House of Commons
Monday 20 July 2020
The House met at half-past Two 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
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Shared Prosperity Fund
This Government believe in respecting the results of democratic referendums. Leaving the European Union has provided us with an opportunity to align the objective of the EU structural funds with domestic priorities, while continuing to support vital jobs and growth opportunities across the United Kingdom. The new UK shared prosperity fund will be our vehicle for delivering that. UK Government officials regularly speak to their counterparts in the devolved Administrations about this and other issues.
This vague waffle on timelines and content just will not cut it. The UK has received over €10 billion in structural funding since 2014 as an EU member, and it is now staring at economic disaster, with no information on what will replace those funds. Will the Minister guarantee today that the shared prosperity fund will not result in areas such as Fife seeing any reduction in funding?
The 2019 Conservative party manifesto committed at a minimum to matching the size of EU structural funds in each nation. It is very important that we get these decisions right. This is, after all, an enormous sum of money—our money—sent formally to the EU and then top-sliced and sent back to us with conditions. I very much look forward to controlling it for ourselves.
It is not just the Scottish Government who are looking for clarity on this. Just last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report that said that, four years after the Brexit vote, it is “high time” we had some idea of where the Government are going. Does the Minister agree with me, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly Government that it is high time we had clarity on these schemes?
The report highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) did not end its criticism there. The IFS went on to say that it was “disconcerting” that the shared prosperity fund was still not finalised and suggested that
“With limited time left, one option the government could consider would be to continue with existing EU funding allocations for one more year.”
Will the Minister today commit to do just that, to protect all our communities and ensure that they are not left behind by this incompetent UK Government?
Obviously, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the Government. We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver on the decision to leave the European Union. We will be in a position to give full details on the UK shared prosperity fund after the cross-government spending review, which will be so important to determining many aspects of our future relationship with Europe, as well as our commitments to our own spending priorities. We will continue working closely as one United Kingdom to understand the changing needs of local and regional economies, and I am happy to meet Ministers from the Scottish Government to find an acceptable way forward.
Five months before the transition periods ends, there is still lots of talk from the Government about future funding arrangements but no details. Last month, the Minister told me that he would make inquiries on this, yet his response only promised more details in due course. Does he appreciate that communities cannot afford to wait in perpetuity and need clarity on this now?
My officials meet fortnightly with those of the Scottish Government, and it is obviously very important that we maintain that dialogue. As I indicated in my reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn), we are clear that we are prepared to have talks at ministerial level with our Scottish counterparts. We want to provide that clarity, and we will be in a position to do so when we have had the spending review, which will detail our commitments in the round.
I am grateful, but endless meetings do not give answers to communities and local governments who need that information and clarity. Another issue is the stronger towns fund. There has been lots of self-congratulatory back-slapping from Tory Back Benchers but very little detail. In the departmental spending debate on the estimates earlier this month, there was still no detail forthcoming. Will the Minister advise us today when Scotland will receive details and a timeline for the stronger towns fund?
The stronger towns fund is a vital part of our levelling-up work. I make no apologies whatsoever for saying that it is a really important tool to rectify long-standing economic imbalances in the country. The Barnett formula will be applied to investment for England in the normal way at the spending review. The funding is committed to the devolved nations, which means that the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive a share of funding, with allocations to be confirmed in the next financial year.
Families in Temporary Accommodation
The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012 and the homelessness code of guidance set out that local authorities should try to place households within the area, that when that is not possible, they should place the household as near as possible, and that that should be a last resort. If a local authority places a family outside its area, it is required by law to notify the local authority in the area in which the family are placed.
How does the law work without enforcement? We know from the programme “Ross Kemp: Living with...” that homeless families travel approximately 400,000 miles—or 16 times round the globe—each year to get to their temporary accommodation, and 60 councils are not informing the receiving authorities. That is the reality; what are the Government going to do about it?
The hon. Lady cares passionately about this issue and has raised it in the House recently. If a local authority places a household into temporary accommodation in another area, it is, as I said, required by law to notify that local authority to ensure that there is no disruption in schooling or employment. Our homelessness and advice support team should hold local authorities to account for their performance on this matter, and the Local Government Association is doing work with local authorities from London and throughout the country to develop a protocol for out-of-area placements. We are clear, from the Front Bench, that councils should adhere to this basic legal requirement.
Town Centre Investment
Our £3.6 billion towns fund will drive the economic regeneration of towns to deliver long-term economic and productivity growth. The towns fund will play an important role in the support of our country’s economic recovery, bringing forward public investment to create jobs and boost confidence in towns, as well as levering investment in from the private sector.
The beautiful towns across East Devon boast many independent shops on their high streets, providing the customer service that people just cannot get with a click of a mouse. As we reopen our high streets safely and encourage people to think local first, the Government must press on with plans to regenerate town centres. What plans does my right hon. Friend have for the next phase of the future high streets fund?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we will set out our plans for a competitive round of the towns fund later this year. As I said to him when I visited Exmouth with him last year, that is the kind of town that the fund was designed to serve, and I very much look forward to seeing its submission. In terms of immediate investment, the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership will receive £35.4 million from the getting building fund for shovel-ready projects across the area, including in Devon. We will announce 160 successful projects from across England at the end of this month.
Ipswich town centre is at the heart of life in our town, but it faces many challenges that have only been made greater by covid-19. A great deal of work is going into developing a coherent strategy to regenerate our town centre, with the input of both private and public sectors, under the Ipswich Vision partnership. Will my right hon. Friend recognise the excellent work that has gone into developing the strategy for Ipswich town centre as he considers our proposed timetable for receiving £25 million of town deal funding in October this year?
I am delighted that the ideas developed over the past several years by the Ipswich Vision board are being used as the foundation for the Ipswich town deal. My officials are looking forward to receiving Ipswich’s proposals in the town investment plan that is, as my hon. Friend says, being submitted on 30 October. We have recently announced that Ipswich, like other towns that are recipients of the towns fund, can apply to my Department for up to £1 million to kick-start its work, create jobs, boost confidence and help the local economy to recover.
Bolton has shovel-ready town centre regeneration schemes including Le Mans Crescent and Church Wharf. Uncertainty created by covid-19 means that financial backers are looking to the Government to act as guarantor of last resort. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and the leader of Bolton Council to discuss ways to help support those well developed regeneration plans? As I am sure he will concur, Bolton is ready to be the epicentre of this Government’s levelling-up agenda.
I congratulate Bolton and my hon. Friend on the very impressive work that they are doing with the council to transform the town. Bolton is one of the initial 100 towns selected to submit proposals for a town deal, and, again, I look forward to seeing the submissions shortly. As I said in my previous answer, Bolton can also apply to the Department for an advance of £1 million from the town deal to fund some of those projects that he describes. I also understand that, as a result of Bolton being part of the future high streets fund, it is likely to include support for Trinity Gateway, Le Mans Crescent, Church Wharf and Crompton Place—a number of extremely important regeneration projects.
Accrington town centre is one of the many places that have been left behind for too long. It is at the heart of my community and now that I am the Member of Parliament, I intend to be the strong voice that is needed to make sure that it is not a forgotten town any more. Will the Secretary of State accept my invitation to visit Accrington and our amazing local businesses to discuss with me how I can make sure that it gets the investment that is so desperately needed?
I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation to Accrington. From what I have seen in her relatively short period in this House, she is exactly the strong voice that her constituents deserve. We have shown consistently through our initiatives, such as the towns fund, which we have been discussing, and the high streets fund, our commitment to levelling up all parts of the country, and we are doing that once again with our £900 million getting building fund, £34 million of which will benefit her constituents in Lancashire. I look forward to announcing, with her local enterprise partnership, those projects by the end of the month.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the provision of appropriate community spaces and opportunities in town centres can be crucial to social cohesion? During decades of austerity, our communities have lost so much of their town centres. Will the Secretary of State tell me what steps are being taken to ensure that any town centre regeneration plan is drawn up with the help of the community members so that communities are prioritised and benefited, including through jobs and social spaces?
I agree that we need to invest in our town centres and our high streets. The Government had begun that work even before the pandemic created so much additional economic disruption. The towns fund and the high streets fund are important initiatives that will help local communities to set a course for the future, with investment in infrastructure, in town centre regeneration, in skills, and in culture, and local people are at the heart of each and every one of those town deals or high street bids.
Housing Infrastructure Projects
The Government are investing around £150 million in infrastructure projects in Northamptonshire, unlocking the development of more than 19,000 homes in Corby, East Kettering, and at the A43, for instance. The Government are supporting schemes with almost £80 million, which will together unlock more than 12,500 homes. That is part of more than £10 billion of investment in new infrastructure for housing across England.
That is wonderful news from the Secretary of State, but he missed out one constituency in Northamptonshire and that was Wellingborough. We are planning to build lots of new houses at Wellingborough North, but to realise the full potential of that housing, we must have the Isham bypass. Why can we not get that bypass? It seems to be held up by red tape, so does the Secretary of State agree that the Isham bypass would be an excellent project for the Prime Minister’s Project Speed? Let us get the bypass built.
We want to fast-track major building projects in all parts of the country to fuel the economic recovery and to create jobs, and Project Speed is just one part of that. With respect to the Isham bypass, I understand the Department for Transport has prioritised the project for major road network funding. Northamptonshire County Council is due to submit an outline business case later this year. The council has had to amend the route, and will require fresh planning permission and legal orders, but the Department for Transport’s officials are in touch with the council to discuss how best the scheme can be taken forward. Obviously, if there is anything my Department and officials can do to assist my hon. Friend, we will do it.
Renters Reform Bill
We are committed to bringing forward legislation to deliver a better deal for renters, including repealing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 as a priority. This will represent a generational change to tenancy, so it is only right that such legislation is considered and balanced to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, for tenants and, of course, for landlords.
The economic consequences of covid-19 could continue for years to come. Given the Secretary of State’s commitment that
“no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus”,
does the Minister agree that it is about time this Government looked at the measures the Welsh Labour Government are putting in place to protect renters from eviction by unscrupulous landlords?
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her question. This Government have brought forward an unprecedented array of measures to support tenants through the coronavirus epidemic. We have protected 8.6 million households because of our actions: we have increased the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile; we have given local authorities £500 million of crisis grants; and we have introduced the furlough scheme, which the shadow Chancellor, in a moment of lucidity, described as a “lifeline”. This Government are acting, and will continue to act, for tenants.
The evictions ban ends on 23 August and the Government could have already brought in this Bill, raised LHA temporarily to average rents, scrapped section 21 or given courts discretion in arrears cases, but they have not done any of those things and thousands of people are struggling with rent now. So will the Minister guarantee to honour the words of the Secretary of State in March:
no one should lose their home as a result of the coronavirus”?
Yes or no?
