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Business of the House

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 12 November 2020

The business for the week commencing 16 November will include:

Monday 16 November—Remaining stages of the Pension Schemes Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 17 November—Second Reading of the National Security and Investment Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill.

Wednesday 18 November—Motion to approve the draft Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, followed by a motion to approve the Construction Products (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a general debate on covid-19.

Thursday 19 November—Debate on a motion on regulation and prevention of online harms, followed by a general debate on International Men’s Day. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 20 November—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.

We have a result: there is a new chief of staff at No. 10. No, seriously, what I actually wanted to do was to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. It was a historic victory, winning not only the popular vote but the electoral college. Despite the closing of mailboxes, I think democracy won, and I agree with the President-elect that the integrity of the peace agreement in Ireland is vital. He has also made a statement on Iran, which gives hope for Nazanin, Anoosheh and Kylie. It is interesting that Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human rights lawyer, has been released, and it gives hope to Luke Symons too.

I do not know whether you saw the strapline yesterday, Mr Speaker, but while there were squabbles behind the door at No. 10, we reached the terrible statistic of 50,000 deaths. We are the highest in Europe and the fifth highest in the world, and it is a terrible statistic because the other countries ahead of us have larger populations. Everyone in the Conservative party, from the Prime Minister to the bag carriers, was focused on the power struggle at No. 10 for jobs and influence. What this country needs is proper leadership and the Government to focus on the job at hand: saving lives and livelihoods.

The Leader of the House will have to come up with an answer—I asked him this last week—on when the Session is going to end. I hope he gives us the answer soon, because we would like another Opposition day.

Government Members will be interested to note that there was a U-turn on school meals—the Rashford turn—but they must be pretty annoyed because they were asked to vote for it, and then the announcement was made by the Prime Minister to the ether, not to the House. We could only glean what the details were from the press. It is no wonder that the Leader of the House does not want a return to remote voting, where Members actually have to vote themselves. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was right, was he not, when he said that it is an affront to the House and everything that it stands for that there were 203 proxy votes cast by a Whip? More seriously, there are factions—the common sense group, the northern group, the covid recovery group. What the Opposition want to know—the Whips are asking us—is: do they all have their own Whips? Do we have to deal with each individual group? So I ask again, in the interests of democracy: can we have remote voting?

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made a written statement on Tuesday on a new advisory panel for the UK system of public service broadcasting. The panel, interestingly, is this: the former Conservative Prime Minister’s director of communications, who has been helping GB News to challenge the BBC; a Conservative peer; and a former Conservative Prime Minister’s press secretary. After the claims from the Leader of the House about political impartiality earlier this week, can we have a statement on the recruitment process? We do not want this to be another assault on public broadcasting.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of the interactive map, “My Little Crony”, which has been created by Sophie Hill. I raised last week all the contracts that have been handed out to those connected to the Tory party and I did not get an answer, but it is well worth a look. He will know that I think it might be time for a public inquiry, particularly on the £670,000 that has been allocated by the vaccine tsar for public relations. If you look at the My Little Crony interactive map, it links directly to the special special adviser’s relation. I do not know whether that is because they are essential workers, to enable them a visit to Barnard Castle, but it would be interesting to know what they do, because they are actually based in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where there are 100 comms staff. But if it is something about a vaccine, I would rather Dr Van-Tam told me about it, instead of a public relations so-called expert.

There are more concerns about the use of public money, so will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on the Public Accounts Committee report into the towns fund? It concluded at page 5:

“The selection process was not impartial.”

He was fond of saying that word earlier this week and it is a cross-party Committee. Is it the kind of Committee that the Leader of the House does not actually like, given his comments earlier? The Committee said that it was

“not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others.”

We have a crowded programme coming up in the next six weeks. We have the comprehensive spending review on 25 November, and already nurseries have contacted me to say, “Can the Chancellor find long-term funding for us?” They will be part of the recovery after the pandemic, with parents going back and children being looked after. One of the heads apparently described the Secretary State for Education as “missing in action”, so can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education, particularly ahead of the comprehensive spending review?

Will the Prime Minister come to the House and update us on the trade talks that are going on with the EU? I think he made a statement to the press, but not to us.

Last week, the Leader of the House highlighted his love of heritage, and I ask him to join me in lying down in front of the bulldozers at Stonehenge. Professor Mike Parker Pearson said:

“When we’re looking at prehistory, the buried remains are the only evidence we have. It’s rather like burning ancient manuscripts…There will be almost total destruction of all archaeological remains within its path”,

referring to the road scheme. Will the Leader of the House help us to stop it?

Finally, I wish everyone a happy Diwali. It represents good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. I know that is a sentiment that the whole House agrees with.

Absolutely, we are in favour of the triumph of good over evil, and we wish everyone a happy Diwali. I think that conservatism is very generally the triumph of good over evil. As regards Stonehenge, as I take the A303 to Somerset, the sooner it is a dual carriageway the better. I fully support the proposals to have a dual carriageway, though I would add that one of the great joys of going on the current A303 is that one gets a glimpse of Stonehenge. That is a benefit and is uplifting for people to see.

