With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on our continuing fight against coronavirus and how we intend to fulfil our simultaneous objectives of saving lives and protecting the NHS while keeping our children in school and our economy running, thus protecting jobs and livelihoods.
This morning, the deputy chief medical officer set out the stark reality of the second wave of the virus. The number of cases has quadrupled in the last three weeks. There are now more people in hospital with covid than when we went into lockdown on 23 March, and deaths are already rising. Of course, there are those who say that on that logic, we should go back into a full national lockdown of indefinite duration, closing schools and businesses, telling people again to stay at home as we did in March, and once again shattering our lives and our society. I do not believe that would be the right course. We would not only deprive our children of their education, but we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-time ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services.
On the other side of the argument, there are those who think that the patience of the public is now exhausted, that we should abandon the fight against covid, stand aside, let nature take her course and call a halt to these repressions of liberty. Of course, I understand those emotions. I understand the frustration of those who have been chafing under the restrictions and the sacrifices they have made. But if we were to follow that course and let the virus rip, the bleak mathematics dictate that we would suffer not only an intolerable death toll, but put such a huge strain on our NHS with an uncontrolled second spike, that our doctors and nurses would be simply unable to devote themselves to other treatments for cancer, heart disease and hundreds more illnesses that have already been delayed and would be delayed again, with serious long-term damage to the health of the nation.
I am afraid that it is no answer to say that we could let the virus take hold among the young and fit while shielding the elderly and vulnerable, because the virus would then spread with such velocity in the general population that there would be no way of stopping it spreading among the elderly. Even if the virus is less lethal for the under-60s, there will still be many younger people for whom, alas, it remains lethal.
We do not want to go back to another national lockdown; we cannot let the virus rip, so since June we have followed a balanced approach, with the support of many Members across the House, to keep the R down while keeping schools and the economy going, and controlling the virus by changing our behaviour to restrict its spread. That is why we have the rule of six and restrictions such as the 10 pm closing time on our hospitality sector.
I take no pleasure whatsoever in imposing restrictions on those businesses, many of which have gone to great lengths to reopen as safely as possible. Nor do I want to stop people enjoying themselves. But we must act to save lives and the evidence shows that in changing our behaviour to restrict transmission between us, our actions are saving lives. Left unchecked, each person with the virus will infect an average of between 2.7 and three others, but the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies assesses that the current R nationally is between 1.2 and 1.5. So we are already suppressing that R to well below its natural level, which is why the virus is not spreading as quickly as it did in March, but we need to go further. In recent months we have worked with local leaders to counter local spikes with targeted restrictions. This local approach has inevitably produced different sets of rules in different parts of the country, which are now complex to understand and to enforce. So just as we simplified our national rules with the rule of six, we will now simplify and standardise our local rules by introducing a three-tiered system of local covid alert levels in England, set at medium, high and very high.
The medium alert level, which will cover most of the country, will consist of the current national measures. This includes the rule of six and the closure of hospitality at 10 pm.
The high alert level reflects the interventions in many local areas at the moment. This primarily aims to reduce household-to-household transmission, by preventing all mixing between different households or support bubbles indoors. In these areas, the rule of six will continue to apply outdoors, where it is harder for the virus to spread, in public spaces as well as private gardens. Most areas which are already subject to local restrictions will automatically move into the high alert level. As a result of rising infection rates, Nottinghamshire, east and west Cheshire and a small area of High Peak will also move into the high alert level.
The very high alert level will apply where transmission rates are rising most rapidly and where the NHS could soon be under unbearable pressure without further restrictions. In these areas the Government will set a baseline of prohibiting social mixing indoors and in private gardens, and, I am sorry to say, closing pubs and bars. We want to create the maximum possible local consensus behind this more severe local action, so in each area we will work with local government leaders on the additional measures which should be taken. This could lead to further restrictions on the hospitality, leisure, entertainment or personal care sectors, but retail, schools and universities will remain open.
As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out, the Government will expand their unprecedented economic support to assist those affected by these decisions, extending our job support scheme to cover two thirds of the wages of those in any business that is required to close, and providing those businesses with a cash grant of up to £3,000 a month, instead of £1,500 every three weeks. We will also provide local authorities across England with around £1 billion of new financial support, on top of our £3.6 billion towns fund. And for “very high” areas, we will give further financial support for local test and trace and local enforcement, and assistance from the armed forces—not for enforcement, but rather to support local services, if desired in the local area.
I can report that we have been able to reach agreement with leaders in Merseyside. Local authorities in the Liverpool city region will move into the very high alert level from Wednesday. In addition to the baseline I have outlined—this is as well as pubs and bars—in Merseyside gyms and leisure centres, betting shops, adult gaming centres and casinos will also close. I would like to put on record my thanks to Steve Rotheram and his colleagues for their co-operation in very difficult circumstances.
Engagement with other leaders in the north-west, the north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber is continuing. I know how difficult this is—they, like us, like everyone in this House, are grappling with very real dilemmas—but we cannot let the NHS fall over when lives are at stake. Let me repeat the offer that we are making to those local authorities: work with us on these difficult but necessary measures in the areas that are rated very high, in return for more support for local test and trace, more funding for local enforcement, the offer of help from the armed services, and the job support scheme, as announced by the Chancellor.
I believe not to act would be unforgivable, so I hope that rapid progress can be made in the coming days. Regulations for all three covid local alert levels are being laid today. They will be debated and voted on tomorrow, before coming into force on Wednesday.
We will also keep these measures under constant review, including a four-week sunset clause for interventions in very high areas. A postcode search on gov.uk, as well as the NHS covid-19 app, will show which local alert level applies in each area. We are also publishing updated guidance to explain what the covid alert levels mean for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. While these levels specifically apply to England, we continue to work closely with the devolved Administrations to tackle this virus across the whole United Kingdom.
This is not how we want to live our lives, but this is the narrow path we have to tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the massive human and, indeed, economic cost of an uncontained epidemic. With local, regional and national Government coming together in a shared responsibility and a shared effort to deliver ever better testing and tracing and ever more efficient enforcement of rules; with ever improving therapies and the mountains of personal protective equipment and the ventilators that we have stockpiled; and with all the lessons we have learned in the last few months, we are becoming better and better at fighting this virus.
Though I must warn the House again that the weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country, I have no doubt at all that, together, we will succeed, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call earlier today.
We are at a critical moment—“a tipping point”, to quote the deputy chief medical officer. We have all seen the clear and alarming trend in infection rates. The virus is now spreading in all areas of the United Kingdom, though much faster in some areas than others. As the Prime Minister and the deputy chief medical officer said, there are more patients in hospital with covid today than when the country went into lockdown on 23 March, and deaths are rising. Nobody should be under any illusion about where this is heading or about the need for decisive action. The question today is whether the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister can bring the country back from the brink and whether they can regain control of the virus and provide the support and confidence that local businesses and communities need.
That is how high the stakes now are, so we will consider the package, we will look at the small print of the Prime Minister’s statement, we will discuss them with local mayors, councillors and leaders in the areas most affected and we will scrutinise the economic package that sits alongside them. But I have to say to the Prime Minister that I am now deeply sceptical that the Government have actually got a plan to get control of this virus, to protect jobs or to regain public trust. We have tried to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt, but it increasingly feels like the Prime Minister is several steps behind the curve and running to catch up with a virus that he lost control of long ago.
It was less than three weeks ago, on 22 September, that the Prime Minister came to this House to announce new restrictions. He said then that the measures he was introducing would
“curb the number of daily infections”
and that those restrictions were
“carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number”. —[Official Report, 22 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 797-98.]
That has not happened. Those measures have not worked. We would not be here today if they had.
There is a pattern here. On 1 July, the Prime Minister told us of his new whack-a-mole strategy to control local outbreaks. Twenty areas have now been in restrictions for more than two months, and 19 of them have seen their infection rates rise, some by very large amounts, so those measures have not worked either.
In May, the Prime Minister boasted of a “world-beating” track and trace system. He told us that it would be a “real game changer” in the fight against the virus. We have debated this many times since, but last week, the figures were the worst yet. The Prime Minister promised that 100% of test results would be turned around in 24 hours. The latest figure for in-person testing is just 24% being turned around in that period.
This serial failure, combined with the repeated leaks and briefings to newspapers in the past few days, have fatally eroded public confidence just when we need it most, so can the Prime Minister tell us what reassurance he can give us that these measures today will be sufficient to get the virus under control? Will he finally accept that trace and isolate should be handed over to local authorities, as we have been saying for months? Will he accept that the support packages announced by the Chancellor simply will not work for many thousands of people, particularly those on the minimum wage? There is huge anger about this in the areas under lockdown, and there is a huge gap in the Government’s plan. Will he confirm that Mayors, local leaders, council leaders and others will be fully involved in any future decisions?
