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Commons Chamber

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 8 October 2020

House of Commons

Thursday 8 October 2020

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Free Trade Agreement: Japan

What assessment she has made of the potential effect on farmers and food producers of the free trade agreement with Japan. (907219)

What steps she is taking to maintain the UK’s (a) food and (b) animal welfare standards in future free trade agreements. (907225)

What assessment she has made of the potential effect on farmers and food producers of the free trade agreement with Japan. (907229)

What steps she is taking to maintain the UK’s (a) food and (b) animal welfare standards in future free trade agreements. (907253)

The deal with Japan will go further and faster than we had under the EU, including by increasing the number of geographical indications from seven in the EU-Japan deal to up to 70 in our new agreement, from Cornish clotted cream to Scotch beef. Furthermore, Japan has guaranteed market access for UK malt exports under an existing quota, which is more generous and easier to access than the EU quota.

My right hon. Friend recently visited Grange Hill farm just outside Bishop Auckland, and John, Jane and Becky—the farmers there—are rightly very proud of the high-quality beef products that they produce. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how this and others deals she is seeking, such as the deal with the USA, will benefit British beef farmers right across our United Kingdom?

I hugely enjoyed my visit to Grange Hill farm with my hon. Friend. Our deal means that British beef going into Japan will have lower tariffs. We also announced last week that the first beef for 24 years was shipped from Britain to the United States. In the United States trade deal, we will seek to remove the 26% tariff on British beef so that we can get even more of that great product into that market.

I have been contacted by many constituents who are concerned about the animal welfare standards in a US-UK trade deal. They ask me why the state of California can ban imports of products that do not meet its animal welfare standards but the UK Government are not willing to do the same.

We are absolutely clear that we are going to stand up for our high standards in any deal we strike, including with the United States, and make sure that the high standards our farmers operate to will not be undermined.

May I start by praising my right hon. Friend and her Department for the sterling work that she is doing in making us a global trading nation once again? As well as the wonderful beef exports of the north-east, it will come as no surprise to her that Welsh lamb is a major part of the Delyn economy. It would be remiss of me not to stand up for the agricultural sector in my constituency, so what message can she give me to take back to my local farmers to tell them that they will not only do well in the new arrangements, but thrive, prosper and grow?

Welsh lamb is some of the best in the world, and in the new Japan trade deal, Welsh lamb will be recognised as a GI for the first time. We got our first Welsh and British lamb into Japan for over 20 years last year, opening up a market worth £52 million. My next target is to get the ban on lamb removed in the United States, which would be a huge market. The US is the second largest lamb importer in the world.

I was interested to read that the members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission were calling for parliamentary scrutiny on all future trade deals. The head of the Government’s Food Commission has said the same, so can the Secretary of State show that she is listening to her advisers by guaranteeing this House of Commons a debate and a vote in Government time on any trade deal with the USA?

I can confirm that we will have a world-leading scrutiny process, comparable with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. That will mean the International Trade Committee scrutinising a signed version of the deal and producing a report to Parliament, a debate taking place and then, through the CRaG—the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—process, Parliament can block any trade deal if it is not happy with it.

We have spent countless hours in this House and in the other place debating the impact of imports on food standards—a debate that has captured the attention of millions of people across the country—but I would like to boil it down to asking the Secretary of State one simple question today. If it is her argument that we do not need Labour’s amendments because bans on the relevant imports are already enshrined in law, can she please tell us which law prevents the importing of pork that has been produced on American farms that continue to use sow stalls?

The right hon. Lady is talking about an animal welfare issue and, as I made very clear earlier, we will not allow the high animal welfare standards of our pig producers to be undermined.

I listened very carefully to that response, but I do not really think that it was an answer further than rhetoric. The point is that there is no import ban against pork produced on farms using sow stalls because, as the Secretary of State says, it is an issue of animal welfare, not of food safety. That means that, if the Government drop tariffs on US pork, British pork farmers will be undercut by cheap imports from American agricultural companies using practices that have been banned in our country for the past 21 years. Will she please listen to reason and write into law the protection of all UK farming standards against imports that do not meet them?

As I have said, of course in any trade deal that we strike we will take into account our high standards, to ensure that our farmers are not undermined, but if the right hon. Lady is suggesting a blanket ban on any foodstuffs that do not comply exactly with British farm regulations, she is talking about preventing developing countries from sending their foodstuffs to the United Kingdom. Is she saying—[Interruption.] She will understand that under most favoured nation rules we have to apply the same standards to every country that we deal with, so is she saying that she wants to ban Kenyans from exporting their products to us if they do not follow exactly the same farm standards as here in Britain? I want to ensure that our farmers are able to continue with their high standards, but I do not want to stop developing countries exporting their goods to us.

Let us calm it down a little with the Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil. There is no more calming influence than Brendan.

Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker, and a nice calm morning in the Hebrides it is too.

In 2014, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised Scotland that the choice was between independence and all options of devolution, and all indeed were possible—as well, of course, as guaranteed EU membership. Leaving that aside, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is expected to do the opposite of that on devolution. Given that the USA has differences across its states, can the Secretary of State guarantee that no attempt will be made to grab powers from the devolved nations to present the entire UK on an easily consumable platter for USA negotiators when it comes to a UK-USA trade deal?

I can absolutely say that we are not grabbing powers; we are using the powers that were previously in the hands of the European Union to create a strong internal market across the United Kingdom. That it is vital, because Scottish farmers need to be able to sell their lamb and beef into England, Wales and Northern Ireland without impediment.

Scotch Whisky: US Tariff

What discussions she has had with her US counterpart on that country’s imposition of a 25% tariff on single malt Scotch whisky. (907221)

The Government take very seriously the punitive US tariffs on UK goods, including on single malt Scotch whisky. We are fighting for the removal of all such tariffs and are pushing for a negotiated settlement to the underlying World Trade Organisation civil aviation cases. The Secretary of State raised these issues most recently with US trade representative Ambassador Lighthizer in September.

Exactly a year ago, the United States imposed 25% tariffs on Scotch malt whisky, devastating exports and threatening thousands of Scottish jobs. Despite the Minister’s Department making the removal of those damaging tariffs a priority, his Government have failed to move their special friend in the White House an inch on these issues. Could he explain exactly why the Scotch whisky industry, apart from being £360 million poorer, is in exactly the same place today as it was a year ago?

I thank the hon. Member for that question. We oppose these tariffs vigorously. We are stepping up talks with the US and we were pleased that in August the US did not extend the tariffs to blended whisky, and actually removed them from shortbread. The irony is that the Scottish National party are urging us to enter into direct trade talks with the US—something that we are already doing, but something that we would not be able to do if we followed its policy of rejoining the European Union. I just remark on the SNP’s chutzpah in urging us to do something to which it is fundamentally opposed: engage directly with the United States on trade policy.

Free Trade Agreement: United States

We are making good progress on a deal with the United States. We have just finished round 4 of the negotiations and we are discussing detailed tariffs and texts. We will carry on working right up until 30 October, just before the presidential election.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I also congratulate her on the excellent work her Department is doing to help to secure our independent trading status once we have fully left the EU. Does she agree that it is really important that, whatever the outcome of the US presidential election, we continue to work with the parties on both sides of the aisle to ensure we get the best possible deal for the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—[Interruption.] The Opposition are laughing at our largest single country trading partner, because they frankly do not care about the jobs generated or about the opportunities from expanding our relationship with the US. We are in discussions with senior Republicans and senior Democrats to ensure that there is full support for a US-UK trade deal right across the United States political spectrum.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has warned that there will be absolutely no chance of a trade deal should the UK Government override the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Does the Secretary of State agree that US trade talks will be dead in the water if the UK Internal Market Bill passes into law, because such a deal would never pass Congress, even with the support of the probably outgoing President Trump?

We have been absolutely clear with all our trading partners and, indeed, with the EU that we are committed to the Good Friday agreement. We are committed to having no hard border on the island of Ireland, and on that basis we are progressing talks with the United States.

Hormone-injected beef should never have been part of the trade talks with the United States. Can the Trade Secretary confirm that she told her US counterparts that the UK would drop the digital services tax if the US dropped its insistence on market access for its hormone-injected beef? If she has not made such an offer, can she tell us why The Mail on Sunday says she has? After all, it would not invent such a story, would it?

I would caution the hon. Gentleman that not absolutely everything published in The Mail on Sunday is the gospel truth. I hope that, over time, he learns that. Let us be clear that the digital services tax is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this country, not a matter for the trade talks, and that food safety regulations are a matter for the Food Standards Agency in this country, and not part of the trade talks.

As my right hon. Friend may be aware, Willis Asset Management, a large US aircraft manufacturing and maintenance firm, is already based at Teesside international airport. What assessment has she made of the opportunity that a free trade corridor between a free port on the River Tees and our local airport would provide for US-UK trade and regional growth?

I know that my hon. Friend is a staunch advocate of free ports, especially one in Teesside, and I know he will have been delighted by the announcement yesterday from the Chancellor that there will be 10 new free ports across the United Kingdom by the end of 2021, bringing more trade, more opportunities and more growth to areas right across the nation.

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

We come now to Richard Graham’s question, but he is not here, so I call the Minister on this group of questions.

Pursuing accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership is a Government priority and a key part of our trade negotiations programme. We have engaged with all 11 member countries at both ministerial and official level to discuss UK accession, including the first ever meeting of senior officials between CPTPP members and a non-member on 9 September, and all members have welcome the UK’s interest.

