Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, has told MPs that the Home Office will no longer disperse asylum seekers with diphtheria symptoms around the country. (See 4.46m.) He was speaking at the UK Health Security Agency published a report saying said that between 1 January and 25 November 2022 there were 50 cases of diphtheria involving migrants who had recently arrived in England. There were two cases of “severe respiratory diphtheria requiring hospitalisation and treatment with diphtheria anti-toxin and antibiotics” and one fatality where a PCR test had confirmed the disease but the post-mortem examination will confirm the cause of death.
Downing Street appears likely to allow new onshore wind projects in England after years of an effective ban, Grant Shapps has indicated, with ministers giving way in the face of a growing backbench Conservative rebellion.
The cabinet minister Oliver Dowden received more than £8,000 in fees for “policy advice” to the company of a hedge fund manager who hosted a champagne reception for the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on the day of the disastrous mini-budget.
Review to consider whether civil servants can work on independence policy for Scottish government, MPs told
In evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee, Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, said that a review is underway following last week’s supreme court judgment as to what work civil servants in Scotland will be allowed to do on independence matters. He said that Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, and the Cabinet Office’s proprietary and ethics team were looking at this, with John-Paul Marks, permanent secretary to the Scottish government.
Now that the supreme court has ruled that the Scottish government cannot lawfully hold an independence referendum without permission from Westminster, which it does not have, Tories argue civil servants should not be working on this. (See 3.54pm.)
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader and a member of the committee, told Jack that people in Scotland would be concerned if civil servants were allowed to work on what was now a party political issue.
Alexander Brown has more details in a report for the Scotsman.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick says migrants with diphtheria symptoms will no longer be dispersed around country
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, has just told MPs in a statement about the Manston processing centre for asylum seekers that the Home Office will no longer carry on dispersing people from Manston around the country if they have diphtheria symptoms.
From today people with symptoms will either stay at Manston, in isolation, or be taken, in secure transport, to a designated isolation centre, he said.
He also confirmed there were 50 cases of diphtheria linked to the asylum accommodation. The UK Health Security Agency thinks it is likely these cases developed before the people concerned arrived in the UK, he said.
In response, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said that screening for diphtheria at Manston should have started much earlier.
And she said that Suella Braverman, the home secretary, should have been in the Commons to make the statement herself.
George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Peter Mandelson – Tony Blair has never been afraid to speak up in defence of people who horrify bien pensant metropolitan thinking, and today he’s at it again, defending Matt Hancock for going on I’m a Celebrity.
In an interview with the News Agents podcast, Blair said he thought it took quite a lot of courage for Hancock to do reality TV. But mainly he was defending Hancock because he did not approve of being unpleasant about him, he suggested. He explained:
I’ve got the stage in life where there’s a certain level of meanness I don’t find attractive when people talk about anyone in public life.
Owen Paterson explains why, as 'vocal opponent of European institutions', he is taking UK to Strasbourg court
The solicitors representing the former Tory MP Owen Paterson have released a statement explaining why he is taking the UK government to the European court of human rights over the parliamentary inquiry that found be broke the rules banning MPs from paid lobbying. Paterson insists he was innocent, and that statement says he is going to the European court because parliamentary privilege means he cannot challenge the findings of the standards committee in the UK.
As a “vocal opponent of European institutions”, Paterson can see the irony of his going to Strasbourg, the statement says. But it says he has “no other choice”.
The FT’s Sebastian Payne has the full statement.
At education questions in the Commons Claire Coutinho, an education minister, said the government would publish its plans to reform support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the new year.
She was responding to a question from her Labour shadow, Helen Hayes, who said the government published its green paper on this eight months ago, and the consultation closed four months ago. “While this government has been preoccupied with its own internal disputes, the trashing of the UK economy and an endless merry-go-round of ministerial reshuffles, children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families are left to suffer,” Hayes said.
Scotland’s chief civil servant has been urged to seek ministerial direction on whether the Scottish government can continue to spend public funds on independence referendum plans, PA Media reports.
