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Covid-19 Update

Volume 682: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2020

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

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

Before the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care addresses the Chamber, I would like to point out that a British Sign Language interpretation of the statement is available to watch on

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on coronavirus. The virus remains a perilous threat. Yesterday, Europe recorded its 7 millionth coronavirus case. Deaths in Germany and Italy have doubled in seven days, and here, today’s Office for National Statistics figures show that weekly deaths linked to coronavirus have risen to their highest level since the start of July. Cases among the over-60s continue to rise, and as the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam made clear earlier, it is the penetration of coronavirus into older age groups that gives the NHS the greatest cause for concern.

We must act where the virus is spreading. In the parts of the country where it is spreading the fastest, it is our sombre duty to take the action necessary to protect people’s lives and protect the NHS. Coronavirus is not a short-term problem that can easily be fixed. It requires difficult decisions in these difficult times. Our goal is to get life back to as normal as possible, to support the NHS, to keep children at school and to shelter the economy as much as possible, and to do that by suppressing the virus until a vaccine is available.

It has been clear for some days that further action is needed across parts of England. Last Monday, we were able to reach an agreement with the leadership of Liverpool city region, across party lines, to take the action needed, with a package of financial support and co-operation. Yesterday, I announced to the House a similar agreement reached with Lancashire. In Lancashire, Liverpool and across the country, we continue to work closely with local leadership.

In Greater Manchester, there have been more coronavirus infections already in October than in July, August and September combined. The average daily hospital admissions in Greater Manchester are now higher than they were on 26 March, and there are now more covid-19 patients in Greater Manchester hospitals than in the whole of the south-west and south-east combined. As a result, we need to take further action to protect lives and livelihoods in Greater Manchester.

So, informed by that data, we have made the difficult decision to place Greater Manchester into the very high local covid alert level, coming into force at one minute past midnight on Friday. This means that pubs and bars must close, unless they are serving substantial meals; households cannot mix indoors or in most outdoor settings; in some public outdoor spaces, groups must be limited to the rule of six; and we strongly advise against travel into and out of the area. In line with the extra measures taken in Lancashire, casinos, bingo halls, betting shops, adult gaming centres and soft play areas must also close.

I know that these restrictions are tough, so we are putting in place a comprehensive package of support. That includes the job support scheme, which ensures that those affected by business closures are still paid. Once topped up with universal credit, those on low incomes will receive at least 80% of their normal income. We have also made available up to £465 million to help local authorities implement and enforce restrictions. Greater Manchester will receive £22 million of that. We will also work with local authorities to allocate testing and introduce local contact tracing.

Over the past 10 days, we have sought to reach an agreement with local leaders. Unfortunately, we were not able to reach an agreement in Greater Manchester, as we have in Lancashire and the Liverpool city region. As well as the support that I have outlined, we made a generous and extensive offer to support Manchester’s businesses. That offer was proportionate to the support we have given the Liverpool city region and Lancashire, but regrettably, the Mayor rejected it. Of course, we do not want businesses in Greater Manchester to be disadvantaged, so that offer remains on the table. Our door is open to further discussions with local leaders in the coming days about business support.

I understand the impact of these measures, but we must take these decisions to save lives and, ultimately, livelihoods in Greater Manchester. To everyone in Greater Manchester, I say this: throughout these difficult times for your great city, we will be by your side. The best thing we can do now to protect our loved ones and get back to normal as fast as possible is for everyone to come together and follow these new rules and for all to play their part in tackling this deadly virus.

The path through a pandemic is never straightforward. It requires all of us to make difficult decisions and tough sacrifices to get the virus under control. I know that these local restrictions are hard and are another sacrifice, in a year full of sacrifices, but we must not waver now. We must persevere, as we work so hard on the long-term solutions that will see us through, and come together, once again, so that we can look after the people and the communities we love. I commend this statement to the House.

As always, I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but I am afraid that tonight people across Manchester, the boroughs of Greater Manchester and towns such as Stockport, Leigh and Bury, where I grew up, will be watching the news in disbelief and they will be worried if they are affected by these closures. They will be asking, “Why was it right to cover 80% of wages in March and then now, in the run-up to Christmas, to cover just two thirds of wages in October?” What happened to that Chancellor who plastered across social media soft-focus selfies boasting that he would support jobs and incomes and do “whatever it takes”? Tonight, that Chancellor is forcing people on the national minimum wage to live on just £5.76 an hour. He has gone from “whatever it takes” to now taking from the lowest paid. How does he expect families to pay the bills and the rent, to put food on the table and to pay for school lunches when a third of their income has been snatched away, literally overnight? Where is the Chancellor? He should be here to defend the consequences of his decisions, which will mean a winter of hardship across the north.

