House of Commons
Tuesday 23 June 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven 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
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Essential and urgent cancer treatment has continued throughout the pandemic and cancer specialists, as always, are discussing the best treatment options with their patients. We are working to ensure that referrals, diagnostics and cancer treatment are back at pre-pandemic levels across the whole of England as soon as possible. Due to covid-19, the 21 cancer alliances in England have established hubs to ensure dedicated cancer care away from hospitals dealing with the virus. From the end of April, local systems and cancer alliances have continued to identify ring-fenced diagnostic and surgical capacity for cancer in line with issued guidance. Regional cancer senior responsible officers must now provide assurance that these arrangements are in place to help minimal regional variation.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, but she knows that people living with cancer are experiencing cancellation and delays to treatment all over the country, and that is causing anxiety and distress to many families. In getting people urgently back into treatment, will she look at the 12-point plan for restoration, recovery and transformation of cancer services outlined by Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK and 23 other cancer charities, to ensure that cancer does not become the forgotten C during the coronavirus crisis?
I regularly engage with cancer charities and would be delighted to look at them to see where we are making good headway and where, perhaps, we could have discussions about other things that need to be targeted. While I have the hon. Gentleman on the screen, I would also like to highlight the fact that the Greater Manchester cancer alliance has led the way in its response to this pandemic. It was one of the first to establish a surgical hub model to ensure that cancer surgery was able to continue and that the local cancer system as a whole responded well. The alliance has also been looking to accelerate the rapid diagnostic centre to help promote diagnostics, so I thank everyone for that.
As the Minister knows, being diagnosed with cancer is devastating, and one of the most important things to get patients through this difficult time is for them to be able to focus on their treatment. What message does the Minister have to comfort those people who are worried and stressed because they still cannot access the treatment they need because of covid-19?
I would say that, as soon as people notice any signs that might worry them, they should seek help. We have worked at pace to ensure that services have been resumed and are able to deliver for patients. Ensuring both early diagnosis and that patients can access the treatment that they need swiftly is our key ambition. We know that, following the guidance that has been delivered, we are achieving that throughout the system. Covid-19 has upended all our lives, and some decisions have been made to ensure the safety of patients, but we are now firmly back on track and will ensure that patients get the care they need.
Yesterday, the One Cancer Voice network of 25 charities published plans for restoring vital cancer services. I wrote to the Minister on 17 April with my own suggestion. Ideas included advanced radiotherapy, new models of chemotherapy, better cancer pathways and renewed screening and communication plans. This is not just about rebuilding what we had, but about making services better. If the Government are slow to do that, we face a cancer bubble that risks thousands of lives. Will the Minister commit to working with those charities and with me and other interested parliamentarians to form a cancer recovery plan to head off this looming crisis?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that, just as we have seen from working closely on the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill that is going through Parliament, there are lessons to be learned. There have been improvements in certain areas of radiotherapy in which it has been determined that fewer treatments actually mean a quicker and—I would not use the word “gentler”—an easier path for the patient. I would be happy to continue working both with him and with the cancer charities to ensure that we can improve that pathway for patients.
Adult Day Centres: Reopening
I know how difficult it has been for people with learning disabilities and their families during lockdown, particularly without the back-up of day centres. I want to see those important services reopening as soon as it is possible and safe to do so, but that decision will need to be made locally. We are talking to the Local Government Association and others about what guidance and support may be needed to get day services up and running again.
I thank the Minister for that answer, and I would like to wish her a happy birthday. Unlike schools, day centres such as Whitemoor in my Derbyshire constituency are normally open throughout the summer to provide desperately needed stimulation for many adults with special needs. What measures will she introduce to ensure that staff working at day centres are adequately supported to function as safely as possible, as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for her birthday greetings. She makes a really important point: as day centres reopen, they need to be safe for staff and users. Risk assessments will need to be carried out, and some may need to use personal protective equipment. Public Health England is developing guidance on the use of PPE in community settings. Local authority-run services should have PPE provided by the local authority, and services provided by other organisations that struggle to get PPE from wholesalers should be able to access emergency local supplies.
Referral-to-Treatment Waiting Lists
The most recent performance data published by NHS England for April 2020 shows an 8% reduction in the size of the waiting lists compared with April 2019, from 4,297,571 to 3,942,748. However, it is important to note that reduced referrals due to covid-19 are likely to be the cause of that, and there are a number of people waiting longer.
To address the inevitable increase in waiting times for non-covid treatments, back in March the Government contracted private health providers to supply some 8,000 bed spaces at a cost of millions of pounds to the NHS and taxpayers. It was reported that a significant proportion of that capacity has been paid for but underused. The Government are now considering further contracts with private sector hospitals. How can we be confident that money will not be wasted again and that those waiting will get the treatment they so badly need?
I gently say to the hon. Lady that I do not think that contracting to ensure sufficient capacity in our NHS at all times, so that it was never overwhelmed, which it has not been, was a waste of money. In response to her substantive point, we continue to work with the independent sector and the broader NHS to get elective surgery and other non-emergency procedures restarted at pace.
Covid-19: BAME Health
There was a passionate debate on this issue last Thursday. As I said then, there is no doubt that covid-19 has upended our lives. The virus cruelly discriminates by many factors, including age, gender and ethnicity. There are still gaps in our understanding of occupational risks and co-morbidity that need attention. My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities will be taking forward important cross-Government work with the Equality Hub, Public Health England and others.
We now know the full extent to which covid and other health inequalities affect black and minority ethnic communities, and the extent to which that is reflected in regional inequalities, but does the Minister also understand how much such inequality prevails within boroughs? In my local authority, there is a 16-year life expectancy gap between the poorest communities and the wealthiest, which reflects the disparity with black and minority ethnic communities. Will she ensure that an equalities review tackles inequality within boroughs as well as between them, and will there be funding to support that?
We know that health inequalities are stubborn, persistent and difficult to change—we knew that before covid-19, but that is not a reason to accept them. We fully agree that more needs to be done to reduce the disparity in health outcomes within the BAME community and the broader community. That is why we will ensure that the work on health inequalities goes on at pace.
Test and Trace
NHS Test and Trace was introduced on 28 May, working with local authorities to prevent and contain the spread of covid-19. I am encouraged by the early results, which show that in the first two weeks of operation 87,000 people were contacted by NHS Test and Trace and agreed to self-isolate.
The Secretary of State will recall that I wrote to him a little while ago suggesting that an approach that was a bit more Shoreditch and a little less Whitehall might be effective. Given the lack of success of the app, maybe he could have taken that advice. I am pleased that Hackney Council is one of the five areas that is piloting this, working with GPs and other health professionals in public health and so on, but the critical thing is that we are not getting the data locally that we need to do the proper tracing of those who were close to someone who has tested positive. When will that data arrive? Without it, it is like working with one arm tied behind our back.
The amount of data flowing to local authorities has increased substantially over the past few weeks since the start of the operation at the end of last month, and there will be more coming very, very soon.
We all want to see lockdown eased, but that reopening will only be safe if the system to test, trace and isolate is working effectively. As more people return to work, start to travel on public transport, and perhaps even go to pubs, cafés and hairdressers—albeit keeping their distance—the ability to trace contact people we do not know will become much more important. The Secretary of State initially said that the app would be rolled out in mid-May; it is now the end of June. When are we actually going to see the app in action?
Obviously, as soon as possible. I agree very strongly with the hon. Lady about the importance of contact tracing—the Test and Trace programme is one of the largest of its kind—to ensure that, as we manage to lift national measures, which we can because the disease is clearly under control and the number of cases is coming down, we can then respond through local action.
NHS Test and Trace will play an important part in our continued fight against covid-19, but efficient co-ordination across Great Britain will be vital to its success. What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure effective joint working between England, Wales and Scotland?
That is an incredibly important question. Of course, I would add Northern Ireland to that group. We have regular meetings. I have a weekly call with my counterparts in the devolved Governments. Of course, the devolved Governments have a huge role to play in this. I will give whatever support I can to help the Welsh Government to make sure that they can deliver contact tracing, and indeed the wider testing programme, as well as possible.
Will the Minister urgently set out a plan to support local authorities to implement local lockdowns if needed, along with providing them with all the resources they need to implement this?
I call the Select Committee Chair, Jeremy Hunt.
NHS Test and Trace is currently tracing the contacts of about 700 people every day who have the virus, but the Office for National Statistics says that 2,500 new people are being infected every day, which means that since the programme started, up to a quarter of a million people have not been asked to isolate who should have been. It is a big achievement to get the programme going, but that is also a big gap. What are the Secretary of State’s plans to close it?
I am not sure I agree with my right hon. Friend’s figures in terms of the assumptions that underpin them. We have had this discussion and this exchange before. There are a whole number of asymptomatic cases. The critical thing about Test and Trace is to find as many of the asymptomatic cases, and as many of the positive test result cases, as possible. We need to do that over time by expanding the programme.
While a proximity app would assist in identifying casual contacts, many people were concerned that a centralised model would harvest their data. In the trial, this one failed to detect 96% of contacts. So why did the Secretary of State persist so long with an app that simply did not work on the majority of phones?
I am afraid the hon. Lady is wrong. The trials in the Isle of Wight showed that the app worked on Android phones, but was blocked from working effectively on Apple phones; hence we are now working with Apple and Google, as we have been over the past few weeks, to find a system that can be effective. But I will not sign off on an app where we do not know and have not been told by some multinational company what it is recommending to people because, after all, the critical thing that matters in test and trace is that people isolate to break the chain of transmission.
I would gently suggest that iPhones are actually quite common, so it is important that it does work on iPhones. The boss of Serco has admitted that its contact tracing system will not be fully functioning until the autumn, and we find that actually local public health teams are carrying out the vast majority of contact tracing, so would Government money not be better spent reversing five years of budget cuts to public health?
It is very strange taking these questions from the SNP spokesman, given that I am working with the SNP Government on resolving exactly these problems in Scotland, and maybe the SNP would do better to focus there. In response to the second question, honestly, we have put £300 million of support into local directors of public health to tackle this pandemic, and I know that her colleagues in the Scottish Government are working hard with local authorities in Scotland as well in exactly the same way.
The Prime Minister promised that 100,000 people a day would be tested by the end of April, so since that date, on how many occasions have more than 100,000 people been tested on any single day?
I have not got those data exactly—[Interruption.] If the Opposition would care to engage on the substance, rather than not taking this seriously, yesterday, we delivered the 8 millionth test in this country. We have delivered more than 100,000 tests on almost every day since the end of April and at the end of last week we were delivering 230,000 tests a day. I think what we need from the Opposition is support for the testing programme, because that is what people care about.
Infant Mental Health Awareness
Has the Secretary of State got the back-up, please?
I understand that Infant Mental Health Awareness Week was a great success. There is much to be gained from seeing the world through a baby’s eyes.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that short answer. We have heard much about the impact of lockdown on school-age children away from school, but little on the impact on babies and new parents facing particular challenges on their emotional wellbeing. Has the Secretary of State or the Minister, if she has got her voice back, seen the research published during Infant Mental Health Awareness Week by the First 1001 Days Movement last week, suggesting that three quarters of parents with children under two are feeling the detrimental impact of the lockdown, particularly BAME parents? What are the Government doing to put this crucial cohort on the radar and provide support before they grow up and take the problems to school and beyond?
Is the Minister available? No. I call the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on this. I applaud the work of the First 1001 Days Movement. It is incredibly important. I strongly support the work that it has done to highlight the importance of the early days of life and the time before the birth of children. I have seen that report. I have discussed it with the Minister and we are working very hard to put that into effect.
Social Care Sector
Social care is at the frontline of this cruel global pandemic here in the UK and around the world. We have brought together support across Government, the NHS, Public Health England, local health protection teams, the Care Quality Commission and local authorities, and done our utmost to help care homes and home care services to look after those in their care. The majority of care providers have been covid-free. Our support includes access to testing, PPE, guidance based on evidence from around the world, improved oversight and funding.
I have received many emails from constituents who are desperate to see and visit their family members in care homes, after months of not seeing them. Will my hon. Friend assure me and care workers in Ashfield and Eastwood that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that care homes have the right support and guidance, so that they are prepared to deal with an influx of friends and family visitors as they begin to open their doors in a safe way?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that the current restriction on visiting is hard for residents in care homes and their families, and has a real impact on health and wellbeing. We are updating our visitor guidance and intend to publish it soon.
I, too, wish the Minister a very happy birthday.
I am sure the Minister will agree that lessons must be learned from what has happened so far, because the virus is not over for social care. With 13,375 deaths from covid-19 in care homes, what does she think she should have done differently?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there will be a time when we will look back and learn lessons, and I wish that not so many people had died in social care, but right now we are looking ahead. We are making sure that we have in place the plans to support the social care sector through the months ahead, and we are also pressing ahead with work on social care reform.
Cancer Centres: Radiation Therapy
I thank the hon. Gentleman and the other members of the all-party group on radiotherapy and cancer for meeting me and officials recently. It is expected that each of the 50 NHS trusts that provide radiotherapy will be able to deliver stereotactic ablative radiotherapy no later than 31 March 2021. Increased external quality assurance capacity means that we could complete the roll-out process for all commissioned indications quicker than that. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that such a result would be fantastic.
