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Business of the House

Volume 679: debated on Thursday 10 September 2020

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. A member of the Leader of the House’s household is awaiting a covid test result after having been symptomatic. The Leader of the House is therefore self-isolating along with his family, so I have had the good fortune—yeah, right—to be asked to reply. The business for next week will include:

Monday 14 September—Second reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

Tuesday 15 September—Consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Day 1).

Wednesday 16 September—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Day 2).

Thursday 17 September—Debate on a motion on the coronavirus job retention scheme followed by, general debate on support for the self-employed and freelance workers during the coronavirus crisis. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 September—The House will not be sitting.

The Provisional Business for the week commencing 21 September will include:

Monday 21 September—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Day 3).

Tuesday 22 September—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill (Day 4).

Wednesday 23 September—Second reading of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.

Thursday 24 September—Business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 25 September—Private Members Bills.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the forthcoming business. Of course we all wish the Leader of the House and the whole Rees-Mogg family well. We know that it had to be something very serious for him not to be here.

I am disappointed that, since last week, there is no legislation to protect renters. It is not in the business statement, so can I make a further plea on this, because the protection runs out on 20 September? We may well have unemployment chaos, but we do not want a homelessness crisis too.

All I asked for last week was a debate on the border in the Irish sea, but then we got the UK Internal Market Bill. It is so controversial that the most senior Government lawyer has resigned, possibly because a Minister said in the House that it would be a breach of international law, and now the shadow Counsel General in the Senedd has also resigned. The Treasury Solicitor is there to advise on the law—I know, because I used to work there—and he has a duty to the court to uphold the rule of law. Roland Phillips, a senior Government lawyer, produced a document called “Judge over your shoulder”, and that is what we have to do: advise to avoid being in breach of administrative law and the rule of law. It is not an op-ed from Government lawyers; it is legal advice. But now everyone who breaks the law made here in Parliament can say, “Sorry, your honour, I only broke it in just a small but specific way.” To use Lord Denning’s phrase, when he quoted Thomas Fuller:

“Be ye never so high, the law is above you.”

He said that to the then Attorney General. We all swear to uphold the law. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that the legal advice of the Treasury Solicitor is published or that a statement is made to the House on the legal implications?

This is clearly not the Government of law and order, because this time last year it was an unlawful Prorogation and this year they are breaking the law. I dread to think what is going to happen next year. One way to describe them is ICU—incompetent, chaotic and useless, whether on testing generally or for care homes specifically, because the Department of Health and Social Care has had to say this:

“We apologise unreservedly to all care homes who have been affected”.

One care home manager said:

“It’s like Russian roulette, people can be positive working for a week and no one knows.”

May we have a statement on how many processing lab centres there are? Every single university and technical college that has a lab should be pressed into service to do the tests for us locally in the UK.

Mr Speaker, you are right to say that the House is important, but there is a chaotic message. One day it is to Nick Ferrari and the next day it is to Robert Peston. That is not how Parliament works. Yesterday it was announced from a lectern that we are going reduce social gatherings from 30 people to six. Well, that’s the Cabinet sorted!

Will the Deputy Leader of the House please find time for a debate on the Procedure Committee report, which was published this morning? I have not had time to read the whole thing, but it stated in the summary:

“In any event, if lockdown conditions are reimposed in a way which prevents substantial numbers of Members from travelling to Westminster, the House ought to consider reverting to remote voting.”

The UK Internal Market Bill has huge implications for the devolved authorities, so in order that hon. Members can take part in the debate, will the Deputy Leader of the House allow them to take part remotely? Yesterday, the queues were far too long; hon. and right hon. Members were queuing in Portcullis House. As I said before, the Ayes and Noes should be separated. The hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell) said that maybe we should have four electronic readers. I know that when I pressed one, it was not in service. This is exactly what we are telling people not to do, yet we are doing it here. There are so many pinch points where we are really close to each other.

The Deputy Leader of the House will know that I constantly raise the issue of Nazanin, and despite the Defence Secretary’s helpful comments last week, she is now going to be put on trial on Sunday. She has diplomatic protection, so will the hon. Gentleman make representations to ensure that someone from the British embassy is present for her trial? She should have been released in March, and she is the only one not to have been granted clemency. Also, her tag needs to be extended so that she can go to hospital. Anousheh and Nazanin are being punished for being with their Iranian families. Could he also ensure that arrangements are made for their families in Britain to meet the Iranian Foreign Minister, who will be in the UK next week? And let us not forget Luke Symons in Yemen either.