I thank the Minister for the update. However, when the non-partisan Centre for Economic Policy Research assessed the United States accession to the original and similar trans-Pacific partnership trade deal, it concluded that wages might rise for the top 10% of earners but fall for everybody else. What assessment has his Department made of the impact of CPTPP accession on income levels in the UK, and what guarantees can he give that worsening income inequality would not be a consequence here?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting question. I have not seen that study on the original TPP, but I will say two things. First, when the UK applies, we will be publishing a scoping assessment—an impact assessment—looking at how the deal will affect the UK economy. Secondly, liberal-minded, like-minded democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have embraced CPTPP with great enthusiasm, which gives me some encouragement in this space.

It is just not the UK that is seeking to join CPTPP; Thailand, for example, is actively investigating it. Thailand’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences has assessed that because of the way CPTPP rules on patents and on market approval for generic drugs that impact on Government procurement and so on work, the costs of drugs would rise. Given the Bangkok Post headline that CPTPP would lead to “soaring” drugs bills, what guarantees can the Minister give that a similar rise in the cost of medicines to the NHS, for the same reasons, would not be the consequence here?

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Nothing in any trade deal prevents us from setting domestic pharmaceutical prices, and that would remain true in respect of CPTPP. Let me have a look at why the Scottish National party is questioning the potential to join CPTPP. I have the feeling that the SNP is just not in favour of any trade agreements; I have had a look at CPTPP members, and the SNP was against doing a deal with Canada, against doing a deal with Japan in Brussels and against doing a deal with Singapore. So I feel that whatever intricate, detailed questions he has on CPTPP, he will not support our joining it.

The Government of Malaysia are delaying ratification of CPTPP because they have become concerned, belatedly, about the impact of the treaty’s provisions on Government procurement and on investor-state dispute settlements. So before our Government go full steam ahead into negotiations to join CPTPP, will the Minister provide an assessment of those provisions for our country?

The UK is a different economy from Malaysia, and the UK has never lost a an investor dispute case through the investor-state dispute settlement. Secondly, Government procurement is a huge opportunity for this country. Just yesterday, we were delighted to see our accession to the World Trade Organisation’s Government procurement agreement, as a sure way to make sure that Government procurement remains open for UK businesses and UK procurers. A bit like the SNP, I have checked the hon. Gentleman’s record on CPTPP and he has opposed doing the deals. He voted against on Singapore, abstained on Japan and even went further than his Labour colleagues in voting against CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—taking effect. A bit like the SNP, he is trying to find fault in an agreement that he has no intention of supporting, at any point.

Human Rights: Trade Agreements

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on the inclusion of human rights clauses in future trade agreements. (907226)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on the inclusion of human rights clauses in future trade agreements. (907235)

To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (907261)

This Government have a strong history of promoting our values globally. Although our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues, including human rights. We will not compromise our high standards in trade agreements.

The Government have listed 20 countries and one trading bloc where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December. Are human rights part of those discussions? Will the Minister guarantee the inclusion of human rights clauses in any eventual deals reached with those countries?

We have been absolutely clear throughout the continuity trade deal programme that there will be no diminution of UK standards, and that also applies to human rights. We will make sure that our strong, proud record on human rights—we are a world leader in ensuring and guaranteeing human rights—continues throughout all the continuity trade programme.

The UN group of experts has concluded that all parties in Yemen, including the Saudi coalition, are violating international law on an ongoing and consistent basis and that countries such as the UK, which are selling arms for use in the conflict, are showing a blatant disregard for the violations. Can the Minister explain why the independent panel of experts is wrong and he is right?

Some of this is subject to ongoing legal proceedings, but I remind the hon. Lady that we discussed this at some length last month in the House in an urgent question, which I answered. May I also remind her that, at all times, we follow the consolidated criteria, which provide a robust framework by which we assess export licence applications?

China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 84% of the cotton coming from the Xinjiang region. The entire global clothing industry is tainted with forced Uyghur labour, and the UK is no exception. In the light of that, does the Minister agree that we cannot put trade above human rights, and will he outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that human rights concerns are considered during bilateral trade negotiations between the UK and China?

We are absolutely clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Indeed, there is a very strong positive correlation between free trade and human rights through the world. On Xinjiang, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been absolutely robust in our criticism, our condemnation, of what has been happening to the Uyghurs in the province. I reiterate that today, while reminding the hon. Gentleman that we are not negotiating a trade deal with China.

I am sure that the whole House has been encouraged by the Minister’s warm words on human rights, but let us test them with a specific example. I understand from the high commissioner of Cameroon that virtual negotiations on UK’s roll-over agreement are taking place as we speak, the first such negotiations in more than a year. Perhaps the Minister will update us on those talks and on any side discussions on the attendee development. For the purposes of this question, can he tell us whether his intention going into those negotiations is to assert a full essential elements human rights clause into the roll-over agreement with Cameroon rather than the current obsolete cross-reference to Cotonou? If so, how does he plan to enforce that clause effectively? Is it by penalising the Biya Government for their continued human rights abuses or, preferably, to persuade them to stop those abuses in future?

I thank the right hon. Lady for that question. She is referring, of course, to the Cotonou agreement, which is shortly to expire. There are two things to take away from this. The first is the importance of keeping the continuity of our trading relations with Cameroon. That is very important for the Cameroon economy overall. Secondly, we continue to raise at every level with Cameroon our concern about human rights, both across the country in general and those affecting the anglophone community in the south-west of the country. On the deal itself, there will be no diminution in the human rights clauses of the existing EU deal, which I think is what she is seeking to criticise.

Free Trade Agreement: Australia

Australia is a key and proud ally of the United Kingdom, a country with shared beliefs in democracy and free trade. We are working closely at pace with our Australian friends to secure a deal that will benefit both countries, and we will reach a gold standard agreement to lead the world in free trade.

My right hon. Friend knows that Teesside has a long history of exporting to Australia, including a small project known as the Sydney harbour bridge. Can she assure me that, as we leave the EU, Redcar and Cleveland, particularly the steel and chemical industry, will be at the forefront of her mind in future trade talks?

Redcar and Cleveland are a key priority as we negotiate the Australia deal. There are 13,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the United Kingdom that already export to Australia, and I see lots of opportunities for them to benefit from our close trading relationship, including in the areas of steel and chemicals, food and drink and digital and data.

Technology Sector Exports

Technology is an important and growing sector. In fact, sales of our digital tech exports totalled £23 billion last year, and Oxford Economics thinks they will be worth up to £31 billion by 2025. Our ambitious approach to digital trade in free trade agreements will boost exports, and support economic growth, job creation and prosperity. We have negotiated strong measures, not least in Japan, and will seek similar outcomes in our talks with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.

Will the Minister tell us a little bit more about the UK-Japan free trade agreement, and particularly how it will help businesses in Warrington South and the north-west to do more business with Japan?

There are specific issues including not having to worry about the added cost of setting up data servers in Japan because of the elements that look at data transfer; a guarantee that the trade secrets underpinning innovations of entrepreneurs in my hon. Friend’s constituency are protected and do not have to be shared across borders; and a clear commitment that entrepreneurs on both sides of the agreement will be able to operate in an open, secure and trustworthy online environment.

The deal with Japan includes some very ambitious chapters on digital and data, and a deal with the United States is set to benefit tech firms. Will my hon. Friend advise how Black Country firms can make the best of these future opportunities?

Tech firms in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the UK will benefit from the opening of markets and the minimisation of barriers to trade, which will allow them to expand internationally, not least in the Asia-Pacific region. The joint DIT and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport digital trade network, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in June, will significantly improve our support for businesses from my hon. Friend’s constituency in that fast-growing part of the world.

Foreign Investment: Don Valley

My Department recorded 331 foreign direct investment projects in the northern powerhouse in 2019-20, creating or safeguarding more than 11,000 jobs. DIT is dedicated to supporting international investment into the UK, and it can be argued—in fact it is quite hard to argue against—that we are the most successful major economy in the world in attracting foreign direct investment to our shores. Our dedicated staff across the north work closely with partners in Yorkshire and Humber to attract new and existing investors, match them to opportunities and maintain our position of having more foreign direct investment than any other nation in Europe.

Does the Minister agree that with all the new markets his Department is opening up for the UK, the Government must do all they can to support the many young entrepreneurs of Don Valley?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. How refreshing it is to have a representative in the Don Valley who cares about business and recognises that trade needs to look at the wide scope of issues but at its heart is about the economic benefit that it brings to local people. Again and again, in session after session of these questions, the Labour party focuses on everything other than the economic benefit—the jobs and prosperity—that trade brings. That is why this Government will continue to support entrepreneurs; the Opposition come up with complex and sophisticated arguments, but again and again they oppose the very measures that will help to ensure employment and prosperity for the people of this country.

Israel

What discussions she has had with her Israeli counterpart on UK support for expanding Israel’s commercial ties with the Gulf states. (907231)

Britain’s trading relationships are already strong in the middle east. In the year ending March 2020, we had bilateral trade of £43.7 billion with the Gulf Co-operation Council countries and £5.1 billion with Israel. I know that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s appointment of Lord Austin—former Labour MP for Dudley North—as trade envoy to Israel. As Britain has now taken back control of her trade policy, I can confirm that we are now able to start scoping and probing for talks for a new higher-ambition trade agreement with Israel. We have already launched a joint trade and investment review with the GCC, taking us on the next leg of the journey to free trade with its members.

