House of Commons
Thursday 2 July 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19: Economic Recovery
I have frequent conversations with the Chancellor about the vital role that transport plays in our economic recovery.
Yesterday, I met the Argyll and Bute climate change group, which is dismayed by the recent report showing that the UK Government have missed almost all their own climate change targets. Given that transport accounts for about a quarter of UK carbon emissions and that there are growing calls to link the economic recovery to meeting emissions targets, does the Secretary of State agree that only by enshrining annual targets in legislation will this Government be able to hope to meet their legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I take issue with his numbers: I think that transport accounts for about a third of greenhouse gases, rather than just a quarter, so he is right about the urgency of the situation. We absolutely believe in tackling this problem. That is why this country has legislated to be zero-carbon by 2050. When it comes to transport, he will be interested to hear that I am setting up the net zero board to push forward with all these important targets.
The Secretary of State will be aware that British Airways continues along its Dickensian path of threatening to fire staff and rehire them on substantially poorer pay and conditions, which affects many of my constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. Does he accept that the conduct of British Airways executives such as Willie Walsh is bringing the industry into disrepute at a time when support for public transport is critical if we want an aviation industry in the future?
I am very concerned about the plight of aviation employees not just at British Airways but at other companies. I urge British Airways and the unions to sit down to talk this through, which I know is not happening—the British Airline Pilots Association has done that, but the other unions have not. Important support has been in place through the furlough scheme, and I want to ensure that people are treated fairly and properly throughout this crisis.
The constituents I met as part of The Time is Now climate lobby on Tuesday want Government at all levels to move further and faster to tackle the climate emergency and build back better from the covid pandemic. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the decision in Glasgow to make the hire of nextbikes free for the coming months, so that people can reduce emissions, keep fit and get about in a safe and socially distant manner, and we can learn lessons across the United Kingdom for the future?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar, I am sure, with the £2 billion announcement I made at a Downing Street press conference for cycling and walking, of which £250 million was made available immediately in England. Through the Barnett consequentials, that will allow for a massive expansion of cycling across the whole United Kingdom.
Given the restrictions on public transport at the moment, it is vital that we look for alternative forms of transport to boost our economic activity. I welcome the news that e-scooters will be rolled out. The Transport Committee began its inquiry on that yesterday, so the timing is appreciated. There was some confusion as to whether driving licences will be required for e-scooters, which I believe may be due to a technicality. It would be a great shame if e-scooters were available only to those who drive a car.
My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.
I pay tribute to our transport workers and reflect on those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Our economy is experiencing major shock. There is no doubt that the foundations were weakened after a lost decade of austerity and the failure to invest properly in our regions that make up the northern powerhouse. Had the north seen the same per-person investment as London over the past decade, it would have received £66 billion more. Even before the pandemic hit, estimates by the UK2070 Commission recommended investment of £15 billion each year for 20 years. Will the Secretary of State outline how much capital investment has been awarded to the north?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the northern powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, so I take this very seriously indeed. I do not want to disappoint him, but there are so many different elements of funding going into the northern powerhouse right now that it is difficult to provide an immediate figure for the total. I would be happy to undertake to write to him with those precise details, but I can tell them that it is billions.
I am not sure that my pre-prepared response quite expected the Secretary of State not to know the answer to the question about how much money has been allocated, but we can guess: it is a drop in the ocean. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the historic funding gap of £66 billion. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the £15 billion annual allocation, as recommended by the Commission.
We were promised a plan to level up Britain. We were told that we were at war with the virus, yet when it came to a Marshall fund, the nation was failed. The Government failed on ambition; they failed on scale; and in doing so they failed the hard-working people of the north. Let us be generous and accept that what has gone has gone. Today, will the Secretary of State commit, in future allocations, to the north receiving no less than the capital?
That is a lot of rhetoric, but, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will go into some of the money that is being spent. For example, there is the trans-Pennine route, a multi-billion pound upgrade of the route from Manchester to Leeds. Then we have an extra £10 million initially to sort out the Manchester corridor, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. There is the High Speed North project, which runs into multi-billions. I will write to him, and I hope that he will come back to the Dispatch Box surprised and perhaps withdraw his words when he sees the multi-billion pounds that are being spent in the north right now.
Swissport, 321; Rolls-Royce, 700; Menzies Aviation, 160; and hundreds and hundreds more between British Airways, NCP, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Flybe, BA CityFlyer, TUI and SSP. These are not national statistics, but the aviation job losses in my constituency alone. Might this sector finally get some good news in the Chancellor’s statement next week? If the Secretary of State will not comment on specific aviation companies, will he tell us in general whether he personally thinks it fair that employees can be fired and rehired on slashed terms and conditions?
As I mentioned in my previous answer, I think the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned. We need to ensure that there is fair play for employees. Everybody understands that it has been an incredibly tough time. Everyone knows the furlough scheme and many other measures—£330 billion-worth of measures—have been there to support the sector. There has also been an individual process that companies—whether ground handlers, airlines or airports—have been able to go through with the Treasury to access additional money. I would appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible and be reported to the House. I am very keen to get the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, on board so that we can get this thing announced.
Alexander Dennis is a world-leading bus manufacturer, but that sector is also on its knees due to the coronavirus crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s re-announcement on bus investment, but it needs to be brought forward in full now. I ask the Secretary of State not to rule out investing in low-emission Euro 6 diesel buses to replace some of the older high-polluting models, helping to reduce carbon emissions more quickly and saving thousands of highly skilled jobs across the industry to boot.
Absolutely. The £3 billion, which is going into new buses, will help us to produce 4,000 additional buses. We want them to be low and zero-carbon electric buses, of course, but also hydrogen buses, so we will certainly be taking that forward. I will be saying more about that very shortly.
Covid-19: Bus Routes
The Government are providing significant funding for the bus industry at this time. Our covid-19 funding package for England’s buses totals £651 million. The Government provide £43 million annually to local authorities for supporting socially necessary services, plus £30 million of additional funding in 2021 to support, improve or restore services. Ministers and officials meet regularly with key stakeholders, including local transport authorities and operators to discuss a wide range of matters.
The Government’s public messaging to discourage the non-essential use of buses, and of open-access trains for that matter, is deeply damaging commercial routes that rely on public fares to remain viable. Will the Minister commit to reviewing that message and to safeguarding those commercial routes, such as the rural bus routes in my constituency of West Dorset?
My hon. Friend is right. We obviously keep all measures under review at all times, but our priority is always to keep the public safe. Thanks to the support that the Government have put into the bus industry, the vast majority of bus services in England are currently running.
My hon. Friend failed to respond to the question about coach operators, which rather indicates that, as the coach industry feels, the Government regard them with contempt. Will she now tell us when there is going to be a meeting, and a response to the request first made by the coach industry more than two months ago and repeated in a letter signed by 550 coach operators to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When are the Government going to do something to help our coach industry?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the concerns of the coach industry incredibly seriously, recognising the key part it plays in the tourism industry. That is why it has been able to access £330 billion of Government support, along with all parts of our economy. We are working extremely hard to get tourism up and running, and the coach industry will benefit from that.
A number of bus routes in my local towns, including Brixham and Dartmouth, have been cancelled or reduced in the past few weeks, which is, obviously, a massive disservice to the residents. The Government have announced a supreme package of support for our bus networks, with grants and the forthcoming review. I urge them to put a long-term strategy planning mechanism in place to allow bus companies to plan their future for many months to come.
The Government absolutely recognise the crucial role bus services play in rural communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, up and down the country. That is why we are providing a five-year, £5 billion funding package for buses and cycling. That will include a £20 million demand-responsive transport scheme. We are also bringing forward a national bus strategy to address exactly these concerns about rural services, which play a vital role.
