House of Commons
Tuesday 7 July 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Bounce-back Loans: Sector-specific Access
The bounce-back loan scheme is aimed at helping the smallest businesses across different sectors of the economy to access the finance they need, and we have seen 1 million loans worth almost £31 billion approved since the scheme was launched on 4 May. We are carefully monitoring the use of this scheme by businesses and will keep all policies under review.
I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Undoubtedly, bounce-back loans have been a success of this pandemic. However, I have a concern that normally viable small and medium-sized enterprises will face acute problems due to covid and may need to make redundancies. The payments associated with redundancies may, in turn, cause normally viable companies to become insolvent, thus losing all jobs and putting more pressure on the state. With that in mind, will he consider a fund or time-limited mechanism to ensure that SMEs can provide redundancy payments due to covid, thus allowing them to remain solvent, protecting them from further job losses and providing some short-term stability for them to bounce back in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course we recognise the importance of SMEs—there are 5.6 million businesses across the country with fewer than 10 employees, and we need their dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit as the economy starts to recover. The Government have said from the start that they will do whatever it takes to support business. The Chancellor has introduced a significant package of measures, which will be under review, and there will be further announcements in due course.
Inheritance tax makes an important contribution to the Exchequer. The current threshold of up to £1 million for a qualifying married couple or civil partnership means that 96% of all estates in 2020-21 are forecast to be able to pass on their assets without any inheritance tax liability. Any reform or simplification of inheritance tax would be considered as part of the usual Budget process.
When are we going to fulfil numerous promises made as long ago as before the 2010 election, by George Osborne, to help middle-class people pass on more of their property to the young? After all, that is a priority for the young. While we are about it, can we hear from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister less about high-spending lefties like President Roosevelt and more about good Conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—less about subsidies and more about tax cuts and tax simplification?
I hesitate to give my right hon. Friend a history lesson, but he will recall that Ronald Reagan was a deep admirer of FDR and quite a heavy spender in his own right. Inheritance tax is paid on only one in 25 estates, and therefore it is not quite as large an issue in terms of the number of people affected as my right hon. Friend suggests. We take these issues very seriously and return to them recurrently at fiscal events.
Covid-19: Economic Support
The Government have taken unprecedented steps to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs, support viable businesses to stay afloat and protect the incomes of the most vulnerable. We are now carefully and safely reopening our economy.
I have previously raised the issue of the 3 million taxpayers being excluded from Government support with the Prime Minister, the First Secretary of State and the Leader of the House, all of whom have repeated details of the Government support provided to other groups. To be clear, it is understood that 2.6 million self-employed people were supported and 9 million people were furloughed. What remains an issue, though, is the 10% of the workforce who have received no meaningful support to help navigate covid. Specifically on the 3 million excluded, will the Chancellor provide an eleventh-hour lifeline such as that provided for the arts, or is he planning to cut 3 million workers adrift? It is one or the other, and it is now or never.
I have said previously that, although we have not been able to help everyone in exactly the way that they would have liked, I am confident that the breadth and scale of the interventions we have provided ensures that everyone is able to access some support. We have also strengthened our security net, with welfare through universal credit, among other things, and our self-employment scheme remains one of the most comprehensive and generous anywhere in the world.
The economic impact of coronavirus has not been distributed evenly across the UK economy, yet the Scottish Government have extremely limited borrowing powers to stimulate demand and aid recovery in key sectors. A one-size-fits-all approach should no longer be the norm. Will the Chancellor bring forward the review of the fiscal framework, lift the caps on borrowing and give the Scottish Government the tools that they need to invest in Scotland’s future?
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in constant dialogue with his counterpart, the Finance Minister in Scotland, on these issues, but the people of Scotland are able to benefit from the strong measures that we put in place for the entire United Kingdom. Whether it be our loan schemes or, indeed, our furlough scheme, everyone in every part of this country is able to benefit.
Guidance has recently appeared on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs website that suggests that those who take covid-19 tests, as provided by their employer, will have to treat the cost of those tests as a taxable benefit in kind, which is very unfortunate, particularly in respect of those frontline workers who may be involved. Will the Chancellor look into this matter, please, as a matter of urgency?
To follow up on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), the ExcludedUK all-party group launched this morning with more than 150 Members of this House signing up as members, cheered on by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). Will the Chancellor tell me why he has decided that 3 million people are not worthy of support, and why will he not put something in place to protect their incomes?
Everyone in this country has benefited one way or another from what we have been able to do. Although people have not been able to be helped in exactly the way they would have liked, we have been able to put in place measures unprecedented in scale and speed, and that meant we did have to make some difficult decisions to implement those policies. None the less, I do believe that, because of the measures that we have taken to strengthen our safety net, for example, everyone, no matter where they are, has access to more support than they did before this crisis began.
If the Chancellor listened to the evidence from groups such as ExcludedUK, he would know that that is simply not the case. To turn to some of the rhetoric of the past few days, the Government seem to be trying to imitate the rhetoric of President Duterte of the Philippines and President Roosevelt on the new deal, but the measures do not meet the scale of either of those gentlemen’s ambitions. Does he agree with the SNP that we need a stimulus package of at least £80 billion, including a 2% cut to employers’ national insurance contributions and a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector, as demanded by the Scottish Government? If he does not believe that those steps should be taken, will he allow the Scottish Government to have the full suite of financial powers that they require to meet that challenge?
The hon. Lady talks about scale of ambition. I am proud of what this Government have put in place and the speed at which we have done so. The jobs of 9 million people have been protected through our furlough scheme; 2.7 million self-employed people have had their income supported; and millions of companies have received access to loans, grants, tax deferrals. In sum, this represents £130 billion of support—one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages available of any country anywhere in the world.
The Chancellor knows that different sectors of our economy face very different challenges in the months ahead, so will he listen to the businesses right across our country that have called again and again for the job retention scheme to have the flexibility to meet those different challenges?
On the job retention scheme, our policy is clear. We have extended the scheme all the way through to the autumn, at which point it winds down gradually and in a way that asks for very modest contributions from employers. None the less, I do recognise that different sectors have faced a different circumstances during this crisis, particularly those in the hospitality, leisure and retail sector, which is why we cut business rates for the entire year for those sectors and, indeed, provided cash grants of £10,000 or £25,000 to almost 1 million businesses up and down the country.
Investment and Economic Growth: Northern Lincolnshire
We recognise every region and community is impacted by this crisis. That is why the Government have announced unprecedented support for businesses and workers around the country. That includes 95 million to fund shovel-ready projects across the east midlands to help to provide a boost to the local economy and create jobs, building on over £120 million of local growth funding for Greater Lincolnshire for local projects such as Lincolnshire Lakes housing scheme.
I thank the Minister for that. The Treasury is giving considerable support to our area, such as through the Greater Grimsby town deal. We are hoping for favourable designation for freeport status, but the most pressing case at the moment is support for the Able marine energy park in northern Lincolnshire. Modest support from the Treasury could help to create 2,000 jobs. Will the Minister, or indeed the Chancellor, agree to meet me and my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) to deal with this?
