House of Commons
Wednesday 14 October 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
It has come to my attention that, owing to an oversight in the Public Bill Office, the Government were not invited to signify Queen’s consent last night on Third Reading of the Fisheries Bill. I am satisfied that Queen’s consent is required and that it has been obtained, as it was signified for the Bill in the House of Lords on Wednesday 15 July this year. If a Privy Councillor will now signify formally that the Queen’s consent was obtained for this Bill, I will direct that the appropriate entry be made in the Journal for yesterday’s proceedings.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
EU Trade Negotiations
I have regular discussions with Welsh Ministers on a range of issues, including EU negotiations. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations meets regularly. My Cabinet and ministerial colleagues frequently meet Ministers from the devolved Administrations.
Tomorrow is the day the Prime Minister has set as the deadline for a trade deal with the EU. So far, the devolved Administrations have been left out of the loop or deliberately kept in the dark on some details. Does the Secretary of State believe that withholding key information and detail at such a stage as this shows respect or disrespect to the devolved Administrations?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s accusation. Given the number of meetings I have personally been in with Ministers from the devolved nations, let alone other colleagues, it would be a difficult charge to land to suggest that they have not been closely involved with the process right from the beginning. I suspect his comments are based on the fact that he does not like the reality of what is going on, rather than being a legitimate comment.
Last week, it was revealed that the Secretary of State’s Government have actively sought to conceal information from the Welsh Government. This information included the likelihood of food shortages and their intention to grab new powers. That does not sound like inter- governmental parity of esteem. Where does his role to represent the Tory party in Wales stop and his role to build trust and mutual respect start?
The first responsibility in this particular context is to respect the fact that 55% of people in Wales voted to leave the European Union, and it seems astonishing that the party of Wales, represented by the right hon. Lady, is still so out of step with the people of Wales when it comes to that. The clock is not being turned back, and what we are attempting to do is to deliver a deal that respects that decision and all the institutions in Wales, which I thought we both valued.
Trust in politicians is sadly diminishing, because politicians are not seen to answer the question at hand. Back to the matter of trust, transmission rates indicate that Wales stands on the brink of a circuit-break announcement. Businesses in Wales, and people who need to self-isolate, seek assurance that they can trust the Treasury to back up covid-19 control measures made in Wales for Wales. Can the Secretary of State guarantee to the people of Wales that they can, indeed, trust the Government to do this?
Having seen the Chancellor ensure that the Welsh Government have had £4.4 billion-worth of UK taxpayers’ money for exactly that purpose, I hope the right hon. Lady would share my view that we are looking at the UK in the round. Covid is an international problem, and it does not respect political boundaries. The Chancellor’s announcements make it very clear that he sees all the UK as a priority, not just individual component parts, and I would think the numbers speak for themselves.
We have, of course, worked hand in hand with the Welsh Government throughout the covid-19 pandemic. The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Welsh Ministers about the ongoing UK-wide response to covid-19, and those include discussions between the Secretary of State and the First Minister and, of course, meetings between the UK Government and all devolved institutions.
Restricting the virus is vital, but the Welsh Government’s lockdown measures in Clwyd South and the rest of north Wales need reviewing. Given the difficulties they are causing, particularly for hospitality, the wedding industry and leisure businesses, by using county boundaries rather than being targeted on the specific areas with high covid case numbers, is the Minister able to outline how often the Welsh Government have invited the UK Government to participate in their covid-19 planning meetings and whether they have discussed using more detailed evidence by community rather than just by county?
That is a very good question. Although the UK Government extend an open invitation to the devolved Administrations to take part in Cobra meetings and ministerial implementation groups, the same spirit of co-operation has not thus far been forthcoming. I was invited to one meeting by Welsh Government Ministers to discuss parts that were reserved to the UK Government anyway. We stand ready to accept the same level of co-operation from Welsh Government as we have always extended to them.
With cases rising across the UK, the First Minister has called for an extraordinary meeting of Cobra to discuss plans for a so-called circuit-break lockdown. The measures are already under active consideration in Wales and would be implemented by the Welsh Government if they need to be, but of course, any such measures are more effective if we apply them with a four-nation approach across the whole UK. Will the Government now listen to their own scientific advisers and the Opposition and agree to meet the devolved nations to discuss these specific proposals?
Throughout this pandemic, the Government have listened to a wide range of scientific advisers, some of whom will be advising circuit breakers, whereas others will be suggesting that measures are too strict. The Government have listened to all and tried to steer a course through the middle of this. They have listened to Welsh Government Ministers on numerous occasions, with more than 100 such meetings having taken place. We will continue to listen with an open mind and to follow the evidence.
Unlike this Tory Government in England, our Labour Government in Wales do follow the science. The rules in Wales have stopped people taking the virus with them from high-prevalence to low-prevalence areas, thus protecting people’s lives. We want the same for visitors to Wales from across the rest of the UK, where rates are even higher, so why are this Tory Government ignoring the First Minister yet again, failing to stand up for the people of Wales and playing politics with people’s lives?
We certainly are not playing politics with people’s lives. The hon. Lady will be aware that 25% of the workforce of Wales travel over to England to work there, and playing politics with people’s lives potentially means looking at livelihoods as well. The reality is that we have followed the science all the way through this process and, more or less, the Welsh Government have followed exactly what the UK Government are doing.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) says we should follow the science, but 10 minutes ago, Public Health Wales told me that it did not even carry out a community-level analysis prior to instigating these lockdown measures. Does my hon. Friend agree that this virus does not respect county borders and that, once again, all the Labour Welsh Government are doing is throttling businesses and letting down the people of north Wales?
First, let me wish my hon. Friend penblwydd hapus for tomorrow. It is the case, of course, that this virus does not respect boundaries, but the UK Government do. Although I fully accept that some people may have concerns about the slightly different approach the Welsh Government sometimes adopt in this matter, the UK Government respect devolution and the reality of Welsh government, and my role as a Minister is to work constructively with Welsh Government Ministers. At this moment, I do not wish to start playing politics and criticising them.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the hon. Gentleman last week to confirm that he is expecting to provide £2.5 million needed for the tip repairs in Tylorstown, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The letter also clarifies that the Chief Secretary is waiting to hear further from the Welsh Government on an additional request to access the reserve.
That was useless yet again. I have been asking for the money for the Rhondda for months. The Prime Minister wrote to me in June saying that he recognised that Wales had been particularly badly hit by Storm Dennis and that the UK Government would look seriously at any requests for funding. I am delighted that we have got the £2.5 million for the Tylorstown tip, but we need £60 million to mend culverts and drains and to make people’s houses secure in Pontypridd, the Rhondda and across the whole of Rhondda Cynon Taf. Make sure you earn your money by getting us the money in the Rhondda.
What a contrast with the conversation the hon. Gentleman and I had last when I reported this news to him; he was charm and diplomacy itself then, yet when he gets in the Chamber with an audience, he becomes a different personality. I will remind him, just in case he has forgotten, what the Chief Secretary’s letter actually says. Among other things, he says, “I am expecting to provide the required funding.” That is in relation to the Welsh Government confirming they will make a reserve claim for 2020-21. So this process is under way. It does require the Welsh Government to come to the party, too, but they have not yet done so. Of course a lot of this is in the devolved space, so the hon. Gentleman cannot just pick and choose which bits of devolution suit his desire to make a statement in the Chamber.
Covid-19: Financial Support
Tourism and hospitality is the backbone of the economy of the Gower peninsula. My constituent Lara Joslin runs the Kings Head in Llangennith. She is fighting to keep her family businesses alive. Lara runs a popular rural pub with accommodation, which, like many others in Gower, provides vital part-time jobs for local people. Why is the Secretary of State not banging on the door of the Treasury to right the wrong of the job support scheme failing to support independent hospitality businesses such as Lara’s?
The hon. Lady and I have a similar dependence on tourism in our constituencies, so I understand absolutely the argument she makes about its value, but I remind her that so far UK taxpayers have contributed £1.1 billion by way of bounce back loans; £490 million in self-employed income support; £303 million in coronavirus business interruption loans; £30 million-worth of eat out to help out; future funding of £7 million—I would carry on, Mr Speaker, if only you would let me—and that is not to mention the 401,000 employees on furlough. The Treasury has gone above and beyond the international average and tried to get to every single business in every single area of the UK, and that includes Gower just as much as anywhere else.
For those who are able to access the Government’s new job support scheme—many are locked out or deemed by the Government to be in unviable jobs—a cut of a third of wages for the low paid makes it extremely hard to pay bills and feed families. Does the Secretary of State really get this? If so, will Wales Office Ministers fight to get a better scheme?
Often in this questions session we have talked about the fact that there will always be those in all our constituencies who do not quite fit every single one of the intervention measures that the Chancellor has announced over the past few months. In those circumstances, of course we want to be as flexible as possible and to try to find ways, through either the intervention schemes or universal credit, to support the hardest-hit families as best we can. If the hon. Lady brings to my attention individual examples of those gaps, I will of course do my best to address them.
Throughout this pandemic, Welsh businesses have done all they can to stay open and stay trading, with so many drawing on the support grants and loans that have been so important in keeping them afloat. But as more areas of the country come under local restrictions, with trading halted or severely limited, and amid fears about public confidence, many businesses feel that they have absolutely maxed out on their borrowing and are worried about the future. What plan do the Government have to support businesses that are now heavily in debt, to make sure that the burden of repayments in the coming months does not mean that they go under?
I start by expressing some confusion: on the one hand, Opposition Members are articulating a Welsh Government view that the existing interventions are not strict enough, but on the other, the hon. Lady gets to her feet and says that the interventions are almost imposing undue hardship. It is quite difficult to know exactly where the Opposition stand on getting the balance right between disease control and the maintaining of a vibrant economy. At each and every stage of this process, the Chancellor has been flexible and adaptable and has recognised that the situation is changing, often by the hour, let alone by the day or week. The financial interventions, which up to now have been about £4.4 billion by way of Barnettised contributions to the Welsh Government—and we could probably double that for the other interventions, which are more direct—have supported business in Wales. But of course, as the circumstances change and our reaction changes, so we will remain flexible.
Indeed, we have always said that any restrictions need to be backed up with proper financial support measures for business. To reduce the spread of the virus it is also vital that workers who are unwell or asked to self-isolate do actually stay off work, but as hours are reduced in sectors such as hospitality, an increasing number of Welsh workers will find themselves falling below the minimum weekly earnings threshold needed to qualify for statutory sick pay. To expect them to live off nothing for a fortnight is totally unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State urge the Chancellor to do the decent thing and extend the statutory sick pay scheme to all workers?