I wish to start by paying tribute to our bus workers for keeping a vital public service running, in rural areas and across the country, during the coronavirus crisis. Bus drivers and other transport workers have made a very significant contribution—indeed, a number of drivers have died in the epidemic. We owe all these key workers a huge debt of gratitude for their service at this difficult time. As a sign of the Government’s support for our bus services, will the Minister now commit to properly funding buses, both in the next few months and in the longer term? Will she also offer financial support to the families of the staff who have died, to bring this in line with financial support for NHS and care workers?
I join the hon. Gentleman in the comments he has made, and Conservative Members, too, pay our tribute to those key workers—those bus workers—who have played a vital part in keeping goods, services and passengers moving around the country. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their service. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that they are kept safe throughout the pandemic. As bus services start to recover, we are working closely on a bus recovery and restart package, as well as the £5 billion we have pledged to put in to keep bus services on a sustainable footing for the long term.
Direct Rail Services
I recognise and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s campaign. He has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. London North Eastern Railway and Network Rail continue to assess how the service could operate.
I apologise to the Minister for banging on about this, and so do my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), but we are talking about a catchment area of 100,000 people with no direct train to London. LNER, which we own, is prepared to give us our direct train for just £1 million, which compares with the £80 billion-plus we are spending on HS2. So we beg the Minister to do this for Lincolnshire, and we promise that if he gives us our train, we will make him an honorary yellowbelly.
That would indeed be a great honour. Before a final decision can be taken, we need to review a business case from LNER. Sadly, some of the surveys have been delayed because of coronavirus, but they will be taking place later this summer. I am happy to commit to writing to my right hon. Friend setting out the schedule for that work, and to keeping him and his colleagues updated.
The Government have provided £250 million of funding to local authorities this financial year to increase levels of active transport.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating teachers, parents and volunteers who are opening school streets such as that for Albermarle Primary School in Putney, which are making streets cleaner, safer, greener and more cycle-friendly? On cycling, when will the Government publish their updated cycle infrastructure guidance for local authorities and the much promised cycling and walking plan or investment strategy, and will it be before recess?
I congratulate the initiative on the roads, which is fantastic. My hon. Friend will know that I have announced £2 billion, and nearly £50 million of that has been made available to local authorities straightaway. I can also inform the House that a further tranche of money will be made available over the summer as well, along with the plans that she refers to.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to cycling and his investment in it. In my constituency of Barrow, we have the opportunity now to create a safe cycle route from Walney Island all the way up the A590 to Ulverston across some abandoned railway bridges. Making that work means getting Network Rail, Highways England and our county council to pull together. What advice and support can he give me to make that happen?
It sounds like a terrific scheme, and my advice to my hon. Friend is to have the local authority work with all those other bodies, including Network Rail, Highways England and the county council. I will join him in pushing from my end to ensure that can happen.
Bury Council has outlined plans for 70 new or upgraded crossings and five miles of protected cycle routes on busy roads, which if completed, would allow 88% of the population to use the Greater Manchester Bee Network. Implementation of those plans, however, has stalled, despite funding being in place. Will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure Bury North residents have the benefit of those improvements at the earliest opportunity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Manchester Bee Network is extremely important. I can inform him that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has already had £3.174 million to assist in projects such as this and, of course, either myself or the Minister with responsibility for cycling will be absolutely delighted to meet him.
I thank the Department for the support it has given Brighton and Hove Council to move forward on some of its street schemes, but the developing lungs of children are the most vulnerable, so air quality around schools is important as is, of course, the fitness that we want to encourage in children. As we have heard, London has already started taking action on school street schemes, so will the Secretary of State bring into effect part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to enable local authorities outside London to start to enable school street schemes to keep our children safe and reduce the 40,000 deaths because of poor air quality every year?
I thank the Secretary of State for that very direct answer. Around 40% of the lowest income households do not have access to a car, but we know from the Government’s own research that because they tend to live in more hazardous environments—so more traffic, more on-street parking, more pollution and little space for cycling and walking—they are deterred from active travel. Can we have a national strategy from the Government, not just money being sent down to local councils, to try to increase cycling and walking in our more deprived communities?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government are very much in favour of people being able to take active transport, but we are not against the car. That is why we are investing £27 billion in roads, but I can tell her—I am sure she will welcome this—that we think the priority for walking and cycling is absolutely essential. I think she will be very pleased with what we have to say in forthcoming guidance on the subject.
Public Transport: Face Coverings
We are working closely with transport operators and the police to monitor compliance. Initial reports from operators suggest very high compliance.
Wearing a face covering is an easy way to help protect us all from coronavirus, especially in more confined spaces such as public transport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford to make that small change which can help us to control the virus and save lives?
My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of face coverings. We have seen very high levels of compliance. According to the Office for National Statistics, on the week of 26 June, it looks like 86% compliance was in existence. We did say that in the early days we would ensure compliance was enforced gently, but I inform the House that TfL, Network Rail and British Transport police will be tightening up on that. I have just signed the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020, which under regulation 8 give powers to TfL to increase enforcement.
I recently announced the Jet Zero Council, which will provide UK leadership and strategic direction to cut emissions.
My hon. Friend is right in his question, and he will be interested to hear that we set up the Jet Zero Council specifically to take forward the objective of being the first country to develop a jet commercial airliner to fly at zero carbon across the Atlantic. That will involve not just investment in sustainable aviation fuels, in which money has already been invested and more was announced by me at one of the press conferences, but work on electric planes, hybrid planes and hydrogen planes. He can expect to hear a lot more as we join with industry to help deliver on that ambition.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware that Birmingham airport in my constituency of Meriden will be key to the economic recovery of the region after the devastating impact of covid-19. Will he confirm that decarbonising the aviation sector is an economic opportunity as well as a green one? Will he join me in commending Birmingham airport on its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2033?
My hon. Friend is right, and I absolutely join him on Birmingham’s commitment to that. It is joining other airports including, I think, Bristol, which has already achieved zero carbon, as well as Farnborough and some of the larger airports. What I have been most impressed with is the way in which the industry has embraced the Jet Zero Council and the idea of getting to zero carbon, signing its own pledges to get there. We are determined to meet this commitment, which we will hear a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.
Rail Service Frequency
The rail industry will deliver an uplift in services on Monday 6 July to respond to an increase in post-4 July demand. Service levels will be close to 85% of pre-covid levels.
The Prime Minister is a big fan of buses, just as I am a big fan of trains—I do not make model trains yet, though—so I am proud to support a Government who are investing £48 billion into railways, giving them the biggest upgrade since Victorian times. Will my hon. Friend assure me that such funding will be used to ensure that communities across all parts of the country such as mine in Stourbridge, have access to reliable, punctual railways?
I had already noted that my hon. Friend has a passion for rail as she has sponsored a bid to reinstate a railways fund for the “Stourbridge Dasher,” which I look forward to examining shortly. Yes, the Government are investing £48 billion in our railways in the period 2019 to 2024—that figure does not include HS2—with the intention to use that money to deliver a reliable rail service that helps to level up our country.
I pay tribute to our wonderful rail workers, who have played a vital role in keeping our nation moving in the midst of a pandemic. As we come out of lockdown, I welcome the Government’s plans to increase the frequency of rail services as, indeed, I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s plans and efforts to effectively nationalise our rail services at the start of lockdown. It is disappointing to note, however, that other operators such as Hull Trains have been refused the exact same support from the Government, thereby risking hundreds of jobs.
There is no point in having lots of trains running if people are not using those services because they fear it is not safe to do so. Given the Government’s mixed messaging, with weakening social distancing requirements on the one hand and patchy compliance with the new face-covering law on the other, how does the Minister propose to protect passengers and rail workers while restoring public confidence in our network?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. We have had a conversation already and I look forward to working with him. Our railways are a very important part of bringing our nation’s economy back. It is quite straightforward: we will have a reliable train service that will be one of the cleanest on the planet. We want to get customers back when they are able to travel, given the appropriate guidance. Working together, I think we can do that.
