The business for the week commencing 5 July will include:
Monday 5 July—Remaining stages of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Tuesday 6 July—Second Reading of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill.
Wednesday 7 July—Opposition day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 July—General debate on fuel poverty, followed by debate on a motion relating to the implementation of the recommendations of the independent medicines and medical devices safety review. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 July will include:
Monday 12 July—Second Reading of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.
Tuesday 13 July—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of the Chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Wednesday 14 July—Second Reading of a Bill.
Thursday 15 July—Debate on a motion relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, followed by debate on a motion relating to the Peking winter Olympics and Chinese Government sanctions. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business, and we can discuss later the apparent absence so far of a motion to change rules about recall.
“It’s extraordinary. I don’t understand.”
“I think the social distancing rules are very important and people should follow them.”
Those words were spoken last year by the now former Health Secretary, when a scientist admitted to meeting his girlfriend indoors, breaking covid rules, and now we know that the former Health Secretary broke the same rules. He also flouted rules on procurement, handing out contracts to dodgy mates; he let down staff and residents of care homes with his not-really-a-ring-of-protection around them; and much more. For instance, what sort of Health Secretary hands out contracts for personal protective equipment to his pub landlord, from a pub called—I am not making this up—the Cock Inn? A few weeks ago at business questions, the Leader of the House referred to the former Health Secretary as a “successful genius”. Does the Leader of the House wish to amend that judgment?
This May, the rules were that there should be no indoor social gathering of two or more people from different households. We have all seen the CCTV footage of the former Health Secretary and the former non-executive director of his former Department—that is not a work meeting. However, does the Leader of the House know where Government cameras are in Departments? Is there a list? If not the Government, who put the cameras there, and how?
On “The Moggcast” this week, the Leader of the House said that
“if a man were to appoint his wife to be a non-executive director you would hope that the Cabinet Office knew that the lady was married to the man”.
He clearly agrees that it matters who a Secretary of State appoints to check his or her work, so will there be a review of the appointment process, and will the Government publish details of the appointment of this specific former non-executive director?
This week, the British people have felt the joy of football victory. Keen followers of business questions will know that football is not my sport, but even I witnessed both the goals and the joy. I am a great fan of joy, and may there be more joy on Saturday. However, in light of the concerns about covid outbreaks associated with Euro matches, what reassurance will the Government give about protection for the remaining matches, and does the Leader of the House understand the bemusement of amateur choirs, which are still not allowed to sing indoors, when they see football fans cheering indoors? Can he explain why VIPs and business execs are exempt from travel restrictions when others, who are very ill, cannot even get a response to an application to isolate at home, instead of in a hotel, on medical grounds? It is rules for all of us, and no rules for Government and their mates.
A year ago, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said that the review of the six-month rule for terminally ill people would be published “shortly”. Last week, the Leader of the House said that it would be published “soon”. On Monday, the Minister said that it would be published “very soon”, and then said the same about the disability strategy promised two years ago. Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a “soon” about the Online Safety Bill. Will the Leader of the House tell us how long is “soon”?
Thanks to months of campaigning by steelworkers, their trade unions and MPs, yesterday the Government finally acted to protect steel jobs, but just saying “soon” does not help people who are worried about their jobs and livelihoods. Will the Government learn that lesson?
When Ministers break rules, the Prime Minister rewards them instead of sacking them. When the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government helped out a Tory donor mate, the Prime Minister did not sack him. When the Home Secretary was found to have bullied her own staff, he did not sack her. When the Education Secretary messed up, well, pretty much everything, he did not sack him, and that saga continues, owing to children missing months of school and a catch-up plan that does not catch them up.
And no, this is not just Westminster bubble stuff. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, it hurts people. They feel betrayed. People dutifully watched No. 10 press conferences to check rules, and in following rules, people struggled, some lost jobs, some could not hold the hand of a parent at the end of life or be at their funeral, but they stuck to the rules, even when that really hurt. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister cannot get his Ministers to stick to any rules. What consequences does the Leader of the House think there should be for Ministers breaking rules?
People hate hypocrisy. They know it when they see it, and they have seen it again this week: the man who set the covid rules breaking the covid rules, and the Prime Minister just waving his hands in the air. The Leader of the House will say, “There’s a new Health Secretary and the vaccine roll-out is great.” Yes, we are eternally grateful to scientists and the NHS for the vaccine—we are all queuing up—but that does not change Government rule breaking and why this matters. When will the Government stop breaking their own rules? It really is one set of rules for the people, and for the Government and their mates, it is no rules for them.
