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Commons Chamber

Volume 677: debated on Monday 15 June 2020

House of Commons

Monday 15 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.]

Oral Answers to Questions

Housing, Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Weddings Sector: Covid-19

What steps he is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support the wedding sector during the covid-19 outbreak. (903164)

May I begin by sending my best wishes and those of the Government to our colleague, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan)?

As Communities Secretary, ensuring that places of worship can open has been one of my priorities. Their contribution to the common good of our country as places of solace, inspiration and provision for the most vulnerable in our society is clear. I am pleased that they can now open for individual prayer. I have worked with faith leaders and representatives to ensure that this can be done safely, including publishing guidance last week and working with the places of worship taskforce, which I established last month. I am told that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Nichols went this morning to Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral respectively, and I look forward to working with them and others to ensure a broader reopening of places of worship.

I represent some of Berkshire’s best wedding venues, such as Wasing Park. We welcome the Government’s proposal to set up a taskforce looking at safe weddings, but there are couples in my constituency who are desperate to let their friends and family know whether their weddings can go ahead this summer. Can my right hon. Friend say when a date will be announced for summer weddings?

I fully appreciate the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. I know how important weddings are for venues and, of course, how many people’s plans have been disrupted. I can tell her that there is a significant effort across Government to allow people to hold weddings—in particular, small ones with appropriate social distancing—as soon as we can, but this must be done safely. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and I are working with faith leaders on this issue, and in the meantime, venues such as Wasing Park can avail themselves of the job retention scheme, the business rates holiday and the small business grants to help them get through the coming weeks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that reopening churches and other places of worship is an incredibly important step in the right direction for our spiritual welfare across the country and symbolises the direction of travel, with the country returning to normality?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. People of faith have shown enormous patience and forbearance in recent weeks, unable to mark Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi and Ramadan with their family, friends and community in the traditional way. As we control the virus, we are able to move forward, and as we reopen our economy, it is right that the importance of faith and places of worship is recognised.

I had an interesting Zoom call with my constituency clergy last week, and they are confused. One vicar said to me, “So is it right that I can invite five members of my congregation to the church grounds for a barbecue and some beers, but if we start saying prayers, we’ll get busted?” I suggested that he could advertise his services as a barbecue with a very long grace. We need much clearer guidance if we are to get our churches properly and fully back into use as soon as possible. Frankly, they should never have been put out of use in the first place.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s important question. We published guidance last week for places of worship before they reopened for individual prayer. I am grateful to all the volunteers across the country who have worked hard to clean and prepare those places of worship over the last few days. The guidance was worked through by faith leaders in our taskforce. Places of worship can open for funerals, and Public Health England has previously published guidance on how to manage funerals safely. As I said, I very much hope that we can set a date for weddings soon.

The Secretary of State has announced the reopening of places of worship for individual prayer despite some faiths only practising communal prayer in their place of worship. This separation has caused confusion, which turned to chaos when the Government only published the nine-page guidance on Friday. Why did the Government not provide clear and timely guidance to all places of worship, regardless of their method of prayer?

I will explain the process that we have been through. We have worked for several weeks with leaders across all the faiths on our taskforce to produce guidance that is applicable to all faiths and then to support individual faiths in translating that into the particular practices of their faith. I appreciate and am conscious of the fact that the first step in this process—individual prayer—is much less relevant to some faith than others. In particular, it has limited applicability to Muslims and Jews in our communities, but I hope that they will see this as the logical first step towards a much broader reopening soon.

Towns Fund

Our £3.6 billion towns fund will play a vital role in supporting our country’s economic recovery, investing in housings, skills, technology, culture and town centres, as we move beyond the immediate covid-19 response. I am pleased that in the majority of cases work has been able to continue despite the challenges posed by covid-19, and later today my hon. Friend the Minister for local growth will publish towns fund guidance, setting out the steps by which Redcar and all the 100 towns with which we have agreed these historic deals can proceed.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his ongoing commitment to the towns fund, specifically in relation to the up to £25 million for Redcar town centre. Does he agree that the best use of this money is to help kick start revenue-generating projects to secure local government finances in the years ahead?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to see economic activity returning to great places such as Redcar. The purpose of the fund is both to provide immediate economic stimulus and confidence to those places and to set them up in the longer term for more sustainable economic growth and prosperity. I have heard his strong representation for a new horizontal pier in Redcar.

Local authorities in Rutland and Melton very much welcome the multiple cash injections from central Government, but they are now turning their attention to how we recover financially from this period. Both Rutland and Melton want a significant boost in domestic tourism and high street business trade, so what funding has my right hon. Friend considered for local authorities on top of the towns fund and pandemic relief so that local authorities can come back stronger?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the £27 billion the Government have provided to communities to ensure that they have the resources they need as they get through the pandemic. Both Rutland and Melton will also receive funding from the £50 million reopening high streets safely fund as they welcome the return of high street activity in the great towns she represents, such as Melton, Uppingham and Oakham

My constituency is the beneficiary of stronger towns funding for Workington, and the future high streets fund for Maryport. Across Cumbria we have nine such allocations, which I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees has the potential to change Cumbria significantly. Does he therefore have a plan to join up the teams leading these bids to ensure that Workington, Maryport and Cumbria more widely get the maximum benefit?

I know how closely my hon. Friend has been involved in some of those town deals. We want to ensure we get the maximum economic benefit from this investment, and so my officials are encouraging communities that benefit from multiple town and high street deals to work together to create a convincing and ambitious plan for the future.

I thank the Secretary of State for his warm words about my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) earlier. All of us in the SNP family, and I am sure in this wider House, want to see Amy get back to full health. She is not just a colleague of mine here; she is one of my closest friends here, and I look forward to her coming back and resuming her duties and rightful place.

Last year, among the backslapping and hoorah from Scottish Tory MPs, the Secretary of State’s predecessor came to the Dispatch Box and announced millions of pounds of stronger towns funding, complete with assurances that this money would be Barnettised. Over a year later, the Scottish Government are yet to hear any more about this. Will he confirm that his predecessor’s announcement is still valid and what the timescale is to deliver this overdue and promised funding?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and her family the strength of feeling and support she has on both sides of the House.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about the towns fund, I will make inquiries with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and revert to him, but I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the many town and city deals that have happened across Scotland in recent years that have been championed by my colleagues in the Conservative party and which are bringing the same benefits to those communities—investment in technology, skills, heritage and town and city centres.

I am afraid that that response from the Secretary of State will sound like backsliding. Many people can go back and look at Hansard. There were lots of Scottish Tory MPs in here and there was great promise about some of this money coming to Scotland. If I am picking up the Secretary of State right, that now seems to be being pulled away. I hope very much that this will not be used to shore up what was the red wall. Can he give me a cast iron guarantee that the money will be Barnettised? Otherwise, those promises last year will seem like empty rhetoric?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to sow grievance where there is none. I have said that I will find out from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor exactly the status of that funding—whether it is going to be Barnettised—and I will revert to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.

Green Belt

The green belt is very important to all of us, and we continue to maintain strong protections for it through the national planning policy framework. It is clear that boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances and where all other options have been examined.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to protect the suburban environment, that means not just safeguarding the green belt but rejecting proposals for overdevelopment on non-green-belt sites like Victoria Quarter in New Barnet or the tube stations at High Barnet and Cockfosters, which are threatened with high-rise development that is entirely inappropriate for the surrounding suburban area?

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that question. She is an assiduous campaigner for her constituents in Chipping Barnet. She will know that I cannot comment on any individual cases, but applications should be considered in accordance with the development plan. The Secretary of State asked the Mayor of London to pay regard to place in the siting of tall buildings, so where there are clusters of tall buildings, it may be more appropriate to site new tall buildings there than elsewhere. My right hon. Friend may, with advantage, take up that matter with the Mayor of London.

Building Safety Programme

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this question. I would like to acknowledge the commemorations taking place in her constituency to mark the tragic loss of life from Grenfell Tower three years ago. In the present pandemic, the residents and others there managed to pay tribute and to commemorate with respect and care. I congratulate them on their efforts and my hon. Friend on all her unstinting work.

Building safety is a priority for this Government and for me personally. The Government recently announced the biggest change in a generation on building safety, to be delivered through the upcoming building safety Bill, together with, now, £1.6 billion of support for remediation of unsafe cladding. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that residents are safe now and in the future.

I would like to start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for lighting Parliament green last night for Grenfell.

I welcome the £1 billion additional funding for the remediation of non-ACM cladding, but, as we all know, it is not just a question of the money—it is about actually getting the work done. Will my right hon. Friend update me on what progress he expects within the next six months?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to highlight the pace of implementation as being important. Registrations for the new building safety fund, which opened on 1 June, have now reached 458. I am pleased to say that the draft building safety Bill will be published soon for scrutiny, and remediation continues across the estate where it is needed, despite the covid-19 crisis. We are determined to do all we can to support residents.

In remembering all those who lost their lives at Grenfell and the families and friends who are left behind, it is shocking that three years after Grenfell there are still 2,000 high-rise residential blocks that have dangerous cladding on them. The £1 billion building safety fund is welcome, but it will only remediate 600 of those blocks; it will do nothing to touch lower-rise residential accommodation, dangerous insulation and other fire safety defects, leaving thousands of people worried about their safety and their financial circumstances. Will the Minister go back to the Chancellor and put it to him that we now need a great deal more cash—the Select Committee says probably up to £15 billion—to ensure that fire safety defects are removed from all residential buildings within the next two years, which means five years after the Grenfell disaster?