Public Transport Access: Sight Loss
The Government remain committed to delivering inclusive transport for all passengers. My officials and I meet regularly with transport providers and make it clear that they must consider the needs of all passengers as transport restarts. My most recent meeting involving a sight loss charity was last Friday.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent Janice, who is blind, is anxious about how to keep safe and stay socially distant on public transport, and she is not alone. The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s director of services, David Clarke, said:
“Social distancing is near-impossible for…blind and partially sighted people which makes it difficult to go out and get food…exercise or attend medical appointments”.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the RNIB and my constituent by acting early to ensure that all transport providers in England have the funds available for new accessible signage, so that social pressure to keep to the rules does not have an unfair impact on blind and partially sighted people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She is absolutely right in everything she says. I have been working with a whole range of accessibility groups and disability charities to try to make sure that we get our messaging right, because we want to welcome everyone back to our rail system eventually and we want it to be the most accessible in the world. We have a long way to go, but we are working with those groups to deliver that service as best we can.
Leaving the EU: Road Haulage
The UK continues to work constructively towards a trade agreement with the EU. Whatever our trading relationship with the EU after 31 December, the UK logistics and haulage sector will play a critical part.
The Dover port is used by 10,000 trucks every day. If we end up with no deal, the slightest delay means that just-in-time systems fall apart. The logistics sector says that it needs a credible plan to cover that high-risk situation. When will we see such a plan?
The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point that I as a Minister and my Department as a whole are focusing on. We are working through detailed plans to ensure that traffic flows smoothly through Kent, so that goods and services can continue to flow to the EU and elsewhere, as they do at the moment.
We are accelerating the use of hydrogen vehicles through demonstration and R&D projects to fulfil our ambitions for greener transport and to level up the country. Decarbonising transport requires the sector and users to embrace new technology and innovations such as hydrogen like never before.
I welcome the Minister’s answer. Given that hydrogen technology presents such an enormous opportunity for clean UK-made transport of the future, will she ensure that hydrogen gets an equal billing in that R&D in future as we deliver the green revolution in transport?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. We are totally well placed to be a leader in clean hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and that is down to our high-quality engineering and manufacturing capability. This Government, I as a Minister and the whole Department are working at pace to develop our green recovery plan, and hydrogen will form a key part of that.
I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for the work that they are doing, in particular, on the transport decarbonisation plan that he and I started together. Does the Minister agree that to make the post-covid recovery a real catalyst both for levelling up and sustainable growth, an industrial strategy for hydrogen fuel with four, five or six green hydrogen transport hubs, from Aberdeen to Teesside, Norfolk, Bristol and Northern Ireland, and a major procurement package for hydrogen buses would really help the UK to take a lead, drive down the cost, and lead in the science and R&D of hydrogen fuel?
I will take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his valuable contribution in driving forward this vital agenda. We are a world leader in technology, innovation and R&D and, as he will know, we have invested £121 million in UK hydrogen technology to make sure that it plays a key part in our green recovery and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He is also right that this has the potential to drive a fantastic flourishing and see levelling up across our whole country. We are working to include hydrogen and ensure that it plays a key part in the green recovery and our levelling-up ambitions.
Aviation Sector: Worker Protection
The Government remain committed to an open dialogue with the sector as we work towards our shared ambition of getting aviation up and running again. We encourage the industry and unions to engage constructively with each other.
British Airways is proposing to lay off 12,000 staff and is using this pandemic as cover to put its remaining 30,000 staff on inferior contracts. Using a global health crisis to force through such changes is a national disgrace, yet British Airways still enjoys preferential treatment as our flag carrier, with a dominant position on slots at Heathrow. If it fails to treat its staff properly, surely it is time to review whether it is fit to be our national carrier and time to reallocate those slots.
All redundancies or any threat to jobs in this unprecedented pandemic is incredibly worrying for all workers, and my sympathies are with all those affected at this time. I have spoken to Willie Walsh and encouraged BA and the unions to engage constructively with each other. Employees should be treated fairly and in the spirit of partnership and we are working with the aviation sector on a restart and recovery plan. Of course, we will be looking at all regulations at our disposal.
A constituent of mine who started working for British Airways more than 20 years ago faces losing their job or being rehired on worse pay and terms than when they started work. BA needs to halt its plans and the Government have still not brought forward an aviation sector deal, as promised three months ago. Will the Minister therefore confirm when an aviation deal will finally be announced and whether any deal will both extend the job retention scheme for aviation workers and include firm conditions to help to protect jobs, firms and pay?
The Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of measures to support business and particularly the aviation sector. The Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been clear that we stand ready to talk to and hear from businesses that need further support. Of course, my absolute sympathies are with everybody affected with regards to redundancies or any kind of change within their terms and conditions. It is absolutely right that those employees should be treated fairly, and I hope that the unions and BA continue to work together to come to a proper resolution.
We are creating a transport decarbonisation plan, to be published by the end of the year, setting out a bold and ambitious pathway for the decarbonisation of transport.
Will the Secretary of State please do all he can to bring forward the very light rail scheme in Dudley so that we can benefit not just from the environmental impact that the scheme will bring, but from the economic benefits as we bounce back from covid-19?
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and support for the very light rail scheme in Dudley, and we are keen to support it. It is important to get Dudley Council working with the West Midlands Combined Authority and the local enterprise partnership. We very much look forward to receiving the detailed business case.
The Government have simplified their cycle to work scheme guidance to help employers to access e-bikes at a discount.
Southampton has received Government funding for additional cycle lanes, many of which lie unused for most of the day. My constituency is surrounded by hills, which is quite a deterrent for people on cycles. E-bikes and e-scooters could make a significant difference. I welcome the news that e-scooters will become legal this weekend, but without relaxing the regulations for privately owned e-scooters, a city centre hire scheme will make little or no difference in Southampton. Will my hon. Friend look again at privately owned e-scooters to encourage more of my constituents out of their cars?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to capitalise on the unprecedented growth in active travel that we have seen recently, especially on bicycles and e-bicycles. He is completely correct about e-scooters; these trials will only include rental scooters. This will allow them to take place in a controlled manner while we assess the safety and other impacts. A wide range of e-scooters are available, building to different standards. I would like to think that the trials will demonstrate how useful they are in the mix for active travel.
Local Sustainable Transport Plans
Local areas have a key role to play in decarbonising transport and stimulating a green recovery. We welcome plans from local authorities, and have supported their shift to cycling and walking with a £250 million emergency active travel fund.
Will the Minister ratchet up the sense of urgency on this? We need sustainable towns right across the country, and sustainable transport is at the heart of that. We could already transform taxis to electric or hybrid, and change our buses. We can do so much now. Will she put more pressure on—and give more resources to—local authorities so that they lead the way, and will she support our new commission on road air quality?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I completely share his desire to do things faster than they have been done to date. We have brought forward the e-scooter trials, which will see e-scooters being rolled out in Tees Valley and across the country to immediately harness the benefits of the green air that we are seeing as a result of the pandemic lockdown situation. A whole host of other measures are coming onstream, all backed up by £2 billion of Government support for active travel including cycling and walking. We will continue to work on this through our transport decarbonisation plan.
Maritime Sector Jobs
My officials and I engage extensively with the maritime sector on the support that it needs, including unprecedented financial assistance.
P&O Ferries, which is owned by the Government of Dubai, has pocketed millions from the British taxpayer during the covid crisis. It is now intending to make British seafarers redundant and replace them with low-paid, badly treated Filipino crews, because it says that the routes are not viable when using British seafarers. The Secretary of State told the Transport Committee that there is nothing he can do because his hands are tied by international agreement. It is not good enough. Will the Minister commit to levelling up employment conditions to prevent the likes of P&O from destroying seafarer jobs, and to unleash the potential of this brilliant maritime city of Hull?