Finally, I want to remember Martin O’Neill, who passed away on 27 August. He served the Labour party and this House incredibly well—28 years here, 15 years in the other place—and of course was a director of Hibernian FC. He was a true public servant. May he rest in peace.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her comments about the Leader of the House and his family—I am sure he will also be grateful for them—and I thank her for the welcome she has given me. I fear I will not be anywhere near as articulate or knowledgeable as my right hon. Friend, and I certainly will not know what happened in 1678 or 1824, or whatever quotes I am sure will come from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

The right hon. Lady mentioned renters. As she rightly points out, we have had a scheme in place up to September that has been running for six months. There is a balancing act between renters, and making sure they are secure, and people who are renting out their properties, some of whom are also struggling. The Government will look at this very carefully.

The right hon. Lady said she asked last week for a debate on the border down the Irish sea. I am glad that the Government have been as effective as usual in delivering that debate. We have five days of debate coming up over the next two weeks, which I am sure she will be pleased about. She will know that the Government do not publish legal advice.

I would be interested to know how many times Labour did when she was in the office. There are five days of debate, so Members will be able to debate all these issues extensively and put these questions. I am glad the House will have the opportunity to do that.

The right hon. Lady rightly points out the issue in care homes. I and the Government are grateful to all those who have worked in the sector during this incredibly difficult time, and we have ensured that lots of tests have been sent to those homes, but of course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be making a statement to the House immediately after business questions.

On making statements to the House, it is absolutely right that Ministers should come to the House—it is part of the ministerial code—and I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House reinforces that message each and every time to my colleagues in government.

The right hon. Lady is right to mention the Procedure Committee report. I actually think the hybrid system has been working extremely well, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is currently looking at that report and will come back to the House in due course.

I also want to pay tribute to Martin O’Neill: 28 years in the House is an incredible length of service, and I know that he was highly respected on both sides of the House.

Finally, the right hon. Lady was right to raise the issue of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is indefensible and unacceptable that Iran is bringing new charges, and of course we constantly raise the matter with officials over in Tehran. She made the interesting point about the families meeting the Foreign Minister when he is here. I will certainly make sure that that request is put to the Foreign Secretary.

Like many others in the House, I have campaigned long and hard on the unfair treatment of those suffering under the loan charge—including many in my constituency and around—and I know that the issue unites the House. HMRC has historically behaved appallingly with regard to those people, including by the retrospective nature of what it has done, but now it appears that those facing these issues have been asked essentially to put their representations in to HMRC before September—this month. The problem is that HMRC is not capable of processing all those representations now, which means that many of them will not get any justice or any help and assistance and may suffer even further financial penalties. My concern is that HMRC and the Government need to add extra months—six months more would help enormously—and I therefore make that representation, if he could pass it on to the Treasury.

Furthermore, I think it is time for us to have another debate in Government time on the process. It is vital, for our constituents to have any sense that this place represents them, for us to show that HMRC has behaved badly, leaving many of our constituents in deep financial difficulty, in depression and with some having even committed suicide.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to express the strength of feeling that many people in all parts of this House feel about the issue. I will of course pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. There has been extensive debate about this in the House, and we had long debates about it in the Finance Bill, of course, but it may be an opportune moment to make an application to the Backbench Business Committee, which hopefully could provide time for further discussion.

I also wish the Leader of the House and his family well. I can hardly hide my disappointment at his absence. After five long months of my absence from this Chamber and the sometimes problematic communication through the virtual proceedings, I have been looking forward to being patronised in the flesh, rather than over the internet.

To be serious, coming back here, I have been able to see at first hand, with my own eyes, the procedures that have been implemented in the House as regards the covid epidemic. I pay tribute to the staff and management of the building for what they have done. Just one thing seems incongruous, and that is the way in which we continue to vote in Divisions of this Chamber.

That brings me to the report of the Procedure Committee published this morning, which recommends, having considered the matter in great detail, that we should return to the electronic remote voting system we had at the beginning of the pandemic. That was not only efficient and secure but, most importantly, is safe and does not require Members to be in close proximity to each other. I therefore ask the Government, will they respond to that report before the beginning of November, when the current procedures run out? I think they should do so as a matter of urgency.

Secondly, I raise the question of the so-called internal market Bill, which will dominate our proceedings over the next couple of weeks. We should be explicit that the Bill represents the most concerted and full-frontal assault on the devolution settlement in the United Kingdom that there has ever been. Under the guise of securing common standards, there will in effect be a race to the bottom and a lowest common denominator approach to consumer and environmental protection. It is completely unacceptable.

To crown it all, clause 46 of that Bill makes provision for this Chamber—not the Scottish Parliament—to determine spending priorities on matters that are devolved. Pet projects of the UK Cabinet could therefore trump the wishes of the Scottish people when it comes to spending. Is it the intention of the Government to proceed with this legislation without the consent of the devolved Administrations? If it is, what is the point of those devolved Administrations in the first place?