As regards statements by the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend has been incredibly assiduous in updating the House, coming to the House, making statements, answering questions and leading debates. His appearances here have been exactly what we require, and he has met and exceeded the expectations of the House.

The right hon. Lady rightly congratulates the President-elect of the United States, as Her Majesty’s Government have. The Government look forward to working with—

I have congratulated him. The Government congratulate him, and I am speaking as a Minister for the Government. It is very important, as the Prime Minister rightly said on Wednesday, that the British Prime Minister has a good relationship with the American President, and that is in the interests of the United Kingdom. It has to be said that one person who was particularly good at that was the former leader of the Labour party, Tony Blair, who was able to get on with different American Presidents of different ideological outlooks, and that I think is a model for British Prime Ministers.

I know that the Foreign Office has responded to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) about Nazanin and the other people improperly held, and her campaign is an important campaign to ensure that they are kept at the forefront of people’s minds.

It is of course a deep, deep sadness, and a tragedy for the families, that 50,000 have died with covid, but it is too early to be making international comparisons, because the statistics are not calculated in all countries in the same way. But the Government have made enormous efforts to limit the effect and to ensure that the interests of safety are paramount. That is why we entered into the second period of lockdown and, indeed, had the first period of lockdown. It is why £200 billion of taxpayers’ money has been provided in support to the economy in these very difficult times. Yes, it is a deep sadness, but it is not, I think, a matter of party politics, one way or another. The Government have made every possible effort, strained every sinew.

The right hon. Lady mentions my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who of course himself gave a proxy to the Deputy Chief Whip and proved the efficacy of the system, because he was able to take his proxy away and vote the way he wanted to, having listened to the debate. This is a way that is working, it is effective and it has reduced the queues in the Division Lobbies, which I know is a great concern of the right hon. Lady. I do my best to accommodate her, but I feel sometimes that she models herself on the deaf adder, and charm I ever so nicely, still no notice is taken of the efforts I have made to meet with her approbation. In spite of having made every effort to help, still more is asked for, but I am afraid we need to be here in person. Government business has to be carried through. Important legislation has to be scrutinised. This is best done in person, as we found when we were hybrid earlier in the year, so there will not be a return to remote voting.

As regards the questions about the vaccine and the vaccine tsar, and the money spent on publicity, may I say from this Dispatch Box what a fabulous job Kate Bingham has done? She deserves credit, plaudits and praise—paeons of praise—for what she has done for free. She has been working for free. She has not been charging the British taxpayer. She has brought her energy and her enterprise to ensure that we are one of the best-placed countries to have supplies of the vaccine when it comes through.

Of course, we have to tell people what is going on. There are a few nutters around, Mr Speaker—I am sure you have never met them—who are anti-vaxxers. They go around spreading rumour and causing concern to people. We need to put out the true information to reassure people. That is a reasonable and a proper thing to do. The attacks on Kate Bingham are discreditable and unpleasant.

The reference to the vaccine tsar in disparaging terms, but more generally than the right hon. Lady. Kate Bingham has done enormous public service and we should be grateful to her for what she is doing.

The Leader of the House will be aware that today there is a debate in Westminster Hall on breast cancer, in which, because of his ruling, some of us with real and current life experience of the disease are disappointingly unable to participate. While I respect his commitment to traditional parliamentary procedures, I am sure if he was on the Back Benches, and not the fine specimen of health and fitness he clearly is, he would be arguing forcefully for Members to be able to contribute more often in proceedings via modern technology, perhaps even currying favour with you, Mr Speaker, by suggesting that not every contribution to a debate requires an intervention.

Given that hybrid proceedings have been extended, will my right hon. Friend please stop thinking those of us at home are shirking our duties—in fact, quite the opposite—and urgently reconsider virtual participation, even if just for general Back-Bench and Westminster Hall debates?

May I begin by wishing my hon. Friend well? I think the whole House joins me in praying for her swift recovery. She knows she is one of the most popular and respected Members of the House, who has campaigned cross-party on a number of issues very effectively, so we all wish her extremely well.

The point about bringing back Westminster Hall is that at one point the broadcasting facilities were already being fully utilised, so it was not an issue then of whether we wanted to do it or not. It simply was not an option. But the demand to bring back Westminster Hall was great across all parts of the House. Members who are shielding—who are seriously, critically vulnerable—are able to participate in many aspects of the House’s business. They are able to participate in interrogative sessions such as this, vote by proxy and participate in Select Committees, but we have to get a balance between the needs of hon. Members and the needs of the House as a whole to proceed with its business.

With debates, we need to have the proper holding to account of Ministers, which is the purpose of the debates, and to have the interventions that make a debate, rather than a series of statements. It is a question of striking a careful balance, in these difficult times, between ensuring that Parliament can serve its constituents in full and making sure that Members can complete their duties as safely and as effectively as possible.

I have two procedural points to start. By our calculation, we are overdue a third party Opposition day. As St Andrew’s Day approaches, can the Leader of the House tell us when we might get it? Secondly, we are increasingly concerned not only at the lateness of the advance sight of the Chancellor’s statements, but at the level of redaction therein, especially as we know that media outlets are being provided with full, unredacted copies before they are delivered in the Chamber. This is not good practice. Can the Leader of the House stop it?