I know from my personal contact with the Chancellor over the past few weeks that he is looking at all these options. That is why the winter resilience measures were brought in a week or so ago, on top of all the other measures he has introduced, which recognise the very difficult situation in which so many people find themselves. I am not going to stand here and say that we are never going to consider another option; of course we will. We will always look at the individual circumstances, particularly of those who are hardest hit.
Further to our recent meeting, with the various covid funding measures being announced by the Government sometimes seeming haphazardly and causing some confusion—the bid for football here, the bid for the arts there and now, apparently, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy funding for universities in Wales even though the matter is devolved—will the Minister consider publishing a regular simple table of the Government’s covid funding with the consequential amounts for Wales if there are such?
City and Growth Deals
I am committed to driving forward each of the growth deals in Wales and, since March, have taken part in 24 meetings with representatives of Wales city and growth deals. I recently visited Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituency after approving the Pembroke Dock marine development, one of the many growth deal projects that will be contributing to levelling up in Wales.
Last week, the Prime Minister outlined how we can build back better by investing in areas such as hydrogen, green energy and electric mobility. Does the Minister agree that, while it is an opportunity for the whole United Kingdom, we should particularly put Wales at the heart of that green revolution?
I am very happy to agree with that. The Prime Minister’s commitment last week was a game changer, quadrupling offshore wind energy by 2030, doubling the amount of support for renewables projects and providing £160 million to support infrastructure and one gigawatt of new floating wind projects. That is all clear evidence of this Government’s commitment to a green and resilient economic recovery from the coronavirus.
UK Internal Market Bill
The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will protect seamless trade across the United Kingdom, which will benefit people in all corners of the UK and, indeed, of this House. Our market access guarantee will provide certainty for Welsh businesses as the transition period ends and provide a firm foundation upon which businesses may flourish.
Obviously, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, the whole of Staffordshire, and indeed the whole of the west midlands, there are a number of businesses that both source from and supply to Wales. Those businesses need the certainty that standards will be observed and that what they produce will be able to be sold into different markets around the United Kingdom, and particularly in Wales. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will deliver on that?
I can absolutely confirm that. I hope all Members of this House are listening to the wise words of my hon. Friend. The Bill provides a vital guarantee that businesses in his constituency, and in all constituencies across the UK, will be able to continue to trade confidently within our internal market as the transition period ends.
Covid-19: Economic Recovery
The UK Government have provided a support package for Welsh businesses and communities in recent weeks, including the Government’s £30 billion plan for jobs. Our ambition remains to secure jobs, stimulate growth and provide opportunities to level up Wales.
I thank the Secretary of State for his financial support for Wales and for the devolved Welsh Government. Does he agree that, if the Welsh Government want to trigger further restrictions and go beyond Government measures, which should ultimately be used as a last resort, they need to provide plans for how they will financially support the industries that will be hit as a result?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Barnettised numbers, which total £4.4 billion so far, do give the Welsh Government a degree of flexibility in addressing issues if the evidence supports doing it in a slightly different way. There are one or two examples of where they have introduced their own interventions, courtesy of money provided by UK taxpayers, but the overriding point is that there does need to be a degree of collaboration and co-operation that straddles all the countries of the UK, because this is an international and a national challenge.
Like me, the Secretary of State will have welcomed the vision set out by the Prime Minister last week for expanding renewable energy and, importantly, the commitment to boosting floating offshore wind power, which represents such a big opportunity for us in Wales. May I ask him if he would use his good offices to ensure that all the relevant players in this—the private sector developers that have projects ready to go, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed—are all on the same page, working towards a shared goal so that we get decisions made in a timely way?
Absolutely. I agree with my right hon. Friend and neighbour’s assessment of the situation. We were all encouraged by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary’s comments just now in that respect. I can, I hope, encourage my right hon. Friend by saying that I am meeting the Crown Estate the day after tomorrow, I think, to discuss the potential delays, which at the moment look like being its problem, and we need to unblock that.
Covid-19: Employment Support
I have frequent discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. At least 510,000 people in Wales have been directly supported by the measures we have so far put in place. However, the best possible support we can provide is to get behind the national effort and public health guidelines to ensure that we overcome this crisis sooner rather than later.
With the UK’s unemployment rate at its highest level in three years, it is clear that many workers in Wales will need to rely on social security in order to get back on their feet. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is only fair to update legacy benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance to match the increase in universal credit that was announced earlier this year?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Conversations I have had with the Department for Work and Pensions, and indeed the Chancellor, have touched on this very issue. This is why the arrangements on universal credit have been as flexible as they can be. The Department is making an effort to ensure that everybody is accounted for and that those who might fall into the gaps we referred to earlier are properly looked after. That is very much uppermost in the minds of Cabinet and ministerial colleagues. I can give her that assurance.
Full-fibre Broadband Network
The Government are committed to rolling out broadband across the United Kingdom, although we have much work to do. I am pleased that 50% of premises in Wales have access to full-fibre broadband, compared with only 14% in the UK as a whole. Only a fortnight ago, I was able to go out with the innovative Welsh SME Beacons Telecom, which is helping to deliver broadband in remote and rural parts of Wales—the parts of Wales that Openreach seemingly cannot reach.
I suspect that my question will come as no surprise. I represent one of the most remote parts of the UK, and far too many of my constituents simply cannot get decent connectivity. Could the Minister please share his experience and his know-how with the Scottish Government so that we can get this problem sorted out?
If the Scottish Government care to issue me with an invitation, I stand ready to serve and offer advice such as I can. Actually, I think my advice is that are innovative small companies out there that are able to do things that Openreach apparently cannot do. I saw an example of that in Wales, and I am sure there must be many others. I assure the hon. Gentleman that as a Government who are committed to the Union, our broadband ambitions span not just Wales but the whole of the United Kingdom, from the tip of Penzance right up to the coast of Caithness and beyond.
Strengthening the Union
The Government are fully committed to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. Our response to the covid-19 outbreak has clearly demonstrated the value of Wales being a part of the Union, with a package of UK Government support that frankly goes well beyond anything that the Welsh Government could offer alone. It is clear that our four nations are safer and more prosperous when we stand together.
It is very good news that the Government have appointed Sir Peter Hendy to undertake a detailed review as to how the quality and availability of transport infrastructure can support economic growth, as well the quality of life, across the UK. Will the Minister advise on what his Department’s priorities are for this review in Wales?
Our priorities, clearly, will be better transport links, ensuring that Wales is better connected to the rest of the Union, but the Government’s ambitions go well beyond transport infrastructure. We believe that Wales is an integral part of the United Kingdom and we want to see not just good transport links but our historical links and cultural links, because we believe that one is quite easily able to be proud to be Welsh and proud to be British in this Union.
From Ilfracombe to Exmoor in my North Devon constituency, it is possible to see south Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should look at the options for better connecting the two areas to strengthen the links between our economies and, ultimately, the Union?
Before Prime Minister’s Question Time, I wish to make a short statement. On Monday, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) about virtual participation in debates, the Prime Minister—inadvertently, I would accept—said
“I defer to you and the House authorities.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 40.]
As the Prime Minister will know, decisions on the scope of virtual participation are for the House itself. All decisions have been made on the basis of motions moved by the Leader of the House.
I know that the House of Commons Service would be more than happy to facilitate virtual participation in debates, if the House voted for it. If the Government wished to pass me the power, I would be more than happy to accept it, but the decision to bring forward the relevant motion is a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government he leads, not for me and the House authorities.
The Prime Minister was asked—
During this pandemic, in my constituency of North West Cambridgeshire, I have seen a number of instances of ordinary citizens doing extraordinary work helping the elderly and vulnerable, and that has been repeated across the country in every single constituency, giving true meaning to the words “community spirit”. Would my right hon. Friend take this opportunity not only to acknowledge the fantastic work that has been done by so many people, but to give a huge thank you to each and every one of these unsung heroes of our country?
I thoroughly concur with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate all the volunteers for their spirit and the achievements they have delivered for the people of this country. I was delighted that we had a first chance to honour them in the birthday honours list at the weekend, or just some of them.
On 11 May, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s covid strategy
“will be governed entirely by the science.”—[Official Report, 11 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 36.]
On 21 September, the Government’s own scientific advisers, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, gave very clear advice. They said that a “package of interventions” —including a circuit breaker—would be needed to prevent an “exponential rise in cases”. Why did the Prime Minister reject that advice and abandon the science?
We will do whatever it takes to fight this virus and to defeat it, but since the right hon. and learned Gentleman quotes the SAGE advice, I might just remind him that, on page 1, it states:
“All the interventions considered have associated costs in terms of health and wellbeing…Policy makers will need to consider analysis of economic impacts and the associated harms alongside this epidemiological assessment.”
The advice that I have today is that if we do the regional approach that commended itself to the House and, indeed, to him on Monday, we can bring down the R and we can bring down the virus. Will he stick to his position of Monday and support that approach?
I do not think that approach goes far enough, and neither does SAGE. The Prime Minister talks of the costs. Since he rejected SAGE’s advice on 21 September, I remind him that the R rate has gone up, the infection rate has quadrupled and hospital admissions have gone from 275 a day to 628 a day in England. Yesterday, 441 covid patients were on ventilators and the number of deaths recorded was, tragically, the highest since 10 June. That is the cost of rejecting the advice. SAGE has a clear view on why that is happening. What is the Prime Minister’s view on why these numbers are all heading in the wrong direction?
I set that out very clearly in the House on Monday. The difference between this stage of the pandemic and March and April, as the House knows very well, is that the disease is appearing much more strongly in some parts of the country than others. In Liverpool, for instance, alas, the figures are now running at 670 cases per 100,000, against 33 cases per 100,000 in Cornwall. There are 540 cases per 100,000 in Newcastle, alas, against 32 in North Norfolk. That is why the three-tiered approach that we set out on Monday, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported, is the right way forward. We want to put in the most stringent measures necessary in the places where the virus is surging, in order to get it down where it is surging. That is the logical thing to do. Will he get on to his Labour friends in those parts of the north of England whom we want to work with to put those very stringent measures in place, in order to deliver the reductions that the whole country wants to see? Will he support those measures? He would not support them last night.
I think the Prime Minister is behind the curve again. He probably has not noticed that this morning, the council leaders in Greater Manchester that he just quoted, including the Mayor and the Conservative leader of Bolton Council, said in a press statement that they support a circuit break above tier 3 restrictions—keep up, Prime Minister.
The big problem the Prime Minister has, as the SAGE minutes make absolutely clear, is that his two main policies—track and trace and local restrictions—simply have not worked, and we cannot stand by. In July, the Prime Minister told me that track and trace
“will play a vital part in ensuring that we do not have a second spike this winter.”