I think the hon. Lady’s fox was shot some time ago, because my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) is the former Health Secretary, and the word “former” is quite an important one. We have had references to association football, and my right hon. Friend has been replaced by the super-sub—the Jack Grealish of politics—in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), the new Secretary of State, who has come on with great effect and great panache.
The hon. Lady challenges me on what I said about the great genius of the former Secretary of State. I stick by that because he worked incredibly hard for 15 months. If I may resort to Dryden once again, the hon. Lady will know:
“Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend made a grave mistake, for which, because the rules are enforced fairly, he resigned. He resigned the day after the story was printed in the newspapers. Here we get the splitting of hairs between the resignation and the sacking. The man has gone. He has lost his job, as has the non-executive director in the Department of Health and Social Care with whom he seems to be closely associated. That is quite the right way for it to have happened. My right hon. Friend is no longer in office.
The hon. Lady complains about procurement, but that is not what the Opposition were saying a year ago, when they specifically asked the Government whether we would
“now commit to provide local public health services and Public Health England with ‘whatever it needs’ to build up the test, trace and isolate regime so obviously needed”.
The Opposition made a strong demand that that should take place very quickly. Of course, it was done quickly. What did the Opposition do? They very helpfully set out 10 proposals for the Government, and No. 3 was:
“Test, test, test. For testing to be effective, Government should provide capacity for widespread, regular community testing. Everyone showing symptoms should be able to access a test within 24 hours.”
On and on they went, asking the Government to do exactly what the Government were doing, but now, a year later, they complain that we did it quickly. What did they want? Did they want us to do it with torpor, inactivity and idleness? Well, we would not have got very far with it if we had. Last year they said we should do whatever it takes, but this year they say that doing whatever it takes was wrong. There is a word for that, Mr Speaker, but it is not parliamentary, so I will not use it. It was quite right of the Opposition to ask for what they did a year ago. It was right for the Government to do it and it had to be done at speed.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady wants to spread joy. As we all know, joy cometh in the morning and this morning is a morning of joy for us all. She asks about remaining matches. Now, I do not know the specific plans for football, but I can inform the House about the plans for anyone intending to go to the match between England and Pakistan at Lord’s, a one-day match on 10 July, which I will be going to. I got the circular from the MCC—the Marylebone Cricket Club—yesterday. One will be required to show either that one has been double vaccinated within a fortnight or that one has had a recent test, so there are procedures in place. This is one of the test events—it is actually a one-day match, not a Test, Mr Speaker, but you get the point—where things will be carefully kept in order to ensure the safety of people going there.
The hon. Lady thanks the Government for bringing forward the duties for the steelworkers. I am grateful for her thanks and support for the robust action the Government have taken. That is being done quite properly in the right way to ensure that the steel industry is protected where it needs to be.
Then we get into an obscure argument about the Westminster bubble. It is unquestionably true that there are some issues which this House is beset by. I think that deciding how many angels dance on the pinhead of a resignation or a sacking is one of those and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say so yesterday.
Good morning, Mr Speaker. Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friend promised to chase up local government Ministers for failing to answer my questions about the consultation in Somerset. I know he has chased them and I do thank him enormously for that, but I am beginning to understand why the Ministry and the Government kept this a secret. The results of the survey attracted only 5,000 responses—a pathetic 1% of the Somerset population—but 111,000 people cast their votes in the referendum organised by the district councils and a huge majority voted in favour of the two unitaries. This referendum cannot be ignored by Ministers because of democracy and legality. They will damage themselves if they do. This deserves a debate in Government time to be able to talk about the land of King Arthur and what a marvellous honourable people they are.
Ah, Mr Speaker, your puns are getting almost as bad as mine.
What I would say to my hon. Friend is that he is tempting me in the right direction to have a debate on the great advantages of the county of Somerset and the fact that Alfred’s coming out of the Levels and defeating Guthrum is the foundation not only of England, but actually the United States and Australia. All that flows from that comes from Alfred defeating the Danes, otherwise it would have been a different kettle of fish. So I sympathise with his desire for a debate, but I think the specific issue is more suited to an Adjournment debate. The Government will of course take into account the responses that have come in to the discussion on how the county of Somerset should be administered, but what I would say is of fundamental importance is that actually bureaucratic boundaries are not what people in Somerset mind about. They care about their whole historic united county. That is what matters to my constituents and to his, and bureaucratic boundaries are comparatively trifling.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I suppose the first thing to do is to acknowledge this week’s sporting success: I am sure the whole House will want to congratulate Andy Murray on his stunning progress to the third round at Wimbledon. And apparently there was some football game on, too. Now that we are getting rid of EVEL, English votes for English laws, how about we get ESEV, English sport for English viewers, so that Scottish viewers of the BBC do not have to endlessly watch that Gazza goal scored against us and are spared the endless references to 1966 when we are watching Croatia or Denmark?
