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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 680: debated on Wednesday 23 September 2020

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Disabled People: Covid-19

The Government are committed to supporting disabled people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. We continue to monitor the impact of covid-19 on disabled people using existing and new data sources.

Between March and July, disabled people, including people with a health condition or impairment, accounted for almost 60% of all covid deaths, yet a survey of disabled people in Greater Manchester revealed that eight out of 10 were not included in the official Government shielded group, in spite of 57% having significant support needs. With the second wave upon us, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that all clinically vulnerable people are shielded and properly supported?

That is a really important point. Through my work as the Minister for Disabled People and in conjunction with the Disability Unit, for which I am responsible, where stakeholders identify challenges around support for those who were shielding, we raise that with the relevant Minister. Obviously, shielding has come to an end, and that is kept under review. We must ensure that people feel safe, particularly those who are seeking to work. We expect employers to act in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. Working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Health and Safety Executive and ACAS, we are publishing helpful guidance to ensure that there is sufficient support for those who are coming out of shielding and returning to normality.

The charity SignHealth has been working to provide British Sign Language translation for covid sufferers in health settings free of charge since the pandemic began. It has submitted a grant application to the Department of Health and Social Care, but so far the grant has not been awarded. Will my hon. Friend use his best endeavours with colleagues at that Department to get this apparent blockage shifted? As we seek to avoid a second wave of the virus, we also have to ensure that deaf people who are reliant on BSL as their main form of communication are not disadvantaged in terms of access to information.

I know that, through my right hon. Friend’s work as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, there is no stronger advocate for accessible communications. Stakeholders rightly raise this issue time and again, and through the Disability Unit, we have reminded all Departments of its importance. It sounds to me as though SignHealth has provided a wonderful service. I know that the DHSC values good services, and I will encourage the relevant Minister to look at this personally and respond as quickly as possible.

Before I ask my question, I would like to pay tribute to the many people out there with disabilities who have been helping others during the pandemic. It is important to keep saying that having a disability does not stop someone contributing. However, for many people, their disability prevents them from having a job, and they are dependent on social security payments. Sometimes they have to jump through hoops to prove that they are disabled enough to “deserve” those payments. Face-to-face work capability assessments are on hold right now, understandably, but the wait is causing untold stress, so will the Minister represent the needs of those people to the Work and Pensions Secretary and join me in calling for paper-based assessments to be made available to everyone?

That is a really good question. First, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about people wanting to contribute. If we ask any disabled person, they will say they want to have the same opportunities that anyone else would take for granted. Rightly, we had to suspend face-to-face assessments. We have used paper-based reviews where possible, and we are bringing telephone assessments into the WCA in the same way as we have done with personal independence payments, which is warmly welcomed by stakeholders. In the long term, as part of the Green Paper in the coming months, we will be exploring better ways to reform the assessment and increase the likelihood of being able to do paper-based reviews wherever possible, predominantly where we are able to get better-quality medical evidence.

STEM Subjects

We continue to fund numerous programmes to increase girls’ and young women’s take-up of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. The number of girls’ STEM A-level entries has increased year on year, despite an overall reduction in cohort size. Since 2010, there has been a 31% increase in girls’ entries to STEM A-levels in England and a 34% increase in women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses in the UK.

We know that the new core maths course is highly regarded for both its accessibility and its pragmatism, and can therefore play a huge part in increasing participation in maths. Can the Minister tell me how we are engaging with female pupils in particular to encourage them to take up this fantastic course?

Our advanced maths support programme, worth £8 million per year, aims to increase the number of girls studying level 3 maths, which includes core maths. Of more than 17,000 students participating in the programme’s events last year, 55% of attendees were female. We will be using research such as our behavioural insight studies to inform future work on how to get more girls studying maths after GCSE.

My constituency is a world-renowned centre of aerospace and defence expertise, so how can the Government help to encourage more women to take up these subjects and apprenticeships in particular so that we can equip the country and them with the skills we need for the future?

Along with the significant measures that I have mentioned on increasing the take-up of STEM subjects among girls and women, we are raising awareness of STEM careers through programmes such as STEM ambassadors, 45% of whom are women. The Department for Education is also taking steps to engage with the sector through apprenticeships. On aerospace specifically, we are supporting industry’s efforts to increase diversity in the sector through the women in aviation and aerospace charter, recognising that a more diverse sector is good for business, customers and workplace culture.

In the UK, female employment in the technology industry stands at 16.7% and has grown by less than 1% in the last 10 years. This is one of the most promising and booming industries, but it is one that women hardly find themselves in. What discussion has the Minister’s Department had with her Cabinet colleagues to provide incentives for technology businesses to employ women?

The Government take this issue very seriously. The Government Equalities Office carries out various studies to encourage women into this sector. We know that there are disparities in gender representation in some sector subject areas. Women still account for, respectively, 6% and 8% of starts in construction, planning and the built environment and in engineering and engineering technologies. This is a space in which we are working very hard. We continue to consult business and I know that my Cabinet colleagues are also working on this issue.