I grew up in Greater Manchester. My dad worked in casinos in Salford and my mum worked in bars in Manchester. I know that across Manchester people will want to do the right thing, but they will not be able to if a third of their income is stripped away. The leaders of Greater Manchester were prepared to compromise. They offered to settle for £65 million to support jobs and livelihoods, but the Government insisted on £60 million. Rather than finding the £5 million extra, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on negotiations and then this afternoon took £38 million off the table. What a petty, vindictive, callous response in a national crisis. The Prime Minister may think he is punishing the politicians, but in fact he is punishing the people of Greater Manchester. This is the Prime Minister who has blown £150 million on face masks that were not suitable for frontline NHS staff, blown £130 million on testing kits that turned out to be unsafe and had to be recalled, and is spending £7,000 a day on consultants as part of his failing £12 billion Test and Trace programme.

Given that Test and Trace is broken and the virus is out of control, I have always accepted that greater containment measures are needed, but for measures to be effective they need to command the consent of the people impacted and people need to know how long these measures will last. The Secretary of State did not tell us that in his statement.

Yet these restrictions have been called into question by the chief medical officer, who said that they will not enough, and they are restrictions that the Prime Minister admitted last week give us only “a chance” to bring the national R down. So how will the sacrifices that the Prime Minister is forcing on the people in the north bring down infection rates in the south?

The Secretary of State knows that, to bring the R below 1, further measures will be needed. He knows that more areas are likely to go into tier 3. This is about so much more than Greater Manchester. People will watch tonight and say that if the Government are prepared to inflict this level of harm on their people in the middle of a pandemic in one part of the country, they will be prepared to do it to people in all parts of the country. The result will be a winter of hardship for millions of people. This is not a game; it is about people’s lives. People need proper financial support. This is a national crisis and we will not defeat this virus on the cheap.

I regret that the hon. Member, who so often is so reasonable, is choosing to play political games with political rhetoric tonight. As I said in my statement, the offer of support is on the table. To the people of Greater Manchester, I say that the offer of the same support as was agreed with the Labour leadership of the Liverpool city region, and I commend them for their work, and the leadership of Lancashire, and I commend them for their work, is and remains on the table. I look forward in the coming days to working with the local councils right across Greater Manchester and, of course, the Mayor, if he is willing to come back to the table, to make sure we have that package of support for businesses in place.

Crucially, it is incumbent on us all to send the same public health messages to our constituents, wherever we represent around the country, but in particular in areas where cases are rising, as in Greater Manchester, to ensure that we are clear about the part that everybody needs to play to keep this virus under control. The public are looking for that sort of public health messaging, rather than political games, in these difficult times.

I think it is fair to say that the shadow Secretary of State has been moderate. He has not repeated his party leader’s call for a national lockdown, and people in areas where the virus has not jumped up very high will be grateful for that.

My father’s family came from Greater Manchester, and were they there now I think they would ask that the Mayor make an agreement with the Government, because public help and public health go together. If it is a proportionate offer, we have not heard the reason why it is inadequate in one place. If we want employment in the future, we need to have employers, and help is going to be needed for those who need and are struggling to keep their businesses going.

I want to make one more point to my right hon. Friend. Down in Worthing, we are not getting our test results back all the time very fast. It is important that we do, because a father or mother who has a child who may have symptoms may not be able to go to work as a teacher, and that ends up penalising all the children in the class. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to say what is happening.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who puts it very clearly: the people of Greater Manchester would expect their local leaders to come to the table. That offer of support for local businesses remains there, alongside the support for strengthening test and trace and enforcement in Greater Manchester. I urge all the leaders of the nine boroughs of Greater Manchester to pick up the phone and work with us to make sure we can deliver this. Of course, that offer remains open for the Mayor if he wants to return to the table.

On the point about the testing in Worthing, I will absolutely look into whether there was a specific problem. The test turnaround times have come down as the capacity has rapidly expanded, and I will make sure I get back to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

While there may be a small minority who do not think of those around them, the majority of people try to follow the advice to reduce the spread of covid. We know that the virus spreads where people are in close contact. This is about not just pubs and nightclubs; it includes those in overcrowded housing, those in exposed jobs where working from home is not an option, and those on zero-hours contracts who simply will not get paid if they are not working. Does the Secretary of State not think it is a bit inappropriate for politicians with well-paid and secure jobs to suggest that rising covid cases in certain areas are just due to some form of misbehaviour requiring tougher penalties?

People want to do the right thing, whether due to restrictions or because they are infected themselves, but sometimes they feel that they have no option but to continue going out of the house. Although in general surveys the vast majority of people say that they would isolate if they caught covid, a study from King’s College London shows that less than 20% of those who develop symptoms go on to isolate. That was associated with financial hardship, social deprivation, having dependent children and working in key jobs that cannot be carried out from home. Why is the Chancellor not continuing the full furlough scheme when we are heading into a second wave and the hardest winter that the NHS will ever have faced? There are still millions of people who have not received any support since March. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that, for those on low wages and in insecure work, the choice between staying at home and feeding their family just does not feel like a choice at all?