Finally, I want to say this to the Prime Minister. I know that there will be some on his side who will oppose further restrictions, who will look at the data and tell him to disregard it or who will say that the cost of acting now is too high. I want to be clear: the worst thing that the Prime Minister can do is not act quickly and decisively enough, and keep coming back to this House every couple of weeks with a new plan that does not work and is not up to the scale of the task. We need to break that cycle, finally get on top of the virus and rebuild public confidence. I hope that the measures announced today will do that, but the House and the country will be deeply sceptical about whether they can.
We have had a slight change of tack, in my view, from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who has hitherto been willing to support the measures that the Government are putting in place to restrict the spread of coronavirus. We now see an equivocation; he wants it both ways. He said he supported the rule of six, and then his side refused to vote for it. He said he is unwilling to support the restrictions we placed on hospitality, and he continually runs down NHS Test and Trace. What he will not say is what he would do or exactly how he would propose to get this virus down without those kinds of restrictions. If he supports the tier 3 measures that Merseyside city region has rightly put into place today, he should say so. He should have the guts to say to local leaders across the country that he supports those measures and that he encourages them to go into tier 3.
It is a stunning silence that we have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We, by contrast, are working with those local leaders to put in place the measures that will protect their populations, protect the NHS, keep our economy moving and drive the virus down. That is our collective endeavour, and I strongly urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to work out where he stands and to stop flip-flopping from one side to the next—or rather, to go back to his previous position, which was to support restrictive measures where necessary to drive the virus down.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I recognise that these are difficult times and that he has to make difficult and, I hope, balanced choices, balancing the economic damage against the need to save our fellow citizens. In all this, one positive point that has barely been referred to is that the death rate has fallen from 3% in June to 0.6% at the moment, which has to be seen as possibly part of what the Government are trying to do.
The Government’s strategy, quite legitimately, is therefore to drive down the infection rate—I understand that—while searching for a vaccine, so I simply want to raise a point that others including the scientific advisers have raised. There is a lot of talk at the moment about the two antivirals that have now arrived, remdesivir and ivermectin. Given the Government’s objective of driving down the infection rate, and given that the average age of death at the moment is 82.4, should we not make those antivirals much more widely available at the earliest opportunity, through GPs and every other doctor, in order to get them to people to reduce the likelihood of their going into hospital and dying?
Order. May I just try to help everybody? We need short, punchy answers and questions, as that will help us to get through everybody on the list.
My right hon. Friend is, of course, right to say that we have better treatments, but, alas, the death rate has risen many times over—six times over—in the past few weeks and we have no choice in these circumstances, with more people being admitted to hospital every day, in order to get the virus down.
In recent weeks, we have all witnessed the worrying trends of infection, the upsurge in hospitalisations and, sadly, the increase in death. The danger of the virus is self-evident. We know that we are at a tipping point, so today must be a turning point, when we must once again act collectively and get back to the absolute priority of suppressing the virus, protecting the NHS and saving lives. So may I ask the Prime Minister: is the policy to bring the R rate below 1 through the highest-level interventions being proposed? Since the beginning, we have known that mass testing is vital. Any delays in the processing of tests slow the start of contact tracing. Can the Prime Minister advise what proportion of tests in the past seven days took longer than 48 hours to process? What steps are we taking to ensure that there is no backlog in processing from the Lighthouse labs?
If today is to be a turning point, the UK Government need to carry out another U-turn on financial support for workers. It is blindingly and blatantly unfair that just as health restrictions are being strengthened economic support is being weakened. The Chancellor needs finally to wake up to that logic. There must be no more last- minute, half-baked economic announcements. Even Tory Backbenchers in the north of England are calling for the furlough to be maintained at 80% of wage support. Will the Prime Minister give some certainty and security to businesses and workers? Will he finally instruct his Chancellor to extend the full furlough scheme beyond October? Businesses and workers must not pay the price for managing the lockdown with closures and unemployment when their businesses would be viable after these special measures.
Will the Prime Minister also confirm that devolved Administrations will be able to trigger the financial support directly without requiring approval from the UK Government when they choose to put an area under heightened restrictions to help reduce the spread of the virus?
Finally, on universal credit and support for the most vulnerable, last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister suggested that I ask him again about his Government’s plan to maintain the lifeline of the uplift in UC support. So now that he has had another week to consider it, will he do the right thing and make the £20 UC uplift permanent?
On NHS Test and Trace, capacity has massively increased, to 312,000, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. He asked what steps we are taking. We are introducing new testing sites—I think it is 500 new testing sites—and we are introducing more labs for testing. He also asks what we can do to get the virus down and the measures we are taking. He is completely right that it depends on enforcement and on testing and tracing, but it also depends on each and every one of us following the guidance, working together to get the virus down. That is what I hope he will encourage everyone to do. On the excellent point he raises about support for businesses that are going to be affected by the latest measures, I would just stress that the Chancellor’s latest job support scheme, at 67%, is highly competitive with those of all other European countries and indeed it is more generous than many. We will continue to put our arms around every worker and every business in this country to the best of the ability of this country. On the right hon. Gentleman’s specific point about universal credit, the uplift will remain present for the rest of this financial year.
Just to help the House, I will finish the statement at 5.50 pm, so let us help each other.
This morning, it was announced that the routine testing of asymptomatic NHS staff in hotspot areas would start. This has been long advocated by the Health and Social Care Committee, and I thank the Prime Minister for the progress on it.
We all want to avoid a second national lockdown, which would be devastating for jobs. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the evidence from China, Korea and Italy is that the best way to avoid that is to have earlier, decisive, localised interventions, however difficult and unpalatable, and that today’s difficult decision is not, therefore, about a trade-off between jobs and health, but ultimately the best way to secure both?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says, and I know that local leaders across the country will listen to him. I hope they will accept our offer and go into tier 3 where necessary.
The Government have asked a lot from people during the pandemic: stay at home; close your business; do not be there at the death of a loved one. The British people have borne such sacrifice with grace and resilience; all they ask from the Government in return is clear communication and basic competence, yet it seems that their sacrifices have been squandered by the Government’s failure to build a robust test, trace and isolate system, or even to communicate competently. Will the Prime Minister promise that the new sacrifices he is asking of people today will not be squandered this time?
We are working hard with colleagues from all parties to get across our messages, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the support that he has felt able to give for the measures we have outlined. I believe they can be very effective if they are delivered jointly with local authorities and local support. That is what we are working for, and I hope he will join us in that effort.
Pubs throughout Burton and Uttoxeter will appreciate the support available to them through the job support scheme in the event of a local lockdown, but will my right hon. Friend consider the impact on breweries, which will not be eligible for the support but will have no pubs to sell to?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The regular job support scheme will of course be available to businesses that are open but not able to trade in the way that they would want.
We must of course do all we can to ensure that the NHS is able to cope with the current situation. I agree with the Prime Minister that a localised approach is the right one, while keeping schools and businesses open. On support for those who have so far not received support, will the Prime Minister commit to putting his arms around people who have not yet benefited from the various schemes that the Government have introduced?
We will always do what we can to improve the welfare system for those who are not benefiting, but I remind the House that the self-employed —the group we all care about very much—have so far received £13.5 billion of support. We will continue to look after them as well.
One of the many reasons why the Prime Minister has proved himself such a formidable and popular politician over so many years has been his resolute belief in the common sense of the British people. Instead of a constant blizzard of arbitrary rules that will serve only to collapse the economy and destroy businesses and jobs, will he remind people of what is important—social distancing and washing hands, and the groups most at risk, including the elderly and people with health conditions—and once again put his trust in the British people to act responsibly? After all, believing that individuals make better decisions for themselves, their families and their communities than the state can make for them is surely at the heart of what it means to be a Conservative.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and the best decision that individuals can make for themselves, their families and their communities is to follow the guidance: wash your hands; face; space; and protect the NHS and save lives.
People from Conwy, which has 122 cases per 100,000 people, are not permitted by Welsh law to make non-essential journeys into Meirionnydd next door, where cases stand at 18 per 100,000. But people from Liverpool, with almost 1,600 cases per 100,000, can still go on holiday in Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. People in Wales are asking the Prime Minister: how is that fair?
The guidance is very clear that people from areas with very high levels, such as Merseyside, should not be making those journeys.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the case rate remains relatively low in Essex, the number of cases is doubling every 10 days? Is it not better to bring in decisive measures that will suppress the curve before it climbs, rather than wait until after, provided those measures are effective and there is economic support, particularly for the hospitality sector?
