With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the work to tackle coronavirus.
The virus continues to spread. Yesterday, there were 7,108 new cases. However, there are also early signs that the actions that we have collectively taken over the past month are starting to have a positive impact. Today’s Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission study from Imperial College suggests that although the R number remains above 1, there are early signs that it may be falling. We must not let up, but people everywhere can take some small hope that our efforts together may be beginning to work; I put it no stronger than that. Cases are still rising. However, as the chief medical officer set out yesterday, the second peak is highly localised, and in some parts of the country the virus is spreading fast. Our strategy is to suppress the virus, protecting the economy, education and the NHS, until a vaccine can make us safe.
Earlier this week, we brought in further measures in the north-east. However, cases continue to rise fast in parts of Teesside and the north-west of England. In Liverpool, the number of cases are 268 per 100,000 population, so together we need to act. Working with council leaders and mayors, I am today extending the measures that have been in place in the north-east since the start of this week to the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough. We will provide £7 million of funding to local authorities in these areas to support them with their vital work.
The rules across the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough will be as follows. We recommend against all social mixing between people in different households. We will bring in regulations, as we have in the north-east, to prevent in law social mixing between people in different households in all settings except outdoor public spaces such as parks and outdoor hospitality. We also recommend that people should not attend professional or amateur sporting events as spectators in the areas that are affected. We recommend that people visit care homes only in exceptional circumstances, and there will be guidance against all but essential travel. Essential travel of course includes going to work or school. I understand how much of an imposition this is, and I want rules like these to stay in place for as short a time as possible. I am sure we all do. The study published today shows us hope that together we can crack this, and the more people follow the rules and reduce their social contact, the quicker we can get Liverpool and the north-east back on their feet.
We are aligning the measures in Bolton with the rest of Greater Manchester, and I would like to pay tribute to David Greenhalgh, the leader of Bolton council, for his constructive support, and to the Bolton MPs for all they have done in support of Bolton. There are no changes to measures in West Yorkshire, West Midlands, Leicester, Lancashire or the rest of Greater Manchester. It is critical that the whole country acts together now to control the spread of this virus, so please, for your loved ones, for your community and for your country, follow the rules and do your bit to keep this virus under control.
By its nature, this virus spreads through social contact, so it has had a terrible impact on the hospitality sector, which in good times exists to encourage the very social contact that we all enjoy. We have had to take difficult but necessary decisions to suppress the virus. The only alternative to suppressing the virus is to let it rip, and I will not do that. I know that many of the individual rules are challenging, but they are necessary and there are those early signs that they are working. In the measures we have introduced, including the 10 pm restriction, we are seeking to strike a balance, allowing people to continue to socialise safely where that is possible while reducing the social contact that the virus thrives on. Elsewhere in the world, they have introduced an evening restriction and then seen their case numbers fall. We know that later at night, people are less likely to follow social distancing.
Of course we keep all our measures under review, and we will closely monitor the impact of this policy, as with all the others, while continuing our unprecedented support for hospitality businesses by cutting VAT, supporting the pay of staff, offering rates relief for businesses and giving billions of pounds of tax deferrals and loans. Our hospitality industry provides so much colour and life in this country, and we will do whatever we can to support it while acting fast to keep the virus under control. I know that these measures are hard, and that they are yet another sacrifice after a year of so many sacrifices already, but there are some signs that what we are doing together to respond to these awful circumstances is starting to work, so do not let up. Let’s all of us keep doing our bit, and one day over this virus we will prevail.
I thank the Secretary State for giving me advance sight of his statement. The Imperial study today is indeed encouraging, but, as the chief medical officer said yesterday, we have a long winter ahead. We know that sustained contact, especially in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces, is a driver of infection, and pubs and bars are an obvious risk. I heard what he said about the 10 pm rule, but my concerns relate to everybody leaving the pub at the same time. What action will he take so that we do not see a repeat this weekend of people piling out into city centres, packing out public transport and sometimes piling into supermarkets to buy more drink?
We completely understand the need for local restrictions, including in Merseyside, as the Secretary of State has just announced. It was probably too late for colleagues from Merseyside to get on the call list this morning, but they would be keen to press him further on the financial support for Merseyside. The region is hugely reliant on hospitality and leisure, and we know that these restrictions exact a heavy social and economic toll. Areas need financial support, otherwise existing inequalities, which themselves have a health impact and allow the virus to thrive, will be exacerbated.
People need clarity as well. Areas such as Leicester, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Bradford have had restrictions imposed on them for months now. Millions of people in local lockdown areas across the north and midlands just need some reassurance that an end is in sight. Many want to know when they will be able to visit their loved ones and whether they will be able to visit their families over the coming school half-term, for example. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether he has now ruled out the so-called circuit break taking place across the October half-term, as was mooted in the newspapers last week?
Some of the heaviest increases in infection appear to be taking place in areas where restrictions are in place, so why are the interventions not working? Why are the moles not getting whacked? Yesterday, the Prime Minister suggested that the success of Luton in leaving restrictions was because of people pulling together. I have no doubt that people are pulling together across Bolton, Bury, Rossendale, and so on, but what additional help will they receive to drive the virus down?
