45 million against former Afren employees, and in September, the SFO used for the first time a listed asset recovery order to recover £500,000-worth of jewellery in a long-running mortgage fraud case.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. While covid-19 has obviously had an impact on the court system and caused some delays in obtaining and enforcing court orders, the SFO has continued to progress its proceeds of crime work, successfully obtaining confiscation orders and using new asset recovery powers to recover money in a long-running fraud case. Its ability to maintain operational effectiveness in the face of the challenges posed by covid-19 was recognised in the report by the inspectorate on the SFO’s response to the pandemic.
Rape and Sexual Assault: Prosecutions and Conviction Rates
We and the Crown Prosecution Service are working tirelessly with criminal justice partners to improve the handling of these sensitive cases. Over the last four quarters, we have seen the charging and conviction rates in rape cases continue to increase. This year, the CPS published its own rape strategy, updated rape legal guidance and training, is actively engaging in the Government rape review and will shortly be publishing a joint action plan on rape with the police.
The Solicitor General will know that rape prosecutions in England and Wales are now at the lowest ever levels. I suspect he shares the lack of surprise I felt when I learned that just one in seven rape survivors will ever see the justice system deliver justice for them. Can he confirm when the end-to-end rape review will be published by his Government?
I am very grateful for the hon. Member’s question because it highlights what we know and accept around the House is an important issue. Driving up rape prosecutions continues to be a major focus for the Attorney General’s Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, as work progresses to reverse this negative trend. We have actually seen the proportion of suspects charged with rape slowly increasing and we have also seen a continued increase in the volume of suspects charged, but I accept the thrust of her point, which is that there is more work to do. More work is being done, and as soon as these reports are ready, they will be published.
I welcome the recent announcements from the CPS and the guidance it has published to improve rape prosecution rates, particularly in relation to modern dating apps and selfies. However, the rape review published by the Victims’ Commissioner revealed that a large number of women are still reluctant to report rape in the first instance, because of an enduring concern that they will not be believed by the police when they do so. Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm what steps he is taking to ensure that the support and the structures exist so that women who come forward can have confidence that there is a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction?
The Crown Prosecution Service and the Government are determined to restore faith and build more faith in the criminal justice system, and to give victims of rape—this horrific offence—the confidence that everything will be done to bring offenders to justice. That is why the Government are reviewing the end-to-end response to this awful crime, in consultation with survivors groups as well as the Victims’ Commissioner, while recruiting more police and putting more money into the Crown Prosecution Service. This is a priority: it is a priority for me and for the Attorney General, for the Crown Prosecution Service and for this Government. I thank my hon. Friend for her support in this matter.
I have listened to what the Solicitor General has had to say, but the reality is that rape prosecutions are at their lowest level on record, and according to the Victims’ Commissioner, only one in seven rape victims has faith in the justice system. Last week, we discovered that an under-resourced CPS is not even getting the basics right, with almost half of letters to victims lacking empathy. It is clear that this Government are letting down victims of rape on every front. I have heard about the consultations and the reviews, but what urgent action are the Government taking to reverse this trend and ensure that victims have faith in the criminal justice system when they need it the most?
It is very important that victims have faith, and we ask everyone involved in the criminal justice system to support that system in giving victims faith. Dealing with this awful crime is a high priority for the Crown Prosecution Service, and for the Government, and driving up rape prosecutions continues to be a major focus. The overall trend over the past quarter shows that the volume and proportion of suspects charged is slowly increasing, but I accept that there is more work to do in this complex and multifaceted area. We are working with a number of bodies, including the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, to facilitate improvements, so that people can, and should, have the fullest confidence in our criminal justice system.
It has been a year and a half since the publication of the Gillen review into serious sexual offences and how they are prosecuted through the courts in Northern Ireland, and the Solicitor General’s office has taken a considerable interest in that, until the re-establishment of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. It will now be another year before legislative changes are tabled in the Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with that review, which quite frankly is not acceptable. What can be done in this place to expedite those necessary changes and ensure that victims get fairness and equal British justice across all the United Kingdom?
As usual, the hon. Gentleman stands up for the people of Northern Ireland, and he is right to focus on that issue. I will make inquiries with the Northern Ireland Office and see how that matter is progressing, but he will acknowledge that there are no doubt legislative pressures, and that these things do take time. I assure him, however, that every effort will be made to liaise, and where possible to assist, in the furtherance of this matter.
Hate Crime Sentences
I recognise the devastating impact that hate crimes have on victims and communities, and the CPS is committed to bringing offenders to justice. Training for prosecutors draws on input from key community groups, helping to improve the prosecution response to hate crime. In the 12 months to the end of June this year, the proportion of convictions for hate crime with a recorded sentence uplift increased to 78.4%, which is the highest rate yet.
Having heard directly from victims of hate crime in the west midlands, during a virtual session hosted by our candidate for police and crime commissioner, Jay Singh-Sohal, it is obvious that we need to do more to support victims of that appalling type of crime, through all stages of the judicial process. Will my right hon. and learned Friend commit to working with the CPS, and police across the country, to ensure that hate crime victims feel able to come forward and report incidents in the first place?
I thank my hon. Friend for her work with the Holocaust Educational Trust and on tackling antisemitism. I visited the CPS East of England yesterday, and heard about its great work on tackling hate crime. The CPS works closely around the country with members of the community, to ensure that the approach to hate crime prosecutions is sensitive and provides sufficient support to victims. For example, the CPS recently met key groups that represent the Jewish community, including the Community Security Trust, to discuss work on antisemitism. It also recently delivered a webinar on its approach to hate crime to an audience invited by the Chinese Welfare Trust and the Covid-19 anti-racism group, both of which support the Chinese and south-east Asian communities.