I very much welcome the Minister’s response and thank her personally for her excellent attention to this matter and the progress that she has helped to make possible. Of course, with a 60% drop in the number of cancer referrals and a 20% drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment, we have late diagnoses and a backlog that could, tragically, kill more people than covid. Will the Minister therefore go further and faster and deploy expanded radiotherapy treatment this summer to clear the backlog? Will she commit to appointing a radiotherapy tsar and to a rolling radiotherapy fund, so that we can stop more lives being unnecessarily lost?
The hon. Gentleman will know which parts of that are still open for discussion between us, but we are of course driving hard to make sure that patients get their radiotherapy and treatment as quickly as they can. The NHS has a “Help Us Help You” campaign: it is open for business and people should make sure that they attend any appointment they are called to.
NHS Workers: Mental Health
Our NHS workers—from the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals to the healthcare assistants, porters and all those who work behind the scenes—are truly heroes. I wish to say a special thank you to students: thank you to the medical students and nursing students who courageously stepped up to work at the frontline in a global pandemic. I am determined to do all that we can for our NHS workers. We have set up a round-the-clock mental health support line, which includes a freephone helpline run by the Samaritans and an out-of-hours text support service provided by Shout.
I thank the Minister for her answer and wish her a very happy birthday.
Due to physical challenges with geography in rural communities, such as much of my Truro and Falmouth constituency, there can be higher incidences of mental health issues, loneliness and isolation, and that has been intensified by the covid-19 pandemic. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on departmental plans for support for mental health issues in rural communities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we anticipate an increase in demand for mental health support, including in rural communities, as a result of the pandemic. We are working with the NHS and a wide range of stakeholders to understand the need for mental health support all over the country and to make sure that that support is in place.
In my regular meetings with the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, the issue of staff mental health has been repeatedly raised as a serious concern, especially among staff who are working with covid patients. Will the Minister join me in thanking those staff at New Cross Hospital and reassuring them that mental health support will be available for all staff who need it?
I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking the staff at New Cross Hospital for all that they have been doing in these incredibly difficult times. Mental health support absolutely should be, and is, there. There is the mental health support helpline and the text messaging service. It is also really important that NHS trusts take steps locally to ensure that their staff have the support that they need.
When we stood with our neighbours and clapped for the carers, we showed solidarity across the nation with them and recognised the strain, stress and anxiety under which many of them were working. Can the Minister assure me—and say what practical steps can be taken to ensure—that, as they work through the experiences they have had, they will get the care and support necessary for them, and that we care for our carers?
The clap for carers initiative was fantastic because it was a moment when we showed, as a nation, our support for our health and social care workers, but my right hon. and learned Friend is right that clapping is not enough. One thing that I want to do in the months ahead is bring forward the people plan—work that had to be paused because of covid—and to ensure that it includes all possible support for the NHS workforce, so that the NHS can be the best place to work in the world.
Even before the covid pandemic, our frontline NHS and care staff were already working in overstretched and under-resourced settings. It is heartbreaking to see how the virus has taken its toll on them. They have had to deal with redeployment, not enough PPE, a fear of losing patients and getting ill themselves. These are all factors leading to staff burnout and very poor mental health. After all their sacrifices, our frontline staff deserve their mental health to be taken seriously. Is the Minister satisfied with the Government’s current package of support for frontline NHS and care staff?
The hon. Member is absolutely right about how hard it has been for NHS staff stepping up, and we cannot say enough how grateful we are for what they have done. I also recognise the mental health burdens on the NHS workforce who have worked in these really stressful circumstances. It is important not only that the package of support is there now, but that it is there for some time to come, because we know that the trauma and effects of working in these environments may take a while to play through.
As my hon. Friend knows, one of our key commitments was to diagnose more cancers earlier. Through NHS England and NHS Improvement, the Government have committed over £1.3 billion to deliver this, including with an overhaul of screening programmes and new investment in state-of-the-art technology to transform the process of diagnosis and to boost research and innovation. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that 18 rapid diagnostic centres towards our target of 40 are already up and running, as well as the introduction of personalised care plans, which he and I both consider very important.
I do welcome that; I have visited many of the centres. Before the pandemic, we were battling to meet the cancer targets that I helped to set and that my hon. Friend now looks after so ably. Would she confirm that we have not lost sight of the 75% ambition in the long-term plan, and whether there will be a revision to the cancer section of the long-term plan in the light of the backlog of the stuff that we know? Of course, there is also plenty of stuff that we do not yet know that we know, as a result of presentations not coming forward through primary care.
There are lessons to be learned; that is essence of my hon. Friend’s question. I have met both Cally Palmer and Professor Peter Johnson throughout the crisis, and our focus on cancer has remained. Ensuring that we deliver on the long-term plan is a key objective, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will work with me on that.
Health and Social Care Workers
Our health and social care workforce are at the frontline in fighting this cruel disease. I would particularly like to talk about social care workers, who in the past have not had the same recognition as NHS workers. Let this pandemic be the moment when that changed and when we, as a society, recognise the skills, compassion and commitment of our entire care workforce. We have sought to put in place the same support for social care workers as there is for NHS workers and funding to local authorities to pass on to care providers, so that they can pay social care staff full wages for isolating due to covid-19.
I wish the Minister a happy birthday. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how vital social care workers are to our nation, and we as a House should thank them for the job that they do. Unpaid carers in particular have borne a huge weight throughout this pandemic, so will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps she has taken to support unpaid carers during this period?
Unpaid carers are vital in our society. Being an unpaid carer is hard at the best of times, but even harder during this pandemic, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. During the pandemic, we have published guidance specifically for carers. We provided funding to extend the Carers UK helpline, we made unpaid carers a priority group for testing, and we are working with local government to support the reopening of day care services as soon as it is safe to do so.
Covid-19: Continuing Healthcare
We know that people who have been very ill with covid will take some time to recover and may need ongoing help after they have left hospital. At the moment, as part of the covid emergency measures, continuing healthcare assessments are not required, which means that people can be properly discharged when they are well enough and have access to the ongoing healthcare they need.
Happy birthday to the Minister. Our wonderful NHS staff have helped so many people recover from this terrible disease and leave hospital, and many of them will have been ventilated for a long time. Is the Minister planning to set up a specialist service that helps with those very difficult cases where a lot of rehabilitation will be needed?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are still learning about the impact of this horrible disease, but we know it may take people some time to recover and they may need extra help after they have been discharged from hospital. We are indeed doing work to ensure that the right support is there for them.
Covid-19: Next Phase
Thanks to unprecedented action, we have protected the NHS. It was not overwhelmed during the peak of this crisis, and all covid-19 patients admitted to hospital were able to receive urgent treatment that they needed. We remain vigilant.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but after the end of the Brexit transition period, all four health services in the UK and Northern Ireland will face increased bureaucracy and increased costs to import drugs from Europe. On top of that, it has been estimated that a trade deal with the United States of America could increase the drugs bill from £18 billion to £45 billion. How will the Secretary of State prevent these extra costs from hampering NHS capacity?
First, there is no reason at all why the exit from the transition period should have the impact that the hon. and learned Lady describes. We have put in place a huge amount of work to ensure that Brexit works positively for our life sciences industry and indeed, as we do now, that we can buy pharmaceutical products from around the world, not just from within the European Union. As for the idea that somehow a trade deal will increase prices of drugs, that is flat wrong.
With the need for additional infection control measures, how can the Secretary of State ensure sufficient staff to support parents to spend time with their babies in special care baby units, when covid-19 is creating additional barriers to parents being with their baby as much as they want and need to be? Moreover, will he look at an emergency form of neonatal leave and pay, or a subsistence fund similar to Scotland’s, to allow parents affected by covid-19 to have the time they need with their baby?
We are putting in a huge amount of support for maternity services and other services across the NHS in England. Of course, when it comes to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents in Glasgow, he will have to ask the SNP Government.
Local construction firms are working around the clock to build the NHS Nightingale hospital in Exeter, based in my constituency of East Devon. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that we all hope it will never have to be used. Can he assure my constituents that the Nightingale will help the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, our community hospitals and our health and wellbeing hub to continue to focus efforts on delivering the superb services that they are well known for across East Devon?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a great advocate for Devon, and for East Devon in particular. The Nightingale Hospital in Exeter will have more flexible uses than the previous Nightingales, so, for instance, it will be usable should there be extra winter pressures. This is all part of protecting our NHS. At the heart of our response to this dreadful disease, we protected the NHS, making sure it was always there for everyone. That has been down to, and is a testament to, the work of so many people, who delivered on that requirement.
Yesterday, our local NHS trust, the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, temporarily downgraded and closed emergency admissions at Grantham and District Hospital, in response to covid-19. After many years of uncertainty, there is understandable scepticism about this latest move by the trust. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the trust to ensure that these changes are indeed temporary and that covid is not used as cover to make them permanent?
Thanks to my hon. Friend’s assiduous work on behalf of his constituents in Grantham, and at his suggestion, I discussed this issue directly with NHS officials. Grantham’s unit will be open, 24/7, as an urgent treatment centre; this is part of plans to ensure that covid and non-covid services are kept as separate as possible. In addition, thanks to his intervention, we will ensure that that position will be reviewed quarterly.
The NHS in England had more than 40,000 nursing vacancies at the start of the covid pandemic, but student nurses stepped forward to contribute to the response. So why are many of their contracts now being terminated, given that they may well be needed this autumn? Would a better approach not be to increase nursing bursaries to £10,000, as they are in Scotland, where nursing vacancies are half those of England?
We have increased by about 10,000 the number of nurses in the NHS in the past year, and during the crisis that number increased further. We also set out at the start how we are paying student nurses, as they stepped up to the mark, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. I am delighted that so many of them did, and we are sticking to the agreements that we set out with the student nurses at the start of the crisis.
Covid-19: Testing Kits for Care Homes
We are doing all we can to help care homes control and prevent covid outbreaks, and the majority of care homes have not had outbreaks. Testing is an important part of that. On 11 May, we launched a programme of testing all staff and residents in care homes, starting with older people and those with dementia, based on public health guidance. We met our target of offering tests to all these care homes by 6 June, which involved sending more than 1 million test kits to 9,000 care homes. We are now getting tests out to all the other Care Quality Commission-registered care homes for adults that ordered them on the testing portal.
Further to what my hon. Friend has said, will she confirm that there is a rolling programme to test for covid-19 in our care homes? Recently, a care home in my constituency had a whole-home test and found that someone was positive. When it then asked for another test for everyone, it was told by NHS England that it was not eligible, and that cannot be right.
I will say two things on that. First, when a care home has a new outbreak, either for the first time or after having recovered from a previous outbreak, it should contact its local health protection team to arrange for initial testing of symptomatic residents, in order to confirm the outbreak. The local health protection team or the director of public health can then refer the care home to the national testing team so that it can be prioritised for whole-home testing.
Departmental officials have been working with NHS England and NHS Improvement to establish means of specialist support for those women requiring it. NHS England is in the process of commissioning a number of mesh removal centres, which it hopes to be operational later this year. We urge anyone who has concerns about their treatment to speak to a clinician.
I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, but I understand from constituents that many women have to travel miles for their operations in great discomfort, and that when they get there, they are told they are not eligible. As the Minister said, the mesh recovery centres have not yet been opened. I have met women who are going through utter pain and torment as a result of surgical mesh surgery. There are concerns that English and Welsh patients do not get the same monetary help as their Scottish counterparts. What is the Minister doing to address these issues?
On access to services, NHS England advises that it is aware of the negative impact that covid-19 is having on patients during what is a very challenging period. As a result of my hon. Friend’s question, I will ask officials to look into why women may or may not be eligible for services during this time. As healthcare is devolved, the Scottish element of his question is a matter for the Scottish Government. I would advise anyone who intends to make a claim for compensation or is having difficulty seeking services to seek independent advice or see a clinician. It is important to reiterate that NHS England is currently in the process of commissioning those specialist services for mesh removal, which it hopes will be operational later this year.
Vaccine development is progressing well, with human clinical trials underway by both the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. We are also exploring how other vaccines, both from the UK and internationally, can be deployed here should they show promise.
Can my right hon. Friend reassure me, the House and my Welsh constituents in Montgomeryshire that if and when a vaccine for covid-19 is developed, it will be rolled out in a UK-wide partnership? Will he work with the devolved healthcare systems but ensure that the vaccine is UK-accessed?
Yes, of course. That is an incredibly important question for anybody living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, like my hon. Friend’s constituents. The vaccine programme is being taken forward on a UK-wide basis. Of course people living in the devolved nations should have access to vaccines according to a prioritisation that is clinical and not based on where people live. We will absolutely work with the devolved authorities on the delivery and deployment of that vaccine. Of course, we want the whole country to get the vaccines, if they become available, according to clinical priority.
Yesterday, clinicians set out our advice for those who are shielding because they are clinically extremely vulnerable. The whole House will want to pay tribute to the enormous sacrifice of that group, who are among the most vulnerable to covid-19. Very shortly, the Prime Minister will set out to the House the next steps to get the country back on her feet.
There is no doubt that lockdown has taken its toll on the mental health and wellbeing of many children of all ages, whether by way of social isolation, physical inactivity or a sense of loss. I know that my right hon. Friend is very exercised by that, so, as we understand more about the impact, will he look again at the long-term NHS plan to establish whether it is really able to meet what will be a more acute challenge in the future?
