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Commons Chamber

Volume 680: debated on Tuesday 22 September 2020

House of Commons

Tuesday 22 September 2020

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).

[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Sentencing White Paper: Public Protection

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906339)

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906340)

What plans he has to include proposals on improving the protection of the public in the forthcoming sentencing White Paper. (906354)

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Last week, I published a White Paper entitled “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”, which sets out my plans to crack down on crime and keep dangerous criminals in prison for longer. It signifies a fundamental shift in our approach to sentencing towards one that is fairer, smarter and, ultimately, better protects the public. The measures I have announced include the abolition of automatic halfway release for certain serious sexual and violent offenders, and we will also introduce a new power to prevent automatic release if a prisoner poses a danger such as a terrorist threat.

May I start by wishing the Secretary of State a happy birthday?

The use of technology to prevent crime is developing rapidly. From drones and predictive analytics to biometrics, technology is helping to keep our cities, towns and rural communities safer. How will the Government work with expert organisations to ensure that we use the best technology to tackle crime and protect local communities from burglars and robbers?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about changes in technology that can be harnessed to improve the way in which we monitor offenders and drive out crime. The White Paper contains important measures to utilise GPS technology. For example, we will use electronic location monitoring to track burglars following their release from custody. That will allow probation to monitor the whereabouts of an offender and, where appropriate, share that data with the police, which will help in the investigation and prosecution of further offences.

Protecting the public cuts both ways. I welcome the plans in the sentencing White Paper to ensure that those convicted of the most serious crimes spend longer in prison, but given the impact of covid on the court system, those on remand face long delays to have their cases heard. What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend have to ensure that those in that position will see justice sooner rather than later, the public will be protected and community tensions will be tamped down as much as possible?

My hon. Friend will be glad to know that, as a result of the hard work of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the judiciary, we are already reaching a turning point in our magistrates courts, with disposals exceeding receipts. In the Crown court, we continue to scale up jury trials, with more than 100 jury trials being heard every week in our Crown courts. We will have 250 courtrooms ready for jury trials by the end of October, which includes using existing capacity, with safety measures such as Perspex screens, up to 30 Nightingale courtrooms, experiments with different court hours and a range of measures that are designed to reduce the wait for the victims of crime.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his answer. Tragically, in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, we are plagued with county lines gangs, who take advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in my community. What steps are the Government taking in the White Paper to tackle county lines offences and ensure that these vile offenders are punished with the full force of the law?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the scourge of county lines. Like me, he will welcome the investment of £25 million by the Home Office to boost law enforcement efforts by not only local police forces but the British Transport police, who are doing incredible work across our railway network, which I have seen at first hand. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is currently revising its guidelines for drug offences. It is important to note that, among the plethora of county lines is the exploitation of vulnerable children and young people, and that needs to be fully reflected by the investigating and prosecuting authorities.

May I, too, wish the Secretary of State a happy 52nd birthday?

Sentencing reform is needed, but on its own it is not enough. The truth is that most criminals will be released from prison at some point, and if they are not rehabilitated when they are released, they will commit further crimes and create new victims. This Government’s prisons simply are not working. Six out of every 10 offenders who serve less than 12 months in prison reoffend. A recent Public Accounts Committee report accused the Government of a “staggering” failure on the prison estate. Does the Secretary of State plan to publish a cross-departmental plan to reduce reoffending within the next three months, as the PAC recommended last week?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments.

The right hon. Gentleman can be reassured that in response to the Committee’s findings, the Government are working across Departments. I think that is vital, because he will share my belief and understanding that the Ministry of Justice alone cannot solve these issues; it takes the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care working together. That is why the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Committee, the crime taskforce, meets regularly. Indeed, on its agenda are our ambitious targets to improve offender employment and resettle offenders in a more co-ordinated way to reduce reoffending. He will see the results of that work very shortly.

Criminal Justice System: Covid-19

What assessment he has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on service users and victims in the criminal justice system. (906341)

The Government are determined that victims should receive the help and support they need to cope and recover during the pandemic. In addition to existing funding, the Government have provided £76 million to support victims of modern slavery, domestic abuse and sexual violence, as well as vulnerable children and young people. We have set up the victims and witnesses silver command, which consists of the Victims’ Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and others, to identify needs fast and deliver support to the frontline.

Even before the pandemic, young people often endured terrible conditions on the prison estate, and things have grown much worse since the pandemic began. Many young people have found themselves locked up in their cells for 22 hours a day and face-to-face learning has ended. Education and training play an essential role in reducing reoffending and improving the wellbeing of prisoners. Will the Ministry of Justice consider introducing virtual rehabilitation and education classes while prisoners remain under tight restrictions due to covid?

I was expecting a question about victims, but the hon. Gentleman rightly raises an important issue about prisons. The answer to the point he raises is: yes, we are doing it.

UK Internal Market Bill: Rule of Law

What assessment he has made of the implications of the UK Internal Market Bill for his responsibilities in upholding the rule of law. (906342)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s role in helping ensure that the Government is compliant with the rule of law. (906343)

What assessment he has made of the implications of the UK Internal Market Bill for his responsibilities in upholding the rule of law. (906365)

I am absolutely committed, under the oath I took as Lord Chancellor, to upholding the rule of law; the freedoms and protections we all enjoy rely on it, and as a responsible Government, we remain wholly committed to it. At all stages, as a responsible Government, we must ensure that we have the ability to uphold our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland. We will do what it takes to protect the integrity of our United Kingdom.

I believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but millions wouldn’t. The Bar Council and the Law Society of England and Wales say that clauses 41 to 45 of the Bill

“enable Ministers to derogate from the obligations of the United Kingdom under international law in broad and comprehensive terms and prohibit public bodies from compliance with such obligations. They represent a direct challenge to the rule of law, which include the country’s obligations under public international law.”

They are not wrong, are they?

With respect to those organisations, with which I engage almost daily, it is important that as a result of any potential conflict that might occur between domestic and international law, we make provisions as a responsible Government to prepare for the worst. That is the honest and upfront approach, as opposed to confession and avoidance in the event of any international dispute. Members must remember the context: these powers will be triggered only if there is a material breach by the EU, and we have set out examples on the Government website.

May I wish the Secretary of State a happy birthday? He will be delighted to know that he shares his birthday with my little dog, who is two today.

Mr Speaker,

“the Government are acting recklessly and irresponsibly… It will lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation and puts its future at risk.”—[Official Report, 21 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 668.]

Not my words, but those of the former Conservative Prime Minister just yesterday in this House. With the Government ready to break international law, can the Secretary of State please explain to my constituents in Cardiff North why there is one rule for them and another for this Government?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks.

Attractive and charismatic though the hon. Lady’s remarks might sound, they do not bear any scrutiny at all. The reality is that we are preparing for a situation that we do not wish to come about. It would have been far easier for us to ignore the matter and kick the can down the road, but it is far better to be upfront about the potential dispute. I hope and expect that it will never come, because we will get the deal and the Joint Committee will resolve its deliberations accordingly.

May I also wish the Lord Chancellor a happy birthday? With age may come wisdom.

The Lord Chancellor has said that he will resign only if the Government break the law in a way that is unacceptable. Thousands of ordinary members of the public were fined for breaking lockdown regulations, while Dominic Cummings did so with impunity. Can the Lord Chancellor explain to those people what criteria he uses to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable breaches of the law?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. The issue is very straightforward. If we are in a position where the EU has acted in material breach of its own treaty obligations, meaning that acts to the active prejudice of the United Kingdom are being occasioned, then we will act.

I also wish the Lord Chancellor a happy birthday. I calculate that I have known him for about half his life. Throughout that time, I have never had the slightest doubt as to his integrity and his commitment to the rule of law. Does he accept that the important changes that the Government accepted in the course of the Committee stage yesterday would not have happened without some pressure from the Back Benches, and without his very close personal and direct involvement in making changes to the Bill and to the test that the Government will apply. That was precisely because he, I and many others are committed to the rule of law. Ad hominem attacks to the contrary are unworthy and unjustified.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to remind us that personal attacks are no substitute for real debate. What he has done, and what I have sought to do, is, at all times, to make sure that we find a way through these problems. Brexit has thrown up unprecedented challenges to a Government in peacetime. I never pretended that it was going to be anything other than a difficult road. He shares that view and, through his constructive work and the work that I and others have done, this House has a lock on these matters, and, indeed, I think the way is much clearer and much more satisfactory.

On 30 July 2019, in the Royal Courts of Justice, the Lord Chancellor made an oath that no other member of the Cabinet is required to make. He said:

“I do swear that in the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law”.

Lord Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, and Jonathan Jones, head of the Government’s Legal Department, resigned because the Government’s internal markets Bill does not respect the rule of law. May I ask the Lord Chancellor whether he thinks that Lord Keen and Jonathan Jones got it wrong and, if so, how? If not, may I ask him how he can turn up in this House with a straight face after voting to betray his oath and break the law?

That is a very serious allegation to make. I took that oath in English and Welsh—I took it twice—and I believe in it in both languages, indeed in any language. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman takes that view. As he has just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), I have done everything that I possibly can consistent with that oath to make sure that this Government act in a way that is consistent with the rule of law. That is what is happening. This House is directly involved, quite properly, in these serious deliberations. Amendments are being made to this Bill as we speak, and the contingency in which these exceptional provisions are to be used has been clearly set out. These are unprecedented times. We do not want to see a breach in any obligations either by us or by the EU, but it would be irresponsible if we did not make those necessary preparations. That is why I am here, and that is why I will continue to be here as long as I feel able to discharge my oath, and I can tell him that, thus far, I feel very able to discharge my oath.