I know that the hon. Lady is coming under pressure from her extreme left wing to, in essence, write off all rents. I am not entirely sure who that is expected to help—it certainly will not help those people who are working very hard to pay their rents. As I said, the Government have brought forward an array of measures to support hard-pressed renters. We have introduced measures that will support those people. I believe my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is about to introduce a measure that will make it difficult for landlords who do not show “good cause” in bringing their application to court by describing what the effect on their tenants will be of an eviction—the courts will be able to adjourn those actions. That is practical support for people on the ground, not pie in the sky from the hon. Lady.
Covid-19: High Streets
My Department has brought forward a range of measures to support the safe reopening of high streets across England, including providing flexibility for outdoor dining, which has helped to create an al fresco dining renaissance in this country; enabling business to operate on takeaways; making it easier to hold outdoor markets; and pedestrianising town centres and high streets to support local businesses. That is in addition to the Government’s VAT cut for hospitality, the eat out to help out scheme and the £50 million reopening high streets safely fund.
The Secretary of State and his Housing Minister are welcome to come for a bit of al fresco dining in Bexhill and Battle whenever they are around. I give credit to both of them for the way in which they have helped to reform the planning system so that high streets can reopen. Will they take further steps, if required, particularly in respect of temporary structures, where help with permitted development rights could be given, if that were so needed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those kind words. We are certainly open to further measures that we can take to make the lives of small businesspeople across the country easier as they seek to recover their businesses and livelihoods after the pandemic. In particular, I can give him reassurance that the existing legal framework that enables one to put up a temporary structure for 28 days is being extended to 56 days during 2020 to enable, for example, a pub to put up a marquee, a restaurant to do the same, or a market to operate for longer than it would ordinarily do—all designed to help local businesses to prosper in the weeks and months to come.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to ask the supplementary despite my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) being held up.
Does the Minister recognise that after all Government funding is taken into account, including the emergency funding, councils still face a funding gap of between £6 billion and £10 billion, while they are of course required by law to balance their budgets in-year and take appropriate measures to ensure that that happens? How many jobs does he estimate will be lost as councils are forced to make severe cuts to plug this gap?
Our engagement with councils has enabled us to understand pressures at a national and local level across England. To date, we have announced £4.3 billion-worth of additional resource to councils, including £3.7 billion of unring-fenced funding. We have also announced the sales fees and charges co-payment scheme to compensate for irrecoverable income loss that is designed to flex according to the extent of the losses as they crystallise. We will also extend the period over which councils must manage shortfalls in local tax income relating to this financial year from one year to three years. All those measures are intended to prevent councils from having to make difficult in-year decisions. I reiterate the message that I have now sent out countless times to individual authorities: any authority facing an unmanageable situation should make contact with my officials.
Local Authorities: Covid-19 Prevention
My Department has been working closely with the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the Department of Health and Social Care to develop a framework for the local management of further outbreaks of coronavirus, and councils will play a crucial role in this process. All upper-tier local authorities have published their local outbreak control plans. I am in regular contact with my counterparts at DHSC. We gave new powers to councils to control local outbreaks of covid-19 that came into effect only this Saturday.
Eighteen of 55 patients who tested positive for coronavirus were transferred from North Tees University Hospital into local care homes between 1 March and 15 April. That was directly in line with the Government advice that a negative test was not required before discharge. A further 266 were transferred without a test. The policy changed on 16 April, but does the Minister accept that many deaths on Teesside, and perhaps thousands across the country, could have been prevented if the Government had got it right in the first place?
I pay enormous tribute to the care workers on Teesside and of course to our local NHS, which we share as Teesside MPs. This has been a constantly evolving and very complex situation, as Governments around the world, including our own, have obviously learned as matters have progressed. We have acted consistently and in good faith throughout. We have worked very hard with the care sector to protect patients. The £600 million infection control fund that we have instigated is designed to ensure that the care sector is safe, with a strong measure of containment against the disease for patients going forward.
The Minister may not know this, but on 1 June, following the Prime Minister’s appearance at the Liaison Committee, I wrote to him about local authority involvement in tackling this virus. In particular, I asked him to
“give an assurance that data will be shared fully with all partners…In particular…directors of public health.”
I have not had a response to that letter, but I have heard from Greg Fell, the director of public health in Sheffield, and other directors that they are only getting generalised data—they are not getting, on a daily basis, the names, addresses and NHS numbers of those infected and those they have been in contact with. Does the Minister accept, therefore, that while this information is held by Public Health England, it needs to be passed on to directors of public health, and passed on quickly, and will he give an assurance that that will happen this week?
Since 24 June, all local authorities have been able to access postcode-level testing data through their director of public health, and that is securely shared by PHE on a weekly basis. I understand that that has been going on pretty much from the moment that it became available. PHE also shares information with local directors of public health as part of the routine investigation of outbreaks and incidents. That includes information on individual cases and their contacts, as required, to support the public health response.
The Health Secretary quite rightly praised my local council of Blackburn for its efforts to bring down infection rates. I quote:
“On Blackburn, I think the council… are doing a fantastic job… they’ve taken… steps locally and I applaud that. This is exactly the sort of local action we want to see.”
Although Councillor Khan welcomes the praise, as do the communities that have worked closely with the council through this difficult time, does the Minister recognise that they have been failed by the test and track system? I raised that in the House last week. Data made available to me over the weekend shows that only 43% of people from the national service have been contacted successfully. Does he accept that the additional burden on the council requires resources to help keep services running and keep our communities safe? They need the funding now. Finally, will Minister agree to meet me and Councillor Khan to discuss the challenges going forward?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is obviously very important we get control of the situation in Blackburn. Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace are actively working with Professor Harrison and his colleagues there to ensure a rapid solution is implemented to support their local work. Clearly, this is precisely why we have allocated £300 million to support the wider test and trace programme. We are also supporting Professor Harrison and his team with additional mobile testing capacity and a local visit in order to better understand how the needs of the community in Blackburn can be supported. I am obviously very happy to meet the hon. Lady and Councillor Khan to discuss how we take this forward, as I have with a number of other authorities in a similar situation.
Housing: Environmental Standards
Our proposed future homes standard will ensure all new homes from 2025 result in at least 75% lower carbon emissions than those built to the current standard. Earlier this month, the Chancellor announced £8.8 billion of new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects, including a £3 billion green investment package, which could help support around 140,000 green jobs, and upgrade buildings and reduce emissions.
Can I urge the Secretary of State to look at the letter from 18 conservation groups, deeply worried this morning by the fact that they believe that the planning system is going to be radically deregulated? Does he not agree that we want sustainably built homes in sustainable locations? Will he talk to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and get his act together over this suggestion that there will be no more environmental impact assessments worthy of that name?
I can give this assurance to the hon. Gentleman: the planning reforms that we intend to bring forward in the weeks ahead will not row back on any of our commitments to the environment. This Government want to bring forward homes that are truly fit for the future. We do not want to see homes being built in the years ahead that will need to be retrofitted at huge expense either to the state or to individuals in time. We want to ensure that we meet our obligations to the environment, to biodiversity and to the climate change challenge, and that is exactly what the proposals that I intend to publish later this month, or at the beginning of August, will do.
Residential Buildings: Cladding
We are taking action with the biggest reforms of building and fire safety in nearly 40 years through the Building Safety Bill, which we are publishing in draft form today. To tackle the most urgent problems, we have made available £1.6 billion to remove unsafe cladding systems, so there should be no excuse for further delay. We have made progress. Over two thirds of high-rise buildings with the most dangerous Grenfell-type aluminium composite material, or ACM, cladding have either been completed or they have started their remediation.
With applications for more than 1,000 buildings made to the building safety fund already, it is clear that £1.6 billion will not be anywhere near enough to remedy all high-risk residential buildings that still have dangerous cladding, more than three years after the Grenfell Tower fire. The Government are trying to find ways to fit a potential £15 billion liability into a £1.6 billion funding pot. Will the Minister commit to release more funding in line with the Select Committee recommendation to ensure that all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building are addressed, allowing residents to live safely in their homes without fear of bankruptcy?
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question. To date, we have received 1,378 completed registration forms for the building safety fund. We expect the money made available by the Chancellor in this fiscal year to be fully allocated by March, so that the buildings that most need remediation where the owners were not able to act quickly can be helped. We have always made it clear that we expect a significant proportion of remediation costs to fall on the shoulders of those responsible for the original work or the building owners, and certainly not on the leaseholders.
Although we welcome the publication, finally, of the draft Building Safety Bill today, the Department’s own figures highlight the fact that 246 buildings are still wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding and thousands more are cladded in equally flammable materials. How will the measures outlined in the Bill speed up remediation while increasing the size and the scope of the building safety fund?
Some 72% of buildings that had ACM cladding have had that cladding removed. I refer to the hon. Gentleman to the Adjournment debate secured by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) to which I replied. I said that tough enforcement action is on its way for those owners that are responsible but are not taking action to remediate their buildings. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman as the Building Safety Bill passes through this House and the other place to make sure that we have a good Bill that is fit for purpose. This Government are committed to doing so; I trust he is, too.
Housing Associations: House Building
We have announced a £12 billion investment in affordable homes, the largest in a decade. That will deliver up to 180,000 new affordable homes across England, with the vast majority delivered by 2026. That is building on our previous £9 billion affordable homes programme, which delivered about 250,000 affordable homes. Figures published last week show the highest number of starts of affordable homes since records began in 2010, and a 91% increase in homes for social rent over the year. We have also extended the previous programme by one year to ensure delivery of homes that would otherwise, regrettably, have been lost because of covid disruption.
The Prime Minister says that we need to build, build, build, and that is absolutely the right approach. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing join me in praising Bishop Llewellyn Graham and everyone at Nehemiah housing association for their amazing work in West Bromwich East, and work with them to ensure that local people are skilled up so that we can get the right homes built at affordable prices?
I will join my hon. Friend in thanking Nehemiah housing association for its work on housing in the west midlands over the past 20 years. Compared with the start of the decade, the number of homes built in the west midlands last year had doubled. She is right to talk about skills; delivering the homes this country needs depends on having a skilled workforce. The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that we will need 688,000 skilled construction workers if we are to deliver our target of 300,000 new homes every year.
Leasehold and Commonhold Reform
We are committed to reforming the leasehold market and have already set out that we will reduce ground rents to zero on future leases and ban new leasehold houses. We are also working with the Law Commission on enfranchisement, commonhold and right to manage. Given the impact of covid-19 on the agenda and the Government’s wider work to restart the economy, we will bring forward legislation on leasehold as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Mr Speaker, if you and the Minister came to Worthing station and walked from there to my flat, you would walk past a site where Homes England could help Worthing Borough Council to produce extra social housing and potentially more leasehold or commonhold homes. Six times a year, on average, over the last 10 years, Ministers have talked of progress on ending leasehold abuse and providing better homes for the future, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said just now. This time, can we have action, and could Ministers also look at whether statutory instrument 2020/632, the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, takes into account the disbenefits to leaseholders of people putting extra storeys on leasehold blocks?
