All 42 Parliamentary debates on 22nd Jun 2021

Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Tue 22nd Jun 2021
Tue 22nd Jun 2021

House of Commons

Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 22 June 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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What estimate he has made of the costs incurred by businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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Top of the morning to you, Mr Speaker.

The protocol is explicit in its respect for the UK’s territorial integrity, and the Government are committed to delivering it with as little impact on businesses and day-to-day lives as possible. The Government have set up the free-to-use trader support service to support businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland at a cost of £270 million and have made full use of provisions within the protocol to ensure that no tariffs are charged on internal UK trade.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
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I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Does the Minister accept that the protocol actually discriminates against British businesses trading between GB and Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and GB? It undermines trade, damages consumer opportunities and rights, and increases costs to both consumers and businesses on both sides of the channel. What action will the Government take, and indeed encourage others to take, to save British businesses and the economy from this economic discrimination? How long will businesses have to wait for a solution and what compensation has the Treasury calculated to cover the loss in trade, which, at present, is running at hundreds of millions of pounds?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I thank the hon. Member for his question. Of course, this follows a wide concern that he has put in front of the House on many previous occasions. I do not accept the characterisation that he has given of the situation in Northern Ireland, but I absolutely agree with him that the Government need to continue to press for the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented in a proportionate and pragmatic way. That is an important goal of the Government. He talks about the schemes in place. Let me remind him that, so far, the trader support service has processed something like, I think, 700,000 consignments, 59,000 traders have been registered, there is the Brexit support fund and there is the new movement assistance scheme, as he will know, for food and agriculture trade. We retain a focus on making those systems, rules and support work as effectively and as widely as possible.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 2MC.]

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris (Newbury) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to take on more apprentices.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak)
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We are encouraging employers of all sizes to take on new apprentices through our hiring incentive. Employers who hire a new apprentice of any age until the end of September will receive £3,000 per apprentice. We are also continuing to improve the apprenticeship system for employers by introducing more flexible trading options, making the transfer of unspent levy funds to small businesses easier, and supporting apprenticeships in industries with flexible working patterns through the launch of portable apprenticeships.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood
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The Government’s £3,000 initiative incentive for businesses to employ apprentices is welcome, with several companies in my constituency looking to apply, including Shackletons in Dewsbury, and John Cotton and Alexander’s Bar in Mirfield. There is no doubt that this initiative has been a great success in enabling young people to get on to the employment ladder. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consider an extension in funding for the scheme beyond the 30 September deadline?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I pay tribute to, I think it was Shackletons and John Cotton in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the example that they are setting, which I hope is emulated by employers across our country. The scheme, as he says, has been a success. More than 50,000 incentive payments were claimed by employers, 80% of which were for young apprentices between 18 and 24. We will of course keep this very successful scheme under review.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people to learn, earn and realise their potential, so much so that I have just advertised this week for one to join my team via Hopwood Hall College in my Heywood and Middleton constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses big and small can play their part in turbocharging our post-covid recovery by offering these fantastic opportunities?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is working with Hopwood Hall College in his constituency to hire an apprentice. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to meet them in the future. He is right about the ability of this scheme to support all types of employers. Small businesses in particular should know that the £3,000 equates to about a 35% wage subsidy for young apprentices and the Government pay 95% of all training costs, so there has never been a better time for employers to do as he says to help turbocharge our recovery and to hire an apprentice.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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As with every economic crisis, it is Telford’s young people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Telford College is playing a vital role in working with employers across the region and securing 1,000 quality apprenticeships this year, helping young people to build their future. Will the Chancellor congratulate Telford College on its inspirational work, and will he commit to putting skills and opportunities for young people front and centre in his economic recovery plan?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am delighted to hear that news from my hon. Friend. I am happy to congratulate Telford College on a fantastic performance in creating new apprenticeships and working with its local employers to provide those opportunities. She is absolutely right: young people have borne the brunt economically of this crisis. They comprise the majority of the job losses, so it is right that they are front and centre of our minds as we think about the recovery. That is why, whether it is the kickstart scheme, tripling the number of traineeships or the new lifetime skills guarantee, we are focused on providing them with the opportunities and support that they need.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
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It is clear that the pandemic has hit the youngest the hardest. Alongside apprenticeships, many businesses in my Eddisbury constituency, including Safety Shield in Winsford, have used the kickstart scheme in order to bring more good jobs to young people as part of our economic recovery. To that end, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what impact the roll-out of the kickstart scheme is having, and how more businesses that want to, and could, join that scheme and invest in young talents in their area are able to do so?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I congratulate Safety Shield in Winsford on embarking on taking on new kickstarters. This is central to our plan for the recovery in providing opportunity to young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others. I am pleased to say that over 31,000 kickstarters have started their jobs, with 10,000 more to come in the coming weeks and months. I would say to employers who are looking to take on a kickstarter: go online, talk to your local business organisations, whether it is the Federation of Small Businesses or the chamber of commerce, or apply directly to the Department for Work and Pensions to be accredited so that you can give a young person a fantastic opportunity as we go through the stages of our recovery.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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Unemployment is now falling fast in west Berkshire, and that is in no small part thanks to the Treasury-backed apprenticeship scheme. However, Newbury College, our principal training provider, says that it is still the large employers that take the bulk of young apprentices, when it is small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of our local economy. Does my right hon. Friend think there is an opportunity to reallocate some of the surplus from the apprenticeship levy to encourage take-up among SMEs?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am proud that she is working with Newbury College in her constituency. She is right that SMEs are the backbone of west Berkshire and other local communities across our economy. On her particular point, I am pleased to tell her that, from August of this year, employers who pay the levy but have unspent levy funds will be able to use a new bulk transfer service to send that money to SMEs, combined with a new SME match function so that they can find the SMEs that are most appropriate to their business, supply chain or local area. I hope that is helpful to her and Newbury College. The plan is for the Department for Education to have that up and running in August.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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What assessment he has made of recent trends in personal credit availability for self-employed people.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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The Government have put together an unprecedented package of support for the self-employed, including the self-employed income support scheme, the temporary £20 per week increase in the universal credit standard allowance, and temporarily suspending the minimum income floor. The self-employed are also able to access the restart grant, the recovery loan scheme and business rates relief.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. However, my experience with some self-employed people in my constituency is that, having been self-employed for several years and accepted support from the self-employed scheme, if they then try to get credit, they are told that because they were on that scheme they are no longer eligible for credit, even though there is no reason to suspect that they will not be able to carry on being a guitar teacher, or whatever it is that they do, after the crisis is over. What can he say to the banks to ensure that they take a sensible approach to these people, who have perfectly sustainable businesses that have been suspended temporarily because of the Government’s restrictions but are just as good a credit risk as they were three or four years ago?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible and worthwhile point on this matter. We are looking closely at the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey, which indicates the degree of liquidity that exists. I work closely with the lenders on affordability assessments for the self-employed. I am happy to commit to continue to keep this matter under review and to receive further representations from him.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the support provided to the culture and arts sector during the covid-19 outbreak.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Steve Barclay)
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In March 2021, the Chancellor announced a further £300 million to build on the existing £1.57 billion of culture recovery fund support to protect our cultural sector. To date, more than £1.2 billion in grants has been paid.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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The Minister is right, of course, to point out the unprecedented sums that have been given to the arts sector, and that is very welcome, but does he recognise that, particularly for the performing arts, the further four-week delay is crippling their future plans? As all the leading producers both in the west end and throughout the country point out, it takes months to get a show going, and uncertainty cripples that planning. Will he at least consider the calls from throughout the industry for a Government-backed insurance scheme to deal with cancellations if there is further uncertainty? There is a precedent in film and TV production that could readily be adapted. This is about getting them back working, which is actually want they want, rather than simply being subject to grants all the time. They want to get back on stage.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success of the film insurance scheme, which has protected over 45,000 jobs and £1.6 billion of spend. On the specific issue he raises, that is exactly why my right hon Friend the Chancellor announced the additional £300 million of support at the Budget. He anticipated the fact, in going long with that support, that there would be the risk of further delays to the covid row-back, so that was part of the announcement of an additional £300 million that he set out at the Budget.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) [V]
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The live events sector continues to be hard hit by covid-19. UK Music and We Make Events have called for additional financial support, an extension of the VAT reduction and Government-backed covid-19 cancellation insurance. Just now, it is impossible for those running concerts and festivals to plan, and some, including Kendal Calling, have had to postpone again until 2022. Can the Minister tell me why the UK Government have left this sector and the many thousands who work in it without the additional support they are calling for?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I fear that the question came before my previous answer. I had just mentioned the £300 million of additional support, over and above the £1.57 billion of support that has been announced. Indeed, the hon. Member frequently raises the plight of those individuals who have been hit, and again that is something we very much recognise. Again, however, that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out the wider package of support, such as the time to pay arrangements, loans, business grants and the universal credit uplift. This is about looking at the totality of support within the £352 billion that my right hon. Friend has set out.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to incentivise businesses to invest in new equipment or infrastructure.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak)
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Stimulating business investment will be key for our economic recovery, and under the super deduction we announced at Budget 2021, for every £1 a company invests in qualifying plant and machinery, its taxes are cut by up to 25p. We have also just launched the UK Infrastructure Bank, which will partner with the private sector and local government, supporting more than £40 billion-worth of infrastructure investment overall.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson [V]
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My right hon. Friend will know that manufacturing and engineering companies are absolutely crucial to the economy in the Black Country and in Wolverhampton. Does he agree that companies feeling confident to make investments, with Government support and schemes like the super deduction, is key to really building back quickly and better, and to lowering unemployment in the Black Country?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of manufacturing in particular to the Black Country. I am pleased to have received the representations from organisations such as Make UK that led to the creation of the super deduction, which, let us be clear, is all about jobs. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: by companies investing and unlocking the cash that is sitting on their balance sheets, we will create jobs to help drive our recovery and drive up our productivity in the process. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight it.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage investment in green industries.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch)
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The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution set out £12 billion of new investment in green industries and will crowd in three times as much private investment. Budget 2021 built on the 10-point plan by encouraging private investment, using the tax system and continuing with the direct Government support announced at the spending review. It also included announcements on offshore wind, energy innovation and hydrogen.

