House of Commons
Thursday 26 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.]
Business before Questions
The Life and Death of Elizabeth Dixon: A Catalyst for Change
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of a Paper, entitled The Life and Death of Elizabeth Dixon: A Catalyst for Change, dated 26 November 2020.—(James Morris.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, food and rural affairs
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was asked—
Fishing Industry: Tariffs
Before I turn to the question, the tragic loss of the Joanna C on Saturday is a sad reminder of the dangers that our fishermen face every time they go out to sea. We are all incredibly grateful for the bravery and dedication of the Coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and all those involved in the search. Our thoughts are with the families of Adam Harper and Robert Morley, and all the families and those affected.
The Government have offered the European Union a free trade agreement along the lines of the EU-Canada one, which would involve zero tariffs on all goods, including fish and fish products. We hold regular discussions with both the catching sector and the fish processing sector to discuss the great opportunities that will arise at the end of the transition period.
I associate my group with the comments of the Minister. It is a timely reminder of the high price that is sometimes paid for putting food on our plates at home.
Non-tariff barriers are also a concern for the fishing industry, as are tariffs. This week’s test run for post-border transition procedures demonstrated the severe chaos that might be expected in the new year. I am sure that the Minister appreciates fully that seafood products need to be delivered to markets timeously. So what assurances can he give to the catching and processing sectors that delays will not equal ruined produce and ruined businesses?
We have been working with the fishing industry and local authorities to ensure that they have the capacity in place to employ the environmental health officers necessary to issue both the catch certificates and the environmental health certificates. We have about 1,000 officers now who can issue export health certificates for fish. It is the case that there are some concerns in Scotland, where the Scottish Government potentially have a gap in capacity of 100. We are working with them to try to offer our help to ensure that that gap can be filled.
I, too, associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks. That reminds us why this industry is so important to us and why it tugs at our hearts when we hear of such sad events.
Tariffs are a great worry for many other sectors as well. Tariffs of a possible 48% are a huge concern for the sheep sector, so the Secretary of State’s suggestion that sheep farmers could simply switch to beef production if punitive lamb tariffs cause their business models to crash has angered many Scottish farmers and crofters, who have spent many years building up the high reputation that Scotch lamb enjoys for quality. The National Sheep Association Scotland has called for assurances that a compensation scheme will be ready and waiting. What details can he outline today of such a scheme?
I always advise people to look at what I actually said, rather than at the Twitter attacks on what I might have said. I never said that specialist sheep farmers and crofters should diversify into beef; I explicitly said that some of the 7,000 mixed beef and sheep enterprises might choose to produce more beef and less lamb if the price signal suggested that they should.
The Scottish Seafood Association has joined other food and drink leaders with a recent letter to the Prime Minister. The message is clear: tariffs mean enormous damage to our industry, and that is on top of covid losses of an estimated £3 billion. So when will the Minister reveal details of the financial support that is so clearly desperately needed?
Tariffs on fish, particularly the fish that we export, are typically far lower than on many agrifoods. The average tariff on the shellfish that we export is about 8%. Obviously, we would prefer there to be zero tariffs on all goods, and that is the offer that the Government have made to the European Union—in both directions—but the fishing sector generally recognises that, if it needed to pay tariffs, it could pay those tariffs, and the European Union would have to face higher prices.
May I associate those on this side of the House with the Secretary of State’s comments on the appalling loss of the Joanna C?
Twenty-six per cent. of our food comes from the European Union, and it is reported that last week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ head of food security warned industry reps to expect just 40% flow rates. I am sure the Secretary of State will want to provide reassurance on that, but as we have already heard, his attempts to placate livestock farmers recently led to some pretty dreadful headlines in the farming press. “Laughable” was the comment from the Farmers Guardian. So can he do better today and explain the plans he has in place to keep our food supplies flowing in just 35 days’ time?
We have worked with industry to ensure that the capacity is in place to issue export health certificates, and we have been contacting meat processors, fish processors and others in the sector to ensure that they are prepared for the new administration that will be required, and of course we continue to work on plans to ensure that goods flow at the border.
The Government have banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics and banned the use of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and the 5p charge for single-use plastic bags has reduced their use by 95% in the main supermarkets. We are increasing the charge to 10p and extending it to all retailers. In addition, we are seeking powers in the Environment Bill to require similar charges for single-use plastic items, to make recycling collections more consistent and to reform packaging producer waste responsibility schemes.
Earlier this year, I was written to by year 6 pupils in the Chevening and St Lawrence primary schools. They were asking me to protect the environment, and reducing plastic pollution was top of their list. I am sure they will have been reassured by the Secretary of State’s answer, but can he reassure them further that we will act to stop this attack on our environment and that they will see change in their lifetime?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I congratulate the Chevening and St Lawrence primary schools on their interest in this. All hon. Members cannot help but have noticed the rising awareness within all our schools of the scourge of plastics in particular and the action that must be taken. In my own constituency, I have been contacted by schools such as Lanner, Troon, Treleigh, Rosemellin and Roskear on this very matter just in the past year. We are working very hard to address the concerns raised by pupils in my hon. Friend’s primary schools.
The national pollinator strategy sets out the actions we are taking with partners to protect pollinators. It includes dealing with habitat loss and the potential harm from pesticide use, invasive species and climate change. Our future agriculture policies will help to improve biodiversity and support habitats for pollinators, building on existing agri-environment measures to enable many more farmers and land managers to take positive action.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, from the garden of England. My right hon. Friend will know that the value to the economy of pollinators is estimated at about £691 million. Some 60% of our native pollinators are in decline, and we have lost 75% of them over the past 25 years. Will he support me in backing Kent’s Plan Bee, which is seeking to establish 5,000 miles of B-lines across the United Kingdom?
That sounds like a very interesting project, and I would certainly be willing to meet my right hon. Friend and representatives in Kent to discuss it. Our future environmental land management scheme will encourage the creation of habitats for pollinators, and our local nature recovery plans, to be advanced by local authorities, will also have a role to play.
In addition to the full range of financial support available to all businesses and employers, we have established an extra £100 million support fund for those who are facing severe financial difficulty, and the deadline for applications to the fund has been extended to the end of January.
On a recent visit to Chester zoo, I saw its excellent conservation work and learned at first hand about the remarkable way it is coping with the coronavirus pandemic. However, the zoo animal fund criteria for access seem to be very peculiar, because zoos seem to have to be on the verge of closure before they can get any money. Surely that is wrong. Will my hon. Friend look at those criteria again, please?
We listened to concerns following the roll-out of the initial support scheme and we have made changes to reflect that. The zoos animal fund, which is simpler to apply for, is now open to zoos that have up to 12 weeks of reserves left. It can be applied for in advance of that and can include applications for essential planned maintenance.
As we have just heard, zoos have an important conservation role to play. The white-tailed eagle is listed in our 25-year environment plan as a species whose reintroduction we could support as we develop our nature recovery network. Cumbria is at the forefront of nature recovery, as we have a local nature recovery strategy pilot and, separately, we are in a group that has submitted a bid for feasibility work on the white-tailed eagle’s reintroduction. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how her Department might assist with that proposal?
The 25-year environment plan encourages the reintroduction of species such as the white-tailed eagle. I know that my hon. Friend is aware of the funding pots on offer, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials would be very pleased to meet him and the project scheme to discuss what further action could be taken.
Lamb producers have enjoyed a very good year in 2020. A significant increase in lamb imports by China, combined with tighter supply globally, has contributed to high prices and confidence in the sector, with prevailing market prices typically 10% to 15% higher than last year. However, we recognise that historically the lamb sector has been more reliant on the EU market than most other farming sectors, so we stand ready to help it identify new markets in future.
I hope you did not find me very strange, Mr Speaker. Upland sheep farming is hugely important to my constituency, which is why, I, like those farmers, very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s comments yesterday at the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that he does have well-developed plans in place to support upland sheep farming in the event that a deal is not possible with the EU. Perhaps he could set out some further reassurance to those farmers today, because many of them have to take decisions right now about their forward planning and what would be in place if there is no deal with the EU.
I can say that 18 months ago, in preparation for the first potential no-deal, the Government, working with the Rural Payments Agency, had developed detailed plans to be able to support the sector in the short term. Those plans are still there and still ready to be activated, but in the medium term, in the event of there being no further negotiated outcome, we will be helping the sector identify new markets.
Our clean air strategy sets out an ambitious programme of action to reduce air pollution from a wide range of sources. We have also put in place a £3.8 billion plan to tackle roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, and our Environment Bill, which I am pleased to say is making huge progress in Committee, makes a clear commitment to set a legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter and enables local authorities to take more effective action to tackle air pollution in these areas.