As I said in answer to the previous question, pace is crucial in this regard, which is why the Chancellor has made available in this financial year £1 billion to remediate those buildings that suffer from non-ACM cladding. That is on top of the £600 million that we have made available for ACM-clad buildings. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is going to be necessary for a great many buildings to be remediated. We would expect some of that funding to come forward from the building owners so that those who let or are leaseholders in the buildings do not fall liable for the funds. We believe that £1 billion, now, to get on with the job, will go a great deal along the way to make sure that buildings are made safe for their residents.

Three years on from the Grenfell disaster, when 72 people tragically lost their lives, 245 buildings are clad in dangerous ACM and at least 1,700 are clad in equally flammable material. If the remedial work continues at the same snail’s pace, it will take up to 39 years for the work to be completed, yet if someone wants a controversial billion-pound planning application approved, it seems that high-value chicken dinners get things done. Will the Minister advise the House as to what influence can be applied to quickly make all our high-rise buildings safe once and for all?

First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place; this is the first time since he took up his shadow position that we have sparred across the Dispatch Box—

It is the first time that the hon. Gentleman and I have sparred across the Dispatch Box—that is correct, so let us hold on to that.

The hon. Gentleman was rather ungenerous: we have made £1.6 billion available to remediate the buildings that need it. Remediation work has begun or been completed on 95% of all social-sector buildings that had unsafe ACM cladding on them, and remediation work has begun or been completed on 40% of such buildings in the private sector, while the other 60% have their plans in train. We want these buildings to be made safe as quickly as possible. That is why we have put the money on the table, why we will press for action to be taken and why the buildings will be made safe under this Government.

Private Renters: Covid-19

What steps the Government are taking to protect private renters facing financial difficulties as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (903170)

The Government have introduced measures to help tenants to continue to pay their rent; we are supporting workers by paying up to 80% of their wages; we have increased the amount available to welfare claimants; and we have raised the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile of market rents in each area.

I thank the Minister for his response, but on the day that Marcus Rashford, a 22 year-old footballer, wrote to all of us in the House to raise the spectre of family impoverishment under coronavirus, does he recognise the fact that a substantial proportion of private renters have dependent children—they are not all bedsit-land stereotypes? Will he bring forward immediately the plans to end section-21 evictions? The Conservatives are the party of the family; if people are losing their jobs already, they should protect families and homes now.

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question. We have committed to bring forward legislation to enhance renters’ security, and that includes the abolition of section-21 evictions, but we will do it in a safe, sensible and sustained way. In the interim, the Government have worked with the judiciary, legal representatives and the advice sector on arrangements to ensure that courts are better able to address those tenants who are in difficult positions, and we have spent £7 billion of public money through the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that people can get the help that they need. We are working with the National Residential Landlords Association. It advises me that private rented sector rents have fallen by about 1% in the latest round of tenancy renewals. We are working hard across the space, particularly with the private rented sector, to make sure people get the help that they deserve.

I associate myself with the remarks by hon. Members about the victims and survivors of Grenfell.

Today the Treasury Select Committee says that freelancers, new starters and many others have fallen through gaps in the financial support schemes. Local housing allowance does not even cover average rents. Anyone with no recourse to public funds cannot even get universal credit. Over a million people are struggling with rent, but this is fixable. Will the Government today heed the calls of Shelter, Citizens Advice, Generation Rent, numerous charities and building societies and the Labour party, act now and prevent people from losing their homes in an evictions crisis in the autumn?

As I have made clear, we have worked hard to protect tenants from the prospect of eviction and also to ensure that they have the funds to live their lives. That is why we introduced the furlough system, which provides 80% of people’s incomes. That is why we have increased the LHA. It is why we have made available to local authorities £500 million to help those households facing crisis. The prospectus of the hon. Lady, which is simply to kick the can down the road and to pile up costs for people who may not be able to afford them, is not the right one. I think she should go away and think again.

Local Authority Funding: Covid-19

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the adequacy of funding for local authorities during the covid-19 outbreak. (903171)

We have paid an unprecedented £3.2 billion to local authorities to address the pressures that they are facing in response to the pandemic, including £17.9 million to the hon. Lady’s own council, on top of an increase of £13.5 million in its core spending power this year. We have introduced measures worth more than £5 billion to help to ease councils’ immediate financial pressures. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are currently working closely with Cabinet colleagues on a comprehensive plan to ensure councils’ financial sustainability over the financial year ahead.

I thank the Minister for his response, but the financial cost of covid-19 to Enfield council is expected to be more than £68 million and the Government have so far funded only a fraction of that burgeoning cost. The Minister is fully aware of local authorities’ statutory duty to provide a range of services to their communities. In the absence of fair funding, should local authorities begin making plans for more austerity to fill the funding gap by cutting vital services such as libraries, waste collection or adult social care?

The answer to that question is unequivocally no, they should not. As I set out in my previous answer, we are working closely with the Treasury on a comprehensive settlement for the sector, which we will bring forward in due course.

The recent reports on disparity in the risk and outcomes of covid-19, published by Public Health England, confirmed that black and minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately affected by covid-19. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that areas that have been badly hit by covid-19, particularly those with large black and minority ethnic populations, receive the support necessary to recover from the social and economic effects of the outbreak?

The hon. Lady’s question is a good and important one. Obviously, that is something that the Government have published research on, and it is obviously a fast-evolving situation. We continue to work closely with councils that cover areas of high density of BAME population, including, for example, Bradford. We want to understand those pressures and as we do, then we will adjust our response accordingly.

Hounslow Borough Council has identified spending pressures of around £15 million and income losses of £95 million due to covid-19, and the funding gap is rising. Our local authority is heavily dependent on aviation and my constituency has the fourth largest amount of furloughed employment. How do the Government plan to support partnerships between councils, industry, training providers and community organisations to ensure that our economic recovery and our community recovery go hand in hand?

The hon. Lady asks an excellent question. Clearly, it is important that local authorities and business work together. We have so far allocated a total of more than £103 million to Hounslow Borough Council precisely to help ensure that we support the whole community. That includes a generous settlement of grants for businesses as well as additional funding worth more than £14 million for the council. It is vital that any authority with particular issues—for example, links to aviation—that is struggling to make the books balance speaks to the Department and we will of course always be happy to offer detailed advice.

Local Authorities: Lost Revenue

What recent estimate he has made of the value of revenue lost by local authorities as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (903172)

What recent estimate he has made of the value of revenue lost by local authorities as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (903212)

We are working closely with the sector to develop a good understanding of the pressures that local authorities currently face. We have announced £3.2 billion of additional funding, councils will be able to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payment, and £850 million in social care grants were paid in April in a move aimed at helping to ease immediate pressures on local authority cash flows.

Manchester has lost £136 million in revenue this year alone. In Greater Manchester, the funding gap is £406 million. In the UK, it is £10 billion. The Minister just told us unequivocally that local authorities should not make plans for more austerity. Is he committing to fully fund those gaps?

As I explained in my previous answer, we will issue a comprehensive spending plan, which ensures that we do not leave local authorities facing unmanageable spending pressures in the year ahead. I point out that Greater Manchester councils have received £168 million of additional funding in response to the pandemic and their core spending power in this financial year increased by £150 million. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has held detailed talks with Sir Richard Leese, and obviously an invitation to have further conversations as required always stands.

The financial position of Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly County Borough Councils, which cover my constituency, was difficult enough before the pandemic owing to years of UK Government austerity. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the Welsh Government receive the funding they need for Welsh local authorities and the funding that the Prime Minister committed to Wales in February to tackle the effects of Storm Dennis? The impact of the floods and the pandemic have caused a hugely difficult situation for local authorities in my area and across Wales.

The winter storms have passed from memory, given everything that has happened subsequently, but they were terrible and had a significant impact on several communities, particularly on the west coast of the country. I am very conscious of that. We of course make a commitment that the funds that were promised will be paid. Local government is a devolved matter and therefore my Department does not engage directly with Welsh councils, but they can rest assured that they will receive their fair share according to the Barnett formula.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, but it is not so sunny today I am afraid.

The Government made a promise to councils that they would provide full support so that councils could do whatever it takes to get through the coronavirus crisis. According to Local Government Association figures released on 29 May, councils needed as much as £6 billion to cover the cost of coping with the ongoing pandemic. If things returned to normal, that was the Government’s promise. However, we all know it is obvious that things will not to return to normal in July. Will the Minister speak to his Treasury colleagues and keep his promise to cover the deficit faced by councils and prevent them from going over the cliff edge? I acknowledge the Minister’s earlier responses, but he has yet to give a complete commitment to funding councils’ deficit.

We are obviously very conscious of £9.3 million that we have given to Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. It is crucial that we deliver a suitable funding settlement for local authorities. We are working hard with Treasury colleagues to do that. The hon. Lady can rest assured that we will bring further details to the House as soon as we are ready.

Covid-19: Departmental Priorities

What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s priorities of the covid-19 outbreak. (903206)

Supporting the national and local response to covid-19 has been our top priority since March. We are giving councils the resources they need to respond and have injected £3.2 billion of new grant funding. This includes support for vulnerable people such as rough sleepers, where we have taken unprecedented action. Nearly 15,000 people have been housed in emergency accommodation, including hotels, since the start of the lockdown period.