I know that my hon. Friend has raised issues about this particular statutory instrument. We believe we need to encourage the densification of our towns and cities to allow for additional homes. In the last four years, 60,000 additional homes have been delivered through permitted development rights for change of use. This new permitted development right could deliver an extra 800 homes a year for families across our cities and help to protect the countryside too. Of course, permitted development rights remain subject to prior approval by the local planning authority on a number of matters, including the amenity of neighbours and occupiers of the block.
Planning Reforms: Environmental Standards
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the Government are committed to building not just better and faster but greener. As we consider reforms to our planning system, we are committed to ensuring that they create better outcomes for the environment and that decision making is properly informed by the science. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary set out this morning our intention to develop a reform framework for environmental assessment and mitigation.
In 1958, planning permission was granted for Droppingwell tip to open in my constituency. The local community managed to get the tip closed in the 1990s because of their serious environmental concerns. Now, with no consultation and the vagaries of the planning system, it has been given the go-ahead again. It is likely to reopen in the very near future and is an environmental timebomb. For the last four years, I have been raising this repeatedly with the Environment Agency and the Government but to no avail. Will the Minister please meet me to look into this disastrous plan and step in to stop this unwanted and environmentally damaging development?
I have every sympathy for the hon. Lady and her concerns in championing her constituents. I would point out that in my quasi-judicial role I cannot discuss individual planning matters, but I will refer her concern to my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary, and of course if she wants to talk to me about a broader range of issues, I would be very happy to do that.
Hounslow Council’s new council housing will no longer have gas boilers installed, only the newest low-energy systems available. Both the leader of Hounslow, Councillor Steve Curran, and community organisation Brentford Voice have said they would like national planning policies to require all new developments to incorporate low-emission energy systems. Will the Housing Secretary’s reforms require all new homes to be zero-carbon and affordable to run, yet still to be warm in winter and cool in summer?
We were the first Government in the world to legislate to be zero-carbon by 2050, and we intend to meet that pledge, which is why we have introduced the future homes standard to reduce carbon emissions from homes built after 2025 by between 75% and 80%. I am prepared to listen to and consider all proposals to make us greener and better, and I look forward to hearing those proposals from the hon. Lady.
Second Home Ownership
Second homes can bring significant benefits to local areas, including boosting tourism, consumer spending and investment in the local economy. However, we are aware of the need to balance this with the housing needs of local people. We have taken decisive action to address these challenges through the introduction of a stamp duty surcharge on second homes.
Excessive second home ownership robs communities of life, schools and other services. Does the Minister understand, then, why people in the south Lakes are so appalled that the Government have chosen to give a £15,000 stamp duty bonus to those lucky enough to be able to afford a second home? When there are 3 million hard-working people excluded from Government support at the moment, are these not appalling priorities? Will he end the second homes bonus and instead support the 3 million excluded?
Second home owners contribute significantly to the economy of many parts of our country, particularly those parts that rely on the tourist economy. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in 2013, we removed the requirement to offer a council tax discount on second homes, and 95% of the 253,000 second home dwellings now have council tax applied to them. It is very important that we balance the needs of the local economy with the rights of local people. We think we have got that balance right as we try to get this country through a very difficult epidemic, and every penny spent locally matters to local businesses and people.
This week, we announced the most significant reforms to building safety legislation in 40 years, delivering new and enhanced regulatory regimes. I welcome the voices of all right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House, as we move this critical legislation forwards.
Earlier this month, we set out our comprehensive financial plan to ensure that local councils can proceed with their crucial work with confidence, including a one-of-a-kind scheme reimbursing councils for lost income, measures to spread tax deficits, and an extra £500 million in un-ring-fenced funding. We are also making sure that as we recover from the pandemic, our communities can bounce back with investment in housing and infrastructure and for our town and city centres. Our announced reform of use classes will help to revitalise high streets and town centres, and the Chancellor’s stamp duty cut will help many to realise their dream of owning a home.
Many councils have had to use emergency accommodation and hotels to house rough sleepers during coronavirus. As we look to winter, it will not be possible to build enough social housing within the timeframe required to ensure that people are able to stay off the streets, and many options will need to be considered: for example, social lettings agencies could be established to deal with private rental procurement for vulnerable people and homeless people to access accommodation. All options require funding, so what measures is my right hon. Friend considering to keep vulnerable people off the streets come winter?
Can I say once again how grateful for and proud I am of the work of local councils and homelessness and rough sleeping charities across the country and the remarkable effort that they have made together to protect rough sleepers during the pandemic? That has undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives. We saw that in the recent Office for National Statistics figures that were published, showing that 16 rough sleepers had died in this country during the pandemic. Each of those deaths, of course, is a tragedy, but that number is far lower than that of any other major developed country. We are making £105 million of immediate support available for local areas to fund exactly the kind of interventions that my hon. Friend refers to.
YourNeighbour.org, a digital platform supporting over 1,300 churches, estimates that faith groups are providing more than 10 million meals a month to people up and down our country who would otherwise go hungry. Our faith groups have missed out on weekly donations and opportunities to raise funds, and they are running out of money and are in desperate need of financial assistance. What assessment has the Minister’s Government made of the financial hit to places of worship, and why have the Government not provided ring-fenced support to ensure that they can continue their very much needed work?
I pay tribute to the work of faith groups across the country. I have been regularly meeting with faith leaders from all the major religions through our places of worship taskforce. I am extremely grateful for the hard work of that organisation, which has helped us to reopen places of worship safely. I am aware of the financial impact that the pandemic has had on many places of worship and faith organisations. The schemes created for charities by the Chancellor were open to those from faith organisations and many have taken part in them.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is no question but that we owe an enormous debt to town and parish councils for everything they have done throughout the pandemic. We have encouraged principal authorities to discuss the funding provided with their town and parish councils where they are delivering covid-related services. The grant funding of £3.7 billion is un-ring-fenced, recognising that local authorities need to make appropriate decisions about how to meet major covid-19 service pressures in their local area. I certainly hope that Cornwall Council will give that proper consideration.
We have, for several weeks now, been in exactly those sorts of conversations with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who holds the relationship with the judiciary and the Master of the Rolls. The Lord Chancellor has already set out today some initiatives and I am hopeful that further announcements will be made shortly to provide exactly the kind of protection the hon. Lady asks for.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I had recent constructive discussions with both Lincolnshire MPs and all Greater Lincolnshire council leaders on this subject. It is now for them to develop proposals for local government reform and I am committed to working with them. Levelling up all areas of the country by devolving money, resources and control from Westminster is a priority for the Government. Our devolution and local recovery White Paper, to be published this autumn, will set out our detailed plans, including for restructuring local institutions and establishing more mayors.
I would be delighted to discuss with the hon. Gentleman that masterplan and to learn more of its details. It is extremely important to us that we not only build more homes, but tackle substandard homes in all parts of the country. That means making them greener and, in some cases, regenerating parts of towns and cities that desperately need it. That will be a focus both for our planning reforms and future investment.
I am extremely pleased that leisure centres will be able to open shortly, in a safe and socially distanced manner. The income guarantee scheme that we have already announced will reimburse local councils for 75p in the pound for lost income, including for the leisure centres that they own and operate themselves. I appreciate that many leisure centres are not owned and operated by local councils; I am working with my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary to see what further package of support we might be able to bring forward to assist.
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government said in his earlier remarks, we made a manifesto commitment to ensure that, at a minimum, each of the nations of the United Kingdom will continue to receive the same amount of funding as they did from within the EU. We intend to keep that commitment.
I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend, who I know campaigns vigorously on these issues. I reassure Members on both sides of the House that the Government intend to bring forward a review of the planning system and how it interrelates with flood plains, to ensure that homes are not built irresponsibly on parts of the country that routinely flood.
The fact that Tower Hamlets Council was preparing a new local plan that included a CIL schedule attached to it was a matter of public record; anybody knowledgeable about London’s housing issues would have known that. It is a perfectly legitimate planning consideration to ensure that a decision is made prior to a material change like that. That is exactly how my officials rightly advised me.
We have brought forward the now £1.6 billion fund tackling not just ACM cladding—on which there has been some progress, although far more progress is required—but other types of dangerous cladding such as HPL. I strongly encourage buildings to come forward, apply to the fund and get that money out of the door.
As I said earlier this week, we have also published the building safety Bill in draft form. Once again, I strongly encourage colleagues to participate in ensuring that that Bill meets the challenges and radically improves the standards of building safety regulation in this country.
I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady is now chairing the APPG. We were pleased to launch the Western Gateway initiative at the end of last year. I think it has huge potential to drive economic growth in that part of the country, to represent the south-west and south Wales on the international stage, and to attract international investment to her constituency and those of her neighbours.
We are very sensitive to the issues that my right hon. Friend describes, and I have had a number of conversations with her already. I appreciate that her constituents have particular concerns about high-rise buildings. We do need to build more homes in London, and that is why we are bringing forward some of the reforms that we have already announced to enable gentle densification, building up on top of people’s individual homes or blocks of flats so that homes can be built in a manner that maintains the look and feel of the suburbs.
We said at the outset of the crisis that we would ensure that councils have the resources they need, and that is exactly what we are doing. We have now brought forward over £4 billion of funding for covid-related expenditure. We have also created the income guarantee of 75p in the pound for lost income on sales, fees and charges, and I am working with the Chancellor with respect to tax losses so that councils have the confidence to move forwards and end the financial year in good financial health.
The Chancellor announced the other day our £400 million brownfield fund, which will support projects across the country, and our planning reforms that we have already announced, such as the right to demolish a vacant building and turn it into new housing, are exactly designed for brownfield sites.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement updating the House on the latest developments with respect to China, and in particular Hong Kong.
As I told the House on 1 July, the UK wants a positive relationship with China. China has undergone an extraordinary transformation in recent decades, grounded in one of the world’s ancient cultures. Not only is China the world’s second largest economy, but it has a huge base in tech and science. The UK Government recognise China’s remarkable success in raising millions of its own people out of poverty. China is also the world’s biggest investor in renewable technology, and it will be an essential global partner when it comes to tackling global climate change. The Chinese people travel, study and work all over the world, making an extraordinary contribution.
Let me be clear: we want to work with China. There is enormous scope for positive, constructive engagement. There are wide-ranging opportunities, from increasing trade to co-operation in tackling climate change, particularly with a view to the COP26 summit next year, which the UK will be hosting. However, as we strive for that positive relationship, we are also clear-sighted about the challenges that lie ahead. We will always protect our vital interests, including sensitive infrastructure, and we will not accept any investment that compromises our domestic or national security. We will be clear where we disagree, and I have been clear about our grave concerns regarding the gross human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
It is precisely because we recognise China’s role in the world as a fellow member of the G20, and fellow permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, that we expect China to live up to the international obligations and responsibilities that come with that stature. That is the positive, constructive, mature and reciprocal relationship that we seek with China, striving for good co-operation, but being honest and clear where we have to disagree. We have been clear about the new national security law that China has imposed on the people of Hong Kong. That is a clear and serious violation of the UK-China joint declaration, and with it a violation of China’s freely assumed international obligations.