My hon. Friend has engaged continuously on this issue and is really standing up for his Bolton North East constituency. I assure him that only the most polluting older vehicles are charged in a clean air zone, and it is not a congestion charge; the Greater Manchester plan does not include charging private cars, and the evidence provided by Manchester authorities to date shows that this is not needed. We have provided £41 million in advance of the zone to help drivers and businesses in Greater Manchester that are least able to upgrade their vehicles, with further funding to be allocated. Manchester authorities are consulting on their plan until 3 December, and I encourage people to engage with the consultation.
In Harrogate and Knaresborough there are three air-quality management areas. The one at Bond End in Knaresborough saw junction improvements a couple of years ago that improved the situation, but another, at Woodlands junction in Harrogate, continues to break NOx levels, and that must change. What help is my hon. Friend giving to local authorities to help them to reduce NOx levels?
I thank my hon. Friend for putting the case for those roads. Local authorities have a range of tools that they can use to reduce air pollution, and we are building on them through the Environment Bill to ensure that local authorities have a clear framework and simple-to-use powers to tackle air-pollution issues in their areas. We are also broadening the range of bodies required to take action to improve air quality. As a former Transport Minister, my hon. Friend will understand what I mean by getting other bodies involved—we want them to work closely on the air-quality management plans. We will also continue to provide support through the air-quality grant.
Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles
Average roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations remain below levels observed in the previous three years, despite some increases as the March lockdown measures were eased. Working closely with Ministers in the Department for Transport, we continue to drive forward our ambitious plans to improve air quality, and we are delivering our clean air strategy and working in partnership with local authorities to deliver measures to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution. The Environment Bill will enable greater local action to tackle air pollution.
As we hopefully exit a respiratory pandemic, technology grants for home-working, public transport vouchers and the cutting of staff parking permits could all be part of a joined-up strategy for employers to make driving into the office a thing of the past in the new normal, or at least radically reduced, with things such as vehicle scrappage, all-electric fleets and a proper charging network for those who cannot avoid driving. Will the Government adopt a proper, joined-up, cross-governmental strategy, rather than the piecemeal, far-off future targets that they have now?
The hon. Lady gives some examples, but she is somewhat aggressive in her approach, in that I work so closely with the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care so that we do have a joined-up approach on air quality, and our clean air strategy goes right across all Departments. Some £1.2 billion from the Department for Transport is being devoted to cycling and walking investment, and the bike vouchers literarily went like hot cakes in the summer. We do work closely together. The hon. Lady raises some important points, and we are looking into all the options because we know that times are changing and work patterns are changing.
We are one United Kingdom, so I know that the Minister will have paid keen attention to the work happening, albeit devolved, in other parts of the country to tackle toxic air quality and pollution. Will the Minister confirm that she has read the Welsh Government’s clean air plan and share with the House some of the tips she has picked up?
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing Wales into the discussion, but of course air quality is a devolved matter—she serves on the Environment Bill Committee, in which we have said so many times that it is a devolved matter. I hope that she and the Welsh Ministers have read our clean air strategy, because it is considered a global leader, but I am always open to ideas. If we can pick up tips from other places, I am all for it.
Poor Air Quality: BAME Communities
Air pollution can be harmful to everyone; however, some people are more affected than others. My Department has commissioned research into inequalities of exposure to air pollution, and monitors emerging evidence investigating air-quality impacts on BAME communities. That research has shown that those BAME groups are disproportionately affected by poor air quality, partly because larger numbers of BAME people live in urban areas where air pollution tends to be worse.
I am the MP for one of those urban areas where black and ethnic minority constituents are disproportionately affected by both covid-19 and air quality. Has the Secretary of State held recent discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care? Will he make a statement about specific actions that will be taken on this issue?
Of course we talk with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on all matters relating to air quality in some urban areas. We intend to take action through the Environment Bill by setting new targets on air quality. One of the targets that we are investigating relates to the impact on particular populations in particular areas.
The Government are currently investing £2.6 billion between 2015 and 2021, approximately £650 million of which will be allocated to local authorities. Between 2021 and 2027, we will invest £5.2 billion in flood and coastal defences, in addition to a £200 million resilience innovation fund, which were all mentioned yesterday in the spending review. In July 2020, we announced an additional £170 million to accelerate shovel-ready flood defence schemes. Funding for projects is allocated according to the rules governing DEFRA’s existing six-year capital programme.
Maw Green Road in my constituency has been hit by severe flooding. In fact, residents have been seen canoeing their way out. Cheshire East local authority has not been successful in its applications for financial support to tackle this issue. Will the Minister agree to meet me to look at its proposals to see what we can do to support it financially so that it can tackle this matter?
We all understand the difficulties that flooding can bring and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. I understand that the Environment Agency recently attended a meeting with the Lead Local Flood Authority to address the surface water flooding in Maw Green Road, and that the LLFA is pursuing specific actions to address the situation, including seeking Department for Transport funding to alleviate flooding under the railway bridge upstream. Therefore, no DEFRA floods funding has been applied for in this location, but, obviously, I am happy to have a chat with him and look into this matter.
The environmental land management scheme could do much to help stop flooding, especially flash flooding. How advanced is the ELM scheme, and when will we hear about it? In the future, can we ensure that the payments are enough, so that people can farm water as part of their farming practice?
My hon. Friend, I know, speaks from experience as he has a farm right by a lot of water, so he raises a very important point. May I just say, Mr Speaker, that we have tremendous support on the Conservative Benches today, which, I think, demonstrates the understanding of these issues. My hon. Friend was right to raise the ELM scheme. Our future farming policy will be centred around support aimed at: incentivising sustainable farming practice; creating habitats for nature recovery; and establishing new woodland ecosystem services to help tackle climate change. We will help farmers to deliver environmental public goods, which, of course, bring in things such as natural flood management, which he has mentioned. They will be an important part of our new future, with things such as leaky dams, slowing the flow and, of course mixed in there, good soil management, which is something that is very dear to my heart.
Raw Sewage and Storm Water: Discharge into Waterways
Water companies are committed over the next five years to a significant programme of improvements and to the monitoring and management of storm overflows, costing around £1.2 billion. However, there is more to do, and I met the chief executive officers of water companies in September and made it clear that sewage discharges must be reduced. To achieve that, I have set up a taskforce bringing together the Government, the water industry, regulators and environmental non-governmental organisations to develop actions to address the issue.
It is good to hear that a taskforce has been set up. In 2019, Yorkshire Water spent 616,643 hours discharging raw sewage into local rivers, which is the worst figure in England. It posted profits of more than £212 million in 2018-19—very much a case of private affluence and public effluence. We need to raise standards, and the Environmental Audit Committee Chair has proposed measures to do that. Will the Government be supporting the proposals of the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne)?
The hon. Lady touches on an issue to which the Department is giving a great deal of attention. As I said, I have recently met water companies to say that that is not good enough and that they need to improve. The Environment Agency carries out a lot of monitoring on the issue, but the situation is not good enough. The taskforce that I mentioned will be developing short and long-term actions to increase water company investment in tackling storm overflows. The Government are very supportive of the aims of the private Member’s Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne); some measures in the Bill could be helpful in reducing storm overflows, and I have asked the taskforce to look at some of those measures. I thank the hon. Lady for her question.
Whiston in Rother Valley has repeatedly been flooded, most recently last year; and people are still out of their homes. In part, this has caused overflow of sewage into the Whiston brook. Indeed, raw sewage went into Whiston brook 43 times last year. However, Rotherham Council has just granted planning permission for 450 homes off Worrygoose Lane, which is directly above the brook. That is going to have a huge impact on Whiston brook. Will my hon. Friend speak to Rotherham Council to convince it that building an extra 450 homes in Whiston is going to flood the brook and bring misery to so many people’s lives?
I thank my hon. Friend for his impassioned question. The national planning policy framework makes it very clear that new developments should be made safe and resilient without increasing the risk of floods elsewhere. The Environment Agency and Rotherham Council have been working together in partnership to find a solution to flood risk in the area. Early studies of the proposed Whiston flood alleviation scheme indicate that the scheme could better protect about 60 houses.
Since the last session of DEFRA oral questions, Royal Assent has been granted to both the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill. The Agriculture Act 2020 gives us the powers to transform the way in which we support farmers and build back nature in the farmed landscape, while the Fisheries Act 2020 gives us powers to become an independent coastal state, and decide who can fish in our waters and under what terms. We will be bringing forward new policies under both Acts in the weeks and months ahead.