My hon. Friend is completely right, and that is why we are bringing in this package.
Today, we seem to have a partial admission of the failure of the Government’s outsourced test and trace system. When so many of us have argued for so long that it should be in the hands of local public health teams, does the Prime Minister regret handing billions over to the private sector, which has failed so spectacularly? Will he now give this system back to local public health teams, who know their communities best, so that they can be responsible for test and trace in all areas, not just those with high numbers? Finally, will he stop saying that he has put his arms around the self-employed, when more than 3 million of them have had no support since March?
I repeat the point that I have made about the self-employed: £13.5 billion has been given to support them, and where there is more we can do, we will obviously look at it. The hon. Lady makes an interesting point about whether a local approach would have been better throughout this than a national approach. All the evidence is that we need both. That is what we have supplied, and that is what we will continue to supply. That is why we are expanding our support for the local approach. The experience of other countries shows that we need a national approach, because otherwise the local test and trace operations simply do not join up. Plenty of countries have had that experience, and that is why we are taking an approach that joins up local test and trace with national test and trace.
What does the Prime Minister make of the special envoy’s statement that
“We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus”?
I totally agree with what David Nabarro had to say—I think he is completely right. I think that the best way to control this virus is common-sensical restrictions on person-to-person contact, because it is that person-to-person contact that spreads the virus. That is what we all need to do.
Northern Ireland is suffering from some of the worst covid figures in the UK. Can the Prime Minister follow through on his commitment to give the Northern Ireland Executive the financial firepower to follow the science, do what is necessary to address a deteriorating situation and give businesses the support they need?
Of course. Businesses in Northern Ireland will receive exactly the same support on the basis of Barnett consequentials; that is inevitable.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to work at a local level, but I hope he will understand my disappointment that Wolverhampton has been lumped into a tier 2 system, despite the protestations of all three MPs and the local council. My fantastic pubs and restaurants have done everything asked of them, and now, because they are in tier 2, they face having no financial support at all and a devastating effect on their viability. Will he urgently look at that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but actually, the job support scheme is precisely available to pubs, restaurants and businesses in her constituency that may be open but are not able to trade as they normally would.
The Prime Minister is aware that, if we are to tackle these horrendous rises in covid-19 in the Liverpool city region, we need a much more effective track, trace and isolate system, but we do not have one yet. Will he accept my suggestion that we establish a Liverpool city region test, trace and isolate taskforce, including the NHS, local authorities, the Metro Mayor and other stakeholders, to report by the end of this week with suggestions on how the unused NHS capacity that exists could be used more effectively, so that we have a proper test, trace and isolate system in place?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. I can tell him that we are already working with the Liverpool city region on improving local test and trace. His suggestion is very apposite and one, I am sure, that will be taken forward in the course of those conversations.
We are seeing a very unwelcome trend from the Labour party, which backs the Government’s sensible measures one week, only to flip-flop and change its mind the next week. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and several constituents from Derbyshire Dales who say that what they want to see is this House working together on sensible policies rather than political point scoring?
Yes, indeed. What the people of this country want to see is unanimous support for measures that restrict the spread of the virus. We have had that before, and I hope that we will have it again. I also hope that Opposition Members who are calling on me to do more in Greater Manchester will prevail on the authorities there to come into tier 3 and to help us to get there.
Tragically, one of the few certainties about this second wave is that economic hardship will rise, so why will the Prime Minister not review the level of statutory sick pay, which even the Health Secretary said that he could not afford to live on, or, crucially, extend the holiday hunger food voucher programme to cover half-term and the Christmas holidays?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have given substantial sums—£380 million already—to provide meals for kids in need of free school meals in these difficult times, and we will continue, through universal credit and other support, to help families across this country throughout this crisis.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s collaborative approach with local government and with the mayors, but will he bear in mind that we have unity among the politicians and the public health experts across the west midlands under our skilful and much-respected Mayor Andy Street in support of the current levels of restrictions, because they do appear to be working? The medical evidence and political consensus suggest leaving the west midlands at level 1 with the additional local restrictions.
Alas, the virus’s continued rise across the country is not uniform, but the judgments that we have made are ones that we are sticking to.
For the record, Mr Speaker, as you are aware, Halton, although a member of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, is actually in Cheshire. The Prime Minister or his Ministers announced new restrictions on 14, 22 and 24 September and as recently as 3 October national or local restrictions, which impacted on my constituency. Is this not an example of how the Government are shifting from one restriction to the next without any real proper plan? My constituency of Halton has a lower rate of infection than a number of other areas that are not in the highest restriction rate. May I ask the Prime Minister why Halton is in that highest restriction rate when others are not?
This Government are of course obliged to adapt their plans to combat the virus, as the epidemic changes shape and changes course. Our objective remains unchanged, which is to get the R rate down in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and elsewhere, while keeping education open and keeping our economy going. That is something on which both sides of this House are united.
The Prime Minister has said there will be a four-week sunset for areas with the highest restrictions. What reassurance can he give to areas in tiers 1 and 2, some of which have had additional restrictions already for two and a half months, that this will not become a permanent state?
We keep all these things under constant review, and nothing could be more attractive to the Government than moving the whole country out of the present restrictions that we are in as fast as possible. That requires us all to follow the guidance.
The Prime Minister just said that he wants to put his arms around every worker in the country, but that will sound pretty hollow to those people left alone and abandoned, who have been excluded from any covid support from this Government. They now face a £20-a-week reduction in their universal credit, so will he answer the question that I am asked by my increasingly desperate constituents every day? How are they to pay their bills?
Don’t forget that this Government have increased universal credit by about £7 billion, perhaps £9 billion—£1,000 a year—and the uplift will remain in place for this financial year, as I told the House earlier.
By when does my right hon. Friend expect to have vaccinated the vulnerable population? What is his confidence in that date, and why does he have that confidence?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Alas, I cannot give him a date by which I can promise confidently that we will have a vaccine. There are some very hopeful signs, not least from the Oxford-AstraZeneca trials that are being conducted, but, as he knows, SARS took place 18 years ago and we still do not have a vaccine for SARS. I do not wish to depress him, but we must be realistic about this. There is a good chance of a vaccine, but it cannot be taken for granted.
Instead of supporting the established system in public health, the Prime Minister has invested £10 billion in privatised companies. It has not controlled the virus, it has not saved lives and it has not rebuilt the economy. In Brent, the wonderful CEO, Carolyn Downs, with the leader of the council, Mo Butt, had control of local testing. We were able to test people very quickly, and in surrounding areas. The Government have taken the majority of the testing away. People are told they have to travel miles to get tested and, in addition, care workers have waited seven days to get their test results. When will the Prime Minister stop his obsession with this centralised approach and go for a decentralised approach that works?
I understand the point that the hon. Lady makes, and obviously, again, I am sorry for the bad experiences that some people have had with the excessive turnaround times for NHS Test and Trace and so on, but I do think that the mixed approach that we are taking is the right one. We need a joined-up, national Test and Trace system combined with the work of local authorities, and that is what we are delivering.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for the tireless work that he is putting in to tackle this wretched virus. A number of constituents running hospitality businesses have contacted me, such as Cheryl, who runs the Station Hotel in Bishop Auckland. She is particularly concerned about the lack of households being able to meet within her pub. Can the Prime Minister reassure Cheryl that we will look at lifting those local restrictions as soon as feasibly possible, and that we will also look at taking every step possible to provide additional financial support for those in tier 2 lockdowns?
Of course, and in addition to providing support for hospitality—pubs—in Bishop Auckland through the JSS that I mentioned already, there is the business rate cut that my hon. Friend is familiar with and the grants that I have announced today. But the best thing, as she rightly says, is to get the virus under control so that we can lift these restrictions altogether. That is what we want to do.
We all know that rising infections will mean more restrictions, but worried staff in viable businesses in Leeds want to know that they will be looked after if they are forced to close in future. I presume that the Prime Minister can give the House an assurance that the council would be consulted before that happened, but for someone on the minimum wage who would lose a third of their income in those circumstances—by the way, the French and German schemes are more generous than those applying here—can the Prime Minister assure my constituents that they will not, under any circumstances, be evicted from their homes because they could not afford to pay the rent?
I must respectfully take issue with the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the scheme, which remains internationally competitive. In France, it is 60% for some, 70% for others. In Germany, it is about the same. In Italy, they have an 80% provision, but there is a serious cap—a very low cap—-in Ireland; it is down at 60%. This is a highly competitive scheme, and it is one that I think is generous by international comparisons. On his point about evictions, nobody wants to see anybody evicted because of the hardship they have suffered because of coronavirus, and that is why we have extended the period in which landlords are prevented from conducting such evictions by a further six months.