That is a very important question on supporting children’s mental health. We absolutely reiterate the long-term plan ambitions for service transformation and expansion. Indeed, one of the things we have learned during coronavirus is that when it comes to paediatric mental health, telemedicine can actually have a better and more effective impact than face to face. That is a good thing to have learned and will help the roll-out further.
On the app, the Secretary of State told us it was crucial and would be ready by mid-May. Experts warned him it would not work. He spent three months, wasted £12 million and has got nothing to show for it. It is a good job he is a tech-savvy expert on apps; otherwise, this would be a right shambles now, wouldn’t it?
On the contrary, ensuring that we use technology to its best possible effects is incredibly important. I would have thought that the shadow Secretary of State would want to side with and support the efforts of all those, including in the NHS, who are doing the work to ensure that we can get this up and running as quickly as possible.
In the past few days, I have been listening to the Secretary of State’s excuses. He is like the Eric Morecambe of the Commons: he has been playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. On test and trace, local areas such as Leicester, which has had a spike, still do not have local data; GPs still cannot refer people for testing; and NHS staff are still not tested regularly. He has spent £100 million on a Serco and Sitel call centre where the tracers are saying they have nothing to do. This is not a “world-beating” system; it is more like a wing and a prayer. When are we going to get a functional test, trace and isolate strategy?
The shadow Secretary of State is far better when he supports the Government than when he pretends to oppose them. We have all seen him explaining why the steps that the Government are taking are the sensible ones, why it is important to move from a national lockdown as much as is safely possible to local outbreak control, and why test and trace is important. When he gets on to saying that the money we have spent to protect the NHS and put in place the actions needed to get us out of the lockdown is wasted, I think that that is opposition for opposition’s sake.
As we sign trade deals around the world, we will have enhanced animal and food standards in this country, and of course the Food Standards Agency plays a vital role in ensuring that those standards are upheld.
We are putting this policy into action and it will be retrospective to the date of the announcement by the Prime Minister.
I am absolutely delighted that my right hon. Friend will be able to follow guidance and take more steps out after 6 July. The decisions on shielding were all based on the best clinical advice. Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, has led the medical advice on this programme with great élan and wisdom. The reason that we are able to make these changes and recommend these steps to my right hon. Friend and the 2.2 million others in his situation is that we have protected the NHS and got the virus right under control.
Of course it has been necessary to have tight controls over visitors in hospitals during this crisis, because people picking up nosocomial infections in hospital has been one part of the epidemic that we need to get under control. My heart goes out to those many people who have made sacrifices, including the hon. Member’s constituent, and of course we always keep this under review.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. She may have seen this morning that in Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia has been put back into lockdown because of a local outbreak. So far, the local outbreaks we have seen have essentially been clusters in very small areas, and we have been able to bust those clusters and tackle them. We do, of course, hold the powers to have wider local lockdowns. Those will be based on judgments based on the epidemiological advice and advised by the joint biosecurity centre, working with all the relevant agencies.
We will bring forward that White Paper. The work has been ongoing even while we have been dealing with coronavirus. As far as I am concerned, the Wessely review is one of the finest pieces of work on the treatment of mental ill health that has been done anywhere in the world.
Absolutely. When we set up the loneliness strategy in 2018, when I was the Culture Secretary, I had no idea that covid-19 would make it so vital. I very much hope that, in England at least, the measures the Prime Minister is due to set out very shortly might help in that regard. Covid has underlined the importance of loneliness as an issue that we must directly and actively tackle.
Because this is a big team effort by a combination of public and private sector partners. I pay tribute to Deloitte, without which the testing programme would not be possible. I pay tribute to all the pharmaceutical companies and I pay tribute to Amazon, which has delivered the home testing with remarkable success. Instead of trying to divide, we should unite and bring people together.
Yes. David Rosser is a great leader of a very, very impressive trust. I was speaking to him only last week. There is an important lesson from covid, which is that many of the NHS central rules and much of the bureaucracy was lifted to allow local systems to respond as a health system. That has worked well. We need to learn from that. We need to not only make that permanent, but see where we can go further in that sort of system working.
We were scrupulously fair in the allocation of funding to local authorities, ensuring, for instance, that the support for social care went according to the number of beds. We have taken a great deal of care to make sure we get this right.
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.
Before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails, who were brutally killed in Reading on Saturday. To assault defenceless people in a park is an act not simply of wickedness, but of abject cowardice. We will never yield to those who would seek to destroy our way of life.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the next steps in our plan to rebuild our economy and reopen our society, while waging our struggle against covid-19. From the outset, we have trusted in the common sense and perseverance of the British people, and their response has more than justified our faith. Since I set out our plan on 11 May, we have been clear that our cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional on our continued defeat of the virus. In the first half of May, nearly 69,000 people tested positive for covid-19 across the UK; by the first half of June, that total had fallen by nearly 70% to just under 22,000. The number of new infections is now declining by between 2% and 4% every day.
Four weeks ago, an average of one in 400 people in the community in England had covid-19; in the first half of June, the figure was one in 1,700. We created a human shield around the NHS, and in turn our doctors and nurses have protected us. Together, we have saved our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On 11 May, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with covid-19; by 20 June, the figure had fallen by 74% to 283.
This pandemic has inflicted permanent scars, and we mourn everyone we have lost. Measured by a seven-day rolling average, the number of daily deaths peaked at 943 on 14 April. On 11 May, it was 476 and yesterday the rolling average stood at 130. We have ordered over 2.2 billion items of protective equipment from UK-based manufacturers, many of whose production lines have been called into being to serve this new demand. And yesterday we conducted or posted 139,659 tests, bringing the total to over 8 million.
While we remain vigilant, we do not believe that there is currently—currently—a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS. Taking everything together, we continue to meet our five tests, and the chief medical officers of all four home nations have downgraded the UK’s covid alert level from 4 to 3, meaning that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation.
The Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions, and they will respond to the united view of the chief medical officers at their own pace, based on their own judgment. But all parts of the UK are now travelling in the same direction, and we will continue to work together to ensure that everyone in our country gets the support they need.
Thanks to our progress, we can now go further and safely ease the lockdown in England. At every stage, caution will remain our watchword, and each step will be conditional and reversible. Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus, we can change the 2-metre social distancing rule from 4 July. I know that this rule effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy, even without other restrictions—for example, it prevents all but a fraction of our hospitality industry from operating. That is why almost two weeks ago I asked our experts to conduct a review; I will place a summary of their conclusions in the Libraries of both Houses this week.
Where it is possible to keep 2 metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of 1 metre-plus, meaning that they should remain 1 metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission. We are today publishing guidance on how business can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. Those include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, the use of protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser, or changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams. We already mandate face coverings on public transport.
While the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge that those mitigations would make 1 metre-plus broadly equivalent to the risk at 2 metres, if those mitigations are fully implemented. Either would be acceptable, and our guidance will change accordingly. That vital change enables the next stage of our plan to ease the lockdown.
I am acutely conscious that people will ask legitimate questions about why certain activities are allowed, when others are not, but I must ask the House to understand that the virus has no interest in such debates. Its only ambition is to exploit any opportunities to recapture ground that we might carelessly vacate, and to reinfect our communities. There is only one certainty, which is that the fewer social contacts someone has, the safer they will be, and our duty as a Government is to guide the British people, balancing our overriding aim of controlling the virus against our natural desire to bring back normal life.
We cannot lift all the restrictions at once, so we have to make difficult judgments. Every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence. Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up, the more vigilant we will need to be. From now on, we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact, instead of legislation, and in that spirit we advise that from 4 July, two households of any size should be able to meet in any setting, inside or out. That does not mean that they must always be the same two households; it will, for instance, be possible to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, and the other set the following weekend. We are not recommending meetings of multiple households indoors, because of the risk of creating greater chains of transmission. Outside, the guidance remains that people from several households can meet in groups of up to six, and it follows that two households can also meet, regardless of size.
Mr Speaker, I can tell the House that we will also reopen restaurants and pubs. All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service, and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact. We will ask businesses to help NHS test and trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers, as happens in other countries, and we will work with the sector to make that manageable. Almost as eagerly awaited as a pint will be a haircut—particularly by me, Mr Speaker—and we will reopen hairdressers with appropriate precautions, including the use of visors. We also intend to allow some other close-contact services such as nail bars to reopen as soon as we can, once we are confident that they can operate in a covid-secure way.
From 4 July, provided that no more than two households stay together, people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as campsites, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen if they can do so safely, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs and community centres.
Close-proximity venues such as nightclubs, soft play areas, indoor gyms, swimming pools and spas will, I am afraid, need to remain closed for now, as will bowling alleys and waterparks, but my right hon. Friends the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary will establish taskforces with public health experts and those sectors to help them to become covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.
We will also work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. Recreation and sport will be allowed, but indoor facilities, including changing rooms and courts, will remain closed, and people should only play close-contact team sports with members of their household.
I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown. I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings, with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.
Meanwhile, our courts, probation services, police stations and other public services will increasingly resume face-to-face proceedings. Wraparound care for school-age children and formal childcare will restart over the summer. Primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance, and those children who can already go to school should do so, because it is safe.
We will publish covid-secure guidelines for every sector that is reopening, and slowly but surely these measures will restore a sense of normality. After the toughest restrictions in peacetime history, we are now able to make life easier for people, so that they can see more of their friends and families, and to help businesses get back on their feet and get people back into work.
The virus has not gone away, however. We will continue to monitor the data with the joint biosecurity centre and our ever more effective test and trace system. I must be clear to the House that, as we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups, for which local measures will be needed. We will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions, even at national level, if required. I urge everyone to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. Let us keep washing our hands; staying 2 metres apart wherever feasible, mitigating the risks at 1 metre where it is not; avoiding public transport where possible and wearing a mask when we have to use public transport; getting tested immediately if we have symptoms; and self-isolating if instructed to do so by NHS test and trace.
Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end. Life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable, but I must say to the House that it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. I join him in sending our condolences to the families and friends of those who died or were injured in Reading on Saturday. This was a truly appalling attack, and I extend our thanks to the police officers and members of the public who showed incredible bravery in response. I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) at the weekend and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying to the people of Reading that we stand with them at this incredibly difficult time.
When I was elected leader of the Labour party, I said that I would offer
“constructive opposition, with the courage to support the Government”—[Official Report, 22 April 2020; Vol. 675, c. 41.]
where they are doing the right thing. We will, of course, scrutinise the details of the announcement and study the guidance, and there are obviously a number of questions that need to be answered, but overall I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. I believe that the Government are trying to do the right thing, and in that we will support them.
There are no easy decisions to be made here. Any unlocking carries risks. It has to be phased, managed and carefully planned; it needs to be based on scientific evidence, properly communicated and accompanied by robust track and trace systems; and there must be support for local councils and communities to respond quickly and decisively if there are any fresh outbreaks. But there are risks of inaction as well—of keeping businesses and schools closed, of keeping our economy closed, and of keeping families apart. We all need to recognise that today.
I have a number of questions about the basis for these decisions, which I hope the Prime Minister will address in a constructive way. First, on the scientific evidence, I listened carefully to what he said about the 2-metre rule and the 1-metre rule. Can he assure the House that the package of measures is agreed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser? What assessment has been made of the overall impact on transmission of the virus and on the R rate, both nationally and regionally?
On preventing a second spike and reintroducing measures as needed, the Prime Minister knows that local authorities will have to be central to that, but they need the resources and the powers. What additional support is he providing to councils? What new powers for swift local lockdown will be needed should there be a spike in infections?
On protection of those working, particularly on the frontline, we all want people to go back to work, but it has to be safe and standards have to be enforced. What enforceable measures will the Prime Minister put in place to give confidence to those who are returning to work?
On support for businesses, these changes are necessary, but they will be complex. Many businesses have already spent thousands of pounds preparing to operate at 2 metres. These changes will particularly be felt by small businesses and those on the high street, so what support can be given to them to address that?
On schools, I do think that it is safe for some children to return. I completely support that; the question is how quickly we can get all children back to school safely, the sooner the better. It was the Education Secretary who told the House on 9 June that it would not be possible to bring all children back to school before the summer. One of the reasons we support today’s announcement is that it will make it more possible, and easier, to get children back to school more quickly. We will support that, and my offer to work with the Prime Minister on that stands.
Finally, on test, track and trace, the Prime Minister will know that we have very serious concerns about the gaps in the current system, including the absence of an app. Getting this right is essential to unlocking in a safe manner, and it is important that the Prime Minister clarifies when the full track, trace and isolate system will be in place.
Today is an important step in the fight against this virus. We will scrutinise the detail, and we do want more clarity, but we welcome the thrust of the statement.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the spirit, the manner and the constructive way in which he has responded. On his points, we do believe that all five tests have been met. That means that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been intimately involved in every stage of developing the programme, and they believe it to be a step in our plan that allows us to go ahead while meeting that crucial test of not triggering a second wave.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about support for local councils, and I have said that we are putting in another £3.2 billion to support them, as well as £600 million to support their responsibilities for social care. Clearly their responsibilities have not ended, but neither has our support. We will get this country through this crisis by doing everything it takes.