I agree with the hon. Lady that the majority of people try to follow the advice, and that the vast majority of people want to do the right thing. We introduced the £500 payment for those on low incomes precisely to support people to do that. We introduced it right across the UK, working with the Scottish Government, and there are signs that the uptake of that has allowed people to complete isolation when they need to, in order to keep others safe.

My right hon. Friend and his Department have engaged with me and my Tees Valley colleagues a number of times in recent weeks, and I thank him for that. He is well aware of my deep reservations about further restrictions on my constituents’ lives, liberties and livelihoods, particularly due to the mental health impact of these restrictions. Can he confirm that, while discussions are ongoing, there are no current plans to move Redcar and Cleveland into tier 3 restrictions? Will he also commit to working with me, Redcar and Cleveland Council, my Tees Valley colleagues and the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, on any future changes?

Yes, we have been working very closely with the Tees Valley. The level 2 restrictions there were not something that we put into place lightly, but we followed the data. We will continue to follow the data and take the action that is needed—but only the action that is needed—and to engage with my hon. Friend and with the Mayor of Tees Valley, who is rising above party politics to do the right thing for the Tees Valley. The point that I would make to my hon. Friend, in addition to the points that he made, is that the impact on mental health is undoubtedly worse if the virus gets out of control, even though the measures that are taken are difficult ones. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has been very clear that the best thing for mental health is for us to keep the virus under control, although of course we need to mitigate the consequences that flow from the measures we sometimes have to take.

Today marks a low point in the handling of this situation. Instead of reuniting people behind their approach, the Government have imposed this decision, leaving a bitter taste. There are other decisions still to come, and other regions are watching what has happened today, including my own in the west midlands. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that, as significant economic support is withdrawn at the end of this month, any decision on whether national restrictions are required will not be taken because that is cheaper and a means of avoiding adequate support for the businesses and workers concerned, because if that is the case, the public health measures and the economic measures will be pulling in two different directions?

Yes, absolutely. The extra support that we put into areas that go into tier 3 is a reflection of the need to ensure that that support is there when action has to be taken for public health reasons in order to control the virus. I spoke to the Mayor of the West Midlands just before coming into the Chamber, and we will work closely together to ensure that we keep the virus under control in the west midlands, where, in very large part, the local leadership has worked closely together, again across party lines, to do what is right for the people of the west midlands.

Today, Jonathan Van-Tam said in answer to a question that a national lockdown right now would be inappropriate for places such as East Anglia. Does my right hon. Friend therefore disagree with the decision of the Labour party and Ipswich Labour that now is the time to close down the entire hospitality sector in somewhere like Ipswich with low levels of covid, which employs thousands of my constituents?

I agree, of course, with what Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said. He is a very fine scientist and a brilliant man. Right now, no one is looking for political differences for politics’ sake. What people are looking for is for people to come together to make the right decisions in the national interest or the local interest, and to take these decisions as locally as possible to make sure that we support people as much as possible: take action where it is necessary, but make sure that we do not take action where it is not necessary.

Earlier, the Prime Minister said that he was still talking to the north-east. May I reiterate that, in the north-east, we believe that we should remain in tier 2 and are working hard to that end? What we do need is financial support for the test and trace work already being carried out effectively locally and financial support for our hospitality, leisure and retail sectors, which are taking the strain of current restrictions. Will the Secretary of State now fund the test and trace work being done so effectively locally, and urge the Chancellor to provide a financial support package for our hospitality, leisure and retail sectors within tier 2 to support our economy and local people?

We are working very closely with the local leadership in the north-east and with colleagues. It was very good to see the hon. Lady on a Zoom call recently to discuss this. It is important that we take the action if it is necessary, but there are early signs that the number of cases in the north-east is starting to flatten. In the first instance, that is happening among younger people, and I am still worried about the number of cases among the over-60s, who, of course, are the people who are most likely to end up in hospital or worse. So we will keep a very close eye on the situation, but we have no imminent plans to make a change. If the clinical advice were to change and we needed to move urgently, then, of course, we would seek to do that with the support of the local area.

In the last four weeks, the number of covid patients admitted to intensive care units in hospitals in some parts of the country has increased sevenfold. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must act now to control the spread of the virus, but can he assure me that the Government are doing all that they can to keep cancer treatments, elective surgeries and other vital diagnostic services going?