I want to ask for a debate on the shared prosperity fund. We are exactly seven weeks from the end of the transition period, yet we have no idea whether and how this fund will work. I would like a Government assurance not only that Scotland’s funding will be maintained, but that decisions will be fully devolved, in much the way that EU structural funds are currently managed. After all, how hard can it be?

Uncertainty over Brexit, of which that is one glaring example, is partly why Scottish public opinion is turning to independence. You know that I like to keep the House informed on these matters, Mr Speaker. This week we have another opinion poll showing an 8% lead for independence. It is the 12th poll in a row to show majority support for yes. These developments have prompted former Prime Minister Major to call for not one but two referendums on independence. Sadly, though, the current Scottish Secretary just burrows further into his bunker. He declared this week that Scotland should not be able to consider this matter again for another 40 years. At least Donald Trump waited until after the election before denying the result. It seems that the Scottish Secretary has gone one better: he is denying the result of the election even before it has taken place. I agree with Joe Biden that it is not for one politician or another to decide the outcome, but for the people themselves. Can we have a debate on whether the Government will respect the outcome of next May’s election in Scotland; for if they will not, what is the point in having one?

The hon. Gentleman perhaps does not see the irony of what he has just said. There was an election in 2014 and I am afraid that it is the hon. Gentleman who is the Trump of Scotland, because he is denying that result. He is trying to pretend that it did not happen and that the people of Scotland, in their wisdom, did not vote to remain in the United Kingdom. May I beg to remind him that the people of Scotland voted to remain and that at that time the Scottish National party leadership said it was generational? That is why my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary is right to say that it must be for a generation. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that he does not like the result and therefore he is going to sulk and, in a state of high dudgeon, complain and moan and object, because the people of Scotland have spoken, and in their wisdom they wanted to remain in the United Kingdom.

Is that any surprise when £8.2 billion of UK taxpayers’ money has gone to the benefit of the people of Scotland? In addition, 779,500 jobs have been saved or supported by the furlough scheme, and £806 million has been paid out to help 157,000 people in the self-employed scheme. This is the success of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman says that he gets redacted statements. The good news will be boasted about later—such as the £8.2 billion and the 779,500 jobs—but it is routine for a Chancellor’s statements to have market-sensitive information not provided at the time. That is an obvious thing to do.

Opposition days are provided—I am well aware of the Standing Orders requirements—and, on the shared prosperity fund, Scotland shares in the prosperity of the United Kingdom.

In the 45 years I have been here, I have worked for tenants and leaseholders in tower blocks. For the last 15 years, I have been trying to get Government Ministers to accept the need for changes and leasehold reforms so that at least tenants are not exploited. There are 6 million of them, with 1 million affected by cladding-type issues and many more affected by the apparent increased cost of lease extensions. The Government have got the Law Commission to produce some very good reports, and Ministers sometimes say that something is going to happen.  When will the Government make a statement about implementing the needed reforms and when will we have a Government debate so that we can support the Government when they take the necessary action? At the moment, the praise and plaudits cannot come in full because the Government have not supported lease tenants the way that they should.

On the issue of cladding, which my hon. Friend raises, we are providing £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding. That will be of help to some leaseholders in buildings that have cladding that has not yet been removed. The issue of compounding ground rates has been raised in the House before and is clearly a problem. I shall ensure that the Secretary of State gives a full answer to my hon. Friend.

May I say what a pleasure it was to see the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) from her home? It was really good to see her up and active—it is fantastic.

Following last week’s exchanges, I thank the Leader of the House for writing to the Home Secretary on my behalf and that of my constituents. I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s Backbench Business Committee debates on Tuesday. We are getting through the queue, but we still have some way to go.

I have the privilege of being the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for football supporters, and I have written to the Prime Minister in that capacity. I know that the Leader of the House has previously admitted to not being a great fan of association football, but he may be a great fan of adherence to the Government’s manifesto commitments, in particular to a fan-led review of football and its governance. The resignation of the chair of the Football Association after his frankly embarrassing appearance before the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has thrown a bright light on the need for urgency in this review, which was promised at last year’s general election. Will the Leader of the House be so kind as to remind the Prime Minister of his Government’s commitment to this now pressing issue?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments, and I would remind the House and Members here this morning that if I ever can be helpful in facilitating answers from Government Departments, that is very much part of my role. The hon. Gentleman must not confuse my ignorance of football with a lack of concern. It is a matter of great concern to my constituents and his, and although I would never hold myself up as somebody who could win a pub quiz on football, I recognise that it is an issue that people are interested in across the country and one of great seriousness. He is right to note the resignation of the gentleman from the Football Association after his really extraordinary comments and the need for football to lead the way in doing things better and more appropriately. I am sure that the Government will fulfil our manifesto commitments, because that is what the Government do.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on unexplained deaths through epilepsy? On 16 November, SUDEP Action will be publishing a report that details how people with epilepsy have coped during the coronavirus pandemic. It makes some excellent recommendations, and I do hope that the Government will act on them.