International Law: Government Compliance
I work frequently with Departments on legislation, including on issues that relate to compliance with international law. The UK is committed to the rules-based international system. We were the architects of the post-war international legal order, including the UN Charter, NATO, and the European convention on human rights—a history of which I am very proud. The principle of discharging our treaty obligations in good faith is, and will remain, the key principle in forming the UK’s approach to international relations.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill breaks international law by reneging on the EU withdrawal agreement. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill contravenes the right to life and the prohibition of torture under international conventions. The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill means the UK will be unable to prosecute war crimes after five years, so we will end up at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Attorney General’s job is to ensure that we deliver the rule of law nationally and internationally. She has failed in her duty. Will she now resign?
The hon. Gentleman raises some interesting points, but it seems that he has missed the fundamental principle underlying our constitution and the UK’s relationship with international law. It is not right to say that our constitution requires a blind and automatic adherence to international law. Domestic law is on a different plane to international law. It is entirely proper and constitutional, and in line with the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, that the Queen in Parliament may legislate in a manner inconsistent with international law. That is an age-old principle underpinning our constitution.
Coronavirus Regulations: Assisted Deaths Abroad
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will make a statement on the impact of new coronavirus regulations on the ability of terminally ill adults to travel abroad for an assisted death.
Issues of life and death are some of the most difficult subjects that come before us in this House, and the question of how we best support people in their choices at the end of their life is a complex moral issue that when considered, weighs heavily upon us all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) asked an important question and I want to set out the precise position. Under the current law, based on the Suicide Act 1961, it is an offence to encourage or assist the death of another person. However, it is legal to travel abroad for the purpose of assisted dying where it is allowed in that jurisdiction. The new coronavirus regulations, which come into force today, place restrictions on leaving the home without a reasonable excuse; travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying is a reasonable excuse, so anyone doing so would not be breaking the law. These coronavirus regulations do not change the existing legal position on assisted dying.
As this is a matter of conscience, the Government do not take a position. It is instead a matter for each and every Member of Parliament to speak on and vote according to their sincerely held beliefs, and it is for the will of the House to decide whether the law should change. The global devastation of the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of high-quality palliative care, just as it has shone a spotlight on so many issues and, as difficult as it may be, I welcome this opportunity to have this conversation about assisted dying, as it is one of the most sensitive elements of end-of-life care.
I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has suffered pain in dying or suffered the pain of watching a loved one battle a terminal degenerative condition, and I share a deep respect for friends and colleagues in all parts of the House who share and hold strong views. I am pleased that the House has been given this opportunity to discuss the impact of the pandemic on one of the most difficult ethical questions that we face.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and thank you to my right hon. Friend for responding himself.
This is an issue of conscience for us as Members of this House. I respect those who take a different view from me, not least because theirs was previously my view. Colleagues may have seen, over the weekend, the news reports about a woman who this week travelled to Switzerland to end her life in order to avoid travel restrictions. As a frontline NHS worker with terminal breast cancer, she did not want to run the risk of dying in great pain and without dignity. The new regulations that have come into force today could deter anyone else from travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death. That will undoubtedly cause many more Britons to suffer as they die, due to a lack of a safeguarded law here in the UK, although I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for clarifying the precise legal circumstances.
In the light of the radical shift of the views of the medical profession two weeks ago, the recent legislative change in New Zealand this week and groundbreaking progress in southern Ireland, along with the continuing and massive support for law reform from the British public, will the Government, from their position of neutrality, enable all of us to understand three things—first, the extent of suffering that the blanket ban on assisted dying is causing dying people and their families; secondly, the challenges that the current law is creating for healthcare professionals, police officers and other public servants; and thirdly, what the UK can learn from international evidence on the operation of assisted dying laws, and their safeguards, in the United States, Australia and Canada?
I am supporting a very tight reform that would allow someone who is terminally ill, within six months of the end of their life, and who has themselves decided that this is the end of life they want, independently certified by two doctors and confirmed as their independent decision by a High Court judge, to end their life, as is their choice.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he puts his case. Of course, we acknowledge the changing views of many, including many in the medical profession, and, of course, we observe the changes in the international debate. I think it is absolutely reasonable for this House to have a conversation and discussion on what is an important topic, and it is right that we locate that question within a broader discussion of how we care for people at the end of their lives, which, because of the coronavirus pandemic, has sadly become a central issue of public debate in this country.
I thank the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for the way in which he has put his questions and the Secretary of State for the sensitive way in which he has responded and for the clarification he has offered to the House. I suspect there will come a point at which this Parliament will have to confront the issue. I note that the Secretary of State has said that issue should be located within a broader discussion about end-of-life care, a perfectly reasonable position which I endorse, but can he reassure me that, as part of the broader discussion, there will always be thorough and transparent consultation with the public and with faith groups, and that physicians and healthcare professionals will always be fully involved?
Members across the House will have sincerely held views, and whatever one’s views on the principle, the House should be aware that before the pandemic a person from Britain travelled abroad to Dignitas every eight days and that charities have warned that since the March lockdown some terminally ill people are ending their lives in the most traumatic circumstances because of a lack of clarity about the law—the Secretary of State has given clarity today, but until that point there was a lack of it. We know that a second lockdown will have a heavy toll on people’s mental health, especially over the winter, so can he tell us what mental health support will be made available to people facing this most awful of choices and what mental health support is available to people more broadly?
People deserve dignity in dying and palliative care needs to be improved at the best of times, but lockdown means that palliative care is particularly under pressure. Can the Secretary of State assure us that hospices will get full support throughout the lockdown, that hospice staff will get regular access to regular testing and that we have a supply of enough of the vital drugs which palliative care relies on for the lockdown period?