May we have a debate about ministerial resignations? After the departure of the Health Secretary, the public just do not know what it takes to get the sack anymore. This was a Health Secretary whose tenure was littered with unlimited disastrous policy decisions and riddled with cronyism, overseeing the largest death rate in Europe. But it was not that that brought him down; it was issues around having an affair. Does the Leader of the House not think that that is akin to Al Capone going down for tax evasion?
Today marks the beginning of the end of furlough, and there is no statement from the Chancellor. That will add thousands of pounds of costs to businesses across the country and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that it will lead to lay-offs and redundancies, so why no statement? We also need an urgent update on the settlement scheme, given that the Home Office is unable to cope with the outstanding backlog and that there is ongoing confusion and chaos. Sometimes, it seems the Government are more interested in sausages than people.
Well, haggis to that, I think. When the hon. Gentleman complains about references to 1966, I would say “pots and kettles”, because we often hear from the SNP about 1314. I think 1966 is a little more recent history than 1314.
On the furlough scheme, this was well announced and well planned, and we are getting back to normal. The date of 19 July is a terminus and, to carry on the railway comparison, we are on track. It is therefore right that businesses begin to get back to normal. Bear in mind that £407 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent supporting the economy. Fourteen million jobs and people have been protected through the furlough and self-employed schemes at a cost of £88.5 billion. There is not unlimited money and it is right that the scheme is withdrawn at the point at which the pandemic’s emergency provisions are drawing to a close.
As regards the settlement scheme, I think that through the scheme 5.3 million or so EU member state nationals have been dealt with, out of 5.6 million applications so far. A generous deadline was set and it has been handled extraordinarily well and efficiently by the Home Office. Officials there deserve considerable gratitude from the nation for handling it so smoothly considering the very much higher number of eligible people than the Office for National Statistics thought were in the country.
We recently celebrated UK National Marriage Week. As we come out of lockdown and welcome back larger weddings, may we have a debate about marriage, recognising that we do not want to price people out of marriage? That is not least because this week the Centre for Social Justice pointed out that those born into well-off families have a 96% chance of having two parents but, in our poorest communities, the figure is 28% and falling. While we all agree that single parents deserve all the help they can get and that so many do a great job, does the Leader of the House agree that if we as politicians are serious about levelling up, we should not hold back from also supporting marriage and the stability that it provides to give children a positive start in life?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question and for the excellent work of the Centre for Social Justice, founded, of course, by our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). Its findings are important and clear. My hon. Friend is right to be supportive of marriage, and it may not surprise her to hear that I am very supportive of marriage. It is a foundation stone of our society and has been for millenniums. It is fundamental.
I think the issue here is tonal as much as anything. The Government and politicians should support, encourage and foster marriage, but they must not be harsh on those who are not married. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in her tone to say, “Yes, we need to support people who are single parents but recognise the great benefits to children of being within a couple and a family.”
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the Backbench Business Committee debates for 8 and 15 July. On 15 July, as has been said, the Committee proposes debates on the Northern Ireland protocol and on the Beijing winter Olympics and the Chinese Government.
The levels of demand at the Backbench Business Committee remain high, but, alas, we do not have further time to allocate that we know of before the summer recess. We have pre-allocated all potential slots in Westminster Hall, and we have already pre-allocated subjects for debate on Thursday 22 July, should we be allocated that time.
Recently, I joined my local police for a series of visits around Blackpool. I was travelling in a car with PC Jeff Blincow and Sergeant Helen McLaren when we spotted a man carrying a foot-long machete and repeatedly punching a young woman. Without hesitation, the officers got out of the car. After a short chase and the use of PAVA spray, they were able to get the man to the ground and arrest him. The bravery and professionalism of the officers was second to none, and they deserve immense respect and admiration for their actions. Had they not acted so quickly we could have seen a serious incident, with the loss of life. Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking Jeff and Helen, and indeed all police officers, for the brilliant job they do, day in, day out, in protecting our communities. Does he think it would be in order to have a debate in this House to recognise the work of our serving police officers?