My hon. Friend rightly champions the strength of his local area as we move to restart the economy and make progress to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our renewable energy ambitions will continue to create opportunities at manufacturing centres, such as the Able marine energy park proposal, but I encourage him first to engage with my colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as the lead Department on energy and industrial strategy.
Local Transport Infrastructure
Upgrading local transport links is a key part of this Government’s commitment to levelling up across the country. That is why we announced at the Budget £500 million for the potholes fund; £4.2 billion has been announced for discussion with the eight devolved Mayors; and there is a further £2 billion across this Parliament for boosting cycling and walking.
Reinstating a passing loop on to the south Fylde rail line will help to double the number of trains travelling into Blackpool South every single day, bringing additional tourists into Blackpool and helping to create new jobs, investments and opportunities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that delivering these local transport infrastructure projects is vital for furthering economic growth, assisting our recovery from covid-19 and delivering much-needed investment into Blackpool, a part of the world that I know he is very familiar with?
It is a key part of this Government’s commitment to improve transport links such as that. I know that my hon. Friend has submitted a proposal, which the Department for Transport is considering. Having been able to hear the trains on that line from my kitchen growing up, it is one that I take a particular interest in, and I know that it is a very strong scheme.
House Building and Regeneration: Domestic Supply Chains
House building is an important catalyst for the wider economy and we have put in place an unprecedented package of support in this sector. Last week, the Prime Minister announced measures to stimulate house building, including a £450 million boost to the short-term house building fund.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Horden, Easington and Blackhall in my constituency need investment in housing regeneration. The recovery plan is ready. However, we need investment to help us transform our communities with new, modern, clean and green housing. Will the Chancellor invest in housing regeneration in east Durham, because these schemes can deliver jobs, training, opportunities, green energy and sustainable domestic supply chains, and boost the local economy?
This is an area where I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why, in addition to the fund I mentioned a moment ago, the Prime Minister also confirmed £12.2 billion of funding for affordable homes, and there is the £400 million brownfield land fund to get schemes working immediately with Mayors for exactly the reason he sets out.
The Conservative manifesto promised £9 billion for energy efficiency schemes, but the Committee on Climate Change described even that as
“welcome but not enough to match the size of the challenge”.
Given that the Chancellor is about to announce a £2 billion scheme, why are the Government scaling back their ambition when they should be scaling up to bring down people’s bills, tackle climate change and create the jobs we need to get Britain back to work?
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave a moment ago, he would have seen that we are learning from the lessons of the 2008 crash. One of the measures that was put in place then saw a fall of a third in the number of small house builders, so part of the £450 million fund is providing the finance to enable small house builders to build the schemes that Members on both sides of the House agree on. It is about learning the lessons of the schemes that Labour put in place in 2008, which led to a fall in construction work.
Through the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, the Government have protected 9.4 million jobs and supported the incomes of 2.7 million self-employed. I remain committed to helping the unemployed return to work and supporting those who are most vulnerable to job loss. We will continue to monitor economic conditions to ensure our labour market policy response is both appropriate and effective.
In his announcement of the self-employment income support scheme, the Chancellor told self-employed people that they have not been forgotten and no one will be left behind, but the Treasury Committee has found that more than a million people have been unable to benefit from either that scheme or the job retention scheme. That is certainly what I am finding in Rotherham. Will he commit to acting to ensure that, true to his word, no one is left to face this crisis alone?
Some 95% of those who are majority self-employed are able to benefit from the self-employment scheme. In its design, its duration, the breadth of its coverage and the generosity of its support, the scheme remains the most generous and comprehensive self-employment support scheme in the world.
We are facing the worst economic recession in history and a climate crisis. Despite the warm words yesterday, the green finance announcement does not go far enough. Germany is investing between £40 billion and £50 billion, France £13.5 billion and South Korea £11.5 billion, so £3 billion just does not cut it. Given that half a million 16 to 24-year-olds are currently unemployed, will the Chancellor commit to properly financing a green jobs guarantee to give our young people a future?
The hon. Lady mentioned plans from other countries. It is worth bearing in mind that those plans relate to spending commitments over many years and are actually better compared with what we outlined at Budget, where we set out a £600 billion investment programme over the remainder of this Parliament, including many initiatives such as carbon capture and storage, the nature for climate fund and improvements in air quality. Conservative Members wholeheartedly believe in a green revolution, and we will provide the capital to make that happen.
I pay tribute to all the small business owners in Ashfield and Eastwood who have worked really hard to get ready for the reopening of their businesses last weekend in a covid-secure manner—places such as the world-famous Diamond Club, the Dog and Parrot, the Bus Stop Café, St Joseph’s Social Club and the outstanding Teversal Camping and Caravanning Club site. Although I am grateful to the Chancellor for all the financial support he has provided, does he agree that the only way to protect jobs and businesses in the long term is by safely reopening the economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No support scheme can substitute for safely reopening our economy. I enjoyed seeing his Facebook page with his tour of Sutton, Eastwood and Huthwaite, and all the establishments that he mentioned—including a candle shop, I believe—and I pay tribute to all his local businesses for following the guidance and implementing safe measures so that they can welcome their local communities back with open arms.
The Government’s intervention to provide financial support to the arts is welcome, but freelance creative workers have received little or no support from the furlough scheme or the self-employment scheme for over 100 days. What specifically will the Chancellor do to correct this in the rescue package announced for the creative industries?
Those in the creative arts, like others, can benefit from the self-employment scheme and other interventions that we have put in place, but it is important to know what happened yesterday: a £1.5 billion support package for our cultural institutions up and down the country, from our crown jewels—our globally recognised assets—to our local community theatres. They will all be able to benefit from the support we have put in place and preserve what is so special about our cultural heritage.
I thank the Chancellor for all he has done so far, and I look forward to his statement tomorrow. He mentioned unemployment, and we are aware that it is rising, so one of the most important things we can do is to get people back into work as quickly as possible. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we are benefiting from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire local enterprise partnership redundancy and recruitment triage service. Will he welcome that? There are areas where employment is growing, and if we can get people who have been made redundant into those jobs as quickly as possible, we will minimise the devastating effects of this coronavirus.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The importance of job matching is critical and the evidence shows us that it works. I know from my time as a Local Government Minister the innovative approach that Councillor Atkins and his team on the county council and the LEP have taken to various economic initiatives. I pay tribute to them for putting this in place with such speed.
The aerospace sector has already said that 9,000 jobs will go in the UK. The north-west is going to be specifically badly affected if the Government just sit back and allow this export-strong, high-skilled, high-wage sector to be decimated. Germany has put a big package in place. America has put a big package in place. France has put a big package in place. So what is the Chancellor going to put in place to protect and guarantee the future of the aerospace sector in the long term?
The interventions in France and Germany related to specific companies, so it obviously would not be appropriate for me to comment on those in this place at this time. The support put in place in the US was primarily to support domestic connectivity. This Government have done that by subsidising considerably our bus network and our rail network to make sure that intra-Union connectivity remains through this crisis.
Will the Government abandon their one-size-fits-all wind-down of the furlough and self-employed schemes and adopt a targeted strategy that acknowledges that hotel workers, chefs and self-employed lighting technicians cannot and should not be treated in the same way as workers in sectors that are already back at full capacity?