I believe that Ministers lost precious ground in fighting the virus by not having an effective test, trace and isolate regime in place by the end of the summer. Testing and tracing is key to controlling the virus. Increasing evidence now shows the importance of backward contact tracing in controlling outbreaks. Is backward contact tracing routinely happening in areas of restriction, and will the Secretary of State publish data on backward contacts reached? We also support the Health Committee’s calls today for routine testing of all NHS staff. Will he finally set a date for introducing it?
Problems remain with testing generally. I have just heard of a case in the Rhondda where people have booked appointments and turned up at a testing centre, but Serco has pulled the testing centre out and is saying that it needs the Secretary of State to intervene in that area if it is to be reopened. Will he do that?
On 8 September, the Secretary of State told the Health Committee that the problems with testing would be resolved “in the coming weeks.” That was more than three weeks ago, yet it still takes 30 to 31 hours to turn around in-person tests, 75 hours for home test kits, and 88 hours—more than three and a half days—for test results in the satellite test centres, which are predominantly used by care homes, so he has not resolved the problems. When will he?
Today we have learned that Deloitte, which is contracted by the Government to help to run test and trace, is now trying to sell contact tracing services to local councils. The Government’s own contractor, one of the very firms responsible for the failing system in the first place, now sees a business opportunity in selling information and services to local authorities. Authorities should be getting that anyway, and this is in the middle of the biggest public health crisis for 100 years. Is this not an utter scandal? How can it be allowed? Does it not once again show that directors of public health should be in charge of contact tracing?
Finally, this week GPs warned of significant problems with flu vaccine supplies. Boots and LloydsPharmacy have stopped offering flu jab appointments due to issues with supplies. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we have enough flu vaccines available for all who will need one this winter?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the measures that we have had to take and for the £7 million of extra financial support for the councils affected—not just Merseyside, and Halton and Warrington, but Hartlepool and Middlesbrough—which is on the same basis as the support for the seven north-east councils announced at the end of last week.
It is true that some parts of the country have come through a local lockdown. In fact, we have lifted many of the measures that were in place in Leicester, for instance. We were not able to lift all the measures, and the case rate there then went back up again, although it has now appeared to have stabilised. Luton is another example where there was a significant local outbreak that was brought under control.
The hon. Gentleman asked about increased testing. Increased testing is, of course, going into Merseyside, and we can do that because we have record capacity, which has increased yet again this week. He also asked about backward contact tracing; absolutely we have backward contact tracing in these areas. And that is one of the reasons we know that, sadly, the highest likelihood of picking up coronavirus outside our own households comes from social settings. Public Health England will be publishing further information today on backward contact tracing to understand how this virus spreads.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the speed of test results. I am glad to say that the turnaround time for test results in care homes is speeding up. He asked about Deloitte and its contact tracing capabilities. Deloitte has done an incredible job in helping us put together the contact tracing and backward contact tracing that we have, and of course it should offer its services to local councils too. He says that local councils should have more impetus and more involvement in contact tracing, but when a company with great experience in contact tracing comes forward to offer its services, he criticises it. He cannot have it both ways. Of course, these services cost money and they have to be delivered, and I pay tribute to Deloitte, which is doing a brilliant job.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about flu jabs. It is absolutely true, as he says, that there is a record roll-out of flu jabs. There are enough for everybody in a priority group who needs them. I stress that this is a roll-out: nobody needs to have a flu jab before the start of December, but people can have it in September or October and it will then cover them for the winter, so we are rolling this out and more appointments will become available in good time. We have 30 million jabs in total, more than we have ever had before and almost double what we typically have had in the past, and those are available. I am really glad to say that record numbers of people are coming forward to get flu jabs, and I welcome that, but, as the Royal College of General Practitioners has said, people will need to have patience. For those in the target group—the over-65s and those with clinical conditions—flu jabs are available, and it will take us the coming weeks in order to ensure that people who need those flu jabs can get them.
Bradford has been in a local lockdown for weeks and weeks, and the number of cases is going up, not down. Is the Secretary of State aware of the damage the arbitrary 10 pm curfew is doing to pubs, restaurants, bowling alleys and casinos? Is he aware of the jobs that are being lost, all just to see people congregating on the streets instead and shop staff getting more abuse? When will the Secretary of State start acting like a Conservative with a belief in individual responsibility and abandon this arbitrary nanny-state socialist approach, which is serving no purpose at all, apart from to further collapse the economy and erode our freedoms?
I am going to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and for the following reason. There are some people who rail against some of the measures that we have to put in place, and of course I understand the impact they have, but there are reasons for each one of them—and collectively they are vital for the strategy that we are pursuing of suppressing the virus and protecting the economy, education and the NHS until a vaccine arrives. My hon. Friend does not agree with that strategy, and that is a perfectly honourable position; it is just something I profoundly disagree with him on. Indeed, last night he was one of the handful of colleagues who voted against the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is perfectly reasonable to make the argument that we should just let the virus rip; I just think that the hundreds of thousands of deaths that would follow is not a price that anyone should pay.