Geographic Inequality of Opportunity

We are determined to tackle geographic inequality and level up our country. The Equality Hub will look at the data to identify the real barriers that are holding people back.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that geographical inequality has been a neglected strand of the equality agenda?

I very much agree. Often, the differences in wages or employment are greater between regions of the UK than they are in other types of inequality. For example, there is a 28% gap in weekly pay between the north-east and London.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. She will be aware that people in Cornwall have for far too long faced a disadvantage of opportunity because of our geography. Will she ensure that amid all the loud political noise at this time, levelling up geographical inequalities remain at the heart of this Government’s agenda?

I agree. It is vital that we level up across the country and make sure that someone’s postcode does not dictate their life chances. As I saw when visiting Cornwall’s growing lithium mining industry last week, there are real opportunities to level up and help Cornwall to grow economically and benefit all the people of that great county.

BAME Women: Covid-19

What steps the Government have taken to protect women in BAME communities from the disproportionate effect of covid-19 identified by Public Health England. (906537)

The Government have taken a number of steps to protect all those who may be disproportionately affected by covid-19 to reduce the spread of the virus. This includes targeted testing of occupations and groups at higher risk, including ethnic minority women. We have also translated the latest information into multiple languages in accessible formats to help to ensure that our public health communications reach all communities across the country.

Women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are strongly represented in the workforce in our care system, so will the Minister have a strong focus on keeping care workers safe from covid, with a particular emphasis on the higher risk faced by women from black and minority ethnic communities in those jobs?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: there are very many BME workers in the social care sector and they must be properly supported. That is why in June, the Department of Health and Social Care published a covid-19 adult social care workforce risk reduction framework to help to manage specific risks to staff, including risk by ethnicity. We are also providing financial support for the Race Equality Foundation to provide additional services to BME communities with dementia during the covid-19 pandemic.

International Trade: Opportunities for Women

What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government’s international trade policies on increasing business opportunities for women. (906538)

Trade and enterprise are vitally important to women across the world to help them take control of their own lives. That is why we are backing programmes such as SheTrades and Female Founders to support women across the Commonwealth.

Many South Derbyshire residents have concerns about improving the lives of women in developing countries, as they often write to me about this. How will women in developing countries benefit from the trade policies of our Government?

On Sunday, I was pleased to speak at a United Nations General Assembly event on investing in Africa’s female future. Nimco Ali’s Five Foundation was also represented. It is doing great work to tackle female genital mutilation and bring more economic opportunity for women. In the Department for International Trade, we are currently working on trade continuity agreements with countries such as Kenya to help to build trade and help women in those countries to succeed.

Online Abuse

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on tackling online abuse targeted at women. (906540)

There has been a worrying rise in the amount of abuse, harassment and intimidation online, and women are often disproportionately targeted by such abuse. It is completely unacceptable and, in fact, impacts individuals’ rights to participate online. We set out robust measures to deal with this in the online harms White Paper, and will be publishing a full Government response, later in the year.

I am glad that the Minister recognises this issue. Almost one in two women report experiencing online abuse since the start of covid-19. However, the Government have delayed the draft of the online harms Bill until, I understand, the end of 2021. Legislation is clearly needed now, so when will the Government introduce the Bill?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. We are absolutely committed to making the UK the safest place to go online. The online harms White Paper will set out how we are going to make world-leading legislation. We intend to publish that before the end of the year, and the legislation to follow at the very beginning of next year.

LGBT Action Plan

We want to make sure that everyone in the UK is free to live their lives and fulfil their potential regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. We will soon be hosting the Government’s first ever international LGBT conference to advance LGBT rights across the world.

After an organisation in Anfield in my constituency was exposed for offering “cures” for homosexuality involving rituals and starvation, the Government gave me a commitment in this House that they would ban these so-called conversion therapies. That was back in 2018, and there is real concern that the new Government are backtracking on LGBT rights. When will they bring forward a ban on these harmful practices, as promised in their own LGBT action plan? Following the Minister’s response yesterday on changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which fell well short of what is needed to secure the rights of trans people in the UK, will she make a full statement in the Chamber to allow proper debate on it?

Conversion therapy is a completely abhorrent practice. We are working to end it. We are currently conducting research, and I will be coming back shortly to talk about the future and how we do end it, but it is important that research is conducted. As I made clear in my written statement yesterday, it is very important that we protect transgender rights but also improve transgender healthcare. That is what we are doing by opening more clinics and also making the process of gender recognition certificates kinder and more straightforward.