I am grateful for that answer. In a consensual spirit, because this challenge affects everybody everywhere, can we recognise the remarkable achievement, proving what we can do when there is political will, of bringing rough sleeping all but to zero? However, we need to build on that and take it forward. What plans does the Minister have to work across the House to make sure that we can build on that success and end rough sleeping altogether?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way that he asked his question. We have seen a remarkable effort from local authorities, volunteers, the homelessness sector and councils of all party political persuasions, who have worked together to bring so many rough sleepers and people in danger of sleeping rough off the streets to give them the support they need. We are of course working with local authorities across the spectrum to put plans in place to support people into longer-term accommodation. Alongside that, we have announced £433 million to deliver 6,000 units of new move-on accommodation and personalised, wraparound support. I am always very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this further.

Reopening of High Streets and Town Centres

What steps he is taking to ensure the safe reopening of high streets and town centres as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (903174)

What progress he is making on plans for the safe reopening of high streets and town centres as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (903180)

Helping our towns and cities develop safe trading environments, particularly on high streets, is vital to the Government’s efforts to kick-start our economy, get people back to work and get businesses trading again. We continue to examine all the options to revitalise our high streets. I want to spark a vibrant café culture to support hospitality businesses and make it easier for them to operate outdoors, with seating and tables for temporary markets set up, and for the streets to be temporarily pedestrianised. Many councils are already doing these fantastic things and I will be publishing our plans shortly.

Rugby town centre has reopened today with the unique innovation of images of a rugby ball placed on the ground to remind people of the need for social distancing. As a former salesman, I know that “You can’t sell if you don’t tell”, so does the Secretary of State agree that in addition to the practical safety measures that he has spoken about, councils must reassure people that town centres are open for business by accompanying them with an effective local marketing campaign?

Our £50 million reopening high streets safely fund, of which Rugby is one beneficiary, allows local authorities to create communications plans to give people the confidence to get back on to our high streets, to support local businesses and to help the economy move forwards.

This morning I was able to go to some businesses in Burnley and Padiham and see the incredible work that they have done to get themselves covid-secure, but covid is only one of the challenges facing our high streets, and Burnley has missed out before on the towns fund. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that he is committed still to working with me to make sure that Burnley’s local economy is reinvigorated for the long term?

I can give my hon. Friend exactly that commitment and help to reassure his constituents. I know that Burnley is benefiting from the historic high streets heritage action zones. We will also shortly bring forward the competitive round of the towns fund, where Burnley will be able to apply. I very much look forward to seeing his application, and I support and strongly endorse the campaign of his local newspaper, the Burnley Express, and encourage his constituents to support their local business community by finding time to shop local.

Local Economies: Covid-19

What steps he is taking to support the renewal of local economies as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (903175)

Obviously I very much welcome the fact that today is a big moment for all our local economies as shops reopen, which is really positive news. We have given councils, businesses and communities over £27 billion thus far to support them as we move to recovery from this pandemic. That includes almost £13 billion in business grants, which has so far supported 832,000 businesses, and the £50 million reopening high streets safely fund, which the Secretary of State referred to. Today we are also publishing the guidance on the £3.6 billion towns fund, which will enable 100 places across England to make further progress with their town deals.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have welcomed the super announcements to help business improvement districts with various funds, to support local economies through the uncertainty of the covid-19 pandemic. This has been a vital lifeline for Love Loughborough, the BID in my constituency. Given the need to ensure that our town centres have the resources they need to get back on their feet, what further steps are being taken to support BIDs as the lockdown restrictions are eased?

BIDs have a significant part to play in our high street regeneration programme, and they will be even more important given the setback we have all experienced during the first half of this year. That is why we have legislated to allow BIDs that were due to re-ballot this year to continue until March 2021 and have announced £6.1 million in emergency support funding for BIDs. I am pleased that the Love Loughborough BID—not one to be said unless you have a taste for tongue-twisters—will receive £12,747 from this additional fund.

Building Safety Fund

The eligibility criteria for the building safety fund are set out in the prospectus that was published in May—as Members know, the fund was launched on 1 June. Where buildings are not eligible, our guidance is clear that building safety is the responsibility of building owners, and we have given expert advice on a range of safety issues and measures that can provide clarity.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) has explained, the fund is not big enough for the demand, and many buildings in Manchester are ineligible for it. Last week, I met residents of Skyline Central 1, whose building will not be eligible because the freeholder has already begun works on the property, yet the freeholder is passing all those costs on to leaseholders, to the tune of £20,000-plus each. So what more will the Government do to ensure that leaseholders are not bearing the brunt of removing dangerous cladding from their buildings?

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question, and I know she is campaigning doughtily on behalf of her constituents. As I have said, we have been absolutely clear that where those buildings are already being remediated—where remediation was under way before 11 March—residents, leaseholders, should first seek to recover the costs from the owner, and the owner should do this from the developer of the buildings where the defects are found. The point of the fund is to get the remediation work under way quickly. I can quite understand the points she has raised and I am happy to talk to her further about that case.

Regeneration of Towns

Our £3.6 billion towns fund will create jobs and drive economic growth in towns across England, and the new high streets task force, along with our £50 million reopening high streets safely fund, will help local areas to kick-start the safe reopening of their town centres.

The new unitary Buckinghamshire Council has ambitious regeneration plans for Aylesbury, which has garden town status, with an excellent masterplan already prepared. Will my hon. Friend confirm that funding will still be available from central Government for the imaginative and innovative garden town project, which will make Aylesbury a place where people will want to live, work, visit and invest, long after the coronavirus crisis?

Yes, I can. Well planned, well designed, locally led garden communities play a vital role in helping to meet this country’s housing need well into the future. As we announced at Budget 2020, the Government have demonstrated their support for the Aylesbury garden town through a £170 million housing infrastructure fund award, which should help to unlock its full potential.

Home Ownership: Support

First Homes, our new flagship home ownership programme, will discount homes by at least 30% for local people and first-time buyers, reducing income and deposit requirements. We recently closed our consultation on First Homes, and we will publish our response very soon. This will add to other Government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy, which have supported over 627,000 households since 2010.

Around this time last year, a friend of mine purchased a property as a first-time buyer. On a purchase price of £275,000, he paid £3,700 in land transaction tax, which is the Welsh equivalent of stamp duty. Had he completed his purchase just eight miles away, across the border in England, he would not have paid any stamp duty at all. I commend my right hon. Friend, along with the Treasury, for this policy to assist first-time buyers, but will he join me in calling on the Welsh Government to raise the threshold for first-time buyers to £300,000 to mirror England so that young people are not incentivised to move out of my beautiful constituency?

My hon. Friend is right; Delyn is a beautiful constituency. He is also right to point out that stamp duty or land transaction tax in Wales is a devolved matter. The Welsh Government are not particularly successful at building houses, including social homes. I think they have built fewer than 140 in the last five years, so the message to the Welsh Government is: could do a little better. But I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that in England, stamp duty relief means that 80% of first-time buyers will pay no stamp duty at all, and cuts the price for 95% of those who do pay the tax. This relief has benefited over 500,000 people since its introduction three years ago.

Topical Questions

Yesterday marked three years since the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. No words will ever be enough, but my thoughts, and I am sure those of the whole House, are with the survivors, the bereaved and the community of north Kensington. Over the weekend I laid a wreath beside the tower on behalf of the Government. We will continue to work to ensure that this tragedy can never happen again.

Once again, I want to thank everybody across local government for their continued and dedicated response to covid-19. We have backed those efforts with £3.2 billion of additional funding, and today I want to reassure councils that I am working closely with Cabinet colleagues on a comprehensive plan to ensure their financial stability for the remainder of this year. I will say more about that shortly. Finally, as many shops reopen their doors to the public this morning and we look to the next phase of our recovery, my Department will be leading efforts to revitalise our local economies with a collective determination to realise Britain’s enormous potential.

In order to get our high streets back up and running, we might need a temporary relaxation of licensing laws—for instance, to get more tables and chairs out on pavements. Clearly we do not want a free-for-all, but what steps is my right hon. Friend considering?

I am very sympathetic to the argument that my hon. Friend has made. I would like to see more outdoor seating and for it to be easier and cheaper for small businesses to get licences. I would also like to see more temporary markets and more pedestrianisation, and for it to be easier to do things such as putting marquees outside pubs for longer this summer. These are all things we need to do to help our economy get going in the summer months, and I will be working with local councils to bring forward our proposals very shortly.

The Secretary of State is caught up in a cash for favours row that now reaches inside No. 10 Downing Street, but last week he did not even have the courage to show up and answer questions in this Chamber, so I hope he will be answering now. Given the gravity of the allegations surrounding his unlawful decision on the Westferry development, will he agree to make a full statement to the House, publish all correspondence and disclose all conversations with other Government Ministers and officials relating to the case, to reassure the public that the integrity of the planning process cannot be auctioned off at Conservative party fundraising dinners?

Propriety in the planning the system is extremely important and I take my responsibility as Secretary of State very seriously indeed. The application to which the hon. Gentleman refers was highly contentious —all applications that come before the Secretary of State are highly contentious—and had been contested for many years. In fact, it had only come before Ministers in my Department and my predecessor in April because Tower Hamlets Council had itself failed to determine it. I took the decision in good faith and with an open mind. I am confident that all the rules were followed in doing so.

It is not unusual for a Secretary of State to come to a different conclusion from a local authority. It is not unusual for a Secretary of State to come a different conclusion from a planning inspector—no disrespect to the great people who work there—and my predecessors did so on a number of occasions. All the relevant information relating to this matter is with the Cabinet Secretary. I have taken, and will take again, advice from my permanent secretary about what further documentation we might be able to publish. As the hon. Gentleman says, we want to ensure the correct processes of the planning system are followed. That means publishing documents while bearing in mind the legitimate interests of the parties to this case, which remains a live planning application.

