House of Commons
Tuesday 14 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 Secretary of State was asked—
Domestic Abuse: Supporting Victims
My Ministers and I are in regular contact with our counterparts across Government and the sector to ensure the smooth passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill and to provide timely support for victims at this difficult time. We announced £76 million to support the most vulnerable during the pandemic, including survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
One in six crimes in West Yorkshire are linked to domestic abuse. Lifting the lockdown restrictions may lead to an increase in reporting of this type of crime. What plans are in place to enable courts to deal with these cases swiftly?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about a local aspect to what is a national issue. The courts continue to prioritise cases of the utmost seriousness, which include domestic abuse. On 1 July we published a courts recovery plan, setting out how we are preparing to operate courts and tribunals after the pandemic, which includes priority being given to domestic abuse cases.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks about priorities. The fact that courts have not been able to sit because of the covid-19 emergency has led to some hearings relating to domestic abuse being delayed, which is particularly damaging where child custody is contested and access to children is involved. What steps is he taking to ensure that these cases are heard at the earliest opportunity?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be glad to know that we are promoting access to the family courts via video or telephone, as well as through the 157 priority courts that remained open throughout the pandemic for essential face-to-face hearings. Domestic violence protection orders and non-molestation orders continue to be listed for urgent hearings, despite the current restrictions.
On Black Country Day, it is fitting that I pay tribute to Sam Billingham, a constituent of mine who, necessitated by her experience, founded her own domestic violence charity in the west midlands called SODA, which offers support for domestic abuse survivors. What is the Ministry doing to ensure that domestic violence survivors who do not have access to a lawyer can apply for domestic abuse injunctions?
I readily join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of local campaigners such as the ones in her constituency. She will be pleased to know that we are providing £800,000 of funding to the FLOWS—Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors—project run by RCJ Advice, which provides free legal support to victims of domestic abuse who wish to apply for an emergency protective order from the courts. That funding is used to provide a helpline and email service, where victims can be referred to a legal aid solicitor or receive free advice directly.
The hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) is not online, so we will go to Ben Everitt.
Will my right and learned hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to grassroots organisations such as MK Act in my constituency, which has worked tirelessly to assist victims of domestic abuse throughout the lockdown? I would like to make the House aware of the Open University open justice team, who have collaborated with the charity Support Through Court to launch free online resources to support those dealing with domestic abuse.
I am delighted to hear of the excellent work done by those organisations in Milton Keynes. We fully recognise the role that charities across the country play in providing vital services, which is why we announced £28 million of funding across Government to support domestic abuse charities providing services in safe accommodation and in the community. I am aware of the collaborative work done between the Open University and Support Through Court. That work was funded, in part, by a Ministry of Justice grant.
I was proud to support the Domestic Abuse Bill in this place last week, which shows that we are tackling this serious crime and protecting victims. Most domestic abuse charities reported an increase in cases during the lockdown and fear a further surge in cases as restrictions are lifted. While I appreciate the money that the Government have made available for charities during lockdown, will my right hon. and learned Friend fight for additional funding to support the expected surge in demand from domestic abuse survivors?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s diligence in this area, and I am grateful to him for high- lighting the challenges. He will be glad to know that of the £76 million that we announced in May to help the most vulnerable people in society, £10 million has been allocated for charities providing safe accommodation, such as refuges; £2 million has been allocated for national and other non-local charities providing support to victims of domestic abuse in the community; and £25 million is already being allocated via police and crime commissioners for support services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Finally, there is an additional £3 million specifically to fund independent sexual violence advisers for the next two years.
Criminal Justice System: Support for Children and Young People
Fortunately, the number of children coming into contact with the criminal justice system is reducing; offences committed by children have fallen by 76% over the last decade. We have allocated £72 million this year for youth offending teams to provide support for children who have offended, to help them turn around their lives.
Following the Black Lives Matter movement, in Croydon we have held a series of quite urgent meetings to look at the system and what we can do to improve things—the police, the youth offending teams and community groups. One of the issues that the youth offending service has identified is that a lot of young people who come into contact with it but just brush the system and do not end up being charged with any offences have significant problems, whether with trauma, abuse or bereavement, and need intervention at that point, before they are criminalised. Will the Minister look at increasing the support given to our young people at that stage?
The hon. Member makes a really important point on both how we ensure that there is not racial disparity in those who enter the criminal justice system and how we divert people away from it. She will be pleased to know that over £220 million has been invested in early intervention, including £200 million in the youth endowment fund to support those most at risk of being drawn into crime.
The Minister will be well aware that although the number of young people coming into contact with the system has reduced, very often they present much more complex and challenging cases, not least because of the data recently published by the Youth Justice Board showing a large number of pre-existing problems that are there before they come into contact with the system. Given that, does she accept that it is necessary not just to continue the existing measures of diversion, but to pull those together into a much broader, overarching strategy for young people and children in the justice system—not just up to the age of 18, as is the case at the moment, but, given the evidence we have on maturity, beyond that, perhaps into the early 20s or even to 25, as evidence that the Justice Committee has strongly supports?
As usual, my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee makes a number of important points. He is right to identify that the people coming into custody, because there are fewer of them, have committed more serious crimes—often violent crimes—and are very complex to deal with. He is right to point out the importance of the transition between youth custody and adult custody, and that is something we are looking at very closely. The Youth Custody Service is currently looking at improving the transition in prison from youth to adult custody, and at the feasibility of introducing an integrated healthcare model for young adults based on the system that is currently operated in the youth custody estate.
Over 60,000 children were arrested last year in England and Wales but only 118 parenting orders were issued. That is less than 10% of the figure in 2009. How can a troubled young person turn around their life if the Government are not doing everything they can to help them?
The hon. Member makes a very important point. I was pleased to discuss a number of issues that cross our portfolios yesterday. He makes an important point about looking at the whole system and at where a young person will return to—the parents, the family, the community and the friends that they will return to. If we manage to overcome their issues in custody, we need to ensure that they do not return to crime on coming out. Oasis, the company that is providing the secure schools that we are looking at very closely, wants to ensure that there are places for people to stay when they come and visit their children, but it also wants to work with them when they visit to ensure that there is that support on going out. The hon. Member makes a very important point about parenting orders, which we are looking at.
Human Rights Act 1998: Discussions with Scottish Government
We regularly engage with the Scottish Government, as well as the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, on a range of justice-related matters, including human rights. The Government committed to looking at the broader aspects of our constitution, including updating the Human Rights Act. I can assure the hon. Members that, once the work on the Human Rights Act review commences, the implications for the devolved Administrations will be closely monitored.
I thank the Minister for that answer. At Justice questions on 9 June, the Lord Chancellor told us that he was working on that independent review into the operation of the Human Rights Act, but given how hugely significant the Human Rights Act is to the devolved settlements of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, does the Minister agree that any changes to that Act would need full consultation, not just monitoring, and the consent of the devolved Administrations?
Yes, of course. Scotland has a distinguished and distinct legal system and of course it would need to be consulted in that way. I do wish, though, to make one point crystal clear: whatever amendments may come to the Human Rights Act, the United Kingdom remains committed to membership of the European convention on human rights. That will not change.
Can the Minister outline the relationship between the independent review of the Human Rights Act and the proposed constitution, democracy and rights commission, as well as the terms of reference for the independent review and whether the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, will be consulted about those terms of reference?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. There is a manifesto commitment to look at updating the Human Rights Act, which is now—what?—20 years old or so, but we have yet to set the terms of reference. Of course it is the case that, as we go forward in that process, the implications for the distinguished and distinct, separate legal jurisdiction of Scotland must be taken into account, and that is exactly what we will ensure takes place.
Can the Minister confirm what criteria will be used to appoint members to this independent review? Will it include members with expertise in the human rights regime in Scotland, and will civic society organisations from Scotland be able to submit evidence and participate in the review?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Of course, it is axiomatic that membership of that committee, which has yet to be settled, must include those who have the wherewithal to comment on precisely the points she indicated, including the impact upon Scotland. I would want to see that being the case and, indeed, in respect of the other jurisdictions as well. We have to make sure that, as we go forward, we respect and recognise the differences that exist in the United Kingdom in this most important regard.
The Scottish Government have plans to pass a new human rights Act incorporating economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the devolved areas. Does the Minister agree that it is unfortunate that, at a time when the Scottish Government are working to expand the rights of people living in Scotland, at least in respect of devolved areas, the UK Government are perceived as threatening to diminish human rights protections in respect of reserved matters and across the United Kingdom?
Can I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question? She will, I hope, acknowledge that perceptions are not always borne out by reality. The United Kingdom Government remain committed to the European convention on human rights, and nothing that will take place by way of an update or any proposals that emerge will threaten that fundamental point. We are a nation of laws. We are committed to upholding human rights. That is the way it is going to stay.
I thank the Minister for his answer and I hear clearly his assurance that the United Kingdom remains committed to the ECHR, but of course it is the Human Rights Act that gives people living in the United Kingdom the ability to avail themselves of the rights protected by the convention in the United Kingdom’s domestic courts. If, in updating the Human Rights Act, the Government have no intention of abrogating the domestic law that gives effect to the ECHR, why are they allowing the perception that they might do so to undermine the chances of securing an agreement with the European Union on future co-operation on law enforcement and judicial co-operation on criminal matters?
The hon. and learned Lady is right that, of course, the Human Rights Act does provide the power for individuals to assert and invoke those rights, but if we are committed to the convention, we are also committed to article 13 of the convention, which is the right to an effective remedy. The courts play an important role in allowing citizens to invoke and assert their convention rights. That will continue.
Radicalisation in Prisons
We take the threat posed by terrorist offenders very seriously. We utilise a range of rehabilitative tools, which include psychological, theological and mental health interventions. In January, the Government announced a number of additional measures for dealing with terrorist offenders, including increasing the number of counter-terrorist specialist staff in our prisons.
In the last eight months, we have seen terrorist attacks in Streatham, Fishmongers’ Hall and, most recently, Forbury Gardens, where the assailant either had just been released from prison, or was out on licence. What improvements does my hon. and learned Friend think could be made to de-radicalisation programmes to prevent these lone wolf, post-release attacks?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the tragic incidents that we have seen over recent months. She rightly highlights de-radicalisation programmes. Twenty-two trained imams are doing de-radicalisation programmes in our prisons, but those are not the only measures that we are introducing. We have increased our training for prison and probation officers to deal with terrorism and we are bringing in new national standards for managing terrorists on licence. We want more counter-terrorism specialist staff and we want more places in approved premises as a transition from prison to the community. In addition to that, counter-terrorism police funding is increased this year by £19 million.
There was much discussion around the inadequacy of de-radicalisation work in prison during the Committee stage of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, both in evidence and in debate. We heard that these programmes are not entirely fit for purpose and not always readily available. Clearly, they need a good overhaul—perhaps even more so given the new, longer minimum sentences. The hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) certainly seems to agree with that. Sadly, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). rejected our amendment in Committee to undertake a review to examine the effectiveness and availability of de-radicalisation programmes in prison. Will today’s Minister accept that they do need to be improved and launch the review that is needed?
We have increased the number of imams operating the de-radicalisation programmes. We are looked at, and looked towards, by others internationally in relation to the programmes that we operate. Of course, we continually evaluate the programmes that we operate within our prisons.
Support for Victims of Crime
We are committed to ensuring that victims of crime receive the support that they need now, during covid, but also in the future. We are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers, investing in the Crown Prosecution Service, and rolling out £76 million to support victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse, as well as vulnerable children.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Victims of domestic abuse in Redcar and Cleveland are supported and helped by fantastic local charities such as EVA Women’s Aid and Foundation. Will he outline how his Department are strengthening support services for domestic abuse and ensuring that they have the funding that they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. I also thank the domestic abuse charities, including EVA Women’s Aid, for the fantastic work they do in supporting victims of crime. We are committed to ensuring that vital support continues as we ease lockdown restrictions. In response to the pandemic, the Ministry of Justice has distributed £22 million to date as part of the package for charities supporting vulnerable people. As announced at the Prime Minister’s hidden harms summit in May, we have also committed to developing a funding strategy for all victims of crime, including domestic abuse, which will look at the longer-term sustainability of funding.
Previous figures published by the Department for Education have shown that more than 18,700 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by authorities in 2018-19. Several grooming cases brought to court have revealed abusers targeting vulnerable girls, particularly those in care, supported accommodation or with learning difficulties. It is gut-wrenching to hear, but the reality is that it is still happening. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is dedicated to forming a joined-up support approach with police forces, local NHS services and children’s services to identify support for these victims, but also with the aim of preventing such abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. Child sexual abuse and exploitation are truly abhorrent, and the Government are dedicated to taking precisely the joined-up action that he urges on us to prevent abuse and provide support for victims. The Government’s victims strategy outlines our commitment to improve support for victims of child sexual abuse to help them to cope. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 introduced the most significant reforms in a generation, requiring local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and the police to form multi-agency safeguarding partnerships.
Access to Justice
Access to justice is a fundamental right and this Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can get the timely support they need to access the justice system. We have removed the mandatory element of the telephone gateway to support access to advice, and we continue to prioritise work to provide a new £3.1 million grant that will further enhance legal support for litigants in person. In 2018-19, we spent £1.7 billion on legal aid, and in response to disruption caused by covid we are providing £5.4 million in funding to not-for-profit providers of specialist legal advice.
I support strongly what the Government are doing in funding law centres and providing much more information online for our constituents, but how does my hon. Friend think we can access the services where needed of an asylum lawyer at the Gloucester Law Centre? Also, will he ensure that the only magistrates court in our county—in his Cheltenham constituency—will be well funded, so that it can operate efficiently for years to come?
I think the answer will be yes.