Those were his words. Three months later, SAGE has concluded that track and trace is only
“having a marginal impact on transmission”.
It goes on to say—and this is the really worrying part—that this is likely to
“further decline in the future.”
Let us not have the usual nonsense that anyone asking the Prime Minister a question about track and trace is somehow knocking the NHS. This is SAGE’s assessment—the Government’s own advisers. After £12 billion, let us have a straight answer: why does the Prime Minister think that his track and trace system has gone so wrong?
It is thanks to NHS Test and Trace, which is now testing more people than any other country in Europe, that we know where the disease is surging. We know that it is regionally distributed, rather than nationally distributed, at the moment, and that gives us a chance to do the right thing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to close pubs. He wants to close bars. He wants to close businesses in areas across the country where the incidence is low. That is what he wants to do, and he wants to do it now, yet he voted to do nothing last night—nothing—in the areas where the incidence is highest. He says one thing at 5 o’clock about calling for a national lockdown. When it came to a vote in the House of Commons to impose more stringent measures, he failed even to turn up.
I know that, for someone who has been an opportunist all his life, this is difficult to understand, but having read and considered the SAGE advice, I have genuinely concluded that a circuit break is in the national interest—genuinely concluded. It is the failure of the Prime Minister’s strategy that means tougher measures are now unavoidable. That is SAGE’s view. SAGE has advised that a circuit breaker should act to reduce R below 1, should reset the incidence of disease to a lower level and should set the epidemic back by approximately 28 days or more. All three are vital, and that is why Labour backs it, so can the Prime Minister tell us what is his alternative plan to get R below 1?
The plan is the plan that the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported on Monday. The whole point is to seize this moment now to avoid the misery of another national lockdown, into which he wants to go headlong, by delivering a regional solution. Opportunism is, I am afraid, the name of the game for the party opposite, because they backed the rule of six—or he backed the rule of six—and then refused to vote for it. I think at three o’clock, the shadow Health spokesman said that a national lockdown would be “disastrous”; at five o’clock, he was calling for it. Let us go back to the approach that he was supporting on Monday. Let us try to avoid the misery of another national lockdown, which he would want to impose, as I say, in a headlong way. Let us work together—let us work together, as he was prepared to do on Monday—to keep kids in school, who he would now yank out of school in a peremptory way, keep our economy going, and keep jobs and livelihoods supported in this country. Let us take the common sensical regional approach, and will he kindly spell out to all his colleagues across the whole of the country that that is the best way forward, as indeed he did on Monday?
Following the advice is now, apparently, opportunistic. Presumably the Prime Minister will say the same to the leader of Bolton Council, a Conservative leader, who this morning said he supports a circuit break.
I have just listened to what the Prime Minister said about his strategy to get R below 1, but I cannot think of a single scientist who backs it. He will know that the chief medical officer said on Monday that he, the chief medical officer, is—his words:
“not confident, and nor is anyone confident, that the tier 3 proposals for the highest rates…would be enough”.
That is tier 3—the highest tier. So why is the Prime Minister so confident that his approach will get the R rate below 1—so confident—or is that no longer the Government plan?
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman is misrepresenting the position, doubtless inadvertently. Our advice is that, if the regional measures are tier 3 and at all levels were implemented in full with the support and the active co-operation of local leaders, as indeed we have seen from the leader of Liverpool city region, and I pay tribute to him and I thank him for what he is doing, and if we saw full and proper enforcement and if they were able to conduct proper local test and trace, with the support of the £500 million that we are giving, then yes, those measures would deliver the reduction in the R locally or regionally that we need in order to avert what none of us wants to see—what none of us wants to see, except now the right hon. and learned Gentleman, having performed this extraordinary U-turn—and that is the disaster, in the words of the shadow Health spokesman, of a national lockdown. We do not want to go there. We want the regional approach. He should co-operate with it.
I have supported the Government on all their measures so far, and I have taken criticism on it, but I think this measure is wrong and a circuit breaker is in the national interest. I have read the advice of SAGE and the Government have rejected it.
This is my last question, and I am sure the Prime Minister has his pre-prepared rant ready as usual, but we are at a tipping point. Time is running out. Maybe he can seize the moment and answer a question. This morning, The Daily Telegraph quotes senior Government sources saying the chances of the Prime Minister backing a circuit break in the next two weeks are about 80%. Is that right? If it is, why does he not do it now, save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman claims to be supporting the Government one day, and then performs a dramatic U-turn the next. He claims to support the rule of six one day, then pulls his support the next. He wants tough measures, and then refuses to vote for them. Everybody can see what he is doing. Labour have said it themselves. They see this as a “good crisis” for the Labour party and one they wish to exploit. We see this as a national crisis that we are going to turn around, and the way we are going to do it is—and I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus, but we are going to do it—with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus if it is properly implemented, and that is what I believe he should be supporting. He said he would support it on Monday. This is our opportunity to keep things going: to keep our kids in school; to keep our businesses going. That I think is what the people of this country want to do. This is our opportunity to do that, and to suppress the virus where it is surging. He refuses to accept that approach today. I hope that, not for the first time, he will change his mind and think the better of his actions.
I thank my hon. Friend, who is not only an experienced father himself but, of course, an experienced campaigner on this issue. I am very pleased that health visiting teams have continued throughout this crisis to prioritise vulnerable families, and that is what they are going to do throughout the winter and throughout the pandemic.
Yesterday, the founder of BrewDog warned that
“the end of the Job Retention Scheme will lead to a tsunami of unemployment”.
BrewDog is just one of thousands of businesses across Scotland and the United Kingdom demanding that the Tory Government U-turn on their reckless plans to scrap the furlough scheme. There are just two weeks left to save people’s jobs and livelihoods, so in the next fortnight the Prime Minister has two choices: extend the full furlough scheme or inflict a tsunami of unemployment on our people this winter. Which is he going to choose?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Chancellor has already unveiled the job support scheme, which will go through till next year. Those on low incomes will also have the additional benefit of universal credit, which again is going through, in its uplifted form—£1,000 extra per year—to next April at least.
My goodness. That really does show that the Prime Minister does not get it. Universal credit— is that really what the Prime Minister is saying to those that could be saved? People do not want to hear the boasting and the excuses that we get; they want action. These half-measures do not cover it. Thousands have already lost their jobs. The Office for National Statistics has confirmed that we have the highest rate of redundancies since 2009. We are heading towards a Tory winter of mass unemployment created by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We know what the Prime Minister’s Tory colleagues are saying: the Prime Minister’s next job could be on the Back Benches; he just does not know it yet. If the Prime Minister will not U-turn on his plans to scrap furlough, does he realise that he will never—not ever—be forgiven for the damage that he is just about to cause to people up and down Scotland?
As I have said many times to the right hon. Gentleman, this Government are continuing to support people across the whole of the UK, with many billions of pounds in Barnett consequentials—at least £5 billion in Barnett consequentials for Scotland alone. But one thing I will congratulate him on is the Scottish nationalist party’s support for the tiered approach, which I think is still its policy, unlike the Labour party. At least it is showing some vestige of consistency in its normal gelatinous behaviour.
I will look at the second point my hon. Friend raises, but what I can tell him is that we are focusing first on buildings with unsafe cladding that are over 18 metres. I understand that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is producing a risk matrix to support mortgage valuation under 18 metres, and that, led by the National Fire Chiefs Council, a risk prioritisation tool for blocks of flats will be available shortly.
By the weekend, Northern Ireland will be in an effective lockdown. Under the Chancellor’s new furlough scheme starting in November, a minimum wage full-time employee, a normal worker, will be entitled to £227 per week. I doubt that this Prime Minister could survive on that. How, and under God, does he expect ordinary decent workers to survive on that?
I am proud of what the Government have done to raise the national living wage, which this Government introduced. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that whatever happens, a combination of the job support scheme and universal credit will mean that nobody gets less than 93% of their current income.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he does to campaign for wool. As someone whose family used to farm sheep, I feel the pain of sheep farmers everywhere. The price is on the floor at the moment. Uses such as the one my hon. Friend identifies are extremely interesting and should be pursued. I urge everybody in this country who is thinking of Christmas presents to buy British wool this winter.
Of course, we will make sure that local authorities get the support they need. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already put in an extra £3.7 billion into helping local authorities and, I think, a total of £28 billion into tackling the local consequences of covid. We will continue to support people throughout the country.
I direct the hon. Lady to what I said a moment or two ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) about trying to provide mortgage backing for those who find themselves in that very difficult position, but we must get on and remove the flammable cladding from buildings of all kinds.
Yes, indeed. I can tell my hon. Friend, who is a fantastic campaigner for Ashfield, that they are in line for the town deal proposals, as part of the £3.6 billion town deals fund, and the £250 million growth deals announced through to 2021. I hope he will take that good news back to Ashfield.
I know that I have given that answer many times, and that is because the answer remains the same, which is that the uplift will remain in place through to April next year. As I said, when we combine the JSS with UC people get 93% of their income. I appreciate that times are tough, but the best thing we can do is keep this economy moving if we possibly can, keep our kids in schools and avert the “disaster”—Labour’s words—of another national lockdown.
I have happy memories of sampling some of the fare in Wolverhampton with my hon. Friend. I can tell him that the Black Country city deal has just seen an investment of £5.8 million and that the West Midlands Combined Authority was just awarded £66 million for projects across the area, including £15 million for the national brownfield institute, which is due to be located in Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton was the birthplace of the first industrial revolution. It is now teeming with opportunity in the latest.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am in continuous contact, as he can imagine, with the leader and the deputy leader in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland, of course, will receive at least £2.4 billion in additional funding as a result of Barnett consequentials, but we will look at further imaginative and creative measures to support jobs and to support livelihoods across the whole of the UK.
This Sunday marks the 11th Anti-Slavery Day for the United Kingdom, an opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the heinous crime of modern slavery. Will my right hon. Friend use this opportunity to reinforce the UK’s global leadership on this issue, and can he confirm that treating victims with dignity and respect will always be at the heart of everything this Government do in response to this crime?
Yes, I certainly can confirm what my right hon. Friend says about treating victims with dignity and respect, and she is right to take pride in what this Government have done in introducing the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Thanks to that Act, we are identifying more victims of modern slavery than ever before: 10,000 potential victims of modern slavery were identified in 2019, which is a 52% increase. It is this Government, this House and this country that are leading the campaign against modern slavery.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing that out. I will make sure that there is interoperability; I will do what I can to ensure there is interoperability across all four nations. As she knows, there is a slightly different approach in Northern Ireland already, but in the bulk of the approach that we have so far taken, there is much more in common than sets us apart.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to establish freeports. The port of Immingham in my constituency is, by tonnage, the largest port in the country. Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be somewhat remiss to not include Immingham in the freeport programme?