Jason McCartney Portrait Jason McCartney
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Does the Minister agree with me that it makes sense to help, support and incentivise people on low incomes and pensioner households to convert to heat pumps and to insulate their homes?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Since June 2020, the Government have spent £1.5 billion on supporting low-income households to improve energy efficiency and install clean heat. A number of subsidy schemes for heat pumps are available and in development. The sector expects to install 67,000 heat pumps in 2021, which is up considerably from the 35,000 installed in 2019. At Budget 2020 we extended the renewable heat incentive, and announced the clean heat grant. That will provide grants for all homeowners towards the cost of heat pumps from 2022. Further funding decisions will be announced at the spending review.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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What recent estimate his Department has made of the number of furloughed employees moving back into work.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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What recent estimate his Department has made of the number of furloughed employees moving back into work.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak)
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Between the end of January and the end of April, 1.5 million people left the furlough scheme. The most recent business survey from the Office for National Statistics estimates that the number of employees furloughed continued to decline after that point, to approximately 2 million at the end of May, which is the lowest level reported by the survey since June last year. At the same time, the number of payrolled employees has increased for six consecutive months. I believe that the coronavirus job retention scheme is striking the right balance between supporting the economy as it opens up, continuing to provide support and protect incomes, and ensuring that incentives are in place to get people back to work as demand returns.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards
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Does my right hon. Friend recall that at the start of the pandemic, many commentators feared that it would lead to unemployment on an unprecedented scale? Has he estimated that impact of his furlough scheme on protecting jobs?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The furlough scheme has supported more than 11.5 million jobs since the start of the pandemic, and she is right to say that at that point, forecasts suggested that unemployment would peak at around 12%. Those forecasts now show unemployment peaking at half that level, which means 2 million fewer people losing their jobs than previously feared. Our unemployment today is lower than that in Italy, France, Spain, Canada, the United States and Australia, and it shows that our plan for jobs is working.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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The figures my right hon. Friend gave in his earlier answers are encouraging, but some employers in my constituency with employees still on furlough tell me that they are desperate to get those employees back to work, but the uncertainty over when restrictions will finally be lifted is holding them back. For example, in the events supply chain, the unwillingness of customers to pay deposits is holding those firms back. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to get the economy moving and get those employees back to work is for restrictions to be lifted by 19 July?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend is right, and my hope and expectation is that we lift those restrictions on 19 July. By that point, we will have done what we set out to do, which is to get extra jabs in more people’s arms to provide us with that extra level of protection. My hon. Friend is right: the only sustainable way to protect those jobs is to reopen the economy so that people can return to work and provide for their families, and move on to bright new opportunities.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Independent experts have told the Government 12 times that the failure to provide adequate financial support to people self-isolating has contributed to the spread of covid, endangering lives and livelihoods. We now know that the Treasury instructed Government officials actively to supress information about the furlough scheme that was to be used by employers to financially support people self-isolating. Will the Chancellor explain why that instruction was issued by the Treasury? Will he appear in front of the parliamentary Committee’s inquiry into covid to explain why the Government chose not to improve self-isolation support, despite repeated warnings?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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The hon. Lady is wrong, because the Government did no such thing. Indeed, guidance on usage of the furlough scheme was there in black and white—I am looking at it—and plain for everyone to see from the start. At the beginning of this crisis we improved the way that statutory sick pay works to deal with self-isolation. That was one of the earliest steps we took. We then introduced a rebate scheme for small and medium-sized businesses, to claim back the cost of statutory sick pay for isolating employees from the Government. We also introduced a £500 self-isolation payment, which once the isolation period reduced from 14 to 10 days increased in value by 30% and is now worth at least the national living wage to a worker, if not 20% or 30% more, depending on how many days they isolate for. That shows that the Government are supporting those who need to self-isolate. They did so at the beginning of this crisis, and they will continue to do so until the end.

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con) [V]
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Given the rapid pace of our economic recovery and the plans for the further reopening of the economy, I support my right hon. Friend’s decision to phase out furlough by the end of September. However, does he accept that a small number of sectors are likely to require yet further support after that time—not least the travel sector, whose revenues, according to evidence received by the Treasury Committee, have suffered a 90% fall during the crisis?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the difficult circumstances facing that sector, which is why I think in aggregate more than £7 billion of support has been provided to the sector through various means. He will know that there are some particularly large companies that talk to the Government on a bilateral basis. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on those conversations, but he will of course be aware of the support we have put in place, for example, for regional airports, the vast majority of which are paying no business rates for the first half of this year. As he would expect, we keep everything under review.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to support the financial services sector following the end of the transition period.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
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What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to secure an agreement with the EU on financial services.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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The Chancellor set out the Government’s strategy on financial services to the House in November—a vision of a sector that is more open, more technologically advanced and a world leader in the use of green finance, serving the communities and citizens of this country. Since then, we passed the Financial Services Act 2021 in April to begin the necessary reforms to our framework, and we have agreed text with the EU for a regulatory co-operation forum.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton
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There is no doubt that all should be done to support British businesses to export, no more so than in my constituency of Wrexham, which houses one of the largest trading estates in the UK. Businesses are keen to grasp these opportunities—none more so than Matclad, a specialist clay brick slip manufacturer, which is already reaping the benefits of exporting. Does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as the parliamentary export programme, which I recently took part in, are an excellent opportunity?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I experienced that myself with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray). The parliamentary export programme is an excellent way of getting that ambition to export out across the country, and it is just another example of this Government’s commitment to grow exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) may also be interested to know that I shall be visiting Cardiff tomorrow to meet the first cohort of FinTech Wales’s FinTech Foundry, a new accelerator programme that will support firms as they seek to build their footprint.

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling
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My hon. Friend knows of my concern about the protectionist attitude towards financial services that the European Union has shown over the past few months, and the risks to the City that result from it. We have President Macron hosting people from Wall Street next week, and we have the unlocking of travel in the European Union, which will help the financial services sector there. I hope that the Chancellor and the Minister will do everything they can to encourage ministerial colleagues to do the same here, but will the Minister take whatever responsible steps are necessary in modifying our regulations to ensure that the City and our financial services sector have a strong, competitive future regardless of the behaviour of the European Union?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his representations on this matter, and I heartily agree with him. We are promoting the international role of the sector and developing ambitious trade and regulatory relationships with other jurisdictions. We keep all these matters under review. We have taken on board the work of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, and just after Question Time, the Chancellor and I will be meeting representatives of banks as we seek to work with them to make those interventions that our financial services sector needs.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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Financial services were not even part of the Brexit agreement that the Government negotiated, because they never made them a priority. Equivalence arrangements are nowhere in sight, £1 trillion-worth of assets have been moved abroad, and now food and drink exports to the EU have fallen by 47% in the first three months of the year. The Government estimate their new trade deal will add just 0.02% to our GDP. Is the sight of Ministers doing a lap of honour for that trade deal not the equivalent of asking our export industries to give thanks for losing a pound and finding a penny? When will the Government actually help our industries with the red tape that is baked into the agreement that they negotiated?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of where we are. On financial services, as I hope he knows by now, we have deep dialogue across a number of jurisdictions. That is an ongoing process. If I think about the work we are doing with Brazil, India and China and the dialogues we are having with Switzerland, there is no end to this Government’s ambition to improve our financial services’ relationships and deepen the opportunities that Brexit has given us.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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What industries his Department is planning to include in the sector visions set out in the Plan for Growth.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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The details of the sector visions will be set out by the relevant Departments in the coming months. In developing the visions, the Government will consider the role of the state in supporting high-growth sectors that have the potential to build a globally competitive advantage, as well as how the sectors can also be used to support wider objectives, for example levelling up or enabling a transition to net zero.

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson
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I am very grateful to the Financial Secretary for his response. He heard the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), mention the tourism and travel sectors, and I encourage him to look on them favourably, but from my perspective, aerospace remains the No. 1 private employer in my constituency and across Northern Ireland. It employs more than 6,500 people. Last year was a difficult year for aerospace and still it turned over £1.4 billion. It has high-end and high-level manufacturing skills that we cannot lose. I hope the sector will feature in the plans that are brought forward.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the comments he makes. I share his view that aerospace is a very important strategic industry for the country as a whole and, of course, particularly for Northern Ireland and his constituency. Let me reassure him that the sector visions we are discussing will be guided by considerations of comparative advantage—we have a considerable comparative advantage in many areas of aerospace—and future growth potential—I do not think anyone doubts that that is an area. He will know that we are investing very heavily in supporting that sector in the transition to net zero, with green fuels and electric flights, and also supporting levelling up. Those all play into a very positive story for Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage home ownership.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage home ownership.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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The Government are committed to helping people own their own home. Our new mortgage guarantee scheme is increasing the availability of mortgages for credit-worthy households who only have a 5% deposit, helping them realise their dream of home ownership. The lifetime ISA provides a bonus to those under 40 saving towards a home, worth up to £450,000.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Lewis
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I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last week, The Sunday Times detailed the colossal sums imposed on ordinary people by rapacious freeholders and reckless developers. Why should anyone risk purchasing a lease on a residential flat if we fail as a Government to protect innocent leaseholders from bearing the costs of defective extra storeys or defective extra cladding forced on them by those who are actually responsible for such terrible defects?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The Government are investing more than £5 billion in building safety, including an additional £3.5 billion announced this year for the remediation of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders living in high-rise residential buildings. We are also introducing a new tax on the UK residential property development sector and a new levy on developers of certain high-rise buildings to help pay for cladding remediation costs.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the mortgage guarantee scheme has in a short time seen a dramatic increase in the availability of 95% mortgages, which will make home ownership a realistic goal for people aspiring to be homeowners?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the scheme has been up and running—as he says, it has been a matter of only a few weeks—we have seen the provision of 95% mortgages expand from just five to 192. This is a significant change, and I am grateful to the industry for the moves that it has made, with Government support.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment he has made with the Secretary of State for Education of the (a) effectiveness, (b) value for money and (c) adequacy of the funding allocated to educational catch-up provision announced on 2 June 2021.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Steve Barclay)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are providing a further £1.4 billion over the next three academic years for education recovery. This is on top of the £1.7 billion provided for academic year 2020-21.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been widely reported that it was the Chancellor who refused by a 90% margin to find the funding recommended by Sir Kevan Collins to help our nation’s children to catch up on their education after the pandemic. The Chancellor has benefited from a first-class private education, so will he take this opportunity to apologise to the generation of children he is letting down as the Tories refuse to invest in our children’s and our country’s future?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There was a striking omission from that question. There was no reference at all to the additional £2.2 billion of core school funding, over and above which there is the £1.4 billion announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Of course, the House would expect proposals to be evidence-led, deliverable and provide value for money, and we will work with Department for Education colleagues on that, but there was no mention in the hon. Gentleman’s question of the additional £2.2 billion of core school spending uplift this year.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that the significant long-term cost to our economy from the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children and young people is as much as £350 billion in lost earnings. Has the Treasury done its own assessment and will the Minister have the decency to publish it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said in my last answer, we will have a review to inform the question in terms of the impact on time. Most of the debates that we have had in this House have focused on teacher quality as the biggest driver of outcomes for children, so we need to see the evidence of it. For example, if we look at Finland, we see that Finland has a shorter school day but a higher PISA—programme for international student assessment—result. If we look at the USA, we see that it has a longer school day but a lower PISA result. So it is right that we look at the evidence, but teacher quality is usually seen as the bigger driver and that is why we have funded the tuition in the way that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has.

