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House of Commons Hansard
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29 April 2020
Volume 675
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We now come to questions to the Prime Minister. On behalf of everyone in the House of Commons, may I say congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son? It is such happy news amid such uncertainty—2020 is certainly a year that they will never forget. I will call the First Secretary of State to answer the engagements question. I call James Cartlidge virtually.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I join you in sending heartiest congratulations to the Prime Minister and to Carrie on the birth of their son? It is wonderful news and I am sure that he will bring them great joy in these difficult times.On coronavirus, surely we should not underestimate the significance of getting to what we hope is the peak of the outbreak without the NHS being overwhelmed. To do that, we have had to take the difficult but unavoidable decision of putting elective surgery on hold for many people. What more can we do to free up the NHS so that our constituents with cancer and other serious non-covid conditions start being treated again as soon as possible, and in significant numbers? [902023]

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I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As Members will have seen and as Mr Speaker has explained, the Prime Minister and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, have announced the birth of a healthy baby boy this morning. Both mother and baby are doing well, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending congratulations and our very best wishes to them.

The whole House will also want to join me in paying tribute to the 85 NHS workers and the 23 social care workers who have sadly died from coronavirus. My deepest sympathies are with their families and their friends at what is an incredibly difficult time, and we will continue to do whatever it takes to support them.

I am sure the whole House will also want to join me in wishing Captain Tom Moore, who has done so much in raising £29 million for NHS charities, a very happy 100th birthday tomorrow. His life of service for his country and his dedication to helping others is an inspiration to us all.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) notes, it is because we have taken the right measures at the right time that we have flattened the peak of this virus and prevented the NHS from becoming overwhelmed—the two single most important elements of this strategy that we have delivered. That has meant that the NHS has had capacity to deal not just with covid-19 patients but other urgent treatments. My hon. Friend is also right to say that as we move forwards towards a second phase, we must plan to ensure that the NHS is able to deliver elective surgery and to treat patients with other conditions, which is exactly what we are planning to do.

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May I add my congratulations, the congratulations of the Labour party and, I am sure, of everybody in this House to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their baby boy? Whatever differences we have in this House, as human beings I think we all recognise the anxiety that the Prime Minister and Carrie must have gone through in these past few weeks—unimaginable anxiety—so I really hope that this brings them incredible relief and joy. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

I join with the words of the First Secretary on those who died on the frontline, and on what he said about Captain Tom Moore—an inspiration to all of us.

Yesterday, an important set of figures was published about the deaths from coronavirus. First were the deaths in hospital, which currently stand at 21,678—that is the number that is published every day. On top of that, yesterday we saw the Care Quality Commission figures for deaths in care homes for the two weeks ending last Friday. That was a figure of 4,343. At the same time, the Office for National Statistics published the figures for deaths outside of hospitals and outside of care homes, which, up to 17 April, was a total of 1,220. There is a bit of complication because of the different dates, but that makes a total to date of 27,241 recorded deaths from coronavirus, and that is probably an underestimate because of the time lag. Behind each number is, of course, a family shaken to its foundations.

Six weeks ago, on 17 March, the Government’s chief scientific adviser indicated that the Government hoped to keep the overall number of deaths from coronavirus to below 20,000. He said that that would be “good”, by which, in fairness to him, he meant successful in the circumstances. We are clearly already way above that number—and we are only part way through this crisis. We are possibly on track to have one of the worst death rates in Europe. On Monday, the Prime Minister said in his short speech that “many people” were

“looking now at our apparent success”

in the United Kingdom, but does the First Secretary agree with me that, far from success, the latest figures are truly dreadful?

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First, I welcome the various points of solidarity between our Front-Bench teams in relation not only to the new baby boy for the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds but to the care workers and NHS workers who have lost their lives.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that there is a challenge in deciphering the difference between the different figures because of the time lags in relation to the care home deaths. Equally, I know that on all sides we have wanted to deliver a clearer breakdown of and distinction between care home deaths and deaths in the NHS. I think that is progress.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the target of 20,000. Of course, this is an unprecedented pandemic—a global pandemic—and in fairness we should not criticise either the chief medical officer or the deputy chief medical officer for trying to give some forecast in response to the questions that many in this Chamber and in the media are calling for. The reality is that we know a lot more about the virus, both domestically and internationally, than we did before.