The most important thing for all these sectors is for them to be safely reopened. That is why I am delighted that last weekend we were able to meet the target set out in our reopening plan. The Prime Minister has spoken about reopening our remaining closed sectors in the coming weeks, which is welcome news. The hon. Lady is right that these sectors have faced hardship. That is why, as I said, they have received considerable extra support from the Government in the form of business rates holidays and cash grants.
Thousands of jobs losses have been announced in recent days, and many more are expected if the furlough scheme is withdrawn from all sectors at the same time. With young people facing the most difficult labour market conditions for a generation, and many otherwise viable businesses in trouble because of social distancing rules, does the Chancellor accept the case for employment support being aimed directly at the sectors most likely to be hit by job losses in the coming months?
Those who call for a sector-specific approach are not always able to articulate exactly how they would define those sectors and also the supply chain that they serve. The most important thing is to have provided broad, generous and swift coverage to protect 9 million jobs, as this Government have done, and now to reopen these sectors so that we can get as many of those people back to work as quickly as possible to the jobs that they have.
The Government recognise the current challenges facing commercial landlords. That is why we have worked very closely with lenders to ensure that support and flexibility is being shown to commercial borrowers. This forms part of a much wider picture of unprecedented support to businesses affected, including via business rates holidays, grants and Government-backed loans—and of course those, in turn, give access to cash to pay for rents and salaries or suppliers.
May I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register?
While many tenants welcome the steps the Government have taken to protect them from eviction, for many small private landlords the rental income on shops, offices and residential property is their only form of income, which in many cases is completely tied up. Will my right hon. Friend therefore work with the sector to explore how to provide financial support to individuals who find that they have no income and no access to any of the other very impressive schemes that the Government have introduced?
My hon. Friend will know, of course, that we published a code of practice to encourage all parties involved in a landlord-tenant situation to work together to ensure equity and swift recovery. More widely, we have made available over £330 billion of guarantees through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the large business interruption loan scheme, and the corporate financing facility. But of course I would be happy to continue to discuss this issue with him.
The Government have been carefully considering the potential issuance of a UK sovereign green bond. At present, we have no plans to do that, but we continue to monitor the case for one, and we will keep it under urgent review.
I am glad that the Government will keep this matter under consideration because, as evidenced recently by Quebec, green bonds can be effective in raising capital investment and investment for operational expenditure to further the green transition. Will the Government also consider enabling the Welsh Government to issue such a bond to help the effort for a greener economy?
Clearly, debt and the handling of it is a significant challenge for the Government at this time. The core gilt programme is the most stable and cost-effective way of dealing with our financing needs. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. We will continue to look constructively at all options and at the changing environment as a consequence of this crisis.
Covid-19: Support for Scotland
The UK Government’s response to covid-19 has been UK-wide. More than 750,000 people in Scotland have benefited from the job retention scheme and the self-employed income support scheme, and Scotland has received £3.8 billion of Barnett consequentials.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. It shows the benefits of being in the most successful political and economic Union in the history of the world. What support are the Government thinking about giving to the oil and gas sector, which is struggling from the dual blows of record low oil and gas prices and the covid-19 pandemic?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the benefit of pooling through the UK approach, and the specific issues relating to the oil and gas industry. That is why industry leaders met the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 11 June. Work is ongoing, particularly in relation to what support can be provided to the sector. We are very mindful of its significance to the economy of Scotland.
Covid-19: Support for Local Authorities
Last week, the Government announced a comprehensive package to support councils in responding to the pressures caused by covid-19. We have now provided more than £3.7 billion of additional grant funding for councils, and announced a major new scheme to reimburse them for their lost income.
Fears have been expressed that the Government will fully bail out financially poorly managed local authorities, while better managed local authorities, such as the London Borough of Bromley, may have to meet covid-19 shortfalls through their reserves. Will my right hon. Friend offer reassurances on that point? If covid-19 funding shortfalls remain, will he consider allowing a capitalisation directive to enable councils to fund one-off shortfalls through capital receipts or borrowing?
We have always taken the approach that borrowing is allowed for infrastructure and capital projects, but not day-to-day revenue. That policy will continue. At the same time, all councils have received support, and £16 million has been allocated to Bromley. It is right that the support addresses councils’ varied needs, and that is very much the approach that we have taken.
Of course, one of the areas that local government has gone into more in order to fund its services is commercial investment. The package last week does not cover the shortfall in that, which is hitting some local authorities very hard. A number of them are looking at section 114 notices. Is the Minister prepared to see councils go bankrupt on his watch, or is there a package of support for those councils?
The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee will know very well that commercial income carries risk for councils investing in it. We are cognisant of that fact. I advise councils, where there is the risk of a section 114, to talk to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government ahead of any such decision.
The Prime Minister promised to do whatever it takes, and the Housing Minister told councils:
“spend whatever it takes, the Government will reimburse you”.
Will the Minister reaffirm that pledge? Councils need certainty. Many are already cutting services, and the one-size-fits-all approach simply does not work. Will he further commit to the principle that packages announced by the Government should meet the financial cost of coronavirus, and the social need for those local authorities?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the cost for local councils will be uncertain for some time, not least in terms of the impact of lost tax income. That is why we have addressed the short-term pressure through the £3.7 billion grant and additional funding that has been allocated, including the recent £600 million for infection control.
Covid-19: Four-day Working Week
The Prime Minister recently set out the first steps of the Government’s strategy to rebuild and fuel economic recovery in response to covid-19. The Government believe the best way to secure a recovery is to invest across the UK to level up, while ensuring that we create the conditions for private enterprise to flourish.
The Chancellor will have received a letter signed by Members from across the House, including myself, asking him to consider introducing a four-day working week as a way of helping the country recover and creating a better future post-covid-19. So will he commit to the Treasury exploring a four-day working week as part of its economic planning for the recovery? Will he also meet me and other Members to discuss how we can work together to make shorter working times a reality?
The Government believe that the best way of dealing with these issues is for workers to look at existing options available for flexible working and discuss them directly with their employers, rather than the Government legislating for the entire UK work- force. However, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this topic further, if he would like.
Covid-19: High Street Businesses
As Members will know, the Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of support for high-street businesses affected by the pandemic. In particular, the Government are giving retail, hospitality and leisure businesses a year’s business rates holiday; protecting commercial tenants from eviction and debt recovery; offering grants of up to £25,000 to eligible businesses; and making sure that businesses have access to the financing they need as quickly as possible. We stand ready to take further steps, as necessary.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I recently visited a brilliant independent furniture store, Rooms, right in the centre of Keighley, which is run by Andrew Foster, his wife Janine and son Joe. They and many others welcome the 100% business rate relief this year but are concerned about next year and indeed about the fairness of the business rate structure when we consider pure online businesses and those based in premises. Will my right hon. Friend continue to review this area in the light of covid and look more closely to create a fairer business rate structure?
I am delighted to hear about Rooms, and many businesses in my constituency have reopened. Reopening the economy is the central step we need for our national recovery. As my hon. Friend will know, we have committed to a fundamental review of the business rates systems and published some comprehensive terms of reference for the review at the spring Budget. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting businesses and have taken actions to reduce the burden of rates, which will save businesses more than £13 billion in the next five years.