I thank my hon. Friend for his campaign for Immingham. It is registered, but my hon. Friend should know that he is one of the most successful campaigners in this House already this year, because the new bridge that he asked for at Suggitts Lane crossing is going to be completed between the summer and the autumn of next year, so he can carry that back in triumph to Suggitts Lane.
I am afraid to say that what the hon. Lady raises is incredibly important, and she is right to raise it. We must accelerate the process by which these complaints are upheld and dealt with and compensation is delivered, if only because that is the only way to build public confidence in all the retrofitting, insulation and improvements to our homes that we need to deliver across the whole of the country as part of our green industrial revolution, so the hon. Lady is spot on, and I will be writing to her about that case.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Remote Participation in House of Commons Proceedings Bill stands in my name and was due to have its Second Reading on Friday, and was originally tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). In the light of your comments earlier today, will you please advise me how we can best ensure that the Bill becomes a reality for the House?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving notice of the point of order. A decision to defer the Second Reading of a Bill and the Government’s position on the matters that it may contain are not matters for the Chair, as she will be aware. However, in making the point of order, she has placed her hopes on the record and I am sure that that will be listened to by those on the Treasury Bench. I am sympathetic, but unfortunately it is not my decision.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).
Election Candidates (All-ethnic-minority Shortlists)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Wera Hobhouse presented a Bill to amend the Equality Act 2010 to permit political parties to use all-ethnic-minority shortlists for the selection of election candidates; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 March 2021, and to be printed (Bill 196).
Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish rights to keep dogs and other animals in domestic accommodation; to make provision about the protection of the welfare of dogs and other domestic animals; and for connected purposes.
A home is where special moments are created—living with a family, friends or companions. Moving into a new home is a normal part of life, but what if every time you move you face the threat of being separated from someone you love? Can a house or a flat ever be a home if you are forced to abandon a family member just to move in?
You, Mr Speaker—an animal-loving Speaker—will know better than anyone that animals truly are members of one’s family. Having owned two Staffordshire Bull Terriers—Spike and Buster—I know how close the bonds between dog and owner can be and how devastating it is to lose them.
Dogs are more than man’s best friend: they are equal members of the family. For most people, being separated from their dog is no different from being separated from their brother or sister. Sadly, pet owners who move into rented accommodation face the reality that their family could be torn apart, because most landlords in Britain have unnecessary bans or restrictions on pet ownership. For those who depend on the companionship of their dog and need their loving friend to be with them—especially those who live alone—such restrictions are nothing less than discrimination, cruel to animal and owner alike.
My Bill would end that discrimination, giving people who own a dog or other domestic animal the right to have it live in their rented home, provided the owner demonstrated responsibility and care for the animal.
My Bill will henceforth be known as Jasmine’s law, after a Weimaraner who is owned by the Adams family in Surrey. Jasmine lives with Maria, but her son Jordan Adams would dearly love to accommodate Jasmine at his home apartment—if only for a few days or when his mother goes on holiday. Owing to restrictions imposed on tenants, Jordan is one of the millions of people across the UK who is prevented from having his beloved pet to stay with him.
Many pet owners are, like Jordan, devastated to find that moving out of the family home means being separated from an animal who is such an important part of their lives. The no-pet clause on rented accommodation means that someone cannot have a dog over for even a short period for fear of recriminations or even losing their home. Instead of a dog staying with a familiar person, often they must be placed in a kennel, which can be a deeply stressful and unhappy experience for the dog.
Such discrimination must now end. Some people who move to a new home are able to find somewhere for the animal to live, with trusted friends or family, but others are tragically forced to abandon their pets altogether, unable to find anywhere to live where the pet will be accepted. Sadly, these no-pet rules are cited by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home as the second biggest factor behind people giving up their dogs, with 200 dogs a year being handed in for rehoming simply because of landlord restrictions.
These rules have the cruellest impact on the homeless, with many relying on companion animals for support and affection while living on the street. Too often, when they are offered housing by local authorities or housing associations, this comes with a no-pet clause. If they turn down an offer of accommodation, they are told that they are making themselves intentionally homeless and refused further housing assistance. Take the tragic case of John Chadwick, a homeless man who ended his own life after the only housing option his local council provided was one that meant separation from his pets. It is surely time to end these no-pets clauses that have caused so much pain and heartache for so many people.
Of course, many landlords have legitimate concerns, which I do not want to dismiss lightly. It is true that irresponsibly owned pets can be a cause of damage, misery and suffering to the animals themselves, to the neighbours and to those who manage and own properties. We must therefore ensure that landlords’ concerns are met and that pet owners pass the test of responsible ownership by obtaining a certificate from a vet before moving in, confirming that they have a healthy, well-behaved animal and are considered to be a responsible owner. For a dog, a responsible ownership checklist would include being vaccinated and microchipped and being responsive to basic training commands, with appropriate rules applying, of course, to other animals.
I hope that landlords, local authorities and housing associations listening to this debate today will consider overhauling their current policies in favour of one along the lines laid out in the Bill, and consider more fairly the rights of millions of responsible owners across the land. Particularly at a time when so many people are isolated, being able to own a dog can be vital to a person’s wellbeing and, of course, to their mental health. If tenants can prove that they are responsible owners and that their pets are well behaved and appropriate for the accommodation, there is no reason to deny them the right to live together with their animal companion.
Microchipping is also a key element of my Bill, which will stipulate that all cats and dogs kept in rented accommodation must be microchipped. It will also be mandatory for vets to scan animals brought into their surgery, ensuring that they are with their rightful owners. This will have the added advantage of helping to find both lost and stolen dogs. I commend the amazing work of Debbie Matthews and the group that she founded, Vets Get Scanning, which has campaigned for this for over a decade and was championed by her late father, the great Sir Bruce Forsyth. Part of the approval process for a pet to be moved into accommodation would be to have their microchip scanned by a vet to ensure that they were registered on a national database.
It cannot be right that so many pet owners in this country face the harsh reality that finding a place to live might mean permanent separation from the animal they love so much. Surely, as we take back control of our laws, now is the time to ensure that this nation of animal lovers remains a world leader in animal welfare. If France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland can outlaw blanket restrictions on pets in rented accommodation, why can we not do the same here in the United Kingdom? The Government’s intention to remove no-pet clauses from their model tenancy agreement is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Jasmine’s law will replace the outdated and unfair no-pet clauses that many private and social landlords impose, setting out an alternative, streamlined system that will mean peace of mind for landlords, tenants and, of course, the animals themselves. At its core, my Bill represents the values of personal responsibility, individual rights and animal welfare, and today I seek to enshrine in law these important freedoms applicable to all responsible pet owners throughout the nation. I commend Jasmine’s law and this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Andrew Rosindell, Robert Halfon, Andrea Leadsom, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Sir David Amess, Theresa Villiers, Henry Smith, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Chris Bryant, Tim Farron, Ian Lavery and Ms Lyn Brown present the Bill.
Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 29 January, and to be printed (Bill 197).
[12th Allotted Day]
Covid-19 Economic Support Package
I beg to move,
That this House believes the Government should do what it takes to support areas with additional local restrictions, currently the North of England and parts of the Midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, by reforming the Job Support Scheme so it incentivises employers to keep staff on rather than letting them go; ensuring no-one is pushed into poverty when they do the right thing; providing clear, consistent and fair funding that goes hand-in-hand with the imposition of new restrictions, including using the £1.3 billion underspend on the grants fund to support local jobs; fixing gaps in support for the self-employed; and extending the ban on evictions.
We are at a critical moment for our country. Infection rates are rising, and the economic outlook is worsening. It is more vital than ever that this Government get a grip on both the health and the economic crises. There are some who seek to pit people’s health against our economy, but we all know that our country has suffered a double tragedy: the highest excess death rate in Europe and the deepest recession in the G7. The predominant reason why many expect our recovery to proceed more slowly than that in other countries is the continued severe impact of the public health crisis in the UK. It has been suggested that the Chancellor blocked proposals from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies for a circuit breaker. He can now, if he wishes to, intervene on me and set the record straight.
I was just about to go on to say that the Government’s current stance is costing jobs and leading to reduced business confidence. If we continue as we are, without taking control of the public health situation, we will see a worse situation for jobs and businesses in our country. It appears that that will be the only intervention that I will receive.
It is clear that blocking a circuit breaker does not make sense for the health of our population or for our economy. Government Members need a reality check. One in four people in our country are subject to localised restrictions. We have already experienced a record rise in quarterly redundancies. Without action, we face the prospect of infections rising yet again, with more and more areas coming under localised restrictions and the Government eventually being forced into more national restrictions in any case. Every week of that inaction will hit business and consumer confidence, costing more jobs and livelihoods, with more businesses going to the wall. The question is not whether we can afford a circuit breaker. The question is whether we can afford to continue with a Government who duck taking hard choices until they are forced into them and who seem unable to stand apart from their chaotic lurching from week to week to assess what our country needs and take decisive action.
That circuit break must be used to fix test and trace, devolving it to local areas, so that we can protect our NHS, get control of the virus and start building economic confidence back up again, and it must be accompanied by support for jobs and businesses. We stand ready to work with the Government to ensure that that is put in place, so that no one is pushed into poverty for doing the right thing.
SAGE warns that a circuit breaker is unavoidable. I wonder whether the Prime Minister’s words will come back to haunt him in a couple of weeks’ time as he admits that and does yet another U-turn. The best restrictions in the world will work only if people have financial security and can afford to comply. Is it not the case that offering only 67% of pay to somebody on minimum wage does not cover 100% of the bills that they have to pay? That is something that needs attention, as is the £1.3 billion underspend for all those people who, so far, have had no help in this crisis at all.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on it. It appears that experts are very clear that we are facing an unavoidable situation of rising infections that will not be stemmed unless action is taken. They predict that the Government will be forced into this position eventually, so why cannot we have decisiveness at this stage. Why can that nettle not be grasped now when it will be more effective, rather than leaving this unavoidable choice for many weeks into the future when it will be less effective? I will come to the other issues raised by my hon. Friend about the paucity of targeted support in a moment.
Time and again, Labour has had to drag Ministers to this House to explain what they will do to tackle the job crisis, and, time and again, those Ministers have either ducked the question entirely or come up with a short-term scheme that needs to be patched up again within weeks. The British people deserve better. To protect jobs—be that during a circuit breaker or under the Government’s new three-tier scheme—we need a functioning system of wage support, a proper safety net to prevent people falling into poverty, and economic support for local areas that goes hand in hand with the imposition of additional restrictions. Right now, we do not have any of those things.