I absolutely share with the right hon. and learned Gentleman our joint horror at the number of deaths—tragedies each and every one. Equally, I disagree with him: it is far too early to make international comparisons. If they are to be done, they should be done on a per capita basis. We are already seeing that deaths are measured in different ways, not just in the different settings in the UK but across Europe and around the world. This is of course, as I have said, a very delicate and dangerous moment in this pandemic, which is why, with the greatest respect, we need to wait until we have further evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies before moving towards a transitional phase or a second phase. It would be irresponsible right now to start setting out in detail what proposals we might come up with in advance of having that advice from SAGE.

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To be clear, I was not criticising the experts; I was pointing out the difference between what had been hoped for and where we had got to.

I welcome the clearer breakdown of figures that I think we will get from this afternoon onwards. I also welcome the fact that it appears—I hope this is right—that the numbers of hospital admissions and of coronavirus deaths in hospitals are going down. We have all been looking at those graphs, and I hope that they are continuing in the right direction. From yesterday’s data, however, it appears that that is not the case in care homes. They show that numbers of deaths in care homes appear to have been rising even while the numbers of hospital deaths have been falling.

As the First Secretary knows, that is on the back of concern for some weeks from the frontline about testing in care homes, including the speed of testing, and about protective equipment, and arguments that it has been too slow. We have all heard from the frontline of the care sector expressions of real anxiety about the situation they find themselves in. Why does he think that coronavirus continues to spread so fast in the care sector?

Briefly, I would like to return to something from last week, although I think the First Secretary has already touched on it. Can he give us the up-to-date figures for the number of healthcare staff and social care workers who have died on the frontline? I raised that last week, and I think he has given the figure, but could he just confirm it?

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I have already given the right hon. and learned Gentleman those figures. They are of course produced in the normal way, and he will be apprised of them, just as he is of the other figures. It is absolutely right to say that there is a challenge in care homes. In fact, when SAGE produced its advice, and when the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer gave their three-weekly review, several weeks ago now, it was made clear that we had made good progress overall in reducing the level of community transmission but that there remained challenges in hospital settings and specifically in care homes.

There are real challenges in care homes. Unlike in the NHS setting, where we have made such good progress, the principal challenge in the care home sector is one of decentralisation and exercising control over the ebb and flow of people into care homes. That includes residents, care home workers, who will sometimes work in different care homes, NHS workers, and of course friends and families. That is the single-biggest challenge in reducing transmission.

That said, I hope that I can reassure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have a comprehensive plan to ramp up testing in care homes—the Health Secretary changed the eligibility criteria yesterday—and to overhaul the way personal protective equipment is delivered to the frontline. We are also expanding the workforce by 20,000 through a new recruitment campaign. There is, however, no doubt—I will not shy away from saying this in front of him—that this is a challenge, but it is a challenge that we must and can grip in order to get the numbers down in care homes, as has happened in hospitals and the country at large.

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On “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, I think the First Secretary said that the numbers of deaths in care homes were falling in line with those in hospitals. That does not appear to be borne out by the figures, unless there are some we have not seen. I wonder if he could take a moment to clarify that.

Yesterday was memorial day for all those who have lost their lives at work, and it is important that we honour and remember all those who have died, whether from coronavirus or anything else, but it is also important that we redouble our commitment to protecting all those at work, which is why protective equipment for the frontline is so crucial. I recognise the challenge the Government face on this—I recognise that getting the right piece of equipment to the right place every time is very difficult—but lives depend on it. It is 10 weeks since the Health Secretary declared that there was a serious and imminent threat to life, and one would hope that by now things would be getting better, not worse, yet a survey of the Royal College of Physicians published on Monday reported that one in four doctors were still not getting the protective equipment they needed, and the RCP president was quoted on Monday as saying:

“it is truly terrible that supply has worsened over the past three weeks rather than improved”.

I know that is not where the First Secretary or the Government want to be—with indications from the frontline that things are worse, not better—but he must recognise that this is a plea from the frontline. What is going on and how soon can it be fixed?

