The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start by commending the Together initiative for organising this coming Sunday what will hopefully be the nation’s biggest ever Thank You Day to mark the birthday of the NHS? It will provide the perfect moment to thank not just our amazing NHS and care workers, but also those key workers who have helped in the national effort throughout our fight against coronavirus and, indeed, all those across the country who have gone the extra mile for their local communities in these challenging times. I am sure we can agree across this House that the NHS represents the very best of us, and that we will always be there to support it.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
As the Prime Minister says, today is the 72nd anniversary of the NHS and a good moment for us all to appreciate the immense role of the NHS in all our constituencies—perhaps especially, the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, which has put up with me as a summer volunteer for the last 10 years.
The Prime Minister’s launch of the UK new deal yesterday paves the way for exciting new projects. May I highlight for his attention the proposed eco park and green energy park in Gloucester, which may need a little of the Chancellor’s oil? May I also highlight, should it be approved, the shovel-ready new Gloucester to Cheltenham cycleway, which I hope he might accept an invitation to come and open, with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and me, when it is ready?
May I, too, celebrate the birthday of the NHS, as we all will this Sunday, particularly at this time?
At the daily press conference on 18 June, the Health Secretary said, “There’s an outbreak of covid-19 right now in parts of Leicester”, yet it was only on Monday evening this week that the Government introduced restrictions. That is a delay of 11 days, during which the virus was spreading in Leicester. Why were the Government so slow to act?
Well, actually, the Government first took notice and acted on what was going on in Leicester on 8 June, because we could see that there was an issue there. We sent mobile testing units—four more mobile testing units—shortly thereafter. We engaged actively with the authorities in Leicester, with public health in Leicester and with everybody responsible in Leicester in the way that we have done with other areas that have had similar issues. Unfortunately, in Leicester, it did not prove possible to get the results that we have seen elsewhere, so on Monday we took the decision, which I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman approves of, to go into lockdown in Leicester. I have been absolutely clear with the House and with the country that we are going forward. We have made huge progress, but, where necessary, we will put on the brakes. We acted decisively, and I think it was the right thing to do.
I do support the Government’s decision of Monday, but I think the 4,000 businesses and 160 schools that are now shut might take some persuading that the Government acted quickly enough. One of the problems in Leicester was that the local authority had only half the data. It had data for pillar 1 covid tests—NHS and care worker tests, and tests in hospitals—but not for pillar 2 tests, which are the wider tests in the community. That may sound technical, but it meant that the local authority thought there were 80 positive tests in the last fortnight when the real figure was 944. The local authority was given the real figure only last Thursday, so there was a lost week while the virus was spreading. There are now real fears of further local lockdowns across the country. Can the Prime Minister give a cast-iron guarantee today that no other local authority will ever be put in that position again?
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken, because both pillar 1 and pillar 2 data have been shared, not just with Leicester, but with all authorities across the country. We did in Leicester exactly what we did, for instance, in Kirklees, Bradford, Weston-super-Mare or other places where very effective whack-a-mole strategies have been put in place. For reasons that I think the House will probably understand, there were particular problems in Leicester in implementing the advice and getting people to understand what was necessary to do. But, let’s face it: we have had to act and the Government have acted. He wants to know whether we will act in future to ensure that we protect the health of the entire country, and I can tell him that we will, absolutely.
I spoke to the Mayor of Leicester this morning, and I know the Prime Minister spoke to him yesterday, and he was absolutely clear that he did not get that data until last Thursday—I doubt he told the Prime Minister something different yesterday. The Prime Minister cannot just bat away challenge; these are matters of life and death, and people’s livelihoods. For example, last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) asked the Prime Minister, “How can seaside towns be expected to cope with the likely influx of visitors to beaches and parks during the hot weather?”. The Prime Minister replied, “Show some guts”. Two days later, Bournemouth beach was closed; there were 500,000 visitors and a major incident was declared. Does the Prime Minister now regret being so flippant?
I really think the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not distinguish himself by his question, because I was making it absolutely clear that as we go forward with our cautious plan for opening up the economy, it is very, very important that people who do represent seaside communities, places where UK tourists will want to go, should be as welcoming as they can possibly be. That was the message that I think it is important to set out. But it is also vital that people behave responsibly. That is why the scenes in Bournemouth were completely unacceptable and it is why we stick to the advice that we have given. I made it absolutely clear that if people are going to travel to the seaside and take advantage of the easing of the lockdown, they must observe social distancing, and it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that that is the case.