It is no secret that Chancellors have an overarching influence across all Departments. Within my Lincoln constituency’s county of Greater Lincolnshire we are faced with major local government reorganisation. Does the Treasury take the view that for the UK’s second largest county a single unitary authority would be in the best financial interests of my constituents when enforcing forthcoming local government reform and devolution?
It would be wrong for me, as a Minister, to offer a view on this, but I can tell my hon. Friend that my personal experience has been that the more streamlined, the clearer the lines of authority and the more integrated and shared approach that is taken, the more effective the infrastructure delivery is likely to be.
I have been visiting high-street businesses in Wantage, Didcot, Faringdon and elsewhere, and they are hugely grateful for the furlough scheme, the grant scheme and the business rates holiday, but what they most want now is footfall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be the priority? Will he confirm that he is considering all measures to increase footfall on the high street?
I absolutely confirm that. The reason we have backed high-street firms so strongly all the way through is precisely that we recognise the central importance of these sectors to getting Britain’s high streets back firing on all cylinders. My hon. Friend will know that we have also introduced the Business and Planning Bill to help businesses in England get back on their feet, and we have accelerated nearly £100 million of investment in town centres and high streets, through the towns fund this year, to the same end.
Aviation Industry: Job Protection
Treasury Ministers meet the Secretary of State for Transport and the Home Secretary on a regular basis to discuss a variety of important issues, including the aviation industry.
I have asked Ministers multiple times why it is that we have not yet seen a specific package of support for the aviation industry, and I have received general answers about general measures that are clearly not working, with easyJet already consulting on 4,500 job losses. Thousands of jobs in Luton and its council are reliant on income from Luton airport. If the Governments of France and Germany are protecting their aviation workers, why are this Government not doing the same?
We continue to work closely with the sector and are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, providing that all other Government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors.
Covid-19: Charity Sector
Alongside unprecedented support for individuals and businesses in the light of the covid-19 outbreak, the Government have announced a £750 million support package for charities, £360 million of which will be allocated directly to charities providing essential services and £200 million will go to local charities through the National Lottery Community Fund.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the extraordinary innovations of charities in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country. We have seen innovation and adaptation right across the economy, made possible in part by the unprecedented level of support that we have been referring to during this session. As of the end of last week, £230 million had been disbursed from the Government’s charity support fund.
Support for Hospitality, Tourism and Entertainment
The Treasury is working extensively with employers, taskforces and industry groups to understand the long-term effects of covid-19 across all key areas of the economy, including the artistic, creative, tourism and hospitality sectors. We will continue to monitor the impact of Government support on the economy.
While hotels, hospitality businesses and holiday parks are reopening in my constituency, many businesses fear that this will be a year of three winters. What support are the Government considering beyond what has been delivered so far? In particular, would the Treasury consider the tourism and hospitality sector’s request to cut VAT to 5% for those businesses?
As ever, all taxes are kept under review, and changes are announced at fiscal events. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that admissions to cultural venues, for example, are already exempt from VAT if they are provided by a local authority or an eligible body, such as a charity. We will continue to review the situation.
Like many other Members, I met this morning with ExcludedUK and people such as freelancers, many of whom are in the creative industries, who have fallen between the gaps of the different Government schemes. The package that has been announced for the creative industries is welcome, but what will the Government do to support the many thousands of people in those industries, including in Cardiff South and Penarth, who have fallen between the gaps?
The UK continues to have one of the world’s most generous coronavirus support schemes, including for many self-employed people such as those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. He will know that the Government recently announced a £1.57 billion cultural fund, and such funds are being targeted at the very people he mentions.
I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Education to discuss school funding. We are providing a £1 billion package to help students catch up on lost learning, and that sits alongside the £100 million to boost remote education and the additional £7.1 billion of core funding for schools that we announced at the 2019 spending round.
I know that my right hon. Friend enjoyed his time in Stoke-on-Trent during winter last year, but he will also know that, sadly, the area of Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke is ranked in the bottom 20% of the social mobility index. Sadly, we are also well below the national averages in both young and old taking up courses at levels 3 and 4. Will he set out the steps that the Department is taking to support further education? Does he agree that post-16 providers, such as Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, play a vital role in levelling up opportunity and upskilling and retraining both young and old, enabling them to be better off than those before them?
As a former teacher, my hon. Friend speaks with great authority on such issues. I absolutely agree that a strong post-16 education system is vital to our recovery. That is why we have applied a range of flexibilities to the usual funding arrangements, and the Department for Education has set out further details.
Innovative and Fast-growing Firms
On 20 May, the Government launched the future fund. The fund is an investment scheme for high-growth companies impacted by the pandemic. It provides between £125,000 and £5 million in Government funding through convertible loans, with third-party investors at least matching the Government funding on each loan. As of 5 July, £379 million-worth of convertible loans had been approved through the future fund, and the Government have also made £750 million of support available for innovative firms through Innovate UK grants and loans.
Unemployment in Wolverhampton North East was three times the national average as we came into the pandemic, and many businesses have expressed their gratitude for the wide range of support. As we emerge from the pandemic, can my hon. Friend reassure me that this will be the party that champions innovators, start-ups and SMEs, so that we can get job opportunities and more prosperity in seats such as Wolverhampton North East?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and case for her constituency. As the Prime Minister set out last week, we will double down on levelling up and give everyone growing up in this country the opportunity that they need. The Prime Minister announced the acceleration of £96 million of investment from the towns fund, including nearly £13 million on kick-start activity in the west midlands.
Four months on from the onset of coronavirus, we have slowly and carefully reopened much of our economy, and we can now begin our national recovery. Throughout this crisis, I have repeatedly made it clear that, while we cannot protect every single job, we will do all we can to make sure our businesses and people have the tools they need to get through this and emerge stronger on the other side.
My hon. Friend, as always, is a champion for the industry, and he knows how important it is to the UK economy. I can tell him that, at the Budget, we committed to a consultation on aviation tax reform. We remain committed to that, and will bring forward the timing in due course.
The Chancellor stated earlier that the job retention scheme is being wound down from the autumn. It is actually being wound down from the start of next month across all sectors at the same time, and we are already seeing the impact of that in very substantial redundancies. The Resolution Foundation called this week for a targeted continuation of the scheme for the hardest hit industries and those areas affected by additional lockdowns. The Chancellor has said he does not want to pick winners, but this health crisis has involved Governments designating losers, quite rightly, for public health reasons, so why is he persisting with the one-size-fits-all removal of the job retention scheme, when this will inevitably lead to additional redundancies?
This is not about picking winners or losers. This is about protecting people’s health, and where it is incumbent on the Government to step in and make sure that we can protect people’s health through targeted intervention, that will remain the right thing to do. With regard to economic support, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has made it clear that support has been provided to the local council when this has been the place to do so. With regard to the furlough scheme, we are of the belief, rightly, that this is a universal scheme, it is generous, it has been extended to October and it is winding down in a gradual and temperate manner.