It is not me who takes that view. Every living Prime Minister takes that view. The Bar Council and the Law Society take that view. The Lord Chancellor previously said that the Government can indeed break the law if it can be fudged, but there is no fudging this—not only does the Bill breach the international law, it is also a flagrant attack on the rule of law at domestic level, and he knows it. As the Bingham Centre states, clauses 42, 43 and 45 authorise a breach of any relevant international or domestic law, including any order, judgment or decision of any international or domestic court. I say to the Lord Chancellor that he is an esteemed barrister and he swears to a code of conduct. Does he not now risk bringing the profession into disrepute by breaching that code of conduct, which states:

“You must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession”?

I really find it extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman brings the code of conduct into these matters. Like him, I am acting as a Member of Parliament. I am acting as a Minister in the Government—[Interruption.] I am not a Law Officer; I am the Lord Chancellor. The Law Officers of this country are the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Advocate General for Scotland. I do not give legal advice to the Government. I am not a Law Officer.

However, every member of the Government is obliged to follow the rule of law. It is very clear. I take a particular oath to uphold that and to defend the judiciary. As I have explained, I have absolutely no qualms about what has been happening. I have worked extremely hard to make sure that this House is fully involved. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the idea that the passage of this Bill is a breach of UK domestic law is just plain wrong, and to misquote me is unhelpful, misleading and damaging, frankly.

The Bill affords the United Kingdom Government the power to breach obligations that they freely entered into less than a year ago, rather than employ the dispute mechanism that they agreed to. When Lord Keen resigned as Advocate General, he wrote to the Prime Minister that he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile what he considered to be his obligations as a Law Officer with the Government’s policy intentions. The highly respected former Attorney General the right hon. Dominic Grieve has said that the Lord Chancellor’s position is even more clear cut than that of the Law Officers, and that the Lord Chancellor has taken

“an oath of office to uphold or protect the rule of law. The rule of law includes international law…his position is untenable.”

Are both these senior distinguished QCs, Lord Keen and Dominic Grieve, wrong? If not, why is the Lord Chancellor still in office?

The hon. and learned Lady is right to draw attention to Lord Keen. I pay tribute to his long service in the Government as Advocate General for Scotland, and I was sorry to hear of his resignation. I do not believe that it was necessary, bearing in mind the important changes that have been made to the Bill.

I think that the position is now very clear. The hon. and learned Lady talks of breach, but as I will remind the House again, the eventuality or potential use of these clauses would be only if the EU was in material breach of its obligations, and therefore we would be facing a breakdown. I remind her again that of course we will use the withdrawal agreement mechanism and the arbitral mechanisms within the provisions of the withdrawal agreement, and indeed the Northern Ireland protocol, too. It is not a question of us abandoning our obligations; we will use them, but this is the “break glass in case of emergency” provision that underlies and will protect the United Kingdom’s position if we face such a breakdown.

Lord Keen’s resignation was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Scottish Bar. The Lord Chancellor has said that he wants us to consider his own actions as an MP and a Minister rather than as a lawyer, so I put this to him. In 2018, in the Gulf case, England’s Court of Appeal ruled that a Government Minister’s overarching duty to comply with the law includes international law and treaty obligations, even though these are no longer explicitly stated in the ministerial code. This Bill gives the Lord Chancellor and other Ministers the power to run a coach and horses through their obligations under the withdrawal agreement. I know that Conservative Members do not like hearing that, but that is the reality. In the light of what the English Court of Appeal has said, just how is this Bill compatible with his oath as the Lord Chancellor to uphold the rule of law?

As I have said to the hon. and learned Lady, the contingency that underlines the coming into force and use of these powers is a very narrowly and clearly delineated one. I do not believe, as I have said in public, that we are at that stage, and I do not believe we will get to that stage, if both parties renew their efforts, act in good faith and double down on making sure that we get a resolution. It would have been far easier for us to avoid the issue, to pretend that there was not going to be a problem, and then to hit the new year with an avalanche of difficulties when it came to Northern Ireland and its relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. Members of this House would have rightly criticised us, and, frankly, we would have been in an indefensible position. This is a tortuous process. I reject her allegations—her assertions. We will continue to govern responsibly and consistent with our obligations under the rule of law.

Access to Justice

What assessment he has made of the effect of the backlog of cases in HM Courts and Tribunals Service on access to justice. (906344)

What assessment he has made of the effect of the backlog of cases in HM Courts and Tribunals Service on access to justice. (906349)

What assessment he has made of the effect of the backlog of cases in HM Courts and Tribunals Service on access to justice. (906371)

I am delighted to report to the House that the recovery of our court system following the coronavirus pandemic is very well under way. The magistrates court is recovering strongly. Disposals last week exceeded 21,000, which is more than the number of receipts, and therefore the outstanding caseload went down, as it has gone down for each of the past five weeks. In relation to the Crown court, the recovery of jury trials continues strongly, and last week over 100 were held.

The majority of court cases have been moved from Barnsley and are taking place in Sheffield, increasing the likelihood of losing witnesses and, in some cases, victims. Prosecutions are already at record lows thanks to this Government’s record on law and order. Does the Minister accept that drastic measures need to be taken to reduce the backlog of cases and increase access to justice?

Drastic measures are being taken. We have recently invested £153 million to improve court buildings. We have just invested, in the past few weeks, an extra £80 million to support criminal courts, including the recruitment of 1,600 extra HMCTS staff. In addition to that, we have opened 10 emergency Nightingale courts with 16 courtrooms, and a further eight such Nightingale courts with 13 courtrooms will be opened in the course of September and October. The steps that that hon. Lady is calling for have been and are being taken.

From next week, the maximum period that someone can spend in pre-trial custody for Crown court cases will be increased to 238 days. I am particularly concerned that this includes children, as well as adults, on remand. At the moment in the prison estate, there is a higher proportion of children on remand among children in custody than there has been for a decade. What can we do to make sure that juveniles, in particular, get a speedy hearing and do not spend so much time in custody when they may very well be innocent?

The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to custody time limits. Of course we want to get cases heard as quickly as possible because people on remand may well be found not guilty subsequently. I do agree with her sentiments about children. I know that when judges look at listing cases, they are very mindful of that. By the end of October, we will have 250 Crown court jury trial rooms operating, which will enable us to really get through these cases as quickly as we possibly can.

Shopworkers have faced rising violence in recent years, and yet too often the perpetrators are not being brought to justice, partly, at the moment, because of lengthy backlogs in court hearings. Industry experts, business and trade unions are all calling for greater legal protection for shopworkers and for more investment in the court system. When are Ministers going to listen?

Ministers have listened. I have already explained that we have just announced an extra £80 million to support court recovery, on top of the £153 million to improve the court estate just a short time ago. As regards sentencing, the hon. Member will, I am sure, welcome the sentencing White Paper published last week, which imposes tougher penalties on serious offenders and keeps them in prison for longer. He mentions outstanding caseloads. I would remind him that the outstanding caseload in the Crown court, even with coronavirus, is lower today than it was in 2010, so we have managed to run the court system more effectively with coronavirus than the last Labour Government did without it.

The Minister outlines a different picture from that outlined by the Bar Council, which I met last week. It told me that covid-compliant courts throughout the country are running under capacity. Even after yesterday’s announcement, only a handful of the promised 200 Nightingale courts are in place. Magistrate numbers have halved since 2012, and there is a huge shortage of judges. Court listings are in chaos, with trial dates being set way into 2022. To top it all off, HMCTS is the only Government agency for which there is still no covid risk-assessment template agreed with PCS. The Lord Chancellor said he was looking forward to the spending review with relish; I sincerely hope that means that proper funding is on the way. When can we expect this mess to be sorted out and the buckling court system fixed, so that it can deliver for those it serves and employs?

I have already pointed out that the Crown court case load is lower today than it was in 2010 under the Labour Government. I have also pointed out that the magistrates courts, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, are disposing of more cases now than they are receiving: the backlog, or the case load, is going down and has been for each and every one of the past five weeks. The hon. Gentleman mentions custody and the time until hearings; in August, 84% of Crown court cases for which the defendant was in custody were listed for trial before February next year. We are working at pace and investing at pace. The recovery of our criminal justice system after this coronavirus epidemic is well and truly under way.

Public and Private Prisons

What comparative assessment he has made of levels of (a) violence and (b) staffing in (i) public and (ii) private prisons. (906345)

Levels of violence in our prisons remain too high, but I am pleased to say that we are on a downward trend in respect of assaults. In January to March this year, assaults on staff decreased by 5% on the three previous quarter, and in the latest quarter the number of assaults on staff decreased by a further 4%. Decreases have been seen across the public and private estate. We have also seen a net rise of almost 4,000 prison officers in bands 3 to 5 since 2016. We do not hold figures for the number of staff at private prisons as we measure performance in a different way.

I thank the Minister for that response. I had hoped that even this Government would accept the link between prison understaffing and high levels of violence. Why are the Government building a new generation of private prisons that will have no minimum staffing levels and no requirements for private operators to reveal staff numbers as they will not be subject to freedom of information requests? Frankly, this is an appalling policy of “Don’t ask me any questions and I won’t tell you any lies.”

As I mentioned, we have increased the number of staff in the public sector. We have also introduced the key worker scheme, which is essential for staff to liaise with the prisoners. Private prisons perform well, as do public prisons. Recent reports from this year for HMP Parc and HMP Rye Hill, which are both managed by G4S, judged both to be good. There is not a mantra that public is good, private is bad; both work well.

Reoffending Reduction

Reoffending rates are too high, resulting in some individuals repeatedly posing a danger to their communities and the undermining of public confidence in the criminal justice system. Last week, we published the sentencing White Paper, which sets out measures to better supervise and support offenders following their release from custody. It includes proposals for changes to the rehabilitation periods set out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, to improve access to employment and education for those with criminal records.