On 1 July, I announced that we are developing a bespoke immigration route for British nationals overseas and their dependants, giving them a path to citizenship of the UK. The Home Secretary will set out further details of the plans for a new bespoke immigration route for BNOs and their dependants before the recess. That bespoke route will be ready by early 2021, and in the meantime the Home Secretary has already given Border Force officers the ability to grant leave to BNOs and their accompanying dependants at the UK border.
Beyond our offer to BNOs, today we are taking two further measures, which are a necessary and proportionate response to the new national security legislation that we have now had the opportunity to assess carefully. First, given the role that China has now assumed for the internal security of Hong Kong, and the authority that it is exerting over law enforcement, the UK will extend to Hong Kong the arms embargo that we have applied to mainland China since 1989. To be clear, the extension of the embargo will mean there will be no exports from the UK to Hong Kong of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition, and it will also meet a ban on the export of any equipment not already banned that might be used for internal repression, such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms and smoke grenades.
The second measure relates to the fact that the imposition of this new national security legislation has significantly changed key assumptions underpinning our extradition treaty arrangements with Hong Kong. I have to say that I am particularly concerned by articles 55 to 59 of the law, which give mainland Chinese authorities the ability to assume jurisdiction over certain cases and to try those cases in mainland Chinese courts. The national security law does not provide legal or judicial safeguards in such cases, and I am also concerned about the potential reach of the extraterritorial provisions.
I have consulted the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Attorney General, and the Government have decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely. I should also tell the House that we will not consider reactivating those arrangements unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards that can prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the new national security legislation.
There remains considerable uncertainty about the way in which the new national security law will be enforced. I just say this: the United Kingdom is watching and the whole world is watching. In the past few weeks, I have been engaged with many of our international partners in a concerted dialogue about how we should best respond to the unfolding events we are seeing in Hong Kong. On 8 July, I spoke with our Five Eyes Foreign Minister partners. We agreed on the seriousness of China’s actions and the importance of pressing Beijing to meet its international obligations. I welcome the fact that Australia, Canada and the US have taken a range of measures with respect to Hong Kong including, variously, export controls and extradition, as we have done today.
I also discussed the situation with our European partners, including Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The UK Government also welcome the EU announcement on 13 July, which sets out further proposed measures in response to the national security legislation.
A number of our international partners are also considering what offers they may be willing to make to the people of Hong Kong following the UK’s offer in relation to BNOs. I can reassure the House that we will continue to take a leading role in engaging and in co-ordinating our actions with our international partners, as befits our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong.
As I said at the outset, we want a positive relationship with China. There is a huge amount to be gained for both countries. There are many areas where we can work productively and constructively to mutual benefit together. For our part, the UK will work hard and in good faith towards that goal, but we will protect our vital interests. We will stand up for our values, and we will hold China to its international obligations. The specific measures I have announced today are a reasonable and proportionate response to China’s failure to live up to those international obligations with respect to Hong Kong, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it. May I be clear that the Opposition strongly welcome both of the measures he has announced today? He is right to ensure that Britain does not allow our exports to be used against the people of Hong Kong, and I thank him warmly for taking this step forwards.
I am particularly glad that the Government have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, and suspended the export of surveillance equipment alongside the suspension of the export of crowd control equipment, which was demanded of the Government by the Labour Opposition last year. Will the Foreign Secretary go further and also review the training of the Hong Kong police by the College of Policing and other UK police forces to ensure that we are playing a part in helping to uphold, and not suppress, the rights of the people of Hong Kong?
May I also welcome the indefinite suspension of the extradition treaty and the safeguards that the Foreign Secretary announced today? It affords protection to the Hong Kong diaspora community here in the UK, and particularly to the brave young pro-democracy activists, whom I recently had the pleasure to meet.
We believe it is vital that the world shows a co-ordinated front on this issue. I was heartened to hear that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with our Five Eyes partners. Canada, Australia and the USA have already taken this step. Will he speak to other key allies, including Germany, to ensure that there is a co-ordinated international response? He also made no mention of our Commonwealth partners. Has he reached out to those Commonwealth countries that have extradition treaties with Hong Kong, to ensure that BNO passport holders and pro-democracy activists can travel freely without fear of arrest and extradition?
The Foreign Secretary could take a number of other steps. He made a commitment today that the UK will not accept investment that compromises our national security. Will he confirm that that will extend to the proposed nuclear power project at Bradwell, and will he tell us what assessment the Government have made of the security implications of Sizewell C?
Elections are due to take place in Hong Kong in the autumn, and we are concerned that, just as in the case of Joshua Wong, the Chinese Government may seek to bar candidates from standing. A clear statement from the Foreign Secretary today that candidates selected through the primary process are legitimate and must be allowed to stand in those elections would send the message that, as he says, the world is watching. I also ask him to work internationally to ensure that independent election observers are allowed into Hong Kong to oversee those elections.
The Foreign Secretary was a little irritated by my suggestion yesterday that the UK ought to impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials involved in persecuting the Uyghur people and undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong, but I gently say to him that we have known that Uyghurs have been detained in camps since at least 2017. Has any work at all been done on that by the Foreign Office? Given that the USA has already imposed similar sanctions, is he working with our US counterparts to build the case for UK sanctions, and will he discuss this with the US Secretary of State tomorrow when he meets him?
The Foreign Secretary may not have done the groundwork to enable him to impose Magnitsky sanctions now, but his Government have the power right now to take action. He could, as the US has done, bar Communist party of China officials from the UK. Why has he not done that? The Chinese ambassador said yesterday that he reserves the right to take action against British companies. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with British companies operating in China to offer advice and assistance? I have asked him a number of times whether he has had discussions with HSBC and Standard Chartered about their stated support for the national security law. He must condemn that support. We should be showing the best of British business to the world, not the worst.
I was pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with Australia and New Zealand about their making a similar offer to BNO passport holders, but we are concerned, after asking a range of parliamentary questions, that there are serious holes in this offer. We have been told by the Government that BNO passport holders and their families will not receive home status for tuition fees, will not have access to most benefits and will have to pay the NHS surcharge. That seems wrong.
We are welcoming BNO passport holders to the UK for similar reasons to refugees, but these measures are completely out of step with that. Without serious action before these proposals are published, we will essentially be offering safe harbour only to the rich and highly skilled. That may benefit the UK, but it lacks the generosity and moral clarity that this situation demands. The Foreign Secretary will also know that many young pro-democracy activists are too young to be eligible for BNO passports. The Home Secretary said last week that she was considering a specific scheme for 18 to 23-year-olds. Will those details be published before the summer, and can he provide more detail today?
Finally, this must mark the start of a more strategic approach to China based on an ethical approach to foreign policy and an end to the naivety of the golden era years. If it does, the Foreign Secretary can be assured that he will have the Opposition’s full support. Like him, our quarrel is not with the people of China, but the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, the actions of the Chinese Government in the South China sea and the appalling treatment of the Uyghur people are reasons to act now. We will not be able to say in future years that we did not know. I urge him to work with colleagues across government to ensure that this marks the start of a strategic approach to China and the start of a new era.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response and in particular for her support for the two measures that we are taking today: suspending the extradition treaty arrangements and extending the arms embargo. I note that there is a drastically different tone being taken by Opposition Front Benchers from that taken even a few weeks ago, but we welcome her support, and do so in a spirit of cross-party endeavour and the importance of sending a very clear signal to Beijing, and indeed to our international partners, about where we stand.
The hon. Lady asks about the review of policing. Of course she is right about that: it is a question of balance. We will keep that under constant review. She mentions a range of details on BNOs, and they will be set forward by the Home Secretary shortly in the way that I have described. I urge the hon. Lady to wait for the detail before critiquing it. The Home Secretary and the Home Office have been doing a huge amount of work since September last year on all that, and of course we also need to bear in mind the offers that other countries quite rightly and usefully will be making.
I welcome what the hon. Lady says on international co-ordination. She is right about the importance of working with my German opposite number. I am seeing him this week, and it is something that is squarely on the agenda. We have also, through the Five Eyes membership, already touched base with a number our Commonwealth colleagues, but I will continue to do that. She is right that it needs to be more than just the Europeans and the UK with the North Americans—the traditional Five Eyes and Europeans—because there is a whole range of non-aligned countries out there that are very much influenced by what China is doing and saying. We want them to support us in upholding the international rule of law, which in all areas, including, as she mentioned, the South China sea, will be very important.
We rigorously review not just all investments into this country from a security point of view but whether our powers are sufficient. That is something that we will keep under review, and I know that the Secretary of State for Business is looking at it very carefully.
The hon. Lady is right as well about the September LegCo elections. I have made it clear that we want to see them allowed to take place in the way that is recognised in not just the joint declaration but the Basic Law. I agree with her point about the disqualification of candidates. We also need to be realistic, if I am honest with her, about the likelihood of China, or the Hong Kong authorities, accepting international observers.
The hon. Lady asks about the Magnitsky sanctions. She is simply wrong to say that we have not done our homework on them; we have done our homework since August of last year, which is why we could introduce those sanctions for the situation with Jamal Khashoggi, Sergei Magnitsky and North Korea. Of course, the national security legislation, which we are responding to, has only just been enacted, let alone started to be enforced. We will patiently gather the evidence, which takes months. It is not, as the hon. Lady has previously suggested, just something that can be done on a political whim; indeed, it would be improper if that were the case. Of course, if we introduce those targeted sanctions in this field, and indeed any other, without having done our factual evidential due diligence, not only are they likely to be challenged but we are at risk of giving a propaganda coup to the very people that we are seeking to target.
The hon. Lady mentions HSBC. She may or may not have already heard the comments I have made about that. Certainly, we will not allow the rights and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong to be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses. We urge all businesses to look very carefully at how they respond. They are, of course, going to be nervous about any potential retaliatory measures that may be taken by Beijing. In any event, we are very clear on the path that we are taking.
As I have said before, we want a good relationship with China. It is very important that we have a balanced, open debate about this in the House, recognise the opportunities of a good relationship with China, but be clear-eyed, as this Government are, about the risks and what we do to protect against them.
I thank again—I am getting into a bad habit here—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for an extremely good policy change. This makes the fifth, by my count, that he has backed the Foreign Affairs Committee on, following the strategic alignment of the Department, the BNOs, the Magnitsky protocols generally, and foreign ownership control overseas. This is actually claiming credit slightly for his work, because he was so instrumental in many of those things during his time on the Back Benches.