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Lord Austin, who is a balanced and fair parliamentarian, on his great role, and we look forward to his work there. Given our strong and very positive relationships both with Israel and the Gulf states, the UK has a key role in striking deals. Will he update the House on what further plans we have for striking deals with these countries, as this will not only be good for UK exports but for our international relations as well?

My hon. Friend is right. I am delighted that the United Kingdom-Israel trade and partnership agreement was one of the first agreements to be signed by the Department, and relations will be enhanced as we further deepen our work with Israel. As I mentioned, we have recently launched the United Kingdom GCC JTIR—joint trade and investment review—which will facilitate agreements with our friends there to broaden our trade relationships and realise new opportunities in areas such as education, healthcare, and food and drink. Recently my Department’s lobbying secured an improvement in the United Arab Emirates’ labelling rules, which has allowed businesses such as sports nutrition start-up Grenade in Solihull to continue to grow in the market. I look forward to securing many more opportunities for businesses across the country.

It is unsurprising that Israel is one of the first countries to sign a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK because bilateral relations are, as the Minister says, very strong. What progress is being made in expanding those opportunities, and how do they go beyond the agreements that have already been signed by the UK?

My hon. Friend is right to be very ambitious for Britain’s future as we unleash the potential of every corner of our country. I was very pleased to see that last year this growth included new export wins totalling £1 million in his constituency. He is a great champion of exports and he is right that there is more that we can do. There are exciting opportunities in sectors such as financial services, infrastructure and technology. We are working with Israeli counterparts to realise those, including through reinstating plans to host an Anglo-Israeli trade and investment conference in London.

Covid-19: Economic Recovery

What steps her Department is taking to support economic recovery from the covid-19 pandemic through UK exports. (907233)

Since the start of covid-19, my Department has been committed to doing everything it can to help exporters. Helping them to bounce back with extensive economic recovery measures continues to be a major priority. After significant monthly decreases in UK trade during the early stages of the pandemic, the UK is now seeing record month-on-month increases in exports, rising by 16.5% in June and a further 5.6% in July.

I recently visited Blachford UK in Holmewood in my constituency. This brilliant manufacturer enjoys fantastic relations with many countries around the world, particularly Canada. Does the Minister agree that it is a shining example to exporters around the country and we need more companies like it, particularly in Bolsover?

Absolutely—we need more companies like Blachford. That is why we are transforming our digital offer to exporters and negotiating a continuity agreement with Canada. It would be great to see Opposition MPs joining us in encouraging their local exporters in the manner of my hon. Friend. I understand that he planted a maple tree at Blachford on a recent visit. I suggest that we should all be planting trees and celebrating our local exporters.

Public Procurement

What discussions she has had with UK trade partners on ensuring that public procurement is excluded from future trade deals. (907234)

We are delighted that in Geneva yesterday the UK was admitted to the World Trade Organisation’s government procurement agreement, which will secure access to a public procurement market worth £1.3 trillion. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming this significant step for the UK as an independent trading nation.

The NHS currently strikes huge multi-billion-pound deals with drug providers around Europe that deliver huge benefits to the NHS and minimise drug costs to patients. Will the Government be allowing the US, through a trade deal, to gain access to NHS drugs procurement, and what are the implications for drug prices?

We have been absolutely clear that in terms of the US deal the NHS is not on the table, and that includes drug pricing and other aspects of delivery of healthcare services. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the European Union is also a member of the government procurement agreement, and therefore we look forward, on a bilateral basis between the UK and the EU, to UK companies being able to take advantage of these procurement opportunities in European markets and also UK procurers being able to give their contracts to European companies.

Carbon Tariffs

What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the potential merits of using carbon tariffs to reduce emissions associated with international trade. (907236)

Britain has reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation since 1990; and we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions, too. This people’s Government will make sure the British people benefit from being at the forefront of clean wind energy. We will spend £160 million on port and factory upgrades to create jobs, build turbines and increase our offshore wind capacity, which is already the biggest in the world. The hon. Gentleman can be sure that we will continue to push for ambitious international action to protect the environment, including through our trade agenda. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made it clear that the environment is one of her top three priorities for British leadership at the World Trade Organisation.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his position on the Front Bench, having worked with him on the International Trade Committee for a couple of years. Contrary to the points being made by certain Ministers, I would say that many of us on this side of the House speak up for businesses and are very proud of the contribution that our world-beating businesses and industries make. Carbon border taxes are an important measure not just for the environment, but for preventing carbon-intensive industries from relocating to countries with lower emissions standards and therefore a lower cost base. Can the Minister assure us that there is nothing in the deal that the Government have signed with Japan or nothing in the deals being struck with the US in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—

Order. It is far too long in both cases—we will not get anyone else in at this rate. Minister, try and do the best you can.

My Department really does recognise the role that trade and tariffs can play in reducing global carbon emissions, and we are clear that trade does not have to come at the expense of the environment, but growing trade is important for so many more reasons. It delivers the things that our people care about: better jobs, higher wages, greater choice and lower prices, and our new global tariff helps to deliver that, as well as supporting the environment, by liberalising tariffs on 104 environmental goods that we are promoting.

Digital Trade

The UK has published its US negotiation objectives, which outline our intention to include provisions that facilitate the free flow of data while ensuring that the UK’s high standards of personal data protection are maintained. They include provisions to prevent unjustified data localisation requirements.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he confirm that under a trade agreement, American businesses processing UK citizens’ data in America would still have to abide by UK data laws, and also that a trade agreement will do nothing to undermine the age-appropriate design code for social media?

On the second point, nothing in any trade agreement would prevent us from legislating against online harms in this country. On the first point, the UK’s trade policy seeks to maintain high levels of data protection by committing parties to legislate for the protection of the personal information of users of electronic commerce. That means that users of electronic commerce will have legal certainty over the protection of their personal information.

Free Trade Agreement: New Zealand

A free trade agreement with New Zealand is a priority for the UK Government. Trade negotiators from the UK and New Zealand held the first round of negotiations between 13 and 24 July 2020, and a second round of negotiations is due to begin on 19 October. New Zealand are a global leader when it comes to trade policy and trade agreements, and it is always a pleasure to deal with them.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He may be aware that prior to my first election in 2010, I worked closely with our colleague the Prime Minister in his former role as London’s Mayor and various members of the New Zealand Government to secure appropriate recognition for Sir Keith Park, the defender of London. I am pleased therefore to see our strengthened trade links with New Zealand, but does my right hon. Friend agree with me and others that we need to go further to strengthen commercial and political ties between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK and seize the chances that Brexit presents for the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for his words of praise for the previous Mayor of London, who did a much better job than the current incumbent. I recently met the New Zealand high commissioner. The Secretary of State speaks regularly with the New Zealand Trade Minister. I did a webinar with New Zealand businesses recently. We want to have a cutting-edge deal as soon as possible. In terms of the broader relationship with Canada and Australia, I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend says, but I think the answer to that lies within the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, of which Canada, Australia and New Zealand are members.

Export Finance Guarantee Scheme

Export finance guarantees are provided through UK Export Finance, the UK’s world-leading export credit agency. UKEF’s mission is to ensure that no viable UK export fails for lack of insurance or finance, while operating at no net cost to the taxpayer. It recently introduced a new export development guarantee, which has seen £500 million provided to Jaguar Land Rover and Ford of Britain, with more in the pipeline.

I thank the Minister for that helpful answer. Does he agree that the take-up of the scheme among companies in Northern Ireland is not as high as it should be, and there needs to be more marketing and development of the scheme? Will he agree to a meeting between officials from his Department and me, and discuss with companies that have tried to access it, the problems they have encountered so that we can ensure the scheme benefits companies in Ulster?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the need to market more effectively. We have a brilliant suite of products. UKEF is world leading—again and again it is voted the best export credit agency in the world—and it is doing great work. We would love to open it up to more businesses, which is why UKEF is part of various bounce back plans, including my launch in Northern Ireland of our tech bounce back plan. I would be delighted to organise a meeting with him to ensure that Northern Irish businesses are aware of all the products that are on offer.

Topical Questions

Over the last month, we have made significant progress to establish the United Kingdom as an independent, free-trading nation. We have agreed in principle a deal with Japan that goes further and faster than the EU deal in areas such as digital and data, food and drink and financial services. We have set out our pathway to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and yesterday we joined the WTO Government procurement agreement, which gives British businesses access to a £1.3 trillion global market.

Just as Israel has signed a peace treaty with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, it is innovating to create an instant covid-19 test that is currently being trialled at European airports. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to work with innovative Israeli companies in that area?

I congratulate Lord Austin on becoming the new trade envoy to Israel. I am delighted to see the reaction on the Labour Benches—they are obviously very pleased with that appointment. We have already signed a continuity FTA with Israel, and we want to go further in a new free trade agreement in areas such as tech, digital and data. We are two tech superpowers, and there is huge opportunity for British businesses and Israeli businesses to work more closely together.

I was listening to the Secretary of State on the “Today” programme yesterday morning, when she twice repeated the Government’s mantra of wanting a trade deal with the EU just like Canada’s. But the Government will not agree to non-regression clauses on environmental protection or workers’ rights, both of which are in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—the trade deal between Canada and the EU. The Government also will not commit on state aid beyond WTO rules, while CETA contains stronger agreements on subsidies. Could the Secretary of State share with the House whether the Government are planning to change course and accept those provisions in their deal with the EU, or will she just admit that they do not really want a Canada-style deal at all?

The reality is that what the EU is demanding goes far beyond Canada in terms of an ex-ante regime on state aid, as well as alignment with rules and regulations. We will not accept that. We do want a Canada-style deal. The reality is that the Labour party would not even accept a Canada-style deal with Canada.