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On the care home data, obviously we have seen the latest data come out, and there are some positive signs, but they are within the margin of error and we need to be very focused. There is a challenge in care homes and we have a plan in place to grip it. There is no sugar coating that.

I take exception to the suggestion that things are getting worse, not better. That is not true overall. We have seen, through social distancing measures, with overwhelming commitment to them by the public, and with our efforts to ramp up capacity, particularly ventilator beds and critical care capacity in the NHS, that the two central limbs of our strategy, to flatten the peak that we are going through—if we had not done that, the death toll would have been even worse—and to make sure that the NHS had the ability to cope, are working. Those two critical elements of the strategy have worked to date, and it is absolutely important that we keep up the effort on all of that.

In relation to PPE, again, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman addresses that, he must recognise that we face an international—global—supply shortage. Every country—I pick up the phone as Foreign Secretary and speak to leaders, Foreign Ministers and counterparts around the world—faces this. We are now the international buyer of choice. We have had 22 flights carrying PPE and ventilators from China this month; in the last week, over 1.5 million masks from China; three flights from Turkey with gowns and face protection; 140,000 gowns from Myanmar; and we have brought in Lord Deighton from the other place to ramp up our domestic production, supply and distribution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right—there are challenges on the frontline—and there is no minimising or sugar-coating any of the cris de coeur that he mentioned. I feel animated and inspired to do even better, but he needs to recognise on PPE that there is a global supply shortage, and we are doing absolutely everything that we can to make sure that those on the frontline get the equipment that they need.

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I recognise the efforts that are going on. The First Secretary says that he takes exception to what I said about things worsening. I tried not, in this, to base anything on my own personal opinion, because I do not think that that is helpful. What I was quoting was the Royal College of Physicians—those on the front line. It was not my view—it is their view. I try to be careful to stick to the data and the evidence, rather than just coming up with an opinion.

May I ask the First Secretary about testing? It is clear that there has been an increase in testing in the week since we were last at the Dispatch Box, and I welcome that. Yesterday, the Government announced a further extension and expansion of testing, and I welcome that as well, but there are obviously still significant problems. The Government-reported figures for Monday show a capacity to test of 73,000, which has gone up—it is the highest that it has ever been—but only 43,000 actual tests were carried out. When we drill down into the figures, we see that the number of people tested was only 29,000. Last week, the First Secretary said that the problem was not capacity but lack of demand. I was not convinced, to be honest. Now we know that demand has gone through the roof, and sites were unable to cope with the number of people trying to book tests, so obviously demand is not the problem, yet on Monday, 30,000 tests that were available were not used.

I have to recognise that 100,000 a day by Thursday was only ever a staging post—perhaps the exact date does not matter as much as some would think. On 12 March, some weeks ago, the Prime Minister made clear his plan to ramp up daily testing to 250,000 tests a day. I agree with him on that—I think that that is the scale that we should be at. Can the First Secretary clarify whether 250,000 tests a day are still a Government target and, if so, roughly when he thinks the Government will hit that target?

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I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman. On this issue of things getting worse, I understand the point that he wants to make about PPE—it is an absolutely valid point—but I do not think that it should be elided into the broader critique that overall things are getting worse. As we come through the peak of this virus, we start to get deaths down—we have to focus on driving them down even further, in particular making sure that we do not risk a second spike by increasing the transmission rate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could take time to recognise our success on social distancing and critical care capacity, which has allowed that to happen.

On testing, we now have a 73,400 test capacity every day. That is almost double the point we were at when I was at the Dispatch Box last week. On daily tests carried out, the figure is now 43,563, which is well over double the 18,000 we were at last week. In relation to capacity and demand, when we and the NHS talk about demand, we are talking about the number of tests actually carried out; it is not just about people being willing to come forward, but about their actually being able to come forward. What we have done to ensure that we ramp up the testing as swiftly as possible is not just the extension and the widening of eligibility last week; we have gone further, and we now say that we will widen the eligibility to anyone who needs to go to work, says that they cannot work remotely and has symptoms. Anyone over 65 with symptoms will also be able to action those tests. To come back to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s earlier point, tests will be available to all care home residents as well as staff, whether they are symptomatic or not.