Back in March, the Chancellor rightly told the House that event hire companies with business properties would be eligible for rate relief and a corresponding leisure and hospitality grant. However, subsequent guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government excluded those companies. Will the Secretary of State clarify the position—at present, neighbouring local authorities in my part of Hampshire are making different decisions for the same firms—or does he think that the new discretionary grant fund is the way to go? Right now, my local authority will do neither without the Secretary of State telling it that it can. (903225)

My understanding is that the new discretionary fund would allow a business such as the one my hon. Friend raises to benefit from that. I know he has written to me in the past asking for further clarification, but I am happy to come back to him once again and ensure that that business has the clarification it needs to receive the funding it desperately requires at this time.

The Secretary of State has admitted that giving full consent to Richard Desmond’s Westferry development was unlawful because of apparent bias, so why did he not immediately recuse himself from taking the decision instead of unlawfully trying to force it through? (903226)

Let us be clear about the circumstances here: all the parties to this application—that includes the Mayor of London, the applicant and Tower Hamlets Council—agreed to redetermine the case at my suggestion. The court consented to do that and that is now what will happen. If underlying her question is one made in writing by, I think, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), as to what the involvement of my Department was in this matter, I am happy to clarify. My Department knew about my attendance at the event before I went to it. It knew about the fact that I had inadvertently sat next to the applicant. I did not know who I was going to be seated by until I sat at the table. I discussed and took advice from my officials within the Department at all times.

In beautiful Hastings and Rye we have seen a noticeable increase in constituents contacting me about being terrified and intimidated, victims of antisocial behaviour from particular neighbours. What measures is my right hon. Friend taking to support social housing landlords in dealing with and reducing the increase in this disturbing behaviour? (903230)

First, let me say that it is completely unacceptable for anyone to feel unsafe or intimidated in their home. Earlier this year, I announced an additional £165 million for the troubled families programme to tackle some of the issues of antisocial behaviour and to help to transform people’s lives. Later this year I will publish our social housing White Paper, which I hope will empower tenants and improve the quality of life in social housing for ever. We have also given landlords, the police and councils a significant range of powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, including criminal behaviour orders and community protection notices.

Did the Secretary of State know, when he signed the planning consent for Westferry, that the next day a new levy would come into effect, which would have cost the developers tens of millions of pounds more? (903227)

That was a matter of public record. It was referred to in the planning inspector’s report that my Department received in November, so all parties would have been aware of that.

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the work done with rough sleepers during this crisis presents a unique opportunity? Will he commit to redoubling efforts to bring together the national Government, local government, the voluntary sector and, crucially, employers to make sure that we can build on this platform, so that more rough sleepers can be found sustainable homes and careers and we can work towards the Government’s very laudable aim to end rough sleeping for good? (903233)

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. One of the great successes and few silver linings during the pandemic has been the fact that, working with charities and councils across the country, we have helped to bring in more than 90% of those people who are sleeping rough on our streets. That is something we should all be proud of and has undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives, but that is just the beginning. I am now working with the homelessness Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall)—and Dame Louise Casey on a long-term plan to give those people the accommodation they need to move on and restart their lives. That begins with working with local councils and bringing forward more than 6,000 new homes.

The Secretary of State’s answers to the hon. Members for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and for Blaydon (Liz Twist) are entirely unsatisfactory. He accepts that he acted unlawfully in overruling a local authority to grant planning permission to a wealthy Tory donor, helping him to avoid £40 million in tax. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House how he expects the public to have confidence in planning procedures given his actions, and why he thinks it is appropriate for him to remain in post while a police investigation into his behaviour is ongoing? (903228)

I am happy to clarify a number of those points, the vast majority of which were factually incorrect. I understand that a Labour Member of the House of Lords did make an allegation to the police. That was swiftly assessed by members of the Metropolitan police, and they informed me that there were no criminal matters to investigate and they had no intention of taking it further. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman withdrawing that suggestion.

I entirely stand behind the decision that I made. I made it with an open mind, because we want to see more homes built in this country and in particular in our capital city. This development would have led to 1,500 homes and 250 affordable homes. I remind the House that this contentious decision came to my desk as Secretary of State because the local council had failed to determine it in accordance with the law.

Hinckley business improvement district has worked over the past decade to increase footfall and reduce shop vacancies. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), the Secretary of State talked about the vision that may well be in place. Will he expand on where he thinks BIDs should be in the future of driving forward such places as Hinckley post-covid-19? (903234)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which is a very good one. As he rightly says, BIDs have a very important role to play in this regeneration. We see them at the heart of the process of making sure that the high street comes back stronger from this pandemic and that we make good progress in making sure that the high street is genuinely fit for the future. That means meeting the needs of modern consumer habits.

On the Westferry development, the Secretary of State has just told the House that the Department was advised of the conversation with Richard Desmond at the fundraising dinner before he overruled his own planning inspector to approve the Westferry development, but a whistleblower in the Department says that there is no record of the dinner appearing in official documents. That is potentially a serious breach of the ministerial code, especially as the Secretary of State himself has just admitted that it is a highly contentious application. Will he now confirm when and how he advised the Department of the meeting, given the question of bias that this issue raises? (903229)

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady with her pre-prepared question, but as she will have heard in my answer a few moments ago, the Department was fully informed of my attendance at the event. I discussed with my officials that the applicant had raised the matter. I advised the applicant that I was not able to discuss it, so I think I have answered her question comprehensively.

My right hon. Friend has ensured throughout the coronavirus pandemic that local authorities have been supported and supported well. My local authority, Sefton Council, has concerns about future funding arrangements. What more can his Department do to help? (903235)

We said at the start of the pandemic that we would give councils, which were responding to covid so brilliantly, the resources they need, and we meant it. We have announced more than £3.2 billion of new grant funding, including more than £17.5 million for Sefton Council. As I said earlier, we are going to keep working with councils, including Sefton, to ensure that they have the resources they need.

May I start by sending, on behalf of all my Liberal Democrat colleagues, our very best wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) for a speedy and full recovery? Who will make the re-decision on the Westferry Printworks development in place of the Secretary of State, and how will they address the concerns about apparent bias expressed by the High Court in its judgment? (903231)

As is usual in cases when planning applications are re-determined, a different Minister in the Department will be chosen and will make the decision, and whenever that case comes forward, he or she will do as I did and approach this matter without any bias, with an open mind and do the right thing.

Sitting suspended.

Social Distancing: 2 Metre Rule

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on publishing the review of the 2 metre social distancing rule.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his important urgent question. As part of our work to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Government have put in place social distancing guidance. The guidance specifies that everyone must keep 2 metres away from people outside their household or the support bubbles that have been in place since Saturday. I am grateful for the commitment and the perseverance of the British people in following these guidelines over the past few months; I know it has entailed huge sacrifice.

We keep all of our public health guidance under constant review to ensure it reflects the latest advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the latest evidence that we have on the transmission of the virus. The Prime Minister has commissioned a comprehensive review of the 2 metre guidance. It will take advice from a range of experts, including the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, as well as behavioural scientists and economists. It will also receive papers from SAGE, which is conducting a rolling review of the 2 metre guidance already. The review will examine how the current guidance is working, and will look at evidence around transmission in different environments, incidence rates and international comparisons.

Unless and until there is any change to the guidance, everyone must continue to keep 2 metres apart wherever possible, and must continue to follow our “stay alert” guidance, by washing their hands, for example, and self- isolating and getting tested if they have symptoms. I am aware there is a great deal of interest, understandably, in this matter from both sides of the House. However, I am sure that the House would agree that it would be premature to speculate about that review’s conclusions at this stage. We will, of course, keep the House updated on this work, and we will share any developments at the earliest possible opportunity.

I am grateful to the Minister, for whom I have a very high regard, for his announcement of the review, but it was nearly three weeks ago when the Prime Minister told me at the Liaison Committee that he would commission just such a review and publish it in good time for the reopening of shops and other businesses today.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that we should act contrary to a rigorous scientific assessment; quite the reverse. What I asked the Prime Minister for was a scientific review. Among the questions it should consider are these. First, like the virus, science does not recognise national boundaries, so what is peculiar about the UK that has meant that we have had to have a 2 metre rule, when almost all other countries around the world, advised by reputable scientists, have had a smaller distance?

Secondly, what lessons have been learned from countries such as Germany, France, Singapore and Australia on their experience of shorter distance rules after a quarter of a year of operating them? Thirdly, many of those countries have a shorter distance rule, but require face coverings to be worn. Why is it right for them, but wrong for us?

Fourthly, there is a much lower rate of covid transmission outside compared with indoors. Why do we have the same rule regardless of setting? Will the review consider the total impact on lives and public health of the 2 metre rule, including the consequences of people being unable to work? Finally, and vitally, will it conclude in good time before 4 July, so that if more businesses are able to reopen then, including hospitality businesses, they can plan for what social distancing to enforce?

Millions of people—workers in pubs, cafés and restaurants and those in manufacturing industry, as well as children going to schools and young adults in colleges and universities—depend on this decision. We are fortunate in this country in having some of the very best scientists in the world, but so far our outcomes have not always been the very best in the world. Therefore, Ministers, officials and scientists should have the confidence, as good science itself does, rigorously to challenge current thinking and to apply lessons from the experience of others.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I can reassure him that his kind words about me are reciprocated; I of course have huge respect for him, not only for what he did in his previous roles in Government but for the work he is doing now as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of striking the right balance—and it is a balance—between protecting public health outcomes and public health, and understanding the impact that the restrictions are having every day on businesses. I am entirely seized of the difficulties of striking that balance.