I have to say that it is disappointing to hear that the Chancellor is not budging from this position. As mentioned, it is already leading to additional waves of redundancies—avoidable redundancies in many cases. Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to match the ambitions of Labour’s previous future jobs fund in developing support for unemployed young people, so may I ask the Chancellor why, put together, the traineeship fund and green jobs challenge fund—just announced—amount to less than a quarter of the size of the future jobs fund? That hardly reflects a focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.
I am not quite sure that is right. In reality, the future jobs fund was around £1 billion. We announced yesterday the £2 billion green home grant to provide home efficiency upgrades for hundreds of thousands of homes and create tens of thousands of jobs up and down the country. Not only will households save money on their electricity bills and save carbon, but we will create good local jobs in the process.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: young people are more likely than not to work in affected sectors and more likely than others to be furloughed, and we know from all the evidence that the impact of scarring on young people is very significant, which is why they remain uppermost in my mind. I give my hon. Friend the reassurance that they will be prioritised as we think about our recovery and our labour-market interventions.
As the hon. Lady will know, the Treasury is in constant communication with the FCA on these and other issues. If she would like to bring the specific details to my attention, I will make sure that they are examined by Ministers.
I am sure my hon. Friend understands that the desire for bespoke deals across every sector is extremely great. Our view has been that what is required is to lift all boats by a general support for the economy, and that is the approach we have taken, which is why the interventions we have made so far include almost £300 billion of guarantees—worth roughly 15% of UK gross domestic product.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, an enormous amount of support is already in the system. I am delighted that shops and other organisations are opening up in his constituency; we look to see more of that over time as the support feeds through into the system.
No one who knows my beautiful right hon. Friend would be surprised that he knows these beauty salons as well as he does, and I salute him for it. On the serious point, he is absolutely right about the importance of these businesses to all our constituencies. He did not mention this, but we should also mention that many of these businesses are run and staffed by women, and it is important that we should pay attention to the equalities impact in that respect. The key thing is that we get these businesses, including beauty salons, open. That is what the Treasury has focused on.
I am glad that the announcement we made yesterday was warmly welcomed across the cultural sector, by institutions large and small. I can assure the hon. Lady that the support package is not just for large institutions; it will find its way to all our local cultural institutions that play such an important part in our local communities. The Culture Secretary and his team will be here just after Question Time to answer further questions.
I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend that we should put reaching our net zero commitments at the heart of our recovery. He will have heard our recent announcement about green homes grants, which shows our commitment in this area. I know that he has a lot of experience in hydrogen transportation, and I look forward to hearing his thoughts on that so that they can be incorporated into our future plan.
I agree with the hon. Member about the importance of post-16 education and further education, which is why I was delighted to announce at the Budget a £400 million increase in post-16 education funding, a record increase in per-pupil funding compared to the last several years, and indeed the Prime Minister has talked about our commitment to upgrading the entire FE college estate across the United Kingdom.
I know that my hon. Friend is a proud champion of his local theatre, the Lyceum in Crewe, and that he has warmly welcomed our announcement. The Culture Secretary and his team will be here just after Question Time. We share his ambition to ensure that the support reaches all relevant institutions as quickly as is prudently possible.
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of credit unions. I am a member of Money Box Credit Union in Hereford and can vouch for their importance, especially for people on low incomes. She makes a very valid point, and it is one that we will continue to consider as we move forward.
As the Prime Minister said last week, we are doubling down on levelling up, and he committed last week to £95 million for shovel-ready projects in the east midlands, in addition to the £10.25 million of accelerated funding from the towns fund for Kirkby-in-Ashfield. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend in his commitment to levelling up his constituency.
These young people have absolutely not been forgotten, and we remain indebted to them for their dynamism in helping to power our recovery. I am delighted that our start-up loans scheme has recently been expanded and is able to provide cash loans to those budding entrepreneurs in her constituency and others. I urge them to have a look at it to see whether it will help fund their plans.
I have a short statement to make about the conduct of Divisions. I believe that all Members are now familiar with the process, and the Chair will not give a reminder of it before each Division. The doors will generally be locked 12 minutes after the start of a Division, although the Chair retains the discretion to extend that period if need be.
We are bringing coronavirus under control. Yesterday’s figures showed 352 new cases, the lowest since lockdown began. That is down from over 5,000 a day at the peak. Two hundred and nine patients are currently in mechanical ventilator beds with coronavirus, down from 3,300 at the peak. The latest number of deaths recorded in all settings in the UK was 16. New figures this morning show that for the last two weeks, the number of people who have died from all causes has been lower than the normal average for this time of year.
Because we are bringing the virus under control, we have been able to restore some of the things that make life worth living. This weekend, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers were buzzing with activity for the first time in months, and yesterday we were able to ease restrictions for the 2.2 million people who have been shielding across England so that they can now spend more time outdoors in a group of up to six, of course while maintaining social distancing.
Our plan has always been to lift the national lockdown while taking ever more targeted action to suppress the virus. We are seeing a similar approach in other countries, such as Germany, Spain and Australia, where overnight they locked down Melbourne. Last week, we took difficult but vital decisions about Leicester. Since then, we have been working with Leicester and Leicestershire, and I am pleased to say that together, we have brought down the seven-day infection rate from 135 to 117 cases per 100,000 people.
In reopening hospitality, we have also introduced contact tracing for customers. This system is working. I want to thank all those who are making the system work, and to pay tribute in particular to three pubs that have taken specific action: the Lighthouse in Burnham-on-Sea, the Fox and Hounds in Batley, and the Village Home in Gosport. They have all closed for a deep clean and staff testing after, in each case, a customer tested positive. They are doing the right thing by their customers and their communities. This is NHS Test and Trace working precisely as intended. Three pubs shut so that others can be open, and I think the whole House is grateful.
Coronavirus has been the worst global pandemic in a generation. Here, we protected the NHS. We built the new Nightingale hospitals in 10 days. At all times, treatment was available for all. Our medical research has discovered the only drug known to work. We have built, almost from scratch, one of the biggest testing capabilities in the world. We are getting coronavirus cornered, but this is no time to lose our resolve. The virus exists only to spread, so we must all stay alert and enjoy summer safely.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. He is quite right: we are through the peak, but we must not be remotely complacent, as thousands could still die from this virus over the coming months and into next year.
I welcome the news about Leicester, and I am grateful for the way in which the Secretary of State and his officials have kept me updated. What is the exit strategy for Leicester? How does an area that has gone into a local lockdown escape it? I understand that in Germany, local lockdowns are lifted at around 50 cases per 100,000. Will he apply similar criteria here in the United Kingdom? I think people in Leicester, and potentially in other towns and cities that could go into lockdown, would welcome that clarity.
Of course, the pillar 2 data has been an issue of some contention. Much of it has now been delivered, but there are still complaints that the way in which the data set has been delivered is incomplete. Directors of public health need pillar 2 community data in real time on a daily basis. They need the total number of tests undertaken, as well as those that are just positive, and they need patient-identifiable data so they can put in place the extensive contact tracing needed to keep all our constituents safe.