Bridget Phillipson Portrait Bridget Phillipson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this Government, it seems that it is a case of “don’t know, don’t care”. The reality is that the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children’s future is the very definition of a false economy. The Chancellor recently said that he could not say yes to everyone. He seemed to have no problem saying yes to the friends and donors of the Conservative party, but it is a no to the children who urgently need support to catch up after the biggest disruption to their education for a generation. Is the Minister really proud of that?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very proud that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has committed an additional £7.1 billion over three years to increase the school uplift, with £2.2 billion this year alone. I am very proud that he announced £1.7 billion of additional recovery funding. I am proud that he announced a further £1.4 billion, but again, the hon. Lady appears to have written her question before hearing the answer. The answer was that we will of course look as part of our review at the effectiveness of the additional time. I have cited some of the international evidence that we will look at, but teacher quality is usually the bigger driver and that is why we have focused on teacher training but also on the tuition programme, so that we are training an additional 500,000 teachers and rolling out 6 million tuition courses to get that targeted learning support to children across the country.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What progress his Department has made in establishing freeports in England.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was pleased to announce the location of eight new English freeports at the Budget in March. The next phase of delivery for freeports is being led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is working with the eight freeports to help them to establish the appropriate governance structures and develop their investment proposals. The Government will then review their proposals for investment and the deployment of the tax and customs reliefs later this year.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the news that we have a freeport in neighbouring Plymouth. Will the Chancellor’s Department please work with the Department for Transport to ensure that we have quick, flowing transport links across the Tamar to make the most of these opportunities for my constituents?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted for Plymouth and its surrounding communities that it has received freeport status. As my hon. Friend says, this is a fantastic opportunity to drive investment and create jobs. I will, of course, work with the Department for Transport on improving transport links across the south-west. She previously welcomed the £2.5 billion upgrade of vital road connections such as the A303, the A30 and the A358, as well as the replacement of the vital Dawlish sea wall, which will improve rail connectivity in the region.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What his Department’s policy is on the sharing of data between HMRC and the Home Office for immigration purposes.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has a strict duty of confidentiality in relation to information it holds on taxpayers. HMRC will share information on individuals or employers with the Home Office for immigration purposes only where a clear legal basis exists, and it will share or disclose only the information that is necessary and proportionate to the intended purpose through strict adherence to data protection principles, including the UK general data protection regulation. Personal data that is disclosed is minimised where it can be and strictly governed and subject to audit.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not necessary and proportionate in the cases I have been hearing about. In one case, someone who had been here as a highly skilled migrant for 10 years was refused the right to remain because he had miscalculated his tax by £1.20 years previously. What global talent does the Minister think will want to take the risk of uprooting their families to another country that may well kick them out for something HMRC previously said was a minor issue?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

For reasons that I have described, I cannot comment on individual cases. However, the hon. Lady is welcome to raise them with HMRC on behalf of her constituents. I can tell her that legislation provides very specific, well-designed information-sharing gateways under an umbrella memorandum of understanding governing all data sharing between the two sides, and all of that is grounded in strict obedience with the law.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of his fiscal policies on gender equality.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Treasury carefully considers the equality impact of both individual measures and fiscal events on those sharing protected characteristics, including gender, in line with both its legal obligations and its strong commitment to promoting fairness.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that response, but there are glaring gaps. For instance, on women’s pensions, my constituent Kay cannot understand why she has to suffer because of the accelerated timetable for increases in women’s state pension age. What does the Minister say to her and to the Women Against State Pension Inequality who wonder why the Government have not undertaken an impact assessment of the detriment they have all faced?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Treasury complies with its public sector equality duty and takes into account all sorts of circumstances that need to be considered before putting forward any policies. We have had numerous debates about WASPI pensions over the last four years, and I am afraid this issue is settled. If the hon. Lady has specific issues with a particular constituent, I encourage her to take those up with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to protect access to cash within local communities.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government recognise that cash is crucial to the daily lives of millions of individuals and businesses across the UK, and we have committed to legislate to protect access to cash. The Government made legislative changes to support the widespread offering of cashback without a purchase by shops and other businesses in the recent Financial Services Act 2021 and this summer we will consult on further legislative proposals for protecting cash for the long term.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the announcement that there will be further consultation, but will the Minister confirm that any legislation introduced post consultation will include a requirement on banks to provide adequate access to cash withdrawals that are free at the point of service and meet the needs of local communities in both urban and rural areas?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can commit that we will look very carefully at the evidence on the best possible interventions to make. I am pleased that, as of March 2020, 98% of the population could access free cash within 3 km, but we have to come to terms with the fact that from 2009, when 56% of transactions were by cash, we were down to 17% by last year. We have to come up with appropriate legislation to meet that change.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now come to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Dame Meg Hillier.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

More than 1 million people still use only cash, and approximately 4 million use cash regularly, so it is vital that they have access to it. This is now the second consultation that the Treasury is going through, but as the PAC has seen, all the distribution of cash is in the hands of private providers. Can the Economic Secretary give any indication of the type of legislation that he can introduce to ensure that if people are very poor, they can get cash? That does not mean going to the supermarket and getting it out when they do not even know what is in their own account.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her recent elevation. I take her points on board, but this is a complex area. There will need to be a range of interventions from industry, working with regulators. The LINK scheme already has a £5 million fund to help areas of great deprivation and provide extra access points for cash, but we need to recognise that technology will have to play a significant role. We will also use the extensive network of 11,500 post offices to make good on our pledge to ensure that access to cash remains available across the country.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we have reopened our economy since the last lockdown, we have continued to provide extensive support through our £400 billion plan for jobs, protecting businesses, families and individuals. I am pleased to say that the early data on household incomes, employment, corporate insolvencies and consumer and business confidence all show that our plan for jobs is working.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the Treasury’s announcement of compensation to cover up to 80% of the losses of holders of mini-bonds with London Capital & Finance, will the Chancellor now also act to provide full compensation to the victims of another scandal, the collapse of Equitable Life? The vast majority have received just 22% of their losses.

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much appreciate the hon. Lady’s raising the issue. She will know that the matter has been extensively discussed and debated for many years. The matter, after review, has been concluded and closed and is final in all respects.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The mother town of Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke is blessed to be the home of the outstanding British brewer, the Titanic brewery, founded and run by Keith and Dave Bott. More than 80 Conservative colleagues and I have shown our support for the introduction of a lower draft beer duty on beer sold in pubs from containers over 20 litres in size. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the proposal is being considered as part of the alcohol duty review? Will he tell us when the review will conclude? Our pubs need urgent help today.

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can assure not just my hon. Friend, but Keith and Dave from the Titanic brewery, that we have consulted industry on the prospect of such a lower rate as part of our ongoing alcohol duty review. The team and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary are working closely with HMRC to further understand the practicalities and the cost of the proposals; we will provide further updates in due course. My hon. Friend is right about securing hospitality in the meantime. The temporary VAT cut, the business rates holiday and, indeed, freezing beer duty at the last two Budgets are all helping in the short term.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us welcome the shadow Chancellor to Treasury questions.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Whether on social care, on Northern Powerhouse Rail or on tackling climate breakdown, there is a growing gap with this Government between what is promised and what is actually delivered. The Treasury’s response to the net zero review was first due to be published in autumn last year, yet it is nowhere to be seen. The COP26 climate summit begins in November. While the UK is hosting, the Government cannot lead with authority, because the fact is that we cannot have a climate strategy without a sustainable economic plan behind it. Will the Chancellor please tell the House on what date he will publish the final report of the net zero review?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The net zero report will of course be published imminently, but the hon. Lady talked about last autumn. Last autumn, the Prime Minister published the green 10-point plan, perhaps the most comprehensive plan from any Government anywhere in the world, on how we will meet our net zero ambitions. Contained within that plan was £12 billion of new investment, creating probably a quarter of a million jobs when all is said and done, ensuring our leadership in industries such as offshore wind and creating jobs in places such as Teesside and Humberside, which is important to the future prosperity of this country, so I think we are doing a great job of getting on with meeting our climate ambitions and demonstrating leadership to the world.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Then why not publish the net zero review, Chancellor? When it comes to this Government’s net zero strategy, tomorrow never comes. There is no time to waste, because it is the responsibility of all of us to hand on to our children and grandchildren a more sustainable planet, creating new opportunities for our pioneering British industries and investing today in the jobs of the future, whether in hydrogen, tidal energy or electric vehicles, to ensure the fair and just transition that we need to see. So, as the Chancellor still cannot give a date, months after the event, for when he will publish his final report on the net zero review, will he commit to ensuring that our net zero carbon targets are hard-wired through the forthcoming spending review, as I would do as Chancellor?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Meeting our climate ambitions is obviously at the heart of everything that the Government are doing. The hon. Lady talked about sectors where we should show leadership: I have just talked about offshore wind, and we can keep going, with electric vehicles. This country now has more rapid charging points per mile than any country in Europe other than Norway, and we are doing more.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 3MC.] She talked about showing leadership: as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) reminds me, we recently published the Dasgupta review, which is a groundbreaking piece of work on tackling biodiversity. She talked about infrastructure: we launched the UK Infrastructure Bank just last week, not a million miles away from her in Leeds, the home of the infrastructure revolution. And at the G7 summit that I recently hosted, we reached a landmark global agreement to get the G7 to agree to mandatory climate disclosures, because, much as she would like us to, this Government alone cannot solve all these problems. The private sector will have to play its part, which is why climate disclosures across the world would help to unlock billions in private capital to help us to meet our climate ambitions.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Businesses and local government alike will join me in welcoming the launch of the UK Infrastructure Bank last week. Its doors are now open for business and it is deploying capital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is precisely the sort of intervention we need to deliver net zero?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I briefly pay tribute to him for his work last week on tech net zero. We launched the UK Infrastructure Bank last week in Leeds. Capitalised with £12 billion from the Government, it will unlock £40 billion of investment into tackling both levelling up and our net zero ambitions, and the team there are fantastic. I want to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to Chris Grigg for his superb leadership. It is brilliant that we can attract people of his calibre to lead these organisations, and I feel very confident about the UK Infrastructure Bank’s future progress.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Concerns have been raised that the narrow criteria of the Business Banking Resolution Service have left far too many ineligible, and also that not enough banks are participating in the scheme. With many businesses now at risk with covid-19 debt, can the Minister tell me what he intends to do about the situation?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is right in the sense that many businesses have taken on debt to get through the crisis, which is why we have implemented something called Pay as You Grow. More than 1 million businesses took bounce back loans, and they now have the ability, at their option, to turn those loans instantly into 10-year loans, doubling the term and reducing their monthly payments by around half, and to take further six-months holidays or interest-only repayment periods. They can take any of those options and it will not have any impact on their credit score, because we recognise the burdens on cash flow and we want to do our bit to ease them and support our recovery.

Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will not introduce a tourism tax in England? Does he agree that if the Welsh Government were to do that in Wales, that tax bombshell would leave tourism businesses such as those in Porthcawl in my constituency at a distinct competitive disadvantage?

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, local taxation in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government. The UK Government’s primary focus, as my hon. Friend will be aware, has been on supporting recovery from the pandemic, and we recognise that the tourism sector has been particularly hard hit. That is exactly why we have provided more than £7 billion so far through the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality, accommodation and attraction industries across the UK; it is why we have extended the reduced rate until 30 September 2021; and it is why we have put in place a much wider array of support as we come out and play it long in relation to the pandemic.

Mark Eastwood Portrait Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The youth investment fund remains an important manifesto commitment and will be valuable in supporting young people. Will my right hon. Friend inform me of its intended launch day and briefly outline the benefits it will bring to young people in Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale once it is launched?