My right hon. Friend asks whether the review will take into account the wider impact on society through the impact on business. I can reassure him that, given that economists are a key group in putting together this review, that is exactly one of the things that we will look at—scientific and medical evidence, but economic evidence too.

The work is already under way. My right hon. Friend highlighted the importance of timescales. Work has been ongoing for some time within SAGE, constantly to review and consider the impact and appropriateness of the 2 metre rule, but I hear exactly what he says about how important it is that businesses that are getting ready to reopen get guidance as early as possible to enable them to prepare.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is clear that the review must report within a matter of weeks. I will of course reflect to him the feeling, which I suspect my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) will not be the only Member to convey, that it is important that this is done as quickly, efficiently and rigorously as possible to give businesses as much certainty as we can.

My right hon. Friend touched on the differences between the distances in different countries. The UK, Canada, Estonia and Spain, for example, have a 2 metre rule in place; the USA has 1.8 metres; Belgium, Australia, Germany and Italy have 1.5 metres; South Korea has 1.4 metres, and France and other countries have a 1 metre rule. The reality is that there is not a fixed science and there continues to be a scientific debate about what is the most effective distance.

One of the reasons that we have a 2 metre distance in place at present is that the scientific evidence from SAGE is that a reduction from 2 metres to 1 metre would carry somewhere between a twofold and a tenfold increased risk of transmission. That is why we have the present guidance, but we are very clear that the review will give us the basis to make considered decisions on the most appropriate way forward in striking the balance between public health and economic impact.

As ever, advisers advise—we have some of the best scientific advisers in the world, but we will of course look at the scientific advice from around the world—but ultimately Ministers decide, and Ministers will decide on the basis of the review and the evidence.

I congratulate the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), on securing the urgent question. We all want society to reopen, but we need to know the basis on which any changes will be made and by when they will be made.

I say that because, as we heard, a review was promised by the Prime Minister on 27 May, and he said at the time that we would get the results before 15 June and the reopening of non-essential retail. It is now 15 June and that review is nowhere to be seen, so what confidence can we have that this latest review will be published on time? The hospitality sector could reopen in England on 4 July, the date this review is due, but as we heard, even if it comes out on time, it will still be too late for businesses to put in place effective systems for reopening on that date. What about all those businesses that have already gone to great expense to reorganise on the basis of 2 metres? Will they receive financial support if the guidelines change?

As we heard, we know that if we change the rules on social distancing, we change the risk, so it is not only critical that the Government follow the science; they also need to be honest with the public about the level of risk that they consider acceptable. What evidence will be made available, particularly to those most at risk, in the event that we do see a change to this rule?

It is important that the review is not undertaken in isolation. The Government’s own scientific adviser and the World Health Organisation have said that measures should be eased only when there is a fully operational testing and tracing system in place. Will the review consider the robustness of that system, and can the Minister tell us when we will have a fully functioning system, with an app, in place?

Finally, since 11 May the Government advice has been to wear face-coverings where social distancing is not possible. That advice only became compulsory on public transport today. Can the Minister say why it took a month to make that advice compulsory? The Government were too slow on that, and have been too slow one PPE, on testing and on social care. We cannot afford to be too slow on this as well.

I am grateful to the shadow Minister, as always, for his remarks and for, as ever, the constructive tone that he adopts on these occasions. I share his view that we do want to see the United Kingdom reopening for business, but we want to see it do so in a way that is safe for those going out and shopping—and I encourage people to go out and frequent their shops from today. I also want to ensure that when we are able to safely open hospitality again, we get it going and do so in a safe way based upon the evidence.

On timescales, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Chair of the Select Committee, and the shadow Minister have said, we recognise the importance of getting this information and this decision out there as swiftly as possible, because it is important to give businesses all the time we can to prepare for it. Equally, however, the shadow Minister would not expect me to set a particular deadline while the work is being done. I have said that that will be within a matter of weeks and that we recognise the urgency for business, but it is important that those conducting the review can do so properly and rigorously, so that it is useful for the decision we have to make. Once that review has reported and the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to consider it, I would, of course, expect the findings to be made public.

On the WHO’s comments, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that the 2 metre distance is only one part of the measures—only part of the complex package that is in place to reduce risk and to protect public health. As we have seen, different countries around the world have adopted different approaches, such as on whether to reduce the distance and have imposed different requirements on the wearing of face masks. Therefore, there is, in a sense, a menu of different options all of which can reduce risk, and the question is how to come up with the most appropriate balance between reducing risk while also opening up business. On the Committee we see economists and clinical and scientific expertise feeding into that balance-picture. As the Chancellor said at the weekend, it is not binary; we must consider this in the round, considering all relevant factors.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned test and trace. It is a hugely important part of the armoury of options to chase down this disease and allow our economy to reopen. As he will have seen last week, we made a very good start in the first week of the operation of the new test and trace system. We also saw a very, very high willingness on behalf of members of the public to self-isolate when asked to do so, and I pay tribute to everyone who has done that and thank them for doing so.

Finally, I say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe that throughout this pandemic we have been learning every day about how the disease behaves, about what is needed to tackle it and what steps are most effective, and I am confident that we have done the right thing at the right time throughout. However, like any responsible Government, of course there will be lessons to learn and it is important that we are willing to learn them.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) on securing this urgent question, because this is the most important and significant strategic decision the Government are going to have to make as they unlock the economy. The problem is that so much of this debate has been shaped around the idea of the economy as an economic tool, but it is not just economic. The reality is that, with our focus on covid, we are in danger of losing sight of what will happen, probably to the poorest in society, if people start to fall unemployed and suffer depression and increased illness. This will have a major effect on the ability of people to be able to manage their lives. So this is not just economic. It could be six weeks before we discover the outcome of a review, but I do not believe that a single fact is going to change in that six weeks. The reality is that the advisers are all divided; the Government must make a decision and get this one right.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I have huge respect for him and for his campaigning on this issue, particularly in the context of the extraordinary work he has done on social justice over many years. He highlights the importance of looking at the impact of covid-19, not just in the immediate context of health outcomes, but at its broader social and economic impact. He is absolutely right. He is also right to emphasise the need for urgency, and that is exactly how we will conduct this review.

On his final point, he is right: the science is mixed. There are different scientific opinions, and a balance must be struck between the best scientific advice and consideration of the impact on the economy. As a great former Prime Minister once said:

“Advisers advise, and Ministers decide.”

The risk of viral spread is influenced not just by the distance between people, but by the length of time they spend together. While research is measured in minutes, people could be sitting in a pub or restaurant for hours. Other factors include ventilation, the activity engaged in and whether face coverings are mandatory. The Government cannot wish away the fact that the risk of transmission increases as people get closer, and more than doubles from 2 metres to 1. Is it not safer to keep the distance at 2 metres but to work with all sectors to develop protective measures for when that is not possible? It could be a combination of personal protection, in the form of mandatory face coverings, and structural protection, such as using glass or perspex screens between tables in restaurants. We all recognise the impact on the hospitality sector, but surely a second wave would be devastating.

Before I answer, may I put on the record on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends our very best wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) for a swift and full recovery? I hope that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) will be able to convey our sentiments to her when they speak. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire is a member not just of the SNP family but of the family of this House, and we all wish her well.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is well versed in these issues and is an eminent clinician in her own right. We have made it clear that the 2 metre rule taken in isolation is not the only factor. She is right to highlight the broader context: it is not just about distance, but about duration of contact, how close that contact was, and whether measures were in place to mitigate that, be it screens or other measures. She is absolutely right and, we must always remember that this is not a binary question—it is not just the 2 metre rule, or the distance rule, and nothing else. We must look at it in the round, as the Chancellor and, I believe, the First Minister of Scotland, rightly said. That is exactly what this review will be doing—looking at all those factors in the round, to come up with appropriate scientific and economic advice to the Prime Minister and Ministers so that they can make a balanced decision.

The Minister is absolutely right that the evidence is changing daily and that we have a menu of options to deal with the transmission of covid. Increasingly, face coverings look effective. Would it not be worth relaxing some measures, such as the 2 metre rule, which make the pubs and restaurants in Thirsk and Malton and every other constituency financially unviable, and tightening up in other areas, such as requiring the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops, and in pubs and restaurants when moving to and from a table?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and, as ever, a gentle but clear plug for his constituency encouraging people, when it is safe to do so, to come and enjoy those businesses and that hospitality. He is right to do so, because I—like every other Member of this House, I am sure—have spoken to restauranteurs and those in the hospitality industry and pubs, who are all very clear about the impact that this has on the operation of their business. We are incredibly sensitive to that, but it comes down to making an appropriate judgment on the scientific evidence, balancing economic impact and keeping the disease under control. He is right to allude to other measures within that package or menu of options, which will of course be taken into consideration in the review.

A number of businesses in my constituency, just over the river in Vauxhall, were home to a thriving nightlife, with the culture of the South Bank. A number of them are small businesses in hospitality, tourism and the creative industries, with a number of people on freelance contracts and a number of people who have not been able to get any Government support over the last few months. They have all played their part in adhering to the lockdown rules, but their sector will be the last to open up. Social distancing rules will make a big difference to their ability to survive the next few months. Will the Minister take into account the particular nature of this sector? What assessment has been made of the additional impact of social distancing on these businesses?