The Government are insulting the concept of devolution. This will be a better recruiting sergeant for the cause of political independence for Scotland that anyone on the SNP Benches could ever be, so I caution the Government to be wary of that. I am out of time, Mr Speaker, so I will reserve my other points for my next appearance.

It did not take long for me to disappoint someone, did it? However, it is a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman’s cheerful face in public and live.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about the Procedure Committee. Let us be frank: we are not in the full lockdown position that we were in when remote voting was taking place. Remote voting also had its issues, with Members of this House having issues connecting. I can honestly say to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) that, as Whip, I know full well how hard it was to get some of my flock connected to the system. The system we have is working as best it can in difficult circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman then came on to the issue of the internal market Bill—again, SNP Members cannot help themselves but peddle the myth that we are having a race to the bottom. Nothing could be further from the truth. We want to take this opportunity, as an independent sovereign country, to go around the globe seeking the best trade deals that we can get. As for this constant gripe about a power grab, there are 70 competences coming from Brussels back to the United Kingdom, many of which will go to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. This is not a power grab. If anything, it is a power surge for the devolved Administrations. I would like to confirm that we will, of course, be seeking legislative consent from the devolved legislatures and will continue to work closely with them to understand and respond to any concerns that they have.

In my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on freeports, I welcome recent reports that an early designation of freeports is likely, perhaps as early as the Budget. It would be helpful if those that are submitting bids, such as Immingham in my constituency, had a clear idea of the timeframe and when an announcement is likely to be made. Could we have a statement from the Secretary of State outlining the position?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency, and I know that he will do everything we can to ensure that his constituency is at the top of the list. I will, of course, ensure that his question is put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I will come back to him as soon as possible.

I welcome the acting Leader of the House to his place. I very much welcome the announcement of Backbench Business debates next Thursday and the following Thursday, which will help us to eat into our significant waiting list of unaired debates.

Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the testing capacity in Gateshead. At a time when there is a significant increase in coronavirus cases, my local authority has seen a significant reduction in local testing capacity, and it also tells me that it is being asked to pick up more and more of the work on contact tracing. Have the Government given any thought to how that will be resourced, and when will our local testing capacity be restored? We really need that capacity to deal with the increasing number of cases in Gateshead.

I am grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. I am delighted that we have been able to find more time to catch up with the Backbench Business slots that are available in the Chamber. Because we have had disruption over previous months, it has been important to get the legislative processes back in place as quickly as possible, but I am glad that we are starting to see more and more other aspects such as Backbench Business debates, with Westminster Hall hopefully opening in October.

The hon. Gentleman talks about local testing, which I know is a big issue. It is a fact that we have one of the best testing rates in the world, equivalent to one test for every five people in the country, and we are outpacing countries such as Germany, Spain and Italy. It is inevitable that there may be some problems; I accept that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be making a statement immediately after this, in which I am sure he will update the House on the progress that has been made.

As the Member of Parliament for Kensington, I feel passionately that we need to get fire and building safety laws on to the statute book as quickly as possible. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we are fully committed to implementing the first phase recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry and are doing everything to get that legislation on to the statute book as quickly as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Ever since she arrived in this House, I have seen her passionately fighting for her constituency on that issue. It is a very important issue, and she is right that we are determined to do this, but there is a process and a sequencing that we have to go through. I have seen some of the personal abuse that she has received, which is totally unacceptable. She is fighting as hard as she can for the victims who suffered that awful tragedy, and I know that she will not let that abuse stop her carrying on her great work.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I know that Members across the House will wish to mark that and thoughtfully share messages on their social media. Self-harm is, sadly, a strong predictor of future suicide. The all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention has been conducting an inquiry, and on 23 September we will be holding our virtual launch of the report to see how we can reduce and prevent self-harm in young people. May we have a debate in Government time to look at the recommendations of the report and to find how we can reduce the risk of suicide?

The all-party group should be congratulated on the work that it does. Suicide prevention is incredibly important. I think I have said in the House before that one of my friends killed himself when I was at school. It is something you never really get over. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there are early indications that we need to look at. This would be a perfect topic that the Backbench Business Committee might want to consider for a debate, because I am sure many Members would want to take part.

Will my hon. Friend find time for a debate on the restoration of the Sessional Orders preventing demonstrations outside the Palace of Westminster? Returning here last Tuesday, I thought I was entering the Glastonbury festival, which I thought had been cancelled. To allow the noise, the disruption and the cost of policing is absolutely ridiculous, so can we please restore these orders so that we no longer have demonstrations on a busy roundabout sandwiched between Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster?