I absolutely can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I had a meeting on this with the NHS only this week. The good news is that the backlog from the initial lockdown has been reduced: the number of very long waiters for cancer treatment—those waiting more than 104 days—has been reduced by 63%. We are working to keep that coming down. The best way that we can make cancer treatment available to everyone, and the best thing in terms of cancer treatment, is to keep the rate of coronavirus down. On the point about fairness, representing a Lancashire seat as she does, I think it is really important that the proposals that we are making for Greater Manchester, the subject of the statement this evening, are equivalent to those that were made for Lancashire. It is only fair that, between different geographies, we have the same levels of support, especially in neighbouring geographies such as Hyndburn and Manchester.

I, too, am working hard with Tees Valley colleagues to keep the area out of tier 3, but my constituents in Hartlepool are confused and seething with anger. They are concerned about moving to tier 3 with all the health and economic impacts that that will bring. We are not in tier 3 yet, but if we get there what exit strategy does the Secretary of State have for ending lockdown?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on his assessment: Hartlepool is in tier 2 at the moment and I hope that we can keep it there, but we will keep it under review. The best exit strategy for anywhere that wants to go into a lower tier is for everybody to follow the rules, respect social distancing and try to get the case rate coming down, but, of course, for the whole nation—indeed for the whole world—the best exit strategy is a combination of mass testing and a vaccine, and we are working incredibly hard to deliver both as quickly as feasibly possible. We need a long-term solution to covid as well as the short-term action that we are having to take.

Greater Manchester has lived under harsh additional restrictions for three months. May I put it to my right hon. Friend that lockdowns themselves cost lives as well as livelihoods, and that they take a terrible toll on mental health, particularly of the young? Does he accept that it is better to do these things, if they must be done, by consent? In that regard, will he confirm that these measures will be brought to the House for approval, and that in any case they will end with the sunset after 28 days?

I agree with my hon. Friend that these things are better done by consent, and in the parts of the country where the whole local area has supported the measures, through getting the right messages out to people about their personal responsibility, we do tend to get a better response and see the case rate starting to come down. That is one of the many reasons why we worked so hard to try to get an agreement across Greater Manchester and why I regret that we have not been able to, although, as I say, our door remains open. On the point about consent, of course these measures will be brought to the House, and they sunset after 28 days. We keep them under review, because we would not want to keep these measures in place a moment longer than they are needed.

None of us doubts the grave threat to public health and the difficulty of dealing with it, but there is also now a widespread real threat of poverty, so whether the £60 million is on the table or off the table is immaterial; it is not what the elected representatives of Greater Manchester say they need. Do the Secretary of State and his Government appreciate that the people of Greater Manchester feel tonight that they have been abandoned by this Government, and that my constituents in Edinburgh West and people up and down the country will be wondering whether they will be abandoned next?

No. On the contrary, we are putting extra support into Greater Manchester, and we are willing to continue with the support akin to the support that we agreed with the leadership of the Liverpool city region and with Lancashire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), who has now gone from the Chamber, set out. The unprecedented level of support across the whole of this pandemic has been possible only because of the UK acting together and working together. I hope that we can continue to work with the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and her party to make sure that we get through this as best as we possibly can, suppressing the virus and supporting jobs and the NHS.

More action is needed to help livelihoods and save incomes, so will the Government share and, if necessary, develop their work with the commercial and public sectors on how air-conditioning systems, ventilation systems, heating systems and air-extraction systems can be adapted or improved so that more commercial and public buildings can be kept open for proper use?

Yes, absolutely; that is an incredibly important strand of work. It is being led by the Business Department, but I keep a close eye on it and, in fact, had an update on it this week, which I would be very happy to discuss with my right hon. Friend.

I thank the Secretary of State for all that he is doing. There are many underlying health conditions, including respiratory illnesses. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on respiratory health. Given that respiratory illnesses are one of the leading causes of death in the UK—that includes covid-19, of course—what reassurances can he offer me and those people who suffer from them that referrals for severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory illnesses will not be forgotten but will be maintained, and that further unnecessary deaths will be avoided?

We work very hard on this point. To answer both this question and a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) that I did not did not answer, of course we take into account the overall health impacts: direct covid deaths; the impact of covid on our hospitals, which means it is sometimes harder to treat other illnesses, although that is now much better than it was in the first wave and the NHS is very much open; and the impact of measures on other conditions. The best way through this from a health point of view, taking all these things into account, is undoubtedly to keep the virus down, but also to try to ensure that the NHS, right across all four nations of the UK, is open for all other conditions and that if someone is asked to go to hospital then it is the safest place for them to go.

I understand that talks are ongoing about South Yorkshire, which includes Rother Valley, going into a stricter lockdown. Before any decision is made, will my right hon. Friend agree to get agreement between councils and local MPs, so that local views, concerns and support can be agreed in advance, especially around mental health and local businesses?