Given my right hon. Friend’s time before even entering the House as a human rights lawyer, may I ask why he has not yet made an announcement on the abuse of the Uyghur Muslim population in western China—action that his opposite number in the United States, or rather the US Treasury, has already taken, and that has been campaigned on so forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith)?
May I also ask what my right hon. Friend’s view is of article 38 and the extraterritoriality of the jurisdiction of the security law, the implications for British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand judges sitting on the Court of Final Appeal, and whether he has discussed that with his opposite numbers? Of course, the application of Chinese law to a common law jurisdiction could make the position of those judges untenable, and it is really for him to advise them on how to act.
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for his and Select Committee’s full support for the action the Government have taken; there is plenty of credit to go around. The reality is that we have taken, I think, a proportionate approach and one that recognises the severity of what is happening in Hong Kong, but also, in the way I have described, seeks to have a balanced—and to telegraph a balanced—message to the Government in Beijing that our relationship is there, with good will and with respect for international obligations, to be a positive one.
My hon. Friend asks about Xinjiang. We have made very clear our position. Indeed, we led, for the first time in the United Nations Human Rights Council, on a statement on the situation on human rights in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Twenty-seven countries in total signed the statement, and it was the first time that has been done.
My hon. Friend asks about judges on the Supreme Court in Hong Kong. That is something we obviously keep under careful review, given the need—and, indeed, the commitment in the joint declaration and the Basic Law—for the autonomy of the judiciary as well as the autonomy of the legislators to be respected, so we will discuss that with our international partners.
Finally, my hon. Friend asks about extraterritoriality. It is not entirely clear, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, quite how that will work in practice—whether it would just apply to Hong Kong residents when they are outside the country or whether, indeed, it is intended to apply to non-Chinese and non-Hong Kong nationals. That is one of the factors, among others, that informed our approach to the suspension of extradition.
I also thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement, and I commend him for its tone and the content. He picks up on the Opposition’s change of tone, and there has been something of a change in the Government’s position as well of late. I think we should all recognise that this is evolving fast.
I associate the SNP with supporting both the measures in the statement, which I think is proportionate and fair. We also want a positive relationship with China—it is a key partner in renewable energy, as the Foreign Secretary rightly says—but it is making things increasingly difficult with its actions particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and with one belt, one road; over Hong Kong, the South China sea, the situation in Taiwan, of course, and Xinjiang; and with commercial piracy and industrial espionage. There is lots of cause for concern about the actions of the Chinese state, so we do support these measures.
I will, however, press the Foreign Secretary on three further points. First, on the Magnitsky sanctions, I accept fully that this has to be done properly, but it could be done properly faster. I think there is a need to accelerate, particularly in the case of the Uyghur situation, proportionate sanctions there.
On the suspension of the extradition treaty, this is not something to be celebrated. The breakdown of criminal and judicial co-operation will make the fight against organised crime, which is prevalent in Hong Kong and London, harder, so what comes next? Will this be done on a case-by-case basis, or are we looking to evolve some new arrangement to deal with that pressing problem, because it is and will remain a pressing problem?
On students, which is where this debate will get to quite quickly, Stirling University in my constituency and universities up and down the UK, including in Scotland, welcome thousands of Chinese students. We value academic freedom and we are glad to see them here, but that is precisely the academic freedom that the state of China is looking to take advantage of. Could guidance be provided to universities about the implications of having so many Chinese students in their institutions from both a security and a financial perspective, and is any analysis under way of the Confucius institutes, which I believe do need a bit more attention than they have had today?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and welcome his support on the two measures that we have announced today.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the Magnitsky sanctions. I made this point to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). I welcome the full and eager support for the regime that the Government have just introduced, but with cross-party support, which we welcome. I just call for a note of caution on speed. It is very important that these targeted sanctions are done right, not quick. If we do them too quickly, they will be legally challenged. Not only would they then be ineffective, but we would risk, as I said to the hon. Lady, giving a propaganda coup to the very individuals whom we are seeking to hold to account.
On extradition, the approach we have taken, and I set it out quite deliberately, was that we are suspending—not just wholesale terminating, but suspending—the extradition treaty arrangements, so that it is clear that they could be resuscitated in the future. As I also made clear, we would need to have clear, adequate and robust safeguards to protect against the potential abuses that we see in the national security legislation before that could even be contemplated. That is the approach that we would consider.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to my comment about there being a different tone on the Opposition Benches. I hope he does not mind my noting that it was not that long ago that the Scottish Government’s China engagement strategy called for Scotland to be seen as the “preferred” trade and investment partner in China. I sense that there is a slight nuance in position in 2020.
I unreservedly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement; he has taken the right decision. We have had good cause to suspend the extradition treaty, and I will now withdraw my amendments to the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill, although I suspect that that has not been keeping him awake at night.
I associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on the Uyghurs. The Foreign Secretary is right that he has to be careful on the legal elements of what he does with regard to sanctions on individuals, now that we have the Magnitsky changes. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China published a report on the forced sterilisation of the Uyghur women a few weeks ago, and there is lots of evidence of the officials who are involved in that. May I, along with many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members, encourage him to do what he can to get officials to look at that urgently, so that we may force sanctions on those responsible for what is happening to the Uyghur, and on Hong Kong—people such as Carrie Lam and her predecessor, Mr Leung?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for these measures and for withdrawing his amendments; I appreciate his magnanimity in that regard. On the Magnitsky sanctions, he raises two different issues: their potential application in relation to, first, Hong Kong and, secondly, Xinjiang. We, of course, have a process for gathering all the evidence on those potential cases. The national security legislation is newly enacted, so that will take some time, but he is right to point to that. I have been reading over the weekend reports by Amnesty International in 2019 and 2020 on the range of abuses in Xinjiang, reports by Human Rights Watch between 2018 and 2020 on the mass detention and political indoctrination, and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination report in 2018 on the massive internment camps with no rights. We are looking at this carefully. As he rightly notes, it is important to assess this carefully, and it is a question of not only whether the abuses took place but whether individual responsibility can be ascribed to someone on whom we wish to impose a visa ban or asset freeze.
It seems wrong to be welcoming a suspension of extradition and exports, but backward steps though these may be, they are necessary, and my party will support them. Never mind the restrictions on exports—when will the Government start looking at the materials that we are importing from China, in particular those manufactured by Hikvision? It is some of the most intrusive surveillance technology to be found anywhere in the world, it is used widely in Xinjiang province, and it is now being purchased and installed by public and private authorities up and down this country. Will the Government look at that in a joined-up way?
On the subject of Xinjiang province, the world is watching, and what we are seeing is horrific. There was the drone footage at the weekend. Last week there was the interception of a shipment of human hair. I know that “genocide” is a term of art in law, and the Foreign Secretary is right to be cautious about its use, but it would make an enormous difference to tackling the issues in Xinjiang province if he would admit from the Dispatch Box that there are a growing number of adminicles of evidence that that is absolutely what is happening.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his typically focused and well considered remarks, and for his support. In relation to UK regulation and the regime that applies to imports, we have a strong and rigorous scheme in place, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will of course look at any individual cases that he wishes to raise. We are joined up—he asked about this—via the National Security Council and the other structures in a more closely integrated way, and covid-19 has encouraged that more broadly across the board.
On the definition of genocide, I have worked on war crimes since well before becoming a Member of this House, and the real challenge of it is the question of deliberate intention that is ascribed to it. As important as that is—it does bring with it legal implications that help in respect of accountability—the reality is that it can also distract from the fact that we are increasingly confident that there is a strong case to answer, as the Chinese ambassador was unable to do yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show”, in respect of systematic human rights abuses. Frankly, the legal label on it is to me secondary to the plight of the victims who are suffering under it.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, as we develop a new relationship with China. He mentioned Uyghurs just once in his statement, but he knows that the whole House is concerned about the human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. If there is enough evidence for the Americans to apply sanctions on officials in Xinjiang, can the Foreign Secretary have sight of that evidence to see whether we can do the same here? He of course repeatedly states that “genocide” is a legal term and we need international courts to apply it, but when it comes to the UN and China, the UN is a busted flush. Will the Foreign Secretary consider convening an independent inquiry so that we can collect evidence to see whether genocide is taking place in Xinjiang?
I thank my hon. Friend for the points that she has made. Of course, one of the points about the Magnitsky regime that we have introduced is that we have already put in place a co-ordination mechanism so that we can more regularly and generically co-ordinate with our Five Eyes partners and share information. There was quite a significant overlap—although not exclusively; it is the UK regime—in the designations that we have already made. We are putting in place that co-ordination. It is a reasonable point to make.
On genocide, I can only repeat the points that I have made before, but I have been clear that this is a gross violation of human rights and China does need to be answerable to and accountable for it. My hon. Friend talked about setting up an inquiry to examine the evidence and to glean it; we have to be realistic about what China would allow into Xinjiang. In the absence of that access, it is very difficult to see how we could do that. It is of course available to all the Select Committees in this House—as well as to the Government in their efforts to assess the evidence—to look at that independently of Government and, indeed, the United Nations.
Anyone who saw the footage on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday would have found it chilling. In the light of that footage, when the Foreign Secretary meets Secretary of State Pompeo tomorrow, will he raise the implementation of the Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in the persecution of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that imposing sanctions on the individuals involved should be an absolute priority?
I have already raised with Mike Pompeo, as well as with my other Five Eyes partners, not just the Magnitsky sanctions regime that we have put in place but the designations. We have also given due consideration to co-operation on future evidence. It is important that there is an evidence-based approach, although there is of course political accountability, and we will carefully gather and assess the evidence.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about priorities, we have set out, through a policy note published in the Library of the House, the criteria that we will apply and the policy approach. That stresses the nature of the violations, their severity and our ability to hold to account the individuals at the right levels—sufficiently senior—so that we send the right message.
I agree with so much of what the Secretary of State is saying about the need for balance, about the criticality of China and about respect for what it has achieved, but the signal truth is that the China we hoped for is not the China that we are now getting. We need a much more significant reset in our relationship in respect of not only Hong Kong but foreign lobbying, foreign investment, espionage—industrial or otherwise—human rights and our alliances and defence posture. Will the Secretary State confirm whether we are approaching all these issues piecemeal or whether there is a wider reset? If there is a wider reset, will he explain how the Government are interacting with parliamentarians and outside experts, and how that more comprehensive reset is going to be presented to Parliament so that we can all get to debate it and contribute to it?
My hon. Friend is an assiduous follower of China; I know that he takes a very close interest in it. On what the right balance is, he has mentioned all the areas of challenge. We could talk about universities, freedom of expression—there are many—but, for balance, it is important to say that there are also areas of co-operation. China is one of the biggest investors—the biggest investor, I think—in renewable technology. If we are to shift the dial significantly on climate change, China will to have to be a constructive and, indeed, positive partner, with which to engage.