My right hon. Friend’s Department is a very busy one right now, but may I ask him to look at the issue of animal cruelty sentences? I know that the Government are looking to legislate to increase sentencing. Animals feel pain and emotion, and all of us in this House have probably had terrible cases of animal cruelty in our constituencies, which can be upsetting for all our communities. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that there is a good level of enforcement for animal cruelty offences?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government support extending maximum penalties and offences for animal cruelty. We are supporting a private Member’s Bill currently going through this House to achieve that. Should that not go through, we will introduce legislation in a later Session in this Parliament in order to do that. We are also working with local authorities and others to improve the enforcement of the current animal welfare legislation.
After the “News at Ten” exposé of foxhunters discussing how to put up the smokescreen of trail hunting when foxhunts break the law—exemptions that they describe as a “good wheeze”—is the Environment Secretary satisfied that the Hunting Act 2004 is as strong as it needs to be to stop illegal hunting? I am not.
No, that is not a good enough answer. We support the strengthening of that Act and I hope that the Environment Secretary will too. Forestry England has just announced a ban on hunts using its land in response to the exposé. Should not other landowners now follow this lead and ban trail hunters from their land as well?
For now, the residual bit of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund continues to be something that fishing communities can access, but we will be replacing the EMFF with a domestic fund, and we will say more on this in due course. I am aware of the REAF project in my hon. Friend’s constituency. There are great opportunities for fishing communities along the east coast to benefit from our departure from the EU.
My hon. Friend and neighbour in Cornwall makes a very good point. As a fellow Cornish MP, of course I want to see the interests of the Cornish fishing industry prosper in the future. In many cases, we have had a profoundly unfair share of stocks in the Celtic sea, and that will now change.
We are in discussions on this matter with ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The hon. Lady will be aware that a planning Bill is coming forward, and one of the things we have already said we would like to do is strengthen the role of the Environment Agency as a statutory consultee on future planning developments.
I do not accept the point that the hon. Lady makes. We have recently banned plastic stirrers, plastic straws and plastic cotton buds. We are considering other bans on single-use items, and the Environment Bill brings forward extended producer responsibility.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Covid-19 Lockdown: Public Worship
Both archbishops joined other faith leaders earlier this month in writing to the Prime Minister to highlight the importance of public worship. The worship of Jesus is the spiritual fuel that keeps the engine of the Church running.
Over the past 1,000 years, we have had a fair proportion of saints and sinners as Archbishop of Canterbury, but one thing that we demand of our established Church is that it provides robust leadership against arbitrary government. I do not know whether my hon. Friend noticed that 90 colleagues and I wrote to the Prime Minister on the subject of the closure of churches, but can he assure me, as a voice of the established Church in this place, that if there is any future proposal to prevent public worship, the Church of England will demand evidence—there has never been a shred of evidence—and we will try to save this very important part of public life?
I not only noted my right hon. Friend’s letter, but was one of the signatories to it. Like him, I know that clergy have worked extraordinarily hard to provide covid-secure services. I felt safer in church than in any other public space I have been in during the pandemic. My right hon. Friend makes a very valid point. I have registered that point very strongly, and I will absolutely feed it through to the leadership of the Church of England.
High-quality Grade 1 and 2 Farmland
I thank the hon. Member for that answer. At the last Church Commissioners questions, he said to me that he strongly wanted to see more trees planted on the Church estate, but that most of the rural estate is high-quality agricultural land and is therefore not suitable. He has just said that 39% is high-grade agricultural land. Does that not mean there is an awful lot of other land on which they could plant trees and help meet the Government’s commitment to increasing woodland cover?
As I think I said at the last questions, I commend the hon. Lady for raising this issue and, indeed, for returning to it today, and I genuinely welcome her scrutiny. More than 60% of our farmland is let on secure agricultural tenancies, with the rest on tenancies under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. Both of those limit our ability to intervene directly. However, we do encourage our tenants to farm sustainably and join environmental stewardship schemes to plant trees and hedgerows wherever possible. In addition, we are undertaking a natural capital assessment, which will provide a baseline and trajectory of progress towards achieving lower carbon outputs.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Digital Campaigning: Regulation
The Electoral Commission works proactively to regulate digital campaigning under the rules currently set out in law. It publishes data on digital spending by campaigners to provide transparency for voters, monitors online campaigning activity and supports campaigners with targeted advice. In 2018, it published a comprehensive package of recommendations that would increase transparency for voters, and it continues to recommend changes that would help voters have confidence about online campaigning.
I thank the hon. Member for that answer. The reality is that we know that Vote Leave did all sorts of myth-spreading using digital campaigning. The same people then moved and masterminded the Tory 2019 general election campaign, so it is no wonder that the UK Government have not done anything yet to change the rules. Does the commission agree that there has to be not only better regulation, but fines that go beyond business-as-usual amounts, so that they are a real deterrent to myth-spreading online?
The commission has recommended that its current maximum fine of £20,000 per offence should be reviewed to ensure that it is proportionate to the income and expenditure of parties and campaigners. As a Member from Scotland, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Scottish Parliament recently increased the commission’s maximum fine for Scottish referendums to £500,000. The commission continues to recommend that its sanctioning powers should be updated by other Governments and for other polls, to provide a more proportionate regime.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Christmas Services: Covid-19
From 2 December, places of worship can reopen for public worship, and churches and cathedrals can now approach Advent and Christmas with certainty. Clergy have already demonstrated that they have made their buildings covid-secure, and many cathedrals and churches are planning to have multiple services to accommodate more people as fewer are allowed in each service. The further good news is that, while indoor singing is limited to performance only, we can all take part in outdoor and door-to-door singing, staying 2 metres apart or away from the threshold, and nativity plays for under-18s are permitted in accordance with the performing arts guidance.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments on services, but at Christmas time, the Church does a lot more—it provides support for our communities through financial advice, fuel and food poverty advice and, of course, the social support that is at the heart of it all. With that in mind, what discussions has he had with local and national Government and the Churches to ensure that they can continue to provide that support in a covid-secure way at Christmas?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this area of the Church’s work. The Church continues to work with the Government through the places of worship taskforce to advise parishes on how to continue providing critical assistance locally, which they have done wonderfully well. For example, St Peter’s in Market Bosworth, in his constituency, is supporting the local women’s refuge with food and toiletries.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Once again, churches have done amazingly through this pandemic, continuing with outreach to their communities. I pay tribute to the churches in Penrith and The Border and across the country that enabled remembrance ceremonies to go ahead this year in challenging circumstances. Does he agree that, as churches look to reopen for worship and other activities in the months ahead, targeted Government financial support for them would be a great way to ensure that their vital community work and support can carry on?
Churches did indeed organise very respectful and safe remembrance services. The National Churches Trust estimates that the economic value of our social action is worth around £12.4 billion. I can tell my hon. Friend that 227 churches and cathedrals have been supported by the culture recovery fund, for which I thank the Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Churches in Redcar and Cleveland, such as St Mark’s in Marske and St Cuthbert’s in Ormesby, have gone above and beyond to ensure that the risk of transmission in churches is low. They are a place for people of all faiths and none to find peace in what has been an incredibly difficult eight months. Unfortunately, Advent Sunday this year will fall inside the lockdown, but I am grateful that the Government have said that churches can reopen for the rest of Advent from 2 December. What message does the Church Commissioner have for those churches in Redcar and Cleveland in the approach to Christmas?
I am delighted to learn of the important role that churches in Redcar and Cleveland have played in helping people to find peace during this dreadful pandemic. The closure of churches is not something that any of us ever wants to see again. I hope that my hon. Friend’s constituents will follow the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury: to come to church in person or virtually and to spend time with their wider families in a safe and responsible way.
Consistory Courts: Appeals Process
The decision of a consistory court can, with permission, be appealed to the relevant provincial court, provided that the appeal does not relate to a question of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial. As in the temporal courts, an appeal must have a real prospect of success, or there should be some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard.
I want to pay tribute to the family of Margaret Keane, whose grief at the loss of their mother has been compounded by still not having a headstone on her grave to visit this Christmas, two and a half years on from her death. The family have said that Margaret is “In our hearts forever”—“In ár gcroíthe go deo”—and that sentiment is shared now by the Irish community in Britain. May I ask the commissioner—I thank him and the Church for their engagement with me and the work they do in Saint Helens in the diocese of Liverpool—if a review can take place into the current appeals system in ecclesiastical courts, whereby even successful appellants are liable potentially for huge court costs to an unlimited amount? This is an access to justice issue and one of fairness that should be looked at.