That brings me to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question about businesses. I do not think there is another country in the world that has done quite so much to support our workforce and our employees. Under the coronavirus job retention scheme, we have supported 11 million people. We have supported 2.6 million self-employed people and £26 billion in bounce-back loans alone have been given out by the Government, to say nothing of the huge support in grants. We are very confident that it is one of the most extraordinary packages to be provided by any Government around the world, and we will continue to support our businesses.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions track and trace and isolate. Of course it is perfectly true that it would be great to have an app, but no country currently has a functioning track and trace app. The great success of NHS test and trace is that, contrary to some of the scepticism that we heard—alas—from those on the Opposition Benches, so far it has contacted 87,000 people who have been in contact with those who have coronavirus, and they have elected voluntarily to self-isolate and stop the disease from spreading in the community. That is a fantastic success by our NHS test and trace operation, and we will continue to develop and improve that so as to crack down on local outbreaks and enable our country to go forward.
May I finally say how welcome it was to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he actively supports children returning to school and that he believes that returning to school is safe? I think he said that.
I do not want to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of making a U-turn, but there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth and so on. It is good to have his support on that matter today. I welcome the spirit and the manner in which he has responded to this statement today.
With continuing relatively high rates of infection across Bedford borough, I welcome the Prime Minister’s balanced transition from over-reliance on regulation to greater reliance on the common sense of British businesses and employees. Will the Prime Minister now build on the exceptional programme of economic support provided to businesses with an ambitious acceleration of his levelling up programme, in particular drawing on and unlocking the creativity of our entrepreneurs, our small businesses and our innovators?
My hon. Friend is on the money on that point. He will be hearing a lot more about exactly that in the course of the next couple of weeks, not only from me, but from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party on the outrage that took place on Saturday in Reading? Our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of James Furlong, of Joe Ritchie-Bennett and of David Wails. We give grateful thanks to all our emergency services for the work that they continue to do. On this day, we also acknowledge the sad death of Harry Smith, the former political reporter for ITV and Scottish Television. He will be sadly missed.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement. Today’s announcement will be understandably welcomed by many, but for every word of welcome, there must follow words of caution. The virus has not gone away. The margins for ensuring it does not take off again remain tight. Keeping people safe remains the first priority. We cannot put a price on human life. China and Germany are right now dealing with spikes in cases as a result of significant outbreaks. Health officials in South Korea have said they think the country is now experiencing a second wave. A similar experience here would amount to not just a health disaster, but an economic disaster. It would wipe out all the hard-won progress and self-sacrifice over recent months. It is vital that our collective efforts remain focused on preventing the disaster of a second spike.
We must remain cautious, too, because the public are well used to hearing grand announcements from the Prime Minister, only for a U-turn to follow days or weeks later. Not only have the UK Government wasted precious time on introducing a botched test and trace system, but they have wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process. That is why it is essential that the next steps are directed solely by the science, rather than political pressures. Can he confirm, therefore, that he will publish not just the conclusions but the full review on social distancing measures and the scientific advice given?
We know that a review of quarantining measures following foreign travel was due next week. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the introduction of any air bridges will be based on public health assessments, not economic assessments? Can he also confirm that the devolved Governments will be closely involved and party to any arrangements with any country on air bridges? Finally, to maintain full clarity, will he reaffirm that the announcements today are solely for England and that the citizens of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland should continue to follow public health advice from their own Governments?
On that last point, of course I can confirm that, as indeed I said in my statement, although I observe that the harmony between all four home nations is much closer than one might sometimes believe from listening to the right hon. Gentleman. But I agreed with a great deal of what he said. He is right to express caution and to anticipate the risk of second spikes. We will, I am afraid, see future outbreaks. I must be absolutely clear with the House about that. We will see future outbreaks and we will be in a much better position now to control them. I will of course publish the measures on social distancing and how the decision was reached on social distancing, and as I said we will place that in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mr Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman had one more question, which I am afraid I cannot remember. What was it—about public health? I cannot remember. I will write to him. [Hon. Members: “Air bridges.”] Air bridges! Thank you. Sorry, Mr Speaker. He asked an important question about air bridges. We will ensure that the devolved Administrations are kept in close contact as we develop our plans, and our plans for quarantine will be based entirely on public health, as he rightly suggested they should be. That will be our criterion. We will not be led by any excessive desire to risk life by opening up the economy too fast. We will have a policy on air bridges that is based on public health, as he rightly says we should.
I very much welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced to the 2 metre rule, which is great news for pubs and restaurants such as the Moat House and the Staffordshire Bull, which are at the heart of the community in Staffordshire. Can he give me an assurance that, as we move to 1 metre-plus, it will be safe for us to trust in the common sense of the British people to reduce transmission? May I take this opportunity to invite the Prime Minister to have a pint in my constituency?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am happy to take up her invitation.
I join the Prime Minister in sending our condolences to the family and friends of the victims of the appalling attacks in Reading. The Prime Minister wants to reassure us that lockdown can be safely eased, while rightly warning that there is a danger of a second wave of coronavirus later this year. If he is right and there is breathing space now, surely it is urgent that we learn the lessons. So I ask him this again: will he urgently set up an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of this pandemic?
I am sure there will come a moment when lessons need to be learned—indeed, we are learning them the whole time—but I do not consider at the moment that a full-scale national inquiry is a good use of official time.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which reflects very closely the advice that my Select Committee has taken. He has a new advisory group, which I am glad about, because the best role for SAGE is on broad questions of science rather than every minute policy. Can he specify whether the ban on cricket has come to an end? Cricket is perhaps our most socially distanced team sport. We have lost half the summer, but there is another half left to be enjoyed by players and spectators alike.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. This goes to the point that I was trying to make to the House earlier—everybody will want to add something to the great wheelbarrow of measures that we are taking, and at a certain point, there will come a straw that breaks the camel’s back. The problem with cricket, as everybody understands, is that the ball is a natural vector of disease, potentially at any rate. We have been round it many times with our scientific friends. At the moment, we are still working on ways to make cricket more covid-secure, but we cannot change the guidance yet.
May I echo the comments in relation to the victims of the terrible atrocity in Reading? Our thoughts are with their families. I support the Prime Minister’s contention that a four-nation approach is very important. In that context, will he commit to share the rationale, data, scientific evidence and advice upon which these decisions are based with the Northern Ireland Executive and our chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, to ensure that we continue to take that co-ordinated approach?
As I informed the House, the chief medical officers of all four home nations were unanimous in their view that the alert level should go down from 4 to 3, and we will continue to work together and share information as we go forward.
This news will be a relief for so many pub owners in Hyndburn and Haslingden, whether it be the Green Squirrel or the Heys Inn. The relaxation of the 2 metre rule will make it that little bit easier for micropubs such as the Vault, Hustle Bar and the Knuzden Tap. Can the Prime Minister assure me that the Government will work closely with local authorities so that pubs and restaurants are able to utilise their outdoor space, and will he visit Hyndburn and Haslingden?
There is hardly any area of the country that I do not intend to visit in the course of the reopening of pubs and hostelries. There is a massive opportunity now for our pubs, with all their inventiveness, to think of ways of making their businesses covid-secure, exploiting hitherto unloved and unvalued outdoor spaces that may become havens for tables and chairs and using their ingenuity to open up in all the ways that they can.
People crave confidence and competence. With England’s so-called world-beating app scrapped before it even launched, contact tracers unable to reach a third of positive cases and no financial scheme to support workers when public health requires them to self-isolate, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of the risks to business and public confidence if local lockdowns or a second peak prove beyond his Government’s ability to manage?
The right hon. Lady knows very well that the Government have invested record sums in protecting businesses, by comparison with any other country. We have done more to protect businesses around the whole of the country, including in Wales. I said that we are proceeding as one UK, and we are. I have my doubts about the 5 mile rule in Wales and wonder whether that might be something that was reviewed. But she makes a very important point about the need to protect against a second outbreak and to make sure that we are in good shape to crack down on flare-ups. I believe that we are and I believe to an extent that perhaps we did not think possible a month ago we are able to do local whack-a-mole in the way that she has described.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend? This announcement, particularly the reduction of the distancing rule, will save hundreds of thousands of jobs, so he has already done a good day’s work today. May I ask him to ensure the practicality of future guidance? Complex rules about who can do what and where and when they can do it may seem rational when discussed around a table in Whitehall, but if they are too complex and too unclear, people will not obey them, so can he make sure that the rules for the future are as clear, simple and understandable as possible?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. A message such as, “Stay at home. Protect the NHS” is very simple. Everybody can see what they have to do. Getting into the easing of the lockdown is much more complex, but I think that the guidance that we have set out today is intelligible. People will understand what they need to do. The British people have shown massive common sense so far and I am sure that they will continue to do so.
Last week in my constituency, in Cleckheaton, we had a covid-19 outbreak in a meat processing factory. Kirklees Council acted swiftly and efficiently. My concern is with the Government’s easing of lockdown. We will see these localised outbreaks. With the Health and Safety Executive having its budget cut by 50% since 2010, can the Government ensure that Kirklees and other councils will have all the money they need to keep our communities safe? And what investigations are going ahead from Government to look at why meat processing particularly is exposed to covid-19 outbreaks not just in this country, but around the world, so that we can keep those members of staff safe?
We will certainly look into what is happening to meat processing, and the hon. Member is right to draw attention to that phenomenon. We have seen it in Anglesey and in Germany. We need to get to the bottom of what is happening. We are putting more into the Health and Safety Executive, as she knows. We are giving another £14 million to bolster it, and local councils will be fortified in implementing local lockdowns by central Government and the joint biosecurity centre so that we are able to crack down very efficiently on these flare-ups as they happen.
Going to the pub is a great British institution and vital if we want to get our economy back on track. Will the Prime Minister therefore join me in calling on people from the 4th of July to do their patriotic best for Britain and go to the pub?
Yes. I do encourage people to take advantage of the freedoms that they are rightly reacquiring, but I must stress that people should act in a responsible way. I know that that is where the public are and that that is what people want to see. They want to see this reopening happening gradually. They want to see the frost leaving the tundra slowly. They understand the risks that we still face. So yes, I want to see people out in the shops—it is a fantastic thing to see. Yes, I want to see people taking advantage of hospitality again—a wonderful thing. Yes, I want to see people enjoying friends and family again, but they have to do it in a responsible way and observe social distancing.
As we attempt to move people back into the workplace, the job retention scheme is being abused by some companies to make employees redundant before August, when employers would have to pay a percentage of their salary. Moreover, others, like British Airways, are threatening to fire tens of thousands of loyal workers and rehire them, some on slashed pay and poorer conditions. The Prime Minister said that he was looking at what we can do, so will he back my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), whose Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill addresses this iniquity?
I will of course study the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. [Interruption.] I will cause it to be studied. He knows very well that this country has given unprecedented and unequalled support to workers and to businesses. I think that 1 million companies have taken advantage of the job retention scheme, and 2.6 million self-employed people. There is nothing like it around the world. We should be very proud of what the UK has done, and we will continue to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing to beat this virus.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the primary aim of policy was to stop the NHS being swamped, and that was met, which is a great achievement. But will he take this opportunity to restate that in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the virus will stay in circulation? What people refer to as a second wave is in fact a continuation of the first wave—it has not gone away. We can expect flare-ups, as we have seen in Germany. While the measures today are welcome—incidentally, they give a whole new meaning to the phrase “safe drinking”—their observation will be vital if we are to avoid a widespread second lockdown, which would be an economic and social disaster for the country.
That is absolutely right. There have been two important changes in our arsenal in the past six weeks or so. The first has obviously been NHS test and trace, which is getting better the whole time, and is invaluable in fighting the disease. The second is the treatments. Dexamethasone, which was tested in this country, really does make a big difference to the mortality of the disease, and I have no doubt that other progress will be made. He is right to be reserved about the possibilities of getting a full vaccine; that is going to be very difficult. But in the meantime, we will have to remain extremely vigilant and extremely cautious.
Today, despite a strong test and trace regime, a region in Germany had to impose a specific lockdown on several hundred thousand people due to a dangerously high R number. We know that unfortunately, while we are progressing, we are only at the end of the beginning of our restrictions. The Prime Minister is right to say that the job retention and self-employed schemes have been vital to many people. What contingency does he have in place for ad hoc localised lockdowns that may be required, and will he roll out localised versions of job retention schemes for those areas?
I shall repeat my previous answer: we do not want to see anybody penalised for doing the right thing.
There are approximately 1 million 16 to 18-year-olds in England, and some 700,000 study in colleges. Astonishingly, this week’s education catch-up plan omitted those colleges, including many in my constituency of Cambridge. Can the Prime Minister explain the Government’s thinking behind this, and will he sort it out?
We will of course do everything we can to ensure that not just our schools but our colleges get the attention that they need. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is massive investment now going into the rebuilding of further education colleges and ensuring that our FE college sector gets the investment it deserves.
I warmly welcome the news from the Prime Minister regarding the tourism sector, which will be especially well received in East Devon. Of course, he is more than welcome to visit any time. Can he confirm that the Government will publish full guidance to ensure that businesses can keep themselves and their customers safe while keeping the virus under control?
Yes, indeed. The guidance, as I say, will be published later today.
The Prime Minister has highlighted examples around the world where restrictions have been relaxed and where there has been a subsequent resurgence of the virus, and he has said that he will not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions if required. I would just like to get an unambiguous commitment from him about not seeing anyone penalised for doing the right thing to combat this virus. If it was necessary to continue with the furlough and self-employment support schemes beyond October, would his Government do so?