I commend my hon. Friend for his campaigning on a range of health issues. He is a credit to this House and I am always happy to see him at business questions supporting these important causes. The Government welcome all research into the important topic of sudden death from epilepsy and look forward to the forthcoming report from SUDEP Action on the impact of the pandemic on epilepsy. Once it is received, the Department of Health and Social Care will consider its findings carefully and I will be sure to pass my hon. Friend’s question to Ministers in that Department. In the meantime, this may well make an important Adjournment debate.

Yesterday saw the sad passing at the age of 90 of Theresa Stewart, the only woman so far to lead Birmingham City Council. She represented the people of Billesley for a total of 31 years and was a champion of childcare and the payment of family allowance and child benefits to the mother, a pioneer of women’s representation and equality and a co-founder of Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service. May we have a debate on the contribution of Theresa and other recent civic leaders who have given so much to local government in this country?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the contribution made to civic society by people like Theresa Stewart. It is the backbone of our nation. These are people who give up their time and often go above and beyond the call of their duty to ensure that local government is as strong as it can be. Whether time can be found for a debate in Government time I cannot promise him, but I think a debate in Westminster Hall in praise of those who engage in civic life is well worth having.

People in Dudley South, such as my constituent Amy in Kingswinford, often find pavements unusable because of inconsiderately parked cars. May we have a debate in Government time on action to tackle pavement parking and progress made since the excellent Pavement Parking (Protection of Vulnerable Pedestrians) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) in 2015?

Although I always view myself as a friend of the motorist, there are, it has to be said, limits, and pavement parking can be a serious inconvenience for pedestrians, particularly those with mobility or visual impairments or—something that has had a great effect on me in recent years—with perambulators or pushchairs. [Interruption.] Even I sometimes push the perambulator! I have done it myself, I can confirm. I see that my reputation lies in tatters as I admit to having pushed a perambulator, but actually it is quite fun.

Cars parked on the road get in the way, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset succeeded with his private Member’s Bill. The Government are consulting on options for tackling the problem. One must not always assume that the answer to every problem is ensuring that more fines are issued. Sometimes gentle encouragement and telling motorists that they ought to behave themselves is a good way of proceeding.

Zoos and aquariums play an important role in the visitor economy. My constituency is fortunate to have not only the Blue Planet aquarium but part of Chester zoo within it, and like everyone else, they have been struggling. The Government set up a £100 million fund to support zoos and aquariums, but the criteria for it are so restrictive that only about £2 million has been paid out so far. The deadline for applications for the scheme is Monday, and at the moment, it does not look like it will achieve its purpose. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on Monday on what he will do to ensure that this scheme benefits zoos and aquariums as it was intended to?

The scheme was set up to help zoos and aquariums and to ensure that they are given particular support during the pandemic. As with any scheme, if there are issues, it is quite right that they should be raised with Ministers and that Ministers should be held to account. If the hon. Gentleman has not been successful in doing that with the relevant Minister, I will of course facilitate a full answer to any questions he has.

In response to the impacts and challenges posed by covid-19 to aviation, the Prime Minister rightly established the global travel taskforce to consider further how Government can support the sector. When will it likely report, and may we have a statement at that time?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. The global aviation sector has suffered exceptionally badly from the pandemic, and it is right that we find ways to support aviation in Britain. On 7 October, the Secretary of State announced the establishment of the global travel taskforce to explore a testing regime for international arrivals and to support the safe recovery of international travel. The global travel taskforce will consider how a domestic testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from the UK and allow UK residents to travel with confidence. The taskforce will report back to the Prime Minister very shortly. We have previously explained that we do not currently endorse testing passengers immediately on arrival at airports as a means of avoiding the 14-day self-isolation period, but I will of course pass on my hon. Friend’s comments to the Secretary of State.

May we have a debate in Government time on encouraging people to participate in the civic process? If we did so, it would be an opportunity for me to encourage my constituents in Broomhouse, Mount Vernon and Baillieston to object to the planning application from Patersons to increase both the capacity and the lifecycle of a site that has blighted the residents of my constituency for many years.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise these sorts of issues on the Floor of the House. It is one of the opportunities that we have as Members—to make it clear that we have concerns about local decision making. He is being an active champion for his constituents. It may not surprise him to know that I do not know the details of the planning issue at hand, but he has raised it on the Floor of the House successfully.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from Forrester Boyd, which is a major chartered accountancy company that serves my constituency. It has drawn my attention to the fact that the major banks are refusing or holding long delays in opening new accounts for businesses and the self-employed. At a time when many businesses are having to diversify and new ones are setting up to meet specific needs during the pandemic, this is an intolerable situation. Could I ask the Leader of the House if he could arrange for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box, show how much the Government deplore this situation and urge the banks to provide a decent service to new businesses?