I recently visited MTCnovo’s hub for offenders from Aylesbury and was impressed by the dedication and commitment of the staff, as well as of those completing their sentences there. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a vital element of reducing reoffending is having enough well-trained and skilled probation officers who can thoroughly oversee and supervise sentences?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I thank all the staff at MTCnovo and Thames Valley community rehabilitation company. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that dedicated prison officers are a key part of reducing reoffending, which is why last month we launched the probation workforce strategy, setting out our commitment to recruit an additional 1,000 probation officers by the end of January next year. It is about not just recruiting staff but how we work with them and invest in their skills. We will be focusing on their skills, recruitment, retention, diversity, leadership and wellbeing.

Communities  across the Bolsover constituency are desperate to see serial reoffenders punished, and that requires a level of innovation. What innovative approaches to reoffending is the Department taking?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question on innovation. Our sentencing White Paper sets out a number of innovative ways of reducing reoffending, and I will mention just two. First, my hon. Friend mentioned prolific offenders, and we would like to deal with prolific burglars by tagging them so that when we release them from prison, we know where they go and prevent them from committing further acquisitive crime. Secondly, we want to help people turn their lives around through community treatment programmes, ensuring that offenders get the support—including the drug addiction treatment and mental health support—they need to enable them to turn their backs on crime.

Young People in Custody: Covid-19

I am very aware of the difficulties that many children in custody have faced over the covid period. I recently had a remote meeting with all the governors of the youth estate to discuss the impact of covid on young people in custody. As a result of that discussion and what we have heard, we have prioritised and focused on ensuring a return to face-to-face education and social visits, which are vital to young people’s mental health. I am pleased to say that we have already recommenced both of those across the youth estate.

With the second wave of covid fast approaching, will the Minister set out what plans she has to ensure that all young people and children in custody can access proper face-to-face education and rehabilitation, which are so vital for those vulnerable young people?

The hon. Member is absolutely right to focus on the importance of education. It is something that the Government have prioritised for the community as a whole, and it is absolutely right that we mirror that in our youth custody estate. That is why we have prioritised education in the youth estate as against the adult estate in the first stage of opening up, and it is why all such institutions are now open. We are looking at lessons learned. As we plan for the next phase of restrictions and closures in the community, we will be looking carefully and closely at how we deal with education.

Despite Ministers’ previous answers to my hon. Friends, throughout the pandemic the Government have actively supported children in prison being locked in their cells for over 23 hours a day, with their education and therapy sessions cancelled and family visits stopped. Does the Minister feel that these criminal measures have helped or hindered their rehabilitation?

I would like to clarify what the hon. Lady has said. We have not actively supported the lockdown; when we went into the pandemic, we were told by Public Health England that we were potentially facing 2,500 deaths in our prisons, and we rightly took action very quickly to stem that. Every death is tragic, but I am very pleased that, through our efforts, we only had 23 deaths. The problems in the youth estate are very different, but, equally, we did not want transmission among users and staff, leading to the NHS becoming overwhelmed and staff getting sick, so we took measures that were appropriate at the time. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), we absolutely recognise the importance of education. It is something that we are prioritising and have prioritised, and we will continue to do so.

It is good news that in the years approaching covid, the number of young people required to attend court fell by 10,000, but the bad news is that the backlog of young people requiring justice—their day in court—stayed the same over the same period. If Ministers lack the competence to end the backlog at a time when demand is falling by a third, what hope is there of the Government getting a grip in the challenging times ahead?

It is vital that we manage the backlog in the courts, and we are doing so across Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. I am looking closely at the youth estate because it is vital that we ensure that the youth—who are particularly vulnerable and who cannot do as many remote hearings as those in the adult estate—get justice and get it swiftly. We have opened up a number of youth courts and are working hard to ensure that youth justice continues.

Women Leaving Prison: Resettlement

I am very pleased to have spoken regularly to the hon. Lady about residential women’s centres, which are a vital part of the female offender strategy. Her question is about the resettlement of women leaving prison. I hope she is aware that we invested an additional £22 million a year over the remaining life of the community rehabilitation company contracts to deliver an enhanced through-the-gate resettlement service. We also have specific funding for women—we are putting £5 million into community services that help female offenders to address the underlying causes of their criminality—and we recently invested a further £2.5 million to assist in further supporting female offenders. That is currently being distributed via a funding competition, which opened on 6 July.

The independent monitoring board recently reported that almost 60% of female prisoners are leaving prison to homelessness, which overwhelmingly leads to reoffending. To give these women a chance in life we need an effective through-the-gate strategy, including community support and adequate housing, so can we expect the autumn statement to deliver extra resources to allow that to happen?

Our statistics are that 4.2% of the female prison releases were to rough sleeping and 14% were released as “other homeless”, but the numbers, whatever they are, are too high. The hon. Lady rightly identifies that we are talking to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and that a spending review is coming up; Members will have heard the Lord Chancellor talking about our absolute commitment, and we will be looking at a number of things—education, employment and tackling homelessness on release.

Criminal Legal Aid

I hugely value the work of criminal defence lawyers, who play a vital role in upholding the rule of law, testing prosecution evidence and ensuring that the innocent walk free. To support the profession through the pandemic, we sought to improve the cash flow for it by making it easier to draw down payment for work already collected, halting the collection of debt by the Legal Aid Agency and relaxing LAA contract requirements to ensure that more staff can be furloughed.

According to Government figures, in 2010-11 there were 1,861 firms with criminal legal aid contracts, whereas now there are only 1,138, which represents a 39% decrease. In addition, there appear to be significant recruitment shortages in the profession. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, in 2017 fewer than 3% of 11,000 trainee solicitors were working in criminal law. That raises real issues as to people’s ability to access justice. What plans does my hon. Friend have to address this decline?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want criminal law and criminal defence to be an attractive, sustainable profession, which is why we put £23 million into the advocates’ graduated fee scheme last year, which can benefit solicitor advocates, and why we put, as the first wave of criminal legal aid, up to £51 million into the profession. It is a great and important job, and we want people to go into it.

I thank the Minister for his answers. Equity of access to justice is a central tenet of the rule of law. Does he agree that is it essential not only that everyone who needs it has access to legal aid, but that it is set at a level that does not disincentivise lawyers from taking on legal aid cases?

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. Anyone in this Chamber could be accused of a crime they have not committed, and we need to ensure that there are lawyers who can take on the cases, challenge the prosecution and evidence, and ensure that justice is done. That is why we have the criminal legal aid review, and we want to ensure that that independently led review secures a sustainable profession into the future, so that justice can be done in the future.

I applaud the Minister for his ongoing efforts to ensure that we have a viable and sustainable criminal legal aid sector. Will he work with all stakeholders to ensure that fee income is increased, as he knows it is the single most important issue to every firm of criminal law solicitors in the country?

I particularly thank my hon. Friend, who has been such a powerful champion of criminal defence. He is absolutely right. It has to be a system that offers rates that are attractive to people coming into the profession. Crime lower work—that critical work at police stations and in the magistrates court—has to be properly remunerated. The vital work that he has done in the past and that his colleagues do needs to be recognised and rewarded.

Again, we have heard warm words from the Dispatch Box. I am sorry to have to spoil the Justice Secretary’s birthday, but the truth is this: the Government simply have not got to grips with the crisis in legal aid, and those on the front line of our criminal justice system know it. Nearly two years on from the announcement of a criminal legal aid review, the plan for accelerated items has only just been published. That sticking plaster might just have sufficed before covid, but for a justice system already on its knees, it is woefully insufficient, and victims, defendants and practitioners alike are paying the price. Will the Minister put a stop to the dither and delay, recognise the urgency of the situation, and commit to expediting the remaining stages or at the very least come up with a realistic timetable?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I like the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid he is completely wrong. This is the Government who have put money into the profession. Let me tell him one thing: under his Government, does he know how much money was paid for unused material for advocates? Not a penny piece. This is the Government who are putting money into the profession. That is the way it is going to stay.

Topical Questions

The first duty of any Government is to protect their people. Too often, our system of sentencing in England and Wales does not command the public’s confidence, so last week I laid a White Paper entitled, “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”. The measures in the White Paper will keep serious violent and sexual offenders in prison for longer and prevent the automatic release of prisoners before the end of their sentence if they present a danger to the public.

Protecting the public from the effects of lower level offending also means finding new ways to break cycles of crime. Our proposals for robust community sentences, backed by an empowered probation service and utilising the most up-to-date technology, will make the smart interventions to address the things that can drive low-level offending, such as poor mental health, and drug and alcohol addiction. This smarter approach will grow confidence in our system of justice.

A cross-Government approach will characterise the reforms, but as we bring them before the House I also look forward to support from across the political divide, so that we can work together to keep the public safe from harm and to bring down stubbornly high rates of reoffending for good.

The prison operator G4S is withholding full sick pay from workers who operate in close contact with prisoners. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and the GMB union that that is scandalous? Will he support calls for G4S to provide the sick pay its workers deserve?

While it would be wrong of me to make direct comment on what is, sadly, a dispute, I will certainly look into the matter and report back to the hon. Lady on the latest progress or otherwise. I hugely value prison staff and the incredible work they have done, not just throughout the covid pandemic but beforehand.

Magistrates have been dispensing justice in our communities for centuries, but in the past decade their numbers have more than halved. That is not helped by the fact that they have to retire at the age of 70, and we are losing about 20 a week at a time when we have a record number of cases to get through the courts. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look carefully at the private Member’s Bill I have put forward to raise the retirement age to 75, as well as act quickly off the back of the Government’s consultation on this issue? (906400)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on this important issue and for the introduction of his Bill. I fully recognise his concern, which is why we are working with the judiciary on a programme to increase the overall number of recruited magistrates. We are consulting on proposals to increase the mandatory retirement age of judicial office holders, including magistrates. That consultation closes on 16 October. I will consider the matter very carefully before reaching a final decision.