The answer is yes—thank you for pre-empting it, Mr Speaker—but first, may I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for the Gloucester Law Centre, which does fantastic work? The £3 million grant will allow law centres to increase their capacity to provide advice for those who need it. We are also considering the longer-term sustainability of providing legal aid more widely, including for asylum cases, to which he rightly adverts; my officials are working closely with stakeholders on this. As you rightly trailed, Mr Speaker, on court maintenance, we have announced a tripling of funding for repairs and upgrades to include £30 million for the roll-out of the latest video technology. That will be welcomed in Cheltenham and, indeed, Gloucester.
Legal aid lawyers are being asked, yet again, to carry the can for a decade of mismanagement on the part of successive Tory Ministers. Lawyers are now expected to work extended hours for no extra pay to clear the half a million backlog of criminal cases caused by savage cuts. Legal aid lawyers do not support extended or flexible operating hours, but why would they? Their patience and good will have been stretched too far. Ministers know full well that the underfunded justice system means justice denied, so what—if any—representations has the Justice Secretary made to the Treasury for more funding; or is it simply that he just does not care?
Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. The Government are committed to this. I was a practitioner in 2010 and I well remember when Labour was in government and Labour Members derided the “gravy train” of legal aid. We will never do that, because we recognise its importance. This Government have eased the rules on hardship and interim payments to enable the early drawdown of payment for work done, and for solicitors we have doubled the number of opportunities to seek payment on account. This is really important: we are accelerating work on CLAR—the criminal legal aid review—because we want to put between £31 million and £51 million into the profession as soon as possible. That funding will be released before too long.
We remain absolutely committed to taking forward every recommendation that falls to Government and to completing the action on all those within our responsibility over the next 12 months. Recently, in February, we provided a further progress report in which we describe the undertakings to which we have committed the Department in relation to the recommendations.
Black and minority ethnic young people already face discrimination in the jobs market, and those with a criminal record are doubly disadvantaged. By putting barriers in the way of young people who have changed and present no significant risk to others, the criminal records system traps them in their past. The Taylor review recommended reform to ensure that young people are not unnecessarily held back by childhood offences, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) called for a new approach, learning from the system for sealing criminal records adopted in many US states. When will the Government implement Lammy review recommendation 34 and allow young people to demonstrate that they are more than their past?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. She will be glad to know that only last Thursday the relevant statutory instrument was laid before the House to remove both the requirement for automatic disclosure of youth cautions and the multiple conviction rule, which cause problems for people who have old convictions, regardless of their nature or the sentence. I want to go further. I have considered carefully the recommendation of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and the sentencing White Paper later this year will have further proposals for reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
Stop-and-search is a misused, overused and discriminatory police tactic disproportionately applied to black, Asian and other minority communities, which results in deep resentment and distrust towards the police and the Government. Will the Government, at the very least, hold their hands up and accept that many black, Asian and other minority men, women and children are stopped and searched not on the grounds of evidence or reasonable belief but because of the colour of their skin?
I share with the hon. Gentleman a deep abhorrence of arbitrary use of police powers, including stop-and-search. We have committed—as we should—to a principle of intelligence-led policing. That means police officers acting lawfully, on reasonable grounds, and not profiling or stereotyping any person because of the colour of their skin. There should be no place for that in our society.
As we have heard, recommendation 34 of the Lammy review said that the criminal justice system
“should learn from the system for sealing criminal records employed in many US states.”
I welcome the Government’s finally responding last week, after 18 months, with plans to comply with the major Supreme Court decision on filtering youth cautions, and the indication that I think the Secretary of State has given on meeting recommendation 34. Will he undertake to consult with Unlock and other groups who have campaigned long on this issue and speak to me in preparation for bringing forward those planned guidelines?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has always come to this matter with great responsibility and constructive engagement. In that spirit, I am more than happy to continue engaging with him. I will, of course, speak to the charities he mentioned, whom I know well, and other major stakeholders such as Lord Ramsbotham, in pursuance of preparation of a policy that I very much hope will command the support of all corners of the Chamber.
Covid-19: Protection of Prison Staff
I take this opportunity to thank our prison staff and those who work in probation for the outstanding job they have done to keep our prisons and those in the community safe. We have taken a range of measures to protect staff from the virus, including reducing the risk of transmission in prisons, led by Public Health England guidance, and making personal protective equipment and testing available. The latest Public Health England advice indicates that the measures we have taken have had a positive impact on limiting the spread of the virus.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for her response and join her in praising prison staff for all the work they have done during this difficult time. What is the plan to continue to protect prison staff as restrictions start to lift and life goes back to near-normal?
As my right hon. Friend highlights, as restrictions are lifted in the community, so we need to lift restrictions in prisons, too, but we need to do so cautiously to ensure that we do not increase the risk of infection. Where prisons are starting to open up—for example, to introduce visits—adaptations are being made to ensure that the risk of infection to staff and prisoners is minimised.
On 5 May, the shadow Minister for Prisons and Probation, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), wrote to the Department regarding concerns about the treatment of cleaners at Petty France during the pandemic. The Secretary of State’s reply on 29 May made it clear that he thought there was no issue in terms of management, access to personal protective equipment, social distancing or sick pay. However, hours of interviews and leaked emails and text messages confirmed that cleaners were forced into the Department during the lockdown period, denied PPE, offered no support and had medical issues consistent with coronavirus symptoms. Seven outsourced staff on the site have had those consistent symptoms; two are now dead. The Department had to be guilt-tripped into backdating sick pay. Will the Minister live up to the Ministry of Justice’s name by committing to a full independent review as to what happened to those cleaners working in the Ministry of Justice?
As the right hon. shadow Secretary of State has mentioned, these matters have been looked at. I am happy to take on board any further points that he would like to make.
Terror Offences: Prison Sentences
Protecting our fellow citizens is our most important duty. The Government legislated in February, via the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, to make sure that terrorist offenders no longer get automatically released at the halfway point; instead, they become eligible for parole-board release at the two-thirds point. Via the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which comes back for Report and Third Reading next week, we are introducing mandatory 14-year minimum prison sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders and ensuring that other serious offenders serve all their sentence in prison. By doing that, we protect our fellow citizens.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the limited use of terrorism prevention and investigation measures, as amended by the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill that will come back for Report next week, will serve to help to keep my constituents in Northampton South and those elsewhere safe from terror attacks?
In Committee, we heard extremely compelling evidence from Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques, who is one of the national policing leads on counter-terrorism. He explained how, in his professional experience and that of the security services, the changes that we are making to TPIMs will make our constituents and our fellow citizens safer. I hope that Members will pay close attention to the evidence that Assistant Chief Constable Jacques gave when they consider the Bill on Report next week.
Probation Services: Community Links
Joining up probation to other community services is critical. The new model for probation will allow us to build on local links that have already been forged. In the future probation system, more than £100 million a year will be spent on specialist rehabilitative and resettlement services, including education and employment.
Our recovery from this crisis will require support for all our constituents to get back into well-paid, good-quality jobs. We have to break the cycle of reoffending and ensure that when people leave prison, they have the help and support that they need to get back into work, so that they do not fall back into a life of crime and misdemeanours, which does none of us any good. Will the Minister guarantee that our agencies are linked to provide proper opportunities to turn former reoffenders’ lives around? Will she guarantee that the renationalisation of the probation service will not be used as an excuse for any more cuts, and will instead be used to work towards an improved and better staffed, trained and managed National Probation Service?
The hon. Member makes a number of points in her question. I would like to assure her that we are committed to ensuring that people who come out of prison are rehabilitated, get jobs and turn away from crime. We recently launched the New Futures Network, which is dedicated to establishing the links between prisons, prisoners and local employers. In relation to investment in the new probation service, I am sure that she has seen that we are investing an additional £155 million in probation over the course of the year.
I have spent time with Newcastle probation services, and I know just how dedicated the people who work for them are, but they are now being expected to pick up the pieces of the Government’s disastrous privatisation of the service, as well as integrating released offenders into a “new normal” of society post covid that is not normal at all. Will the Minister set out exactly how funding will be made available to ensure that there are links with, in particular, further education colleges in Newcastle so that offenders who are released can have a chance of rehabilitation and jobs in a post-covid world?
Like the hon. Member, I pay tribute to the dedicated work of all those who have been working in the community rehabilitation companies across the country and, indeed, the National Probation Service. I welcome the work of the CRC in her area. As I mentioned, £100 million has been put forward for the new scheme—the dynamic framework, which has already been launched—so that local voluntary sector and private companies can bid to provide local services in communities. I look forward to seeing their bids.
The Government were warned repeatedly that privatising probation would be a disaster—that it would cost more and leave the public less safe. The Government not only ignored those warnings but spent years ignoring the mounting evidence of their failed policy. They have practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming to finally agree to reverse this catastrophic privatisation. If they are finally going to properly sort out rehabilitation, is it not time to end, once and for all, the racket of mega-corporations like Sodexo, Serco and G4S profiting from our prisons and probation services?
We believe that we should provide good services, whether that is by the public sector or by the private sector. We have in operation some excellent public service prisons, as we do some excellent private sector prisons. We are very pleased that we are integrating probation into the public service, providing a very important role, but we will continue to ensure that private sector companies and local voluntary sector companies can bid for rehabilitative services through the £100 million dynamic framework.
Inquests: Coroners’ Decisions
We recognise the importance of bereaved families being able to seek an independent review of a coroner’s decision. Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988, as amended, provides for the Attorney General to make or authorise an application to the High Court to consider whether an inquest should be held where a coroner has not held one. Individuals can also bring claims for a judicial review of a coroner’s decision. The Justice Committee has recently opened an inquiry into the coroner service, and we will consider its report and recommendations.
The new senior coroner for Merseyside has agreed an inquest into the death of Laura Higginson in my constituency. The family’s request for an inquest under the previous coroner was turned down, despite new evidence being available. If the original decision had not been changed, then the family’s only option would have been to resort to a judicial review. Will the Minister look again at repealing section 40 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to see whether we could have a much easier and less expensive way of families being able to challenge coroners’ decisions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his campaigning work in this regard. He is absolutely right that Mrs Higginson’s sad death in 2017 is now subject to an inquest, for the reasons that he indicated. I thank him for the parliamentary questions that he has submitted on this issue. It is not absolutely right to say that the only option is a judicial review. For the reasons that I indicated, people can petition the Attorney General, and indeed the Solicitor General, for that to take place. But he raises an important issue, and of course we keep this under consideration. I cannot tell him that there are immediate plans to do as he suggests, but we will of course consider it.
As we have heard this morning, the Government are committed to reducing reoffending rates across the board, not least because it is a specific target of the crime and justice taskforce set by the Prime Minister. We will be bringing forward a number of plans over the next weeks and months to do so, not least the reinvigoration of integrated offender management, on which I will be leading across the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.
The Chris Donovan Trust is an amazing local charity set up by a local couple, Ray and Vi Donovan, whose son tragically lost his life through unprovoked violence. Carshalton and Wallington residents recognise the incredible work of the trust to raise awareness of restorative justice and other victim programmes after Ray and Vi Donovan met their son’s killers. What further steps will the Department take to expand restorative justice programmes to help to reduce prisoner reoffending?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this organisation to my attention, not least because I read Ray and Vi Donovan’s booklet last night, “Understanding Restorative Justice”, and their very moving testimony of what happened to them. They have an incredible capacity for forgiveness, having forgiven their son’s killers, who perpetrated an appalling act, depriving them of the life of their child. They found it in themselves to forgive those three criminals, as they were then, and to move on with their lives. I will be more than happy to consider what more we can do in this area as we move towards our plans on rehabilitating offenders, and I would be honoured to meet Ray and Vi, if my hon. Friend was willing to bring them to Westminster when normal life resumes.
Covid-19 presents one of the greatest peacetime challenges that the United Kingdom and the justice system have ever faced, but throughout the crisis, we have kept courts open, we have kept cases flowing through the system and justice has been delivered, especially for the most vulnerable victims and with regard to dangerous offenders. We are ahead of comparable systems around the world and we should recognise the hard work that has allowed that to happen. Technological innovation has accelerated throughout the system, with over 14,000 cases heard remotely. Jury trials have safely restarted, with 48 Crown court centres now hearing trials, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has published a plan that clearly outlines the next steps. We are not there yet and we are continuing to work on increasing available court capacity, ensuring that technology can be more effectively used throughout the system and exploring all necessary and appropriate options. This comes together with the biggest increase in the court maintenance funding structure for over 20 years.
In green spaces across my constituency, litter picks used to result in us picking up cans, bottles and crisp packets, but now, more and more, we are finding numbers of nitrous oxide canisters. There is an increasing number of youngsters putting their health and lives at risk using this psychoactive substance. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at this with colleagues across Government so that we can get a grip of this growing and dangerous issue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He can be reassured, first of all, that nitrous oxide is a psychoactive substance classified under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, and it is an offence to supply it if someone knows, or is reckless as to whether, it will be used for its psychoactive effect. The most recent assessment of the drug was in 2015, when the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that there is evidence that the use of the drug can cause harm, but I would be more than happy to discuss the matter further with him.
A decade of underinvestment and savage cuts to legal aid critically weakened the criminal justice system long before coronavirus. Time and again, month after month, the Bar Council, the Law Society and so many others have warned the Government about the dire predicament faced by legal aid practitioners up and down the country, but the Government’s much delayed review of criminal legal aid is nowhere in sight. Will the Secretary of State commit to expediting the criminal legal aid review and provide a deadline by which it will report?
I am surprised by the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the criminal legal aid review. Indeed, we have completed part 1 and the consultation has been completed, and we are proceeding with all expedition to implement the accelerated requests of the Bar and the solicitors’ professions. We are moving into part 2 and I want to get on with it. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I had over 20 years as a legal aid criminal practitioner; and I saw, shall we say, a Government of which he was a member sometimes revelling in cuts to legal aid. We need to work constructively together on this now to help the professions that we both support.