I note the hon. Gentleman’s particular interest in this policy area. We have had many discussions on this issue and he knows that I am committed to doing what I can as the Minister responsible for maritime to increase the ability of UK seafarers to work on our routes. We have supported the ferry sector with a with a freight support package to protect what we needed within the UK, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we want to make sure that we are able to create an environment in which we can increase the number of seafarers operating around our coastal shores.
Railways: Passenger Confidence
The Government have provided guidance to transport operators and the public so that they can travel safely. We have made it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport in England and, pleasingly, compliance is growing every day.
Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the railways, but my constituents in Bedford and Kempston have been particularly hard hit. The Bedford-to-Corby electrification is now delayed; the long-awaited return of the East Midlands Railway service is delayed until May next year; the current Thameslink service is slow; and the Bedford-to-Bletchley trains have been stopped altogether. Does the Minister agree that this is a far cry from the transport revolution that his Government promised?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I think he is mixing up the reaction to the obvious pressures we have had because of the pandemic with our plans for the future. Some of the plans that he outlined are delayed, yes, but that is because people were not able to work safely during the pandemic. The train line that he mentioned is no longer serving Bletchley because nobody was using it. These services will all return and they will be reliable and cleaner than ever before.
Transport Project Construction
In May, we announced £190 million-worth of investment in our road and rail networks to take advantage of lower demand.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend did when he was a Department for Transport Minister. Work is now under way on platform 0 at Leeds and is expected to be completed by early next year. It will enable Northern to operate services more reliably.
We recognise our international obligations, our borders remain open to seafarers, and we are enforcing their rights under the maritime labour convention.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to say a word about how we would like to pay tribute to the transport workers who have, as Members have mentioned, lost their lives during this crisis. Many of them are providing the food on our tables and helping the key workers in the NHS and care workers to get to work to support us all. We would therefore like to set up a commemorative memorial for transport workers, and I can think of no better location than Victoria station, where Belly Mujinga was an employee who sadly lost her life.
UK steel producers, including British Steel in Lackenby, are able to supply more than 90% of HS2’s phase 1 steel requirements. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should do all we can to support UK manufacturing in the construction of HS2? If we are going to build, build, build, let us make it British, British, British.
My hon. Friend has absolutely nailed it; he is spot on. That is of course what we must do. I can report to him that 98% of the purchasing for HS2 so far been from British suppliers. There is of course a supply chain involved, but I absolutely support my hon. Friend’s ambition and I know he will do what Network Rail does—it buys nearly all its steel British.
British, British, British Airways, easyJet, Airbus and Jet2—every day we get more news of staggering job losses across the aviation industry. Our world-class airports and their supply chains are at critical. The US, Spain, Germany and France have all agreed specific aviation deals so that their countries bounce back more strongly. If not now, when will the Government implement a comprehensive package for our aviation sector matching Labour’s commitment?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the critical importance of our aviation sector, which is the third biggest in the world. These are extremely worrying times. As the air bridges start to unlock, that will help, and we will hear more about those soon. It is not the case that there has not been a massive package. He forgets the £330 billion to support the economy, which has included a number of measures that the aviation sector has been able to take specific assistance from. It is okay to discount it, but that is money it has been using all the way along. In addition, the aviation sector has been able to access a process that other sectors have not necessarily been able to, putting it directly in talks between the Department for Transport and the Treasury. It has been accessing money and cash through that process, as well.
We have devolved significant power and funding to metro mayors, including to the metro mayor of Manchester, to ensure that he can deliver the transport schemes needed to unlock housing and growth, so that Greater Manchester’s economy can thrive as the heart of the northern powerhouse. The bypass is one scheme for the Mayor to consider prioritising and thereby, we hope, deliver. We will happily work with him to ensure that conversation continues at pace.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, £504,000 has been provided to Sheffield City Region Combined Authority to date through the covid-19 bus service support grant. In addition, we are spending a huge amount of money—£3 billion—on a bus strategy going forward. I would like to think we can work together to deliver the service that her constituents require.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important to ensure we can provide reassurance for passengers, but also do something useful with the screening, perhaps beyond what just asking people to take a temperature check provides. We are actively working with Heathrow and other airports to put exactly those types of schemes in place, and I will be saying more about those in time for the following review of air corridors.
The hon. Member will be interested to hear about the transport decarbonisation plan, which I think she will find goes way beyond even the ambitions that she has set out. She will not have to wait too much longer to see that in detail, but I have already mentioned the net zero board, which is driving exactly the change she seeks.
My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I am in touch with Swissport and I am following those proposals carefully. As I said in response to an earlier question, we believe that it is important to provide international standards, which may well include specific types of testing. So the answer is yes.
It is indeed very frustrating that so much revenue failed to be collected in the previous four years because prices were not changed to keep up with inflation. There were no changes in the congestion charge either. Effectively, £700 million of take was left on the table by the London Mayor, meaning that the Government have had to come in and bail out Transport for London for £1.6 billion. A large chunk of that is uncollected revenue, and changes are having to be made for youngsters’ travel. Members across the House must recognise that it is fair that people in other parts of the country do not unduly subsidise the Mayor, who failed to collect the funds.
The hon. Gentleman reflects a concern that we have heard expressed across the House today and previously, and the Transport Committee has done excellent work. The Government are concerned about this. We have put in a lot of money through the furlough scheme to support jobs. We now expect British Airways, other companies and the unions to sit down and sort this out properly.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend and other colleagues met the roads Minister recently on the important subject of the A21. I absolutely share his passion. I know that it is currently earmarked for RIS 3, but we are setting up the speed unit in DFT—the acceleration unit—to try to ensure that we can deliver this important infrastructure faster. We undertake to work with him to bring forward what I know is not an enormous scheme but would make a huge difference.
As I mentioned in an answer a few moments ago, we have already put billions of pounds into supporting this sector. The hon. Lady may be pleased to hear that there is something she can do, and that is to ask the Scottish Government to join with us to ensure that we can have air bridges in place nationwide as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I explained a few moments ago, after failing to collect £700 million of fares in various forms and then coming to Government with a request for £1.6 billion, it stands to reason that something has to give. He is absolutely right to mention that it is the Mayor’s decision to extend the remit and the time of the congestion charge, although I have to say that the Mayor left himself with precious few options, having failed to collect that money for all those years.
The Government have a massive agenda of levelling up this country and providing transport infrastructure that is fit for years to come. We are doing that, and we are investing in it. We look forward to supporting my hon. Friend in filling potholes in her constituency, too.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 6 July will include:
Monday 6 July—Remaining stages of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Tuesday 7 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Wednesday 8 July—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement, followed by a general debate on the economy.
Thursday 9 July—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. At 5 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Friday 10 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week. May I just say that the voting on Tuesday and Wednesday was absolutely appalling? I cannot think of anything less productive than Cabinet Ministers queueing up in the way that they had to—and all of us, for that matter; we have better things to do. Also, there is still the exclusion of hon. Members from taking part in debates on legislation. I plead with him again to return to hybrid proceedings for substantive business.
Silence—that is the sound of the Prime Minister coming to the Chamber to announce the £5 billion financial package. I had not realised that Parliament had moved to Dudley. And that is slightly less than they have announced in Germany, which is £50 billion. It would have been nice for hon. Members to be able to question the Prime Minister. Is this new money or old money? Is it money that has been previously been announced, or new money? I note that the Leader of the House has mentioned the financial statement on Wednesday. Can he tell us whether there will be a money resolution attached to that?
The Leader of the House will know that the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said on 18 March:
“The government is clear—no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home…These are extraordinary times and…we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.”
Given the masses of job losses in every sector—retail, food services, aerospace, hospitality, arts and music—and with the emergency legislation coming to an end and the furlough scheme winding down, this is going to be a perfect storm and people are going to be caught up in it. The shadow Housing Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), wants to co-operate with the Government, so could the Leader of the House ensure that she and the Secretary of State talk about bringing back emergency legislation before it runs out in August? It cannot be in the renters’ rights Bill, because that is not coming to Parliament until the end of the year. We need to help people in this situation.