Families across the country, in whichever of the new tiers, rely on childcare, whether formal or informal. Without it, key workers and those in the wider economy would be unable to work and many children would be unable to get to and from school. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that access to childcare, whether it is professional childcare or relatives and neighbours, remains available throughout this pandemic?
Yes, of course. My hon. Friend is totally right about the importance of childcare. We remain committed to giving 30 hours of free childcare. The crucial thing about our measures is to keep the economy moving as much as possible.
In university cities like Exeter that have a covid spike in student accommodation but not yet significant community spread, but that nevertheless inflates local figures, what is the Prime Minister’s strategy for containing those spikes in student accommodation and preventing the need for lockdowns affecting the rest of the community?
The differentiation that is often made between students and other members of the public is sometimes overdone. Students are playing a heroic role in containing the virus where they can in following the guidance and not spreading it back into their families and their home towns. I thank them very much for what they are doing and hope they continue in that way, in Exeter and elsewhere.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision to reject the twin dire choices of a second national lockdown or letting the virus rip, and to take up the far more challenging and complicated path of localising our actions in particular areas. My constituency is low-incidence for the virus but the hospitality sector is hard hit, and Christmas is now in the frame. What moves might there be, going forward, to hyper-localise actions, and what support will there be for my constituents’ jobs and businesses?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it would be a wonderful thing if we could hyper- localise actions in the way that she suggests. Alas, the disease being what it is, we cannot reduce to too small a size the areas in which we place restrictions. The best thing that her constituents can do, and the best thing the whole country can do, to get through this as fast as possible is to follow the package of measures that we have set out. As I have said to Opposition Members, the best thing would be if cities and regions across the country came together and delivered the package that we have set out.
Last week I asked the Secretary of State for Health whether he would fund local authorities in the north-east that have put forward a proposal for local test and trace services. He said in response:
“We put an extra £10 million into the local authorities in the north-east to support contact tracing”.—[Official Report, 5 October 2020; Vol. 681, c. 634.]
Today I am told in a telephone briefing that there is no money available. Which is it, Prime Minister? Can we fund the local authorities in the north-east to provide that effective test and tracing?
I think the hon. Lady may have missed what I said. We are putting up to another £1 billion into supporting local authorities and £500 million into supporting local test and trace and enforcement.
While rightly moving to simplify the message, does my right hon. Friend agree that flexible local approaches are the best way to tackle outbreaks in order to prevent a total lockdown and minimise the wider economic impact, particularly on low-incidence-level areas such as Broadland?
That is exactly right. That is the strategy that we have been pursuing for some time now, and that is why it is necessary to intensify the restrictions in some areas.
The Prime Minister keeps telling us that test and trace provision is being increased, yet the covid-19 testing facility at Bedford’s Borough Hall has just reduced its service provision from seven to four days a week at a time when the infection rates are rising. So I have a simple question, Prime Minister: why?
I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the test centre that he mentions. As I have said, we are increasing test and trace capacity and the number of tests conducted the whole time. As I said, I will be happy to write to him about the particular case he mentions, but it is still the case that this country continues to test more people and conduct more tests than any other country in Europe.
The decision to place Cheshire in tier 2, and the additional restrictions that that will entail, will inevitably impact on families and businesses across Eddisbury, not least the already decimated wedding industry and its existing supply chain. Will my right hon. Friend look again at what further targeted support can be made available for that industry, which will struggle to remain viable through another six months of effectively being closed?
I have real sympathy for those in the wedding industry who have been affected. It is a great industry, and times are very tough for them. That is why we are putting in the jobs support scheme and extra grants for businesses. The best way forward is for us to get the virus down and get the spread down, so that we can reopen those types of businesses as fast as possible.
Many of my constituents support covid-19 public health measures, but they feel that, despite their rhetoric, the Government have not reciprocated. It is not only those 3 million who are excluded from support; there are also those on universal credit who will lose the £20 weekly top-up, those on legacy benefits who receive nothing, or those who missed out on furlough because their payroll was run one day after an arbitrary and retrospective date. The Prime Minister has boasted about putting his arms around people, but is it not time to show people that he has a heart?
I must repeat what I said earlier: by other global standards this Government have done a huge amount—£190 billion already—to support people, businesses, jobs, and livelihoods across the country. On the specific point about universal credit, we have increased its value by £1,000, and that will remain in place for the rest of this financial year.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking Devon County Council and Public Health Devon for their response to the virus so far, where swathes of local actions are in place to contain local outbreaks? Does he agree that it is vital for national and local government to work together to tackle differences in the regional prevalence of this virus?
Yes. I thank my hon. Friend, and everybody in Devon, and the local authorities, for their efforts to keep the virus down. This is a giant collective effort, and alas, even in the south-west we are seeing the virus going up, although by nothing like as much as in other parts of the country. It is going up across the whole country, and we must work together to get it down.
The Prime Minister says that he is listening and working with local authorities, but that simply is not true. Since the beginning of the crisis, local authorities and directors of public health have argued for a locally based test and trace system. When will he admit that his national approach and national system have failed? Will he hand over to local authorities and directors of public health the responsibility and resources to ensure an effective local test and trace system? That is the only way we will get on top of this crisis.
I think I have answered that point about four times already. We need a combination of both national and local.
Parents in my constituency rely on friends and family for informal childcare, and even under the new three-tier restrictions I believe that informal, pre-arranged childcare can continue. As a new parent himself, I am sure my right hon. Friend understands that sometimes circumstances dictate that parents need emergency childcare. That is happening more and more with childminders or nursery staff having to isolate. Will the Prime Minister confirm that emergency informal childcare can still be used to assist parents, even under the three-tier system?
Tell me about it, Mr Speaker! My hon. Friend makes an important point, and there are obviously provisions for 30 hours of free childcare. Her point about emergency childcare is well made. That is why we need to keep the economy moving in the way that we are.
The chief execs of 17,000 hospitality businesses—representing half a million jobs and millions of customers every week, including many in my central London Southwark constituency—say that not one of them has seen a super-spreader incident and none has had direct contact from the tracing system. Testing and tracing is not working, so why will the Prime Minister not get a grip and fix those systems, instead of floundering, trying to find someone else to blame, and putting more lives and more jobs at risk?
That is why we are investing massively in NHS Test and Trace, and in a co-ordinated local effort. As I have said before, we are now testing more people than any other country in Europe, and we have contacted hundreds of thousands of people across the country and persuaded them to slow the spread of the virus. Rather than continually knocking NHS Test and Trace, let us work together to support it and build public confidence.
The Prime Minister and the Government have been faced with a crisis the like of which we have not seen since world war two. Despite everything, they have kept our NHS safe and casualties to a minimum, and the economy continues to function. Will the Prime Minister commit 100% to my constituents on Ynys Môn to do everything he can to prevent a second UK-wide lockdown, and join me in thanking them for their incredible effort in keeping our island's infection rates down?
I thoroughly congratulate the people of Ynys Môn on what they are doing and on keeping infection rates down. I hope that they will continue to work with the rest of the country to follow the guidance and save lives.
Thousands of women are carrying the anxiety not only of bringing new life into this world in the middle of a pandemic, but of potentially having to go into labour alone. Despite changes to the Government’s guidelines, too few hospitals are allowing women to take a birth partner into hospital with them. As somebody who experienced very painful and long labours, I cannot bear the idea of a woman facing that alone. In order that we do not look back in shame on how we treated pregnant women and new mothers during this period, will the Prime Minister do what he can to make sure that hospitals do their bit to ensure that women do not face labour alone?
I wholly share the hon. Lady’s feelings about the vital importance of allowing women to have a birth partner with them during labour. As she rightly says, we have changed the guidelines to make that possible, but if she has particular cases in mind where this is not happening, I would be grateful if she would write to me with the details.
The Government have quite rightly focused on protecting the NHS, but we also need to keep the NHS serving patients in South Cambridgeshire, which, like other parts of the country, has relatively low levels of covid, but plenty of people with other medical conditions that need planned and emergency care. As the second wave strikes, can the Prime Minister tell me what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all patients, whatever their condition, can carry on getting the treatment that they need?
My hon. Friend is spot on. It is so important to avoid an uncontained second wave in order to protect the NHS, and allow the treatments and therapies for other non-covid afflictions to continue.
Just a month ago, the Prime Minister described his moonshot plan, under which millions of tests would be done and returned every day. He said,
“if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas.”