Protected Characteristics: Caste

With reference to the written statement of 23 July 2018, HCWS898, when she plans to bring forward proposals to remove caste as a protected characteristic from the Equality Act 2010. (906544)

I would like to make it clear that caste is not a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. Case law has shown that a claim of caste discrimination may already qualify for protection under the race provisions in the Act. We therefore intend to repeal the uncommenced duty in the Act to make caste an explicit aspect of race discrimination as soon as practicable.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her place to answer my regular questions on this particular topic. The fact is that we have had a large-scale consultation of the community. We have had a written ministerial statement making it clear that we are going to remove this protected characteristic from the Equality Act. So I urge her to bring forward, without delay, proposals to remove this unnecessary, ill-thought-out and divisive move in the Equality Act 2010.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We do agree with him. The Government completely oppose any discrimination because of a person’s origins, including any perception of their caste, and we do remain committed to repealing the duty as soon as the opportunity arises.

Statutory Sick Pay

What recent discussions she has with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on an equality impact assessment of the level of statutory sick pay. (906545)

Statutory sick pay is increased annually through uprating, which does not require an equality impact assessment. Individuals requiring further financial support may receive it through the welfare system.

Research by my union, the GMB, has shown that a failure to raise statutory sick pay to Liverpool rates has had serious detrimental effects on particular groups in our society. The status quo is disproportionately harming women workers, older workers, disabled workers, black and minority ethnic workers, workers who hold particular religious beliefs, and workers who are married or in a civil partnership. Does the Minister agree that the Government should do an equality impact assessment of these policies and do more to ensure that statutory sick pay is set at a liveable rate?

Equality impact assessments are made when there are policy changes, not as part of the annual uprating exercise. That said, statutory sick pay should not be looked at in isolation because individuals, subject to their own circumstances, could access additional support from their employer, universal credit, or new-style employment and support allowance. We have recently concluded the consultation “Health is everyone’s business”, in which many of these issues were raised, and we will be publishing our reviews. We understand the points that the hon. Member has raised.

Older People: Covid-19

Our priority has been to continue delivering the state pension and pension credit to new and existing customers. We also supported those in the shielding group who would normally have had to rely on cash through the post office to cover their weekly outgoings.

We know that elderly and disabled people, especially those living alone, are less likely to access online platforms. During this covid pandemic, knowing the rules and understanding the ideas and information behind them is critical, so will this UK Government be re-establishing regular briefings, including British Sign Language translation, as we have in Scotland, so that no one misses out on vital information?

The hon. Member is absolutely right to highlight the importance of accessible communications. It was an issue raised particularly in the early stages that we then shared cross-Government. I am delighted that BSL, for example, was then picked up by the BBC and was provided. Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s statement to the House was also simultaneously interpreted by a BSL interpreter. That was a very valid point to raise.

Young Female and Disabled Athletes: Covid-19

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on the training and competition opportunities for young (a) female and (b) disabled athletes preparing to take part in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 and beyond. (906561)

Appropriately, a question on sport is asked as I sprint to the Dispatch Box.

We remain committed to supporting our young, female and disabled Olympic and Paralympic athletes through this very difficult period. We continue to work with UK Sport to ensure that athletes are assisted and supported in their preparation for the Tokyo games and beyond to Paris 2024.

Does the Minister agree that this kind of investment will establish role models, which will encourage people to get active in their own communities?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on digital, culture, media and sport. He asks his question on a very appropriate day, as today is National Fitness Day. He is absolutely right: if you can see it, you can be it. We want to inspire the next generation of young people to get physically fit and active not only for their own physical health, but for the mental health and well-being that it brings.

Topical Questions

I want transgender people to be free to live and prosper in modern Britain. We will maintain the Gender Recognition Act, protect single-sex spaces, and work to make the recognition process kinder and more straightforward. In line with the priorities of transgender people, we are improving health services and reducing waiting times, and we have also launched the Cass review to ensure that under-18s are getting the right support.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, as well as to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Prime Minister, for backing my campaign to end the abhorrent practice of so-called LGBT conversion therapy. Will my right hon. Friend kindly update the House on when she hopes to introduce that vital legislation?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her leadership on this issue, and on her work to support women when they are giving birth. Conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice and we are currently conducting research, which I hope will be finished by the end of this month, on how to end it in the United Kingdom. Shortly after that, we will set out steps to end it.

Yesterday, after nearly three years, the Government finally published their response on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004; disgracefully, they have let the trans community down. The written statement said that the Government were opening at least three new gender clinics this year. Will the Minister clarify whether the mention of those three clinics was a reference to the pilot services committed to by the previous Government in 2018, or represents a new investment by this Government to improve trans healthcare?

In line with the priorities of the transgender community, we are seeking to reduce waiting lists in the health service by 1,600 people, as well as to improve access to services, with three new gender-identity clinics. We also want to make sure that proper training is available to general practitioners so that we get better services on the frontline.

I did not get an answer to my first question, but I will try this one. The average waiting time for NHS gender services is 18 months, yet the NHS constitution says that the first appointment should be within 18 weeks. The Government have rightly committed to reducing waiting lists by 1,600 people by 2022, but that will still leave an estimated 10,000 trans people on the list. Will the Minister set out what steps the Government are going to take to bring the waiting lists down, to ensure that trans people can access healthcare within the time set out in the legal framework?