I believe in individual responsibility and the promotion of freedom, subject to not harming others. One of the pernicious things about this virus is that people can harm others, sometimes inadvertently, by giving them a disease that leads to their death, because this virus passes from one to another asymptomatically. So while I understand the impact of these things, especially coming from a small business background—I get it—unfortunately we do have to take action to suppress the virus, because the alternative of letting it rip is not a policy that I would ever want to pursue.
It is vital that we find a balance between taking action to suppress the virus and protecting people’s jobs and their livelihoods. How confident is the Secretary of State that the existing rules for pubs and restaurants on hygiene, face coverings, table service, maximum numbers in groups and the distances between them are being complied with? What happens next if they are not? Does he agree that avoiding mixed messaging is particularly important, and if so, what message does it send that Parliament’s bars are exempt from the curfew? Will he commit to continued co-operation with the devolved Governments under the four-nation plan?
I have not been to the bar recently, but I do not think that Parliament’s bars are exempt from these measures. I think it is wrong to say so, and I would be grateful if you could confirm that, Mr Speaker, because it is a matter for the House, not the Government.
Other than that, the hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid point. Of course we keep these measures under review. We want to have the least damaging economic impact, consistent with keeping the virus under control and suppressing it. That is the same strategy of all four Governments—the three devolved Governments and the UK Government. We keep these things under review, but we think that they are necessary to keep people safe.
I will confirm the situation. If the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) had been in the House or spoken to his colleagues, he would have realised that the decision was taken last week. Unfortunately, the newspapers were mischief-making. Those bars were not open after 10 o’clock. Let us get that clear, and I think we ought not to believe sometimes what newspapers say.
The Government have already made more than £190 billion of support available to protect lives and livelihoods. Last week I spoke to Tom and Lindsey, the landlords of the Clumber Inn in Ordsall, to discuss the impact that these lockdown measures are having on the hospitality industry, which I know my right hon. Friend understands. Can he confirm that Ministers will continue to work closely with the sector, to look at what further support can be provided?
Absolutely. I think, if I have spotted it correctly, that my hon. Friend is wearing the parliamentary beer association tie, so he obviously knows that of which he speaks. He is right, and he makes a very important and serious point. Of course we will keep working with the hospitality industry and do everything we can to support it through these times. It is so difficult, but because of the way that the virus spreads, these measures are necessary. We have not gone for a full-blown lockdown as we did in March because we know far more about the virus owing to the test and trace system, the massive amount of testing we are doing and the contact tracing. That means we can be more targeted, and my heart goes out to everybody in the hospitality industry, who are doing so much.
I call Daisy Cooper, who has two minutes because her urgent question was converted into a statement.
The original urgent question was about the 10 pm pubs curfew, and after this statement it is clear that the Government are simply not listening. They seem to be covering their eyes and ears and singing “La, la, la, la.” The Secretary of State says that this is under review, but the evidence is clear: the 10 pm pubs curfew has been a hammer blow to hospitality, and turfing crowds of people out of covid-secure venues on to the streets is putting lives and livelihoods at risk.
Since reopening in July, businesses on every single one of our high streets have put blood, sweat and tears into making their venues covid-secure, but they are trading at a reduced capacity. Since the pubs curfew was introduced, some of them have seen a further 50% reduction. The Prime Minister announced the blanket 10 pm closing time last Tuesday. Within hours, the industry warned that it would lead to chaos on the streets, and it did. The shocking truth is that this Government have, by their own admission, made no assessment of the cost of this measure to the industry, and SAGE has confirmed that it was never even consulted on whether a 10 pm curfew would be effective. Now, experts are telling us that it is making the risk of covid transmission worse.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance reports are clear: outbreaks of the virus in hospitality venues are responsible for less than 3% of all cases, and they have not contributed to any of the increase, yet the Government are making thousands upon thousands of hospitality jobs unviable, undermining public health and killing our high streets. The Government like to talk about balance and the tough choices that they have to make between public health and the economy, but the shocking truth is that the pubs curfew is bad for both, and the longer the Government defend it, the more damage it will do.
People are scared. Care homes are becoming prison-like, students are being locked up and businesses are saying that without a further package of support they will be closed by Christmas. I asked for some evidence behind this measure; the Secretary of State has provided none. That is why the curfew must be scrapped today.
I just want to correct the hon. Lady on the point that she made about outbreaks. The updated statistics will be published today by Public Health England. The measures that have led us to understanding that the virus spreads most outside of households, when other households meet together, including in hospitality venues, comes from the very backward contact tracing that the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) asked about. The outbreaks data is about where there is an outbreak with significant numbers within one institution—for instance, within a care home or a school, and that is then raised as an issue with Public Health England—not where individuals go. I am afraid the hon. Lady is using a different set of statistics, which do not make the case that she puts forward. We all understand the concern about the impact of this virus on so many parts of our economy. Our task is to try to limit the impact on lives as well as on livelihoods, and that is at the root of our strategy.