We have said what we have said about the furloughing scheme. It is our intention, obviously, to make sure that we are not in a situation where we have to keep those national schemes going. That is why the furlough scheme is tapering off in October. But, clearly—and I have said what I have said—if there are localised outbreaks or, indeed, if it is nationally necessary to put the brakes back on, then nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a real outpouring of love and kindness across our communities across the country for our older citizens, and that is quite right, but we have not seen the same thing for our youngest citizens. Can the Prime Minister tell me what the Government are doing for those who have had a baby during lockdown or, indeed, who are struggling to cope—as he might be—with the challenge of having a new baby with so little face-to-face support?
Oh, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am personally coping fine, thank you—[Interruption.] Well, thank you. What we are doing, as she will have heard in my statement, is that wraparound childcare is coming back for the summer and, as she knows, early years is open and reception is open—and would it not be a fine thing to hear from the Labour party that it is safe for all young kids to go back?
This morning, I met those from Disability Rights UK who are worried that support for shielded people is being removed too quickly. In their words, “If Government can be sensitive to business until October, why can’t they be sensitive to personal needs?” Throughout this crisis, communication with shielded and disabled people has been poor. Will the Prime Minister commit to working closely with these groups to ensure clearer, more regular communication as we move out of lockdown and towards planning for a second wave?
The hon. Member raises a very important point. In fact, we have extended the shielding programme, as you know, Mr Speaker, till the end of July, and 3 million food parcels have already been delivered to shielded people. What we want to see is a situation in which the prevalence—the incidence—is so low that the shielding programme no longer needs to continue in its current way, and I think that should be a shared ambition around the House and around the country. Too many elderly, vulnerable people have been kept in close confinement for too long, and we must help them to a new way out.
This statement paves the way for Britain to bounce back with most of the hospitality sector reopening, and it gives us more confidence for the 10th anniversary Gloucester history festival in September. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, while many of us want to see cricket played again safely and air bridges established as soon as possible, the absolutely crucial goal is for all children, and pupils and students at FE colleges and universities to be able to go back to school, college and university in the autumn absolutely safely?
Absolutely. A point I perhaps could have made to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who I think is no longer in his seat, is that it is our intention to get not just schools but FE colleges back as well in September, and get our young people back where they need to be—in education and preparing for their future.
It seems the Prime Minister has given up working with all four nations. Cobra has not met for weeks, daily communications have ended and I am pretty sure the First Minister of Wales has forgotten what the Prime Minister even looks like. Does he not believe that his actions are leading to a disjointed rather than united Union, and given that recent data suggest that the people of Wales have far more confidence in the Welsh Government’s handling of this pandemic than the people of England do in his, should he not perhaps be following the strategy championed by the Labour Government of Wales?
I make no comment on the blessed amnesia that has descended on the First Minister of Wales, except to say that, actually, when we look at the facts and what the UK is doing together, we can see that we are in much closer harmony than someone would suspect from what the hon. Lady says. One detail—one wrinkle—to which I respectfully draw her attention is that I am not sure that the five-mile limit rule is entirely necessary; perhaps that needs to be rethought.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the clarity he has given today to the hospitality and tourism sector in the great south-west. Will he also give a glimmer of hope that the Government will look sympathetically at more support over the winter, if necessary, to ensure that this very seasonal sector can survive such a restricted season?
Yes, indeed—although, as my hon. Friend already knows, we are doing a massive amount to support businesses of all kinds, particularly by getting rid of business rates for the whole of next year. One thing that I would say, respectfully, to all those who represent tourist areas of this country, is that now is perhaps the time to send out a welcoming signal to those from other parts of our country and to roll out the welcome mat, rather than the “Not welcome here” sign. That is something that we could do together.
My right hon. Friend’s announcement will be welcome to hospitality businesses in Penistone and Stocksbridge, which are keen to reopen after a difficult period, but many workers and business owners are parents as well and cannot return to work until their children are back at school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order for those businesses to recover, we need all children to be back at school in September? Also, will he confirm that this announcement means that in the meantime people can start to ask friends and family for help with childcare?
Yes, it does mean that, but we are also committed, as my hon. Friend knows, to getting all our schools back in September. I do believe it that will be possible, if we stick to the plan and the guidance, to do so in a safe way.
We are witnessing even countries such as Germany, with good control of covid-19, develop outbreaks that centre around meat processing plants. What explanation has the Prime Minister been given for this trend, and how on earth does he think it will be improved by cutting the safe distance from 2 metres to 1 metre?
That is a very good question. We are looking at exactly what is happening in meat processing plants. Currently, two theories have been advanced to me: one is about the cold environment in the plants, which may be propitious to the virus, and the other is the possibility that staff are congregating in such a way as to spread the virus. We do not know what it is, but we are investigating. Wherever outbreaks take place, we will use local cluster-busting techniques to stamp them out.
I warmly welcome the statement and strongly endorse the move to relying on common sense and the responsibility of the British people from 4 July. However, the blanket quarantine proposal is not common sense when it applies to countries that are entirely safe and have no coronavirus. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that air bridges are in place no later than 4 July.
The House will have heard what I have had to say about air bridges repeatedly since the quarantine announcement was made. We do understand the balance, but we also understand the vital necessity of protecting our country from reinfection from abroad. Every serious country that has got this disease under control has had to introduce a quarantine for people coming into or back into the country.
A number of countries will be surprised by the Prime Minister’s claim that they do not have a functioning track and trace app.
Given that it is costing Britain thousands of jobs and millions of pounds a day and has no basis in the science, why is the Prime Minister waiting another two weeks to scrap his disastrous blanket quarantine policy?
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer that I just gave. We have a very sensible policy and we do not wish to see our country reinfected, after all the efforts of the British people, by travellers coming in from abroad.
The Marina and Seagull theatres in Lowestoft, and the Fisher theatre in Bungay, play lead and irreplaceable roles in their local communities and economies. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government will work with the arts industry so that theatres can reopen as soon as possible. However, they are really struggling, so may I urge him to look at putting in place specific support until the time that viable reopening is possible?
Yes, indeed. I know how valuable the theatre sector—and the whole entertainment sector—is to our economy. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is talking to those sectors right now to see what we can do to help them, while ensuring that they can come back in a covid-secure way.
What is the public health message that the Prime Minister is conveying by opening pubs ahead of the full opening of schools?
I think that most people will understand that we want as much of our business sector and economy to open as possible, in a covid-secure way. The hon. Lady will also understand that we want our schools to open in a safe way. That is why we have done what we have done and made the announcements that we have made. It has only been possible to open schools to some classes before the summer break, alas; but we are ahead of many other countries in Europe in doing so. As she will know, there are other countries that are not opening any of their schools. I must say that I welcome the logic of what she is saying, because if she is now actively going to encourage kids to go back to school and stop the long silence of the Opposition on this matter, that will be a great thing.
Will the Prime Minister cause his experts to be worked night and day until they find the fix and, when they have got it, to straightaway allow spas and nail bars to reopen? And when there are flare-ups, will he eschew the temptation to return to collective punishment?
That is a very good way of putting it. We want, so far as we possibly can, to confine our action to the localities where the flare-ups have happened. That is why it is vital that everybody listens to the balance of this guidance today, follows the guidance on 2 metres and on 1 metre-plus, continues to observe social distancing—and we will get this thing done.
It is good news that people can start socialising and meeting in public again, but what is the Prime Minister going to do to ensure that destination communities, such as the one I represent in Brighton and Hove, are extra safe? People will be meeting and drinking at places such as on the seafront and in parks, where it will be impossible to get the names and addresses of every customer. There will be other pinch points where lots of people from various destinations will be rubbing up against each other. What will he do, in the absence of the promised app, to ensure that these communities are destinations for investment and not destinations for covid?
I will be calling on local representatives such as the hon. Gentleman to show some guts and determination, and to champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support. He can do that with confidence because, as I say, we are introducing a sensible package of measures that allows businesses gradually to reopen while ensuring social distancing. It is that mixture—plus the NHS test and trace scheme—that allows us to go forward; that is the formula that I believe works. As for the issue of putting names behind the bar or registering in restaurants, I do think that that is something that people get. As far as possible, we want people to do that and businesses to comply with it. We believe that it will be very important for our ability to track back and stop outbreaks happening. The hon. Gentleman should encourage all businesses in his constituency to take the names of customers.
I very much welcome the statement from the Prime Minister, but he will be aware that my constituents will not get the benefit of the measures announced today, as the First Minister of Scotland is delaying Scotland’s release from lockdown. Does the Prime Minister agree that the First Minister should share the evidence to justify why Scotland has taken a different approach from the rest of the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has his finger on the pulse. I was earlier informed that the First Minister of Scotland was about to make a statement uncannily similar to the one that I have just made, as she has done several times before, but I may be misinformed about that. It remains none the less the case that the similarities between our approaches greatly outweigh the differences.
The Prime Minister referred to support for local authorities. The Rhondda, during this period, has had three very severe bouts of flooding, including last week. Many homes have lost absolutely everything because they have no insurance. The local authority now faces a bill of somewhere in the region of £67 million to repair culverts, drains, pumping stations and gullies, and replace many bridges. We also have a landslide from an old coal tip, which is in danger of doing very significant damage if we cannot remove the 60,000 tonnes of earth. That is still a Westminster responsibility. The Prime Minister may not have the answer now, but will he please make sure we get the £2.5 million very swiftly so that we can do that work quickly? We do not want another Aberfan.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am aware of those risks. We are working with Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Government on those problems. As he knows, we are putting £4 billion into flood defences. If we face real problems of unemployment—no doubt we will—getting to work on putting in better flood defences for the future will be an important way of driving job creation.
My right hon. Friend will know that many people have been unable to attend routine hospital appointments throughout the lockdown. The reasons for that are many and varied. As the lockdown eases, what measures can be put in place to support hospital trusts as they work hard to catch up? Will he work with me to secure an upgrade to Scunthorpe General Hospital, which is needed now more than ever before?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way she represents her constituency. We will do whatever we can for Scunthorpe General Hospital. I have no doubt that it is on one of the lists of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As she knows, we are investing record sums: £34 billion into the NHS—the biggest ever cash boost for the NHS. We are going to do 40 new hospitals—that remains an undimmed ambition. If anything, we are going to double-down on our ambitions for the NHS, so she should watch this space, particularly as regards Scunthorpe General Hospital.
Published evidence indicates that indoor environments account for 97% of the spread of covid across the world. The closer the contact and the greater the length of time of the contact, the greater the risk of virus transmission. SAGE said that the evidence indicates that it is inappropriate to reduce social distancing at this stage of the infection, when there are typically more than 1,000 new covid cases a day. Rather than make decisions behind closed doors on unpublished evidence, why will the Prime Minister not publish his exit strategy with threshold approaches on infections, and wait until the test, trace and isolate system is fully operational, as countries that have successfully emerged from lockdown have done?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I must repeat what I have said to the House several times now. We will of course be putting the argumentation about the change in the 2-metre rule—the 1-metre-plus rule—in the Libraries of both Houses. I must say, I am not at one with her on her view of NHS Test and Trace. I think it is a massive achievement by this country. It is starting to work better and better, and it will be indispensable to our future success.
The operators of pubs, hotels and restaurants in England will be feeling considerably relieved by the Prime Minister’s statement, but that relief will not be shared in Wales, where hospitality is an enormously important part of the economy and yet the Welsh Government have yet to make a statement of their own. That is, of course, legally the consequence of devolution, but the practical consequence is despair and frustration. Will my right hon. Friend say what work the Government are doing with the devolved Administrations to try to secure a more uniform approach as we depart from the lockdown restrictions?
I say to my right hon. Friend—I should have said this to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—that we are in very regular contact with all the devolved Administrations. We are much more in lockstep than might be thought. On the particular matter of hospitality in Wales, I hear him loud and clear, and I think that point will be heard loud and clear in Cardiff. We look forward to hearing further announcements.
If people are to take advantage of this freeing of restrictions, they must have confidence in the judgment of the Prime Minister and those around him. He must surely realise that recent events have done some damage in that regard. If he wishes to repair some of that damage, will he end the much-ridiculed quarantine period for people coming here from overseas?
First, may I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for last week mistakenly believing him to be someone who wanted to break up our United Kingdom? I unreservedly withdraw that aspersion. I know that he and I want to keep our Union together. On the quarantine issue, however, I must say to him that I think it is very sensible for this country to have measures in place to protect our population from vectors of disease coming back into the UK from abroad. That is the right thing to do.
I assure the Prime Minister that there will be a warm welcome for his measures today in Rugby, not only from the pubs and restaurants but in particular from the town centre traders. To accommodate 2-metre social distancing, there are works under way to provide an unwelcome one-way system and the removal of on-street parking. The welcome move to 1 metre on 4 July means that those measures will no longer be necessary and that it will be easier for customers to get into our town centre and spend money with our fantastic local retailers.
I certainly encourage customers to go to the fantastic local retailers in Rugby, and I am delighted that these measures obviate the need for the cursed one-way system that my hon. Friend describes.
We do welcome the restrictions being eased up, and a number of businesses across my constituency and along the south bank, including in the hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors, will see this as a step in the right direction, but it will still be hard for them. Businesses need to see detailed guidelines now. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses shows that the vast majority of small businesses say they will need to make changes in their premises for this to work, but there will be significant costs attached to that. What can the Government do to support small restaurants, cafés, hairdressers and other small businesses employing 10 or fewer people, whose balance sheets have been so impacted over the last few months, to make necessary adjustments to make their staff and customers safe?