In Leicester, there has been speculation that the textile trade or food manufacturing has been responsible for the outbreak—we still do not actually know why we had the outbreak in Leicester—but many of the places where there have been outbreaks, whether Kirklees or elsewhere, have usually been characterised by low pay, insecure work and lack of decent sick pay. Will the Secretary of State look again at sick pay entitlement, because people will not isolate unless they are given that financial security?
The Secretary of State said on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday that asymptomatic transmission is a problem. We agree. Could he explain why he is not routinely testing healthcare workers? The position now in this country is that premiership footballers are tested twice a week, but NHS staff are not routinely tested.
Finally, on care homes, the initial guidance from the Government downplayed the risk to care homes. Care providers were sent conflicting guidance throughout the outbreak. Staff could not access testing until mid-April and are still not tested routinely. Personal protective equipment supplies have been inadequate. Thousands of families have lost their loved ones in care homes to this disease. Care workers themselves have died on the frontline. Can the Health Secretary understand why people are so insulted by the Prime Minister’s remarks, when he said:
“too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures.”?
Can he appreciate the hurt that has led to care home providers today describing those comments as “clumsy and cowardly”? Can he tell us which care homes did not follow procedures and what those procedures were that were apparently not followed? Will he take this opportunity now to apologise for the Prime Minister’s crass remarks?
First, the hon. Gentleman rightly asks about the process needed to bring Leicester out of lockdown and back to the level of freedom enjoyed in the rest of the country. What we said, when we took the measures just over a week ago, is that we needed to see 14 days of data, so we propose to make announcements on the next steps on 18 July. Of course, if further measures are needed in the meantime to tighten up we would take them immediately, but, as I said in my statement, the good news is that the data are currently moving in the right direction.
The hon. Gentleman asks specifically about a figure for the point at which such a local lockdown might be lifted. We are not going to use or give a specific figure, because both the level and the rate of change matters. If the level were lower but going up, that could be a worse situation than a higher level that is under control and falling. We have to look at both the level and the rate of change.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that data are being delivered. He mentioned some more detailed data and I am very happy to look into those proposals.
The hon. Gentleman mentions asymptomatic testing and the asymptomatic testing of NHS staff. As this House debated 10 days ago now, we have worked with clinicians to come forward with a scheme that is supported by those clinicians for the regular testing of NHS staff. That scheme is now agreed and in place. Of course, we constantly monitor it and we monitor the number of cases among NHS staff. I am content with that scheme, which was set out almost two weeks ago.
The hon. Gentleman also asks about care homes. Throughout the crisis, care homes have done amazing work. The Prime Minister was explaining that because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known. We have been constantly learning about the virus from the start and improving procedures all the way through. I pay tribute to the care homes of this country, which have done so much to care for the most vulnerable throughout the crisis.
Last week, the Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford University, Professor Sir John Bell, told the Science and Technology Committee that saturation testing of NHS hospital staff was an absolute requirement, and should have happened from the get-go. Last week, the Secretary of State delighted the social care sector by announcing that care home staff would be tested weekly. Now is his chance to delight not just Sir John Bell, but 1.4 million people in the NHS, by saying that from the start of next month, they too can have weekly testing. Will he do that?
As I mentioned, we have put in place the procedures for regular testing of NHS staff, and those procedures are underlined by the clinical analysis. There is a difference between social care and NHS staff, not least because the impact of coronavirus, in terms of its prevalence, has been higher among social care staff in care homes. We must ensure that such decisions are clinically led, but of course I keep the issue under review and take the comments from the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee very seriously.
I welcome the fact that the UK Government website has now been corrected to add the 80,000 missing covid cases in England, and gives a more accurate picture of the epidemic. Compared with Scotland, England currently has six times the number of new cases per head of population, and nine times the deaths. Even without a second wave, it is estimated that the current level of covid infections would lead to 27,000 additional deaths by next spring. Does the Secretary of State consider that level acceptable? Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland are following covid elimination strategies to drive down circulating virus, and reduce the risk of repeated lockdowns. Will the Secretary of State explain what his strategy is going forward?
Yes. Our strategy is to drive the virus right down, and as I said in my opening statement, the latest figures show just 352 new cases recorded in the previous 24 hours. We have been working closely with the Scottish Government, and giving them as much support as we can, for instance to get testing up and running. I am glad that right across the UK, we are succeeding in ensuring that the virus is increasingly under control.
Will my right hon. Friend give any encouragement that beauty salons will be allowed to open in the reasonably near future? Does he share my concern and disappointment that even though campsites are allowed to reopen, the company in charge of those in the New Forest is threatening to keep them closed until spring next year?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working closely with the beauty industry regarding how it can open in a covid-secure way, taking into account clinical advice. We have, however, been able to change some advice to allow for the reopening of camp sites. I am very pleased about that, and it will help lots of families to enjoy summer safely. It is disappointing to hear of the blanket approach taken to not having any camping in the New Forest—I went camping there as a child, and enjoyed it very much. On a campsite people must be particularly careful of shared facilities, and ensure that they are cleaned properly, but there is a way to open campsites safely and securely, and doing that in the New Forest, and elsewhere, will help people to enjoy summer safely.
The Secretary of State’s comments on Sunday, when he suggested that my Greater Manchester public health colleagues needed help in interpreting the pillar 2 data that they received from centrally contracted private labs, was nothing short of insulting. These are some of the most talented, dedicated and professional people with whom I have had the privilege to work. They do not need help; they need timely, patient-identifiable, and complete data, which they have not been getting. Instead of trying to shift the blame for the Government’s mess in handling the covid crisis on to our amazing public health teams and care home staff, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that people get those data? Why will he not announce local thresholds for easing and reinstating lockdowns, as Germany and other countries have done? Finally, will he apologise for his patronising remarks to my public health colleagues?
I will not allow a divisive approach to tackling this crisis. We will all work together. We will work together with local authorities, local Mayors and local areas, and we will do that in Manchester and across the board. I just hope that the hon. Lady will take the message back to Manchester about how keen we are to work collegiately and together. That is the right way forward.
I have already answered the question on thresholds for changes to local lockdowns. We have to apply judgment. Again, we do this in consultation with and working hand in glove with the local area. On the point about data, the hon. Lady might want to have a word with her friend, the shadow Secretary of State, because he was right to acknowledge that the sharing of this sort of data, which is a complicated task, is constantly improving.
Is there more that we can do to help dental practices that are struggling with the need to see fewer patients and with increased costs to provide all the PPE? Many local dental practices are telling me that they will struggle to survive until they get back to normal volumes if they cannot get some help with the increased costs.
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. PPE is a significant extra cost right across the health and care system. Dentists who are on NHS contracts have of course had those contracts paid throughout, even when routine dentistry was not open. I am really glad that we have now managed to get routine dentistry open. We are working with dentists and their representatives to ensure that we tackle the real-world challenge of having high-quality and safe dentistry while ensuring that dental practices can also be financially sustainable. It is a challenging problem and I pay tribute to the dentists who are working with us on it.
Does the Health Secretary agree with the Prime Minister’s despicable comments, blaming care workers for the huge death toll in care homes, or will he admit that his Government’s own failings left these low-paid and undervalued carers with little or no protective clothing, and many without access to sick pay, fighting a losing battle against this awful disease at the height of the pandemic?