The Secretary of State will be aware that in recent years, there has been increased understanding of neurodivergent people and the issues that this presents in the criminal justice system, yet there are still neurodivergent individuals who face disproportionate prison sentences and who, in the case of foreign national offenders, could risk deportation to a country where they have no support. Will he commit to immediately reviewing all cases of neurodivergent individuals, and particularly those who face imminent deportation? (906404)

The hon. Lady raises an issue that, as she probably knows, is very close to my heart. In the White Paper, we have announced a call for evidence about neurodivergence within the criminal justice system, because I think that we can do much, much better, not just in understanding and making adjustments for people with autism and other conditions when they get into the system, but in preventing them from getting into the system in the first place. One of the issues that she raises is, of course, the question of diagnosis, and many people are not diagnosed even though they present with such problems. I will look at that matter more closely and I am grateful to her for raising it.

Community sentencing must contain a punitive element, most likely unpaid hours. Rather than an offender working in a charity shop or suchlike, what are my right hon. and learned Friend’s plans for ensuring that offenders really do pay their debt to society by, for example, saving money for local communities and taxpayers through litter picking, and so on? (906401)

My hon. Friend is right to raise the important issue of unpaid work, because it is a way for offenders to make reparation to wider society for the damage that is caused by crime. As part of our White Paper plans, we will introduce a new statutory duty for important stakeholders, such as police and crime commissioners, to be consulted on the type of unpaid work projects in their area. I believe that that means we will see projects being delivered that are far more at the heart of the communities in which they live.

This Government intend to break an international treaty that they negotiated while blaming the other party when it is going to act in good faith. Tomorrow, the Government will bring forward a Bill that seeks to decriminalise torture. Instead of global Britain, is this not a further indication that this Government intend to act as a rogue state? (906406)

Once people are behind bars, the public should be protected from further criminal activity by those in prisons, but too often, criminality continues. What use are we making of measures such as body scanners to ensure that criminals are not able to continue their behaviour behind bars? (906402)

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Last year, the Government announced a £100 million boost to investment in the installation of body scanners in many of our prisons, and particularly category B local prisons with a high number of receptions and visitors. It protects not only prisoners from abuse, but staff, and it makes prisons, I believe, safer places in which to work and gives greater confidence to the wider public that we are doing everything we can to make our prisons as safe as possible.

I have been contacted by a local resident who works in a shop and who told me about the increase in abuse that she has faced during covid-19. She said that she has managed to get a full-time guard and body cameras but still the abuse continues. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), will the Government support the trade unions and the British Retail Consortium in their call for tougher action on those who assault retail staff? (906410)

The hon. Lady raises a very disturbing case, and sadly, it is not alone. Many shop workers have been at the frontline of providing vital services through the intensity of the lockdown and continue to do so. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that sentencing guidelines properly reflect the role that they play. There is helpful reference in the sentencing guidelines, of course, to people in that line of service, but if there is more that we can do to draw the courts’ attention to the particular importance of shopworkers, we should do so.

The White Paper published last week by my right hon. and learned Friend’s Department proposes extending whole-life orders to 18 to 20-year-olds in wholly exceptional cases. I think that most people understand and agree with that, but there are many others in that age group who will be released, including those serving at Aylesbury young offenders institution in my constituency. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that young adults in custody can access programmes tailored to their specific age group and their particular needs, in an effort to ensure that they do not commit crime again once freed? [R] (906403)

I pay tribute to those who provide the therapeutic services at Aylesbury YOI, whom I have met in the past. We have clearly stated that we see young adults right up to the age of 25 as a group that need treatment that is different from other cohorts, and we have specialist models for operational delivery to support prisons holding young adults to get the best results for that group. The curriculum at Aylesbury includes personal and social development skills, business, horticulture, barbering and decorating, and we will reinforce that with our new national prisoner education service, which is focused on work-based training and skills.

It is crucial that victims’ rights are recognised and protected in their dealings with police, prosecutors and courts. Dame Vera Baird QC, the Victims’ Commissioner, has called on Ministers to make good on promises to give crime victims enforceable rights in law. She is right. The code consultation was a good first step, but where is the victims law up to? (906412)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that important point, and I pay tribute to the work of the Victims’ Commissioner and, indeed, her predecessor. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that a wider consultation on the new, revised victims code has been finished. We will be publishing the revised victims code in the next several weeks. It is a much smaller, user-friendly document. But further than that, we will legislate as soon as possible, within the next year, for a victims law to enshrine the rights contained in the code and elsewhere, to give victims the higher protection that both he and I want to see.

I strongly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s White Paper, “A Smarter Approach to Sentencing”. However, what steps is he taking to improve the process of disclosure of criminal records? (906405)

My right hon. Friend is right to raise the important point of disclosure of criminal records. In too many cases, it has been a bar to employment, which is a sure-fire way out of reoffending. For the first time, in our White Paper, we set out revised rules. Some custodial sentences of over four years will be able to become spent as part of criminal record checks for non-sensitive roles, in addition to significant reductions to the rehabilitation periods for sentences of under four years. These proposals, alongside recently approved legislation to change the rules governing disclosure for sensitive roles by removing the multiple convictions rule and the disclosure of youth cautions, will indeed help those who have offended in the past to access employment.

At a time when the public are confined more than usual to their homes, potential victims of domestic abuse are more vulnerable than ever. It is vital that the wheels of justice keep turning even in a pandemic. What steps are being taken to ensure that trials of people accused of domestic abuse are prioritised? (906414)

I can reassure the hon. Lady that domestic abuse trials have continued to be prioritised throughout the pandemic, with early listings. I am very impressed by the work that is being done in Wales in particular, which I visited recently, to list cases in the magistrates court to remove the backlog. Indeed, in the Crown court as well trials are being listed at the earliest opportunity. She can be assured that priority is given to domestic abuse cases when these matters are listed.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that delays in the court system can be damaging, if not traumatic, to all parties attending court? Can he assure me and the House that capacity across the Ministry and courts across the land is being increased to ensure that we catch up with the delays incurred by the covid pandemic? (906407)

I would like to thank all our staff in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service who have carried on working throughout the pandemic. Currently, over 70% of staff work from a court or tribunal building, and the rest are working at home via the cloud video platform. We are investing £142 million in our court system to speed up the technological and modernisation improvements, and we are investing an additional £80 million to support the recovery of our criminal courts, including the recruitment of 1,600 members of staff and further adaptations to our courtrooms to allow more and more of them to be used.

Could the Secretary of State outline the legislation or case rulings that preclude Northern Ireland Bar-registered barristers located in mainland GB, such as silk Hugh Mercer of Essex Court Chambers in London, from claiming expenses for travel and hotel accommodation for Northern Ireland court cases? Does the Secretary of State believe that constitutional integrity should allow any silk to practise and be reimbursed? (906421)

I must declare an interest, because I am a member of the Northern Ireland Bar. The particular issue that the hon. Gentleman raises seems to be a matter for the Northern Ireland Justice authorities. However, I will discuss the matter with him further so that we can obtain maximum clarity.

In Gedling, Nottinghamshire police’s Operation Reacher teams are knocking down many drug dealers’ doors. Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me what steps the Ministry of Justice is taking to ensure that we punish those guilty dealers, to keep our society safe? (906409)

I pay tribute to that operation in Nottinghamshire and to the many others that are safeguarding our communities. Parliament has provided the courts with the full range of sentencing powers in order to deal effectively with these offenders, but tough enforcement is also a fundamental part of our approach. We are taking a smarter approach to the restriction of drugs supply using technology and data and taking partnership action with other agencies to tackle drugs alongside other criminal activity.

Devon and Cornwall police were an early adopter of the virtual court processes, but sustaining these new arrangements is taking up valuable police officer time. Can the Secretary of State confirm what steps his Department is taking to ensure that these courts can continue to operate effectively during the outbreak, so that police forces can keep their officers on the streets? (906411)

The work of Devon and Cornwall police in ensuring that virtual court processes carry on at this challenging time is very much appreciated. I am going to include in primary legislation, to be introduced as early as possible in 2021, a provision to allow court-appointed contractors to staff those virtual courts within police custody suites, in order to relieve the burden on serving police officers.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.

Sitting suspended.


Before the Prime Minister addresses the Chamber, could I point out that British Sign Language interpretation of the statement is available to watch on I now call the Prime Minister to make his statement.

Mr Speaker, with your permission, I will make a statement on our response to the rising number of coronavirus cases and how we must act now to avoid still graver consequences later on.

At every stage in this pandemic, we have struck a delicate balance between saving lives by protecting our NHS, and minimising the wider impact of our restrictions. It is because of the common sense and fortitude of the British people that, earlier this year, we were able to avert an even worse catastrophe, forming a human shield around our NHS and then getting our country moving again by reopening key sectors of our economy and returning children to school. But we always knew that, while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. I am sorry to say that, as in Spain, France and many other countries, we have reached a perilous turning point. A month ago, on average, around 1,000 people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus every day. The latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929. Yesterday, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser warned that the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days, with the possibility of tens of thousands of new infections next month.