Donald Cameron, constitution spokesman for the Scottish Tories, has written to John-Paul Marks, permanent secretary to the Scottish government, to assess whether the forecasted spend of £20m on referendum preparation is “lawful”. In his letter Cameron said:
Given that the supreme court ruled that ‘the Scottish parliament does not have the power to legislate for a referendum on Scottish independence’, there is now significant uncertainty as to whether the forecast use of £20m of taxpayer money on an issue that is not within the devolved competence of the Scottish parliament is lawful.
I am therefore seeking urgent clarification on whether this remains the position of the Scottish government, and also to request that you seek a “ministerial direction” to settle this matter.
Civil servants request a ministerial direction when they think they are being asked to spend money on a policy that cannot be justified. Ministers can over-rule their civil servants, but the ministerial direction means the objection has been noted.
At the Scottish affairs committee Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, asked how much money the government spent responding to the Scottish government’s application to the supreme court for a ruling on the legality of its independence referendum bill. Alister Jack said he thought the cost was £71,800.
Jack criticises SNP government for not providing 'losers' consent' after vote against independence in 2014
Alister Jack told the Scottish affairs that two things underpinned democracy: losers’ consent, and adherence to the rule of law.
He said the “rule of law” had just been expressed, by the supreme court judgment. And he went on:
And we should have had losers’ consent from 2014.
I would just say it is important to the Scottish government that they respect the principles that [underpin] democracy.
Scottish secretary Alister Jack says SNP can't turn next election into de facto independence referendum
Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, is giving evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee. He began with a lengthy opening statement about public spending in Scotland, at the end of which he made a brief comment about the supreme court judgment last week saying the Scottish government could not hold an independence referendum without Westminster’s permission. He said that the ruling was “unanimous and unequivocal”, and that this meant they did not have to talk about indepedence. They could focus on public services instead.
But Pete Wishart, the SNP MP who chairs the committee, wasn’t put off that easily. Pointing out that in the Commons last week Jack repeatedly refused to say what the Scottish government could do to deliver on its mandate to hold an independence referendum, he asked if he accepted there could be another referendum.
“Of course,” said Jack. He said that the union was voluntary, and that there was a referendum in 2014. But on that occasion there was consensus to hold one, involving the governments (the UK’s and Scotland’s), almost all the political parties and civil society.
Wishart then asked if Jack would accept that Scotland had voted for independence if people voted for one in an electoral contest.
Jack said Wishart was referring to Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to turn the next election into a de facto referendum on independence. But he said he did not accept that this was possible.
He said that was not how people voted in elections, saying:
I don’t believe that people vote on one specific issue.
And he also said it would not be a reasonable proposition anyway.
You can’t have a mandate for something we now know you legally don’t have any power over.
As an example, Jack cited Trident. He said it was not reasonable for the SNP to go into an election promising to get rid of Trident from Scotland when it did not have the power to deliver that.
Election administrators extremely worried about impact of photo ID voting law, survey suggests
Election administrators are extremely worried about the impact of new legislation that will require people to provide photographic ID when they vote.
The Constitution Society has carried out a survey of local government staff in England who oversee elections and it found that 57% of them are very or extremely worried that the law will create problems on polling day.
Under the Elections Act, people voting in parliamentary elections will have to provide photo ID at the polling station. The same rule will also apply to people voting in local elections in England, and it will be in force for the first time for the local elections next year.
In a news release summarising the findings of the survey, the Constitution Society said:
When asked whether the new measures would lead to problems on polling day, not a single respondent said they were not at all worried at the prospect. Over 57% said they were very or extremely worried.
45% of respondents said they were either ‘not at all confident’ or ‘not so confident’ that they could train staff on the new voter ID requirements. The respondents also estimated on average that 16% of voters would apply for the new ‘voter card’ announced by the government earlier this month. This would result in millions of applications for these documents.
Beyond this, when asked about the changes to elections brought about by the Election Act 2022, 100% of respondents suggested it would make their jobs either ‘more’ or ‘much more’ difficult. Not a single respondent suggested its effects would be neutral or make their job easier.
As my colleague Polly Toynbee argued in a recent column, the new law is seen as likely to reduce the proportion of young people who vote – a move that would benefit the Tories.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson insisted that the government was committed to tackling “abuses” in the asylum system – but declined to say whether or not the government accepted a call from David Davis and other Tory MPs for people from countries such as Albania to be sent home immediately.