My hon. Friend is right to ask about the plan that we issued in June to clear a pathway for the easing of restrictions in our prisons gradually and cautiously, always guided by public health advice and designed to keep staff and prisoners safe. We are now seeing prisons start to open up, including prison visits in places such as HMP Humber. I pay tribute to everybody who has worked so hard to make that experience a safe one. So far, around half of all our prisons have begun to ease some restrictions. Progress is being made.
The hon. Lady brings together two issues. With regard to criminal trials and the like, of course legal aid remains available, subject to the means test. That is absolutely essential—from the police station onwards. With regard to more general legal advice, she will be glad to know that £5 million was allocated for the extra provision of early legal advice. That is a deep commitment of both me and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). We are working with our officials to ensure that that is applied intelligently, in a way that diverts and prevents litigation, rather than exposing people to what can be a lengthy and burdensome process.
My hon. Friend always speaks with passion on behalf of victims of crime in North Cornwall. He knows that the county of the Duchy sits within the Devon and Cornwall police and crime commissioner area, which has received over £2 million of funding to support victims of crime this financial year. The Ministry of Justice provides £510,000 of funding directly to five sexual violence support providers in the PCC area through the rape support fund. We have allocated another £439,000, which has been distributed to local providers via the PCC, to support victims of domestic and sexual violence. An additional £195,000 of covid-19 extraordinary funding has been distributed to rape support centres in the Devon and Cornwall PCC area through the rape support fund.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that specific point. It deserves closer scrutiny, and I would be happy to engage directly with her on the issue.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that nudge. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) for not joining in the celebrations for Black Country Day. I will not attempt the accent. Some people think I am not a bad impersonator, but we will move on swiftly.
Recovery continues each week thanks to the hard work of professionals right across the system. More than 150 courts remained fully open throughout the pandemic and we now have over 300 courts and tribunals fully open. As I said in my initial remarks, we are developing and opening new court capacity. I urge providers and interested parties in the Black Country area to come forward and make suggestions to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service for suitable buildings we can use to ensure that we ramp up court capacity and deal with the caseload.
I listen with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s observations. I am extremely keen for local initiative to flourish. We are seeing that in other court centres right across the country. If there are further blockages, please come to me directly, because I am champing at the bit to make sure we can expand capacity as quickly as possible.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a member of the Joint Committee on which I served in a previous Parliament. I am grateful to the Committee for its report on human rights and the Government’s response to covid-19 in that respect. We will respond very shortly. The early release processes continue, with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service continuing to consider eligible women for release on a rolling basis. A number have been released. In response to an earlier JCHR report about mothers and babies, we began a fundamental review of the operational policy with regard to mother and baby units. A report summarising our key policy reforms will be published in due course.
I think it would perhaps be a little reckless of me to commit to more legislation. I already have a very full legislative agenda, but I am certainly happy to engage further with the hon. Gentleman on that specific issue. I want to make sure that our great four nations stay as one undivided Union wherever possible.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his previous service as a member of the Sentencing Council and his work in the youth justice sphere. He is right to recognise that the 18 to 25 cohort have distinct needs relating to maturity and development. In his constituency, excellent work goes on with regard to the neurological challenges that he mentions at Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution Aylesbury. I will, of course, further engage with him and others on this issue as we develop the White Paper.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We already have the reporting wrongdoing integrity hotline, which is in place to allow HMPPS staff to raise any concerns they may have. Relevant guidance for employees and managers is available through the internet and the myHub service. HMPPS is reviewing and updating the policy. We very much hope it will be published later this year, following close liaison with the trade unions.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduous representation of the many hundreds of prison officers in his constituency, and he is right to draw my attention to those concerns. I repeat the assurance that we are reviewing that policy. I want to get it right; I want whistleblowing to be a safe and meaningful exercise for all staff, and I am happy to undertake that review, which will be completed later in the year.
The hon. Lady will be glad to know that I have already committed to the second stage of the consultation to do that, to reflect fully the nature of the work undertaken by immigration practitioners. Our aim in the first stage was to quickly bring forward increases to reflect important work on skeleton arguments —it was always a first stage. I have made that commitment and we are going to get on with the consultation, as we always planned.
I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in the work of the staff at HMP Peterborough. It has been a difficult time for all prisons, whether publicly or privately managed. The staff are hidden heroes, and I know he would join me in applauding their dedication to public service. We have worked closely with our privately managed prisons throughout this period. As with the public sector, the staff have responded with care and compassion to support prisoners through the pandemic, helping them to maintain family ties and providing them with in-cell materials, exercise, distraction, activity packs and reading matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. She is right to highlight the tremendous success in the reduction of the number of children in custody, but the disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic children is of real concern. There are issues, identified in the Lammy review, among other things, relating to how legal advice is tendered and to engagement with the system. She will know that already, as a result of that review, we have started the “Chance to Change” pilots on different ways of dealing with allegations against black and minority ethnic youngsters. As for the wider work of government, I do not have those details at the moment, but I will make sure she is furnished with them as soon as possible.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Digital connectivity is an increasingly vital part of our lives. During this period of global crisis, it has brought home the profound importance of a reliable connection. The 4G technology has enabled rapid internet connection over mobile phones: alongside superfast broadband at home, it has allowed people to do everything from Zoom calls to downloading movies. But the Government need to look to the future. That means developing world-class, next-generation digital technology through 5G for mobile and gigabit-capable for fibre. It is only by doing this that we will remain at the forefront of the technology revolution.
In order to realise the full benefits of those technologies though, we have to have confidence in the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which they are built. Keeping the country secure is the primary duty of Government to their people. This consideration precedes all others. There is, of course, no such thing as a perfectly secure network, but the responsibility of the Government is to ensure that it is as secure as it possibly can be. That is why we conducted the telecoms supply chain review to look at the long-term security of our 5G and full-fibre networks.
The review set out plans to implement one of the toughest regimes in the world for telecoms security: one that would shift from a model where the telecoms industry merely follows guidance to a model where standards would be enforced by legislation; one that would require all operators to raise security standards and combat a range of threats, whether from cybercriminals or state-sponsored attacks; and one that gave the Government the necessary powers to keep our approach up to date as the technology develops.
A critical aspect of that was how we address so-called high-risk vendors—those which pose greater security and resilience risks to the UK’s networks—so in January we set out to the House our conclusions on how we would define and restrict high-risk vendors, keeping them outside the network’s core and away from critical infrastructure and sites. We have been clear-eyed from the start that Chinese-owned vendors Huawei and ZTE were deemed high risk, and we made clear that the National Cyber Security Centre would review and update its advice as necessary.
Clearly, since January, the situation has changed. On 15 May, the US Department of Commerce announced that new sanctions had been imposed against Huawei through changes to the foreign direct product rules. This was a significant material change, and one that we had to take into consideration. The sanctions are not the first attempt by the US to restrict Huawei’s ability to supply equipment to 5G networks. They are, however, the first to have potentially severe impacts on Huawei’s ability to supply new equipment in the United Kingdom. The new US measures restrict Huawei’s ability to produce important products using US technology or software.
The National Cyber Security Centre has reviewed the consequences of the US actions and has now reported to Ministers that it has significantly changed its security assessment of Huawei’s presence in the UK’s 5G network. Given the uncertainty that this creates around Huawei’s supply chain, the UK can no longer be confident of being able to guarantee the security of future 5G equipment affected by the change in US foreign direct product rules. To manage the risk, the NCSC has issued new advice on the use of Huawei in UK telecoms networks.
This morning, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the National Security Council. Attendees at that meeting took full account of the National Cyber Security Centre’s advice, together with the implications for UK industry and wider geostrategic considerations. The Government agree with the National Cyber Security Centre’s advice: the best way to secure our networks is for operators to stop using new affected Huawei equipment to build the UK’s future 5G networks. To be clear: from the end of this year, telecoms operators must not buy any 5G equipment from Huawei. Once the telecoms security Bill is passed, it will be illegal for them to do so.
However, we also recognise the range of concerns voiced in the House regarding Huawei’s role in our 5G network. I have listened carefully to those concerns, and I agree that we need clarity on our position and to take decisive action. I have previously set out our plans to safely manage the presence of high-risk vendors in our 5G network, and of course our ambition right from the beginning was that no one should need to use a high-risk vendor for 5G at all, but I know that hon. Members sought a commitment from the Government to remove Huawei equipment from our 5G network altogether. That is why we have concluded that it is necessary, and indeed prudent, to commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G network by 2027. Let me be clear: this requirement will be set out in law by the telecoms security Bill. By the time of the next election, we will have implemented in law an irreversible path for the complete removal of Huawei equipment from our 5G networks.
We have not taken this decision lightly, and I must be frank about the decision’s consequences for every constituency in this country. This will delay our roll-out of 5G. Our decisions in January had already set back that roll-out by a year and cost up to £1 billion. Today’s decision to ban the procurement of new Huawei 5G equipment from the end of this year will delay that roll-out by a further year and will add up to £500 million to costs. In addition, requiring operators to remove Huawei equipment from their 5G networks by 2027 will add further hundreds of millions of pounds to the cost and will further delay the roll-out. That means a cumulative delay to 5G roll-out of two to three years, and costs of up to £2 billion. That will have real consequences for the connections on which all our constituents rely.
I have to say that to go faster and further beyond the 2027 target would add considerable, and indeed unnecessary, further costs and delays.
The shorter we make the timetable for removal, the greater the risk of actual disruption to mobile telephone networks.
The world-leading expertise of NCSC and GCHQ has enabled us to publish one of the most detailed analyses of the risks to the 5G network. The UK is now acting quickly, decisively and ahead of our international partners. Our approach reflects the UK’s specific national circumstances and how the risks from the sanctions are manifested here in the UK. It has not been an easy decision, but it is the right one for the UK’s telecoms networks, for our national security and for our economy, both now and in the long run.
We also need to look at other networks. Although they are fundamentally different from 5G, they need to be as secure and resilient as our new mobile technology, as many Members of this House have pointed out in the past. Reflecting again the advice of the National Cyber Security Centre, we will need to take a different approach to full-fibre and older networks—one that recognises they are different from 5G in their technology, security and the vendors supporting them. Given that there is only one other appropriate scale vendor for full-fibre equipment, we will embark on a short technical consultation with operators to understand their supply chain alternatives so that we can avoid unnecessary delays to our gigabit ambitions and prevent significant resilience risks. That technical consultation will determine the nature of our rigorous approach to Huawei outside of the 5G networks.
All of those things have implications for the telecoms security Bill. I am fully aware of the commitment I made in this House in March to introduce it before the summer recess. As I am sure Members will appreciate, today’s decision will substantially change what is in the Bill. We will introduce the Bill to the House in the autumn. It is in all our interests for the legislation to be introduced and passed as soon as possible, because—this is the key point—we have to ensure that our telecoms security advice is on a secure statutory footing.
As the House knows, one reason we are in this situation is a global market failure. Put simply, countries around the world—not just the United Kingdom—have become dangerously reliant on too few vendors. We have already set out a clear and ambitious diversification strategy. That strategy will include wide-ranging action in the short, medium and long term, with the aim of driving competition and innovation to grow the market and deliver greater resilience across all our networks.
The strategy will focus on three core elements. First, we need to secure the supply chains of our incumbent non-high-risk vendors by putting in place measures and mitigations that will protect supply chains and ensure there is no disruption to our networks. Secondly, we need to bring new scale vendors into the UK market by removing barriers to entry, providing commercial incentives and creating large-scale opportunities for new vendors to enter the UK markets. Thirdly, we need to address the existing structure of the supply market by investing in research and development and building partnerships between operators and vendors that will mean operators using multiple vendors in a single network will become the standard across the industry.
Success will require a shared commitment between Government and industry to take the necessary steps to address this issue. We are already engaging extensively with operators, vendors and Governments around the world to support and accelerate the process of diversification. We recognise that this is a global issue that requires international collaboration to deliver a lasting solution, so we are working with our Five Eyes partners and our friends around the world to bring together a coalition to deliver our shared goals.
In addition, I know that many Members of this House have considered the Government’s policy on high-risk vendors in the context of the United Kingdom’s wider relationship with China. Let me assure Members that this Government are clear-eyed about China. We have been robust in our response to the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong, including through our generous offer to British national overseas passport holders. We want a modern and mature relationship with China based on mutual respect where we can speak frankly when we disagree, but also work side-by-side on the issues where our interests converge. Today’s decision, however, is about ensuring the long-term security of our telecoms network, specifically in the light of those new US sanctions.
The security and resilience of our telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have never compromised, and will never compromise, that security in pursuit of economic prosperity. It is a fact that the US has introduced additional sanctions on Huawei, and as the facts have changed, so has our approach. That is why we have taken the decision that there can be no new Huawei equipment from the end of this year, and set out a clear timetable to exclude Huawei completely by 2027, with an irreversible path implemented by the time of the next election. Telecoms providers will be legally required to implement this by the telecoms security Bill, which we will bring before the House shortly. This important decision secures our networks now and lays the foundations for a world-class telecoms security framework in the future. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. All sides of the House agree that the first duty of any Government is to protect their citizens, and we have confidence in our national security services, which go to such lengths to keep us safe. It has been clear for some time that there are serious questions over whether Huawei should be allowed to control large sections of our country’s telecoms networks, yet the Government refused to face reality. Their approach to our 5G capability, Huawei and our national security has been incomprehensibly negligent. The current Education Secretary was sacked as Defence Secretary for leaking parts of the security services’ advice on Huawei, yet the Government went on to ignore large parts of it. In January, the Foreign Secretary said in a statement to the House that the Government would legislate at “the earliest opportunity” on high-risk vendors. They then refused to work with us and their own Back Benchers to enable that to happen. Will the Secretary of State tell us when he will bring forward the legislation on high-risk vendors, including the robust regulatory and enforcement powers required to limit or eliminate their part in our network? “As soon as possible” and “shortly” will not wash any more.
