Boris Johnson: Extending school day is ‘right thing to do’

Boris Johnson has said he believes extending the school day is "the right thing to do" as he admitted on Wednesday that disruption caused to pupils by Covid had been "debilitating".

Reviving hopes that ministers could still lengthen the school day, Mr Johnson told MPs "the question" now was about how the additional time should be used. 

Appearing before the Commons liaison committee, he said ministers would do a "proper review" and consider whether pupils should be given more academic teaching or enrichment activities or a "mixture" of both. 

Describing catch-up for pupils as the "most important investment we can make", the Prime Minister added that there was no question children had lost "unconscionable amounts of teaching" because of the pandemic. 

It comes several weeks after Sir Kevan Collins, the former catch-up tsar, quit after Mr Johnson sided with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and refused to sign off on a £15 billion rescue package which included extending the school day. 

Asked why he had not adopted the proposal, Mr Johnson said: "The evidence on timetable, the evidence on lengthening the school day, wasn’t as powerful as it was on tuition, for instance. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do, I do think it’s the right thing to do.

"The question is how you do it, what sorts of activities, is it enrichment, is it academic, what’s the mixture?"

Making homes greener

Homeowners should not face "unexpected and unreasonable" costs to make their homes greener, Mr Johnson told the committee as he insisted the Government was on track to hit its net zero targets.

Asked how it could hit the target to replace fossil fuel boilers in 25 million homes by 2033, he said the strategy would be published before the COP26 climate summit later this year.

By the mid-2030s, all newly installed heating systems, such as air source heat pumps, are expected to be low carbon or appliances that can be converted to a clean fuel supply, such as hydrogen instead of natural gas.

But Mr Johnson told MPs these measures cost "about £10,000 a pop" and were "a lot of money for ordinary people", adding that ministers were working with industry to "drive the bills down".

"This is something that is very difficult to pull off because what we need to do is to ensure that we are able to heat people’s homes and provide them with power in an affordable way whilst also reducing CO2," he said.

He added that meant making "some big bets" and investments in areas including hydrogen, as well as ground source and air source heat pumps.

Suspended MPs and by-elections

Parliament should "get on" and close a loophole which prevents MPs suspended for sexual misconduct from facing a potential by-election, Mr Johnson said. 

Currently, the sanction of a recall petition – which requires 10 per cent of an MP’s constituents to sign to trigger a by-election – only applies to cases assessed by the House of Commons Standards Committee. 

Complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are investigated by a separate process, which does not contain this option. 

Ministers and MPs have said the rules should now be reconsidered following the six-week suspension of Rob Roberts, the Tory MP who was found by an independent panel to have sexually harassed a member of staff. 

Asked whether he believed the loophole should be closed, Mr Johnson said: "I would urge the House to get on and do it."

When told this required the Government to put forward a motion, he added: "There is clearly a loophole and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be closed."

Universal credit uplift will end 

The £20 uplift to Universal Credit will end as planned in September, Mr Johnson signalled, as he claimed that, if given a choice of "more welfare or higher paid jobs", he would always choose the latter. 

In a move that puts the Government on a collision course with six former Tory work and pensions secretaries, who have called for the uplift to become permanent, the Prime Minister said his "instincts" were to focus on encouraging people back into work. 

Asked whether he accepted that this would cause more hardship for people, he replied: "I think that the best way forward is to get people into higher wage, higher skilled jobs.

"That’s the ambition of this Government, and if you ask me to make a choice between more welfare or better, higher paid jobs, I’m going to go for better, higher paid jobs. Of course we keep everything under constant review, but I’ve given you a pretty clear steer about what my instincts are."

The extra cash for benefit claimants was part of the Government’s emergency financial support package when the Covid crisis began and was extended for another six months at the budget in March.

‘Sausage wars’ not over

The ceasefire with Brussels over the import of British sausages into Northern Ireland was "very far from fixed", Mr Johnson said. 

Brexit sausage war explained

Last week, the European Commission agreed to extend the grace period for chilled meats for a further three months, ending threats of a trade war with the UK, which had threatened to act unilaterally to prevent a ban from coming into force. 

However, Mr Johnson said this was a "stay of execution" and that the EU was continuing to adopt an approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol which was "grossly disproportionate and unnecessary".

The protocol, which was set up to prevent a hard Irish border after Brexit and requires Northern Ireland to continue to apply many EU customs rules and checks, has caused significant trade disruption since January.

Mr Johnson also cited problems with the imports of medicines, guide dogs, parcels, potted plants and tractor parts, all of which remain unresolved. 

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