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Business of the House

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 26 November 2020

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 the 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 are 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, pitting 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, pitting 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 less than 5,000. Votes 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 who gave 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 areas 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 agree that we should congratulate David Clark on what he has done for Parliament Week. May I say also 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 attempt 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 producing 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 Schweppes, 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 in 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 focused 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.

It is important that the whole House supports the Royal Marines and their endeavours to raise money, not least in memory of one of the most courageous events of the second world war, and the Cockleshell heroes.

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 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 a debate 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, 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 representing both 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 has 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, but 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, and 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 in all relevant Government guidance we strongly encourage tenants 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 until 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.

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 him 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, he will have seen that it was extremely likely that we would, reach under all normal circumstances, 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, or 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 and 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 its 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. 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 of 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 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”. Does 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 murderers—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. Unprecedented has been 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 to 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 possible 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 important 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. 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 his campaign? It shows the House at its best when issues that are very important to 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 scheme, with 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?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all she is doing to help the kickstart scheme, and the East Cheshire chamber of commerce on its enthusiasm, and the answer to her question is yes.

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 serve takeaways, 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 the 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 I 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 were 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, looking at the schedule of business for Tuesday and the matters that were under discussion, it was extremely likely, 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 matters for 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 achieve 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 which 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 tier 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.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the morale of workers across Government Departments in the wake of their real-terms pay cut announced yesterday, and with civil servants living in fear that, thanks to the Prime Minister, they now have no redress against bullying and harassment?

I completely reject the premise of the last part of the hon. Lady’s question. It is a misrepresentation—an inaccurate representation—of what was found by the Prime Minister earlier in the week. As for what the Chancellor announced yesterday, it is worth pointing out that private sector wages have fallen by 1% while wages in the public sector have risen by 4% over the last year, and that ultimately, without the private sector, we have no money to afford the public sector. Therefore, there needs to be some degree of parity between the two. Most importantly the least well-off—those on below the median wage of £24,000 a year—will receive an increase of at least £250 a year, which, with inflation running at 0.5%, is an above-inflation increase.

Yet again yesterday the Chancellor completely overlooked the 3 million people who have been left out of any financial support during the pandemic. The Leader of the House will be aware that the gaps in support all-party parliamentary group is one of the largest APPGs, with 262 MPs, yet the Chancellor has refused to answer many of our letters, to meet us or to engage with representatives of the groups that he has forgotten about. My request to the Leader of the House is very simple: will he ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to meet representatives of the APPG and the groups that he has neglected?

I do not, again, accept that representation of what the Chancellor has done. The Government have provided £280 billion of support. There is support available in different forms for many people across the country, and every effort has been made to support the economy as widely as possible. However, I have always viewed it as my role as Leader of the House to try to facilitate meetings between Members and Ministers. I cannot promise a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I will do my best to try to facilitate a meeting with Ministers in due course for the hon. Lady.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I know that it is unusual to take points of order before statements, but this is a matter of extreme importance. At 11.14 am, it was announced that people could find out which tier they were in via a journalist, rather than the statement to the House. I know that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is standing outside the Chamber. This is an appalling way to treat Parliament. Could I have your advice on whether that was an appropriate thing to do? The website has crashed because everybody is on it. There is no point in our being in the Chamber, where we should hear the announcement first—we might as well be sitting remotely, which the Leader of the House is not allowing. Could I have your advice on whether this was an appropriate way to deal with important information about the tiers?

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but I do have an opinion. This House—and I am sure the Leader of the House totally agrees with me—should be informed first. We keep telling the Government that that is the way that a good Government should treat and respect this Chamber. It is not acceptable to put the information online first. The only good thing is that the website has crashed, so it is not helpful, and we might get the statement first, but it is not acceptable. I say once again in the strongest terms—and I know that the Leader of the House will pass this on—that the House should hear it first. We are elected to hear it first, and the Government should give the House the respect that it deserves. Let us leave it at that.

In order to allow the safe exit of Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House.

Sitting suspended.