The spokesperson said:
Whether it comes to modern slavery or indeed on people coming from safe countries to claim asylum, it is something we want to look at, but I’m not citing any specific response to this proposal.
We recognise that there are a number of countries which are deemed safe and people should not be travelling illegally from safe countries to make their way here.
When people are repeatedly lodging illegitimate claims, when they’re manipulating the system, it is right that we tackle these abuses and as they detract from our ability to provide refuge to those in genuine need.
No 10 calls arrest of BBC journalist in Shanghai 'shocking' before PM speech urging 'robust pragmatism' stance on China
Downing Street has condemned the arrest of the BBC journalist Ed Lawrence while he was covering the protests in Shanghai. Speaking at the morning lobby briefing, the PM’s spokesperson said:
The arrest of this journalist who was simply going about their work is shocking and unacceptable. Journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of intimidation.
But the spokesperson also said the government would not “conflate” its stance on human rights issues such as this with its desire to have a constructive relationship with China on other issues. The spokesperson said:
We will not seek to conflate the two issues.
Our position on the importance of the right to protest will not change ... and arresting journalists is unacceptable and we will not change that position.
But that does not mean we will not seek to have constructive relationships with China on other issues and attempt to solve some of these global [problems].
In a speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet this evening, Rishi Sunak will say that the UK should adopt a policy of “robust pragmatism” in its dealing with countries like China. He will say:
We will make an evolutionary leap in our approach. This means being stronger in defending our values and the openness on which our prosperity depends.
It means delivering a stronger economy at home – because it is the foundation of our strength abroad.
And it means standing up to our competitors, not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism.
This will be Sunak’s first major foreign policy speech as PM. My colleague Pippa Crerar has a preview here.
Stuart Andrew, the sports minister, has said he will wear a rainbow-coloured armband when he attends the World Cup clash between England and Wales tomorrow. Andrew, who is gay, told ITV News:
I will most definitely be wearing the OneLove armband.
I want to show support and I was delighted to see that the German minister who attended a recent match has worn it; I think it is important that I do so.
And I think it’s been really unfair on the England and Welsh team that at the 11th hour they were stopped by Fifa from doing it.
There will be two urgent questions in the Commons after 3.30pm today, on the Nazir Afzal report into racism and misogyny in the London fire brigade and on the use of the death penalty by Saudi Arabia, followed by a statement from Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, about the Manston processing centre for asylum seekers.
No 10 signals Sunak no longer committed to blocking all new onshore windfarm developments
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson signalled that Rishi Sunak is no longer trying to block new onshore windfarm developments.
The spokesperson did not accept that Grant Shapps’ comments in interviews this morning showed that the government had already implemented a U-turn. He claimed that Shapps’ references to community consent were a description of rules that are in force now.
And the spokesperson would not commit the government to accepting the Simon Clarke amendment that would lift what in practice amounts to a current ban on new onshore wind developments.
But the spokesperson did not commit the government to opposing it either, and he hinted that the government was open to some expansion of onshore wind. He said:
You’ll know there are quite detailed rules around onshore wind and what is allowed – it requires developers to consult with communities in advance [of making] a planning application. So I’m not going to predict what might happen in the future …
The prime minister has talked at great length about his views on where the focus should be on renewables, where he is talking about building more wind turbines offshore in order to boost energy security and also the importance of ensuring communities support any action the government takes on renewables.
So we will continue to have discussions [on the bill, and amendments] as we would do normally.
The spokesperson also said the government had not yet set a date for the next debate on the levelling up bill, when Clarke’s windfarm amendment is set to be considered by MPs.
Amnesty International UK dismisses Tory MPs' claims Albanian asylum seekers can all be returned immediately
Amnesty International UK has criticised David Davis and fellow Tory for saying the UK is only obliged to offer asylum to people fleeing persecution from a state. (See 9.29am.) Commenting on the arguments used by Davis, Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty’s refugee and migrant rights programme director in the UK, said the MP was wrong on several counts. He said:
There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here. The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.
Valdez-Symonds also said it was wrong to claim that all victims of trafficking could be sent home safely. He said:
Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned. But returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.