The hon. Lady is right that it is a priority to bring down waiting lists and make sure that transgender people get the healthcare that they deserve. That is why the Government Equalities Office has put in extra funding to support Dr Michael Brady as our LGBT health adviser. We are working closely with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the NHS to make sure that those services are in place.

Does the Minister agree that if girls aged between 16 and 18 are persuaded to be married instead of continuing their education, they are likely to be disadvantaged for the rest of their life and less economically active than those who complete their education when they are at least 18? (906613)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend: education is important and it is obviously wrong when girls get married at an early age against their will. My hon. Friend has done a lot of work to raise these issues, and the Government are listening carefully to the debate on the legal age of marriage and continue to keep it under review. Tackling forced marriage is one of our key priorities, and I am proud that we made forced marriage an offence in 2014.

The recent report by the all-party group on sexual and reproductive health in the UK found that women are increasingly having difficulty accessing contraception because of cuts in budgets and complex commissioning arrangements. The past president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Dame Lesley Regan, has pointed out that Viagra was made available to men over the counter and without a prescription within a year of being licensed, whereas the safe progestogen-only pill has been licensed for more than 60 years and we still do not trust women to get it over the counter at the chemist. What is the Minister going to do about this blatant discrimination against women? (906605)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I will take the issue up with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Being gay in the farming community is incredibly hard, not least because of isolation. The Gay Farmer Helpline plays a vital support role, but has highlighted a high suicide rate. What is the Minister doing to support gay farmers, and will she meet me and representatives of the helpline to see what else we can do? [R] (906619)

Farming is a vital industry in Britain, and I want all farmers to feel supported. I applaud the work of groups such as Agrespect in supporting LGBT farmers to thrive. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues to discuss what more we can do.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

The unanimous decision by Highland Council to grant planning consent for the UK’s vertical space launch site in Sutherland is clearly extremely good news. I hope that the Prime Minister agrees that this will be extremely good for the local economy of the highlands, and will provide a huge opportunity for the UK economy in the international satellite market.

Absolutely; I congratulate Launch UK on what it is doing. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the project would create 250 full-time jobs, including 130 at the facility in Forres. I am in no doubt that it will launch the UK on a path to ever greater presence in the global satellite market.

Yesterday evening, in order to keep the spread of the virus as low as possible, the Prime Minister announced a series of changes that none of us ever wanted to see; and residents of my constituency are understandably concerned and anxious. Will he reassure us all, and my constituents in North East Derbyshire, that the primary focus of the Government remains protecting both lives and—just as important—livelihoods? (906430)

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend can certainly reassure his constituents that our purpose, and the purpose of the package that carried overwhelming support in this House yesterday, is to continue to drive down the R number while keeping businesses open and pupils in school.

Three months ago today the Prime Minister said that test and trace could be a “real game changer” for us. He was backed up by the Health Secretary, who said:

“Finding where the people who test positive are is the single most important thing that we must do to stop the spread of the virus.”

Yesterday the Prime Minister said the complete opposite. Standing at that Dispatch Box, he said:

“Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.”

Both positions cannot be right. Which one is it, Prime Minister?

It is an obvious fact of biology and epidemiology that, alas, this disease is transmitted by human contact or aerosol contact. One of the great advantages of NHS Test and Trace—which, alas, we did not have working earlier in the pandemic because we simply did not have it in the spring—is that we now have the ability to see in granular detail where the epidemic is breaking out and exactly which groups are being infected. That is why we have been able to deliver the local lockdowns and it is why we are able to tell now, at this stage, that it is necessary to take the decisive action that we are taking and which I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports—he did yesterday, anyway—to drive the virus down, keep kids in school and keep our economy moving. That is the point.

So why, yesterday, did the Prime Minister say:

“Testing and tracing has very little or nothing to do with the spread or the transmission of the disease.”?—[Official Report, 22 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 822.]

I hesitate to reprove the right hon. and learned Gentleman for a flaw that he sometimes seems to fall into, which is not listening to my previous answer. I gave a very clear answer. The answer, simply and sadly, is that it is an epidemiological fact that transmission of the virus takes place via human contact from person to person. Test and trace enables us to isolate the cases of the virus in ever greater detail, which we were not able to do before. Thanks to the efforts of NHS Test and Trace, through many thousands of people—trainee nurses, doctors, young people and members of the armed services—not only are we testing more than any other country in Europe, but capacity today is at a record high. He should pay tribute to that work.

I listened to the answer that the Prime Minister gave to the questions; that is why I asked him the question, because yesterday he said the complete opposite of what he said today. Everybody who was in the Chamber, and everybody who reads Hansard, will see it. He talks about testing. May I remind the Prime Minister that last week, before the Liaison Committee, he admitted that testing currently “has huge problems”? Dido Harding said,

“plainly we don’t have enough testing capacity”.

The Health Secretary said that fixing testing would take weeks. Pretending that there isn’t a problem is part of the problem, Prime Minister.