I am sure that the whole House would want to extend their sympathies to the Keane family, and I am hopeful that change is on the way. The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2020, which was recently passed by this House, provides for exemptions from and reductions in court fees in the ecclesiastical courts to be made in secondary legislation. The Fees Advisory Commission will be asked to consider these provisions and, following that, an Order in General Synod will be made next year and will be laid before Parliament.
Parish Church Network: Covid-19
The Church has provided £35 million of sustainability funding to help dioceses that have been the hardest hit financially as a result of the pandemic. This is focused on dioceses in lower income areas and with fewer historic resources. Advice has been given on encouraging joyful giving and tithing as the cornerstone of parish finances, both by direct debit and card readers, as well as traditional giving in the plate.
Good morning, Mr Speaker, and I look forward to seeing you later.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response on behalf of the Church Commissioners—[Inaudible]—it is pleasing to hear. We look forward to a quick return to daily and weekly services for primary worship as soon as we are able, but also to the collections taken at these services along with the extra-curricular activities in the annual calendar of parish churches to fundraise and generate income for churches and their parishioners, which we hope can be reinstated as soon as is practicable, too.
Public worship can start again from next Wednesday, but it may take a while for church hall income, fundraising events and visitor income to pick up. Twelve churches in the Lincoln diocese have received £1.8 million from the Government’s culture recovery fund, and Lincoln cathedral has received £1.2 million from that fund.
Local Communities: Covid-19
As the Archbishop of York has pointed out, the Church has been “astonishingly present” throughout the pandemic, with over 35,000 active community projects. The GRA:CE Project report by Theos and the Church Urban Fund documents the enormous range and depth of this involvement, and the National Churches Trust’s “The House of Good” report recently estimated that parishes contribute around £12.4 billion of social good to the English economy.
I know that my hon. Friend would agree with me that at this particular time our churches are more important than ever. Certainly in my constituency, they do remarkable work—for instance, with the Southend night shelters—and during the coronavirus pandemic, they have been delivering food and medicines to vulnerable people. Will my hon. Friend please tell the House what the Church is doing to thank local churches and to celebrate their work?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to clergy and parish workers, who have worked extraordinarily hard throughout the pandemic. In Southend West, for example, at Saint Saviour’s Westcliff, the congregation host a food bank and are collecting prescriptions and delivering food to those who are unable to leave their homes in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Church of England is encouraging all congregations to continue with this kind of neighbourliness over the Christmas period to support vulnerable and lonely people.
Persecution of Christians
I would like to thank my hon. Friend for the enormous dedication and energy he put into this issue as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for religious freedom. The Church of England continues to press for the implementation of all the Truro report recommendations and challenges Governments and other faith leaders around the world who do not respect freedom of religion or belief.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. Recently around the world, including in Nice and Vienna, evil acts have been committed in the name of religion. Pope Francis said in 2018:
“Every religious leader is called to unmask any attempt to manipulate God for ends that have nothing to do with him or his glory.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed similar views in 2016 on tackling extremism through theological dialogue. Can my hon. Friend confirm what steps are being taken by the Church to work with other faith leaders around the world to further address the issue of persecutions of Christians, who are the largest persecuted faith in the world, and to address the issue of other individuals of all faiths being persecuted for their faith through theological and inter-faith dialogue?
My hon. Friend will know that there is a debate later today on this very subject, and he is absolutely right about the importance of inter-faith dialogue, which is why three years ago the Anglican primates launched an inter-faith commission to build mutual understanding and trust between different faiths. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who has a particular heart for reconciliation, said it
“will bring together the wisest people across the Communion to work on this area in the places of highest tension with the aim of replacing diversity in conflict with diversity in collaboration.”
The Church Commissioners have regular discussions with the Association of English Cathedrals, and cathedrals have made huge efforts to reach out to people in their areas. Lichfield cathedral, which I know is close to my hon. Friend’s heart—I think that he lives within its shadow—will be having an illuminations show and will hold as many services as possible, including some outside if necessary.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I am indeed very close to Lichfield cathedral, and the dean of Lichfield cathedral is the chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals. We are all delighted that we are going to have services this year and he has sent me a question, and I am going to read it, because he only lives a few doors down, and I have given my hon. Friend prior notice of the question. The dean asks, “What additional support can be given to cathedrals in the first quarter of 2021 to ensure they remain open and responsive to public need?”
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I will be leaving these questions to go into a governors meeting of the Church Commissioners, so I will pass that on very directly. I can tell him that Lichfield cathedral has received £140,000 from the national lottery heritage emergency fund, but I know it needs extra funding for urgent building projects, including a buttress that is causing structural concern. I can also tell him that conversations with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury about the Government’s own Taylor review of church and cathedral building sustainability are ongoing.
Sexuality and LGBT Communities: Parish Discussion
The “Living in Love and Faith” report is a teaching and learning resource for the Church on marriage, sexuality and relationships. We hope it will enable parishes to learn together over the next year as we engage graciously, respectfully and compassionately with each other.
The Church recognises that we are all created in the image of God and should all be treated with dignity, which is why we have also created an anti-racism taskforce. With “Living in Love and Faith”, we will move towards a period of discernment and decision making in 2022, and we want to ensure that differences of view are expressed courteously and kindly—something we could do rather better on in this Chamber from time to time.
The Anglican communion is supporting yesterday’s White Ribbon Day, the United Nations day for the eradication of all forms of violence against women and girls, with 16 days of online panel discussions and social media campaigns to spot and eradicate gender-based violence. The resources are available in seven languages in over 165 countries, and this is as essential for economic development as it is for the promotion of fundamental human dignity.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s and Church Commissioners’ support for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Sexual violence in conflict remains far too common a tactic of warfare. Can the Church Commissioners report on the steps being taken by the Anglican communion to stop the dreadful stigmatisation of survivors of sexual violence in conflict and the important role that the Church can play around the world?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this completely horrific practice. I can tell her that the Bishop of Gloucester has led discussions with Ministers about the role of faith communities, which are often the first point of call for people in need. Parishes are often willing to scale up support for people suffering from gender-based violence and domestic abuse. It is important that there is a level playing field for all providers of support and advice services, including church ones. That is what we are doing in the UK, but I take her point about the global nature of this issue and the important role that the Anglican communion has in engaging with it.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 30 November will include:
Monday 30 November—Second Reading of the Telecommunications (Security) Bill.
Tuesday 1 December—Motion to approve regulations related to public health.
Wednesday 2 December—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve the draft Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (Amendment) Order 2020, the draft Direct Payments to Farmers (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and the draft World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture (Domestic Support) Regulations 2020, followed by a motion to approve the draft Plant Health (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the draft Plant Health (Phytosanitary Conditions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
Thursday3 December—General debate on the future of coal in the United Kingdom, followed by debate on a motion relating to digital infrastructure, connectivity and accessibility. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 December—The House will not be sitting.
May I thank the Leader of the House for the business and ask again about the end of Session? Obviously, that is not going to be in November. I can only assume it will be May, but it would be helpful to know, particularly as we would quite like another Opposition day. I think ours was taken away last time.
May I ask for a statement, again, on the progress of the EU talks from the Prime Minister? I think he has stopped shielding, or hiding from the ERG or CRG or whichever group we have now. We may be in lockdown, but we are not in a Government news lockdown.
The Department for International Development has been abolished and we know that it has gone into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Could the Leader of the House set out what plans the Government have for re-establishing that Department in some form or another, or maybe keeping the Select Committee as it is, given that it needs to look at overseas development aid?
I hope that the Leader of the House will bring back the motion on virtual participation. We all want a much longer debate than we had on Tuesday. Let us remember: it is the Government who prevented participation of our colleagues, pitching one colleague against another through a restrictive and discriminatory definition. It is that stubbornness that is preventing our colleagues from taking part.
Let me quote something that I did not have time to quote on Tuesday. It states that
“the broadcasting hub on the Estate had been substantially improved and augmented”—
that means made better and bigger—
“with additional offsite capacity.”
The House staff think that this can be done. Why do the Government and the Leader of the House not think so?
Let us turn to the spending review. The Chancellor has made available £4 billion of a levelling-up fund. It is a bit like a gameshow now, pitching one community against another—“I’m a levelling-up project, gimme the money!” Last week, I raised the NAO report and the possible misuse of public money whereby one Minister gives money to another Minister in the constituency. I am sure the Leader of the House will know—I know the Government have issues with the Electoral Commission, an independent body—that the shadow Minister for voter engagement and young people, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), has asked the Electoral Commission about the misuse of public funds in relation to ads in targeted seats just before the election, with majorities of fewer than 5,000. They were told, “You’re going to get £25 million of investment in your town.”