Steve Barclay Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Steve Barclay)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the youth investment fund. It was a manifesto commitment and it is due to launch in the coming months. He will recall that at the spending review 2020 we allocated some funding to inform pilots, as we shape that launch.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Almost every time that I, or others Members, have raised the plight of the millions of people excluded from covid support, Ministers reel off the various levels of support that have been made available to those who have access to it. Without again going through the list of supports that are available, will the Minister tell me when the Government are going to put in place some level of support for those who have had nothing so far, and when it will be backdated to?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman will know, as we have discussed it on many occasions, how we have absolutely bent over backwards to attempt to include as many people as possible and have leant into considerable discussion, both with excluded groups and with other related groups. As he will know, it is not a single picture; different groups are not included for different reasons. As a result, we have in part been able to evolve and extend the programmes, and he will be aware that we did so in the last iteration of the self-employed scheme.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela  Richardson  (Guildford)  (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the launch of the national infrastructure bank. Road infrastructure projects are needed in my constituency to meet the additional 14,000 homes to be delivered in our local plan, which is why I am calling for the A3 to be tunnelled under Guildford to ease congestion. As we move towards our target of net zero and transition our vehicles to being electric and hydrogen-run, there will be a decrease in revenue raised by fuel duty. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he is taking to replace that revenue and to help fund road infrastructure projects such as my tunnel?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Kemi Badenoch)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Government will need to ensure that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with the change away from petrol and diesel vehicles so that we can continue to fund infrastructure such as the A3, which she mentions. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for Transport can speak about her petition specifically, but I would like to reassure her and her constituents that this Government will continue to focus on record, unprecedented investment in the strategic roads network over this Parliament, through the £27.5 billion road investment strategy, which will deliver about 70 major upgrades.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Chancellor have confidence in the Financial Conduct Authority’s ability to appropriately regulate and sanction companies that defraud their investors? Furthermore, does he believe that if it is found that the regulator has failed to prevent this fraudulent activity, the Government have a duty to compensate?

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is absolutely clear that there are significant lessons for the FCA to learn from the Gloster review, and I have regular conversations, including just last week, with the new chief executive on the transformation programme. He has employed five new senior executives to drive that programme forward urgently, and I look forward to seeing the results of that intervention.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The role of regulation has been in the spotlight recently in an independent report by the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, which was welcomed by the Prime Minister. The report highlights that as the EU has expanded, its internal processes and regulation have become slower and more bureaucratic, impacting on economic competitiveness. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to reduce onerous regulation as regards UK Treasury matters to ensure that all such regulation reflects our national interest and ensures that the UK maximises its economic agility and competitiveness?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend rightly recognises the value of the TIGRR report, which we received last week, and we will be looking very carefully at those recommendations. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor chairs the better regulation committee, which has been established to drive forward a new strategy to deliver better regulation outside the EU. There is a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituent is a travel counsellor who established her home-based business nine years ago. She has been excluded from Government support because she is not registered for business rates, and when she tried to register for business rates in 2020, she missed the deadline by six days because of delays at the Valuation Office. What financial support can the Treasury give her and others like her, who remain excluded from support?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have made available to local authorities, initially at least, £1.5 billion and a further top-up sum, in order precisely to meet hard cases that may fall between the cracks of the very wide-ranging support that we have given otherwise. I strongly encourage her constituent to talk to her local authority about that funding.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On 3 March, when the Chancellor announced the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, High Peak was designated one of the top priority areas, and the Government committed to giving more than £100,000 to the council to help it deliver a world-class bid. However, despite my urging, and having had nearly four months, I regret to inform the House that my Labour council has failed to submit a levelling-up fund bid in time. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House and my constituents that there will be a second round for further bids and that High Peak will still be considered a top priority area in any future rounds?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. He will know from the announcement at the Budget that the prospectus set out the process, the types of projects, and indeed how bids will be assessed. To reassure him, there will be further opportunities for local authorities to submit bids to the fund. One of the things that we are encouraging those local authorities to do is to work with elected Members of Parliament in the shaping of those bids, and I hope that they will now take the opportunity to do so.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

More than half a million young people are out of work and thousands are on furlough. The delay in easing restrictions without associated support for businesses is set to further increase unemployment by 300,000. In the event of a third wave that triggers further restrictions, will Ministers commit to extending the coronavirus job retention scheme and other support that has been vital for our constituents and businesses in our constituencies?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady talked about outcomes in the labour market. She will know that we have now had six consecutive months of more people in work, which is something to be celebrated. Vacancies are now running higher than they were at the start of the pandemic, which is a fantastic sign of things to come. The unemployment rate, as I highlighted earlier, is now half what was forecast: 2 million fewer people are forecast to lose their jobs, which is lower than most of our major competitor countries. She is right to highlight, as we have discussed previously, the plight of young people. Our interventions, such as the kickstart scheme and the apprenticeship incentive, will continue to provide opportunity for them up and down the country.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Elddis caravans and motorhomes—owned by Erwin Hymer—on Delves Lane, Consett, in my constituency, has benefited hugely from the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s removal of the EU’s motorhomes tax. It is now growing as a business and struggling to get candidates to meet job vacancies. Will the Chancellor visit Elddis with me to meet the workforce and management and to see the impact that his tax cut has had? Will he also look at what more support can be provided for that vital manufacturing firm in my constituency?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate Elddis, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving Elddis profile, on fighting the campaign that he has, and on the outcome and its very successful results in this case. I have it on very good authority that the Chancellor would be delighted to visit Elddis, so I am in a position to make a binding commitment from the Government side, and I am sure that he looks forward to it very much.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business.

00:00
Sitting suspended.

Events Research Programme

Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

12:37
Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on the results of the events research programme.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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The world-leading events research programme has conducted 14 pilot events across two phases since April. The findings from these events will inform decisions around the safe removal of social distancing at step 4 of the road map. We committed to publishing the final report ahead of step 4 of the road map, and that is what we will do. The report will cover key findings and the operational approach of the research programme. The events research programme has studied some highly complex questions. The guidance for the sector that comes out of this work will, however, be practical, clear and simply set out.

Following the delay to step 4, the Government will now run a third phase of the events research programme. This phase will gather more data, consolidating our evidence base and helping in our aim of getting spectators back to live events in greater numbers. Phase 3 will include trialling the practical use of covid certification at a range of events, alongside other mitigations. Some of these pilot events will be permitted at full capacity, providing visitors demonstrate their covid status. The men’s and women’s finals at Wimbledon, for example, will be played with centre court at full capacity, and those matches will be the first major outdoor sporting events held at full capacity in the UK since the start of the pandemic. The events research programme is continuing live discussions with a number of theatres and cultural and business event organisers about their inclusion in the programme, which would see events taking place with larger capacities.

I am sure that the House recognises how vital this research is in supporting the reopening of venues and sectors that we and our constituents are so passionate about. However, it is important to recognise that public safety is the main priority. Although we are not yet in a position to publish the full report, I assure the House that post-event data is closely monitored and has not shown any evidence of the events causing outbreaks. If the events had, we would have communicated that information urgently. As the Prime Minister has stressed, the road map is driven by the data, not target dates.

Like everybody present, I know how important it is for spectators to return to live events in greater numbers. We are hopeful that the events research programme will enable us to work with the experts and the events sectors to allow reopening as planned in step 4 of the road map.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
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I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and the Minister for his response.

The terms of reference for the programme were published on 22 February; we are four months on and no results have been published. Last month, the Secretary of State said in a newspaper interview that 15 of the 58,000 ERP participants had tested positive for covid, but still no results have been published. I am afraid there was nothing in the Minister’s response to explain the failure to publish the results. What is the secret? Why will the Government not tell the public, the industry and us what the results are?

All those who have spent time and money on organising and hosting test events, and those who rely on the programme, would like to see the results. They wanted to see them in real time or, at the very least, at regular intervals over the past four months. Without seeing the results, how can they plan for the summer? How are the public to understand the Government’s plan for the sector?

Organisations involved in the ERP have told me that a report with those good results was produced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they were not allowed to see it. They also told me that No. 10 refused to allow the report to be published last week because it did not fit with the communications grid. Did No. 10 block publication of the report last week?

What evidence are the Government using to make decisions about pilot events? Why are some organisations getting the go-ahead to test events and not others? Andrew Lloyd Webber refused to join the programme because the rest of the industry was not being treated equally; do companies have to have the Prime Minister’s mobile number to run a test event? Kendal Calling was cancelled yesterday because its application to participate in the third phase of the ERP was refused. Under what criteria was Wimbledon accepted as a pilot? When was that agreed? Will there be a fourth stage of the ERP if restrictions remain in place for the sector beyond 19 July? Finally, will the Minister just publish the ERP results today?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and agree with her that many people have been involved in the events research programme. We thank David Ross, Nick Hytner and all those involved—including hundreds of volunteers up and down the country—who have made the events so successful.

When we announced the programme, we outlined our intention to release the report prior to step 4 and that is exactly what we will do: we will release the report very soon. The ERP report is subject to a comprehensive and rigorous co-ordination and approval process across Departments; the academic institutions that have been involved in the programme, as the hon. Lady knows; and the ERP governance board.

The programmes have been selected in consultation with the science advisers on the events research programme science board. Those events involved in the latest phase, phase 3, have been approached based on the advice we received on the information we need to get out of the events research programme. They were approached on an equal basis. We will announce further ERP programmes shortly.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to the Chair of the Select Committee.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)
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Many of the event organisers who took part in the pilots did so at a financial loss, purely to help their industry and the country more widely, so the delay in getting the vital data into the public domain is a huge let-down and is undoubtedly leading to cancellations, with Kendal Calling festival being the latest example just yesterday.

Will my hon. Friend commit to releasing all available data as a matter of urgency and writing to the Select Committee with what we know to date? Does he recognise that the clear failure to do so adds to a growing impression that some decision makers are being swayed by unaccountable scientists without the proper and relevant data being put before them? After all, we are a democracy, not some sort of scientocracy.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee, highlights the importance of making sure that information is correct and data is accurate, because it will help inform decisions about opening up. We will also be using the events research programme to provide guidance to the sector. We are well aware that it needs that guidance as far in advance as possible in order to help with events and logistical arrangements when they open. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I completely agree. We want to get the information and data out very soon. We will be doing so before the next phase, as we stated at the beginning of the programme.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP) [V]
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The events and live music sector has been calling for Government covid insurance help for months, as have the SNP and many Tory MPs, including members of the Select Committee. Why are Ministers not listening to their colleagues on this issue? What are the arguments against offering insurance help for this vital sector, which desperately needs it?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I should say that we very much appreciate the work that has been happening with the devolved Administrations, co-operating with information sharing relating to the events research programme. As the Secretary of State made clear at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Thursday 13 May, the Government are very aware of the wide concerns about securing indemnity for the live events sector. We continue to assess options to provide further support to the sector within the public health context. These are live considerations.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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The work that DCMS has done in getting cash to businesses in the arts sector in my constituency and beyond has been great, but getting people into venues is now what is required, as highlighted to me last weekend when I visited the Empire theatre in Consett, and at a national level, by great organisations such as UK Music. I welcome the events research programme and what it is doing to look at reopening. It sounds like it is good news. Publishing it soon will be vital for the sector, so that they can get on with planning to reopen. If it is good news, it is also going to be vital for public confidence in booking. Will the Minister commit to publishing the findings as soon as possible, so that theatres, nightclubs and other venues in my constituency can get on with planning to reopen?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As my hon. Friend says, the purpose of the events research programme was precisely for those goals—to help inform decision making around the opening of public events and large events on a scale that we have not been able to experience over the last few months. We will be publishing the information shortly, as well as guidance to help events open.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab) [V]
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My constituency is home to internationally-known theatre and music venues and exhibition centres. They tell me they are still waiting for promised Government funds, an insurance scheme that gives them certainty on reopening and, specifically, the publication of the events research programme report. One industry source told me today that failure to publish

“is both creating confusion and eroding confidence across the events industry.”

