House of Commons
Monday 9 March 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I should inform the House that, after calling Question 1, I will leave the Chamber to represent the House at the Commonwealth service in Westminster Abbey. The Chairman of Ways and Means will take the Chair.
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
You have impeccable timing, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Workplace pension participation rates have more than doubled since the introduction of automatic enrolment under the coalition Government in 2012, rising from 42% in 2012 to 85% in 2018. In West Worcestershire, my hon. Friend’s constituency, 9,000 eligible jobholders have been automatically enrolled, and thanks are due to the 2,600 local businesses that are supporting them.
This has truly been one of the great policy successes of the last decade, but many would argue that people are still not saving enough for a comfortable retirement. Does the Minister plan to use other nudge techniques, such as automatic uplifts whenever a person gets a pay rise, to encourage saving for old age?
We have the 2017 review, which we continue to monitor and will implement going forward. Automatic increases are not part of the Government’s present plans, but I am actively looking to learn from private sector companies that are carrying out similar initiatives. I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest and would be happy to discuss this in more detail.
Auto-enrolment, the creation of the last Labour Government, has transformed the lives of millions, with 10 million more now saving into a workplace pension, but 5 million people are still not covered because they are too young, because they earn too little or because they are self-employed.
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) is right that 8% cannot be the summit of our ambition to ensure security and dignity in retirement. Does the Minister agree that 8% cannot be right, and will he agree to cross-party talks on putting right that wrong?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we frankly speak far too often—virtually on a weekly basis —to ensure a cross-party approach to pensions policy. He is right that automatic enrolment was conceived under a Labour Government, implemented under the coalition and brought forward by the Conservatives. I accept that 8% is not enough going forward, but we await the 2017 review, the implementation of that review and further discussions on an ongoing basis.
This Government need to demonstrate that they stand on the side of self-employed people. Given that millions of self-employed people are not saving enough for their retirement, what update can the Minister provide the House on the incentives and encouragement we are providing for self-employed people to pay into a pension?
As a formerly very fat, self-employed jockey and a self-employed white-collar barrister, I fully appreciate the issues concerned. I agree with my right hon. Friend that these are issues we have to address. He will be aware that we are trialling self-employment matters on an ongoing basis with the National Employment Savings Trust and a variety of private sector organisations. We welcome unions and other organisations that wish to be part of that, and it is front and centre of what we are trying to do.
Too many young people do not save for their pensions, so how can the Minister ensure that young workers are better represented in workplace pension schemes?
The statistics are actually getting better by the minute. In 2012, only 35% of young people aged between 22 and 29 saved into a workplace pension. Now 85% of 22 to 29-year-olds save, but there is more we can do, including for the self-employed. The 8% that is being saved has made a transformational difference, and the opt-out rate among the young is the lowest of all the cohorts.
The Department is working with a range of organisations to support claimants who are transitioning to universal credit. Help to Claim, which is being delivered by Citizens Advice, is working effectively for claimants, and we are in the concluding stages of detailed discussions for a second year of delivery.
On a recent visit to my local jobcentre, it was clear that we have excellent staff and that they support universal credit. Will the Minister outline what plans are in place for outreach services for those who might be intimidated by a visit to the jobcentre or, indeed, who want to access support online?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for visiting his local jobcentre. All jobcentres have wi-fi and computers available for claimants to access the internet. For those who are still unable to access or use digital services, or who are not able to travel, assistance to make and maintain their claim is available via the freephone UC helpline. As I mentioned, Help to Claim offers tailored practical support to help people make a UC claim.
As universal credit is rolled out, I welcome the use of new technology to help applicants, particularly in Hyndburn. What support is available to make sure applicants make the best use of the new systems?
Universal credit has been designed to be as quick and easy as possible for the user, ensuring claimants receive money at the earliest available opportunity. It is designed to be a digital-first service, ensuring we make the best use of technology to design a modern and effective working-age welfare system. It is important to note that our UC claimant survey found that 98% of claimants have internet access and have claimed online.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Is he aware that in Lincoln we are pleased that the claimant rate is as low as 4.4%, which is a vast improvement on what it was when I was first elected in 2010? Will he outline what other initiatives his Department is undertaking, as well as the local jobs fairs that Conservative MPs organise in their constituencies, to assist the 2,500 or so claimants in my constituency?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all the work he does in this area, and I welcome him back to his place. In recent years, the Government have made significant investment to improve work incentives, including the reduction in the UC taper rate from 65% to 63% and an extra £1.7 billion a year put back into UC to increase work allowances for working parents and disabled claimants by £1,000 a year from April 2019. That provides a boost to the incomes of the lowest paid and results in 2.4 million families keeping an extra £630 a year of what they earn.
The Prime Minister said last week that any workers who need to self-isolate because of the coronavirus and who are not eligible for statutory sick pay could claim UC. However, people have to meet a work coach at the start of a claim for UC, there is a five-week wait for the first payment and anyone asking for an advance also has to go to a jobcentre to have their identity verified. So how will people who have to self-isolate be able to claim UC?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As the Prime Minister set out last week, we will introduce, as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s emergency Bill, provisions for statutory sick pay to be made from day one. Employers have been urged to make sure they use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay. People not eligible to receive sick pay may be able to claim UC and/or contributory employment and support allowance, and staff at our jobcentres are ready to support people affected and can rebook any assessment or appointment that is necessary.
That just does not answer the question, does it? Will the Minister therefore outline what happens where someone on UC has to self-isolate but has to go through work searches and is unable to attend a jobcentre? Will he expect that person to be sanctioned if she cannot turn up?
Absolutely not, and discretion will, of course, be used.
The Minister said last month that he of course thought that improvements could be made to UC. I agree, so perhaps he could outline some, starting with ending the two-child cap, ending the five-week wait and fully restoring the work allowances. Have those conversations been had between his Department and the Treasury, ahead of the Budget?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are a Government who listen. Let us look at the improvements that have already been made to UC: increased advances, of up to 100% of a full monthly payment; cutting the taper rate, so people keep more of their salary; increasing the amount someone can earn before their UC is reduced; scrapping the seven-day waiting times; introducing a two-week overlap of housing benefit; and, as of July, we are introducing a two-week overlap of various legacy benefits. There are lots of improvements to be made. They do, of course, require Treasury approval, and I am looking at these in a lot of detail.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), I recently visited one of the jobcentres that serves my constituency—it was in Grimsby and, along with the ones in Immingham and Barton-upon-Humber, it serves Cleethorpes. The staff there do an excellent job and they are very positive about UC. Will he congratulate the staff and do what he can to reassure those who are having problems transitioning to UC that the Government will be working to solve any of the existing problems?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for visiting the jobcentre, and he describes the same feedback that my Front-Bench colleagues and I receive when we visit jobcentres. UC is a modern, flexible, personalised benefit, which reflects the rapidly changing world of work. Conservative Members believe that work should always pay and that we need a welfare system that helps people into work, supports those who need help and is fair to everyone who pays for it. I can certainly thank the staff at that jobcentre for all the work they do.
A major cause of difficulty in transitioning to UC is the five-week delay between applying and being entitled to benefit. The Work and Pensions Committee, at its first meeting last week, chose to make this the subject of its first major inquiry, and I am grateful to the Minister for the conversation we have already had about this. Will he confirm that the Department will do all it can to assist the Select Committee in its inquiry?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question. I start from the premise that we do not believe anybody has to wait five weeks for a payment under universal credit. Advance payments are available at the beginning of a UC claim and budgeting support is available for anybody who needs extra help. We have the two-week roll-on of housing benefit, and as of July this year we will also have the two-week roll-on of other legacy benefits. I will of course look carefully at the findings of the report by the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee.
Universal Credit and State Pension Payments
The Government recently announced that anyone reaching state pension age while claiming universal credit can receive a run-on until the end of the assessment period in which they reach state pension age. This removes any potential gap in provision, with such pensioners receiving, on average, an additional £350.
The announcement in the written statement on Thursday was extremely welcome and a great victory for hundreds of thousands of pensioners throughout the country. I thank all Members from all parties who signed early-day motion 129, which highlighted the issue. As it was clearly a bad policy in the first place, what redress will the Government offer to those pensioners who have already suffered loss?
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for all his work in this policy area. As he rightly pointed out, the change does remove any potential gap in provision, with people reaching state pension age and leaving universal credit receiving an additional £350 on average. I stress that the process is already in operation on an extra-statutory basis, ensuring that nobody loses out on reaching state pension age. Legislation will be amended accordingly later this year.
Will the Minister outline to the House what steps his Department is taking to support those citizens who have fallen into problem debt?
Certainly—the breathing space policy is a prime example. If my hon. Friend would like to meet me or, indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who is the Minister for Pensions, we would be happy to do so to set out in more detail the action that the Government are taking.
People with Disabilities: Employment Support
The Government are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work between 2017 and 2027. We support disabled people to return to work through our work coaches and disability employment advisers. This is achieved through programmes such as the Work and Health programme, Access to Work and the new intensive personalised employment support programme.
I welcome the news that 16,000 employers have signed up to participate in the Disability Confident scheme, which a fantastic initiative that helps employers to unlock the talent of workers with disabilities and is changing attitudes for the better. What plans does my hon. Friend have to expand the scheme further and encourage more businesses to sign up?
I am pleased to report that as of last month we are at 17,353. We use Disability Confident to empower employers of all sizes to share best practice. Only last week, I met all the Health and Work programme providers to look at how they can work with those businesses that have signed up for Disability Confident to offer more opportunities for disabled people.
I thank the Minister for his response. What is being done to support ex-forces personnel, who may have physical or mental disabilities, into employment, perhaps even through the auspices of bringing the armed forces covenant into statute?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is the Minister for Welfare Delivery, has been doing a huge amount of work in leading on that issue. We are making sure that we offer resettlement support; support from our armed forces champions, for which posts there is a £6 million package of support; and early access to the Work and Health programme. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is committed to putting the armed forces covenant on a statutory footing and it will have our full support.
We all want to see more disabled people supported into work, but it is also vital that they receive the support that they are entitled to through employment and support allowance and personal independence payments. It has recently been reported that vulnerable and disabled people who have appealed against decisions to deny them those benefits are being pressured to accept unrecorded telephone deals that pay thousands of pounds less than they may be legally entitled to. The Minister’s Department is accused of telling some people that the offer would be withdrawn if they did not accept it within minutes. How can that practice possibly be acceptable?
I thank the hon. Member for raising that issue, which was covered in the media. It is not something that should be happening. We have changed the mandatory reconsideration process so that we can try to support claimants who are challenging a decision to gather the additional written and oral evidence at that stage, rather than their having to wait for the lengthy independent appeal process. Stakeholders and charities are extremely supportive of that process, which is new and making a significant difference, but I am disappointed to hear that in some cases it has not been of the standard that it should be. We will review that.
The trouble with many people who have had brain injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries, is that the nature of their condition is such that it varies considerably from day to day, week to week. They can suffer from phenomenal lassitude, making it almost impossible for them to get out of bed—not out of laziness, but because their brain and their body will not work in that way. How can we make sure that everybody who is working for the DWP, whether they are assessing a person for a benefit or trying to help them into work, fully understands brain injury?
I thank the hon. Member who has been a long-standing campaigner in this very important area. We work with claimants, charities and stakeholders in all areas to improve the training and awareness that all our health professionals and frontline staff have, and this is a very important area of work.
There are 743,000 fewer children in workless households compared with 2010. The evidence shows that work is the best route out of poverty, and a child living in a household where all adults work is about five times less likely to be in poverty than children in households where nobody works.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. The Child Poverty Action Group has published a study that detailed the lives of children who go hungry and the impact on their health, education and friendships. It showed that some were ashamed to invite friends home because they have no food to offer them. When will the Government give child poverty the priority that it needs?
I am conscious of CPAG’s report, which tends to use the relative “after housing costs” poverty measure. However, it is important to say this about the relative element; if we go back just over 10 years, we can see that just having a recession reduces relative poverty. We need to keep focused on what is really happening to families. That is why, if we use the absolute poverty measure, we will see that fewer people are in poverty than was the case 10 years ago. We will continue to work with parents to ensure that they try to earn the amount of money that they need so that they can continue support their children.
Childcare costs place a huge strain on family finances. Will my right hon. Friend outline what help is being given to families with up-front costs of childcare?
The way universal credit works is for people to have payments in arrears, but 85% of eligible childcare costs are covered, compared with 70% under the legacy system. It is also important to stress that the flexible support fund can be used to help with those sorts of costs, but we need to ensure that people are paying according to their salaries, as opposed to our simply giving grants up front.
