The Secretary of State was asked—
The Under-Secretary of State for Wales and I have regular discussions with the First Minister of Wales and his ministerial team on the response to covid-19, totalling 124 meetings and calls since the pandemic began.
As the Secretary of State knows, the Welsh Labour Government are making a thank-you payment of £500 to every social care worker in Wales. Does he agree that it is a kick in the teeth to those workers that the Treasury intends to tax that bonus payment, and will he join me and the Welsh First Minister in urging the Chancellor to think again?
We have discussed this at Wales questions before. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government did not discuss this in greater detail with the Treasury earlier on, because we could have found a way around it. Those discussions are ongoing, and there is a reasonably positive dialogue, but as I say, the answer to this would have been found in earlier engagement, rather than by their making an announcement that they knew required primary legislation for which there was not time.
On Friday, the First Minister of Wales said that it had been “impossible” to get a “sensible answer” from the UK Government on the plans to allow travel to foreign countries. At the beginning of this crisis, we regularly heard from the First Minister that he had just come off a call with the UK Government, and we know that ministerial implementation groups were being used to co-ordinate a four-nations approach. Despite the numbers that the Secretary of State quoted, there seems to be a communications breakdown. Does he believe that the Government could have done more to work more closely with Wales and other devolved nations during this crisis?
I was talking to the First Minister about this only a few days ago, and he described the particular occasion that the hon. Lady refers to as the exception rather than the rule. As I mentioned, there have been 124 meetings between the two Governments. Actually, dialogue is pretty good, and in eight out of 10 cases, we reach agreement—albeit not necessarily in the greatest of humour, but we do reach agreement. The relationship is better than we sometimes read in the press.
The loss of over 1,400 jobs at Broughton is a devastating blow for not only the workers on site and in the supply chain but the whole economy of north Wales. What discussions has the Secretary of State had recently with Airbus and Welsh Ministers, and when will his Government come forward with a specific sector deal to support the aerospace industry in Wales and across the UK?
I am pleased to report that we have had regular conversations with Airbus throughout the pandemic and very recently, as well as with the Welsh Government and stakeholders in the north Wales and Broughton area. Airbus has reported that the industry has had between £6 billion and £10 billion-worth of UK Government support so far. Discussions with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are ongoing about other areas where help can be provided. My colleagues, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts), have been at the front of that, looking at any other areas in which we can help the industry to remain in Broughton not just now but in five and 10 years’ time. We are open to further discussions.
Sadly, there are not just sectoral problems for aerospace. With Bridgend now reeling from the INEOS threat to take jobs elsewhere, it is clear that Wales and the UK face fierce international competition. Can the Secretary of State explain what he and his Government are doing to develop a UK-wide industrial strategy and a trade policy that will help to retain, create and attract the new green jobs of the future?
I have initial discussions with INEOS tomorrow. This is a deal between the Welsh Government and INEOS, so in a sense, that question should be addressed to the relevant Minister in the Welsh Government. That said, the inability or unwillingness of the Welsh Government to make any moves at all on improving the M4 relief road has played a part, it is rumoured, in the decision that INEOS has taken. In the wider context, I hope the hon. Lady can remain in her seat or one near it for Prime Minister’s questions and the statement from the Chancellor afterwards, as I believe that some of the questions she raised may be answered at that stage.
Covid-19: Tourism Industry
The UK Government have provided unprecedented support to enable the tourism industry in Wales to get through the pandemic. Now is the right time for the industry to reopen safely, and I have urged the Welsh Government on many occasions to share their plans to ensure that Wales is not left behind and can make the most of what is left of the summer season.
Many of my constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South will be hoping to be able to get a holiday in Wales this summer, so as we reopen, will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to ensure that my constituents will still get a well-earned break and enjoy everything that Wales has to offer?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that tourism, like covid, does not recognise political boundaries, so we are very eager to welcome his constituents—indeed, him and anybody else in the House who wishes to visit Wales—once the lockdown has been properly lifted. It is really important that there is a road map to that position. Wales wants to be back in business; it needs to be back in business, and that leadership needs to come from the First Minister of Wales. It has been a bit messy up till now, but there is still time for him to correct the untidiness around the reopening so that tourism can resume.