This is an immensely sensitive topic. I repeat that I appreciate the way in which the Secretary of State has dealt with it this morning, but many people will be deeply concerned. We look forward to working with the Government on this important issue.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that this is not an issue in which there is any party politics, and there is rightly no Government position. On the specific question of assisted dying, I am glad to have been given the opportunity to clarify the impact of the coronavirus regulations on that law, but he also asked the wider question about palliative care. It is important that we support palliative care, and that we locate this question in a wider question about how people can have choice. After all, patient choice has been a growing feature within healthcare—in my view, rightly so—over the last generation. This is one area where that choice is constrained in law.
It is important that we invest in high-quality palliative care. We have put further funding into palliative care and hospices because of the pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Making sure that we have high-quality palliative care services and a hospice service that we can all support fully is obviously very close to my heart.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about mental health support, and there has been increased investment in mental health support to ensure that people get the support they need in what are inevitably difficult times.
At this time, when the whole country is making huge sacrifices to protect life, at a time of exceptionally high levels of physical and mental stress, and when many people may feel very vulnerable, does the Minister understand and accept the views of many, including in this House, that it would be completely inappropriate—indeed, insensitive—of this Parliament to go anywhere near considering making access to any form of suicide easier?
I respect my hon. Friend’s views, which are deeply and sincerely held, and I respect the fact that the House will debate all views. It is right that that debate is taken forward and led by Parliament, rather than by Government, as my hon. Friend just demonstrated.
I congratulate my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on choice at the end of life, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), on securing this urgent question, and I thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker. I have sought to change the law since entering the House. In the last five years, I have learned that many colleagues are worried about safeguards. There is an assumption that the law is currently safe, but it is not. In June, here in London, a man threw himself in front of a heavy goods vehicle on the North Circular. He was suffering from throat cancer and knew his tumour would continue to strangle him. He could not bear it. He took his own life because this country denied him the option of choosing the timing and manner of his death. I appreciate that this is a sensitive and difficult issue, but is it not time that we recognise that the law is not compassionate or safe and leaves behind bereaved families and members of the public because of the absence of a safeguarded choice at the end of life?
The hon. Lady draws a distinction between those who have a terminal illness and the broader issue of suicide, which is an important part of this debate. I respect her sincerely held views. The exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and the hon. Lady exemplifies why it is right that Parliament debates and decides on these matters.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a British Medical Association survey of its members on assisted suicide and euthanasia found that 83% of those involved in providing palliative care—those who have the most experience of dealing with people at the end of their lives—would oppose any legalisation of euthanasia, and that 84% declared that they would be unwilling to participate in any such activity? Surely we should be guided, in many ways, by the professionals in this regard.
My hon. Friend makes another important contribution to this debate. There is inevitably a discussion within the medical profession about this important question. That should be taken into account, alongside the views, as the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) said, of faith leaders, the public and those who face terminal disease, as Parliament debates this subject.
Terminally ill people are travelling prematurely and alone to end their lives abroad for a number of reasons, including covid. Another is that they wish to save relatives from the risk of prosecution. Will the Secretary of State liaise with his Home Office colleagues and the police, who themselves find these cases difficult, to ensure that any response is sensitive and proportionate?
That incredibly important and sensitive matter needs to be considered as part of the overall approach. These questions should all be brought out in a debate on this subject. That is Parliament’s role, given that this is an area of conscience on which the Government do not take a view.
It is very sad that anyone has to go abroad to end their lives when they have a terminal illness—I find that dreadfully sad. I ask my right hon. Friend, because I am unsure of this: how many people on average go abroad to end their lives every year?
The Government do not collect data on the number of people who travel abroad for an assisted death. We would consider collecting data on assisted dying if it was felt that that would improve and contribute to a sensitive debate in Parliament on this subject.
We have seen that there is widespread support in this House, and the research tells us that there is widespread support in the country, for a review of the law, so will the Government look at what has happened in other countries such as New Zealand and promise that there will be a review, with a view to decriminalising the situation and bringing some compassion into the law?
As I said, the Government are neutral on this matter. It is a question for Parliament. There are many ways in which such a review could be brought forward, but the Government’s position of neutrality is important, because this is a matter of conscience on which there are deeply held and very sincere views on all sides. I think it should rest that this is a matter for Parliament, rather than Government.
In the past two years, we have seen a significant shift in the views of the medical profession, with the Royal College of Physicians neutral on assisted dying and the British Medical Association poised to drop its opposition. Does the Secretary of State recognise that where there was widespread opposition to changing the law, there is now support for a full review of how the prohibition of assisted dying affects healthcare professionals and patients?
Yes. I think it is clear that there are changing views on this subject and that there is a very strong view that any change should be dealt with carefully and sensitively. In fact, the tone of this debate and discussion today reflects the seriousness and sensitivity of this topic and the need to make sure that all the issues are very carefully considered.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who are terminally ill deserve the very best palliative care available, and that rather than facilitating overseas travel for those terminally ill patients, the Government should ensure that they receive world-class palliative care here in the UK?
Yes, I think this is a really important point, because high-quality palliative care and the question directly of assisted dying that is before the House today are not separate questions. They are intimately tied together and whatever view the House takes on assisted dying—and it is for the House—it is the Government’s intention to support and strengthen palliative care to make sure that we give the very best support for people towards the end of their life.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s clarification today to support people’s choice and their dignity in dying. He has spoken about palliative care at length, and I understand that there is further funding for hospices, but charities, such as cancer charities that support people with those choices, have had to make drastic cuts to their staffing and funding as a result of covid. What conversations has the Secretary of State been having with the Treasury, and what commitment will they make in the November spending review?
Obviously the hospice sector, which often relies on charity shops in order to fund its services, has had a very difficult year. We therefore have put funding support in and we always keep that under review. I applaud the fact that our hospices are funded both from taxpayers and through a huge amount of philanthropy. It leads to a stronger sector that is rooted in the communities that it serves. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that that has led to some significant challenges this year. We have put more funding in and will, of course, always keep that open to review.