Of course we all want to protect the right to protest, and that should be done, but equally we need to be able to do our job here in Parliament. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s question is put before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, opening a medically supervised drug consumption room would break the law in a very specific and limited way. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that saving the lives of vulnerable people and reducing the harm and antisocial behaviour associated with drug injection would be a very good reason to break a flawed and outdated law?

I have heard the hon. Lady raise this issue on a number of occasions. This is a very, very difficult area that we have to be very careful with. I know that she has raised it with the various Departments, and there will be further opportunities for her to do so. Perhaps she will want to have an Adjournment debate to raise it in more detail.

I was going to ask my hon. Friend a question about Alfred the Great, but I discovered that he does not go back before 1600, so it will have to wait. He is fully aware that Somerset County Council is trying to make a bid to become a single unitary council: it calls it, believe or not, “One Somerset”, but that does not add up. For a start, the county council covers only part of Somerset. Its plan should be called “One Chunk of Somerset”. I am afraid it is a joke. Please can we debate the common-sense answer? Let us restore Somerset to its old boundaries before we change everything, and let us look at some of the real alternatives like the excellent plan put forward by the district councils, which is not only intelligent but makes sense.

It is almost as though a call for independence in the south-west is going on, but I know that as a strong Unionist my hon. Friend would not be calling for that. The White Paper will be available soon. That will present him with the chance to put forward his views loud and clear, but he may wish to seek an Adjournment debate if he has the opportunity.

I pass my best wishes to the Deputy Leader of the House, who is in the Chamber today.

I get regular contact from Pakistan about issues that are very, very important. Bishop Nadeem contacted me with media reports outlining how, on 7 June 2020, a mob reportedly attacked Christians in the village of Mazang Nowabad Sharaqpur, in the Punjab province in Pakistan. The mob were said to have come with assault rifles and clubs. They damaged houses, desecrated the local church and snatched goods and livestock. A total of 88 Christians, including women and children, were forcibly displaced from the village in which they had been living for generations. Will the Deputy Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this very important matter?

The hon. Gentleman, as ever, raises a very important point. The events that he describes are extremely distressing to hear. We are deeply concerned to hear about the scale and severity of violations, not just in the example that he gives but in other places around the world. I know that the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief will be overseeing the implementation of the recommendations from the Bishop of Truro and will be making sure that all Ministers are aware of them.

Clause 98 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 provides that, so far as it is practicable, a Minister must arrange for a motion to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons within seven days of the end of each six-month period of review. Will my hon. Friend update the House on plans to put such a motion before the House?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point and I agree that it is of utmost importance that Parliament is able to scrutinise Government legislation properly. That, of course, is a statutory commitment that has been made and further announcements regarding the debate will be made in the usual way.

Many children from my constituency of Bristol East attend Broadlands Academy, which is in the constituency of the Leader of the House. This week, 70 pupils there have been denied their right to education because of minor infringements of uniform policy—for example, a logo missing because the shop simply did not have those items in stock, or shoes that could not be polished. I suspect that the Leader of the House thinks that every child should turn out every day as if they are on their way to Eton, and I cannot begin to imagine his horror at the thought of unpolished shoes. I have applied for an Adjournment debate. Given that the Leader of the House will not be able to speak in that debate, I am quite willing to speak on his behalf. I hope that he shares my horror that these are children who have missed out on months of education, have had a really tough time and are now being denied the right to go to school. Is Westminster Hall likely to resume sitting soon, because I may stand a better chance of securing a debate?

The hon. Lady raises an issue of which I have no personal knowledge, so cannot make specific comments about it, but I agree that it is absolutely important that all children get back to school. It is imperative that they do so, which is why it has been a big priority of the Government and we are ensuring that it happens. I can confirm that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that Westminster Hall debates are up and running again next month. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to update us further soon.

This week saw the launch of Onward’s levelling up taskforce, which seeks to address regional inequalities, such as those in my constituency, and to support the Government’s delivery of its manifesto pledge to level up. Will the Deputy Leader of the House make parliamentary time available to address how covid-19 has exacerbated those inequalities and how the Government seek to maintain the momentum for levelling up in historically underfunded communities such as Stoke-on-Trent?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. We had an opportunity in yesterday’s debate to talk about those very issues. She is right to say that coronavirus has affected different parts of the country in different ways. We have already published work looking at the various disparities in the way that the virus has affected different people in different regions. I hope that she will be assured that Public Health England is working with the local authorities to identify the way in which they have widened and hopefully we can mitigate that. I know that we now have excellent Members of Parliament for that great city who will carry on fighting to ensure that we level up we as promised.