According to the Department’s own figures, the majority of households hit by the two-child limit are in work but on low incomes. This policy pushes working families further into poverty, when our social security system should be giving people a route out. Will the Minister have a strong word with the Chancellor and end this pernicious policy in this week’s Budget, and why not support the Daily Mirror’s “Give Me Five” campaign while he is at it?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that child benefit continues to be paid for all children, as well as an additional amount for any disabled children. He is hitting the wrong note here, as is the Daily Mirror, when it comes to the “Give Me Five” campaign, as this is not a targeted policy to reduce child poverty. I simply say that, by keeping the two-child policy, providing support for a maximum of two children ensures fairness between claimants and those who support themselves and their families solely through work.
Special Rules for Terminal Illnesses: Review
The Department is prioritising a full review in this vital area, evaluating how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their lives and those with severe conditions. We are making significant progress on this, having engaged with claimants, clinicians and stakeholders to bring forward options.
I thank the Minister for that update and the Government for taking the initiative in reviewing these rules. My North West Norfolk constituents suffering terminal illnesses want to see the six-month rule scrapped, so will he continue to work with Motor Neurone Disease Association, Marie Curie and others to find a solution that works for all of them?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Absolutely. The reason we commissioned the review was that the status quo needs to change. We recognise that, and I wish to pay tribute to the organisations that have been supporting a thorough review, including the MND Association, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Macmillan, the Royal College of Nursing, Sue Ryder and NHS England.
Scotland has already shown what can be done when a Government put dignity and respect at the heart of their welfare policies—for example, by removing any time qualification for people who are terminally ill. Why has the Department for Work and Pensions not yet followed Social Security Scotland’s lead and what are Ministers waiting for?
My understanding is that that has not yet been changed in Scotland. We are working with our Scottish colleagues and looking at all options. As I have said, our review will conclude shortly. Having consulted extensively with stakeholders, claimants and clinicians, and having looked at the international evidence, we will not be having the status review; we will be looking to improve the case for people towards the end of their life.
Although face-to-face reassessments are very important in the normal processing of claims, do the Government accept that people living with and suffering from terminal diseases should be exempted from the stress that such reassessments impose?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We can typically turn around those applying under the special rules for terminal illness process within six days, ensuring that those who are most in need of support get it as quickly and as swiftly as possible.
Does the Minister agree that it is inappropriate for terminally ill people who do not qualify for universal credit under the special rules for terminal illness to have to go to their jobcentre to discuss their career when they may not have very long left to live?
As part of this review we are looking at consistency across DWP work, as well as working with the NHS and hospices to try to have a more consistent and sympathetic approach. Where claimants do struggle to get to jobcentres, there are always opportunities for home visits.
Access to Employment for Ex-offenders
I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor as does the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). The Under-Secretary also works with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer). We have visited HMP Downview to see at first hand the excellent work of our prison work coaches, of which there are 130 based across the country. We have identified prisons that currently do not have a work coach as part of delivering on our manifesto commitment to break the cycle of crime.
I am grateful for that progress, but can the Secretary of State tell me when we will be in a position where all prisons will have this provision? Will she also tell me what progress there has been in ensuring that all prisoners are able to claim universal credit before the end of their sentence, because it is well established that access to a job or honest, legitimate benefits is one of the best means of preventing reoffending?
The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, is working carefully on the pilot scheme that is currently being rolled out in certain Scottish prisons, and we are working with the Prison Service to ensure that universal credit claims are made in a safe way. This includes booking appointments at the jobcentre in advance by using a telephony-based system to avoid the risk of IT crime that could happen as a consequence.
The Secretary of State will know that many prisoners have conditions that are not seen as a disability upfront. For example, they might be on the autism spectrum or have special educational needs—indeed, they may well not be numerate or literate. As someone comes up for release from prison, could the Department work to identify the real talents that many of these people have and support them in these?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is primarily the role of the Ministry of Justice to consider these issues and help people to prepare for release. We are keen to have a work coach in every prison so that when people do leave they can get back into the world of work as quickly as possible. This issue is very much front and centre, and the Prime Minister has set up a specific taskforce, which he chairs, to ensure that we try to crack this cycle of crime, especially when people leave prison.
Support into Self-employment
Supporting people into self-employment and backing them to grow their businesses is a priority for me, as the employment Minister. Since 2011, the new enterprise allowance has resulted in nearly 131,000 new businesses. We expanded this provision in 2017 to include universal credit claimants with existing businesses and provide them with specialist support to boost their earnings.
That is very encouraging news indeed. As my hon. Friend will know, it was Adam Smith, not Napoleon Bonaparte, who said that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers. That is especially so in the west midlands, in that people have small businesses that expand into large businesses. When will she meet the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, to discuss how we can stimulate the economy there still further?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. In fact, later today in the Chamber the west midlands will be standing proud as we see the debate on the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill. The legacy around jobs and skills from that will be very welcome indeed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be meeting Andy Street this Thursday; I am sure that everyone will be delighted about that. I recently held a roundtable to redesign how we look at self-employment going forward, listening to people across the country talk about how they can build, create and boost their businesses.
I am very interested to hear about the Minister’s roundtable, because one of the great barriers to people in self-employment, particularly women in freelance-type occupations, is the fact that, unlike employed people, they cannot share their parental leave with their partner. Will she, as part of her roundtable discussions, and discussions with other Ministers, ensure that the Government change the system so that self-employed freelancers can share parental leave?
Women were 41% of those taking up the new enterprise allowance recently, moving from table-top to large businesses. That is brilliant news and it is very encouraging. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that I was in north Wales to see about pop-up businesses, with many women involved in trying to move from ideas into successful businesses. We are redesigning this at the moment. I would be very happy to meet and hear from him.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I know that other Members across the Chamber will have met constituents around this issue, as indeed I did on Friday. There are over 5 million people who are self-employed at the moment, with a huge amount of people coming into this area, which we are trying to boost, as I mentioned earlier. I am sure that as we go into the Budget, the new Chancellor will be listening to her very carefully.
Personal Independence Payment Assessments and Outcomes
Reducing end-to-end customer journey times for PIP claimants is a priority for the DWP. We continue to work closely with both assessment providers, amending and refining current processes.
Constituents in my patch of Bosworth can face up to 42 weeks for clearance of their case—that is, processing and determining the tribunal hearing either in Leicester or Coventry. The national average is 30 weeks. What steps can the DWP and the Ministry of Justice take to ensure that the process is swift and that claimants are kept up to date during this time?
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has developed a new digital system, and it is increasing the number of judges. This goes hand in hand with our changes to the mandatory reconsideration stage whereby we are proactively contacting claimants who are seeking to appeal their decision to see whether we can help to identify additional written or oral evidence to correct the decision at that stage, reducing the number of claimants who then need to enter the independent appeal process.
As the Minister will be aware, PIP assessments can be incredibly stressful and traumatic for claimants. That is why I am working with Disabled People Against Cuts to provide recording equipment for anyone living in Hull West and Hessle who is going for an assessment. But it should not be down to individual MPs to provide that. So will the Minister look at providing recording equipment for every PIP assessment that takes place right across the country to improve transparency and fairness?
The hon. Member has raised a very fair point. We have been piloting both audio and video recording of assessments. That pilot will be coming to a close soon. I certainly have a huge amount of sympathy around making sure that there is provision in place for audio recording for claimants.
State Pension Age: Life Expectancy
The Government are committed in legislation to undertake a review of state pension age every six years. The 2017 independent review was by John Cridland. The next review will be conducted by 2023 and will give consideration to the latest life expectancy projections. The latest Office for National Statistics projections of cohort life expectancy, published in January 2020, showed that it is projected to continue to increase, and the WHO Global Health Observatory data show that people in the United Kingdom have better life expectancies than European or world averages.
The new Marmot review has shown that a decade of Tory policies, from cruel benefit cuts to the unfair treatment of the WASPI women, have stalled life expectancy and increased the years spent in ill health for the poorest in our society. Which Tory policy would the Minister reverse first to begin to undo that damage?
I am afraid that the hon. and learned Lady is wrong. I will quote from the Marmot review, which says on page 13 that
“Increases in life expectancy have slowed since 2010”,
but then adds at page 15 that
“Life expectancy at birth has been increasing since the beginning of the 20th century.”
Claimants with Disabilities: Number of Assessments
As our manifesto set out, we are committed to reducing the number of assessments that disabled people face. That will build on improvements already made, including reducing the frequency of assessments for those with severe or progressive conditions and removing regular reviews for PIP claimants over pension age.
I thank the Minister for his response. A number of constituents with severe conditions that are not reasonably expected to improve have contacted me with concerns about the current process. What reassurance can he give my constituents that their predicament will be given consideration as part of any future changes that the Department makes?
In the coming months, we will launch a Green Paper that will look at claimants’ experience, trust in the process and allowing claimants to lead full and independent lives. We will be doing a full review, working with stakeholders, claimants and charities to identify further areas of improvement on top of what we have already done.
I welcome the Department’s announcement last week that it will create a single, integrated service for PIP applicants and users. Can my hon. Friend confirm that that will make the application process much smoother for my constituents in Workington?
It will give us greater flexibility to try out new ideas that will be identified in the Green Paper, ensuring that we put claimants first.
Before Errol Graham was found dead after his employment and support allowance was stopped, he wrote a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions, pleading with officials. He said:
“Please judge me fairly. I am… overshadowed by depression.”
That letter was revealed to the public weeks after the National Audit Office published a damning report showing that the Department has investigated 69 suicides linked to social security, which are just the tip of the iceberg. Will the Secretary of State finally make a statement on that report, and will she now commit to an independent inquiry into the deaths related to social security?
The Secretary of State is absolutely passionate about the need to make improvements in this area and is leading very important work. On the specific point of the NAO report, we are working at pace to drive forward improvements and learn the lessons from any cases. We have already improved support and guidance for staff on how best to support vulnerable people. The NAO report notes action that the DWP is already taking, but we are now carefully considering the NAO’s findings and how they can help to further improve our excellence plan.
That passion certainly does not seem to be demonstrated in recent tribunal cases—the Department for Work and Pensions has lost more employment tribunals for disability discrimination than any other employer in Britain. Is the Secretary of State shocked by her Department’s own disability tribunal record, given that it should be, as the Minister said, leading by example? What will the Secretary of State do to rectify that?
Fair and respectful treatment is a right, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form within the workplace, including within ours. We have instigated a review of our processes and actions to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and with respect. I am proud that, as a Department, since 2014, when 6.8% of our workforce were identified as having a disability, we are now at 15.3%, which is well above the civil service average of 11.7%. We are keen to be a fully inclusive and diverse workforce to benefit from their full potential.
Many of my constituents reduce the number of assessments they face by discontinuing their applications themselves, because they find it far too traumatic to have to repeat their life story over and over again to every public body they come across. When somebody dies, the Government have a “Tell me once” principle to help bereaved families cope by only notifying a public entity on a single occasion. As the Minister draws up his Green Paper, can he look at whether we can have one single source of truth for each claimant to reduce the trauma they face in going through this process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot-on. This comes up time and again, and it is driving our desire to bring forward the integrated assessment: where a claimant has already secured sufficient evidence, with the claimant’s permission, and only with the claimant’s permission, that information can be used to increase the chance of a paper-based review and reduce the need for a full face-to-face assessment for other benefits.
For a decade, disabled people and disability organisations such as the Disability Benefits Consortium have highlighted the absurdity of testing people with learning disabilities and progressive conditions every six months, as well as the stress for them and the cost to the taxpayer and the NHS. The Minister says those assessments will be reduced. When can they expect them to be reduced?
We have already made changes—for example, in the PIP process, where we no longer routinely assess those of pensioner age and those with the most severe conditions—and that work will continue to be brought forward as our knowledge of different conditions improves. As part of the ambitious and exciting Green Paper we are bringing forward in the coming months, claimants, charities and stakeholders can further identify how we can make the claimant experience much better. I know that the hon. Member has done a huge amount of work in this area, and I hope he will contribute to the Green Paper.
People with Disabilities: Financial Assistance
I commend my right hon. Friend for his passion and work on this particularly important issue. The year 2020 is crucial for our work on disability with not only the Green Paper, but the cross-Government national strategy. Of course, I will continue to speak to my Cabinet colleagues about supporting people with disabilities into work, making them wealthier in their own right and helping them live fulfilling, independent lives.