It is an undisputed fact that capitalism and free markets are the surest route out of poverty. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on how the Department is using trade to boost development in Africa? (907190)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before I returned to the Department, I was the chair of the trade out of poverty all-party parliamentary group in this place. We have achieved duty free, quota free access for 39 African countries, and only yesterday the Prime Minister appointed 11 new Africa trade envoys. However, what would be unhelpful to our trade relationship with Africa is Labour and SNP Members’ proposals to dictate domestic production standards in the developing world, which has the potential to kill off our trade with those countries. I would ask them to look those countries in the eye when the Ghanaians cannot sell us their cocoa, when the Caribbean cannot sell us bananas, when the Kenyans—

Order. [Interruption.] No, no, no. Minister—and I will say this to both Front Benches—topicals are meant to be short and punchy. They are not meant to be for debating points like other questions. That is why topicals were brought in. Both Front Benches have taken advantage, and none more so than the Minister then. Let us head up to Preston with Sir Mark Hendrick. Come on: calm is needed.

May I ask the Secretary of State how she can agree the terms of a trade deal with the United States Government when neither they nor we currently know the extent to which the UK’s regulatory framework will be permitted to diverge from the European Union’s? (907191)

We are absolutely committed that we are going to have our own independent regulatory regime, and we are no longer going to be permanently aligned with the EU. We have made that very clear: that was the point of Brexit.

Stockton is a town of firsts—be it the first passenger railway or the invention of the friction match. How will our future trade agreements help the latest generation of innovators export across the globe? (907192)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Innovation has always given our businesses an edge. Virtual reality and 3D specialist Amazing Interactives in my hon. Friend’s constituency is an example of how innovation can continue to take business and exports forward. Today’s innovators, like Amazing Interactives, will benefit from our new FTAs.

Macallan single malt whisky bottled at Edrington in my constituency is just one of many iconic Scottish products suffering under the 25% US trade tariffs. A year down the line, can the Secretary of State explain why single malt whisky is not at the top of our US negotiating list? (907196)

I am absolutely determined to get these tariffs removed. The reality is that the European Union, which the hon. Lady and her colleagues want to rejoin, has failed to sort out this issue with Airbus for 15 years. We now have an opportunity—we have an independent tariff policy starting next year—and I am determined to get those tariffs removed.

Businesses in Warrington South tell me they want to do more business around the world. Can my hon. Friend tell me and the House how they can do that with the benefit of our new free trade agreements? (907193)

I know that many businesses in Warrington are already flying the flag. Earlier this week, I was delighted to learn that Warrington’s ICC Solutions has secured a deal with a major US acquiring bank so that its technology will be used to make card payments safer in America. This company does great work as one of our export champions too. Ultimately, FTAs are going to create better jobs, higher wages, more choice and lower prices for all parts of our country. An ambitious FTA with the US could boost the economy in the north-west by £389 million per year.

In response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the UK has been at the forefront of EU sanction action against Russia, which this Government have reiterated their support for in two written statements to the House this year. Does the Secretary of State accept an obligation to operate the same principles in relation to trade with the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories? (907203)

Sanctions are a matter for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and I will pass on the hon. Member’s views to it. However, to answer the first part of her question, the UK has been absolutely robust in its approach to Russia on many fronts, not least the illegal annexation of Ukraine, which we have opposed at all points. We will continue to highlight that injustice at every international forum available.

I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State and her turbo-charged Department on the Government procurement agreement, the Japanese free trade deal and progress in many other areas. It was a pleasure to welcome her to North Cornwall recently to demonstrate our great British food offer. Then it was cheese; today it is shellfish. North Cornwall has a lot of shellfish fishermen who hope to take advantage of our new trading independence. Can the Secretary of State tell me what consideration her Department has made of potential opportunities for crab and seafood exports to Asian countries such as Korea and Taiwan? (907194)

There are huge opportunities for great Cornish seafood in Japan, Korea, and all of Asia. Our Japan deal will see tariffs reduced on salmon, and the Cornish sardine properly recognised. We are holding a webinar on 26 October to help seafood exporters, including crab exporters, crack the Japanese market.

I have had more representations on the overlapping issues of food safety and animal welfare in trade agreements than on almost any other issue for a long time. The Conservative party was keen to insert animal welfare provisions into EU trade agreements—indeed, the issue was in its 2015 manifesto. Why was the inclusion of animal welfare provisions in EU trade agreements good enough then, but not good enough to be written into UK legislation now? (907206)

In each individual trade agreement we consider key issues such as animal welfare. We are consulting closely with the farming industry, including the pig industry, which sees all the offers we put forward in individual deals. Each deal will be scrutinised by the International Trade Committee, and the implications for animal welfare will be independently verified. Parliament will have an opportunity to debate those issues. We take this matter seriously, and as the hon. Lady said, those issues come to light in each individual trade deal.

Despite the best efforts of Scottish National party Members, Scottish businesses want to trade around the world. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Scottish businesses are able to trade around the world in the way they wish? (907195)

My hon. Friend is right, and last week I announced a new trade hub in Edinburgh, which will help businesses in Scotland to grow internationally and recover from the impact of coronavirus. The hub will promote opportunities for Scottish companies, and FTAs will provide access to our global network, which is provided in 115-plus markets. There is the support of UK Export Finance—[Interruption.] It is hard to hear oneself think with the chuntering from the Opposition Front Bench. Would it not be great if we saw the same interest in trade, and promoting trade, not least in Scotland, rather than chuntering and sideline messages?

We have had five years of horrific humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and over that period the Government have traded and made profit from £6.5 billion-worth of licensed arms. At the same time, they have given only £1 billion in aid. The UN has said that a consistent pattern of harm to civilians is being caused, so will the Secretary of State say why profiteering from arms sales is more important than supporting civilians in crisis? (907210)

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but Her Majesty’s Government take their arms export responsibilities very seriously. We assess arms exports in accordance with strict licensing criteria. Those are consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, and we draw on a lot of available information, including reports from non-governmental organisations and our overseas network in doing so. We will not license the export of equipment where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State on the radio this week talking about the benefits of free ports, and there is a fantastic bid for a free port at East Midlands airport. Does the Minister agree that that could have a transformational effect in the east midlands? (907197)

First, let me praise my hon. Friend. If the allocation of free ports was based purely on the championing of their case by Members of Parliament, it would be a certainty that he would have one in his area. Yesterday, Her Majesty’s Treasury published the response to the consultation on free ports, which outlined how free ports will help to level up the UK economy, bring in new investment, create high-skilled jobs, and provide new opportunities in ports and the areas around them. Although it will be an open, fair, and transparent process, I have no doubt that the advocacy of my hon. Friend will set a precedent for others and, I hope, lead to a successful outcome for him.

On Monday, farmers from across the whole United Kingdom will be demonstrating in Parliament Square to make the point that, to them, future food standards and animal welfare provisions are essential. Will the Secretary of State join me in meeting them to hear from them at first hand the importance of this? (907213)

I have met farmers from right across the United Kingdom, and indeed the Trade and Agriculture Commission that we have set up to advise us on these issues is conducting a series of regional meetings with MPs and farmers to get their views, to make sure that our policy on every free trade deal works for farmers right across the country.

The Welsh Government have not been allowed to negotiate with the EU, so if Welsh farmers, some of whom voted in favour of leaving the EU, find that they face tariffs and border controls on lamb, will the UK Government give the Welsh Government compensation to give to those Welsh farmers and other sectors that have lost out through a badly negotiated deal? (907214)

Both the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union Wales are represented on the Trade and Agriculture Commission to ensure that there is a full voice for Welsh farmers on future trade agreements. Under the recent Japan deal, Welsh lamb is now going to be recognised geographical indicator, and we are fighting to get lamb into the US market. There are lots of opportunities out there for Welsh lamb farmers, which we are pursuing vigorously.

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.

Business of the House

The business for next week will include:

Monday 12 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill.

Tuesday 13 October—Remaining stages of the Fisheries Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No.5) Regulations 2020, followed by general debate on covid-19.

Wednesday 14 October—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion relating to “fire and re-hire tactics”, followed by a debate relating to covid-19 contracts and public procurement. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the official Opposition.

Thursday 15 October—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.

Friday 16 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 October will include:

Monday 19 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill.

Tuesday 20 October—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill, followed by business to be determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 21 October—Opposition day (13th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 October—General debate on covid-19.

Friday 23 October—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for both the Opposition days, but I am concerned about the consequences. Last time the Opposition voted on an amendment to the Trade Bill, the House Twitter account was suspended and I am not sure why, because all it does is present the facts, the explanatory memorandum and the votes. I do not know why that has been stopped—unless, of course, he is afraid of the competition to his own Twitter account, but he just talks about teddy bears, whereas what the House Twitter account has done since 2012 is to inform the public about the procedures and policies of the House and the votes, in a non-political way. It just presents the facts. Could he please ensure that it is restored and given back to the House?

Something is missing: the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care throwing himself down on the green Benches when he has to come and answer questions. We are still entitled to ask questions, are we not? I am just checking, because I would like to ask the Leader of the House where the evidence is for why large parts of the north and the midlands are under lockdown when other areas with higher rates of infection are not.

Let me give the facts: Richmond in North Yorkshire has 73 new cases for every 100,0000—no lockdown. Newark and Sherwood District Council has 84 cases—no lockdown. Wolverhampton has 56 cases, a lower figure than the others, but is in lockdown. Barrow and Furness, 112—no lockdown; Darlington, 110—no lockdown; Wakefield, 73—no lockdown, so can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on these inconsistent, chaotic decisions? We need an explanation.