I am exceptionally glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter, because I have had exactly the same issue in my own constituency. I had thought that it was a one-off, with just one or two people getting in touch to say that they could not open business accounts, but it is clear from my hon. Friend that this is a more widespread problem. As the Leader of the House, it is difficult to raise issues on one’s own behalf as full-throatedly as one can sometimes from the Back Benches, so my hon. Friend raising the matter gives me the opportunity to raise it more full-throatedly. The Government have always made it clear to lenders that they should be open to new customers if that is operationally possible for them. I hope that the banks will ensure that they are able to do so, although they are, of course, operationally independent.

Bath it is a world heritage site and its protection is of national importance. Currently, 40-tonne heavy goods vehicles can go over the grade 2 listed Cleveland bridge, causing structural damage on a regular basis. The Leader of the House, as my constituency neighbour, will know exactly the bridge I am talking about. In 2012, the council sought to establish an 18-tonne weight limit to fulfil its duty under the law to protect this heritage asset, but the Department for Transport said that the council could not do that. The Government’s preferred option is to resolve the issue via the Western Gateway transport board, but after eight years the people of Bath are still waiting. How do the Government intend to resolve the situation?

As the MP for the countryside surrounding Bath, I am only too aware of the problem, and, indeed, of the congestion in the city represented by the hon. Member. The council, under its previous administration, was considering a bypass to link the A46 with the A36, which would of course mean that Cleveland bridge would no longer be needed. I am not entirely sure that the current Lib Dem control of the council is as enthusiastic about this plan as its predecessors, but it would provide a solution and it is a matter that the local council could push forward.

I have a number of extremely concerned Carshalton and Wallington residents who live in a block of flats with cladding on. I will not name the block so as not to prejudice their case, but the residents are essentially trapped; they cannot move, sell or rent their property. I know that this is not the only block in the country facing problems like this, so can we have a debate about support for such residents, who are essentially trapped through no fault of their own?

The Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), also alluded to this issue. It is a matter that the Government take extremely seriously, especially following the Grenfell tragedy. The Government are providing funding to get dangerous cladding off homes. We are proposing the most significant building safety reforms in almost 40 years, and are committed to ensuring that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. Some £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money is being spent to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding, making homes safer as soon as is practicable. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this question and for the work that he is doing for his constituents to bring the issue to the attention of Ministers. I will certainly pass on the details that he has brought to the House to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

On disused coal tips, the Leader of the House knows well that a large part of the Tylorstown tip fell into the river at the beginning of the year, after Storm Dennis. I understand that the Coal Authority, a UK Government agency, has done some investigation of all the disused coal tips in the country. There are some 2,000 in Wales alone, but there is no full list of coal tips in every part of the country. Could we have a debate on this subject as a matter of urgency? I have a terrible fear that with further climate change problems, we will see more coal tip landslides. Of course, we want to make sure that people’s houses and livelihoods are safe, but if we do not even know the nature of the problem, we cannot work out how much money there is for it. I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; could the Leader of the House encourage him to see me before the spending review is compete?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of which I am aware, not least because my constituency is a former mining area. There is a disused coal tip in the constituency that has become a feature of the landscape in the decades since mining stopped. The anniversary of Aberfan was not that long ago, so this important issue is at the forefront of people’s mind. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the UK-wide agency, and I will ensure that what he has said in the House is passed on to it, in the hope that a fuller answer can be obtained for him from it. I cannot promise to be the Chancellor’s diary secretary.

The Speaker was outraged that the new national lockdown was leaked to the media, rather than announced in Parliament first. The Prime Minister was furious and set up a leak inquiry. Last week, I asked the Leader of the House for a statement this week, so that Parliament could scrutinise the process. Instead, we have had media reports that Cabinet Ministers have been cleared of any involvement, and that the focus is on No. 10. Now we have the resignation of Mr Lee Cain, and the suggestion that he is responsible for the leak. This is not good enough. Parliament must be able to ask Ministers questions about this. Will the Leader of the House guarantee a statement next week about the leak inquiry?

My hon. Friend mentions Lee Cain; may I say what a fantastic public servant he has been? He was instrumental in ensuring that the Vote Leave campaign was successful, has made a huge contribution to this Government, in which he was an important figure, and will be a loss to it.

As regards announcements to this House, the Prime Minister and Mr Speaker were indeed seriously displeased by the leak, and that the House was not informed as the Prime Minister had intended, but there are opportunities to question the Prime Minister about the leak inquiry at Prime Minister’s questions; I am not convinced that it deserves a specific statement of its own.

On top of the pandemic and the economic crisis, York has experienced two floods this year. Last week, the River Ouse reached 4.22 metres, which is a real stress and strain on businesses and residents, not least as it is only five years after the devastating floods of Storm Eva. We have yet to see mitigation; we have only had the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promising a flood conference in York this year, which clearly is not happening. We need more than promises: we need action. Will the Leader of the House ask the Environment Secretary to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement about how the Government will approach flood resilience? My constituents have had enough of flooding, year in, year out.

As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) last week, it is a terrible concern for people when they face flooding, and recurring flooding. That is why the Government have an unprecedented plan of expenditure—I think that over £5 billion will be spent on flood relief, and that Yorkshire will get the largest amount. I understand that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) has specific concerns, and I will certainly pass those on to the Secretary of State.