I wish I could reassure the House that the growing number of cases is merely a function of more testing, but a rising proportion of the tests themselves are yielding a positive result. I also wish I could say that more of our people now have the antibodies to keep the virus off, but the latest data suggests that fewer than 8% of us are in this position. It is true that the number of new cases is growing fastest among those aged 20 to 29, but the evidence shows that the virus is spreading to other, more vulnerable age groups, as we have seen in France and Spain, where this has led to increased hospital admissions and, sadly, more deaths. In the last fortnight, daily hospital admissions in England have more than doubled. Tens of thousands of daily infections in October would, as night follows day, lead to hundreds of daily deaths in November, and those numbers would continue to grow unless we act. As with all respiratory viruses, covid is likely to spread faster as autumn becomes winter. Yesterday, on the advice of the four chief medical officers, the UK’s covid alert level was raised from 3 to 4—the second most serious stage—meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.

So this is the moment when we must act. If we can curb the number of daily infections and reduce the reproduction rate to 1, we can save lives, protect the NHS and the most vulnerable, and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later on. So we are acting on the principle that a stitch in time saves nine.

The Government will introduce new restrictions in England, carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number with the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods. I stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home. We will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open, because nothing is more important than the education, health and wellbeing of our young people. We will ensure that businesses can stay open in a covid-compliant way. However, we must take action to suppress the disease.

First, we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces and, like Government, this House will be free to take forward its business in a covid-secure way, which you, Mr Speaker, have pioneered.

Secondly, from Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10 pm and to help the police enforce this rule I am afraid that that means, alas, closing and not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount. The same will apply to takeaways, although deliveries can continue thereafter. I am sorry that this will affect many businesses just getting back on their feet, but we must act to stop the virus from being transmitted in bars and restaurants.

Thirdly, we will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles, and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.

Fourthly, in retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors, our covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach the rules.

Fifthly, now is the time to tighten up the rule of six. I am afraid that from Monday a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, although up to 30 can still attend a funeral, as now. We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports.

Finally, we have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events, so we will not be able to do this from 1 October. I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities, and my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.

These rules—these measures—will only work if people comply. There is nothing more frustrating for the vast majority who do comply—the law-abiding majority—than the sight of a few brazenly defying the rules, so these rules will be enforced by tighter penalties. We have already introduced a fine of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate, and such fines will now be applied to businesses breaking covid rules. The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence. We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need, a greater police presence on our streets, and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police.

The measures I have announced all apply in England, and the devolved Administrations are taking similar steps. I spoke yesterday with each of the First Ministers and again today, and I thank them for their collaboration.

The health of everyone in these islands depends on our common success. Already, about 13 million people across England are living under various local restrictions over and above national measures. We will continue to act against local flare-ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.

I want to speak directly to those who were shielding early in the pandemic and who may be anxious about being at greater risk. Following advice from our senior clinicians, our guidance continues to be that you do not need to shield except in local lockdown areas, and we will keep this under constant review.

I must emphasise that if all our actions fail to bring the R below 1, we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower with significantly greater restrictions. I fervently want to avoid taking this step, as do the devolved Administrations, but we will only be able to avoid it if our new measures work and our behaviour changes.

We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing, but unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months. For the time being, the virus is a fact of our lives, and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue. We will not listen to those who say, “Let the virus rip”, nor to those who urge a permanent lockdown. We are taking decisive and appropriate steps to balance saving lives with protecting jobs and livelihoods.

I know all this will have profound consequences for our constituents, so the Government will give the House every opportunity to scrutinise our decisions. In addition to regular statements and debates, Members will be able to question the Government’s scientific advisers more regularly, gain access to data about their constituencies and join daily calls with my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General.

After six months of restrictions, it would be tempting to hope that the threat has faded and to seek comfort in the belief that if you have avoided the virus so far, you are somehow immune. I have to say that it is that kind of complacency that could be our undoing. If we fail to act together now, we will not only place others at risk, but jeopardise our own futures with the more drastic action that we would inevitably be forced to take.

No British Government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year, yet even now we can draw some comfort from the fact that schools, universities and places of worship are staying open, shops can serve their customers, construction workers can go to building sites, and the vast majority of the UK economy can continue moving forwards.

We are also better prepared for a second wave with the ventilators, the personal protective equipment, the dexamethasone, the Nightingale hospitals and a hundred times as much testing as we began this epidemic with. It now falls to each and every one of us to remember the basics: wash our hands, cover our faces, observe social distancing and follow the rules. Then we can fight back against this virus, shelter our economy from even greater damage, protect the most vulnerable in care homes and hospitals, safeguard our NHS and save many more lives. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call last night. The picture presented yesterday by the Government’s advisers was stark and cannot be ignored. Infections are rising, hospitalisations are rising and the trajectory is clear. We know from bitter experience what happens next, so it is right that the Prime Minister is announcing further measures today, and we support those measures, just as we supported lockdown in March and the more recent local lockdowns. Although we have fierce criticism of the way the Government are handling this pandemic, when restrictions are needed, the national interest lies in clear communications and cross-party support, and so we will—as we have done before—encourage people to follow the Government guidance and obey the rule of law.

Families across the country will be anxious today. Many are already living under local lockdowns; many more fear that, soon, they will be. They are worried about their jobs, their loved ones and whether they will be able to spend Christmas with their families. They will also be worried that the Government do not have a clear strategy. One day, people are encouraged to work in the office; in fact, more than encouraged—they were openly challenged by the Prime Minister for not doing so. Today, they are told the opposite.

This is a time of national crisis, and we need clear leadership, so it is right that the Prime Minister answers a number of serious questions about the next steps. First, a number of areas in England already have localised restrictions, including some that are very similar to those announced today. Pubs and restaurants in Bolton, for example, have been told to shut at 10 pm for about two weeks, and Leicester has been in localised restrictions for about three months, yet infections in those areas remain high. Can the Prime Minister be sure that the restrictions he is introducing today will be effective in suppressing the virus? If they do not work, when does he envisage further measures might be necessary?

I also want to ask about support for families and businesses. These restrictions will put further pressures on the hospitality sector, on high streets and town centres and on people’s jobs and businesses, so what emergency financial support will be made available to those who need it? There was nothing in the Prime Minister’s statement about that. There is a big gap here. Will the Prime Minister now accept that withdrawing the furlough scheme in one fell swoop would be a disaster, and actually at complete odds with the measures he just announced, which are possibly for up to six months? Will he take us up on our offer to work with him, and with trade unions and businesses, on a replacement scheme that protects jobs and businesses?

Given the rise in infections, these restrictions are necessary, but they were not inevitable. We warned the Prime Minister months ago that testing needed to be fixed by the autumn. The Academy of Medical Sciences told him the same in July, saying:

“Testing and tracing capacity will need to be significantly expanded to cope with increasing demands over the winter.”

However, the Government did not listen. They pretended there was not a problem. They did not act quickly enough, and now the testing system is not working, just when we need it.

We should also recognise that a second national lockdown is not inevitable. That would be a huge failure of government, not an act of God. There is still time to prevent it. That must be a national effort. Labour will do whatever is reasonable and necessary to support that, to save lives and to protect the NHS, but the Government must lead, and they must do so fast.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. I notice that it seems to come and go, but it seems to be here today. He criticises testing. He should know that, as I have told the House many times, this country is now testing more than any other country in Europe—one test for every five people. Actually, in spite of the massive increase in demand for testing, we have greatly increased the number of contacts reached from the indexed cases. He should pay tribute to those involved in the whole testing operation, in spite of all the difficulties they face.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the success of local lockdowns, and he is absolutely right to draw attention to what happened in Leicester. That was a heroic effort of local people, and it has happened in other parts of the country—local people pulling together to drive the virus down. That is what we hope to encourage throughout the country, and that is certainly part of our strategy. He asked what we are doing to support businesses, families and communities across the country, as though we had not already quite rightly spent £160 billion to support businesses, jobs and livelihoods across the country. We will continue to put our arms around the people of this country.

I am grateful, as I say, for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says and the support, such as it is, that he has offered. However, I can tell him that, in putting forward that message of support, I hope he will also say to everybody in his constituency and elsewhere that this is a balanced and proportionate response to the crisis that we face. We are driving the virus down—that is our objective by these measures—but we are also, as I have said, keeping the vast majority of the UK economy going. That is our programme. That is what we intend to do. This is a package to drive down the R, but also to allow education and jobs and growth to continue. That is absolutely vital for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand, and I hope that, in his support, which I welcome, he will communicate that to the country as well.

One of the most difficult decisions a Prime Minister has to take in a democracy is to restrict our freedoms for the greater good. In the measures he has announced today, which have cross-party consensus, my right hon. Friend has sought balance and proportionality, as he has said, in protecting the economy while reducing the risk of the virus spreading like wildfire.

However, given the six-month timeframe he has announced, what does he have to say to grandparents who want to live their lives before it is too late and who cannot see their families; to worried parents and families who cannot access a test at the moment; to workers and business owners facing financial ruin; and to MPs who want to debate these matters in Parliament before they are decided, not after, so that they can help him shoulder this onerous responsibility? How can he convince all of them that he is taking the right path, and unite our country with hope of an end to this misery?

I thank my right hon. Friend. She is entirely right that Parliament should and will debate these issues. We will make time early next week, in Government time, for a full debate on these measures.

I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. We have reached a critical moment. The virus has not gone away, it is not going away, and it remains as deadly as ever. I welcome the fact that following calls this weekend from our First Minister, a four-nation Cobra meeting has taken place this morning. We have all witnessed the worrying rise in virus cases over the past number of weeks, and we all know the projections and consequences our society will face if it continues to grow at the same rate.

We must also be clear about one thing: if we take the right actions now, there is nothing inevitable about the exponential spread of this virus. If we act decisively, move sharply and take the right, tough decisions now, we can get the virus back under control, minimise the time we all spend under new restrictions and, most importantly, we can save lives.