May I begin by wishing my hon. Friend a very happy birthday? I hope he will have a suitably covid-secure celebration later on today. What he has raised in this House is of fundamental importance. We are so lucky to have the police who serve us in this country. We know that in this House by the police who are here on duty to protect us, not knowing what risks they may face. Therefore, I do thank PC Jeff Blincow and Sergeant Helen McLaren, and commend them for their bravery, and I am glad to be able to bring to the attention of the House the fact that what they clearly did on that day is a model of good policing. We are improving the police and increasing their number, so that there will be more of them to do this work. There will be 20,000 extra police officers over the course of this Parliament, of whom 8,771 have so far been recruited, because police on the streets make us feel safer. As regards a debate, my hon. Friend may wish to raise this matter again during the Report stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on Monday, so there is an opportunity immediately to hand.
Several of my constituents have had a frustrating experience when trying to book a driving test at the Stockport test centre. Sadly, this experience is replicated across Greater Manchester and England as a result of processing delays at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Will the Leader of the House urge his colleague the Transport Secretary to come before this House to make a statement and explain why Ministers chose to block a deal that would have brought an end to the industrial dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union at the DVLA over health and safety? Is this not another case of this Government putting ideology ahead of the needs of the public?
Obviously, there is a regrettable backlog in tests because of the pandemic. That is being worked through. The number of tests being done at test centres is increasing. The number of tests being done by driving testers has gone up by an extra one a day, as I understand it, to try to work through this backlog. It will take time and this is, of course, unfortunate, but there are consequences of the pandemic, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the undeniable failure of the pubs code to stop unfair business practices that are continuing against tied tenants in public houses throughout the country? A clear example of this is the experience of Christian and Samantha Gibbs, the current tenants of The Major in Ramsbottom. Despite not owing a penny to their landlord, Stonegate, and running a fantastic community pub, they have been given notice that their tenancy will be brought to an end. In my view, that is a clear breach of the fairness principle in the pubs code.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this to the attention of the House. We want to support pubs across the country. As he knows, the pubs code is overseen by the Pubs Code Adjudicator, which is itself overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The code was put in place to help support tenant pub landlords, and I urge him to raise this matter with the adjudicator if he believes, as he does, that the code has been broken by his constituents’ landlord. The Government published their report on the first statutory review of the pubs code in November last year, which found that the code is consistent with the principles set out in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. The review also set out changes that the Government believe can be made to improve the operation of the code. I encourage landlords to behave well towards their tenants; that is how they make their profit and earn their living, and reward their shareholders, which they have a fiduciary duty to do.
Under the Government’s previous green deal scheme, more than 3,000 Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems customers in Scotland were mis-sold home improvement works, which were often unnecessary and always financially detrimental to the household. I have received assurances from various Ministers and Secretaries of State—who accepted that HELMS defrauded thousands—that it would be sorted. We now have households that have issues with these works, but as the six-year mark since HELMS directors dissolved the company has passed, there is no recourse for those constituents. Can we please have a debate on this important issue?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise an important and complex constituency issue. I am sorry that he has not received the information that he had hoped to. I will, of course, take this matter up with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on his behalf.
Our national health service has been under incredible pressure over the last 18 months, as we all know, and now it has a new Health Secretary. In April, the Care Quality Commission conducted an inquiry into and review of Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituents. The A&E department was given a glowing report and has shown dramatic improvement, which is good news for everyone. However, the same cannot be said of the maternity service. This is a very bad report indeed. I cannot go into detail at the moment, but clearly the CQC has published this, so could we have a statement to the House from the Health Secretary or a Minister on what extra support will be provided to Northwick Park Hospital so that the maternity unit is returned to the service that should be provided, and expectant mothers will receive the help and care they need to deliver healthy babies?
This is a deeply troubling matter. The House will know that there have been similar problems; the scandal at Telford and Shrewsbury particularly comes to mind. For the women, children and families affected, this is a terrible situation. I assure my hon. Friend that NHS England and NHS Improvement are spending an additional £95 million on maternity services to support the recruitment of 1,200 midwives, 100 consultant obstetricians and implementation of the immediate and essential actions arising from the Ockenden report. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary and ensure that the matter is taken with the seriousness that it unquestionably deserves-.
The Leader of the House will be proud, as I am, of the high animal welfare and environmental standards of British farmers. The Australian trade deal looks likely to betray those farmers by allowing lower standard Australian farm produce to undercut them. Given that this deal will set a precedent for every subsequent trade deal, will he allow time for MPs to debate it, as was done with the Japan deal last November, when his right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary said that that was the “first of many debates” about negotiated trade deals? Will he keep faith with British farmers and keep the promise made by his right hon. Friend?