What assistance are the Government giving to apprentices with disabilities to help them with their travel costs or any other costs they may incur, and what are the Government doing—specifically and currently —to get more people with disabilities to do apprenticeships?
My right hon. Friend may not be aware of this, but people with disabilities undertaking an apprenticeship can receive assistance from the Access to Work scheme to overcome workplace barriers. In addition, our flexible support fund can support eligible claimants with a variety of the costs associated with starting work, whether initial travel costs or, indeed, things like clothing.
Working-age Social Security Benefits: Four-year Freeze
The benefit freeze will end next month, and working age benefits will rise with inflation. We will spend an additional £1 billion on working age benefits in 2020-21.
A 1.7% increase in working age benefits does not make up for the damage caused by the four-year freeze: affected benefits and tax credits will be about 6% lower in 2020-21. If austerity was really over, the UK Government would be making up the shortfall. Has the Secretary of State asked the Treasury to make up that shortfall?
As I have just said, the Government have already announced that working age benefits will rise in line with inflation next month. As the hon. Lady will know, the Secretary of State has a statutory obligation each autumn to conduct a review of pension and benefit rates for the following year. This review will begin in October for implementation in the following April.
State Pension Age Equalisation: Financial Support for Women
Changes to state pension age were made by successive Governments from 1995, including the Labour Government from 1997 to 2010, and addressed the long-standing inequality in pension age. This includes the Pensions Act 2007, which I believe the hon. Lady supported. Women continue to have the same eligibility for support from the welfare system as men with the same date of birth, and this country presently pays more in welfare support than ever before.
Approximately 6,100 of my constituents have been affected by the equalisation of the state pension age, and many have told me of the financial hardship that they and their families are suffering because of the change and their inability to work any longer. Last week, there was another lobby of Parliament that I, together with lots of people who will be in the House today, attended—it was packed. Another one is coming up soon. These women stressed to me last week that they are not going away and are not going to give up, so what is the Minister going to do to give some justice to those amazing women?
The hon. Lady will be aware that full restitution would cost something in the region of £215 billion and that a case was before the courts last year: on all grounds, these ladies lost their case. Clearly, that matter is subject to appeal, but the case was lost in respect of every ground, including notice.
The coronavirus is currently dominating my work at the DWP. The Department is fully prepared for all eventualities and has conducted extensive planning against reasonable worst-case scenarios. I have been in discussions with the Chancellor and will continue to work across Government to prepare. If claimants cannot attend their jobcentre appointment in person because of self-isolation, work coaches can exercise discretion, so claimants should engage with them—they will not be sanctioned as long as they let us know before the appointment.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out last week, nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing. That is why the Government safety net also extends to those who are self-employed or who work in the gig economy. They can apply for universal credit or new-style ESA, and advances are available for universal credit immediately. These are exceptional circumstances and we will support workers to do the right thing for the protection of their health and public health.
The local housing allowance is designed to cover the cheapest third of rents, but in Lewisham claimants face on average a shortfall of £40.22 per week between their rent and their benefits, and that is the case up and down the country. Has the Minister made any representations to the Chancellor ahead of the Budget to ensure that the local housing allowance once again reflects the true cost of renting?
LHAs will of course go up by 1%; I signed that off last year. The hon. Lady will also be aware of the discretionary housing payments that we have been making widely available to councils across the country. But let us face the reality: the Mayor should be building more homes in London.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, this was introduced in 2012 and has been a cross-party success story. It is fantastically good news for her constituents in Kensington, where 39,000 residents are signed up to an 8% automatic enrolment. Due thanks need to be given to the 5,300 local businesses who are supporting individual constituents, who are receiving 8% per annum workplace savings.
The Government tried to justify introducing the new bereavement support payment in April 2017 on the grounds that it modernises support, but couples who are not married or not in a civil partnership are not eligible. Last month, the High Court in England found that that is incompatible with human rights legislation and discriminates against children of unmarried parents. The Prime Minister has admitted that that is an injustice, so when will the Government put it right?
This is one of the issues on my agenda for us to take forward a consistent and coherent approach, recognising the issue of cohabitees and the impact this can have on children. We are working on particular solutions.
I have tried to make clear to the House that people will not be penalised for doing the right thing. It is important that people have that conversation with their work coach. As I emphasised to the House, work coaches can exercise discretion but the important thing is a claimant’s ongoing conversation with their work coach.
We are working, right across Government, on a number of different scenarios. We are preparing guidance carefully and I assure the hon. Gentleman that rapid progress is being made. The Government will always be guided by the advice of our chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, particularly on self-isolation.
The average time is 14 weeks. We continue to review the process. As I set out earlier, with the forthcoming Green Paper we will be looking to identify further ways to improve the claims experience and make it easier to get supportive evidence that increases the likelihood of a paper-based review without the need for a face-to-face assessment.
I thank the hon. Member for raising this matter. If he wishes to share the details of the case with me afterwards, I will be happy to look into it. Without the details, I can only give a broad answer. We are doing additional work on the management reconsideration stage to ensure we can help all claimants gather the additional written or oral evidence that could help to change the claim, so that they are less likely to be in the long independent appeal process.
Advances are an important tool to help the most vulnerable claimants receive the money they need to live on. As part of the application process, proposed repayments and advance payment are explained. All claimants are advised to request a level of advance that is manageable when considering the repayments required.
We have announced that from October 2021 the repayment period will extend to 16 months, but I am very sympathetic to extending it further and am looking at that in detail.
I thank the hon. Member for raising this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is the Minister with responsibility for welfare delivery, and I regularly meet and work with Macmillan, which is a brilliant organisation. I am disappointed to hear that it feels it is proving too difficult for some claimants to access a home visit. We will take up that matter and look into it.
I recently met jobcentre and citizens advice bureau employees who expressed their grave concern about personal independence payment assessors. Can the Minister give me an assurance that the scheme’s assessors are of the highest calibre and able to judge each case on a proper basis?
We strive for 100% accuracy with high quality, objective, fair and accurate assessments. All our assessors are health professionals and experts in understanding the effects of a health condition on an individual’s daily life. They are occupational therapists, level one nurses, physiotherapists, paramedics or doctors with at least two years’ experience. We continue to monitor performance, share best practice, and work with claimants, stakeholders and charities to improve training and guidance.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the £118 a week is an average over eight weeks, and it will swing about whether people are eligible or not. I have tried to make it clear to the House, reinforcing the comments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary, that people who are working will not be penalised because they cannot work in this regard. We continue to work across Government to bring forward the necessary legislation or other changes required.
It was encouraging to hear about the work coaches programme in prison. Do Ministers agree about the importance of independent civil society organisations, as well as DWP staff, in supporting prisoners who are preparing for release? Will they work with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that more prisons can give access to local community groups?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. When it comes to jobs, community progression and our jobcentres, working through outreach with civil society and local charities is absolutely vital. My hon. Friend in the other place, the good Baroness Stedman-Scott, is very keen to continue doing this, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) is very keyed up on it. We will not waste time and we will get on with it as soon as possible.
The gap between local housing allowance rates and average rents for a two-bed property in Southwark is now over £1,000 a month, and raising the local housing allowance in line with the consumer prices index will do almost nothing to close the gap. By continuing to ignore the issue, the Secretary of State is continuing to contribute to entirely unnecessary homelessness. If the Government are serious about ending homelessness, will the Secretary of State urge her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use this week’s Budget to re-link the LHA to the bottom third of rents?
As the Secretary of State said a moment ago, local housing allowance rates are not intended to meet all rents in all areas. The LHA is designed to ensure a fair balance between supporting vulnerable people to meet their housing costs and public spending. From April 2020, LHA rates will be increased by inflation, but I join the Secretary of State in urging the Mayor of London to do far more in terms of supply.
In 2015, our election manifesto rightly committed us to halving the disability employment gap. By 2019, unfortunately, we had watered that down merely to reducing it. 2015 was also the last year that we published Fulfilling Potential indicators, allowing us to monitor the gap. As the Minister pulls together his new national disability strategy, I urge him to reinvent the wheel and provide robust statistical indicators to allow us to monitor the narrowing of the gap.
In the last six years alone, there have been 1.4 million more disabled people in work; in the last two years alone, there have been 404,000 more disabled people in work, bringing the figure to 54.1%—a 9.9 percentage point increase in the last six years alone. The disability employment gap has fallen by 5.6 percentage points in the last six years. We are making progress and we continue to be ambitious about unlocking everybody’s potential.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that during the coronavirus epidemic, any social security claimant who fails to attend a work capability or work-related activity assessment will also not have their social security support stopped?
I have tried to make it clear to the House, and will again, that—as has been said quite often—people who do the right thing, whether they are required to self-isolate or are actively ill, will not be penalised for doing so.
My constituent, Jennifer Bell, was made redundant following the collapse of Thomas Cook, but secured a job with Jet2 late last year, which fell through given the DWP’s refusal to pay for a training course. She has now landed a job with Virgin Atlantic, which involves five and a half weeks’ training in Crawley. However, her application to the flexible support fund at Renfrew jobcentre for accommodation costs has been denied, despite other former colleagues having secured funding at other jobcentres. Will the Minister please look into this discrepancy for Jennifer?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which came through to us in jobcentres after the collapse of Thomas Cook. I am happy to take it away as a learning point. We are doing all we can on the Flybe issue, and I urge anybody affected to go to their local jobcentre and ask for support and benefits.
Four out of 10 older people say that the TV is their main source of company, yet as a result of Government decisions, millions of older pensioners are about to lose their free TV licences. The Budget is the last opportunity for the Chancellor to step in and overturn this unfair policy. Will the Secretary of State urge him to do so?
As the right hon. Lady knows only too well, this is a BBC decision. The Government remain very disappointed at its decision and urge it to think again.
Before I call the shadow Health Secretary to ask his urgent question about the coronavirus, I draw to the House’s attention the fact that it is being streamed live with accompanying British Sign Language interpretation, which means that people will have to be very careful what they say and how they wave their hands around during this important piece of business.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will update the House on the coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus outbreak continues to advance around the world. The number of cases in China and South Korea keeps rising but at a slowing rate, but the outbreak in Iran, Italy, Switzerland and now France and Germany is growing. In Italy alone, we have seen 1,492 more cases overnight and 102 more deaths. Here in the UK, as of this morning, there were 319 confirmed cases. Very sadly, this now includes four confirmed deaths. I entirely understand why people are worried and concerned, and we send our condolences to the families.
The UK response is guided by our four-point action plan: we continue to work to contain the virus, but we are also taking action to delay its impact, to fund research and to mitigate its consequences. Throughout, our approach is guided by the science; that is the bedrock on which we base all our decisions. Our plan sets out what we are prepared to do, and we will make the right choice of which action to pursue at the right moment. The scientific advice is clear that acting too early creates its own risks, so we will do what is right to keep people safe. Guided by science, we will act at the right time, and we will be clear and open about our actions and the reasons for them. These are the principles that underpin the very best response to an epidemic such as this.
On research, I can report to the House that we have made available a further £46 million to find a vaccine and develop more rapid diagnostic tests, and we will continue to support the international effort. Here at home, the NHS is well prepared, with record numbers of staff, including nurses and doctors. I thank all those involved for their work so far. The number of calls to NHS 111 has increased—we have now added an extra 700 people to support that effort—and 111 online is now dealing with more inquiries than the voice calls.
To date, Public Health England has tested nearly 25,000 people, and the time taken to test is being reduced, as we are bringing in a new system for faster results, but of course responding to coronavirus will take a national effort; everyone must play their part. Of course, that means Government, and it also means everyone washing their hands more often and following public health advice, but there is much more we can all do, through both volunteering and supporting the most vulnerable. We will shortly introduce legislative options to help people and services to tackle the outbreak. The Bill will be temporary and proportionate, with measures that will last only as long as necessary in line with clinical advice. I can also report that over the weekend, we initiated action to help 120 passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California to return home.
We will stop at nothing to get our response right.
Our thoughts are naturally with the loved ones who have sadly died of covid-19. Let me also record, again, our thanks and gratitude to our hard-working NHS and Public Health England staff.
May I press the Secretary of State a little further? He will know that we have called repeatedly for an emergency funding package for our NHS, he will know that the NHS is short of 100,000 staff, and he will know that critical care beds were at 81% capacity during the week for which the latest figures are available. The Chancellor has said that the NHS will receive whatever it needs. Does the Secretary of State agree that in this Wednesday’s Budget we need to see significantly more resources for the NHS, not just rhetoric?
