House of Commons
Thursday 2 July 2020
The House met at half-past Nine 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
The Secretary of State was asked—
Covid-19: Economic Recovery
I have frequent conversations with the Chancellor about the vital role that transport plays in our economic recovery.
Yesterday, I met the Argyll and Bute climate change group, which is dismayed by the recent report showing that the UK Government have missed almost all their own climate change targets. Given that transport accounts for about a quarter of UK carbon emissions and that there are growing calls to link the economic recovery to meeting emissions targets, does the Secretary of State agree that only by enshrining annual targets in legislation will this Government be able to hope to meet their legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I take issue with his numbers: I think that transport accounts for about a third of greenhouse gases, rather than just a quarter, so he is right about the urgency of the situation. We absolutely believe in tackling this problem. That is why this country has legislated to be zero-carbon by 2050. When it comes to transport, he will be interested to hear that I am setting up the net zero board to push forward with all these important targets.
The Secretary of State will be aware that British Airways continues along its Dickensian path of threatening to fire staff and rehire them on substantially poorer pay and conditions, which affects many of my constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. Does he accept that the conduct of British Airways executives such as Willie Walsh is bringing the industry into disrepute at a time when support for public transport is critical if we want an aviation industry in the future?
I am very concerned about the plight of aviation employees not just at British Airways but at other companies. I urge British Airways and the unions to sit down to talk this through, which I know is not happening—the British Airline Pilots Association has done that, but the other unions have not. Important support has been in place through the furlough scheme, and I want to ensure that people are treated fairly and properly throughout this crisis.
The constituents I met as part of The Time is Now climate lobby on Tuesday want Government at all levels to move further and faster to tackle the climate emergency and build back better from the covid pandemic. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the decision in Glasgow to make the hire of nextbikes free for the coming months, so that people can reduce emissions, keep fit and get about in a safe and socially distant manner, and we can learn lessons across the United Kingdom for the future?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar, I am sure, with the £2 billion announcement I made at a Downing Street press conference for cycling and walking, of which £250 million was made available immediately in England. Through the Barnett consequentials, that will allow for a massive expansion of cycling across the whole United Kingdom.
Given the restrictions on public transport at the moment, it is vital that we look for alternative forms of transport to boost our economic activity. I welcome the news that e-scooters will be rolled out. The Transport Committee began its inquiry on that yesterday, so the timing is appreciated. There was some confusion as to whether driving licences will be required for e-scooters, which I believe may be due to a technicality. It would be a great shame if e-scooters were available only to those who drive a car.
My hon. Friend is right: the e-scooters brought forward due to the pandemic will be an excellent and eco-friendly way of getting around—I can see that many Members across the House are looking forward to getting on their e-scooters. They will, I am afraid, in the first place be available to those with driving or provisional licences. That is not through desire, but because of a quirk in the law—we are tackling a law from, I think, 1880, which, with great foresight, banned e-scooters long before they were invented. That was one way to allow trials to go ahead right now.
I pay tribute to our transport workers and reflect on those who have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Our economy is experiencing major shock. There is no doubt that the foundations were weakened after a lost decade of austerity and the failure to invest properly in our regions that make up the northern powerhouse. Had the north seen the same per-person investment as London over the past decade, it would have received £66 billion more. Even before the pandemic hit, estimates by the UK2070 Commission recommended investment of £15 billion each year for 20 years. Will the Secretary of State outline how much capital investment has been awarded to the north?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am the northern powerhouse Minister in the Cabinet, so I take this very seriously indeed. I do not want to disappoint him, but there are so many different elements of funding going into the northern powerhouse right now that it is difficult to provide an immediate figure for the total. I would be happy to undertake to write to him with those precise details, but I can tell them that it is billions.
I am not sure that my pre-prepared response quite expected the Secretary of State not to know the answer to the question about how much money has been allocated, but we can guess: it is a drop in the ocean. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the historic funding gap of £66 billion. It will be a drop in the ocean when compared with the £15 billion annual allocation, as recommended by the Commission.
We were promised a plan to level up Britain. We were told that we were at war with the virus, yet when it came to a Marshall fund, the nation was failed. The Government failed on ambition; they failed on scale; and in doing so they failed the hard-working people of the north. Let us be generous and accept that what has gone has gone. Today, will the Secretary of State commit, in future allocations, to the north receiving no less than the capital?
That is a lot of rhetoric, but, if the hon. Gentleman likes, I will go into some of the money that is being spent. For example, there is the trans-Pennine route, a multi-billion pound upgrade of the route from Manchester to Leeds. Then we have an extra £10 million initially to sort out the Manchester corridor, which was announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. There is the High Speed North project, which runs into multi-billions. I will write to him, and I hope that he will come back to the Dispatch Box surprised and perhaps withdraw his words when he sees the multi-billion pounds that are being spent in the north right now.
Swissport, 321; Rolls-Royce, 700; Menzies Aviation, 160; and hundreds and hundreds more between British Airways, NCP, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Flybe, BA CityFlyer, TUI and SSP. These are not national statistics, but the aviation job losses in my constituency alone. Might this sector finally get some good news in the Chancellor’s statement next week? If the Secretary of State will not comment on specific aviation companies, will he tell us in general whether he personally thinks it fair that employees can be fired and rehired on slashed terms and conditions?
As I mentioned in my previous answer, I think the hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned. We need to ensure that there is fair play for employees. Everybody understands that it has been an incredibly tough time. Everyone knows the furlough scheme and many other measures—£330 billion-worth of measures—have been there to support the sector. There has also been an individual process that companies—whether ground handlers, airlines or airports—have been able to go through with the Treasury to access additional money. I would appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s help in ensuring that air bridges can get going as quickly as possible and be reported to the House. I am very keen to get the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, on board so that we can get this thing announced.
Alexander Dennis is a world-leading bus manufacturer, but that sector is also on its knees due to the coronavirus crisis. I welcome the Prime Minister’s re-announcement on bus investment, but it needs to be brought forward in full now. I ask the Secretary of State not to rule out investing in low-emission Euro 6 diesel buses to replace some of the older high-polluting models, helping to reduce carbon emissions more quickly and saving thousands of highly skilled jobs across the industry to boot.
Absolutely. The £3 billion, which is going into new buses, will help us to produce 4,000 additional buses. We want them to be low and zero-carbon electric buses, of course, but also hydrogen buses, so we will certainly be taking that forward. I will be saying more about that very shortly.
Covid-19: Bus Routes
The Government are providing significant funding for the bus industry at this time. Our covid-19 funding package for England’s buses totals £651 million. The Government provide £43 million annually to local authorities for supporting socially necessary services, plus £30 million of additional funding in 2021 to support, improve or restore services. Ministers and officials meet regularly with key stakeholders, including local transport authorities and operators to discuss a wide range of matters.
The Government’s public messaging to discourage the non-essential use of buses, and of open-access trains for that matter, is deeply damaging commercial routes that rely on public fares to remain viable. Will the Minister commit to reviewing that message and to safeguarding those commercial routes, such as the rural bus routes in my constituency of West Dorset?
My hon. Friend is right. We obviously keep all measures under review at all times, but our priority is always to keep the public safe. Thanks to the support that the Government have put into the bus industry, the vast majority of bus services in England are currently running.
My hon. Friend failed to respond to the question about coach operators, which rather indicates that, as the coach industry feels, the Government regard them with contempt. Will she now tell us when there is going to be a meeting, and a response to the request first made by the coach industry more than two months ago and repeated in a letter signed by 550 coach operators to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When are the Government going to do something to help our coach industry?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Government take the concerns of the coach industry incredibly seriously, recognising the key part it plays in the tourism industry. That is why it has been able to access £330 billion of Government support, along with all parts of our economy. We are working extremely hard to get tourism up and running, and the coach industry will benefit from that.
A number of bus routes in my local towns, including Brixham and Dartmouth, have been cancelled or reduced in the past few weeks, which is, obviously, a massive disservice to the residents. The Government have announced a supreme package of support for our bus networks, with grants and the forthcoming review. I urge them to put a long-term strategy planning mechanism in place to allow bus companies to plan their future for many months to come.
The Government absolutely recognise the crucial role bus services play in rural communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, up and down the country. That is why we are providing a five-year, £5 billion funding package for buses and cycling. That will include a £20 million demand-responsive transport scheme. We are also bringing forward a national bus strategy to address exactly these concerns about rural services, which play a vital role.
I wish to start by paying tribute to our bus workers for keeping a vital public service running, in rural areas and across the country, during the coronavirus crisis. Bus drivers and other transport workers have made a very significant contribution—indeed, a number of drivers have died in the epidemic. We owe all these key workers a huge debt of gratitude for their service at this difficult time. As a sign of the Government’s support for our bus services, will the Minister now commit to properly funding buses, both in the next few months and in the longer term? Will she also offer financial support to the families of the staff who have died, to bring this in line with financial support for NHS and care workers?
I join the hon. Gentleman in the comments he has made, and Conservative Members, too, pay our tribute to those key workers—those bus workers—who have played a vital part in keeping goods, services and passengers moving around the country. We want to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their service. We work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that they are kept safe throughout the pandemic. As bus services start to recover, we are working closely on a bus recovery and restart package, as well as the £5 billion we have pledged to put in to keep bus services on a sustainable footing for the long term.
Direct Rail Services
I recognise and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s campaign. He has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. London North Eastern Railway and Network Rail continue to assess how the service could operate.
I apologise to the Minister for banging on about this, and so do my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), but we are talking about a catchment area of 100,000 people with no direct train to London. LNER, which we own, is prepared to give us our direct train for just £1 million, which compares with the £80 billion-plus we are spending on HS2. So we beg the Minister to do this for Lincolnshire, and we promise that if he gives us our train, we will make him an honorary yellowbelly.
That would indeed be a great honour. Before a final decision can be taken, we need to review a business case from LNER. Sadly, some of the surveys have been delayed because of coronavirus, but they will be taking place later this summer. I am happy to commit to writing to my right hon. Friend setting out the schedule for that work, and to keeping him and his colleagues updated.
The Government have provided £250 million of funding to local authorities this financial year to increase levels of active transport.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating teachers, parents and volunteers who are opening school streets such as that for Albermarle Primary School in Putney, which are making streets cleaner, safer, greener and more cycle-friendly? On cycling, when will the Government publish their updated cycle infrastructure guidance for local authorities and the much promised cycling and walking plan or investment strategy, and will it be before recess?
I congratulate the initiative on the roads, which is fantastic. My hon. Friend will know that I have announced £2 billion, and nearly £50 million of that has been made available to local authorities straightaway. I can also inform the House that a further tranche of money will be made available over the summer as well, along with the plans that she refers to.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to cycling and his investment in it. In my constituency of Barrow, we have the opportunity now to create a safe cycle route from Walney Island all the way up the A590 to Ulverston across some abandoned railway bridges. Making that work means getting Network Rail, Highways England and our county council to pull together. What advice and support can he give me to make that happen?
It sounds like a terrific scheme, and my advice to my hon. Friend is to have the local authority work with all those other bodies, including Network Rail, Highways England and the county council. I will join him in pushing from my end to ensure that can happen.
Bury Council has outlined plans for 70 new or upgraded crossings and five miles of protected cycle routes on busy roads, which if completed, would allow 88% of the population to use the Greater Manchester Bee Network. Implementation of those plans, however, has stalled, despite funding being in place. Will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure Bury North residents have the benefit of those improvements at the earliest opportunity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Manchester Bee Network is extremely important. I can inform him that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has already had £3.174 million to assist in projects such as this and, of course, either myself or the Minister with responsibility for cycling will be absolutely delighted to meet him.
I thank the Department for the support it has given Brighton and Hove Council to move forward on some of its street schemes, but the developing lungs of children are the most vulnerable, so air quality around schools is important as is, of course, the fitness that we want to encourage in children. As we have heard, London has already started taking action on school street schemes, so will the Secretary of State bring into effect part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to enable local authorities outside London to start to enable school street schemes to keep our children safe and reduce the 40,000 deaths because of poor air quality every year?
I thank the Secretary of State for that very direct answer. Around 40% of the lowest income households do not have access to a car, but we know from the Government’s own research that because they tend to live in more hazardous environments—so more traffic, more on-street parking, more pollution and little space for cycling and walking—they are deterred from active travel. Can we have a national strategy from the Government, not just money being sent down to local councils, to try to increase cycling and walking in our more deprived communities?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government are very much in favour of people being able to take active transport, but we are not against the car. That is why we are investing £27 billion in roads, but I can tell her—I am sure she will welcome this—that we think the priority for walking and cycling is absolutely essential. I think she will be very pleased with what we have to say in forthcoming guidance on the subject.
Public Transport: Face Coverings
We are working closely with transport operators and the police to monitor compliance. Initial reports from operators suggest very high compliance.