I have more confidence in my farmers; I think they can compete with the best in the world. The Australians are fantastic farmers who have high standards of animal welfare. We should not be so frightened, nervy and feeble in feeling that a bit of competition from Australia will do us harm. It will do us all good, and our farmers will flourish and prosper as they get access to new markets too.
I need not remind anyone in this House about the scale and horror of the child sexual exploitation scandal that blighted Rotherham and affected many of my constituents, including courageous whistleblower and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse. That these children—because that is what many of them were when the abuse took place—were failed so monumentally by the system in the first place is horrific, but living as a survivor of sexual exploitation or any form of sexual assault is fraught with many issues, particularly for those girls and women who became pregnant as a result of their ordeal and are now trying to raise a family.
The children born to survivors of sexual assault should not, as currently happens, be automatically identified as being at risk of abuse, and their mothers, many of whom have been failed once already, should not be threatened with the removal of their children on the basis of no other evidence than that they themselves were once victims. Does the Leader of the House agree that these women and their children should be better supported by social services, and can we have a debate in Government time on the disturbing findings of “The Case for Change” report, published by the chair of the independent review of children’s social care, so that we may right this historic wrong, which is still victimising survivors of child sexual exploitation and sexual assault today?
What my hon. Friend brings to the House is really rather shocking. It should certainly not be the case that women who have themselves been abused should be deemed as being at risk of being abusers purely because they were abused. That is wrong, unfair and unjust and I am troubled that he should say that that is the case. I will take this up on his behalf with the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary, because the abuse scandal in Rotherham is one that has left many scars and troubles for families and for individuals who were abused, and they should not be suffering further. They should be getting the support that my hon. Friend talks about.
Can we have a debate about ministerial bad habits? When I was a Government Minister, it was unthinkable that we would have conducted Government business on private email accounts and absolutely unthinkable that, as a Minister, I could have held 27 meetings with companies that were seeking Government contracts, resulting in £1 billion-worth of contracts being awarded, and that those meetings could have mysteriously disappeared from my diary for a whole 12 months. The Leader of the House likes quoting Dryden. I remind him that Dryden said, “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” These bad habits of Ministers in Government will lead to a Government of grifters, cronies and chisellers, and they have to stop.
I am not sure that email was invented when the hon. Gentleman was last a Minister, but perhaps it had come into its early stages. It is absolutely right that Ministers had meetings with people who were going to provide personal protective equipment. I refer him to what I said to the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). It needed to be done urgently, the Opposition were encouraging us to do it urgently, and it was done urgently and effectively to ensure that supplies were brought in.
I join you, Mr Speaker, and others in wishing Mr Ian Davis MBE a long, happy retirement. He has been a magnificent servant of this House and has great musical talents. My goodness, if he ever wrote a book, it would be well worth buying and would be a top seller.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on proposals to allow the parents and guardians of disabled children access to their savings? Some 200,000 disabled children are locked out of the savings from children’s trust funds, and it is quite wrong that those parents have to go to court and spend a great deal of money to get those savings.
I absolutely agree about Ian Davis. He has been a fabulous servant of this House and a kindly and helpful figure to Members—particularly new Members when trying to find out how to approach the Speaker to ask to be noticed in a debate and so on—with a phenomenal knowledge of who the Members are, recognising all of us from a remarkably early stage in our parliamentary careers. He has been a model public servant, as you, Mr Speaker, set out yesterday, in both his military career and his service to this House, and he will be greatly missed across the House.
As regards the very important issue that my hon. Friend raises, I understand that the Ministry of Justice and HM Treasury are currently working together, as a matter of priority, to ensure that parents and guardians can secure the legal authority that they need to act on their child’s behalf as straightforwardly as possible. The Government have announced that those who need to apply to the Court of Protection to access funds in a mature child trust fund can access fee remission, allowing for the court fees to be waived, but I will pass on his concerns to both the Chancellors: the Lord High Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
On 27 May, in response to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme decision on suspending Members not being subject to a recall petition, the Leader of the House said that he would deal with the discrepancy in
“the most straightforward way possible”.—[Official Report, 27 May 2021; Vol. 696, c. 564.]
Will he provide a separate statement to the House about how he intends to resolve this issue? He will recall that, on 27 May, I praised him for his honesty about what should happen in these cases. I agree with him that it is frankly ridiculous that Members can technically be suspended and subject to recall for the misuse of stationery but not when sexual misconduct has been proven. I ask the Leader—I plead with him—to close the loophole and solve the problem as quickly as possible, because it is not fair to victims who make complaints when Members who are found to have conducted themselves completely improperly as Members can simply carry on regardless. It is not acceptable.