This is incredibly important. We are on track to make huge progress. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right that the 250,000 target is still an aspiration, and I am not going to put a date on it, but the key point is that the 100,000 milestone—very important to me, and we are making good progress—is only the first stepping stone towards testing, which is essential to the wider testing, tracking and tracing regime that we will need as we transition to the second phase.

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I say gently to those on both Front Benches that we are going to have to speed up; otherwise, we will not get anybody else in today.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. The First Secretary invites me to recognise the good work on social distancing and on critical care capacity. I do that unreservedly. It has been an amazing piece of work, particularly the ramping up of capacity, and I send my thanks to all those who have been involved. I absolutely recognise it.

I have raised these issues because they are vital to controlling the virus and protecting lives so that we can get to an effective exit strategy. The public need to know what will happen in the next phase. On the exit strategy, I want to be absolutely clear with the First Secretary of State: I am not asking for lockdown to be lifted. We support the Government on lockdown and will continue to do so, so I am not asking for that. I am not asking for a timeframe. The Government say they cannot give a timeframe. I accept that and we support the Government on that. I said that I would not ask the impossible, and I will not.

What I am asking is for the Government to be open with the British people about what comes next. That is crucial for three reasons. First, we need their trust. Secondly, the Government themselves, the public, schools, businesses and trade unions need to plan ahead, and they are saying that loudly and clearly. Thirdly, and frankly, we would like to try to support the Government’s strategy when we know what it is. It is important for us to do so if we can, but we cannot do that if the Government will not share their thinking. The Prime Minister said on Monday that he wanted maximum transparency. Will the First Secretary of State give us some now, and tell us when the Government will publish an exit strategy?

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I will just remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, as I set out on 16 April, SAGE advised against any changes to social distancing measures at that point. The reason is that that would risk a substantial increase in the infection rate. SAGE is reviewing the evidence again in early March. He has asked for a timeframe and a date. We cannot give it until we have the SAGE evidence. If he thinks there are things we could be announcing—whether it is about the workplace, to which he referred, schools or otherwise—he should feel free to propose those things, but I would gently say that, based on the advice and evidence from SAGE, which he says he wants to closely follow, it would be very difficult for us to responsibly set out those proposals before we have had that subsequent advice from SAGE, both on the rate of infection and the death rate and on the measures that it would be responsible to take. That is why—with the greatest respect; I understand he is trying to be constructive—we cannot be pulled into making proposals in advance without SAGE opining.

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The problem with the First Secretary’s response is that it risks the UK falling behind. France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Wales have all published exit plans of one sort or another. The First Secretary asked for my proposals and what they should cover. When we look at those plans, as he and I have done, it is clear that there are common issues such as schools and business sectors reopening. Those are the issues, and if he wants me to put them on the table, I absolutely will, because they are clearly the issues that need to be addressed.

There will be other issues, of course, but delay risks not only falling behind other countries but also the successful four-nation approach so far. We want to support the Government on an exit strategy. We want to support the four-nation approach so that we can all exit across the UK at the same time and hopefully in the same way, so I ask the First Secretary if the Government will work constructively and openly with the Opposition on the question of what happens at the next stage.

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We certainly will engage. I have enjoyed the telephone calls with Opposition leaders, including the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I just gently say that if he is suggesting that we can set out concrete proposals now, despite clear evidence and advice from SAGE that we should wait for their review of evidence in the next week or so, that is the wrong thing to do. If he thinks he knows better than SAGE and the scientists, he needs to explain that. He talked about the Scottish Government. They have not set out an exit strategy. I read their 25-page document carefully. It was eminently sensible and grounded in the five tests that I set out on 16 April. He talked about some of the other European countries, but he will know, because he is an assiduous follower of the international evidence, that Germany is now having to think twice about easing up the measures because of the risk of a second spike. That is exactly the risk that the Governor of the Bank of England referred to last week, that I referred to on 16 April and that SAGE and the scientists have referred to.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying and succeeding in engaging in a very constructive way. He has a strong professional reputation from when he was Director of Public Prosecutions of being guided by the evidence. That is much to his credit. I gently say that he should not abandon that rigour now.