Wearing a face covering is an easy way to help protect us all from coronavirus, especially in more confined spaces such as public transport. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford to make that small change which can help us to control the virus and save lives?
My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of face coverings. We have seen very high levels of compliance. According to the Office for National Statistics, on the week of 26 June, it looks like 86% compliance was in existence. We did say that in the early days we would ensure compliance was enforced gently, but I inform the House that TfL, Network Rail and British Transport police will be tightening up on that. I have just signed the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020, which under regulation 8 give powers to TfL to increase enforcement.
I recently announced the Jet Zero Council, which will provide UK leadership and strategic direction to cut emissions.
Britain has the potential to be world leading in sustainable aviation fuels, but for that we need to act fast. Will the Secretary of State therefore consider a request from the industry for £500 million of match funding to achieve that?
My hon. Friend is right in his question, and he will be interested to hear that we set up the Jet Zero Council specifically to take forward the objective of being the first country to develop a jet commercial airliner to fly at zero carbon across the Atlantic. That will involve not just investment in sustainable aviation fuels, in which money has already been invested and more was announced by me at one of the press conferences, but work on electric planes, hybrid planes and hydrogen planes. He can expect to hear a lot more as we join with industry to help deliver on that ambition.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware that Birmingham airport in my constituency of Meriden will be key to the economic recovery of the region after the devastating impact of covid-19. Will he confirm that decarbonising the aviation sector is an economic opportunity as well as a green one? Will he join me in commending Birmingham airport on its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2033?
My hon. Friend is right, and I absolutely join him on Birmingham’s commitment to that. It is joining other airports including, I think, Bristol, which has already achieved zero carbon, as well as Farnborough and some of the larger airports. What I have been most impressed with is the way in which the industry has embraced the Jet Zero Council and the idea of getting to zero carbon, signing its own pledges to get there. We are determined to meet this commitment, which we will hear a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.
Rail Service Frequency
The rail industry will deliver an uplift in services on Monday 6 July to respond to an increase in post-4 July demand. Service levels will be close to 85% of pre-covid levels.
The Prime Minister is a big fan of buses, just as I am a big fan of trains—I do not make model trains yet, though—so I am proud to support a Government who are investing £48 billion into railways, giving them the biggest upgrade since Victorian times. Will my hon. Friend assure me that such funding will be used to ensure that communities across all parts of the country such as mine in Stourbridge, have access to reliable, punctual railways?
I had already noted that my hon. Friend has a passion for rail as she has sponsored a bid to reinstate a railways fund for the “Stourbridge Dasher,” which I look forward to examining shortly. Yes, the Government are investing £48 billion in our railways in the period 2019 to 2024—that figure does not include HS2—with the intention to use that money to deliver a reliable rail service that helps to level up our country.
I pay tribute to our wonderful rail workers, who have played a vital role in keeping our nation moving in the midst of a pandemic. As we come out of lockdown, I welcome the Government’s plans to increase the frequency of rail services as, indeed, I wholeheartedly welcomed the Government’s plans and efforts to effectively nationalise our rail services at the start of lockdown. It is disappointing to note, however, that other operators such as Hull Trains have been refused the exact same support from the Government, thereby risking hundreds of jobs.
There is no point in having lots of trains running if people are not using those services because they fear it is not safe to do so. Given the Government’s mixed messaging, with weakening social distancing requirements on the one hand and patchy compliance with the new face-covering law on the other, how does the Minister propose to protect passengers and rail workers while restoring public confidence in our network?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench. We have had a conversation already and I look forward to working with him. Our railways are a very important part of bringing our nation’s economy back. It is quite straightforward: we will have a reliable train service that will be one of the cleanest on the planet. We want to get customers back when they are able to travel, given the appropriate guidance. Working together, I think we can do that.
Public Transport Access: Sight Loss
The Government remain committed to delivering inclusive transport for all passengers. My officials and I meet regularly with transport providers and make it clear that they must consider the needs of all passengers as transport restarts. My most recent meeting involving a sight loss charity was last Friday.
I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent Janice, who is blind, is anxious about how to keep safe and stay socially distant on public transport, and she is not alone. The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s director of services, David Clarke, said:
“Social distancing is near-impossible for…blind and partially sighted people which makes it difficult to go out and get food…exercise or attend medical appointments”.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure the RNIB and my constituent by acting early to ensure that all transport providers in England have the funds available for new accessible signage, so that social pressure to keep to the rules does not have an unfair impact on blind and partially sighted people?
I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question. She is absolutely right in everything she says. I have been working with a whole range of accessibility groups and disability charities to try to make sure that we get our messaging right, because we want to welcome everyone back to our rail system eventually and we want it to be the most accessible in the world. We have a long way to go, but we are working with those groups to deliver that service as best we can.
Leaving the EU: Road Haulage
The UK continues to work constructively towards a trade agreement with the EU. Whatever our trading relationship with the EU after 31 December, the UK logistics and haulage sector will play a critical part.
The Dover port is used by 10,000 trucks every day. If we end up with no deal, the slightest delay means that just-in-time systems fall apart. The logistics sector says that it needs a credible plan to cover that high-risk situation. When will we see such a plan?
The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point that I as a Minister and my Department as a whole are focusing on. We are working through detailed plans to ensure that traffic flows smoothly through Kent, so that goods and services can continue to flow to the EU and elsewhere, as they do at the moment.
We are accelerating the use of hydrogen vehicles through demonstration and R&D projects to fulfil our ambitions for greener transport and to level up the country. Decarbonising transport requires the sector and users to embrace new technology and innovations such as hydrogen like never before.
I welcome the Minister’s answer. Given that hydrogen technology presents such an enormous opportunity for clean UK-made transport of the future, will she ensure that hydrogen gets an equal billing in that R&D in future as we deliver the green revolution in transport?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments. We are totally well placed to be a leader in clean hydrogen and fuel cell technology, and that is down to our high-quality engineering and manufacturing capability. This Government, I as a Minister and the whole Department are working at pace to develop our green recovery plan, and hydrogen will form a key part of that.
I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for the work that they are doing, in particular, on the transport decarbonisation plan that he and I started together. Does the Minister agree that to make the post-covid recovery a real catalyst both for levelling up and sustainable growth, an industrial strategy for hydrogen fuel with four, five or six green hydrogen transport hubs, from Aberdeen to Teesside, Norfolk, Bristol and Northern Ireland, and a major procurement package for hydrogen buses would really help the UK to take a lead, drive down the cost, and lead in the science and R&D of hydrogen fuel?
I will take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his valuable contribution in driving forward this vital agenda. We are a world leader in technology, innovation and R&D and, as he will know, we have invested £121 million in UK hydrogen technology to make sure that it plays a key part in our green recovery and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. He is also right that this has the potential to drive a fantastic flourishing and see levelling up across our whole country. We are working to include hydrogen and ensure that it plays a key part in the green recovery and our levelling-up ambitions.
Aviation Sector: Worker Protection
The Government remain committed to an open dialogue with the sector as we work towards our shared ambition of getting aviation up and running again. We encourage the industry and unions to engage constructively with each other.
British Airways is proposing to lay off 12,000 staff and is using this pandemic as cover to put its remaining 30,000 staff on inferior contracts. Using a global health crisis to force through such changes is a national disgrace, yet British Airways still enjoys preferential treatment as our flag carrier, with a dominant position on slots at Heathrow. If it fails to treat its staff properly, surely it is time to review whether it is fit to be our national carrier and time to reallocate those slots.
All redundancies or any threat to jobs in this unprecedented pandemic is incredibly worrying for all workers, and my sympathies are with all those affected at this time. I have spoken to Willie Walsh and encouraged BA and the unions to engage constructively with each other. Employees should be treated fairly and in the spirit of partnership and we are working with the aviation sector on a restart and recovery plan. Of course, we will be looking at all regulations at our disposal.
A constituent of mine who started working for British Airways more than 20 years ago faces losing their job or being rehired on worse pay and terms than when they started work. BA needs to halt its plans and the Government have still not brought forward an aviation sector deal, as promised three months ago. Will the Minister therefore confirm when an aviation deal will finally be announced and whether any deal will both extend the job retention scheme for aviation workers and include firm conditions to help to protect jobs, firms and pay?
The Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of measures to support business and particularly the aviation sector. The Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been clear that we stand ready to talk to and hear from businesses that need further support. Of course, my absolute sympathies are with everybody affected with regards to redundancies or any kind of change within their terms and conditions. It is absolutely right that those employees should be treated fairly, and I hope that the unions and BA continue to work together to come to a proper resolution.
We are creating a transport decarbonisation plan, to be published by the end of the year, setting out a bold and ambitious pathway for the decarbonisation of transport.
Will the Secretary of State please do all he can to bring forward the very light rail scheme in Dudley so that we can benefit not just from the environmental impact that the scheme will bring, but from the economic benefits as we bounce back from covid-19?
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and support for the very light rail scheme in Dudley, and we are keen to support it. It is important to get Dudley Council working with the West Midlands Combined Authority and the local enterprise partnership. We very much look forward to receiving the detailed business case.
The Government have simplified their cycle to work scheme guidance to help employers to access e-bikes at a discount.
Southampton has received Government funding for additional cycle lanes, many of which lie unused for most of the day. My constituency is surrounded by hills, which is quite a deterrent for people on cycles. E-bikes and e-scooters could make a significant difference. I welcome the news that e-scooters will become legal this weekend, but without relaxing the regulations for privately owned e-scooters, a city centre hire scheme will make little or no difference in Southampton. Will my hon. Friend look again at privately owned e-scooters to encourage more of my constituents out of their cars?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to capitalise on the unprecedented growth in active travel that we have seen recently, especially on bicycles and e-bicycles. He is completely correct about e-scooters; these trials will only include rental scooters. This will allow them to take place in a controlled manner while we assess the safety and other impacts. A wide range of e-scooters are available, building to different standards. I would like to think that the trials will demonstrate how useful they are in the mix for active travel.
Local Sustainable Transport Plans
Local areas have a key role to play in decarbonising transport and stimulating a green recovery. We welcome plans from local authorities, and have supported their shift to cycling and walking with a £250 million emergency active travel fund.
Will the Minister ratchet up the sense of urgency on this? We need sustainable towns right across the country, and sustainable transport is at the heart of that. We could already transform taxis to electric or hybrid, and change our buses. We can do so much now. Will she put more pressure on—and give more resources to—local authorities so that they lead the way, and will she support our new commission on road air quality?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I completely share his desire to do things faster than they have been done to date. We have brought forward the e-scooter trials, which will see e-scooters being rolled out in Tees Valley and across the country to immediately harness the benefits of the green air that we are seeing as a result of the pandemic lockdown situation. A whole host of other measures are coming onstream, all backed up by £2 billion of Government support for active travel including cycling and walking. We will continue to work on this through our transport decarbonisation plan.
Maritime Sector Jobs
My officials and I engage extensively with the maritime sector on the support that it needs, including unprecedented financial assistance.
P&O Ferries, which is owned by the Government of Dubai, has pocketed millions from the British taxpayer during the covid crisis. It is now intending to make British seafarers redundant and replace them with low-paid, badly treated Filipino crews, because it says that the routes are not viable when using British seafarers. The Secretary of State told the Transport Committee that there is nothing he can do because his hands are tied by international agreement. It is not good enough. Will the Minister commit to levelling up employment conditions to prevent the likes of P&O from destroying seafarer jobs, and to unleash the potential of this brilliant maritime city of Hull?
I note the hon. Gentleman’s particular interest in this policy area. We have had many discussions on this issue and he knows that I am committed to doing what I can as the Minister responsible for maritime to increase the ability of UK seafarers to work on our routes. We have supported the ferry sector with a with a freight support package to protect what we needed within the UK, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we want to make sure that we are able to create an environment in which we can increase the number of seafarers operating around our coastal shores.
Railways: Passenger Confidence
The Government have provided guidance to transport operators and the public so that they can travel safely. We have made it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport in England and, pleasingly, compliance is growing every day.
Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the railways, but my constituents in Bedford and Kempston have been particularly hard hit. The Bedford-to-Corby electrification is now delayed; the long-awaited return of the East Midlands Railway service is delayed until May next year; the current Thameslink service is slow; and the Bedford-to-Bletchley trains have been stopped altogether. Does the Minister agree that this is a far cry from the transport revolution that his Government promised?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I think he is mixing up the reaction to the obvious pressures we have had because of the pandemic with our plans for the future. Some of the plans that he outlined are delayed, yes, but that is because people were not able to work safely during the pandemic. The train line that he mentioned is no longer serving Bletchley because nobody was using it. These services will all return and they will be reliable and cleaner than ever before.
Transport Project Construction
In May, we announced £190 million-worth of investment in our road and rail networks to take advantage of lower demand.