Yes, I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. We were discussing on Sunday morning the challenges in South Yorkshire, where cases are going up fast and action needs to be taken. Talks are ongoing in a highly collegiate and constructive way. I pay tribute to the way that he stands up for his constituents in Rother Valley and makes the case directly to Ministers day after day about what is best for the area and represents them so clearly.

In lockdown, people need the financial support to do the right thing and stay at home to stop the virus. In Wales, where we are in national lockdown, the Labour Government have provided £300 million. That is £100 per person to help them stay at home to beat the virus. But in Manchester, the Prime Minister has provided £22 million. That is £8 per person, instead of £100 per person in Wales. How can that be right? Will the Secretary of State and the Chancellor ensure that, wherever people live across the United Kingdom, they have enough money to stay at home to beat the virus, without inflicting massive poverty?

We have put substantial funding into not only Greater Manchester but Wales, which goes directly to businesses that are affected and have to close and directly to individuals, through the furlough scheme, the job support scheme and universal credit, which is available to all those who lose their jobs and people in low-paid work. In addition to the funding that remains on the table—and I urge the local leadership in Greater Manchester to come back to the table—there is widespread support available.

Warrington finds itself as a tier 2 island in the north-west, parked between Manchester and Liverpool. Our infection rate remains stubbornly high, though, and admissions to Warrington Hospital have now exceeded the peak of the first wave in April. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any further measures for Warrington should protect the NHS and save lives but also support local livelihoods and the economy?

Yes, I absolutely agree with the approach that my hon. Friend sets out. I am worried about the number of cases in Warrington and about the impact on Warrington Hospital, which is an excellent hospital. Of course, Warrington is not an island, because Cheshire as a whole has seen case rates rise. It is an area that we are worried about, and we are working with local leadership to ensure that we take appropriate measures and put in place the support needed.

It is impossible to describe today’s events without using unparliamentary language, but out of deference to you, Mr Speaker, I will settle for “a complete shambles”. Today, this Government made a choice not to protect the poorest people in Greater Manchester through the punishing reality of the winter to come. Does the Secretary of State really believe that we will get through this pandemic by subjecting communities to punishing financial negotiations? Do the Government truly value pennies more than lives? The Government are playing poker with people’s jobs, homes and lives. Is the Secretary of State proud to be a member of this Government?

Contrary to the way that the hon. Gentleman described it, the Government have put forward the same proposals in Greater Manchester that were agreed in Lancashire and in Liverpool. Unfortunately, the Mayor of Greater Manchester walked away from the table, but the offer is there. I urge all local leaders, including the hon. Gentleman, to take forward that offer to resolve this and for us all to work together for the benefit of the people of Manchester.

My right hon. Friend told the House that these measures are about the increase in infection among the over-60s, who are more vulnerable to this dreadful disease. What assessment has he made of whether that infection is being spread in the community, as opposed to care settings? If it is in the community, what messages should we give to the rest of the community about the need to make sure that they protect their loved ones?

I think there is a duty for all of us to send messages to the communities that we serve that people need to take personal responsibility to try to reduce the spread of the virus. There have recently been some cases in care homes, but far fewer, and it seems that the actions that we have taken and the very hard work of the care home sector over the summer—the staff who work in care homes—has reduced transmission. In most care homes there are more staff than residents, and they live in the community, so it is almost impossible to stop any infection getting into all care homes when the level of infection in the community rises. Having said that, the core of this second peak is in the community, where every single one of us can act to take more responsibility to help to slow the spread of the virus.

My constituents, like everyone else’s, have suffered huge anxiety over the past six months, worrying about their health and livelihoods. The chaos that has unfolded today in relation to Greater Manchester will have done nothing to allay their fears. They are also angry about the money that has been squandered on personal protective equipment purchases, on consultants, and on the failing Test and Trace system, which my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State raised with the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman did not answer my hon. Friend’s questions then—would he answer them now? Why is Manchester not entitled to the money it needs to get by in this crisis, when so much money has been wasted elsewhere?

The money that we are proposing, and put on the table for Greater Manchester, is exactly the same as the amount that was agreed with the leadership of Liverpool and of Lancashire. There is support there to help people through what are—the hon. Lady is quite right—very difficult times. I hope that we can resolve this, but we needed to act after 10 days, with infections still going up. It was our duty to act, even though we could not yet get the agreement of the local leaders, but I hope that that will come.

One of the ways in which we can hope to pick a path out of this crisis is with improved and faster testing. The Health and Social Care Secretary and the Prime Minister have spoken in past days about new testing technologies being piloted with NHS staff. If that technology is found to be effective, what is the right hon. Gentleman’s timeline for rolling that testing out to wider groups, and will those tests contribute to the half a million daily tests that the Government say will be conducted by the end of the month?

The answer is yes and yes. They will be there to benefit everyone across the whole United Kingdom.