As the hon. Lady knows, businesses have been eligible for £25,000 in grants. We have had 11 million people supported under the coronavirus job retention scheme and spent huge amounts of money— £26 billion in bounce-back loans alone. We will support businesses large and small for the duration of this crisis, but the best way to get all the hairdressers and nail bars—all these businesses—back on their feet as fast as possible is to make sure that we continue to depress the virus, keep it under control and keep the incidence down, and that way we will go forward. Our vision for the country is to try to get back to normality for as many as possible as fast as possible.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am looking forward on 4 July to dropping in at the Wheatsheaf in Ewell to thank them for moving from being a great hub of the local community to a great virtual hub of the local community in the last few weeks. However, my right hon. Friend and I both represent a large number of people who work in the creative industries, and although today’s announcement is very welcome, it is inevitable that many parts of those industries, such as the exhibitions sector and small theatres, will still be held back for a period of time. Can my right hon Friend assure me that he, the Chancellor and other Ministers will continue to look at ways in which we can ease the pressure on one of our most essential sectors?
My right hon. Friend is a great champion of those industries and, as I have said to colleagues in the House already, we are doing a huge amount to engage with them and to support them.
The Prime Minister said in his statement that he is keen to get people back into work, but we have also seen the benefits of home working, particularly in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with staff having gone the extra mile to support business through the schemes. However, the Prime Minister will be aware that HMRC has now launched a massive redundancy scheme, which could affect 2,000 staff. What message does he believe he sends when he says that people should get back to work but Government Departments want to put people out of work?
I think that people have to work from home if they can. That remains the guidance, and of course it is up to employers and employees to decide whether they need to get back to their workplaces to do their jobs. On HMRC and the sad redundancies that the hon. Gentleman mentions, I will certainly look at that, though I think that, obviously, it is also important to cut the cost of government.
It will come as no surprise to Members to hear that I wholly endorse the Prime Minister’s announcement on the end of the hairdressing hibernation. That has been made possible by the change to the social distancing rules, which will help hundreds of thousands of businesses across the country. To help them further, will my right hon. Friend look at reducing VAT and national insurance contributions for employers, so that we are not just cutting hair, but cutting taxes, too?
I will certainly look at all such measures, but I do not wish to anticipate anything that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor may say,
The Prime Minister will be aware of The Deep, in Hull, which is a landmark centre for marine research and the world’s only “submarium”. No mention of aquariums was made in his speech, but I noted that he talked about a taskforce, so when will it give reports? How quickly can we get the aquarium open? In the meantime—if that cannot happen—will he look at providing it with extra, specialised financial support?
The hon. Lady has heard what I have had to say. We will do everything we can to get all such venues—aquariums and seaquariums—open as fast as we can and make them covid compliant. I am sure we can get there.
People and businesses across Hertford and Stortford will rightly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement. Does he agree that we should also continue to support the development of new technologies and those already in use, such as apps and QR—quick response—codes, which will help many companies, especially those in the arts and technologies sector, and the hospitality sector, to benefit from the measures he has outlined today?
Absolutely. I know I can rely on the incredible ingenuity of every sector in the UK, including the arts, retail and hospitality sectors, to use technology now to bank the changes and to make further progress in taking our economy forward and letting this country bounce back.
I call Lloyd Russell-Moyle.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Sorry, thank you, Mr Speaker —it would perhaps be much better if you were Prime Minister. Let me thank the Prime Minister for a welcome statement. We have a plethora of small businesses in Brighton. I have just spoken to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender businesses, along with Gscene, our LGBT magazine, and they, and, in particular, our bars and clubs, are keen to get open. However, they are worried at the moment that the furlough scheme, which will rightly be closing for new entrants this month and which will allow part-time working, will not allow people to come off furlough to see whether the business is viable and then be put back on it. Will he consider some flexibility, such as for a two-week trial, with people then able to be put back on furlough for the remainder of the scheme, so that businesses can test the water? Otherwise, many businesses say that they will just stay shut completely, which would be a real disappointment.
I hope that businesses will recognise that now is the moment to get going and to get their valued staff back working again, doing what they want to do and love doing. I have no doubt that all the bars in Brighton have every reason to be confident, provided that we do this in a sensible way. I think everybody in the House understands the balance of what we are trying to do today and can join together in expressing that balance to the public.
Heading to lovely Lancashire, with Mark Menzies.
It is lovely Lancashire, Mr Speaker. May I welcome the measures that the Prime Minister has announced today, which will be a real boost to the visitor economy? Other Members have invited him to come for a drink in their constituency, but may I invite him to Fylde to get his hair cut? While he is here, he will have an opportunity to realise why it is very important, as part of the levelling-up agenda, to give the green light to projects such as the Lytham St Annes M55 link road, which will ensure that the visitor economies of areas such as Fylde are connected and well served for years to come.
Carrie will be upset.
I am not sure I can wait until I get to Fylde to have my hair cut. Certainly, my hon. Friend’s appeal for the M55 relief road is well judged and has been heard by those on the Government Benches, and of course he should look forward to the further steps in the infrastructure revolution that we will be unveiling.
Hairdressers, restaurants and pubs in Manchester will warmly welcome today’s announcement. If the Prime Minister does not mind, I will not follow suit in inviting him to join me for a drink in one of them. He will be aware, however, that 80% of the more than 3 million people who work in hospitality and leisure are currently furloughed. How does he expect businesses such as gyms, nightclubs, theatres and others that have to remain closed to contribute to the furlough scheme at the beginning of August without causing mass redundancies?
That is why we have set up the various taskforces that we have, to ensure that we work with everybody in the sectors to enable them to open as fast as possible in a covid-compliant way; that is our ambition.
This announcement will be warmly welcomed by the pubs, restaurants, holiday parks and attractions that, along with the stunning coastline, make North West Norfolk the ideal place to visit and take a staycation; but alongside these measures, does my right hon. Friend agree that Hunstanton and other coastal areas in Norfolk need to benefit from investment, as part of our levelling-up agenda, so that we can bounce back for the long term?
Yes, indeed, and we will be doing a huge amount for coastal communities that have been left behind, as my hon. Friend knows. But one thing I think we can all do now is ensure that we send out a very positive and welcoming message from coastal communities around the UK. Now is the time, folks, to have a staycation in the UK—Hunstanton or elsewhere.
The fastest-growing languages in Hornsey and Wood Green are Mandarin Chinese and Latin American Spanish. The diversity within Hornsey and Wood Green is a real strength; they even chose an Australian-speaking MP—but my question is serious. What personal steps will the Prime Minister take to stop black and minority ethnic communities getting covid, so that we can save more lives in the next few months? It has been a really tragic few months for my constituency.
I thank the hon. Lady, and she is absolutely right to raise the point that she does. She will have heard that we want enhanced, greater, more immediate and more efficient testing for those high-contact groups. Over the past few months, we have seen black and minority ethnic people very, very substantially represented in trades and professions that have been very much exposed to coronavirus, and we want to make sure that we help immediately, by targeting those groups with extra testing. But I think there are more lessons to be learned for the future, and that is why we have set up the commission that we have and will be drawing further conclusions in due course.
Wycombe will rejoice. I want to thank the experts who have guided us through this crisis, but I observe that when information is incomplete, when information and knowledge is uncertain, experts disagree with one another. For the sake of the public, the Government and, indeed, the experts themselves, will my right hon. Friend have a meeting with me and with Professor Roger Koppl, a scholar in the field of expert failure, to discuss how things can be done better in the future?
I think I know Roger Koppl and I would be very interested to hear what he has to say, but I must say I think that the guidance from our scientists has been incredibly valuable. It has helped us throughout the period. But be in no doubt—I am sure my hon. Friend will understand—that the decisions that we have taken are decisions that we as Government have taken, and for which we take full responsibility.
I have many large leisure facilities in my constituency that could open now—gymnasiums, swimming pools and even an outdoor lido, but they fear that they have been lumped in with smaller facilities that would find it difficult to open. They could open now, meeting social distancing regulations, whether 2 metres or 1 metre. How long will they have to wait for the taskforce to enable them to open?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point, and I am sure that that kind of point will be echoed in multiple ways around the country today, as people look at apparent inconsistencies. All I can say is, we will work as fast as we can with him, with the gyms and swimming pools that he mentions, to try to get them into a state where they can open as fast as possible.
The 2 metre social distancing rule has meant that only 15% of tube passengers are able to travel. That figure will now rise to 25%, with the Prime Minister’s welcome reduction of the rule to 1 metre. In the event that demand exceeds that 25% supply, the R rate continues to fall, and PPE is used, will the Prime Minister look again at the distancing rules, to ensure that our economy and customers can move around?
Absolutely. The guidance remains that people should avoid public transport if they can, but if they must use it, they should wear a face covering. I think that is the right balance at the moment.
The Prime Minister has just spoken about making difficult judgments, but it was his judgment not to sack Dominic Cummings. Does his judgment extend to understanding the damage that that decision did to confidence in England’s public health messaging, and the consequences of that for people’s lives? What is his judgment now of how he can repair that damage?
I must say that, in spite of the kind of comment we have just heard, I have been overwhelmingly impressed and fortified by the common sense of the British people, who heard our messages and understood what to do. Let me remind the House of one statistic that shows the power of community spirit in this country at the moment: 87,000 people have been contacted by NHS test and trace, and they have voluntarily agreed to self-isolate to prevent the transmission of the disease. That is a fantastic thing. People understand what to do, they are doing it, and the common sense of the British people is going to get us through this.
Last week I spoke to hospitality and tourist businesses in my constituency. They have worked extremely hard to implement social distancing measures, and they are desperate to get back to work. Will the Prime Minister continue to work closely with the devolved Administration in Wales, and ensure that Wales joins up with the rest of the United Kingdom? In particular, will he encourage the Welsh Government to scrap the 5 mile rule?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, and the House will have heard what I have already said on that matter. We will continue to work closely with our colleagues in Wales and across the DAs.
Now that we are moving to 1 metre-plus which, as I understand, applies only where 2 metres is impossible, what does the Prime Minister say to all those businesses that have expended considerable sums to comply with the 2 metre guidelines? Should they stick with 2 metres, or can they move to 1 metre? Will we see any changes in this place?
The second point is, of course, a matter for you, Mr Speaker, and it is for the House authorities to establish how to proceed, but I would encourage as much progress to be made as possible. For businesses the guidance is there and will be published later today. I hope they will take advantage of that guidance, and that it will make those businesses more manageable.
I welcome this statement. Harrogate and Knaresborough is in the top 10% of constituencies in this country for the hospitality sector, as measured by the number of people employed in it, which is almost 9,500 in our case. Many local authorities are looking to use streets and pavements for cafes and other hospitality businesses, which I support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils should be encouraged to use available spaces to help the hospitality sector reopen, while of course ensuring social distancing?
My hon. Friend is totally right: this is the moment for ingenuity. I hope that councils will be broad minded and creative, as there is plenty of space to be found.
Welsh councils are reporting a shortfall of around £170 million in the first quarter of this financial year, due to the crisis, and we will need the UK Government to step up and provide more funding to the Welsh Government, to ensure that we do not suffer big cuts to services just when they are needed most. Will the Prime Minister commit to that?
It is, of course, up to the Welsh Government to spend money properly, but the hon. Lady should be in no doubt that this Government continue to commit sums to help all the devolved Administrations. As I think our friends from the SNP will know, the UK Exchequer has already contributed £3.7 billion extra in Barnett consequentials for Scotland alone—[Interruption.] I am sure that point is seldom off the lips of the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson). We will continue to support every part of the United Kingdom.
I got covid-19 on the same day as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Yesterday, I was given a free test by a company called Pyser Testing, which is an excellent company run by military veterans. Many of us have had the disease. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we can be identified to make sure we are in those statistics, we could move faster and more efficiently? We have to get tested.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am delighted to see him looking so well, having made such a great recovery. At the moment, one of the difficulties the country faces is that it looks like only 6% or 7% of the population have had the virus, which raises questions about the risk of a second spike and the disease coming back. The answer is: testing, testing, testing. He will be pleased to know that this country is now testing roughly twice as many people per head of population as any other European country.
The former chief scientific adviser has said that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the Government had acted differently. If we had had the same death rate as South Korea, a country whose population and income are not very different from ours, we would have had a few hundred deaths, not the many tens of thousands we have had. Is not today’s announcement, which is really just about appeasing right wingers on the Tory Back Benches, once again this Government gambling with people’s lives?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that point, but he is wrong. By contrast, I welcome the more constructive approach from the Labour Front Bench.
I welcome the statement and its caution but also its optimism, which the country badly needs right now. Many thousands of our constituents should be heading to Somerset this weekend—perhaps the Prime Minister was going as well—for the 50th Glastonbury festival. Will he speak to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about working with the independent festivals sector over the summer to ensure that that thriving industry, which is worth about £2.6 billion to the economy each year, still exists in 2021? Right now, many people working in the sector fall foul of the generous schemes put in place and for obvious reasons cannot trade their way out of their situation.
Having performed briefly at Glastonbury myself many years ago—not to much acclaim, I may say—I am a keen admirer of that wonderful festival and of the whole sector that my hon. Friend identifies. As I have said several times in this statement, we are doing whatever we can to support that very valuable sector.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly on the support for hospitality, which has been a concern raised by many small businesses in my constituency, but I want to ask about schools. He will know that even with 1 metre social distancing, some small Victorian school buildings in my constituency, which often have limited outdoor space too, will find it difficult to educate all children returning in phases. How will he work with those schools, the local education authority and the academy trusts to ensure that in these circumstances all children can get the education they deserve and need?
