House of Commons
Monday 8 June 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Following the orders passed on Thursday, virtual participation in questions, urgent questions and statements is allowed for certain Members. I have reintroduced a complete call list for questions, so Members should not rise to try to catch my eye; they should rise only when called. When a substantive question is asked by a Member participating virtually, I shall ask the Minister to answer the question and then call the Member to ask their supplementary question.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19: No Recourse to Public Funds
The Government have made it our priority to protect the vulnerable throughout this national emergency, but we do not believe it is necessary to suspend the NRPF condition to do so. It is right that migrants coming to the UK are financially independent; however, practical support, such as rent protections and the coronavirus job retention scheme, apply to those NRPF conditions. We have allocated more than £3.2 billion to local authorities and £750 million to charities to support the most vulnerable.
The Home Secretary does not get it. People who have worked here and paid taxes here for years are being denied support and falling into destitution. People who have lost their jobs or seen their income slashed can be excluded from the very protections that the Home Secretary cites. Given that the rule disproportionately impacts people in our black and minority ethnic communities the hardest, will the Home Secretary suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule for the duration of the pandemic?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and his comments. The answer is no. Local authorities have provided a basic safety net, and that is because of the significant financial provisions that the Government introduced and the range of measures to support those people who had been working. Because of coronavirus—because of the national health pandemic situation we find ourselves in—we will support people with “no recourse to public funds”, and that assistance is being given under the coronavirus retention scheme and also the self-employed income support scheme, so funds are available. It is wrong to imply that safety nets are not in place. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay tribute to local authorities which, throughout this pandemic and this crisis, have been resourced with an extra £3.2 billion to provide vital financial help.
Further to the comments that the Home Secretary just made, Ministers from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to all councils on 26 March asking them to utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with “no recourse to public funds”, so it seems that the Government have understood in principle that NRPF is counterproductive during the pandemic, but the lack of clarity from the Home Office means that in practice people are still facing destitution. With that in mind, will the Home Secretary look again at the spirit of the Prime Minister’s comments to the Liaison Committee and outline how the Government intend to support these families?
It is important to put on the record that this is not just about the Home Office; we work across Government and MHCLG—the Department responsible for local government and communities—is obviously central to this issue. In terms of the resources that have been provided, practical support, such as rent protections and the coronavirus job retention scheme, apply to those under the “no recourse to public funds” conditions. The hon. Lady specifically mentioned MHCLG and local authorities; £3.2 billion has been provided. I have been working directly with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I have also been part of discussions with the devolved Administrations, throughout the past 10 weeks, looking at the protective measures and the support that can be provided through the resources provided from central Government.
The Black Lives Matter movement and Public Health England’s review of the disparities in risks and outcomes in the covid-19 outbreak have highlighted the inequalities suffered by black and minority ethnic people in our society. Does the Home Secretary accept that the “no recourse to public funds” policy disproportionately affects people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities? If she does, why will she not push for it to be suspended, as a concrete step towards tackling the inequalities that so appal many of our constituents?
I have a number of points to make to the hon. and learned Lady. First, the Government published the report last week on the impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The findings are indeed shocking and it is right that the Government invest their time and resources, particularly through the Minister for Equalities, to look at the measures that can be put in place. The “no recourse to public funds” policy is one of many policies, and it is right that as a Government we look at all policies that affect all communities in the round, without singling out one particular policy.
I am glad to hear that the Home Secretary is looking at the policy, but I urge her to read a report that came out this time last year by Agnes Woolley called, “The Cost of the No Recourse to Public Funds Policy”. It found that most families with “no recourse to public funds” in the United Kingdom have at least one child who is British by birth, and nearly all those families are black and minority ethnic. Accordingly, “no recourse to public funds” is inherently more likely to affect BAME British children than white British children. Therefore, given this evidence that “no recourse to public funds” is a policy with racially discriminatory impacts, why will she not accept that it needs to go?
If I may say, it is wrong to characterise the policy as racially discriminatory. It is a fact, however, that, for all communities and people of all backgrounds, there are many financial protections in place through the safety net of the welfare state. In addition, when it comes to children, funds have been made available through the Department for Education in the pupil premium. There are a plethora of support packages, which, combined collectively, are based on individual needs and individual circumstances. It is right that we treat people as individuals and not just categorise them. It is important to recognise that a plethora of issues affect people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, but we cannot assume that there is a one-size-fits-all approach, or a single-policy solution, to address those issues. It is right, as I have already indicated, that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities looks at the report that was published last week and that the Government provide a collective response to the many challenges facing the community.
Covid-19: Personal Protective Equipment
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. My Department is working extremely closely with the police and the fire and rescue services, as he will be aware, to ensure that they receive all the support and PPE that they need throughout this covid-19 outbreak.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. May I also take this opportunity to put on record my support for the police? I sympathise with those police who were injured in the past few days. I believe that Staffordshire police have done a fantastic job throughout the covid-19 outbreak. They have issued one of the lowest numbers of fines in the country, which is because they have been policing with consent and with the good sense of the people of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the county more widely. On PPE, it is my understanding from them that they are expecting to be reimbursed for the supplies that they have—they have sufficient supplies. Will she confirm that this will be the case?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He represents a constituency with which I am familiar. The work of his local resilience forum, his chief constable and police officers and staff throughout the pandemic has been exemplary. I want to put on the record my praise for them. On PPE supplies, it is my understanding that the force has achieved sufficient supplies. That is something that we have been working on at a national level. The Government have previously indicated that forces should be reimbursed for expenditure and, obviously, we will be working on that across Government.
Theft of Tools from Trades People
Stealing someone’s tools is a particularly rotten kind of crime. Not only does it deprive them of their belongings, which is bad enough, but it also often deprives them of their livelihood, notwithstanding the inconvenience that it causes to them and their employers. We are determined to do something about this, which is why I recently convened a group of people from the industry and from policing to look at what more we can do to help. We are spending £25 million on our safer streets fund to drive down exactly this kind of acquisitive crime.
I thank the Minister for his response. Will he join me in championing the use of modern technology to combat tool theft such as the ToolWatch app designed by Harpenden residents, Denise and Alan Brett? This technology makes each tool traceable and can help police fight this crime. Will he take this opportunity to champion ToolWatch and help to spread its use in police forces throughout the country?
My hon. Friend is one of the most original thinkers in the House and therefore it is no surprise that he champions innovation in all things, including crime fighting. Yes, he is absolutely right, there is lots more we can do in harnessing technology to fight crime, and I would be very interested, when we get back to normal, to visit his constituents and see ToolWatch for myself so that we can take it and promote it to the industry more generally.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. He has long experience of matters such as this in the Home Office and elsewhere. On 1 January, for the first time in decades, the United Kingdom will have full democratic control over our immigration system, giving us power to determine who comes here and for how long. We do not intend to impose a cap, but our points-based system will ensure that only those with the skills our country needs come to the United Kingdom, and it is our expectation that total migration, as a consequence, will reduce.
With the post-covid economy facing unprecedented challenges and the prospect of job losses, in the same spirit that the Home Secretary showed in condemning this weekend’s wicked violence, will the Minister look again at the resident labour market test, which means that jobs have to be offered here before they can be filled from abroad? Rebuilding Britain mean backing British workers.
My right hon. Friend is correct that we want to encourage as many people as we can from the UK to take up job opportunities that are available. Our objective, ultimately, is to see a full rate of employment. We have laid out the points-based test that will apply from 1 January next year, ensuring that only people with high skills can come here, but it is up to this House and this Parliament to keep that under review, to ensure that we are striking the right balance in the way he describes.
I am grateful for all that the Home Secretary is doing to bring in this new policy, which I hope brings higher wages and higher skills, but does it not also require tougher enforcement against the dreadful people traffickers who are making money out of making a mockery of our laws and undermining all that we stand for?
My right hon. Friend is correct: people trafficking and people smuggling is a shocking offence that causes untold human misery. Last year, Immigration Enforcement made 259 arrests in connection with people smuggling and secured 101 criminal convictions, but I would like to assure him that this is an area where we can, must and will go a great deal further.