A constituent contacted me yesterday to say that she had been trying to get a test for her eight-year-old asthmatic son who had been showing covid symptoms since 7.30 that morning. Her partner, who is a key worker, also had symptoms. By mid-afternoon, she was told that the only place with any availability was in Scotland. She lives in Bradford, an area currently under local restrictions with rates that are now the second highest in the country. When she went to the local walk-in testing centre, she was told that the tests had been sent elsewhere in the country. Although she has a test booked for today, many other people are facing exactly the same issue. Does the acting Leader of the House agree that that is totally unacceptable, and will he ensure that the Health Secretary sorts it out?

While the hon. Gentleman is at it, will he also ensure that the Health Secretary properly answers letters from MPs? In response to two separate letters that I wrote to the Secretary of State about the imposition of local restrictions, I received a single letter from an official who did not deal with any of the substantive issues raised. Given that my constituents are currently experiencing additional restrictions on their freedoms, does the acting Leader of the House think that I, as their representative, deserve a full and proper answer direct from the Secretary of State?

Of course, being a neighbouring Member of Parliament, I know exactly the issue that the hon. Lady faces regarding Bradford. As I said a moment ago, we are testing thousands and thousands of people. I accept that there are some issues, however, and I will certainly raise them with the Secretary of State. I know that the Leader of the House has personally been looking into the response to correspondence, and in fairness to the Department of Health and Social Care, it has received thousands and thousands of pieces of correspondence. I recognise, however, that we need to do better, and I know that the Leader of the House is ensuring that that happens.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box.

Notwithstanding the debate on aviation later today, let me give just one example of how British Airways is treating long-term employees. I have a constituent whose contract has two months to run. She has been sent a new contract that expects her, in just over a week, to agree to a cut of thousands of pounds to her pay, and to transfer to a zero-hours contract or take compulsory redundancy. She feels threatened and bullied, as do many others, and she knows of other companies following that pattern. Will my hon. Friend arrange for a debate on corporate employment practices and the way that some employees, particularly women, are facing brutal choices? Let us examine what the Government can do to assist them through this changing corporate landscape.

A huge strain has been put on many industries, and the Government have taken unprecedented action to support them. In light of that, the sort of behaviour described by my right hon. Friend is frankly unacceptable. I assure her that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that all employers remember the contract that they signed with their employees. There is a debate this afternoon, but she may also wish to apply to the Backbench Business Committee on this topic.

I wish the Leader of his House and his family all the best. I have just come out of quarantine, and it is quite challenging to be stuck within four walls, although how big someone’s four walls are might be debatable. The rise of covid infection rates is worrying to us all, and one way of protecting ourselves, and others, is to wear face coverings in many settings. The Government have mandated that in many settings, but why are we not considering the more widespread use of face coverings in this House and our own working lives? Clearly we have not done that, and it is not always possible to socially distance in this House. Would it be a way of protecting all members of staff in Parliament if face coverings were more widespread, and would it be sensible to debate that?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position, and I know that, as her neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House wanted to welcome her too. I will not comment on the issue of four walls—mine are very small. The House authorities have done an enormous amount of work to make this place safe, and if people want to wear face masks, they have the freedom and the right to do so.

Notwithstanding the statement that will follow, may we have a debate on the Government’s orders, which will marshal us in our streets and have a profound impact on family and social life? Will the Minister hang his head in shame that such orders can be made in a democracy without even a debate in a free Parliament?

It was this House, through legislation, that gave Ministers the powers to implement these measures. Ministers are not making these decisions lightly; they are not easy decisions to make. We do not want wilfully to restrict people’s civil liberties, but we have to act to ensure that we are keeping our communities safe. If my right hon. Friend wants a debate, I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee would be happy to hear his application.

Thirteen-year-old Jack Worwood was walking on the pavement on his way to play football with friends when he was hit by a vehicle. The driver, Liam Wilson, was driving at nearly three times the speed limit, and he fled the scene. Jack died the next day. Liam Wilson was sentenced last Thursday. After various reductions, it is likely that he will serve in prison only two years of a six-year sentence. Jack’s family members in my constituency are devastated at the lack of justice. On 16 October, the Death by Dangerous Driving (Sentencing) Bill is listed ninth for debate. As it is unlikely to be reached that day, will the acting Leader of the House commit to a debate on the issue in Government time, given that both this Government and the previous one committed to legislate to increase sentences for causing death by dangerous driving?

I cannot imagine how the family of Jack Worwood must be feeling. My sympathies—and, I am sure, those of the whole House—go to them. The issue of sentencing has been looked at and there is a sentencing review going on at the moment, but I will certainly raise the specific case with the Attorney General on the hon. Member’s behalf.