The shadow Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), has reminded me that the independent medicines and medical devices safety review led by the noble Baroness Cumberlege will report its findings next Wednesday. Those who have suffered from Primodos, sodium valproate and surgical mesh have campaigned for this. I pay tribute to those campaigners and to hon. and right hon. Members from across the House who have ensured that we have this review. Will the Leader of the House find time for an oral statement to allow colleagues to discuss the next steps?
The Prime Minister said yesterday that the information on testing is provided. What he did not say was that it is provided two weeks later, making it impossible for any local authority to react in time. Labour in Wales publishes both pillar 1 and pillar 2. The Leader of the House will know that pillar 2 is provided to officials only if they sign the Data Protection Act, and only within their area because it is collected commercially. What was in the contract about releasing the data immediately, and why are the Government sitting on this data? Apparently Walsall is on the list for lockdown, but officials say that they are not considering a lockdown. So can we have an urgent statement on exactly what information is available, when it is available, and to whom?
I know that the Leader of the House is comfortable in various different centuries, but I am not sure how he can sit back and watch the destruction of the civil service. They are a professional civil service, they understand the public interest, they abide by a code, they follow policy set by the Government, and they act within the law. Instead, Whitehall is threatened with a hard rain. Could the Leader of the House tell the special special adviser that Malcolm Tucker is actually a fictional character? I think he has already been done—and he is not Alastair Campbell, who is in fact a pussycat.
A national security adviser has been appointed with no proven experience. The Intelligence and Security Committee still has not been set up. As I asked last week, and as many other Members have also asked, why are the Leader of the House and the Government taking a risk with our national security?
I know the Leader of the House keeps saying to hon. Members, “Don’t forget to ask that at Question Time”, but at FCO questions on Tuesday there was nothing about Nazanin, Anousheh, Kylie, who is still a British citizen, or Luke Symons. Could we have an update, please?
I want to join the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister, in thanking Sir Mark Sedwill, and other civil servants who have been ousted from their jobs, for all their many, many years of public service.
After last week—I am sorry that hon. Members are having a difficult time—this week our thoughts and prayers are for the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and Flora.
I hope that all hon. Members will think about the NHS on Sunday and thank the NHS for 72 brilliant years and many more to come.
The right hon. Lady is always so difficult to follow because she so often ends with sad news. The news from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) was the saddest. There is so little one could say that could possibly give any comfort, other than for him to know that he has many friends in this place, and our hearts bleed for him. It is the saddest, the hardest, the most unbearable news, and we wish him and his wife every condolence and sympathy that we can.
To move on to politics, let me start with the right hon. Lady’s tribute to Mark Sedwill. She is obviously right to pay tribute to him—he is an enormously distinguished public servant—and to the civil service generally. The team that supports the Leader of the House is something that—dare I say?—the shadow Leader of the House should be enormously jealous of; I have a feeling she may be. I am brilliantly supported by extremely hard-working people who do a fantastic job. I have no idea of what their political opinions are at all, but they back the Government in what the Government are trying to do. The Northcote-Trevelyan approach to the civil service is one that has served us well for a very long time, but it sometimes needs a degree of updating. Even I am not so wedded to the 19th century that I feel nothing can be improved.
The appointment of David Frost as National Security Adviser is an utterly brilliant appointment. He is an enormously qualified man and a very distinguished diplomat, and many people are beginning to say that he is the Henry Kissinger of our time. He is a great and distinguished public servant, who will serve enormously well.
The hon. Gentleman is quite incapable of keeping quiet, even for a moment. His agitation and his degree of excitement may be slightly theatrical on this occasion.
On the ISC, as always, that will be set up in due course. It would be wrong to be “Russian” these things—[Laughter]—as I am sure the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) appreciates. [Interruption.] No, it was not, actually; it was quite deliberate.
On the Cumberlege review, I actually gave evidence to that review in relation to Primodos. This is an opportunity for me to pay the greatest tribute to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who has campaigned absolutely tirelessly. I first met the hon. Lady when we were both elected in 2010 and had offices opposite each other, and she took up this issue when nobody else was really interested. She has transformed people’s thinking about it, and I look forward with great interest to what Baroness Cumberlege has to say about Primodos. It is a very important issue.
Going back to some of the other questions, the right hon. Member for Walsall South is a kind and generous person, and her sympathy for Cabinet Ministers having to queue is much appreciated by my right hon. Friends, who have to take on these onerous things which are otherwise unknown across the country. Our constituents never have to queue for anything because life is so smooth and easy, but she appreciates that right hon. Ladies and Gentlemen having to queue is so burdensome and tough, and makes us realise that we are really earning our living as we stand in a queue. Remarkably, it takes almost exactly the same time to pass through the Division Lobbies as it does when we are using the Lobbies without social distancing. The speed with which we got through them earlier this week was pretty much the normal speed and therefore things are working: Government business is getting through and scrutiny is taking place. I am not as kindly or as soft-hearted as the right hon. Lady, and I think a Cabinet Minister queuing for a few minutes is no bad thing, and probably spiritually enlightening and uplifting.
The right hon. Lady referred to renters who have lost income. Emergency provisions were made: £1 billion has been made available to help people who are renting. The Government are very conscious of the need to protect people who are in the private rented sector.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Prime Minister not making a speech in the House, but making it outside the House. However, the Prime Minister came to the House just a week before and made a statement. We are having a statement on Wednesday next week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government have been assiduous in maintaining the ministerial code’s requirement to make major announcements to the House first, and this is part of the natural process of government.
I know the whole House will want to join the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in their thoughts and prayers for our hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman).
A lot has changed since plans were first put forward for Parliament’s restoration and renewal, and it is appropriate for the newly formed sponsor body now to review those plans. May we have a debate on the plans before the recess as a means for all hon. and right hon Members to take part fully in that process?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking responsibility by joining the board. He is right that this House ought to have an opportunity to have its say on the future of the Palace of Westminster, which it is right to protect and safeguard for future generations. When the last Parliament considered this matter, it did so on the basis of assumptions that are now five years old, and it is absolutely proper that the sponsor body and delivery authority are conducting a strategic review to reconsider their approach. I would urge Members to consider submitting evidence to the review, and to be mindful that the price tags widely reported are also now five years old. There are rumours that the potential costs now far exceed the £4 billion estimate made in 2015. We must be clear that when Parliament takes its final decision on how to proceed, there can be no blank cheque for this work. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 specifically requires the sponsor body to have regard to value for money.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor understands that we are still in the middle of this pandemic, and that before considering recovery after covid, we should ensure the survival of as many companies and jobs as possible? The Government will reduce payroll support to firms from 1 August, but how does the right hon. Gentleman expect companies that remain closed to find the money for wages? Does he agree that support must continue for those sectors of the economy that are unable safely to open in the autumn? Will he press the Chancellor to be more ambitious than the Prime Minister, who underwhelmed us all earlier this week? The PM’s package, based on accelerating existing capital projects, involved no new money whatsoever. The sum involved totalled about one fifth of 1% of the UK’s annual production. Compare that with the German Government, whose stimulus package is fully 20 times that amount.
The Prime Minister’s package contains not a single penny extra for Scotland, so I must ask again when we can debate the necessary changes to the fiscal framework of devolution. When I asked about that before, the Leader of the House simply referred to the sums that the Scottish Government are spending under the Barnett formula. It is as if Scotland’s getting its share of UK spending is the result of Westminster generosity, rather than the return of taxes that people in Scotland pay to the United Kingdom. The question is not about amounts; it is about powers, and about changing the rules so that, for instance, the Scottish Government can do exactly what the PM is proposing for England, and bring forward future capital spending. Will the Leader of the House please answer that question about rules?