Today, Governments across the four nations are rightly asking citizens to make more sacrifices to protect our collective health. In return for these sacrifices, it is only right that citizens are provided with financial support amid the health and economic uncertainty. We are now just a few short weeks away from the end of the furlough scheme. Analysis from the Scottish Government has already shown that extending the scheme by eight months could save about 61,000 jobs in Scotland. France, Germany and Ireland have already extended their job retention schemes into next year, but the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have rigidly refused to extend furlough.

We all know, however, that U-turns and mixed messaging have come to define this Government. On 10 July, the Prime Minister said:

“Go back to work if you can.”

On 14 August, the Chancellor said it was “crucial” that we “do our bit”, such as

“going back to our places of work,”

and on 27 August, Government sources said:

“Go back to work or risk losing your job”.

The Prime Minister has changed his advice this morning on working from home. It is now time to change his mind on furlough as well. So today I have one question, and it is a question that 61,000 employees in Scotland are asking. Prime Minister, they deserve certainty and they deserve an answer. Will this Government now save those jobs and extend the furlough scheme beyond October? Prime Minister, do not throw workers on the scrap heap, through no fault of their own.

There was a great deal in the right hon. Gentleman’s question that I agree with. He is right that we need to take decisive action now, and I am very grateful for the collaboration that we have all been engaged in across the UK. Our objective is to keep businesses going, to keep the economy moving as much as we can and indeed to allow people to go back to work where they must but, of course, to work from home if they can. It is very clear what the choices are and what the guidance is.

Of course we will continue to support businesses and people who face challenges because of coronavirus throughout our United Kingdom. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in Scotland alone, the Barnett consequentials of the support are now well over £5 billion, and across all the devolved Administrations they are about £12.6 billion. We will continue to send that support throughout the whole UK, to put our arms around the whole workforce of the UK and to protect jobs and livelihoods, but we also want to see those businesses continuing and jobs being created.

I support the measures announced today. The Prime Minister will have decided them with a heavy heart, but all the evidence from South Korea, Singapore and other countries is that early, decisive action now is the best way to avoid a second full lockdown later. I want to ask him about testing. We have tripled capacity since May and will double it again by the end of October, so there has been a transformation, but we are not there yet. At a school in my constituency a child has tested positive, but it only gets a quota of 10 tests every three weeks, and it is worried that people may be passing on the virus asymptomatically whom it is not able to identify. How can he reassure that school and others up and down the country that are trying so hard to do the right thing?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have massively increased testing across the country. We are now prioritising teachers, as he knows. He raises a very important point about school pupils, and an interesting fact is that the rates of infection and transmission among school pupils are much lower than in the rest of the population. But I am not going to hide it from him that the future I see for our country and the way to defeat this virus is massively to expand testing, not just for teachers and not just in schools but throughout the country. That is why I am proud that, in spite of all the difficulties that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and others have legitimately pointed out, NHS Test and Trace is now conducting more tests than any other country in Europe. I think we should be proud of that.

There was one major omission from the Prime Minister’s statement: an apology. Will he now apologise for his Government’s gross incompetence over testing, tracing and clear communications, which has led to these latest restrictions on people’s daily lives? As families and businesses look forward, especially to Christmas, how will the Government support the millions of people who are on the brink of losing their jobs, losing their businesses and losing their livelihoods? What is the new plan for them?

The plan is that we should continue to keep the economy moving in the way that I have described and the Government have set out, which I believe is, quite rightly, supported by the Opposition, while suppressing the R and getting the virus down. That is our policy. Does the right hon. Gentleman support it?

One of the lessons of the lockdown measures in the spring was that they worked, but almost everyone ended up wishing that they had been introduced a week or two earlier, so the Prime Minister is right to act in anticipation rather than in reaction. Will he take the public into his confidence and tell them whether the six-month period that he mentioned is irrespective of the experience of infections and hospitalisation over the weeks and months ahead? What will be the criteria for lifting these restrictions and others such as the rule of six?

My right hon. Friend asks a really important question. The answer is, of course, that we must look at what the data tell us. There are several important data. The R is perhaps the crucial one, but we also look at rates of admissions to hospitals and new infections. If those facts change—if things turn around, and if the British public can do what they did before and get this virus down and get it under control—then of course we will review the measures and review the situation.

The Prime Minister is right that testing is a vital part of the Government’s response to the coronavirus. Will he join me in commending companies like Randox and Fortress Diagnostics in Northern Ireland, which have played a vital role at national level in delivering the Government’s testing programme? Randox has committed 99% of its covid testing capacity to that programme, and on 19 September it successfully reported almost 10,000 samples beyond its committed daily rate. Will the Prime Minister consider providing access to testing through local community pharmacies to expand the capacity and public accessibility to testing at this time?

I do indeed congratulate Randox and all the other businesses involved. We are massively expanding testing the whole time. It is very important for the House to understand that testing alone cannot fix this problem. There is a hiatus in the logic of the attacks that are sometimes mounted. The problem we have in the spread of this virus is that, alas, a minority of people have not been following the guidance in the way they might have done. What we are trying to do now is to get everybody to focus on the rules and the guidance, to enforce it strictly and to get the R down.

I thank the Prime Minister for all his hard work during these difficult, challenging times to keep us all safe. He will be aware that I have put forward two private Member’s Bills to improve mental health care provision for all, supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This morning, I spoke to Professor Allan Young from King’s College London, who raised with me real concerns about the reduction in mental health care provision for those with severe mental health issues during covid-19. Will the Prime Minister please look urgently into the matter and the representations of experts such as Professor Young, which I will forward to his office?

I look forward to receiving those representations—I will study them carefully. As the House has heard before, the Government are spending £12 billion more on mental health provision. Also, throughout the pandemic, we have been putting extra cash into mental health charities. I will certainly look at the case my hon. Friend raises.

Diolch, Llefarydd. At the start of the pandemic, there were concerns that visitors were gathering in crowds at beauty spots like yr Wyddfa—Snowdon. This happened again last weekend. Local lockdowns in Wales now require people to remain within their local authority area, except for essential reasons, but no such requirements exist in England. In those unfortunate situations where people face local lockdowns, will the Prime Minister give clear guidance against out-of-area travel for leisure purposes?

For local lockdowns, the guidance is given by the local authorities, following the decision in Covid-O about exactly what restrictions are to be put in place. Clearly the restriction the right hon. Lady suggests is part of the mix.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for being here in person to answer our questions. Surely the reality is that national lockdown has one shot and any repeat of that, with the inevitable unlock that follows, reintroduces an increased element of opportunity for the virus and risk for us, as we are seeing now. Does the Prime Minister agree that all these restrictions on our constituents’ lives require their ongoing consent, and that it is incumbent on the Government, the scientists who advise him and Parliament to stress-test these decisions and, crucially, the evidence that lies behind them?

I do agree with that. It would be greatly to the advantage of the debate and the country for these questions to be discussed in the House in the way that I have outlined and was proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan).

The public have shown a vast capacity for putting others first during the pandemic, and now they are being asked to do more. In return, the Government need to do more for them. Public consent is dependent on people not being forced into financial ruin. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the most affected sectors, such as hospitality and the arts, continue to get the financial support they need? In particular, will he meet me and other hon. Members to find solutions for more than 3 million self-employed people who have not been covered by the existing financial schemes? He says he will put his arms around the whole workforce; many millions of the self-employed have not felt the benefit of that embrace.

The hon. Lady raises an important point. We have extended loans and grants to every conceivable sector of the economy, including £1.57 billion to the arts sector alone, and we will of course do more. The most important thing that we can do, returning to the central message that I am trying to get over today, is to push down on the R while simultaneously allowing as much of the economy to flourish as we possibly can. That is our collective objective today.

The country is now full of amateur infection control experts, amateur epidemiologists and the odd Captain Hindsight. I do not intend to be one of those, but I must express to the Prime Minister the concern of constituents in my area where the seven-day rolling average is now well below 20 and falling, where people have followed the rules but have seen those at protests and street parties not having action taken against them. We will now suffer as a result of these further measures, support them though I do. In particular, hospitality will suffer. May I urge him to look again at the Government’s plans to halve the small brewers’ rate relief, which will damage small brewers, particularly craft brewers? Can we look again at that as this is not the time to be introducing such changes?

My hon. Friend speaks eloquently for his constituents and for those who feel let down by the minority who are not obeying the rules. That is why we are outlining this programme of tough enforcement today. I will certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to look at the fiscal measures that my hon. Friend proposes in respect of small brewers.

The Prime Minister will have support for taking the necessary measures to contain and suppress the virus, but he is receiving a very strong message from both sides of the House today that he does need to revisit the economic support measures, particularly in the light of changed circumstances and bearing in mind the need to look at other creative and innovative solutions. Will he therefore accept that, when the Chancellor made his statement back at the beginning of July, a certain set of planning assumptions were made that now no longer apply with the virus, so it is incumbent on the Government to change course and to change what they are doing to support people as well?

I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and it is certainly our intention, as we go forward, to do everything we can to protect lives and livelihoods and to put our arms around everyone in this country. No one can deny that the Chancellor has been exceptionally creative and ambitious in the plans that he has set out, and he will continue to apply the maximum possible imagination and creativity in that respect.

Don Valley appreciates all the work that the Prime Minister and his team are carrying out in response to the recent rise in cases of covid-19. That said, I must say to him that the blanket restrictions are affecting all people of all ages, immaterial of the actual risk posed to them. Will the Government therefore ask individuals to carry out a personal covid risk assessment, the results of which could determine whether someone needs to shield or can go about their daily lives. This will help boost the economy while protecting the vulnerable. After all, many people’s lives are being affected tremendously by these restrictions, especially the young, who, as we all know, are only young once.