For too long, second home owners in Cornwall and elsewhere have been able to avoid making any contribution to local services by registering their homes as businesses, thus avoiding council tax, and then benefiting from small business rate relief. The sense of injustice has deepened this year as some of the second home owners have gone on to benefit from the grants that the Government made available to support businesses through the pandemic. In 2018, the then Local Government Minister, who now happens to be the Chancellor, stated that the Government would look into closing that loophole. Can we have a ministerial statement to update the House on what action the Government are intending to take to close the loophole as soon as possible?

I know this is a matter of significant concern to my hon. Friend. The Government are aware of the concerns that some second homes that are also available for letting are listed by the Valuation Office Agency as non-domestic properties and therefore liable for business rates rather than council tax. Depending on their rateable value, many of these properties qualify for small business rate relief. The Government have consulted on possible measures to strengthen the criteria that need to be satisfied for holiday properties to be assessed for business rates, and the Government’s full response will be set out in due course.

Yesterday in the covid-19 debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), revealed:

“When the pandemic started, we produced 1% of our PPE needs in the UK. By December, we will be providing 70%”.—[Official Report, 11 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 1022.]

She seemed to regard that as cause for self-congratulation. However, although it is a tribute to British industry and British workers, it reveals shocking complacency in allowing the situation to develop, which has meant lost resilience, lost industry and lost jobs—and that is the case across public spending. Can we have a debate so that we can demand that the Government put Britain first and prioritise buying to support British jobs, and send a clear message to any bureaucrat who wants to stand in the way of change: “Get on board or get on your bike”?

The right hon. Gentleman must be absolutely delighted, therefore, that we have left the European Union and will end the transition period on 31 December, because once we are out of the European Union we will be able to develop our own procurement policies. We will not be bound by EU red tape. We will be free to adopt either what he suggests or not. It will be liberty restored and a day of legend and song.

In recent weeks, a number of colleagues from across this House have been subject to an increase in abuse, including threats against them and, most concerningly, against their families. This should not be something that is just accepted as part of the job. Will the Leader of the House update the House on whether the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be actioned in due course?

I agree that nobody in this House should feel unsafe. Mr Speaker himself, as a Deputy Speaker—the Chairman of Ways and Means—ran a very effective procedure of ensuring that Members could get access to safety installations in their homes, have personal safety devices, and could make their offices safe as well. I would urge all hon. and right hon. Members to look into what support can be given. It is available and it is there to be taken up. As regards the report of the JCHR, the Government apologise for the delay in their formal response, but the Home Office will be responding shortly.

In the UK we have a Government willing to break international law and in America we have a President who refuses to accept the result of a democratic election. Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the dangers posed by such acts, particularly the example they set to others across the globe, and does he therefore agree that the defining principles of democracy and the rule of law should be debated by Members in this House as soon as possible?

I am sorry to say—actually, I am rather glad to say—that I am not answering for the United States Government; I am answering for Her Majesty’s Government. The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is an excellent piece of legislation. It is quite right that we defend the British national interest and that is what this Government will do. The Bill was debated fully in this House.

Can we have a statement on the impact on lives and livelihoods of the blanket measures that we are now under, and when we are released on 2 December, will we ensure that such blunt measures are not used again?

There will be a general debate on covid on 18 November, when my right hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise these points. I cannot pre-empt the decisions that will be made prior to 2 December, but everybody hopes that our liberties will not be destroyed. Nobody wanted to take them away, but as the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) pointed out, 50,000 people have died with covid. It is a very serious problem, and difficult decisions needed to be made.

The Leader of the House, as well as every other Member of this House, will be acutely aware of the 3 million excluded people who have fallen between all the Government covid schemes. Many of them are facing, and have faced for the past few months, destitution and poverty. We had a debate about two or three months ago on the 3 million excluded. Would it be possible to have another debate, but this time in Government time, on those people who are facing such gut-wrenching problems?

We all have great sympathy for those people who have been excluded. We all have constituents in that situation, and it is important to raise their cases. Inevitably, even though £200 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent, as the Chancellor set out, it is not possible to save every job that is in existence at the moment or was in existence at the beginning of March, but enormous efforts have been made. As regards a debate, the Government have set out a lot of Government time for debating covid. That is an opportunity to raise the subject in the round, and that obviously includes the people who are excluded.

Britain’s heritage is under attack, ironically from those missioned to be the guardians of it. The National Trust, while losing money and sacking staff, has commissioned an expensive review of its properties’ links with colonialism, including Churchill’s Chartwell; unheroic characters at the National Maritime Museum are re-evaluating Nelson’s heroic status; and the custodians of the Churchill War Rooms are claiming that they need to look again at Churchill’s legacy. Can we have a debate on how these charitable organisations’ purpose is being perverted by political posturing, as they all seem to be in the thrall of the militant Black Lives Matter movement? Mr Deputy Speaker, defending our history and heritage is our era’s battle of Britain.