Domestic abuse is a horrific crime that shatters the lives of those affected. We are working closely with domestic abuse organisations, the domestic abuse commissioner and the police to ensure that help and support continues to be available, and more so while the covid-19 restrictions apply.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her commitment to work in this area. One in four perpetrators are repeat offenders, and some have as many as six different victims. In that light, does she agree that greater uptake of Drive, an intensive intervention programme aimed at perpetrators, could save lives, change the narrative and break the generational cycle which sees children raised in homes where they have witnessed abuse go on in later life to be at greater risk of becoming either abuser or victim?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. She has highlighted many of the challenges but also the opportunities, in terms of how we can work with partner organisations to provide the right kind of support needed to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse, to protect children and to educate them in terms of their own safeguarding. There are many opportunities through which the Government are doing that, so that we can tackle this heinous crime. The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which began its Committee stage on 4 June, is a significant opportunity to transform our response to domestic abuse, provide critical support to victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.
I know that there will be a statement on the events of the weekend following this session, so I will address those matters then. On domestic abuse, I welcome the fact that the Government responded to the calls of Opposition Members and campaigning charities on the need for a funding package for the sector. Labour called for £75 million for domestic abuse services, with specialist services such as those for migrant women protected. Can the Home Secretary confirm how much of that investment has reached the frontline?
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the funding packages that the Home Office, along with the MHCLG and the Ministry of Justice, put towards the Treasury recently. To date, £1.2 million has been allocated to 13 frontline support organisations running key and vital services, including helplines, chat functions and improving technological capabilities, specifically for the covid-19 response. The funding will help to expand helplines and online capability to provide additional support and guidance so that victims can continue to access the support that they need.
Well, £1.2 million of support for helplines is obviously welcome, but it is a tiny proportion of the overall £75 million, which needs to reach where it is needed as soon as possible. As of 2019, one in six refuges has closed since 2010. In 2017, local authority spending as a consequence of austerity had fallen from £31.2 million to £23.9 million, resulting in 60% of women being turned away from refuges for lack of spaces. That simply is not good enough. Even if the Home Secretary does not know the specific figures today, will she confirm that she will do all that she can to ensure that the money that has been announced actually reaches the frontline? Yes, the Domestic Abuse Bill is coming through Parliament, but we cannot just legislate our way out of this—that money is needed now.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the money that is required to go to frontline services. As I indicated, the £76 million of funding that has been allocated to domestic abuse is split across three Departments. The Ministry of Justice has received £15 million for work with local domestic abuse charities through the criminal justice system.
On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about the need for refuge provision, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will be allocating £10 million to domestic abuse safe accommodation services. It is important that we all recognise that that is where the demand is. Throughout this very difficult period where refuges have found it difficult to operate, there has been a wide spread of measures where we as Government, in our engagement with the refuges directly, as well as with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims Commissioner, have deliberately sought practical means of support for the frontline throughout this emergency.
Building on my right hon. Friend’s answer to the question on refuges, covid-19 has also highlighted the fact that despite the best efforts of the staff in our refuges across the country, including in the north-west, many of those who have sought refuge there, including their children in some circumstances, have not always had access to a good internet connection, which is often a lifeline for them, especially for children who need education. As we start to roll out broadband across the country to fulfil our manifesto commitment, will she commit herself to looking at refuges as one of the organisations that should be at the front of the queue so that people know that access will be there should they seek such sanctuary?
My hon. Friend makes a vital important point. I have seen for myself, working with refuge and other third-party organisations in the domestic abuse space, the amazing work that they do in terms of internet safety within refuges. We must always put first and foremost the safety of the victims in the environments within which they are living. He is right to highlight the fact that without the internet, too many people, including children, are cut off, and that is a hindrance to their development and wellbeing. I will absolutely take his suggestion away with me and ensure that as we build greater internet safety provisions in refuges for domestic victims, we also think about what more we can do to give them the right kind of safeguards with the right provisions.
Illegal Channel Crossings
I am very glad that this question has arisen. We should be absolutely clear that these crossings of the English channel are extremely dangerous. They are crossing the busiest shipping lines in the world. They are facilitated by criminal gangs who are ruthlessly exploiting vulnerable people. The crossings are also entirely unnecessary because France is a safe country and it has a very well-established and functioning asylum system. We are therefore working with our French counterparts around the clock, sharing intelligence between our National Crime Agency and the French authorities, to stop illegally facilitated crossings and to prevent on-the-beach embarkations.
That is a very clear answer as far as it goes, but it appears that French patrol boats are escorting these dangerously overloaded inflatables across the channel until they reach English waters—I should say UK waters—whereupon our patrol boats pick up the occupants and ferry them to our shores. I understand that this is because we have to save people who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at serious risk at sea, but how can we remove perverse incentives to behave in such a dangerous fashion?
It is worth emphasising that where boats get into difficulties in French waters—for example, if their engine breaks down—the French will pick them up and take them back to France. We must, as my right hon. Friend says, be mindful of safety of life, but we are reviewing our operational practices in these areas, for the reasons he mentions. Half the attempted crossings are intercepted by the French on the beach. We have so far, since last January, returned 155 people who have crossed and we seek to return many more.
Migration policy is a core aspect of our national sovereignty. Will my hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will have a fair immigration policy that welcomes people who come to the UK legally, irrespective of nationality or religion, and that we will take back control over illegal immigration?
I entirely agree with the point my hon. Friend makes, and with the similar points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), on this topic. We have a points-based system coming into force shortly. We granted asylum or protection to 20,000 people last year, one of the highest figures in Europe, and we welcomed 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the highest number of any country in Europe. Our legal migration methods are entirely fair. We should therefore be policing illegal migration routes with complete effectiveness, and the Home Secretary and I are determined to do that.
I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier answer, but we know that the migrants, as they cross the channel, sometimes threaten the French navy that they will throw themselves or their children into the sea. That is an appalling act, and we need to get the French navy to step up to the plate and take those people off the boats in international waters. What are we doing now to ensure that this happens?
Discussions are under way between the UK Government and the French Government. Indeed, I am speaking to my opposite number, the French deputy Interior Minister, Monsieur Nunez, on Thursday this week. There is more we are doing as well, including working with the French OCRIEST, the French gendarmes and the Police aux Frontières—the PAF—to ensure that as many of those embarkations are stopped before they even get on to the water. About 50% are stopped before they get on to the water, but we would like that number to be a great deal higher.
Covid-19: Hate Crimes
The Home Office is committed to rooting out hate crime across our society, and we are in continued conversations and discussions with the police and partners across Government to ensure that these criminals face justice. The Government have a zero-tolerance approach to the vicious misinformation that seeks to blame any race or religion for the spread of all sorts of coronavirus rumours and misinformation. The deliberate spreading of false information in order to undermine our respect and tolerance for each other has been disgraceful, and obviously we are working across Government to stamp this out.
Last month in South Yorkshire there was a tripling in hate crime and, even more shockingly, a doubling in the amount directed at people of east or south Asian descent. Muslim communities have also been attacked and singled out over Ramadan and Eid. What engagement has the Home Secretary had with those communities at risk?
First, the figures that the hon. Lady has cited are simply shocking, disgraceful and unacceptable. That speaks to a small minority of individuals and their lack of tolerance and respect for the communities she mentions. She specifically asks me about the engagement I have had, but of course across Government, and in the Home Office as well, we are engaging with different groups and different leaders of organisations at a ministerial level, but also at an individual level. I would say to her and all colleagues that we absolutely condemn the appalling racial discrimination and the hateful way in which misinformation has been spread, but also the way in which this has been targeted against specific communities.
As we are all aware, there has been a disproportionate number of deaths of black people as a result of the coronavirus, with a number of equality organisations raising concerns about closed online groups mobilising to incite hatred and violence against communities that are becoming covid-19 scapegoats. Stop Hate UK claims that the real number of hate crimes is likely to be much higher as incidents against people and places of worship are significantly under-reported. Can the Secretary of State confirm what specific plans have been put in place proactively to address the feared increase in hate crime?