What should I tell them, their customers and their staff?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I mentioned, we are considering the indemnity issues. The sector has had support through, for example, the culture recovery fund, which is a £2 billion fund, as well as other support from Government. The whole purpose of the events research programme was and is to enable the sectors to open as soon as possible.

It is important to stress as well that under step 3 of the road map, indoor events of up to 1,000 people and outdoor events of up to 4,000 people or, in some cases, 10,000 people, can happen. We have not gone back—that is still possible under step 3 of the road map. Many events are taking place right across the country precisely because of that.

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)
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In my constituency and others, many events over the summer, such as highland games, agricultural shows and the rest, have been cancelled for a second year in a row. Was there ever an expression of interest from the Scottish Government to hold any test events north of the border? Should any event organisers in mine or any other Scottish constituency approach DCMS for permission to be made a test event, would the Minister consider that?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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We are co-operating with the devolved Administrations, as I mentioned. They run separate programmes. The programme held in England is the largest that we are aware of in the world, and the most comprehensive and broadest. We will be sharing information and data. The spirit of co-operation is there across the nations, but there are no plans for the English-based ERP programme to consume the Scottish programme at this moment in time. We need to co-operate.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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I trust that I am always consistent in what I say—what I am about to ask will come as no surprise to either the Minister or the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). If the Government were to underwrite insurance for events and festivals, it would be a real boost and would really get them going again. There is a precedent, when it comes to terrorism. Her Majesty’s Government do rather well out of that—they make a profit on the deal. Will the Government think again?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I said previously, we are aware of the wider concerns about the sector, including the insurance and the indemnity issues. We are considering options, and we are taking those issues very seriously.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
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First, may I thank the Minister for his personal visit to my constituency and to the fantastic Puzzlewood attraction? I know that he had a fantastic time and helped to sell the benefits of my constituency more widely. On this particular subject, though, I am a little confused. When the Government do not publish something, it is normally because it is bad news and they are trying to hide it away. I have a very strong suspicion that this set of data is fantastically positive. It must be ready for publication because it must have been prepared for last week when step 4 was due to announced. My fear is that it demonstrated the opposite of the decision that the Prime Minister announced last week and that we could have opened safely on 21 June. That is the real reason it has not been published. Why does the Minister not publish it today and put our minds at rest?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his initial comments. I very much enjoyed meeting his constituents and visiting his constituency. I am afraid that I would not buy into some of his conspiracy theories around this. We have said already that, if there were major concerns, we would have made sure that that information was in the public arena. That would be the responsible thing to do. Some of the initial data points were already announced by the Secretary of State back in May. The report needs to be comprehensive and it needs to be reviewed by a large number of stakeholders in Government. We will be releasing it very soon.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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The live events sector, musicians and the creative industries have been severely hit during this pandemic, with many excluded from Government support schemes. They deserve clarity, but instead of transparency, the Government have been busy trying to hide information, including the findings from the events research programme, which should have been published last month as initially promised. Can the Minister confirm whether the Prime Minister had access to the events research programme and used the findings to inform his decisions about extending lockdown restrictions? If seeing that information was important enough for him, why is it not good enough for this Parliament and for people who are desperately trying to plan to reopen their businesses?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Again, I am afraid that I do not buy into some of the conspiracy theories circulating around here. Clearly, the goal of the Government—the goal of the whole House—is to open up sectors as soon as we can in a responsible way. The events research programme is providing vital and pivotal information to enable us to do so. We will be providing additional guidance to the events sector, and we have been providing further support for these vital sectors—[Interruption.] I agreed with the hon. Gentleman’s first comment. These are pivotal sectors for the economy and for our livelihood and we want to provide them with support.

William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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Is not the example of Israel, where a high level of vaccination among the general population acted as a means to avoid any restrictions on events, one for the Government to follow? If my hon. Friend were to publish this report, he most certainly would not be damned.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I am not sure how to read that, but I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I think he makes an important point about the correlation between opening up and the vaccination programme. We would not be where we are, even with some of the smaller events that we have already enabled to open up or with the events research programme, were it not for the incredibly successful vaccination programme to date. I thank everyone involved in that, because that is what is enabling these sectors to open up, with all the economic and mental health benefits that come with these major events taking place.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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The delay in the publication of this ERP data is not without real-world consequences, particularly for us in north Lancashire and south Cumbria where we saw the cancellation yesterday of the Kendal Calling festival. That is a festival that has received no support from the culture recovery fund, and it has been cancelled now for a second year. That will have real-world economic consequences in my local area. I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said, but he has failed to give any credible reason for the delay in publishing this data. Can he try once to give one credible reason for the delay in publishing this data?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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We will be announcing phase 3 of the culture recovery fund very shortly, and I am sure that it will be received as positively across the whole House as the previous phases. It is important to be very clear that we are unable to get to step 4 of the road map not because of the delay in the release of this document but because of increases in infection rates, concerns about the variants of concern, and the inability to meet the tests required to get to phase 4. That is why we are not able to open all the events programmes as we would like to at this moment in time. It is responsible for us to continue with the events research programme so as to be in the best possible position to take full advantage when we are able to open.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) [V]
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I welcome the work that has been done through the events research programme. However, does my hon. Friend agree that even when step 4 is reached, the events sector will need some confidence that it can plan for future events knowing that they are either considered to be safe because of the work of the events research programme or because there is sufficient insurance in place to protect them in case new restrictions come, and that without that confidence it will be very difficult for events organisations to plan for the future?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend, who has a lot of credibility and experience in this area, makes absolutely the right points. Even when we can open, there will be a need to build confidence in the public arena, and some of these sectors have been hit so hard that it will take several years for them to recover. We will be continuing to support them through the next phase of the CRF and other support measures. We will publish guidance along with the report that will also help these sectors to open up.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the Minister for his responses so far. Does he agree that mixed messages are being sent about safety outdoors, with schools still making parents and children carry on wearing masks, yet they can walk from school to the playground without a mask? Will he undertake to clarify the requirements for outdoor activities as a whole and not be limited to the pilot schemes for large-scale events so that all Government Departments can send the same message across all Departments and all regions, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly? All information can then be shared equally, and there can be the same policy across all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I would not want to step into some of the devolved issues or indeed some of the concerns being expressed. However, to be fair, most of the devolved Administrations, as well as the UK Government, are setting clear guidance about when facemasks are required. The events research programme has been trialling events without social distancing and without facemasks precisely to look at where we can open up further, which I think is the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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The events and conferences sector has such a positive impact on our economy, not least because it showcases the UK around the world, provides a platform for businesses to export and attracts inward investment, yet it is on its knees as one of the last sectors still to be almost shut down because of the covid emergency. Will the Minister publish this data? He has acknowledged that the pilot events have not led to increased infection rates. Is it not time to give the events and conferences sector a clear timetable for reopening?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I could not agree more about the sector’s pivotal role and its absolutely pivotal importance to our economic wellbeing, as a lot of sales go on at business events, conferences and so on right across the country. It is a major part of our economy and we want to get it open as soon as possible. We have had a business event as part of the ERP programme and we are hoping to have another one as well. It is a sector that I pay close attention to, as it is a pivotal part of the economy, and I will be happy to work with my right hon. Friend to promote it in the long term. It was mentioned in the tourism recovery plan last week as a major part of our potential growth.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP) [V]
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It is good to see the success of events such as the Download festival pilot, which gives us all a glimpse of a post-covid restriction life that might be possible. However, it is only possible for these events to go ahead with Government underwriting. Can the Minister not see the necessity of extending events insurance if more events like this one are to go ahead?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Indeed, the event last weekend—a little bit of rain did not put off a lot of people from attending—was very successful and provides key learning. As I have said, we are looking at indemnity options.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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I am incredibly heartened to hear the Minister say that the reinsurance scheme is under active consideration. I am further heartened that he accepted the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) that the last time we did this kind of thing it made the Exchequer money—we got the planes off the ground after 9/11 and made a profit for the Treasury. Does the Minister agree that the industry, which is worth £84 billion a year, really deserves the confidence of a reinsurance scheme, and that it is a vote of confidence in global Britain and in our vaccine scheme?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a hugely important sector to our economy; it employs 1.5 million people right up and down the country, and there are whole households that rely on it. That is exactly why we have the events research programme: to try to build confidence so that we can get the sector up and running again. We will be looking at alternative ways in which we can continue to support the sector, including indemnity.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
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Organisers have done their side of the bargain and so have people attending these testers, but now the Government’s lack of communication is threatening a summer’s worth of events. Industry experts such as Tysers and the Association of Independent Festivals are clear that a Government-backed insurance scheme would protect events and unlock a potential £9 billion boost to our economy, but what we have heard today from the Minister is equivocation about plans that might come forward in the future. It is already the middle of June, so will he meet the moment now and give people the definitive answer that they are all waiting for?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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At the risk of repeating myself, it is really important that we recognise that the whole point of the events research programme is to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking for: to provide confidence that these events can go ahead. As I have said—this is important, because there has been a lack of clarity about this and some misinformation being spread—events of a certain size can go ahead already, including indoor events of up to 1,000 people and outdoor events of 4,000, or in exceptional cases up to 10,000. Many events can go ahead. The major events will be sharing the learnings from the events research programme very soon, which will be pivotal to helping those major events take place.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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It was great to see thousands of people enjoying the Download festival this weekend: it reminded us all of the more normal times that we all crave and gave hope to all those who are hoping to attend Boardmasters in Newquay this summer. Boardmasters brings £45 million into our local economy and supports more than 400 jobs. Can the Minister confirm that, provided that we take step 4 on 19 July, with the continued successful roll-out of the pilot scheme, we have every hope that Boardmasters will go ahead in August? Will he ensure that those who run Boardmasters are provided with the guidance that they need in a timely manner so that they can make the necessary preparations to run the event safely?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I know what a huge supporter of the sector my hon. Friend is. Boardmasters sounds like a very exciting event; I know that there have been some problems in the past with being able to hold it, but we want to ensure that that event and others planned for later in the summer get guidance. We are working on that guidance at this moment in time. The events research programme learnings will provide information going into that guidance, which we hope to be able to release prior to the announcement of step 4. My hon. Friend makes the really important point that the organisers need to plan ahead and plan the logistics. We want to help them with that.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Kendal Calling, in a statement on its website cancelling this year’s event, says:

“Our understanding is that…DCMS…are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around No. 10’s communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost 2 months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.”