My hon. Friend really puts his finger on the heart of the dilemma. The tragedy of the coronavirus epidemic is that people who are not badly affected themselves can none the less pass it on unwittingly to older or more vulnerable people, so their harmless cough can be someone else’s death knell, unfortunately. That is why we have to apply the restrictions that we do, but he is right also to look ahead to a time when I do believe that we will be able much more easily to identify whether or not we are infectious and to allow us, therefore, to go about our daily lives more easily—young and old.

By 6 pm this evening, both local authorities covering my constituency will be under Welsh Government local lockdown restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Among the restrictions will be one on holiday travel, meaning that constituents will not be able to go on planned holidays. Some holiday companies are refusing refunds on the grounds that local restrictions are not covered by UK law, pointing instead to Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice on travel. What can the Prime Minister do to support constituents in this case and what is his message to those holiday companies?

The hon. Gentleman asks an excellent question. It is not an anomaly that I had hitherto been aware of, but if he would care to write to me with the details of his constituents’ concerns, I will certainly take it up.

Darent Valley Hospital in my constituency did an amazing job at the heart of the outbreak, as did many of my local GP surgeries. However, they were under huge pressure. Therefore, will the Prime Minister consider extending the ability of local pharmacies and chemists to administer health treatments so that these gems on our high street can ease the pressure on our health system?

My hon. Friend is completely right that pharmacies and chemists are in the frontline of our healthcare and do an absolutely outstanding job in testing people for all kinds of things, covid among them. We will certainly support them in any way that we can.

We may well have to endure this for six months or more, but it is less than six weeks until the furlough scheme ends. Germany, France and even Ireland are extending furlough schemes for specific sectors. It is a political, not a health decision. Many communities in my constituency were devastated by political decisions made by a Tory Government in the 1980s that reaped mass unemployment. Are we now to have that revisited on them in 2020, or will the Prime Minister extend the furlough scheme?

The comparisons with other European countries are actually illuminating, because the furlough scheme is far more generous than that of either Germany or France, or virtually any other country in Europe. What we will continue to do, as I have said repeatedly to the House, is to put our arms around the workers of this country to make sure that we help people throughout the crisis, but also, as I said before, to do everything we can to keep our economy moving and keep people in work wherever we can.

I very much welcome the balanced and proportionate set of measures that my right hon. Friend has put together and recognise that these are very finely balanced and very difficult decisions for him to take. But lockdowns, as I think he recognises, destroy jobs and also personal wellbeing. The fact that lockdowns have damaged our economy means that in the years ahead a smaller economy will probably have serious impacts on the health of millions of people up and down our country. Does he recognise that, yes, we should listen very carefully to the epidemiologists, but we must also listen very carefully to the Treasury, to businesses and to economists?

My right hon. Friend is spot on. That is why we have to take action now to avoid the risk of having to take more drastic action later on that would do greater economic damage. That is the key point of what we are doing today.

Can the Prime Minister explain why a new test centre opening today on Hull University land for students and the local community—a centre that of course I welcome—will be run by private firms Deloitte and G4S with no accountability to local bodies with statutory public health responsibilities to the local community, or to the university, which is of course responsible for its students? How does this silo approach that the Prime Minister has created around testing help us to have the joined-up approach that we all want in Hull to tackle this pandemic?

I will study what the hon. Lady says about the testing unit at Hull University. Everywhere across the country, NHS Test and Trace has been working hand in glove with local authorities to get testing done and hand in glove with Public Health England and of course all our public services. I am surprised by what she says about the testing unit at Hull University, but I will certainly ask NHS Test and Trace to give her a full explanation. In my experience, everything is done to enlist and mobilise the expertise of local government to get the testing done.

Many people are concerned that, with this dominant focus on covid, people who need NHS treatment for other illnesses or are seeking elective surgery will be pushed further back in the queue, so will the Prime Minister assure us and make sure that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care gives priority to communicating the progress made in dealing with the backlog in surgeries as we go through the winter period?

Of course we must do everything we can to ensure that our NHS is not overwhelmed with covid cases. It is when we have a covid crisis—a boom in covid cases—that, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, other needs, including cardiac and cancer cases, are pushed off. That is completely wrong, which is why it is now so vital that we suppress the R—that we drive the rate of infection down—and stop a boom in covid cases, because that is the threat to our NHS and to the provision of all the basic services on which our country relies.

The Prime Minister’s objective relies on the local public health effort. I thank the local NHS in Bristol, Bristol City Council and Public Health England in the south-west for their remarkable work. The reorganisation of health services always distracts from people’s jobs, destroys morale and wastes money, so will the Prime Minister explain the benefits of abolishing Public Health England in the middle of this crisis? If he cannot, will he commit now to reversing that decision, at least until we have an inquiry?

It is essential that we have the most powerful possible public health organisation in this country. The Joint Biosecurity Centre now needs to come together with Public Health England to deliver what I believe will be a better service for this country. In fact, the change to which the hon. Lady refers does not happen until next year, but we are getting it under way now.

I know that the Prime Minister is a true libertarian and must have agonised over today’s decision and those taken over recent months. My constituents in Meriden are concerned about a second national lockdown, with schools closing and businesses shutting down. Does my right hon. Friend agree that individual responsibility is more important today than it has ever been? Will he confirm that he will do everything he can to avoid a second full national lockdown?

The whole objective today is to avoid that second national lockdown—nobody wants to see that. My hon. Friend is right to point the finger at us: we can do this together if we take responsibility for the way we behave, the way we enforce the rules and the way we act in public places. That is how we will get the R down collectively and defeat the virus.

Back in July, the Government introduced the Business and Planning Act 2020, which allowed the sale and consumption of alcohol off the premises for as long as the licence of licensed premises. Today, just weeks later, the Prime Minister has come to the House to say that there will be no sales and no service in hospitality after 10 o’clock at night. Will he explain the rationale behind that 10 o’clock curfew and the Government’s very fast change of plan?

The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I am grateful to her. As Members from all parties have said, these are not easy decisions—nobody wants to curtail the right of restaurants and other businesses to go about their lawful business. What we have seen from the evidence is that, alas, the spread of disease tends to happen later at night, after more alcohol has been consumed. This is one way that we see of driving down the R without doing excessive economic damage. That is the balance we have to strike.

I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has laid before the House today. People who are vulnerable to covid are also extremely vulnerable to seasonal flu, a disease that killed more than 11,000 people last year in the UK alone and is one of the biggest sources of winter pressures on NHS. In the summer, the Government promised one of the largest flu vaccination programmes in history; will my right hon. Friend update the House on what is being done to deliver it?

Yes, indeed I can. The biggest flu vaccine programme is going ahead as we speak. Thirty million people will be able to have a flu jab this autumn, and I thoroughly advise Members to get one.

There is a wee whiff of hypocrisy here. As the Prime Minister and his Cabinet bring in new measures to combat covid-19, he needs to tell us how he expects citizens throughout the UK to follow his rules and laws when he and his Government openly admit that they are willing to break international law and treaties themselves.

I think everybody in this House wants to see the people of this country and help the people of this country to obey the law of the land and get the virus down. That is the objective of this Government.

Children are very unlikely to be harmed by this virus, and they are also less likely to spread it. In my role as a children’s doctor and as a member of the Select Committee on Education, however, I have seen examples of children being harmed by not being in school. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reassure the House that he will do everything in his power to keep schools open?

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for what she does, and I thank the tens of millions of parents, teachers and pupils up and down the country who rose to the occasion at the beginning of the month and went back to school in overwhelming numbers. They are still at school in spite of the difficulties that they are currently facing. She is so right; it is vital for children and young people to be in school, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that that remains the case.

The Prime Minister will no doubt be aware of the alarming rate at which coronavirus cases are rising among black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, particularly among the Asian population, with some 34% of coronavirus patients in intensive care right now being from ethnic minorities. Can he tell the House how he thinks shutting pubs an hour earlier will address this worrying trend and what action the Government have taken to tackle the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities since PHE published its report in June?

What we have done, as the hon. Lady possibly knows already, is to target testing and enhance protection for those in frontline groups, many of whom come from black and minority ethnic groups. What we are also doing, to stop the spread of infection in some communities, is working much harder with local government and local communities to get the messaging into those communities about the risks of transmission and the basic rules about hands, face, space. Those are among the things that we are doing.

Sport and physical activity contributes more than £16 billion to the UK economy. It directly employs more than 600,000 people and indirectly employs many more. It has an ecosystem that reaches beyond the pitch, field, court or pool, and its social value, which includes physical and mental wellbeing, is estimated at more than £72 billion. Right now, however, both codes of rugby, football, cricket, netball, hockey, tennis and swimming, to name but a few, are in a perilous situation because spectators cannot return and venues cannot host income-raising events such as conferences. Sport, and all that it directly and indirectly involves, cannot continue to face such losses. Given today’s announcement that pauses the return of spectators, will the Prime Minister elaborate on his comments about a financial support package to ensure that sport is not left decimated after the pandemic?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the huge importance of sport to our national economy and our wellbeing. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is now working flat out with the Premier League and others to identify ways in which we can keep these clubs going and support sport at all levels throughout the pandemic. One of the things that we are not doing today, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, is stopping outdoor physical exercise or team sports outside. We want that to continue. That is why it is vital that we enforce the package of measures that we have outlined today.

Mr Speaker, you will be aware of the recent imposition of further restrictions in the north-east of England. First, I thank the Prime Minister for listening to and acting on the concerns, both individual and collective, from the northern group of Labour MPs about informal childcare arrangements in my constituency and others. However, before he feels my warm embrace, I ask him to provide assurances to businesses in my constituency in relation to the latest announcement of restrictions on businesses. Will he outline what sector-specific support the Government will offer to those worst affected by covid, such as the coach sector, which is on the brink of collapse because of Government inaction, in the main, and the failure to listen to the “Honk for Hope” campaign?