My colleague Peter Walker has more in his story here.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has played down the risk to the general population from the diphtheria cases linked to the Manston processing centre for asylum seekers.
But Barclay said the very high uptake of diphtheria vaccination in the UK meant the risk to the population at large was small.
He also said 500 people at Manston had been vaccinated before being moved elsewhere. He told journalists:
Clearly within the population as a whole it’s very low risk because there’s very high uptake of vaccinations within the local population. But we’re monitoring it closely and that’s why so many people were vaccinated - 500 were vaccinated before they left Manston.
Asked about the risk to the general public, he added:
The risk is very low, partly because there is very high uptake of vaccination within the British public in the first place.
Lords committee criticises government for 'crippling failure' to invest properly in adult social care
A House of Lords committee has delivered a withering assessment of the measures in the autumn statement for adult social care.
Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, announced a further £4.7bn for adult social care by 2024-25. But, in an open letter to Hunt and Steve Barclay, the health secretary, the Lords adult social care committee chair, Lady Andrews, said that this was less than the £7bn that Hunt himself said adult social care needed when he was chair of the Commons health committee.
In her letter, Andrews (Lab) also said that finding extra money for adult social care by increasing council tax and delaying the introduction of the cap on adult social care costs was regressive. She said:
Increasing funding through council tax is a regressive solution, which will not allow for a properly and sustainably funded system. It does not translate as ring-fenced investment dedicated to adult social care. It is likely to create further inequalities from one locality to the next. In short, it is not a long-term plan for funding.
Equally regressive is the government’s decision to delay the long overdue cap on care costs and extension to the means test. Although this is intended to unlock more funding for local authorities and provide them with breathing space, it also reflects the lack of a coherent strategy across adult social care. Delaying one policy to support another will ultimately compound problems; and it certainly does not allow for any priority to be given to choice, control and equality in the provision of adult social care.
Andrews also said there had been a “crippling failure” to invest sustainably in social care.
The committee has been carrying out an inquiry into this subject, and its report will be published soon.
Grant Shapps has also said that he does not expect Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, to stand again at the next general election. In an interview with GB News, asked about the eight Tory MPs who have recently said they are standing down, Shapps said:
I suspect you may have identified a ninth [MP], although it hasn’t been announced, with my colleague, Matt Hancock.
And in an interview with Times Radio Shapps said Hancock’s career at Westminster was “pretty much done”.
Hancock, who came third in I’m a Celebrity as it finished last night, had the Tory whip withdrawn for abandoning parliament so that he could participate in the reality TV show in Australia. Unless the whip is returned, he won’t be allowed to stand as an official Tory candidate at the next election.
UPDATE: I have amended the post above to say that eight Tory MPs have recently said they are standing down. The total number of Tory MPs who have said they will stand down is 14, according to this list.
Grant Shapps, the business secretary, claimed the rail unions were intent on causing “maximum disruption” in his interviews this morning. He told Sky News:
The unions seem absolutely intent on causing the maximum disruption to hard-working people in this country. It’s time for them to stop grandstanding and, you know, get this thing settled.
And he insisted the government was right to resist pay demands that would match inflation. He said:
You have to go back several decades, but high inflation, if you then feed the high inflation and high settlements, you end up in a spiral where it never ends and that’s what happened in the 1970s. We’re very determined not to be in that situation now. It won’t benefit anybody.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, has accused Rishi Sunak of performing a “screeching U-turn” on onshore wind. She says it shows Sunak has failed to provide climate leadership.
Workers in seven train companies are to vote on whether they want to continue taking industrial action in a long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, PA Media reports. PA says:
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) is balloting more than 1,600 operational, station, control and management staff, for strike action and action short of strike.
Ballots will be held throughout December with results due just before Christmas.
The companies being re-balloted are Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, LNER, Northern, Southeastern and Transpennine Express (TPE).
The re-ballot is necessary because legislation requires unions to re-run ballots every six months to keep them ‘live’, unless employers agree to extend for up to a further three months.
My colleague Peter Walker is not the only journalist who thought it was misleading of Grant Shapps to imply in his morning interviews that the government was already in favour of allowing new onshore windfarms to be built so long as there is local consent. (See 9.29am.)