My city has been following the rules. Thanks to the people of Peterborough and excellent council leadership, we came off the watchlist last week. I know that the data can change, and I also know that my right hon. Friend appreciates the issues around the 10 pm curfew, but will he keep the policy under review so that those who are doing the right thing, like the people of Peterborough, can get back to something like normality?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend is an incredible voice for Peterborough. We discussed the local lockdown having its effect in Leicester, and the Prime Minister mentioned Luton yesterday; the work of the people of Peterborough is another example that we could cite—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) shouts from a sedentary position, “What about Bradford?” The truth is that we took Shipley out of the measures because the numbers came right down, but unfortunately they then rose again, so in a way he makes my point for me.
The Secretary of State knows that I can get passionate and even angry with some of my questions to him, but not today. He will know that as a West Yorkshire MP I will support anything—any measure—that stops this virus spreading at this perilous time when tens of thousands of students are moving around our county and our country. I will support any measure that is effective. The old social scientist in me suggests that the Secretary of State was right when he said that all these measures should be closely monitored. There is no doubt that experts, whether it is Professor John Edmunds or others, worry that the 10 o’clock curfew has quite serious unintended consequences. Will the Secretary of State give me his word that he will keep it under review, because there seem to be some problems with it?
It is constantly under review. We have shown that we are willing to change the measures to follow what works. This is an unprecedented crisis. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the measures across West Yorkshire. It has been a pleasure to work with him and to hear his voice in this Chamber on what is needed. My message to his constituents in Huddersfield and those across West Yorkshire is that these measures are necessary—we would not have them in place unless they were—and the more that people can abide by them, the quicker we will be able to lift them. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on supporting people in Huddersfield and those throughout the country to keep this situation under control.
I recognise, of course, the value of simplicity on issues such as the curfew for the hospitality industry, but will my right hon. Friend accept that we should allow economic activity where it does not cut across public health objectives? Will he therefore apply an imaginative approach to doing that—for example, looking at how we might be able to allow hotel guests to stay in hotel bars where they are resident in the hotel later than 10 o’clock, recognising that some hotels depend substantially on that income?
I am always happy to look at, as my right hon. and learned Friend calls them, imaginative ideas like that. He will know that there is a tension between the clarity of the rules and bringing additional nuances into the rules. He will have seen how, as a society, we have struggled with that balance all the way through this, because we are in novel circumstances. I am happy to talk to him about his proposal.
The imposition of a 10 pm curfew on the hospitality industry was entirely avoidable, but became an inevitability because of the Government’s shambolic handling of their privatised test and trace system. Last month, I highlighted to the Health Secretary that locals in Slough were being forced to drive hundreds of miles, including catching a ferry to the Isle of Wight, just to access a test, but he retorted:
“On the contrary, the fact is that we are working hard with the local authority in Slough”.—[Official Report, 17 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 520.]
Well, Mr Speaker, the council has informed me that it has not heard a dickie bird from either the Health Secretary or his team, so perhaps he can advise us this time when the test centre in Slough will go back to being a drive-through and walk-in test centre, so that locals can actually access a test when they desperately need one.
We have got this record testing capacity and I am incredibly grateful for all the people who work to deliver it. I will not have this divisive language; I just won’t have it.
Restricting hospitality hours and venue capacity, although not ideal, can present us with a good opportunity to explore and support our local businesses such as Griffiths Brothers, the excellent gin distillery in the village of Penn in my constituency, which operates a shop where people can sample its high-quality gin made from the best of the best, and in fact take it home to enjoy at leisure, without a curfew. What can the Government do to encourage people to visit these local distilleries and breweries, which are a vital part of the hospitality industry and many of which have had a lean time during the pandemic?
I will do everything I can, both policy-wise and personally, to support our great distilleries, including in my right hon. Friend’s part of the world. One of the wonderful things of the last few years has been the massive expansion in the number of local distilleries and breweries, and I am glad she supports her local gin distillery, no doubt both in her official capacity and perhaps with a tipple at home.
Through you, Mr Speaker, may I say to the Secretary of State that I voted against him last night not because I want the virus to rip through the country? Quite the reverse, I want him to get decisions right, and I do not think he is getting them right at present. The 10 o’clock curfew is bad for jobs and bad for the economy, and it is not controlling the spread of the virus. There is no scientific justification that he has been able to give for it. I believe he would make better and more correct decisions if he consulted Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, particularly on local lockdowns. Today, Merseyside is being locked down and the Merseyside MPs cannot talk about that. Will he agree, before taking further measures, to bring every new restriction back to this House?
Of course the restrictions will come back to this House in the normal way. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, yesterday we made the further commitment that, wherever possible, all nationally significant measures will be brought forward for a vote before being implemented. I was very pleased that, as a result of that, there was an overwhelming majority of support for renewal of the Coronavirus Act yesterday.
I support the 10 pm restriction as an alternative to hospitality businesses having to close entirely, but it may well hurt certain parts of the sector more than others—for example, wet-led pubs that do not serve food, such as the Wheatsheaf in Faringdon. Will the Secretary of State and his colleagues confirm that they will look closely at whether certain parts of the sector are being hit hard, to see whether they need more support?