On Saturday, Consett AFC scored an extra-time winner to take them through to the FA Vase final on 27 September. Unfortunately, yesterday’s restrictions mean that the match might have to be played behind closed doors, on the first time that Consett have reached Wembley in their 120-year history. It looks as if there will at least be significant reductions in the number of fans who can attend—down to the low hundreds. Will the Minister use his good offices, if at all possible, to push for a flexible uplift in the number of fans who can attend if the coronavirus situation allows and for a general debate in Westminster Hall on the contribution of non-league football teams to their local communities?

I congratulate the football club. I know from when Leeds United were promoted recently that many fans were disappointed they could not have the usual celebrations. We do have Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions on 24 September, which would be a good opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the issue with Ministers. Let us hope that we get Westminster Hall open as soon as possible so that he can have that debate.

As Members have already alluded to, today is World Suicide Prevention Day—an issue that cuts across politics and other issues, and touches on our basic humanity. In that spirit, I urge the Minister to find time for us to debate gay conversion therapy, which is a vile and fraudulent practice carried out by vile and fraudulent individuals on some of the most vulnerable people in our society; it is staggering that it is allowed in these islands at all. Scotland has been working to address the issue, and it has been found that 70% of people subjected to this practice have reported suicidal thoughts. There is a great deal of unity across the House for a ban, and we should find time to speak about the matter.

Personally, the hon. Gentleman is pushing at an open door. He raises a very important point that needs to be looked at carefully and in detail, and the Government Equalities Office is doing just that. I will certainly raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with the Minister for Women and Equalities, and come back to him.

Last weekend, my son developed a persistent cough after his first week back at school. We went online, booked a test, drove six miles to the test centre and had the results back in less than 24 hours, and I am delighted to say that they were negative. But that short period in quarantine was not an easy one, and I hope that the Leader of the House is released from his quarantine as quickly as I was. This week, though, I have heard from constituents in Warrington who have been told that their nearest test centre is 76 miles away in Telford. Will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking with Public Health England to increase testing capacity in Warrington and to bring more testing specialist labs online?

I am glad that my hon. Friend had a successful experience with his testing and that he got the results very quickly. He is right to raise these issues. I accept that with the huge-scale operation happening at the moment, there will be some problems, but the Secretary of State for Health is coming shortly. I hope my hon. Friend will stay and listen to his answers.

Isn’t the acting Leader of the House doing such a good job today? He is being very clear and, as Sir Humphrey would say, very courageous. He has made it clear that if the Government announce new policy outside the House, they are breaking the ministerial code and that he will reprimand that Minister. Well, yesterday the Prime Minister announced major new policy in a press conference, so I assume the acting Leader of the House is going to go round to No. 10 and tell the Prime Minister off. Could the acting Leader of the House make a statement next week on how that meeting goes?

There is nothing like a bit of friendly fire, is there? [Laughter.] And to think that my hon. Friend stood in my constituency in 1997, I thought he would have been a bit more friendly. [Laughter.] I have made it very clear that the Leader of the House absolutely reinforces the message that statements should be made to the House, and he will continue to do so. Unfortunately, I suspect that I will not be here answering questions next week, so I will not be able to tell my hon. Friend how that meeting went.

Northern trains decided, just as the Government encouraged people back to work, to cancel all services to Manchester Piccadilly along the Rose Hill line until December. This would close Rose Hill, Woodley, Hyde Central, Hyde North and Fairfield stations. Working cross-party with the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and Councillor David Meller, Stockport’s transport lead, we are seeking an urgent resolution to this problem. We met the Minister last week, who was really understanding, and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove has the Adjournment debate this evening on the issue, but what more can we do to send the clearest unified message from this House of Commons that Northern should think again?

As the hon. Gentleman mentions, the Adjournment debate today will be on that very issue. He will have another opportunity to raise the issue at Transport questions next Thursday, and I am sure he will do so.

May we have a debate on state aid? I am mystified why this should be a problem in the free trade talks. Will the acting Leader of the House confirm—indeed, will the Government confirm—that we have no intention of returning to the failed policies of the 1970s and that we have no intention of propping up failed companies or picking winners? If the Leader of the House was here, he could give us a lecture on the failed policies of 18th century mercantilism and the failed policies of autarky. Let us have a firm statement from the Government that the only freedom we want to have on state aid is to give less state aid than the EU norm. Let us have it now.

My right hon. Friend will be delighted to know that we are having that debate on Monday, when those can points can be made.

May we have a debate on establishing a bereavement standard to simplify, streamline and standardise the process for grieving families to close accounts with utility companies and service providers following the death of a loved one? I anticipate that the acting Leader of the House will say that I should go and see my good and hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and the Backbench Business Committee, but may I respectfully draw the acting Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 818?

