Rees-Mogg shutdown ‘moaning’ Labour MP in furious Commons clash on COVID-19 response

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Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the number of times Health Secretary Matt Hancock has fielded questions from MPs on the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care throwing himself down on the green benches when he has to come and answer questions – we are still entitled to ask questions, aren’t we?

“Because I’d like to ask the Leader of the House where the evidence is that large parts of the North and the Midlands are under lockdown when other areas of higher rates of infection are not?”

She added: “So, can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on these inconsistent, chaotic decisions? And we need an explanation.”

Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “The right honourable lady moans that we haven’t heard enough from the Secretary of State. We’ve had 40 oral statements from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic.

“My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has been an assiduous attender of this House to ensure that we are fully informed.”

He added that Mr Hancock has appeared before MPs “not only when asked”.

The Commons leader also defended the 10pm curfew by assuring MPs that the Government is “acting on the advice of SAGE”.

When asked for evidence behind the curfew on pubs, restaurants and bars to be released before MPs debate the policy next week by Ms Vaz, he said: “As regards to evidence for individual measures, the Government is acting on the advice of SAGE.

“The Government has consistently acted on the advice of SAGE and all these measures come in on the best available advice – that is the whole point of having SAGE in the first place.”

He also told MPs that the Government has moved the debate on the 10pm curfew to the main Chamber to allow greater scrutiny, adding: “I am very glad to say that we now have a system where issues of national significance will be debated on the floor of the House.

“And I would note on the 10pm curfew, it is a nationally significant measure, and even though it is not strictly caught by the Health Secretary’s commitment last week, the Government took the decision to move the debate to the floor of the House in recognition of the level of the demand for the debate.

“So we are being responsive to what is being asked for and ensuring proper scrutiny.”

It comes as ministers are considering imposing fresh regional restrictions amid a spike in cases in northern England, a Cabinet member has said as he declined to rule out shutting pubs and restaurants.

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Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Thursday ministers are “currently considering what steps we should take” as he warned of a “fast and serious situation” in the North.

The Government in Westminster is under increasing pressure to act after Scotland announced fresh restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Dr Adam Kucharski, a scientist advising the Government, warned that there are “pretty serious” outbreaks in parts of England and medics warned of increasing hospital admissions.

Mr Jenrick was pressed on whether new restrictions on the hospitality industry could come as early as Monday as rates soar in cities including Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.

“It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.”

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