Yes, of course we will, and I take my hon. Friend’s point about wet-led pubs. He is right that the 10 pm curfew is far better than the closure of hospitality—not that we want to do that, but we do need to take measures to suppress the virus. He is wise in his description of why we have had to take these decisions, because we cannot will the ends of suppressing the virus without also willing the means, and some of those means are difficult.
Over six months into the pandemic, people in my constituency still see no sign of the world-beating test and trace system that they were promised. Does the Secretary of State feel any personal responsibility for the utter chaos that is putting lives and livelihoods at risk in my constituency and across the country?
I feel personal responsibility for the record number of tests that are being done in this country. I feel personal responsibility for the fact that the vast majority of people in Hull and across the country can get a test within six miles of where they live, and the majority of them get the results the next day. I feel personal responsibility for the biggest contact tracing programme that this country has ever seen, with the support of the armed forces, the NHS, brilliant civil servants and the private sector working together. It is that sort of coming together that we need to get through this virus.
I thank the Secretary of State for another update on covid-19. I am wearing pink today, because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so will he take this opportunity to remind everybody how important it is to check for symptoms and to see their GP if they have any, and to tell the NHS how important it is that the screening programme gets back underway, because 1,000 women will die of this disease this month alone?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. People must continue to check, and if they think they are at risk of cancer or if they find a lump, they should please come forward, because the NHS is open—help us to help you. The more we can suppress coronavirus and keep it out of our hospitals, the easier it will be to treat more people for cancer and ensure that screening stays open. Efforts to stop the virus spreading directly save lives from cancer, and we need to get that message out as well.
A national curfew in the New Forest is rather unfair, given our very low infection rate. Restaurateurs and landlords have invested a great deal in covid-secure measures and reduced capacity, and the loss of the extra hour reduces throughput, particularly for those that want a second sitting for dinner to come through, because it makes it very uneconomic. Will the Secretary of State consider the possibility of devolving the power to impose curfew locally, even to particular establishments, which would provide landlords with a powerful incentive to ensure that their patrons behave sensibly and properly?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s constructive suggestion. As we constantly have these policies under review, it is that sort of working together that will help us to improve the response. Of course I understand the impact on the New Forest—some of the finest pubs in the country, outside of West Suffolk, are in the New Forest. We should keep this under review, because the whole point is to suppress the virus while having the minimum negative impact on the economy, and it is that second part that we are mostly discussing today.
Many of the hospitality businesses in my constituency have been deeply upset by the imposition of the 10 pm curfew. OverDraught, a bar in my constituency, told Levenshulme News that it feels that this is a kneejerk reaction by the Government to counteract their own poor handling of the virus and that they are punishing a sector that has reacted seriously, flexibly, and efficiently over the past six months. What does the Minister say to businesses such as OverDraught that feel let down by this Government’s decision making?
What I say is that we do what is necessary because it saves lives and we understand the impact that it has. The message that I would send to everybody in Bradford is that, the more that they follow the rules that are in place, the faster we will be able to get through this.
It does seem strange to think that concentrating trade in a smaller number of hours and making everyone leave a pub or restaurant at the same time, rather than spacing them out over the course of the evening, should suppress rather than spread the virus. Will the Secretary summarise the scientific advice that he has had on this point?
The scientific advice is that the people who are closer together are more likely to spread the virus and that, later at night, social distancing becomes harder. We have all seen the pictures of people leaving pubs at 10 o’clock, but otherwise they would be inside the establishments, and we all know that outside is safer, or they would be leaving later. Of course we keep this under review and of course we are constantly looking at how we can improve these policies, but I think that we have to look at both sides of the evidence to try to get this right.
People will only believe that the 10 pm curfew is the least bad option if they understand the basis on which the decision was taken. The figures for the number of infections linked to hospitality range from the 3% that Public Health England has put for outbreaks, up to nearly a quarter that the deputy chief medical officer has suggested. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the evidence as to how many transmissions are linked to pubs and hospitality based on test and trace data is available, so that people can reach their own conclusions?
Yes, and the updated evidence that we are publishing today shows that the just under a quarter figure is correct. It is the highest single identified area. The figures on outbreaks, which were also mentioned by the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), are measuring something completely different and are not a measure of how many cases are caught there. The 25% figure is, of course, for those who catch it outside the household. The single biggest place we can catch coronavirus is from somebody else inside your own household, but that is, in a sense, inevitable and very, very difficult to prevent.
The tighter restrictions here in the north-east are already having a severe impact on many businesses that have been left without appropriate financial support. Although it is imperative that we prevent the further spread of coronavirus, it is also important that we protect businesses, workers, livelihoods and jobs. The arbitrary 10 pm curfew has increased the financial pressure on many local hospitality businesses and appears to have had the effect of inadvertently encouraging unregulated gatherings after the blanket 10 pm closing.Would it not be safer for those who are allowed to to sit in safe, regulated premises and adhere to social distancing after 10 pm, rather than to be on the streets or on public transport with significant numbers of other revellers, who may have reduced inhibitions or levels of self-control? Would it also not be better if businesses that are responsibly operating at much-reduced capacity and adhering to the regulations were provided with urgent financial support, as requested by local authority leaders in my area, to ensure that it is at least as viable for them to remain open for business as to close completely—possibly for good?