Will the Government publish the security advice on which today’s decision has been taken? What new information have they been given that was not available to them when the initial decisions were made? I would also like to ask the Secretary of State what discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary and the Trade Secretary on likely retaliation. Where else are we dependent on Chinese suppliers—for example, in our nuclear sector—and how are we working with our democratic allies, including but not limited to the United States, to develop alternatives in these areas? The Secretary of State says that this change is being made in response to US sanctions, but in the past he has emphasised how closely he was working with the United States, so were the sanctions a surprise? Is our security policy being led by the US? Did the very visible human rights violations by the Chinese in Hong Kong and against the Uyghurs play no part in the decision?
The reality is that the original decision on Huawei was made because, over the past decade, this Government have failed to deliver a sustainable plan for our digital economy. Almost exactly a year ago, the “UK Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report” was published. It stated:
“We will develop and pursue a diversification strategy—including by working with our international partners—to ensure a competitive, sustainable and diverse supply chain.”
Now the Secretary of State claims to have set out a “clear and ambitious diversification strategy”. This will come as a surprise to anyone who has looked at the Government’s statements. I would like to ask the Secretary of State: what are the actions to implement the strategy—which has effectively been set out somewhere and which I have not seen—and can he tell me where it is set out?
This is a car crash for our digital economy, but one that could have been visible from outer space. BT and other vendors have put the cost of this decision in the billions. The Secretary of State says £2 billion. What is the basis for that estimate, and how will he ensure that the cost is not passed on to consumers? Today’s announcement refers to 5G, but what are the implications for our emergency services network—a saga even longer than this one, in which BT was planning to use Huawei?
Open standards such as open RAN limit dependence on any one supplier; what is the Secretary of State doing to mandate such standards and open our networks to UK companies such as Cambridge company ip.access and the north-east company Filtronic? Crucially, what proportion of the additional money that is spent will go to UK companies and how many jobs will be created here? The Government recently announced a £500 million investment in bankrupt American satellite broadband provider OneWeb; are similar investments planned for 5G or 6G companies?
Labour has repeatedly offered constructive ideas to get the UK out of the Huawei hole; we have consistently argued to end our national dependence on all high-risk vendors and improve corporate responsibility for global supply chains. This entire saga has shown that the Government cannot sort this mess out on their own. We need a taskforce of industry representatives, academics, start-ups, regional governments and regulators to develop a plan that delivers a UK network capability and secure mobile network in the shortest possible timeframe. Will the Secretary of State commit to that and return to the House regularly to update on progress?
Will the Secretary of State get a grip, get a plan and secure our critical communications infrastructure, our digital economy and our national security?
The hon. Lady raised a large number of questions and I will address as many as I can.
The hon. Lady asked when the Bill will be brought back. I do not know if she was listening to my statement, but I said that would be in the autumn and that remains the case. Will we publish the security advice? Yes, we will publish a summary of the security advice; that will contain the essence of it. She asked what was new; the new fact was the US sanctions imposed post-January. That is why we sought the advice from the NCSC. She asked whether we would consider wider relations with and responses to China; of course, the National Security Council considered those matters, but she would not expect me to go into detail on that on the Floor of the House. She asked about working on alternatives; we are already working with all our Five Eyes partners on those alternatives.
The first thing we need to do is ensure that we protect the other two vendors in this market, Nokia and Ericsson. Secondly, we need to get new suppliers in; that starts with Samsung and NEC. My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister with responsibility for digital infrastructure, who is sitting next to me, has had constructive discussions with them, and we are now at the stage of having engagement at a technical level with their officials.
Of course the hon. Lady is entirely right to point to the future, which is an open RAN network. There is currently only one open RAN network in the world, and that is in Japan, and that was in a situation where it started the network from scratch. There are big barriers to doing this, but of course that is the objective we are working towards. That means working with our partners through international institutions to set the right common standards on which we can have an open RAN network, and it means working with the telecoms providers to provide the right incentives for them to switch from a single vendor to the open RAN network. But in the end an open RAN network is going to provide the opportunity for UK providers, alongside providers from other allies and other countries around the world, to start providing that telecoms infrastructure.
I must say however that I find it extraordinary that the hon. Lady spoke for several minutes but still has not said whether she supports the decision; will she be backing it, yes or no? She says that we were negligent, but I would gently remind the hon. Lady that it was the Labour Government that opened the door to Huawei in the first place; it is this Government who are closing it. It was the Labour party that left us reliant on a small number of suppliers; we are diversifying it. And indeed it was the Labour party, as late as 2018, which was advocating for high-risk vendors to be in the network; we have stopped that.
May I say that I broadly welcome the tone and content of this statement? After what could be said to have been a significant false start, the Secretary of State has outlined a much more tenable position; after all, our collective security trumps—so to speak—economics. Having said that, we still have a major job to upgrade our digital security infrastructure. Will the Secretary of State make clear what extra measures he will take to ensure that we do not fall further behind our competitors with 5G and gigabyte-capable broadband as a result of disruption caused by the decision, and what it will mean for consumers? Can he assure the House that his decision today is a final one, a future-proofed one, and one that cannot be reversed by any future Government?
My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely right: how do we ensure that this is future-proofed? The first thing that we have said throughout all this is that we will depend on advice from the NCSC and keep our security situation under review. In terms of the irreversibility of the decision to remove Huawei from the 5G network, first, it will be in the Bill, so it will be set out in statute. Secondly, by the end of this Parliament the flow of Huawei equipment into 5G will have stopped, and we will be well through the path of the stop, because we have set out the path to the end of 2027. Unless the Opposition are going to say that they will come into office, immediately repeal all this legislation and instruct all telecoms providers to almost exclusively procure from Huawei, we have dealt with Huawei in the 5G network through this announcement.
Well, well, well. Here we go again—another screeching handbrake turn. When we debated this in January, SNP Members warned the Government that Huawei could not be trusted with our 5G mobile network. Security experts were clear: we should not open up the central nervous system of our modern society to a company owned by the Chinese Communist party. With that characteristic combination of error and overconfidence, the Foreign Secretary opined that I had got my analysis wrong “on all counts”, but it seems not: less than six months later, we are witnessing yet another of the volte-faces that are fast becoming a hallmark of this Government. Small wonder, then, that Ministers and Back Benchers are reluctant to be wheeled out in defence of a Government policy on Monday, knowing that they could be required to argue the polar opposite on Tuesday.
Of course it is right that Huawei should be banned from the UK’s mobile networks, but that is a decision that should have been taken long ago. As I said to the Foreign Secretary in January, had the Government acted in 2018 as the Australians did, our mobile operators’ 5G roll-out plans would have been in an infinitely healthier place. As it is, we will now pay the price for the Government’s ineptitude. We know it, the Secretary of State knows it and increasingly restive Tory Back Benchers know it, so how was it that the Prime Minister thought that China and Huawei could be trusted, or at least managed, in January, but not now in July? Was it that a Brexit Britain was too weak and isolated to upset the world’s second largest economic powerhouse, but that the Government have now been forced to acknowledge that they cannot sacrifice our national security even for Brexit?
Countering the intelligence threat posed by China will require more than just the phase-out of Huawei. It will involve a rethink of our investment in native companies. We must now also work to protect our 999 emergency services network from the fall-out of this decision. Will the Secretary of State outline how exactly he will do so?
We welcome this climbdown. What will the Secretary of State now do, after all the Government’s mistakes, to help us to catch up?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the January 2020 advice. That advice was based on advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which was working with GCHQ. With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that those organisations are probably a better source to rely on than he is. As a result of that advice, we were absolutely clear-eyed about the threat from Chinese vendors; that is why we deemed Huawei and ZTE high-risk vendors, why we banned them from the core of the network, and why we imposed a cap and banned them from the most sensitive elements.
It is, though, a fact that the United States has imposed sanctions on Huawei. The consequence of these sanctions, as we have been advised by the NCSC, is that we can no longer rely upon Huawei equipment. It is therefore in the security interests of the United Kingdom to ban any further use of that equipment by ruling out further purchases of it. That is the right thing to do in the national interest. If the facts change, we change our policy, and that is exactly what we have done. We will then enshrine it in law through the telecoms security Bill.
The hon. Gentleman talked about investment in other companies, and those are important points. We are addressing that through the national security and investment Bill, which will also come before the House. Throughout all this, we have been completely clear-eyed about the threat posed by Chinese companies and taken appropriate steps in relation to it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, but as a result of this decision, we are reliant on just two companies for most of our mobile telecommunications equipment. Along with the delay to 5G that he talked about, this reflects a long-term failure of UK telecoms strategy to anticipate what the country will need and to prepare for it. Is it still his view that, as he said in March, the UK can develop new supply chain capacity “in this Parliament”? Will he come to my Select Committee next week to discuss how he will do it?
Of course, I would be delighted to come to my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee and outline in further detail the steps that we are taking. In essence, those are to secure the existing supplies and then get new ones in, and we are making good progress on that. Ultimately, it is the Open RAN solution, which means doing things such as launching a flagship Open RAN test bed with mobile network operators and establishing an Open RAN systems integration expert centre through the national telecoms lab. We have a whole range of measures that I am happy to talk to him about at length.
When I was in China with other MPs a couple of years back, our delegation leader, Ken Clarke, kept going on about how this was a golden era for relations between our two countries. Obviously this is another U-turn, along with school dinners, face masks and the NHS surcharge. Could the Government now apply some consistency to their risky regime standards and stop the UK export of telecommunications spyware and wiretaps to Bahrain, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—or did taking back control actually mean handing it over to Trump to settle his old scores and being special relationship poodle?
I think the hon. Lady knows that we have appropriate export controls in relation to all the things that she mentioned.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns after recent coverage of Huawei and security apparatus in the province of Xinjiang, where human rights abuses are taking place against the Uyghur? What strategies or incentives are in place to support domestic telecoms equipment supply capabilities, to ensure that we have home-grown alternatives to Huawei?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the appalling human rights abuses against the Uyghur in Xinjiang province. The United Kingdom has led in the condemnation of that, working with other countries. She talked about the importance of diversification, which several Members have raised. I am happy to report regularly to the House—indeed, I appear before the House for DCMS questions every month—and update it on the progress of all these measures.
I suspect many folk will be wondering, if the Government are banning a Chinese tech company from our tele- communications industry on the grounds of national security, how come it is safe for them to participate in building a nuclear power station?
The advice that we have received today relates to the impact of the US sanctions. The US has imposed sanctions specifically on 5G. We have analysed the impact of those sanctions. It has undermined the reliability of Huawei equipment, which is why we are now advising, and then will set out in statute, that mobile network operators can no longer purchase that equipment.
I welcome the Government’s announcement and the fact that they have listened to Members across the House. It is right that they have taken action from the US approach and its implementation of sanctions. But if the Government are going to be clear-eyed about China, they must also be clear-eyed about the human rights violations reportedly being undertaken by Huawei and its use of slave labour. It is not acceptable for a global Britain to be involved with a company that is perpetually using slave labour in its supply chains. Will my right hon. Friend work with me and Members across the House to ensure that we can bring forward the 2027 date?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support, but I think there are slightly separate questions about the timings and the issue of human rights abuses. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of human rights abuses, and that is something we are addressing through the modern slavery Bill. We should not be having any companies operating in the United Kingdom relying on slavery, so we have introduced the modern slavery Bill. Indeed, there is an amendment that will be considered in the Lords very shortly which deals precisely with that issue, and we are working with peers to address that.
I, too, welcome this screeching U-turn. It is ultimately the right decision on the grounds of national security, human rights and British industrial strategy. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to mitigate the risks of relying on just two vendors is for the Government to invest in the development of the open radio access network and to open the market to newer smaller entrants. If he does, when will he publish a strategy to achieve that?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Of course, in the medium to long run, open RAN is the solution. I just have to caution that that is not available immediately, so that is why, in the shorter run, we are also working on trying to introduce further existing vendors into the United Kingdom, principally Samsung and NEC.
Can I also welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but will he commit the Government to further financial support for research and development to enable the UK telecommunications industry to move fast so that we can fill the gap as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course the Chancellor was at the National Security Council when we were discussing this, clearly in order to facilitate the open RAN solution that will require investment from the Government, but that will be a matter for the Chancellor at a future fiscal event.
The Secretary of State has been particularly clear that Huawei will not be asked to deliver the UK’s 5G network, but he has been conspicuously quiet in relation to when the 5G network will now be complete across the UK. So can he clarify for me and for Members across the Chamber: when will 5G be delivered across the United Kingdom, and at what cost?
We set out our position in the manifesto, but as a consequence of these decisions things have changed. I have been very frank and up front with the House about this. The consequence of the decision to stop the flow of Huawei equipment into 5G and to set a very firm date for 2027 and the pathway to that will add two to three years to the delivery time.
The Chinese Government have of late struck an increasingly aggressive posture against countries such as Australia and India, and also against this country, effectively tearing up the Sino-British declaration and imposing draconian laws on Hong Kong. When it learned of calls from this place for the exclusion of Huawei from our national telecoms infrastructure, its ambassador threatened this country with unspecified consequences. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that threat confirms not only the close connection between Huawei and the Chinese Government, but the fact that the right decision has been made today?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. This Government will not be cowed by the comments of any other country, and indeed this decision has been made in the national security interests of this nation. He is absolutely right to raise the abuses in Hong Kong and the Foreign Secretary has dealt with that extensively.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research says that removing Huawei from 5G infrastructure will lead to higher prices and, as the Secretary of State has already said to the House, also a delayed roll-out, so what will his Department be doing to ensure that this decision does not increase the digital divide that exists in this country, and what conversations has he had or will he be having with local authorities about the impact of planned infrastructure work?
The hon. Member is absolutely right to raise the point about a digital divide, and that is something that my Department is working on extensively —for example, in ensuring that there is more handheld equipment and all those sorts of things for people who do not currently have mobile phone technology. We have invested a lot of money in relation to that.