Scaling up and freeing up capacity in the NHS is now urgent. What is being done to scale up intensive care beds in the NHS, what is being done to expand access to the oxygen and ventilation machines that will be needed, and what is the current capacity of extra corporeal membrane oxygenation beds? We welcome the distribution of personal protective equipment to NHS staff, but does the Secretary of State agree that GPs and social care staff also need access to that equipment?
Those in receipt of social care are some of the most vulnerable, and could be affected extremely badly by this virus. Indeed, many who work in social care are low paid, and if they have to go on sick leave there are huge implications for the delivery of social care. What advice has been given to social care providers and, indeed, local authorities to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, and what plans are in place to protect staff and increase the number in the social care sector?
Public health directors are expected to play a leading role in local preparations. They need to make decisions about deploying staff—Public Health England, for example, has asked for staff to be seconded—yet they still do not know their public health allocations for the next financial year, which will start in three weeks’ time. We are begging the Secretary of State: please tell local directors of public health what their Budget is for this coming April.
We are still officially in the containment stage. At some point, we presume, we will need to move into the delay stage, when we understand that social distancing measures will be necessary. Many of our constituents are now asking—and I think it would benefit the House if the Secretary of State could explain to them—why we are not yet considering more home working, whether we should be asking those over 65 to isolate themselves, whether we should be cancelling larger events, and whether those returning from northern Italy, for instance, should be quarantined. I think it would help our constituents if the Secretary of State ran through the medical advice, although I understand why he has made the decisions that he has made.
Can the Secretary of State also confirm that once we move into the phase in which measures of this magnitude are proposed, he will come to the House, explain why that has happened, and allow Members to question him? He has hinted, or suggested, that we will need emergency legislation for the mitigation stage. As a responsible Opposition, we would like to sit down with him in order to understand the content of that legislation, because we want to work on a cross-party basis; but let me leave him in no doubt that we also want statutory sick pay for all from day one. Asking people to wait five weeks for universal credit is not a serious solution.
Will the Secretary of State update the House on food supplies and the conversations that he has had with supermarkets? Can he reassure us that our constituents do not need to be panic-buying, as we saw people doing on social media in some parts of the country over the weekend? Finally, does he agree that whatever happens, we must find a way for Parliament to continue to hold Ministers to account so that we can ask questions on behalf of our constituents? However, we continue to offer to work constructively with the Government, because the public health interest and the safety of our constituents must always come first.
Let me start by concurring with what the hon. Gentleman said about the legislation. It should be taken through on a cross-party basis. I should of course be happy to talk to him about the proposals in that legislation, and also to ensure that the clinicians are able to explain why they are necessary and proportionate. I am grateful for the tone that he has taken throughout, recognising that our responses are led and guided by the science.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the NHS and its preparedness. There are record numbers of nurses and doctors, as I said. The 8,700 increase in the number of nurses over the past year is welcome in this context. We are, as he said, scaling up intensive care beds, and making sure that we have as much availability of ventilation equipment and, crucially, the skilled and trained people to use it, because ventilation equipment, without trained people, is dangerous. On that subject, we are making sure that we have the oxygen needed to go into those ventilation kits, working with oxygen suppliers to make sure that that is available.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether GPs would have access to the protective equipment that they need, and the answer is yes. We have stockpiles of protective equipment and, again, we will release it at the right time. I am working closely with NHS England to make sure that that happens.
The hon. Gentleman asked about social care. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of making sure that the staff in social care are well enough supported, including if they are sick and, critically, because many people in residential social care are some of the most vulnerable. Those living in the community in receipt of social care are likely to be vulnerable, whether because of prior health conditions or because they are elderly, or both. That is an area of significant attention, and we will update the existing guidance this week with further information for social care providers.
The hon. Gentleman asked about public health budgets which, of course, are going up. He also asked about home working and the cancellation of large events. We are not at this stage proposing the cancellation of mass events, because we are following the scientific advice that that is not what is proposed at this stage. Home working and flexible working are things that, in many cases, are advocated anyway. People will make their own decisions as to when that is appropriate. What we are saying from the Government point of view is that people should follow the public health advice so that, for instance, if they are returning from an affected area and they have symptoms they should stay at home, and that means home working. Over the weekend we added northern Italy to the list of places to which the Foreign Office does not recommend travel except in exceptional circumstances. We recommend that people returning from northern Italy self-isolate if they are symptomatic.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the food supply. We are confident that food supply will continue, even in our reasonable worst-case scenario. We have been talking to the supermarkets for some time about this scenario. I appreciate that on Friday there was discussion about whether every single supermarket executive had been involved in those talks. If any further supermarket executive wants to be involved in those conversations they should get in contact, but those conversations have been ongoing, and it is important, especially as we ask more people to self-isolate and stay at home, that we can ensure that we get supplies that are needed to the people we are asking to stay at home.
The hon. Gentleman asked about statutory sick pay, and I can confirm that we are proposing to put changes to statutory sick pay in the legislation, and I am happy to go through the details with him in the talks that I mentioned at the beginning of my response.
Finally, on Parliament, of course, this is a matter for the whole House. I know that the Commission met this morning, and I think that parliamentary scrutiny of decisions of the magnitude that we are having to take in response to coronavirus and their novel nature is incredibly important, and I will do all that I can to ensure that Parliament remains open.
I commend the Health Secretary for the way in which he is handling the crisis and ask him to reflect on what we now feel we have learned from the situation in China, given that yesterday was the first day when reported new cases in the UK exceeded reported new cases in China. The chief medical officer told the Select Committee that he hoped that a smaller proportion of the population in the UK would get the virus, given what we can learn from what happened in China, but one of the reasons for growing concern among our constituents is that the only number out there is the 80% reasonable worst-case scenario. Is it not time for the Health Secretary to share his central estimate of what proportion of the UK population he thinks will get the virus, even though we would all understand that that estimate might change over the passage of time?
I pay tribute to the Chair of the Select Committee for the way in which he has handled this—for instance, in demonstrating the need for transparency in the questioning of the chief medical officer last week. I will take away his point on the need for a central estimate. The figures out there relating to the proportion of people who will get the virus are a reasonable worst-case scenario. On the central estimate, there are still things that we do not know about the spread of the virus through China—in particular, whether the degree to which the slowing of the increase in cases in China is because the virus has reached a large proportion of the population and there is a large proportion who are not symptomatic, which would mean that the mortality rate was lower than otherwise thought; or whether the significant measures that the Chinese have taken are having a significant effect, and that therefore, as and when they are lifted, the virus will continue to spread. Either of those options is possible, and we do not know which one it is, but whichever it is, the approach that we are taking in the UK is the right response to both of those scenarios.
There seems to have been some media confusion in reports that the move from the contain phase to the delay phase will involve an instant flick-of-the-switch moment. Will the Secretary of State assist us by confirming that that is not the case and that any move will involve a phased transition? Another area of particular vulnerability is the UK prison system, which is extremely short-staffed and stretched. What measures will he be taking following reports of riots and deaths among inmates in Italy’s prisons to ensure that our prisons remain under control during what will be a period of heightened tensions and frustrations as restrictive measures are introduced? Will he also confirm that he is aware of the latest workplace advice from Health Protection Scotland, which was published today and which urges routine cleaning of phones and keypads and says that food should not be left open for people to share? Will his Department be making a similar recommendation for England?
The hon. Member is absolutely right to suggest that the transition to the delay phase is indeed that: it is a transition. We will not give up hope of containing this disease while we can still take containment actions, and many of the actions that are needed to contain it are also effective for delaying. Of course, the primary action is that everyone should wash their hands, but there is much more than that. He asked about the advice from Health Protection Scotland. We are working very closely with HPS, and Public Health England will shortly be bringing forward further updated guidance that we have been working on over the weekend, not just on social care, as I mentioned earlier, but more broadly, including for businesses, employees and others.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He will know that the number of cases in Hertfordshire is now into double figures, and that it is a county with some very large businesses with an international footprint, as well as many commuters going into London. Has the time come for discussions with those large businesses on how to reduce the number of international visits that are made, perhaps through more teleconferencing, and also on how to allow more people to work from home when possible and to reduce the number of visits backwards and forwards that might be affecting the spread?
An awful lot of companies and other employers are taking these steps. Teleconferencing is usually cheaper and also better for the environment than travel, so there are good reasons to use it anyway.
The Secretary of State made it clear in his answer to the urgent question that parliamentary accountability is fundamental—that is evidenced by so many Members on both sides of the House rising to raise myriad issues —yet despite that acknowledgment we are hearing reports that after Easter the House might be suspended until September. Will he give an undertaking that that will not be the case? Will he recognise that, as a big organisation of 650 MPs and thousands of staff, we can play our part in containment without opting for the nuclear option of closing down accountability altogether? Other measures could be considered, such as using Westminster Hall on a UQ basis, so that we have continuous accountability for what the Government are doing through Parliament, albeit in a different form.
I have not seen those specific reports, but I know that the House of Commons Commission met this morning. Parliamentary accountability is incredibly important. I will be doing all that I can to ensure that Parliament stays open through this process, and that we follow the clinical advice on how that can happen so that we keep that parliamentary accountability. It is a decision for the House, but my position and that of the Government is clear.
The Government are absolutely right to be putting a lot of public money into research on a possible vaccine, but the Secretary of State will know that research is no good unless we can produce vaccine at scale, and this country is not great at doing that. What can he do to ensure that we grow indigenous capacity very quickly so that the public, and particularly key workers in our health service, do not have to wait in line when a vaccine becomes available?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. We do have significant vaccine capabilities, and not only in research, where we are world-class, but in some production, for instance in Hamilton in Scotland. The broader point is that investment in the whole production chain and not just research is critical.
The Government have outlined emergency legislation that will extend new powers to the Welsh Government. Council representatives I have spoken with are concerned that there are currently legal obstacles hindering the swift deployment of emergency staff, for example in relation to vehicle insurance and limits on working hours. That applies particularly to social care staff, of whom there is a shortage in Wales and, I believe, across the UK. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Welsh Government to ensure that there are clear guidelines for emergency implementation in the care sector?
We have ongoing discussions with the Welsh Government. For instance, the Welsh Government joined the Cobra meeting this morning—in fact, they have been present at all the Cobra meetings—and we have had very good engagement on the Bill. I will look into the two specific points that the right hon. Lady has raised and will talk to my Welsh colleagues about them.
May I thank the Health Secretary for the way he is managing this crisis, and for how frequently he has come to the House to answer questions? Pregnancy is a time of great joy, but in the context of coronavirus it can also be a time of great worry. Is there any specific advice from the chief medical officer for ladies who are expecting or who are considering starting a family?
I am glad to say that the evidence so far indicates that there is not a particularly raised concern. Nevertheless, I entirely understand the level of worry that getting coronavirus might cause somebody who is pregnant, so we are researching this very carefully.
A study of 52 critically ill patients at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan has found that more than two thirds required invasive breathing support, and last Monday, as the Secretary of State will know, the World Health Organisation urged all countries to stock up on ventilators. Given that around 5% of those with coronavirus might require critical care, what is his current best estimate of the number of ventilators that would be required to meet that demand, bearing in mind his earlier point about having sufficient staff to operate the ventilators?
I am very happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman with the specific answer to his question, but the general answer is more, and, frankly, as many as possible. We are buying ventilators—we have a commercial strategy on that—and, of course, we are training people to use them.
As my right hon. Friend knows, vaccines are the long-term solution to tackling the virus. Can he give the House a bit more detail on what work is being done and on the potential timings for new vaccines and home tests? More importantly, will he keep under active review the balance between the efficacy and safety of vaccines and the public health impact they could have?
The critical point about vaccine development for coronavirus is that if we cannot be sure that a vaccine is safe, we cannot put it into large numbers of people for a disease with a mortality rate of around 1%. This is different from a disease like Ebola, where the mortality rate of around 70% is so high that it is worth taking the risk.
The broader point about the response to this virus is that it is very different from Ebola. It spreads in a different way and its mortality rate is very different, so it is very important that we fight this disease rather than fighting the last war.
The other day, the Prime Minister said on morning television,
“perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease to move through the population without really taking as many draconian measures.”
Can the Secretary of State advise the House that that is not the Government’s official position?
No, it is not the position. The Prime Minister was explaining why we have taken the decisions that we have.