The Prime Minister must understand why this is of such concern. There is a nationwide lifting of restrictions this weekend, without an app, and without clear data for local authorities or the world-beating system we were promised. [Interruption.] I do support it, but I am not blind—[Interruption.] I support the easing of restrictions but, unlike the Prime Minister, I am not blind to the risks, and I do not think anybody else should be. Last week, I pointed out to the Prime Minister that two thirds of people with covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide their contact details. The Prime Minister, typically, said it was all a stunning “success”. The updated figures now show that things have got worse; of the 22,000 new cases of covid infections per week in mid-June, just 5,000 were reached and asked to provide details. So now three quarters of people with covid-19 are not being reached. How does the Prime Minister explain that?
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well, the test, track and trace operation is reaching huge numbers of people and causing them to self-isolate in ways that I do not think he conceivably could have expected a month ago when the system was set up. It has now reached 113,000 contacts who have undertaken to self-isolate to stop the disease spreading, and that is why the number of new infections has come down for several days running to below 1,000, and the number of deaths continues to come down. That is a great achievement on the part of the entire population and their willingness to support test and trace.
If the Prime Minister cannot see that three quarters of those with covid-19 are not being contacted and asked for their own contacts, that is a real gap in the system. He cannot just brush it away by referencing those that are contacted. It is a real problem and it is growing; it is going to have to be addressed. The Prime Minister did this at phase 1, brushing away serious concerns.
I want to turn to the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday, if I may. Amid the normal bluster, there was a really striking line in that speech. The Prime Minister said:
“We…know the jobs that many people had in January are…not coming back”.
I fear that this is the equivalent of the line in the Prime Minister’s speech of 12 March when he said:
“I must level with you…Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
We know what happened next. That is why there needs to be a laser-like focus on protecting jobs, so how many jobs does the Prime Minister think yesterday’s announcement will protect?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman might first pay tribute to the work of this Government in protecting 11 million jobs throughout this crisis. He might draw attention to the fact that we have supported huge sectors of the UK economy at a cost of £120 billion. I am not going to give a figure for the number of job losses that may or may not take place, but of course the risk is very serious, as he rightly says. That is why we are proceeding with the new deal, the fair deal for the British people, which will be not just massive investment in our national health service— £34 billion in our NHS—and £14 billion more into our schools but an investment in infrastructure going up to £100 billion. We are going to build, build, build and deliver jobs, jobs, jobs for the people of this country.
The reality is that the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was investment equivalent to less than £100 per person across the United Kingdom—0.2% of GDP. Not much of his announcement was new, and it certainly was not much of a deal. Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister was speaking, Airbus announced 1,700 job losses, easyJet announced 1,300 job losses and T. M. Lewin and Harveys announced 800 job losses. That was just yesterday. There was nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech for the 3.2 million people in hospitality or the 2.9 million in retail. Next week’s financial statement could be the last chance to save millions of jobs. Will the Prime Minister start now by extending the furlough scheme for those parts of the economy that are still most at risk?
Let me repeat and remind the House that, overall, the package represents a £600 billion package of investment in the UK economy. The best single thing we can do is get our economy back to health by getting our people back into work and getting the virus defeated and under control, and the best thing that the Opposition could do is stop equivocating—doing one thing one week and one thing another week—and decide that they emphatically support ending the lockdown and emphatically support kids being back in school rather than being bossed around by the unions. We are the builders; they are the blockers. We are the doers; they are the ditherers. We are going to get on with it and take this country forward.
I must say I find the suggestion absolutely astonishing and shameful. There have been no discussions with the Scottish Administration about that, but I point out to my hon. Friend what he knows very well: there is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.
I am sure that the thoughts of everyone in the House will, like mine, be with those who were caught up in the terrible incidents in Glasgow last Friday, and in particular with PC David Whyte and those who went to do their duty. We hope that everyone makes a speedy recovery from their injuries.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister delivered his self-proclaimed relaunch speech, but when asked at the daily press briefing what new money will be given to the Scottish Government, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson laughed—laughed, Mr Speaker. That is what this Government think about funding for the Scottish economy, jobs, families and livelihoods: they think it is a joke. Is the Prime Minister capable of answering a direct question? I do not want the usual waffle. It is a straightforward question: what are the new Barnett consequentials coming to Scotland as a result of yesterday’s speech?
To start with, the right hon. Gentleman probably does the spokesman in question a serious injustice, because I do not believe he would have taken this issue anything other than seriously. The right hon. Gentleman should wait till next week to have the full Barnett consequentials for what we are outlining from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I really do hope that he and all his SNP colleagues go around brandishing the fact that not only has this crisis seen the British Army and the British armed services being absolutely indispensable in Scotland and elsewhere in helping us get through it, but we have seen the UK Treasury step up to the plate and get furlough funding across all four parts of our United Kingdom. It was a massive success. Let me tell him that the Barnett consequentials already amount to £3.8 billion for Scotland.