The Leader of the House will know that good public law is based on making a decision and giving reasons, and it is also based on giving the evidence. Otherwise, I am afraid the lefty lawyers and the do-gooders will have to hold the Government to account, as democracy wants us to do. We are quite happy being the do-gooders, although I am not sure what that makes the Government: the no-gooders—a Government up to no good?

I am pleased that the Leader of the House has provided time for the debate on the 10 pm curfew. Let us try again, as the Leader of the Opposition asked yesterday: can we have the evidence published before the debate? That will inform the debate.

We have a series of Departments that are spending £56 million on consultancy fees. Apparently contracts have been given without competition—nobody else has been allowed to compete; they have just been handed out. The Government’s own Minister, Lord Agnew, said:

“Aside from providing poor value for money, this infantilises the civil service by depriving our brightest people of opportunities to work on some of the most challenging, fulfilling and crunchy issues.”

There is chaos and waste of public money. It is a problem of the Government’s own making because they downsized the civil service. They have lost five senior civil servants, including the Cabinet Secretary, from Whitehall this year. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure, ahead of the Opposition day debate, that all the contracts that the Government have outsourced are in the public domain, with the amounts and the connections with the Government? We would also like to see the measurable outcomes. It is no good giving out the contracts only for people to turn around and say, “It doesn’t work,” and then the Government have to foot the bill again.

We have silence from the Twitter account, silence on the evidence for lockdown, silence on Government contracts. It is as if the Government were sailing adrift at sea with no radio contact. There is also silence on when fans can return to football stadiums. I saw Walsall prepare their ground, taking three weeks to ensure that it is covid-safe so that all our fans can return. Staff have already taken a reduction in wages. Now the Government are holding those businesses with their hands tied behind their backs. They cannot raise income from fans returning, which helps fans’ health and wellbeing. I do not know whether any Cabinet members go to football matches, but there were some fantastic results last weekend. Fans would have wanted to see them. [Interruption.] I meant that I wonder whether Cabinet members had been to football matches previously. There have been dramatic results. We want to go to our local matches at Walsall. There are dramatic matches there, too. May we have a statement on when football stadiums can open safely? There has not been clarity from the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

I know that the Leader of the House will say that Foreign Office questions is next Tuesday, but will he ensure that the Foreign Secretary gives the House an update on Nazanin and Anousheh and the meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister? If he does not give it to the House, will he please give it to the families?

I ask again for a statement on the EU Council meeting on 15 October. It can be given on the Friday or the following Monday.

Mr Speaker, he did it. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) jumped from a plane. He fundraised for Florence and came out unscathed. Today is Gift Aid Awareness Day and I suggest that all hon. Members use that tick and ensure that the charities get their money. Well done to my hon. Friend and all the best to Florence.

Today is not only Gift Aid Awareness Day; it is also Octopus Day. We will be getting our tentacles into many important issues today. If any of us suffer from polydactyly, we will be able to model ourselves on octopodes—as I think the plural of octopus might be.

Let me go through the various important points that the right hon. Lady raised. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) on a fine charity-raising achievement. Thank heavens that it has gone safely.

On football, I think that you are not entirely happy with some of the recent results, Mr Speaker, and believe that we should probably have a debate on the unfairness of the result and perhaps have it reversed by statutory instrument. Unfortunately that is not part of the Government’s programme, much though I wish to oblige you, Mr Speaker, whenever possible. Even I have been to football matches. I have been to see Keynsham Town and Paulton Rovers—two fine clubs in North East Somerset. I absolutely understand the issue that the right hon. Lady raises, which is a matter of concern to many Members. The Government are keen to help football clubs and have been working with them, but the question is ensuring that grounds can reopen safely, as the right hon. Lady acknowledged in her question.

Let me come on to Twitter. The right hon. Lady says that I tweet about teddy bears. I do indeed, and about Bath Oliver biscuits and the failures of socialism, which is a regular theme of mine. I try to remind people that socialism is fundamentally dangerous and not in the interests of this country. However, the House of Commons Twitter account needs to be rigorously impartial and there were concerns about simply putting out the explanatory notes, which are written by a side that is interested in the result and parti pris. It is not right for the House of Commons in any sense to intervene in the debate. The votes are recorded and there is an excellent app that people can download. Did you know that, Mr Speaker? There is a terrific app—CommonsVotes—on which you can look up every single Commons vote. You can wander around with your telephone and see exactly how every Member of Parliament has voted. That is provided by the House authorities and is absolutely magnificent. The right hon. Lady moans that we have not heard enough from the Secretary of State for Health. We have had 40 oral statements from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has been an assiduous attender at this House to ensure we are fully informed.

Not only when asked. He has made statements. He has volunteered to make statements.

I am very glad to say that we now have a system where issues of national significance will be debated on the Floor of the House. I note the 10 pm curfew is a nationally significant measure. Even though it was not strictly caught by the Health Secretary’s commitment last week, the Government took the decision to move the debate to the Floor of the House in recognition of the level of demand for the debate. We are being responsive to what is being asked for and ensuring proper scrutiny. The fact is that scrutiny helps to improve Government policy. That has always been true and it is one of the key roles of this House.

As regards evidence for individual measures, the Government are acting on the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The Government have consistently acted on the advice of SAGE and all measures come in on the best available advice. That is the whole point of having SAGE in the first place.

The right hon. Lady says we have lost five civil servants. It sounds a bit like:

“James James

Morrison Morrison

Weatherby George Dupree

Took great

Care of his Mother,

Though he was only three.

James James said to his Mother,

‘Mother,’ he said, said he;

‘You must never go down

to the end of the town,

if you don’t go down with me.’”

And they went down to the end of the town and got lost. They haven’t got lost at all! Some have retired, some have moved on. This is in the natural course of events. Out of the many thousands of civil servants, for five to have changed jobs really seems to me hardly excessive.

As regards outsourcing, a motion arises on an Opposition day debate on Wednesday, when that issue can be discussed in all its glorious, technicolour detail.

In my constituency, we have light industry and retail to the east and tourism to the west, so transport links are of vital importance to many of my constituents. Although transport is devolved, many aspects of transport infrastructure are not. The A55 in north Wales is arguably one of the most important roads in the UK in terms of international trade. Upgrades to it are therefore of national, as well as local, importance. To date, I have had minimal success with the roads Minister in obtaining those upgrades, which were part of our 2019 manifesto. What options can my right hon. Friend suggest to get this vital project prioritised for my constituents?

There is a massive upgrading of roads programme, with £8.6 billion of infrastructure spending. Sir Peter Hendy has been asked by the Government to consider a range of options to connect the nations within the United Kingdom. The review will be broad in scope and will look at how best to improve road, rail, air and sea connections across the United Kingdom such as the A55, which my hon. Friend mentions and is indeed a very important road. The Government will take their decisions based on the expert advice of Sir Peter. I encourage my hon. Friend to carry on lobbying and perhaps ask for an Adjournment debate on this important subject.

I begin by commending you, Mr Speaker, and in particular the Doorkeepers, for demonstrating by example earlier in the week the need to wear face coverings when moving around the building. I hope the leadership that was demonstrated by you might rub off on the Government when it comes to looking at the procedures in this place and how we debate things.

I want to start by asking the Leader of the House where he has got to in his consideration of the recommendations of the Procedure Committee with regard to remote voting in this place. This is all the more pertinent given that the coronavirus pandemic is not going away. Indeed, it may well get worse before it gets better. We already have in various parts of the United Kingdom, and particularly in Scotland, quite severe restrictions. They may intensify and that may mean many Members will be unable to travel to this place if they wish to follow the guidance of their local health authorities and their national Government to avoid inessential travel. It seems to me somewhat perverse to be in a situation where the travel of Members of Parliament has to be essential only because we choose to turn off the means by which we can make it inessential. In other words, if we have the ability to participate remotely, we would not need to make journeys to this place. So, first, I would like to know where the Leader of the House has got to in his consideration of that.

Will the Chancellor update the statement he made a couple of weeks ago concerning the continuation of support for businesses that are unable to trade because of the pandemic? The announcement on the job support scheme only has relevance to those businesses that are able to start trading at a reduced capacity. It has no relevance for businesses that are told to close, cannot trade at all and have no income coming in. When can we have a statement on that?

Finally, on a completely different topic, I wonder whether I can tease the Leader of the House to answer a question that the Prime Minister refused to answer. In May next year we have elections for the Scottish Parliament. If the Conservative party and other Unionist parties are successful in gaining a majority of seats in that Parliament in that election, would the Leader of the House regard that as a topical mandate for the Union at that election?

There was a vote in 2014 of the people of Scotland, who decided to remain in the United Kingdom. The SNP at the time was under the leadership of Mr Salmond—a figure SNP Members perhaps do not talk about as much as they used to for reasons I am not entirely clear about. All sorts of interesting things about Mr Salmond and Mrs Sturgeon are currently in the papers—all sorts of conversations between them—to which people may want to pay attention. None the less, SNP Members do not like talking about him much anymore. At the time, Mr Salmond said it was for a generation. Now, I know that we have been talking about octopuses on World Octopus Day, but a generation is longer, I imagine, than the lifespan of the average octopus. It is the lifespan of an individual. A generation is 25 to 30 years. It is a good length of time. We have had the referendum, and we won. The Unionists won. Even the Labour party won in that sense. It is therefore something that we can be very pleased about that happened in 2014.