We have put extra financial support into the north-east, and I thank people across the north-east for what they are doing to stick by the renewed and increased restrictions that we had to put in place earlier this week. The point the hon. Gentleman makes about people’s reduced inhibitions later at night is the critical one, and as I just mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, it is almost certainly true—I think this is one of the few things we know about this virus with great certainty—that transmission is much lower outside than inside, and that also helps with protecting people against this virus.
My constituency thrives on hospitality, and many jobs are dependent on it. It is also low-incidence when it comes to the virus and high-compliance when it comes to the safety measures around being covid secure. My right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks that the second peak is highly localised. In that light, how quickly can we look to move to a more localised, regional approach to the 10 pm curfew?
We are taking a more localised approach to tackling this second peak than we did to the first, for two reasons. The first is that the evidence is that it is much more localised in terms of where the virus is concentrated. The second is that we know far more about where the virus is concentrated, but that extra information also tells us that the number of transmissions is much higher in hospitality than in many other settings—for instance, workplaces. That is why we have made the decision that we have, but the core of my hon. Friend’s point, which is that it is safer in places such as Eastbourne because there are fewer transmissions, is reasonable, and we keep all of this under review.
Last week, I spoke to a lady whose husband has dementia. He was in a care home, and she was unable to visit him. He deteriorated rapidly, until he was deemed a risk to himself and others, and he was eventually sectioned, at which point she was allowed to visit him. Of course I completely understand the difficult balance the Minister must make between protecting our health and the health of others, but could he please look specifically at what guidance can be given on rights to visit loved ones who have dementia?
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly heart-rending and important point. The balance in terms of the rules around visiting those in care homes is one of the most difficult to strike. On this, I rely heavily on the clinical evidence of Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, who works with the four nations to try to make sure we get this balance right. It is very difficult, and the guidance we have put out includes the permissive ability to allow directors of public health to take decisions that are appropriate in local circumstances. However, this issue is a very difficult consequence of the virus.
I have spoken to landlords and landladies around my constituency, and they have all been incredibly grateful for the unprecedented support that the Government have provided to them, but they have been equally clear that that has just about kept their heads above water, especially at a time when there was warmer weather. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to keep this issue under review, but what reassurances can he give landlords and landladies that, as we head towards Christmas and the nights get colder, there is a timescale on this and they can have hope that they will still be trading at Christmas and not, sadly, closing down for Christmas?
The truth is that the more we all avoid close social contact, the harder the virus will find it to spread and the easier it will be to lift measures. It is as straightforward as that. From that logic, obviously, come many difficult consequences, including the ones my hon. Friend spoke to. However, I am happy to keep talking to him to make sure that we get this balance right in his area and across the country.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his updates, which are always very useful. May I ask him to think for a minute about places with low infection rates, including the Derbyshire Dales? We have some fantastic wedding venues such as Shottle Hall and Eyam Hall, and some great historic pubs that have been around for hundreds of years, such as the Rutland Arms, the Peacock at Rowsley, the Devonshire Arms at Baslow and the Old Dog at Thorpe. Will my right hon. Friend consider opening locally early where people can prove good compliance and where there are very low infection rates, because we have to allow the economy to get up and running again?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to support her local pubs and in what she said about keeping the economy going while we deal with this problem. She is also right that there are large swathes of the country with very low infection rates, including Derbyshire. Our approach is to take the minimum national action necessary to ensure that the rates stay low in Derbyshire and other areas with low rates, while also taking more action in places where the virus is rife. That is an approach that we will be strengthening over the weeks to come.
Although I am sure there is some logic behind the recent 10 pm curfew, other changes put in place, including table service, have led to small hospitality businesses such as the Treaty of Commerce pub on Lincoln High Street in my constituency having to increase staffing overheads, which they can currently ill afford. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the latest changes to the guidance are not entirely suitable for all businesses? I have heard what he has said this morning, but will he commit to reviewing the regulations regularly and at the earliest opportunity to ensure that we protect jobs, the wider economy and the important freedoms of businesses and individuals while also remaining covid-secure?
A hundred per cent; my hon. Friend speaks with great wisdom.
I have been known to enjoy pubs and hospitality myself, but the reality is that if this sector—in particular, nightclubs and the entertainment industry—is to survive, it is going to need much greater Government support. Does the Health Secretary accept that, and is he having those discussions with the Chancellor? Does he also accept that if Scotland wants to go its own way with a different level of curfew, the Scottish Parliament needs to have, at the very minimum, borrowing powers so that it can make changes for public health benefits and provide the necessary support for these businesses?
As the hon. Member knows, although public health measures are devolved, it is only because we are one United Kingdom that we are able to have the strength of support that is in place right across Scotland. He and his party would do well to recognise that and to welcome the support that the UK has been able to provide in Scotland during these very difficult times.