On his point about local authorities, our manifesto commitment set a highly ambitious target of full fibre roll-out by 2025, which is creating huge investment across the country. Indeed, a telecoms provider recently announced 10,000 new jobs. There is lots of potential for new jobs in this area.
Significant disruption to either mobile or broadband services could have a disastrous impact on essential services, so will the Secretary of State assure the House that everything possible is being done to mitigate and manage the risk resulting from Huawei’s continued involvement in our telecoms infrastructure?
Of course, we continue to manage and mitigate that risk, which is why we announced in January the cap and exclude measures, which we are reinforcing with a pathway to having zero Huawei in our 5G by 2027. We will continue to work on the security risks around Huawei, particularly through the Huawei evaluation centre in GCHQ.
The Secretary of State has twice referred to the Five Eyes partnership, and made a more oblique reference to wider alliances. He has made no reference to the D10 alliance—the G7 countries, Australia, South Korea and India—that was trailed five weeks ago. Has that alliance been established, does it exist, is there a unity of purpose, and are the other members of the proposed alliance at one with us on the decision made today?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the D10 alliance, which was proposed not by the UK Government but, I believe, by the Atlantic Forum. We are working with all the D10 countries on this, and with Japan, South Korea and others, where we have a lot of interest in that.
There could be offsets to the delay and cost if, as a result of this, we design and manufacture many more of the components we need here at home. What exactly can the Government do to make that more likely to create jobs and technology?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the point, which is the opportunity created by open RAN technology. It will take a very long time, were the UK minded to do so, to create a new mobile vendor like Ericsson, Nokia or indeed Huawei, but with open RAN we can get UK technologies into the provision of telecoms infrastructure, and that can sit alongside contributions from other like-minded countries around the world. That is how we will create jobs and provide a long-lasting solution.
Basically, the Government’s mobile telephony strategy is in tatters. What is particularly sad is that it was not only predictable; it was predicted, by dozens of Members of Parliament who kept saying to the Government that this was where we would get to in the end. I just wish they sometimes would listen to their own Back Benchers, and obviously Opposition Back Benchers as well. There is unity in the House on this matter, and there has been for some time.
The Secretary of State is like St Augustine: “make me chaste—but not yet.” All he is offering us is a path towards getting rid of these some time in 2027, after the next general election. He will not even tell us when autumn is. Will he tell us precisely when he will publish his Bill, when it will be enacted and why he cannot bring forward the date from 2027?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman is very good at false indignation and theatrics, but in reality it is this Government, unlike the last Labour Government, who have, for the first time, set out a clear date, which will be enshrined in statute, to remove Huawei equipment, and we are stopping the flow into the networks. To do all that, we have to bring forward the telecoms security Bill, which I have said will happen in the autumn. I believe that autumn falls in the months of September, October and November.
May I ask humbly that we distinguish between the people of China and the Communist regime? It is the latter that for years we have tried to appease in the hope that it would mature into a global citizen, and that clearly has not happened. President Xi seeks superpower status, but now with a competing vision of world order. I therefore very much welcome the announcement today. Has the Secretary of State shared it with the Five Eyes community and, indeed, our US friends?
However, we should also expect repercussions from China, and to that end I strongly believe that this must be the start of a wider strategic foreign policy reset. Tactical announcements about sending carriers to the South China sea are all very well, but they must form part of a wider international collective western resolve to defend our values and our standards, in which China is very much welcome to participate and I hope the UK will play a leading role.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right to distinguish between the people of China and the Chinese Government. China is a wonderful country; I have very much enjoyed visiting it on occasions in the past, and there are some very warm people there. The difference is the Government of China and some of the abuses, particularly of the rule of law and human rights, that we have seen there. In the context of telecommunications security, we have an opportunity to work with our allies. If we can develop this open RAN technology of the future, it will provide an opportunity not just to benefit us but to benefit them, and indeed to further secure our infrastructure and make it more resilient.
There were severe warnings from network providers over the weekend that stripping Huawei equipment out of our networks too quickly could lead to signal blackouts. Our national security must of course come first, but the Government promised a levelling up of network infra- structure, which certainly would not be consistent with blackouts. What assurances can the Minister give my constituents that they will not have to endure that kind of disruption?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the risk of that kind of disruption and blackouts. That was one of the reasons that led us to the timetable that we have set out. Put bluntly, the shorter the timetable for the removal, the higher the risk of that happening, but I can tell the hon. Lady, her constituents and people up and down the country that this risk will not materialise in relation to the proposals that we have outlined today.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his willingness to take tough decisions, particularly when, as the China Research Group believes, they are in the national interest. With the EU President recently having had to take Beijing to task over its cyber-attacks on EU hospitals treating patients for coronavirus, does this action from the Government not send the message loud and clear to the Chinese state that our future relationship must be based on trust, and our trade on a fair and level playing field?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of cyber-attacks. I caution, though, that cyber-attacks will not be prevented by removing Huawei equipment from the system. There are vulnerabilities across the network, and indeed one reason that we are introducing the telecoms security Bill is to start to address some of those. We have seen—it is in the public domain—that hostile Russian actors, for example, have already been able to attack our networks. With regard to the wider position on China, we need to have a full and frank relationship with China, and we have done that, but this announcement is principally about the US sanctions.
No matter how hard the Secretary of State tries to disguise it, this is a humiliating U-turn by a Government being forced to admit that they got it wrong in January. What assessment has been made of the additional damage to the economy, the additional cost to public finances in the UK, and the additional cost to devolved nations of the UK, of this Government taking the decision today that everyone knows they should have taken six months ago?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he cannot simultaneously urge us to take a faster course, which the SNP did previously, and attack us for the consequence of that in terms of cost. One thing leads to the other.
I very much welcome today’s announcement. The Government committed in their manifesto to improving mobile connectivity in rural constituencies like mine. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how this decision will affect plans for improving rural networks in Derbyshire and elsewhere?
This announcement should not impact rural networks and the way that, as my hon. Friend describes, we have made huge advances by signing the deal for a single rural network, which will help places like Derbyshire.
The UK has great science start-ups—indeed, Warrington is considered the second-best start-up location in the UK, and we are proudly a key engine of growth for the northern powerhouse. What proportion of the additional money spent to take Huawei out of our networks will go to UK companies? How many jobs will be created here? Will that investment be seen across the regions and nations of the UK?
The commitment we have made for full fibre throughout the country, with an ambitious target of 2025, will cause huge amounts of investment up and down the country, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency. In addition to that, as we seek to develop an open RAN solution, there will be opportunities for universities and others to contribute to that solution.
The Secretary of State’s announcement is a delicate balancing act between security, economics and geopolitics, and it shifts the supply of “Made in China” equipment from Huawei to “Made in China” equipment from the 25,000 Nokia and Ericsson employees there, creating a new duopoly of 5G telecoms provision until such a time as there is a credible Anglo-Saxon alternative. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as one of the goals in respect of leaving the EU was for a new global Britain to develop deeper relations with growth nations, including in Asia, we must continue to find space to work closely with China on issues of mutual benefit, as well as to confront her on issues in respect of which our values require it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to distinguish between confronting on issues such as human rights and having an open commercial relationship with China, clearly subject to the rule of law. That is the approach that we continue to pursue, notwithstanding this announcement.
The diminishing number of people in Scotland who still vote Tory tend to live in remote and rural areas, so I am sure they will be delighted that by the Government’s own admission they are breaching their manifesto promise to roll out 5G—and as a result of decisions that they have taken. It is therefore not illegitimate for us to ask about the consequences in terms of the delays to the infrastructure and the costs. What discussions, if any, has the Secretary of State had with Scotland and the other devolved Administrations about the impact of today’s decision?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, who is sat next to me, will be having exactly those further conversations with the devolved nations. I did not hear him say it at the time, but I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed our announcement of the shared rural network, which was a groundbreaking deal that brought Government money together with the telecoms networks to massively improve connectivity—particularly in Scotland, where it had not been the case previously—up to well over 90% coverage. That is an amazing achievement.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which I welcome. Does he agree that now is the time to invest in our own domestic 5G capacity to support our future critical communications infrastructure? To that end, I urge him and his ministerial colleagues to consider seriously the Staffordshire proposal for a 5G connected region growth deal, which would establish both the first regional commercial 5G network in the UK and a wide-area test- and-innovation network to support our future aspirations in this policy area.
As ever, my hon. Friend is a robust advocate for his constituency. Exactly those conversations are going on now.
The Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre was first set up by the National Cyber Security Centre some 10 years ago. Huawei has been considered a high-risk vendor by three Prime Ministers, so why has decisive action taken so long? Many of the European alternatives to Huawei manufacture parts in China; are the Government looking at the security implications of that?
We look at the security implications of whole supply chains, which is exactly what the National Cyber Security Centre has been doing—and that applies not just to Huawei but to the other vendors. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue. Simply removing Huawei from 5G networks does not deal with all the security risks, which is why we need to bring forward the telecoms security Bill as part of our efforts to enhance security.
I welcome what the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Government have done, putting national security in front of profit and telling the world that this sovereign nation will not be pushed around by any country. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that we will still be able to work at breakneck speed to roll-out a 5G network throughout the country with credible, trustworthy partners? We should also recognise that as technology moves on, a lot of this stuff will be done through software, not necessarily through hardware.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about software versus hardware; indeed, that goes to some of the wider discussions around open RAN. We will of course always put national security first, which is what we have done with this statement today.
The Secretary of State said that countries around the world have become reliant on too few vendors. That included the UK just half a year ago. Are his Government in any way to blame?
There has been a failure of successive Governments both in the United Kingdom and around the world in ensuring that we have sovereign capability not just in telecoms vendors but in other areas of emergent technology. That is precisely why we are bringing forward an investment security Bill to greater empower the Government to take decisions to protect our national interest in relation to investment in companies.
We know that the few existing vendors rely on component parts from China, and I suspect that will continue for some time. To make our move successful, other countries in the west must come into line with us. What guarantee can my right hon. Friend give that other countries will follow us and thereby ensure that Huawei and Chinese influence is completely out of whatever network we set up?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the US and Australia have already taken such decisions, the Canadians have a similar analysis to us but have yet to take a decision on it, and New Zealand has a slightly different process. Each country around the world is looking at how best to protect its telecoms networks, but also—crucially—how to develop its own domestic alternatives. The way to address that is by working co-operatively such as through open RAN.
In January, the Government announced that Huawei would be limited to 35% of the network but crucially not be in its core. While I welcome the U-turn, I must point out that Huawei is already in the core of EE’s 4G network—5G, of course, is layered on top—and BT has said that it will take years to remove it. How will the Secretary of State mitigate the risk posed by Huawei’s continued presence in the core of EE’s network?
The first point is that all that equipment will have been approved by the Huawei cell in GCHQ. In addition, that is why we introduced the ban on Huawei from the core, and we have now set out the path down to zero.
It is clear that the latest US sanctions have changed the landscape, so it is reasonable for the Government to change their approach on Huawei. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be naive to believe that the only threat to the UK telecommunications network will come from Huawei equipment, or even solely from China, so the appropriate response is to ensure that the whole network is secure, wherever the threat may come from?
As ever, my right hon. and learned Friend, and predecessor, is correct. It is just the reality that telecoms networks will always be vulnerable, particularly to sophisticated hostile state actors, so we are bringing forward a telecoms security Bill to seek to address that. We should not kid ourselves into thinking that there is a panacea and that with one silver bullet we remove the risk by banning Huawei.
The Secretary of State focuses on delays and costs, but he also knows that Huawei has contracts in the Xinjiang public security bureau to deliver digital surveillance that oppresses a million Muslims. It also benefits from the slave trade. Does he agree that in any major public procurement contract, there should be due diligence on human rights? Why has he not done so in this case?
It is not actually the UK Government who are procuring from Huawei; it is the mobile network operators who do so. However, the hon. Member’s point about modern slavery is correct, and that is why we brought forward the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Of course, such considerations are undertaken for public procurement.
Given that successive British Governments since the early 2000s have worked to encourage Huawei and other private companies from China to invest in the UK, what message do we feel this change will send in terms of consistency as a long-term reliable international partner? Has it been examined as part of wider strategic policy for Britain’s place in the world post Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this point. The United Kingdom prides itself on the rule of law, a rules-based system and consistency, and that will remain the case, and of course we will welcome Chinese investment and investment from around the world. What has changed here are the US sanctions, and, as a result of those sanctions, we can no longer rely on Huawei equipment. Therefore, it is in the national interest to introduce this ban on new purchases from the beginning of the year.
I welcome the decision to eradicate Huawei from the 5G system, but I think that the Secretary of State can do it quicker than he says. I was listening to the “Today” programme the other day, and the head of BT said seven years, yes, but it could be done in five. Let us bring it forward to five, and make sure that it happens quickly. There is no reason why that cannot be done. The key point I want to make is that there are two contradictions in the Secretary of State’s statement. Having said that he is getting rid of Huawei in 5G, it is apparently fine for it to continue in 4G and 3G; it can go on for as long as anyone. It will be upgraded in software upgrades for the next decade. If it is a risk in 5G, why is it not a risk to us generally? Secondly, on human rights, we know that Huawei has lied in its declaration under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 that it has had no involvement in slavery. We know that now from Xinjiang Province. If we can prove that and are able to demonstrate it to this Government, will this Government ban Huawei altogether?
My right hon. Friend raises the distinction between 4G, 3G and 5G. First, 5G is the new technology. It is the successor to 3G and 4G. Indeed, as he said to this House previously, the reality of the 5G network is that it is fundamentally different, and it is a recognition of that fundamental difference that we are imposing these rules in respect of 5G. Of course, over time, 5G will be the replacement network and then, in turn, 5G will be replaced by 6G and, in all of that, Huawei will be absent.