As regards proceedings in this place, it might be helpful if SNP Members were more rigorous in attending to the details of the rules but, leaving that to one side, we need to turn up to do our job. We are an essential service. I think it is pretty wet, quite frankly, to expect doctors, nurses, police officers, people working in supermarkets, and the cleaners in the House of Commons to do their jobs, and for us to say that we have to stay at home because we are not willing to come here. We have a duty to be here—our public duty. We were elected to be an assembly of the nation, not people sitting remotely throwing stones. There are facilities for people to participate in interrogative proceedings, and there are facilities for people to vote by proxy because of their individual conditions but, fundamentally, the business of the House needs to go on in the Chamber of the House.

Finally, on the Chancellor and updates, as I said earlier we have already had 40 statements from the Government during this period. The Government are committed to keeping the House regularly updated on important policy changes.

Leah Sharibu is the only teenage girl of her group not yet released after Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped her and 109 other girls from their school in February 2018. Leah remains in captivity after bravely refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Does the Leader of the House share my concerns about the need for Leah’s plight to be raised with the Nigerian authorities to secure her release?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising a grave and important point and for her continued efforts to campaign for the rights of Christians and religious minorities. She is one of the House’s true champions of religious freedom across the world. The plight of the young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria has caused horror around the world. The Government wholly condemn the terrorist group’s attacks in north-east Nigeria in recent years and have offered the Nigerian Government a range of technical support to help improve the local security forces’ capacity for responding to the terrorist threat. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are passed to my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa.

I thank the Leader of the House for notice of the time on Tuesday 20 October, and the Backbench Business Committee proposes that it would be timely for a debate on Black History Month. Could we ask for a minimum of three hours’ protected time or that the debate can run until the moment of the interruption, whichever is the later?

I also want to give notice of another time-sensitive debate application. We have a heavily subscribed application for a debate on International Men’s Day, which is on Thursday 19 November, and it is regrettable that we have not been able to facilitate a debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week, which runs from tomorrow 9 October until next Thursday 15 October. We also have another time-sensitive application for a debate on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is on Wednesday 25 November.

Any time that the Government think the business may run short, given that speaking lists for debates are known in advance, may I suggest that we could find debates to fill that time to facilitate the House not rising early on particular days?

I also thank the Leader of the House for writing to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on my behalf following last week’s exchanges, but he has been at it again. The Health Secretary suggested earlier this week that the Government had put an extra £10 million into local authorities in the north-east to support contact tracing. That came in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). I would love to know where the money is, so can we have the cheque as soon as possible? The local authorities and the directors of public health are anticipating it eagerly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about facilitating the debate on 20 October on Black History Month. It is not always possible to provide debates on specific month, day or week events, although the Government try to as far as possible. I note his point about what happens when Government business runs short, and it is a point I am sympathetic to. It is not always possible to predict; it is sometimes frustrating for Members if a Backbench business debate is scheduled and then Government business runs full time, and people find that their speeches have been written in vain. It is a difficult balance to get right, but I am well aware of the need to use the parliamentary time that is available well.

On the £10 million, I am sure that if the Secretary of State has said there is £10 million coming, the cheque is in the post.

Several weeks ago, a number of Football League clubs demonstrated that they could safely welcome back fans into stadiums. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to be at Bloomfield Road to see Blackpool beat Swindon in one of those very successful pilot games. And yet, in spite of those games going ahead smoothly, clubs and fans are concerned that we may go an entire season without welcoming fans back on to the terraces. I am aware that my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is currently in dialogue with the football authorities, but the perilous finances of many clubs mean that the situation is becoming increasingly urgent. Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House feel that it would be in order for the Secretary of State to give a statement to the House on these discussions and the steps that he is taking to welcome fans back on to the terraces?

I have a big list to get through. We are really going to have to speed up questions and answers.

I would like to commend the Football League clubs to which my hon. Friend refers, which have shown that they can manage the return of fans to watch live sport in a safe and effective fashion. The Government know that the decision not to reopen stadiums to spectators on 1 October will have major consequences for sports and clubs across the country that relied on those grounds for income. That is why the Government are working urgently with clubs and their representatives to ensure that as many as possible are not adversely affected by that. I would add that the football authorities are giving a lot of support to smaller football clubs. Nine football clubs in my constituency have benefited, and the Government are certainly grateful for the support that football is finding for itself.

Last month, Nationwide Building Society announced that it was closing its branch in Little Sutton. Since then a number of elderly vulnerable residents have contacted me, alarmed about the closure of their local branch. It seems that, even on Nationwide’s own figures, there has only been a 1% decline in visits to the branch, which, in the current context, is remarkable, and a flimsy basis on which to close the branch. Nationwide says there has been no consultation; it have already made a decision. May we have a debate, please, on what more can be done to ensure that there is greater accountability from large organisations like that to the communities that they are supposed to serve?

First, I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing that matter to the attention of the House, because I think it does put pressure on large companies when these things are raised in the House. I understand the dissatisfaction when banks close their branches, but decisions on opening and closing branches are taken by the management team of each bank on a commercial basis, and it would be wrong for the Government to intervene in those decisions. But since May 2017 the major high street banks have been signed up to the access to banking standard, which commits them to work with customers and communities to minimise the impact of branch closures. If Nationwide is not following that, I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to ask for an Adjournment debate to raise the matter and keep up the pressure.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have argued strongly for the aviation industry to get Government support in order to get going again. I will continue to do that, but I am particularly concerned about one of the consequences of the collapse of aviation and of tourism. In many parts of the developing world, we are seeing a resurgence in poaching and in the illegal wildlife trade, and real pressure on conservation projects in a way that I think will have a lasting impact on endangered species and on local resources. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Foreign Secretary, as we head into COP—the Conference of the Parties—year, in which there will be many other major environmental events, to look at what else this country can do through its aid budgets to support conservation in the developing world, lessen the threat to endangered species, and ensure that we are doing the right thing?

My right hon. Friend is right that this crisis has thrown up many problems that continue to develop. I reassure him that Her Majesty’s Government are at the forefront of international efforts to protect endangered animals and plants from poaching and illegal trade. In 2018, the UK convened the largest ever global illegal wildlife trade conference, at which 65 countries signed up to the London declaration, committing them to take urgent, co-ordinated action against illegal wildlife trade. I will certainly pass on his message to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate to review the progress and work of HS2 and its phased priorities? Clearly, the pandemic has led to a restructuring of the economy, a new normal, a change in working practice and so on. Also, some of the practices of HS2, such as the diversion of the A425, which was announced just a couple of days ago and which will take place in three weeks, are having a massive impact on our local economy. There are also the working practices of the National Eviction Team.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those issues and bring them to the attention of the House. I remind him that Transport questions will be on 22 October, which will be an opportunity to raise those issues again. There are issues relating to HS2 that are within the House’s consideration in other ways, but he would certainly be entitled to ask for an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate on that matter.

The Kniveden Project offers tailored mental health services to people in the Staffordshire Moorlands, but the covid crisis has had a real impact on the services that it can provide, and I am sure that it is not alone. With World Mental Health Day this week, will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on this very important matter?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Mental health is an issue taken seriously by all the parties in this House, and overall mental health funding has increased to £13.3 billion in 2019-20. It is at the heart of the NHS long-term plan to see the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation. There will be at least a further £2.3 billion by 2023-24 of additional taxpayers’ support to help 380,000 more adults and 345,000 children. There has been temporary support of £9.2 million to help mental health charities during this crisis. I absolutely understand what she is saying, and I will pass the message on to Health Ministers on her behalf.

May we have a debate on the scourge of fly-tipping and littering, which has sadly increased in my beautiful part of Yorkshire during the pandemic? Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking all the community groups, including Pride in Linthwaite, Holmepride, volunteers from Hade Edge and Honley villages, and many more, who have been out tidying up their communities during this troubling time?

Absolutely I will thank the community groups, including Pride in Linthwaite, Holmepride, the Hade Edge village volunteers and the Honley village volunteers. This is fantastic. This is Britain at its best, with local people doing things to try to make their communities better and cleaner. Fly-tipping is a disgraceful and criminal activity and a blight on local communities. I am sure that many MPs wish to campaign to stop it happening and to reduce the amount of litter that we see. There was an Adjournment debate on that last Thursday, so it is an issue that is being discussed in the House.

We really need another debate on, to my mind, the inadequacy of the UK Government’s job support measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Particularly, we have a jobs emergency across tourism, hospitality and on-sales trade. We have just had to implement new restrictions, very necessarily, across the Forth Valley. They may need to be rolled out in other parts of the UK as well, so we really need to have a discussion about the inadequacy of the UK Government’s support, because we are not out of the woods on this yet.

That question is fundamentally flawed. The Government have provided a huge amount of taxpayers’ money, £190 billion-worth, in support. They have helped 12 million people in jobs, at a cost of £53 billion—£40 billion for the furlough scheme and £13.5 billion for the self-employed scheme. We have provided £19 billion for small and medium-sized businesses and large businesses through the coronavirus business interruption loans; £38 billion via the bounce back loans; £11 billion in business grants; and £10 billion in business rate relief. To call that insignificant and insufficient is to assume that there is a bottomless pit of money—there is not; there is taxpayers’ money, and that has been used to try to preserve jobs and protect the economy.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made an excellent speech earlier this week, when he referred to expanding wind energy. The development of that industry has been of great advantage to my constituency. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth to come to the House to give more details on how we can expand the servicing, offshore maintenance and manufacturing capability?