When my right hon. Friend visited Bishop Auckland during the election campaign, we spent our lunch break in a pub called the Merry Monk. Since then I have been in regular contact with the landlord, Christian Burns, who, alongside a lot of other pub landlords, has written to the Prime Minister expressing concerns about some of the lockdown measures that have been introduced. I recognise and welcome the unprecedented support that the Government have put in place—more than £190 billion is not small fry—but will my right hon. Friend please confirm to Christian and other landlords that Ministers will continue to work with the hospitality industry, particularly pubs? We need to save our pubs, because they are a lifeline for our local communities.
Absolutely. I really enjoyed my trip to the Merry Monk with my hon. Friend. We left before 10 pm, even though at that time we could have stayed longer. Of course we will keep working with the hospitality industry. I wish all the pubs in Bishop Auckland all the very best. We will support them as much as we can.
We are in a never-ending cycle of repeated lockdowns that are deferring the problem because they are not matched by robust testing and clear messaging. It is clear from the Health Secretary’s responses this morning that the 10 pm curfew is yet another example of the Prime Minister plucking ideas out of the air to be seen to be doing something. It has already caused significant damage to the hospitality industry, and, as predicted, is doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus. When will this Government start to understand that a balance needs to be struck to protect those most at risk without complete societal shutdown?
I would urge the hon. Lady to support her constituents and the public health measures that are necessary to get this virus under control in order to protect this country, to protect her constituents and to save lives.
Pubs, such as the New Cross in Ashfield, run by Jay and Mathew, are losing revenue due to the 10 pm curfew. They fully understand the rules that need to be in place to keep us safe, so can my right hon. Friend please explain to the staff and regulars at the New Cross how science has guided the decision to close pubs at 10 pm?
I want to say to all the staff and all the regulars at the New Cross that we would not have this in place unless we thought it was needed. The science is about how, late at night, people end up closer together and therefore spread the virus more, and this will not stay in place one minute longer than it needs to.
If the Government decide to restrict trade or close down trade for pubs or particular businesses for good public health reasons, surely it is for all of us, through the Government, to pay that cost—through borrowing, at historically low interest rates, paid back over time through our progressive tax system—not for individual pubs and businesses to pay it, possibly with bankruptcy, as at places such as Brains brewery in south Wales. Will the Secretary of State therefore have a word with the Chancellor to ask that he provides adequate financial support for both sustainable businesses and good public health?
Of course, this measure is for England, and it is up to the devolved Welsh Administration to decide public health measures in Wales, but the principle that we as taxpayers, as a whole country, should shoulder as much of the economic burden as possible is what underpins the absolutely unprecedented £190 billion of extra support that this Government have put into the economy to get us through these very difficult times.
This week, Burnley recorded the highest covid-19 rate in England, and that has understandably caused concern to residents who are worried not just about the virus, but about the impact on the local economy. Could the Secretary of State reassure them and me that, when we look at further interventions that might be needed, we will keep them as targeted as possible so we can fight the virus where it is really spreading?
Absolutely. There is a lot of virus spreading in Burnley, and we need to all come together to tackle that spread. I know that my hon. Friend has been fighting as hard as possible for the people of Burnley. He has been making this argument to me in private, as well as in public, that we need to make sure that the measures are as targeted as possible and have as low a negative impact as possible, but we do need to get the virus under control in Burnley and across the country. I pay tribute to him for the work that he is doing in supporting and representing his constituents.
The Minister will know that the hospitality sector emerged on its knees from the general lockdown, and I am sure he understands that those in the sector were barely getting to their feet when the 10 o’clock curfew came in. He has given hon. and right hon. Members a lot of assurance today that he will keep this under review. As part of that review, can he assure the licensed trade, particularly those relying on wet sales, that he will take a view on staggered exit times and a more intelligence-led curfew, appreciating that the curfew has value to add? Can he also take a look at the role of off-sales in promoting community transmission not in the hospitality sector?
Of course, we look at all these things. This is of course a measure in England, and it is because the UK Government have put in £190 billion across the whole UK that we have been able to give the support that we have, but we keep that under review, too.
No constituency in the country has such a high concentration of first-rate pubs as Ipswich, and currently in Ipswich we have very low levels of covid 19. Last weekend, I spoke to the landlord of the Belstead Arms in Chantry, who had to watch as many of his loyal customers, who would have been spending hundreds of pounds in his pub supporting the pub to recover from the previous lockdown, went to the off-licence across the street to buy beer from there. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that at the closest possible time he will review measures and ensure that pubs in Ipswich can stay open later?
Yes, I know the Belstead Arms in Chantry well from campaigning pitstops, and it is true that Suffolk has the finest pubs in the country. My hon. Friend is making his case for Ipswich very strongly. Of course we keep these things under review, and will lift these measures as soon as we can.
I have spoken to many business owners and residents across Newport West in the past few days, and there is increasing concern that the UK Government’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. The border between Wales and England is extremely porous and any differences in local lockdown rules and restrictions are confusing for those living along it. So can the Secretary of State outline exactly how, and how often, he is meeting Members of the devolved Administrations to ensure that all parts of the UK are involved and engaged as we chart our way through this crisis?
Constantly, is the answer. I was brought up on the Welsh border, in Cheshire. I know exactly how porous the border is. Of course, public health is devolved and I would be surprised if the hon. Lady was arguing against the devolution of health powers. In fact, I have received a text from my Welsh opposite number during this session, so we have a constant conversation and dialogue to try to minimise exactly the sorts of issues that she talks about.