If this is going to continue, will the Leader of the House ensure that proper criteria are published? We need to know which Department will be responsible for it, because there are three involved—the Treasury, Transport, and Housing, Communities and Local Government. Better still, why do the Government not just give the money to the local authorities on proper criteria, as they have done for years? Those authorities are all in deficit; they have all been struggling. Even better, give the money to key workers. Public sector workers have had a slap in the face in not getting an increase in their salaries, which is just levelling up after 10 years of Tory austerity.
Under the spending review, the Chancellor has set out funds to support getting people back to work—the Restart scheme. On Tuesday, there was a joint press release with Ministers and Scottish Ministers saying that a really important company, Burntisland, is going to lose highly skilled, specialist jobs that are here in Scotland. Hundreds of employees do not know whether they have a job or not. Could we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to continue these discussions, so that we do not lose those vital jobs?
This is not a party of law and order; this is not a Government of law and order. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Education was found to have acted unlawfully in watering down safeguards for protecting children. He excluded the Children’s Commissioner, among others, from his decision making, and 65 separate legal protections were watered down. Can we have an urgent statement?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission found on Wednesday that the hostile environment referred to by the shadow Lord Chancellor breached equalities law. What about the Secretary of State giving a job to his friend, who was first unpaid—an unpaid lobbyist—then became a non-exec director, paid with public money, and then received an access all area pass from another Minister? Could we have an urgent statement? I know the Leader of the House does not like to have people who are overqualified for jobs if they have been members of the Labour party, but having someone who is a friend, who does not go through normal employment practices, is not right.
Parliament Week has been a great success. David Clark and the team have undertaken 8,700 activities and reached over 980,000 people. All of them have done a fantastic job explaining our democracy. On behalf of everyone, I thank David Clark and wish him well in his new post. I understand that he is popping up in an office near you, Mr Speaker—literally near you.
Kylie has been released. Daren Nair of Amnesty International thanked the Australian Parliament and our Parliament for making sure that Kylie’s name was never forgotten, and we want to do the same for Nazanin, Anoosheh, and of course Luke Symons. We want them home before Christmas.
Finally, we remember Bruce Boynton of Boynton v. Virginia, one of the first Freedom Riders. May he rest in peace.
Indeed, may he and all the souls of the faithful departed—especially in November, of course, the month of the holy souls—rest in peace.
I share her agreement that we should congratulate David Clark on what he has done for Parliament Week. May I say that the thanks being given to the British Parliament for Kylie’s release should fall particularly to the right hon. Lady? It is not usual for the Leader of the House to say that his shadow is the person who has really highlighted a cause, fought for it and raised it week after week, but I think the thanks should go much more to her than to me. I hope she will continue to raise these issues, because I think it is an area in which the whole House is in agreement.
However, I am sorry to tell you, Mr Speaker, that we do not agree about everything. The end of the Session will of course come in accordance with the process of successive Government business, in the normal way, and will be announced in the normal way. We will have Opposition days in accordance with the requirements of Standing Orders—I know that everyone waits with bated breath for future Opposition days.
As regards EU talks and when statements will come, I think we will see from what comes after me how good and strong the Government have been in keeping this House up to date, with two important statements coming. I can reassure the House that statements will come when there is something to say, but it is not beneficial for the House to have statements until that time.
The right hon. Lady asked about DFID and the processes with the Select Committee. This is under discussion between the Chairman of the Select Committee and other interested parties, and the Government are looking upon suggestions about it with benignity.
On virtual participation, the right hon. Lady puts herself forward as Gladstone. Mr Gladstone used to think that speaking for four hours was a mere bagatelle; he had hardly cleared his throat in the first four hours. The right hon. Lady spoke for over an hour on Tuesday—with great distinction and panache, it has to be said, and a great deal of support from her right hon. and hon. Friends. I fail to see how sufficient time was not provided when another hon. Member managed to talk out his own amendment, which is Gladstonian in a different way; a way that Disraeli might have noted and commented upon.
It is a great shame that that debate was not allowed to come to a conclusion. The reason it did not was that Opposition Members—the Labour party and the Scottish National party—decided that it should not. It is unusual for an hon. Member to talk out his own amendment. Some may even consider it eccentric, and it is a pity because we had hoped that we could ensure participation for the extremely clinically vulnerable. There was an amendment tabled that would have broadened it, but the House was not allowed the opportunity to express its will by the actions of Opposition Members. That was a choice that they made, rather than allowing a vote in this House that would have settled the issue. It is to my mind a great shame that that is the situation we find ourselves in.
As regards the levelling-up fund, I would have thought that the right hon. Lady would welcome £4 billion to help places that have been left behind to improve, to increase opportunity and prosperity across the country, and to ensure that the House is properly involved so that it is a national programme helping locally. It is a really admirable programme and has widespread support, as does the towns fund. It is really important to understand that Ministers should neither be advantaged nor disadvantaged by the fact that they are Ministers, so the fund was completely properly allocated, and it is right that that should happen to help town centres do better in what are extremely difficult circumstances.
As regards the hostile environment, I was, I am glad to say, on the Back Benches when that was Government policy: it is not Government policy and the hostile environment is not something I have ever been comfortable with. I think someone is either a British citizen or they are not, and if someone is a British citizen they have exact equality and parity with all other British citizens and should not be asked, even in this House, to prove their identity.
I am sure that Members across the House have been approached, as I have, by local NHS leaders who are looking for venues that they can use to carry out what will be the Herculean effort of vaccinating our population, should a vaccine be approved. Will the Leader of the House encourage businesses and property owners in constituencies across the country to step forward and make venues available where they can to help in that national effort?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Throughout the pandemic, one of the most heartening signs was the huge national effort by so many people across the country to rise to the challenge. The NHS does have a tried and tested track record for delivering vaccination programmes and will work with existing partners across the healthcare system to ensure a covid-19 vaccine can be deployed both safely and effectively. Detailed planning is under way, building on the NHS’s expertise in delivering immunisation programmes, and that includes consideration of the settings required to vaccinate the public against covid-19. We are grateful for the support that businesses have offered. My hon. Friend cites Hercules, and this will be one of the 12 labours of Hercules as it is rolled out.
I ask again: can we have a proper debate in which Members discuss and decide, on a free vote, the nature and extent of virtual participation in the proceedings of this Parliament while the pandemic lasts? The procedural shenanigans displayed by the Government on Tuesday, when they engineered call lists to conjure up a debate where none had been planned, were an affront to democracy. The attempts by the Leader of the House to suggest that those of us who argue for every Member to have the right to remote participation were in fact trying to deny that right to colleagues who are clinically vulnerable is offensive. I say to him in all sincerity that he is in grave danger of losing the confidence of the House, which he needs to perform his constitutional role. I hope that, rather than a glib response or a puerile putdown, he will demonstrate thoughtfulness and leadership, and allow elected Members to decide this matter.
The Leader of the House has made much of the need for democratic debate and scrutiny to continue, but yesterday the biggest change in public policy in a decade was announced in the spending review, with no opportunity to debate, amend or agree. We must debate public sector pay if the Government intend to cut the wages of those key workers they applauded from the steps of Downing Street. We must debate overseas aid if the Government are to slash support for the world’s poor, severely damaging the UK’s global reputation in a manner that would make Trump proud. These are not manifesto promises. The Government have no mandate for them, and they ought not to become the policy of the land without a vote in Parliament.
Finally, I come to the tragedy of Brexit—just five weeks to go and no deal in sight. Last week, I got no answer about the shared prosperity fund. Today, I want to ask for a debate on plugging the £170 million black hole left in Scotland’s rural economy as payments under the LEADER scheme end following withdrawal from the common agricultural policy. The silence on this is reckless and damaging to Scotland’s rural economy.
To misquote P.G. Wodehouse, it is never difficult to tell the difference between a member of the SNP with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. It seems to me that the cloud across any ray of sunshine can always be provided by the hon. Gentleman. What does he say to us today? He says that a debate of over two hours is undemocratic. It was undemocratic to have a debate—that, I think, is an unusual view to hold—and then he thinks that a democratic vote, of 52% of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, is a disaster. He seems only to like the votes that he wins, but the SNP, fortunately, does not win votes across the United Kingdom at large and lost a very important vote in 2014.
