Skip to main content


Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2020

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.

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.

My well-known and much loved constituent Alan Young died of cancer last year, having been cared for at Myton Hospice in Warwick. I am sure the Prime Minister will remember the very moving letter that he received from Alan’s brave nine-year-old son Tommy—which Tommy read out on local radio—praising Myton for looking after his dad and asking for the hospice to receive support. The Government are providing £200 million per quarter for hospices during the current emergency, so it is very clear that the Prime Minister appreciates their work. Will he join me, Tommy, his brother Shay and his mum Kelly in thanking Myton and all hospices throughout the country for the invaluable care that they provide to people like Alan? (904561)

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.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me and my constituents that calls from some in this House for a raid on homes, pensions and savings would hammer hard-working families and undermine Britain’s economic recovery? (904564)

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.

The coronavirus has hit young people in work and those about to enter the jobs market particularly hard. Will my right hon. Friend continue to build on his excellent package of announcements so far, so that young people have hope, encouragement and the very best prospects for the start of their working lives? (904565)

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.

Hundreds of my constituents have been excluded from the furlough scheme or support for the self-employed owing to gaps in the legislation. Barriers to that support include real-time information cut-off dates and the 50% cap on non-trading income. The Government’s solution for those constituents is to take out loans, which for many is untenable and will lead to unemployment and bankruptcy. Will the Prime Minister commit to widening access to these schemes for the many people who are left behind? (904562)

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 am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in thanking Richard Parker, the chief executive officer of Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and his staff for all their hard work during the covid pandemic. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that Doncaster needs a new hospital? Does he believe that by building a new hospital in the town, the Government will send a clear message to the people of Don Valley that we are committed to levelling up the north? (904569)

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.

Luton airport provides direct funding to Luton Borough Council and many local charities in my constituency, but covid-19 has had a huge impact on that commercial and charitable income. Without urgent Government action, Luton council will be forced into making £22 million of in-year cuts next week. I have raised this issue repeatedly in Parliament on behalf of the thousands of Lutonians. Will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss how emergency funding for Luton council would save crucial local services and the jobs of hundreds of key workers? (904563)

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.

It has been said, I hope not uncharitably, that my right hon. Friend has never met a bridge that he did not want to build. Off the Cumbrian coast, we have an opportunity to steal a march with a tidal barrage that would supply 5% of the UK’s energy needs in a green, sustainable way. It would leave a legacy of jobs in Copeland, Barrow-in-Furness and Workington—7,000 jobs. It would allow us to connect communities that have a terrible transport network at the moment with a shiny new bridge and it would allow us to build, build, build our way into a green revolution. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and my Cumbrian colleagues to explore this deal further? (904570)

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.

Yesterday, after a delay of more than a year, the Government published their response to their call for evidence regarding violence and abuse against shopworkers. In that period, there have been 150,000 such incidents, which are completely unacceptable. There are a lot of good things in the Government’s response, but it is disappointing that they have stopped short of a change in the law. Will the Prime Minister make a commitment that if his plans do not reduce the 400-plus incidents every day within six months, he will support legislative change? (904566)

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.

There was a welcome relaxation of lockdown rules on Saturday, but some sectors, such as health and beauty, the performing arts, language schools, events providers and the wedding industry, are still not able to open. Will my right hon. Friend publish a timetable so that there can be some hope and certainty for these industries? (904572)

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.

A care home owner in my constituency was told that if it refused to accept the return from hospital of a covid-positive patient, they would be discharged to an unfamiliar home. The procedure that the owner was obliged to follow was this Government’s, so rather than pointing the finger at care workers for his failures, will the Prime Minister do the right thing, apologise and pay tribute to the professionalism of the care home owners, managers and staff in Bedford, who went above and beyond this Government’s guidelines in order to save lives? (904567)

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.

Some 230,000 renters are going to be at risk of homelessness or eviction as we emerge from lockdown. Will the Prime Minister urgently, today, lay legislation so that, on a cross-party basis, we can support those people at risk of homelessness before we break up for the summer recess? (904568)

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.

I thank the Prime Minister for getting things moving on the disclosure and barring scheme. It was also good to hear him belatedly adopting the policy of jobs, jobs, jobs, but does he mean jobs in the UK, or in France, Poland, Germany, Korea and China? It is all very well announcing, for example, blue passports, but those are now being produced not in the north-east, but by a French company in a Polish factory. Will the Prime Minister now take back control and give instructions to the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, Whitehall and town halls to buy British and protect British jobs, jobs, jobs? (904571)

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 am totally on board with the Prime Minister’s rhetoric that for too long money has piled into the south-east corner of this island. Investment is needed now to bolster and boost universal confidence. Can he explain, therefore, why his Secretary of State for Wales took to Twitter this week to argue that Wales is too poor, with too few businesses and taxpayers, to be successful? Surely he cannot condone the Welsh Secretary’s off-message pessimism. (904573)

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.

Sitting suspended.