I thank the hon. Lady for her very important question and the points she has made. Any form of hate crime is of course completely unacceptable, and we expect the perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice. I suggest and ask that anybody who is a victim ensures that they engage with the police and has crimes reported. On the Government’s response and work across Government, obviously the Home Office and MHCLG continue to work closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, importantly to ensure that all police forces—we police by consent in this country—are providing assistance to communities and community organisations, and having the right kind of dialogue and support. But we are also encouraging that hate crimes—throughout this pandemic, there are no excuses for them—are reported. I and we, across police and across Government, continue to work with civil society partners. That is absolutely the right thing to do, and we will continue to do so.
As the Secretary of State has mentioned, there has been a sharp increase in online hate crime during the coronavirus lockdown. Organisations providing advice and support for victims are predicting a big surge in hate crime following the relaxation of lockdown measures, so what steps are the Government taking to introduce counter-messaging for religious, ethnic and LGBT+ groups that fear an escalation in hate attacks, and what additional funding will be given to the organisations responding to increased demand for advice and support?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and he is right to ask about the cross-Government work that we do, and the support that we give to organisations, in the Home Office, but also with MHCLG. It is clear, in particular, that we see a lot of this activity taking place online. We are absolutely making sure that we can tackle that. We have robust legislation in place to deal with cyber-attacks, internet trolls, harassment, and perpetrators of grossly offensive, menacing and obscene behaviour, and we will continue to do so. Of course, through other means, such as places of worship funds and other activities across Government, we will absolutely continue to make sure that such organisations are resourced in the right way and, importantly, that we continue such community engagement and dialogue.
Covid-19: Support for People in the Asylum System
I have been making an assessment of this matter in recent weeks, and following publication of the most recent Office for National Statistics data, I can announce to the House today that, with effect from 15 June, the asylum support rate will be increased by 5%, from £37.75 a week up to £39.60 a week. That is about five times higher than the prevailing rate of inflation, which is currently 0.8%.
Well, it is per week: the rate is £39.60 per week. It is calculated by a methodology that is approved by the courts, and it is done with reference to ONS data, based on the incomes of people in the bottom 10% of the population. It is done with reference to figures, by a court-approved method, and that is the right way to fix this thing. I say again that a 5% increase is very substantially higher than inflation.
The Government are of course committed to delivering an extra 20,000 police officers over the next three years and to putting violent criminals behind bars for longer. That is why we are giving the police literally wheelbarrows full of cash, with £700 million this year to help with the recruitment of 6,000 additional officers by the end of March 2021; 3,005 of those officers have already been recruited.
May I first ask the Minister to join me in congratulating all of Aylesbury’s police on ensuring that the Black Lives Matter march in the town on Saturday passed off peacefully? Thanks are also due to the organisers and the community partners for their co-operation. Having recently been on a socially distanced patrol with the police superintendent in Aylesbury, I know the increase in officer numbers and the cash my hon. Friend mentioned will be greatly appreciated. Can he assure me that the process of additional recruitment be sustained, despite the undoubted pressures on the public purse due to coronavirus?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating his local police on the peaceful passing off of the protests in his area on Saturday, and I thank him for taking the trouble in his first few months as a Member of this House to spend some time with his local police. It is always informative, and I urge all Members to do the same.
Of all the promises made at the general election, I know that delivering Brexit and delivering 20,000 police officers are the two closest to the Prime Minister’s heart. With confidence, therefore, I can say that we will complete that task in the time allotted.
I want to take the opportunity to place on record my thanks to Jo Farrell, the chief constable of Durham and Darlington police force, for the calm and controlled conduct of her force and, in particular, for her excellent weekly cross-party virtual briefings to make sure that local MPs and council leaders are up to speed. In recent calls, one point of concern has been frustration with delays in restarting court proceedings. Will my hon. Friend further encourage the Ministry of Justice to do everything possible to find a safe way to make as much progress as possible in reopening courts, so that all our police forces’ work results in criminals being dealt with?
I join my hon. Friend in offering congratulations to his local police force and chief constable for the work they have done throughout the lockdown. Police across the entire country have done a fantastic job and remained remarkably resilient throughout the last few difficult weeks. He is right that the impact of the crisis on the courts has been profound and has resulted in the workload—the case load—rising quite significantly. Double-hatted as I am between the Home Office and the MOJ, I have a ringside seat on creating a recovery plan for the courts. On Friday, I held a meeting between the courts service, the Lord Chancellor and chief constables from across the country to start to outline the recovery plan to them, and I am confident that it will be put in place quite soon.
As the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, issues around the horrific killing of George Floyd and the protests at the weekend will be dealt with in a statement later this afternoon. Now, I would like to ask the Minister about his “wheelbarrows full of cash”. With many police and crime commissioners, we wrote to the Home Secretary in early May, responding to a letter from the Minister for Crime and Policing to a PCC suggesting that funding for recruitment of the first tranche of the 20,000 additional police officers promised by the Prime Minister be repurposed to fund the response to covid-19 pressures. Will the Minister categorically confirm today that that letter was incorrect and that funding for recruitment of those desperately needed additional staff will not be diverted, and that the wheelbarrows full of cash will continue to be used to recruit those 20,000 police as promised?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to clear up what is obviously a misunder- standing. Throughout the crisis, I have held weekly calls with police and crime commissioners across the country to talk to them about the issues they are facing. One issue brought to us relatively early was cash flow, as a number of forces have faced additional costs during the crisis and they felt that their cash flow—not the absolute cost, but their cash flow—might come under pressure. We therefore agreed to a number of measures, not least advancement of the pension grant and the early delivery of half of the ring-fenced funding for recruitment, to ease that cash-flow pressure. That is a separate issue from the overall cost, and our discussions with the Treasury about that cost and with PCCs are ongoing.
Social Distancing: Enforcement
As we battle coronavirus, I am in constant contact with law enforcement leads, alongside the Policing Minister. We have listened to their needs from the start and empowered our outstanding police officers and forces to reduce the spread of coronavirus and save lives. Of course, central to that are the social distancing measures, and police continue to work constructively across all our communities to engage, explain and encourage, with enforcement the last resort.
There is so much confusion now about social distancing. Despite just guidance having been given, in Wales, legislation was made to give the police the powers they need to put this in place, so what discussions has the Home Secretary had with Cabinet colleagues to introduce similar legislation now, particularly as we are seeing lockdown lifted and more danger being presented into our communities?
First of all, when it comes to social distancing measures, the Government could not have been clearer that we all need, in order to stop the spread of the virus and control it—[Interruption.] We do, and from a policing perspective, the regulations are very clear in ensuring that we work constructively with our communities to social distance. As I have said, enforcement is the last resort, and the police have the power to issue fines of up to £100 in the first instance. The hon. Lady will be interested to know that 15,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued from 27 March to 25 May. In Wales, which she mentioned, 1,300 FPNs have been issued, taking the total for England and Wales to just under 17,000.
As set out in my statement last week in the Commons, the public health measures at the border that are being introduced from today are the latest cross-Government measures in our collective response and fight to save lives, protect the British people and, importantly, prevent a second wave of coronavirus. Alongside the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Secretaries of State for Transport, for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and for Health and Social Care, I have worked across Government and the devolved Administrations, with science and industry, to carefully develop this health policy from a cross-Government perspective.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer, but the reality is that some of the Government’s response is likely to increase the risk of a second wave. It is also not clear why the Government are not agreeing to a 48-hour fast-track system of quarantining, instead of 14 days, which will do damage to our businesses. What steps will she take to ensure that this can be done in 48 hours?
First of all, the policy is clear and it has been outlined not just by me but by other colleagues across Government—this is a cross-Government policy. The hon. Lady will be aware that the regulations are public health regulations, and in addition, the specific measures that clearly have an impact on the transport sector are being led by the Department for Transport and other Government Departments. From a health perspective—this is all about health; these are public health measures at the border—we have been guided not just by the science, but by working with the Department of Health and Social Care and SAGE advice and scientific advisers, in how this policy has been developed.
Scientists say that the quarantine introduced today has come too late. The police say it is unenforceable. The tourism and aviation industry say that it will ruin them, and the Home Secretary’s Department said that it is very hard to imagine how it will practically work. In contrast, our proposal for a 48-hour testing-led model would be targeted and efficient and would keep the country open for business. Can the Home Secretary explain to the House how her plan is better and why the Government think that they are right and everybody else is wrong?