My hon. Friend is aware of platform capacity issues at Leeds station; will he provide an update on the construction of platform 0, which will service rail connections from Harrogate and Knaresborough?
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend did when he was a Department for Transport Minister. Work is now under way on platform 0 at Leeds and is expected to be completed by early next year. It will enable Northern to operate services more reliably.
Sounds like Harry Potter, doesn’t it?
We recognise our international obligations, our borders remain open to seafarers, and we are enforcing their rights under the maritime labour convention.
Some 400,000 sailors around the world are stranded as a result of covid restrictions. That requires international action and our country needs to take a lead. Will the Minister do that?
I very much thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I happen to be able to inform him that next week I will be holding an international summit with a particular focus on crew change and how we can do our best for seafarers internationally.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to say a word about how we would like to pay tribute to the transport workers who have, as Members have mentioned, lost their lives during this crisis. Many of them are providing the food on our tables and helping the key workers in the NHS and care workers to get to work to support us all. We would therefore like to set up a commemorative memorial for transport workers, and I can think of no better location than Victoria station, where Belly Mujinga was an employee who sadly lost her life.
UK steel producers, including British Steel in Lackenby, are able to supply more than 90% of HS2’s phase 1 steel requirements. Does the Secretary of State agree that we should do all we can to support UK manufacturing in the construction of HS2? If we are going to build, build, build, let us make it British, British, British.
My hon. Friend has absolutely nailed it; he is spot on. That is of course what we must do. I can report to him that 98% of the purchasing for HS2 so far been from British suppliers. There is of course a supply chain involved, but I absolutely support my hon. Friend’s ambition and I know he will do what Network Rail does—it buys nearly all its steel British.
British, British, British Airways, easyJet, Airbus and Jet2—every day we get more news of staggering job losses across the aviation industry. Our world-class airports and their supply chains are at critical. The US, Spain, Germany and France have all agreed specific aviation deals so that their countries bounce back more strongly. If not now, when will the Government implement a comprehensive package for our aviation sector matching Labour’s commitment?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the critical importance of our aviation sector, which is the third biggest in the world. These are extremely worrying times. As the air bridges start to unlock, that will help, and we will hear more about those soon. It is not the case that there has not been a massive package. He forgets the £330 billion to support the economy, which has included a number of measures that the aviation sector has been able to take specific assistance from. It is okay to discount it, but that is money it has been using all the way along. In addition, the aviation sector has been able to access a process that other sectors have not necessarily been able to, putting it directly in talks between the Department for Transport and the Treasury. It has been accessing money and cash through that process, as well.
We have devolved significant power and funding to metro mayors, including to the metro mayor of Manchester, to ensure that he can deliver the transport schemes needed to unlock housing and growth, so that Greater Manchester’s economy can thrive as the heart of the northern powerhouse. The bypass is one scheme for the Mayor to consider prioritising and thereby, we hope, deliver. We will happily work with him to ensure that conversation continues at pace.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Actually, £504,000 has been provided to Sheffield City Region Combined Authority to date through the covid-19 bus service support grant. In addition, we are spending a huge amount of money—£3 billion—on a bus strategy going forward. I would like to think we can work together to deliver the service that her constituents require.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important to ensure we can provide reassurance for passengers, but also do something useful with the screening, perhaps beyond what just asking people to take a temperature check provides. We are actively working with Heathrow and other airports to put exactly those types of schemes in place, and I will be saying more about those in time for the following review of air corridors.
The hon. Member will be interested to hear about the transport decarbonisation plan, which I think she will find goes way beyond even the ambitions that she has set out. She will not have to wait too much longer to see that in detail, but I have already mentioned the net zero board, which is driving exactly the change she seeks.
My hon. Friend will be interested to hear that I am in touch with Swissport and I am following those proposals carefully. As I said in response to an earlier question, we believe that it is important to provide international standards, which may well include specific types of testing. So the answer is yes.
It is indeed very frustrating that so much revenue failed to be collected in the previous four years because prices were not changed to keep up with inflation. There were no changes in the congestion charge either. Effectively, £700 million of take was left on the table by the London Mayor, meaning that the Government have had to come in and bail out Transport for London for £1.6 billion. A large chunk of that is uncollected revenue, and changes are having to be made for youngsters’ travel. Members across the House must recognise that it is fair that people in other parts of the country do not unduly subsidise the Mayor, who failed to collect the funds.
The Government recognise the impact on many local authorities that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. We have announced a vast package of support for local authorities, and we are consulting across government on the issues that he has raised today.
The hon. Gentleman reflects a concern that we have heard expressed across the House today and previously, and the Transport Committee has done excellent work. The Government are concerned about this. We have put in a lot of money through the furlough scheme to support jobs. We now expect British Airways, other companies and the unions to sit down and sort this out properly.
I am aware that my right hon. Friend and other colleagues met the roads Minister recently on the important subject of the A21. I absolutely share his passion. I know that it is currently earmarked for RIS 3, but we are setting up the speed unit in DFT—the acceleration unit—to try to ensure that we can deliver this important infrastructure faster. We undertake to work with him to bring forward what I know is not an enormous scheme but would make a huge difference.
As I mentioned in an answer a few moments ago, we have already put billions of pounds into supporting this sector. The hon. Lady may be pleased to hear that there is something she can do, and that is to ask the Scottish Government to join with us to ensure that we can have air bridges in place nationwide as quickly as possible.
We are now on the flightpath to Harrow East and Captain Bob.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I explained a few moments ago, after failing to collect £700 million of fares in various forms and then coming to Government with a request for £1.6 billion, it stands to reason that something has to give. He is absolutely right to mention that it is the Mayor’s decision to extend the remit and the time of the congestion charge, although I have to say that the Mayor left himself with precious few options, having failed to collect that money for all those years.
The Government have a massive agenda of levelling up this country and providing transport infrastructure that is fit for years to come. We are doing that, and we are investing in it. We look forward to supporting my hon. Friend in filling potholes in her constituency, too.
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.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 6 July will include:
Monday 6 July—Remaining stages of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Tuesday 7 July—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for Education; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Wednesday 8 July—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement, followed by a general debate on the economy.
Thursday 9 July—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be debates on estimates relating to the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. At 5 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Friday 10 July—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business for next week. May I just say that the voting on Tuesday and Wednesday was absolutely appalling? I cannot think of anything less productive than Cabinet Ministers queueing up in the way that they had to—and all of us, for that matter; we have better things to do. Also, there is still the exclusion of hon. Members from taking part in debates on legislation. I plead with him again to return to hybrid proceedings for substantive business.
Silence—that is the sound of the Prime Minister coming to the Chamber to announce the £5 billion financial package. I had not realised that Parliament had moved to Dudley. And that is slightly less than they have announced in Germany, which is £50 billion. It would have been nice for hon. Members to be able to question the Prime Minister. Is this new money or old money? Is it money that has been previously been announced, or new money? I note that the Leader of the House has mentioned the financial statement on Wednesday. Can he tell us whether there will be a money resolution attached to that?
The Leader of the House will know that the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said on 18 March:
“The government is clear—no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home…These are extraordinary times and…we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.”
Given the masses of job losses in every sector—retail, food services, aerospace, hospitality, arts and music—and with the emergency legislation coming to an end and the furlough scheme winding down, this is going to be a perfect storm and people are going to be caught up in it. The shadow Housing Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), wants to co-operate with the Government, so could the Leader of the House ensure that she and the Secretary of State talk about bringing back emergency legislation before it runs out in August? It cannot be in the renters’ rights Bill, because that is not coming to Parliament until the end of the year. We need to help people in this situation.
The shadow Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), has reminded me that the independent medicines and medical devices safety review led by the noble Baroness Cumberlege will report its findings next Wednesday. Those who have suffered from Primodos, sodium valproate and surgical mesh have campaigned for this. I pay tribute to those campaigners and to hon. and right hon. Members from across the House who have ensured that we have this review. Will the Leader of the House find time for an oral statement to allow colleagues to discuss the next steps?
The Prime Minister said yesterday that the information on testing is provided. What he did not say was that it is provided two weeks later, making it impossible for any local authority to react in time. Labour in Wales publishes both pillar 1 and pillar 2. The Leader of the House will know that pillar 2 is provided to officials only if they sign the Data Protection Act, and only within their area because it is collected commercially. What was in the contract about releasing the data immediately, and why are the Government sitting on this data? Apparently Walsall is on the list for lockdown, but officials say that they are not considering a lockdown. So can we have an urgent statement on exactly what information is available, when it is available, and to whom?
I know that the Leader of the House is comfortable in various different centuries, but I am not sure how he can sit back and watch the destruction of the civil service. They are a professional civil service, they understand the public interest, they abide by a code, they follow policy set by the Government, and they act within the law. Instead, Whitehall is threatened with a hard rain. Could the Leader of the House tell the special special adviser that Malcolm Tucker is actually a fictional character? I think he has already been done—and he is not Alastair Campbell, who is in fact a pussycat.
A national security adviser has been appointed with no proven experience. The Intelligence and Security Committee still has not been set up. As I asked last week, and as many other Members have also asked, why are the Leader of the House and the Government taking a risk with our national security?
I know the Leader of the House keeps saying to hon. Members, “Don’t forget to ask that at Question Time”, but at FCO questions on Tuesday there was nothing about Nazanin, Anousheh, Kylie, who is still a British citizen, or Luke Symons. Could we have an update, please?
I want to join the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the former Prime Minister, in thanking Sir Mark Sedwill, and other civil servants who have been ousted from their jobs, for all their many, many years of public service.
After last week—I am sorry that hon. Members are having a difficult time—this week our thoughts and prayers are for the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and Flora.
I hope that all hon. Members will think about the NHS on Sunday and thank the NHS for 72 brilliant years and many more to come.
The right hon. Lady is always so difficult to follow because she so often ends with sad news. The news from my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) was the saddest. There is so little one could say that could possibly give any comfort, other than for him to know that he has many friends in this place, and our hearts bleed for him. It is the saddest, the hardest, the most unbearable news, and we wish him and his wife every condolence and sympathy that we can.
To move on to politics, let me start with the right hon. Lady’s tribute to Mark Sedwill. She is obviously right to pay tribute to him—he is an enormously distinguished public servant—and to the civil service generally. The team that supports the Leader of the House is something that—dare I say?—the shadow Leader of the House should be enormously jealous of; I have a feeling she may be. I am brilliantly supported by extremely hard-working people who do a fantastic job. I have no idea of what their political opinions are at all, but they back the Government in what the Government are trying to do. The Northcote-Trevelyan approach to the civil service is one that has served us well for a very long time, but it sometimes needs a degree of updating. Even I am not so wedded to the 19th century that I feel nothing can be improved.
The appointment of David Frost as National Security Adviser is an utterly brilliant appointment. He is an enormously qualified man and a very distinguished diplomat, and many people are beginning to say that he is the Henry Kissinger of our time. He is a great and distinguished public servant, who will serve enormously well.
There is a lot of irony in that.
The hon. Gentleman is quite incapable of keeping quiet, even for a moment. His agitation and his degree of excitement may be slightly theatrical on this occasion.
On the ISC, as always, that will be set up in due course. It would be wrong to be “Russian” these things—[Laughter]—as I am sure the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) appreciates. [Interruption.] No, it was not, actually; it was quite deliberate.
On the Cumberlege review, I actually gave evidence to that review in relation to Primodos. This is an opportunity for me to pay the greatest tribute to the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who has campaigned absolutely tirelessly. I first met the hon. Lady when we were both elected in 2010 and had offices opposite each other, and she took up this issue when nobody else was really interested. She has transformed people’s thinking about it, and I look forward with great interest to what Baroness Cumberlege has to say about Primodos. It is a very important issue.
Going back to some of the other questions, the right hon. Member for Walsall South is a kind and generous person, and her sympathy for Cabinet Ministers having to queue is much appreciated by my right hon. Friends, who have to take on these onerous things which are otherwise unknown across the country. Our constituents never have to queue for anything because life is so smooth and easy, but she appreciates that right hon. Ladies and Gentlemen having to queue is so burdensome and tough, and makes us realise that we are really earning our living as we stand in a queue. Remarkably, it takes almost exactly the same time to pass through the Division Lobbies as it does when we are using the Lobbies without social distancing. The speed with which we got through them earlier this week was pretty much the normal speed and therefore things are working: Government business is getting through and scrutiny is taking place. I am not as kindly or as soft-hearted as the right hon. Lady, and I think a Cabinet Minister queuing for a few minutes is no bad thing, and probably spiritually enlightening and uplifting.
The right hon. Lady referred to renters who have lost income. Emergency provisions were made: £1 billion has been made available to help people who are renting. The Government are very conscious of the need to protect people who are in the private rented sector.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the Prime Minister not making a speech in the House, but making it outside the House. However, the Prime Minister came to the House just a week before and made a statement. We are having a statement on Wednesday next week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government have been assiduous in maintaining the ministerial code’s requirement to make major announcements to the House first, and this is part of the natural process of government.