The hon. Lady is right, and I suspect that, like other Members, she has had many constituents coming to her to explain how this could make a real difference to the financial viability or otherwise of reopening their businesses. We are incredibly sensitive to that. The Chancellor said over the weekend that it could make a difference between a third of pubs being able to open up or three quarters, depending on where the distancing level is set. I am incredibly sensitive to this, but as I said, it is not a binary choice; a number of measures will be considered in the context of this review. As I am sure her constituents and mine would wish, it is important that we strike a balance between protecting public health, going on the basis of the best scientific and clinical evidence we have, which is what the review will look at, and getting the economy up and running again as soon as we safely can.

If our objective is to work towards social and economic normality while maintaining our hard-won control over the virus, as the incidence of infection in the general population reduces day by day, would it not be possible to reduce the social distance from 2 metres while maintaining downward pressure on the rate of infection? Is the acceptable rate of infection—below 1—a scientific or political decision?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Through the package of measures we have put in place to protect public health and press down on the transmission of this disease, we are seeking to do exactly that—as the incidence and infection levels go down, to start relaxing those restrictions where we can, step by step and in a cautious way, to allow businesses to operate. It is quite right and understandable that Members have different views on the pace at which we should be going on either one of those, but it is exactly those considerations that this review is looking to investigate.

As the Minister has already acknowledged, as well as the social distancing rules, a rigorous system to test, trace and isolate every case is critical to keeping people safe. The WHO has said that the system has to be proven “robust and effective” before further easing lockdown measures. NHS leaders and leading scientists have said that test and trace is not fit for purpose, and local authorities, which have a critical role in tracing, say that their remit is still unclear and they do not have the critical data they need. When will he ensure that all local authorities have the information they need to support test and trace fully?

I thank the hon. Lady, her party’s spokesperson on this issue. In the first week of its operation, having been stood up pretty much from scratch, this system has performed extremely well, with 67% of those testing positive successfully contacted and responding with the information needed, and 85% of their contacts agreeing to self-isolate. There is more to do—of course there is—but that is a very positive start to this programme, led by Baroness Dido Harding, in its first week of operation. In answer to the second point, it is right that we continue, as we have done throughout, to work hand in hand with local authorities, as well as other public health authorities.

Mr Speaker—at least I have got that right this week. Mr Speaker—not Mr Deputy Speaker. I have at last acknowledged it.

My question is very much like that from my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew). As the R figure approaches zero—in some places, it is getting there—why the heck do we need social distancing, face masks on public transport and social isolating? If we get near zero, surely we can get back to normal.

I am always grateful for questions from my hon. and gallant Friend. The latest figures—as of last week—are that R is not near zero, but is between 0.7 and 0.9. That shows that the infection and transmission rate is going down, but it is still only just below 1, which is why we must keep up the pressure on this disease and keep transmission rates down. He is right, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) alluded to, that as that figure and the transmission rate falls further, there will be more opportunities to relax, step by step and cautiously, the restrictions, but we are not there yet.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I represent Derbyshire Dales, where tourism, hospitality and pubs are essential, not only to the local economy, but to the mental health of constituents. Will he reassure me that these issues will be at the top of the list of factors considered when reviewing the 2 metre rule, not least to enable the opening up of pubs promptly but when it is safe to do so?

My hon. Friend is right. She, too, champions her wonderful constituency of Derbyshire Dales, which I have had the privilege of visiting in the past. She is right that it is important that we can open up pubs and restaurants and other similar businesses as swiftly as we can, but it is important we do it when it is safe and when transmission rates and public health measures suggest it is appropriate.

Scientific analysis is good, but many of the Secretary of State’s Back Benchers have long argued for a reduction of the 2 metre distance guidelines without basing that on science. Can he confirm, therefore, given that economists are on the review panel, that enough weight will still be put on the evidence from the scientists and that, if there is to be a relaxation, public health measures will go alongside it? On the economy, will he also look at the additional cost to business and consider the additional business support required to accommodate these measures?

Quite rightly, right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches, in their comments about relaxing the social distancing rules, were reflecting the fact that the science is mixed; there is no scientific consensus across the world. There are different distances around the world in different countries. That is why we have this review under way. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that it will consider not only the clinical and scientific evidence, but the economic impact and evidence. It will look at that in the round, which is, as the Chancellor said, exactly the right thing to do. All that will be carefully considered, and decisions will then be made by Ministers on the basis of that review and the scientific evidence available.

Given that the scientific advice is mixed and muddled and that the economic and business advice is overwhelming and clear, why do Ministers not today announce the halving of the distance and ask businesses to put in other measures, including protective clothing and screens where appropriate? If we want our hospitality industry to survive in any form, it needs to know today so that it can prepare its routes and tables and screens, and all the rest of it. Leaving it until 4 July will mean many more lost jobs.

The reason is that the current scientific advice is that the 2 metre rule significantly reduces the risk of transmission and we have not yet beaten this disease. That is why the Prime Minister has put in place this review—to consider not only the scientific and clinical evidence, but—exactly as my right hon. Friend would expect—the economic evidence and impact. It is right that it be done on the basis of a review and of evidence, but I hear his very clear plea that the sooner the better for the sake of businesses. I accept that.

During the lockdown, small businesses in my constituency have planned considerable changes to their business models in preparation for reopening in a way that is safe for employees and customers. That not only takes time but is an extra financial burden for small businesses, in particular. Will the Minister please confirm what extra financial support is readily being made available for understandably worried small and medium-sized enterprises to help cover the extra financial costs associated with reopening?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about the amazing work that many of our businesses, large and small, have done to get themselves ready to reopen. I would encourage people, following the rules, the guidelines and the social distancing guidance, to get out there and support their local shops now that they have been able to reopen. As she will know, in recent weeks the Chancellor has put in place a significant package of support for businesses and individuals, and that is still there. It will obviously, as he has set out, taper in the coming months as the economy is able to reopen more fully. We have supported businesses throughout and we will continue to do so.

I fully support recent statements by the Prime Minister that as the number of new cases falls it is right to re-evaluate our social distancing measures. In May, the Government of South Korea reduced their social distancing requirements to simply two arm’s lengths. It is crucial that we ensure that our businesses have the best chance to recover and rejuvenate, and are provided with the measures that will best permit them to do so. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recently stated that if we do not reduce social distancing measurements, 3.5 million jobs will remain at risk. Does my hon. Friend agree that if it is safe to reduce social distancing measures, then that is the most reasonable and responsible thing to do?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that if and when it is safe to reduce social distancing measures, that is what we should do, but it is for the review to report and advise us, and the Prime Minister, on exactly that.

The Minister will be aware that many of my constituents’ businesses are based around tourism, and that many of those may not reopen again in the winter should they find that distances are not reduced. First, may I ask him to join our Cornish campaign—Think Local, Shop Local? Secondly, will he employ all possible counter-measures to ensure that our tourism and hospitality sectors can be protected throughout covid-19?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this. I am very happy to join him in supporting Think Local, Shop Local in Cornwall. I do not know if I qualify for these brief few seconds as an honorary Cornishman, but if I do, that would be a privilege. He and my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) have highlighted to me how important this sector is to their constituencies and their local economy, so it is right that we work to reopen businesses as soon as we safely can.

I thank the Minister for his answers so far. My colleague Diane Dodds, the Northern Ireland Assembly Economy Minister, is attempting to address this issue and to strike the delicate balance between precautions and economic survival. She has been taking scientific advice on it from leading scientists. Will the Minister commit to sharing his Department’s scientific evidence with the devolved Assemblies to enable us all to have the most up-to-date information so as to make informed decisions and begin to move forward?

We have a very close working relationship with the Government in Northern Ireland. We will continue to maintain that and to share information as appropriate, as we have done throughout this pandemic. I pay tribute to the work of the Government in Northern Ireland in tackling it.

The Lancet reports that there is a 2.6% chance of catching covid-19 at 1 metre and a 1.3% chance of catching it at 2 metres. The World Health Organisation recommends 1 metre. It is now time for the Government to decide. The Minister knows that this will be game-changing for reopening our schools and reopening our economy, but also for impeding the spread of this pandemic. He speaks about making the right decision at the right time. One metre is the right decision; now is the right time, not in two weeks.

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for that question. The WHO says that the distance should be at least 1 metre, so it is not prescriptive in that respect. We should make sure that we note that. He makes a very powerful case for getting our economy, and particularly our small businesses and hospitality businesses, moving again. We are making good progress in tackling this disease, and we do not want to put that at risk. The review will give us the scientific evidence to make an important decision on the way forward.

Anybody who has seen the crowds waiting for shops to open today, the people at recent demonstrations, and, indeed, MPs queuing at Parliament will know that it is human nature to push the limits. A distance of 2 metres gives a margin for error. If it is reduced to 1 metre, surely people will push that limit as well and stand even closer. I ask the Government to keep the rule in place for as long as it is required, knowing what human nature will do.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but the 2 metre social distancing rule has both a health and an economic impact. Therefore, we must look at this in the round, on the basis of both sets of evidence, which is exactly what this review will do.

It is fantastic that more shops are now reopening in Stoke-on-Trent, and I hope that everyone supports our local retailers and market traders, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to maintain social distancing and that we should reduce it from 2 metres only when the risks have been assessed and it is safe to do so?

Caravans and chalets on holiday parks have to be at least 6 metres apart, so residents could easily observe current social distancing guidelines. When the Prime Minister undertakes his review, will my hon. Friend ask him to consider allowing holiday parks to open immediately? In doing so, he would help rescue the economy of coastal towns, which are already among the most deprived communities in the country.

If I recall correctly, my hon. Friend has raised this issue previously. He is right to have done so and I am very happy to give him the assurances he seeks. I will pass his comments on to the Prime Minister.