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Will garden centres and nurseries be allowed to reopen in short order? [902026]

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I thank my right hon. Friend for cutting straight to the chase. I totally appreciate the value of garden centres and nurseries. As I have indicated, the current advice from SAGE is that relaxing any measures, including the ones to which he refers, would risk damage to public health, our economy and the progress that we have made—the sacrifices that so many have made; the lives that have been lost. However, I reassure him that SAGE looked specifically at garden centres and we will continue to keep the evidence on each measure under very close review.

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May I send my congratulations to the Prime Minister and to Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son? Long life and happiness to the new born.

We are two months away from the deadline for approving an extension to the Brexit negotiations. Michel Barnier has been clear: the UK is refusing to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues. The Government are shamefully gambling our economic future with a no-deal Brexit in the middle of a health emergency. Why are the Government threatening to isolate our economy at the end of the year during the biggest economic crisis of our time?

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I join the right hon. Gentleman in sending those messages of goodwill to Carrie Symonds and the Prime Minister and, of course, their new baby boy.

I am not sure I would take Michel Barnier’s word on the state of progress in negotiations quite as readily and as uncritically as the right hon. Gentleman. Let us be very clear: our position is unchanged. The transition period ends on 31 December—that is enshrined in law and there is no intention of changing that. Given the uncertainty and the problems and challenges that coronavirus has highlighted for us and our European friends—and I have worked extremely closely with our German, French and all our other European partners—we should focus on removing any additional uncertainty, do a deal by the end of the year and allow the UK and the European Union and all its member states to bounce back as we come through coronavirus.

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What we should do is remove uncertainty and put a stop to those talks. We should make sure that we protect our businesses. The First Secretary’s failure to rule out a no-deal Brexit should alarm us all. The World Trade Organisation predicts that world trade may fall by 32% this year, the International Monetary Fund says that the global economy will suffer its worst financial crisis since the 1930s and the Office for Budget Responsibility warns that the UK economy could shrink by 35%. That means that 2 million people are at risk of losing their jobs. Refusing to admit the inevitability of an extension is not a tough or clever negotiating tactic, but a reckless and foolish gamble. Will the First Secretary embrace common sense and recognise the need for a Brexit extension? He should show some leadership, face down the hard-liners in the Tory party, extend the Brexit transition and let us all get on with the job of tackling this health crisis together.

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If the right hon. Gentleman’s desire is to avoid more uncertainty, the right thing for us to do is to double down and get a deal by the end of this year. If his desire is for us to dig ourselves out of the economic challenges that we, the European Union and the world face, the answer is not to engage in protectionism but to do this deal and give a shot in the arm to businesses on both sides of the channel. That is what we are whole- heartedly focused on doing, and we are doing it as one United Kingdom.

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The company programme run by the charity Young Enterprise provides young people with the opportunity to apply their skills in real-world situations by working in teams to set up and run their own young enterprise company. Does my right hon. Friend agree that providing financial education in our schools is a vital way of empowering young people and ensuring that we are able to further our levelling-up programme across the country when we come out of this crisis? [902027]

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that excellent programme. He is absolutely right; a strong understanding of numeracy—for example, calculating percentages or doing divisions—underpins a young child’s ability to manage money. This Government’s reforms have made a step change in progress on numeracy and literacy for those young children, but that needs to be backed up by practical applications. Many organisations that support schools with financial education are adapting their programmes, and Young Money is an excellent example of that.

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Will the First Secretary of State make a commitment that when a vaccine for covid-19 becomes available, the United Kingdom will take a leading role, together with other nations, to ensure that it is distributed according to the needs of people across the world rather than on the basis of wealth? [902024]

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As the Health Secretary announced, we have had trials announced very recently and we are taking a lead on research and development. However, as my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary announced earlier at questions, we are also contributing to Gavi and CEPI to ensure that we can ramp up the international effort to find a vaccine and vaccinate all the people not only here in the UK but in the most vulnerable and poorest countries around the world. I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says.