The people of Darlington have a great fondness for Wales. [Interruption.] Can the Secretary of State outline what representations he has made to the Welsh Government to encourage them to open up their economy, so that my constituents and others from across England can enjoy all its attractions?
I am not sure that I understand why there was sniggering from the Opposition ranks in response to the point that the residents of Darlington might want to visit Wales. We absolutely want residents of Darlington and everywhere else to visit Wales, as has always been the case, but it does need a clear plan; and what has been lacking so far is a clear plan that enables our tourism industry to welcome with open arms residents of Darlington and other places back into the country in the few remaining weeks of the season.
The UK internal tourism market will be very important for the rest of this year, not only for Wales in Rother Valley but for Wales as a nation, so does my right hon. Friend agree with those in the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions who, before they delivered their vote of no confidence in the Welsh First Minister, said that the Welsh Labour Administration were “destroying the survival chances” of the tourism industry in Wales?
We really should take some time to reflect on that. As far as I can remember, that is the first time ever that a major representative body, the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions, has not only passed a vote of no confidence in the First Minister, but also said that his Government are “destroying the survival chances” of an industry in Wales. That, surely, must be the most shameful description of a devolved Government that we have heard in this Chamber.
My hon. Friend is right that 160,000 jobs are dependent on the industry—9.5% of the workforce of Wales. It deserves far better treatment than it has so far had at the hands of the Welsh Government, and I welcome his ability to raise it in the House—
Order. I appeal to the Secretary of State. We have a lot of questions to get through; let us have shorter questions and answers.
My right hon. Friend will appreciate the interdependency between the economies of north Wales and north-west England. We often see holidaymakers travelling between both regions, and in Blackpool, we are always pleased to welcome visitors from north Wales. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to improve transport links between the two regions, which will boost not only tourism, but the economy more generally in a post-covid-19 world?
I will endeavour to be briefer than I have been so far. We have already delivered a £50 million project of railway upgrades in north Wales. We have commitments to the A55 improvements. There are numerous other accelerated plans for infrastructure. As I said in answer to an earlier question, tourism and covid do not recognise political boundaries. Such attempts to improve infrastructure will continue.
Many tourists will go to Wales from England and, indeed, Cornwall. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that those travelling, or thinking of travelling, know the differences between any lockdown rules that we have and any that are in place in Wales?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I think that residents of Wales and other places have become fatigued by the completely confusing array of messages coming out of the Welsh Government in relation to what they can do, what they cannot do, and how far they can go to do it. That is gradually being cleared up. However, we do not want residents of Cornwall to decide that they cannot come to Wales and therefore align themselves with another part of the UK at our expense because of this lack of clarity. The perfect example of that is Llanymynech golf course, where you tee off in England and the ball lands in Wales.
There is mini-Budget talk of a VAT cut for hospitality, and it is fantastic if this is true, because Plaid Cymru has been pushing for it since 2008. Would the Secretary of State support a clear plan for targeted Wales-specific VAT cuts for specific sectors, such as tourism and home improvements, so that our small-employer economy can recover as quickly as possible?
I am going to goad the hon. Lady into having to wait a little longer to hear what the Chancellor has to say in his statement at half-past 12. I would just point out to her, though, that at every possible opportunity the UK Government—I emphasise, the UK Government —have embraced jobs, livelihoods and businesses across Wales in a way that is unprecedented in modern times. I am sure that even as a nationalist, she would like to thank the UK Government and the Chancellor for those very special efforts they have made on behalf of the people of Wales.
The Secretary of State has very kindly answered my question with a question. I will take it, because he has not said no, that he is interested in Wales-specific VAT reductions, and I look forward to talking to him more about that.
Another initiative we could introduce in Wales is one introduced in countries such as Malta and Poland—voucher schemes to encourage domestic tourism to help the recovery. Ahead of the Chancellor’s statement, would the Secretary of State support the introduction of a Welsh tourism voucher scheme to be spent on outdoor attractions, accommodation and transport—trains and buses—which would be a much-needed boost to make the tourism industry work for the people of Wales?
I think the first part of the hon. Lady’s question is aiming too low. Referring to Wales as just a tourism industry in its own right does not go anywhere near embracing the opportunities that tourism in Wales, and the jobs associated with it, has as part of the Union push. My message to her is just to have a look at the interventions that the UK Government have made so far, let alone anything that may come later today, in support of that and many other industries. It is a bit like the sketch, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” I urge her to look at those figures, because I think she will be as pleased as the rest of the House is.