More strategically, my hon. Friend asked how the measures that we take fit a broader strategy. We are considering that all the time not just through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office channels, but through the National Security Council. With the integrated review, of course, he and other hon. Members will get precisely the opportunity to scrutinise the more strategic, big picture.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on BNOs, but will he outline the steps that his Government are taking to guarantee that young pro-democracy activists who do not have BNO passport holder status will be afforded the same visa rights, extensions and protections as BNO passport holders?
As I have said, we have made a very clear, bespoke offer to BNO holders. Further details will be set out by the Home Secretary. She has already made some comments about the potential gap in years, but I will allow her to set out the full detail and then the House can scrutinise it properly.
I very much welcome both the tone and the content of what my right hon. Friend has said today. He is surely right to emphasise the importance of co-operation wherever we can and not of confrontation wherever possible. After all, we have more in common with China when it comes to climate change negotiations than we do currently with the United States. Will he emphasise to the Chinese authorities that the Magnitsky legislation and the human rights measures that he has so ably and rightly introduced are not aimed at the Chinese per se, but at human rights abusers, corrupt officials and business people wheresoever they may be?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I welcome and thank him for his support. When the Magnitsky sanctions were originally debated, the Russian Government said that the measure was solely aimed at Russia and when it was originally debated, discussed and enacted in the US, there were different Bills in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. We were very clear in the model that we adopted that this would be a universal mechanism, that it would allow us to target the individuals, whether they were state or non-state actors, and that it did not involve us, as a wider economic embargo or sanctions would do, in punishing the individual people of the country. This is a very bespoke, forensic tool, but it gives effect to exactly what he describes.
History teaches us that we cannot stay silent in the face of what is happening to China’s Uyghur community. That warning would be stark from anyone, but coming from the Holocaust Educational Trust, it should send a chill through all of us. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Government will miss no opportunity to remind the Chinese Government that wholesale abuses of human rights are not an internal matter for China any more than they are an internal matter for anyone and that, where there is evidence, as there clearly now is, of large-scale breaches of human rights conditions in China, then the rest of the world has not only a right, but an absolute duty, to step in to protect the citizens of China, as we would protect the citizens of any other country on earth?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As I have said, we respect China as a leading member of the international community and as a permanent member of the Security Council, with not just rights but the obligations that go with that, The commitment to international human rights law reflected under the UN charter of customary international law is incredibly important. We raised this issue with the Chinese Government—I raised it with my Chinese opposite number in Beijing. We have also raised, for the first time, the issue in relation to Xinjiang and Hong Kong in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
When the Communist party of China decided to breach the Sino-British Joint Declaration, it knew that it put at risk extradition treaties from countries that value the rule of law. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while we continue to welcome China’s development as a leading economic power, the rules-based international system protects us all and must be defended?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK has a strong reputation as a promoter and guardian of the international rule of law, and that is a good guide or lodestar for our relationship with China. That is why not only has the UK grounded our response to China in relation to Hong Kong in the obligations freely assumed by the Chinese Government reflected in the joint declaration, but other countries are doing the same.
The measures the Foreign Secretary has announced in the Commons today are supported by all parts of the House, I am sure, but I thought his preamble was a little optimistic. It is clear that in international organisations China has the objective of subverting those organisations, rather than either trying to change the rules or obeying them. Will he be more explicit about how he intends to work with China, given its attitude of undermining the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation and other international bodies?
I make no apology for being stubbornly optimistic about global Britain, including in our relations with China, but of course it requires China to live up to its international obligations. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about not allowing a vacuum to appear in multilateral institutions. We are discussing that with our US partners, our European partners and across the board. He gave a few examples; the most obvious recent example of concern is intellectual property theft, where there was a Chinese candidate to lead the World Intellectual Property Organisation, and there was a groundswell of diplomatic activity to support the Singaporean candidate for precisely that reason. We need not only to uphold the rule of international law, but to work closely with all like-minded partners to support the multilateral institutions.
I strongly support the measures announced today. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when the inevitable pressure, both public and private, comes from China, we will stand behind the measures for as long as the national security law remains in its current form?
Absolutely. In taking these measures, we recognise that China will respond. That is why I was clear that we are taking well reasoned, focused and proportionate measures in response to China’s actions in Hong Kong. We are clear that, in relation to Hong Kong and more generally, we will not buck and bow. We will look for the positive, but prepare in terms of the resilience of our economy, our security and, indeed, our values.
I welcome strong action over Hong Kong and the Uyghurs and to secure our critical national infrastructure, but I am concerned by reports over the weekend that the Government told Huawei that the exclusion from our 5G network was at the behest of the United States. Does the Secretary of State agree that when we take such action to defend our national security, we should say so clearly, and that it can never be in our interests to be seen to be hiding behind President Trump, particularly as we leave the European Union and seek new partnerships?
I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the measures we are taking today. It was clear in the original decision on Huawei that we wanted to reduce reliance on high-risk vendors; it is equally clear—we have to be honest about it—that we had to take the measures that we took based on technical necessity, following US sanctions and their impact on the supply chain. We have been clear and honest about that, but there is a much broader challenge for us and our international partners, which is diversifying supply chains and telecoms providers so that we can build up greater diversity of high-trust vendors in the field, and that is what we have focused on.
If we are for human rights, we must be for human rights everywhere. If we are for the rule of law, we need to be for the rule of law everywhere. In welcoming today’s decisive actions in relation to Hong Kong, may I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that our commitment to pro-democracy campaigners and oppressed minorities across China does not end here?
I hope the Foreign Secretary has noted that almost every hon. Member has touched on the persecution of Uyghurs, which is pointing towards a demographic genocide. Well over 1 million Uyghurs are detained in camps and they have been subjected to some of the most atrocious forms of torture. The Chinese Government are now taking draconian measures with the aim of curbing this Muslim population. So will he agree to meet the civil society groups that have evidence of human rights abuses in China against the Uyghurs ahead of the next round of designations under the Magnitsky sanctions, and will he raise this issue with Secretary of State Pompeo tomorrow?
The hon. Gentleman is right to join others in expressing concerns. I made it clear that we regard what is happening in Xinjiang as a gross violation of human rights. I have already referred to the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A report by 11 UN special rapporteurs in November 2019 also raised the issues of not only arbitrary detention, but enforced disappearance and torture. We will look very carefully at all that evidence.
I strongly welcome this statement. Whether it is the pictures of Uyghur Muslim children who have been separated from their parents, the horrifying footage of Uyghurs in chains being herded off the trains and into the camps, or the news that the Chinese Government are selling the hair of Uyghurs on the internet, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will feel deeply that many of these things are reminiscent of the darkest moments of 20th century history. Does he agree that as we work across Whitehall to think about all our different points of leverage on the Government in Beijing, we must recognise, first, that they are on a path of increasing aggression externally and increasing repression internally? Does he agree that we must also recognise that some things we do to have the most leverage over them may also be in our economic interest, be that restricting takeovers of companies in this country or restricting their ability to extract technology from our universities? Does he agree that the only way to stand up to a regime that is becoming more and more bullying is to confront it now?
My hon. Friend makes a range of good points, and we will, of course, continue to look at all of them in the round. I share his concern about what we are hearing in some of those reports and the harrowing echoes of what we have seen in the past. He is right to say that we need to use every potential lever we have to try to positively moderate or change the behaviour of China. We also need to be realistic about the size and scale of China, and, whatever the debate in this House, about the likely appetite and disposition of not just Europeans and north Americans, but the non-aligned countries in the UN. We will be at our strongest when we unite people together.
China stands condemned in the world court of rights for its abuse of Christians and Uyghur Muslims, and this week is the 21st anniversary of China’s persecution of the Falun Gong, whose followers have been subjected to commercial organ harvesting with the knowledge of the state of China—there is a strong World Health Organisation evidential base on this. So will the Foreign Secretary consider imposing travel bans and asset freezes against those involved in serious human rights violations in China against the Falun Gong?
As I mentioned, the challenge will be evidential, in terms of establishing not just the abuses, but the individuals responsible. We are deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and others on the grounds of religion or belief in China, including, given the new national security legislation, the risk that that grip gets only tighter.
For as long as China’s gross abuses go largely uncensored by the UN Human Rights Council, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the UK will continue to oppose resolutions made under item 7 at the UN Human Rights Council? That item seems grossly disproportionate, given that it singles out Israel for special attention, against its undeniably poor record, while China continues systemic, appalling institutional abuse against the Uyghur people and nobody at the UN Human Rights Council has anything to say about it.
I remember well from my right hon. Friend’s time as a Minister what a champion of human rights he was. The approach we will take is to hold the countries and the Governments to account for the worst human rights abuses and so far as we can—he will remember this from his time dealing with the UN—mitigate and avoid the politicisation of those by Governments and others who wish to subvert human rights more generally.
The decision to suspend extradition arrangements is a necessary step in protecting human rights, given the serious curtailing of freedom that has taken place as a result of the imposition of the new national security law in Hong Kong. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on the FCO’s recent engagement with civil society organisations in Hong Kong? What steps will he take under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 to designate sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in both Hong Kong and China?
I think I have already answered the question about Magnitsky sanctions. We will assess the evidence; I do not want to prejudge any future designations, but we will look at that very carefully. We also are engaged and in touch with various civil society movements in relation to both Hong Kong and more broadly, and the Minister for Asia is meeting Nathan Law later today. That is one illustration of the engagement we have had.
By taking this welcome step to suspend extradition to Hong Kong, we are saying clearly that we have little confidence in the judicial processes of China. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will be looking at other extradition treaties that this country has to make sure that there are no halfway house routes that China might exploit to get citizens with whom it disagrees back to Hong Kong or China to face questionable charges?
I very much welcome the announcement made by the Foreign Secretary today. I was alarmed, like many others, to hear the Chinese ambassador to the UK this weekend, when asked about forced mass sterilisations, say that he
“cannot rule out single cases”.
The Foreign Secretary has already said that he will be looking to work with international partners on further establishing that evidence base of human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in particular. Can he go further and explain exactly what conversations he has had so that we can further inform our decision making and further actions?
I agree with the hon. Lady; I think the whole House—every individual—will share the disgust and the horror at the idea that, anywhere, there is any number of cases of forced sterilisation. The testimony that we saw on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday was truly harrowing—I had certainly not seen anything of that nature before.
The hon. Lady asks, quite rightly, about how we are trying to assess the evidence base. We need to bear in mind two factors: first, the evidential points that I have already mentioned and, secondly, the balance of international opinion. We can work with our traditional partners, which is really important, but we also need to build up a groundswell of wider support among like-minded partners and countries—particularly those that share our values, but maybe in the region or more broadly—that feel vulnerable to pressure from China. That is a challenge. The way the debate is viewed in some of those countries and by some of those Governments is different from the way it is seen here, so we need to be smart about the way we approach this so we gain consensus and build up a groundswell of support for the measures we have taken. I believe that in the approach we have taken on Hong Kong, grounded in the joint declaration and the very specific obligations that have been violated, we are in the best position to do that.