I know the whole House will want to join the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in their thoughts and prayers for our hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman).
A lot has changed since plans were first put forward for Parliament’s restoration and renewal, and it is appropriate for the newly formed sponsor body now to review those plans. May we have a debate on the plans before the recess as a means for all hon. and right hon Members to take part fully in that process?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking responsibility by joining the board. He is right that this House ought to have an opportunity to have its say on the future of the Palace of Westminster, which it is right to protect and safeguard for future generations. When the last Parliament considered this matter, it did so on the basis of assumptions that are now five years old, and it is absolutely proper that the sponsor body and delivery authority are conducting a strategic review to reconsider their approach. I would urge Members to consider submitting evidence to the review, and to be mindful that the price tags widely reported are also now five years old. There are rumours that the potential costs now far exceed the £4 billion estimate made in 2015. We must be clear that when Parliament takes its final decision on how to proceed, there can be no blank cheque for this work. The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 specifically requires the sponsor body to have regard to value for money.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor understands that we are still in the middle of this pandemic, and that before considering recovery after covid, we should ensure the survival of as many companies and jobs as possible? The Government will reduce payroll support to firms from 1 August, but how does the right hon. Gentleman expect companies that remain closed to find the money for wages? Does he agree that support must continue for those sectors of the economy that are unable safely to open in the autumn? Will he press the Chancellor to be more ambitious than the Prime Minister, who underwhelmed us all earlier this week? The PM’s package, based on accelerating existing capital projects, involved no new money whatsoever. The sum involved totalled about one fifth of 1% of the UK’s annual production. Compare that with the German Government, whose stimulus package is fully 20 times that amount.
The Prime Minister’s package contains not a single penny extra for Scotland, so I must ask again when we can debate the necessary changes to the fiscal framework of devolution. When I asked about that before, the Leader of the House simply referred to the sums that the Scottish Government are spending under the Barnett formula. It is as if Scotland’s getting its share of UK spending is the result of Westminster generosity, rather than the return of taxes that people in Scotland pay to the United Kingdom. The question is not about amounts; it is about powers, and about changing the rules so that, for instance, the Scottish Government can do exactly what the PM is proposing for England, and bring forward future capital spending. Will the Leader of the House please answer that question about rules?
I appreciate that the Government are led by someone who thinks that the border does not exist, and who does not even recognise that the term “Scottish Government” was introduced in section 12(1) of the Scotland Act 2012. Grasping the subtleties of devolution may be difficult for him, but the problem of Scotland’s financial straitjacket will not go away, and we need to discuss it.
What a pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman looking as cheerful as ever. With his fine smile, he always manages to brighten up the whole House. He mentions borders, and I note that Nicola Sturgeon wishes to have a wall between England and Scotland—perhaps she is modelling herself on other leading political figures. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, there is no border between England and Scotland, and it was shameful to call for a border of that type to be erected to stop people travelling freely between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. One never thought that Nicola Sturgeon would model herself on American political figures and want to build a wall—at least a metaphorical wall, if not actually like Hadrian, with bricks and mortar.
We will hear the Chancellor’s proposals for recovery on Wednesday, but the Government have already been enormously ambitious with the scale of the furlough scheme: 9.3 million people, as well as 2.6 million self-employed people, have benefited and are being kept in employment. That is crucial, but it has to be phased, and we must move into the recovery stage. The hon. Gentleman wants to stay unreconstructed, and not to take advantage of things changing and opening up so that we get an economic recovery. That is what the Chancellor is doing, and I refer to the enormous amount of money that goes to all parts of the United Kingdom, because we are a single United Kingdom. The £3.8 billion that has gone to Scotland is because the UK is better together.
My constituency seems to be largely ignored by the Welsh Government. We receive one of the lowest local government allocations in Wales, and we are bottom of the league table for things such as NHS dentistry and broadband speeds. That was before covid-19 hit. The UK Government have made an unprecedented amount of financial support available, but I am deeply worried about how rural areas such as mine will recover. Like me, the Leader of the House represents a rural constituency, so may we have a debate on rural recovery, and how rural areas such as mine will recover from covid-19?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She represents a particularly beautiful constituency, which, through its beauty, suffers from the difficulties that rural economies have. Many other Members with rural constituencies appreciate that and the great contribution that rural areas make to our national life. They are home to a quarter of the country’s businesses. The Government are committed to helping them get back on their feet as a matter of priority. Some of the measures already taken have benefited rural businesses, such as furloughing, the small business grant fund and the retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund. Some 244,000 grants, with a value of £2.8 billion, have been delivered to vulnerable rural businesses, and £5 billion of public funding has been announced to support the roll-out of gigabit broadband in the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country. That will be fundamental to rural economies, because it brings them into not just the national but the global economy.
Let us head to Gateshead and a very happy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, following last night’s result.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I thought we were not allowed to have parties in Bournemouth, but Newcastle United managed to do that last night.
On a much more serious note, I want to express my sincerest condolences and deepest sympathy to the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and his wife Flora for their devastating loss. It is so deeply sad. Guy is a near neighbour of mine in constituency terms, and we are all deeply sad for him.
We have a queue of over 20 Backbench Business debates that are currently untabled and unheard, with a number of widely supported debate applications on subjects such as support for the tourism industry after covid-19; the future of and redundancies in the aviation sector; the spending of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with a focus on the arts; and shorter, geographically focused debates on important subjects such as the west bank, Yemen, Sudan and the plight of the Rohingya—many of those debates might fit nicely into any end-of-day 90-minute slots that become available. Will the Leader of the House think about a way that he could shoehorn in time for Backbench debates?
I have raised the issue of information flow to public health bodies with the Leader of the House previously. It seems that the covid-19 testing contract with Deloitte does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England or relevant local authorities. Is the contract not therefore contrary to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 and the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010? That is not a partisan point, but a crucial point to the safety of the public we serve.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, in the current circumstances, there have not been as many Backbench Business debates as there would otherwise have been. Westminster Hall, where a number of the debates would normally be held, is not an operation, for good reason. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The reason is to do with staffing of the House. It is not to do with the Government’s reluctance to be held to account. It is a question of ensuring that there are sufficient Committee Rooms with social distancing that can be used to make sure that Government business can make its progress in the normal way. Westminster Hall was removed before Easter and has not been back. Obviously, there is a desire to bring it back, which will provide more time for Backbench Business debates.
The Floor of the House is being used to catch up with the backlog of business, which is going well. I am glad to say that the supply days next week are being used to debate subjects recommended by the Backbench Business Committee, so that is effectively Backbench Business. We tried, before the Backbench Business Committee was established, to provide Government time for debates that were requested by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his about-to-be-formed Committee. With regard to Deloitte and contracts, that is a detailed, technical question which I think is best referred to the Department of Health and Social Care.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, has heard from many constituents over the last few weeks about the need to preserve monuments and statutes around the country. I know that constituents also want us to protect the historical buildings we have across the United Kingdom. I was concerned to see on social media earlier this week that masonry was reported to be falling from this building. Can the Leader of the House update us on plans to ensure that this remains a safe workplace and that it is restored for future generations?
I completely endorse what my hon. Friend has just said. We should be enormously proud of the great figures of our history. I am tempted to run through some of them, but we will get more people in if I do not start—I would begin with Alfred the Great, as usual. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of the closure of the St Stephens and Cromwell Green entrances on 30 June, because of what is described as “light debris” falling off; it was not any structural part of the House. I believe it was some wood left behind by people who had been working there, which blew off in the high winds. So it was not falling masonry and, fortunately, nobody was injured. As always, it is worth paying tribute to the police, who stood there guarding the entrance in soft caps, rather than the traditional policeman’s helmet, which one thinks might have given slightly more protection against anything falling. This does emphasise the need for improving the condition of this building. There is no question but that works need to be done. The question is: how, and at what expense?
Last week, we had a covid outbreak in Cleckheaton, in my constituency, and this week we have a covid outbreak in a bed manufacturer in Batley. We know from the Government that companies can now re-furlough staff, but my colleague the shadow Economic Secretary asked in yesterday’s Finance Bill debate whether companies that re-furlough staff are going to have to start paying contributions and, unfortunately, received no answer. So may we have a statement from the Government that will give us more clarity, so that we can encourage companies that have an outbreak to work with councils and not offset economic downturn for the business against health implications for our wider community?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. The Government have given unprecedented support to businesses. Obviously, questions arise in relation to areas that have had localised shutdowns and what the considerations around that will be. The good news is that the Chancellor will be here to make a statement on Wednesday, which will be the right point at which to ask these detailed questions.
May I echo the request for the Leader of the House to reconsider on shielded Members such as myself being able to participate in debates,? If he did so, I would be able to participate in a debate I would like to see on education, which would allow us to pay tribute to those teachers who have valiantly been providing lessons throughout the lockdown period, either remotely or where the schools have remained open. Perhaps that would also give us the opportunity to look at the exam timetable and get some certainty for parents and children, particularly in Buckinghamshire, as to whether the 11-plus exams will be held in October. Of course, I cannot take part in that debate unless he reconsiders the position of shielded Members such as myself.
My right hon. Friend has already managed to make the point that she might have made in the debate, so I am glad to say that our hybrid procedures facilitate the involvement of all Members. On debates more generally, I know that the Procedure Committee is looking at that question. The issue is: how do we allow debates to run properly and in a free-flowing way, with interventions and so on, with people who are not present? We await with interest what the Procedure Committee has to say. I know that there are tremendous grammar schools in her constituency, and this country has been very well served by grammar schools over the years, decades and centuries. The Government are working with the sector to provide guidance, and I hope she will join me in welcoming the Education Secretary’s statement later today on further measures on the autumn opening of education settings.
Two weeks ago, I held a virtual meeting with constituents working in the creative sector, many of whom have fallen through the cracks of Government support systems. The cultural and creative sector is a huge part of our cultural identity, in the north-east and across the country, so may we have a debate in Government time on a strategy for supporting the cultural and creative industries, and on their future, both in the north-east and across the UK?
This is a very important point, and I know that many Members are concerned about it. The Government recognise the huge contribution the arts and culture sector makes, not only to the economy and the international reputation of the United Kingdom, but to the wellbeing and enrichment of the British people. The general package of support has been unprecedented, but in addition to that, the sector has drawn down £653 million from the job retention scheme, and Arts Council England announced a £160 million emergency response package. But that does not answer the reopening question, and the Government want to support our vital cultural sectors to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts to return to rehearsal and performance safely will be published in due course. These matters are worthy of debate during the general economic debate next week, but the Government are very much on the same side as the hon. Lady.
Since the weekend, the parish of Nursling and Rownhams has seen acts of vandalism and revoltingly, as one of my constituents emailed me this morning, defecation in public places. That will cost the parish council thousands and thousands of pounds for the clean-up, which is absolutely essential not only to replace security fencing around the recreation ground, but to make sure it is safe for children and families to use in future. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for a debate on whether trespass should be a criminal rather than a civil offence?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this point—that type of trespass is absolutely revolting. The commitment to make trespass a criminal offence was in the 2019 manifesto, and the Government intend to deliver on that particular commitment. I understand the Home Office has recently concluded a consultation on this matter, and the Government will publish a response in due course. That will give Members the opportunity to discuss this issue in greater depth, but the Government are on the same side as my right hon. Friend.
Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group shows that women will be disproportionately affected by the ending of the furlough scheme later this year, and that the half-heated plan that the Prime Minister announced earlier this week did nothing to address the disproportionate impact on sectors that often employ more women. I am aware there will be a statement next week and a debate. Will the Leader find time for a specific debate on the need for more support from the Government for those sectors that will not be looked after and supported following the Prime Minister’s statement? It is not fair on the women of this country and it is time that Ministers stepped up to offer that support.
What we need is an overall economic recovery. The number of women in employment in this country has been at record levels as a percentage and as the actual number. If we both protect the economy, which the emergency package has done, and manage to achieve a recovery that comes sooner rather than later—which the chief economist, the very distinguished figure of Andy Haldane, has said now looks likely—it will help everybody in the economy and will protect the people that the hon. Gentleman is most concerned about.
I notice that the Solicitor General has recently had some good results in court by increasing sentences in very serious cases. That is good news for my constituents in Ashfield who wholeheartedly approve of those increased sentences for some of the worst criminals in society. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in this Chamber to highlight some of those cases and the increased sentences passed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for the tribute he paid to the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, who work extremely hard to ensure that just sentences are passed. I seem to remember—others may correct me—that the law that allowed that to happen was introduced when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, so it is another Conservative success. My hon. Friend is right to highlight it and raise it in the House: perhaps he should ask for an Adjournment debate to discuss specific cases where the punishment is fitting the crime.