I welcome the statement, but the report of the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre Oversight Board says that there are existing cyber security risks to the Huawei network in the UK, which the company has no credible plan to remedy. What will the Secretary State be doing to seek to address those existing cyber-security risks in the network before 2027?
Obviously, the most blunt way of doing that is to ban the flow from the beginning of the year and then address the stock to 2027. In advance of that, we will also be imposing much tougher conditions on all of the mobile network operators through the telecoms security Bill. Essentially, that will shift the balance from the Communications Act 2003, whereby it was up to the mobile network operators to determine how best to ensure security, to this legislation that will involve the Government setting out those requirements, and they will address those sort of issues.
Will the Minister confirm that the problem is not with Huawei’s hardware, but with its software? As part of his open RAN solution, might an alternative be to mandate the use of open-source software rather than proprietary software in the 5G network?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make the point about open-source software, and we will certainly encourage that to happen. That greater transparency will help as we roll out the open RAN networks. It is the case that the Huawei evaluation centre in GCHQ does look at both hardware and software issues.
With regard to our other networks, people in the telecoms industry have suggested to me that it is not actually as difficult to replace the equipment as the representatives of the industry suggest. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in his technical consultation about supply chain alternatives, he will push them to distinguish between things they prefer not to have to do and things that are genuinely impossible?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course we will do that. It is just worth bearing in mind with all of this that it is not just one decision, but the cumulative impact of all those decisions. We imposed restrictions in January. We are imposing further restrictions on banning the procurement and then we are imposing further restrictions again in 2027. We will just get to a point on the deliverability of this.
I welcome the decision inasmuch as it is progress of a kind, but let us not be so myopic as to think that the victory is complete; it is not. As long as Huawei continues to have its tentacles in other key elements of public infrastructure and academia in our universities across the country—it is giving huge sums to outfits such as the London School of Economics—we still have an issue. Has the myopia really come to an end? Is the decision part of a broader strategy to get Huawei out of places it ought not to be?
Today’s announcement relates principally to the imposition of sanctions by the US Government and the consequences of that. The wider points the hon. Gentleman raises are likely to be addressed through the investment security Bill, which will come before the House.
I add my voice to the welcome for this vital decision in the interests of national security. Building on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), although for many of my constituents in rural Buckinghamshire 5G will be game-changing, to put it bluntly, any reliable mobile signal will be life-changing. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that the incredible shared rural network can be pushed up the agenda and delivered faster than currently scheduled?
As my hon. Friend knows, we signed the deal for the shared rural network just a few months ago. That was incredible progress and we will continue to challenge it to go further and faster. In addition, I am aware when we talk about getting full fibre to the premises that many people are still struggling with getting superfast, so we also need to make sure we get superfast to the remaining 4% of households in the UK.
Security of our telecoms network is the vital issue here. That is why I supported the Government’s announcement earlier this year on Huawei. They have caved in to pressure from the United States and their own Back Benchers. Some of those Back Benchers who were in government during the golden years of the relationship with China and said nothing then about human rights have now found their conscience. In the telecoms Bill, the Secretary of State is going to ban Huawei, but if the United States changes its position, can we take Huawei out of the legislation? Will we ban Nokia and Ericsson from using components manufactured in China, as they do now? Will he be honest with the public? It is not about the hardware; it is about hacking and the software. That is what we should be concentrating on, not this.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the wider risks to the network. As I have said repeatedly, both previously and today, we would be exceptionally naive to think that just by removing Huawei, we remove that risk. Sophisticated hostile state actors can of course infiltrate our networks. That is why we are toughening up considerably the security of our networks through the telecoms security Bill, and I think that is the correct approach.
I welcome much of what the Minister has said and am grateful to him for coming here. This does look like a long, slow goodbye to Huawei, but does he understand the concerns of some Members that seven years is a very long time in politics and it would be better were it to be done sooner? Also, does he understand that perhaps the lesson from all this is that for a host of reasons—economic, security, geopolitics —high-risk vendors should not be in our critical national infrastructure?
I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive comments. I genuinely understand the concerns about speed expressed by him and other Members. That point was considered extensively by the National Security Council, and in the end we made a balanced judgment. We believe that by having 2027 as the target, by the end of this Parliament we will have put in law an irreversible process for removal. The risk of going faster relates to the integrity of the network and the challenges in that respect. I would rather we got to a point where we had got it out completely by 2027, and I think that is a realistic timetable for doing so.
To allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about coronavirus.
Thanks to one of the greatest national efforts in peacetime, this deadly virus continues to diminish. Yesterday’s figures show 530 new cases, down around 90% since the peak, while 162 patients are currently in mechanical ventilator beds with coronavirus, down around 95% since the peak. The latest number for deaths recorded in all settings across the UK is 11—the lowest figure since 13 March. According to today’s Office for National Statistics data, for the third consecutive week, total deaths are lower than normal for this time of year.
Due to this substantial progress, we have been able to restore freedoms and carefully and methodically restore the fabric of this country. However, we cannot let our progress today lead to complacency tomorrow, so we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control. Our strategy is to protect the NHS, get the virus down and keep the virus down, while restoring as much of normal life as possible. Our tactic is to replace national lockdown with ever more targeted local action as we work hard to defeat this virus once and for all.
Our NHS test and trace system gets stronger all the time. Since launch six weeks ago, 144,000 people have now been asked to self-isolate who otherwise simply would not have known that they had to. Where we find clusters or outbreaks, we take local action, tackling over 100 incidents a week. Mostly these are small, in an individual care home, pub or factory. But we are prepared to take action on a wider basis if that is what it takes, just as we did in Leicester. Four permanent test sites and 10 mobile testing units have been deployed across the city, meaning that Leicester now has the highest rate of testing in the country. We have launched one of the biggest communication programmes that Leicester has ever seen, including targeted social media posts, website banners, radio ads, billboards and even bin stickers. We have been working closely with all parts of the local community, including community leaders, local businesses and the local football and cricket clubs to get the message out. We have also established a process for making decisions to lift the lockdown, with the first decision point later this week.
Local action is one way in which we can control the spread of the virus while minimising the economic and social costs. Another is to minimise the risk as we return more to normality. In recent weeks we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops. Both of those can be done by the use of face coverings. Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis. The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher among men and 60% higher among women than in the general population. As we restore shopping, so we must keep our shopkeepers safe.
There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop. The British Retail Consortium has said that, together with other social distancing measures, face coverings can
“make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the High Street.”
The chair of the Federation of Small Businesses has said:
“As mandatory face coverings are introduced, small firms know that they have a part to play in the nation’s recovery both physically and financially, and I’m sure this will welcomed by them.”
We have therefore come to the decision that face coverings should be mandatory in shops and supermarkets. Last month, we made face coverings mandatory on public transport and in NHS settings, and that has been successful in giving people more confidence to go on public transport and to a hospital setting when they need to, providing people with additional protection when they are not able to keep 2 metres from others, particularly people they do not normally come into contact with. Under the new rules, people who do not wear face coverings will face a fine of up to £100 in line with the sanction on public transport and, just as with public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.
The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual. Should an individual without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, a shop can refuse them entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply. The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine. That is in line with how shops would normally manage their customers and enforcement is, of course, a last resort. We fully expect the public to comply with these rules, as they have done throughout the pandemic.
I want to give this message to everyone who has been making vital changes to their daily lives for the greater good. Wearing a face covering does not mean that we can ignore the other measures that have been so important in slowing the spread of this virus— washing our hands and following the rules on social distancing. Just as the British people have acted so selflessly throughout this pandemic, I have no doubt they will rise to this once more. As a nation, we have made huge strides in getting this virus, which has brought grief to so many, under control. We are not out of the woods yet, so let us all do our utmost to keep this virus cornered and enjoy our summer safely. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. After days of ministerial muddle, we finally have a decision. I have long warned that this virus exploits ambiguity and that mixed messaging in a pandemic is so damaging. On Friday, we had the Prime Minister saying he favoured face masks. On Sunday, we had the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying he did not favour face masks. Yesterday, the Justice Secretary, unsure what to say, had to say in the end he was perhaps in favour of face masks.
It did not have to be this way: we did not have to have this confusion. We have long known about airborne transmission via aerosols. The Secretary of State has long warned about asymptomatic transmission. The Royal Society and the World Health Organisation have long recommended wearing face masks. Even Donald Trump now wears a face mask, although admittedly it is because someone told him he looks like the Lone Ranger. The former Chair of the Health Committee has long warned about wearing a face mask. The Secretary of State’s own advice, published on 11 May, advised in favour of wearing face masks. So why has it taken two months for him to make this advice mandatory, and why will it take another 11 days for the measure to come into force? The World Health Organisation has said throughout this pandemic, “Act with speed”, but yet again this Government appear to be in the slow lane.
All we need and want is clarity, so may we have it in other areas? What now is the position on workers returning to offices? Do the Government want them to return to offices, yes or no? Will the Health Secretary offer greater clarity to the people of Leicester, who are now in the 17th week of lockdown in my city? What metrics will be used to judge whether Leicester can ease out lockdown later this week? When will he make that decision? How will he communicate that decision to the people of Leicester? Will he clarify why the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), has ruled out extra support for Leicester businesses and employers, contradicting the indications that the Health Secretary gave to the people of Leicester? When people are worried about their jobs this mixed messaging is the last thing they need.
On the other parts of the country that have been identified as being of concern, will the Secretary of State instruct the Health and Safety Executive to inspect all factories, meat packing plants, distribution centres and large employment sites as a matter of urgency?
On testing, local authorities still need specific data that can facilitate action. [Interruption.] The Health Secretary disagrees, but they still need person-identifiable data, not just postcodes. They need not just positive test results, but the negative results, so that they can understand the overall infection prevalence, and they need contact tracing data, so that they know who has been asked to isolate by Test and Trace and can follow them up. They need this data daily. The virus does not wait a week, so why should local directors of public health have to wait a week? I note that in the financial statement £10 billion has been allocated to Test and Trace. Can the Health Secretary itemise what that £10 billion has been spent on? Can he rule out spending more on private outsourced companies, and invest more in NHS labs and testing instead?
Finally, today we have a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences warning of a new wave of infection this winter. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has also warned that the transmission of the virus
“could be elevated under UK winter conditions”.
Yet missing from last week’s financial statement was any increase in NHS England’s revenue budget. Instead we have a mooted NHS reorganisation, with suggestions that Public Health England could be abolished and speculation that a new centre for disease control could be set up in its place instead. NHS staff need certainty, now more than ever, so will he ensure that the NHS and the social care sector get the winter funding they need to prepare for a second wave? People want to do the right thing. Muddled messaging hinders that. As George Osborne said yesterday, people just “want answers”. Can the Health Secretary give our constituents answers today?
I can certainly answer some of the genuine questions that were under there. The tone of constructive engagement that the hon. Gentleman used to engage with was a better one for him.
We clearly follow the evidence on face coverings, and I set out some of the reasons why now is the right moment to introduce this policy. Trying to turn this into a party political football ill behoves the hon. Gentleman, not least because when his colleague the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) was asked yesterday whether he knew what Labour’s policy was on face masks, he said:
“On that specific detail…I don’t…I would like to know…if we are going to call for clarity…it would be good to have clarity on our own policy.”
So we can take the criticisms from the Opposition Front- Bench team with a pinch of salt.
I come to the specific substantive questions that the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) asked. I have set out that there is a process for whether changes can be made in Leicester. The process is that we will look at 14 days of data, and today it is 14 days since the measures were introduced. We will look at that on Thursday of this week and make a public announcement as soon as is reasonably possible about whether any changes can be made to the situation in Leicester.
Thankfully, the numbers have been coming down in Leicester and we have put in that extra testing, but the number of positive cases in Leicester is still well above the rest of the country. I will not prejudge the decision that we will take on Thursday, and we will take into account all the data. The hon. Gentleman asks for specific metrics. We will not set out specific thresholds. Instead, we will look at all the data—both the level and the rate of change—and make the appropriate decision in consultation with the local authorities.
The hon. Gentleman asks about health and safety inspections. There are risk-based health and safety inspections on all the types of facility that he mentioned, and that absolutely needs to be based on risk. For instance, we have seen across the world that meat-packing factories have a much higher risk of outbreak, so we have targeted inspections on them.
The hon. Gentleman asks about data. Patient identifiable data is available to local authorities when they sign a data protection agreement. Of course, there has to be a data protection agreement, and, as he knows, we plan to publish more and more of that as open data.
We will continue the work to control the virus. We will continue to bring in measures as they are appropriate, and I look forward to a return to the spirit of constructive engagement for which the hon. Gentleman is so well known.
I congratulate the Health Secretary on the impressive resilience that he has shown throughout the coronavirus crisis, but as we both know, the joy of his job is that winter is always around the corner. One of the most sobering statistics in this morning’s report from the Academy of Medical Sciences is that the number of people every day over winter who have covid symptoms will increase from 100,000 to 360,000. It is obviously vital to know which of them have coronavirus and which just have regular winter flu. The report states that it is essential to have a massive ramp-up of testing and tracing capability before then, so what are my right hon. Friend’s plans are to do that, and when he does it, will he be able to do what not just Sir John Bell, but Sir Paul Nurse and many other distinguished scientists are calling for, which is routine testing for NHS frontline staff?
I take very seriously the royal colleges report. We are engaged in a massive ramp-up of testing and of the contact tracing that my right hon. Friend has long championed. The scale of the ramp-up of testing will be big enough to cope with the sorts of figures that are described in the royal colleges report—that is even on the current testing technology. If there is a breakthrough so that we can get testing technology that is even easier to roll out, where it can be done at the bedside in the community rather than having to be sent to a lab, we will be able to have an even bigger roll-out.