This is obviously a particularly worrying time for our elderly population who are, by all accounts, more likely to suffer badly from the disease. What advice would the Secretary of State and, indeed, the chief medical officer give to the elderly, their families and their neighbours about how best to protect them? What actions should they take to ensure they are not exposed to this disease?
That is a really important point, and the advice now is, as for everybody else, that they should wash their hands, follow the public health advice and catch sneezes and coughs. We do not rule out changing that advice to advising measures that help protect either the elderly or more vulnerable people who have pre-existing health conditions, because an approach that treats them differently is appropriate given that the disease treats them differently.
Order. A lot of people are standing, and I cannot really let this business run much past quarter past 4. People are being quite brief and the Secretary of State has been brief, but I give notice that not everybody will be called.
May I press the Secretary of State on this matter? Yes, it is very important that we follow good science, but we also need good management. It is all right having a national Cobra, but what about local Cobras? Every community and every local authority has to deliver on the ground as this gets worse, and that needs partnership across health, the police and local authorities. Is he sure that is in train?
Absolutely. This is a national effort, and a national effort involves the Government, the NHS, every single individual, local authorities, local resilience fora and local police. It is a national effort.
Can we have net figures that take account of recoveries? It is very alarming simply to be given cumulative deaths and cumulative cases.
Yes, very shortly.
It is not just coronavirus and dealing with it that needs parliamentary scrutiny. The Government cannot continue levying income tax unless we have another Finance Act, and they will not be able to use emergency powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 for longer than 28 days, so Parliament will have to keep on sitting, won’t it? The Secretary of State is wrong, as it is not for the House authorities to decide whether this House sits. The only person who can table a suspension of Parliament is a Government Minister, so will he just rule it out now?
As I said, we see no purpose for suspending Parliament, and parliamentary accountability is very important, as is the legislative power of Parliament.
On the day Carillion collapsed, all the UK banks, through UK Finance, agreed forbearance on the loans and overdrafts of small businesses affected. Has Cobra obtained the same assurance from the banks in respect of businesses affected by the coronavirus?
Those sorts of discussions are going on, led by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Millions of people in this country live alone, and many elderly people rely on their relatives visiting them to keep them able to live in their own homes. This activity may well be disrupted if people get ill or have to be isolated. How then will those vulnerable people, who rely on outsiders to be able to live, get their food delivered and be looked after, possibly cope?
This is an extremely important consideration, because in keeping people safe from coronavirus we also need to support people to live their normal lives. Many people rely on support from others who come to them, whether through social care in the formal system or, as in many cases, through informal care and support. We may need to see more of that, but it will have to be done properly in order also to protect the people involved from the coronavirus.
Last week, I met officials from Durham County Council, and part of our discussion turned to council preparations for coronavirus. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and with local authorities to ensure that we are fully prepared?
Yes, we are working with all the local resilience forums and the local authorities, which are crucial parts of them.
The director general of the World Health Organisation has called on all Governments to develop all-of-society and business continuity plans. What is the Minister doing in respect of two groups: the street homeless, and the staff and volunteers who work in homeless shelters; and small businesses? Specifically, in a worst-case scenario, would the Government, under contingency plans, underwrite the three biggest costs facing small businesses—staff, rent and business rates?
MHCLG is working on and leading on the first of those, which is very important, and the Treasury is leading on the second.
Does the wearing of gloves on public transport or in other public places make any difference to the dangers of acquiring or transmitting the disease?
I am tempted to give my right hon. Friend a clinical answer, but instead I will ask one of the chief medical officer’s team to write to him.
On Friday, I met the chief executive of my local council, where four cases have been identified. She told me that the council is not able to obtain information from Public Health England about where those four individuals are self-isolating, and that is a concern in managing community relations and information. Of course we appreciate the need to protect patient confidentiality, but will the Secretary of State discuss with colleagues the need for information to be shared with specific council officials, on a need-to-know basis, so that they can manage the protection of the whole public?
Yes, absolutely. There should not be data protection problems here, but sometimes there are perceived to be, so cracking through those is important as well.
May I echo the concerns about suspending Parliament? Whatever the threats and the challenges we face in this country, Parliament must continue to do its business and do its duty. The Secretary of State has a responsibility, and the Government have responsibility for the people in the UK and for those overseas. How is he working with the Ministry of Defence on the support it might provide, both domestically and internationally, in looking after our citizens abroad?
I agree with my right hon. Friend wholeheartedly on the first point. On the second, it is absolutely true that the MOD is working alongside the Department for International Development, and of course the Foreign Office, to support Brits overseas.
Returning to the issue of statutory sick pay, can the Secretary of State confirm that all the relevant Departments are in agreement that SSP should be paid to self-employed people who are told to self-isolate?
We are all in agreement that nobody, including those who are self-employed, should be penalised for doing the right thing. How we get that support to them is a different question, because SSP is paid by the employer and the self-employed do not have an employer. We will bring forward a solution to that particular policy conundrum.
The Grand Princess cruise ship will finally dock in Oakland today, allowing 140 Britons, including at least four of my constituents, to disembark. My right hon. Friend mentioned a few messages about the support that will be given. A lot of the Brits on the ship feel that the UK has not responded as strongly as the Americans. Will he use this opportunity to say a little more, or will he perhaps get the Foreign Office to contact constituents on the ship directly?
The Foreign Office will be putting out more information, because it leads in that policy area. We will be repatriating the Brits and we are working with the Americans to ensure that we can get them home safely. We have full confidence that the American public health system will be able to help those individuals off the ship and on to planes to come home.
Is the Secretary of State aware that services and advice may not be accessible to those for whom English is not their first language? Will he ensure that the Government make instructions and advice available in a range of languages, including Braille?
Members of the Procedure Committee are, like many in the House, concerned about how we make sure that we properly represent our constituents if either Members of Parliament or their staff have to self-isolate. The Committee is meeting regularly this week to discuss the changes that might be needed to our procedures in that event. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will work with us to ensure that all parliamentarians are able properly to represent their constituents?
Yes, that would be a pleasure.
To follow up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), there are 4.7 million self-employed people, and currently they will not be entitled to statutory sick pay or contributory jobseeker’s allowance. The company Hermes, working with the GMB, has already said that it will offer support to its workers who cannot come to work because they have to self-isolate; other companies have not. What pressure are the Government putting on businesses such as Uber, Deliveroo and DPD to ensure that the people who deliver their services will be able to self-isolate?
I urge all companies, especially the large companies that, as the hon. Lady said, use an awful lot of self-employed workers to deliver their services, to look at what Hermes has done and appreciate that their part of the national effort is to help everybody to make sure that they can go home and stay at home if they need to stay at home to keep themselves and others safe.
I have a practical question for the Secretary of State. Many of my colleagues who work in the health service are keen to come forward and do their best. Their big concern is: should schools close, who would care for their children when they run forward to help in the NHS? Are the Government considering any plans to support frontline workers?
We absolutely are, not only in terms of any measures that we take and how they might have to be amended for key workers, but also because, critically, when it comes to school closures, one reason why closing schools is not a cost-free option is that it takes away some of the very staff whom we need to be able to respond to the crisis.
I have been approached by some parents who want to know what option they may have to withdraw their children from school for a short period, perhaps prior to the Easter break, if they wish to do so, and agree with the school an arrangement for a period of home study. Is the Secretary of State working with his Department for Education counterparts on any contingency plan should home schooling become necessary?
The most important thing is to follow the advice from Public Health England. We now have in place well-established routes to ensure that all headteachers get the appropriate advice. Ultimately, it is headteachers who are currently responsible for such decisions.
Home working is all but impossible in the early years sector, in which employers tend to be small and medium-sized enterprises and employees tend to be women. I have been contacted by nursery owners in my constituency who are extremely concerned that the advice they are getting from Government helplines is not consistent. I urge the Secretary of State to make sure that the information provided to these essential businesses in a crisis is consistent and kept up to date.
Yes, absolutely, and if my right hon. Friend could bring the individual concerns to my attention, I would be very happy to look into them.
My constituents of Inverclyde are expecting 80 visits from cruise ships during the sailing season, which starts in April, including from the Regal Princess, which is due in on 10 May. What plans do the UK Government have in place should there be an outbreak on a cruise ship in UK waters?
We are, of course, working with Public Health England on making sure that we have the right answers should this happen. Looking into what happens on cruise ships and what advice will be given with respect to people going on future cruises is a critical piece of work that we are undertaking.
Today, we had the first acknowledgement that there was a case in Herefordshire and yet I am still waiting to hear from the Government about the 70 children who are planning to go to northern Italy to ski. Can we make sure that airlines are giving these parents their money back?
We advise against all but essential travel to northern Italy, and I do not regard skiing as essential.
The adult intensive care unit at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust was at over 100% capacity on 76 occasions in the past year. An expansion of critical care will add a further eight beds. What is the Secretary of State doing to expedite this expansion? How many additional intensive care beds does he believe can be created and how soon?
We are working very hard right across England and I know that my Scottish and Welsh counterparts are working right across Scotland and Wales to ensure that we get that expansion of critical care beds as much as is possible.
I thank the Secretary of State and his team for their help for all patients who have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the south-west, but, as he knows I have a highly rural community. Can he please just elucidate as to how he will be able to provide further action and help for those in rural communities?
This is a very important point. One thing we will be doing during this period is encouraging people who need to see their GP or to have an out-patient appointment for something that is not to do with coronavirus to do so via Telemedicine if it is both clinically and practically possible. That is even more important in rural areas, and absolutely critical for reducing the amount of infection through GPs.
Before I entered this place, I worked as an emergency planner for the NHS. I would like to pay tribute to my former colleagues and to say that I am pleased that the Secretary of State is following their expert advice. Most people will not go into hospital or go to their GPs; they will be supported in the community. Critically, they will be supported by the wider services of local government and the voluntary sector. Will the Secretary of State expand on what conversations he is having with his counterpart in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to support the wider public health and social care provision of local government?
We have extensive work under way to provide exactly that support. It is also available through the Office for Civil Society, and through volunteers as well. It is very important that we offer the opportunity for people to volunteer in these difficult circumstances, but we have to do so in a way that the voluntary efforts can then plug in and add to the professional efforts that are, as the hon. Lady says, providing a great service to this country.
I was deeply saddened to find out that the fourth case has died in my constituency in Wolverhampton North East. I offer condolences to the victim’s family and friends. Our thoughts also have to be with the staff at New Cross Hospital. I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any special advice for those with relatives in New Cross Hospital or the attending staff members, because I know that people are greatly concerned.
I add my condolences to the family and loved ones of the patient who has died at New Cross Hospital. I want to thank the staff at the hospital who have acted in an exemplary way and to reassure other patients at the hospital that the steps that are necessary to ensure that the hospital is safe have, of course, been taken and that my hon. Friend’s constituents can be confident that her local NHS has risen to this task.
On the point about people who have booked holidays and cruises and who are perhaps doing the right thing by considering not going on them, I have to say that, even though they are insured, they are not always covered to do so unless they have been specifically told not to travel to that country. What are the Government doing to assist people in that sort of situation?
We constantly keep travel advice under review, and have made covid-19 a notifiable disease. Both those measures will help with the circumstances outlined by the hon. Gentleman.
On behalf of those who have already been affected in West Sussex, may I thank all those who have been working extremely long hours to deal with this crisis? Will the Secretary of State remind everyone involved that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that pacing is incredibly important in dealing with any crisis? I urge him to use the innovation, capacity and capability of business as we move through this situation.
Yes, I agree with all of that. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Critically, as the scientists have advised us, getting the timing of the interventions right is crucial for getting the best possible response as a nation.
If Members continue to be pithy, we will get everybody in.
Last week I asked the Secretary of State about the advice given about coronavirus to DWP decision makers. We were not particularly reassured by the answers given by Department for Work and Pensions Ministers this morning, and that advice has still not appeared in our inboxes. Can he please follow that up?
My local authority of Kensington and Chelsea has eight confirmed cases—the most of any local authority in London. We have a lot of international visitors. My constituents are very concerned that people are continuing to arrive from north Italy, and they are only being told to self-isolate if they have symptoms, but we all know that the symptoms can often come late. Will my right hon. Friend think about testing at airports or mandatory quarantining?
We are increasing the amount of information that is available at airports, but the evidence from other countries that have tried temperature testing at airports shows that it is not effective and can actually be counterproductive to the effort because it leads to lots of false positives.
Industries such as the hospitality industry employ people on zero-hours contracts, and I know of one major hotel that has laid off a number of people. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that people are not left in financial difficulties due to their employers taking these decisions?