Even if the Government were to reduce the limit as a result of this review, it would make very little difference to theatres and grassroots music venues. Neither a 1 nor 2 metre limit will make much difference to their capacity, because, just like us, they would still have to keep rows closed. Even with a 1 metre limit, half of the venue would be closed. Will the Minister ensure that the review takes that into account? Will he also pass on that information to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to ensure that support remains in place for those sectors, even if the limit is reduced to 1 metre?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. A lot of the debate has focused on hospitality, pubs and restaurants, but he is absolutely right to talk about the impact on music venues, cultural venues and theatres, all of which play a huge part in our national life. I will, of course, highlight that issue for those conducting the review and the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the comprehensive review launched by the Prime Minister on the 2 metre rule will report back to Government as swiftly as possible? That will be very important to pubs and restaurants in South Derbyshire, which are chomping at the bit to reopen and welcome customers back.

My hon. Friend emphasises what a number of right hon. and hon. Members have quite rightly said, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), about the need for the review to report with speed and urgency. I know that that message will have been heard very loud and clear.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis the Government have failed the public. They failed to lock down quickly enough, failed on personal protective equipment, and failed on test, track and trace. Tens of thousands of people have needlessly lost their lives as a result of those failures. The Government’s chief scientific adviser has previously warned that

“the risk at 1 metre is about 10 to 30 times higher than the risk at 2 metres.”

Is not this push from Tory Cabinet members and Back Benchers to scrap the 2 metre rule a clear example of putting profit before public safety?

Well, it is nice to see the hon. Gentleman, who shadowed the team I was in when I was a Justice Minister, but I have to say that it is unsurprising that his tone remains the same. We are doing the right thing at the right time. We are, of course, always seeking to learn lessons, and we are willing to take advice and listen to the scientific and economic advice and evidence. That is what we are doing with this review. Surely he would welcome our taking the appropriate advice and then considering our decisions on that basis.

The current scientific advice says that the risks of transmission are far less in the open air than in enclosed spaces. Clearly, the position now should be that the Government need to look at reducing the social distancing rules when people are in the open air, while potentially keeping the advice strong when people are in enclosed spaces. That is clearly important for the hospitality industry, where beer gardens and restaurants with external areas where people can sit outside could restart. Clearly at the moment, with a 2 metre rule in place, they will be unable to. Will my hon. Friend look at the scientific evidence to see if we could actually have two sorts of guidance, one for when people are in enclosed spaces and one for when people are in the open air?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that this is not simply a binary choice, as there are many other factors that play a part, as other Members have alluded to—be it the length of time that one is in close contact with someone, the distance, and also whether it is inside or outside. Those are exactly the sort of considerations that those conducting the review under Simon Case will be considering.

As we have found over the past few weeks, consistency of messaging is important, and 2 metres is currently consistent across the UK. All Governments in the UK have been questioned on this issue, so I ask the Minister to ensure that this and any future review involves consultation with the devolved Administrations. Can he confirm the mechanism that will be used for this, given that the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport expressed concern at last week’s Scottish Affairs Committee that the ministerial implementation groups have not met for at least two weeks?

Throughout this pandemic, we have had a very close working relationship between Edinburgh, Cardiff, London and Belfast, sharing information and having regular discussions between Ministers— indeed, as I understand it, not just territorial Office Ministers but across Health and other Departments. That will continue.

Across my constituency of Watford, lots of people are today going to the intu centre and many of the shops and using the high street. I am hearing from many businesses that we need to allow them a certain level of flexibility as we come out of this review. Some shops where customers can wear face coverings should be allowed to have 1 metre distancing, and other areas should perhaps remain at 2 metres, but we should do it in a way that helps customers and helps shops and businesses get back to business.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the different pieces of the jigsaw that we have in use at the moment, be it distance, face covering or a whole range of other measures. I can reassure him that all those will be considered in the context of the review.

Given that the evidence shows that the risks from transmission increase between two to tenfold with reductions from 2 metres to 1 metre, would the Minister agree that comparisons internationally over distance can be misleading while infection rates in the UK remain higher? Can he assure the House that in considering the risks involved in any such reduction, commercial and political interests will not be placed ahead of the need to keep the public safe?

While I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about international comparisons, actually I believe that learning lessons from other countries is something that can be valuable and is something that will be taken into consideration in this review. We should always be willing to look externally to see if there is anything we can learn. As I have made clear to him and to other Members previously, it is important that we consider the scientific evidence and ensure that whatever we do keeps pressing down on the virus and protects public health, but at the same time we must not lose sight of the fact that it is important we get our economy up and running again as swiftly and safely as we can.

Businesses throughout Longbridge, Northfield, Weoley Castle and Kings Norton have done everything they can to follow the guidance, but they are desperate for the 2 metre rule to be reduced so that they can survive, and in many cases so that they can reopen. Will the Minister commit to publishing detailed guidance when the review is finished, so that organisations such as Northfield Business Improvement District can help to keep customers and staff safe and businesses can thrive?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of businesses not only in his constituency but across his great city. I hear exactly what he says, and we have been clear that once the review has reported and the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to consider it, we expect the conclusions to be made public.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). We are all really rooting for her today.

It seems that one of the most obvious outcomes in politics is that the review will conclude that 2 meters will become 1 metre and the Government’s cavalier approach to easing the lockdown will continue. Thank goodness that we in Scotland have a “caution first” Scottish Government. Having listened to some Government Back Benchers today, one would almost believe that the health crisis is over and the issue is simply the reopening of the economy. Is the Minister prepared to stand up to them and tell them directly that there will be no reopening until the risks are overcome?

I would not prejudge what the review will say—it would be wrong to do so—but I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the measured and sensible contributions from right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches is correct. We have been clear that it is important that we do what is right from a public health perspective and that we strike the appropriate balance between beating the disease and keeping people safe and, where we can do so safely, allowing businesses to start to work again.

The Chancellor’s world-leading packages of support have provided a lifeline to millions of people and businesses during these difficult times, but that can go only so far. Blackpool South now has the highest unemployment rate in the entire nation, and our local economy’s dependence on the tourism and leisure sectors has left us particularly vulnerable. Local businesses now need a successful summer season if they are to have any chance of survival at all, so will my hon. Friend commit to supporting those sectors and opening up the economy by relaxing the 2 metre rule when it is safe to do so?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents in Blackpool, and my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers in the Treasury and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will have heard what he said. He was absolutely right in his final sentence: we are keen to get his local economy and the economy around the country going as soon as we can, but when it is safe to do so.

The pub and beer trade in my constituency employs almost 2,000 people. Companies such as Fuller, Smith & Turner, which is based there, say that the difference between 2 metres and 1 metre is the difference between only 50% of pubs opening and most pubs being able to open. When the Minister does his review, will he take into account what is now happening at some pubs, which is that they are doing takeaways, causing long queues, and as the warm afternoons go on social distancing is forgotten and people are urinating everywhere—on footpaths and in public places? That is also a health hazard, but it would be mitigated if more pubs were able to open, so I hope he will consider that.

The hon. Lady makes a sensible point, as she always does. The review is being conducted under the auspices of the No. 10 permanent secretary, but with scientists, economists and others feeding into it. I am sure they will have heard what she said, but I will nevertheless ensure that it is passed on.

I am sorry to be a bit of a killjoy, but while we lose ourselves in thoughts of pubs and restaurants reopening, could we perhaps attend to the minor matter of our national education system and the ability to have children return to school? The current 2 metre rule makes that impossible. On Friday I visited my old primary school, Norbury Hall in Hazel Grove, to see some of the measures being taken there. It will be absolutely impossible to return all children to school by September unless the rule is sorted out.

If I recall correctly, my hon. Friend was a distinguished teacher before his service in the House and served on the Education Committee before he ascended to his current chairmanship of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. He is absolutely right to highlight the fact that there are impacts on schools as well as on businesses; that is one of the things that will of course be taken into consideration.

As the Government ease the lockdown, we still do not have a sufficient test and trace system set up, the R level is increasing above 1 in some regions, and we still have more than 1,000 new confirmed cases every day. Should the Government be changing crucial social distancing measures, knowing that information? What immediate action is being taken in areas where the R rate has gone above 1 to help get it down? Would lowering this distance be putting profit before people and the economy before health?

I would caution the hon. Lady, on the basis of the SAGE advice, that in no region is the R rate above 1. Out of 10 models done recently one suggested that in two regions it might have gone up, but we consider this in the round, not by cherry-picking one study and ignoring the other nine; so it is not above 1. On her points about test and trace, we have set up the system from scratch and I believe we have done extremely well in the progress we saw reported in the statistics on the first week of the operation of that scheme. On her final point, we have made it clear throughout that this is about following the scientific advice and opening up the economy when it is safe to do so.

May I say how surprised and delighted I am to hear so many colleagues, on both sides of the House, who seem to have as their hobby being epidemiologists, and it is great to hear what they have to say? I say to the Minister that I am very reassured by the tone he is taking in the answers to these questions. He will be aware that in the United States, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and now China there has been a resurgence of covid-19 and that if we were to take any moves too soon nobody would thank us, including businesses, if we had to go back into lockdown.

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is about conducting this review so that we have the best scientific and economic evidence, and so that we can make the right decision at the right time, when it is safe to do so.

Whether the 2 metre rule is maintained or shortened, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) mentioned, many businesses will find it will still not be viable to reopen. Given that, will the Government consider extending financial support to businesses that have to remain closed because social distancing measures would make reopening not financially viable?