It is very clear now that if the easing of the lockdown is to be effective in tackling coronavirus, it will happen at different paces in the different nations of the United Kingdom but also in different parts within those nations. We see the situation in Leicester, and there may be others—who knows—and we know that some sectors will be affected for longer than others. The Leader of the House rightly said that where the state says a business cannot operate, the state should step in to provide financial assistance. I heard what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), but I do not understand whether the statement from the Chancellor next Wednesday will be just a 10-minute statement with questions for perhaps an hour—in that case, I urge him to make it more like three hours—or one with a proper series of debates so that we can get into the nitty-gritty. By the way, can I still have my £2.5 million for the tip in Tylorstown?
May I help a little? It will be a minimum 20 minutes from the Chancellor, and it will be run long, with many more questions than normal.
Mr Speaker, you have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am not sure there is much I can add.
Schools in the Borough of Barnet are among the best in the country, and I pay tribute to all the teachers who have been doing brilliant work in difficult circumstances during this emergency. Can we have a debate on the return of children to school in September to ensure that Ministers are engaging with teachers and unions such as the National Education Union so that we have a clear plan to bring children back to the classroom safely?
My right hon. Friend raises one of the crucial points of current political debate. It is important to emphasise that going back to school for children is safe. I think we are still waiting for the Opposition to make it clear that they agree it is safe, though perhaps they will eventually get to saying that clearly, boldly and loudly. The Government strongly encourage eligible children to attend their school, nursery or college unless they are self-isolating or clinically vulnerable. It is very disadvantageous for children to miss out on education, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged to start with, so getting children back to school is a matter of urgency. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will make a statement following this, where he will be able to provide more details on our plans for schools in September.
People in Luton are rightly proud to welcome leading businesses such as easyJet and Vauxhall, but 4,500 easyJet staff face losing their jobs and Vauxhall PSA needs reassurances now on recovery from the pandemic and on the threat of walking away with no deal. If the Government are serious about saving jobs in Luton and other airport towns, there should already be a plan in place. Does the Leader of the House know if the Government even have one? Will he make time for them to present detailed plans to save both aviation and manufacturing jobs?
The Government have made enormous steps to protect jobs with more than £124 billion of support from taxpayers’ money, which I will reiterate just in case the hon. Lady was not listening earlier. The job retention scheme is supporting 9.3 million jobs at a cost of £25.5 billion, and 2.6 million self-employed people are being supported at a cost of £7.7 billion. There have been 52,000 loans through the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises at a cost of £11 billion. There have been 359 loans for larger companies at a cost of £2.3 billion. There have been more than 960,000 bounce-back loans, worth over £29.5 billion, plus £10.57 billion for business grants for 861,000 firms. What the Government have done is to ensure that the economy lasts through the crisis so it may recover when the crisis ends. That has been the right thing to do.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the courage and bravery of the staff who work within this House who, during covid-19, carried on the traditions of this House despite that risk? I pay special tribute to the Doorkeepers, the Serjeant at Arms and his team. Even when we did not know what the outcome would be, they were here, bravely carrying on. We would not have had the House of Commons and its traditions without them. I also pay tribute to your team, Mr Speaker, of Helen, Ian and Jim, to the catering, security and Estate managers, and to the Norman Shaw North team. I also pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for carrying on. Thank you. I say thank you on behalf of all Members.
My hon. Friend is so right, and it is a bit sorrowful, isn’t it, that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) titters when we are thanking people who have done their duty? I agree with my hon. Friend that the commitment to this House and to Parliament of the Doorkeepers, the caterers, the cleaners and, Mr Speaker, your team, is quite remarkable. May I be indiscreet? I asked a senior member of your team yesterday—and this will give the game away—whether she was pleased to be back, and she said:
“How could you be away from doing something that is so important?”
Being in Parliament is fundamental to the governance of the nation and people have made sacrifices to be here, and, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I am grateful.
The Environment Bill was delayed because we had an election and we need to restart it again. It has now been delayed because of covid, and has been put back until September or perhaps even later. I am sure that we would all agree that the world has changed in those six months, particularly around covid and the relation to air quality where we now know that a 1 microgram increase in air pollution increases covid deaths by 15%. Will the Leader of the House speak with his colleagues and see whether we can organise additional evidence sessions before the Committee starts its line-by-line scrutiny again, so that we can take the additional evidence about covid and air quality and other areas around the environment, so that we ensure that the law is right and that it reflects the world in which we now live?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have been delays in the progress of legislation, though we are getting back on track, and we have lots of Bill Committees now up and running and that makes it possible to work through. The question he raises is an interesting one, because the longer a Committee takes evidence for, the more it is delayed. We have to balance the need to get legislation passed in a timely way with evidence. In some ways, Select Committees are better placed to take evidence over longer periods. If the Bill Committee were to take evidence it might merely delay the process further.
I am delighted that Meir station in my constituency is one of the 10 successful projects moving forward as part of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate in Government time about reopening rail stations and lines to help aid the recovery of our economy from coronavirus?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is a wonderful Flanders and Swann song about the old railway stations that were closed by Beeching, and it includes, of course, Midsomer Norton in my own constituency. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituency—[Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says, “Sing it”. I think I had better not. Meir station is one of those that will benefit from the Government’s determination to improve infrastructure around the country. The Restoring Your Railways Fund idea is about levelling up and improving connections between communities. It is inspired by communities affected by the Beeching cuts, but not limited to Beeching line restoration. If we can improve a service and provide a solution to a transport problem that involves levelling up the economy, that is exactly the kind of proposal that the ideas fund is interested in.
On 5 March, I started to feel unwell. A week later, I was in self-isolation with suspected covid-19. The reason I mention this, Mr Speaker, is that the virus passed, but the illness did not. It is now well known and well recorded that many end up with a debilitating chronic post-covid fatigue. I am on week 16 in a very large group of people now known as long covids. Can we have a statement or a debate on long covid to ascertain what research the Department of Health is carrying out into this new syndrome and the possible longer-term impact covid-19 may have on a growing number of the public’s health?
May I begin by wishing the hon. Gentleman a swift recovery, and I am sorry to hear that he is suffering from these debilitating after-effects of covid-19. The Health Secretary makes regular appearances at the House, and I am sure it would be suitable to raise this question with him, and I am sure it is among many other things that are being looked into as people learn more about this disease.
Can we please have a debate about local government restructuring? In Somerset, the county council has unfortunately been far too busy looking for unitary instead of attacking covid-19. Believe it or not, it is now trying to persuade the Government to let it become a huge new unitary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timing of this bid is at least insensitive and that the future of our other two struggling unitary councils in Somerset must be included in any future reviews of Government restructuring in Somerset?
My hon. Friend tempts me when he asks for a debate on Somerset. Dare I say that I feel that all parliamentary time could well be devoted to discussing the virtues, joys and successes of our great county, which has been a county since antiquity. I think that the county of Somerset was formed in about the eighth century; it was certainly a very important county in the time of Alfred the Great, so debating it is something that is close to my heart. My hon. Friend raises an important point about local government reorganisation, of which the Secretary of State is well aware, as my hon. Friend and I both know.
If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition believe that there is no border between England and Scotland, perhaps we can have a debate on the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, which took 6,000 square miles of fisheries territory from Scottish jurisdiction and moved it to English jurisdiction just before devolution began. If there are no borders in the United Kingdom, I think that might be a surprise to the people of Leicester, who have discovered that they have to respect internal boundaries pretty strictly. I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us when the powers to deal with the financial implications of enforcing these measures are going to be provided to the relevant authorities throughout the United Kingdom. In particular, what would happen if there were a spike or an outbreak in the City of Westminster? What implications would a lockdown here have on the operation of this place?
I never realised that our separatist friends would model themselves on an Ealing comedy. It seems to have become “Passport to Pimlico”. There are no internal borders in the United Kingdom; it is one country, I am glad to say. [Interruption.] There is a difference between borders, and districts and areas. That is self-evident. A border is something that one may stop people crossing. Even I am not suggesting that we make people from Gloucestershire present their passports before coming into Somerset.
Then why mention Pimlico?
As the hon. Member for Rhondda will remember, in the film “Passport to Pimlico” Pimlico was thought to have belonged to the Duke of Burgundy or some such, and therefore had become an independent state within the United Kingdom. Our separatist friend wants to do the same by insisting on passports to Scotland, and Mrs Sturgeon wishes to build a wall. [Interruption.] Unfortunately Mrs Sturgeon’s policy is not fictional. Many of us wish that it were and that the separatists were a bit more fictional, but they are not. They are here and they bang on about it constantly, but we are still one country and Scotland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see early-day motion 675, which is sponsored by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and other hon. and right hon. Friends, and which is attracting all-party support? It calls for the Government to include in their general review of equality issues an assessment of whether to set up a national museum of black, Asian and minority ethnic history and culture, somewhat similar to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Could we have a debate in Government time to set out the benefits of such a decision? [That this House recognises the important role played by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC since it opened its doors to the public on 24 September 2016, documenting and enabling the study of the life, history and culture of African Americans; notes that it serves as a place of collaboration to work with many other museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history; asserts the national importance of the life, history and culture of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK and their global influences; believes that there should be a DCMS-sponsored national UK museum for the study of Black, Asian and minority ethnic history and culture on a similar scale and model to the Washington Museum; and calls on the Government, whilst reviewing inequalities’ issues generally, to make an assessment of the potential merits of such a national museum.]
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for highlighting his early-day motion to me in advance. He raises an interesting and important subject that is worthy of fuller debate. I am afraid that I am going to have to refer him to the Backbench Business Committee, when that is back up and running. With so much cross-party support, as he indicates, that may well be a topic that the Committee will smile favourably on in terms of granting a debate when there is more time available to it.
May I first send my sincere condolences to the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) and his wife? I can only imagine what they are going through.
Oldham Council has estimated an in-year deficit of over £19 million as a result of covid spending to support our communities and businesses, as well as a loss of income. Across Greater Manchester, this deficit is £368 million. Will the Leader of the House ensure that this issue is conveyed to the Chancellor, and that he does whatever it takes to address the needs of all local authorities and the communities they serve in next week’s financial statement?
The Government are well aware of the difficulties that councils have faced up and down the country, and each individual council has suffered in particular ways, depending on the structure of its financing. That is why £3.2 billion of extra funding has been made available to support councils, in addition to a £900 million fund for what are referred to as shovel-ready local infrastructure projects to ensure that they can take place, plus £600 million for infection control. There will be a debate on Wednesday where those issues can be raised and the Chancellor can be questioned on them to ensure that all that can be done, is being done. The Government’s record so far is very good.
Can we have a statement on what the Government are doing to improve the treatment of domestic abuse victims through the court system in the UK and to end stalking? My constituent Charlotte Budd suffered unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable trauma both as a victim of stalking and through her experience in the family court system. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Office what steps are being taken to ensure that the correct guidance and education is in place for members of our judiciary when dealing with domestic abuse cases, such as that of my constituent?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that deeply troubling matter in the House, particularly with reference to his constituent. The constituents of Harlow are lucky to have him as such a champion fighting their causes and taking up their grievances. Tackling domestic abuse is one of the Government’s highest priorities. I know that he will welcome the rapid progress of the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament in recent weeks.
As Ministers in the Ministry of Justice recently confirmed, the Government are making progress to support victims of domestic abuse in the courts. The Department is overhauling the family courts following an expert-led review into how they handle domestic abuse that raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.
Furthermore, new stalking protection orders will allow courts in England and Wales to move faster to ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their homes or places of work or study. That will grant victims more time to recover from their ordeal. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to campaign on the issue, but I hope he feels reassured that the Government are making every effort to support victims of those terrible crimes.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for valproate and other anti-epileptic drugs in pregnancy, I take a huge interest in the Cumberlege review, which will be published on Wednesday. Members on both sides of the House have campaigned on sodium valproate, surgical mesh and Primodos for many years. Can the Leader of the House reassure us that, on Wednesday, we will receive an oral statement on the Floor of the House? The outcome of the review will have huge implications for many victims who have suffered for far too long.
As I said earlier, the Cumberlege review will be extremely important. I already mentioned the efforts of the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) in that regard. I am looking forward to the review, because I actually gave evidence to the committee. Wednesday may not be the best day for a statement, because there will be the financial statement and debate afterwards, but I hear what the hon. Lady has said in regard to the interest in the House on the issue.
As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on small and micro businesses and in west Oxfordshire, I have seen the challenges that small businesses are facing and the extraordinary efforts and imagination that they are using to continue trading as we build from covid. Can we have a debate in Government time to share best practice and consider what they need, as we build back better and reignite the economy after this terrible crisis?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that small businesses are the heart of the economy. They are the engine and the creators of new jobs. The Government have done a lot to support small businesses during the pandemic, beyond the furlough scheme, as I have outlined before. We do now need to think about how we move to the future and get the economy going again. The Prime Minister made an excellent speech on Tuesday and we will get more information from the Chancellor next week. My hon Friend is right to champion small businesses.