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The Government have pulled out all the stops in providing a range of timely financial support for businesses, but in west Oxfordshire and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on small and micro business, I hear reports of businesses being denied help by banks that are falling behind regulatory systems rather than concentrating on the urgent need to get cash out of the door to the businesses that need it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the nation makes sacrifices unheard of in peacetime, it is time for the banks to do their bit? [902028]

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all he is doing to champion small businesses. We want to help all businesses—small, medium and large—in Witney and across the country get through this incredibly difficult period and bounce back with confidence as we defeat the coronavirus. Through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme and the bounce-back loan scheme, we are lending to businesses of all shapes and sizes. The Government have stepped up to the plate, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we expect the banks to do the same.

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While working people are having to make huge sacrifices during this crisis, state support is available to big businesses that dodge taxes and pay millions to super-rich executives and shareholders. We should be bailing out the 99%, not the 1%. Will the Government follow the likes of Denmark and stand up to big businesses by saying, “If you want state support, you have to prohibit dividend payments and share buy-backs, and you cannot be based in a tax haven”? [902025]

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I have to say that if the hon. Lady looks at the package of measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in place in the round, she will see that we are not only dealing with small businesses but helping larger businesses. They are important too; they are large employers. We are doing everything we can to support innovative firms, which will now benefit from the offer of £1.25 billion for high-growth firms. Frankly, I think we should take some of the partisan baggage out of this, focus on targeting the businesses that will create the growth that will drive us through this crisis, and support the workers up and down this country who rely on those crucial businesses.

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The current crisis has shown just how important it is to have sufficient urgent care capacity in the NHS. I have been campaigning for new urgent care centres at both Stepping Hill Hospital and Tameside Hospital, to help NHS staff provide world-class care to people in High Peak and across the region. Can the First Secretary assure me that the Government remain committed to building these badly needed new urgent care centres? [902029]

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I thank my hon. Friend for the tenacious and doughty way in which he is championing the NHS. I am delighted that Stockport NHS Foundation Trust has been allocated close to £31 million for the provision of a new emergency care campus at Stepping Hill, one of our 20 hospital upgrades, and Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust has been allocated over £16 million to provide emergency and urgent care facilities at Tameside general hospital. The Conservatives are the party of the NHS—more money, more hospitals, more doctors and nurses—and that is one of the reasons why we have managed, through our critical care capacity, to help protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus.

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May I first offer my deepest thanks to the first responders from the Metropolitan police and the London ambulance service who were greeted with the horrifying scene on Sunday night of an 18-month-old baby girl and three-year-old boy brutally murdered in their own home? There are no words of comfort that we can offer their grieving mother, but what the Government can do is more to support people who are not safe in their own homes. I recognise the £3 million that has gone in to support children who witness domestic abuse and the £2 million that has gone in to support the domestic abuse hotline, but it is not enough and it is not quick enough. In that spirit, may I ask the First Secretary of State to commit to providing the £75 million ring-fenced fund that the shadow Home Secretary has called for, so that in these darkest of times people who are trapped unsafe in their own homes know that support is available? [902031]

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May I thank the hon. Gentleman and say how appalled I am at the tragic case in his constituency? I pay tribute to the frontline emergency responders, and I, absolutely in total solidarity with the hon. Gentleman, pass on my condolences to the family in that terrible case; it sounds absolutely appalling.

The police have been very clear that they will pursue perpetrators and anyone in immediate danger should call 999. We are going through the coronavirus challenge, which has put pressure on the police, but they are there to do that incredible job that they do day in, day out. We have the national domestic abuse helpline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, and we are supporting charities and others supporting victims of domestic abuse with £750 million. The hon. Gentleman makes interesting points about what more we could do; we are constantly looking to reinforce and strengthen the response to domestic abuse, and he is right that there is a specific issue in relation to this crisis. The Domestic Abuse Bill had its Second Reading yesterday; that will help to take our response to the next level and offers an opportunity for him to make further proposals in due course.