This is a matter that the Chancellor is considering ahead of the Budget.
I thank my right hon. Friend and his team for the way in which they are being guided by the science and medical advice. My constituents in the Colne and Holme valleys, and Lindley, are keen to do the right thing and to do their very best to contain the outbreak. What specific advice would the Health Secretary give my constituents who are organising community events over the Easter period and over the May Day weekend, particularly events that will have large attendances from those who are most at risk—the elderly?
We are not currently advising the cancellation of mass events, but we are considering closely providing further advice and strengthening advice to those in the vulnerable and elderly groups.
King’s College Hospital in my constituency has the highest level of debt of any hospital trust in the country. It also has a new 60-bed intensive care unit, which has been much delayed in its opening. Can the Secretary of State confirm what additional resources will be made available to King’s to ensure that those beds can open—fully staffed and fully equipped—as soon as possible, and to ensure that this challenged NHS trust has all the resources necessary to deal with the additional needs presented by coronavirus?
I am very happy to look into that specific example.
In May and June millions of pupils, including in Eddisbury, will be sitting important public exams. Although I accept that my right hon. Friend is doing the right thing by following the scientific evidence, may I encourage him to do everything possible to ensure that those exams go ahead, and to put in place clear contingency plans in the event that they do not?
Yes, of course. This is a lead for the Education Secretary, but he and the Schools Minister are working very hard on it.
Churches in my constituency took precautions yesterday. Those who need to self-isolate are having food supplies delivered, and are receiving regular phone contact to stave off the feeling of being alone. Does the Minister accept that the ability for churches to meet for fellowship and prayer is essential for a lot of people’s mental health and spiritual welfare, and that churches remaining open for as long as possible is as essential as schools remaining open?
I emphatically agree. I should, of course, have added churches and other religious groups to the long list of organisations that can—and I hope will—participate in this national effort, so that the country can get through this situation as well as possible.
Good communication is obviously key, so, first, may I thank my right hon. Friend for his regular updates? Secondly, will he join me in praising the staff and management at Royal Stoke University Hospital, who have treated a case recently and have communicated very clearly with the local community in Stoke and in Newcastle-under-Lyme?
Yes, all the staff at the Royal Stoke have done a brilliant job. I worry that they will no doubt have more cases to deal with, but the work they have done so far is something that we should all praise.
The Secretary of State has called for a national effort on a number of occasions. What is his take on the request from the TUC, which has called for a joint emergency taskforce between trade unions and businesses to make sure, for example, that statutory sick pay issues are addressed as well as keeping public services afloat?
Of course trade unions have an important role to play in this as well, and that is something we absolutely should consider.
The Secretary of State is no doubt aware that one of the four deaths that he referred to in his statement was an elderly patient with underlying health conditions in Milton Keynes University Hospital. What steps is he taking to ensure that hospitals like Milton Keynes University Hospital and others are open, safe and clean?
All of the hospitals that have so far dealt with cases—and, indeed, the four confirmed deaths—have protocols in place to ensure that the hospital remains a safe place to treat everybody else. The evidence so far is that that has worked well, but of course we keep working at it.
Many careworkers are on zero-hours contracts and work for multiple providers. This means that they may struggle to prove that they are eligible for statutory sick pay, forcing them to choose between protecting their clients and paying their bills. The Secretary of State mentioned statutory sick pay earlier. What is he planning to do to help care staff who are not eligible for statutory sick pay or who might struggle to prove their eligibility?
I am working very closely with the Work and Pensions Secretary to address this exact point.
Over the weekend, Leicestershire had its first confirmed case of coronavirus, while a number of European countries moved to ban large public events. Will the Secretary of State explain why the timing of such social distancing measures is so crucial, and at what point and on what basis he will decide if they are necessary?
The first question we must ask is, “How effective is this measure—is it effective?”, and the second is, “Are we going to get unintended consequences from people acting differently in a way that actually hinders the overall effort?” It is for the scientists best to explain the reason why they have scientifically come to this advice. But it is clear that there are other measures that we can take that are more effective and have fewer negative side-effects.
My constituents in Kettering are struggling to understand why we are not banning flights from quarantined areas of north Italy.
The reason is that there are many UK citizens in that area who may want to come home. Also, crucially—this is very important—the evidence shows that banning flights from affected areas does very little to protect us. Indeed, Italy was the only country in Europe that banned flights from China earlier in the progress of this disease: it did not work, and now Italy is the epicentre of the European outbreak.
We have just heard about the death in Wolverhampton. I have had a lot of constituents talk to me about safety in schools. The Secretary of State has updated the House on this, but there are hundreds of school trips planned over the next three months all over the UK and Europe, so what is the advice around that?
The advice around school trips is to follow the Foreign Office travel advice—so, as of this weekend, not to take a school trip to north Italy, and otherwise to follow the travel advice.
As a former journalist, I know the temptations of a dramatic headline, but does my right hon. Friend agree that in this case there is an onus on the media to report responsibly and not engage in scaremongering?
I strongly agree. I would say that largely the media have been responsible, but there have been a couple of exceptions. I hope that the media play their part in this national effort in reporting the facts and what the Government are thinking of doing, especially with the transparency that we are providing, but do so responsibly and thoughtfully as to the consequences of the way that this virus is portrayed.
If large numbers of elderly and vulnerable people have to self-isolate, the statutory system will simply not be able to provide them with all the support they need at home. May I urge the Government to work with not only local authorities but civil society groups, to ensure that people get the social and practical support they need?
I emphatically support the call for civil society groups to play their part in the national effort. My hon. Friend knows more than most about the work that they do and can do, and I would be grateful to work with him on how to ensure that this is best done.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. There have been several references today, including from the Secretary of State, quite rightly, to the House of Commons Commission meeting that was held earlier, jointly with the House of Lords Commission. Many of us are meant to have visits in Parliament from schools in the next couple of weeks, as well as from international delegations; I think there is one group coming from Croatia next Monday. It would be helpful if there were a means of the Commission updating the House and perhaps answering questions, and I wonder how that might be achieved.
I thank the hon. Member for his point of order. I know that this issue is being discussed on a daily basis and taken very seriously, but I also know that Members have constituents or delegations coming here—some of them travelling many miles—and they will want to be informed. I do not sit on the Commission, so I do not know how the deliberations went this morning, but I will ensure that his request is passed on to the Speaker when he gets back.
Hate Crime (Misogyny)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Wera Hobhouse, supported by Sarah Olney, Christine Jardine, Layla Moran, Munira Wilson, Wendy Chamberlain and Stella Creasy, presented a Bill to make motivation by misogyny an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing; to require police forces to record hate crimes motivated by misogyny; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 July, and to be printed (Bill 107).
Hate Crime (Misandry and Misogyny)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Philip Hollobone presented a Bill to make motivation by misandry or misogyny an aggravating factor in criminal sentencing; to require police forces to record hate crimes motivated by misandry or misogyny; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 July, and to be printed (Bill 108).
Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords]
Before Second Reading, I should tell the House that Mr Speaker has certified clauses 13 to 19 and 23 of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords] as relating exclusively to England and Wales on matters within devolved legislative competence, and clauses 25 to 29 of the Bill as relating exclusively to England on matters within devolved legislative competence.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today, on Commonwealth Day, I rise to open the Second Reading debate on the Commonwealth games Bill. The 2022 games, held in Birmingham, will be the biggest sporting and cultural event that the city and the region have ever seen. With an estimated TV audience of 1.5 billion people, it will showcase Birmingham, the west midlands and the entire country as an amazing place to live, work, study, visit and do business. It will coincide with the platinum jubilee and Festival of Britain, crowning a year of celebration. It will be the most inclusive Commonwealth games in history. For the first time, a major multi-sport event will feature more women’s than men’s medal events, along with the largest ever integrated para-sports programme.
The benefits of the games will be felt for many years to come. It will accelerate new housing, create new jobs and provide improved transport and new community sports facilities for the people of the west midlands. There will be a new Commonwealth games village, supported by £165 million of Government funding, which will support the long-term regeneration of Perry Barr. A £70 million refurbishment of the Alexander stadium will turn it into a world-class athletics venue, along with new community sports facilities, and we are building a brand new aquatics centre in Sandwell, the site of which I had the pleasure of visiting only a couple of weeks ago. I saw how that development is already having a positive impact on the local economy, with anticipation building to welcome some of the world’s best swimmers and divers. A world-class leisure centre will also leave a legacy for decades to come. It was fantastic to hear about these plans and to see the palpable excitement of local school children.
However, the Commonwealth games is not just about sport. This will be a global games, kicked off with Her Majesty the Queen’s baton relay. It will be accompanied by a vibrant cultural programme that will showcase the best cultural artists from across the city, the region and the Commonwealth. We will see a huge programme of visits, with Heads of Government arriving from all over the Commonwealth.
The Minister is correct in identifying the Commonwealth games as an opportunity to rejuvenate the Commonwealth family and large parts of Britain’s second city, but does he share my concerns about some of the overspending to do with the village by the local council and the extra complexities caused by the demolition of the Perry Barr flyover, which experts say will not impact traffic flows at all? We want Birmingham 2022 to have the same transformative effect as Manchester did, not the financial hangover—for those old enough to remember it—of Montreal in 1976.
I thank the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for those comments. He is aware that we are having these games in record time—considerably shorter than the usual seven years—but we are conscious of that in terms of cost containment, because we are not building new facilities from scratch, or not all of them, and that has helped with the finances.
All the stakeholders and all the partners are well aware of their financial responsibilities, and we are working with them. I shall address some of the transport concerns and the flyover issues later, but again we are working with all the partners involved to make sure we can come to a suitable outcome.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for giving way on what I think is his first outing at the Dispatch Box, which is already going extremely well. As he would imagine, we are very much looking forward to the games coming to the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, and in particular to the appearance of part of them in the Royal Sutton park.
May I, however, emphasise the importance of the point made by our hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee? The Government, the Mayor and the West Midlands authority have been generous and very supportive on the financial side. While I do have some sympathy with Birmingham City Council, it is essential that my hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, makes it absolutely clear that it must show greater financial control.
A particular example has been mentioned by our hon. Friend, but there are other worries to do with contingency funding. Obviously, I expect the Government to be generous and supportive, but Birmingham City Council must show financial rigour, which has not been a feature of that council. If it does not do so, I hope the Minister will make it clear that the Government will not tolerate any question of failure in these games, and that Birmingham City Council will be removed from the management of them if it does not demonstrate such control.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. I can assure him—I will come to this later in my speech—that the financial governance of the games is very strong. Again, we are working with all stakeholders to make sure that we can deliver on time and on budget—both on the time commitment and on the financial commitment.
In the spirit of this debate and the cross-party nature of the spirit required to ensure the success of the games, I hope the Minister will at some point in his remarks reflect on the extraordinary strength of character required for a council that has lost £700 million of funding over the last few years to deliver the games not in the usual seven years, but in four and a half years. Let us unite around a shared endeavour to make this a success.
I thank the right hon. Member for his comments. Indeed, I think we have seen a spirit of cross-party co-operation already and that we will continue to see it throughout the delivery of the games and beyond. We are absolutely seeing that on both sides of the Chamber in both Houses. Long may that continue—I will certainly play my part in ensuring that that is the case. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) mentioned, that does not mean that we should not hold all stakeholders to account on the promises they have made, and we should continue to do so.
We are expecting Birmingham 2022 to create 41,000 games-time roles, and a procurement spend of about £350 million, from which local and regional government suppliers will all benefit.
There is already a lot of excitement about the games in my constituency, particularly in the local schools, but one worry is that because we are not actually hosting an event—the Minister is touching on the opportunities of that—we might not get the same opportunities in our local area. Can he assure us that those opportunities will be opened up to people across the whole of the west midlands, particularly those in North Warwickshire and Bedworth?
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments; as a west midlands MP myself, I have some skin in the game as well. I can give him those assurances: it is absolutely the intention that the benefits of the games —in the run-up, during the construction and from the legacy—be felt throughout the entire west midlands and indeed the country.
On procurement, anybody can sign up to birmingham2022.com; businesses can sign up to the business portal to have the opportunity to bid for many of the procurement opportunities. A whole host of other opportunities to do with legacy will be felt right across the west midlands.
One of the reasons why the Manchester Commonwealth games in 2002 was so successful is that it took the best from the Sydney Olympics and transferred that to Manchester, particularly on volunteering and bringing the whole city together. We also saw that in London 2012. Is my hon. Friend making sure that we also learn from the central importance of bringing the city together through volunteering, and that right across the west midlands people will feel that they are connected to the Commonwealth games?