Between now and 1 September, when all pupils and students of schools and colleges will return, we will work with the sector to ensure that we have a clear understanding of how to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus. Our objective, as the House will understand, is by then to have got not just the rate of transmission but the incidence down so far that we can go forward in a much more normalised way. As for what we can do in the next few weeks, I am glad the hon. Gentleman supports schools returning. Those classes that can go back now should go back.
This statement will be widely welcomed in Britain’s premier resort, Scarborough. I hope that Scarborough will very soon be firing on all cylinders, as the Prime Minister is today. One sector that has been disproportionately affected by lockdown is that of pleasure cruises and charter angling vessels. Will the Prime Minister assure me not only that the sector will have covid-secure guidelines for operating with 1 metre social distancing, but that those guidelines will be applied consistently around the country?
Yes, indeed. We will make sure that the valuable sector of pleasure cruises and charters is helped to become covid-compliant as fast as possible.
The Prime Minister has spoken with great pride about the 2.6 million self-employed people who have been supported through covid by Government, but, scandalously, his Treasury has excluded a greater number—3 million—of self-employed entrepreneurs, taxpayers and owners of small companies. That includes many in my constituency who have been excluded from Government help with no income for three months. Will the Prime Minister please offer an urgent financial lifeline to these blameless victims and their families?
We have done a huge amount to support employees and the self-employed across the country with loans, grants and the coronavirus job retention scheme, as I have said. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There are some people who perhaps have not got the support that they felt they needed, because of the difficulties in identifying what is appropriate and because of technical difficulties of all kinds. The single best solution is to get our economy moving cautiously and safely forward, and that is what this package is intended to do.
The statement from the Prime Minister will be warmly welcomed right across the UK, particularly in London. During the lockdown, many of my constituents have followed the advice to work from home where they can to avoid unnecessary travel. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the advice to those constituents is still to work from home if they can to cut out unnecessary travel, so that those who have to travel to work can do so in the safest possible manner?
Yes, my hon. Friend is completely right; as I said earlier, people should avoid public transport if they can. In determining whether they need to go to work, it is important for employers to discuss it with their employees as we go forward, but of course people should work from home if that is possible.
On behalf of my constituents in Telford, I welcome this fantastic statement, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister. Will he devote his wonderful energy, enthusiasm and optimism to ensuring that we now have a bold, confident recovery plan so that we can rebuild our economy and safeguard jobs, opportunities and livelihoods in Telford and across the country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her description of the plan that we are about to unveil. In the next few weeks, she will be hearing a lot more about how the UK intends not just to bounce back, but to bounce forward.
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.
Windrush Compensation Scheme
With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Windrush compensation scheme.
Yesterday, we celebrated Windrush Day, which marks the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks. The ship carried hundreds of people who had left their homes to build a new life in the United Kingdom, and to help this country rebuild following the destruction of the second world war. These men and women built their lives and went on to build their homes in the United Kingdom. They, alongside with many thousands of others who made similar journeys, and their descendants, have made an immeasurable contribution to the social, economic and cultural life of our country. When Britain was in need, they answered the call.
Yet as we all know, they were the very people who went on to suffer unspeakable injustices and institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered and, on 19 March, I made a statement after I received the long awaited Windrush lessons learned review from Wendy Williams. I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation.
The review was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the
“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the…race and the history of the Windrush generation”
by the Department. There are serious and significant lessons for the Home Office to learn in the way it operates. I and the permanent secretary are currently reviewing its leadership, culture and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves.
These reforms are only the start. I was clear that when Wendy Williams published her lessons learned review, I would listen and act. I have heard what she has said, and I will be accepting the recommendations that she has made in full. I am committed to ensuring that the Home Office delivers for each part of the community it serves and I will come back to update the House before the summer recess on how we will be implementing the recommendations. I look forward to discussing the plans further with Wendy this week.
We have been working tirelessly to support the most urgent cases and those most in need. In April 2018, the Home Office set up the Windrush taskforce to ensure that those who needed documentation immediately could get it. A month later, the Windrush scheme was launched, providing free citizenship to those eligible for it.
The Home Office has a dedicated vulnerable persons team in place to provide immediate support to people suffering with a range of vulnerabilities, including the financial hardships and destitutions that have been well documented. The team also administers the urgent and exceptional payments scheme, which provides immediate financial payments. To the end of March this year, the team has made 35 payments, totalling more than £46,000.
Work is continuing unabated to ensure that those who suffered receive the documentation and the compensation that they need. So far, more than 12,000 people have been granted documentation by the Windrush taskforce, including more than 5,900 grants of citizenship, and the compensation scheme continues to make payments to compensate the losses and impacts that individuals suffered as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status. The scheme was set up and designed with the backing of Martin Forde QC, in close consultation with those who were affected by the scandal, and in February I announced that I would extend it until April 2023 to give those who need our help as much time as they need to apply.
We are continuing to process individual claims as quickly as possible. The first payment was made within four months of the scheme launching, and many interim awards are being made where parts of the claim can be resolved more easily and more quickly than others. But let me be clear: it is not a blanket one-size-fits-all scheme. It was deliberately designed with community leaders and Martin Forde QC so that the claimant is at the heart of each and every claim.
Cases deserve to be processed individually with the care and sensitivity that they deserve, so that the maximum payment can be made to every single person. I simply will not call for targets when it comes to dealing with claims. These are incredibly personal cases—individual cases—that must be treated with the care, the dignity and the respect that they deserve.
I want everyone who has been wronged to get the maximum compensation to which they are entitled, and through this bespoke scheme, we are working to achieve that. This compensation covers a very wide range of categories—far more than any comparable compensation scheme. It covers immigration fees; it covers loss of earnings; it covers benefits; it covers homelessness; it covers destitution. Overall, it covers 13 separate categories. Assessing claims in this way is ultimately beneficial to those who are making them, but it takes time to assess them and it takes time to get it right. While claims are being processed in full, many interim and exceptional payments have been made to make sure that people have access to money—to the funds that they need now.
Clearly, I share the desire to see more claims completed. The rate of claims has already increased significantly in the past few months: as of the end of March, more than £360,000 had been awarded, and further offers have been made of approximately £280,000. I can confirm today that more than £1 million has been offered in claims so far, and more payments and offers are being made each week, but we can—and of course we must—do more. My determination to right the wrongs and the injustices suffered by the Windrush generation is undiminished, and I will do all I can to ensure that more people are helped and more people are compensated in full. If additional resources are needed, they will be provided.
Now is the time for more action. We all have a duty to help those affected by this terrible injustice. Individuals will benefit from the compensation scheme only if they are sought out and encouraged to apply. We are working extensively with community groups and leaders to raise awareness of the Windrush taskforce and the compensation scheme, including with vulnerable people through the vulnerable persons team. Anyone who needs help or support to make a claim will receive it. The Home Office has funded Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice and support, and has hosted or attended more than 100 engagement and outreach events throughout the United Kingdom. As Members know, my door is always open, so I urge Members of the House to ensure that their constituents’ cases or concerns are raised immediately with me and my team so that they are progressed and resolved.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I have made sure that no one is left behind. Working with community leaders, I have launched a digital engagement programme so that outreach can continue despite the current social distancing measures. The first virtual support event was held on 21 May, and on 19 March I announced a dedicated new communications campaign to promote the Windrush schemes, as well as a £500,000 fund for community organisations to run outreach, promotional and support activities to increase awareness.
We know, however, that there are a range of other issues and injustices affecting the Windrush generation and their families. Yesterday, I announced a new Windrush cross-Government working group, which I will co-chair with Bishop Derek Webley. The group brings together community leaders with senior representatives from a number of Government Departments to address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants, spanning programmes on education, work, health and much more. The Prime Minister and I spoke to members of the group yesterday to discuss many of the actions needed and to deliver solutions. The first formal meeting of the group will take place this Thursday. I look forward to taking the work of the group forward, alongside the inspirational co-chair, Bishop Derek Webley.
Northing can ever undo the suffering experienced by members of the Windrush generation. No one should have suffered the uncertainty, complication and hardships brought on by the mistakes of successive Governments. Now is the time for more action across the Government to repay that debt of gratitude and to eliminate the challenges that still exist for them and their descendants. Only then can we build a stronger, fairer and more successful country for the next generation. I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it.
I would like to start by celebrating the enormous contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made. The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 was an important moment in our nation’s history: people from the Caribbean answering the call to help to rebuild the nation recovering from the second world war. Since then, the Windrush generation and their families have had a huge impact on every facet of national life: our NHS, our transport system, across public and private sectors, the arts, culture, religion and sports. But we also know that many who made new lives here did not get the welcome they were expecting. Many faced appalling racism, were locked out of jobs and homes, and were subject to terrible abuse in the streets.
We may have hoped that all aspects of that had been consigned to the past, but 70 years later we have seen an incredibly strong reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for change here in the UK and little wonder. Compounded injustices over generations have created deep frustrations and hurt. The brave testimonies black people have shared about the impact racism has on their lives and their family histories has underlined that there is an undeniable case for action. Addressing unfairness and injustice begins at the door of the Home Office, with the appalling mistreatment of the Windrush generation.
The Windrush scandal is a cause of national shame and the Wendy Williams lessons learned review is a damning indictment. It exposes callousness and incompetence that caused deep injustice, while making clear the impact of jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to many individuals and families. The review sets out 30 important and urgent recommendations, a number of which speak to a deeply worrying culture that has been allowed to develop over the past 10 years. Frankly, it is shameful that one of the recommendations called for the Department to develop
“a clear purpose, mission and values statement”
“fairness, humanity, openness, diversity and inclusion”,
and that such a statement was not in place already. There are also recommendations which show the work required on issues relating to race and the need for better community outreach and engagement. It is, frankly, shocking that it took a scandal on this scale to bring such core failings to light.
I welcome what the Home Secretary said about accepting all 30 recommendations, but the reality is that we need yet another statement before the summer recess before we even move towards implementation, when this report has been available since March. I welcome the commitment to appointing Bishop Derek Webley as co-chair of a cross-party working group, but that cannot be a substitute for action. The truth is that we have to see far more in the way of action from this Government to give the impression that they actually take this issue seriously. That is why we will be looking very carefully at the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Williams review. As with the Lammy review, I am afraid that the Government too often call for reviews; they are too slow to act and too slow to right the wrongs. The Government’s Windrush compensation scheme managed to compensate just 60 people in its first year of operation. The Home Secretary talked about more progress today, but she must know that that rate of progress is just too slow, given the number of years that have elapsed since the scandal first came to light and the fact that the scheme has already been in operation for over a year.
It is little wonder that the reception was so bad for the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of yet another review on racial inequality, when the case for urgent action and the steps needed are abundantly clear. The reality is that, yet again, the Prime Minister was found wanting; in an important national moment, it is always words, not action. The anniversary of Windrush is an opportunity to celebrate and thank the Windrush generation, but while injustices persist, this is not enough. To ensure that such a national scandal never happens again, surely the Home Secretary must accept that the time for action is now.
As I outlined in my statement, I have been unequivocal on the change that is required at the Home Office. When I made my original statement following the publication of the “Windrush lessons learned review”, the hon. Gentleman was not in his current role, so he would not have heard the full statement that I gave then, or the answers that I gave to the many questions. I apologised for the absolutely appalling scandal that took place and I will continue not just to apologise but to ensure that the Home Office in particular learns the lessons and fundamentally changes its culture, the leadership and the way in which it treats people, and becomes far more representative of the communities that it serves. I said that back in March and I will continue to say it until the Home Office fundamentally shifts its own way of working and ultimately learns the lessons.
Of course, that will take time. There is no silver bullet to do this overnight, but the first step that we can take is to ensure that we continue to work together collaboratively across our society and across Government to tackle the injustices that were suffered. That is my mission, that is my aim and that is why I am accepting the recommendations. I think it is right, as I said back in March and as I have said in previous statements, that I continue to speak to Wendy Williams, which I am doing this week, and to work with her and with people in the Home Office to implement the recommendations in the right way. In fact, when the report was published earlier this year, Wendy Williams herself said that we should not just come out and accept the recommendations, but work through them. That is exactly what we are doing. That is the right response. That is the responsible way in which we do this, to understand the delivery.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the compensation scheme, and I agree: the payments and the way payments have been made have been far too slow. I am not apologising for that at all. I have outlined in my statement that it is right that we treat each individual with the respect and dignity they deserve. These are complicated cases. In fact, last week when I was here in the House answering oral questions, the issue came up and I put the offer to many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to come into the Home Office and to spend some time with our casework team in order to understand the complexities of the various cases, particularly constituency cases that they themselves may have raised. That offer is absolutely open to each constituency Member of Parliament. They should come in and look at the case handling. These are bespoke cases, and each one is handled in a sensitive way.
For the benefit of those Members who are not aware of this, when offers of payments are made to individuals, those individuals have a period to consider the payment they are being offered. If they would like to discuss the payment or if they decline it and want a review, that review is conducted not by the Home Office but by HMRC, an independent body. Again, it takes time for HMRC to do the review, but that is the right approach. It was agreed with Martin Forde and the individual stakeholders who were consulted before the scheme was set up.