I fully recognise the widespread view across the House on this issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman that consultations are taking place—earlier this week I spoke to staff representatives—because the reason for not engaging recall was a bottom-up view, not a top-down view. It is really important that any changes are made with the support of the staff, which I believe is now there. It is a matter for the Commission rather than for the Leader of the House, but I will facilitate bringing forward the necessary motions required to put things into practice. There is also discussion with the chairman of the independent expert panel, Sir Stephen Irwin, about how best to do things. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the wheels are in motion and there is great support across the House and, indeed, from the shadow Leader of the House, with whom I have a meeting later today, to ensure that things are done in a timely manner.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his excellent response on schools last week, but may I please press him a bit further? Parents in Bracknell and beyond are telling me that entire classes and year groups are still being isolated because of one positive covid test; that extracurricular activities are being banned, not least for year 6 leavers; and that parents cannot attend sports days, even when they would otherwise be outside and distanced. Headteachers will be beholden to the unions for as long as they are permitted to use their judgment. Something has gone very badly wrong. Does the Leader of the House feel, as I do, that the only way to get children back to school and living normal lives is for the Government to mandate it?
I am, obviously, torn on this matter, because I believe in local decision making. I believe that headmasters and headmistresses throughout the country can show leadership. Some sports days are going ahead. I will be going, on 7 July, to the Hill House School field day, which is going to be arranged in a covid-secure manner. I encourage the leadership of schools to work with the regulations in a way that is allowed and that means things can happen. It is sometimes easier, administratively, to stop things and say no than it is to look at how to be positive and allow things to happen. I reiterate the point that I made last week: while in some cases a whole class may be required to isolate, many settings use seating plans and other means to identify close contacts in order to minimise the number of individuals who need to isolate. Yes, we should push from the top, but there should also be a response locally, from individual schools, to try to ensure that children get to school as often as is possible.
Campaigners such as Ailsa MacKenzie gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee two years ago and secured a commitment from the Department for Work and Pensions to place a remedial order to extend eligibility for widowed parent’s allowance and bereavement support payments to cohabitees with children. Given that 60 days—not including recess—are required to consider the proposal, will the Leader of the House liaise with the DWP to ensure that the remedial order is put in place as soon as possible, so that people such as Ailsa MacKenzie and their relatives and family get this state support?
Last week, I was at the excellent West Rise Junior School with Ms Somerville and year 6. They are super-motivated in their work on the environment, and I committed then to step up to the challenge of plastic-free July. Will my right hon. Friend publicise this initiative throughout the House, perhaps join me himself and, more importantly, allow time for a debate so that we can share our collective experience to understand what the barriers are to success in this initiative? We all know that making small changes can make a huge difference to our carbon footprint.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to campaign in this way. We all have our own private responsibility to reduce the amount of plastic that we use. I am not sure that I can guarantee a plastic-free July, because I might want a glass of water at the Dispatch Box and we have plastic cups here rather than glasses, but I must confess that my hon. Friend is pushing with my own personal preference. I have never liked those cups of coffee in disposable cups, which I think have a rather nasty taste; having it in china cups—preferably Spode china cups—is infinitely preferable. I encourage people to use glass, china and other things that may be used more than once.
Today, 750,000 businesses across England have lost their business rates relief, but, in Wales, the Welsh Labour Government have extended rates relief for a year and provided new support for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Can we have an opportunity to impress on Ministers the need to do more, help shops and businesses get back on their feet, and follow the Welsh example?
As I have mentioned already, £470 billion of taxpayers’ money has been given in support to business, and a 66% business rates cut for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses exists for the next nine months, so there has already been very significant support. The strength of the United Kingdom is that Wales has had £8.6 billion of UK taxpayers’ support, which is supporting more than 360,000 self-employment scheme claims and over 468,000 jobs in the furlough scheme. That is an indication of the strength of the United Kingdom, but the taxpayer has already been leaned on to a very considerable extent, and there is not unlimited money.
The Leader of the House was pretty clear at the Procedure Committee on Monday that he has converted—well, he has not converted, as it was always his position, alongside the SNP—to see the back of the EVEL Standing Orders. It seems that they will, nevertheless, be switched on when the Standing Orders for the procedure during the pandemic lapse at the end of term. He will switch them on only to switch them back off again at some point. Rather than that, can we not have a debate and a vote on all the hybrid proceedings before the summer recess so that we can decide what we want to retain and what we want to change?