Why I think the hon. Gentleman should be a ray of sunshine is that he should be asking for a debate on the £2.4 billion extra announced in the spending review yesterday that is going to Scotland. He should be celebrating the fact that £1,633 extra is attributed to public spending per capita in Scotland against the United Kingdom average, and he should celebrate the fact that £8.2 billion of UK taxpayer money has gone to Scotland to help it fight the coronavirus. The evidence is that the United Kingdom is extraordinarily strong as a single United Kingdom, with taxpayers coming together to help one another.
I notice that the hon. Gentleman carefully avoided the fact, when he talked about the House’s confidence, that in Scotland, confidence may be ebbing away. I noticed that the SNP lost a vote in the Scottish Parliament yesterday over publishing the legal advice given to the Scottish Government on the judicial review brought by Alex Salmond. They were very happy to vote for the Attorney General to release his advice here under an Humble Address—sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, or are they just turkeys waiting for Christmas?
The week before lockdown, I had the privilege of meeting Sam Edwards and David Bruce, two serving Royal Marines, and Junior McIlhiney and Will Schweppe, two marine veterans. They were training in my constituency, in Hamble, to row the Atlantic unaided next week in aid of the Royal Marines Charity as part of the Cockleshell Endeavour. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing them well in their endeavours next week and encourage people to donate to their worthwhile campaign? Can we have a debate on services for veterans, where we still need to make much more progress?
May I indeed wish them well in the work they are doing to raise funds for the Royal Marines benevolent fund? I think it is a terrific effort. Do we not all admire the Royal Marines this country, I perhaps most particularly, because my campaign manager in every election since 2010 has been a former Royal Marine? I know what fine members of the community they remain, even when they have left military service.
Veterans’ mental health is of great importance and the Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service is for serving personnel approaching discharge from the military, reservists and veterans with mental health difficulties. The veterans’ mental health complex treatment service provides intensive care and treatment that may include support for drug and alcohol misuse, physical health, employment, housing, relationships and finances, as well as occupational and trauma focus therapies. It is very important that this is supported. It had £16 million of spending last year and over 10,000 referrals up to the end of 2019, but my hon. Friend is right to raise this important issue.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and also for writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary of State on my behalf and on behalf of my constituents following last week’s exchanges. I also thank him for announcing the Backbench Business for next Thursday, the first item of which will be a debate promoted by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on the future of coal in the United Kingdom, and the second of which is promoted by the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) on digital infrastructure connectivity and accessibility.
Can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the offshoring of British jobs by companies that this Government have supported through the pandemic? In particularly, as an example, I am thinking of Rolls-Royce transferring jobs overseas from its aero-engine plant in Lancashire.
First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. May I just add a point on correspondence? I have made it very clear in this House that I will do everything I can to help Members get replies from Ministers, whether to written questions or to letters or emails that are sent in. It may be worth reminding Members of the courtesy the other way round: it is customary for Members to sign letters to Ministers themselves, not to get them sent by their members of staff. Members cannot expect ministerial responses to letters that are not sent by them personally. In my role as both representing the House to the Government and the Government to the House, I hope that both sides of that will be followed through.
As regards a statement by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is obviously important—if the Government are supporting businesses, one would expect them to be very committed to being active in this country, rather than taking jobs overseas—and I will raise it on his behalf with my right hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the future management of c2c rail services in my constituency? The service used to be known as the “misery line”. It then became the “happy line”, but unfortunately it now become the misery line again, because, inexplicably, timetable changes have been made, with trains cancelled, but the trains and platforms are overcrowded. That is totally unacceptable during this coronavirus pandemic.
We always want happiness rather than misery, so I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I note the c2c has announced recently that it is
“introducing a more sustainable and resilient timetable, which should result in fewer short-notice cancellations.”
That sounds like one of those pieces of verbiage we sometimes get from bureaucracies, but we await this with interest and I am sure my hon. Friend will remind the House if it is not delivered upon. In the meantime, I will raise his point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Yesterday, the Chancellor told me that the Government grants to councils to use to support their local economies could be used “as they see fit”, but that was not true, because many freelancers and self-employed people do not qualify for schemes such as the one announced by the Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram. These people do not qualify for the national schemes, they do not qualify for the local schemes and they do not quality for universal credit either. So will the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor was wrong yesterday? Will the Leader of the House admit that it is time the Government stepped up and dealt with the burning injustice facing so many of our working people who have been left behind in this crisis?
I think this has to be put in the context of the overall support provided by the Government, with the amount of money now running into the hundreds of billions of pounds. Specifically for councils, £4.6 billion of unring-fenced support for councils has been paid, and there has been £1.1 billion to support local businesses and £10 billion in business rates relief. I absolutely accept that not everybody is able to get all the support that is available and that is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to make, but the Chancellor is absolutely right to say that there is £4.6 billion of additional unring-fenced funding for councils.
May I ask for a debate on residential landlords in the private rented sector, as the sector is very unhappy? It provides valuable property for people, yet throughout this crisis landlords have been prevented from managing their properties and evicting people, even those with arrears from well before the crisis. I know of landlords who have not been able to evict people exhibiting antisocial behaviour and causing distress to other tenants because of restrictions the Government have imposed. Some people who could pay rent are not paying rent, but some of the residential landlords are still having to pay mortgages. This is a troubled sector and we should explore all the issues and have a full debate.
I am not unsympathetic to what my hon. Friend is saying. The package of Government covid measures in the private rented sector seeks to strike the right balance between prioritising public health and supporting the most vulnerable renters, while ensuring that landlords can get access, and exercise their rights, to justice. The stay on possession proceedings was lifted on 21 September, and landlords can now take action on possession claims through the courts. Although we have laid regulations to require bailiffs not to enforce evictions until 11 January, there are exemptions—this is important—for the most serious cases, such as antisocial behaviour and illegal occupation.
We are grateful to landlords for their forbearance during this unprecedented time. Some may have been able to benefit from postponements of mortgage payments, which have been made available, but we strongly encourage tenants in all relevant Government guidance to pay their rent or to have an early conversation with their landlord if they have any difficulty doing so. The mortgage holiday has been extended, with the application process open to 31 January 2021.
Carers across the UK do a remarkable and difficult job on a daily basis. Some 900,000 full-time unpaid carers rely on carer’s allowance, but at just £67.25 per week it is not nearly enough, and many families face severe hardship. Today, on Carers Rights Day, the Liberal Democrats have launched their Stand up for Carers campaign, calling for the allowance to be raised by £20, in line with universal credit. Can we have a debate on the challenges that unpaid carers face, recognising the amazing jobs they do and looking at what more the Government can do to support our wonderful carers across the country?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, my neighbour, for raising that point and for allowing us to pay tribute to carers on Carers Rights Day. It is a remarkably selfless thing that they do; it is incredibly difficult and hard work, and sometimes—particularly during lockdown—it has been very lonely work for carers who are members of the family and who are doing it out of love, rather than because they are employed. I am therefore grateful to her for the tribute that she pays to carers.
In terms of finding extra funding, I am sure the hon. Lady listened to the Chancellor’s statement yesterday. The public finances are not in a situation, I fear, where it is possible to find additional funding for things that it would be very nice to do if we were in a different financial situation.
My mother bids me to wish you a good morning, Mr Speaker. When will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate with the purpose of examining, and an eye to correcting, the constitutional vandalism inflicted upon this country by the Labour Government of 1997 to 2010 regarding the roles and scope of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chancellor?
May I send my felicitations to my hon. Friend’s distinguished mother? I appreciate her message. I also appreciate my hon. Friend’s point, because the last Labour Government decided to take a wrecking ball to our constitution and made a bit of a muddle with it. Some of their most foolish interventions were their constitutional blunders, which were out of step with many centuries of our parliamentary democracy. Blairite constitutional tinkering has weakened our Parliament and has helped to divide the United Kingdom, and I hope that this Government find an effective way of restoring our constitution to its proper form.
My constituent Paul Goose, a former member of the 1st Battalion of the Light Infantry, has played the last post on his doorstep since the first UK lockdown began. In doing so, he has raised £10,000 for Barnsley Hospital’s intensive care unit. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating and thanking him for his efforts and in calling on “The Guinness Book of Records” to consider recognising his achievement?
What a wonderful tale the hon. Lady has brought to the House. Ten thousand pounds raised for the Barnsley ICU is a terrific achievement. I hope “The Guinness Book of Records” will recognise her constituent for playing the last post every day. It is always such a moving tune, and hearing it must be very important for the residents nearby and a pleasure for them, so I absolutely congratulate her constituent. I have no influence with the editors of “The Guinness Book of Records”, but I hope they will hear her plea.