I was hugely disappointed that the Mayor of Greater Manchester failed to reach an agreement with the Government, thus compounding the uncertainty facing my Cheadle constituents. We need to find a way forward. My right hon. Friend will know that I have consistently advocated on behalf of Stockport Council and for my constituents in Cheadle, referring to testing and tracing and covid compliance in the hospitality sector, and I have pressed for a borough-by-borough approach that reflects our lower case rate. Tonight, I have written to the leader of Stockport Council, urging her to act on behalf of my Cheadle constituents and work with the Government to negotiate a local authority-specific financial package that supports and protects Cheadle residents and businesses. As we consider the next steps, will the Minister continue to work with our local leaders and me to secure a fair deal for our area?

My hon. Friend puts the case very clearly, and she is right. We do not want businesses in Stockport to be disadvantaged, so an offer, proportionate to the support that we have put into Liverpool and Lancashire, is on the table. I will take away her proposal and talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who is engaged in those talks right now, about her suggestion of a borough-by-borough approach. We remain open to a GM-wide approach, but so far we have not been able to get the agreement of the Mayor for the support that is on the table for the businesses of Greater Manchester.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that he has no plans to move the north-east into tier 3. He is right that in County Durham covid numbers are plateauing, especially if students are taken out. Will he, though, address the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist)? When will he give the extra resources to local directors of public health to do local test and tracing? When will local directors of public health get timely information from national Test and Trace, so that they can chase up those cases? At the moment they are getting the information up to 48 hours after the case—

The questions were so good, Mr Speaker, that I was enthusiastic to answer them as quickly as possible. I am a fan of fast turnaround times, and hope I can ensure that the data gets turned around even more quickly in County Durham. When it comes to the case rate, yes, there have been good signs, but I am still worried about the case rate among the over-60s, and the discussions with local leaders continue. I absolutely take the right hon. Gentleman’s points on board, though.

In view of the fact that the Secretary of State is in favour of fast turnaround times, may I ask him this? Given that Lancashire and now Manchester in tier 3 will be able to keep their gyms open, will he either use the Government’s powers, or give powers to local council leaders in Halton and Merseyside, to reopen gyms in that area?

The hon. Gentleman makes an argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) has consistently made. Why do we not have a conversation about it and see whether we can make any progress?

We know that infection rates are at different levels throughout the country, and that restrictions cause issues for people who suffer from health conditions other than covid and have a huge impact on the economy, but closing pubs in Harrogate or Newquay will not make case levels fall in Manchester or Newcastle, so does my right hon. Friend agree that a blanket national lockdown is wrong and that local interventions are what we need now to tackle this crisis?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. The localised and regional approach is increasingly being taken up around the world—for instance, in France. Indeed, Sweden, which has often been discussed in this House, has put in place a system very similar to ours for exactly the sorts of reasons that my hon. Friend has set out.

As the Secretary of State will know from the Zoom call we had on Sunday morning, for which I thank him, the Mayor and leaders of the Sheffield city region are engaged with Ministers and officials on a number of asks in order that a move to tier 3 could be considered. Those asks are about extra help for businesses that are not completely shut but have a substantial reduction in income, and more help beyond the £500 scheme for people who are asked to isolate. The Secretary of State can correct me if I am wrong, but it seems from his answers to previous questions that he is saying that the offer made so far to Lancashire and Merseyside is the final offer that anyone else could expect to receive, and that no one else will get any more, particularly in revenue or resources, than has been offered to those areas. Is that true or not?

That is an overinterpretation of my comments. The discussions with the local leadership in South Yorkshire have been very constructive, very positive and all focused on the public health need to get this virus under control in South Yorkshire, and then the support that needs to go alongside that. They are being led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I would not want to fetter the privacy in which those discussions have rightly taken place. We should leave it to the local leaders and my right hon. Friend to try to come to a conclusion.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is as disappointed as I am that the Greater Manchester Mayor has been unable to reach agreement with the Government today. Will he and other right hon. colleagues now commit to meet me, other Greater Manchester colleagues and council leaders in Greater Manchester to find a fair and workable agreement?

Yes, absolutely. Support proportionate to the support made available to Lancashire is on the table. We are willing to meet anybody from Greater Manchester to help make this happen, and it is best done as a team effort. The offer was there on the table. I, like my hon. Friend, regret that it was not taken forward. However, I hope that council leaders in Wigan, colleagues from across the House and, if he wants, the Mayor will come back to the table and work together for the people of Greater Manchester.

The Health Secretary’s attempt to divide and rule the Mayor and the Members of Parliament in Manchester is absolutely transparent. It is shameful that some of those Conservative colleagues, who have been working collectively, should collapse like they appear to be doing today. Does it not say everything about this Government that they should believe £7,000 a day is an adequate amount to pay consultants to work on his failing track and trace programme, but £8 per head is more than enough for people in Manchester and right across the north and the midlands to go into this tier 3 after the tier 2 programme has not worked?