I would like to reiterate the points made in the letter sent by my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary to museums recently that they are not political campaigning institutions and they should not be intruding into today’s politics. But

“Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules,

Of Hector and Lysander, and such great men as these

But of all the world’s brave heroes, there’s none that can compare


Boadicea, Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince, Henry V, Francis Drake, Prince Rupert, Marlborough, Wolfe, Nelson, Moore, Wellington, Gordon and Montgomery, among others. These are great heroes and we should celebrate them, and I have not even mentioned—but I will now—Caractacus. Caractacus so impressed the Romans that, when they took him to Rome in chains, they freed him because they thought he was a fine and noble warrior. We should be proud of our history, and proud of Caractacus.

Throughout this pandemic, staff at Coventry City Council have stepped up to the challenge, doing amazing work to support residents in need, but a decade of vicious Conservative cuts to budgets have taken their toll on local authorities, and now this crisis has further hit finances at the city council. Will the Leader of the House give Government time to discuss not only compensating councils for the financial hit of the pandemic, but providing them with funding to invest in the city and meet the community’s needs—from building more council houses to reopening youth centres?

It would be a great pleasure to have a debate praising the Government for the amazing support we have provided to local councils during the pandemic—taxpayers’ money—with £3 billion to help councils through this period, £400 million to support children, £1.1 billion to support local businesses, £919 million in additional un-ring-fenced funding, £465 million to support test, trace and contain activity, £100 million to support leisure centres and £32 million to support the clinically extremely vulnerable. There is £7.2 billion in total for local authorities and £24 billion of taxpayers’ money for their local businesses. Should the hon. Lady want to ask the Backbench Business Committee for a debate to praise Her Majesty’s Government, I hope it will be granted.

The situation on covid remains very grave, but there are some encouraging signs that in our capital city the number of cases continues to be considerably lower than in much of the rest of the country. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House ask the Health Secretary to come to the Commons to enable us to discuss a regional approach, which might enable London to leave lockdown more quickly than other parts of the country in order to safeguard our economy and save livelihoods?

The plan, as my right hon Friend knows, is that we will move back to a local system on 2 December, but it is certainly worth passing on her point to my right hon. Friend, and I will ensure that he gets that message shortly.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that there is evidence that human rights standards may not have been upheld in the way that people in care homes, particularly those with dementia, have been treated during the pandemic. There is a Westminster Hall debate later today on the effect of covid on people with dementia, but, given the seriousness, importance and urgency of this finding, can we have a ministerial statement on what the Government are doing to rectify this matter?

The hon. Lady always raises the most important points at business questions and I am grateful to her for raising that because, across the whole House, there is concern about the suffering of people with dementia during this incredibly difficult period. As she rightly says, there is a Westminster Hall debate later on today and there will be a ministerial response to that. If, after that debate, she feels that the response is not complete enough, she can contact me or raise it again next week at business questions, and I will see what I can do to get her further information.

As a proud vice-president of the Cotswold Canals Trust in Stroud, I want to place on record my huge congratulations to the trust on winning an awful lot of money—over £8 million—from the Lottery Heritage Fund to connect our canal towns. This is the culmination of years and years of work that has included local people, hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and our councils as well. Will the Leader of the House join me in praising all involved and find time for a debate, so that we can look at the importance of our canals and waterways in our post-covid recovery?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for the canals of the Cotswolds and her hard work to support them as well. I offer my congratulations to the Stroud canals team and welcome the fact that lottery funds—£8.9 million—are being awarded to such causes. I am happy to say that, thanks to the stewardship of the Canal & River Trust, our canals are in rude health and well-funded by a mixture of commercial and charitable donations. England’s canals are a beautiful reminder of our industrial heritage and today provide some of the defining characteristics of our country’s landscape, from Birmingham’s Venice-beating network of canals to the picturesque Kennet and Avon canal in my own constituency, which is even better than those in Venice.

Numerous Members have asked about virtual participation for those of us who are unable to attend the Chamber owing to Government advice—in essence, requesting reasonable adjustments. The answer of the Leader of the House has been no. On the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act 2010, what message does this send to clinically extremely vulnerable people? What advice would he give me, and to anyone requesting reasonable adjustments, for seeking legal recourse to ensure that no one is discriminated against?

I would say that reasonable adjustments have been made, because extremely clinically vulnerable MPs are able to contribute. They are able to have a proxy vote, so their vote can be recorded. They may participate, as the hon. Lady has just shown, in the interrogative parts of Parliament’s activities. We need to get the balance right between what can done by MPs who are extremely clinically vulnerable and what allows Parliament to carry on doing its job. I fear that that is the key point.

I hope Members will understand that although their contributions have reflected their experiences and their concerns, and those of their party, it is our responsibility to consider Parliament’s work as a whole. It is not just about the duty of individual MPs, but about the duties of our Parliament to the British people. That means that we need to be here physically for debates, votes, Bill Committees and statutory instrument Committees, because the business of Parliament needs to continue. Therefore, where it has been possible and sensible to adapt, where business has been able to continue with adaptations, that is what has been done, which is how the hon. Lady was able to appear moments ago.

Further to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), may I say that my constituents and I are very patriotic people but we are worried that aspects of our history are being woke-washed? Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on the protections we can afford our nation’s war heroes from the left-wing, culture-cancelling attacks we are now observing?