All the polling out there suggests that the vast majority of the British public will welcome plans to divert foreign aid spending into UK priorities at this difficult time, when we know there is lots of support needed here at home. Turning the £4 billion sent abroad into a £4 billion levelling-up fund for our most disadvantaged communities is the right move—in fact, it is long overdue. Will my right hon. Friend make time available for us to discuss this funding and where and how it might best be used, and can I be the first to say to him and the Government that we will have some of it up in Mansfield, please?
My hon. Friend’s plea is noted, and I absolutely agree with him. I think that people will very much welcome the announcement made by the Government yesterday—other, possibly, than a few Islingtonians. The Government take their responsibility for the people of the north and the midlands very seriously, millions of whom placed their trust in the Conservatives for the first time last December. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the spending review yesterday that the Government are launching a new levelling up fund worth £4 billion in England, which will attract £800 million in the usual way through the Barnett formula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our new fund will build infrastructure for everyday life, such as new bypasses, upgraded railway stations and better high streets and town centres. The Chancellor answered lots of questions on this yesterday, and it is important that this subject is properly scrutinised.
On Wednesday 2 December, the Government plan to deport dozens of people, including one of my constituents, to Jamaica. He has lived in the UK since childhood and is being denied the chance to see his loved ones before being placed on that flight. Not only should this not be happening, but how can this level of cruelty take place? Can we please have an urgent debate on this terrifying situation?
It would be wrong of me to comment on an individual case when I obviously do not know the details. This is a matter for the Home Secretary, and I am sure that the hon. Lady has used the usual means to raise her point with the Home Secretary. We have a very fair immigration system that tries to ensure that the people who are entitled to be here are here, and that those who are not entitled to be here have to go back to the places from which they came. That is a perfectly reasonable immigration policy, but individual cases can sometimes be much harder than the broad principles.
The whole House knows that the Leader of the House is a thoroughly decent chap, but, like all of us, he has the occasional blind spot. I have more than my fair share. His, though, relates to forbidding those colleagues with proxy votes who are not clinically extremely vulnerable from participating virtually in debates. May I suggest that he reconsiders and allows a proper debate and vote on the issue? The technology works, and the Government advice is that people should work from home when they are able to do so. There really should not be two classes of MP. All MPs should be able to represent their constituents in debate.
My hon. Friend raises the point about proxy votes. Proxy votes are available to all Members and were widened to reduce the numbers going through the Division Lobbies, and this does not have any effect on people’s ability to appear in debates, or indeed for them to appear virtually in interrogative sessions. I would point out to my hon. Friend that, had he not tabled his amendment earlier this week, we would have extended this to the extremely clinically vulnerable for debates, and I am sorry that that did not happen.
Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In the UK, two women a week will die at the hands of their partner or ex-partner, and unfortunately the pandemic has made this worse. I welcome the Government’s announcement of £125 million to go to local authorities for accommodation for women fleeing abuse, but this falls well short of the £2.3 billion that the sector has calculated that they need, so can we have a debate on how we can better support the women and children affected by this abuse, and about how we can prevent the abuse in the first place?
It is sometimes in the ability of the Leader of the House to grant something almost immediately, although by serendipity rather than by any action of my own, because there is a debate in Westminster Hall today in recognition of yesterday being the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which will be an opportunity to raise those issues. I would also point out that the Domestic Abuse Bill is in the House of Lords. This is an important contribution to reducing domestic violence, and I think the whole House, and certainly the Government, takes this issue extremely seriously.
Two days ago, the Government tried to bounce the House of Commons into agreeing to their position on how hon. Members scrutinise the Government during debate. They deliberately pulled three items at the last minute to bring forward a motion that no one expected to be debated. There were no call lists and there was no advance knowledge for Members.
What is more, had there been a vote, the Deputy Chief Whip on the Government side would have cast hundreds of proxy votes in support of the Government motion in what was clearly a free vote, and many of those Members would not even have known that the vote was taking place. It was definitely a farce and probably a contempt of Parliament. Could the Leader of the House explain why on earth next week we do not have a proper scheduled debate on virtual participation?
My hon. Friend is a very experienced parliamentarian and knows the Order Paper very well. If he looked at the Order Paper on Tuesday and at the debates on offer, it was extremely likely that we would get, under all normal circumstances, to the debate on virtual appearances in debates. My expectation was that we would have had between three quarters of an hour and an hour for it, had the previous debates gone in the normally expected way.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Opposition decided to spend the full 90 minutes—which they are entitled to do—on the statutory instrument that came earlier in the day. Because we had been asked for a debate, we decided that it was sensible to allow full time for the debate on virtual appearances. Therefore, we moved the remaining business from Tuesday to Wednesday, so that it could be completed. It is not unusual for debates to be changed or motions to be pulled.
The Opposition, joined by the SNP, then decided not to allow this to go to a vote by the House, nor indeed to have the amendment which they supported put to a vote. So if anyone was playing ducks and drakes with parliamentary procedures, it was the Opposition.
I want to take this opportunity to raise with and update the Leader of the House on the “DIY SOS” build we had for the wonderful Surfability, a community interest company at Caswell bay, Gower, and the new building for its users. The generosity of people across the UK in these difficult times has really shone through. Will he join me in highlighting Surfability and call on potential donors and benefactors to take a look at its brilliant work to support its inclusive ethos that everyone should experience the joy of surfing?
As long as I do not have to enjoy the joy of surfing, very much so. I do not think that it is an act I will be joining in with, but I thank the hon. Lady. It is so important that she brings to the House’s attention organisations such as Surfability and their good work. She is also right to praise the generosity of people across the whole of the United Kingdom, but also of course in her constituency of Gower, in these difficult times. I wish Surfability every success and hope that the publicity it will get from the many millions who watch the Parliament channel will lead to it receiving more donations.
High coronavirus transmission rates across Greater Manchester have impacted on schools and on students’ education. Schools such as the Kingsway, Bramhall High, Hazel Grove and Cheadle Hulme High are trying to prepare year 11 pupils for next year’s exams or assessments, but covid has meant that many pupils have had fewer than 30 days in school since September. Does my right hon. Friend agree that covid-19 must not entrench educational disadvantage, and will he allow a debate in Government time to address the regional impact of coronavirus on education?
First, yes, of course the coronavirus must not entrench disadvantage and that is why there is a £1 billion fund to help education to recover from this period, £350 million of which is allocated for the most disadvantaged to have special tutoring. We know that examinations and assessments are the best and fairest way of judging students’ performance, and the Secretary of State for Education has confirmed that next year’s GCSE, AS-level and A-level examination series will go ahead, but it is a priority to ensure that there is a consistent approach to what is taught and what will be assessed across schools. The Government are working with Ofqual and engaging widely with the education sector to identify any risks to examinations at a national, local and individual student level, and to consider measures needed to address any potential disruption.
Yesterday’s spending review was disappointing for many, including public sector workers and the Scottish Government, whose capital budget was cut while other such budgets were increased elsewhere. It was also yet another fiscal event without any help for the Women Against State Pension Inequality. Although there is not much hope that this Government will do the right thing, there remains hope that the parliamentary ombudsman’s investigation into the issue will bear fruit. My constituent is one of the test cases, but they have been delayed again and again by the Department for Work and Pensions. Will the Leader of the House please speak to his Cabinet colleague from the DWP to grease the skids and allow the ombudsman to do their work?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that yesterday’s announcement meant an extra £2.4 billion of funding for Scotland and shows the strength of the United Kingdom and its ability, as a United Kingdom, to weather these extraordinary economic conditions. As regards the WASPI women, although there was a lot of sympathy with them in this House, the Court found that what was done was done properly and that it is fair to have unified the retirement age among men and women.
Would it be possible for us to have an urgent debate on the manner in which the Department of Health and Social Care is determining which tiers apply for local coronavirus restrictions? We are told by the Department that our local health and local authority leaders have been consulted and have given their views on local data and trends, but the consultations that I have had with my local leaders in East Sussex reveal that not to be the case, which is a worry. My right hon. Friend was always a doughty defender of transparency when he spoke from the Back Benches; will he ensure that we get the same from Government Departments?
My hon. Friend undoubtedly raises an important point. It is vital that the Government make and implement all their coronavirus measures with public consent. Indeed, one of the remarkable things has been the extent to which the British people have voluntarily accepted the restraints and have not found it necessary to have them onerously imposed upon them. We will debate the statutory instruments next week, as I announced in my statement, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be making a statement shortly. It is important to have the right balance between acting quickly and decisively while managing also to consult the necessary bodies.