On my right hon. Friend’s final point, as he and I have discussed in this Chamber, we have put in place a programme of regular testing of NHS staff that is advised by clinicians. That insists on regular testing that is, again, risk-based, and as we further ramp-up testing above and beyond the current 300,000-a-day capacity that we have now achieved, which is one of the highest in the whole world, we will of course continue to expand that effort.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement; it represents a welcome step towards preparing for any potential new second wave of coronavirus infections this winter. The virus has not been eliminated, so as we lift lockdown and people increasingly interact with one another, we need to use every tool we have to reduce the risk of a second wave.
A report commissioned by the UK chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has concluded that July and August must be a period of intense preparation for a potential winter resurgence of the virus, with R potentially rising to 1.7 by September. The report’s worst-case scenario forewarns of an estimated 119,000 associated hospital deaths between September and June—more than double the deaths we saw during the spring wave. This outcome, of course, does not take any account of likely actions that the Government may take. I sincerely hope that an elimination strategy is adopted as part of that.
The move to compulsory face coverings is a welcome and helpful intervention, but I am in no doubt that effective uptake will require consistent and effective public messaging. So far, we had the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster saying on Sunday that face coverings should not be mandatory, the Justice Secretary saying that they perhaps should be, the Prime Minister saying that he is looking at the evidence and, thankfully, the Health Secretary today saying they will be mandatory. Will he confirm the implementation date? Press speculation has suggested 24 July. When the head of the World Health Organisation said yesterday that mixed messaging from leaders is one of the worst challenges in tackling covid-19, who do we think he had in mind?
The chair of the British Medical Association said that
“each day that goes by adds to the risk of spread and endangers lives.”
While I welcome the UK Government’s falling into line with Scotland and 120 other countries worldwide on mandatory face coverings, they need to be one component of a wider elimination strategy, not just about keeping the virus down. I hope the Secretary of State will take this opportunity to commit to an elimination strategy.
I certainly agree that the UK has throughout the virus moved largely in lockstep but for a few days in some cases, owing to the implementation and timings of these sort of decisions. That is a good thing, because we are far stronger when we work together as one single United Kingdom. I welcome the Scottish Government’s support for the decision we have taken.
I add only that suppressing the virus is absolutely critical. As all countries around the world have discovered, elimination is extremely difficult. Those countries that thought elimination was achievable are finding that cases pop up again. The correct approach, which we are following right across the United Kingdom, is local action whenever we see cases, clamping down on them as much as possible in order to suppress the virus, while lifting those national measures.
I praise my right hon. Friend. It is great that this is the third week of a lower than average number of deaths across the country, which shows that we are really getting a grip on the virus. We have seen real reductions in rates in the north-east as well.
However, as the economy opens back up, confidence is absolutely key for my local community and the local economy, particularly for those coming back from shielding in August. Also key is the confidence that, when there are local outbreaks, as there has been in my constituency in the last 48 hours, track and trace is there for people. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many people have already been tracked and traced across the country, to help give people confidence that the system is working?
There are 144,000 people who have been asked to isolate who simply would not have known that they were at risk before the large-scale track and trace programme was put in place. It is vital that we have the resources to act and that we have plenty of resources for testing and tracing. For a while, we faced criticism that we had too many people with not enough to do, but as shown by the royal colleges report released this morning, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt)—the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee—said and as my hon. Friend just alluded to, it is vital that we have that capacity, so that whenever we need to trace an outbreak of the virus, we can get right in there and take the action that we need to take.
Every covid-19 death is a tragedy—a family changed forever. The tragic but inescapable truth is that the UK Government’s response to this pandemic resulted in one of the worst death tolls in the world. However, adjusted for age, the death toll in England is 81.9 people per 100,000, compared with 67.6 in Wales. Commons Library research indicates that excess deaths across the pandemic period have been 15% higher in England than in Wales, despite a significantly greater proportion of the Welsh population living with long-term limiting illnesses. What does the Secretary of State believe explains that disparity, and what lessons can his Department learn from the Welsh Government’s response in preparation for further local outbreaks and a potential second wave?
I have been engaged positively with the Welsh Government throughout, and where we have concerns—for instance, about the outbreaks the Welsh Government were handling in Wrexham or on Anglesey —we have been in communication about it, especially where there is an issue on the border. I would caution slightly against the sorts of comparisons the hon. Lady draws, but what I will say is that this exercise is best conducted together, and that is why we take the approach that we are tackling this virus together across the whole United Kingdom.
Why was the new policy on face coverings announced in the media last night, rather than to Parliament first?
I have come to Parliament to explain it at the first opportunity.
The Academy of Medical Sciences is very clear: prepare now for a winter covid-19 peak. We must grasp this chance to learn from past mistakes such as PPE shortages and a Welsh Government gazumped by the British Government on testing equipment. Will the Secretary of State commit to a rapid review, not to point the finger of blame, but to stand ready to implement what we have learned before winter is upon us?
This attempt to divide us is very unfortunate. The UK Government have put testing capacity into Wales that is bigger than NHS Wales’s own capacity, and we do that in Scotland as well with the same effect. We are working together in partnership across the United Kingdom, and, absolutely, we are making the preparations for winter, as the right hon. Lady and every other Member of this House would expect.
If test and trace is to work effectively and people take the advice they are given via that service, some of them will find it difficult, because they will be earning no money; there is a choice to be made between self-isolating and being able to pay their bills. So will the Secretary of State look once more at the issue of sick pay for those, especially in local lockdowns, who are asked to self-isolate on behalf of all of us?
Yes, of course we keep this under review. The evidence shows that the most important difference that we can make to get yet more people into the test and trace system is for everybody who has any symptoms at all to get a test if in doubt. That is where the biggest gap is, and that is partly due to the number of cases where people have no symptoms, when of course they would not know that they need to get a test; finding them is incredibly important and is done through contact tracing. We must make sure that if anybody has coronavirus symptoms, and therefore needs a test, they come forward and get a test: if in doubt, get a test. It is of course an important consideration to make sure that people are supported if they need to isolate, and we are working closely with business to ensure that happens.
The experience of this virus in Barrow and Furness is that it has hit most those with underlying health conditions or who live in areas of deprivation. Surely a lasting legacy from coronavirus should be a move towards early intervention, so we can lift people out of health inequalities and deal with issues before they become intractable problems. Will my right hon. Friend share his views on this approach?
I strongly agree with the point of view so eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend. It is critical that, as well as tackling coronavirus and the economic consequences of the action that we have had to take, we tackle the deep-rooted health inequalities that have exacerbated this disease and its impact on many people. This is a critical part of the levelling-up agenda. Issues such as obesity in particular clearly have an impact on how badly people are affected by coronavirus, and we need to take action in order to ensure that people get more equal life chances across this country.
Transparency and trust are crucial to any public health crisis, but public health directors still need household data on infections, not just postcode data. Wakefield Council told me this afternoon that it is still not getting the household data on positive tests, even though we have had outbreaks at Forza meat processing factory and at Urban House asylum accommodation. The public also need proper weekly cases information, not just at the local authority level, which itself is hard to get hold of, but also at town level and constituency level. Will the Secretary of State not now publish for everybody across the country that more local data, at constituency or town level, on the weekly cases each week?
The information that the right hon. Lady has requested is available to directors of public health in upper-tier local authorities, and we are extending that further. In addition, I want to see much more data published as open data, and I have requested that that happens. I am sure it will happen soon, but the truth is that, following a request from directors of public health right across the country, we have extended a huge amount of data to them. Those who have signed data protection agreements in upper-tier local authorities and who have the statutory responsibilities for dealing with this have got the data down to the personal details that she requests.
On a conference call with the North Yorkshire resilience forum yesterday, I discovered that while the borough of Scarborough had experienced 561 cases in total, apart from one isolated case on 3 July, we have not had an infection since 23 June. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the people of Scarborough and Whitby not only for so assiduously following the Government guidelines, but for applying liberal quantities of Yorkshire common sense?
Absolutely. The people of Scarborough have been well represented and well led by my right hon. Friend. They are doing a great job in following the social distancing rules and making sure that they take appropriate precautions, and as a result, the disease has been suppressed in Scarborough. I am sure that the people of Scarborough will be able to enjoy summer safely.
Lisa, we cannot hear you. We will come back to you at the end. We will try to sort out the technical problem.
Will the Secretary of State please outline what is being done to enhance procurement resilience within the NHS? Also, what is being done to ensure that British companies get orders for PPE, not just China?
I am absolutely determined to see that happen. Many British companies have stepped up to the plate to deliver PPE, and a very significant proportion of our PPE will be manufactured in the UK by the end of the year. It is a very important part of our global resilience.
The much-loved author of “Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard”, Mr Michael Rosen has broadcast very eloquently on the BBC about his experience of excellent healthcare in the local Whittington Hospital. However, what he has also expressed very eloquently on Twitter is the sequelae or after-effects of covid. What urgent steps is the Minister taking to address having tailor-made, experienced, proper healthcare in the community for those who are still suffering months after they have had covid?
The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important question for the small but significant proportion of people who have long-term detrimental effects from coronavirus. I am glad that Michael Rosen got such excellent care at the Whittington, and I can assure him and the hon. Lady that we are putting in place NHS treatment for people with long-term impacts and research to make sure we understand as much as possible about those long-term impacts, because they are still little understood.
We will try one more time to reach Dr Lisa Cameron.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been hearing concerns from those who may be exempt from wearing face masks but are fearful of being confronted because not all disabilities are visible. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating East Kilbride’s Hannah Kelsall on developing free “chase the rainbow” carry cards that explain this exemption? Ultimately, no one should ever be challenging vulnerable people outside. It takes a lot of courage for many to leave their homes, but these innovative cards are providing reassurance for many across my constituency and beyond.
It is very important that, as a society, we look out for the most vulnerable, especially through this epidemic. The initiative that the hon. Lady describes is just one way in which we can all support people who have particular circumstances, and it relates directly to the introduction of the mandatory use of face coverings in shops, because there are important exemptions. It is important that people are able to express that they have an exemption because of their medical condition requiring them not to wear a mask, so that they can still shop.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the “NHS is open” campaign, to make sure that members of the public in Dudley, Gornal, Upper Gornal and Woodsetton, Sedgley and beyond know that if they need to seek medical help, they can do so?
Yes. I want to reassure people in Dudley and beyond that the NHS is open. If people need NHS treatment, they should go to the NHS. In the first instance, they should go to their GP by phone or telemedicine, or call 111 or go to NHS 111 online. If people are asked to go to hospital or into a surgery, they absolutely should, and it is safe for them to do so.
The only way that directors of public health can properly tackle covid-19 is through an integrated approach to testing, tracing and outbreak management. Currently, the Government are treating each of those separately, with little regard to how they are interconnected. Does the Secretary of State accept the limitations of this system, and will he reallocate resources so that regions can develop integrated approaches for coronavirus test, trace and management?
It is vital that all those things are brought together at both a national and local level, and they are. The actions that have been taken under the NHS test and trace programme, whether national or local, and the interaction of the two, are testament to the fact that we are increasingly integrating national and local work and ensuring that the best high-quality data available is shared.
In the unlikely event that there is a local outbreak in a town or village in Cornwall in the summer, could the Secretary of State outline what a local lockdown might look like for local people and anyone holidaying in Cornwall?
Yes. Local action can be anything from action in an individual business premises, an individual farm, as we saw in Herefordshire over the weekend, or an individual GP surgery, up to a group of organisations or, if necessary, a whole city. The approach we take is that, for an individual premises, that is largely a decision for the local director of public health to take, but of course, once we get up to the level of a whole city, that has to be a decision taken nationally by the Government. We will publish more details of this escalation procedure in due course.
A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences states today that July and August are critical months for “intense preparations” for a possible second surge. What specific measures is the Health Secretary taking to stress-test the PPE supply chain during that period, as the report recommends, given that recent improvements to supply have not taken place in worst-case scenario conditions? Furthermore, will he be responding to calls from Care England and the Relatives & Residents Association to provide PPE to adult social care, free of charge, as an important public health intervention ahead of a second wave?
Of course we are doing that work to stress-test the delivery of PPE and to rebuild the stockpile. We had a huge stockpile at the start, but the distribution of that stockpile was extremely difficult for a couple of weeks while we fully sorted it out, got the supplies flowing back in from abroad and built up domestic supplies. Lord, Paul, Deighton has done a remarkable job in putting together the logistical effort. It is exactly as the hon. Lady says. Over the summer, we are doing the work to ensure we are ready for winter.
I welcome the Government’s announcement that the immigration health surcharge will be exempt for health and social care staff. As set out by the Home Secretary just this week, we will launch a health and care visa, providing an exemption to the health surcharge upfront for either themselves or their dependants. There are, however, some in social care who will not be caught by that exemption. Can my right hon. Friend therefore please update the House on how he plans to ensure those social care workers will be exempt from paying the health surcharge?
Yes, I can. I can announce today that all employees working in health and social care will be exempt from the immigration health surcharge and that all employees in health and social care who have paid the immigration health surcharge on or after 31 March will be eligible for a reimbursement. We value enormously the work that people do right across the NHS and all across social care, and I am glad that we have been able to make this announcement.
I thank the Secretary of State for his update. The media have highlighted the role of carers and those they look after, and inquiries to my constituency office reflect that. Has he considered allocating additional funding to respite services for carers, bearing in mind that many carers have been caring intensively for their loved ones without a break for 15 weeks? Many of them are on the brink, and I sincerely believe they need time to rest.
Yes. That is a really important subject and I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it to ensure we get in the best possible support. It is obviously very difficult and I pay tribute to all those who have been caring for loved ones in difficult circumstances. When we clap for our carers, we clap, too, for those unpaid carers who give so much.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his statement. Will he join me in reiterating that, while face coverings can help to reduce transmission in some circumstances, face masks worn as part of PPE for healthcare and other workers should be reserved for those who need it? Will he also confirm that wearing a face covering is not a substitute for social distancing and that we should do both?