To the hon. Gentleman, I would say the following—first of all, this is not my plan; this is a Government plan and Government policy. In terms of the approach that has been taken, the Government have maintained throughout this pandemic that medical and scientific advice, in terms of border measures, are consistent and are now being applied. That is why throughout this entire outbreak—across the whole of Government, working with every Department—we have brought in and identified the right measures. He is right to highlight the impact on business and the economy, which is why I held a roundtable with the transport sector last week. It raised a number of issues about not just quarantine, but business costs and issues around business rates and furlough.
It is not solely for one Department to address these issues, and it is right that we work across Government to look at how we can introduce new measures. As the hon. Gentleman might recall from my statement last week and the questions I answered, I covered potential air bridges, fast testing, immunity passports and how we can digitalise the response at the border. That is a cross-Government response and it is something that all my colleagues across Government, led by the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care, are currently working on.
The Secretary of State claimed again that this policy is backed by the science. The chief scientific officer says that it is not. Will the Home Secretary please publish today the advice that she received from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that led her to introduce this irrational jobs and holidays-destroying measure?
The remarkable success of Hong Kong is predicated on its freedom, its autonomy and the remarkable industry of its people. The decision by the Chinese National People’s Congress to impose a national security law on Hong Kong is a clear breach of China’s international obligation and a threat to the freedom of the people of Hong Kong. If China follows through with this legislation, Britain will not hesitate to act. We will put in place new arrangements to allow those in Hong Kong who hold British national overseas passports to come to the UK, enabling them to live and apply to study and work for extendable periods of 12 months, leading to a pathway to British citizenship. If it proves necessary, the British Government will take this step, and take it willingly. We will never abandon our commitment to the freedom of Hong Kong and its people.
New-born babies put at risk of hypothermia; toddlers stripped of their life jackets and dangled over the side to prevent interceptions; and pregnant women forced to board at gunpoint. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is humanitarian—as well as the right thing to do—to tackle and put a stop to ruthless criminal gangs, to return boats to France and to give her the legal powers that she needs to put a stop to these small boat crossings once and for all?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She will know from the discussions that we had as recently as Friday the extent of the criminality, exposure and abuse undertaken by people traffickers, who are forcing mothers and children on to unseaworthy vessels, and the horrendous circumstances that they are put in. My hon. Friend the Immigration Minister earlier outlined the approach that the Government are taking to tackle these abuses, and to go after the criminals and the facilitators of this crime. We will not stop pursuing this policy until we absolutely break the pathway that these criminal gangs are using.
When it comes to EU settled status, we are working with local authorities to give them the support that they need. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and all hon. and right hon. Members across the House, will continue to work in a constructive manner in their constituencies to ensure that children are granted the settled status that they are due.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We strongly support the right to protest peacefully, but that does not extend to the violent behaviour that we have witnessed across the country throughout the weekend. Any assault on our brave police is completely unacceptable. Any perpetrator should be in absolutely no doubt that they will be arrested and prosecuted. Assaults on emergency workers must be handled with the appropriate severity by the entire criminal justice system in a consistent way, and this Government will go even further, as we have committed to consult shortly on doubling the minimum sentence for those who assault emergency workers, in order to ensure that the sentence truly fits the crime.
The hon. Lady is completely wrong in her categorisation. First, public health measures are available right now, in addition to the fact that this is a public health emergency, so it is wrong to assert that in the way she has done. Also, I have outlined the funds. Working across Government, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, vital funds and resources have been provided to local authorities to provide support to people who need that extra support. That is something the Government are committed to.
I know that we will return to the protest issues in the statement shortly. This evening, there will be a television dramatisation of the terrible injustice inflicted on Anthony Bryan by the UK Home Office during the Windrush scandal. It was a case we raised in the Home Office Select Committee two years ago. Does the Home Secretary agree with the urgency and importance of the Government now accepting and acting on all the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ review? In particular, given the timing of the immigration Bill, has she implemented recommendation 7 on a review of the hostile environment, including its impact on race equality?
The right hon. Lady will be well aware, from the statement I made in the House earlier this year, that I am looking at all the recommendations in the Windrush lessons learned review and have committed to returning to the House to outline those recommendations and their implementation. It is important for me to say categorically again, on the record, that the review was distressing and many strands in terms of institutional thoughtlessness were applied to the Home Office. Last week—Wednesday, I think—I met again and had a substantive discussion with the Windrush advisory taskforce to look at various facets of the review and to discuss the issues around compensation but also to discuss the measures that do need to continue to be pursued by the Home Office in terms of ways of working. That work is absolutely ongoing. There are cultural changes that need to be brought to the Home Office as well to understand and resolve many of the issues that she as Chair of the Select Committee will be familiar with and which her Select Committee covered two years ago. It is important that we give not just the Department but myself the time to work with Wendy Williams to bring forward those measures so that we can right the wrongs of the past.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for raising a distressing and horrendous case. Too many young lives have been lost to knife crime, which is why we continue with our plans and determination to recruit 20,000 police officers—the Policing Minister has already outlined a way that is working and the funds allocated. Importantly, it is right that we have legislated to take more knives off our streets and that our serious violence Bill will place a new duty on public agencies to reduce serious violence. That means public agencies coming together at a community level to work to stamp out that violence but also to provide the support that young people need in the community to avoid a life of crime and violence and to be protected from these horrible, heinous crimes.
I only wish I could be with you, Mr Speaker, to ask this question to the Home Secretary. She will know that drugs and drug running are at the heart of so much violence when it occurs in our constituencies. There is some good money that she is responsible for—the violence reduction units—and which is very welcome because it enables police forces to have those extra resources, but it is on a yearly basis. My police and crime commissioner and my local police tell me that, in order for that to be effective, it needs to be known that they will have that money for a number of years. Will the Home Secretary move on that and help my community, and communities up and down the country?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and also for highlighting some of the most shocking aspects of serious violence. He mentions the violence reduction units, which play a phenomenal role in reducing violent crime at a local level. He also touched on drugs, and particularly county line drugs. A lot of work has been combined, and there are now more resources available to police forces specifically for reducing serious violence and for violence reduction units, but also for rolling up county lines. He will be absolutely cognisant and aware of the work taking place in his constituency with his chief constable and police and crime commissioner to make sure that all those strands come together, to make sure that we can absolutely tackle the scourge of serious violence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, the rule of law applies to everybody. I particularly commend the work he has led, with his local council colleagues, on working with the chief constable to urge the police and crime commissioner to tackle this scourge. Any crime of this nature blights communities, and communities are disproportionately affected by this.
My hon. Friend will be well aware of my comments last week about travel corridors, and specifically international travel corridors. I have been working across Government, with Transport but also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The travel advice right now still clearly advises against non-essential travel. However, this is important, and my hon. Friend makes a valid point about insurance companies, refunds and some of the financial responsibilities and liabilities. We are working across Government, as I said to the House not only today but last week, to make sure that all those considerations are actively pursued and discussed. She will hear from other Government colleagues who lead on those policy areas.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that. A great deal of work has taken place with specialist domestic abuse organisations, particularly those that offer bilingual services. A wide-ranging awareness campaign has been launched, the “You are not alone” campaign, which signposts victims to the specific practical support that they need. We have provided £2 million to bolster those services. That is for helplines, and to help organisations to bolster their own technological capacity and provide direct practical skills to ensure that victims remain protected.
We learn and understand our history in schools and museums, and we build statues of those whom we deem worthy of our adoration. Does the Secretary of State agree that where there is the democratic desire to do so, statues of white men who enslaved and killed black men, women and children can, and should, be removed from our streets?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. We live in an open democracy and a free society, where we can do as he suggests through democratic means at a local level, with elected mayors and local councillors. Those processes must be maintained so that people can have their voices heard, exercise their democratic rights and freedoms and, importantly, stay within the rule of law.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are privileged to live in an open and democratic country with many values entrenched in our constitution and our rules-based system. There is no justification for violence. There are many avenues through which people can exercise their voice and raise their concerns at a local council level. That is the right way to approach these issues.