I appreciate that the Government are led by someone who thinks that the border does not exist, and who does not even recognise that the term “Scottish Government” was introduced in section 12(1) of the Scotland Act 2012. Grasping the subtleties of devolution may be difficult for him, but the problem of Scotland’s financial straitjacket will not go away, and we need to discuss it.
What a pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman looking as cheerful as ever. With his fine smile, he always manages to brighten up the whole House. He mentions borders, and I note that Nicola Sturgeon wishes to have a wall between England and Scotland—perhaps she is modelling herself on other leading political figures. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, there is no border between England and Scotland, and it was shameful to call for a border of that type to be erected to stop people travelling freely between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. One never thought that Nicola Sturgeon would model herself on American political figures and want to build a wall—at least a metaphorical wall, if not actually like Hadrian, with bricks and mortar.
We will hear the Chancellor’s proposals for recovery on Wednesday, but the Government have already been enormously ambitious with the scale of the furlough scheme: 9.3 million people, as well as 2.6 million self-employed people, have benefited and are being kept in employment. That is crucial, but it has to be phased, and we must move into the recovery stage. The hon. Gentleman wants to stay unreconstructed, and not to take advantage of things changing and opening up so that we get an economic recovery. That is what the Chancellor is doing, and I refer to the enormous amount of money that goes to all parts of the United Kingdom, because we are a single United Kingdom. The £3.8 billion that has gone to Scotland is because the UK is better together.
My constituency seems to be largely ignored by the Welsh Government. We receive one of the lowest local government allocations in Wales, and we are bottom of the league table for things such as NHS dentistry and broadband speeds. That was before covid-19 hit. The UK Government have made an unprecedented amount of financial support available, but I am deeply worried about how rural areas such as mine will recover. Like me, the Leader of the House represents a rural constituency, so may we have a debate on rural recovery, and how rural areas such as mine will recover from covid-19?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She represents a particularly beautiful constituency, which, through its beauty, suffers from the difficulties that rural economies have. Many other Members with rural constituencies appreciate that and the great contribution that rural areas make to our national life. They are home to a quarter of the country’s businesses. The Government are committed to helping them get back on their feet as a matter of priority. Some of the measures already taken have benefited rural businesses, such as furloughing, the small business grant fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund. Some 244,000 grants, with a value of £2.8 billion, have been delivered to vulnerable rural businesses, and £5 billion of public funding has been announced to support the roll-out of gigabit broadband in the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country. That will be fundamental to rural economies, because it brings them into not just the national but the global economy.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thought we were not allowed to have parties in Bournemouth, but Newcastle United managed to do that last night.
On a much more serious note, I want to express my sincerest condolences and deepest sympathy to the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and his wife Flora for their devastating loss. It is so deeply sad. Guy is a near neighbour of mine in constituency terms, and we are all deeply sad for him.
We have a queue of over 20 Backbench Business debates that are currently untabled and unheard, with a number of widely supported debate applications on subjects such as support for the tourism industry after covid-19; the future of and redundancies in the aviation sector; the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with a focus on the arts; and shorter, geographically focused debates on important subjects such as the west bank, Yemen, Sudan and the plight of the Rohingya—many of those debates might fit nicely into any end-of-day 90-minute slots that become available. Will the Leader of the House think about a way that he could shoehorn in time for Backbench debates?
I have raised the issue of information flow to public health bodies with the Leader of the House previously. It seems that the covid-19 testing contract with Deloitte does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England or relevant local authorities. Is the contract not therefore contrary to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010? That is not a partisan point, but a crucial point to the safety of the public we serve.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, in the current circumstances, there have not been as many Backbench Business debates as there would otherwise have been. Westminster Hall, where a number of the debates would normally be held, is not an operation, for good reason. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The reason is to do with staffing of the House. It is not to do with the Government’s reluctance to be held to account. It is a question of ensuring that there are sufficient Committee Rooms with social distancing that can be used to make sure that Government business can make its progress in the normal way. Westminster Hall was removed before Easter and has not been back. Obviously, there is a desire to bring it back, which will provide more time for Backbench Business debates.
The Floor of the House is being used to catch up with the backlog of business, which is going well. I am glad to say that the supply days next week are being used to debate subjects recommended by the Backbench Business Committee, so that is effectively Backbench Business. We tried, before the Backbench Business Committee was established, to provide Government time for debates that were requested by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his about-to-be-formed Committee. With regard to Deloitte and contracts, that is a detailed, technical question which I think is best referred to the Department of Health and Social Care.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, has heard from many constituents over the last few weeks about the need to preserve monuments and statutes around the country. I know that constituents also want us to protect the historical buildings we have across the United Kingdom. I was concerned to see on social media earlier this week that masonry was reported to be falling from this building. Can the Leader of the House update us on plans to ensure that this remains a safe workplace and that it is restored for future generations?
I completely endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. We should be enormously proud of the great figures of our history. I am tempted to run through some of them, but we will get more people in if I do not start—I would begin with Alfred the Great, as usual. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of the closure of the St Stephens and Cromwell Green entrances on 30 June, because of what is described as “light debris” falling off; it was not any structural part of the House. I believe it was some wood left behind by people who had been working there, which blew off in the high winds. So it was not falling masonry and, fortunately, nobody was injured. As always, it is worth paying tribute to the police, who stood there guarding the entrance in soft caps, rather than the traditional policeman’s helmet, which one thinks might have given slightly more protection against anything falling. This does emphasise the need for improving the condition of this building. There is no question but that works need to be done. The question is: how, and at what expense?
Last week, we had a covid outbreak in Cleckheaton, in my constituency, and this week we have a covid outbreak in a bed manufacturer in Batley. We know from the Government that companies can now re-furlough staff, but my colleague the shadow Economic Secretary asked in yesterday’s Finance Bill debate whether companies that re-furlough staff are going to have to start paying contributions and, unfortunately, received no answer. So may we have a statement from the Government that will give us more clarity, so that we can encourage companies that have an outbreak to work with councils and not offset economic downturn for the business against health implications for our wider community?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. The Government have given unprecedented support to businesses. Obviously, questions arise in relation to areas that have had localised shutdowns and what the considerations around that will be. The good news is that the Chancellor will be here to make a statement on Wednesday, which will be the right point at which to ask these detailed questions.
May I echo the request for the Leader of the House to reconsider on shielded Members such as myself being able to participate in debates,? If he did so, I would be able to participate in a debate I would like to see on education, which would allow us to pay tribute to those teachers who have valiantly been providing lessons throughout the lockdown period, either remotely or where the schools have remained open. Perhaps that would also give us the opportunity to look at the exam timetable and get some certainty for parents and children, particularly in Buckinghamshire, as to whether the 11-plus exams will be held in October. Of course, I cannot take part in that debate unless he reconsiders the position of shielded Members such as myself.
My right hon. Friend has already managed to make the point that she might have made in the debate, so I am glad to say that our hybrid procedures facilitate the involvement of all Members. On debates more generally, I know that the Procedure Committee is looking at that question. The issue is: how do we allow debates to run properly and in a free-flowing way, with interventions and so on, with people who are not present? We await with interest what the Procedure Committee has to say. I know that there are tremendous grammar schools in her constituency, and this country has been very well served by grammar schools over the years, decades and centuries. The Government are working with the sector to provide guidance, and I hope she will join me in welcoming the Education Secretary’s statement later today on further measures on the autumn opening of education settings.
Two weeks ago, I held a virtual meeting with constituents working in the creative sector, many of whom have fallen through the cracks of Government support systems. The cultural and creative sector is a huge part of our cultural identity, in the north-east and across the country, so may we have a debate in Government time on a strategy for supporting the cultural and creative industries, and on their future, both in the north-east and across the UK?