Let us test what the Prime Minister’s explanation is—it is unclear. Is the explanation for the problem that we do not have enough capacity? [Interruption.] He says, “Which problem?” The problem that he acknowledged one week ago before the Liaison Committee. Is the explanation from the Prime Minister that we do not have enough capacity because nobody could have expected the rise in demand? That is the Dido Harding defence. Or is it that we have all the capacity we need; it is just that people are being unreasonable in asking for tests? That is the Hancock defence. Which is it?

The continual attacks by the Opposition on Dido Harding in particular are unseemly and unjustified. Her teams have done an outstanding job in recruiting people from a standing start, but this is not for a moment to deny the anxiety of those who want a test, which I readily accept. Of course we would love to have much more testing instantly. It is thanks to the efforts of NHS Test and Trace that not only are we at a record high today, testing more people than any other European country, but, to get to the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises, we are going to go up to 500,000 tests by the end of October. That is the work of Dido Harding and her team.

What we want to hear—what I, frankly, want to hear—is more of the spirit of togetherness that we had yesterday. This is an opportunity to support NHS Test and Trace. This is an opportunity to get behind that scheme—to encourage people to believe in it and its efficacy. Instead, the right hon. and learned Gentleman constantly knocks it from the sidelines. [Interruption.]

Sorry. I will just say to the Whip, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), that there is a little bit of rowdiness coming from the Opposition, but also from your good self—I would normally never have that from you. I want to be able to hear the Prime Minister. When I cannot hear him, I worry about the people who watch our proceedings. If you have any further comment to make, please speak to me afterwards.

The Prime Minister knows that my complaint is not with the NHS; it is with the Government. My wife works for the NHS. My mother worked for the NHS. My sister works for the NHS. So I will not take lectures from the Prime Minister on supporting the NHS.

The Prime Minister says we have capacity—he goes on and on about capacity. Let us test that. Three weeks ago, millions of children went back to school—that is a good thing. Then the inevitable happened. Kids get coughs, bugs, flu. That is what happens; it is in the job description. But there is no effective system in place to deal with it. Many cannot get tests quickly. Schools are allocated only 10 tests, and many wait days for results. The outcome is obvious: child and siblings off school; mum, dad or carer off work; and in some cases, all-year groups off school. How on earth did we get into this mess?

Come on: the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well—or he will have read the advice from the four chief medical officers—that there is an exceptionally small risk to children of primary and secondary school age from this disease. He knows that children have a significantly lower rate of infection. That is all in the letter that the chief medical officers published today. But he also knows that we are doing our level best to get every child who has symptoms a test, and further that, thanks to the efforts of teachers in this country and of parents and pupils, 99.9% of our schools are now back, in spite of all his attempts throughout the summer to sow doubt on the idea that schools were safe. The people of this country had more common sense.

That is such a poor defence. The point is not whether the children have got covid, but that they have got covid symptoms and then they are off school. The Government’s own Department has shown that one in eight children are off school this week. That disrupts their education. Whether it is covid symptoms or other symptoms is not the point. If the Prime Minister does not see that, he is really out of touch with families and what they have been going through in schooling, day in, day out, in the last few weeks. The reality is that losing control of testing is a major reason why the Prime Minister is losing control of the virus. As a result, he is phasing in health measures—restrictions that we support—but at the same time, he is phasing out economic support. Health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync. Let me quote the director-general of the CBI:

“there can be no avoiding the crushing blow new measures bring for thousands of firms…It is vital that all announcements of restrictions go hand in hand with clarity on the business support that protects jobs.”

Why was that not announced yesterday?

Let us be in absolutely no doubt that the work that this Government have done to protect this country’s economy and support the jobs of 12 million people through the furlough scheme and overall expenditure of about £160 billion is unexampled anywhere else in the world. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should pay tribute to the Chancellor and his work. We will go forward with further creative and imaginative schemes to keep our economy moving. That is the essence of our plan and proposals. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about our plans; he supported them yesterday. I hope he continues to support them. The essence of what we are saying is that we want to depress the virus but keep pupils in school and keep our economy moving. That is the single best thing we can do to support firms across the country.

I am not asking about the support that was put in place in the past. We support that. I am asking about the support that is needed now, particularly in the light of the restrictions that were announced yesterday. This is not theoretical. Yesterday, 6,000 jobs were lost at Whitbread, one of the major employers in the hospitality sector. The CBI, the TUC and trade unions, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Governor of the Bank of England are all calling on the Prime Minister to stop and rethink, to support the businesses affected, not to withdraw furlough. We have been saying it for months. When is the Prime Minister finally going to act?

These are indeed tough times, and I have no doubt that many businesses and many employees are feeling a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, and we will do our level best to protect them throughout this period. But we will get through this by precisely the methods that we have outlined and that were agreed upon in the House yesterday. The reality of the Opposition position has been exposed—the cat is out of the bag—because the shadow Education Secretary said of the current crisis,

“don’t let a good crisis go to waste.”