I have a short statement to make about Select Committees. On Tuesday 24 March, the House passed an order allowing for virtual participation in Select Committee meetings and giving Chairs associated powers to make reports. The order has effect until 13 June, but I was given a power under the order to extend it if necessary. Following representations from the Liaison Committee, I can notify the House today that I am extending the order until Thursday 17 September.
Covid-19: R Rate and Lockdown Measures
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House on progress on our plans for controlling coronavirus.
Thanks to the immense national effort on social distancing, as a country we have made real progress in reducing the number of new infections. As we move out of lockdown, we look at all indicators to assess progress in tackling the virus. Last week’s Office for National Statistics infection survey estimated that the number of people who have had coronavirus in England fell from 139,000 between 3 and 16 May to 53,000 between 17 and 30 May—a drop of over half. In terms of new cases, an ONS estimate released on Friday shows that there are now around 5,600 new cases each day within the community in England: a huge drop since the peak.
The number of new fatalities each day is, thankfully, falling too. Today’s figures record 55 fatalities, the lowest number since 21 March, before lockdown began. They also show that there were no deaths recorded in London hospitals. That is a real milestone for the capital, which, of course, in the early stages of the pandemic, faced the biggest peak. Yesterday, we saw no recorded deaths in Scotland, which is very positive news for us all. Sadly, we expect more fatalities in the future, not least because the figures recorded at the weekend are typically lower. What is more, Mr Speaker, 55 deaths is still 55 too many and hundreds of people are still fighting for their lives. Each death brings just as much sadness as when the figure was much higher in the peak. I know that the thoughts of the whole House are with those families and communities who are grieving for their loved ones.
We, of course, also look at the R rate. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies confirmed on Friday that its estimates, taking into account 10 different models, are that R remains between 0.7 to 0.9, and that it is below 1 in every region of the country. That means the number of new infections is expected to continue to fall. So there are encouraging trends on all critical measures. Coronavirus is in retreat across the land. Our plan is working and those downward trends mean that we can proceed with our plans, but we do so putting caution and safety first.
Even at the peak of the pandemic, we protected the NHS and ensured that it was not overwhelmed. We will not allow a second peak that overwhelms the NHS. We are bearing down on the virus in our communities, aided by our new NHS test and trace system, which is growing every day. We are bearing down on the virus in our communities, aided by our new NHS test and trace system, which is growing every day. We are bearing down on infections in our hospitals, including through the new measures to tackle nosocomial infection, such as face masks for visitors, patients and staff. Finally, we are strengthening protections for our care homes, including by getting tests to all elderly care home residents and staff.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that David Pearson, the eminent social care expert who has previously led the social care body ADASS—the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services—and has decades of experience of leadership in both social care and public health, will be chairing our new social care taskforce to drive our covid action plan yet further. David has an impressive track record and I am delighted that he will be supporting us in leading this important work. Together, we are getting this virus under control and now more than ever we must not lose our resolve.
I note what has just been said about the social care taskforce, but may I say that it probably should have been set up some months ago? The Government are easing restrictions, but even when looking at their own tests we know that PPE supplies are still not secured—dentists are warning about PPE today; that tracing is still not fully operational—the chief operating officer of test and trace has warned that it will not be fully operational until September; that testing is still not sufficient—we are still not routinely testing all NHS staff, whether asymptomatic or not, even though we know that such testing will arrest the spread of the virus in hospitals; and that the R value, according to the PHE Cambridge model, is close to 1 in many regions and is at or above 1 in the north-west and the south-west. The modellers of that model warn that that may result in the
“the decline in the national death rate being arrested by mid-June.”
The British people have shown great resilience and fortitude in observing this lockdown and helping to slow the spread of this deadly, horrific virus, but we have still had more than 40,000 deaths. As the Secretary of State said, infections are still running at more than 5,000 a day. We should proceed with caution, but many now fear that the Prime Minister is starting to throw caution to the wind. I therefore wish to put some specific requests to the Secretary of State: will he agree to start publishing, on a weekly basis, the regional R value estimate, alongside the national estimates? Does he agree that the voices of regions must be heard in future decisions about lockdown? Will he start including the various metro Mayors, such as Andy Burnham, in the covid Cobra meetings? Will the Secretary of State ensure, this week, that local authorities and general practitioners start receiving specific data about who has tested positive so that they can start putting in place area-based responses? Will he issue, this week, written guidance on defining what a “local lockdown” is, how it will be enforced and what resources and powers local authorities and agencies will be able to draw upon?
Finally, we know that the more deprived an area is, the higher the covid mortality level. There are pockets of deep deprivation in the north-west and in the south-west, such as in parts of Cornwall. What financial support will be given to those who are asked to isolate? Given that we also know that black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more at risk from covid, will he now publish the PHE report on disparities in full—all the chapters, all the analysis, all the recommendations—because action to protect BAME people, especially BAME health and care staff, must be an urgent priority?
Let me make a couple of points in response. First, we have turned around an incredibly difficult situation when the demand for PPE shot up. Thanks to the incredible work of Lord Deighton, we now have good PPE supplies to all sectors. We are working with the dentists to ensure that they, too, will be able to get the PPE they need. The hon. Gentleman talks about testing, but he omitted to mention that we have hit every goal on our testing expansion, and we now have capacity for more than 200,000 tests a day and last week we were achieving that level of testing, which is a testament to the work of so many people, in companies and in the public sector, who have done an incredible piece of work on testing.
He picked on the results of one particular model that we look at, but he surely understands that actually the way to get the best advice is to look at all the different models, rather than just one. I mentioned one other survey, which is based on data rather than modelling—the ONS survey—and I also told him already the SAGE view, taking into account all the evidence, which is that R is below one in each region.
As the hon. Gentleman said, we do publish R. He is quite right about the importance of working with local authorities and local leaders. I spoke to the Mayor of Greater Manchester on Friday about the higher rate of R in the north-west, albeit that it is assessed to be below one. Local leaders are incredibly important in the local action that we will be taking.
The hon. Gentleman asked about local authorities and GPs getting access to data. We are working with them on the appropriate data that should flow to local authorities and GPs. He asked, rightly, for guidance on how local action will work, and that is an important early piece of work for the JBC—the joint biosecurity centre. I am glad he has recognised the importance of the work that Public Health England has done and published on the disparities between people of different ethnic backgrounds and also other differences, for instance the fact that older people are much more likely to die from covid-19. It is very important that we base our response on all this evidence.
The Prime Minister’s testing turnaround target does not apply to postal tests. Given that the majority of infections can happen less than a week after the person who gives someone the virus develops symptoms, will the Secretary of State consider replacing postal testing with same-day delivery and collection of testing? If it is good enough for Amazon Prime, it should be good enough for NHS test and trace.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise this matter, because testing turnaround speeds are very important, and they are improving. The answer is that we are intending increasingly to use the routes that have a 24-hour turnaround for the symptomatic testing, which needs that rapid response, and to use the routes that have a slower turnaround for asymptomatic testing, where the timing of the test is less important. That is the direction of travel, and we intend to solve the problem that he rightly highlights in that way.
The R number is close to one across England and may even be above that in some areas. As the R number reflects lockdown changes made a couple of weeks ago, does the Secretary of State not accept the need to assess the impact of sending people back to work and school before making further changes to lockdown?
With Serco admitting that its tracing system will not be fully operational until September, would the Secretary of State not have been better investing in public health systems instead of a private company with no expertise? Why are the test results from the commercial labs still not being sent to local GPs and public health teams to allow contact tracing? Finally, we all recognise the economic impact of lockdown, but does he not accept that the worst thing for the economy would be a second wave needing a second lockdown?
As a clinician, the hon. Lady will recognise that taking into account all the evidence of the rate of transmission is incredibly important, and I think that it is an error and it is wrong and it is beneath the normal standards of her questioning to focus on just one report, rather than on all the reports. I hope that when she speaks to people in Scotland and across the whole country, she will take into account all the evidence, rather than just focus on one report. I urge her to do that, because it is important for the public communications.
The other point I would make is that the NHS test and trace programme is being built at incredible pace. The Prime Minister committed that we would get it up and running for 1 June, and we have delivered that, and that it will be world class, and we will deliver that, but we could not deliver it without the public and private sectors working together. I think the divisiveness that comes through from the other side is a real mistake in these difficult times. Instead, everybody should be working together.