Woke-washing sounds extremely painful, and I hope we will be woke-dry-cleaned pretty quickly, so that we get rid of the wokeness. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, because we have had an avalanche of miserable, Britain-hating nonsense about our history and our culture filling the airwaves in recent months. We have only to look at Extinction Rebellion’s behaviour at the Cenotaph yesterday to see that. Left-wing troublemakers are determined to ignore our history and smear our past heroes, and not even show respect to those who gave their lives for our freedom. Her Majesty’s Government are clear about our history and our culture: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a fantastic nation with a first-class history. As my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary said, we should never bow to the activists who want to scrub our history bare and start from year zero. We must retain and explain all aspects of our noble island’s story for the benefit of future generations.

Coastal communities, such as the gorgeous South Shields, have been hit hardest by regressive Tory policies and now by the pandemic. Members from across this House signed my letter to the Communities Secretary in September asking for a release of dormant assets to aid coastal community recovery. I know that the Communities Secretary and his team have been preoccupied recently, after his prosperous constituency was awarded £25 million earmarked for deprived areas, but will the Leader of the House please urge his colleague to respond to us?

The towns fund, to which the hon. Lady refers, is a really good way of helping high streets to improve and of ensuring their viability, and it is available up and down the country. It is an important and successful initiative, which is helping to restore high streets that faced such difficult times and have found it even harder during the pandemic. I refer her to what I said about the amounts of money made available to local government bodies during this pandemic; unprecedented levels of support have been provided, showing the strength of the centre in supporting the localities, including her constituency.

May I congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Leader of the House on the success of Parliament Week last week? In Beaconsfield, I took part in several virtual question and answer sessions with secondary schools, where the question raised time and again was whether secondary schools and students could have a definitive answer on future exams in England. There was much anxiety about that. Students just want to know and to have the ability to plan for the future, so may we have a debate, in Government time, on the importance of school exams in England for the future and wellbeing of young people? Given that it is perfectly possible to hold exams in a socially distanced manner or online, does he agree that we need a definitive agreement or commitment from the Department for Education on exams continuing next year?

Exams will go ahead next summer, as they are the fairest and most appropriate way to measure a pupil’s attainments. We are ensuring that students now have more time to prepare for their exams next year, and AS-levels, A-levels and GCSEs will mainly be held three weeks later to help to address the disruption caused by the pandemic. We are taking great steps to support all children to ensure that they do not fall behind because of the pandemic, with a £1 billion catch-up plan, £650 million of which was in the catch-up premium, helping pupils to make up for lost time in education, and £350 million in the national tutoring programme, a package of targeted funding for the most disadvantaged pupils. So steps are being taken, and exams will take place because they are the best way of judging students’ progress.

It is now some four months since Baroness Cumberlege produced her report “First do no harm” on the problems caused by vaginal mesh, Primodos and sodium valproate. After four months, we have still had no firm action on this, so can we now have a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue and hear what the Government are proposing to do to implement the recommendations of the Cumberlege report?

I actually gave evidence to the Cumberlege report, as I think the hon. Lady knows, on the question of Primodos, so I have an interest in the response to that very important report. I will therefore take this up, as the hon. Lady is asking me to do.

Last year I was elected on a clear promise to level up in Burnley, and a key pillar of that is securing the towns deal that we have missed out on for so long, which will help to drive forward our local economy. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government remain committed to extending towns deals to even more places, and will he go further and give his support to Burnley’s bid?

I am not sure that I can freelance and support Burnley’s bid, but I wish my hon. Friend every success with it and commend him for being such a dedicated campaigner for his constituency. The towns fund is a wonderful opportunity for regeneration throughout the regions, and he has been making a very good case for Burnley. I would say, as regards the criticism of the towns fund, that the Government completely disagree with the Public Accounts Committee’s criticisms of the towns fund and its selection programme, which was comprehensive, robust and fair. The towns fund will, as my hon. Friend says, help to level up the country, creating jobs and building stronger and more resilient local economies. Those on the Opposition Benches should be ashamed of themselves for not welcoming this effort to help—

It has been discredited only in the minds of those who never wished to give any credit to it in the first place. It is a great scheme. It is an important scheme, and I am afraid the Public Accounts Committee got it wrong.

Given that the ongoing restrictions relating to social gathering numbers will prevent businesses from hosting their annual much deserved Christmas parties, could the Leader of the House tell us whether the Treasury and HMRC plan to review the use of the social benefit allowance this year? If they do not, will he join me in urging them to do so and perhaps to allow for a transfer of the tax allowance to enable employers to provide our key workers with a gift equivalent to thank them for their efforts throughout this most challenging of years? Does the Leader of the House agree with me, and will he support me in ensuring that this can happen?

It is always dangerous for any Leader of the House to trespass on matters relating to decisions that will be made by the Treasury. The Treasury will make its decisions and announce them in the fullness of time.

I should like to thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Before the next ministerial statement, on Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee, we will have a three-minute suspension to enable the safe departure and arrival of Members of Parliament.

Sitting suspended.