My final point in response to the hon. Gentleman is that, although we know that the Windrush generation has faced many, many injustices, recent events have shone a spotlight on a whole range of injustices across many communities in our country. The Prime Minister’s new commission is very much looking at how we can level up and at how we can address and tackle those injustices. We should be doing that collectively as a House, working together in a responsible way to look at how we can support individuals, communities and minority groups of all faiths and backgrounds. That is the right thing to do, and I hope that all Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman, will work in a collaborative and constructive way to move forward on these issues.
I commend the Home Secretary for her typically robust, no-nonsense approach of taking control of this issue and for her personal dedication to righting the wrongs of the past, which is extremely important. I welcome the cross-Government working group. Can she confirm that the work of this group will complement the race equality commission, headed by the highly competent Munira Mirza?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That commission is absolutely complementary to the work that we are doing with the Windrush lessons learned review. We must look at all these issues in the round, in a consistent way, to develop the right approaches so that we can work together and solve the root causes of many of these issues and social injustices. I am here, with the Home Office, to work across Government, and that is our aim and objective.
The Windrush scandal brought shame on the United Kingdom and shame on the Conservative Government, who caused it to happen. Make no mistake about it, Mr Deputy Speaker, what happened was a direct result of the hostile environment policy. The Government must know that and yet, before dealing with Wendy Williams’ recommendations, they have pressed ahead with plans to extend the reach of the hostile environment policy to European Union citizens in the immigration Bill.
I am concerned that, in today’s statement, the Home Secretary does not unequivocally commit to the sort of root and branch review of the hostile environment policy recommended by the lessons learned review. It is all very well to agree that black lives matter, but actions speak louder than words, and the reality is that many of this Government’s immigration policies continue to have disproportionate impacts on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. If the Home Secretary does not carry out a root and branch review of the hostile environment policy, this will continue.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has correctly identified that policies such as the right-to-rent scheme, which outsource the enforcement of immigration control to untrained members of the public, cannot be adequately reformed in such a way as to avoid the sort of discrimination that we have seen result. It is these policies that have resulted in real suffering for people from the Windrush generation and beyond, with people losing their jobs, unable to rent their homes and denied hospital treatment, including for serious diseases such as cancer.
Can the Home Secretary tell us, in direct terms, that she will be carrying out the review of the hostile environment that was recommended by Wendy Williams? Wendy Williams said that the review should approach the measures of the hostile environment individually and cumulatively and demonstrate a plan to mitigate any particular cohorts impacted. She said that the review must be carried out with reference to equality law and the public sector equality duty. There have been calls for the right-to-rent scheme to be paused in the meantime and for the Government to consider pausing all other hostile environment measures until their effectiveness and impact can be evidenced. Will the Home Secretary state unequivocally for the record that this review of the hostile environment policy will happen, and will she give us a timescale today? Will she tell us whether the measures, such as the right-to-rent scheme, will be paused pending the outcome of the hostile environment policy? Finally, if assisting victims of the Windrush scandal is so complicated, why not extend legal aid to the lawyers who are trying to help them? That would be far more effective than inviting Members of Parliament into the Home Office.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Lady takes that tone. We have resourced third-party organisations, stakeholder groups and citizens advice bureaux to provide outreach and help and support. She may have constituents who have suffered from Windrush injustices, but I appreciate that she does not want to take up the offer to work in a constructive manner to find justice for her constituents.
The point that I make to the hon. and learned Lady is that Wendy Williams was clear in her report that lessons must be learned at all levels by all political parties. She described very clearly—I appreciate that the hon. and learned Lady is selectively quoting and reading from Wendy’s report—a set of measures that evolved under Labour Governments and the coalition and under Governments covering decades.
The reasons the scandal occurred are more complex and can be traced back not just to the Department. The root causes can be traced back to legislation from the 1960s and 1980s, much of which is complex. I appreciate that the hon. and learned Lady has not fully read the report and is quoting selectively. As I said, I will come back to the House before the summer recess to discuss the specifics as to how we will be implementing—
Answer my questions.
As I have said, I will return to the House to outline how we will be implementing the recommendations from the lessons learned review.
The UK has always welcomed those from other nations, and we can rightly be proud of our open and inclusive society. [Interruption.] We can also be thankful for the contribution of those who have chosen to make the UK their home and who add greatly to our society. I speak as somebody who is married to one such person who emigrated here to work for our fantastic NHS. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that improving the uptake and awareness of the schemes supporting those who were directly affected is a priority for her Department? Will she outline the steps she is taking to achieve that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and his questions, and he is right. I am really sorry that Members on the SNP Front Bench want to belittle my colleagues when they are speaking on these very important and sensitive issues.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right when it comes to the compensation scheme, which is complex. The Home Office is spending resources and time looking at how cases can be delivered and dealt with in a respectful way to ensure that individuals’ situations are fully assessed and that there is an accurate assessment of how they themselves experienced the injustices that took place through the Windrush scandal. It is right that we treat everybody with respect and dignity in the handling of their case. That is my objective, and he will have heard today that the money that has already been offered has now reached £1 million. Significant sums of money are being offered to individuals.
It is right that we take the time to provide the compensation in the right way. We have a good scheme in place. We have a scheme that was developed by Martin Forde, QC, in consultation with other stakeholders, and many of those stakeholders suffered the injustices of the Windrush scandal themselves.
May I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to accept all of Wendy Williams’ recommendations, but also ask her about the compensation scheme, because she did not include the latest figures in her statement? She will know that in our Home Affairs Committee report on Windrush two years ago, we raised four personal cases of injustice. Sadly, two of them have since died without receiving anything at all. I have heard from several people who were told in January that their case was near finalised and was in quality assurance, but have had no progress since, including Anthony Williams, who served in our armed forces for 13 years, and Andrew Bynoe, who was made homeless as a result of the Windrush scandal.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that keeping people in hardship and waiting in limbo like this compounds the injustice that they have already felt? Will she tell the House how many cases have now received payments? What proportion are still outstanding? Is it true that that is still over 90%? How many people have been waiting more than a year? Will she increase the staffing of the compensation unit, so that we can urgently get people support and compensation for the injustice that was so wrongly meted to them?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have seen her letter, which I thank her for, and she will get a response to the specific points that she has just raised. She is right about the two claims she mentioned, and I have the details of one of them in front of me. The claim is going through the quality assurance process, which has taken time. As she will have heard in my statement, where individuals are waiting for a final settlement through the vulnerable persons scheme, we are still able to release financial assistance and cash directly before the final claim is assured and accepted. But she is right in terms of the process. I am reviewing all the claims myself, and I have here a bundle of individual claims that Members have raised with me directly.
I have been specifically told by the permanent secretary overseeing this at the Home Office that additional resources are not required for the Windrush compensation claim team. I check that every single week. These claims take time, for the reasons that I have outlined. The right hon. Lady is right about the gap in time for people who need help and support, which is why we have the vulnerable persons team, who are resourced to effectively triage and provide support, equipment, help and funds in the way I have outlined. I will get to her the details for which she asked for her Committee, and if she wishes to raise any specific cases with me, which I think she outlined in her letter, I will be more than happy to look at those and see what stages those claimants are at.
We debate in this place how firm an immigration system should be and the exact parameters of it, and sometimes we take that debate out to the country, as we did in December. But I think it is common cause across the House and the country that an immigration system must be fair, and that is why what happened to the Windrush generation was such a scandal—it was manifestly unfair. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Can she reassure me and my constituents that, while the Home Office under successive Governments has failed the Windrush generation, it is her highest priority and that of the Government to put this right?
My hon. Friend is right. For all Members who have read the Wendy Williams report, it is devastating reading—there are no two ways about that. That is why we should all come together to understand the sense of injustice, because the cases in the report are absolutely devastating. It is my priority to ensure that we give people the justice and support that they desperately need and deserve. My hon. Friend touched on the future immigration system. We have to make our system less complicated; it is far too complicated. The review touches on immigration policy throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, as more legislation and more complexities were put in place. We need to start streamlining that, to make it firm but fair.
The Windrush generation gave so much to rebuild our country. The Government’s hostile environment policy, “Go Home” home vans and disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation, deeming thousands of them illegal immigrants, is tantamount to institutional racism. Is it not time that the Home Secretary called it out for what it is? Is it not time that she took urgent action to implement the review—not in the months ahead, but right away—and ensure that the many thousands who have not received compensation get it as a matter of urgency?
I refer the hon. Lady to my statement and the comments I have made already. I am sure she has heard my commitment to getting compensation to individuals—she sits there and shrugs her shoulders, but that is exactly what I am doing. She may have particular cases that she would like to raise with me. I am more than aware of what has happened. That is why I am here today, and that is why I have been unequivocal in my commitment to ensuring that the injustices suffered are addressed and dealt with. We have to right many of the wrongs. We cannot do that in a perfect way, but we will work hard to ensure that we get people the justice and compensation that they deserve.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the Windrush generation, and thank her for her statement and for the approach she is taking to addressing this matter. I welcome the emphasis on community engagement in this process. Back in 2018 when this appalling treatment first came to light, I met a group of church leaders who impressed on me the role that churches play in many of these Caribbean communities, and the way in which they can help their congregation members to find redress and closure. Will the Home Secretary confirm that church leaders—and other faith leaders, where appropriate—will continue to be engaged in the process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have been humbled by many of the representatives I have met from community groups and churches. I mentioned Bishop Webley, who will be co-chairing the new working group with me. It is absolutely right that we work with communities. Engagement and outreach have to be from the bottom up, and I make no apology for that. When I came to this Dispatch Box in March to give my view on the Wendy Williams lessons learned review, I clearly said that there has been a fundamental and inevitable breakdown in trust between the Windrush generation and the Home Office because of the treatment that these individuals and the community received. To rebuild that trust, we have to work with the community—with the leaders of the community and with trusted representatives from the community. It is by building those bridges that we will achieve some justice for those individuals, and, importantly, address a wide range of inequalities and issues around social justice in addition to compensation.
The immoral Windrush scandal occurred because of the Tory Government’s hostile environment policy. Despite hon. Members and community organisations demanding justice for more than two years for the tens of thousands of victims, of the mere 1,275 people who have claimed compensation thus far only 60 payments have been made, and 529 people have had to wait for more than a year. Does the Home Secretary concede that this neatly sums up the attitude of the Government and the contempt in which they hold long-suffering individuals? Just like with the hapless victims of the deadly Grenfell fire tragedy, this callous Government have no intention whatever of delivering full, proper and timely justice for those who have been so unconscionably wronged.
I dispute and disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s tone and his comments. I am not sure whether he has read Wendy Williams’s review; I do not think so.
Cut the constant ad hominem comments.
Would the hon. and learned Lady let me respond to the question from the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi),without intervening?
There are plenty of examples in the report, as stated by Wendy Williams, showing that lessons should be learned by all political parties. In fact, the report contains quotes attributed as far back as 2009—to a previous Labour Government—on the hostile environment. There are many quotes with regard to members of the then Labour Government who expressed a desire to make the UK a hostile environment, including wanting to make those living here illegally ever “more uncomfortable” and the need to flush out illegal immigrants. That is the type of language that, right now, we should not be using. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having listened to my statement, understands the complexities around individual cases, and how we are working to get justice and provide compensation to individuals. That approach is the right one. It has been based on stakeholder engagement with victims from the Windrush generation. I am very sorry that he has chosen to politicise the issue in such an unhelpful and unconstructive way.
I welcome the way in which the Home Secretary has acknowledged the seriousness of this scandal and taken personal ownership of finding solutions. I particularly welcome the fact that she is taking on board Wendy Williams’s 30 recommendations; her report was honest and robust. I note one comment from it, in which she said:
“What will make this review different is if, in 12 to 24 months’ time, we can see evidence of deep cultural reform, with changes in behaviour at all levels and functions throughout the organisation”—
the Home Office. What does the Home Secretary think that reform and change will look like? How confident is she of the capacity in the Home Office actually to deliver it, particularly with the other current pressures?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak specifically about the changes required in the Home Office. We have already set that work in train—we did so straight after the publication of Wendy’s review—primarily because the review itself is called the “Windrush Lessons Learned Review”. It was a very humbling moment for the Home Office, in which to reflect on the previous conduct and the approach that the Home Office has taken, even in terms of corresponding to individuals, the way people were treated, and the way in which the Department and representatives have spoken to people, whether face to face or on the telephone. There are many, many stories—too many—of individuals who have been treated appallingly. In fact, when the Prime Minister and I met representatives of the working group yesterday, we heard awful examples of individuals being treated in a really inappropriate way, with the wrong kind of language, and being dismissed and belittled. That is simply not acceptable.
There is a long way to go internally in the Home Office. The review will lead not only to culture changes but to changes in working practices. At a leadership level, I feel very strongly about ensuring that the Home Office is far more diverse and representative of the community that it serves. Sadly, at this particular stage, across all leadership functions, it simply is not. There is a long way to go in terms of making that change, and that is something that I am absolutely determined to make sure happens.
If anyone wants to see a masterclass in institutional racism, they should just go and watch “Sitting in Limbo”, a shocking BBC drama based on the experience of my constituent Anthony Bryan, who was wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. Even with that treatment, he has received only a partial payment from the compensation scheme. Will the Home Secretary publish the criteria used by the Department to determine compensation claims? Will she announce a deadline by which all compensation will be paid up in full?