Families are now feeling that a normal Christmas is further away than ever, and local health officials in our area have said that people are waiting for six days, not a day, to get their test results. If we could come back from the moon and get back to what is happening on planet Earth, when will he have enough testing capacity in place so that my constituents can get their results in 24 hours?
The daily test process has gone up by 34% just in the last month, and daily capacity has gone up by 28%. As the right hon. Lady knows, by the end of this month, NHS Test and Trace is confident that it will be doing 500,000 tests—it will have capacity, I should say, for 500,000 tests a day.
No one envies the Prime Minister having to make these incredibly difficult decisions. Last week’s Office for National Statistics community survey showed that by far and away the biggest age group catching the virus is the student age group. Since age is a much bigger predictor of risk than geography, are the Prime Minister’s advisers considering making recommendations about how individuals can control their own risk by age?
One of the issues that we have—I tried to address this point earlier—particularly with the large numbers of multi-generational households such as we have in this country, is that it is very difficult to confine the virus to one age group and one generation. Alas, one of the reasons we are so concerned is that it is starting to spread quite substantially among the over-60s, as we are seeing now in the Merseyside region.
Prime Minister, disabled people have felt like an afterthought throughout this pandemic. I would like to ask one simple question that requires only a yes or no answer. Will there be a sign language interpreter at your press conference this evening?
I doubt we will get one in time, but the point is registered.
From what the Prime Minister said, I have worked out that the entirety of Thirsk and Malton is in the lowest tier of risk, and I am very keen to keep it there. Now that we have data that is super-local data, can we have restrictions that are super-local? Rather than looking at things on the county-wide level of North Yorkshire, where we have varying levels of incidence, can we look at them at a district council level, as Hambleton and Ryedale, which have very low levels of transmission?
I hear my hon. Friend, and I understand the point that he makes. Alas, as I said earlier, micro control of this virus is very difficult without restricting people’s freedom of movement in such a way as to be very difficult for people in Yorkshire.
It was very welcome to hear the First Minister of Scotland confirm earlier that the three-tier system being unveiled in Scotland in a few weeks will closely align with the one for the rest of the United Kingdom, as consistency of messaging is key to saving lives. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister confirm that a four nation, whole-UK approach remains at the heart of what the Government are trying to achieve in combating coronavirus?
Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for what he does to make sure that happens. The ways that we co-operate are much more significant than the differences between us.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that people who can work from home should do so? Therefore, will he reinstate digital democracy in this Parliament, which allowed MPs to participate in debates and ask questions while self-isolating or shielding so that they do not risk infecting other people as they travel to work, infecting others at work or being infected themselves?
On this matter, Mr Speaker, I defer to you and the House authorities.
My constituents in Ashfield have worked incredibly hard to obey all the rules and guidelines to keep covid at bay. I am therefore deeply disappointed that we have found ourselves in the same lockdown situation as Nottingham, where rates are eight times higher. We are not in tier 3, as I first feared, but that is not a fair reward for my constituents. Can my right hon. Friend please assure me that our rates will be reviewed on a weekly basis, and that when they come down we will be taken out of tier 2?
I thank my hon. Friend for representing his constituents well in the way he does. Of course, we will make sure that we regularly review the measures for his constituency, and indeed for every constituency in this country.
The only think that is world beating about the Prime Minister’s track and trace system is its capacity to take taxpayers’ money and put it in the hands of friends of the Tory party, and deliver a chaotic system. That contrasts with the performance of local government, which has performed miracles at a local level while being starved of resources by the Government, who promised money and then reneged on that promise. Will the Prime Minister now provide the resources to local government if he is going to give it extra responsibility in delivering track and trace?
I note the ideological scorn of any private sector work, which I thought had left the Labour party these days, but does not seem to have done. I share the hon. Gentleman’s veneration of local authorities, as a creature of local government myself, and that is why we have given an extra £3.7 billion to support local authorities in this crisis. As I told the House just now, there is a billion more to come.
Lincolnshire is a vast rural county with many large towns. Can the Prime Minister assure me that any future restrictions and measures imposed on my county will be as targeted as possible and be made together with Lincolnshire County Council leadership?
It is the burden of what I am saying today that we want to do everything in co-operation with local leaders and local authorities.
Football clubs such as Newport County AFC have, like many industries, been hard hit by the pandemic. They need to see the Premier League stick to its obligations to provide assistance to lower division clubs. Will the Prime Minister ensure that happens?
Yes, indeed I will.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Chancellor for the £200 billion they have already put in, which has supported employers and employees in my constituency, but North West Durham constituents in events and hospitality are under severe pressure at the moment, with restrictions already hammering their bottom line. In County Durham, what support is available for businesses? Does the Prime Minister know when the negotiations on whether we will be in tier 3 or tier 3 will be determined with local authorities?
For the implications for his constituency, my hon. Friend should look at the gov.uk website. He should be in no doubt that the Government are committed to supporting businesses, jobs and livelihoods across the country. That is why my right hon Friend the Chancellor unveiled the job support scheme, and it is why we have uprated universal credit and put in many other measures, including cuts in VAT and business rates, that will continue for a long time to come.
The Prime Minister has the difficult task of leading the country through this health crisis, and it should not be used to score political points in the way that it has been by some today. However, does he recognise the real concern that there is, even among many supporters of his party, at the impact of the policies that have been followed? There is also questioning of the effectiveness of those policies, because we are back today where we were in March of this year. What assessment has he made of the impact of the policies announced today, in terms of the forced closure of businesses, whether that is on jobs, bankruptcies, long-term health or increased levels of poverty?
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we are not back to where we were in March, because the R is not at those levels and we are not going back to a national lockdown of the kind we saw in March. What we are doing is taking a series of carefully modulated local and national measures designed together to get the R down, keep education going and keep the economy moving.
My constituents in Meriden have worked really hard to comply with the guidelines, and I am sure they will adapt to the new tier system to protect the NHS and keep the rate of infection low. Because they have worked so hard, will the Prime Minister commit to working to review things and get them out of tier 2 as soon as possible? They have been doing their part, and they deserve it.
Yes. I am aware of the feelings in the midlands and, indeed, around the country. I can tell the people of Meriden that we want to get them out of any kind of restrictions as fast as we possibly can.
Prime Minister, we are all disappointed and distressed that we are back where we were in March in many ways. The Prime Minister says that he wants to keep the economy going, but for many businesses and individuals, particularly the clinically vulnerable, that will be impossible. Will the Prime Minister and Chancellor end this chop and change, knee-jerk reaction approach that we have seen in recent days and extend the job retention scheme and furlough until next June so that businesses and individuals can have certainty and clarity about the support they will get, which will enable them to plan their way through this crisis?
I understand the point that the hon. Lady makes, but she will also understand that the schemes that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced go on until next spring. We should not forget that the original furlough scheme has yet to elapse.
The Nightingale hospital in Harrogate has been stood up ready for full-staff readiness. That 500-bed hospital was built in 18 days by 600 people—staff from the NHS, our armed services, Harrogate Borough Council and colleagues from the private sector. It was an example of local and national working together. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that combination of local and national, public and private is the way to bring all the resources we can to tackle this pandemic?
Yes, indeed. I can assure the people of Harrogate and elsewhere that we are stepping up preparations across the country, but the Nightingales, as I think Stephen Powis of the NHS has confirmed, are being stood up in the north of the country as well.
The Prime Minister will be as aware as anyone that people do not generally go to the pub to meet their own wife; they go to the pub to be with other people. In the current programme that the Prime Minister has put together, there is no support for those pubs, so he is saying that he will cover and support pubs that are forced to close, but many of those pubs will find their business model and their businesses untenable. Will the Prime Minister do more to support those pubs that might be open but, frankly, are not able to make a living?
That is exactly why, on top of the low business rates, the VAT cuts and so on—and the grants that we have given—the job support scheme is directly designed to support those businesses that will remain open, like pubs, but which are not able to trade as they normally would under some of these restrictions. That is what it is there for.
Businesses in my central London constituency are hurting because of the low footfall. While of course we need to take appropriate measures to control the virus, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we need to balance the interests of the economy, because it is only with a functioning economy that we can pay for our excellent NHS?
My hon. Friend is completely right, and that is why I made the point, in almost identical terms, earlier on.
Can I thank the Prime Minister for listening to calls from Members from across Greater Manchester on both sides of the House to work with us locally to tackle the virus while remaining in tier 2, which I think he has announced today? But does he agree with me that it is vital we take the public with us, and that means credibility that the tough measures he is outlining really do follow the evidence of where transmission is occurring? He has yet to provide evidence that closing pubs and restaurants would make a material difference in transmission, but action on households would, so will he today recommit to working with Greater Manchester leaders on tackling household transmission—proposals put forward to his office last night?
The deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, addressed that point directly earlier on today about transmission in hospitality settings. Clearly, we need to reduce the overall budget of transmission that is going on in the country, and that is one sector that we can address. I am interested in what she says about Greater Manchester; my information is slightly different. What I would hope is that we can work together to bring down the rates in Greater Manchester, which at present are certainly worrying.
Many businesses in Aylesbury are affected by the 10 pm curfew, despite the low infection rates locally, so can my right hon. Friend confirm that there is and there always will be a scientific basis for restrictions on economic activity?
Yes, I can.
Would the Prime Minister confirm that the north-east is at tier 2? Can I recommend to the Prime Minister a document published this weekend by the Association of Directors of Public Health called “Protecting our communities”? This document suggests a comprehensive national strategy that embraces locally led responses. However, for these local interventions to work, directors of public health in local authorities in the north-east need the much heralded, but as yet not forthcoming, resources, so that with their local leadership working together with the communities they serve, we might have a real chance to turn back the tide of this virus. But we need the money—real money, not promissory notes from the bank of empty rhetoric.
I do not know whether £190 billion counts as a promissory note or empty rhetoric, but that is what the Chancellor has provided so far in support. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says about local responses. That is entirely right, and we are certainly looking for locally led responses to help us to get the virus down.
Could the Prime Minister say how we can use the three-tier system to enable all types of businesses to use a risk assessment base to their operation to help them remain open and fully working in all but the very high-tier instances?
All businesses that are covid-secure should be able to keep going, and I hope that they will.
Will the Prime Minister look at the case of a young constituent of mine who has gone from a successful career in banking to facing the real prospect of bankruptcy, all because he set up his own business on the wrong side of the completely unnecessary cut-off date for self-employed support? He has used up his savings; he cannot pay the bills. Will the Prime Minister act to close this significant gap in support for the newly self-employed?
We have to have some sort of cut-off date in order to deal with the possibility of fraud. I am obviously very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and I wish him all the best. In the meantime, there is the support available under universal credit, but the best thing for him and for the whole economy is to keep things moving and to hope that he gets the kind of job that he wants as fast as possible.
In Delyn, which would likely fall into tier 2 on the new scale, we have draconian travel bans imposed by the Welsh Government, which mean that people can go shopping 20 miles in one direction but cannot go half a mile in the other to visit family. That movement restriction makes a massive difference to business success, but Treasury support will not apply because businesses are not being mandated to close. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the virus does not respect county boundaries and join me and my north Wales colleagues in calling on the Labour Government in Wales to publish their information and justify their decisions, as he does on a regular basis?
I certainly echo what my hon. Friend says about the Government in Wales. Businesses of the kind that he refers to in his constituency obviously have access to the job support system when they are forced to trade in a way that is not normal for them.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) asked the Prime Minister about partners attending labour, he said that if she had any problematic examples, she should bring them to his attention. I have a constituent who so far in her pregnancy has lost two of her three triplets, one at eight weeks and one at 20 weeks. She was then told that she could not bring her partner with her to the 34-week scan. Obviously, scans ought to be good news for parents, but sometimes they are not. We had an intervention from the Mayor and support from the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, and her partner was then allowed to visit, but this is another issue. It is not just about attending labour; the partner ought to be there for scans as well.
I am so sorry for the experience of the hon. Lady’s constituent. She makes a very important point about partners being there for scans. I will look into the matter she raises.
I welcome the Government’s approach to using health, economic and behavioural evidence in reaching their decisions, but a recent poll suggested that only some three quarters of people expected to isolate intended to do so, and that as few as one in five had actually done so. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key to tackling this pandemic is shared responsibility, not just between national and local government but with every single citizen?
Indeed. Everybody who is told to self-isolate because they have been in contact with somebody with an index case of covid should remember that there is £500 to help them but also a £10,000 fine if they fail to do so and therefore risk the virus spreading further.
Liverpool will be placed on the highest restrictions from Wednesday, with the closure of pubs, clubs, gyms and other leisure facilities for at least four weeks. Will the Government stand by their commitment to safeguard businesses by properly compensating them and allowing them to survive the latest restrictions imposed on Liverpool city region, and provide us with the necessary financial support to protect jobs and livelihoods?
Yes, indeed. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced grants of up to £3,000 and why we have the job support system, which is designed to help people in exactly the circumstances the hon. Lady describes.
I welcome the introduction of three tiers, which will give more certainty to everyone, but while hospitality outlets in Rugby have worked hard to make their premises safe and have been supported by police, community wardens, business improvement district rangers and street pastors, the 10 o’clock curfew has led to many leaving the pub to go to a shop to stock up with booze, often with their friends, to drink at home. If it is necessary to keep 10 o’clock closing, should off-licences be treated equally?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point about people’s behaviour after leaving the pub. That is why it is vital that everybody shows common sense and follows the guidance.
You and I, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister could probably live on a one-third pay cut on our pay. Someone on the minimum wage, with a one-third pay cut on their pay, cannot live and pay the bills and will therefore be disincentivised to follow the rules. Will the Prime Minister look again just at the minimum wage people to ensure that the new scheme has a floor?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is why we have extended the job support system. The universal credit system is also there to provide a safety net and to help people, precisely because, as their incomes may go down, so universal credit goes up. That is the point of the system.
Every weekend in my constituency, a large car boot sale takes place. I have no objection to that, but next weekend, just a few hundred yards down the road, Cheltenham races will be run without any paying spectators. Surely that is an anomaly. Will the Prime Minister address that by allowing sporting venues to open to welcome paying spectators, as long as they do so in a safe way?
We are generally well disposed towards any business or organisation that allows its activities to take place in a covid-secure way. We will proceed with our plans to do that for sporting events as soon as we possibly can. As for the car boot sale in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I urge everybody attending it to observe social distancing and stop the spread of the virus.
This morning, Professor Van-Tam said that the resurgence in covid-19 cases among young people is being spread to the older generation. We know that the World Health Organisation’s mantra is “Test, test, test”, but the test, trace and isolate system is not good enough. Does the Prime Minister think that universities such as Hull University in my constituency should set up their own testing facility for all their students, including asymptomatic students, as the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University are now doing?
I believe the hon. Lady has mentioned the issue of Hull University’s testing facilities before—perhaps it was another hon. Member—but I will certainly find out what the obstacle is to Hull’s testing facilities. There is no reason in principle why that university should not be testing in the way that the other universities she mentioned are doing.
I repeat Bournemouth University’s offer to establish a testing lab on its campus to help the local community. I welcome today’s statement, but the Prime Minister is well aware of the importance of the hospitality industry to Bournemouth’s economy. I would be very grateful if he reviewed the 10 pm curfew as urgently as possible.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point and I have every sympathy with Bournemouth’s hospitality industry, which I have enjoyed many times in the past, as I am sure we all have. Alas, we have to make restrictions in the overall volume of transmission that is taking place in our society. That is an obvious place to make a difference, and that is what we are doing.
Welcome back, Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am glad to be back. My wife and I are still speaking after two weeks. If there had been a third week, there would have been a problem, but we are still together.
Could the Prime Minister provide an outline of his discussions with the First Minister, with special reference to the proposed circuit breakers that some chief medical officers are calling for, acknowledging that they would be successful only if they were UK-wide and centrally funded, as there is simply no funding available at present to allow businesses to continue to operate if they are forced to close yet again? This is particularly relevant to areas such as mine in Strangford, which has the second-lowest number of cases in the whole of Northern Ireland.
One of the problems is that places like Strabane in Northern Ireland have about 820 cases per 100,000, which is about the highest in the UK, perhaps in the whole of Europe. That is why we have to take the actions we are taking. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the circuit breaker. We want to give these measures time to work, if we possibly can.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his welcome statement? I have been visiting pubs and event businesses in Meon Valley, where the covid transmission rate is below the national average. What reassurance can he give to businesses, which are looking to plan ahead, that restrictions will be lifted flexibly where transmissions revert to a low level?
I can give my hon. Friend every possible assurance that as soon as transmission is obviously down—as soon as we have got the R down below 1— things will change very much indeed.
I thank the Prime Minister and his team for engaging across the weekend, and for the decision to place Warrington into tier 2, rather than including it in the wider Merseyside region. One of the many questions I am asked by businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, is: what are the criteria for moving Warrington back into tier 1 and reducing the level of restrictions locally?