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May I join in the congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son?I was recently speaking with a lady who, very sadly, lost her husband in hospital to covid-19. She spoke of the fantastic care given to her husband by the NHS staff, but she also spoke of the incredible support she and her family received from those same NHS workers. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating NHS staff not only on caring for those who are ill, but on the wonderful support they give to their loved ones? [902030]

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First, may I pass on my very deepest condolences to the widow in my hon Friend’s constituency? I, along with other Ministers, have the grim task of reading out the total death toll at the press conferences, and I always walk away ashen-faced at what this must mean for individual families up and down the country. He is right to pay tribute to those in the NHS, who are doing an amazing job, and I think all of us across the House paid tribute to them and the care workers, particularly with our minute’s silence yesterday. My hon. Friend is absolutely right also to say that they are not just there to treat the physical condition, whether coronavirus or otherwise; they do an amazing job as providers of emotional support for patients and their families, and that is too easily overlooked as we come through this crisis.

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The UK opted out of the EU joint procurement of PPE, ventilators and medical equipment. Will the First Secretary confirm whether that was a political or commercial decision, and take this opportunity to say that we will take any future opportunity to join any EU scheme that helps to safeguard supplies to our NHS, in order to avoid any preventable deaths in our communities, or in the NHS or care services? [902032]

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he will know, because it has been made clear by the Government and clarified when it was not clear, the original issue was a failure of communication—we did not get the original invitation to tender. It is clear to us that the schemes in relation to the first batch of EU-wide procurement would not have made any significant extra difference or added any value to what we are doing here. I can tell him that we will look at any future EU-wide procurement initiatives, for example, on therapeutics. I can also reassure him that one thing we are doing is working very closely with our European partners on returns and repatriations. That is somewhere we have taken advantage of EU-wide schemes if they can help us to share costs. That is the collaborative, internationalist approach that the UK Government take.

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The horticultural sector is vital to Shropshire’s economy, employing thousands of people. Notwithstanding the First Secretary’s earlier response, may I ask that in phase 1 of any unlock, the garden centres and seasonal nurseries will be allowed to open, albeit with careful and considered strict guidelines [902036]

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I thank my hon. Friend for that second plea for garden centres and nurseries. This is absolutely right, and I understand entirely why it is so important, both economically and socially, particularly for certain members of our community, for whom it will be an important means of getting outdoors and getting out of the lockdown. SAGE has already considered this once, and I know it will consider garden centres and nurseries again. I know that he will expect us to continue to be guided by the evidence, but he has made his point in a powerful way and it is firmly registered that this is an important area to look at for the future.

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There have never been sufficient nursery places to meet the extra demand created by the Childcare Act 2016, and now things are set to get worse. I have received a huge number of emails from local nursery managers and workers angry at the Government for failing to take action to protect early years workers during the coronavirus, because they are not entitled to access the furlough scheme. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to sort this out and ensure that these nurseries still exist once the crisis is over? [902033]

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This is a hugely challenging time for nurseries, as it is for schools and other small businesses. The Chancellor has set out the range of support available. It is widespread, covering all sorts of different areas, but of course in relation to nurseries or any other sector that is finding the challenges too much to bear as we go through this crisis, we will make sure we look at them afresh to see what further can be done.

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I would like to begin by echoing the congratulations that have already been given to the Prime Minister and his fiancée on the birth of the baby boy—I hope they are all in good health. There was a double stabbing in my constituency at the weekend. In the light of that, will the First Secretary join me in calling on the police and crime commissioner to reverse his decision to close the local police station? What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give the House that as we emerge from this lockdown we are protecting our communities from the scourge of knife crime? [902037]

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I thank my hon. Friend for that. It is a tragic but timely warning that some of the persistent social challenges we face on knife crime, or any other kind of crime, will persist and will not just stay at home because of coronavirus, although overall the level of crime has come down. I send my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims in his constituency. May I reassure him that we have committed to recruiting 20,000 more police officers over the next three years? We are making it easier for the police to exercise stop-and-search powers. We are ensuring that more perpetrators go to prison, and for longer. He will know that it is for PCCs to decide how and where to spend their resources, but I pay tribute to him for being a tenacious and doughty champion on crime issues and the policing that needs to take place in his constituency.

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Many businesses in my constituency and around the UK shut their doors on public health advice and are now finding that insurers are refusing to pay out on business interruption policies. I ask again: will the UK Government intervene and stand behind those claims so that no business loses out for doing the right thing? [902034]

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I do not think it is the right thing to do to stand behind all the claims, but we certainly continue to liaise with the insurance industry to make sure, as far as is legally and practically possible, that it is showing the flexibility as people, and particularly the consumers of those insurance policies, come through this very difficult time.