Parents in my constituency have been in touch overnight to say how disappointed they were by a decision taken by local councillors yesterday afternoon not to open primary schools today. Does the Secretary of State agree that local authorities need to look at a number of local factors, not just regional R data for a wider area, when taking important decisions on getting our children back to school?
I do, absolutely. It is particularly a mistake to look at just one model rather than the overall assessment of R in each part of the country, which is assessed to be below 1 in each area. With the number of new infections coming down, we can take the plan forward, as we ought to, because the education of children matters, as well, of course, as controlling the virus.
The Government have repeatedly said that lockdown will be eased only when the R rate is below 1 and the threat level is coming down. The threat level is still at 4, and as the right hon. Gentleman has said, in the north-west there are some calculations of R that have it above 1. Many of my constituents are really worried about this, yet the Government are accelerating plans to end the lockdown more quickly than they announced they would. Why?
We are continuing with the plan that we have, which is cautious, takes a safety-first approach and is based on all the information, not just, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, just one part of it. We said we would take the next steps when the five tests have been met, and they have been met. R is below 1, and the other four tests have also been met, which is why we are able to proceed. The evidence that we are increasingly seeing of the number of new cases and, thankfully, fatalities coming down is good news that demonstrates that the plan is working.
We are all so grateful to our NHS and careworkers. So many people have made so many difficult sacrifices during this period of lockdown. They are furious to see the lack of social distancing in some of the protests that took place over the weekend and want to know what impact that might have had on the reproduction rate of the virus.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is incredibly important that people follow the social distancing rules. Where the demonstrations that we saw over the weekend did not follow the social distancing rules, they risk increasing the spread of the virus. That is the clear scientific evidence. It is a mistake for people to participate in demonstrations that help to spread this vile disease. Instead, we should all be doing our bit to reduce the spread.
With the R number above 1 in the north-west in one model, we need action to prevent a second wave of infections and deaths. The Secretary of State has talked about local lockdowns, but will he commit to ensuring that Public Health England supplies more local information on the spread of the virus to assist in that? Will he also tell us whether there will be additional powers and financial support for areas covered by a local lockdown, as called for yesterday by our Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham?
Given the Secretary of State’s great success in expanding the number of tests, will we soon have more precise and accurate R figures, along with the other information now accumulated, and is there not a danger, in interpreting back trends, that they are unreliable because of differential test rates?
The answer is yes and yes. Survey testing is the most reliable way of assessing the prevalence of the disease and its downward trajectory, because it takes into account a randomised approach to working out where the disease is—much like the opinion polls that we are familiar with in this House—because as testing has gone up, inevitably more cases have been found. It is a good thing that more cases have been found, but we need to know the prevalence, which is best done by surveys.
The Secretary of State has just spoken about the importance of people following the rules, but it is clear that Dominic Cummings’s rule-breaking trip across England has undermined the little confidence that there was in the UK Government’s public health messaging. Does the Secretary of State appreciate the harm that has been done by the outrageous spin and shape-shifting on this issue, and what will he do to repair the damage?
The success of the Government’s strategy rests, to an enormous extent, on public support and consent for the lockdown measures. What advice is the Secretary of State receiving from his behavioural experts on the viability and sustainability of localised lockdowns? It is a challenging thing to set the country on a path to easing restrictions, but then to dial it back again.
Of course it is important to ensure that people are fully informed about the reasons why we may need to take action in a particular local area, and that is an important part of the consideration. Ensuring that local bodies—for instance local directors of public health—are fully engaged, is an important way of doing that. In Wales, where my right hon. Friend has his constituency, that is done through the devolved nations, with their responsibilities locally for public health.
The R number is one indicator of infection, but it is only reliable at regional level. Currently, directors of public health tell me that they receive only high-level reports, and that they need more localised information, with data that relate to the number and location of cases, and state when infection occurred. That information is vital to stopping transmission, especially as restrictions are lifted. By what date will that information be made available to local authorities, so as to inform their local outbreak plans?
Many of my constituents are now sending their children back to school and will soon be returning to work in sectors such as retail. They want confidence that in doing so, they are doing the right thing for their families. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that each step the Government take is based on the advice and on science?
Absolutely. Throughout this period we have based our decisions on the science and scientific advice, taking into account all considerations. Scientific advice, for instance from SAGE, is so important, and it is critical that we take into account all the science. That is why it is a mistake for people to pick on one report and focus on that, as opposed to considering all the science in the round.
People living in residential care homes who receive support for learning and other disabilities are at high risk of catching covid. It is good to know that in Hounslow, those living in residential care have not yet contracted covid, but unlike those in settings for older people, they cannot access testing kits. When will the Government ensure that all residential care settings, including those for under-65-year-olds, are able to access testing?
The hon. Lady is right to ask that question. On the clinical advice, and indeed the scientific advice that we were just discussing, we introduced whole-home testing for residents and staff to care homes for older people, because older people are 70 times more likely to die from covid-19 than those who are younger, which is a significant age gradient. Now that we have got tests to all eligible care homes for the elderly, we are moving to delivering the same thing for people of working age.
The Secretary of State is quite right that it is important to protect our older citizens. It is true that older people and workers in care homes are able to get tests, but that is not the case for people who live or work in retirement villages and supported accommodation. Will he intervene to correct that anomaly immediately, so that we can protect all our older and vulnerable people?
Yes, of course, that is taken into account in the clinical decision on the order of priority for testing. My right hon Friend makes a very important point that I will ensure is taken away and looked at, to check this for people in those settings outside formal social care, which are often not Care Quality Commission registered but still have a much higher proportion of elderly people who are vulnerable to this disease in them. I will ensure that that is properly looked into and, if I may, I will write to the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee on that point.
The Secretary of State says that the Government are taking a safety-first approach, and yet Professor John Edmunds has expressed concern that if we relax, the infection will come back very fast. In Wales, there has been a more cautious approach to people being able to travel such long distances, as we saw the weekend before last in Dorset. What will the Secretary of State do if the R number drifts back above 1?
Of course, the international R rate matters too. I welcome the Prime Minister hosting the global vaccine summit in the UK last week, which raised an astonishing $88 billion. Given that the UK is the largest contributor to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, what support are this Government giving to low-income and developing countries, particularly in the Commonwealth and overseas territories?
That is an incredibly important point, because being able to get a vaccine everywhere around the world is incredibly important to us here at home. Of course, our top priority is access to the vaccine for the citizens of this country, but we are also using our aid budget to ensure that, should a vaccine work and become available, we can not only deliver it here but be good global citizens. As my hon. Friend says, we have put more into this than any other country on the planet.
Professor Edmunds also said yesterday that the R value was largely being driven by outbreaks in care homes and hospitals. Despite the Secretary of State’s statement, we know that there are still some care homes, including in my constituency, where residents and staff have yet to be tested. How can we effectively bring down the R rate without regular testing? Will he commit to regular testing in all care settings, including for the under-65s and those with learning disabilities?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that testing in care homes is important. I am very pleased that my team hit their target of ensuring that all elderly care homes had access to tests by Saturday. Almost 9,000 care homes got kits for all their staff and residents to be tested, and the important thing is that that did not show a huge amount of infections that we did not previously know about. I am delighted that David Pearson—who, it is worth the shadow Secretary of State acknowledging, has been working with us throughout this period—will now be taking a leadership role in driving forward this work to protect our care homes further.
Quite rightly, many of my constituents have contacted me with concerns about mass gatherings and a lack of social distancing, which we unfortunately witnessed in Ilkley last weekend, when many visitors came to enjoy the sunshine. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the R rate is below 1 in West Yorkshire? Will he consider local lockdown if appropriate, so that we can take action where necessary if we see a flare-up in infections in one part of the country?
Yes. I want to protect all the residents of Ilkley from the disease. As we have got the number of new infections right down to between 5,000 and 6,000 each day, according to the ONS—a long way below where it was at the peak—and as the number of deaths has fallen, I want to keep that down. Where there is evidence of a specific cluster or flare-up, we will take local action that will help to protect the residents of Ilkley, elsewhere in Yorkshire and throughout the country, so that we can then safely release other lockdown measures while keeping the community safe.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the media reports saying that the R rate in the north-west is above 1, which have understandably caused concern to my constituents in Burnley. Can he reassure them and people throughout the north-west not only that the R rate is below 1 in the north-west, but that we have to look at all the evidence, and on that evidence we are still defeating this virus?