The BBC has been reporting all morning that it has been told by Government sources that there will be an announcement today or before the end of the week of the list of countries to which air bridges will be established. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that announcement, when it is made, is made here first.
In fact, that announcement could be made by the Prime Minister, who could then explain his views on the fact that his father has apparently jetted off to Greece in defiance of the guidance. It may be—I do not know—that he needed an eye test or something like that, but we would all welcome an explanation.
I seem to remember that it says somewhere in the Bible that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons, but I do not remember it ever being the other way around, so I think the right hon. Gentleman is fishing desperately to try to make any criticism of the Prime Minister in that regard. As regards the countries that we may or may not have on a list, information is given to Parliament when Parliament is sitting. Parliament will not be sitting tomorrow, so I cannot promise that there will be a statement if the information comes out at a time when the House is not sitting.
Slightly more than half my constituents live in Oadby and Wigston so are included in the Leicester lockdown area. I support the lockdown because it is essential to stop this killer virus in its tracks, but there are lots of things that we need to make it successful. For example, we need urgent publication of timely data for lower-tier local authorities, and while the extra money for our local authorities is very welcome, if the lockdown goes on for longer than the two weeks that are planned, more may be needed, so can we have an urgent debate on how we make local lockdowns work well?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care made a statement on Monday and was questioned at length on this, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was questioned about it yesterday, so I think the Government are doing everything they can to provide information to keep people fully informed and are working very closely with local authorities to help them through this difficult period.
One year and four days ago, the Government’s call for evidence about violence and abuse targeted at shop workers closed, and in that one year and four days we have heard absolutely nothing from the Government. However, during that time there have been 153,000 incidents of violence and abuse against our shop workers, who have done so much for us during this challenging period. Can I have a commitment from the Leader of the House that that call for evidence will be published immediately and that we will get an oral statement and have a debate in Government time on the matter?
Criminal activity is always wrong, and the police need to have the resources to enforce the law. Therefore, I can give the hon. Gentleman the good news that of the commitment to employ 20,000 more police officers we now have achieved 3,005 of them, so the numbers are going up. This is about enforcing the law as it exists and we could not have a more doughty champion of law and order than my right hon Friend the Home Secretary.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible to have an early debate on the importance of regulatory impact assessments in public policy making? As he knows, social distancing rules have a different impact in different sectors of the economy and on different activities, and we would be able to get a lot more consistency in Government advice on this if we had regulatory impact assessments, which seem to have been ignored, not least in relation to social-distancing rules in this House.
The problem is that if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown. We have to move at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner, and I am a bit surprised that my hon. Friend is calling for bureaucratic folderol, rather than getting on with things—this is out of character for him. We need to do things properly and one sector or another will do it differently, but, as the opening up takes place, people must to some extent use their own wisdom to work out what they have to do.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for mentioning Luke Symons’s case and I hope at some point to secure an Adjournment debate on that.
Following on from last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the need for a statement from the Culture Secretary about the reopening of venues, or support if they cannot be reopened, and today we have seen the launch of the “Let The Music Play” campaign by UK Music, the Music Venues Trust and so on in order to get more support from the Government. All we have had from the Culture Secretary is a road map, and I am afraid a road map will get you nowhere when you are running on empty. Next week, let us have that statement from the Chancellor and let us have substantial, not just minor, support to make sure that we do not lose this important part of our cultural landscape.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier, because I gave some detail on this, but the Chancellor’s statement will be a further opportunity to raise this issue.
The Prime Minister’s comments about newt counting earlier this week suggest that he is prepared to let developers ride roughshod over environmental concerns, so can the Leader of the House offer me some reassurance that this is not the case? If the Environment Bill is not due to come back into Committee until September, which I understand is the case, how on earth is the Bill going to get through both Houses to enable the Office for Environmental Protection to be established in Bristol before we end the transition period? Will there not be a regulatory gap as far as environmental protections are concerned?
The two great newt fanciers were Gussie Fink-Nottle and Ken Livingstone. They were always interested in newts, and I am sure that they are—
One of those is fictional.
The hon. Gentleman is really alert this evening. He has pointed out that Gussie Fink-Nottle is fictional—
It is morning, not evening!
It is usually afternoon when the House sits. Carry on!
Gussie Fink-Nottle is indeed fictional, and he was not really arrested in the fountains in Trafalgar Square when he thought that there were newts there after boat race night. It is important both that we protect the environment and ensure that building takes place. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was saying was that it is a question of doing this in a timely manner and not allowing research on newts to be a delay to projects. That does not mean that research does not need to take place. It merely means that it must not be an excuse for delay and preventing things that ought to happen from happening.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on Gizmo’s Legacy, founded by my constituent Helena Abrahams? Gizmo’s Legacy has developed into a national campaign calling on local authorities to scan microchips in cats if they are found deceased, as they would do with dogs. This would allow much loved pets to be reunited with their owners.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I commend the work of Gizmo’s Legacy and its national campaign. The Government have said that they will bring forward cat microchipping in England, and we will publish the summary of responses to our call for evidence on this subject in due course. This is a worthy subject for an Adjournment debate under the right concatenation of circumstances, and I hope he will avoid catastrophic issues occurring.
May we have an urgent debate on the aviation sector? First, we need to discuss air bridges, and the sooner we get them the better. Secondly, we need to discuss BA’s treatment of its staff, which is a disgrace. Thirdly, we need to look at the whole sector and the support available, particularly for those in engineering who are going to suffer. I notice that the French Government have supported their sector.
In general terms, I would reiterate the points I have made about the support that the Government have provided for all industries. My hon. Friend is not alone in having constituents who have been poorly treated by British Airways; I have one myself. Treating people who have worked for a firm for very long time unfairly is not a way that reputable companies should behave, and bringing this to the attention of the House is therefore the proper thing to do. I would suggest that most of what he is asking for can be brought up in the economic debate next week.
On Saturday, pubs and restaurants will reopen, and that is welcome, but if they are to remain safe, the number of customers will be far lower than usual and the need for Government support has simply not gone away. For other businesses that bring life and soul, and revenue and jobs, to Nottingham, including the Arena and numerous live music venues, nightclubs and theatres, the recovery stage that the Leader of the House referred to earlier is nowhere in sight. When will we hear from the Government on action to save our cultural sector, and when can we have a proper debate on this? Surely this is too important to be relegated to a footnote in a general economic debate.
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave earlier on the cultural sector, which is of great importance. I welcome her good cheer about the pubs opening on Saturday. Last week, I suggested that people use a yard of ale to measure their social distancing, and I am glad to say that I have had a yard glass delivered. I am looking forward to visiting the Crown in West Harptree on Saturday to see whether I can get in the two and a half pints that I believe a yard of ale contains. Whether I then drink the same is another question.
You will be timed!
My right hon. Friend’s downing-in-one of a yard of ale is a very good idea, and I am happy to try to match him. Could he consider more time for Backbench debates, not least so that we can discuss the fine merits of Somerset and perhaps Devon as well, but also so that we can discuss the UK’s role in tackling gender-based violence and ending the silence that so many suffer?
It is important that we get back to having the more general debates that my hon. Friend calls for. We have in the Standing Orders the number of debates that we must provide in this Session, and we will work with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) to ensure that the Backbench Business Committee can schedule its debates when things are more back to normal. I commend my hon. Friend for his campaign on gender-based violence, which is important for us to highlight and to try to eradicate.
Many people are rightly concerned about the implications of the Leicester lockdown and quarantine and how any future outbreaks might be handled. They are concerned about travel to, from and within that fine city, the health of individuals there and how the outbreak might affect others. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on what powers there are for travel and other restrictions to be imposed on specific areas and the people from those areas? In particular, we need to know what powers some parts of the UK have to protect themselves against the virus being imported.
The import of the virus is an issue that the Government have tackled with the quarantine, which has been an important step in trying to deal with that. Certain powers are available, but most of what is being done is relying on people to use their good sense. The British people should be very proud of the way they have coped with the crisis. They have not needed to be harried and arrested as they went about their business— they had the sense to decide to stay at home and follow guidance, which is a much better way to proceed in a free country.
We have the runway cleared for Bob Blackman to land his final question.
I warmly welcome the comments from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on offering support to the citizens of Hong Kong, but the existential threat from China still exists. It threatens Taiwan. It has military involvement in Sri Lanka. It attacked Indian soldiers in Ladakh—in Indian territory—and it is setting up atolls across the ocean and then claiming territorial waters. Can my right hon Friend arrange for a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what further work we will do to combat this threat from China and what we can do in the UK to ensure that the citizens of Hong Kong are protected?
The Foreign Secretary made a statement on that issue yesterday, but my hon. Friend is right: we must stand up for British citizens. As always, we should quote Palmerston, who said:
“as the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity, when he could say Civis Romanus sum; so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.”
British nationals overseas are British nationals. The Government are right to protect Her Majesty’s subjects wherever they happen to be, and not, in the Foreign Secretary’s words, to “kowtow” to foreign powers, however powerful they think they are.
In order to allow the safe exit of Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Education Settings: Autumn Opening
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding the full opening of our schools and colleges to all pupils in September.
I know that these past three months have been some of the most challenging that schools, parents and, most of all, children have faced. What schools have achieved to make sure that children and young people are kept safe and can continue to learn during this period is remarkable, and I think all of us in this House are deeply grateful for those efforts. But we all know the impact that lost time in education can have on our children’s outcomes.
Every child and young person in the country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their learning as a result of coronavirus, with those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds among the hardest hit. Education recovery is critical for this generation of schoolchildren. Returning to normal educational routines as quickly as possible is critical to our national recovery, too. That is why we have been working to ensure that all pupils will be able to go back to schools and colleges full time in September, with covid-secure measures in place, so that they have the opportunity to thrive and fulfil their full potential.
Today, the Government have published detailed plans for nurseries, schools and colleges that set out what is needed to plan for a full return, as well as reassuring parents and carers about what to expect for their children. The guidance has been developed with medical experts from Public Health England and follows regular engagement throughout the outbreak between the Government and the education sector.
We continue to work closely with the country’s best scientific and medical experts to ensure that both children and staff are always as safe as possible. Schools will continue minimising contact between children, including through grouping children together in bubbles and encouraging older children to distance. At a minimum, this will mean keeping whole year groups in schools and colleges separate. This is in addition to the other protective measures that we know are so important for infection control, such as regular cleaning and hand washing. We are also ensuring that testing is readily available, so that parents, teachers and students can return with confidence. All staff, pupils and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop covid-19 symptoms.
By the start of the autumn term, we will provide all schools and colleges with a small number of home testing kits, which will be taken home by children or staff who develop symptoms while on site but who would struggle to access a testing centre. This is so that they can have a test quickly and get the results back quickly. All schools will have access to direct support and advice from their local Public Health England health protection team to deal with any cases that may occur. They will be advised on what steps need to be taken.
In these challenging times, we are committed to ensuring that the nation’s children have not only a safe education, but an excellent one. From September, we are asking schools and colleges to return to a broad and balanced curriculum, so that all pupils continue to be taught in a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment. We expect exams to go ahead in the summer of 2021. We understand the additional pressures on teaching staff to deliver such high standards of education in this difficult period. As such, as Ofsted inspectors are preparing to visit schools in the autumn, it will be to discuss how they are managing the return to full education of all their pupils. The insight that inspectors gather will also be aggregated nationally to share learning with the whole sector, the Government and the wider public. It is our intention for full inspections to return from January.
We are also providing significant financial support to help pupils catch up on lost learning. As I announced in June, we will be providing a £1 billion covid catch-up package, including a £650 million catch-up premium for state-funded primary, secondary and special schools, and a £350 million national tutoring programme for the most disadvantaged pupils. Evidence shows that six to 12 weeks of tutoring for a disadvantaged pupil can result in five months of catch-up. Schools are held accountable for the outcomes they achieve with their funding, including through Ofsted inspections, and the covid catch-up funding will be no exception to this.
It is critical to ensure that no child loses more time in education and that, from September, all children who can be at school are at school. Schools and colleges will need to work with families to secure regular attendance from the start of the new academic year, with the reintroduction of mandatory attendance. Our intention is that those with education, health and care plans or special educational needs will also be back in school or college in September. Since May, as a result of the pandemic, it has been necessary to modify the duty on local authorities and health commissioners so that they could use their reasonable endeavours to secure or arrange the provision for those on EHC plans. I am committed to removing these flexibilities as soon as possible, so that children and young people can receive the support they need to return to school. As such, unless the evidence changes, I will not be issuing further national notices to modify the EHC duties. We will, however, consider whether any such flexibilities may be required locally, to respond to outbreaks in different parts of the country. In addition, I am pleased to announce that, as we continue on the road to recovery and infection rates continue to fall, from 20 July nurseries, childminders and other childcare providers will no longer be required to place limits on the group size of children who can play and learn together.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank those parts of the sector that have already opened their doors to more children and who are doing a phenomenal job to help our children and young people settle back into their usual routines. Since schools and nurseries began to open more widely on 1 June, we have seen the number of children attending school steadily rise, with over 1.6 million pupils already back in school. I am sure, Mr Speaker, that I will be joined by the House as I express my thanks to all childcare, school and further education staff who have gone above and beyond since March, and who will continue to do so as we prepare to welcome all of our children and young people back to school and college in September. I commend this statement to the House.