May I very much welcome the much more robust attitude that we are seeing from the Front Bench? My right hon. Friend speaks about China’s economic rise, but I believe that that has coincided with a demise in a collective sense of duty and responsibility of the west. For decades, we have turned a blind eye to China’s democratic deficit and its human rights violations in the hope that it would mature into a globally responsible citizen, but that clearly has not happened. So, given its actions in the South China sea and given its veto, which it constantly uses at the United Nations, as well as the fact that it ignores WTO advice and is ensnaring so many poorer countries into debt, is this now the turning point where we drop the pretence that China shares our values? I very much welcome the statement today, but it is tactical. Can we have a strategic overhaul of our foreign policy in relation to China?
The catalogue of human rights abuses by the Chinese authorities is nothing new, and the extension of the national security law in Hong Kong is just the next step. While the suspension of extradition and export controls is necessary, why has it taken so long to reach this point, and how will the UK Government act more swiftly in formulating a strategic plan with international counterparts to make sure all those who are experiencing human rights abuses in Hong Kong and across mainland China are protected?
The national security legislation was only introduced on 30 June. We are now towards the mid to end of July. Not only did we move to extend a path to citizenship to BNO passport holders and those with eligibility, but we have now taken these further steps on extradition and the arms embargo. All these things need to be thought through carefully and require legal preparation. I believe we have moved swiftly, reasonably and proportionately.
My hon. Friend is right. That is the relationship and the way we want to calibrate the relationship—looking for positives, militating against risk and guided by international obligations, multilateral but also directly bilateral, which, in the case of Hong Kong, China freely assumed and is now in clear and serious violation of.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the important financial contribution that Chinese students make to our universities and research sector in particular. What plans do the Government have should those numbers fall? Perhaps more importantly, what can he do to reassure Chinese students and those of Chinese origin in this country that they are safe and welcome here and what can he do to tackle Sinophobic racism?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I made it clear in my statement that we value the contribution that travelling Chinese make, both touristically and in terms of universities. This is also a timely opportunity to tell the British-Chinese community here, who are among the most hard-working, productive and socially engaged members of our communities, how welcome they are and that we will have no truck in this House—certainly not on the Government Benches—with this descending into jingoism or any racism against them. They are incredibly important members of our community and society.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his robust statement. Does he agree that the national security law is not only to the detriment of the people of Hong Kong but doing great damage to China itself, and that that needs to be pointed out to China?
I welcome the Government’s new measures on Hong Kong, but I want to press the Foreign Secretary on the gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang. We said that never again would the world stand by while a state set out to eliminate an entire culture, yet it is happening again. As well as accelerating the Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials, will he accept that giving out investment opportunities in new nuclear to the state-owned CGN is giving out the wrong signal and that, if he wants to be able to demonstrate real seriousness about gross human rights abuses, he could start by reviewing that policy?
I share the hon. Lady’s horror and shock at the appalling human rights abuses in Xinjiang and more broadly. Of course, we carefully assess not just individual investment decisions but the integrity and resilience of the processes, and we keep that under constant review.
The Government rejected an amendment to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill that was designed to stop human tissue involuntarily harvested in China entering the UK market. I have since met the Minister for Asia, and I am pleased by his commitment to this. In the light of what the Foreign Secretary has said today, will he make a commitment that, if those amendments are reintroduced in the other place, the Government will look at them seriously anew?
In suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, has the Foreign Secretary decided that one country, two systems in Hong Kong is dead, in which case it would be wrong for UK and Commonwealth judges to play such an important role in the Court of Final Appeal, or has he decided to wait to see how China implements the security law while working to preserve other aspects of the joint declaration—particularly Hong Kong’s independent rule of law, under which our judges have played such an important role in the CFA?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point. We will watch very carefully to see whether and the extent to which the new national security legislation impinges on the judicial autonomy that, under the Basic Law and joint declaration, should be afforded to Hong Kong. We will consult widely across Government but also with the judiciary about what further steps we take in the light of that.
With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our action against coronavirus.
Thanks to the perseverance of the British people and the hard work of those on the frontline, this virus is on the back foot. For over three weeks now, the number of new cases each day has been below 1,000, and daily hospital admissions are down to 142. Because of this success in slowing the spread of the virus, on Friday, the Prime Minister was able to set out a conditional timetable for the further easings of the restrictions.
Throughout the reopening, we have acted carefully and cautiously, always vigilant, and we have been able to deliver on our plan. We have protected the NHS. We have cautiously replaced the national lockdown with local action. Thanks to our action against hundreds of local outbreaks, and thanks to NHS test and trace working well, NHS test and trace has now asked 180,000 people to self-isolate—that is up to 180,000 potential chains of transmission broken by this brilliant new service. What is more, in the hundreds of thousands of tests it delivers every single day, the vast—vast—majority test negative. That provides assurance to hundreds of thousands of people who can go back to work and sleep easy.
NHS test and trace is a brand new service. Putting together a massive service of this kind, at this pace, has been a remarkable job—almost unprecedented. I would like to thank the remarkable leadership of Baroness Harding for spearheading the programme and Tom Riordan, who has driven our vital work with local authorities. Everybody in this country who loves freedom should join me in thanking all those who work in NHS test and trace, in Public Health England, and in local public health operations for successfully delivering on our plan of moving from a national lockdown to local action. The plan is working.
I would like, if I may, to set out the next stages in this plan. We refuse to be complacent about the threat posed by the virus, and we will not hesitate to put the brakes on if we need to. Our goal is that this should be done through as targeted local action as possible, like we did in Leicester, where we can now start to ease the restrictions. On Friday, we published our framework for containing and controlling future outbreaks in England. From Saturday, local authorities have had new powers in their areas so that they can act with more vigour in response to outbreaks. They can now close specific premises, shut outdoor public spaces, and cancel events. Later this week, we will publish indicative draft regulations that clearly set out the suite of legislative powers that Ministers may need to use to intervene at a local level.
As I pledged to the House on Thursday, we are publishing more data and sharing more data with local bodies. I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for the good use of data in decision making. Properly used, data is one of the best epidemiological weapons that we have. From last month, local directors of public health have had postcode-level data about outbreaks in their area. From today, as I committed to the House last week, we are going further and putting enhanced levels of data in the hands of local directors of public health too. Of course, high-quality testing is the main source of our data, and having set targets radically to expand testing over the past few months—which have had exactly the desired effect, as each one has been met—so we are now setting the target for the nation of half a million antigen tests a day by the end of October, ahead of winter. I am sure that, as a nation, we will meet this challenge too.
The need for extra testing is not, of course, the only challenge that winter will bring. We know that the NHS will face the usual annual winter pressures, and on top of that, we do not yet know how the virus will interact with the cold weather. So we will make sure that the NHS has the support it needs. We have massively increased the number of ventilators available to patients across the UK, up from 9,000 before the pandemic to nearly 30,000 now; we have now had an agreed supply of 30 billion pieces of personal protective equipment; and we will be rolling out the biggest ever flu vaccination programme in our country’s history.
To support this, I have agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the funding necessary to protect the NHS this winter too. We have already announced £30 billion for health and social care, and we will now provide a further £3 billion on top of the £1.5 billion capital funding announced a fortnight ago. This applies to the NHS in England. Those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also receive extra funding. This means that the NHS can keep using the extra hospital capacity in the independent sector and that we can maintain the Nightingale hospitals, which have provided so much reassurance throughout the pandemic, at least until the end of March. We have protected the NHS through this crisis, and that support will help us to protect it in the months ahead.
We all know that in the long term, the best solution to this crisis would be a vaccine, and I am delighted to say that Britain continues to lead the world on that. Two leading vaccine developments are taking place in this country, at Oxford and Imperial, and both are supported by Government funding and the British life science industry. Today, Oxford published an encouraging report in The Lancet, showing that its phase 1 and 2 trials are proceeding well. The trial shows that the Oxford vaccine produces a strong immunity response in patients, in both antibody production and T-cell responses, and that no safety concerns have been identified. That promising news takes us one step closer to finding a vaccine that could save lives around the world.
The UK is not just developing world-leading vaccines; we are also putting more money into the global work for a vaccine than any other country. With like-minded partners we are working to ensure that whoever’s vaccine is approved first, the whole world can have access. We reject narrow nationalism. We support a global effort, because this virus respects no borders, and we are all on the same side.
This morning I held a global conference call with other health leaders, including from Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United States, and others, to discuss the need for global licensing access for any successful vaccine. Here at home, as well as our investment in research, we are working hard to build a portfolio of the most promising new vaccines, no matter where they are from. We have already secured 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, if it succeeds, and today I can tell the House that the Government have secured early access to 90 million further vaccine doses—30 million from an agreement between BioNTech and Pfizer, and 60 million from Valneva. We are getting the deals in place, so that once we know a vaccine is safe and effective, we can make it available for British citizens as soon as humanly possible.
Another long-term solution to eliminating this virus and its negative effects is through developing effective treatments, and it was British scientists, backed by UK Government funding, who led the first robust clinical trial to find a treatment that was proved to reduce the risk of dying from covid: dexamethasone. We now have preliminary results from a clinical trial of another treatment known as SNG001, which was created by the Southampton -based biotech firm Synairgen. Initial findings based on a small cohort suggest that SNG001 may substantially reduce the chance of someone developing severe disease, and it could cut hospital admission time by a third. The data still need to be peer reviewed, and we are supporting a further large-scale trial, but the preliminary results are a positive sign.
In the fight against this virus, our world-renowned universities, researchers and scientists are indispensable, so that we can develop the vaccines and treatments that will tackle this virus for the long term. We have a plan, our plan is working, and the measures I have set out today will help to protect the NHS, support our treatments and vaccines, and take our country forward together. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Before I move to the substance of his remarks, will he tell the House whether it is true that the chief nursing officer was dropped from the Downing Street press conferences because she refused to stick to the No. 10 line on supporting Dominic Cummings? Did the Secretary of State really acquiesce in the silencing of the chief nursing officer at the height of this pandemic?
We in this House would all be immensely proud if a British vaccine and British drug led the world away from this deadly disease, and this is encouraging and exciting news. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is equitable access to a vaccine when it is developed? He has my commitment that when a vaccine is available, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with him in taking on poisonous anti-vax propaganda. However, we also have to understand that there have been many false dawns in the history of infectious disease, so what happens if a vaccine does not become available? What scenario planning is the Health Secretary doing, should we be confronted with that awful prospect?