My hon. Friend is such an effective campaigner for Cleethorpes that almost every Government policy is specifically designed to benefit Cleethorpes, as is only right and proper. I am pleased he supports the new plans to build back greener, making the UK the world leader in clean wind energy, creating jobs, slashing carbon emissions and boosting exports. That includes £160 million that will be made available to upgrade ports and manufacturing infrastructure across communities in the UK, and a target to produce more electricity in a year than every home in the country uses now through offshore wind by 2030, with the creation of 2,000 construction jobs, and 60,000 jobs directly and indirectly in ports by 2030. These are exciting plans and he should take credit for pursuing and campaigning for them.

It is almost a month since fire engulfed the refugee camp at Moria on Lesbos, leaving 13,000 refugees homeless. Organisations such as Becky’s Bathhouse, which was established in memory of Rebecca Dykes, who lost her life while working for the UK Government in Lebanon, are doing amazing work there, but what are the UK Government doing? May we have a statement from a Minister please?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this concerning issue and to congratulate Becky’s Bathhouse on what it has been doing. We are so lucky in this country that we often have good charitable organisations that take on key work. It is so important that this House recognises those organisations, and business questions is often an opportunity to do so. I do not have a full answer on what the Government’s plans are, but I will get him one.

Last weekend, my constituency suffered one of the wettest October days since records began. Homes and businesses were flooded, and raw sewage engulfed gardens and even a school playground. Will my right hon. Friend advise me of the best parliamentary means to safeguard against similar events in future and to ensure that there are adequate flood defences, given that many thousands of houses are projected to be built in an area of flood risk in Aylesbury and the surrounding villages?

I deeply sympathise with all those affected by flooding. It is a terrible thing to happen and when raw sewage is involved it is particularly problematic for the clean-up that has to follow. The Government are spending record amounts to help to protect communities from the threat of flooding, including £5.2 billion as a long-term package to protect homes, businesses and jobs between 2021 and 2027. I encourage my hon. Friend to take this up with Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I will pass his question on to them directly and encourage him to keep campaigning for Aylesbury.

Now more than ever, when we are promoting all the positive benefits of walking for our mental and physical well-being and for the environment, while still seeing significant costs to the NHS, claims against local councils, and worse, personal injury, and loss of confidence and independence, will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the funding levels and the priority accorded to the humble pavement, which is mission critical if we want to keep people stepping out? This is a matter of particular concern in Eastbourne.

Obviously, that is a matter for local councils, which have responsibility for pavements, but my hon. Friend is right to make herself a champion of pavement politics, because people want pavements in good condition. The Government have made record amounts of taxpayers’ money available to local councils, so urging them to ensure that pavements are in a good state of repair is the right thing to do.

My city of Bath has two successful universities, which the Leader of the House and I share, and so far daily cases remain low. I want to commend and thank the universities, the council and our students for everything that has been done so far, which includes new testing facilities. However, the experience of other cities is that covid cases can rise very quickly and stay high for a prolonged period of time. Therefore, the absolute focus has to be on how to keep numbers low, so can we have a statement in the House about the preventive measures we need in low-covid areas and how the Government intend to support areas to keep their cases low?

The Government have taken many steps, which are clear across the country. The rule of six is in place in the south-west even though cases are currently low. The 10 pm closure of restaurants and pubs is in place in the south-west, so I think the Government have a very consistent record across the country of having rules that help keep levels low where they are already low and that will help to try to lessen the peak in areas where they have been rising. I say again that we have had more than 40 statements from the Government—regular updates to this House—and they will of course continue.

I will touch on the same issue covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton). As the Leader of the House will know, when it comes to sporting prowess, East Anglia is very much top of the pile, as he would have witnessed at Lords when Essex edged past Somerset in the County Championship final. However, it is not just in cricket that East Anglia is at the forefront, but in football too. He will know that Ipswich Town football club is one of the great clubs of this country, with Sir Bobby Robson part of its legacy, as well as FA cup and UEFA cup wins. However, right now they are struggling. They were going to be a test case that would have allowed 1,000 season-ticket holders into the stadium but that was cancelled at the last minute. Ipswich is an area with very low levels of covid-19, fortunately, and it is very much the view of Lee O’Neill, our managing director, that we could allow a small number of spectators into the ground very soon to enjoy our soon-to-be promotion to the championship. Will my right hon. Friend—

I did not much like the beginning of the message, about Essex and Somerset. The match was pretty much rained off and it was not a proper County Championship this year anyway, but Somerset still have not won—it is my lifetime’s hope that Somerset will one day win the County Championship, but there we go.

In relation to stadiums and visitors, I reiterate what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton). The decision not to reopen stadiums to spectators will have major consequences for sport and clubs across the country, and the Government are working hard with sport organisations to mitigate the economic consequences. Sport England has provided £195 million to support community sport throughout the crisis and has recently added a further £15 million to its community emergency fund to help grassroots sport further. I absolutely accept that this is a problem, and it is one of the consequences of the coronavirus.

Will the Leader of the House join me in supporting World Osteoporosis Day on 20 October and encourage colleagues to join the soon-to-be newly relaunched all-party group on the issue? This is especially important this year as NHS services to treat people with osteoporosis have been slow to restart following the lockdown and many preventable problems have been building up. Can we therefore have a statement on what the Government are doing to support people with this condition and to restart NHS services as fully and as quickly as possible?

I am more grateful for that question than the hon. Lady may realise, because the Royal Osteoporosis Society is based in my constituency in Camerton, and it is an absolutely fantastic organisation that does really important work. The disease is one of concern to many people and it is a condition that is very debilitating, so I commend her for raising it. You may have noted that, Mr Speaker, as a request for an Adjournment debate, which, if I have any influence on Adjournment debates as Leader of the House, which I do not think I do, I would encourage you to accept.

On Tuesday, instead of the Minister filling the time with newspeak designed to obscure the blindingly obvious, will the Leader of the House ensure that they focus rigorously on the key question—namely, if lockdown measures are the answer, why are they not working?

My right hon. Friend reminds me of a 1979 Conservative election sticker that said, “If Labour’s the answer, it must have been a silly question.” The lockdown measures have been implemented to try to stop the spread of the disease. A disease that is communicated by people meeting is bound to be reduced in its circulation if people meet less. We saw that with the first lockdown—it stopped people meeting, and therefore the numbers affected by the disease declined. On his main point about whether he will get good answers from Ministers, I can assure him that he will get brilliant answers from them.

May I congratulate the next Member, who ran a virtual marathon and raised over £1,000 for charity?

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

This House will be more covid-safe now that Mr Speaker has required us to wear face masks in shared spaces on the parliamentary estate, but on days when there are votes, the 500-plus of us who are not self-isolating for health or public health reasons are required to be here to vote, crowding into corridors and halls of this building and putting ourselves and staff at additional risk, particularly as so many Members do not seem to respect the Government’s rule on spacing. The Leader of the House keeps saying that we should continue with business as normal, but covid means that all workplaces have had to compromise and adapt. What level of infection here or in the country will it take for the Government to let us return to online voting in this place?

The House has adapted. If you seek a monument, look around—look at this half-empty or quarter-empty Chamber. There is none of the excitement and pizzazz that the Chamber normally has, and I know that it grieves many Members that we have to be like this. We also have to get on and do our duty, rather than democracy being suspended when doctors are at work, nurses are at work and supermarket workers are at work. We are not some priestly caste above the rest of the nation. We are part of the rest of the nation. It is our duty to be here, representing our constituents and voting. Of course Members should be responsible and socially distance in the queues to vote—that is absolutely right—but we have a duty to be here, and I am surprised that Members do not wish to do their duty.

One of the great successes of levelling up under this Government is the towns fund. I am left bemused when Opposition Members bemoan the fact that towns like Kidsgrove, which felt forgotten for decades, are getting up to £25 million, with the Government recently approving a £750,000 advance payment to refurbish Kidsgrove sports centre and improve some of our local parks. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the rejuvenation of town centres and the important role they play in local communities, such as the historic towns of Burslem and Tunstall?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the £3.6 billion towns fund is central to this Government’s ambition to level up the country and ensure that everyone, wherever they live, can contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. The towns fund is bringing much-needed investment to towns and high streets across the country, supporting towns that are the birthplaces of our industry. I am excited by Kidsgrove’s plans and those of many other towns that are reaching for this opportunity for regeneration. In due course, we will bring forward a competitive round of the towns fund and will welcome proposals from more towns to be part of this important programme. It will include improving transport and digital infrastructure, supporting skills development and making the most of planning powers to create a good environment for businesses and residents. My hon. Friend should ask the Backbench Business Committee for a full day of debate to celebrate this wonderful Government policy.

Every October in this place, there is a fantastic photo call to celebrate breast cancer awareness and the month that we use to mark it. Obviously, it cannot take place this year, but this is a very serious subject, because the pandemic has seen screening and diagnoses delayed, and it is imperative that we heighten awareness. Will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate so that we can talk about breast cancer in this place, even if we cannot all wear it pink?

My right hon. Friend is so right to raise this important issue. Although over 200,000 people were treated for cancer during the peak of the pandemic and NHS England is now back at a near 100% level of radiotherapy treatment, if I can make one key point from this Dispatch Box, it is this: anyone who is worried that they have symptoms of cancer must visit their doctor, must ensure that they are treated and must have no reticence about feeling the need for treatment. I cannot promise a breast cancer awareness debate in Government time, but it is a subject that Members across the House think ought to be debated. If the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) is still watching our proceedings, I hope that he will have heard this plea for a Backbench Business debate.