I am astounded by what the Labour party is saying today. How can the hon. Lady explain her position to my constituents in Truro and Falmouth, where the infection rate is incredibly low? The best form of support for the people working in Truro and Falmouth is for their businesses to continue as they are for as long as possible.
I am very pleased and grateful that she has. She will then understand SAGE’s prediction that the infection is rising across the country, including in rural areas and coastal areas. Unless we take action and deal with that now, the problems that we are experiencing around business confidence, which are costing jobs and forcing businesses to the wall, will only continue. We need to give ourselves a fighting chance that we can approach Christmas, which is so important for businesses in this country, without the current rising levels of infection. I am concerned about the future of this economy, and I want a Government who have that long-sighted approach, rather than one who lurch from crisis to crisis.
We should have had a back-to-work Budget in July, but, instead, we got a summer statement, including a last-minute bonus scheme that will see £2.6 billion of public money handed over to firms that do not need it. In September, Labour set out three steps for a better, more secure economic future to recover jobs, retrain workers and rebuild business. Instead, after we summoned him to the House, we got the Chancellor’s winter economy plan and a wage support scheme that does not meet the core test of incentivising employers to keep staff on part-time rather than let them go. Two weeks later, the Chancellor was back trying to fix problems with that scheme, as it became rapidly apparent that the health crisis was careering away from the Government and economic support was not keeping pace. Last Friday and this Monday, we had yet more announcements, which create as many questions as the answer.
I regret that these issues were not faced up to largely yesterday during the urgent question that I brought to the House, so I will try again. This time I can ask the Chancellor directly. Why have the Government adopted such an inconsistent approach to financial support for businesses in affected areas? Leicester, Oadby and Wigston had to wait a month to get the £7.30 per head in support that they were belatedly provided with. The initial funding for Liverpool City Region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough was, in contrast, £3.49 a head, but not for businesses; that was for covid-related action.
Last Friday, the Chancellor rebranded £100 million of funding for local councils as surge funding, with no details of how it would be allocated and the admission that £20 million had already been spent. On Monday, the Prime Minister spoke of more funding to local authorities, but again without details of how that money would be allocated—although apparently not to support local businesses. This situation is a mess. When local leaders are crying out for certainty, they need to know that if additional restrictions are coming, there is a clear and agreed formula for how much economic support they receive and how it will be deployed.
The hon. Lady mentioned Oadby and Wigston in my constituency; the Chancellor moved incredibly quickly to provide extra business support to my constituency. We had a different lockdown from that everywhere else and it worked: we have brought cases down from 160 to 25 per 100,000. That is an example of why the local approach is the right one and why her colleague the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), was right to say yesterday that what the hon. Lady is now suggesting would be disastrous.
I regret to say that the hon. Member, for whom I have a lot of respect, is sadly confused. It would have been useful if he had listened to the point that I just made, which was to provide contrast to the support that was provided to the Leicester area, specifically focused on businesses. I believe that negotiation occurred through the local business improvement district, the local enterprise partnership and local authorities, to ensure that that support was there for businesses—for his area, yes. Can he please intervene on me now to say which other areas of the country subject to additional restrictions have received funding specifically focused on businesses of that type? No, he cannot, because that support has not been provided to other places in the same manner as it was provided to Leicester. This lack of consistency is causing enormous problems for local authorities.
The hon. Lady invited an intervention; I thought it would be unchivalrous not to provide one. Money was provided for my constituency because pubs had been shut. Yesterday, the Labour party voted against shutting pubs at 10 pm, but in favour of shutting down the entire economy instead. The idea that that is a proportionate response is absurd.
I regret that the hon. Member did not answer the question that I asked him, which was whether he knew of any other area of the country that had been treated in the same way as his constituency by being provided with business-related support. He could not answer that question; the reason why is that it appears that no other area has been. A radically different approach is being taken to different parts of the country, so local leaders and local businesses cannot plan because they do not know whether or not support will be there.
I will make a little progress, if my hon. Friend does not mind.
We need to find out from the Government why they have not used the £1.3 billion underspend from the grants programme, which was already allocated as business support, for local areas to direct at businesses that need that help. Yesterday, the Chief Secretary said that the money was not available for use now because, in his words, “the need” had been “met”. That beggars belief. The need clearly has not been met. The Government should reallocate that funding on a consistent basis, so that businesses in the hardest-hit areas can get support.
What possible justification can there be for local areas getting control of test, trace and isolate only once they are into tier 3 and thus facing rapidly rising infection rates? As the debate following this one will indicate, the Government have poured vast amounts of public money into private contracts to deliver a system that is simply not working. Labour-run Wales has shown how locally delivered tracing is vastly more effective than a contracted-out system. When will the Chancellor’s Government stop dithering, follow the evidence and get a grip on test, track and trace?
One of the key benefits of the Welsh system is that it allows local government to track and trace where people may have had the virus and been in contact with someone. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the UK Government could apply that to England, it could save many people’s lives?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I believe that, actually, the contact rate is radically higher—above 90%, which is very significantly different. We are in a peculiar situation where our Government appear to believe that it only makes sense for local areas to get those powers, and the resources necessary to deliver them, once infections are already at an extremely high rate—once they are in tier 3. I find this very peculiar. Perhaps the Chancellor can explain why that support is only provided once local areas are at a high infection level.
Adequate support must be provided to those at the sharpest end of this crisis—those working in businesses that have been closed for public health reasons. The expansion of the job support scheme to closed businesses acknowledges an obvious gap in the original scheme. The Government maintain that, with their changes to universal credit, the lowest-paid workers will receive up to 88% of their previous income, but that ignores the continuing problems that the Government refuse to fix with universal credit and allied areas of policy. Why have they still not uprated the local housing allowance to median market rents so that affected people can cover their housing costs? Why will they not extend the ban on evictions? Why have they retained the benefit cap, now affecting twice as many people as at the start of this crisis? Why have they not abolished the two-child limit on universal credit and tax credits? Will the Government follow the previous Labour Government and reduce the waiting period for support from the mortgage interest scheme?
The list of questions goes on and on. It includes really significant ones about firms that have not been legally required to close but whose business has been heavily impacted by the imposition of new restrictions, so they will struggle to keep staff on for even a third of their hours. For those firms, the Chancellor’s job support scheme too often fails to incentivise businesses to bring back more staff part-time, instead of keeping some full-time and letting others go.
When the hon. Lady talks about Government intervention and support, will she welcome the eat out to help out scheme, which meant that ceramic tableware manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent saw orders massively increase? Will she personally write to them to apologise for saying that she wants to shut down the hospitality sector and therefore make sure that the kilns never start up again?
I have been very grateful to representatives of the ceramics sector, with whom I have had a lot of dialogue. I am very concerned about their situation. I am concerned about the lack of targeted support that has been provided to maintain our manufacturing capacity. I regret that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what not just Labour but SAGE experts had been stating clearly: this Government will end up being potentially forced into a situation where they must apply additional restrictions. Why wait until a time when restrictions will be less effective when we will have had many weeks of reduced business confidence for the very restaurants that I, too, am deeply concerned about, which will have suffered from week upon week of reduced demand? I say: take decisive action now; that is what is needed.
In key sectors, the cost of keeping on more staff on fewer hours is higher in the UK scheme than under comparable initiatives in Germany, France and the Netherlands, even when the poorly-designed job retention bonus is factored in. Businesses want to do the right thing by their staff, but the Chancellor is pushing them to flip a coin and decide who stays and who goes. When will he fix the flaws in the job support scheme?
The Government have also left yawning gaps in their offer for the self-employed. From the start of next month, the support available will fall from 70% of pre-crisis profits to just 20%. That might be an appropriate policy if we were seeing a healthy economic recovery and rising consumer demand, but that is, very sadly, not the case. We need a targeted scheme that works for those self-employed people for whom business is still nothing like back to normal. Months on from the start of the crisis and the first package of economic support, there are still too many people who have fallen through the gaps. The Government’s message to those people is just, “You’re on your own—sink or swim.” That is not good enough. So I ask again: what will the Government do to help those who have been excluded from support so far?
The hon. Lady makes important points about the difficulties faced by so many people in the economy. Will she explain how they will be helped by closing down the entire economy? It is the madhouse of fixing the windows or knocking the whole house down.
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman does not appear to be aware that the windows are already broken and that, in a quarter of this country, we see those businesses having been subject to additional restrictions. None of them has moved out of that, aside from in Luton, which appears, sadly, to be in a difficult situation again now.
We see the Government’s own expert advisers saying that they are likely to be forced into a position where additional restrictions have to be applied in the future, when they will be less effective, because by that point infection will have been spread further across this country. So the question is whether action is taken decisively when it can be most effective or whether we push this back, the costs increase, business confidence continues to erode, people continue to lose their jobs and businesses continue to go to the wall. That is the question this Government need to answer.
If we are to avoid the bleakest of winters, this Government have to get a grip. We need a national reset. For that to work, we need an economic package that acknowledges reality and gets ahead of the problems we face; a wage support scheme that works properly; a safety net worthy of the name; and financial support that goes hand in hand with the imposition of extra restrictions.
I will not, because so many Members want to come in on this debate.
We brought this motion to the House today because the Government have not been doing what it takes to support areas under additional local restrictions. Currently, those are in the north of England and parts of the midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Members representing those areas know that that is the case. So I appeal to them to put their constituents’ jobs and livelihoods first, and support this Opposition motion. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) can both be quiet. I want to get on with the business, and I do not want one person to start to entice others. Let us see whether we can make some progress. Let us have a good, well-mannered debate, as that might be helpful to this House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to end and add:
“welcomes the Government’s package of support worth over £200 billion to help protect jobs and businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, including the eight-month long Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, £1,000 Job Retention Bonus, unprecedented loan schemes, business grants and tax cuts; further welcomes the pledge to protect, create and support jobs through measures in the £30 billion Plan for Jobs such as Eat Out to Help Out, VAT and stamp duty cuts and the £2 billion Kickstart Scheme; acknowledges the further support for jobs with increased cash grants and the expanded Job Support Scheme to support those businesses legally required to close due to national or local lockdowns; and further acknowledges that this is one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of support anywhere in the world.”
I very much welcome the opportunity to update Parliament and the country on the economic challenges we face and our plan to tackle them. My message to hon. Members in all parts of the House is simply this: we must not shy away from the burden of responsibility to take decisions and to lead. We must do this with honesty and co-operation. We cannot allow the virus to take hold. We must prevent the strain on our NHS from becoming unbearable, but we must also acknowledge the stark reality of the economic and social impacts of another national lockdown. The costs of doing that are not abstract—they are real: they can be counted in jobs lost, businesses closed and children’s educations harmed; they can be measured in the permanent damage done to our economy, which will undermine our long-term ability to fund our NHS and our valued public services; and they can be measured in the increase in long-term health conditions that unemployment causes.
