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Business of the House

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2021

I should like to make a short business statement. Hon. and right hon. Members will be aware of yesterday’s announcement to extend covid restrictions until 19 July. As a consequence of that announcement, further regulations are needed. Therefore, tomorrow’s business will now be:

Wednesday 16 June—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by a motion to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Other Provisions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 705), and a further motion that will provide for the current arrangements for parliamentary proceedings during the pandemic to continue until the summer recess.

I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday. Mr Speaker, you have asked me to advise hon. and right hon. Members that they will have until 3 o’clock today to apply to speak in tomorrow’s debate.

I thank the Leader of the House for an advance copy of his statement and for co-operation over the process.

In section 9 of the ministerial code, “Ministers and Parliament” general principle 9.1 states:

“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”

As you noted, Mr Speaker, and as I too noted yesterday in my point of order, that was not followed yesterday in relation to a major announcement by the Prime Minister.

The Leader of the House regularly and correctly says that Members of Parliament have been sent here to represent constituents and should be able to scrutinise Ministers of the Crown in order to stand up for said constituents, and he has always been known as a man of the House and our representative to Cabinet. Does he agree with that statement in the ministerial code?

Given the motion that is being brought forward tomorrow, linking back to yesterday’s announcement, does the Leader of the House believe that the Prime Minister has abided by the letter and spirit of that statement, which is in bold at the top of section 9? If he does not, what will he do to make representations on our behalf to the Prime Minister? Does he understand that the Prime Minister’s absence from this House to take questions about that important announcement affects our ability to represent our constituents? Will there, therefore, be some mention of this over the course of the next 24 hours from the Prime Minister?

In addition to the package of motions that the Leader of the House has announced for tomorrow, will there be a statement from the Chancellor on an economic package of support, and a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or the Department for Work and Pensions about extending support for businesses and individuals who will be affected by the extension? In particular, will the Government now acknowledge that it is essential to provide payment for people asked to isolate who cannot work from home but are on low wages or in insecure work?

Will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues, in addition to the motions tomorrow, to come forward urgently with packages of support? Businesses such as hospitality businesses, which have stocked up and taken on staff who cannot be furloughed, and others, now face a series of cliff edges. That is relevant to the motions tomorrow, because they will affect what happens to those businesses, and many are on the edge.

The motions will also cover extending the rules for this place until recess, which I welcome. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to discuss fully those rules and what we can learn from the hybrid Parliament?

As we have this business statement, can I ask the Leader of the House this? He has not included in this statement parliamentary time to close the anomaly between the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme and the parliamentary Standards Committee in relation to recall, when an MP is subject to suspension on the recommendation of the ICGS. Will he cover that in his business statement on Thursday, given that it is an urgent piece of business? We have no idea when another case of sexual harassment or bullying may come forward.

Finally, on a related issue, you, Mr Speaker, may have seen the footage of a journalist with parliamentary credentials being harassed outside No. 10. Has the Leader of the House been in touch with the necessary authorities to ensure that that does not happen again?

It is always important that statements are made to this House and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was here yesterday to answer questions, but I understand, Mr Speaker, that you are seeing the Prime Minister later today to discuss that and to ensure that everything is done as it ought to be done. I am confident that the Prime Minister follows the ministerial code in all his doings and that has been shown over recent times to be the case.

The hon. Lady asked for further statements to be made. That is a perfectly reasonable request for her to make. I remind her that £407 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent so far, that the furlough scheme continues until September—so comfortably beyond the date that has been set, or will be set if the regulations are approved tomorrow—and that other packages, such as rate relief, also continue.

The question of statements is always a difficult one. There will be a debate tomorrow and Members will want to contribute to it—it will go until 7 o’clock. Any statements eat into time for that and these are all matters that could be raised in the course of the debate as well. So the House, essentially, has to work out for itself how it best wants to manage its time to ensure that these important issues are discussed fully in the time available tomorrow.

As regards the hybrid Parliament, Mr Speaker, you wisely advised yesterday that we should extend it until the recess, rather than doing it to just a couple of days before. I am like the centurion’s servant—say go and I goeth, say come and I cometh—and, therefore, those are the motions that we have brought forward. That is sensible and proportionate. It may be useful to the House to say that that will also apply to Select Committees, which will continue to be able to use hybrid proceedings until the parliamentary recess.

On the issue relating to recall, discussions are taking place. I had a meeting with one of the union representatives earlier this week. I know that the hon. Lady is having discussions. There may be an opportunity to discuss it at the Commission on Monday. So it is something under very active consideration, and I hope that we can come to a conclusion that is satisfactory to everybody.

As regards policing in the metropolis and security outside Downing Street, the hon. Lady’s question is perfectly timed because the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing are on the Front Bench at this very moment. I am sure that they will encourage the constabulary to attend to their duties.

I also thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the statement.

I agree with the shadow Leader of the House that it is critical for us to get clarity on the extension of support schemes and mechanisms. Perhaps the Government could take this opportunity to close the gap for the excluded who have not had any support to date. As we continue to extend, perhaps something could be drawn forward in due course.

Although all of us want the restrictions to end at the earliest possible opportunity, yesterday’s statement was welcome in recognising the reality that we face. Looking at that reality and the fluid situation, however, I ask the Leader of the House this. We are extending the virtual proceedings in this place only to the recess. Should something happen over the summer recess before we return in September, will we have no opportunity to consider what may be necessary at that stage because we had effectively ended the availability of the procedures in July, rather than even on the first day back? We could return on the first day back, in full attendance, simply to have to move measures on such proceedings. I am not trying to be a killjoy; I am just looking at the practicalities: what if these situations present themselves?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. He raises a fair point. I think the answer must be—as the Prime Minister and, I think, Professor Whitty, have said—that ultimately we are going to have to live with covid, and we cannot have this semi-functioning Parliament indefinitely. We ultimately have to get back to normal. We have to have the bustle and energy that Parliament requires to hold the Government to account. Dare I confess that it is much easier for the Minister at the Dispatch Box when there are about 20 people in the Chamber than when there are about 400? As somebody who believes in the benefits of parliamentary scrutiny, I actually think it is quite a good thing when Ministers face some fast bowling at the Dispatch Box, rather than my lumbering, slow balls which are the best that I can achieve on the cricket field.

On the extension of support, as I mentioned, a lot of support does continue. That gives me the opportunity to mention the wonderful support that the United Kingdom has been able to give: £14.5 billion of extra money has been spent in Scotland thanks to UK taxpayers across our whole country, supporting over 900,000 jobs in the furlough scheme and over 535,000 claims for the self-employment scheme. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is beginning to see the virtues of a United Kingdom.

I am not quite sure he agrees, but there we are.

I am now suspending the House for one minute to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.