Can the Leader of the House find time when we can scrutinise the lamentable performance of the Department of Health and Social Care in answering written parliamentary questions? I now have several questions that have still not received a response after way over a month. For example, at the beginning of September, I tabled question 86714, in which I pointed out that we needed testing in place in cities such as Brighton and Hove—places with low covid numbers into which thousands of students were imminently going to arrive. That question has still not been answered. The level of coronavirus in those towns has increased fivefold, as they have in Exeter, since I asked that question. This is a key way for us to give voice to our constituents—it is not just about MPs asking questions—and to point out to Departments what is happening on the frontline of our communities.

Mr Speaker, I heard your response to a point of order yesterday, and I endorse your comments entirely. It is an obligation of Ministries to respond in accordance with the timelines laid down in Standing Orders in relation to named day questions and to make their best efforts on other questions. Likewise, I have reminded my right hon. Friends about this obligation with regard to correspondence. That the responses to correspondence and written questions are slow is affecting Members across all parties. I am taking up any issues raised in business questions directly with Secretaries of State and trying to get responses for Members that way, but I appreciate that that is a limited palliative. On behalf of the Government, I take this problem very seriously and will do whatever I can to try to ensure that answers are given in a timely fashion. It has been the job of Parliament since 1265, when the House of Commons first came together, to seek redress of grievance, and we do so via questions. I have the greatest sympathy and agreement with the hon. Gentleman.

Yesterday, the World Trade Organisation agreed that the UK will be able to join the agreement on Government procurement as an independent party from 1 January 2021. Will the Leader of the House please reassure the residents of Ashfield that this will benefit businesses, including small businesses, across every part of my constituency—from manufacturing and professional business services, to advertising and construction?

My hon. Friend is quite right to stand up for businesses in Ashfield. The whole country will benefit from joining the WTO agreement on Government procurement as an independent party. At last, we are taking back control. From 1 January, British businesses in diverse sectors, including small businesses, from every part of the UK will be able to bid for procurement opportunities around the world, worth over £1.3 trillion. That is not a misprint or an error. I did not mean billion or million—£1.3 trillion a year. That is good news, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support.

We mark Challenge Poverty Week this week, but Save the Children reports today that more than one third of families on universal credit and child tax credit have had to turn to charities for food or children’s clothes over the past two months alone, and their debts now average £1,700. Can we have a debate on how to repair the damage that the Government have done to our social security safety net before winter makes things even worse for children and families?

I am sorry to say that I reject the whole premise of the question. This Government have a proud record on tackling poverty. We saw the biggest ever cash increase in the national living wage this year, worth an extra £930 for over 2 million people. There are more than 1.2 million fewer workless households since 2010—a record low—and 200,000 fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010. We have put an additional £1.7 billion into universal credit and implemented a total working age welfare spend of £95 billion of taxpayers’ money. We have taken unprecedented steps during this crisis to help vulnerable people, especially children, by providing £380 million of free school meals, £16 million to food charities to get food to those who are struggling and 4.5 million food boxes to vulnerable people who were shielding. That is a proud record of an excellent Government.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 972 about tackling child food insecurity, which is backed by Marcus Rashford, a former Sports Minister, and a former Prisons Minister?

[That this House believes no child should go hungry; welcomes Government action to provide Free School Meals over the school summer holidays; recognises that families are still struggling to afford food, that 11 per cent of parents and 6 per cent of children have directly experienced food insecurity in the last month and that food bank usage is expected to be 61 per cent higher in winter 2020-21 than last year; believes that further action to protect vulnerable children is needed; calls on the Government to implement the recommendations in the National Food Strategy Part 1 to increase the value of and expand eligibility for Healthy Start vouchers, expand eligibility for Free School Meals, and extend the Holiday Activities and Food programme; and notes that alongside minimising child food insecurity these recommendations will also address inequalities, improve the long-term health and resilience of the population, reduce childhood obesity, improve children’s academic performance, support parents to stay in work during the holidays, and ease the strain on the welfare system.]

The early-day motion notes that 11% of parents and 6% of children have experienced food insecurity in the past few months and urges that free school meal vouchers should be extended over the holidays, alongside an expansion of holiday activity clubs. The Backbench Business Committee has agreed to a debate, but we are waiting for parliamentary time. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have that debate in the Chamber on this vital issue?

I had indeed come across early-day motion 972, because my right hon. Friend had the courtesy to tell me about it, so I knew what he was proposing. I also know that he is a great campaigner for young people as a distinguished Chairman of a Select Committee. The work that he does is of great importance, and campaigns he is involved in are often very successful.

Let me reiterate what the Government have done: expanding free school meals to all children aged five to seven, ensuring that a further 1.4 million pupils receive a free nutritious meal each day; a £1 billion fund to create more high-quality affordable childcare; and £35 million into the national school breakfast programme, benefiting up to 2,450 schools in disadvantaged areas. I note that my right hon. Friend has won his debate from the Backbench Business Committee, and I am always aware of demands from the Committee for more Chamber time.

Some £12 billion has been allocated for test and trace. Much of that has been squandered on outsourcing giants, such as Serco, that not only have records of failure but have been fined in recent years for ripping off the public purse. The Leader of the House is a proud advocate of outsourcing and privatisation, but perhaps even he thinks it has gone too far when these companies are putting lives at risk. Will he condemn the private sector companies undermining our test and trace system, and will he grant a debate on this?

Mr Speaker, you will be the first to acknowledge that life here in Westminster has been a bit different for the past few months. Our meetings are virtual; Members are asked by well-meaning members of staff to move their chairs or simply to move on; and of course face masks are now part of our dress code. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these measures are necessary to keep us safe, not least from ourselves, and that Parliament has a clear responsibility to set the right example?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that really important question. We do have an obligation to lead by example. I will not begin to pretend that I like wearing a face mask, but, under your guidance, Mr Speaker, I have taken to wearing one when walking about the Palace, partly because we all have a duty as Members of Parliament to set a lead and an example and partly because it may have a benefit and stop the spread of the disease, in which we all share a responsibility.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend mentions staff asking Members to move apart and observe social distancing. I would encourage everybody to recognise that this is done in a spirit of good will and to help us and keep us all in accordance with the rules. Please bear with members of staff when they do this. They are not doing it because they enjoy being officious; they are doing it because they have been asked to by Mr Speaker, by me and by my right hon.—the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). I was about to call her my right hon. Friend; in this context, we are all working together. The Commission is very keen that people should observe the rules. This House has done such good work to make this a covid-secure environment. We all have our part to play. We have to lead by example by being here, but while we are here, we must follow the rules.

This week, the National Audit Office released a highly worrying report indicating that taxpayer exposure to the Treasury’s flagship business bounce back loans could be as much as 60%, which is £26 billion, as a result of fraud and debt repayment default. Considering that the scheme was launched in May, well into the crisis, we should expect better due diligence. Therefore, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor to come to the House to make an oral statement?

It is too early to say, I think, how the various schemes have been allocated, but the Government had to provide urgent resources to businesses to keep them in business. The £26 billion that the hon. Gentleman refers to was a necessary step to take to keep jobs open and to keep the structures of the economy in place. Any fraud is wrong, and any fraud must be investigated and, I hope, prosecuted, but urgency was the priority.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Carhampton, which is in my constituency in Somersetshire? Carhampton was of course the scene of the historic clash between the Danish invaders and King Egbert of Wessex, granddad of the creator of Britain, King Alfred. Our county—our great county—is once again under threat from the divisive plans put forward by the so-called county council, God help us, which does not represent the county at all and has mounted an invasion against common sense. King Egbert and his son King Aethelwulf, and the great King Alfred himself, would have fought against it. Can we have Government time to stand with our great kings and fight this rubbish before it is too late?

Egbert is one of the great kings of Wessex who extended the borders of Wessex and became the bretwalda—that is to say, the high king—of the Anglo-Saxons and put Mercia in its place, at least briefly. That is worth remembering, because Gloucestershire is Mercian territory, so Somerset got one up on Gloucestershire, which we always quite like. With regard to my hon. Friend’s key message, it is worth bearing in mind that he is right to say “the so-called county council”, because the county council does not cover the county of Somerset but an administrative district of the historic county, and people should remember that.

Could we find time to have a debate about heritage buildings in the north of England? When we do, we could celebrate the £250,000 of Government money that is supporting the restoration of Darwen tower, topping up the tens of thousands of pounds that have been raised by Darwen Rotary club. You will agree, Mr Speaker, that up on Winter hill, the boundary between our constituencies, Darwen tower is a building in which we can all take pride.

You are absolutely correct. From out of my window I look at Darwen tower and Winter hill in the constituency of Chorley.

I can think of no better way of spending £250,000 of taxpayers’ money than improving the view of Mr Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the importance of local landmarks to Britain’s communities. It is great to hear that the towns fund has supported the imposing octagonal Darwen tower, which has stood over Lancashire for 122 years commemorating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. Let us hope, as we approach the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty’s own accession, that we may think of similar grand schemes for celebrating that. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the Government’s spending of taxpayers’ money in town centres and high streets from the towns fund. This is essential to our efforts to level up our regions and create places across the country where people want to live and thrive. Our local history, as noted in the exchange between me and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), is incredibly valuable, and the Government are committed to preserving and enriching our heritage.

Safe and covid-secure pubs, bars and restaurants in South Shields found out from the press last night that today the Government will decide whether or not to close them down again. I have no polite words for our collective anger. Can we have an urgent statement and a vote on these measures?