Labour MP for Hemsworth Jon Trickett challenged the Leader of the House in the Commons today as he called for a debate on health inequalities in the North.
He said: “We rarely debate the Government's poor treatment of the North, where life expectancy is falling for the first time in a century, and where we've seen the severest cuts of any region to public health service provision.”
He said Yorkshire has seen a drop in the number of GP surgeries, and the “slowest decline in Covid rates”.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said the question was “balderdash”.
He said: “The Government has stood with the North throughout this pandemic, over £10bn in support for local authorities, additional Nightingale capacity, millions of vaccine doses already delivered and putting the region at the centre of our community testing plans with 300,000 people in Liverpool being among the very first to benefit.”
He pointed to transport investment and money put forward for hospitals and added: “The record of this government in the North is second to none. We are building back better, we're building back better in the North first.”
Mr Rees-Mogg also defended Chancellor Rishi Sunak, saying he had “got the balance right” on the level of support available during the pandemic.
SNP spokesman Owen Thompson referred to those who have not been able to claim Government support during the pandemic and asked why some groups appeared “unworthy of support from the Government”.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The Government has done as much as it reasonably can. The support offered is very large – £280bn for the country at large – and this does cover 95 per cent of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment. I accept it doesn’t cover everybody. The difficulty is ensuring a scheme that is fair to taxpayers as well as fair to individuals and I think my right honourable friend the Chancellor has got the balance right.”
While Conservative MP James Grundy (Leigh) said: “With children returning to their classrooms next month, MPs should lead by example and we should also be returning to the Commons chamber.”
Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “My honourable friend very much appeals to my sympathies in this matter and makes an excellent point. Obviously, we keep the approach in Parliament under review and over the year we have made adjustments depending on the state of the pandemic.
“It is clear that the House works better when it is physically present. Scrutiny is better, debate is more thorough, the ability to hold the Government to account and seek redress of grievance is enhanced by physical presence. I hope we can get back as soon as possible and I share my honourable friend’s view that we are here to lead by example and to show the rest of the country when it is safe to do things. Our doing it would be a very good example.”