Michelle Mone Taking Leave From Lords, Christmas Rail Strikes Extended, SNP To Decide New Westminster Leader
Michelle Mone is at the centre of controversy over alleged links to a firm awarded a PPE contract (Alamy)
Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone will take a leave of absence from the House of Lords with immediate effect following allegations over her connection to PPE contracts.
Mone is at the centre of controversy over her alleged connections to a firm which was awarded a PPE contract during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The accusations include that she made £29m after she recommended the firm PPE Medpro to Conservative ministers.
A spokesperson for Baroness Mone said: "With immediate effect, Baroness Mone will be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords in order to clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her."
Later today Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner will try to force the government to release records of a £200m contract awarded to PPE Medpro. Mone has previously denied links to the company.
Speaking to the BBC, Rayner accused members of the Tory party of using the pandemic as an "opportunity" to "get rich”, and described the so-called VIP lane which some firms used as "a scandal of epic proportions”.
This afternoon Rayner will lead a Commons debate known as a humble address motion in a bid to secure the release of all documents relating to PPE Medpro, which included the award of a £122m contract for gowns that "could not be used”, as well as £700,000 of "taxpayers' money" being used per day on storing it.
"This looks very dodgy – people making huge sums of money on PPE that couldn't be used," Rayner said. "It needs to be exposed now. Those documents need to come out and it needs to be out in the open."
According to The Times, Tory MPs have been told that the government will not attempt to vote down Labour's humble address on the topic, meaning that the motion will pass unopposed in the Commons.
Mone has insisted she had nothing to do with the firm and did not lobby for it, but it has since been claimed she contacted Gove and Lord Agnew, who was a Cabinet office minister at the time.
Yesterday the former health secretary Matt Hancock claimed in his diaries that the peer, who is currently under investigation by the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards over the matter, sent him an “extraordinarily aggressive email” on behalf of PPE Medpro.
December rail strikes extended over Christmas period
Having rejected an initial 8 per cent pay offer, RMT boss Mick Lynch said planned strikes next week will go ahead, and that rail workers will now also walk out over Christmas, from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on 27 December.
The union is also recommending its members should reject a new offer from Network Rail, claiming train operating companies still awaited a mandate from the government.
Lynch expressed regret that the RMT had been "compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers”, although further talks will be held with the Rail Delivery Group today.
"We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members," he said.
But Network Rail's chief negotiator Tim Shoveller defended "a significantly enhanced offer" to RMT, and accused the union of "using the British public and Network Rail workers as pawns in a fight with the government” and “playing fast and loose with people's Christmas plans”.
Some MPs have put pressure on No10 to move more quickly on a 2019 manifesto commitment to create laws to curtail the number of strikes that can take place.
Defending the delay, a No.10 spokesperson said that government had prioritised business related to the Covid pandemic, "but it is something we are proceeding with as fast as parliamentary time allows”.
No10 confirmed its powers to change strike laws are “under review” and that the government could go further if negotiations with unions prove fruitless.
In response to the latest strike announcements, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “It is incredibly disappointing that RMT has chosen to take further damaging actions instead of recognising that this a generous and fair deal that could have brought this dispute to an end.
“These additional strikes over Christmas mean the RMT risk driving away more people from the railways at a time when passengers and businesses should be taking advantage of this festive period, and that will only add to the railways’ major funding issues which have to be put on a sustainable footing.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was “incredibly disappointing” that planned industrial action had been enhanced. Schools minister Nick Gibb appealed to the RMT not to "hold the country to ransom”, but instead call off the strike and accept "a very good pay deal".
"It's inconveniencing people up and down the country in the run-up to Christmas, I think it's a very poor way of conducting negotiations,” Gibb told GB News.
The TSSA union announced it was calling off a planned strike on 17 December and other forms of industrial action due to start on 13 December while an offer from National Rail is put to its members.
Michael Gove climbs down on housebuilding targets
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has said that a decision to scrap the government’s flagship housebuilding targets “makes the government look strong” after being accused of weakness and caving to Conservative rebels.
After more than 60 Tory MPs signed an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill that would have removed centrally-determined housebuilding targets for councils, Gove agreed to a compromise that would make them a "starting point", allowing local authorities to propose building fewer homes if they face constraints.
"I think it makes the government look strong because we are delivering on the planning reform that we promised a year ago," he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
"When I arrived here I said that we wanted to have a planning system that put beauty and local democracy at the heart of our planning system, that is what we have got now thanks to close engagement with MPs who really care about getting the right homes in the right places."
Labour have called the climbdown “unconscionable" while the country is in the midst of a housing crisis.
SNP vote to decide new Westminster leader
This evening either Stephen Flynn or Alison Thewliss will succeed Ian Blackford to become the SNP’s new Westminster leader, following a vote at the party's AGM.
MPs will vote electronically for both the vacant leader role and also to choose a new deputy leader, with home affairs spokesperson Stuart McDonald, a Thewliss supporter, and Mhairi Black, who is running on Flynn’s ticket, both in the running.
A result is expected sometime between 7 and 8pm, and while Flynn had been the overwhelming favourite it is said to be a close-run race after Thewliss threw her hat in the ring over the weekend.
Minister suggests measures to tackle deadly Strep A infections in schools
Schools minister Nick Gibb has said preventative antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A infections after a ninth child was confirmed to have died with the illness this morning.
He told Sky News the UK Health and Security Agency is "working closely with the schools involved and giving very specific advice to those schools which may involve the use of penicillin” to help stop the spread.
On Monday, health minister Lord Markham had suggested to the House of Lords that preventative measures could be taken by schools to help to curb spread of Strep A.
He said: ”We have given instructions to doctors that where necessary they should be proactively prescribing penicillin as the best line of defence on this, and also where there is a spread in primary schools, which we know is the primary vector for this, whether they should be working with local health protection teams, and sometimes actually look at the use of antibiotics on a prophylactic basis."
Parents have in the meantime been advised to look out for the symptoms – which are a sore throat, fever, high temperature and also a red or raised rash on the skin.
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