That is right. I set out some of the evidence in my statement. It is important that we look at the overall base of evidence and take scientific advice on that. There are 10 models that go into SAGE, and it is important that the media reports the facts, which are that if we take into account all the models, R is below 1 in each region of the country, according to SAGE. Of course, different scientific models will come out with different results, and it is right that the scientists should publish and discuss those—that is how science advances—but it is also important that the media play their part responsibly. I reassure the residents of Burnley and elsewhere in the north-west that our overall assessment is that R is below 1 in the north-west and everywhere else in the country. Of course, we keep it closely monitored at all times.
Can the Secretary of State advise whether the R number has been rising or has fallen since the Prime Minister announced, without consultation and with a day’s notice, that people should get back to work in England? Given that some reports suggest that some areas of England have an R number at or close to 1, what consultation has the Secretary of State had with the devolved nations? When will he publish details on what local lockdowns will look like to ensure that the virus is contained?
I strongly welcome the progress made with testing in Harrogate and Knaresborough—we have had mobile testing at the council-owned Hydro unit—but we are seeing black, Asian and minority ethnic members of the community being disproportionately impacted in this pandemic. What steps is the Secretary of State undertaking to provide further testing for those who are most vulnerable?
The use of the testing capability that we now have, which is one of the biggest in the world and the biggest capability in Europe, means that we can focus the testing where it is most clinically needed. Reports such as the one by PHE on the impact of the disease on different parts of the population, whether that is in respect of age, sex or ethnic background, are incredibly important in making that assessment. Where the clinical judgment is that tests should be used specifically for one group because they have a higher risk, we will follow that clinical judgment.
Given the varying rates of infection across both England and Wales and the need to isolate covid, will the Secretary of State now adopt the Welsh guidance that people should not normally travel more than five miles from their home, in order to stop people travelling from high-infection areas to low-infection areas and thereby spreading the virus unnecessarily?
We talk to the Welsh Government all the time about making sure that the public health matters that are devolved are exercised in as co-ordinated a way as reasonably possible, and I fully respect the Welsh Government’s capability in making these sorts of assessments for Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this question. Of course, we proceed cautiously. That is why we take steps in turn to see the effect. The good news is that the evidence thus far is that the steps we have taken have coincided with a continued reduction in the incidence of the virus. That is why it is safe to proceed on the plan that we have set out.
How can it be that, when we are coming out of lockdown and starting to relax some of the restrictions, local authorities do not know what they are expected to do in the event of a local outbreak and they do not know what powers they are to be given? How can it be that the Government can say only that they will tell them when it is practicably possible?
I am afraid that I do not recognise that picture at all. The local directors of public health have been heavily engaged in addressing local outbreaks throughout this pandemic. In the past few weeks, for instance, there have been outbreaks locally that have then been addressed, with a leadership role played locally by the local director of public health. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not listening to the answer given to one of his hon. Friends that we have also put £300 million into local authorities to assist them to make sure that they have that capability on the ground.
The work that PHE has done with Cambridge to understand the R rate at a regional level is very welcome. It might yet, of course, prove invaluable if needed. Can my right hon. Friend say how local is realistically possible? I think that I am right in saying that we could not hone in on Winchester, as an example, if we needed to stamp on an outbreak. Would other factors come into play, such as how effective an area was on the test and trace programme, for instance?
Yes, absolutely. As I tried to say in my opening statement, R is one of many measures that we need to look at. The number of new infections—the level of new infections as opposed to the rate of change—is also important and more directly measurable both through test results and through the surveys that we discussed earlier. Of course, the surveys, the number of test results in particular and the number of people presenting for testing, which we get from the test and trace programme, are much more granular local data that can give us a view of local outbreaks. If there is evidence of a local outbreak, then symptomatic testing can be done in that community in order to find out how serious the problem is locally, so a whole suite of tools are at our disposal.
Does the Secretary of State not agree that, while the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland must move forward together, regional variation of the R number will mean differentiation? What discussions or input will the Secretary of State and Government have with regional authorities to ensure that there is UK-wide understanding, and will all R numbers be calculated using the same scientific criteria?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question is, emphatically, yes. I have regular discussions and exchanges both with the First Minister in Northern Ireland and also with my opposite number Robin Swann. We work to ensure that the response to this virus across the whole United Kingdom is as closely aligned as it reasonably can be respecting the different impacts of the disease in different parts. Thankfully, the impact of the disease in Northern Ireland has been less than in the rest of the country, and long may it remain so.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the progress in countries that are operating social distancing at 1.5 metres or 1 metre, and when does he think that we may have a review of those measures in this country?
That is constantly kept under review. In fact, I was reading some of the most recent science on this over the weekend. The interaction of the distance put in place and the other measures, for instance, on mask wearing and ventilation in particular, are what matters for the progress of the disease. The problem is not whether the rule is 2 metres or any different distance but that the virus transmits especially face to face—less so if people are side to side or back to back—in close quarters. Of course, being outside helps as well.
I welcome today’s news from the Scottish Government that we have just had a second day in Scotland of no additional deaths from coronavirus, but I am concerned about the level of testing, particularly in a community setting, where it is nowhere near capacity. If we cannot have comprehensive testing, how can we have confidence in the R number? So how is the Secretary of State working with the Scottish Government to ensure that all the testing capacity, including in drive-through centres, is in use?
Absolutely; I work closely with the Scottish Government to do everything we can so that they can increase their testing capacity. Part of the testing programme, as the hon. Lady mentioned, is the drive-through centres. That is essentially UK-wide, likewise the postal testing services, and then the hospital-based testing is run, of course, by the Scottish NHS and is therefore devolved. This requires a higher level of co-ordination. Across the UK, in England we have the highest level of testing and we do everything possible to help the Scottish Government to get their testing capacity up.
No new deaths in Scotland, no new deaths in Northern Ireland, and no new deaths in London hospitals: while I agree with my right hon. Friend that even one death from coronavirus is one too many, does he not agree that this is evidence that the whole-UK approach and the measures adopted across the entire United Kingdom at the beginning of this virus are working, and that this is reason to be hugely positive?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there has been very encouraging progress, and all the significant data point in the same direction, which is downwards. That is incredibly important. It is a testament to the efforts of everybody across the whole United Kingdom, because everybody has played their part in the social distancing. The more that we do this as one United Kingdom, the better. Of course there are sometimes substantive reasons for local variation—sometimes, for instance, north of the border—but ultimately this country is coming through this and we are winning the battle against this disease.
Local directors of public health need comprehensive, granulated data in order to do their job. Currently there are holes in the data that they are receiving, particularly on testing, in order to then follow through on tracing. So when—not “soon”, but when—will they actually receive that comprehensive data, together with the local R value, in order to then keep our communities safe?
As we control the R rate and move forward, may I welcome the steps that are being taken to reduce restrictions for the most vulnerable in society? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these steps are being taken in line with scientific advice and in the safest way possible?
Yes, that is absolutely right. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who makes the case for the evidence being the basis of policy and following and being guided by the science, as we have done throughout this crisis. He makes the case very eloquently. It is very important, because that is the best way that we can get the best possible response in what are inevitably very difficult circumstances.
We know that the Secretary of State does not want to see the R rate rise above 1—none of us does—but the high-profile recent mixed messages that have come from his Government might well lead to that happening anyway. In those circumstances, is he prepared, if necessary, to reintroduce restrictions on movement and activity, and will he do whatever it takes to persuade the Chancellor to continue with financial support to the employed and self-employed for so long as it is necessary?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question and for the manner in which he asks it. We have always said that we are prepared to reintroduce measures if that is necessary. He has already seen from the Chancellor one of the most generous packages of support in the world for people dealing with and coping with the consequences—in some cases incredibly difficult and painful consequences—of this disease.