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I am absolutely delighted, Mr Speaker, to be able to connect with you this week. I have finally escaped from the Zoom waiting room and, in so doing, I can pass on my congratulations to Carrie Symonds and the Prime Minister on the birth of their son.

I have a large number of haulage companies in my constituency, and I am sure that the First Secretary will recognise that lorry drivers are key workers during this crisis, transporting goods across our United Kingdom. However, many have struggled to access hot food outwith their cabs, and even to access toilet and shower facilities, so can he ensure that we are doing all that we can to support lorry drivers as they carry out their important duties during this crisis?

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It is always good to see my right hon. Friend, even—or especially—via Zoom. I thank all the heavy goods vehicle and delivery drivers for all that they are doing in the country to keep us going. Across the House I think that we probably agree that our view and definition of key workers have changed as we have come through this crisis; there is an appreciation of people doing those gritty jobs day in, day out and of quite the extent to which we rely on them.

All motorway service stations in England currently remain open to road users. That is why the Transport Secretary is continuing, based on the concerns that my right hon. Friend has rightly raised, to work with motorway service operators to ensure that as many facilities within those individual service stations as possible remain open to make sure that HGV drivers can take a break and use whatever facilities they need before they go back to work. He raises an excellent point.

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The Chancellor said of his covid-19 response:“We will not leave you behind. We all stand together.”He then delivered a financial package that did leave behind hundreds of my constituents in Angus and thousands more across these islands—by a Government who will refuse to introduce a universal basic income. I think of people just like my constituent in Arbroath, who could not be furloughed by his former employer and, because of Treasury rules, cannot be furloughed by his new employer either. So now, after 44 years of working, he has been cut adrift as collateral by this Government. What is the First Secretary’s advice to my constituent? [902035]

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We do not support a universal basic income mainly because, it would not target our precious resources at such a challenging time at those who need them most. In total, Scotland will receive a cash boost of over £3 billion to tackle coronavirus, so the financial support from the UK Government is going there. That is on top of the UK military support, with things such as mobile testing and the airlifting of patients from some of the island communities in Scotland. We are also expanding testing capacity right across the UK; centres have recently opened in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. We will get through this crisis and we will do so as one United Kingdom.

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I associate myself with the remarks of the First Secretary in saying congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie.

Research from the all-party group on autism found that before the coronavirus crisis more than two in three autistic adults were not getting the support they needed. Sadly, in some areas, emergency powers to ease duties under the Care Act 2014 have had to be triggered. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee that autistic people will not be disproportionately affected by these changes, and will he publish which councils have to resort to emergency powers?

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My right hon. Friend raises a really important point. We of course want to ensure that all autistic children or any other children with special needs going through this terrible crisis are as protected as they possibly can be. When it comes to looking at the future arrangements for schools, on top of the key workers, we have got to make sure that we do as much as we can to protect vulnerable children, particularly those with particular needs. She talked about the funding going through to local authorities. I will speak to the Education Secretary and the Communities Secretary and make sure that we can come back with a specific answer on the point that she raises.

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May I, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, echo and pass on congratulations to the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds on the birth of their son?

The headline in this morning’s Belfast Telegraph speaks about deaths of those not infected by the virus—people who had not been attending hospital and desperately needed treatment. Will the First Secretary advise us of the measures that the Government intend to take to address the issue and to ensure that more people are able to attend for treatment, including cancer patients?

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to all the work he and the Northern Ireland Executive are doing at this difficult time. He is absolutely right to raise the challenge within the NHS more generally of dealing not just with covid-19, but with the wider conditions that people have. The chief medical officer has made it very clear: we have the capacity. The plans that we put in place and delivered through the Nightingale hospitals, the ventilators and the critical care capacity are there to deal not only with coronavirus, but with other non-covid priorities, whether they are urgent or whether they are other forms of treatment in relation to cancer or otherwise.

I am certainly willing to work with the Health Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary to make sure that we can deal with and address any particular challenges faced in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely crucial as we go through this crisis that that NHS capacity is protected, and that is one of the reasons we introduced the social distancing measures and why it is important that they have been so effective.