The Croydon bottleneck is a major rail junction for the Brighton main line, but also serves suburban London, such as Carshalton and Wallington. Congestion here is causing massive delays and also prevents more frequent rail services from being run to outer London, which the Croydon area remodelling scheme is designed to fix. Can we have a statement from the Department for Transport about Government support for this scheme so that we can deliver additional rail services to Carshalton and Wallington?
Improving track layouts, remodelling the Selhurst triangle and constructing new tracks and two new platforms at East Croydon station would remove the bottleneck, which causes delays and disruption, improving the punctuality and speed of services. As I understand it, Network Rail has consulted on proposals to unblock the Croydon bottleneck and progress is expected later this year. I understand the concern that this must be to my hon. Friend’s constituents as so many of them are likely to be dependent on this service.
Let me say how much I enjoyed visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency recently, going to the Sutton vaccination centre and meeting Wendy, who was the subject of a Commons mention. May I say how surprised I am that he has managed to find something in his constituency that is not the fault of an incompetent Lib Dem-run administration? I hope that next week he will try harder.
In the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Colton confirmed what the Prime Minister himself had repeatedly denied in this House, which is that the withdrawal Act, which we in the DUP rejected in this House on all three occasions, has repealed article 6 of the Act of Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are no longer equal partners in trade. The consequences for Northern Ireland from the Government deal are clearer than ever before. The Northern Ireland protocol has the potential to derail the democratic process. As summer approaches and opinion can potentially become inflamed, this House has a role to play, as the decision has emanated from the Government here. This House can and must change this for the sake of long-lasting peace. Will the Leader of the House agree to a very urgent debate in this House so that Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom can be clearly laid out?
The court judgment was unquestionably an important one, and it is clear that the protocol, as it is currently operating, is presenting significant challenges for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. We will continue to work through those issues with the EU to try to find a way forward to ensure that the protocol is implemented in the proportionate way intended. That is how we hope to sustain peace and prosperity for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom is fundamental. It is just as much a part of the United Kingdom as Somerset is, and there is no court judgment or ruling that could possibly remove part of the United Kingdom from our United Kingdom. We must all do everything we can to support Northern Ireland within our United Kingdom and to ensure that the trade flows that go with it and that underpin the economic success of our United Kingdom work properly.
I have many major businesses headquartered in my constituency, and they have raised concerns about the inability of senior executives to travel to the US at the moment. Certain things often cannot be done by video conference call. For instance, many of them own subsidiaries in the US that they cannot go to manage and oversee, and many have major investors in the US whom they need to meet. May I stress to my right hon. Friend the importance of getting a US-UK travel corridor for business up and running? Would he contemplate a debate on that subject?
In my business life, I have spent a lot of time going back and forth to the United States for business purposes to see investors, so I completely understand the importance of the issue that my hon. Friend raises. The Prime Minister and President Biden have made it clear that this is important and look forward to bringing about the return of safe transatlantic travel as soon as possible. The newly formed joint UK-US expert working group is now under way, and we are working closely with our US allies on delivering on this important goal. Entry into the United States is, of course, a matter for the United States, but there is a clear business case for the need to solve this issue as quickly as possible for both the United Kingdom and the United States.
I have had emails from constituents who wish to seek exemption from hotel quarantine on the grounds of the serious ill health of themselves or their family members. They have mentioned the difficulty of booking a quarantine hotel, the splitting up of families and the substandard food and accommodation. Further, when I have written to the Department responsible for the exemptions, I have not had the courtesy of a reply. Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on this issue in Government time? Will he also pass on my observations to the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to meet me to discuss this issue, as I am not getting an answer from his Department?
If Members from either of the House are having problems getting answers from Departments, I will always use my office to try to facilitate an answer as soon as possible. In the cases to which the hon. Lady refers, getting answers urgently is obviously important, and I can give her the assurance that she asks for.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting my constituents Paul and Ruth Fisher, both of whom have played vital roles in our country as key workers. This young couple bought a new-build property from a large, well-known developer in 2019, but soon discovered that the property was substandard, although finished beautifully, with the ceilings not level with the floors and with outside walls also not level. The issues have yet to be resolved.
Sadly, soon after the purchase, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer and is currently receiving palliative care. My heartfelt best wishes go out to both of them and to her family. May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate in Government time to consider situations such as Paul and Ruth’s, paying particular attention to the need for an independent watchdog or ombudsman designed to help others like my constituents to reach a satisfactory settlement with large developers? That simply is not the case at the moment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The House’s sympathies will be with Ruth and Paul in these appalling circumstances. It is quite wrong for developers to sell substandard homes. Developers of new-build homes must meet their responsibilities, resolve issues quickly and treat homebuyers fairly when things go wrong. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, because as a constituency MP, one has sometimes found that developers have not been good at responding when there have been complaints, and there has been very little recourse. The building safety Bill will include provision for the new homes ombudsman scheme to provide stronger and effective redress for new-build homebuyers and to hold developers to account. This reform is long overdue, and it will be welcomed across the House.
