Image Credit: Jessica Taylor,https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/, no changes made.
Brexit and the health-side of the Pandemic both seemed to take a back seat in proceedings this week. The economic consequences, however, arose when Rishi Sunak, who’s seen his popularity skyrocket since taking residence of No.11 in February, took to the Commons on Thursday to deliver his Winter Economic Plan. Sunak announced the new Job Support Scheme, whereby employees receive a full wage for all hours worked, a minimum of one-third their usual, with payments for remaining usual hours unworked each month split three ways between a wage reduction, Government support and an employer contribution. This, the Treasury says, will ensure the majority of employees earn a minimum of 77% their usual income. Shadowing, Anneliese Dodds stated that Labour had previously asked for ‘job-specific’ wage support 40 times, so they welcome the current ‘U-turn’. Labour attacked the Tories for ‘lagging behind’ in multiple areas during the pandemic, shown through the ‘late timing’ of the announcement which will replace the furlough scheme for six-months, when it ends in late October. As Sunak went on to warn, the 700,000 jobs that have been lost during the pandemic will not be the only losses. Tory backbenchers, however, were focused on the ever-rising UK deficit. Dame Cheryl Gillan made sure to remind Sunak that her constituents, the good people of Chesham and Amersham, were already questioning whether the support schemes were still ‘value for money for taxpayers’ and just how the UK will be able to pay-back the vast sums borrowed.
Before the Chancellor, Equalities Minister and Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss confirmed the government will not be making changes to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to allow for self-identification and changes to legal identification documents without medical diagnosis. Truss instead said the government will aim to make the process ‘kinder and more straight-forward’ along with a reduction in the administrative cost from £140. Tory Crispin Blunt said that trans people have ‘had their basic rights snatched away after a screeching turn in direction’ whilst Labour’s Marsha de Cordova described how the government has not acted over the current clinic waiting list which averages at 18 months. Truss said that she has endeavoured to maintain trans-rights and improve the process whilst ‘protecting single-sex spaces’.
Earlier in the week, the long-awaited Overseas Operations Bill was presented for its second reading. A personal mission led by Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer, himself a former Army Captain. The bill aims to ‘end vexatious claims against service-personnel from ambulance-chasing lawyers’ by making investigations after 5 years only available under exceptional circumstances. Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Healey, who whipped MPs to abstain from voting which led to Shadow Cabinet resignations from rebels, accused the Government of ‘bringing in legal presumption against prosecution for war crimes and torture’. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was furious in his response, accusing Labour of being ‘half-funded’ by law firms who have previously made disproved allegations against veterans. In scenes not seen since the days of May’s Brexit deal attempts, sedentary members on both sides engaged in battle, leading to an intervention from the Deputy Speaker as Wallace outright blamed Labour and its ‘illegal wars’ for the reason why many veterans have faced years of legal wrangling. Despite the SNP raising concerns that UK forces may now enjoy a position over others under law and the Lib Dems warning that the Bill will fail to protect veterans, the Bill passed its second reading and goes onto committee stage.
Finally, the Lords debated the introduction of a food standards badge which will be applied to food products sold in the UK so any imports that fall short of current standards post-Brexit can be identified by consumers. Despite rumours the UK will lower standards for a UK-US FTA, the government stood against the Bill saying that all trade deals presently negotiated uphold UK standards and that this will continue to be the case. Nevertheless, the Bill passed the upper chamber by 307-212 so perhaps shoppers will be able to tell the difference between their potatoes, potatoes and tomatoes, tomatoes after all – or not…