That is a very good question. A lot of people ask about the precise criteria. We look at a number of different measures. We look at the hospital admissions and the rate of transmissions in the community. A number of things are taken into account, but one thing that was clearly and particularly influential in the decision on Merseyside was the transmission, as has just been mentioned, into the over-60s group, which is obviously very concerning. As I just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond), when the R comes down, that changes it.
Under the initial furlough scheme, staff had 80% of their salary paid if there was no work for them, but the Chancellor’s new scheme pays only two thirds of wages, which for minimum wage staff can be as little as £5.80 an hour. And only those businesses forced to close will get support, even though supply chain businesses will also be hit. If we are going to beat this virus, we need a full package of financial support in all tier 2 and tier 3 areas that pays everyone affected 80% of their wages. Can the Prime Minister commit to providing that support?
I am proud of this Government’s record in raising the living wage by record sums. The hon. Lady will have heard what I said earlier about continuing with our support for universal credit—continuing with the uplift in universal credit—for the whole of this financial year.
While I was volunteering just this morning at Watford General Hospital, where it happens to be Think Clean week, the wonderful specialist infection prevention and control support worker Cheryl Atkins used an ultraviolet system to show me how easily this or any virus can spread through poor hand hygiene. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is incumbent on us all to fight covid by washing our hands regularly and by following the incredibly simple yet tremendously powerful guidance of “Hands, face, space”?
I agree totally with my hon. Friend, and it should be Think Clean week in Watford and across the whole of the UK.
Today the Government have placed Merseyside into tier 3 lockdown. For 10 long years, my city has been under the boot of Tory austerity, and now the Prime Minister intends to shut down our economy while keeping furlough support at 67%, which has all the hallmarks of once again placing our city into a state of managed decline. Will he listen to our metro Mayor, our city Mayor and local MPs and stump up the cash for a furlough scheme based on 80% of wages, without the reliance, as he keeps saying, on universal credit? If it was the right thing to do in March, it is the right thing to do now.
I am grateful to Steve Rotheram and other leaders in that area for the support they are giving for the measures we are putting in place. I think that they understand the real dilemma that we face, which is that we must get the virus down but we must also keep the economy going and support jobs. That is what we are doing.
It is really frustrating that Mansfield is heading into new restrictions when our rate of transmission is 10% of that of Nottingham city—despite being further away from it than Derby, for example, which is not being similarly restricted. I understand the need to get ahead of the virus, but I argued strongly against these arbitrary-seeming boundaries. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this will be regularly and properly reviewed, and that Mansfield will not be automatically tied to the city’s fate when it comes to removing these restrictions in the future?
I understand completely the frustrations of the people of Mansfield. I am afraid that further restrictions are necessary across the country in the way that we have outlined today, but of course they will be reviewed very regularly.
The Halton part of my constituency in Merseyside has been placed in tier 3. The Cheshire West and Chester part is in tier 2. In the Cheshire West and Chester part, we have the nonsense of the 10 pm curfew, which does not follow the evidence and needs to be reviewed and changed. In the Halton part, we have people who are now required to live on 67% of the minimum wage, which is nowhere near sufficient. Look at this again, Prime Minister. Step up and look at this again.
I am afraid I must reject what the hon. Gentleman says in the sense that I think he is being inconsistent or trying to have it both ways. Most people, I think, in this country want to see restrictions that get the virus down, and that is what we are bringing forward and supporting. I think most people in this country also want to see support for people who are put out of business through no fault of their own, and that is what we are also providing.
Carshalton and Wallington residents have worked hard to keep the virus rate down to one of the lowest levels in London; however, with varying degrees of guidance and restrictions across the country, sometimes the guidance can be difficult to follow and people need clarification. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this new covid three-level alert system will make it easier for people to understand and ultimately follow the guidance?
Yes, indeed; that is why we have gone for the three-tier approach and anybody in any doubt whatever, whether or not in Carshalton—I thank my hon. Friend’s constituents for the effort that they have made—should get on to the gov.uk website and see what they need to do to comply.
Many of my constituents in Luton South work for Luton airport, its supply chain and linked businesses, such as Theobolds Coaches, which I visited last Friday. While businesses in tier 3 that are forced to close will be offered some Government support, what support will be offered to those businesses in tourism and airports that are not in tier 3 but are so distinctly affected by the addition of tier 3, and are struggling due to a lack of consumer confidence?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point, but for some of the businesses that she talks about—aviation, for instance—we have packages. Whether through Time to Pay or through the Birch process, we are trying to look after the aviation sector, but for all businesses that are unable to trade as normal the joint support system is there.
Pubs, restaurants and cafés in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington have invested heavily to create covid-secure environments. That is reflected in the fact that, on the last figures I have, in the last 14 days there were no recorded covid outbreaks in such places and there is no evidence at all of significant transmission of covid in these important community assets. Will the Prime Minister therefore join me in thanking local business owners for their efforts in creating such secure environments, and agree that we should do everything possible to ask local residents, within reason and abiding by Government guidance, to support these important hospitality venues and community assets?
Yes, indeed. I thank the people of Bury and I am, of course, sorry for all the privations that are being endured, not just in Bury but across the country. The best way to get the businesses that my hon. Friend talks about back on their feet is for us all, as I say, to follow the guidance, get the R down and take the country forward.
I have listened to the Prime Minister this afternoon, but the reality remains that if the Government do not quickly set out much more comprehensive support for places such as Bradford, where local restrictions are having a disastrous impact on our businesses and communities, many jobs will be lost in our local economy, and businesses will go to the wall. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that every area gets the support that it needs, and will he reopen the discretionary grant scheme so that local authorities such as Bradford can respond to the needs of their businesses and communities to protect jobs and livelihoods?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are supporting local authorities such as Bradford not just with the £3.6 billion we have already given, but as I said earlier this afternoon with another £1 billion to come.
I thank the Prime Minister for his very clear statement, but compliance will be a major issue even if people understand the rules. Part of the problem is that people think the situation will just go on and on for the next decade. Although I understand the Prime Minister’s reluctance to talk too much about a vaccine—he made that clear in an earlier answer—can he help people in Lichfield and the rest of the country by saying that, with new drugs and new vaccines, once we have got over this winter, that will be it?
I have very little doubt that, once we have got through to spring, we will be in a completely different environment. Indeed, I have high hopes that things will change very fast as a result, as my hon. Friend says, of new technologies that are coming on stream. But for the time being we have to concentrate on the tools we have in hand, and those tools are the packages of restrictions that we have set out and the basic guidance about restricting contact person to person and restricting the spread of the virus. That is what we have to do for the time being.
The reality for many in the hospitality sector is not a close-down for a week or two, but a shutdown for the rest of the winter season. These businesses are vibrant and can provide vital jobs when the spring comes around, as they have done in years past, but only if they can survive this closure. When Germany can furlough through until next year, why won’t the United Kingdom?
The Chancellor has set out the job support scheme, which, as he said, goes through till next year.
I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that if we are to get broad compliance with these very tough lockdown measures, ordinary, sensible working people need to understand that they are fair and logical. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree to publish precise details of not just what the rules are but why each one is necessary?
Key to stopping the spread of the virus is giving people the financial support they need to self-isolate when they need to, but millions of working people still do not have that. The Government’s test and trace support payment scheme is totally inadequate; only a small proportion of workers qualify, and even for those who do, at £500 for up to two weeks, the scheme pays less than the minimum wage. Will the Prime Minister finally do as I urged him at Prime Minister’s questions back in March and raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage, extend it to cover all workers and give people the financial security they need to self-isolate?
I just remind the hon. Lady that in addition to the £500, there is also the support of universal credit. As to those who are thinking of not isolating still, alas I must tell the House that there is a fine of £10,000.
I was glad to hear the Prime Minister refer in his opening statement to the need to continue elective operations. My own trust has pledged to continue them through winter for as long as possible. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the decision will continue to be locally led and that he will do all he can to prevent a backlog?
Yes, and it is exactly in order to prevent a further backlog that we need to prevent an uncontained outbreak of coronavirus now. That is why we are putting in place the measures we are.
The Prime Minister should have no problem with giving me a positive answer to my question. For lockdown restrictions to work, public support is essential. For people to give up what they enjoy most, they need to understand why. Will the Prime Minister commit to sharing with the public the evidence on why specific types of businesses have been forced to close?
I repeat the undertaking that I just gave.
I thank the Prime Minister for his support for my campaign to ensure that all women can have partners with them for all scans and all their labour, but will he confirm whether pregnant women throughout the country who are in their third trimester should be shielding, given their much higher vulnerability to covid, and that employers should recognise that and support them to work from home or in roles that are not on the frontline?