As my right hon. Friend works with medical and scientific advisers to lift lockdown measures cautiously, what hope can he give the millions of grandparents in this country that they too may soon be able to play a full role in their grandchildren’s lives, in particular those who engage in childcare to enable parents to go to work?
Like anybody who has a heart, I yearn for grandparents to be able to see their grandchildren. My own children saw their grandmother at a social distance, appropriately, rigorously according to the rules, for the first time this weekend, and it was a real joy—the first time in months and months—but they have not seen their other grandparents, and of course they are not allowed to hug them yet. I am with my hon. Friend and no doubt you, Mr Speaker, and everybody else in this House in wanting to see a restoration of that basic human contact for which we all yearn.
The concern over the R rate in Greater Manchester on one measure has focused attention on possible local lockdowns, which would have a financial impact on people who are unable to work from home. In those circumstances, will the Government consider a form of local furlough for people whose workplaces are closed down or who are unable to get to work?
We know the significance of the R rate being 1, but what level does the R rate have to get to, and for how long, for the Government to initiate a response and bring restrictions back; then, what does it need to be reduced to, and for how long, before the new restrictions are removed?
The reason having the R below 1 is important is that that is the rate at which the number of new infections continues to fall. When R is below 1, the question is how fast it is falling. The number of new transmissions for each person who has the virus is currently, on average, less than one, so R is below 1 and therefore the number of infections is falling. We do not have a specific figure or target for R; we just want to keep it below 1 and we want to keep the number of new infections falling. Our response in the first instance to new outbreaks will be the local action we have been talking about for much of this session, and that is greatly to be preferred to a reinvigoration of the need for national lockdown.
The circulation of an unofficial R rate of 1.6 for Blackpool, and the publication of this by the local press, created a great deal of alarm in my constituency. The fact that the figure was adjusted to 0.5 only days later just demonstrates the difficulties with believing unofficial statistics and taking them out of context. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that R rate figures are accurate only at regional level, and does he agree that the media have an obligation to report data accurately and within context, to make sure that members of the public are properly informed?
Yes, I do. My hon. Friend makes the point extremely strongly, and the people of Blackpool should be proud that they elected him December. He makes the case very clearly, and what he says is true in the example he cites, of Blackpool, and in the wider north-west. I am sure you feel, Mr Speaker, that a single report should not be taken out of context and that all the science should be looked at. Members in all parts of the House should respect that if they really want to respect the science.
The Secretary of State has made very clear the importance of co-operation between the various health directorates in all four nations of the United Kingdom. I think we all welcome that, but we also need to see co-operation in other Government Departments. What discussions has he had with his Treasury colleagues about the need to vary furlough to different degrees across the United Kingdom when we come out of lockdown at different rates?
One of the reasons why it is valuable to move together as one single country is that we have one overall economy and economic policy is for the whole country. That is one of the very many reasons why we are stronger together. It is important that the Scottish Government take that into account when they make their judgments on what is best for Scotland.
I am very pleased to say that my home constituency of Eastbourne has a low incidence of infection, but it has a high number of care homes and a high number of residents who have been shielding. Equally, it is a tourist destination. With lockdown easing, what reassurances can my right hon. Friend give us that we are moving forward safely?
It is important that those engaged in the tourism industry follow the guidance on social distancing as carefully as possible. They should always follow those rules and ensure that social distancing is in place. As we manage to open things at the right pace—cautiously and safely—in due course, it is incumbent on industries such as the tourism industry to ensure that they follow the guidelines. The proposed next step, subject to formal confirmation, is the opening of non-essential retail. Non-essential retailers will have to follow clear guidelines about ensuring that their shops are safe and that they do not add to the spread of the disease. If we are able to take further steps after that, it is so important that a whole industry, such as the tourism industry, helps everybody to help it by following those sorts of rules.
I have received a letter from a little boy called Charlie, who is clinically extremely vulnerable and has been shielding with his family for about 11 weeks. He wants to know why non-vulnerable people can be allowed to have unlimited exercise wherever and whenever they want, while people who are still shielding feel trapped in their own homes without even 30 minutes to go outside. Now that we have stopped clapping for carers, would the Secretary of State agree that, for just once a day, we could stay home for shielders?
The hon. Lady asks an important question. We did make a change to the guidance, in order to recommend going outside. I know that some people were very worried about doing that, but it is safe to do so safely—by staying 2 metres away from others. Let me say this to all those who are shielding: the shielding guidelines are there for your own protection; you are particularly at risk if you catch the disease and these are the guidelines for how you can stay safe. We appreciate that the guidelines have a significant impact on those who are shielding, and are always looking at what we can do to make the lives of those who are shielding better and to improve the guidance.
Many of my constituents were deeply concerned to read about the high R rate in the north-west. In the same week, they were told to send their children back to school. Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the impact of reopening schools on the R rate in the north-west?
Yes, and I have reconfirmed this with the chief medical officer. It is safe to take the steps that we have recommended to open schools for reception year, year 1 and year 6 right across the country. I am glad to be able to reassure the hon. Gentleman—I hope that he can then reassure his constituents and others across the north-west—that the assessment of SAGE, taking into account all the evidence, is that R is below 1 in all regions.
May I remind the House that this week is Carers Week? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that SAGE, when providing advice to Ministers, looked at a rage of information to ensure that it is presenting an overall view, and that its belief is that the R rate is below 1 in all regions?
Some of the people who have had the toughest time during these months are the people who work in care homes. They have had to deal with things they never thought they would have to deal with, including keeping family members apart from the people they have been looking after, even when they are dying. In Wales, the Welsh Government have decided to give everybody working in a care home, including chefs and ancillary workers, £500 as a bonus. May I please ask the Secretary of State to try to make sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not tax it?
It is essential that the spread of covid-19 is understood in different settings, such as hospitals and care homes, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that the R rate can be unduly distorted at a regional level by these figures and that local lockdown measures should be used very carefully?
In the first instance, where we have taken local action, it can often be in a care home or in a hospital. That would be the action that is needed, and it has been successful, in many cases, in ensuring that an outbreak where we see a rise in the number of new cases does not then transmit into the community. So in the first instance, local action is very local: it is in a single hospital or in a care home. I think understanding that as the starting point for local action is important in thinking about how we take this forward.
We have already heard about the good news from Scotland, where we have gone two days without a death, but we do need to be careful and also mindful of the fact that the R rate may increase in the future; indeed, others in the Chamber have concerns for their areas. Can the Secretary of State give a commitment that if the R rate does rise and the lockdown needs to be reimplemented, he will make every effort to ensure that the Chancellor makes sure that businesses, employees and the self-employed receive the financial support they deserve?
The hon. Gentleman asks an extremely reasonable question, and I hope that he sees that the Government have been incredibly front-foot about ensuring that that sort of provision is available and has been available right from the start of this crisis. We have one of the most generous schemes in the world.
I, too, would like to pay tribute to all the many carers throughout the country—people who are just relatives, but who are looking after someone through love and are unpaid for that. Because they do not see themselves as carers, they often do not have the information that they might otherwise need. Will my right hon. Friend see if there is anything more he can do to work with colleagues in councils and of course the relevant Departments to ensure that those carers have access to everything they need, because carers are a massively important part of making sure that the R rate is controlled?
Yes. I think the whole House will join me and my hon. Friend in thanking all carers, paid and unpaid, in this Carers Week. This Carers Week is so different from normal because of what has happened during coronavirus. One of the things we have seen during coronavirus is that people have got together to celebrate and thank our carers right across the board. He is absolutely right to raise the point that he does, and I will certainly look into it.
No one wants to see the R number go above 1; hence the robust questioning the Secretary of State is facing. This weekend, the Government’s incongruous messaging continued. SAGE member John Edmunds told Andrew Marr that the decision not to lock down earlier had cost a lot of lives. Later in the show, the Secretary of State dismissed this view in the face of Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme and the growing number of scientific experts who are warning that the Government’s premature relaxation of lockdown could see a significant second wave of infection. If the Government are no longer following the science provided by their own advisers, whose advice are they following?
Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the carers in Beaconsfield for their tireless work? Can he confirm that the only reason we are now able to consider local lockdowns is because of our testing capabilities, along with NHS test and trace, which are helping to build a more accurate picture of what is going on in different parts of the country?