That is the real approach of the Labour party—seeking to create political opportunity out of a crisis, out of the difficulties and dangers this country is going through, while we are taking the tough decisions to get the virus down, to keep our education system going and to keep our economy moving. The right hon. and learned Gentleman supported that yesterday. I hope that, in a spirit of togetherness and unity, he will continue to give it his support.

Our local football clubs are hugely important to our communities and Mansfield Town is a fine example of a club that both works with and invests in our town. Many sports clubs around the country have found that their hopes of welcoming fans back to stadiums next month have been dashed. Given that many Football League clubs are so reliant on gate receipts to be viable, will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do everything possible to support those clubs, both as businesses and for the communities that rely on them? (906432)

I know what a passionate supporter of Mansfield Town my hon. Friend is, and I want to thank John and Carolyn Radford for all they have done for the club. The Secretary for State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is in active consultations with clubs across the country to see what we can do to help.

Last night, the Prime Minister and leaders of the devolved Governments announced restrictions aimed at stopping the number of covid cases reaching a predicted 50,000 a day by mid-October, but there are other major threats that we face this October. There is another set of numbers—all this is of the Tory Government’s own making—with 1 million jobs at risk if furlough ends early, a £30 billion-a-year bill for the taxpayer from a no-deal Brexit, and today we learn of 7,000 trucks queuing for days at Dover. If those numbers become a reality, the Prime Minister is leading us into another winter of discontent.

Our First Minister has shown leadership on all fronts during this pandemic. However, the responsibility and powers for extending the furlough scheme lie with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. The Prime Minister must announce an immediate extension—no half measures, no half-baked projects—of this vital and life-saving scheme. Will the Prime Minister show the leadership required and save the jobs?

I notice that both the leader of the Scottish nationalist party and the Leader of the Opposition now support an indefinite extension of the furlough scheme. [Interruption.] That is what he said. What we will do, as I have said throughout, is continue to put our arms around the people of this country going through a very tough time and come up with the appropriate creative and imaginative schemes to keep them in work and keep the economy moving. That is the essence of our approach.

That is so poor. What we are talking about is protecting the jobs of people today. It is not indefinite, and nobody—nobody, Prime Minister—has asked for that. The first step to any recovery is admitting that there is a problem. Even the Governor of the Bank of England is telling the Prime Minister to stop and rethink. The solution for millions of people right now is an extension of the furlough scheme beyond October. The alternative is putting 61,000 jobs in Scotland at risk. Yesterday, the only reassurance the Prime Minister gave those Scottish workers was saying that he would throw his arms around them. I can tell the Prime Minister that the last thing those 61,000 Scots are looking for is a hug from him. They need the security of knowing that they can hold on to their jobs and incomes for themselves and their families. Time is running out. Workers are facing the dole today. Will the Government instruct the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme and stop 1 million workers being sold on to the scrapheap by this Government?

What I can certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman is that the furlough scheme has already been extended until the end of October, and people should be in no doubt about that. As I have said before, we will continue to provide the best support we can possibly give to keep people in jobs and to get people into work—new jobs are being created—while suppressing the virus. I can imagine that he does not want a hug from me, but that was a metaphor. It is physically incarnated by the £12.7 billion of Barnett consequentials that we are seeing come from the UK Exchequer to support people across the whole of our country.

I couldn’t possibly, Mr Speaker—not in present company. It is interesting that the leader of the Scottish National party went for jobs, given that on this side of the House, we voted this week and last to protect 500,000 jobs by enshrining Scotland’s most important market—our internal UK market—in statute. Why does my right hon. Friend think the SNP did not support that Bill? (906433)

I have absolutely no idea. It is totally baffling, because it is a Bill that underpins a massive transfer of powers back to Scotland from Brussels. About 70 powers and prerogatives go back to Scotland, which SNP Members would throw away again, as they would throw away again the entire beautiful, glistening haul of Scotland’s spectacular marine wealth by handing Scotland’s fisheries straight back to Brussels. That is what they want to do.

Last week, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds report noted that the UK had seen a lost decade for nature, with the Government failing to reach 17 out of the 20 targets they had signed up to. There is a major United Nations biodiversity summit next week. It is a vital moment to put this right and to show some real leadership. The EU’s biodiversity summit aims to protect a minimum of 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, so will the Prime Minister commit now at least to match that goal of 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 and deliver the funding via the forthcoming spending review?

The hon. Lady simply cannot be unaware that the campaign to get the world’s leaders to sign up to a leaders’ declaration on biodiversity has been led over the past few weeks by this Government. [Interruption.] She knows that, Mr Speaker. It is this Government who devised the charter. It is this Government who are leading the world in protecting biodiversity across the planet, and we will put in the funding. We pioneered the 30% idea, and we will certainly put in all the funding required.