This is not about choosing one side or the other. It is not about taking decisions because they are popular. It is not about health versus wealth, or any other simplistic lens we choose to view this moment through. The Prime Minister was absolutely right when he set out our desire for a balanced approach, taking the difficult decisions to save lives and keep the R rate down, while doing everything in our power to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people. The evidence shows that a regional tiered approach is right, because it prevents rushing to another lockdown the entire country would suffer rather than targeting that support and preventing a lockdown in parts of the country where the virus rates are low.
This is an imperfect solution. We have been consistently honest about the difficulties and hard choices that this moment presents. We have heard a lot about the SAGE advice. The SAGE minutes themselves say that Ministers must consider the
“associated costs in terms of health and wellbeing”
and the economic impacts alongside any epidemiological assessment. It seems like the only people not prepared to confront that reality are in the Labour party, which is surprising given that just days ago the shadow Health Secretary said a new national lockdown would be “disastrous” for society and
“would cause unimaginable damage to our economy and…wellbeing.”
The Chancellor’s response would have more credibility if he was not stood there following month after month of failure by a Government whose testing and tracing regime—whose entire approach—got us to this point in the first place. We all recognise how expensive this is going to be, but it has happened because of the failure that he and his party have facilitated.
The debate following this will address test and trace. It is worth bearing in mind that more than £12 billion has been invested in our test and trace capacity. Testing capacity has increased from simply 10,000 a day at the start of this crisis to close to 300,000 today, on its way up to half a million, and ours now ranks as one of the most comprehensive testing regimes anywhere in Europe.
Having spent weeks indulging themselves with political attacks on this Government’s efforts to protect jobs, Labour have now flipped and support a blunt national lockdown. They will not say how much damage that will do to jobs or livelihoods, they will not say how they plan to support businesses through it, and they do not seem to care about the long-term stability of the public finances. If they did—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry, Chancellor. Please, I cannot hear the Chancellor. I want to hear him, and I am sure people outside the House want to hear him, so please, if he is going to give way—the Chancellor is a generous man—he will give way. In the meantime, I do not need people shouting.
I am grateful to the generous Chancellor for giving way. Today, the North East Child Poverty Commission said that 35% of children in the north-east region are living in poverty. As a direct result of Conservative policies, we are going to see that number increase. What is he going to do about those children?
The most vulnerable have been at the forefront of our mind throughout this crisis, which is why it is clear from the distributional impact of our interventions, which was published over the summer, that they have benefited those on the lowest incomes the most. It is there in black and white: a Conservative Government making sure the most vulnerable are protected through this crisis.
Any responsible party of government would acknowledge the economic cost of a blunt national lockdown. The Labour party may say it has a plan, but be under no illusion: a plan blind to the hard choices we face—a plan blind to and detached from reality—is no plan at all.
In the Liverpool city region, which contains my constituency of Wallasey, there is £40 million of unspent support for business that the Chancellor generously granted in the first wave of the pandemic. Given that we are in tier 3, will he say today at the Dispatch Box that he will release that £40 million so that the local authorities in the Liverpool city region can apply that money to help their local businesses during this highest level of lockdown that we are suffering at the moment?
I know what a difficult time this is for the hon. Lady and her constituents. With regard to underspends—I will come on to this later—I think it is wrong to think of them in that way. That was the Government giving an advance to local authorities to make payments to businesses. That was done on the basis that every local authority will have a wildly different degree of overspend or underspend, which we true up at the end of the process. We could equally have asked local authorities to make payments themselves and reimbursed them afterwards. There is significant financial support both for her local authority and the businesses in her area that have closed down. That was announced by the Prime Minister and I will come on to address that in detail later. It is right that that support is there.
Let me reiterate our plan. The House will be well aware of the gravity of our economic situation. The latest figures show that our economy grew by 6% in July and 2% in August, but it remains almost 10% smaller than it was before coronavirus hit. Business investment suffered a record fall in the second quarter of this year. Consumer sentiment remains well below its long-run average. Despite the significant support we have provided, the data is beginning to reveal the true extent of the damage that coronavirus has caused our labour market. The latest statistics published just yesterday show employment falling, unemployment rising and welfare claims rising. The revisions that the Office for National Statistics has made to its previous estimates show that unemployment was higher than it thought over the summer.
I have talked about facing up to the difficult truths clearly, and we are facing an economic emergency, but we are acting on a scale commensurate with this emergency as we address my single biggest priority: to protect people’s jobs and their livelihoods. We have put in place a comprehensive plan to protect, support and create jobs in every region and nation of the United Kingdom. Through more than £200 billion of support since March, we are: protecting more than 9.5 million jobs through the job retention schemes; strengthening our welfare safety net with an extra £9 billion for the lowest paid and most vulnerable; granting more than £13.5 billion to those who are self-employed, with further grants to come; and protecting over 1 million small and medium-sized businesses through £100 billion of tax cuts, tax deferrals, direct grants and Government-backed loans.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to protect jobs is to keep the economy open wherever possible? Most other nations are using a local-restrictions approach to deal with this situation, including Germany, which is using lockdowns at a district level, not even at a state or county level. Does he agree that that is the best way forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The only sustainable way to protect jobs in the long run is to have an economy that is open and functioning. No amount of support can make up for that.
There are other things we have done: eased repayment terms on those loans through pay as you grow; delivered on our promise to give the NHS what it needs; backed hundreds of thousands of young people to find good jobs through the kickstart scheme and new investment in training and apprenticeships; created green jobs through the £2 billion green grant programme; showed that we are here for our cultural sector, with the cultural recovery fund and a further support package for charities; and invested hundreds of billions of pounds in the largest, most sustained programme of infrastructure investment the UK has seen in decades. That is comprehensive action to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people. It undermines the credibility of the Labour party that, in the face of all that support, it continues to pretend that insufficient action is being taken.
I will make some progress.
As the crisis evolves, our economic response will also evolve. What we will see over the winter is a complex picture of some businesses able to open safely and others being ordered to close to control the spread of the virus. Our winter economy plan provides a toolkit to protect jobs and businesses over the difficult weeks and months to come. The plan has three parts.
First, the job support scheme will protect jobs in businesses that are open or closed. If businesses can open safely, but with reduced or uncertain demand, the Government will directly subsidise people’s wages over the winter, giving those employers the option to bring people back to work on shorter hours rather than making them redundant. We are expanding the job support scheme to give more support to businesses that are ordered to close. For people unable to work for one week or more, their employer will still be able to pay them two thirds of their normal salary and the UK Government will cover the cost. This national programme will benefit people the same wherever they live and whatever job they do.
There seems to be a basic dishonesty at the heart of these tier 2 plans. There is no support for pubs. They are being told that they are allowed to stay open, but the measures being brought in are making them unviable. At least with our approach what we would see is a short-term hit, but then a reduction in the rate and more of a chance for us to return to normality. Will he at least admit that those pubs in tier 2 areas are not going to have viable businesses and say something about what he will do to support them?
I am glad that there has finally been some acknowledgment that there will be a hit to businesses and jobs from what the Labour party is suggesting. It is right that there is support provided for hospitality, which is why the Government have provided a VAT reduction, a business rates holiday, direct cash grants, eat out to help out and now the job support scheme that is directly there to support those businesses that are open and operating but not at the same levels that they were previously. To give those businesses and their employees certainty, rather than the weeks that I heard about from the hon. Member for Oxford East, this scheme will run for six months through to the spring. This job support scheme is in line with those in most other European countries and, to support the lowest paid through this crisis, we have made our welfare system more generous and responsive too.
The Chancellor will know from York’s economic base and the complexity of our economy that unemployment may rise to 27% in our city. What additional measures will he put in place to build the bridge to get us through this really difficult period? The job support scheme will just not deliver for my constituents.
The job support scheme was widely welcomed not just by businesses groups such as the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses but by the TUC, which I was happy to work closely with to design the scheme. However, she is right. That is not the only thing that we will do to support jobs, which is why we have put in place the £2 billion kickstart scheme to provide fully funded job placements for those young people most affected by this crisis and most at risk of unemployment. Thousands of those young kickstarters will be starting their new jobs this autumn.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while we all want simple solutions to this crisis—whether that is the Opposition suggesting full lockdown or an unlimited extension to furlough—there are no simple solutions. This is a highly complex problem. Every intervention and every support scheme will be nuanced and will have to be regionally effective There are no simple solutions. We should not be looking for simple solutions; we should be looking for the right ones.
As ever, my hon. Friend is spot on. It is not leadership to shy away from the hard choices and real trade-offs that these decisions take. She is absolutely right.
The second part of our winter plan is to support businesses that are legally required to close, and we heard about that previously. Those businesses will now be able to claim a cash grant of up to £3,000 per month depending on the value of their property. Those grants can be used for any business cost and will not need to be repaid. I have also guaranteed £1.3 billion of funding for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations so that they can choose to do something similar. The hon. Member for Oxford East asked whether other areas had received that support, and was under the impression that none other had. I can correct the facts. Bolton is the only other area that has faced hospitality restrictions in that way and Bolton Council has received, at the last count, I believe almost £200,000 of support to compensate its businesses because they have been closed in a similar way.
I fear that the Chancellor is confused. I was not talking about the much-trumpeted local restriction support grant. He is right; it has been applied so far only to that one area of Bolton. I was talking about the business support that was delivered to Leicester, Oadby and Wigston, which I believe has not been provided to any other part of the country.
It is the same type of support—support provided to the local authority to help their businesses. That was the question the hon. Lady asked my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and I am happy to answer it.
The third part of our plan is to provide additional funding for local authorities. Again, I am happy to correct what may be a misunderstanding of the situation for the hon. Member for Oxford East. It is not the case that that support is only for local authorities in tier 3. There is a scaled structure. All local authorities placed into different tiers will receive extra financial support on a per capita basis, using the funding formula that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is implementing. That funding will be worth up to almost half a billion pounds on a national basis, to support local areas and their public health teams with their local response, whether that is more enforcement, compliance or contact tracing. That comes on top of the almost £1 billion announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that we will provide to all local authorities, as we talk to them about their needs over this difficult period, to ensure that they can provide the services they need to. That also comes on top of the £3.7 billion already provided to local authorities.
This Government are dealing with the world as it is. While the hon. Member for Oxford East may not wish to confront that reality, I do not have that luxury. We cannot just let the virus take hold, but nor can we blithely fall into another national spring-style lockdown, as the Labour party wants to, rather than following our regional, tiered and localised approach. We are dealing with a once-in-a-century event, and I can assure Members on both sides of the House that the Government are doing all they can to support the country through this crisis.