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard the Chancellor say on many occasions, we continue to keep all measures to support individuals and businesses under constant review, and I know that the Chancellor will have heard the point he makes.

I concur with what has been said by many right hon. and hon. Members who have warned about the implications for the hospitality industry, in particular, unless we change these rules sooner rather than later and about the impact on coastal towns. I come back to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), because has there not been greater flexibility on social distancing for pupils in schools but not for the many adults? That is part of the problem as to why so few children are able to come back. Can we look at this urgently? Otherwise in September we will still have many, many children deprived of an education.

My hon. Friend, a distinguished former children’s Minister, makes a very good point and that is exactly the sort of thing I will pass on to ensure that the review team considers it in the work it does.

The Minister rightly says that this review has to balance economic and health factors, but the weight of importance of the health factors will obviously be more for those who are vulnerable or shielding. Will the Government be publishing particular advice for people in those vulnerable categories? Will he publish some of the health advice so that they can have confidence in the Government’s overall decision?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that this disease appears at the moment to hit different groups of people with different characteristics differentially, with some being hit much harder than others. One reason why we are undertaking this review is to make sure we look at all that evidence in the round. I do not want to pre-judge it, but, as he will know, we have always published a range of guidance and advice at each stage, often tailored to different groups, and we will continue to do that, where it is appropriate.

The Minister will be aware that what looks like a very marginal change in the R number, which demonstrates the infectiousness of the disease, can have serious consequences for public health. With the current 1,000 or so new cases a day, if the R number were held at 0.9 over 60 days, those 1,000 people would infect 7,000 other people. If we allowed it to creep up to just 1.1, they would infect 25,000 other people, which means that three and a half times as many people would get the disease and three and a half times as many people would, sadly, die. So will the Minister commit, when the review is published, to publishing not only the Government’s assessment of how the R number will be affected by any proposed changes but also the Government’s projections of how many more people will catch the disease as a result and how many more people will die if the Government reduce the 2 metre requirement?

The review will consider economic and, particularly, clinical and scientific evidence. As I have said before, once the review has reported and the Prime Minister has had an opportunity to consider it, I would of course expect the conclusions of that review to be made public.

Our economy is heading for a deep recession, and the Government were slow to lock down, slow on PPE and slow on testing, tracking and tracing. As a result, we have the second highest death rate in the world. Easing the 2 metre rule will cost more lives. Not easing it will lead to millions unemployed. Either way, the Government’s negligence means that people are going to continue to suffer. The scientific and economic impacts of relaxing the rule are already available. Why are the Government running scared of making a decision?

Throughout, the Government have taken advice from the best scientists and clinicians we have available, and we have looked around the world as well. That is exactly what this review will do. When the review reports, advisers will have given advice and Ministers will decide on the basis of that advice.

One in five jobs in Eastbourne rely on hospitality. UKHospitality estimates that at 2 metres, businesses will operate at an unsustainably crippling 30% revenue, but at 1 metre, they would operate at between 60% and 70% and approach breaking even. We must of course pursue a safe recovery, as the Minister has outlined, but with the summer season now upon us and with opportunities to trade being time-sensitive, can he assure me that this guidance is being considered with the utmost urgency?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance she seeks. We are very much aware that time matters, and this review is being conducted as swiftly and as rigorously as it can be.

Before it is safe to reduce the 2 metre rule, do we not require a world-beating track and trace system to be in place? And does a world-beating track and trace system not require a fully functioning app?

As I have set out, I believe we have made an extremely strong and successful start with our track and trace system. Baroness Harding, who is heading up that piece of work, has made it clear that the app is important but that it is, as she characterised it, the cherry on the cake. It is not essential to the effective system that we have already got up and running.

Some hospitality venues in Rushcliffe have told me that even if they were allowed to open, doing so with a 2 metre rule in place would make their business economically unviable. Can the Minister reassure the owners of those businesses in my constituency that the Government are listening to their concerns and that that reality will be factored into Government policy across the board?

My hon. Friend’s constituency is very near mine, so I suspect that both our constituencies have a similar perspective on that. I am happy to give her the reassurance she seeks.

If the review is based on genuine scientifically robust debate, I will have no problem with it, but does the Minister accept that if the Government are going to move from 2 metres to 1 metre, they cannot do so on the night before 14 July and expect consumers to have the confidence to go back into bars and other places? It is fine and well to have the review, but there has to be good public messaging as well.

The hon. Gentleman makes a typically sensible point. It is important that the review is able to be conducted with proper scientific and economic rigour to ensure that we have the evidence base we need. I am not going to prejudge what the decision will be or what the review will say, but he is also right to highlight the importance of businesses having as much time as possible to prepare for whatever decision may be made.

On the health arguments, should we not remember that our hospitals have lost capacity in order to operate at 2 metres, and will the Minister assure me that the review will look at how many more beds we could get into hospitals to deal with the elective surgery backlog once they are safe in terms of covid?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about getting our NHS back up and running again not just for emergencies, but for elective procedures and other procedures, which is what we have been doing. The infection control context within a hospital is slightly different—indeed, considerably different—from that in businesses and other contexts, but he is right to highlight the impact that the necessary restrictions are having in a range of contexts on the ability to treat people or to serve people and businesses.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Public Order

Like all Members of this House, I was saddened and sickened at the far-right thugs who came to London this weekend on a so-called mission to protect the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, claiming to want to protect our country’s heritage, yet failing to understand that our country’s heritage is founded on a set of shared values—tolerance, respect for people and property, and adherence to the rule of law. Those thugs, far from protecting our heritage, did all that they could to destroy and undermine those values. There is no place for their sickening conduct and hate in our society. They were violent, they were aggressive and abusive towards police officers, and they were patently racist. It is right that a good number have been arrested.

I would now like to give the House the latest operational update from the police. In total, more than 210,000 people have attended demonstrations across the country following the death of George Floyd. At least 160 protests took place this weekend, with the vast majority passing peacefully, but counter-demonstrations sparked ugly scenes.

On Saturday, 2,000 people attended counter-protests in Westminster, with eruptions of violence throughout the day. Racists and far-right hooligans clashed with the police and fights broke out. Smoke bombs and glass bottles were lobbed at the police in shameful scenes. Thirty-eight officers were hurt across the country this weekend as they were kicked, punched or pelted with missiles. On Saturday alone, there were 137 arrests for offences including assaults on officers, violent disorder, breaches of the peace, possession of offensive weapons and class A drugs, and drunk and disorderly behaviour. In total, at least 100 officers have now been injured, as well as three police horses and one police dog, and at least 280 arrests have been made.

As that ugly operational picture demonstrates, many of the so-called protesters came with the deliberate intent of causing harm to those around them and to police officers. That hooliganism is utterly indefensible. There can be no excuse for pelting police officers with missiles. Of all the dreadful images to emerge from this weekend, the one of the man desecrating the plaque of PC Keith Palmer was the most abhorrent.

PC Keith Palmer served our country in so many ways, having first served in our armed forces. He then came to this place and made the ultimate sacrifice during a terror attack at the heart of our democracy. I know the whole House will join me in sending our thoughts to his family, colleagues and friends. He will never be forgotten.

As I said last week, when I became Home Secretary I vowed to stand with the brave men and women of our police, for law and order and against the terrorists, the thugs and the criminals who threaten people, towns and communities. I am unapologetic for reiterating that pledge today because sadly, backing our world class police has never been more important. The scenes of violence and disorder in recent weeks have only underlined the challenges they face.

We ask our frontline police officers to do the most difficult of jobs. Those courageous men and women run towards danger so that we do not have to. They put their own lives on the line to protect us, to protect the public. They take on the drug dealers, murderers and violent criminals every single day to keep our streets safe. They uphold the rule of law and give us the security and freedom to live our lives as we choose. I remain saddened at the lack of respect shown to our brave officers by a small minority of people.

The senseless violence is taking a huge toll on our police. On Friday, I spoke to officers from forces in England and Wales who had been attacked in the line of duty to hear at first hand the devastating impact on them and their loved ones. Their accounts have only strengthened my resolve to step up the support for our police. An attack on our brave police is an attack on us all. I refuse to allow our outstanding officers to become society’s punchbag or monuments to heroes who served their country to be vandalised and desecrated.

The Government are considering all options to stop those who seek to attack emblems of our national sacrifice and pride, including the proposed desecration of war memorials Bill. I can confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary will meet my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) this afternoon to take that forward. My message today is simple: actions have consequences. I want vicious individuals held to account for the violence and criminality that they perpetrate. I want to see them arrested and brought to justice.

Finally, I turn to the unprecedented national health crisis we find ourselves in. Coronavirus has tragically taken the lives of more than 40,000 people in our country. To protect us all and to stop the spread of the deadly disease, any large gatherings remain unlawful. The severe public risk forces me again to urge the public not to attend future gatherings or protests: if you do so, you put your loved ones at risk.

It is clear that the far-right thugs who descended on London at the weekend, with the intent to cause harm, shamed themselves with some abusive and violent conduct. They were violent. They were abusive and aggressive towards the police. They were racist, and there are no excuses for this behaviour. So to the quiet, law-abiding majority who continue to be appalled by this violence and who have continued to live their lives within the rules throughout this pandemic, I say that I completely hear their anger at the scenes they have seen on our streets; to the police who continue to be subjected to the most dreadful abuse, I say that they have my full backing as they act proportionately, fairly and courageously to maintain law and order; and to the criminals, I simply reiterate my earlier remarks: “Your behaviour is shameful. No matter who you are, if you have broken the law, you will face justice.” I commend this statement to the House.