There is growing concern in my constituency, and across the country, about the rising number of illegal crossings across the channel. To stop those dangerous journeys, save lives and protect our borders, the UK must deter people from making those crossings. The law in this area is complex. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents and the country that, at the very latest, a comprehensive Bill to deal with this problem will be put before the House following the next Queen’s Speech? (906434)

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is completely right that the legal position is currently very difficult because of the inflexible and rigid Dublin regulation on returns. What is happening now is that people think there is a way in that is legally very difficult to resist, and it is tragic for those who are coming across in rubber dinghies or children’s paddling pools and who are being cheated by gangs, as they are. We must find a better way of doing this. Once we are out of the EU and able to make our own return arrangements and settle our own laws on this matter, I have no doubt that we will find a way forward.

I hope, respectfully, that the Prime Minister is not having problems with his memory. Just yesterday—we have had a recent exchange—metaphorically, he promised to put his arms around the British people and support jobs and the economy. The CBI and the TUC, businesses and unions, employers and workers, and now even the Bank of England, are united in a call for a targeted expansion of the covid job retention scheme. Make no mistake: a tsunami of job losses is in the pipeline within 38 days. Will the Prime Minister please listen to that advice and take urgent action? I would like a yes or no answer. (906431)

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right about the gravity of the situation, and although it is true that some firms are powering through this, many face very difficult circumstances. That is why we have put in the support that we have, and do not forget the job retention bonus at the end of the year that will help firms to keep people in employment. That is also why we are looking at a massive package of investment in jobs and growth in the short, medium and long term. We have already put in place the £2 billion kickstart fund and about £640 billion of investment overall in infrastructure. In addition to the package that I set out yesterday, as I said earlier, there will be creative and imaginative measures from the Chancellor to help people through this crisis.

Like the Prime Minister, I can say that one of my top priorities is improving education and spreading opportunity, across Devon and the west country. I welcome the new £1 billion school rebuilding programme, which will help to refurbish 50 schools from next year. Tiverton High School in my constituency is currently in a flood zone, but we have permission to build a new school and move out of that flood zone. Sammy Crook, the headteacher, as well as the governors and Devon County Council, are all backing that scheme. May I make an early bid for Tiverton High School? Will the Prime Minister back us to have a new school in the rebuilding programme, and to raise aspiration and opportunity for the great young people of Tiverton? (906435)

The cause of education in Tiverton can have no more fervent and effective advocate than my hon. Friend, and although the first 50 schools have not yet been announced, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will have heard that powerful cry, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be answered.

Does the Prime Minister understand that as long as these powers are reserved, the Government have to meet the costs that come with the pandemic? He can do that either by extending the job retention schemes, especially for those who are excluded or through sector-specific support, or he can pay the long-term price of long-term unemployment, increased social security and all the damage to the economy and society that comes with that. Which of those is it going to be? What is the Prime Minister’s vision for “building back better”? (906436)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Very simply, it is to keep doing what we have been doing, but to intensify our support for every part of the Union and—from spaceports to backing our armed services throughout the whole UK and investing in our healthcare—that is what we will do. The overall Barnett consequentials, as I have said, so far are £12.7 billion, and we will continue to provide that support.

On Saturday, I was at Norwich City’s match as part of the pilot to let fans back into football, and it is disappointing that the reopening has now been postponed. With King’s Lynn Town, Mansfield and many other clubs and sports facing a real threat to their viability, with no fans coming into the grounds, will my right hon. Friend urgently look at a sports recovery fund to ensure their viability and their place at the heart of our local communities? (906440)

It grieves me to see football clubs—Mansfield, Norwich City and others—not able to go back in the way that they want to right now. I totally sympathise with my hon. Friend and with the fans, and I really wish we did not have to do this now. The best way obviously to get through it, as I say, is to follow the advice and suppress the virus; but in the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is looking actively at solutions to help Norwich City and other clubs.

Sometimes doing the right thing is not easy, but in this case, it is essential. It is clear that doing the right thing to stop the spread of covid-19 is going to have a social, business and economic impact, but as yet the UK Government have not moved to ensure in this new phase that there is full security for those doing the right thing. So will the Prime Minister do the right thing and look now, as a minimum, at the support available to businesses—in particular, the self-employed, who may need to self-isolate repeatedly or be back in the realm of zero income—extend the furlough scheme, and ensure that the limited universal credit uplift is expanded to legacy benefits and made permanent? (906437)

The hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that of course the Government are going to come forward with further measures. I do not think that it would be sensible simply to extend the current existing furlough scheme in its present form beyond the end of October, but we will do everything we can to support businesses and to support those in jobs and, indeed, the self-employed, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says.

My constituents in Meriden understand the need for more housing, but the majority of Meriden is green-belt land. Across Meriden—in places such as Balsall Common, Dorridge, Knowle, Dickens Heath, Hockley Heath, Catherine-de-Barnes and Hampton-in-Arden—residents are quite rightly concerned about the pressures on the green belt. Can the Prime Minister confirm that his Government are a “brownfield first” Government, and can he also confirm that he will do everything he can to protect our precious green belt? (906443)

I certainly can. It was a former Labour Planning Minister who said, “The green belt is a Labour achievement, and we intend to build on it.” That is what he said. The Government’s approach is entirely different. Our planning reform will not change. That is what the Opposition want to do. We will not change existing policy to protect the green belt, and our housing targets, which are very ambitious, will focus, as my hon. Friend rightly says, on brownfield.