We need a balanced approach, we need a consistent approach, and—as you will have seen, Mr Speaker—we also want a co-operative approach. But any responsible party calling for a shutdown of our entire country should be honest about the potential economic and social costs of such a dramatic measure. At the very least, they should have the integrity to acknowledge that what they are proposing will cause significant damage to people’s lives and livelihoods. I have never said that there are easy choices or cost-free answers. This is the reality we face, and it would be dishonest to ignore that truth. So no more political games and cheap shots from the sidelines. The Labour party can either be part of this solution or part of the problem. It is called leadership, but from them, I am not holding my breath.
Recently the Government have quite rightly given stark and serious warnings of a second wave of coronavirus cases, with the numbers in hospitals increasing, the infection rate rising and further restrictions being put in place across the UK. While my SNP colleagues and I welcome what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said recently, it is clear that he and his Government are not acting with the urgency that the situation deserves. Quite simply, the plans that he has set in place do not go far enough.
I have had countless constituents get in touch over recent weeks who are concerned about potential job losses and financial insecurity, with many wondering how they will get through the tough winter months ahead. The SNP has consistently warned the Chancellor that his economic plans, as they stand, are inadequate. We have repeatedly called for support for the industries suffering most during the pandemic, for an extension of the furlough scheme and for the increase in universal credit to be made permanent, but those calls have, I am afraid, fallen on deaf ears. It is my hope today that the Government will listen to what needs to be done, especially considering the recent serious warnings about the devastating impact of the second wave in which we find ourselves.
The SNP welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement that further support will be given to businesses being forced to close in new local lockdowns. However, that scheme, like the other financial packages that the Chancellor has announced, does not go far enough. From 1 November, the Government will pay two thirds of each employee’s salary for businesses forced to close in new local lockdowns, but that does not apply to workers whose employers cannot afford wages due to poor trading conditions, rather than any new Government lockdowns. For them, from 1 November, the furlough will be replaced by the new job recovery scheme, whereby the Government will pick up a maximum of just 22% of pay. To be eligible for the job recovery scheme, a company must pay an employee to work at least a third of the contracted time, and the remaining wages are split into three. The UK Government and the company pay a third each and the worker loses the rest. That is, I am afraid, completely absurd. Most people simply cannot afford to lose a third of their salary. They do not get a third off their rent, a third off their fuel and a third off their shopping when they go to Tesco.
I turn to the issue of hospitality. Yesterday, James Watt, the owner of BrewDog, had a conversation with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to discuss supporting jobs in the hospitality sector, which is a massive priority for us. He was very clear in his agreement with the First Minister that the end of the job retention scheme will lead to a “a tsunami of unemployment”. He continues to urge the Chancellor to extend the scheme, stating:
“The proposed ‘Job Support Scheme’ will not protect jobs.”
This is not me, as an SNP MP, saying to the Chancellor that this is inadequate. This is somebody who is highly respected in the hospitality sector, and the Chancellor would do well to listen to him and not fiddle on his phone.
It is surprising to hear the hon. Member talk about the need to support tourism and hospitality sector when the SNP is putting forward rather puritanical bans on alcohol sales, no longer helping pubs and no longer helping the businesses in that sector. How can he lecture the Government on what form of support they should be giving after everything that they have done on the 15% cut?
That was a wonderful addition to try to be a nice Parliamentary Private Secretary, but I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman clearly has absolutely no idea about the £40 million package put forward by the Scottish Government for the hospitality sector. Perhaps when he is sitting on the south coast of England dreaming up these lovely interventions to please his Whips, he would do well to read the full briefing paper.
The leaders of businesses across the UK agree that ending the furlough and job retention scheme is a very irresponsible and reckless decision, so to avoid mass redundancies, the UK Government must extend the furlough scheme in full. With the huge rise in covid-19 that we have seen so far with the second wave, and with the winter months approaching, now is not the time to be taking chances on job losses.
The hon. Member is absolutely right about the appalling health and economic consequences of this. Do he and his party support the advice from SAGE for a two-week circuit-breaker so that we can get on top of this health crisis and try to give the Government time to get test and trace to work? Does he support what the Labour party has called for?
One of the things that we are seeing in Scotland is that test and trace is working a lot better, and that is because we have not hived it off to, for example, Serco. We have been very clear that we will follow the scientific advice and we will do our very best to get that balance. That is what we have seen with the restrictions that came into place last week in Scotland. We will see how that goes. We are always keeping things under review, but the reality is that we need to follow the advice and get a balanced approach. That is exactly what we are doing, and I am sure that we will see that bearing fruit.
I turn to the issue of the excluded 3 million. The SNP has consistently and continually raised the 3 million who were excluded from the Chancellor’s initial financial support packages back in the spring. Let us be clear that the Treasury continues, I am afraid, to exclude artists, freelancers and the newly self-employed from these recent economic plans. Three million people were shut out of the vital financial support that they desperately needed during the first wave of the pandemic and they were left to face huge financial insecurity, with their livelihoods and businesses put at risk. Rather than listening to the calls of these 3 million people, the Chancellor has decided to leave behind the self-employed yet again in his economic plans, with a 70% replacement of profits being replaced in November with just 20%.
Another group that has repeatedly been excluded from the Chancellor’s financial packages has been the arts and culture sector. We saw this week the closure of all Cineworld theatres across the UK, including the one in my constituency in Parkhead. I again call on him to provide sector-specific support for the arts and culture sector, which we know will continue to suffer during the second wave of the pandemic. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) chuntering away that the Chancellor has just done that, but many people in our constituencies in the arts and culture sector make it clear to us that that support does not go far enough. If the Chancellor has done that, why is Cineworld in Parkhead closing?
I have described thus far a very tough image of countless jobs being at risk. Many sectors are vulnerable and some businesses are wondering if they will make it to the new year, but the rising cases should emphasise to the House that we are still in the midst of this pandemic, which has already delivered severe blows to people’s incomes and financial security, with the most vulnerable people facing a disproportionate economic hit. That is why the SNP has repeatedly called upon the Government to make the £20 increase to universal credit permanent, especially after the latest findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, warning that 4 million families could see their support slashed if the Tory Government refuses to make that £20 uplift permanent.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that nearly three quarters of a million more people, including 300,000 children, could be forced into poverty if the uplift is not made permanent. That must serve as a wake-up call for the Government. The Chancellor cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the vast inequality that exists right across the UK. With the winter months approaching, the poorest and most vulnerable people will suffer the most from the Chancellor’s economic plans, and it is quite clear that he has a choice in front of him and that he needs to do much better by them.
Is that not exactly right? One way or the other, the Government are going to have to pay for this. They are going to have to meet the costs, and they can either do that by extending job support schemes by looking at really imaginative, creative, long-term support such as universal incomes, or through universal credit and all the social consequences that come from long-term unemployment and taking us back to the Thatcherite 1980s.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I have to say that I did give the UK Government a degree of praise at the beginning of the pandemic, because it did seem that they were moving in a way that perhaps was not part of traditional Tory ideology, with a lot more state intervention and a lot more Government support. I think there were quite a few of us in this House who, while we would disagree enormously on the politics, welcomed the fact that the Chancellor was willing to be innovative and try new things.
One thing I would say is that nobody prepares us for a global pandemic. Politicians and people in this House have seen recessions and people have seen wars, but nobody prepares us for a pandemic. Yes, there has to be a degree of flexibility on the part of all of us in this House, but the thing I am most concerned about is that the British Government seem to have moved away from those creative, innovative solutions they had at the beginning of the year. We now find ourselves in the midst of a second wave, and all of a sudden that dynamism and creativity the Chancellor has been credited with seems to have gone away, because of the pressure that comes from people on the 1922 committee. I do not think that people on the whole are going to forgive that.
I am not sure that the official Opposition are proposing multiple circuit breaks, to be fair to them, but it is not my job to defend the policy of the Labour party. However, what I will defend is the approach of the SNP Scottish Government, who are trying to do this in a balanced way, but we would like to see a lot more financial flexibility to do that. It would help if the UK Government gave us those financial powers. That is what I would say to the hon. Gentleman on that.
I want to come on to that very point, and highlight the work that the Scottish Government have done in supporting business during the second wave of the pandemic. The Scottish Government’s total package for businesses is over £2.3 billion. That is more than the consequentials received from the UK Government. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), the Scottish Government are making an additional £40 million available to support businesses that will be affected by the new measures, and will work with affected sectors in the coming days. I am in no doubt of that. My city of Glasgow is one of those that have been under local lockdown restrictions, and the restaurants and bars in my constituency have had to shut down, but we have recognised when we have asked them to shut down, which is a way of trying to reduce the spread of the virus, that support must be coming.
The Scottish Government will continue to discuss with businesses how the support package we have offered can mitigate some or all of the employer’s contribution to the UK job retention scheme. We have put in place a £230 million “restart the economy” capital stimulus package to help stimulate the economy following the pandemic. We have announced details of a £38 million package of support for innovative early stage businesses. We have committed £2.2 million of funding to the Music Venue Trust, which will provide stability to grassroots music venues over the coming months.
What all this should highlight is that the UK Government’s financial plans have been and continue to be inadequate—excluding the self-employed, freelancers and artists; prematurely ending the furlough scheme; and refusing to make permanent the £20 increase in universal credit. Where we have had the power, the Scottish Government have spent £6.5 billion on tackling covid—above the Barnett consequentials—and they are doing all they can and all within their powers to support businesses across Scotland.
That is the issue at hand. There is only so much that the Scottish Government can do when the vast majority of Scotland’s tax and spending decisions are taken here in Westminster. The fact is that the Government cancelling the UK Budget simply demonstrates that Scotland remains an afterthought for the Tories. I would be more than happy to give way to the Chancellor if he can stand up and give some sort of clarity to Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance about what budget we are supposed to set when the Government have just gone ahead in this way.
I have addressed this previously, in this place and others. There is absolutely no bar on the Scottish Government setting a Budget in advance of the UK Budget. The fiscal framework itself allows for that very possibility. That is exactly what happened at the start of this year, so there is simply no reason why that cannot happen. The OBR forecasts were provided as normal this autumn. Those forecasts are used by officials to make all the necessary calculations. It is simply wrong to suggest that the Scottish Government are unable to set a Budget until the UK Government have.
Conservative Governments used to be really good on upholding the rule of law, and Conservative Governments used to be really good when it came to managing the economy, but we now have a Chancellor who appears to want the Scottish Government to set a completely blind Budget. For somebody who tries to advocate the idea of fiscal responsibility, that strikes me as rather bizarre.