It is very difficult to tell somebody who is in pain and suffering and who wants to die that the state is going to prevent them from doing that. As a Roman Catholic, I recently changed my mind on the issue because of my constituent Mr Noel Conway, who lives in Garmston near Shrewsbury. I said to him, “Why don’t you go to Switzerland?” and his answer will stay with me forever: “No, I’m an Englishman. I want to die in England.” It is extremely important that our citizens have that right. Will the Secretary of State do me the courtesy of agreeing to a short Zoom call with my constituent Mr Noel Conway, who is getting a national reputation as a leading campaigner on the issue?
I would be happy to have that meeting with Mr Conway. I have spoken to others in the same circumstances who have made the case strongly. The compassion of the case cannot be overstated. I also respect the fact that many hon. Members, as has been reflected today, have deeply held views. We should make sure that the conversation happens; that there is, rightly, a debate about the topic, as there is in many other countries right now; and that it is conducted in an evidence-based, sensible and compassionate way.
Clearly, we are debating the most sensitive of issues, and we need more investment in the research and practice of palliative care. I ask the Health Secretary what additional resources will come forward, because at the end of October the grant funding for covid-19 and hospices came to an end. Of course, we are entering a further period of lockdown in which charity shops will be shut and fundraising opportunities will come to an end. Hospices need resourcing now, so what additional support will he bring forward?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that issue. We provided more than £150 million of extra funding to hospices during the first peak. Locally, many clinical commissioning groups fund their local hospice and contribute to that support, but we always keep it under review, because hospices are such an important part of the provision of end-of-life care.
I am concerned that in this discussion there is a danger of focusing too narrowly on the specific option around assisted suicide. Modern medicine can palliate the pain of dying in almost all cases, but it can also extend life, in many cases artificially, beyond what most people would consider its natural span. Before we enter into a parliamentary review, Government review or Select Committee review of the precise options around assisted suicide, should we not have a much broader conversation about how we manage death and dying in this country?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the question should be located within that broader debate. I understand the yearning from people not to shorten life, but to shorten a painful death. Of course, no specific proposal has been brought forward; that would be for Parliament to develop rather than the Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at the heart of the issue is properly established personal autonomy over the time and manner of someone’s death when they are terminally ill? The safeguards around that have been operating for more than two decades in other parts of the world, as I saw on a visit to Oregon 20 years ago. He is right that this must be led by Parliament, but the evidence is developing all the time and the Government will have to make time for the debates and opportunities to assess that evidence. Parliamentarians should proceed on the basis of the evidence available to them, because if they choose to impose faith-based views on others, it can result in the most terrible cruelty.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Is the Secretary of State aware that research indicates that individuals go through a number of psychological stages—such as shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance—after they have been given a diagnosis of terminal illness? We are failing so many people right across the United Kingdom by not giving them access to adequate psychological support to enable them to reach that stage of acceptance, in themselves and for their families, and then not providing the therapeutic support that they need alongside the palliative care already mentioned by colleagues.
I respect the views, which are all earnestly held, on either side of this issue. As my right hon. Friend has said, this is a matter of conscience. I am happy to put on the record that I am with the 80% of British people who think that to bring forward assisted dying with the proper checks and balances is the right thing to do. What are my right hon. Friend’s personal views on this issue, as the Member for West Suffolk?
No, I think I will make the decision, Mr Mitchell. You have had a good day. The Secretary of State is not here to be responsible for his personal view; he is responsible as the Secretary of State answering questions. Please, let us not try to take advantage of the Chair.
Right, let us go up to Manchester with Sir Andrew Gwynne—sorry, just Andrew Gwynne.
Thank you for the promotion, Mr Speaker.
I have always been internally torn on this issue. Setting aside my own personal beliefs and the fact that my constituency is still dealing with the very real legacy of Harold Shipman, I will always be haunted by my mum’s painful end of life in hospital, where final decisions were in effect given to me, aged 19, and to my dad, aged 48. The reconciliation of all these things is incredibly difficult, but what I do know is that the current system is too often pretty inhumane. I agree with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) that we need a review to consider how we deliver better end-of-life care and support in England. Is that a way forward?
I do think it important that we consider the question of end-of-life care, and support for palliative care is important. The coronavirus epidemic has shone a light on palliative and end-of-life care in the wider public debate, and that is right and good. That is a matter for the Government, but the specific question of assisted dying is, of course, a question for this House, and we need, together, to find a way to ensure that we all serve our constituents as best we can, taking into account the best possible evidence and all the sincerely held views on this sensitive subject.
Thank you for allowing me in, Mr Speaker.
On the piano in my home in Lincolnshire, I have a lovely photograph of Pope Francis embracing a very old and very sick woman. At the bottom it says, “Cherish life, but accept death.” I was struck by what the Secretary of State said earlier—that we do not need to extend death or suffering; we can help people through this extraordinarily difficult time. I think we do need a review. Many people are helped into death. I remember my best friend, Piers Merchant, a former colleague here. I was at his side, and as he died, morphine was being pumped into him. No doubt, he was killed by the morphine, but that was a humane and right thing to do. We need to have a review on the basis of cherishing life but accepting death, and not necessarily pounding very old and sick people with more and more operations and pain.
As a highly respected and very significant voice among Catholics in this country, my right hon. Friend speaks powerfully, from both a position of his faith and a compassionate position of respect for what the current rules mean in practice. The whole House, and indeed the country, will have heard his contribution and it leaves us all to ponder this question.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 9 November will include:
Monday 9 November—Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill.
Tuesday 10 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Ship Recycling (Facilities and Requirements for Hazardous Materials on Ships) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, followed by a motion to approve the draft Food and Feed Hygiene and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of a lay member to the Committee on Standards.