I welcome the new shadow Secretary of State for Education, Kate Green.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for an advance copy of it. I also thank him for his call last night. I very much look forward to working with him.
Mr Speaker, every child must be safely back in school in September. By then, many children will have experienced nearly six months’ gap in their education. Some have been able to maintain their learning during that period, but there has been a huge gap in learning for others, especially the most disadvantaged. A senior official in the Secretary of State’s own Department has warned that the attainment gap could widen by as much as 75% as a result of the crisis. Today’s announcement finally recognises the desperate pleas of heads, staff and governors for information and certainty about plans for the next academic year. For too long, the Government have been asleep at the wheel. The announcement today comes just three weeks before the end of term, and an immense amount needs to be done to prepare.
Staff have been working flat out since February half term and I, too, want to thank teachers, school leaders and everyone who works in our education settings for their exceptional efforts during these unprecedented times. Over the summer they will need a break, and as they prepare plans for return, they will also need the active support of the Department. It cannot be left to heads to struggle through on their own. So I have a number of questions for the right hon. Gentleman. What consultation has been undertaken in preparing this guidance with heads, teachers and school staff, governors and unions, who have made many sensible and practical suggestions for students’ return? The Government need to learn from their previous mistakes. That is why Labour suggested a taskforce of school leaders, which would have meant we could bring children back to school sooner.
Can the Secretary of State guarantee that every school will have full access to testing and tracing, and all the personal protective equipment and other resources that they need to open safely? The Government’s track record has not been impressive so far, and we cannot allow any further failure to supply the safety essentials to prevent children’s return. I support the Secretary of State in reintroducing compulsory attendance, but fining poor parents will not serve the best interests of their children. Parents need reassurance that their children will be safe, especially in communities, including ethnic minority communities, where the prevalence of covid is higher. Many children will have found the past few months unsettling, even traumatic. What is needed is a trauma-informed approach to school and to families.
Staggered starts may present difficult challenges for parents. Can the Secretary of State say more about wraparound care for families and about transport arrangements for children to travel to school? Can he confirm that all children are expected to be safe in school in September? Will there be a delay in incoming reception children starting school?
In relation to early years, what financial support will be available for parents or childcare providers to protect their viability if children cannot attend, or if settings are forced to close?
I welcome the recognition of the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the assurances on education, health and care plans. Will the Secretary of State guarantee to the House that the needs of those children will be met in full?
Does the Secretary of State agree that a broad curriculum, including arts and humanities, supports children’s attainment in the core subjects, too? What discussions have taken place with further education providers about how they will provide the “full education” envisaged?
Will the Secretary of State say a little more about plans for students who are due to sit exams? What about home-schooled children whom schools refuse to assess? A huge divide is opening up between children who have had a good study experience at home and those who have lacked the resources to learn. Ofqual must address that in its recommendations for arrangements for exams next year.
The announcement of the £1 billion of catch-up funding is welcome, but can the Secretary of State confirm that it is all new money and will not be funded by cuts elsewhere? What guarantee can he give of the availability of sufficient high-quality tutoring capacity with tutors expert in the subjects they will teach? Does he share my concern that requiring schools to contribute 25% of the cost of the national tutoring programme advantages the better-off schools? Why have post-16 students been excluded from catch-up funding support?
On Tuesday, it was reported that the 230,000 laptops that had been promised for children who lacked full digital access had not been delivered in full, as promised, by the end of June; when will they arrive?
Finally, the six-week-long summer holiday always widens the attainment gap, and this year that will be exacerbated by the time already spent out of school. What activities and support are being put in place for the summer break? The funding for pupils on free school meals is welcome, but what about children who become eligible for free school meals during the summer holiday? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that no eligible child will miss out?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new role. I very much look forward to working with her on some of the great challenges that our nation faces over the coming months as we focus on the recovery for our education sector after this pandemic.
I assure the hon. Lady that it is important that the curriculum is full, broad and balanced and includes the arts and humanities, sports and so much else, because we recognise that to give children the best opportunity to succeed in life, they have to have that breadth of curriculum. We should not be seen to be dumbing down or reducing it. We have to give children choices; it is good for their future attainment and life chances, and for their mental health as well. They should have that breadth that is so vital for them to succeed.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of those children with special educational needs and how we need to support and help them. We have seen some brilliant examples, especially in some of our special schools, which have gone so far and above in terms of help not just for children but for parents at this most difficult and challenging time. As all schools return, it is vital that it has to be clear that education, health and care plans are properly adhered to by local authorities. That is why we have got to have the proper and full return of those obligations that local authorities have to be held to.
I assure the hon. Lady that there is new money for the covid catch-up fund. We are looking forward to sharing more details on that with schools and will be looking forward to working with schools, as we have been working with the Education Endowment Foundation, to make sure that that money is properly channelled into the areas that are going to make a real difference to children.
It is right that everyone in the House recognises the challenges and the significant loss that children have suffered as a result of not being in school. That is why we have to bring all children back into school at the earliest possible opportunity. Equally, it is about making sure that the £1 billion is properly spent. That is why £350 million of it is being specially ring-fenced to make sure that it is going to children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It will be focused on the evidence-based actions that we know will make a difference for those children.
In terms of consultation, we have and will continue to consult widely within the sector. We have established a school stakeholder group with the Trades Union Congress and other unions, but, more importantly, we have had a much wider dialogue with people, not just trade unions. We have consulted many other stakeholders and, most importantly, those who are delivering education on the ground. That is something we have continually been doing ever since the moment we had to close schools, and we will continue to do so as we move forward.
I strongly welcome the statement today and the guidance to help schools open fully in September. The plans for children with special educational needs are very good news, as is the £1 billion catch-up fund. We need to get our children learning again. Given that University College London has said that 2 million children during the lockdown have done virtually no school work and that the National Foundation for Educational Research has reported that four in 10 pupils are not in regular contact with their teacher, will the Secretary of State examine why that has occurred and look to Ofsted and local authorities to work closely with schools and set clear guidance on online learning, homework and contact with teachers?
My right hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of accountability measures that need to sit with schools at all stages. I will be asking Ofsted to look at the issue and examine closely what schools are doing in terms of actions in order to ensure that we have continuity of education at all stages. It will continue to be important to do that, because we will see situations in this country where we have local lockdowns, and we need to ensure that there is always continuity of education in those communities.
I add my voice to those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and welcomed her to her new position. I just want to pick up on a point that she raised, which is the issue of laptops. We are well aware that the most disadvantaged children in our schools are at such a disadvantage in the educational setting. We know, though, that all children have been impacted by the failure to provide laptops. In answer to my written question on 10 June, I was told that 230,000 laptops had been ordered on 19 April. Government documents as of this week show that the first order was in fact placed on 15 May. Which is correct?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with clarification on that matter.
The new shadow Education Secretary used her first public statement to say that she looks forward to working with the unions. She talks about delays. Does my right hon. Friend know whether that means she agreed with the National Education Union’s orders to not engage with the Government’s plan to get children back to school?
Order. These are questions that should be directed to the Secretary of State. Secretary of State, I am sure you will find a way of answering that appropriately.
I know that my hon. Friend shares my passion to see every child back in school and every school right across the country getting their full curriculum in every class. I hope that those people who have occasionally been tempted to try to block the full return of schools and those who have tried to frustrate the best efforts of headteachers and so many other teachers in their desire to see every child back will recognise that it is important and absolutely vital that we do everything to see all children enjoying that first-class education that we all want them to have.
The coronavirus pandemic threatens to undo 20 years of hard work by teachers, parents and governors in my constituency in successfully narrowing the attainment gap. It is widening and deepening existing disadvantage and disproportionately impacting BAME communities. The number of laptops so far provided by the Government to enable online teaching barely scratches the surface of digital exclusion in Lambeth, Southwark and across the country. How will tutoring take place over the summer months when many of the most disadvantaged children still do not have access to home IT equipment?
Conservative Members have always been clear that we want to see every child back in school at the earliest opportunity, because we know that the best way of delivering education is in the classroom with the teacher at the front. Not only have we had the incredibly ambitious plan to roll-out laptops— 202,000 of those laptops have already been provided—but we accept that we want to do more. That is why have the covid catch-up premium, and tutoring plans, and those are to be conducted within schools and with the support of teachers, all based on the Education Endowment Foundation’s clear evidence on how we can deliver change and improvement for those children.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State is now talking to teachers’ representatives and their trade unions, but for too long Ministers have denigrated teachers from the Dispatch Box, which has led to people not believing the Government when they talk about people being safe to return to schools. If the Secretary of State is now consulting with the wider school community, will he say whether he has spoken to headteachers about the practicalities of every child going back, which must happen in September, and about children being able to stay in bubbles and separate year groups? What is the practicality of that in our schools?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have had extensive discussions with headteachers about those plans, and consulted widely. I also assure him that I have met unions every week all the way through this crisis, and made sure that we have had a regular dialogue to share our plans. This should not be about trade unions dictating what we are doing that is best for our children. We want to work with trade unions and the whole sector, including staff, to deliver the best education for all children. We will continue to have that dialogue. We have done that in the past, and we will in the future.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement that all children will be back in school in September. Despite the valiant efforts of parents, pupils and teachers, the majority of children have fallen behind, at least to some extent, especially those with special educational needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend outline how he intends to help those children to catch up, while ensuring that those who made more progress can continue to do so, so that every child can reach their full potential?
That is why we took the decision to ensure that in our covid catch-up plans there was money specifically targeted at the most disadvantaged children and those who are the greatest challenge for schools. We are working closely with the sector to ensure targeted interventions for children with special educational needs, while equally recognising that all children, whatever their background and wherever they come from in the country, will face challenges in terms of the loss of education. That is why we have done such an extensive £1 billion package to support schools in doing that.
Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every child who needs a laptop will have one? Does he recognise that to create high-quality online lessons takes skill? What is he doing to ensure that best practice is spread among all schools before the summer holiday, so that as teachers make their plans, we know that in September high-quality learning will be available to all?
I absolutely assure the hon. Lady of the work to endeavour to ensure that that high-quality online teaching is there. We have seen that through the creation of the Oak National Academy. She may have noticed the announcement a few days ago about the expansion of that academy, so that it can continue to provide a full and total curriculum across all year groups and every subject. That is a brilliant innovation, and I very much encourage the hon. Lady and her constituents to take advantage of it.
Our teachers are critical if we are to look after the next generation and deliver our levelling up agenda. How is the Secretary of State supporting our hard-working supply teachers at this exceptional time, and how is he ensuring that our supply teachers are receiving appropriate remuneration?
My hon. Friend has raised with me the concern that a number of supply teachers in her constituency of Anglesey have suffered as a result of not being able to access the furlough scheme. In England, many agencies have been working closely with the Treasury to access the furlough scheme. I encourage the Welsh Government to support agencies to help their supply staff to be able to access that as well.
I agree that all who can be at school should be. St Anne’s Primary School in Denton was built in 1888. It is a small single-entry school. There are no spare classrooms, and its rooms all open on to the small school hall, which is also used as the dining area. It has a very small outside yard, and no playing fields where temporary classrooms can be located. It is one example of many similar across England. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the number of schools that will physically struggle to accommodate all their pupils under the social distancing or educational bubble rules, and how does he plan to help them educate all children, and do so safely?
When the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to read the guidance, he will see the importance of having flexibilities for schools, such as the one he outlines, that are operating in a very different type of estate from that in which larger schools may be able to operate. We are trying to create a clear framework of how we can give schools good advice so that they can ensure the education of every single pupil, but if he has particular issues or is particularly concerned about any of his schools, I know that the Minister for School Standards would be happy to discuss them with him.
Schools in my constituency of Warrington South are some of the best in England, and I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work that heads, teachers and support staff have done over the lockdown period to care for and support children. I know that parents and children in my constituency, particularly the children, will really welcome the steps that are being announced today—children want to get back to school. However, can the Secretary of State confirm that his approach is in line with that of other countries around Europe that have begun to bring pre-school and younger children back first, in a phased way?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the teachers and all the staff in schools, nurseries and colleges in Warrington South. They have been doing a fantastic job. The approach that we are taking is very much in line with that of other nations. We all understand that, within education settings, there are constraints and restrictions under which teachers and headteachers have to operate, and we have to find practical solutions for that. That is why we have taken a lot of time to look at how this is being done in other countries and copy the very best practice as a result.