On the contrary, we are working hard across party lines and trying to rise above that sort of political attack to work for the benefit and the public interests of everybody in this country.

In Gedling, which does not have a large student population, there continues to be a worryingly high number of coronavirus cases. It is concerning to hear that the general picture appears to be moving upwards in the population, particularly among the over-60s, where we know the risks are higher. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this demonstrates the importance of acting fast, with targeted action if it is available, to help save lives?

Yes, I strongly agree. I praise my hon. Friend’s leadership in his local community in making this case. The number of cases in Nottingham and increasingly across Nottinghamshire is worrying. Nottinghamshire went into level 2 last week, and talks are ongoing about what more might be needed. I praise the people of Nottinghamshire for what they are doing to try to slow the spread of this virus. It may be that more needs to be done, and we will be driven entirely by the data, working closely with the local authorities.

Cheshire leaders and, indeed, the Warrington leader have met the Department and written to the Prime Minister asking for local resources for the local test, trace and isolate system, as well as a substantial financial package of £42 million to support our hospitality sector—people have mirrored that point across the Chamber—but they have yet to receive a reply. Given the urgency of the situation, please will the Secretary of State do his utmost to make sure that that reply goes to the leaders? Finally, as a Mancunian by birth, I find the spitefulness from the Prime Minister disgraceful. The Prime Minister should do the right thing by the people of Greater Manchester.

The Prime Minister is seeking precisely to do that and he, like me, very much hopes that the local leadership in Greater Manchester will do their bit. When it comes to Cheshire and indeed Warrington, which we talked about earlier, I am worried about the cases. I will make sure that the engagement that the hon. Gentleman and his councils seek happens as soon as possible.

Can I commend the Secretary of State for his localised approach, and for the calm way in which he is dealing with some unwarranted attacks on both him and the Prime Minister?

The Epilepsy Society is based in Chalfont St Peter in my constituency. It provides specialist care to a number of vulnerable residents and has, according to one relative, worked wonders in keeping residents safe and secure. However, visits from relatives cannot take place as the incidence of covid-19 grows, and the home is now locked down again. With 60-minute tests now available down the road at Heathrow airport, could we not arrange for this type of testing for close relatives so they could visit their loved ones? It would make all the difference in the world to my constituents and many others in long-term care.

The answer is yes. We absolutely want to use this sort of testing as it becomes more widely available to do exactly the sort of thing that my right hon. Friend sets out.

May I say how shocked I am at some of the responses from the Health Secretary? All Andy Burnham and the leaders of the Greater Manchester local authorities have been trying to do is to ensure that their constituents— our constituents—are not plunged into poverty, homelessness and worse. That is all they have been trying to do. To describe it in the way that he has is really upsetting.

International evidence shows that key requirements for local lockdowns to work are, first, to have a competent test, trace and isolate system; secondly, that businesses and workers are supported by a financial package equivalent to existing incomes; and, finally, that national Government support local leaders. The Government have failed to deliver any of those. Are they following the evidence or not?

We are working incredibly hard to support the action that is needed to suppress this virus, while protecting the NHS and schools and supporting the economy as much as is possible. When it comes to the work in Greater Manchester, that is absolutely our goal. That is the work that we are doing and, given that support proportionate to that already agreed in Lancashire and Liverpool is on the table, I hope that local leaders will work with us.

What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the number of excess deaths above the long-term average in each of the last few weeks?

We have, thankfully, seen that the number of excess deaths is around the level of the long-term average. I want to keep it that way and that is why we are taking the action that we are, so that this does not get out of hand like we saw in the first peak.

There is a pattern here, is there not? Whenever the Government cannot agree a deal, it is always somebody else’s fault. In this case, it is Andy Burnham’s fault for simply standing up for what Greater Manchester needs—not what we want; what we need. Maybe I am also overinterpreting the Secretary of State’s comments, but in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), he suggested that there might be different offers for different areas. Greater Manchester was asking for a carefully costed package to meet our needs and our requirements. Why can the Government not give Greater Manchester what we need?

The offer that was made to Greater Manchester was proportionate to the support that we have already given to and agreed with the local leadership in Liverpool and Lancashire, and I regret that the Mayor rejected it. We want to support businesses across Greater Manchester, so we are open to further discussions about business support with local leaders, including the council leaders, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) suggested, and I hope that we can make some progress.

Andy Burnham has said that, on covid-19, we need to

“carry people with us, not crush their spirit.”

Does the Home Secretary think that he has carried the people of the north with the Government as they watch bully boy tactics and punishment beatings being used against the legitimate concerns of local leaders from all parties to try to protect the livelihoods of the poorest people and local businesses in Greater Manchester? How does that bode for other areas such as the Humber, which may well need more help as they move into higher tiers?