If it is reasonable for the Government to use that data, and if the data is in a fit state for the Government to use to make decisions, is it not reasonable to make it available to businesses to allow them to plan?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I have said repeatedly, we will be releasing the information and data very soon. I will have to repeat this, because it has obviously not been understood: the reason that we were not able to get to step 4 and that events cannot take place at this moment in time at a scale that we would all desire is not that the release of the report has not happened, but that there has been an increase in infection rates and that there are concerns around the delta variant. That is the reason for the delay in step 4.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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If, when the Minister looks at the results, he does not find any differentiation between the sporting arenas that are largely seated and those that are largely not seated, will he look to equalise the allowable crowd capacities at the two types of venue? The latter will suffer an awful lot during the next four weeks.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his comments. I know how passionate he is about this sector, in particular racing. I have had conversations with the sector about this. We can increase capacity up to 10,000 where there is a seated capacity of over 16,000. However, we still have some concerns about events where there is the potential for mingling and, taking public health advice, we have been unable to allow further opening at this moment in time. I am aware of the impact that has had on certain sectors, in particular racing, and that is exactly why we want to get the events research programme moving and all these sectors open as soon as possible.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Many businesses in my constituency of Blaydon are involved in the events industry and have suffered. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of this latest lockdown on the events industry?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Indeed, this is a hugely important sector up and down the country; it is a major employer and makes a major contribution to our economy. That is precisely why a variety of schemes, including the Government’s general support measures and the culture recovery fund, have been pivotal in helping the events sector. Importantly, we are also encouraging those in the supply chain to apply for the additional restriction grant, and we are encouraging councils up and down the country to be sympathetic to applications to that programme from events supply chain businesses.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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The events research programme has been an invaluable lifeline for many flagship events. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, due to be held between 15 and 18 July, is the UK’s largest annual sporting event, with more than 140,000 in attendance. It contributes more than £100 million to the local economy in my constituency and neighbouring areas, sitting in the heart of “motorsport valley”, supporting 40,000 UK jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that the Formula 1 British Grand Prix goes ahead as part of this programme, as a fully attended spectator event?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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It does not surprise me at all that my hon. Friend raises this issue; we have had many conversations about the importance of the motorsport sector. We continue to work very closely with our partners in Formula 1 and elsewhere in Government to deliver this year’s Silverstone grand prix with as many fans as possible. Plans are progressing very well, the discussions are constructive, and we hope to be able to set out further details shortly.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V]
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As 2017 UK city of culture, we in Hull know how vital the arts and cultural events sector is for keeping existing jobs and generating new ones. Creative Hull, the Humber Street Sesh and the Freedom festival have all made preparations, based on Government guidance, to be covid-safe and secure, and have invested time and money. Should they be able to become pilot events if they so wish?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Of course, we cannot involve every single event, worthy though many of them are, in the ERP. We have had conversations, or are currently in conversations, with those entities that are in the consideration set at the moment. I am afraid that we will not be able to include all those we would like to, but I encourage events to take place to the greatest extent that they are able within current step 3 guidance if they cannot be part of the current phase 3 of the events research programme.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
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I am excited to tell the House that the world-famous Buxton International festival will be going ahead from 8 July, as will the fantastic Buxton Fringe alongside it, and Eat in the Park later in the year. Unfortunately, not all events locally are as fortunate. The fantastic Hope show, one of the UK’s biggest and best agricultural shows, has already had to be cancelled, and it is still uncertain whether the Y Not festival, which is due to take place at the end of July, can go ahead. These incredibly important local events are the lifeblood of our local economy, but they take a long time to plan, with large up-front costs. I urge the Minister to pull out all the stops to restore confidence in the events sector, including looking at an indemnity scheme, so that we can look forward to a great British summer of events.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is clearly passionate about the events sector and has a large number of events planned in his constituency, which is fantastic. Some of them are able to go ahead—that is great; I encourage them to do so, obviously within existing guidance and by talking to local public health. Later in the year—as soon as we possibly can—it is absolutely our ambition to open up far more events at much greater scale, and we will provide guidance that will help enable them to do that.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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In March, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report said:

“The hospitality and entertainment sectors have not seen sufficient data to underpin decisions relating to their industry…building trust with these sectors is absolutely essential and the level of transparency has not been sufficient.”

The test events seem to have gone well. In Liverpool, apparently only 11 of 13,000 people tested positive and the local director of public health said the event caused “no detectable spread” of the virus. However, we know that only from the press reports, because the data has not been published for that event or any other. The Minister has still not explained properly why that is. Does he think that is an acceptable way to rebuild trust and transparency with these businesses?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As everybody knows, a huge amount of information and data at a local level about infection rates is available weekly online; in fact, it is updated daily. As I said at the beginning, if there were a major outbreak, we would inform the House and others about it. We will publish the information in due course, but it is vital that we do so sensibly. The report is pretty comprehensive, and we must go through due process before releasing it.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that the 1.5 million people who work in the events industry are largely self-employed and thus often miss out on furlough payments, so reopening events and conferences is crucial to their and their families’ welfare?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a hugely important part of our economy. Many have been able to access some—but, admittedly, not all—of the support programmes offered by the Government. There are additional discretionary schemes available through local government for some of the smaller suppliers. In particular, as I have mentioned previously in the House, we want the events supply chain to benefit from the additional restrictions grants; I appealed to local authorities to be very generous with such applicants.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP) [V]
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I think that everybody who organises these events understands that during a pandemic there can be unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone’s control that mean an event has to be cancelled or significantly reduced. However, the uncertainty about event insurance underwritten by the Government is due entirely to the Government’s refusal to answer the question already asked numerous times this afternoon. When should the events sector expect to know whether Government support for covid cancellation insurance will ever be forthcoming?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I have said previously, we are well aware of the sector’s concerns and the uncertainty with which it is living. That is precisely why we are trying to get as much open as soon as possible. The sector needs to have confidence to reopen and do what it does best: getting out there, entertaining people and enabling people to enjoy themselves at sporting events and so many other things. The Secretary of State did say to the Select Committee that we are aware of the concerns about indemnity and looking at options.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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Thanks to the brilliant events research programme, thousands of people have been able to enjoy events including the FA cup final and Euro 2020 fixtures at Wembley. Following the programme’s success, does my hon. Friend agree that there is no reason why we should not be able to open up football stadiums at full capacity from the start of the new season in August?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s hope and aspiration. That is precisely why we conducted the programme. Despite the cynicism we have heard from Opposition Members, the events research programme is important not just for its scientific learnings but in helping to lift the mood of the nation. The fact that we have been able to watch football with crowds in stadiums again has been fantastic. We will shortly see other events such as Wimbledon, with centre court again at full capacity. Life is getting back to normal, and that is something we should be celebrating.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) said earlier, has the Minister actually read what the Kendal Calling festival said about the reason it cancelled? It stated that, crucially, it was the Government’s failure to publish the research from the events research programme, and with it safety guidance. That is why it had to cancel, even though the festival fell beyond the reopening dates. The Society of London Theatre said that research from the Crucible theatre and the snooker world championship showed no difference—a negligible difference—between 25% and 100% capacity. Why are the Government hiding this information from the public, to the detriment of our theatres, our venues and our festivals?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I am very disheartened to hear that events are cancelling, but we need to be clear: events could not necessarily take place under step 3 of the road map. We need to be in step 4 before many of these events can open. So the hon. Gentleman is confusing the release of the publication of a report with the rules and regulations regarding the steps in the road map. They are two different things.

Gary Sambrook Portrait Gary Sambrook (Birmingham, Northfield) (Con)
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I thank the Minister and his Department for allowing thousands of cricketing fans like me and others to go to Edgbaston to watch the recent England and New Zealand test match. The thrill of being back in the stadium is a great thing, even if the cricket was a bit sketchy. I also welcome the inclusion of the England versus Pakistan one-day international on 13 July. Does he agree that the public accept the cautious nature of what the Government are doing, and appreciate the careful consideration of all the data to ensure that we approach step 4 properly?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and I agree with him completely. As I said, a huge amount of work and effort has been done by event organisers, as well as by those involved in the events research programme, including the chairs, Nick Hytner and David Ross, for whom we have extreme appreciation. Such events are very valuable and are lifting our spirits in the way described by my hon. Friend.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab) [V]
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The pilot scheme means that, although some events are going ahead at full capacity, other events cannot continue at all. Contradictions in Government guidance mean that amateur choirs cannot even rehearse indoors with protective measures in place, despite other non-professional activities, such as amateur orchestras, brass bands, theatre and grassroots team sports being allowed indoors. Can the Minister explain why choirs have been singled out from other similar risk activities? Will the Government update guidance to allow non-professional choirs to resume their valuable activities, or do they have to apply to be pilot events to be allowed to rehearse and perform?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Lady is correct in highlighting the difference between professional and non-professional choirs. In accordance with performing arts guidance, non-professional groups of up to six people can now sing indoors. They can also perform or rehearse in groups of up to 30 outdoors, or in multiple groups of 30 outdoors, provided that the groups are kept separate. Those limits do not apply to commercial activities. We all know from our mail bags that this is an area of importance to our constituents, and we want to get choirs up and running again in all formats as soon as possible.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
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I fear there is a two-tier system when it comes to data. The data tends to exist for football, motor racing, tennis and horse racing, yet there is no data to support outdoor events in my constituency. The Black Deer festival takes place in Eridge park. It is a music event. It is completely covid-safe, with track and trace and a covid manager in an outdoor area, yet it had to cancel, which has knocked our local economy and is undermining local jobs. What advice and support can the Minister give to Gill, who has unfortunately had to cancel the Black Deer festival, which was hoping to host around 10,000 people in an arena fit for 40,000?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I was very sorry to hear that the Black Deer festival has been unable to take place this year. I know that is enormously disappointing to many of my hon. Friend’s constituents and indeed to her, because I have spoken to her about this. She has lobbied very effectively on behalf of the festival and all the stakeholders, including Gill, who has also been in contact with the Department. I am afraid we have not been able to make every event, including many incredibly worthy events, ERP events, even in phase 3. But I must say to my hon. Friend that it is not true they are all sporting events; a wide variety of events—indoor, outdoor events, music events, business events and so on—are all part of the events research programme, because we want to get learnings across multiple sectors.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab) [V]
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Like many Warringtonians, and indeed a number of other hon. Members who I know plan to attend, I am massively looking forward to Warrington’s Neighbourhood Weekender festival, which has been rescheduled for September. Naturally, news that the Kendal Calling festival has been cancelled has caused huge concern to the events sector, as has the lack of publication of the events research programme. Festivals cannot plan ahead on a vague promise of “very soon” from the Minister, so what recent discussions has the Minister had with festivals across the country that need to make imminent decisions impacting on jobs, livelihoods and events of cultural significance to ensure they can go ahead?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I can assure the hon. Lady that I, other Ministers and officials in the Department are in frequent contact with stakeholders across the variety of sectors that are reliant on the results of the events research programme, and also the guidance she mentions, beforehand. So it is absolutely the intent to release the report prior to step 4. We also want to make sure that the events sector has the relevant guidance so that it can help events to open as effectively and efficiently as possible as soon as they are able to do so.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the events sector, especially those businesses and organisations in Stoke-on-Trent, for the measures they have put in place and taken to cautiously begin reopening in line with restrictions over the past few months, and does he agree that the events research programme will play a crucial role in supporting the sector to be able to bring back much larger events over the coming months?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, this is a hugely important sector at both a local and a national level in terms of the economic impact, and I thank those in the sector for their incredibly constructive engagement throughout the process. That engagement will continue, because we all want to see numbers increase over time so that they can get back to doing the things that they love and we love them doing.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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I really feel for the Minister, who has clearly been sent here to say as little as possible in an hour, and in that he has largely succeeded, but it does a real disservice to the creative arts, the exhibition and the events sector, which want to be able to plan ahead. He says, “data, not dates”, and I agree with him. Where is the data to allow these companies and organisations to be able to plan ahead? Get on with it, cut the waffle and publish the data.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive advice. I can absolutely share that. I sense the frustration in the Chamber. Believe me, we all have the same goal here. We want the events sector to open as soon as possible as safely as possible and to get back to doing the things that we love it doing. Absolutely, we all recognise that. But Opposition Members did vote with the Government last week on the step 4 programme. One of the points of that is in terms of the timing of being able to open events. We listen, we look at the data and see what is appropriate to open at the appropriate time. As I have said, before we are able to open the broader sector under step 4, we will be releasing the report and we will be releasing guidance to achieve the goals that he and I both want to achieve.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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Reopening sports, live music and theatre is obviously very important. Many companies, such as Stage Audio Services in Dudley South, rely on community events, and business events and conferences as well. Will my hon. Friend make sure that the next phase does include such business events, so that we can bring people back safely to the full range of events and all of the jobs that rely on them?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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First, I have to say that that is a fantastic tie. In terms of the events sector, my hon. Friend knows as well as I do, as a west midlands MP, that he is making a really important point. As for the per capita contribution, the business events sector is greatest in the west midlands. We have major, fantastic, world-class events facilities and we want to get them back up and running as soon as possible. I look forward to working with him, because he is a fantastic champion for his constituents, to make sure that we can do so as soon as possible. I hope that we will have—we are planning on having—a business event in the latest programme as well. The final details, which have yet to be concluded on, will be announced soon.