I heard the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), but we have to have the right checks and balances in place.
The Health Minister Lord Bethell held a series of meetings with companies that went on to win contracts worth over £1 billion, and the week in question was omitted from his diary. That raises questions about the role of civil servants in the letting of these contracts. Where is the monitoring officer for the letting of these contracts, and who signs them off?
We need a statement in this House on the role of the civil service when it comes to such issues so that we can reassure ourselves that civil servants are not being bullied into silence and that they are holding Ministers properly to account and making them abide by the rules. I suspect that the only reason why we know about the meetings is that a civil servant leaked the emails because they knew that wrongdoing was going on.
I think that a fundamentally foolish point. There were 27 meetings, nine of which led to contracts being awarded by my noble Friend Lord Bethell on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government when we were under great pressure to act. That was exactly what the Labour party was asking for. It asked that whatever was necessary should take place—it wanted speed, urgency and decisiveness. That was what the Government delivered. The Government had to get on with awarding contracts to ensure that supplies were in place.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If normal procurement procedures had been followed, it would have taken three to six months to award contracts—we would have been halfway through the pandemic before we had had a single extra piece of PPE. Would he have wanted such incompetent service? Is that what the Labour party would have done? Would it have just fiddled while Rome burned or would it have got on with things, as my noble Friend did?
I championed town and parish councils long before the great Jackie Weaver made them go viral on t’interweb. But Nailsworth, Stinchcombe, Stonehouse and other councils across the Stroud district were quite dismayed at the removal of the option for virtual proceedings, and I would like to see that reversed. Will my right hon. Friend provide an update about the Government’s work in this area and let us know when Parliament will be looking at this particular issue?
We are grateful for the efforts that councils made to allow meetings during the period from 4 April 2020 to 6 May 2021, when the emergency regulations made under section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 applied. Extending the regulations to cover meetings after 6 May would have required primary legislation.
The Government carefully considered the case for legislation and concluded that it was not possible to bring forward further emergency legislation on the issue. We launched a call for evidence on 25 March, which closed on 17 June, to gather views and inform a longer-term decision about whether to make express provision for local authorities to meet remotely on a permanent basis. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is now reviewing the response to the consultation, and the Government will respond in due course.
I would say that we are all welcoming getting back to normal, and I think the whole of society wants to get back to normal as soon as possible.
When the Prime Minister’s chief adviser blatantly broke the rules despite the huge sacrifices made by the British people, the Prime Minister backed him; when the Home Secretary breached the ministerial code, he backed her; when the Housing Secretary was busy awarding planning permissions to Tory donors, he backed him; and when the Health Secretary broke the very rules that he had been passionately preaching to the rest of us, the Prime Minister backed him by saying that he considered the matter closed.
Would the Leader of the House be kind enough to facilitate a debate in Government time on integrity, British values and the ministerial code and to ensure that the Prime Minister attends the whole session, so that he can learn some of the basics?
We are fortunate in having a brilliant and effective Home Secretary who gets on with her job. We are also fortunate in having an extremely effective Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who believes in building the houses that people will be able to live in and in ensuring that we are a home-owning democracy. My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is no longer in office—a point that seems to escape Labour Members.
Radcliffe in my constituency is a proud town with a rich heritage and a strong identity that has unfortunately been forgotten for far too long by the Labour council, but this Conservative Government are delivering for the town. They have given it a brand-new high school, and hopefully the levelling-up fund will also go some way towards providing civic and leisure facilities in the heart of the town. Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on the benefits of the levelling-up fund for forgotten towns like Radcliffe?
The £4.8 billion levelling-up fund will spend taxpayers’ money to improve everyday life across the country, from transport projects to high streets. My hon. Friend does not have long to wait for a decision on the scheme; the decisions will be announced in the autumn. There is so much to do.
Even in our own Parliament, we have to level this place back up. I want to say how marvellously you have done, Mr Speaker, in saving 95% of the cost of doing up the Speaker’s House. People may not know this, but there was a proposal for a very lavish temporary home for the Speaker, and Mr Speaker, as a model defender of taxpayers’ money, has saved 95% of that cost. I hope that other people, when spending taxpayers’ money, will do the same.
I am now suspending the House for three minutes for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.