On Friday, the Prime Minister suggested that it could all be over by Christmas and that people must start returning to work by 1 August, but the chief scientific adviser said on Thursday that there was “absolutely no reason” for people to stop working from home, so will the right hon. Gentleman now publish an explanation of the scientific basis for the change in guidance with respect to home working?
On Thursday in the House, the Health Secretary insisted that we went into lockdown on 16 March, having previously told the House on 2 June that
“lockdown began on 23 March.”—[Official Report, 2 June 2020; Vol. 676, c. 704.]
The CSA revealed that SAGE advised the Government to lock down ASAP on 16 March, and Professor Ferguson has said that had lockdown been implemented sooner, we would have saved thousands of lives. The Prime Minister understandably wants to avoid a second lockdown—we all do—but if SAGE advises again on the need for a second lockdown, will it be implemented immediately, and on what criteria will he judge whether a second national lockdown is needed?
Last week, the Prime Minister also suggested that social distancing could be eased in November, predicated on a low prevalence of the virus. Can the Health Secretary define what low prevalence means, and is that the only threshold we need to meet if social distancing is to be removed by Christmas? There were no details last week about when relatives could visit care homes, even though the Secretary of State said on 9 July that an announcement was imminent. He will know that this is causing huge anxiety and upset for many families. Can he give us clarity today on when relatives can visit their loved ones in care homes?
The Prime Minister did indeed announce extra NHS funding, which is welcome, but there was no extra funding for social care. Can the Health Secretary tell us whether social care will get any more resources for this winter? We have always said—and we agree with him—that mass testing is the way in which we have to live with this virus and avoid going into a second lockdown, so we welcome the commitments to increased testing. We also know that local lockdowns may well be necessary in the future—indeed, that is the Government’s preferred response to outbreaks—but it is vital that local areas receive patient-identifiable test data on a daily basis. Why did he tell the House last week that local authorities were getting that data when in fact they were not? I think he is announcing today that they will start getting that data—he refers to “enhanced” data—but local areas could have possibly avoided lockdowns and outbreaks earlier had they had that data.
Local areas still need more clarity. In Leicester, we still do not know what metrics will be used to decide whether Leicester will be released from lockdown. Can the Health Secretary confirm, with respect to Leicester, that given the infection rate there and in neighbouring Oadby and Wigston, a decision on their future will be taken at the same time? And given that we are talking about local lockdowns—we will study the regulations carefully—will he deliver on his promise to provide support for businesses that are subject to a local lockdown, such as in Leicester?
It now appears that Blackburn is overtaking Leicester in terms of infection rates, so what does the Health Secretary make of the remarks of the director of public health in Blackburn, who said at the weekend that Test and Trace is failing and, in his words, is
“contributing to the increased risks of Covid-19”
because half of contacts are not reached? Nationally, 71% of people are being contacted, not the 80% that is needed for it to be effective. Indeed, in the Serco call centre element of Test and Trace, only 53% of cases are contacted, and a smaller proportion of contacts are identified in the most deprived areas. We still do not have an app either, despite the right hon. Gentleman’s promises, with Whitehall sources now briefing that he has a
“tendency to overpromise and only sometimes deliver”.
What a wicked, unfair thing to say about the Health Secretary! Seriously—which bit of all this is actually world beating, other than possibly the £10 billion price tag?
Today’s vaccine news is encouraging, but we still have a long way to go. We need mass testing and we welcome the Health Secretary’s commitments on that front, but will he also undertake to expand the rapid testing consortium, so that more British suppliers can be involved? Many complain about test kits and say the regulator takes ages when they give their test kits to be signed off and that emails go unanswered. We need an effective tracing regime. Rather than the ad hoc system we have at the moment, with all that money going to privatised firms, why does he not put local directors of public health in charge, backed up with primary care? We need to be preparing now for the second wave. We already have one of the highest excess death rates in the world. Lessons need to be learned. I hope the Secretary of State is learning them.
The hon. Gentleman was doing so well when he was supporting what we were saying. I am grateful to him for support on what we are doing on vaccines. I am also grateful to him for his offer to stand shoulder to shoulder against the anti-vaccination movement. Those who promulgate lies about dangers of vaccines that are safe and have been approved are threatening lives. We should all in this House stand shoulder to shoulder against the anti-vax movement.
The hon. Gentleman asks what happens if there is no vaccine. If there is no vaccine—no vaccine can be guaranteed—then the next best thing is good treatment. We have the first treatment here in the UK, dexamethasone, and we have promising news of another today. We put all the support we can behind finding treatments. In fact, the UK recovery trial is the biggest—I would argue, the most effective—treatment clinical trial for covid-19 in the world. From the start, we backed our science. We supported our science, and with the help of the NHS we are able to do scientific research here with great rigour.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the SAGE advice from March about lockdown. The SAGE advice that the CSA was referring to was implemented. That was precisely the point I was making on Thursday and I did so very straightforwardly. It was implemented straight away. If he looks at that SAGE advice and what happened, that is what he will find. I seem to remember that at the time he supported the action. Maybe now he is looking in the rear-view mirror. He should spend a bit more time looking forward, not backwards.
On social distancing, as on Leicester, the hon. Gentleman asked about the data and thresholds. We use all our data. We use all the data available to make these judgments. We do not put numerical thresholds on any particular figure. We use all data and we make judgments based on them. He also asked about data being made available to local authorities. On Thursday last week, I said I wanted to provide more data to local authorities and was going to provide more data to local authorities. We have done that today. We had provided patient-identifiable information based on postcode-level testing. We are now able to provide full information, including the name and address of those who tested positive, to local authorities where they have signed a data protection agreement.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the effectiveness of NHS Test and Trace. He needs to stop for a moment and recognise the enormous impact of NHS Test and Trace, and the 180,000 people it has been in contact with to advise them to isolate. On Blackburn, yes, it is hard sometimes in certain areas to find all the contacts, so we will be sharing with the local area the information on those whom NHS Test and Trace has not been able to contact, so that local directors of public health will be able to support the action there. Again, I think his tone on that, sniping from the sidelines, ill becomes that enormous effort and the previous work he did to support those measures across party lines.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asks what we have learned. I would say that the thing he needs to learn—I have certainly learned it—is that things go best when we get the work of the public sector and the private sector coming together. He does not even believe his own attempt to divide us, but uses his argument just to play to his base. Honestly, there are more important things going on. We have set out a direction. We are going as hard as we can down that direction of travel, and we have announced to the House further action in that direction of travel. He should get alongside.
This may be the last coronavirus statement before the summer break, so I congratulate the Health Secretary on his stamina over the past six months and in particular on his decision to introduce the 100,000 tests target in April, which I think will be seen as a turning point in our battle against the virus.
The central challenge we now face is that according to the latest figures and as the Secretary of State knows, about 1,700 people a day are being infected by the virus and about 400 a day are going into NHS test and trace, which is about a quarter. As we think about how to prevent a second wave, will he give the House some details as to how we are going to bridge that gap so that we can go into our Christmas holiday with the same cautious optimism as we are going into our summer one?
Yes. That is a really important point, and we monitor those data all the time. I am glad to say that the latest data are a little bit better than my right hon. Friend suggested, but the point is still important. The main cause of the gap is people who are asymptomatic and therefore do not know they have the virus and do not come forward for testing. We are going to ramp up our communications to make clear that, if in doubt and if people think they might have the symptoms, they should come forward and get a test. We are also going to ramp up our asymptomatic testing of high-risk groups, which he and I have had exchanges about before. I am grateful for what he said about the 100,000 testing target. Of course, he will recognise that I am as delighted as he will be that the Prime Minister set me a new target on Friday to hit half a million by the end of October, so there is my summer sorted.
I, too, welcome the progress being made regarding vaccine development by research centres and companies across the UK, including Valneva in Scotland, but a widely available vaccine is still some way off. In the meantime, avoiding the social and economic impact of repeated local lockdowns depends on driving down community transmission. Professor Dominic Harrison, public health director of Blackburn with Darwen Council, has highlighted that only half of contacts are being traced by the central system and called to be given information in individual covid cases so that their contacts can be traced and isolated in the short window before they, too, become infectious.
In the covid statement last Thursday, I again raised the issue of delays in providing individual test results to local public health teams. The Health Secretary said he could not answer so many questions from me, so he chose not to answer any. To make it simple, I will ask only one. Postcode information was utterly insufficient, so by what date can he guarantee that every single director of public health in England will receive the identifiable details of all new positive cases on a daily basis?
My South Derbyshire constituents have strong links with Burton and Leicester. In light of the recent spikes in the covid virus there, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that local authorities have the necessary powers to take local action to control the virus? Does he agree that localised action will be key to managing the virus as we move forward?
Yes, I agree strongly with my hon. Friend, who makes the point very clearly. No matter the level of new infections in any area, having better and better data helps us give more support to those who have coronavirus. Whether it is an outbreak with large numbers, as we saw for instance in Leicester and some other cities, where there is clear concerted action with support from national Government to go in and root it out, or whether it is an area with very low levels of background infections, like her own, where the local authority having the data will allow it to support the few positive cases, better data will help the co-ordination of the national and local response. We have said all along that tackling the virus is best done by the national level and local level working together, and I am really pleased that we are able to get this increased data out to increase that co-ordination still further.
I want to thank the Health Secretary for two things while I have the chance: the deal on Kaftrio for cystic fibrosis patients, which is so important to so many of them; and for meeting my constituent, Jake Ogborne, recently to talk about access to the drug Spinraza—I hope we have some news on that soon. However, for people with such conditions who have been shielding for the last few months, there is still a great deal of uncertainty, concern and confusion about whether it is safe for them to go outside and about what they can actually do, especially when other people are breaking social distancing, not wearing masks and so on. What reassurance can he give that people will be safe if they tentatively put a foot outside?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s campaigning on these issues. We have worked closely together to bring really positive news on the treatments for cystic fibrosis on which she has campaigned so strongly. She also made the case very clearly on Spinraza, which I have since discussed with NHS England. It is, of course, NHS England’s statutory responsibility to take a decision, but I discussed it with NHS England, as I committed to do so to her and her constituent, Jake.
I say to all those in the shielding category that we have recommended that shielding restrictions come to an end at the end of this month because it is clinically advised that the levels of new infections are low enough that it is safe to do so. It is safe to do so. I plead with those who are shielding to listen to this clinical advice, because we also know that staying at home and not seeing other people has downsides to health too. If anyone wants proof that we will not take this step unless we are confident that it is safe, we have paused the end of shielding in Leicester exactly because rates of infection are higher—to keep people safe. People can be assured that it is safe, from the end of this month, for those in the shielding category to go out into the community, taking the precautions that everybody should take.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the significant drop in hospital admissions? As we continue to come to grips with this virus, does he agree that local response and local action is key to preventing and containing future spikes? Will he join me in praising the excellent work of Buckinghamshire clinical commissioning group and our local authority, which worked together to create a joint action plan to keep admission rates low?