Julie Elliott Portrait Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab) [V]
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The cancellation of Kendal Calling in the north of England has been devastating to the whole region. In the statement that Kendal Calling issued, it said that its understanding was that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had the information from the events research programme and could release it, but that No. 10 did not want it released. That is staggering if true. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact on the livelihoods of people working in this area in the north of England specifically, because many of the events being mentioned here are in the south? There seems to be a huge lack of recognition of the hugely important work done in the north and the number of people’s jobs that rely on the industry.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we recognise the importance of these sectors right across the country. If she remembers, phase 1 of the events research programme had a particular focus on Liverpool because of its ability to work with and focus with us. I recognise that some of the events that have been announced recently are particularly focused in the south. We will announce more events right across the country. She makes a really important point: these sectors thrive in the right conditions right across the country, and I want to work with them to do so again. They are hugely important to all our constituencies.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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The excellent Minister has talked about publication being in due course, shortly, very soon, as soon as possible. I was going to ask: what does that mean in English? Does it mean this week or next week? But I want to ask him something more important, bearing in mind that this was sort of agreed with the Secretary of State in the Chamber a week or so ago. Would the Minister consider making this House of Commons a pilot event for one Wednesday before recess, ripping out these stupid barriers, getting the public back in and voting in the Lobbies to see what happens?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am not sure that that is the Minister’s decision; it is mine. But come on, Minister.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I dare not step on anybody’s toes in answering this one. I am sure that the appropriate authorities have heard my hon. Friend’s question, and it is an intriguing one.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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Throughout this pandemic, transparency is key, and while, on the one hand, we can understand how circumstances have changed with the delta variant, it makes no sense in ensuring public trust and business trust that the data is not presented now so that we can get a sense of, for example, outdoor versus indoors and seated versus mingling. There will be broad-brush conclusions that can be drawn from the data as seen. Why will the Government not treat people like grown-ups, and why will they not release the data and then let us have a debate about what happens next?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I have said repeatedly, we will be releasing the information and data. If there were major concerns, we would have released that information already, but it is a report that has comprehensive information. There are many stakeholders involved in gathering it together and producing it and we need to go through due process before releasing it. We have said all along that we will release it before step 4. That is exactly what we will be doing.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I am extremely proud that my constituency is home to the world-renowned theatreland in the west end. Sadly, the latest figures from the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre suggest that, this year, theatres will return to only 67% of 2019 levels and 66% of that is planned for stage 4. While the theatre sector is keen to provide as much data as possible to prove that its environments are safe, will my hon. Friend confirm that the reopening of theatres at stage 4 will not be delayed to analyse data from the events research programme?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of all DCMS sectors, particularly in London, and she makes really important points. We are seeing a strong recovery in domestic tourism, arts, sports and so on, but London has some particular issues. That is precisely why we focused on London and the cities as part of the tourism recovery plan. She will be seeing an appeal for people to visit cities, and to spend money and time in cities, as part of the Escape the Everyday campaign. We will be releasing further information in due course and I will be happy to have a follow-up conversation with her.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Don’t forget to look after Rugby League either, Minister.

I have received a report from the Tellers in the Aye Lobby for the Division at 7.30 pm yesterday on the Opposition day motion on local involvement in planning decisions. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) has informed me that the number of aye votes was erroneously reported as 231, rather than 212. I will direct the Clerk to correct the numbers in the Journal accordingly. The ayes were 212 and the noes were none. The names were correctly recorded in Hansard.

Points of Order

Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
13:30
William Wragg Portrait Mr William Wragg (Hazel Grove) (Con)
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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last night I objected to the motion on the adjournments for the conference, November and Christmas recesses, which will now be determined by a deferred Division tomorrow. I did so on the basis that, unlike the Labour party conference, it is not yet possible to book tickets for the Conservative party conference, which is due to be held in Manchester from 3 to 6 October. Given that we have been assured that covid restrictions will now end by 19 July, it seems a little strange that the party of government is unable to give the events, hotel and hospitality sectors the certainty that not only will its party conference go ahead, but that other such events will be able to proceed. Forgive me for being suspicious, Mr Speaker, but we are at risk of being strung along. I ask you, Mr Speaker, what means I have at my disposal to draw this matter to the attention of the House. How might we be reassured that the conference recess will be used for its intended purpose, rather than simply as a means to keep Back Benchers away from this House asking awkward questions?

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is important that, before the House is asked to take decisions on important matters, such as its being in recess for three weeks, it has available the essential information. If we are not to have an in-person Conservative party conference, we will not need to be in recess for that period. It therefore seems not unreasonable to ask the Government, in the person of the Prime Minister as leader of our party, to set that out before we are asked to vote tomorrow. That is not just important for us. As we have just heard in the urgent question, thousands of businesses across the country depend on conferences and events. If the governing party is not able to set out with confidence that an event scheduled for October can take place, the sector will draw its own conclusions, which will be very damaging to many thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of employees.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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First of all, I thank the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) for giving me notice of his point of order. On booking tickets, he need not worry as he lives in Greater Manchester, so I think I can overcome that little difficulty for him. [Laughter.] I cannot comment on the arrangements that parties make for their conferences. I can confirm that the motion on yesterday’s Order Paper was objected to and will therefore be subject to a deferred Division tomorrow—I am sure the Whips are really pleased with him about that. If it is agreed to, the House will adjourn for the days indicated on the motion.

In fairness, there is a genuine concern. There are jobs at stake; it is an industry that really does matter. This matter is beyond me, but at least, if nothing else, the hon. Gentleman’s point is on the record. The Whips will definitely want a word with him, so he will be able to pass on his concerns directly to the Chief Whip.

I will now suspend the House in order for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

13:33
Sitting suspended.
[Relevant document: Second Report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 2019-21, New Decade, New Approach Agreement, HC 160, and the Government response, HC 792.]
Second Reading
13:36
Brandon Lewis Portrait The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

If you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, before I talk about the Bill I wish to congratulate our parliamentary colleague the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) on becoming the leader of his political party. I look forward to working with him in the period ahead. I also hope, as I am sure all colleagues do, that he has a very enjoyable week, not just with the introduction to becoming leader-elect of his party, but with the very big family event, a wedding, with which we all wish him well.

The United Kingdom is a family of nations and a Union of people. We share cultural, social and economic ties that bring us together, and make us more prosperous and secure. This Government believe in upholding the constitutional integrity of this great nation. Our Union is strongest when its institutions work well, work together and deliver real change on the issues that matter. In Northern Ireland, that means we need properly functioning institutions, both in Stormont and in Westminster.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I will make a bit of progress, then I will give way to colleagues.

In this centenary year for Northern Ireland, today marks exactly 100 years since the opening of the first Northern Ireland Parliament, at Belfast city hall, by King George V and Queen Mary. This momentous occasion saw locally elected politicians for the first time, following the first Northern Ireland general election, so it is fitting that this Bill has its Second Reading today, of all days. The Bill will strengthen the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland and serve to build the people of Northern Ireland’s faith in their locally elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As this House knows, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly were restored on 11 January 2020 when all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties came together under the New Decade, New Approach agreement. I wish to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) and the hon. Members for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) and for North Down (Stephen Farry) for their dedication and persistence, with others, in pursuing this deal, which was a great achievement after three years of impasse.

Prior to the restoration of the institutions, there had been no functioning Executive since January 2017. The absence of a devolved Government for such an extended period had a detrimental effect on the people of Northern Ireland. We saw the first strike in the 103-year history of the Royal College of Nursing over pay and staffing levels. There was ongoing action by teaching unions, and schools were not co-operating with the inspections in a dispute over teacher pay and workload. Essential infrastructure projects, including the York Street interchange and investment in waste water infrastructure, which was at capacity in many places across Northern Ireland, could not be progressed.