Ynys Môn is the most dependent of any constituency on tourism. My island constituency needs jobs, skills, employment and investment if this Government are to deliver on their levelling-up agenda. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to helping our island by championing Ynys Môn’s capacity to play a leading role in the decarbonisation of the UK economy?
There is no greater champion of Ynys Môn than my hon. Friend, on this and numerous other issues. In particular, her work around Wylfa Newydd has been outstanding and is ongoing. I would urge her —as I am afraid that I have become boring in saying to other Members—to remain in her seat for just a little longer, because I think that some of the subjects that she has raised may get a greater airing later.
As we know, the tourism and hospitality sector has been hit very hard by this pandemic, and despite the best efforts of operators across Wales, this year will be a very difficult one for those in the industry. Can the Secretary of State get the Government to act now and extend the furlough scheme to the tourism sector to avoid workers facing a cliff edge later in the year?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been significant interventions already, with £2.4 billion-worth of Barnettised income for the Welsh Government, plus over twice that in terms of the other interventions that the Welsh workforce has benefited from, particularly in tourism and hospitality. One in three workers in Wales is currently being supported by the furlough scheme. It is not for me to comment on what the Chancellor may or may not be saying in a few minutes’ time. As with so many other questions this morning, I can only say that if he can remain patient for as long as possible, he may find some interesting comments will be made.
Tourism is extremely important to mid-Wales. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for meeting some of my local businesses recently. Many of them could benefit from the £59 million generated by the Culture Secretary’s recent announcement, but I am deeply concerned that the Welsh Government could stick to form and only channel that money towards Cardiff-based tourist and culture attractions. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will do all he can to ensure that mid-Wales will see the benefit of that money, which is, after all, mid-Wales’s money?
Of course I can offer that commitment, but the commitment is to urge the Welsh Government to make those important decisions for the whole of Wales. Having had the pleasure of meeting some of my hon. Friend’s industries the other day, I know that, in her own area, critical events such as the Royal Welsh Show are hugely culturally important, and it is absolutely right that the Welsh Government should look at the whole of Wales, and not be tempted into just supporting a few well-known industries around their favoured patch.
Covid-19: Economic Recovery
The Government’s support for business—the £350 billion package—is helping to limit the long-term damage to the economy, and my Department will continue to work with others in Whitehall and the Welsh Government to drive forward that economic recovery. As the Prime Minister said last week, we must “build, build, build” to ensure jobs and growth as we continue to ease lockdown.
Wales desperately needs new projects to deliver growth and better-quality work, so may I ask my hon. Friend if he will look at the proposals coming from the joint venture based in Pembrokeshire between Total and Simply Blue Energy for deploying floating offshore wind technology in the Celtic sea? I also ask him to use his office to ensure that Treasury and BEIS stay fully involved, because it is a serious project that is worth backing.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Floating offshore wind is a hugely exciting technology. I would be happy to meet those companies. Our commitment to offshore wind is demonstrated by the £28 million which we, along with the Welsh Government, have invested in the Pembroke Dock marine project.
Recognising the severity of the economic damage of covid-19 and also the importance of swift responses from the Government, will the Minister consider proposals made by the Wales Governance Centre recently that both the annual drawdown limit from the Welsh reserve and the cap on Welsh Government borrowing should be
“very significantly relaxed—or removed?”
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend has already signed off about an extra £800 million for the Welsh Government, and if he can wait in his seat for a little while longer, there may be more good news to come.
Economic recovery in north Wales will be made all the harder by the devastating news that Airbus in Broughton is to shed 1,435 jobs. I know the UK Government are already supporting the UK aerospace industry significantly, but can the Minister confirm what further the Government can do to assist Airbus?
I can confirm that when I and my right hon. Friend spoke to the leaders of Airbus last week, they were very grateful to the UK Government and said that the UK Government had been one of the most supportive Governments in the world, which is why, no doubt, far fewer jobs are being lost in the United Kingdom than in other European Union countries. Airbus has benefited from around £5 billion of UK Government support, and I am absolutely certain that the Government will want to continue to support the aerospace sector.