Wednesday 11 November—A general debate on remembrance, UK armed forces and society, followed by a general debate on covid-19.
Thursday 12 November—Debate on a motion on the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on refugee communities, followed by a debate on a motion on achieving the ambition for a smoke-free England by 2030, in the light of the covid-19 pandemic and public health reorganisation. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 November—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 16 November will include:
Monday 16 November—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. I should like to start by thanking Parliament’s Education and Engagement team for all the excellent work they have done to support UK Parliament Week. They have enabled all our constituents to understand what it is to participate in a democracy so that we know that every vote counts and that they will all be counted equally.
Will the Leader of the House please tell us when this parliamentary Session is going to end? They usually last about 12 months, and it would be useful to know because we would quite like another Opposition day and, as he knows, we get them pro rata. The private Members’ Bills have now been moved to next year. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), the shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has asked whether the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill could be looked at by the Government so that it can be taken forward earlier, rather than waiting until next year.
I am pleased that the Leader of the House has realised that voting in the way we vote at the moment is unsafe and that he has extended proxy voting, but I want to remind him that the Procedure Committee said in its fourth report that
“the system of remote voting used in May was a more effective means of handling divisions in the House under conditions where the division lobbies could not be used in the traditional way”.
I do not know whether he has seen the record, but even those hon. Members who are on the estate have a small p next to their name to indicate that they have cast their vote by proxy. This will give the impression that some hon. Members are not here when in fact they are, so we need to look at that.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could explain how he thinks democracy works, when some hon. Members can take part only in urgent questions and statements, and Members who are being careful and responsible but cannot be here cannot take part in debates. Debates are the very stuff of what we do, ergo this is not a democratic process. I know that he will be aware that “Parliament” comes from the old French word “parlement”, which means “a place to speak”.
I do not know what it is about this Government, but they are obsessed with tiers, and we now have two tiers of hon. Members—we could say two classes of hon. Members—which is not right and not fair. I want to remind the Leader of the House what he said on Monday:
“We have to ensure that these new coronavirus regulations…are properly debated and that the Government are held to account.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 62.]
I should point out that although the time was extended to three hours, it was not sufficient to hold the Government to account because hon. Friends were unable to take part if they could not be here. They could not do so remotely. That is why this has to change.
Those hon. Members cannot hold the Government to account, but we need to find ways to hold the Government to account because they seem to be bypassing the normal procurement process and helping the VIPs to win lucrative Government contracts for personal protective equipment. How do we hold PPE Medpro to account? It was incorporated in May this year with share capital of just £100, yet it was awarded contracts of £200 million. It was set up by a former business associate of a Conservative peer. How do we hold SG Recruitment to account? It is a staffing agency, and it won two PPE contracts worth over £50 million, despite auditors raising concerns about its solvency. A Tory peer sits on the board of its parent company. How do we hold P14 Medical Ltd to account, which is controlled by a former Conservative councillor and has been awarded three contracts worth £276 million, despite having negative assets?
Parliament is giving the Government unprecedented powers, so could the Government prove to us that they are not misusing public money? Decisions so far have been characterised by cronyism and incompetence—and I have not even got on to Randox yet. I ask again, could we have a list of all the contracts that have been awarded under the coronavirus regulations and any declarations of interests? The shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has asked for an inquiry. It would be very simple to publish every single contract.
We need an urgent ministerial statement on what the head of the Vaccine Taskforce has said. If it is an official, sensitive Government document, why was it disclosed to people who spent $200 to hear that inside information? If it is not, why do we not all know about it? Could we have an urgent statement on who the head of the Vaccine Taskforce is accountable to?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting an urgent question to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) on Nazanin. That was the sixth urgent question about her. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa said nothing about Anousheh, although he accepted that the debt is 40 years old—that is older than Nazanin. We also have to remember Kylie and Luke Symons. I look forward to receiving the letter from the Foreign Secretary that the Leader of the House has kindly facilitated.
Finally, Sergeant Matt Ratana’s funeral was held yesterday. We remember all those police officers and frontline staff who have given their lives in the line of duty. I know that Remembrance Sunday will be slightly different this year, but nevertheless, we will remember everyone in the same way. It will be more poignant because of those who have given their lives to save us. I think the Kohima epitaph will apply to everyone, which says:
“When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.”
We will remember them. We will remember them.
The right hon. Lady is so right and puts it so well. We will remember them. I am very glad that there will be a chance on 11 November for a debate in the House where remembrance may take place properly, in a year when the full remembrance that we normally have will be curtailed. I am pleased that we are able to have time for that debate.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for once again raising the case of Nazanin, Kylie, Anousheh and Luke. As always, the proper processes of this House are being used, and the Government are being held to account with urgent questions. I will say one thing: it is very important not to conflate any question of money with the proper treatment of people who are held improperly. The British Government have a very clear policy of not connecting the two, and it would be open season on British citizens if we were ever to be in a position of paying for people’s releases. It is fundamental that those two are not conflated.
May I echo the right hon. Lady’s comments on UK Parliament Week? It is a fantastic week, and we would have done much more had we been able to go out and about. Mr Speaker and I would have been up and down the country making speeches and receiving plaudits for Parliament and all the work it does.
And the shadow Leader of the House too. We would have shared a charabanc as we went around the country praising Parliament. It is none the less a very important week, and we should be really proud of our democracy and proud that Parliament is here doing its duty. That, I am afraid, is where the right hon. Lady and I fall into a level of disagreement. It is so important that we are here to do our job—that we are here to debate and to challenge. She says that some Members cannot be here for debates. I recognise that, and I sympathise with them, but they are debates; that is the point. We have seen how many times somebody comes on to complain that they cannot come here, and the connection goes down. We have seen in the House of Lords remote voting fail, so business does not happen.