The Leader of the House will, I am sure, share my opposition to and abhorrence of the glorification of terrorism in our society. Sadly, in Northern Ireland this happens on a daily basis. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Down (Chris Hazzard) has a constituency office named after two members of the Provisional IRA. Mr Sammy Heenan, a South Down constituent, was 12 when he watched as his father died outside their family home near Castlewellan following an IRA attack. He has described the signage as “repugnant”, “obscene” and “deeply, deeply offensive”. Will the Leader of the House agree that it would send a strong message to victims of terror in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across this United Kingdom, if the House took a stand against MPs who glorify terrorists? Does he agree that a debate to allow Members to express their opposition to the glorification of terrorism would send a strong message to constituents that it is wrong and that we stand united against it?
The hon. Lady raises a point of fundamental importance. In this Chamber we have the shields of people such as Airey Neave and Ian Gow who were murdered by terrorists. We should remember and commemorate those who were killed and honour their memory; we should not honour and commemorate murders—people who are wicked and evil and deserve condemnation, not commemoration.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making many of us on the Conservative side of the House happy with his responses to the earlier question from the Scottish Member, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who was certainly not very happy.
Many Members, like my right hon. Friend and me, will have received a vast amount of correspondence from those who are part of the ExcludedUK campaign group. Certainly in Lincoln’s case, these individuals are good people who have fallen through the cracks of Government support this year, so will my right hon. Friend make Government time available, perhaps with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor, to debate their situation and this critical issue?
My hon. Friend raises a point also raised by an hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Benches, and it is something that the House is concerned about. Throughout the crisis, the Government have made huge efforts to support the economy’s structures and maintain as many people’s livelihoods as possible in an exceptional crisis. There has been unprecedented support offered to businesses, the employed, the self-employed and the unemployed through the benefits system. Throughout this crisis, the Government have sought to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods and support businesses and public services across the United Kingdom. The Government have spent over £280 billion of taxpayers’ money to do so this year. Our package will remain the same as we move out of the national lockdown and into a tiering system, and we will continue to provide a comprehensive economic support package to support jobs and businesses. We have prioritised helping the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, but I do accept that there are some businesses that have not benefited and that is an exceptional difficulty for them.
I have asked a number of times, both in the Chamber and in letters, if the Government will amend bereavement support legislation to cover cohabitees with children. This is an important issue to help families to get through the worst of times. I am glad to say that it has been confirmed that a remedial order will be brought forward to do this, so will the Leader of the House please tell me when we can expect to see that order, which has been long awaited by many families?
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this campaign? It shows the House at its best when these issues that are very important for individual families are taken up by an individual MP and the Government then move to put things right. I do not have a specific date for him at the moment, but as soon as I do, I will notify him.
The kickstart scheme is an excellent Government proposal. Cheshire Learning Partnership, with the support of the East Cheshire chamber of commerce, both of which are based in my constituency, is keen to become a gateway into the kickstart scheme, having 40 local employers offering over 100 immediately available work placements for young people. Will the Leader of the House please press this with his ministerial colleagues at the DWP to ensure that it can be facilitated as quickly as possible?
Yesterday the Chancellor failed to clarify whether the emergency weekly uplift of £20 on universal credit would continue past March. As the Resolution Foundation highlighted in September, emergency support has reduced, but not stemmed, a major rise in unemployment. Those relying on support from universal credit will experience another shock to their household income if this uplift is not extended past March. Can we have a debate in Government time on making the uplift to universal credit permanent?
I have heard first-hand from pubs across Luton South, including the Bricklayers Arms, the Castle, the Globe and the Chequers, about how the economic impact of the pandemic is destroying their businesses. So far, the economic support has not been sufficient to safeguard their future, and many are very frustrated that the scientific evidence has not been published to justify the extra restrictions on pubs, particularly those that do not serve food. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a specific debate on support for the pub industry so that we can protect our pubs’ future at the heart of our communities?
I know this is a matter of concern to many hon. and right hon. Members, as we all value the pubs in our own constituencies, and in these very difficult times, the closures have fallen very heavily upon them. There is support available of £3,000 a month for pubs that are forced to close or only to do takeaway, and there is other support for pubs in the different tiers. The £3,000 has been set at the median level of rent that they would have to pay, so the figure is based on an assessment. There will be time to discuss this because there will be a whole day’s debate on the covid regulations next week, and I encourage the hon. Lady to raise her point again then.
The Leader of the House may have seen that the European Parliament is planning to sit between Christmas and new year to approve, hopefully, any Brexit deal. Can he update the House on what plans the Government have for this House to scrutinise the potential deal and how long Select Committees will have before the House votes to consider the full details if we do get a deal?
The House last sat on Christmas day, I understand, in 1656 and it is not the intention of Her Majesty’s Government, or my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, to ask us to sit on Christmas day, or indeed the feast of St Stephen, this year. I will give updates on Government business and plans for recesses in the normal way, but at the moment have no further information to give.
The Leader of the House spent more time on Twitter defending his decision not to allow virtual participation in debates than he did at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday, despite his claims of a debate. As the Leader of the House he should be the servant of the House—the servus servorum populi, perhaps. Unlike the Pope, however, he is not infallible. He needs to stop digging. He has to admit the he misread the will of the House. He has misunderstood what Members want. If he is so convinced of the strength of his arguments, he should schedule a debate in Government time. Let us have a proper call list. Let us have a full airing of the issues and a free vote, and see what the House wants to do on virtual participation.
I thought the hon. Gentleman was Scottish. It turns out he is a Gaul, or at any rate he has a great deal of gall to say what he has just said when there was two hours of debate. The House could have come to a decision, but he, with his friends the socialists, decided not to allow that vote to happen. One hon. Member managed to talk out his own amendment. This is a most unusual way of carrying on, but the Government have done everything they can to facilitate the ability of the House to come to a decision. As I said earlier, if you looked at the schedule of business for Tuesday and the matters that were under discussion, it was extremely likely, for anybody looking at that Order Paper, that the matter would come to a debate. That we did not do so is actually down to the Opposition Members who decided to talk at length early on. We tried to facilitate the House. That opportunity was not taken advantage of. I am deeply sorry about that, because I was hoping that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), for example, would be able to appear remotely. The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) managed to stop that.
Kettering and Corby citizens advice bureau has just published its latest customer satisfaction survey, which shows that it has helped local people with 25,000 issues and helped them to access over £4 million of financial help. It also states that, of its customers: 98% said it was easy to access the service; 99% said they were happy with the advice received; and 100% said they would recommend the CAB to others. Can we have a Government statement praising CABs for the wonderful work they do, and highlighting the Kettering and Corby CAB, led by Debbie Egan, as a shining example?
The only organisation or individual in Kettering who would reach similar levels of satisfaction is my hon. Friend, who I think would probably get even higher levels of satisfaction than the 98% achieved by the citizens advice bureau. I would very much like to place on record, on my own behalf and on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, our thanks to the citizens advice bureau, which has offered support and advice to the British people for 80 years. It does a fantastic job in Bath and North East Somerset, and I am very glad to hear that it does a fantastic job in Kettering and Corby as well.
As we have heard today, it is Carers Rights Day. Our unpaid carers do an amazing job at any time, but during the covid-19 pandemic the pressures on them have been immense. I would like to thank those unpaid carers in my constituency, as well as Gateshead Carers and the Carers Trust Tyne and Wear who offer them support. Carer’s allowance is still only £67.25 a week, which is nothing. May we have a debate in Government time on carers’ rights and the need to increase the benefit allowance?
I join the hon. Lady in congratulating Gateshead Carers and the other organisations in her constituency that do such fine work to support carers in this difficult period. I reiterate what I said in answer to an earlier question. It is really important work, a labour of love, literally, and a very lonely labour, probably, in the lockdown circumstance. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but I think to have a debate, in Backbench Business time or in Westminster Hall, in celebration of carers is a very worthy thing to do.
I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to prejudge the regional tierings, but does he agree that it is critical that we get our great capital city, London, back into the lowest tiering as quickly as possible, and will he countenance a debate on how we can restore our great capital city to its former glory?
Mr Speaker, I am not sure that it is in order for me to cede the Dispatch Box to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary, who is standing by your side, but my hon. Friend has timed her question to perfection, because just before my right hon. Friend comes in to make his statement, she has called for our great bustling metropolis to be able to bustle. Although London does have lower rates than some of the other regions in England, it is still at a higher level than before. The Government will monitor the information from a variety of sources, so that the decisions made are on an evidence basis. I, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, am one of the House’s many optimists. I believe that, as we make progress with considerable speed to mass testing, and get closer and closer to a roll-out of mass vaccinations, London’s economy will soon be fighting fit again, and I hope to see our black taxis as full, busy and bustling as they were before the contagion hit.