I have been clear that we have been learning about this virus and how best to deal with it throughout. My admiration for those who work in social care is second to none. One of the good things about this crisis is that it has shown the whole country how much we value not just those who work in the NHS, but those who work right across social care, caring for the most vulnerable.
Cancer takes the lives of loved ones far too early, including that of my father. The pandemic has made it very difficult for people to access the necessary treatment. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that everything will be done that can be done to ensure that those who need treatment get it soon?
Yes. That is an incredibly important point. When people talk about the lives that have sadly been lost to coronavirus and how many might be in the future, we also have to take into account the health impact of non-coronavirus diseases such as cancer whose treatments are affected by the actions that we have had to take. My heart goes out to all those who have not been able to get cancer treatment because it would not have been appropriate clinically to do so when there was a virus about. We are now putting an enormous amount of effort into getting cancer treatment services up and running. Perhaps the most important message—and the biggest barrier to more early diagnosis—is that people must come forward if they suspect that they have a cancerous lump. If they find a lump, they must call a GP, and if they are asked to go to hospital, they must; it will be safe to do so. It is really important that people help us to help them.
Clearly, it is vital to have health services fully prepared for the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus while reopening normal health services. With that in mind, I have a simple question for the Secretary of State: what estimate has he made of the additional funding required for the NHS between now and the end of 2020?
Could the Secretary of State remind us how big an increase in intensive care capacity there has been for the health service? That increase is a great achievement. Were the unthinkable to happen and there was another surge in the virus, could we have isolation hospitals that dealt with that so that the rest of the hospitals and surgeries could carry on with their other work?
Yes. We have doubled the intensive care capacity, which, alongside the Nightingale, has been a remarkable achievement of the NHS. There are now green and blue areas in hospitals, or whole hospitals, depending on the geography—in a rural area, we could not make a whole hospital covid-secure or covid-free, because it would have to serve both covid and non-covid patients. That separation of the NHS into blue and green areas is an important part of their being able to reduce the impact of infection control procedures, which are obviously having a big impact on the provision of services.
This is a really important point. The hon. Gentleman will have heard at the weekend that the NHS has opened a long-term covid impact service. That is on the health side. On the research side, we have so far put £8.4 million into a research call, but of course we will be happy to expand that if we get research projects that are worthwhile.
What advice and guidance has been developed for shielded adults who have children of school age? It is a question not simply of the transmission risk between children but of the unavoidable contact with other adults. I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand that the earlier such advice is developed and disseminated, the less unnecessary anxiety there will be for these parents during the school holidays.
I will write to my right hon. Friend with that advice. Of course, thankfully, as the virus has been brought under control, so the restrictions on those who are shielding can be lifted, so I am glad to say that this is a lessening problem, but certainly ahead of September, in particular, and the full return of schools, we will have to make sure the advice is very clear, and we will do that.
Day respite care centres, such as Homelink in my constituency, provide much-needed support for people with dementia, learning difficulties and other complex needs and are a lifeline for unpaid carers. Homelink and others are desperate to open as quickly as possible and are working on covid-secure guidelines, but they cannot get free access to testing for staff and their users. Will the Secretary of State please consider making testing for respite carer centres available on the same basis as for care homes?
May I take this chance to thank the people of Leicester and Leicestershire, the police and public health services for dealing with the local lockdown that has been implemented? When it comes to a local lockdown being announced, the people of Hinckley and Bosworth need two vital pieces of information: what the measures are, and where the boundary is. The Government were quick to put up on their website what those measures were, and they rightly allowed Public Health England and the councils to draw the boundary. What lessons has the Health Secretary learned from the Leicester lockdown, including about passing on information quickly, to be used in future lockdowns , which may well happen in the rest of the country?
My hon. Friend is right to praise the work that has been done by Leicestershire County Council, as well as by the city council, with which we are working hand in glove. We are looking at the way that the lockdown was brought in at pace in Leicester, to ensure that, should we need to do that again, it is a yet more effective process. One of the lessons is that the boundary for the action is a critical piece of information. We managed to publish that overnight, within about 12 hours of the decision being publicised. I pay tribute to the county council, which led on that decision. Ensuring that we have both the actions and the boundary ready as soon as possible is critical, because, naturally, local people immediately want to know whether they are in the lockdown area.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State saw today the comments by the president of the Royal Society about the benefits of wearing face masks in indoor public settings, drawing attention to the fact that the prevalence of wearing face masks is much lower in the UK than it is in Spain or Italy. I therefore want to ask him to look at two things. First, will he look at a scheme for issuing a pass or badge to those who have an exemption from wearing a face mask on public transport, so that those who are not exempt can be required to wear them? Secondly, will he look again at the lack of any advice about wearing face masks in supermarkets and other shops? Surely it is just as easy to catch the virus in a supermarket queue as it is on a bus.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on answering this urgent question with the usual aplomb, and I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines) on asking about cancer treatment, which is very important up here in Derbyshire. Is there any news about reopening swimming pools? We have fantastic swimming clubs in South Derbyshire that want their kids to get back to swimming. Although I am grateful for all the pubs that are open, some families prefer to go to bowling alleys. Does he have any news on when they will be able to open?
I would love to get swimming pools open as soon as safely possible. As my hon. Friend knows, the emphasis has to be on safety. Alongside gyms, we are working with swimming pools. Of course, there is also some beautiful open water swimming in Derbyshire. Swimming in all its forms—in the sea, in open water and in swimming pools—is very good for your health, and we should try to get it all open as soon as we possibly can, but the nature of swimming and changing rooms means that there are risks, and we have to ensure that those risks are properly taken into account.
Given the Secretary of State’s earlier comments, will the Government back the campaign by Macmillan Cancer Support and commit to urgently publishing a national cancer recovery plan, to ensure that cancer does not become the forgotten “C” in this pandemic? Will he meet Macmillan to discuss that?
I would be very happy to meet Macmillan. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who is the Minister responsible for cancer, has been working on exactly this subject, but I would of course be happy to meet Macmillan and other cancer charities, because this is such an important thing to get right.
The Secretary of State will have received the letter I sent him as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on vascular and venous disease, highlighting the suffering that vascular patients are facing because of delayed treatment caused by covid-19. As I have said before, time is tissue—the longer the delay in treatment, the more likely it is that these patients will need an amputation. What are the Government’s plans for addressing this backlog?
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this issue. She has raised it before and we have been working on it. In the first instance, the best way to tackle this backlog is to get treatments open as much as possible and to get the number of treatments back up to par—to where they were before the crisis—and then we will have to work on any backlog. In some areas, there are bigger backlogs than in others. The NHS did a remarkable job during the crisis. We protected the NHS during the crisis, but it has a huge amount of work to do—and we will support it to do that work—because of the inevitable and necessary consequences as part of the response to covid.
Last week, it was revealed that Rotherham had one of the highest rates of infection in the entire country. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give to the people of Rother Valley that it is safe to go out, it is safe to patronise our businesses, and we are getting control of this virus?