Once and we lose a day’s business and have to do it all again, whereas we have a system that is tried and tested, works and means that we are leading by example. We expect teachers to be teaching; we expect MPs to be voting. We expect people to do their job at their place of work when they cannot do it from home, and we cannot be a proper scrutinising legislature without being here in person; that is of fundamental importance.
I note the right hon. Lady’s appeal on the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. It is on the list for private Members’ Bills. It is very difficult to find extra time. There was a suggestion that the sitting Fridays be moved, which the Government listened to and accepted. That is the situation that we are in. Changing the PMB Fridays does allow a few more people to work from home one day a week, which slightly helps with the overall balance of risk. I therefore think that we will have to come back to all private Members’ Bills in the new year.
The right hon. Lady asked a question on procurement that is important and a crucial act of parliamentary scrutiny, but which is also misplaced. The two positions are not contradictory. It is the job of this House—and has been for centuries—to ensure that public money is well spent. That is why the Public Accounts Committee is so highly respected. In defence of what the Government have done, when we go from a standing start to try to ensure that the country deals with a pandemic, we have to act quickly. Our usual processes for procurement assume that there is plenty of time. In this instance, there was not.
Let me give the House some of the facts. There is now capacity for 519,000 tests a day. We have delivered over 10 million testing kits to 14 million care homes. This type of work has had to be done extraordinarily quickly. On vaccines, we have secured early access to over 350 million vaccine doses through a portfolio of promising new vaccines, to ensure that we are best placed to get the vaccine when one is tested and turns out to be workable. The increase in personal protective equipment delivery has been phenomenal. To do this, things have had to be done quickly. Yes, of course, they must be scrutinised—that is absolutely right—and when they are scrutinised, the Government will have turned out to have behaved with impeccable propriety.
Throughout the pandemic, places of worship have helped to maintain social cohesion. They have mitigated the impact on the mental health of worshippers, and, more importantly, have been a sign of hope. Churches, Islamic centres and synagogues across Radcliffe, Whitefield and Prestwich have gone above and beyond to become covid-safe environments. Will my right hon. Friend, as a man of faith himself, join me in commending their efforts to protect the health and wellbeing of worshippers, and will he look to undertake an urgent review of places of worship so that they can continue to provide these most vital of services during these difficult times?
The relationship between Church and state is one that sometimes proves rather difficult. Who can forget 29 December 1170, when Thomas à Becket was murdered in his own cathedral by the agents of the state sent by Henry II? The relationship between Church and state has not always been smooth. It was a great matter for discussion by medieval scholars, who concentrated on Luke 22:38: “there are two swords”. The question is which sword is superior—the spiritual sword or the temporal sword. The temporal authorities often think that the temporal sword is the superior sword. The ecclesiastical authorities were very happy to argue with that, and Pope Boniface VIII put it at its highest level in his 1302 papal bull “Unam Sanctam”, which claimed that all secular authorities were secondary to the spiritual authorities. We have seen this argument rage over the centuries, with greater powers taken by the state and then freedom of religion reasserting itself. My hon. Friend raises a point of fundamental importance, but the hope that we may all take—the reassurance that those of us who have faith may be certain of—is that the highest authority is unquestionably immortal, invisible and only wise, and even outside the control of the House of Commons.
It has been five days since the Prime Minister announced an England-wide lockdown and the major U-turn regarding the furlough scheme, and all week we have been trying to clarify whether furlough support will be in place just when England is locked down, or whether it will be available beyond 2 December if devolved Administrations are required to take similar action. On Monday, the Prime Minister suggested that it would be available to devolved national Governments, only to have a series of Ministers deny this as the week progressed. It is bizarre that such a simple question still does not have a clear answer. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether the Chancellor’s statement that will follow will clear up the ambiguity? In either event, can we have a debate on how to improve the capacity of devolved Administrations to deal with the covid pandemic and prepare for recovery, including by their relationship with the UK Treasury?
Following the rather shambolic way in which the lockdown in England was leaked last weekend, the Government have much to learn about how they communicate. Can I raise the specific matter of how they communicate with Members of Parliament? There is an increasing tendency for Ministers to provide online briefings to Members, and this is welcome, but often the notice of such briefings is insufficient to allow Members to participate. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Ministers improve their communication with Members, including using Parliamentary Private Secretaries to reach out to their Opposition counterparts?
Finally, I return again to the question of remote voting. The latest changes to proxy voting are welcome, and they can only have come about because the Government accept the logic of not requiring Members to queue up physically to vote. If that is the case, why not complete the circle and simply switch the remote voting system back on? That way, MPs can exercise their own discretion on behalf of their constituents, rather than have to delegate their vote to others.
It is a great pity that we could not see the hon. Gentleman’s cheerful countenance, cheering us all up and bringing sweetness and light to this Chamber, as he does on a weekly basis.
The point the hon. Gentleman raises on the furlough scheme has been responded to by the Prime Minister any number of times with considerable clarity—that it is a UK-wide scheme. That is how it is operating and has operated. It continued until 31 October, and was then renewed. It remains a UK-wide scheme, and that is as it should be. I have pointed out to the hon. Gentleman before, but it bears repetition, that the UK taxpayer has provided £7.2 billion of funding to Scotland and saved 779,500 jobs under the furlough scheme, in addition to the £770 million for the self-employment scheme. The United Kingdom, as a single entity, has protected the interests of Scotland, and will continue to do so.
On communication, I think the hon. Gentleman is advocating a counsel of perfection. Of course it is important to try to give notice, but it is also important to try to ensure that briefings are provided quickly, and getting that balance right is something the Government strive to do. I think, by and large, that right hon. and hon. Members appreciate the opportunity to have briefings, and that we should not delay briefings because of the risk of some people missing the relevant notification.