UK-EU Trade Negotiations
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I discussed our future relationship with the EU as part of multiple engagements with the Welsh Government. We will continue to work and listen closely to the Welsh Government throughout the trade deal negotiations. It is, of course, a reserved matter, but we always listen carefully to what the Welsh Government have to say.
“Listen”, but probably don’t do anything, Mr Speaker. Michel Barnier told our Select Committee that the EU will introduce full border checks for the UK from 1 January regardless of the UK’s position. Given that exports to the EU from Wales account for 60% of Welsh exports, this will cause huge disruption. Has the Minister secured any additional support for Welsh exporters, or is it Brexit at all costs and who cares about the Welsh exporters?
Ensuring that Welsh exports— and, indeed, those from Scotland and all other parts of the United Kingdom—are able to be traded freely across the world, including with our former partners in the European Union, is a top priority for the Government. Of course, the hon. Gentleman appears to be asking for some sort of extension to the current deal that we have. He had the opportunity to do that on three occasions last year. I voted on every occasion for a deal that would have given a permanent extension; his party voted against it.
A recent survey by the Office for National Statistics has found that 46% of Welsh businesses have less than six months in cash reserves—the highest percentage among the UK nations. Without additional support, the looming threat of no deal in less than six months could be the final blow for many businesses. How will the Secretary of State explain to businesses that his Government actively decided to build additional barriers by ruling out an extension when they were already struggling?
I have to remind the hon. Lady once again that SNP Members had the opportunity to vote for the whole of the United Kingdom to remain in a semi-permanent customs union until a deal had been struck. They decided to vote against it, taking a gamble that they could destroy Brexit completely. They lost the gamble, and it is far too late now for them to ask for their stake back. We are leaving the European Union at the end of this year, as we promised to do in our manifesto.
Over the years, the Erasmus scheme has benefited many young people in Newport West. The Welsh Labour Government have repeatedly requested that Wales should be able to participate in programmes such as Erasmus, even if the Conservatives in England stop England doing so. Can the Minister confirm whether this important request from a devolved Government has been relayed by the UK negotiators, and if not, why not?
I have to declare a slight personal interest, because my wife was on an Erasmus scheme when I met her as a student some 20 or so years ago. Of course, at that time she was a citizen of a country that was not then in the European Union. So I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that, whatever the future of Erasmus, I and my colleagues are determined to enable young people to be able to travel and study not just in the European Union, but outside the European Union.
Covid-19: Employment Levels
I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government on the effect of their lockdown restrictions on levels of employment in Wales. This Government are continuing to provide unprecedented support to businesses and employees in Wales, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has already said, now is the time to look to reopen Wales and keep people in their jobs.
I am grateful for that answer. The Minister will know that the rules on pubs and restaurants operating in Wales are currently more restrictive than those in England. Can I urge him to say to his constituents that, at least for the time being, if they want to attend pubs and restaurants safely, they are very welcome in the Forest of Dean to safeguard jobs and livelihoods?
In passing, I understand the First Minister is a great fan of cheese, in which case I can recommend Stinking Bishop from Dymock in my constituency, which Claudia Winkleman no less has christened the King of Cheese.
My right hon. Friend and I agree on many things, but I might beg to differ over whether tourists should come to the Forest of Dean or to Wales. I want them to be welcomed in Wales, and I look forward to the Welsh Government reopening the tourism industry in Wales as quickly as possible to save the 160,000 jobs that depend on it.
Covid-19: Welsh Businesses
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on support for Welsh businesses. The hon. Lady will no doubt be aware that we have put forward a £350 billion scheme to support businesses and jobs across the United Kingdom, and much of that will go to Wales.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Welsh Government’s economic contract, which means that any business that receives financial support must demonstrate its commitment to growth, fair work, employee health and skills, and reducing its carbon footprint?
I hope the hon. Lady and everyone in this House will join me in congratulating the United Kingdom Government on bringing forward a furlough scheme that has protected 300,000 jobs in Wales and a self-employment scheme that has protected 100,000 jobs. In addition, we have had bounce back loans, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme. Last week, we protected another 800 jobs—
Come on, Minister. You have got to help me get through the questions.
I welcome some of the wartime-socialism policies of this Government, based on Gordon Brown’s rescue packages under the last Labour Government, which were then cruelly undermined by the Tory Government who followed. But there is room for more fiscal measures, including perhaps looking at VAT on events as a way of trying to stimulate that industry. When the Chancellor sits down next to him, will the Minister whisper in his ear and tell him to do that?