Primary headteachers in my constituency tell me that there are pinch points at the start and end of each school day as children and parents come together. Our school leaders are planning how to mitigate this problem, but it may require adaptation, so they are asking: will the Secretary of State set aside funding to ensure that schools can access money to avoid the problem of people coming together?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about reducing the chances of people meeting and increasing the likelihood of transmission. That is why we have asked schools to look at the option of staggered starts for year groups to mitigate those chances.
Birmingham, Northfield has the highest proportion of free school meals of any constituency across the country. That is why it is so important that young people are back in school and back in colleges learning again. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that as many young people as possible benefit from the covid-19 catch-up package to make sure that some of our most disadvantaged pupils are given the greatest gift of all, which is a quality education?
My hon. Friend, in his many conversations with me, has been a great champion of his schools and what is happening in his constituency. He is right about the importance of making sure that this money is properly targeted at the children who most need it. That is why £350 million of it has been ring-fenced for the most disadvantaged, and his constituency will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that.
In my constituency, Durham University is a major player and it contributes massively to the local economy, the culture of our city and the community. So far during this crisis, the lack of Government support for universities has been scandalous, quite frankly. Universities, the staff who work for them and current and future students need to know that higher education is valued by this Government and will be protected by them. What financial aid will the Government be offering universities like Durham so that they can survive the coronavirus pandemic?
We continue to work very closely with the higher education sector. We recognise the important role that it has in many communities, including the city of Durham. A number of weeks ago, we announced a stabilisation package. We have also set up a taskforce on research funding with the university sector, the Treasury, the devolved Administrations, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Education. We continue to work closely with the sector to make sure that there is stability within it but it also has the ability to recover and thrive in the future.
[Inaudible]—across Harrow have continued to remain open so that children of key workers and those with special educational needs can continue their education, but there are still large numbers of children whose education has slipped. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and thanking the teachers and headteachers who have carried out and continued to provide education throughout this period? Will he set out what assessment is going to be made of those children who have fallen behind so that the catch-up package is used to their best possible advantage to get them back to where they should be?
I apologise to my hon. Friend: I missed the very start of his question because he was on mute, but it was without doubt the best part of it, I am sure. I would very much like to join him in thanking all the teachers, teaching assistants and school support staff who, through the very height of this pandemic, went into school every single day, opened the doors and welcomed the children of critical workers and the most vulnerable children. He picks up on a really important point. This is why we are working so closely with headteachers and teachers on making sure that we identify the real needs of every single child so that the catch-up package and the tutoring is absolutely targeted at their needs and delivers what they need in order for them to be able to catch up. We need the class teachers to be able to make those assessments for children in order to make sure that there is the most effective delivery for them.
We all want schools to reopen in September, but only if it is safe for pupils, teachers and the wider community. Only this week, the Health Secretary acknowledged that an unusually high rate of coronavirus infections among children in Leicester was part of the reason for reimposing restrictions there. In my constituency, there have been reports of coronavirus in three primary schools. School reopening must be safe and led by the science, so can the Secretary of State confirm that the measures he has announced today will be signed off as safe by the Government scientists?
Sadly, the hon. Gentleman was not on mute. I can absolutely assure him that Public Health England has signed off all this advice. He might take the opportunity to read what Public Health England recently said about Leicester. It stated that while there had been
“good provision of primary school access for children”
since the beginning of June, researchers said they could find no “analytical link” between this and
“any real or apparent rise in new infections”
in Leicester. Conservative Members are all committed to opening all schools for all children of all year groups. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and many Opposition Members who are equally committed to doing the same. We are only doing this because we know it is safe to do so.
Recognising, as my right hon. Friend says, the evidence shows that the risks to and connected with children are very low, mums and dads around the country will have noticed the very stringent protective measures that are being put in place in education and childcare settings, supported by his Department and implemented by multi-academy trusts and local authorities. Could my right hon. Friend enlarge a little on his comments in his opening statement about further measures that he might have in mind to ensure that those risks are effectively managed when children return to their educational settings in September?
Absolutely, I certainly can do. We have created a strict set of controls that we expect schools to follow as an absolute minimum, as children return. We have worked closely with Public Health England on those measures, which include making sure that schools have good hygiene and good cleaning, and reduce the amount of contact between pupils. The creation of bubbles has worked successfully and, as a result, as I have touched on, we have seen over 1.6 million children benefit from returning to school from 1 June. But we do accept that more needs to be done with every child coming back, and that is why we have produced such detailed guidance and will continue to support schools to bring every child back in a safe way—not just safe for the children, but safe for those who work in schools.
May I ask the Secretary of State about the broad and balanced curriculum, specifically the physical education and sport premium and whether this will be guaranteed for September? It is July. Decisions needed to be taken before now about sport and PE. If headteachers and parents find out that that financial commitment has been held up for purely political reasons—so that the Chancellor can announce it next week—I cannot imagine how cross they will be.
Speaking for myself, one thing I know I certainly gained during the lockdown was, sadly, weight. I recognise that, as children get back into school, it is incredibly important to make sure that they have that broad and balanced curriculum and proper and full access to sporting activities. The hon. Lady will just have to pause a little, because we will be bringing absolute clarity for all schools on this issue exceptionally shortly.
Parents across West Sussex will welcome today’s announcement, particularly as it relates to children with special educational needs. Can I also congratulate the shadow Education Secretary on her recent appointment? Does the Secretary of State agree that no one wants to see children used as political pawns and that we may now see a more constructive approach from the Opposition?
I very much hope that we have a broad and exceptionally constructive approach from all sectors of society. We are all united in the desire to see that every child gets the brilliant education that so many of us have benefited from, and we will always work together, and my door is always open to anyone, to ensure that we deliver the very best education for every child. That is what I will continue to do.
I would like to pay tribute to the heroic teachers who have been working so hard across schools in my constituency of Twickenham, and to the September for Schools campaign, led by my constituent, Fiona Forbes, who has tried to make the voice of parents heard in this whole debate. Many of those parents are wondering what provision and plans will be made for wraparound care.
They are on their knees, juggling work and home schooling and wondering whether after-school clubs and other such provision will be available come the autumn.
The hon. Lady raises an important point and, as part of the guidance that we have issued, we have set out clear guidance about schools being able to offer wraparound care, because we know how incredibly important that is for so many working parents and how it supports them in being able to do their work.
As the Member of Parliament for Ipswich and an avid Newcastle United fan, I cannot think of a better name for a school than the Sir Bobby Robson School, which will open its doors in September. I have become an associate governor. It will specifically support children with complex emotional and mental needs. Its approach will be to have a transition period, almost a therapeutic approach, where it will try to re-socialise vulnerable young adults so that they can reintegrate and catch up. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing the Sir Bobby Robson School all the best for the future and provide it and other special schools with the support and external expertise they need to make sure that vulnerable young adults have the best chance to crack on and have a bright future?
Order. If we are going to get everybody in, it is important that we have short punchy questions to the Secretary of State, and short answers too.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work with the Sir Bobby Robson School although, as a Wolves fan, I am not sure if he was quite the right person to name it after. I look forward to working with him and the school to make sure that, as it brings children back, they have the best education, and assisting it and him in terms of delivering that for those children.
I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees with the 15,000 parents in the Rock the Cotswolds group, who will be disappointed if any of their children cannot go back into school in September. Will he therefore consider doing two things? As well as issuing the comprehensive guidelines, he should ask every head to produce a back to school plan, preferably by the end of the summer term.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is very much what heads will be doing to ensure that there is full education across all year groups in all classes for every child, including in his constituency.
Further education institutions were already struggling prior to the crisis, and that will only have become worse in recent months. Those same institutions will have to make a Herculean effort if they are to get their learners ready for those vital qualifications in the next academic year. Can the Secretary of State explain to further education leaders in my community why they were excluded from the covid catch-up fund and what support will be available instead?
We continue to work closely with the vital sector as we look towards the economic recovery that we are going to be building towards as we come out of the pandemic. We will work closely with it in terms of the actions and support it needs to help youngsters who need to catch up, but equally, to ensure that every further education college is fully open for September.
My right hon. Friend has already made the point that our schools make a significant contribution to the general wellbeing of our children, as well as to their academic education. I ask him to recognise the sad likelihood, however, that as children return to school in September, more of them than usual will report to teachers and others in school the disturbing or abusive experiences, physical or virtual, that they have had during the lockdown period. Can he confirm that our schools will have the support they need to deal effectively with those reports?
My right hon. and learned Friend touches on an incredibly sensitive and important issue. We have been working closely with not just schools but local authorities and the police to establish local partnerships to support schools as they deal with some of the consequences of children not having the protection that schools have often wrapped around them. We recognise the sensitivity of the issue. I pay tribute to the Home Office and the work that the police have done in terms of forging new partnerships with schools and local authorities, so that action can be taken much swifter where there are fears and concerns about the wellbeing of children.
As more children return to school, what extra support is being provided to disabled children, so that they can catch up following the covid-19 pandemic? Can the Secretary of State confirm whether assistive technology is being offered as part of the distribution of laptops and tablets to pupils working from home? If he is unaware, can he follow up and commit to writing to me with an answer?
We have had a broad range of measures to assist all children, including children who have special needs. Many children in the sector have benefited from free laptops, and key elements of a covid catch-up will be about helping those children to catch up on what they have lost. I will happily write to the hon. Lady with further details, as she appears to be signalling to me to do.
Fully reopening schools in September is absolutely the right thing to do. For some children, the experience of lockdown will have been characterised by social isolation, lack of routine and, in some cases, trauma. What is my right hon. Friend doing, through the guidance published today and other measures, to help schools with an increase in poor behaviour from September? May I encourage him to bring forward recommendations in the Timpson review of school exclusion so we do not see children removed from school when they have only just returned?
That review did have a very thoughtful author, and we will certainly move forward on that. Our guidance does recognise some of the real challenges that many children will face as they come back into school as they will not have had the same structures of behaviour and discipline built around them. It is vital that we re-establish proper behaviour and discipline practices for all children, and I know schools are working closely on how they build that around those children, but we must understand that where there are good behaviour and discipline policies, there are vastly reduced numbers of those children excluded from schools. We will work with schools to deliver that. I pay tribute to Tom Bennett and the behaviour hubs for the work they do to establish strong behaviour practices in some of the most challenging schools.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on the autumn opening of education settings. Going to university is an important milestone for many of our young people, but there are real worries about starting or restarting courses this autumn. What measures is he taking and what reassurance can he give to those students?
I reassure both my right hon. Friend and students who are looking forward to the prospect of going to university in the next academic year about the importance we place on not just the educational offer of universities but the whole experience of going to university. We are working closely with Universities UK and the whole sector to ensure that we have a full and wide, proper opening of all universities so that they can welcome students through their gates. We are seeing a positive increase in the number of young people applying to go to university, and we will work with the sector to deliver on that. As a point of note, revised guidance for the HE sector will be issued later today.
At the outset of the pandemic, the Government ignored the warnings from other countries about the seriousness of coronavirus. As a result, measures implemented were too late and cost lives. The World Health Organisation director for Europe has said that schools reopening has led to local flare-ups of cases right across member states, even with social distancing in place. Will the Secretary of State publish the scientific advice he is relying on that states that social distancing is not needed any more in our primary classes?
As the hon. Lady will probably know, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies regularly produces and publishes its advice and evidence, and we have been completely open on that. I am not quite sure what she is suggesting. Should we never open schools? Will we deprive our children forever more of an education and accept that, until there is a vaccine, children will not be able to go back to school? We recognise there are big challenges ahead, which is why we have worked closely with the sector, because we understand the consequences to children of not getting back into school are great. That is why we will continue to strain every sinew to ensure that every child is back in school.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but I would be grateful if he could set out the financial support that will be provided to further education and sixth-form colleges such as East Coast College in my constituency. That is vital, particularly to coastal towns, if we are not to let down a whole generation.
As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, over the last year we have seen lots of additional support going into the college sector, including an increase of £450 million for this financial year in the basic level of money that every college gets, plus the £1.5 billion that is going into capital funding in the college sector, £200 million of which has been brought forward into this financial year. We will continue to work closely with the college sector—both further education colleges and sixth forms—on what additional support we can give it as we move into the next phase of dealing with this global pandemic and ensuring that every child is able to catch up.[Official Report, 9 July 2020, Vol. 678, c. 6MC.]
I welcome my friend and neighbour the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) to her new role. For families who qualify, free school meal vouchers will be a crucial lifeline across the summer, but a school in my constituency faces having to pay for the cost themselves because they are using vouchers from the Co-op rather than the Edenred scheme. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every school is reimbursed for the full cost of providing free school meal vouchers to their pupils this summer, wherever they get their vouchers from?