As regards voting in person, people need to be here—they need to be here to speak in debates, they need to be here for legislative procedures—and people are still free to go through the Division Lobbies. They have the opportunity to use a proxy if that is what they choose to do. We are a party that believes in choice, liberty and freedom.
The Leader of the House may have seen the sad news this morning that hundreds of Argos stores will close, including the one in Alfreton in my constituency, which is a terrible blow for the employees and for the high street. Could he find time for a debate on how we can reinvigorate our high streets once this covid crisis is over?
Yes, I had indeed heard that sad news. It is a real problem, and high streets are facing enormous challenges, mainly from developments that were taking place before the coronavirus, but exacerbated and made faster because of the coronavirus. The Government have of course got the £3.6 billion towns fund that is helping high streets, and I think there is more work to be done on that. As regards a debate, I think that is a question for the Backbench Business Committee.
Of course, the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, so he would be asking himself for a debate.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for announcing the Back-Bench business for next Thursday. The first debate will be on a motion on the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on refugee communities, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). The second debate will be on achieving the ambition of a smoke-free England by 2030, in light of the covid-19 pandemic and public health reorganisation, the lead Member for which is my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy).
The Home Office had a huge backlog of cases and processing applications by refugees and asylum seekers prior to the pandemic. The Home Office has now contacted my office to ask my staff whether they would accept verbal updates on individual cases, as it says it does not have the capacity to do it in writing. That would mean we would have to take note of what was being said and relate that to the constituent concerned, which is most unsatisfactory. The system was a mess before the pandemic and it is now a mess that is getting worse, leaving constituents completely in a void. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary about what is happening in the Home Office and its immigration management system?
First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the work he does as Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee and for bringing forward important debates that have support across the House. The point he mentions is clearly not one that Members must feel under any obligation to go along with. We expect responses from Departments to be proper responses. It is not for us to take notes of conversations and pass them on, because that is likely to lead to misunderstanding, error and imprecision. I will certainly take this up with the Home Office afterwards, but I would make the general point that the Government have been absolutely clear in all their guidance that people should work from home if they can do their job. If there are people in any sector who cannot do their job at home, and are therefore failing to answer MPs’ correspondence because they are all working remotely, they ought in fact to be going into work. That is what the guidance says.
For over 50 years, the Mottram bypass has been endlessly promised, delayed, cancelled, argued over and consulted on. I am delighted that the Government have finally committed to build the bypass, but, today, yet another formal and legally required consultation has been launched. After that is completed there has to be a development consent order, a process that lasts a minimum of a further 17 months. May we have a debate on the process around how we build key infrastructure projects, and how we can make it more efficient and faster? The people of Glossop and Hadfield have waited long enough.
My hon. Friend makes such a powerful point. It is deeply unsatisfactory that it has taken 50 years to deal with this issue and that there will be further delays. The Government do have plans to improve the planning system and to speed up infrastructure projects. Let us hope he does not find any newts, because they are often an absolute nuisance—a newtsance, one might even say, Mr Speaker—when it comes to building projects. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, who will be answering questions in a month’s time, on 3 December.
The new Government guidance on care home visits requires them to take place outside, at a window, or with a floor-to-ceiling Perspex screen separating people. For many of the cases I have had raised with me, that is not a solution as their loved ones have dementia or are bed-bound, or the care home lacks the resources to make the adaptations required. I would like to apply for an Adjournment debate to raise those cases with the relevant Minister, but because I am participating virtually I cannot do so, even though the Chamber is already set up for virtual participation and, as we know, Adjournment debates are primarily for the hon. Member and the Minister. Will the Leader of the House consider changing Standing Orders so that Members can apply for and lead an Adjournment debate virtually, and enable them to do their jobs?
The hon. Lady is proving that she can do her job by raising this important issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made regular statements where he can be questioned. Adjournment debates do allow other hon. Members to intervene. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is sitting in his usual place, regularly intervenes very helpfully in Adjournment debates. It is important that the debates in this House are with people who are physically here, but the hon. Lady has proved that she can raise her point in these interrogative sessions.
Mr Speaker, you quite rightly have held the Government to account for releasing statements to the media before they have been announced to this House. Last weekend, when the funding deal to bail out Transport for London was negotiated and embargoed until Monday, I was outraged and horrified that the Mayor of London broke the embargo and released a press release on Sunday, setting out the details, incorrectly, of that press release. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport to the House on exactly the terms of the bail-out for Transport for London, so that we MPs can hold him to account and ensure that the record is set straight in terms of what the deal is?
The record is something that we must set very straight, which is that the Mayor of London is incompetent and that he has run Transport for London hopelessly. That is what we get when we have socialists in Government. The London transport network has been run very poorly and its finances are in a bad state because of a political refusal to increase any ticket fees over four years. Anyone who thinks that TfL is any good needs look only at Hammersmith bridge, which remains unrepaired, inconveniencing tens of thousands of people and causing great inconvenience without Transport for London managing to lift a finger and saying, I think, that it will do 7 feet a month and that it will take it so long to do it. Moreover, Crossrail continues to be delayed. It is an extraordinary record of failure, and it is a record of failure that should be put straight. We should have a Conservative Mayor next year and then it will be broad sunlit uplands.
Hull Trains, the open access providers of direct rail services between east Yorkshire and London for the past 20 years, today ceases its services in this second lockdown. Open access has been one of the most successful aspects of the 1990s rail industry reforms and the Transport Secretary claims to be as keen as mustard on open access, so, given the Government’s support to the rail industry and Transport for London, I am perplexed as to why Hull Trains has not been given the relatively modest Government support, beyond just the furlough scheme, that would secure its future post-covid. Can we please have a statement about how we can ensure a post-covid recovery for all rail operators, including open access?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The Government have taken huge steps to support as many industries as possible, while recognising that not everything can be supported. I will certainly take up her point with the Secretary of State because, as she rightly says, open access has been one of the real advantages of railway privatisation.