The Prime Minister simply could not answer the question, because the question was about the Barnett consequentials from yesterday. We know that there was not a single penny for Scotland in the supposed reset speech from the Prime Minister yesterday. It was a speech devoid of action, devoid of ambition and devoid of any support for the most vulnerable in our society. The Prime Minister has set the UK on a two-tier recovery. On the same day he delivered his speech, this Tory Government reintroduced their benefits sanctions regime after a three-month freeze. That is not levelling up; it is heartless, cruel and unnecessary. Will the Prime Minister announce right now that he will keep the freeze on benefits sanctions, or will we have to wait until he is shamed into yet another U-turn?
I beseech the right hon. Gentleman just to think that he may be mistaken. The UK Government are absolutely dedicated to supporting people of all incomes across the country. That is why we have actually increased spending on benefits by £7 billion with universal credit, and we stand ready to do more, but I can tell him that there will be plenty of wonderful things that we want to do, working with him and with the Scottish Administration, to improve transport and other infrastructure across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. I really hope he will co-operate.
Yes, the show must go on. I know the power of the theatres of London’s west end and the entire cultural industry in London, not just as a magnet for our country, but for the sheer revenues they deliver. We want that to get going as fast as we possibly can, and we want life for theatres and theatregoers to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can, but to do that we have to defeat the disease, and that is what this Government are engaged in.
Exactly six months from today, the Northern Ireland protocol will sadly come into operation. The Government have already recognised that it will involve checks and infrastructure with regard to regulation, which the Prime Minister knows is different from customs. The business community is desperately seeking answers as to how the processes will work in detail. Will he commit to providing that clarity before the end of the summer?
It is very clear from the existing text of the protocol that Northern Ireland is, and remains, a part of the customs territory of the United Kingdom. There should be unfettered access between all parts of the United Kingdom, and that is what we are going to ensure.
We stand for rules and obligations, and think that they are the soundest basis for our international relations. The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong Basic Law. The national security law also threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration. We made it clear that if China continued down this path, we would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK, and thereafter to apply for citizenship; and that is precisely what we will do now.
The victims have waited too long for these payments, and the way to unblock the progress is through the designation of a department to provide support for the victims’ payments board. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), has indicated that she is prepared to take on that role, so the Executive must now move formally to designate and to prevent any further delay for victims.
The hon. Lady raises a very important point about the self-employed. As she knows, we have provided very considerable support as part of the overall package of £120 billion—I think we have given £22 billion altogether through the furlough scheme for employed and self-employed people. Her further suggestion for a universal basic income is one that we have looked at. The best way forward for our country is to get the disease under control in the way that we are doing; get our people back into work; build, build, build; and take this country forward.
I am trying to stick off the pies at the moment, but my hon. Friend can tell his communities in Tipton that we are investing massively not just in education, with, as I say, £14 billion more into our schools, but in infrastructure that will reach every corner of the country, particularly the west midlands. I am delighted that West Bromwich will receive at least £500,000 from the Stronger Towns Fund this year to support its high street and local community.
The Met arts centre in my constituency is rightly proud of the work that it has done during lockdown, responding to the needs of young people and disability theatre groups in Bury, but its income has been decimated due to the fact that it is unable to stage events. Will the Prime Minister continue to do everything possible to support the cultural and creative sectors in Bury, Ramsbottom, Tottington and elsewhere to ensure that important community assets such as The Met have a bright future?
Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend for making those representations. We will do everything we can to get all those sectors going as fast as we can and get life back as close to normal as possible for as many people as possible in this country. But the way to do that, at the risk of repeating myself, is to continue to defeat the virus and take the country forward.
This is becoming quite a theme this morning, and quite rightly too. I am a fan of Chickenshed Theatre and I know its work. We will do everything we can to assist; the economic case for doing so is overwhelming. I would just say to people, “Keep supporting your workers with the furloughing scheme. It is much better now to wait for times to get better rather than laying people off.” That is my message.
Newton Rigg College is a land-based further education college in Penrith that has been listed for possible closure next year by its host institution. Will my right hon. Friend ask Government Departments to work with me and local stakeholders to secure a sustainable future for this vital institution, and, if we are successful, may I invite the Prime Minister to come to Penrith to see this fantastic college and the opportunities it provides to upskill, strengthen rural economies and support this Government’s levelling-up agenda?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that this will be a difficult time for the community and all those who care about this Penrith college. May I propose that he and I have a proper conversation about what we can do to help, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, and see whether we can find an appropriate solution? I thank him very much for the work that he is doing.
I do not wish to accuse the hon. Gentleman of failing to listen to what I have been saying over the past few days, but in addition to the £120 billion of support that we have put into the economy, we have to recognise that people now are, as he says, worried about their jobs. That is why we have a plan to build, build, build with a £600 billion programme of investment and to deliver jobs, jobs, jobs. For sectors across the country where we need to keep young people in particular in employment we have offered, as he knows, an opportunity guarantee so that they will have either an apprenticeship, an in-work placement or the opportunity for training.