[That this House calls on the Government to introduce a Bereavement Standard to simplify and streamline the process for grieving families to close accounts with service providers following the death of a loved one; believes the lack of such a standard has created a complex array of arrangements with each service provider requiring different levels of information to close accounts; notes that it can often take weeks, months, and in the worst cases years to close down accounts prolonging the pain and suffering for a family in mourning; further notes that the four simple campaign aims would support families as well as streamlining the process and providing a level playing field for business by introducing standardised paperwork to close an account, accepting digital death certificates, wills and proof of beneficiary status where possible, dedicated bereavement customer care channels (email, chat, webforms) to avoid long call waiting times, an agreed timeframe for companies to respond and settle accounts, and agreed bereavement customer service behaviours supported by adequate training; and urges the Government to work immediately with industry to introduce a Bereavement Standard to support grieving families, many of whom have been impacted recently by COVID-19, through one of the most difficult times in their lives.]

The acting Leader of the House will see that there are sound arguments that, as well as aiding families, will support businesses. The EDM has attracted more signatures than any other EDM signed since 1 September, but it is noticeable that few members of the Government party have signed. In anticipation of pursuing it through the Backbench Business Committee route, will he encourage them to sign that EDM to identify their support for the campaign?

The hon. Gentleman has certainly advertised that EDM very well. He raises a very important point. Bereavement is a difficult and trying time. I will write to the Minister responsible and come back to him.

I was taught that your word is your bond, that if you sign something, you honour it, that if you swear something, you stand by it, and that absolutely essential to British values is the rule of law that underpins democracy. I am completely perplexed how a Lord Chancellor, who has by law to swear that he will respect the rule of law, could possibly sign off an explanatory memorandum for the Bill that we are to debate on Monday, which states there is

“inconsistency or incompatibility with international or other domestic law”.

How can we possibly go to China and preach to them about abiding by the treaty on Hong Kong and how can we possibly preach to Putin about honouring his obligations to guarantee the integrity of Ukraine when we have said to the world that we no longer believe in the rule of law?

I am afraid I do not accept that that is what we are saying. We are deactivating a certain EU law restriction in a specific and limited way to make sure that the Government always have the ability to protect the peace process and to ensure we can support our economic recovery, but the hon. Gentleman has every opportunity over the five days of the next fortnight to raise those points, and knowing him, I am sure that he will.

May I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box, where he is taking both hostile and friendly fire with aplomb? As a northerner, he will know that the residents, farmers and business owners of South Ribble are a resilient bunch. However, this summer too many of them have been flooded in Leyland, Tarleton, Hesketh Bank and Banks. People have lost crops. They have lost possessions, and their businesses have been damaged, and they are rightly cross and upset. The ways to fix that distressing problem sit with too many individual organisations at the moment. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to urgently bring forward its surface water flooding proposals and get this serious problem addressed?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this incredibly important issue, because people are rightly worried about the threat of flooding. I know that she has met with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow). I will certainly make sure that the point she has raised is passed on again, but it is important to remember that we have announced record amounts of investment. I know that she wants that sooner rather than later, and I will certainly push the specific questions she asked.

May we have a statement from the Department for Transport on extending the period of validity for theory test certificates? My Garrowhill constituent Craig Donaldson was due to sit his practical driving test, but when lockdown came, his theory test expired. Will the Minister organise for the Department for Transport to do the right thing and ensure an extension of theory test certificates so that Craig can take his driving test?

I am sure that Craig, like many other people across the whole country, are keen to get on with their tests. The hon. Gentleman has the opportunity on Thursday to raise the question at Transport questions, which I am sure he will do.

Listening to the skilfully reassuring—indeed, mellifluous—responses of my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box, one could easily forget that outside this House, increasing numbers of reasonable people have a mounting sense of alarm about the Government’s response to coronavirus. Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), may I press the Minister that we really do need a debate in Government time on liberty and the rule of law under the Government’s coronavirus response?

I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate for civil liberties and has made that point on many occasions in this House. I will certainly raise that request for a debate with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Despite the horrors of Grenfell and subsequent Government promises, the majority of buildings that were identified as having flammable aluminium composite material cladding, or other dangerous cladding, still have it covering their walls. High-rise residents, including in my Slough constituency, have been left concerned for their safety and understandably frustrated that, even after three long years, so little has been done to help them. Indeed, at the current rate of remediation, it will take a shocking 39 years to fix. Does the acting Leader of the House agree that the Government must do much more and that he personally should allocate time for Members to raise this important issue in a debate, to give those despairing constituents a voice?

As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), the Government take this issue very seriously. Some 215 buildings have now had their ACM cladding removed—that represents 47% of buildings—and work is already under way on a further 108. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is important and I will make sure that Ministers have heard his voice.