This is from ITV’s Anushka Asthana.
And this is from the Times’ Steven Swinford.
Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has condemned the arrest and assualt of a BBC journalist covering the protests in Shanghai by Chinese police.
In his interviews this morning Grant Shapps, the business secretary, also said this was of “considerable concern” to the government. “There can be absolutely no excuse whatsoever for journalists who are simply covering the process going on … being beaten by the police,” he said.
In interviews this morning David Davis, the Tory former Brexit secretary, explained how he and about 50 Tory colleagues thought the government could change the law to enable asylum seekers from countries deemed safe, like Albania, to be send back quickly. He claimed this would have a deterrent effect, as he told Sky News:
[Legislation] would go through and basically we would say to the Albanian population, anybody else who comes across the Channel will be sent back. When that starts to happen, there is no bigger deterrent ... than if somebody in your village pays thousands of pounds to a human trafficker and then ends up back in the village three weeks later.
Davis also said that, if people were being brought to the UK by traffickers, they should not object to being sent home.
And, in his interview on the Today programme, Davis claimed that other European countries, including Sweden, a country that was “well regarded” on human rights, did not grant asylum to Albanians. Nick Robinson, the presenter, said this was in response to Sweden taking in tens of thousands of Albanians in the past.
In his Today interview Davis also said that he personally thought sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would not work as a deterrent – although he stressed that that was not the view of all the Tory MPs who have signed his letter about small boats.
The government is still committed to deporting some asylum seekers to Rwanda, but no deportations have taken place yet because the policy is still being challenged in court.
North of England rail faces ‘utter chaos’, warns business group
Business leaders have warned that rail services across the north of England could “collapse into utter chaos” unless the government pushes urgently for a resolution to months of disruption, my colleague Jasper Jolly reports.
Sunak faces fresh revolt from Tory MPs over small boats as No 10 hints at climbdown over onshore windfarms
Good morning. Rishi Sunak has only been prime minister for about a month, but already he is learning that a large part of his job consists of playing Whac-a-Mole with Tory party rebellions.
All party leaders face backbench rebellions from time to time but, with its poll ratings still in landslide defeat territory and MPs rushing for the post-parliament lifeboats, the Conservative party is more ungovernable than usual.
Sunak has had to postpone votes on the levelling up and regeneration bill (originally scheduled for today) because of two rebellions on it. One group of Tory MPs (the anti-growth coalition, as Liz Truss would call them), want to amend the bill to ban mandatory housebuilding targets, while another group of Tories (from the pro-growth coalition) are backing an amendment tabled by Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, that would lift the ban on onshore windfarms. Although only 25 Tories have signed the Clarke amendment (less than half the number backing the one on housebuilding targets), Clarke’s is more dangerous because it has Labour backing.
This morning Grant Shapps, the business secretary, was doing the morning interview round and he signalled that the Whac-a-Mole mallet is coming down on the Clarke rebellion. As my colleague Peter Walker reports, Shapps hinted that the government will avert the onshore windfarm rebellion by giving in.
Shapps claimed that Sunak had always been in favour of new onshore windfarms being built provided local communities were in favour, but, as Peter points out, this is not true.
And this is what the Sunak leadership campaign said in July.
In recognition of the distress and disruption that onshore windfarms can often cause, Rishi has also promised to scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore windfarms in England, providing certainty to rural communities.
(To be fair, that was the campaign Sunak lost. He did not make this, or any, promises during the subsequent October campaign that he won.)
But just as one revolt gets the hammer treatment, up pops another. This morning, as the BBC reports, more than 50 Tory MPs have signed a letter to Sunak calling for a change in the law to make it easier for asylum seekers from countries like Albania, deemed safe, to be sent home.
The letter has been coordinated by David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, and in interviews this morning he claimed that the Home Office was currently interpreting asylum laws too easily because it was allowing Albanians to claim asylum if they were at risk in their home country from criminal gangs, when asylum should only be granted in response to a threat from state persecution. “That is a misinterpretation of the asylum laws,” he told Sky News. “It was never designed for that.”
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
3pm: Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee.
After 3.30pm: MPs debate the second reading of the finance bill.
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