We will do whatever we can to support the coach sector and all other sectors across the country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have put in place a massive programme of loans, grants and support of all kinds. It is clear that the best thing for businesses in his constituency and across the country is not to paralyse the economy now and not to go back into lockdown, but to defeat the virus in so far as we possibly can and allow the economy to move forward—but we will continue to give whatever help we can.

I am thankful for my right hon. Friend’s commitments on parliamentary scrutiny. He will know that many Members of the House and members of the public are concerned about the use of delegated powers, and I am sure that he remembers the sifting Committee from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Will he please consider whether some innovative thinking can be applied to ensure that the authority of this House is brought to bear on these measures in advance, so that the public can have confidence that their representatives are authorising the use of law to constrain their freedom?

Yes; under the current procedures, it is up to the House to confirm that the Executive do have the power to continue measures under the Coronavirus Act, and that will continue to be the case. We are additionally offering—insisting—that there should be a proper debate of these issues in Parliament. There are many different opinions in Parliament, and people need to air them together.

Children were delighted to return to their primary schools earlier this month, but—not surprisingly, after six months of isolation—coughs and colds have spread rapidly among them since. We have been reminded that each primary school has just 10 covid tests. When will primary schools have the wherewithal to test children and staff with symptoms to avoid spreading the virus at school and unnecessary school closures?

The right hon. Gentleman is spot on about what has been happening in schools. Sadly, in many cases we have seen a rise in demand for tests because people are, reasonably, unable to distinguish between the symptoms of covid and a seasonal cough or cold. We are trying to address the situation as fast as possible. The one consolation we have is that children are much less likely to suffer seriously, if at all, from the disease, and it seems that they are much less capable of spreading it.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for his steadfast service to our country during this very difficult time. He understands the long-term harm that a second lockdown would cause to people across the country—to their health, their lives and their livelihoods—as they try their best to get back on their feet. Will he consider targeting protective measures at those who are most at risk, rather than deploying the blunt instrument that is lockdown, which causes so much suffering and offers no hope of a cure?

My hon. Friend is right. We are doing everything we can to protect people, particularly those in care homes, who are so vulnerable, as we saw during the early stages of the pandemic. We have massively increased the winter action plan for care homes: putting in another £546 million; stopping movement between care homes; and taking the tough decision to stop visits to care homes in lockdown areas, which is very difficult for elderly people in care homes. The reason that we are taking those and other difficult measures now is that we want to avoid another national lockdown of exactly the type that my hon. Friend also rightly wants to avoid.

Some of my constituents have been waiting for four days, five days or even longer to get their test results back. In July, the Government rightly promised that 80% of in-person tests would receive their results within 24 hours of booking. That figure is now down to below 20%. That is dangerous: it means that people are not in the tracing system and their contacts are not being traced; it makes it easier for the virus to spread; and it makes it more likely that we will face even tougher restrictions, which the Prime Minister has described, across the whole country. Given that the Government made so many mistakes on testing in the first wave, we cannot afford for him to get this wrong again now. When will that 80% target now be met?

Despite the massive increase in testing that we have seen, with a 10% increase in capacity just in the past 10 days or so, we are seeing 64% of people getting their results in 24 hours. I do want to get that up as fast as possible to 80%. I can tell the right hon. Lady that we will double our testing capacity by the end of October, to 500,000 tests a day, and we are already testing more people than any other country in Europe.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and clear statement of purpose to conquer this terrible virus. One key concern locally has been the failure to comply with the regulations on the wearing of a face covering in shops and on public transport. Clearly, with these new restrictions coming into place, one key issue will be ensuring that people comply with the requirements. Equally, people do not want to get to a position where they are forced to wear a face covering in the open air as they are just going about their normal business. Will he state for the House what he is going to do to make sure that the message gets across to people that failing to comply with these rules is selfish and potentially places others at risk?

My hon. Friend is spot on, which is why we are increasing the fines from £100 to £200. You are protecting yourself and protecting other people, so you wear a face covering where you should.

Shamefully, the UK has had the one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world. If we had had Germany’s deaths per million rate, we would have had more than 30,000 fewer coronavirus deaths. If we had had the much lower death rates of South Korea and New Zealand, we would have had more than 40,000 fewer deaths. So will the Prime Minister take responsibility for our unacceptably high death rate? To avoid a repeat this winter, will he now pursue the zero covid strategy that the Independent SAGE is calling for, and that countries such as South Korea and New Zealand are successfully implementing?

What we are pursuing, with the support of the Opposition, is a policy of driving this virus down, while allowing education and our economy to continue. I hope the hon. Gentleman will lend his support to that effort as well.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for his leadership during this crisis, but will he also commit to a vote in this House prior to any further steps towards a full second national lockdown?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are continuing to expand testing and tracing, and it is by driving down this virus that we will be able to take the country forward to a much, much brighter future. If people focus on the measures we have outlined today, particularly on obeying the guidance on social distancing, together we will defeat covid.

It is clear this afternoon that there is significant agreement across the House that the restrictions the Prime Minister has announced, although not necessarily popular, are necessary. There is also a great deal of cross-party agreement that the support schemes for businesses need to be extended at the same time as the restrictions are extended. So rather than simply rejecting it out of hand, will he agree to an invitation to speak to business leaders, trade union leaders and Opposition parties, in order to put together a financial support scheme for not only those employees who currently rely on the furlough, but the tens of thousands of small business owners who have been left without any support at all during the past six months?

I have had the opportunity in the course of the past few months to talk to many businesses up and down the country—across Scotland—and they have uniformly been appreciative of the support the Government have given so far. As I have said earlier, we will ensure that we maintain a very creative and imaginative approach in helping those businesses, but the best thing we can do is fight the virus and keep the economy moving.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. He is right to say that it is the co-operation and good sense of the British public that has seen the spread of this difficult outbreak curtailed. My constituents will continue to do exactly what is required of them, but the truth is that Cornwall has a very low rate of covid-19, and that has been the case throughout. What message of hope can the Prime Minister give to teenagers going to schools and colleges who are being asked to wear face masks when not in class, to churchgoers who have been blocked from freedom of worship, and to businesses that have yet to open and are continually frustrated from doing so?

Churchgoers will continue to have freedom of worship under the proposals. We want life, as far as we possibly we can, to keep going as normally as possible. We want the economy to keep moving. The best hope I can offer my hon. Friend’s constituents, for whom he fights so valiantly, is that we get this virus back under control, take the country forward and keep the economy moving. That is the best prospect for our country.

Does the Prime Minister think that the reason Germany and Italy have far lower covid rates than us, with life continuing more or less normally, might be that they have locally and publicly run test and trace services that actually work?

No, I don’t, and I think the continual attacks on local test and trace and what NHS Test and Trace has done are undermining and unnecessary. Actually, there is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world: our country is a freedom-loving country. If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country. It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary. What we are saying today is that collectively—I am answering the right hon. Gentleman’s question directly—the way to do that is for us all to follow the guidelines, which we will strictly enforce, and get the R down. That is the way forward.

Appreciating the frustrations of people who currently have symptoms and are finding it difficult to get tests, does my right hon. Friend agree that with capacity going up by over 10% in the past few weeks, four new labs coming online and hundreds of additional staff, we can reach our target of half a million tests a day by the end of October? Does he agree that that would be an amazing achievement against a virus that we were only first learning about a few short months ago?

It will not surprise my hon. Friend that I fervently agree with the way he characterises the achievements of NHS Test and Trace. His optimism and encouragement of NHS Test and Trace could reasonably be echoed by those on the Opposition Benches.

Manchester is home to two of the largest universities in the country, with a combined student body of nearly 80,000, many of whom choose to live in my constituency. With so many students returning to the area, this is an incredibly difficult time for the community, and for students and their families, who are concerned for their safety. With the surge in infections and the second wave now in evidence, what advice do the Government intend to give to universities on keeping their students, staff and the wider community safe?

The most important thing is that the students who are now back at university in large numbers should, like everybody else, follow the guidelines. It is also important that, where there are outbreaks in universities, students should not be going home to infect their older relatives.

The districts of Wealden and Rother, which comprise my constituency, have in the past week each recorded just four covid conditions per 100,000 of population. The Prime Minister said that palpable progress will need to be made if the new measures are not to last six months. Will he consider freeing areas with lower rates from the restrictions earlier, if progress is made across the nation?

Of course, and that is why we are putting our hopes and confidence in a local, regional approach, rather than a blanket, one-size-fits-all national approach. We hope that those areas that are complying with the rules—and the vast majority of people are complying with the rules—will be able to see the opportunities that my hon. Friend describes.

The Prime Minister calls it NHS test and trace, but would it not be more accurate to call it Serco test and trace, as it has been outsourced, like other health contracts, often to friends and family members of Tory MPs, lining their pockets while taking the public for a ride? Despite its record of failure, last week Serco was handed another test and trace contract, worth £45 million. These giant corporations put private profit before public health. Is it not time to end the scandal of outsourcing and bring these contracts into public hands for a genuine NHS test and trace?

I have to say that I think the hon. Lady is grossly undermining the huge effort of local authorities, which are an integral part of NHS test and trace. They are doing a magnificent job and I thank each and every one of those individuals for what they are doing. We are putting another £300 million into supporting our local authorities deliver test and trace, and of course it is right that we should reach out across the entire UK economy, and our armed services, to help them and us deliver on this enormous project, and we will continue to do so.

I welcome the work that has been done across the four nations in recent days, as people expect our Governments to work together and unite as we tackle this virus, but given that the restrictive measures could be with us across the UK for the next six months or longer, what guarantee can the Prime Minister give that the UK Government will continue to support Scottish employers and workers in areas affected by the measures when the furlough scheme ends?