I am happy to accept the hon. Gentleman’s support for Conservative party policies, and if he can just restrain himself for another half hour or so, he might well discover that there is yet more good news for businesses and individuals in Wales. Diolch yn fawr.
I certainly empathise with the victims of recent flooding, especially as many of the same areas were affected more recently. Flood defence is a devolved matter. However, we have made available £16 million to the Welsh Government through the Barnett formula, as a result of flood defences in England.
The unprecedented flooding this year disproportionately affected Welsh communities, including my constituency of Cynon Valley. The Government have now acknowledged the flooding problems caused and indicated that UK Government support for Welsh communities will come from UK reserves. However, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), the Government informed the House on 15 June that the support would be subject to the Barnett formula. Will the Secretary of State confirm that UK Government funding for flooding in Wales will come from the UK reserve in line with the ethos of support and solidarity central to our Union and that it will not be subject to the Barnett formula? Will he also clarify the amount that will be—
Beth, come on. Secretary of State.
Mr Speaker, thank you. In the interests of brevity, may I inform the hon. Lady that discussions are ongoing on this subject and she will be hearing more from the relevant bodies in the near future?
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I am shocked and angered at workers in UK clothing factories such as Boohoo being paid a mere £3.50 an hour and being forced to work in totally unacceptable conditions. In the 21st century, there must be no room for exploitation and modern slavery. We must call time on fast fashion for the sake of people and our planet, so my question is simple: what will the Prime Minister do about it?
First, it is this Conservative Government who set out laws against modern slavery. It is this Conservative Government who massively increased the living wage—not only instituted the living wage, but massively increased it. We hoped that it would be the Labour mayor of Leicester who would stand up for the interests of the workforce in his community. That is what we will do.
We are heading to the shadows of Lichfield cathedral with Michael Fabricant.
It is not just the 800-year-old Lichfield cathedral that we have; we also have the beautiful leafy lanes, wonderful restaurants and bars. But I will tell you what we also have: the Lichfield Garrick, which is a major theatre in the area, and The Hub at St Mary’s. This is what I would like to know: I welcome the £1.7 billion grant that is being given to support our theatres and performing artists, but are we going to see any of it at all outside the west end, including here in Lichfield?
I thank my hon. Friend. I can tell him that Lichfield has been at the centre of our cultural life since Dr Johnson and David Garrick made their famous walk and ride from Lichfield to London in the 18th century, and it will continue to be so. We are working closely with Arts Council England to support and develop the projects that I know are so dear to his heart.
On Monday, when asked why care home deaths had been so high, the Prime Minister said that
“too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have,”
That has caused huge offence to frontline care workers. It has now been 48 hours. Will the Prime Minister apologise to care workers?
The last thing I wanted to do was to blame careworkers for what has happened, or for any of them to think that I was blaming them, because they have worked incredibly hard throughout this crisis, looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country and doing an outstanding job, and as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, tragically, 257 of them have lost their lives. When it comes to taking blame, I take full responsibility for what has happened. But the one thing that nobody knew early on during this pandemic was that the virus was being passed asymptomatically from person to person in the way that it is, and that is why the guidance and the procedures changed. It is thanks to the hard work of careworkers that we have now got incidents and outbreaks down in our care homes to the lowest level since the crisis began. That is thanks to our careworkers and I pay tribute to them.
That is not an apology, and it just will not wash. The Prime Minister said that
“too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could have”.
It was clear what he was saying. The Prime Minister must understand just how raw this is for many people on the frontline and for those who have lost loved ones. I quote Mark Adams, who runs a social care charity, who spoke yesterday. He said:
“You’ve got 1.6 million social care workers going into work to protect our parents, our grandparents, our children, putting their own health and potentially lives at risk. And then to get the most senior man in the country turning round and blaming them on what has been an absolute travesty of leadership from the Government, I just think it is appalling.”