As the University of Oxford is regularly rated the finest in the world, may we have a statement from the Government ensuring that what passes for statistical analysis by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies should in future be checked and confirmed by the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine before it is inflicted on our sceptical and suffering constituents?
Yes, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might have been, too, though he is a much greater scholar than I am, if I may place that firmly on the record. It is only right that all statistics provided by the Government and by their advisers are challenged. That is one of the reasons for this place’s existence and for the ability to hold the Government to account. I am sure that he will use the resources that are available to him to challenge all statistics. We remember what Disraeli supposedly said about statistics when discussing this matter, don’t we, Mr Speaker?
Many Angus constituents have contacted me concerned that Scotland’s high teaching standards will be diluted as a result of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, with the potential for creating a UK-wide bureau of teaching standards, as the Bill, as currently set out, seeks to do. That risks imposing lower standards in Scotland that threaten the very fabric of Scotland’s separate and independent education system, which, as the Leader of the House will know, was provided for in the 1707 Act of Union. Teachers regularly come and teach in Scotland from other jurisdictions and are highly valued, but in every case their professional standards under the requirements of the General Teaching Council for Scotland must be met. Can we have a debate in Government time regarding the need to protect the Scottish education system from the UK Internal Market Bill?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the UK Internal Market Bill involves a great deal of powers—I think 70—that were with Europe now coming back to the United Kingdom and going to the devolved authorities. If we were to have a debate on standards in Scottish education, it would be about why the SNP has been running them into the ground in its period of running the Scottish Government, because the record of the SNP is absolutely appalling, as the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know only too well. Scotland, as he rightly says, used to have one of the best records, and it is the SNP that has undermined that while it has been in government.
Back on Boxing day 2015, my constituency was terribly affected by flooding. Since that time, the same homes and streets have repeatedly suffered from flooding, which once again reared its ugly head earlier this week. It is bad enough that the same people are repeatedly flooded, but the trauma for those people is worse. Every time it rains heavily, fearing the worst is a torture that is hard to imagine. Will my right hon. Friend therefore ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House to make a statement to let my constituents know when he will implement the flood prevention measures for my constituency proposed by the Environment Agency?
The difficulties families face when they are flooded and the worry that they must have when the rain beats down again is something with which every Member of this House would have sympathy. A great deal of taxpayers’ money is being spent, and Yorkshire is receiving more than any other region—£496 million has been spent since 2015, protecting 66,000 properties. Across England as a whole, £2.6 billion is being spent on flood and coastal defences between 2015 and 2021. In March, there was a commitment of £5.2 billion to build 2,000 new flood and coastal defence schemes across England by 2027. I appreciate that that does not necessarily give my hon. Friend’s constituents the comfort that they desire, but he will have the opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State on 26 November. I will also take it up on his behalf and try to get him a detailed answer on when the programme will actually start.
Last week, the Home Secretary ended the exemption in relation to the numbers of people who can take part in a protest, meaning that for the duration of lockdown the maximum number of people who will be able to demonstrate is now two. Why did the Leader of the House allow that to happen without the Home Secretary coming to this House to explain why? Why was there not a statement as to why this most egregious and draconian restriction on our liberties would be necessary?
The Prime Minister himself came and made a statement, and the Prime Minister himself opened yesterday’s debate on the new regulations. He is senior to the Home Secretary, so it was done at the highest level. A large number of restrictions are being imposed which nobody wishes to impose. Nobody wishes to restrict the freedoms of the British people. It is being done, with the support of Opposition Members, in response to the coronavirus crisis. The person to whom the Home Secretary reports came to make the statement. As the Queen is not allowed to come into this House, there is no more senior authority who could have come.
Despite the various national restrictions, can the Leader of the House confirm that this House, and indeed the other place, will continue operating whatever the situation, so that Parliament can continue to hold the Government to account for decisions being made in this global coronavirus pandemic?
Yes. I actually think this follows on from the question by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), because the House is ensuring that the Government are held to account when other means of doing it have been curtailed. People cannot protest, but we can be here—and we must be here, because if we are not, how are we going to check that the rules that are being introduced are debated, are considered; that anomalies within them are sought out; that people make representations about people in care homes or complain about the limitation of protest? We must be here; it is our duty to be here. We have a legislative programme to get through; we have to ensure that that happens. We have to hold the Government to account and seek redress of grievance; it is our historic duty. We do it in this Chamber, we do it in Westminster Hall and we do it in Committees, and that must carry on.
Concerns have been raised about the accuracy and efficiency of some of the new tests being used to increase testing capacity. Mass testing is essential if we are to control the virus, and the Liverpool mass testing pilot must be a success. So may we have a debate to enable us to scrutinise the effectiveness and accuracy of the new tests being proposed?
Next week, on Wednesday 11 November, there will be a general debate on covid, where it would be right to raise this issue. Testing is increasing enormously and has now reached 500,000, and 9.6 million people have been tested at least once, but obviously those tests must be accurate; otherwise, they serve no useful purpose, so to question that is a reasonable thing to do. But of course that is being done within the process anyway, to ensure that it is reliable and robust. However, there will be an opportunity to debate it on Wednesday.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will be as disappointed as I am that services of remembrance in Warrington and across the UK will not be happening this year because of the restrictions that we introduced yesterday. Those restrictions also mean that poppy sellers—many themselves veterans—will not be able to stand on the streets and raise funds for the Royal British Legion. I want him to join me in encouraging everyone to log on to the Royal British Legion website, download a poppy and donate, so that the work of the Royal British Legion may continue to support veterans and their families.