People in Scotland are increasingly aware that the only way to move forward in terms of protecting our economy, managing our own finances and standing on our own two feet is with the powers of independence. With the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill destroying their hard-fought devolution, more and more Scots are supporting the SNP in calling for independence.
An Ipsos MORI poll revealed yesterday that 65% of people in Scotland think Britain is heading in the “wrong direction” compared with just 12% who think Britain is heading in the “right direction”. If we want to continue looking at polling, and I know the UK Government are doing quite a lot of polling on this issue at the moment—they are being a bit coy about releasing it—Ipsos MORI released a poll today showing that 58% of Scots now support Scottish independence.
I suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that backs up the point that people in Scotland can see this UK Government are not doing enough, and therefore they want to see these powers being transferred to Scotland so we can take our own decisions on these issues.
Does my hon. Friend not think the Chancellor’s intervention was rather peculiar? The Chancellor is, of course, absolutely right that the Scottish Government can set a Budget, notwithstanding that it would be blind, but, depending on the Chancellor’s decisions, it may lead to subsequent in-year cuts or in-year changes. I am sure this Chancellor would not tolerate it if someone else was setting part of his Budget.
I thank my hon. Friend for putting that on the record.
I do not want to detain the House too much. In conclusion, SNP MPs have stood up in this Chamber and made calls for the UK Government to do the right thing and support the public through the second wave of covid-19 cases. What they have put on the table so far does not go far enough, and that is why we will vote for the motion before the House tonight. I am grateful for the House’s forbearance.
Hospitality is one of Britain’s biggest employers. Some 3.2 million people across the country rely on hospitality for their jobs, including 4,300 of my constituents in Dudley South. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has always been a real and true friend of the beer and pubs sectors, in particular. He knows how much they have been affected by this pandemic, and he has delivered a comprehensive and unprecedented economic support package. Without such a support package, many thousands of pubs and breweries would simply not have survived the spring. They would not have got through the first phase of this outbreak.
I do not know whether the Chancellor has seen his rather fetching likeness on posters in pubs up and down the country, recognising the contribution that many of those support measures have made to making our pubs and other hospitality viable over the past six months but, as we are now firmly in a new phase of the pandemic, new measures are vital for those businesses that are not necessarily legally compelled to close. For those that are required to close their doors, the grant he has announced, although it may not cover the whole rent and all the fixed costs, will make a substantial contribution to the costs those businesses incur even before they pull a single pint or serve a single meal. However, there are also enormous challenges facing venues that are not legally compelled to close, those in tiers 1 and 2, where the legal restrictions that have been introduced make it impossible for them to operate. We know that one in 10 pubs has never reopened since March’s lockdown, and about two thirds of those that did reopen were already trading at a loss last month. That was before the introduction of 10 o’clock closing, mandatory table service, and of course the new restrictions that have come into effect today.
Simon Longbottom of Stonegate, one of the largest pub groups in the country, has written to me about this, and he could have been making the speech that the hon. Gentleman is making now. He is very concerned that in tiers 1 and 2, he gets no help with his business costs whatsoever. Can the hon. Gentleman give the Chancellor some direct advice on what he needs to do about that?
I would not presume to attempt to direct my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, beyond saying that pubs and hospitality cannot, of course, continue to operate with almost no income and without additional support that is proportionate to the legal restrictions they face. Those restrictions may not be in their immediate area. I have heard today from Titanic Brewery, a brewery in Stoke. The majority of its customers are in Liverpool and Merseyside, which are tier 3 areas, but that brewery will not receive support even though that is where its customers are based. These pubs need urgent additional support; otherwise, many of them are going to close their doors for good and never reopen, which would be a huge loss to not only our economy, but our communities.
I rise very much to support the motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) has moved, particularly the part that says
“this House believes the Government should do what it takes to support areas with additional local restrictions”.
My own constituency is in the Liverpool city region, which is under tier 3 restrictions. The Chancellor might not know the unemployment figures for my particular constituency, but I can tell him that probably not unlike many other places, they have doubled this year. That is about 5,000 people.
I also have 15,000 people still on furlough in my constituency. I understand that when the Chancellor introduced the national furlough scheme, he wanted it to have an end point, but surely he anticipated that it would be ending when the pandemic was waning. In Liverpool, the pandemic is surging. We have no intensive care unit beds in Liverpool’s main hospitals: they are now full, and covid is impacting on other critical care, so the health service in Liverpool is already being impacted severely. Furlough is going to end in two weeks, and those 15,000 jobs are severely at risk, right in the middle of a huge resurgence in the virus.
The Chancellor has introduced his local furlough—that is the colloquial term—for those businesses that are forced by law to close, such as pubs, gyms, and other such businesses. I think it is wrong that those people who benefit from that, especially if they are on the minimum wage, should only get 67% of it. The Prime Minister said today that the figure was 93%, but they should get 100% of the national minimum wage. There should be a floor—let us be clear about that—and I hope the Government can do something about that. One does not have to pay 67% of the bills when furloughed, and food does not cost only 67% of what it normally does, so something needs to be done to help those people.
However, the Chancellor should also be very clear that there are many other businesses in my area, such as restaurants, that have not been forced to close but whose business is severely impacted. They have to close at 10 o’clock, and they have fewer tables. In my area, there is advice against non-essential travel. It is not essential travel to go to a restaurant, so people are advised not to go there, but these businesses are not going to get any support to keep their restaurants open through the local furlough scheme, and many of them will go bust.
I am afraid I cannot give way, because I have only four minutes and some points to make. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The point is that many businesses and many thousands of jobs are at risk. They will not be getting extra support—I am sorry that the Chancellor is not listening—from any of his schemes in a tier 3 area. Those jobs and businesses are going to go. Those people will be unemployed and the Government will still have to pay towards their support.
May I also make the point in the short time I have left that 77,000 people in the Liverpool city region have been excluded as self-employed people from any Government support? They are barely hanging on and now with tier 3 restrictions yet again there is no support for these people or these businesses. What is happening will turn this pandemic, by the time Liverpool comes through it—and we will—into a cause of severe poverty and penury. It is not right that the Government are not doing enough to help.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. It is right that we have this debate and that across the House we talk about our national economy. It also gives me a great opportunity to thank the Chancellor on behalf of thousands of Grantham and Stamford constituents for the colossal support we have received. Some 16,000 of my constituents were furloughed, 99 of my large businesses received coronavirus business interruption loans worth £33 million and 1,527 small businesses received bounce back loans worth £44 million. We had £23 million of grants and, just last week, we received £230,000 of cultural funding, so I thank the Chancellor on behalf of literally thousands of my constituents.
There was a £200 billion package of support, which was unprecedented and globally competitive, and we must be mindful of our public finances. In the first five months of this tax year, our tax receipts were down 35%. At the same time, our debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest since 1963. That is a potent combination, which must be a sobering fact for everybody across this House, regardless of party politics. Therefore, it is right that we have a job support scheme that targets support to those who are facing depressed demand.
I encourage the Chancellor to continue with his £30 billion plan for jobs that will see the creation of green jobs through the green homes grant and new jobs for young people through the kickstart scheme. I encourage him to double-down and continue with that package of support.
I also encourage the Chancellor to focus on economic growth. That is what ultimately will benefit all of our country. There are three aspects to that for me. The first is to release businesses from the burdens they have had for so many years. We saw the success of the Chancellor’s policy to reduce VAT on hospitality businesses. We saw how well received the VAT tax deferrals were by the CBI. I encourage the Chancellor to look at regulations to ensure that we manage our national regulatory budget to ensure that any new regulation meets robust cost-benefit analyses.
The second thing I highlight is the mobilisation of private investment capital. The future fund—it is not spoken about in this place enough—is one of the truly innovative policies of this Chancellor and this Government. It directly intervened and supported pre-revenue, pre-profit businesses. We are the start-up capital of Europe, and this Chancellor and this Government supported those start-up entrepreneurs. The key aspect of that policy was the fact that it mobilised private capital. We shared the risk with private finance. They brought efficiency to those investments, and I again urge the Chancellor to look at initiatives such as a British development bank, which would help mobilise more private capital for infrastructure investments in the future.
Finally, the issue of productivity has been pervasive throughout the decades. Whichever Government are in power, productivity has been weak compared with our international competitors. Infrastructure investment is critical to this, but so, too, are skills. I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s efforts and his announcement around the lifetime skills guarantee. This will help constituents such as mine in Grantham, Stamford and Bourne and in all our villages to get the skills they need for the jobs of the future. I warmly applaud the efforts of this Government to date, and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to lay that out.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate in what has been a horrendous week for all in Merseyside. I would like to pass my thanks, through the Chancellor before he leaves the Chamber, to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury for agreeing to meet Merseyside Members of Parliament on the 20th of this month. Just as the Chancellor walked out of the Chamber now, it has felt to us in Merseyside that it has just been too difficult to get the attention of the Treasury during what has been the most extraordinarily challenging week. I ask the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to flag up to all his colleagues inside the Treasury how very difficult this situation is for us. We have uniquely been placed in the top tier of restrictions, and that surely demands a unique level of attention and a unique set of interventions to ensure that our economy does not go under. I know that the Minister will take those comments very seriously.
I want to take the short time that I have to make a couple of comments about Merseyside, but before I do so I just want to thank all those businesses in my constituency that have been in touch with me. I have had sobering conversations with the management of the Thornton Hall Hotel, and with James, who runs the Rose And Crown pub in Bebington. They have made it absolutely clear to me what the consequences are of this situation. They have done everything that could possibly have been asked of them. This situation is not of their making, and I hope that it is a cross-party endeavour in this House to back our hospitality industry. That is particularly important for the Liverpool City region. We have spent 20 years working to ensure that our visitor economy replaced much of what was lost in de-industrialisation.
Now, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you had said to me when I was a child that, one day, people would come for a mini-break to Merseyside, I would have laughed. Most people in the country—well, they did not think that much of us. All that work could go down the drain if we are not careful, so I say to the Minister: “Don’t do it. Help us.” I urge him to make sure that this place of opportunity, with these young and growing businesses, has the chance of an economic future that says to anywhere in our nation: “It does not matter how far down or out you are, Britain offers you hope.” There is a way to do that. Although our businesses are young and they do not have huge cash reserves, they are incredibly creative and, crucially, fast growing. If the Treasury wants to see growth, I heartily recommend it backing the creative, cultural and visitor economies such as Merseyside.
The Minister is nodding, and I thank him for it.
We really need that practical support now, so, if the Minister is prepared to work with us to help Merseyside—I know that I speak for the shadow Chancellor here as well—we will be there. We never want to go back to the dark days. I simply ask everyone in this House to work together to help.