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Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2020

Q6. As the Member of Parliament for Grenfell Tower, I would like to thank my right hon. Friend for the additional £1 billion in the Budget for cladding remediation. Moving on to today’s events, can he assure me that his Government will do absolutely everything to support the economy, businesses large and small, the self-employed and individuals, including those on low income? Now is not the time to be squeamish about public sector debt. (901614)

Q12. I welcome the measures, but yesterday’s statement offered nothing for the self-employed. My constituency of Vauxhall has an estimated 30,000 self-employed workers, and a lot of those people already feel the financial pinch. They cannot wait days for the Government to announce something, so will the Prime Minister today announce a guarantee of measures that will fully compensate all self-employed workers in this crisis? (901620)

I repeat the answer I have given several times to several of the hon. Lady’s colleagues: we will do whatever it takes to ensure that all workers are protected throughout this crisis.

Q7. Like so many colleagues, I extend my thanks to the NHS and all the frontline staff, but also offer my thanks to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary for their leadership in this crisis, which is warmly welcomed by many in my constituency. The news from the major food retailers this morning was welcome, but many over-70s and people who are vulnerable or self-isolating will be concerned that they will still have problems with access to food and medicines throughout this period. Will he confirm what the Government are doing to ensure that all retailers and pharmacists are going to prioritise those groups throughout the whole of this virus crisis? (901615)

We are extending the hours in which deliveries can be made, and we are talking right now with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee about ensuring that pharmaceutical goods get at the right time to the customers who need them.

Q13. In response to covid-19, there are reports from across the globe of antiretroviral drugs being tested alone and in combination with varying degrees of reported success. In the light of that, can the Prime Minister advise the House what resources are being made available for drug security and development and clinical trials in the UK? What efforts are being made by him for the UK to work in concert internationally? Does he agree that the prize on this occasion must be the victory and not patents and profits? (901621)

I endorse completely the sentiment that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed about the need to do this collectively. The Government have announced a £46 million package of investment for finding a vaccine. As I have just said, a huge amount of work is going into investing in test kits, and those are changing and improving the whole time. The House will be reassured to know that this work is being done at an international level. We are working with our EU partners, the G7, the G20, the World Health Organisation and the International Monetary Fund—everybody is working together on the very issues that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Q9. As my right hon. Friend has said, combating this virus will require a huge national effort to support doctors and nurses in hospitals, and community carers looking after the most elderly in their homes. Can the Prime Minister assure me, and my constituents watching and listening in Warrington South, that the Government will do all they can to save lives, protect frontline NHS staff and keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe? (901617)

Defeating the coronavirus must be the top—indeed, the only—priority for the foreseeable future. There is already huge anxiety across the UK. Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, so, regardless of leave or remain, how quickly will the Prime Minister recognise the inevitable and seek at least a one-year extension to the Brexit implementation process?

Our priority is to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. The other matter that the hon. Member mentions has, as he will know, already been legislated for.

Q10. Like other town centres across the UK, Burnley has been seeing the evolution of its high street through mixing retail with leisure, which plays a significant role in increasing footfall, and supporting small and medium- sized enterprises. With that in mind, I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the measures announced in the Budget and yesterday. Will the Prime Minister commit to doing whatever it takes to support our SMEs, so that once we get through this challenge our high streets can buzz once again? (901618)

I can indeed confirm that that is exactly why we have cut business rates. We are making very considerable sums available for small and very small businesses precisely to protect the high street and the enterprise environment on which so many jobs depend.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that protecting our NHS staff at this crucial time is of maximum importance. At least one GP surgery in County Durham this week received surgical masks from the NHS with expiry dates of 2016 on the box. In other cases, labels had been stuck over the top, extending the expiry dates on the boxes. What assurances can the Prime Minister give not only that surgeries get the equipment they require, but that it is actually effective once they get it?

To the best of my knowledge, all the equipment we are sending out is of the correct standard. I would be happy to look at the case that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. As I said earlier, we have stockpiles of PPE, but are making huge efforts to ensure that we have enough for the outbreak ahead.

Q11. The Chancellor yesterday unveiled a wide range of measures to tackle coronavirus. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we do whatever we can to get through this as a country? (901619)

I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend has said. We will do whatever it takes, and we will beat it together.

Apart from rent arrears, eviction from a private tenancy—a section 21 no-fault eviction—is the biggest reason for homelessness. On Friday, I met a 77-year-old woman who had lived in her home for 15 years, and a couple caring for a sister with Down’s syndrome. Both households were due for eviction today. Will the Prime Minister ask the courts to stop section 21 evictions to take the pressure off hard-pressed councils and these really worried families?

The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise this matter, and that is why I said what I did to the Leader of the Opposition. We will indeed be bringing forward legislation to address this point.

Q14. In my constituency, we have enlisted voluntary sector providers to join the council in providing support to the most vulnerable residents in combating the coronavirus. Can the Prime Minister confirm that local authorities such as mine in Bromley, which are at the forefront of this, will be given clear guidance in respect of safeguarding and Disclosure and Barring Service checks for volunteers, as that will allow us to deploy more volunteers when and if the need arises? (901622)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we are speeding up DBS checks, so that they can be done in 24 hours. I want to thank and congratulate all the boroughs throughout this country for the way they are harnessing those volunteers.

The Prime Minister talked about supporting families. Will he show his solidarity for households headed up by a single breadwinner with dependent children? Saturday is National Single Parent Day, which was initiated by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Will he join the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is my friend in this, on the steps of Old Palace Yard immediately after Prime Minister’s questions to show that, old or young, rich or poor, big or small, all families matter?

I could not agree more strongly with what the hon. Lady said. Whether I will be able to join her, I am not sure; I will have to look at my diary. I think I have a date with you, Mr Speaker.

Q15. I thank the Prime Minister and his team for the sure-footed way in which they are approaching this crisis. Given what is unfolding in northern Italy, and the very real prospect of our brilliant NHS staff being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks, what age and comorbidity criteria are being drafted that will govern access to intensive care and ventilators? (901623)

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point, but it is one that is not unknown to the medical profession, and we will be relying on the clinical decisions of those medical professionals.

On the matter of “whatever it takes”, it takes more than three-word slogans, and in this case it takes a bit of war socialism. We need to get money into the pockets of the workers. Has the Prime Minister seen early-day motion 302, which I have proposed, about bringing in a temporary universal basic income to support workers and get money to where it is needed?

I hear the hon. Gentleman loud and clear. He echoes a point that was made by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Of course, that is one of the ideas that will certainly be considered.

My right hon. Friend is rightly engrossed day to day in dealing with the developments of covid-19, but I would like to ask him to cast his mind a little further forward. The chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer have been clear that the best solution to this is a vaccine, but the chief scientific adviser has said that that could be as much as a year away. He has also suggested that, until that vaccine is available, it may be difficult to ease restrictions successfully. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that analysis, and if so, what does a sensible exit strategy look like?

The objective of the Government and of our scientific advisers is to depress the peak of the epidemic, to ensure that we get through it, so that we come out on the other side, and that we do that as fast as possible. That is why we are taking all the measures that we have announced. That is why we have announced the package of business support that we have. I am not going to give a timescale on it, but that is the strategy, and I am absolutely certain that it will succeed.