Absolutely—volunteering is at the heart of these games; it always has been and I am sure always will be. We saw that in the fantastic Glasgow Commonwealth games, and indeed in the Olympic games. We are expecting around 10,000 volunteers, perhaps substantially more, and excitement is already building, particularly among schoolchildren in the region, about the opportunities to participate. More news about those opportunities will be coming in due course.
First, I congratulate the Minister on getting his position; I look forward to his contributions on many occasions, all positive, in this House.
Does the Minister agree that the exclusion of shooting sports from Birmingham 2022 will have a negative impact? The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has always excelled at shooting, and Commonwealth countries have followed the United Kingdom’s lead in that. Does the Minister share my disappointment that those in that most law-abiding and responsible section of the community have been excluded? Can the Minister confirm that his job in the future, if he still has this position—I hope he does—will be to ensure that shooting sports are included in the next Commonwealth games?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening. It would not be a debate without his intervention; I am just surprised that he was not first.
On the shooting championship, I think we have a reasonable compromise that everybody—or most people—are quite happy with. The Commonwealth games are happening in summer 2022, and the championships for shooting and archery will take place in the January. The events will be separate, but at the end of the games there will be a Commonwealth sport medal table. I think that is a reasonable conclusion to what has been quite a challenging situation; I do not know whether it will set a precedent for future games, but I think that in these particular circumstances we have come to a reasonable conclusion.
Part of the arrangement made with India on shooting is that we now have women’s T20 cricket in the Commonwealth games, and I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome that. There is a great deal of excitement in my constituency and around the west midlands about making such a fantastic mark in sport.
Again, I could not agree more. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is fantastic that we have more women’s games than men’s in the Commonwealth games. That is a first.
On the subject of specific sports, the Minister will share my pleasure that seven-a-side rugby is a fundamental part of the Commonwealth games, with games being played at the Coventry stadium. Does he agree that it will be great to see those players coming to the birthplace of the game during the tournament?
Indeed, there are many fantastic places around the west midlands where we can—
We are going to have a game of sport bingo here, I think.
I thank the Minister for giving way. We have just sent to Pakistan an England kabaddi team to play in the competition there. Will he consider in the future introducing kabaddi as a national sport here as well?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is giving me powers I do not have. He knows that these decisions are made elsewhere, but I am sure he will continue to make his case. He has already made it to me personally and he has now made it again in the Chamber. I will continue with my speech for a few moments now.
The Birmingham Commonwealth games will have been successfully delivered in a much shorter time than other games: in just four and a half years, rather than the typical seven. Just as for the London 2012 Olympic games, a pre-games Bill is essential if we are to support the successful delivery of such a landmark event. On that occasion, the House came together to approve a vital Bill. I am sure that the Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill will be no different. The Bill contains four important measures, the first of which relates to transport.
Putting in place effective transport provision is a crucial part of any major sporting event. I know that Andy Street, the Mayor of the west midlands combined authority, is strongly focused on that so that athletes, officials and the 10,000 volunteers can get to their events and shifts on time, and, crucially, so that residents can also move around easily. The measures will make sure we can do just that. They will allow temporary changes to road use where needed, so that anyone travelling to and from the games, and around the region, can do so safely and with minimal disruption.
Many of the facilities, for example the aquatic centre in Smethwick, will be used after the games have ended. Is there not a need for consideration of longer-term changes to transport arrangements? Will they be included in the legacy plans to ensure such facilities are properly used and enjoyed in the future?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The integration of transport and the co-operation of all stakeholders in the run-up to the games, as well as during and after, is being considered by the organising committee and other stakeholders, including the Department for Transport. That is a key factor that we hope will ensure the legacy of the games.
The Bill will also set a statutory basis for a games transport plan and provide the Secretary of State with a power of direction to safeguard the delivery of essential road regulation measures. I can assure the House that any road regulation measures will be kept to a minimum, so we can run a safe and efficient games. Local residents and businesses will be consulted and kept informed of the proposals.
Secondly, the Bill will work to protect the commercial rights of those who invest in the games as sponsors. Securing commercial sponsorship is critical to staging a world-class event and maintaining investment in the games. That can be achieved only when the rights of sponsors are protected. The Bill introduces measures, similar to those for the Olympic games in London and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, to protect against unauthorised association. That is not designed to stop the many local residents and community groups who will want to show their support for the games; in fact, the organising committee wants to make it easier for them. Last week, it launched its new community programme, United by Birmingham 2022. Community projects that share the vision and mission of the games can apply to join.
The provisions are instead aimed at stopping commercial infringements, where a business is claiming an association with the games without making the commitments required of an authorised business. The Bill places a duty on the organising committee to produce guidance to ensure that everyone is clear about what activity may constitute an infringement. It introduces restrictions to advertising and trading in and around games locations. Again, they are in line with the approach of previous games. The restrictions will ensure that trading does not obstruct easy movement in the vicinity of games locations and will provide a consistent approach at each venue.
Regulations will set out the detail of when and where the temporary and proportionate restrictions will apply. They will be driven by the particular usage of each games location. The organising committee will be required to produce guidance on the effect of the advertising and trading restrictions, which local authorities will share with traders that may be affected. That will help to ensure that traders likely to be affected will be aware of what they need to do.
Thirdly, there are provisions on ticket touting. There is a role for a responsible secondary ticketing market for those who are genuinely no longer able to attend events, but professional touts are a scourge on any major event. They make tickets more expensive and make it harder for fans to see the events they love. We have already legislated to ensure there is a responsible market, from strengthening requirements on secondary platforms to banning touts from using bots to dodge security measures. Those measures received the support of both sides of the House. These are robust powers that stop online touts hoovering up large numbers of tickets for profit and help consumers to make informed choices when buying tickets on the secondary market. However, these games are a global, multi-sport event underpinned by significant public investment, so we want to go even further so that fans can buy tickets, confident that they will not be funding unscrupulous touts. That is vital if we are to act as a powerful deterrent to touts and protect the integrity of the games. Only those vendors authorised to sell tickets by the Birmingham 2022 organising committee will be permitted to do so, meaning that buying tickets will be clear, simple and affordable for genuine fans.
The Bill will create an offence that will apply to any unauthorised attempt to sell tickets for profit in the course of business or in a public place. Over 1 million tickets will be available for games events.
The measures that the Minister is announcing sound as though they will go some way towards achieving what we all want: to ensure that tickets end up in the hands of the fans at the price intended, not at vastly inflated prices. To ensure the enforcement of what he hopes to achieve, will he consider extra funding for National Trading Standards so that it has the resources to enforce what he has put in the Bill?
I thank the hon. Member for that point and praise her for the work that she has done on unscrupulous secondary ticket sales. She makes a fair point. The dynamics and details of sales and enforcement relating to tickets have still to be determined, and I am sure that everybody has heard her comments.
The organising committee’s ticketing strategy will be underpinned by the values of fairness, affordability and accessibility. That will help to ensure that everyone who wants to experience the games will have an opportunity to do so.
Finally, the Bill contains measures on the funding of, and reporting on, the games. The organising committee has been established as a non-departmental public body. It is subject to standard controls on public bodies and will provide regular budgetary and financial updates to Parliament over the life cycle of the games. Indeed, the organising committee’s first annual report and accounts were laid in Parliament in September last year, and the report for the year 2019-20 is due to be published this coming July.
The Bill contains a technical measure that makes sure that financial assistance given to the organising committee continues to comply with financial propriety rules. Alongside that, the Bill also requires the organising committee to produce an annual report on its delivery of the games. However, those interested in the delivery of the games will not need to wait for a statutory report. The organising committee already produces quarterly updates on its delivery; the next one will be available shortly and will be published on its website. Indeed, I met the CEO of the organising committee, Ian Reid, during my recent visit to Birmingham and came away with a really strong sense of confidence that the games will be a huge success.
My hon. Friend probably already knows that people who exercise for 150 minutes a week are likely to live seven years longer than more inactive people. In my area in mid-Wales, my local health board says that only 50% of our young people are reaching that goal. Does he agree that with so many people inspired to get active after the Commonwealth games, it will be vital to meeting our public health challenge?
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. She hits on a very important part of the games’ purpose, its legacy, and indeed, the Government’s sport strategy. We will be working much more on the issues that she raises to encourage more young people to participate in sport at the right level. The Youth Sport Trust and many other bodies play a key role in delivering that, as do our schools. Those of us who are parents have a responsibility too, but the games are a key chance to make sure that we double down on those opportunities and inspire young children to get involved in sport at a very early age, with the huge mental health and physical health benefits that come with that.
Inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), I thought I would rise to my feet again. Before the Minister finishes, will he say a word or two more about the issue of legacy, which is so important? I had the privilege of sitting on Lord Seb Coe’s International Inspiration, which took forward the legacy from the Olympic games in London. Will he confirm that legacy is about international, national and local objectives and that it is a very high priority for the Government to build on Britain’s experience under Lord Coe’s leadership?
Legacy planning is already taking place. There is already a team within the organising committee focused on legacy, not just the physical legacy, important though that is—the physical assets, the new sports facilities, the new village and homes—but the long-lasting legacy in terms of inspiring people to travel and invest in the west midlands. The tourism, trade and investment opportunities will be a core part of this. We have learned the lessons, both the positive lessons and where we can improve, of the Olympic games and the games in Glasgow, and I am confident that we will continue to make those very important legacy decisions.
Does the Minister agree that one way we should evaluate the success and eventual legacy of the games is by how successful they are at getting jobs, skills and volunteering opportunities to those furthest from the world of work? He will know that my constituency has the highest rate of unemployment in the country and that many other Birmingham constituencies are afflicted with the awful problem of long-term, systemic worklessness. The games are an incredibly important opportunity to turn this around. Does he agree that this must be front and centre of all decisions when it comes to the jobs and skills the games will provide?
I agree with the hon. Lady. These issues were raised when the Lords considered the Bill. Front and centre of the social values charter in the Bill are things such as skills, opportunity, sustainability and a host of other important aspects. We must ensure these live not just when the games happen but for many years after, and I am sure we will debate this matter much further. I would encourage all colleagues to visit the organising committee. They would be very welcome. When I went up, I left inspired and confident that those issues—the longevity, the focus on skills, the opportunities for regeneration—were front of mind for everybody involved.
In conclusion, the Bill will help to deliver a Commonwealth games where transport keeps moving, commercial rights are protected and fans can be confident about the tickets they buy. It is critical that we get this right because the Commonwealth games are an important milestone for the region and the country. Just as we did in London, we will show the world that we are a hospitable, warm and tolerant country that is proud to host world-class sport, and we will leave a lasting legacy for Birmingham, the west midlands and the whole UK. That is what the Bill will do, and I commend it to the House.
It is a great pleasure to open this important debate for the Labour party. It feels particularly apt to be debating the Commonwealth games on Commonwealth Day. Today we mark the strength and diversity of the Commonwealth while recognising the substantial challenges still facing people in many parts of the Commonwealth. While it is a shame the Secretary of State is not in his place this afternoon, I congratulate his understudy on his fine performance so far.
In what I hope is a sign of things to come, the Opposition agree with much of the Bill. We agree across the House that the games offer an enormous opportunity to the west midlands, but the House must ensure that the games organisers make the most of those vast opportunities. That is what we are here to debate today. I hope to take up the Minister’s offer and to visit the sites ahead of the games, perhaps with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), if the people of the west midlands are sensible and put their faith in him to be their Mayor later this year. I hope to see for myself a bigger and bolstered Alexander stadium, the new aquatics centre in Sandwell and the countless other stadiums and venues that will be the envy of many nations.
I look forward to athletes competing in just over two years, hopefully winning an impressive haul of medals for all the home nations. As many will attest, the games have the potential to transform communities in the way the Olympics did for London. The new athletes village in Perry Barr, with the associated transport improvements and investment in public services, will provide good-quality homes for thousands of residents and create a new community in the heart of the city. I recognise that the Bill is a vital part of ensuring the fair and proper organisation of the Commonwealth games in 2022 in Birmingham and a step towards the games delivering for the people of the west midlands.
I particularly welcome the steps in the Bill to prevent ticket touting. All Members will agree that the games should be open and accessible to as many members of the public as possible. Strong steps to prevent exploitative and unfair ticket touting are needed to avoid the scenes that we have witnessed during other sporting events in recent years, and to guarantee that the people of the west midlands can have a fair chance to enjoy the sport on offer.