Public health must be our first priority, but restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants need to be accompanied by new economic support for workers and businesses; otherwise, people will be pushed into unemployment and destitution, and businesses will be forced into bankruptcy. So, on behalf of hospitality workers and businesses in Coventry South, I urge the Secretary of State to speak with his Cabinet colleagues and bring forward new measures that will support livelihoods and businesses and actually save jobs.
Yes, the £190 billion of extra funding has been there to support jobs, and of course we keep that, as with all these things, under review.
I refer colleagues to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I understand and support the measures taken to reduce deaths from this terrible disease, and thank Ministers for all they have done to stem the tide of the virus. Please could my right hon. Friend consider allowing pubs, cafés, restaurants and casinos to extend their closing time when customers are still in the process of eating a hot meal? That would allow time for a second sitting of those venues without disturbing the safety elements of table service and social distancing. It would also mean a staggered time of exit from those venues, allowing better social distancing in the local community.
Of course, as we keep this under review, we will consider all the options. The clarity of the rule that was brought in was one of the reasons that it commends itself, but I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about the future.
We all agree that suppressing the virus is essential in saving lives, and as a scientific socialist, I think we should apply basic public health principles. It seems absolutely clear to me that it is problematic that we have a 10 o’clock curfew, when large numbers of people are all coming out into the street at the same time. Night-time entertainment businesses such as comedy and live music venues, which are based in covid-secure premises such as pubs and clubs, are seriously impacted, and like—
Order. Come on, Secretary of State. We have got to get a grip.
I love comedy, I love live music and I wish that we did not have to do this, but I have answered the point about outside being safer than inside. It is one of the many regrets of the very serious problem that we have.
I represent a central London constituency where many businesses are hurting hard, especially with the 10 pm lockdown. I also have many residents who are only going out for the first time at 8.30 or 9, so do not fit into the idea of going to the pub at 6 o’clock. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will review these measures at the earliest opportunity?
We will keep these measures always under review.
I accept what the Secretary of State has said about the science, but he must realise that there were many publicans who were really struggling to get by before this, and the new things that have been put in have just made their businesses untenable. Does he accept that getting support for the measures that he has put in place has to come with a financial package that supports our publicans to remain open after covid?
Yes, I have addressed that point. We have put £190 billion in, and we keep all that under review.
Love it or hate it, the gambling industry delivers thousands of jobs, and taxes, to this country. Casinos in particular create 60% of their business after 10 o’clock, and it is illegal for someone to gamble if they are drunk. May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider whether casinos can continue to do business after 10 o’clock in England, as they can in Scotland?
I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about that.
Newcastle’s night-time economy is globally renowned but, yesterday, in a typically cowardly attack, the Prime Minister basically said that we should not complain about the impact of these measures on that sector because local leaders had asked for them. Will the Secretary of State confirm that in their letter of 29 September local leaders specifically said that the measures must be accompanied by targeted support, and will he say what targeted support pubs and restaurants, and the 10,000 jobs in my constituency that depend on them, can expect?
Yes, the leaders of the seven Newcastle councils—Newcastle, Gateshead and the wider north-east councils—did ask for the measures that were put in place. We put in £10 million of funding. The most important message that we can get across to people across the north-east, where the case rate continues to rise, is that the more people follow the restrictions, the quicker we can ease them.
Recognising the need to control the virus with the 10 pm curfew, can my right hon. Friend outline what additional guidance and support has been offered to our hard-working police officers, such as those in Durham constabulary who serve my constituency, to help them to protect the public after 10 pm?
This is, of course, a matter for the Home Secretary, but there has been additional guidance to the police. I pay tribute to the police, who have done so much work to enforce those rules and who continue to step that up.
May I ask the Secretary of State to what extent he thinks Dominic Cummings’s clear disregard of the rules during lockdown has undermined people’s compliance with the current guidance, placing excess pressure on police as well as on staff in the hospitality sector? Does he agree that many of those on the frontline in the fight against covid are now paying a heavy price for Cummings’s actions?
I do not recognise the link at all.
Restrictions curbing when we can go to the pub are against the DNA of our country, but we are in exceptional times, and I recognise that that includes taking measures that people do not like and that Ministers do not like having to introduce. Will my right hon. Friend commit to keeping the restrictions under the closest possible review and in place for the shortest time necessary to protect lives?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who speaks from the heart.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has heard from across the House great concerns about the 10 pm curfew. Given the statements yesterday from yourself, Mr Speaker, and from my right hon. Friend about more parliamentary scrutiny, does he agree that, if the 10 pm curfew had not yet been brought in, it is exactly the sort of measure that should be brought to Parliament first, scrutinised, debated, amended if necessary, and voted upon? Does he agree that that is the sort of thing we can expect in future?
I do agree, and I am glad to agree with my hon. Friend. As I announced yesterday, we have brought in a new process, an innovation on parliamentary procedure, to ensure that there are votes on nationally significant measures in the future.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for three minutes.