Those are his words. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he apologise to care workers? Yes or no?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman keeps saying that I blamed or tried to blame care workers, and that is simply not the case. The reality is that we now know things about the way the coronavirus is passed from person to person without symptoms that we just did not know. That is why we instituted the care home action plan on 15 April. That is why we changed the procedures. Perhaps he did know that it was being transmitted asymptomatically—I did not hear it at the time. Perhaps Captain Hindsight would like to tell us that he knew that it was being transmitted asymptomatically. Of course it was necessary to change our procedures. I want to thank our care workers for what they have done, and this Government will continue to invest massively in our care homes and in our care workers. By the way, it is this Government, as I said just now, who put up the living wage by record amounts, and that is something that we can do directly to help every care worker in the country.
By refusing to apologise, the Prime Minister rubs salt into the wounds of the very people that he stood at his front door and clapped. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary must be the only people left in the country who think that they put a “protective ring” around care homes. Those on the frontline know that that was not the case. I quote one care home manager from ITN News yesterday. She said this:
“I’m absolutely livid at the fact that he says we didn’t follow the procedures. Because the care assistants, the nurses, everyone in the care home, have worked so hard. And then he’s got the audacity to blame us.”
Those are her words. What would the Prime Minister like to say to that care home manager?
What I would like to say to the lady in question, and indeed to every care home worker in the country, is that this Government appreciate the incredible work that they have done, and we thank them for the incredible work they have done. Let me say further that we will invest in our care homes and we will reform the care home sector. I hope, by the way, that we will do it on the basis of cross-party consensus and get a lasting solution to the problems in our care homes and the difficulties many people face in funding the cost of their old age. That is what we want to do. That is what this Government have pledged to do after 30 years of inaction, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will join us in doing it.
I am glad to hear it. I gently point out that his Government have been in power for 10 years, with no plan and no White Paper. Of course we will join in plans for reforming social care, but 10 years have been wasted. The reality is that more than 19,000 care home residents have died from covid-19. It is a far higher number when we include excess deaths. Overall, around one in 20 care home residents is estimated to have died from the virus. One in 20—it is chilling. These are extraordinary numbers, yet the Prime Minister has consistently ducked responsibility for this. Will he accept that it is not care workers who are to blame; it is his Government?
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the old vice of reading out the pre-prepared question without listening to the answer I have just given. I have made it absolutely clear that this Government take responsibility for everything that we have done throughout this crisis. Of course I pay tribute once again to the work of every care worker in the country and I thank them, but what we have also done is put forward a care home action plan that has helped our care workers and our care home industry to get the incidence of coronavirus right down in every care home in the country to the lowest level, and we are now putting in monthly testing for every resident in our care homes and weekly testing for every care home worker. That is thanks to the fantastic efforts of everybody involved in NHS testing and tracing—and I think, by the way, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should pay tribute to them as well.
The Prime Minister continues to insult those on the frontline by not taking these issues seriously. The Prime Minister must recognise that huge mistakes have been made. Two months ago at PMQs I highlighted the weakness of the early guidance on care homes. The Prime Minister, typically flippant, simply said it was “not true”. There were repeated warnings from the care sector and repeated delays in providing protective equipment —this was not hindsight; they were raised here day in, day out and week in, week out. It was not hindsight; it was real time for the frontline. It was the same with routine testing. And the decision to discharge 25,000 people to care homes without tests was clearly a mistake. Will the Prime Minister simply accept that his Government were just too slow to act on care homes, full stop?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well—or he should know very well—that the understanding of the disease has changed dramatically in the months that we have had it. When he looks at the action plan that we brought in to help our care workers, I think he would appreciate the vast amount of work that they have done, the PPE that they have been supplied with and the testing that they have been supplied with. That has helped them to get the incidence of the disease down to record lows, and it has enabled us to get on with our work, as the Government, in getting this country through this epidemic—getting this country back on its feet. That is what this country wants to see. We have stuck to our plan to open up our economy gradually and cautiously; one week he is in favour of it, the next week he is against it. What this country wants to see is a steady, stable approach to getting our country back on its feet. That is what we are delivering.
Finally, to add further insult to injury, there are reports this morning that the Government are to remove free hospital parking for NHS workers in England. The Prime Minister will know that this could cost hundreds of pounds a month for our nurses, our doctors, our carers and our support staff. We owe our NHS workers so much. We all clap for them; we should be rewarding them, not making it more expensive to go to work. The Prime Minister must know that this is wrong; will he reconsider and rule it out?
The hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic—they are free now—and we are going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well. The House will know that that was never the case under the Labour Government—neither for staff nor for patients. May I respectfully suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes his latest bandwagon and parks it free somewhere else? One week he is backing us; the next week he is not. One week he is in favour of a tax on wealth and tax on homes; the next week he tries to tiptoe away from it. We know how it works: he takes one brief one week, one brief the next. He is consistent only in his opportunism, whereas we get on with our agenda: build, build, build for jobs, jobs, jobs. The House will hear more about that shortly.
I do indeed remember that letter, and I know that the thoughts and sympathies of the whole House will be with Alan and his family. I would like to join Tommy, Shay, Kelly and indeed my hon. Friend in thanking all hospices for the incredible work that they do.
I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister and indeed the whole House will want to join me in marking Srebrenica memorial day, which takes place this Saturday, for the first time happening online. We should never forget the terrible genocide that took place 25 years ago. May I associate myself with the concerns about Tory hospital parking charges? The Scottish National party Government abolished them in Scotland 12 years ago, and I urge the Tory Government to do the same, so that NHS workers and patients will not be penalised.
Some 3.8 million people across the United Kingdom could face unemployment when the furlough scheme ends. The job retention scheme has been a lifeline to millions; yet we could see progress unravel as the scheme ends. Millions of people could find themselves out of work, struggling to pay bills and to put food on the table. Will the Prime Minister commit today to extending the furlough scheme? People must not lose their jobs because the Tories refused to act.
I think that most people looking at what has happened in the UK over the last three or four months around the world have been overwhelmingly impressed by the way that we, as a Government, have put our arms around people, with £164 billion invested in jobs, in incomes and in supporting people. It has been a massive effort. I know that a lot of people in this House will agree with me that we cannot go on forever with a furlough scheme that keeps employees in suspended animation in the way that it does. We need to get our economy moving again. That is what I think the people of this country want to see, in a sustainable and cautious way.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is constantly saying this, but I would just remind him that the job retention scheme—the furlough scheme—has worked because of the power and the efficiency of the UK Treasury. It is the UK Government that have funded the furlough scheme and £4.8 billion in Barnett consequentials to Scotland alone. I am sure that he does not hesitate to remind his colleagues of that.
Of course, it is about the future, and it is about making sure that people can be protected. Just this week, we have seen Spain look to extending furlough scheme into 2021. Research has shown that prematurely ending the job retention scheme risks higher unemployment and weaker productivity, with a potential loss of up to £50 billion to GDP. The Resolution Foundation is calling for £3 billion to £5 billion to be spent on extending furlough payments for the hardest-hit sectors, and the TUC is warning of the effect that ending the furlough scheme early will have on people who are shielding and in difficulties. This is about not throwing away the benefits that we have accrued. The Prime Minister seems intent on sinking the lifeboat that has been keeping so many people afloat. If the Prime Minister will not extend the furlough scheme, will he give Scotland the powers so that we can do it ourselves?
I think I have answered the right hon. Gentleman’s question already. I believe it is absolutely essential that we invest in our people and protect them from the effects of this epidemic, as we have done at huge expenditure, quite rightly, but it is also essential that we get the economy moving, including in Scotland. I hope that he supports that objective as well.
Absolutely right. I have been amazed to hear that Labour is proposing to bring forward a wealth tax—a tax on homes. New leader, same old Labour policies—exactly what this country does not need. What we need is investment in people and investment in their wages, increasing the living wage and taking this country forward. They want to tax, tax, tax; we want jobs, jobs, jobs.
Given the devastating impact of Brexit on my constituency and the decades of under-investment and neglect by successive British Governments, will the Prime Minister agree to work with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that a freeport area is developed in Derry to try to address the long-term economic imbalance? Will he agree to meet me and a delegation from the city to progress this project?
I note the paradox that the hon. Gentleman wants a freeport in Londonderry/Derry, which is something that can only be achieved by Brexit, by the way. I am more than happy to study the plans he proposes. We will see what we can do to take them forward.
Absolutely. We want young people to have the self-confidence brought by the experience of work, to keep learning on the job and to get the jobs that they need. If my hon. Friend waits just a few minutes, he will hear rather more from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor about that very matter.
There are, in fact, 12,000 people who have taken advantage of the furlough scheme in the hon. Lady’s constituency. They are getting 80% of their income up to £2,500 a month. It is a fantastic, massive scheme. In addition, for those she rightly identifies who have had difficulties accessing furlough, we have massively increased universal credit, which is up by £1,040 for families across the country. That is in addition to the panoply of other loans and grants we have made.