This point is incredibly important. A face mask can reduce the risk of transmission, and in particular, it protects others should someone be positive and transmitting the virus, especially when they are asymptomatic and do not know it. However, it can only be effective as part of a broad measure of social distancing measures, and it is not a substitute for social distancing and washing hands. It is easy to forget that washing our hands, as well as keeping surfaces clean, is one of the most effective protections against the transmission of the disease.
Nightingales sat empty while the Secretary of State’s Government’s guidance allowed people to die needlessly in care homes. With 120,000 extra deaths predicted this winter, when will he be making changes to that guidance?
The Nightingales project was one of the most successful projects in the history of the NHS—building the Nightingales in nine days was something that many people in this country thought would be impossible—but the Nightingales were designed very specifically for intubated patients who were not conscious. They were not built to be effective and useable for people who are, and there are some very practical reasons for that. I understand the hon. Lady’s call to use the Nightingales for other reasons, but they were built with a specific intention in mind; they met that intention, and they were a great success.
The pandemic has inevitably led to a backlog in other treatments, which is causing anxiety among my constituents. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust and the two clinical commissioning groups that serve my constituency will have the additional resources that they need to meet the backlog?
It is vital that we deal with the back- log of cases that is building up because of the absolutely necessary requirement, in the peak of the crisis, to pause a lot of activity. I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to support and protect the NHS, including with increased resources.
That point brings me back to something that the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) said at the start and that I should have responded to. He seemed to complain about the £1.5 billion of capital funding that we have put into the NHS recently, but of course it is also very important that we take forward measures to ensure that there is capacity there, too.
Of course the whole House hopes that in the coming months a vaccine will be developed that can be rolled out, possibly early in the new year, but in the meantime—I know that this issue is close to the Secretary of State’s heart—there are 58 million people across the UK and the US, up 7.7 million since the outbreak, who have joined anti-vax Facebook pages. Tech companies, mainly Facebook, have made more than $1 billion from supporting and advertising anti-vax sites, including those that sell fake cures and discourage the public from getting any medical support when showing signs of covid. As we move towards finding a vaccine, may I press the Secretary of State to look into putting more investment towards ensuring that we tackle those anti-vax sites? As they have been described by many, they are simply an ideological dirt bomb waiting to go off.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He and I are passionately of one voice on this—as, I think, is the whole House. The Government will recommend a vaccine only when it is known to be safe and effective. We will then need to administer that vaccine, and for people to have confidence in it. People who propagate untrue myths about vaccines are putting lives at risk—that is true of the measles jab and other jabs, and it is true in this case too.
The social media companies have an important responsibility. They have taken some action already, and I pay tribute to them for that; in fact, I have a meeting later this week with a Mr Nick Clegg, who is in a position of responsibility at Facebook, but it is not only Facebook and Instagram that have taken action. We will be discussing what more action can be taken to make sure that people who are propagating lies about vaccines do not manage to spread those lies.
Nobody has worked harder than my right hon. Friend to try to save lives and protect people throughout this pandemic, but I know that he, like me, would like a safe and fast economic recovery, so can he please clarify something for my constituents? I have wedding events organisers and business meeting organisers who are genuinely asking what the difference is between a restaurant, which can safely socially distance with perhaps 60 covers, and a wedding, which is allowed only 30 people, who are also socially distancing with all the motivation to do so. Is there some health reason for that, or is it simply a straightforward matter of trying to reduce the return to economic activity?
No. This is essentially a judgment about ensuring that people have the appropriate social distancing, with, of course, the maximum possible return to economic and social life. There is a judgment to be made about where such restrictions are put; they are the sort of restrictions that nobody would ever want to put in place, but the problem is that the virus thrives on exactly the sort of social contact that people want to undertake when they are celebrating something like a wedding.
We cannot negotiate with the virus; all we can do is try to have the right balance of measures to keep the spread of the virus down while allowing the restoration of economic and social life. Ultimately, the rules we put in place are judgments, and they are the best judgments we can make with the information available. We keep them under constant review—as I hope my right hon. Friend has seen, for instance, with the reopening of nail bars and beauty salons this week—just as we keep the data on the spread of the virus under review.
The Secretary of State gave a statistic in his statement that retail workers have a far higher than average chance of being infected with covid-19. If that is the case, and mandatory face masks is about saving lives, why has it taken so long to take action to make them mandatory, and why is the reported implementation date 24 July?
The implementation of this will be on 24 July to ensure that shops and businesses have time to put this into place and to ensure that the implementation can be done in an orderly way.
Nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up. Was there consultation with the police force, and particularly the chief constable of Hampshire? For it is she who will have to enforce this monstrous imposition against me and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents.
The need to restrict the spread of the virus while allowing the ancient liberty of a gentleman to go shopping is a difficult balance to strike. We have made the judgment that the best way to strike it is to allow a gentleman to go shopping but require him to wear face mask. Of course, enforcement for the police, but I think enforcement will largely be undertaken by the British people, who have been remarkable in their fortitude, sticking with the rules even while they may be a frustrating imposition.
Wirral Council has led the way in recognising the importance of the work that care workers do by making funding available for providers to pay them the real living wage for this financial year. However, the scheme is not mandatory and not all care homes currently pay it. The Government have taken £7.7 billion out of adult social care budgets since 2010, and the care sector faces real challenges. When will the Government step up and fund social care properly to ensure that all care workers earn at least the real living wage?
I am incredibly proud to have supported the introduction of the living wage. We brought that in, and it has had a bigger impact on care workers’ salaries than on pay in almost any other sector. The introduction of the living wage is a real testament to the fact that the Government support the lowest paid workers to get the support they need. That is true in social care across the board. The hon. Member says it is not mandatory. It absolutely is mandatory, it is in force, and we are putting the living wage up.
I, like many colleagues across the House, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and his team for driving down infections across the country. One of the lessons we have learned in the pandemic is that, while it is easy to impose restrictions, it is much more difficult to lift them. Could he therefore explain the criteria that will be used for lifting mandatory face masks while people go shopping?
In the same way that these are judgments on the way in, they are judgments on their way out. We will have to make that judgment according to the spread of the virus and, in particular, the risk level imposed by people catching the virus. We will keep all these things under review.
The data currently has an in-built delay, but the ability to do test, track and trace effectively and with the greatest success requires the shortest time between testing and local action. Put simply, the more local control, the quicker things will happen. The more handovers there are, and the more time it takes, the less successful it is. So I would like to ask the Secretary of State why he does not trust local systems, including the NHS. There are those who think that this is an attempt to discredit NHS labs.
On the contrary, NHS labs have done an incredibly important job. We have expanded the NHS labs enormously and we have brought in the drive-through centres. This is a massive team effort, and trust among the team is an incredibly important part of getting this right. The hon. Member is absolutely right about concatenating the time taken from the suspicion of someone having covid through not only to getting the test and the result—those times are all coming down—but to the action being taken based on the result, whether that is isolating the contacts of the individual or taking wider action if it is part of a cluster or there are indications that there might have been an outbreak. I entirely agree with the premise of that part of her question. That is a huge and important piece of the work of NHS Test and Trace at the moment. As for the second part of her question, all I would say is that we are doing everything we can to bring the system together, with the support of all those involved.
Most covid deaths in hospitals are now understood to be due to sepsis as a complication. In the light of the former CMO’s concerns about increased antibiotic use during the pandemic, can my right hon. Friend reassure me, first, that the data on covid-90 are granular enough to identify the mode of death of patients in hospitals and, secondly, that the Government will support the NHS if it is challenged when making prescribing decisions in these unimaginably difficult times?
My hon. Friend asks an important medical question, and we know that he has a deep personal interest in sepsis. All I can say is that we are constantly learning all the time. I will not try to answer the clinical part of his question—I will leave that to more qualified clinical and medical colleagues—but it is an incredibly important question, and my view is that as much data as possible should be available for research. I have put in place the regulations—and, indeed, a direction —necessary to allow for the research to be done in a much more effective way than was available in the past.
Italian doctors are once again warning us, this time of the threat of coronavirus resulting in a series of life-limiting illnesses that can affect anyone who has had even the mildest infection, including the Secretary of State and other Members of this House. Sometimes the illness returns only many months later. The advice from Italy is that everyone who catches the virus faces a long-term threat to their health. Can we listen to their advice this time? This is about so much more than mask in shops and the completely inadequate test and trace system.
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point and it is a shame that he uses such adversarial language. The test and trace system is getting better and better, and masks in shops are important, but the underlying point that he makes is absolutely right. The long-term impact of this on some people can be very significant; there is growing evidence of that. I have put in almost £10 million of research funding to try to understand that better, and the NHS has built an NHS service for people in those circumstances. He is quite right to say that the long-term impacts can affect anyone, no matter how mild the initial illness. Thankfully, I do not appear to have any long-term effects that I know about. So far as I can tell, I am fine, but I am grateful for his interest. What I would like to do is work alongside him to try to understand this as well as possible. We are absolutely listening to the evidence from right around the world on this vital question.
In a short space of time, King’s Mill Hospital in Ashfield has gone from an inadequate rating to an outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission. During the pandemic, the hospital has been fantastic in providing brilliant care in Ashfield and in supplying PPE to care homes, funeral directors, chemists and anyone else who needed it.
Would my right hon. Friend please say a big thank you to all staff, including the chief executive, Richard Mitchell, hospital cleaner Paula Whetton, porters Michael Thorpe and Colin Ford, Scott Cairns in mattress decontamination and critical care nurse Tracy Hague, who represent the very best of Ashfield, and will he please come to visit the hospital the next time he is in Nottinghamshire?
I would love to visit Ashfield Hospital in person and to be able to thank every single person who is there and has worked so hard during this pandemic, from the chief executive to the porters and the nurses: all those who have played their part as part of the team. The hospital in Ashfield does not regard itself as separate from the rest of the community. It is deeply embedded in the community and works across primary care, the community trust and with the mental health trust, too. It is part of a system. That is the future of the NHS: people working together, rather than in the silos of the past.
Unfortunately, my written parliamentary question dated 5 June regarding PPE for urgent dental care centres in my constituency of Stockport, Greater Manchester remains unanswered, but I will try my luck with another question if that’s okay. It seems likely that we will have to live with covid-19 for a long time. Data from care homes shows that the rate of infection is higher when staff do not receive occupational sick pay. When will the Secretary of State ensure that social care staff receive a proper pay rise—at least the living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation—to reflect the unbelievable work they have done during the pandemic, and when will the Government legislate for occupational sick pay for all social care workers?
Can I, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, note to the House that we have been incredibly busy in the Department of Health and Social Care? We will get back to the hon. Member’s written question as soon as we possibly can, but we have been inundated with questions and it has been all hands to the pump to try to respond to the virus, so I hope he will understand why sometimes our responses have been a bit slower than they would in normal times. I will get right across that. I take it very seriously—it is very important—but we do, if I may, pray in aid mitigating circumstances. We will get back on top of it.
On the hon. Member’s substantive point, the increases in the living wage are very important for social care staff, and as I said in response to an earlier question, I am very proud that we introduced it.
My constituents will be keen to know what progress has been made with the vaccine trials. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress of vaccine and treatment testing in the UK?
The vaccine programme is getting all the possible support we can give it, including attention right across the top of Government. It is being led by Kate Bingham, who is doing the job brilliantly as chair of the vaccines taskforce. The best answer I can give is: no news is good news. We are trying to prove a negative: that, if someone has the vaccine, they do not get the virus. So the longer we go on without hearing there is a problem, the better. We are working to a reasonable best-case scenario of getting the vaccine in at some point this year, but I stress that that is the best-case scenario. The central scenario is somewhat later, and there is a chance that no vaccine will ever work. We need to work for the best and give our vaccine programmes the best possible support, but we should also be cautious about whether one will ever come off.
A former director of public health who lives in my constituency has been in touch to express serious concerns about the real possibility of a second wave of coronavirus and his fear that lessons have not been learnt from the Government’s response to the pandemic. What plan does the Secretary of State have to get an independent body to conduct an accelerated review of the Government’s response to covid-19 so far, so that we do not make the same mistakes again?
We are looking at all the evidence and take very seriously all the academic, professional and medical studies into the pandemic and the response to it, both here and around the world.
Further to today’s announcement regarding the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops, is it anticipated that similar may yet need to apply in pubs and bars?
We do not anticipate that at this point. We, of course, keep all things under review but, in the first instance, the proposal—in the same way that we brought this in on public transport and in the NHS last month—is to bring this in in chunks.
I am going to be cheeky, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think I can help the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) with his problem about wearing a mask. He is a knight of the realm, so he should just consider it a visor.
But to the serious question that I want to ask. It is very clear from the way that covid has rolled out that lots of people are going to have brain injury-like conditions and there is going to be a substantial need for long-term rehabilitation. This mirrors the work that needs to be done for those who have had traumatic brain injuries and stroke, many of whom have not had the support this year, for obvious reasons, but are desperate for it. I understand the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is setting up a cross-departmental ministerial group, which will meet before the end of this month. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the rehab for people with brain injury, whether from covid or from anything else, is in place?
We are working on exactly that. This is part of a number of questions that rightly have been asked about the long-term impact of covid and making sure we have the NHS treatment available for it.
Asymptomatic workers in care homes are now tested every week. Asymptomatic workers in hospitals are not. Why not?
The programme that we have in hospitals is a risk-based one, according to the risk of the individual. It is much harder to put that risk base in place in care homes. Both of these proposals, while seemingly different, are based on the same clinical advice.
I would like to thank the Secretary of State for the statement today.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As we are heading into another recess, with the ongoing pandemic and a potential second wave, as we have heard today, on the way, do you have any suggestions or provisions for how hon. Members can scrutinise effectively during that period what the Department is doing, given the challenges we have, which the Secretary of State has already alluded to, in terms of responding in a timely fashion to correspondence?