This is a very important point, and I know that many Members are concerned about it. The Government recognise the huge contribution the arts and culture sector makes, not only to the economy and the international reputation of the United Kingdom, but to the wellbeing and enrichment of the British people. The general package of support has been unprecedented, but in addition to that, the sector has drawn down £653 million from the job retention scheme, and Arts Council England announced a £160 million emergency response package. But that does not answer the reopening question, and the Government want to support our vital cultural sectors to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts to return to rehearsal and performance safely will be published in due course. These matters are worthy of debate during the general economic debate next week, but the Government are very much on the same side as the hon. Lady.
Since the weekend, the parish of Nursling and Rownhams has seen acts of vandalism and revoltingly, as one of my constituents emailed me this morning, defecation in public places. That will cost the parish council thousands and thousands of pounds for the clean-up, which is absolutely essential not only to replace security fencing around the recreation ground, but to make sure it is safe for children and families to use in future. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for a debate on whether trespass should be a criminal rather than a civil offence?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point—that type of trespass is absolutely revolting. The commitment to make trespass a criminal offence was in the 2019 manifesto, and the Government intend to deliver on that particular commitment. I understand the Home Office has recently concluded a consultation on this matter, and the Government will publish a response in due course. That will give Members the opportunity to discuss this issue in greater depth, but the Government are on the same side as my right hon. Friend.
Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group shows that women will be disproportionately affected by the ending of the furlough scheme later this year, and that the half-heated plan that the Prime Minister announced earlier this week did nothing to address the disproportionate impact on sectors that often employ more women. I am aware there will be a statement next week and a debate. Will the Leader find time for a specific debate on the need for more support from the Government for those sectors that will not be looked after and supported following the Prime Minister’s statement? It is not fair on the women of this country and it is time that Ministers stepped up to offer that support.
What we need is an overall economic recovery. The number of women in employment in this country has been at record levels as a percentage and as the actual number. If we both protect the economy, which the emergency package has done, and manage to achieve a recovery that comes sooner rather than later—which the chief economist, the very distinguished figure of Andy Haldane, has said now looks likely—it will help everybody in the economy and will protect the people that the hon. Gentleman is most concerned about.
I notice that the Solicitor General has recently had some good results in court by increasing sentences in very serious cases. That is good news for my constituents in Ashfield who wholeheartedly approve of those increased sentences for some of the worst criminals in society. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in this Chamber to highlight some of those cases and the increased sentences passed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for the tribute he paid to the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, who work extremely hard to ensure that just sentences are passed. I seem to remember—others may correct me—that the law that allowed that to happen was introduced when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, so it is another Conservative success. My hon. Friend is right to highlight it and raise it in the House: perhaps he should ask for an Adjournment debate to discuss specific cases where the punishment is fitting the crime.
It is very clear now that if the easing of the lockdown is to be effective in tackling coronavirus, it will happen at different paces in the different nations of the United Kingdom but also in different parts within those nations. We see the situation in Leicester, and there may be others—who knows—and we know that some sectors will be affected for longer than others. The Leader of the House rightly said that where the state says a business cannot operate, the state should step in to provide financial assistance. I heard what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), but I do not understand whether the statement from the Chancellor next Wednesday will be just a 10-minute statement with questions for perhaps an hour—in that case, I urge him to make it more like three hours—or one with a proper series of debates so that we can get into the nitty-gritty. By the way, can I still have my £2.5 million for the tip in Tylorstown?
Schools in the Borough of Barnet are among the best in the country, and I pay tribute to all the teachers who have been doing brilliant work in difficult circumstances during this emergency. Can we have a debate on the return of children to school in September to ensure that Ministers are engaging with teachers and unions such as the National Education Union so that we have a clear plan to bring children back to the classroom safely?
My right hon. Friend raises one of the crucial points of current political debate. It is important to emphasise that going back to school for children is safe. I think we are still waiting for the Opposition to make it clear that they agree it is safe, though perhaps they will eventually get to saying that clearly, boldly and loudly. The Government strongly encourage eligible children to attend their school, nursery or college unless they are self-isolating or clinically vulnerable. It is very disadvantageous for children to miss out on education, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged to start with, so getting children back to school is a matter of urgency. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will make a statement following this, where he will be able to provide more details on our plans for schools in September.
People in Luton are rightly proud to welcome leading businesses such as easyJet and Vauxhall, but 4,500 easyJet staff face losing their jobs and Vauxhall PSA needs reassurances now on recovery from the pandemic and on the threat of walking away with no deal. If the Government are serious about saving jobs in Luton and other airport towns, there should already be a plan in place. Does the Leader of the House know if the Government even have one? Will he make time for them to present detailed plans to save both aviation and manufacturing jobs?
The Government have made enormous steps to protect jobs with more than £124 billion of support from taxpayers’ money, which I will reiterate just in case the hon. Lady was not listening earlier. The job retention scheme is supporting 9.3 million jobs at a cost of £25.5 billion, and 2.6 million self-employed people are being supported at a cost of £7.7 billion. There have been 52,000 loans through the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises at a cost of £11 billion. There have been 359 loans for larger companies at a cost of £2.3 billion. There have been more than 960,000 bounce-back loans, worth over £29.5 billion, plus £10.57 billion for business grants for 861,000 firms. What the Government have done is to ensure that the economy lasts through the crisis so it may recover when the crisis ends. That has been the right thing to do.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the courage and bravery of the staff who work within this House who, during covid-19, carried on the traditions of this House despite that risk? I pay special tribute to the Doorkeepers, the Serjeant at Arms and his team. Even when we did not know what the outcome would be, they were here, bravely carrying on. We would not have had the House of Commons and its traditions without them. I also pay tribute to your team, Mr Speaker, of Helen, Ian and Jim, to the catering, security and Estate managers, and to the Norman Shaw North team. I also pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for carrying on. Thank you. I say thank you on behalf of all Members.
My hon. Friend is so right, and it is a bit sorrowful, isn’t it, that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) titters when we are thanking people who have done their duty? I agree with my hon. Friend that the commitment to this House and to Parliament of the Doorkeepers, the caterers, the cleaners and, Mr Speaker, your team, is quite remarkable. May I be indiscreet? I asked a senior member of your team yesterday—and this will give the game away—whether she was pleased to be back, and she said:
“How could you be away from doing something that is so important?”
Being in Parliament is fundamental to the governance of the nation and people have made sacrifices to be here, and, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I am grateful.
The Environment Bill was delayed because we had an election and we need to restart it again. It has now been delayed because of covid, and has been put back until September or perhaps even later. I am sure that we would all agree that the world has changed in those six months, particularly around covid and the relation to air quality where we now know that a 1 microgram increase in air pollution increases covid deaths by 15%. Will the Leader of the House speak with his colleagues and see whether we can organise additional evidence sessions before the Committee starts its line-by-line scrutiny again, so that we can take the additional evidence about covid and air quality and other areas around the environment, so that we ensure that the law is right and that it reflects the world in which we now live?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have been delays in the progress of legislation, though we are getting back on track, and we have lots of Bill Committees now up and running and that makes it possible to work through. The question he raises is an interesting one, because the longer a Committee takes evidence for, the more it is delayed. We have to balance the need to get legislation passed in a timely way with evidence. In some ways, Select Committees are better placed to take evidence over longer periods. If the Bill Committee were to take evidence it might merely delay the process further.
I am delighted that Meir station in my constituency is one of the 10 successful projects moving forward as part of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate in Government time about reopening rail stations and lines to help aid the recovery of our economy from coronavirus?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is a wonderful Flanders and Swann song about the old railway stations that were closed by Beeching, and it includes, of course, Midsomer Norton in my own constituency. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituency—[Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says, “Sing it”. I think I had better not. Meir station is one of those that will benefit from the Government’s determination to improve infrastructure around the country. The Restoring Your Railways Fund idea is about levelling up and improving connections between communities. It is inspired by communities affected by the Beeching cuts, but not limited to Beeching line restoration. If we can improve a service and provide a solution to a transport problem that involves levelling up the economy, that is exactly the kind of proposal that the ideas fund is interested in.