Pregnant women who are in any doubt about what they should do to shield from covid should consult the gov.uk website for advice, because there is plenty there for pregnancies.
I understand and agree with the need to prevent households from mixing to cut covid rates on Merseyside, but this tough local lockdown is going to destroy many businesses and jobs that will not be eligible for the limited local furlough so far announced by the Chancellor, because they will not be forced to close by law—they will just lose most of their business. Will the Prime Minister undertake to look again, with his Chancellor, at the business support scheme, with the aim of ensuring that jobs and businesses can survive this tough next six months and will be able to grow bigger again in better times, rather than have to close now, with all the misery, unemployment and bankruptcy that is going to result?
Of course, in addition to the billions that we have invested—including £19 billion in coronavirus business interruption loans to small and medium-sized enterprises and £38 billion in bounce back loans, all of which are still available—we are making cash grants of up to £3,000 for businesses, such as those in Merseyside, that have been forced to close as a result of local lockdowns.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s expressing the view that a second national lockdown is not the right course for our country. As well as kicking the can down the road, it would be totally unfair on areas, such as the one that I represent, that for all manner of reasons—and there are many—have a completely different rate. Given the fact that we obviously have a north-south split in our country right now—there is no judgment or blame in that, and there should not be; it is just a stark fact—what is the Prime Minister’s opinion on that and what information has he been given by the experts as to why?
The reality is that the disease is rising across the country. We have seen in other European countries and around the world that it sometimes rises fastest in one place rather than another. The sensible thing is to tackle it in a local way, which is what we are doing.
Between 27 September and 3 October, 89% of positive cases were reached by local authority public health tracing in Wales, but for the equivalent period just 74% were reached by the outsourced, centralised system in England. That is not ideology; that is just better virus-control policy to save lives. Test and trace needs trust to be effective. Does the Prime Minister now acknowledge that outsourcing the system was an error?
No—no more than getting a vaccine or test device from the private sector is an error. We need a mixture of public and private and of national and local, and that is what we are doing.
My Colne Valley constituency, as part of the Kirklees Council area, which is part of West Yorkshire, is going into tier 2 of the covid restrictions. Will the Prime Minister please tell me and my constituents whether we are now tied to the fortunes of West Yorkshire as a whole? Or can smaller, more localised geographical areas move out of the tiers as people make local sacrifices?
I appreciate the sacrifice that my hon. Friend’s constituents have been making, and I am sorry for the privations that are being visited on people across the country. To see exactly where you are and what you need to do, get on the website. As soon as we can take areas out of the measures that they are in, of course we will do so.
Without evidence, people will not have confidence in the Government, so what is the scientific evidence for the restrictions that the Prime Minister has announced, which will affect 1.5 million people in the Liverpool city region? People need hope that these measures will be short-lived, so what is the exit strategy and specifically what will the infection rate have to fall to for the restrictions in the Liverpool city region to be lifted?
Clearly, the most important thing is that the R should get below 1.
Seasonal flu deaths for the past two years have been relatively light, which means that, in the normal course of things, we would expect a hard winter, noting that in 2014-15 there were 26,000 deaths and in 2017-18 there were 28,000. I appreciate that the Government are doing everything they can to increase the number of vaccinations, but given that we can vaccinate against that disease, unlike covid, will the Prime Minister redouble his efforts to ensure that those who are vulnerable this winter get the flu vaccine that they need?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. That is why I encourage everybody who is vulnerable to get a flu vaccine now, and that is why we have 30 million available.
Today we had a Yorkshire briefing with 15 minutes’ notice that failed to invite all Yorkshire MPs, and neither have all Yorkshire council leaders been contacted. We are left waiting for the Prime Minister’s website update to find out which tier we are in. This shambles is creating confusion and fear, and we need clarity, so will decisions about Hull and East Riding be made together as part of Yorkshire, made separately, or made as part of Yorkshire and the Humber? How much notice of the changes will we get?
I can tell the hon. Lady that the Government at all levels have been in constant contact with authorities in Yorkshire for the past few days, and I am very grateful for their co-operation.
I recognise the Prime Minister’s focus in his statement on introducing a much more simplified restriction regime that offers greater clarity and strikes a balance between the risk of spreading the virus and economic activity. Can he tell us what discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations on taking a uniform approach across the United Kingdom, and is he able to update us on whether the Leader of the Opposition has supported such activity in engaging with the Welsh Government to encourage them to follow suit, because this will have a major effect on Treasury support and the simplicity that businesses in my constituency can draw on?
It is certainly the case that there is a wide measure of co-operation across all the devolved Administrations with the Government, and it is also the case that, to the best of my knowledge, the Leader of the Opposition has at least sometimes backed the restrictions. I hope very much that we will continue to work in that collaborative way.
The measures that my right hon. Friend has announced today are sadly necessary, given the sharp rise in cases, but hospitality businesses in Rushcliffe, such as the fantastic community-owned Air Hostess pub in Tollerton, which I visited last week, are understandably worried about the impact that stopping households mixing will have on their business just as they have got back on their feet. Can my right hon. Friend confirm how often the tier 2 measures will be reviewed, and can he assure me that they will be kept in place in Rushcliffe only until infection levels have decreased in the borough?
I understand my hon. Friend’s anxieties and the anxieties of the people of Rushcliffe, and we will keep all restrictions under constant review in order to remove them as soon as we possibly can.
It is quite clear, as we move into further restrictions and with the virus increasing, that we are not going to go back to live music anytime soon. My Belvidere constituent Craig Johnston came to see me at my surgery on Friday, and he is concerned by the lack of support for people in the live music industry. What is the Prime Minister going to do for Craig?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue, and that is why we put £1.57 billion into supporting the arts. That funding also covers freelancers and people who are involved in the live music industry, but the best thing for them is to get those types of events back up and running as fast as possible.
I would like to tackle a misnomer, if I may. Is it not because this Conservative Government respect personal freedoms that these difficult but pragmatic measures are necessary in the short term to keep people safe?
It is indeed, because people should have the freedom from fear, the freedom from seeing their jobs destroyed in the long term and the freedom to go about their lives in the normal way. The only way to restore those freedoms to this country is for us all to follow the guidance, get through this thing in the way that we are doing and get back to normal as fast as possible.
Test, track and isolate must be made to work; without it, nothing can work. Can the Prime Minister tell me where transmission is occurring in Newcastle now, rather than guessing based on US data? If he cannot, after six months and hundreds of millions of pounds spent on private contractors to track transmission, will he accept that fundamentally what is not working in this pandemic is the Prime Minister, and the businesses and people of Newcastle are paying the price?
It is thanks to the great expansion of NHS Test and Trace that we know where the virus is being transmitted in this country and where the incidence is rising, and contrary to what the hon. Lady says, we know it with increasing and granular detail. That enables us to take the local measures that we are taking, and I take it from what she said that she supports those measures in Newcastle and the north-east.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a flexible local approach to tackle outbreaks? Does he also agree that, when looking at which tier an area moves into, the distinct nature of outbreaks at universities should be taken into account for authorities containing a university, such as Newcastle-under-Lyme, rather than relying on a single, catch-all case rate?
Indeed, but as I said earlier, I am reluctant to make a hard-and-fast distinction between students and other members of the population. They are heir to the same afflictions as the rest of us. By and large, students are doing a great job in following the guidance, and we encourage all of them to do that.
Whatever new restrictions are introduced in each of the three tiers that the Prime Minister has announced, it is essential that we do everything we can to keep children at school and keep children learning. With that in mind, will he ensure that, where a positive case is identified in a school, the smallest possible number of children are sent home, rather than a whole year group, as is sometimes the case at present? Will he do that to ensure that children’s long-term opportunities are not damaged, that inequality does not rise further and that children’s education is not hurt even more by the necessary fight against this virus?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an exceptionally important point. A great deal of work is being done on the right size of the bubble, as it were, and how many infections should be decisive in taking action in schools. I am very happy to say that—at the moment, at least—we have almost 90% of kids in school and 99.9% of schools open. That is a great achievement by teachers, parents and pupils alike.
The furlough and self-employment schemes have provided crucial help to many millions of people, but unfortunately, around 3 million fell outside the scope of those schemes. May I appeal for help for those groups, such as the newly employed, the newly self-employed, directors of limited companies and freelancers on short-term contracts? Some of them are suffering real hardship.
Indeed, and I have mentioned the £13.5 billion that we have already given to the self-employed. My right hon. Friend understands the difficulties of the cut-off date, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has illustrated. It is to help people across the country that we have increased universal credit, for instance, which will continue for this whole financial year.