It is true that Rotherham has a higher proportion of positive cases than the country as a whole. Nevertheless, that rate is much lower than it was in Leicester, and we are working with the council to ensure that the necessary action is taken. Everybody in the Rother Valley should take comfort from the fact that, nationally, the virus is under control. In rural parts of Yorkshire, the rate is not that much higher than anywhere else. People should go out and enjoy summer safely; the emphasis should be on both “enjoy” and “safely”.
At the end of March, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that Clipper Logistics would be contracted to provide a portal for community healthcare partners such as local authorities and social care providers to order PPE for their staff. Can the Secretary of State confirm what the value of the contract awarded to Clipper was and how many items of PPE it has delivered?
I do not have those figures to hand, but the delivery of PPE through this portal has been a very important part of the response in some parts of the country. I am very glad that, thanks to the incredible hard work of thousands of people in the public and private sectors, we have managed to deliver 2 billion items of PPE and that the very sharp spike in demand for PPE has now been met with a very sharp increase in supply.
May I thank care home workers in my constituency? I have been called out to patients in care homes a number of times over this period in my role in the ambulance service and seen staff in full PPE locked down and without the support that they normally get from families. I want to thank them for that and say that I am absolutely full of admiration for them. On the issue of nurses, for my trust to catch up it will require a large number of overseas nurses as well as to train new ones. Part two of the Nursing and Midwifery Council qualifications have to be completed within three months, but some of the test centres are not open yet, so can we look into extending that period, or see whether we can get these test centres open and the backlog cleared?
Yes. The whole House should pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as a first responder during this crisis. He has first-hand experience of the matters of which he speaks. The particular issue that he has raised is not one that has been previously drawn to my attention, but we are doing everything that we can to hire nurses and we are seeing the results of that: over 12,000 more nurses than this time last year in the NHS. We are well on our way to the 50,000 more nurses over this Parliament, on which everybody on the Conservative Benches was elected. I will look into the particular issues he raises and try to solve the problem.
Last week’s “Panorama” had a public health expert from Germany saying that, if we only look for people with symptoms, we get not the whole iceberg, but just the tip of it. The Faroe Islands, which have the highest testing in the world per population—between a fifth and a third of the population—found, as far back as March, that 80% to 85% of covid-19 carriers were asymptomatic. What strategy does the Secretary of State have to find those people who are asymptomatic, because we either test and search out the whole iceberg or we keep using the blunt instrument of lockdowns?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that around 70% to 80% of positive cases in surveys are of people who are asymptomatic. It is one of the most difficult things about this virus. Hence we have built one of the largest testing capabilities in the world. It is significantly bigger than all the other major countries, bar a small number. We are using that testing capability for asymptomatic testing as well as for symptomatic testing across the NHS and social care. We are supporting Scotland as much as we possibly can in its testing effort, too.
The Secretary of State has set out how important data is to his strategy. Can he therefore explain why his Government have a contract with Deloitte to cover the testing for covid-19 which does not require Deloitte to report positive cases of covid-19 to Public Health England or to local authorities?
Does the Secretary of State share my admiration of careworkers on the Yorkshire coast, including those in a care home in my constituency where an outbreak among admin staff in the office was contained and not spread to forward-facing staff or residents? Will he also undertake to support local authorities such as North Yorkshire County Council, which in the past fortnight has had to close two care homes in Scarborough run by the same company, where evidence from the Care Quality Commission showed that the level of care was unacceptable and potentially dangerous?
Yes. My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. I pay tribute to those care homes, in Scarborough and across the country, that have done the right thing and are tackling outbreaks when they find them, including some that go to extraordinary lengths to protect their residents, not least because we know that care home residents are among some of the most vulnerable to coronavirus. But at the same time, we must ensure that the level of care remains high, and the CQC does have an incredibly important role in that.
Professor Michael Baker, who formulated New Zealand’s world-leading elimination strategy, has told the UK:
“You have all the tools you need to pursue containment and elimination if you choose to. The alternative is going in and out of lockdown for months, if not years.”
Does the Secretary of State agree with that, and will he therefore confirm whether the UK Government’s strategy for covid-19 is going to be centred on elimination rather than suppression?
We are absolutely bringing the case rate right down, and the fact that across the UK as a whole there were only 352 positive cases in the last 24 hour period, which is the lowest since before lockdown, demonstrates that that action is happening. It is because of this action that we have been able to allow people more freedom to enjoy the things they enjoy, and I am glad to say that that strategy has been followed by all four Governments in the UK. There may be differences in detail and differences of a few days in a few bits of the timing, but essentially this has been a UK-wide strategy, followed both by the Labour Welsh Government and by the SNP Government in Scotland.
Like so many across our country, I was delighted to visit the pub for the first time over the weekend. I had my first pint in a socially distanced fashion at the Durham Ox in Coundon. I was really impressed by the work that Susan and Phil had done to enforce social distancing and by the ingenious measures they had put in place, including diligently collecting the contact information of the people who entered. So on that note, will my right hon. Friend outline how the covid-secure guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is helping to support the vital NHS test, track and trace efforts?
That is true. The actions we have put in place mean that we can open hospitality such as pubs, and doing that safely means that we have been able to open more hospitality than we would otherwise have done. I, too, went for a haircut and a pint on Saturday morning—[Laughter.] The haircut was on Saturday morning; the pint was early in the afternoon. I am glad to say that my name and phone number were taken when I turned up at the pub. I have not been back to Suffolk since February. That is one of the things I have missed most about this whole crisis. I am going on Friday and I will go to the pub there. No doubt they too will take my number.
The policies we have put in place with the local action are precisely targeted to reduce the risk of a second wave nationally. Nevertheless, as we turn to winter and the weather gets colder, there are signs of some seasonality in this virus, meaning that we will have to be much more careful, both because of the potential impact on how easily the virus transmits and because of changes in behaviour—we know that outdoors is safer and it is just harder to be outdoors in winter. So we must remain vigilant as a country.
When the impact of covid-19 on the beauty industry was raised in the Chamber last week, the Prime Minister laughed, despite the fact that it contributes £30 billion to the economy and accounts for one in 60 jobs. Further to the question by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), what engagement have the Government had with the sector? Given that hairdressers and pubs are now open, when can beauty salons expect to open too?
The decisions that we have taken are based on clinical advice on the risk, because we know that being face to face, when in close contact, is more high-risk than not being face to face. That has been the basis on which the decisions have been taken. Of course I understand the impact on the beauty industry. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is leading on this issue and we will make progress when we safely can.
Last week, I visited St Giles School in Retford, where people very kindly gave me one of their excellent cloth face coverings to wear when travelling to Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend join me in reiterating that while cloth face coverings can help to reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances, face masks worn as part of PPE for healthcare and other workers should be reserved for those who need it?
The use of face coverings that are not formal face masks is valuable, especially in some circumstances, and therefore it is mandated on public transport and has long been recommended in some shops. The use of masks, especially the high-end masks, should be reserved for those who need them in clinical settings. However, I am glad to say that the supply of PPE is now much, much more secure than it was a couple of months ago, which means that face masks are more readily and widely available and are increasingly used in non-clinical settings. The low-end surgical masks are the ones that would typically be used in a non-clinical setting. Nevertheless, face coverings are an incredibly important part of our armoury.