On 5 March, I started to feel unwell. A week later, I was in self-isolation with suspected covid-19. The reason I mention this, Mr Speaker, is that the virus passed, but the illness did not. It is now well known and well recorded that many end up with a debilitating chronic post-covid fatigue. I am on week 16 in a very large group of people now known as long covids. Can we have a statement or a debate on long covid to ascertain what research the Department of Health is carrying out into this new syndrome and the possible longer-term impact covid-19 may have on a growing number of the public’s health?
May I begin by wishing the hon. Gentleman a swift recovery, and I am sorry to hear that he is suffering from these debilitating after-effects of covid-19. The Health Secretary makes regular appearances at the House, and I am sure it would be suitable to raise this question with him, and I am sure it is among many other things that are being looked into as people learn more about this disease.
Can we please have a debate about local government restructuring? In Somerset, the county council has unfortunately been far too busy looking for unitary instead of attacking covid-19. Believe it or not, it is now trying to persuade the Government to let it become a huge new unitary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timing of this bid is at least insensitive and that the future of our other two struggling unitary councils in Somerset must be included in any future reviews of Government restructuring in Somerset?
My hon. Friend tempts me when he asks for a debate on Somerset. Dare I say that I feel that all parliamentary time could well be devoted to discussing the virtues, joys and successes of our great county, which has been a county since antiquity. I think that the county of Somerset was formed in about the eighth century; it was certainly a very important county in the time of Alfred the Great, so debating it is something that is close to my heart. My hon. Friend raises an important point about local government reorganisation, of which the Secretary of State is well aware, as my hon. Friend and I both know.
If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition believe that there is no border between England and Scotland, perhaps we can have a debate on the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, which took 6,000 square miles of fisheries territory from Scottish jurisdiction and moved it to English jurisdiction just before devolution began. If there are no borders in the United Kingdom, I think that might be a surprise to the people of Leicester, who have discovered that they have to respect internal boundaries pretty strictly. I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us when the powers to deal with the financial implications of enforcing these measures are going to be provided to the relevant authorities throughout the United Kingdom. In particular, what would happen if there were a spike or an outbreak in the City of Westminster? What implications would a lockdown here have on the operation of this place?
I never realised that our separatist friends would model themselves on an Ealing comedy. It seems to have become “Passport to Pimlico”. There are no internal borders in the United Kingdom; it is one country, I am glad to say. [Interruption.] There is a difference between borders, and districts and areas. That is self-evident. A border is something that one may stop people crossing. Even I am not suggesting that we make people from Gloucestershire present their passports before coming into Somerset.
As the hon. Member for Rhondda will remember, in the film “Passport to Pimlico” Pimlico was thought to have belonged to the Duke of Burgundy or some such, and therefore had become an independent state within the United Kingdom. Our separatist friend wants to do the same by insisting on passports to Scotland, and Mrs Sturgeon wishes to build a wall. [Interruption.] Unfortunately Mrs Sturgeon’s policy is not fictional. Many of us wish that it were and that the separatists were a bit more fictional, but they are not. They are here and they bang on about it constantly, but we are still one country and Scotland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see early-day motion 675, which is sponsored by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and other hon. and right hon. Friends, and which is attracting all-party support? It calls for the Government to include in their general review of equality issues an assessment of whether to set up a national museum of black, Asian and minority ethnic history and culture, somewhat similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Could we have a debate in Government time to set out the benefits of such a decision? [That this House recognises the important role played by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC since it opened its doors to the public on 24 September 2016, documenting and enabling the study of the life, history and culture of African Americans; notes that it serves as a place of collaboration to work with many other museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history; asserts the national importance of the life, history and culture of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK and their global influences; believes that there should be a DCMS-sponsored national UK museum for the study of Black, Asian and minority ethnic history and culture on a similar scale and model to the Washington Museum; and calls on the Government, whilst reviewing inequalities’ issues generally, to make an assessment of the potential merits of such a national museum.]
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for highlighting his early-day motion to me in advance. He raises an interesting and important subject that is worthy of fuller debate. I am afraid that I am going to have to refer him to the Backbench Business Committee, when that is back up and running. With so much cross-party support, as he indicates, that may well be a topic that the Committee will smile favourably on in terms of granting a debate when there is more time available to it.
May I first send my sincere condolences to the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and his wife? I can only imagine what they are going through.
Oldham Council has estimated an in-year deficit of over £19 million as a result of covid spending to support our communities and businesses, as well as a loss of income. Across Greater Manchester, this deficit is £368 million. Will the Leader of the House ensure that this issue is conveyed to the Chancellor, and that he does whatever it takes to address the needs of all local authorities and the communities they serve in next week’s financial statement?
The Government are well aware of the difficulties that councils have faced up and down the country, and each individual council has suffered in particular ways, depending on the structure of its financing. That is why £3.2 billion of extra funding has been made available to support councils, in addition to a £900 million fund for what are referred to as shovel-ready local infrastructure projects to ensure that they can take place, plus £600 million for infection control. There will be a debate on Wednesday where those issues can be raised and the Chancellor can be questioned on them to ensure that all that can be done, is being done. The Government’s record so far is very good.
Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing to improve the treatment of domestic abuse victims through the court system in the UK and to end stalking? My constituent Charlotte Budd suffered unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable trauma both as a victim of stalking and through her experience in the family court system. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Office what steps are being taken to ensure that the correct guidance and education is in place for members of our judiciary when dealing with domestic abuse cases, such as that of my constituent?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that deeply troubling matter in the House, particularly with reference to his constituent. The constituents of Harlow are lucky to have him as such a champion fighting their causes and taking up their grievances. Tackling domestic abuse is one of the Government’s highest priorities. I know that he will welcome the rapid progress of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament in recent weeks.
As Ministers in the Ministry of Justice recently confirmed, the Government are making progress to support victims of domestic abuse in the courts. The Department is overhauling the family courts following an expert-led review into how they handle domestic abuse that raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.
Furthermore, new stalking protection orders will allow courts in England and Wales to move faster to ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their homes or places of work or study. That will grant victims more time to recover from their ordeal. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to campaign on the issue, but I hope he feels reassured that the Government are making every effort to support victims of those terrible crimes.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for valproate and other anti-epileptic drugs in pregnancy, I take a huge interest in the Cumberlege review, which will be published on Wednesday. Members on both sides of the House have campaigned on sodium valproate, surgical mesh and Primodos for many years. Can the Leader of the House reassure us that, on Wednesday, we will receive an oral statement on the Floor of the House? The outcome of the review will have huge implications for many victims who have suffered for far too long.
As I said earlier, the Cumberlege review will be extremely important. I already mentioned the efforts of the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) in that regard. I am looking forward to the review, because I actually gave evidence to the committee. Wednesday may not be the best day for a statement, because there will be the financial statement and debate afterwards, but I hear what the hon. Lady has said in regard to the interest in the House on the issue.
As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on small and micro businesses and in west Oxfordshire, I have seen the challenges that small businesses are facing and the extraordinary efforts and imagination that they are using to continue trading as we build from covid. Can we have a debate in Government time to share best practice and consider what they need, as we build back better and reignite the economy after this terrible crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that small businesses are the heart of the economy. They are the engine and the creators of new jobs. The Government have done a lot to support small businesses during the pandemic, beyond the furlough scheme, as I have outlined before. We do now need to think about how we move to the future and get the economy going again. The Prime Minister made an excellent speech on Tuesday and we will get more information from the Chancellor next week. My hon Friend is right to champion small businesses.
The BBC has been reporting all morning that it has been told by Government sources that there will be an announcement today or before the end of the week of the list of countries to which air bridges will be established. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that announcement, when it is made, is made here first.
In fact, that announcement could be made by the Prime Minister, who could then explain his views on the fact that his father has apparently jetted off to Greece in defiance of the guidance. It may be—I do not know—that he needed an eye test or something like that, but we would all welcome an explanation.