You, Mr Speaker, the acting Leader of the House and House of Commons staff should be congratulated on the fact that we have not lost one single sitting day in this Parliament as a result of coronavirus. We do, though, need to find a new balance—a new way of working. The call-list system and the continued lack of Westminster Hall debates reduces our ability to raise issues that we need to consider, and there is a risk of losing the spontaneity of this place, which is so important. Usually, at 10.30 am it is standing-room only in this place, but even the socially distanced places are empty. We need to operate safely, but we need expansive and spontaneous debate, which is a crucial part of our parliamentary process. Can the acting Leader reflect on that and perhaps draw together a way to address the issues in respect of the way we run the House? Perhaps he can explain to me why we do not have Westminster Hall debates next week—what is stopping us?

My right hon. Friend asks me some questions that I probably do not have the ability to answer at this stage. I do recognise the importance of getting every aspect of the House of Commons and Parliament up and running as normally as possible. She is absolutely right that having the Chamber full, with scrutiny, debate and interventions, is incredibly important. I understand that the Commission will meet on Monday to discuss many of these issues; hopefully there will be further updates from the Leader of the House next week.

There was deep disappointment among my constituents about the Government’s decision not to vote for the extremely reasonable amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. Beyond Government action, will the hon. Gentleman find time for an urgent debate about the responsibility of original building developers and the insurance industry? Companies such as Taylor Wimpey, Laing O’Rourke, Redrow and others are simply not living up to their responsibilities when fire safety and other building defects are found, as they have been in my own constituency.

I reiterate the points that the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), made at this Dispatch Box: we are determined to bring in that legislation, but we need to go through the sequential way in which it has to be done. The points the hon. Gentleman raised are important and I will certainly write to the Minister for him and ask for an answer.

I am delighted to see my constituency neighbour at the Dispatch Box, although I am a little surprised to see him as acting Leader of the House. I welcome him to his place.

I am sure the acting Leader of the House shares my concerns about air quality. Today sees the publication of the Climate Assembly UK report, of which air quality is an important part. Our clean-air zone in Leeds is under threat. We have not had a statement from the Government or a debate on air quality, which is an issue not just for us in Leeds but for those in Birmingham and other cities. Will he press his colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come forward and make a statement, or for there to be a debate in the House on this hugely important issue?

I am grateful for the kind comments of my constituency neighbour. He is right to highlight air quality. It is good to see that there have been some significant improvements, but much, much more needs to be done, and he rightly cites cities such as Leeds. We have just had DEFRA questions, of course, but he may want to think about applying for an Adjournment debate, at which a Minister can come and answer his specific questions.

High-street regeneration is an important part of the levelling-up process for northern towns such as Radcliffe in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to start to regenerate our towns is by promoting the shops and businesses that are already in towns, through campaigns such as my independent shop competition, which runs until the end of this month? Will he find the time for a statement or debate in Government time on the importance of high-street regeneration, which is vital to towns throughout the country and particularly to northern towns that need levelling up?

I commend my hon. Friend for his independent shop competition idea, which I may have to try to pinch for my constituency. The Government are bringing forward a further £90 million as part of the towns fund, which he will obviously be interested in. There is an opportunity post covid, when more people may be working from home, to regenerate our town centres, as people leave home for their lunch hour, for example. I suggest he applies for an Adjournment debate, but I will continue to raise his points with the Minister responsible.

At his briefing yesterday, the Prime Minister referred to a “moonshot” strategy for covid testing. May we have a debate, in Government time, to establish what this moonshot strategy means, or whether the Prime Minister is in fact tuned to the moon, on this and other issues?

I actually think it is important that we are ambitious about trying to get as much testing as possible. People just try to shoot this down right at the beginning. I remember when they thought we would not get to 100,000 tests a week—we are far exceeding that now.

It is going a lot better here than in many other countries. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is about to make a statement, when the hon. Lady will be able to hear his answers.

One of the highlights of my week last week was sitting in my office and getting a very excited FaceTime call from my four-year-old god-daughter after her first day back at school. It has been great seeing the faces of the children as they are excitedly seeing their friends and learning again. Unfortunately, some children in my constituency are unable to go back to their school. Greenfield Community College’s Sunnydale site in Shildon closed last December, and it has fallen into a state of disrepair and has not yet reopened. We want to see the repairs completed as soon as possible. Does my hon. Friend agree that the repairs need to get done as soon as possible? Will he encourage the Secretary of State to meet me to discuss how best we can look at providing good secondary education in Shildon, in order to give children the best possible start in life?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of young people being back in school, where they belong, being taught by teachers and being with their friends. I understand that Durham County Council is responsible for the college’s buildings and that pupils are being supported to attend a site at Newton Aycliffe. I will certainly make sure that I speak to the Minister responsible and try to seek a meeting for my hon. Friend.

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

Sitting suspended.