Unsafe cladding is leaving hundreds of leaseholders across Vauxhall unable to sell or remortgage their properties. The EWS1 forms are not being used as intended, leaving my constituents trapped between risk-averse lenders and irresponsible building owners. They have been waiting three years already, so can the Prime Minister tell me what steps he is taking now to resolve this really dangerous situation?

I thank the hon. Lady, because I am aware of this problem of people facing real disadvantage—leaseholders and others—because of unsafe cladding still on their buildings. I think it is disgraceful, and both ACM and HPL cladding, in my view, should come off as fast as possible. We are investing massively to achieve that as fast as we can, but I sincerely appreciate the problem that she raises.

In 2006, Menheniot parish council was told of improvement plans for the dangerous junction on the A38—something I have long campaigned for. However, two months ago, the regional director of the south-west part of Highways England told me that this was not going to happen, blaming the change from the old Highways Agency. Can my right hon. Friend tell me when, if ever, the people of Menheniot will finally see shovels in the ground?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she gave me advance notice of this question. This is really a case for a project speed, and I hope that Highways England, which is currently undertaking a safety study of the A38 between Bodmin and Saltash, will be able to accelerate its work and get on with the Menheniot junction as fast as possible.

Before lockdown, children on free school meals finished education on average 18 months behind their classmates and the gap was getting worse. Schools closed and a quarter of these children did less than one hour’s schoolwork a day. Lockdown was temporary, but the impact could be lifelong. To help these children to catch up, and in the spirit of togetherness invoked by the Prime Minister earlier, will his Government give time for my Bill to close the digital divide and give children on free school meals access to the internet in their homes? (906439)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because she is raising a very important point. Getting kids back into school has been the most important objective that we have had over the last few months, and I am glad that it has got under way, but she is right in what she says about the digital divide. That is why we are investing massively in online education, giving 2,200,000 laptops and tablets, and putting routers in schools across the country. That is what we are going to do, and I want to see a world in which every school in our country has full gigabit broadband, with the equipment that will give pupils the access to the internet that they need.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the UK’s performing arts are a global gold standard that are not only the envy of the world but a vital showcase for UK plc across the world, we should treasure them and look after that industry? We have had the furlough and other job retention schemes, but those who have fallen through the cracks are the freelancers. We must do something to protect the freelancers—the actors, the costumiers, the prop makers and many others. Can we do something to look after those people?

That is a very important point. Obviously the job retention scheme has been very effective in keeping people in work, but there are of course people who do not have employment of that kind. That is why we have given £1.57 billion to support the creative, culture and media sectors, including the theatres. We will do whatever we can to support the freelancers whom my hon. Friend describes, because they are the backbone of our theatrical world, which, as he knows, is the jewel in the crown of the London cultural economy.

The word is that Downing Street is taking control of the upcoming review of gambling legislation. Is this true, and if so, will No. 10 consider all the recommendations made by the all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm in our report published in June? (906441)

What I can certainly tell the hon. Gentleman is that I am not an enthusiast for encouraging the spread of gambling in this country.

Like the vast majority of the British public, I support the new restrictions. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said we will get through this, but in the long term, there are only three routes out of this pandemic: one, eradicate the virus; two, gain herd immunity; or three, suppress the virus and reduce deaths until a vaccine or highly effective treatment arrives, such as the ones that the brilliant researchers of South Cambridgeshire are working on. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tell me which of these three routes the Government are taking?

Only time will tell whether the predictions made this week by the medical advisers about coronavirus deaths and infections have any credibility, or whether they are as exaggerated as the claims made at the beginning of the year that there would be half a million deaths within weeks. What is not in dispute, however, is that the scare tactics being used, and the regulatory actions taken, will have an immediate impact on high streets and the hospitality industry, and will cause further devastation for the aviation industry. Since the economic consequences are borne by people, businesses and local economies, will the Government make a commitment to retaining continued support for employment, giving resources to devolved authorities to help local economies, and suspending air passenger duty to stave off bankruptcies and save jobs? (906442)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point of scepticism about the medical forecasts. All I can say is that everybody should look at what has already happened in the first phases of this pandemic and be in no doubt that it is possible that such a thing could happen again. It is precisely to avoid that that we are taking the steps that we are now, because a stitch in time saves nine. There would be far more damage to the economy throughout our country if we failed to control the virus now and we were obliged to put in seriously damaging lockdown measures that really affected every business in the country. That is why we are taking the approach that we are now, and that is why I hope it has his support and the support of his party. I can certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman that the advantage of this approach is that it will allow us not just to keep the virus down—if we all follow the guidance; if we all do follow the package that we have set out—but to enable education to continue and our economy to go forward. Of course we will continue to support businesses in Northern Ireland and across the country throughout the period.

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.