I am, however, disappointed that the Government have not used the opportunity presented by the Bill to ensure that Birmingham 2022 is truly game-changing for the region—the opportunity to showcase the truly transformational potential of the games. In that regard, they could go further. I know that the organising committee has done good work to be an inclusive and progressive employer, but more could still be done. The west midlands has one of the lowest levels of living wage accreditation among the UK regions, and the Bill could have given the Government the ideal opportunity to set down a marker by ensuring that the committee followed the lead of Labour-run Birmingham City Council and became living wage-accredited. Not only would that have helped so many who are directly involved in the delivery of the games, but it would have served as an example of good employment practice for businesses across the region, and become a catalyst for further improvement in the income and living conditions of people throughout the west midlands.
Sadly, the Bill also contains no provision to bar gambling companies from sponsoring the games. Although I know it is unlikely that the organising committee will enter into an agreement with a gambling company, I firmly believe that the Government should declare that as a matter of principle. We know that too many children and young people in the UK are already addicted to gambling, and we need to ensure that the Bill will protect them. A specific pledge preventing any form of official gambling support might just make those companies understand our concern about how best to protect casual gamblers who enjoy a flutter so that their enjoyment does not slide into destructive gambling addiction.
On a similar note, the Bill could have gone further to ease the financial pressures on Birmingham City Council, about which we have already heard. It could have opened up further funding streams so that the council would not have to face difficult choices when considering sponsors and partners.
It is fantastic that so many additional tourists are expected to visit Birmingham, but a hotel levy of £1 per room per night would go some way towards raising the additional revenue needed to fund the successful delivery of the games, and easing the pressure on council taxpayers. Such levies work in many cities across the world; why should they not work in Birmingham? The leader of the city council, Ian Ward, has been vocal in calling for this for some time. I urge the Minister to reconsider, and to add that provision for a hotel levy.
I should also like the Minister to give further assurances about the climate change impact of the games. I know that both the council and the organising committee are going to great lengths to showcase sustainable aspects of the games, and I welcome the council’s commitment to sustainable transport improvements in the athletes’ village.
Does the hon. Lady accept that, while the council is trying to ensure sustainability for the games, it has voted to build on 8 hectares of parkland every year within the city boundaries? Will she condemn that blatant hypocrisy?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and I am sure that his constituents have heard what he has said, but my understanding from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill is that 51,000 homes need to be built, primarily on brownfield sites. Birmingham’s planning conditions and responsibilities are not my area of expertise, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to take the matter further, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will discuss it with him outside the Chamber.
We need to do more to tackle the climate emergency that we all face. All the expert advice suggests that we have about 10 years in which to prevent it from getting out of hand, and this is the Government’s opportunity to showcase a lead in that very respect. Before, during and after the games, we can show that we are serious about the need to take action, and to do all that we can to have a sustainable and environmentally friendly games. Birmingham cannot achieve that on its own.
The Mayor and the West Midlands Combined Authority are trying to introduce a bendy bus under the current diesel structure that would cost £35 million just in the Perry Barr area. Would it not be more constructive to have electric buses running for that price, along with normal buses to make environmental changes for Birmingham?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I hope that the Government will step into discussions about how we make more vehicles electric—surely that is the way forward. The Government were leading on some of this, with electric buses and cars, and we need to make sure that that filters through to all opportunities on this. The Minister has heard my colleague’s comments, and I am sure that in Committee we will take that forward in more detail.
I welcome the Minister’s assurances that his Department will work with Birmingham City Council and the organising committee to ensure that the games are a shining example to the world in how to deliver a green, sustainable and forward-looking major sporting event. Finally, I urge the Minister to ensure that these games work for local people, and that his Department make every effort possible to provide for a long-lasting and tangible boost for grassroots sport for local people in the west midlands. When the Minister responds, I would love him to mention doing all that he can to ensure that as many people as possible watch the games on free-to-air channels with their family, without committing to buying a subscription service. It is not fair that we say that people should have access, but then they have to pay to watch.
We all know the power of sport to change lives, and Birmingham 2022 has the potential to inspire and radically change the lives of people in the west midlands. For an area with high levels of social deprivation and poor health outcomes, this could be absolutely game-changing for confidence, mental health issues and obesity, and it could transform the life chances of many people, but only if we get the decisions right now. One of the biggest lessons of the 2012 Olympics in London is that, sadly, we failed to capitalise on the immense interest in sport that the games ushered in. We need to ensure a legacy of sporting participation for the people of Birmingham and the surrounding areas.
Inevitably, the drastic and disproportionate cuts to local councils played a key role, with councils forced to concentrate on their core services. We cannot risk a repeat when it comes to Birmingham 2022. Every child who goes to bed dreaming of one day winning a gold medal—I once did that in gymnastics; unfortunately I did not get it and I am here instead—or even adults who are simply inspired to get fitter or try something new must have somewhere to give it a go. The power to change lives via the games is enormous, and the Bill takes the necessary steps to ensure that we can make the most of that opportunity. Yes, there are things that I should like to see tightened up or improved in the legislation, but I hope that overall the House today finds much more to agree than to disagree on. I look forward to the debate.
Usual courtesies, please, for the maiden speech of Jacob Young.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and happy Commonwealth Day. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I would like to start by mentioning Johanna Jackson who, like me, is a born and bred Teessider, but unlike me, won the gold for the 20 km walk in the 2010 Commonwealth games in India. Jo Jackson, from New Marske, completed the walk in just one hour, 34 minutes and 22 seconds, which is about the same amount of time that it takes me to walk here from my office in Norman Shaw North.
I am immensely proud to be in this place, representing my community. I have lived in Teesside my whole life, and Redcar is where I went to college, trained as an apprentice and cut my teeth in the chemical industry. For a lad from Teesside to stand in the House of Commons is all a bit overwhelming. Most people down here think PPE is a degree course; where I come from, it is what you wear to work. Indeed, to the envy of George Osborne, I believe I am the first MP to wear a hard hat in the photo on his parliamentary pass.
I stand here by the grace of God. My constituents have put their trust in me and, like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I know that their votes are only lent. During my time here I will work hard to make my community proud to have elected its first Conservative Member of Parliament.
Our constituency is Redcar, but it is not just Redcar. It is Eston, South Bank, Marske, New Marske, Ormesby and Nunthorpe, to name but a few. Over the years the Redcar constituency has had many different names. From 1290 to 1832, it was part of the Yorkshire constituency. After that it was the North Riding of Yorkshire, and before it became Redcar it was Cleveland, but many of my hon. Friends will now know it as “Bluecar”.
As well as being proud Yorkshiremen, we are proud Teessiders and sit as part of the Tees valley in England’s north-east. We are a people with an affinity for industry and an economy based on hard graft and global trade. Although the villages of Marske, Nunthorpe, Lazenby, Lackenby and Kirkleatham go back as far as the Domesday Book, life in the Redcar constituency as we know it today started in 1841 with the discovery of iron ore in the Eston hills. Suddenly, the sleepy fishing village of Redcar and its neighbour Coatham started to grow into the Redcar town that we know today. This discovery kick-started a housing crisis in the old hamlet of Eston, due to too much employment in our now booming industry. This prompted a new neighbouring settlement to be formed, named California. Perhaps it was a sunny day in Teesside.
A number of other new areas were formed at this time, including South Bank, Normanby, Grangetown and Dormanstown, which was named after the steelmaker and former Conservative candidate, Arthur Dorman. It was these thriving towns, alongside a growing Middlesbrough, that led the parliamentary titan and free trade pioneer William Gladstone to call us the “infant Hercules”. From the banks of the Tees came the industrial revolution, and Teesside became an exporting capital that built the world. From the Sydney harbour bridge to Lambeth bridge and from the Indian railways to the London underground, cities, towns and communities around the world exist today because of Teesside steel.
Our area has moved on from ironstone mining, and our steelworks closed in 2015, but industry remains our flesh and blood. Our chemical industry in Teesside still employs more than 7,500 people locally. The Wilton International site forms part of the largest chemical cluster in the UK and the second largest in Europe. At this point, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must declare an interest, having worked and trained in the Teesside chemical industry for the past nine years. I left a job as a single-use plastics producer to become a politician. I am not sure which is more popular right now, but I am sure I will find out.
We do not just make plastics. We are home to world-leading innovation centres, including the Materials Processing Institute and the Centre for Process Innovation. We are the largest producer of bioethanol in the UK, and we also notably produce more than half of the UK’s commercially viable hydrogen, which is why I am pleased to be chairing the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen as we look to further the hydrogen economy in the UK. For the people of Redcar and Cleveland, industry is our past and our present, and it will be our future. It will not be coal-fired or carbon-heavy; it will be the clean, green industry of the 21st century.
In this decade, I want Redcar to become home to sustainable steelmaking again, and I am supporting Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen’s pledge to bring a clean electric arc furnace to Redcar so that the people who made steel for the World Trade Centre and the Shard can make steel for the world’s next great buildings. In this decade, I want Redcar to become home to the world’s first industrial-scale carbon capture, utilisation and storage project—Net Zero Teesside; a power plant that will not only provide net zero carbon power to millions of homes but show the country and the world how to safely remove carbon emissions from industry. In this decade—indeed, in this parliamentary term—I want Redcar to become home to one of the UK’s first post-Brexit free ports. We have the deepest port on the east coast and the largest brownfield development site in Europe. We have the land, we have the plan, and we have an oven-ready free port deal ready to go. This is why I stand in this place today: to champion industry, to champion global trade, and to champion my community.
Above all, my community is important because people are important. Across my constituency I have met some fantastic people, such as Sandra Smith from South Bank, who started the South Bank Credit Union in 1989 and has dutifully served her community ever since; or Frankie Wales, who stood against me at the general election and who runs a boxing club in Redcar, giving young working-class lads purpose and self-esteem; or Norah Cooney, one of just two Conservative councillors in my constituency, who has given more than 40 years of public service to the people of Marske and New Marske.
I would also like to thank my predecessor, Anna Turley, for the work that she did for our community and for this House. Her work to bring about tougher sentences for animal cruelty is particularly commendable, and I am pleased to be supporting the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder).
There is a lot more that I wanted to mention—parmos; lemon tops; Redcar racecourse; the Zetland, which is the UK’s oldest lifeboat; Winkie’s Castle, which is a cottage turned folk museum; and Ben Houchen saving Teesside airport—but I will have to save it for another time, as I want to use my final few moments to mention Redcar’s famous MP, Mo.
Dr Marjorie Mowlam was one of the political giants of our age. To this day she is well thought of in Redcar by people across the political spectrum—I cannot count the number of times I have been told, “Mo was the best MP we ever had.” She had an ability to see through the fog of partisan politics and recognise good intentions and great achievements on all sides. In fact, in the BBC’s “100 Greatest Britons” competition, it was her advocacy for a Conservative Prime Minister that gave Winston Churchill his rightful place as our greatest ever citizen. Her co-operative spirit is something that British politics is sorely lacking today, and something that I will do my hardest to emulate.
Therefore, to finish in the spirit of co-operation, I offer my new colleagues, of all parties, some slightly paraphrased advice from the great Mo herself. There is more hope than despair, and by working together we can overcome many obstacles, often within ourselves, and by doing so we can make the world a better place.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) making his maiden speech. He has shown that he potentially has a long career ahead of him representing Redcar—certainly a longer stint than I hope to have representing my constituency in this place. He mentioned the Domesday Book, and I cannot be alone in thinking that these times of Brexit must have their own chapter in that book. Whatever his political persuasions, I am sure that he is not a single-use politician and that he will have a great career in this Parliament, so I wish him well for the coming years.
I will not detain the House for long, particularly as sport is a devolved matter and Members from Birmingham, the midlands and across England will want to speak. Suffice it to say that the Glasgow games were a world-leading event, as the Minister touched on. They were not only a sporting event but a celebration of the many cultures and people who have chosen to make Scotland their home. I hope that the Birmingham games, in a city that is also renowned for its diversity, will similarly go beyond the purely sporting aspects, cast the net wider afield and use the occasion to showcase their city and their culture.
Glasgow had dozens of giant dancing Tunnock’s tea cakes at its opening ceremony, so I look forward to the sight of scores of pikelets and pease puddings pirouetting under the lights at the Alexander stadium in 2022. My wife and I were fortunate enough to be at the opening ceremony at Parkhead, after she won a pair of tickets in a local radio competition. The hardest part of that day was trying to get away from work in time, but I was lucky enough to do so.