I think we can all agree that a pandemic with no Executive would have been unthinkable. I was pleased therefore to see the First Minister and Deputy First Minister nominated last Thursday, following this Government’s intensive engagement with the party leaders. However, the events of last week also highlight how important it is for everyone to deliver on their commitments under the New Decade, New Approach agreement. It is disappointing to see that a way forward has not yet been found to implement all of the parts in full, which is why the Government have, for example, promised to deliver the balanced culture package that was agreed in NDNA through Parliament if it has not been taken forward by the Northern Ireland Executive by the end of September. I wish to reiterate and be very clear that our strong preference and desire is for this to be delivered in the appropriate place by the devolved institutions.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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I am sure that people back home will be amazed at the honeyed words of the Secretary of State. He talks about the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and the importance of the devolved Administration and devolved institutions, and yet he has interfered, and has just announced that he is prepared to interfere once again, in the institutions in Northern Ireland in a way in which no Secretary of State would dare to do in Scotland or Wales. Does he not accept that, for the Unionist community, this continual interference in the institutions at Stormont at the behest of Sinn Féin is not an annoyance but something that enrages people?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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I have to say that I do not recognise the principle on which the right hon. Gentleman outlines his point. The reality is that the UK Government are the Government of the United Kingdom. The UK Government are a co-guarantor of and signatory to the New Decade, New Approach agreement, which the parties themselves negotiated and agreed. For example, the parties agreed between themselves the cultural package, which has had a lot of attention in the past week. We have a duty to ensure that, for all the people of Northern Ireland, these things are delivered in a way that is set out and agreed by the parties. I would much rather see that delivered by the institution itself. That is why we have given time and space for the institution to be able to move things forward. It is also right that, on a range of issues, including women’s healthcare, women in Northern Ireland have access to the same good-quality healthcare as women across the United Kingdom. I make no apologies for making sure that we the United Kingdom Government are representing people across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He has referred to the position across the United Kingdom. Obviously, like him I am a strong Unionist, but there is one thing that I am concerned about. I heard this morning that the outgoing leader of the Democratic Unionist party, Mr Edwin Poots, has said in a number of media interviews that he has received assurances from the Secretary of State about changes to the Northern Ireland protocol. I know that that is now a story. Is the Secretary of State able to say anything to the House about whether that is true or not? Obviously, it will be of great interest to people not just across Northern Ireland but in constituencies such as mine, which have understandable problems with shipping goods across our United Kingdom.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. There are two points. First, at the end of last week some of Edwin Poots’s colleagues commented about an announcement. Actually, the announcement was not really an announcement; it just confirmed that we had requested from the European Union an extension to the grace period, particularly for chilled meats from 1 July. I said on the Floor of this House last week, and I am very happy to reconfirm it today, that, as the Prime Minister himself has outlined, we do have issues with the Northern Ireland protocol. Like others across this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) has, quite rightly, outlined an example of those challenges for consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland. We are not going to allow that to continue. We want to get this corrected so that consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland can continue to function as a full and integral part of the United Kingdom.

As I said at this Dispatch Box just last Wednesday, and as the Prime Minister has said both publicly and at the Dispatch Box, we will do what we need to do to make sure that we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland, and we will take nothing off the table in that regard. Obviously, we will wait to hear from the EU, and we want to work this through with it with regard to the request we made last week.

The Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill will deliver elements of the New Decade, New Approach deal relating to the governance of the Executive and within the competence of this House. That includes reforms to sustainability of institutions, updating the ministerial code of conduct and reforming the petition of concern mechanism. The UK Government and this Parliament have a duty to ensure good and functional governance in Northern Ireland. Today, through this Bill, we discharge that duty by bringing forward measures that will help continue to enhance the public’s confidence in the Northern Ireland institutions through increased transparency and improved governance arrangements. Those measures will ensure that the institutions will be more sustainable, more resilient and for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.

Let me turn briefly to the contents of the Bill. In short, we are legislating, first, to provide up to four six-week periods for the appointing of new Northern Ireland Ministers, including the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, after an election; secondly, to provide up to four six-week periods for the appointing of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister after they cease to hold office—for instance, in the case of one of them resigning; thirdly, to provide, if the First Minister and Deputy First Minister cease to hold office, that other Northern Ireland Ministers remain in office for a maximum period of 48 weeks after the First Minister and Deputy First Minister ceased to hold office, or for 24 weeks following any subsequent election, whichever is the shortest, unless the Secretary of State triggers the sufficient representation provisions.

The Bill will implement reforms to the petition of concern mechanism in the Assembly, including a new 14-day consideration period before a valid petition can be confirmed; it will require petitioners to come from more than one Northern Ireland political party; prevent the mechanism from being used for matters that concern the conduct of a Member and for Second Reading votes on a Bill; and it will update the code of conduct for Northern Ireland Ministers in accordance with a request from the Northern Ireland Executive and in line with the New Decade, New Approach transparency and accountability recommendations.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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The Secretary of State has rightly set out the scope of the Bill. May I press him on another matter that was referred to in the New Decade, New Approach agreement? He knows that the prosecutions of soldiers as part of the legacy of the troubles in Northern Ireland is of great concern. I shall not press him on the content of the legislation, because I know that work is under way, but may I press him a little on the timing? Many Members are eager for that work to proceed at pace so that we can resolve these issues, and many are keen for that to happen before the House rises for the summer. Is the Secretary of State able to give the House any indication today of the Government’s latest thinking on when they may be able to bring that legislation—if, indeed, it is separate legislation—before the House?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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My right hon. Friend asks a fair question—that is part of New Decade, New Approach, so it is a fair point. I outlined, I think in February or March this year, my ambition to bring something before the House before the summer recess; I still have that ambition, but I should also say clearly that we are determined to do what we have always said we would do, which is to engage with our partners—not only the Irish Government but the parties in Northern Ireland and victims’ groups, because whatever we bring forward has to have victims absolutely at its heart. We have to deal with information recovery and truth and reconciliation, because whatever we bring forward has to work properly for the people of Northern Ireland, so it is right that we take the time to do that properly and methodically, which I am looking forward to doing. We will do that and we are still absolutely committed to ensuring that we deliver on our manifesto pledge to the veterans community. I will touch on that a little more in a few moments.

Colum Eastwood Portrait Colum Eastwood (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Will the Secretary of State explain very carefully for some people in this House who do not seem to understand that, if an amnesty is given to anybody—for example, if an amnesty is given to soldiers who maybe committed murder on the streets of Derry, Belfast or anywhere else—an amnesty would have to be given to everyone, including IRA members, Ulster Volunteer Force members and Ulster Defence Association members?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As I said before, we want to ensure that we put forward a package that works for all of Northern Ireland and genuinely allows it a chance to move forward. One thing that we have heard consistently from civic society is a desire to move forward. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that whatever we do has to be balanced across the whole community. As I say, I will come back to that in separate legislation in due course—we are not dealing with legacy legislation today.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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Just so that no one is misled by the previous intervention, will the Secretary of State confirm that no one has sought an amnesty for soldiers? All that has been asked for is that soldiers who have already had cases investigated—some up to three times—should not be trailed through the courts again for political reasons by those who are attempting to rewrite the history of the troubles.

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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As I say, we are not dealing with legacy today, so I will resist the urge to go too much into that, but I will say that the right hon. Gentleman is correct in the sense that we have been clear that we are committed to ending the cycle of re-investigations. We also have to accept that, as we have all seen recently, the current situation is not serving anybody. It cannot be right that, as we saw in the Ballymurphy case, it has taken 50 years for people to get information. Equally, it is inappropriate and wrong to see people go through a cycle of investigations. We have committed to end that and we will do that.

Let me turn to the specifics of the Bill before the House. Clause 1 amends the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to extend the period of time available to appoint a First Minister and Deputy First Minister after the resignation of either or after the first meeting of the Assembly following an Assembly election. Currently, the period for ministerial appointments is only 14 days from the first meeting of the Assembly after an election, and seven days after the First Minister or Deputy First Minister ceases to hold office. The Bill will extend the period for filling ministerial offices to a six-week period that is automatically renewed—unless the Assembly resolves otherwise on a cross-community basis—for a maximum of three times, up to a total of 24 weeks.

Stephen Farry Portrait Stephen Farry (North Down) (Alliance)
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It will not have lost anyone’s attention that we are discussing the extension of the sustainability mechanisms at a time when there is huge instability in the Assembly, when we have had First Minister resignations and changes and multiple seven-day cliff edges potentially emerging. Can the Secretary of State take this opportunity to stress that all parties in Northern Ireland should act responsibly in relation to the institutions, not make any threats to collapse them, and should work to deliver on the core issues of health, education and jobs, on which people urgently need action over the coming months?

Brandon Lewis Portrait Brandon Lewis
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Our focus, for all of us, as I have outlined over the last week or two, should be on making sure that we have stable institutions that can deliver on issues such as health, education and infrastructure, among other things, for the people of Northern Ireland. That is what I believe the people of Northern Ireland want to see, and it is why I was so pleased that, to be fair, the parties in Northern Ireland were able to resolve this issue within three days and have stability, with a First Minister and Deputy First Minister having been nominated.

By extending those periods, the Bill will allow more time for discussions between the parties and for the Secretary of State to facilitate a resolution before they come under an election duty. It also allows for Northern Ireland Ministers to remain in post after an election until the end of the period for appointing new Ministers. That change will again allow for greater continuity in decision making.

Under clause 2, Ministers will no longer cease to hold office after the election of a new Assembly. It provides for up to a maximum of 24 weeks after an election or a maximum of 48 weeks since a functioning Executive was in place—whichever is the shorter—in which Ministers may continue to hold office, subject to those offices otherwise being filled or if a Minister is not returned as a Member of the Assembly. The measure will ensure that institutions become more sustainable and more resilient. Currently, the Secretary of State is required to propose a date for an Assembly election where the Assembly resolves to dissolve itself, or where the period for appointing Northern Ireland Ministers or a First Minister and Deputy First Minister expires without those offices being filled.

Clause 3 allows the Secretary of State to certify or call an Assembly election at any point after the first six weeks in the period for filling ministerial offices if the Secretary of State considers that there is not sufficient representation among Ministers to secure cross-community confidence in the Assembly.

Clause 4 substitutes a revised ministerial code of conduct that sets out expectations for the behaviour of Ministers, including provisions around the treatment of the Northern Ireland civil service, public appointments and the use of official resources and information management. Those updates are in the reserved or excepted space and are unable to be progressed through the Assembly. The UK Government are bringing those changes forward at the request of the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister on the agreement of the Executive.

Clause 5 reforms the petition of concern mechanism to reduce its use and to return it to its intended purpose as set out under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—a safeguard to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of the Northern Ireland institutions and are protected when the Assembly legislates, and to prevent one party from blocking measures or business. The mechanism, which was given effect in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, allows MLAs to lodge a petition against a matter that the Assembly is voting in, providing that they can gather at least 30 signatures.

A successful petition means that the relevant matter is to be passed on a cross-community basis rather than on a simple majority basis. The Bill will require the petitions to be signed and confirmed 14 days later by at least 30 MLAs from two or more political parties, which will prevent one party from being able to block measures or business that would otherwise have cross-community consensus. These specific changes and commitments from the Northern Ireland parties aim to reduce the use of the mechanism to the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort only, having exhausted every other available mechanism.

The Government are bringing forward those changes through Westminster legislation as they are excepted matters. Separate legislation seeking to make provision for legacy commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach deal—to go back to the comment made absolutely correctly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean—will be introduced separately. This Bill will implement aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal, which the parties agreed to in January 2020. The provisions in the Bill seek to reform the sustainability of the institutions, update the ministerial code of conduct and reform the petition of concern mechanism.

We will always be steadfast in maintaining the importance of Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. We are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to progress the delivery of all the commitments in the New Decade, New Approach deal.

By introducing this Bill now, we are delivering on those promises, but it is ultimately up to the parties to come together. Both the Irish Government and the UK Government will continue to stand together and stand ready to support them, as we did in bringing about the package of measures under New Decade, New Approach. Until then, the Bill is a reminder that the UK Government will always uphold our responsibilities for political stability and good governance in Northern Ireland. I commend it to the House.

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