I thank my hon. Friend for an apposite question, because the Health Secretary has committed not just to building 40 new hospitals, but to visiting Doncaster very shortly to discuss investment in healthcare there.
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. The aviation industry has been very hard hit. We are supporting the sector in all kinds of ways, not just by supporting employees, but through the time-to-pay scheme and loans from the Bank of England and the Government to aviation. Of course, we are supporting local councils as well with billions of pounds—£3.2 billion. The most important thing is to get a medium and long-term solution that enables airlines to start flying again, so that Luton council can get the revenue it needs. I perfectly understand and support the points she makes.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that attractive idea to my attention. I know that several projects are being considered along the Cumbrian coast. I would advise him, first, to get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to see what he can do to take it forward, and I will give what support I can.
I think we should have absolutely zero tolerance for violence or aggression towards people who work in shops, just as we have zero tolerance for people who are aggressive towards those who work in our public services, and we will do everything we can to ensure that that is the case.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. As he knows, on 10 May we set out our plan for cautiously getting our economy open again, and we will be saying more later this week about the next steps and the timetable we hope to follow.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and renew the points I made earlier and the tributes I pay to care home workers. The particular case he raises is important and troubling, so if he would be kind enough to write to me with details, setting out exactly what happened, I would be very happy to reply.
We have seen the most amazing upsurge in community spirit in this country, with millions of people coming together to support their neighbours. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to sustain this community spirit into the future, which means supporting the social infrastructure of local places, such as libraries, youth clubs and community businesses, and means Whitehall giving away power, so that, finally, local communities can take back control?
I thank my hon. Friend for everything he has done to champion the voluntary sector and community spirit over many years. I have followed his campaigns with interest and with support. I think there is now an opportunity to build on the way the nation came together during the covid crisis and to deliver even more of the kind of projects that he wants. We will certainly be putting our support behind those types of community initiative.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She is right to draw attention to one of the most remarkable features of the covid crisis, which was the way that the country and the Government were able to help thousands and thousands of homeless people to find accommodation. In other countries, where they were less fortunate, we saw serious epidemics among the homeless. Thankfully, we have so far avoided that, and we are taking forward plans with Dame Louise Casey and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the 15,000 do not just come back on to the streets. We will do everything we can to stamp out homelessness in this country.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn serves more than 300,000 people across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. On the 40th anniversary of a hospital built to last only 30 years, does my right hon. Friend agree that the dedication shown by staff in responding to coronavirus deserves to be recognised by our including the Queen Elizabeth in our new hospital building programme?
Of course, this Government were elected to build 40 new hospitals, and that is what we are going to do. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will be setting out the list, but I can also tell my hon. Friend that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was awarded £9 million in October for urgent upgrades to protect vital frontline care. I am sure he will understand that further, long-term solutions are now under active consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) behind me says from a sedentary position, “What has the right hon. Gentleman got against Poland?” We will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country. We will actively buy British. We will ensure that contracts go to great British companies, but what we will not do is turn our faces against the notion of international free trade and the market, which has brought colossal wealth to the people of this country. Those are the politics and the economics of the madhouse.
To avoid drama later, we need to complete the process of getting Brexit done in the next few months. Will my right hon. Friend therefore please confirm for the benefit of everyone listening that nothing in the Northern Ireland protocol will be allowed to stop the United Kingdom charging our own tariffs for the whole United Kingdom from 1 January 2021?
Yes. Not a sausage, not a jot and not a tittle of the Northern Irish protocol will provide any such impediment to the unfettered access of goods and services between all parts of the UK.
I have seldom met anybody who was more boosterish for the future of Wales than the Secretary of State for Wales, and that is because this Government are absolutely committed to levelling up throughout the whole UK—in Wales and everywhere—with infrastructure and investment in education and in technology. We will do the things, by the way, that the Welsh Labour Government have failed to do, such as unblocking the Brynglas tunnels and allowing that proper M4 bypass, which has long been needed. We will apply the Vicks inhaler to the nostrils of the Welsh dragon and get Wales moving.
Are you trying to put the fire out of the dragon, Prime Minister?
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 suspend the House for three minutes.