The pubs are reopening, but we still will not be able to go to the Marsden jazz festival, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic, the Holmfirth Picturedrome, the Lawrence Batley theatre or even a Honley male voice choir concert. Will the Prime Minister, in an effort to support the thousands of musicians, actors and dancers across the country who are struggling, look at replenishing the Arts Council funds that have been redirected to the emergency covid response so that we can have vibrant creative industries coming out of this crisis?
The House is speaking with pretty much one voice this afternoon. I totally share people’s sense of urgency about wanting to get our wonderful creative culture and theatrical sector open as fast as we can, but the House will also remember that what we are trying to do now involves striking a balance. It is very important, as we open up the economy, that we do not go too far and risk a second spike and further outbreaks. People can see what is happening in Leicester, for instance. We need to be very careful that we do this in a prudent way. As we open the theatres, which we will, we want to make sure that we can do it in a covid-compliant and covid-secure way, and I am sure that is what the House would want.
Following the publication on 8 June of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government report on the risks of fraud and corruption in local government procurement, does the Prime Minister agree that procurement fraud betrays the taxpayer? It erodes public trust in our democratic systems, and we should take firm action against those who waste our public money.
I passionately support the objective of making sure that there is IT fairness and that all kids have access to the technology that they need. We have rolled out huge numbers of laptops across the country to pupils on free school meals. But the most important thing that I think should happen now is that all pupils in year 6 should now be back in school, and it is still very disappointing that we have not had an unequivocal declaration of support for the safety of schools from the Labour party.
Enterprise zone status at Silverstone Park and Westcott in my constituency has been critical in bringing high-tech innovators to Buckinghamshire across 5G, rocketry, automotive and motorsport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those wealth creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, and commit to extending their enterprise zone status and business rates relief period from 2021 to 2024 to ensure that they continue to be an engine of economic growth?
I will certainly look at the proposal that my hon. Friend makes, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will want to study it, but I also congratulate everybody involved with the Aylesbury Vale enterprise zone on the cutting-edge technology that exemplifies the very best of this country and shows the way to our future.
We have done a huge amount. The right hon. Gentleman is a tireless campaigner on this matter, but the House will accept that we have done a huge amount to increase support for people on benefits. I remind him of the increase in universal credit and working tax credit of up to £1,040 a year, which is benefiting 4 million families across the country.
Given the state of us, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will be among the first in the socially distant queues as barbers and hairdressers reopen this weekend. Neither of us is likely to be queuing for an appointment at a beauty salon, however, much as it may be needed, and sadly, neither will anybody else, because many of those much-loved businesses remain closed. Will the Prime Minister review that decision, so that the likes of Lush Beauty in Romiley in my constituency can reopen safely as soon as possible?
I am sure that one day I will go with my hon. Friend to Lush Beauty, but it is a sad reality for many of those excellent businesses that they cannot yet open in the way they want. I certainly share his sense of urgency, which I know people feel across the country. People feel a sense of unfairness when they look at hairdressers opening, but I repeat to the House the need to strike the balance that we have described—I believe that is understood by the Labour party—and the need to open up in a way that is covid-secure. As soon as we are sure that nail bars and beauty salons can open in a way that is covid-secure, we will do that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his service in the police, and for raising an important subject that I have followed for many years. The murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher was sickening and cowardly. The best thing I can say to the hon. Gentleman today is that I would welcome the opportunity to talk to him in person about the issue he has raised, and see what we can do to take the matter forward.
I thank the Prime Minister for confirming that the virus has receded far enough to open tourism in Cornwall next week. Will he join me in politely asking visitors to Cornwall to follow the example set by local people over the past three months, and strictly to respect distancing guidance? We want people to come and have a fantastic holiday in Cornwall, but we want to them to be sensible when they are visiting.
My hon. Friend brilliantly sums up the approach that we want to take. We want our seaside communities and fantastic national tourist areas to feel confident about welcoming visitors this summer. We want loads of staycations—I think we will get loads of fantastic staycations—but we want people to observe the rules and keep defeating the virus.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on returning so fast to the fray on that issue. He is absolutely right, and the best thing I can do is write to him immediately, setting out what we propose to do. There are issues with the DBS scheme, and every MP will have received representations from people who feel that they have been unfairly treated by it. The scheme needs looking at, and we shall do so urgently.
The Education Secretary has confirmed that he will set out this week a comprehensive plan to get every child back to school in September. I know that the Prime Minister strongly supports that, as do I. The Prime Minister is a great fan of buses. Can he confirm that that plan will also include the significant number of children who depend on buses to get to school, so that they can go back to school in September as well?