In areas that we are already in discussions with, such as South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, the north-east and Nottinghamshire, right across the board those discussions are constructive, positive and focused entirely on the wellbeing of people locally. I hope that in Hull cases stay relatively low and we do not have to go into a higher tier. There are no plans to do so at the moment, and I urge the people of Hull to keep following the rules and keep the coronavirus down in Hull. What I would say is that in every other part of the country, we have had highly constructive talks that have not involved this sort of party political point scoring. I urge that approach from everybody.

In my constituency, the latest figures show an infection rate of just 54 per 100,000—about half the national average and one tenth of the rate in Liverpool—so I think it is absolutely right that the Government are not following a national lockdown but are instead following a regional, local approach. In those areas that do need to go to tier 3, it is absolutely right that the Government give additional financial support, but it is also right, surely, that the Government treat them fairly and equally. The Government could not give greater support to one area, Greater Manchester, than to Liverpool or Lancashire, because then the local leaders who are refusing to take the action necessary to lock down the virus will be given greater financial rewards than the leaders who are taking the steps necessary.

This point about fairness is really important. Imagine how it would feel to be running a business or to be somebody who lives in Liverpool when there has been an agreement across party lines for the support that comes with the measures that are necessary, and then, after a very public disagreement, instead of the constructive work that we really hope to achieve, the result was a deal that was not proportionate and fair. Fairness is absolutely at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. That is why it is right that we have the extra offer of support that continues to be on the table. We want to strike a fair deal, but we have to take these measures to keep people safe.

In his statement, the Secretary of State said to the people of Manchester, “We will be by your side”, and that his response requires all of us to make a sacrifice. I put it to him that that is not entirely true, because it is constituencies like mine that are making the real, tough sacrifices in facing restrictions for nearly three months because of his and his Government’s failings. Just so we are aware, will this Government try to play poker with the people of Bradford and their financial support, like they did with Manchester before putting it into the highest tier?

We work very closely with the council in Bradford. Of course I am very happy to talk to the hon. Lady about what might be necessary. It has been very difficult for Bradford these past few months: I absolutely appreciate that. Bradford—certainly the city of Bradford, which she represents—has been in measures for a long time and has had extra restrictions. I hope that we can bring the number of cases down so that we can release some of those restrictions, and that is best done by working together.

I welcome the setting up of a second local national testing centre locally in Fenton Manor in my constituency. I thank the city council and health professionals for the work that they have been doing locally. Will my right hon Friend continue to support this excellent work and continue to grow the testing capacity?

Yes, 100%. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The extra testing capacity that we are seeing across the country does not happen by magic; it happens by the hard work of his constituents and others who are playing their part in the testing regime.

The Secretary of State talks about fairness, but today we find out that Greater Manchester is effectively getting a third of the level of financial support that the Government gave to Lancashire. It is a failure that his Government cannot negotiate a decent package of support with our Greater Manchester Mayor. Andy Burnham has argued for that decent financial support for people who work in businesses that are going to be closed down by Government restrictions, and for resources for locally led test and trace. He was right to do that. I urge the Secretary of State to think again. This is too important a time in this pandemic to fail to work with the devolved local government system that his Government created.

I think it is time to put aside short-term political point scoring. The deal on the table that the Mayor of Greater Manchester walked away from was a fair deal that had been agreed, proportionate to the deal that had been agreed with leaders in Liverpool and in Lancashire. I know I keep repeating this point, but it is absolutely at the centre of what it is to be fair, which is about treating people in similar situations in a similar way. I think that the British people understand that. Hence we enter into these local discussions in good faith, and everywhere else they have been engaged with in good faith. I hope that is the way that they can continue in Greater Manchester in future.

I want to be fair to my right hon. Friend, who is motivated at all times by the best of intentions, but I gently say that those of us who have a contrary view to all of the Government’s policies are not in immediate tow with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, nor are we in tow with the Labour Opposition. I feel a deep sense of disappointment at this collective failure that we have seen today and, quite frankly, my constituents in Hazel Grove deserve better. I shall resist the urge to lose my temper—tempting though it may be—because these exchanges deserve a greater elevation of tone, but I say this: the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again in the hope that it will turn good. We have had three months of interventions in Greater Manchester, which have yielded very little results indeed. I cannot help but fear that the medicine is worse than the disease.

We are starting to see some of the local action that we have already taken just starting, potentially, to work, and we have seen in Bolton that the cases were shooting up before we took action and then levelled off. So there is evidence of this approach working, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to make sure that we can get out of these measures, which I appreciate he is unenthusiastic about, as soon as possible.

Thank you for squeezing me in, Mr Speaker. Can I say that it was not just the Mayor, but all the leaders and most of the MPs across Greater Manchester? We are a city united this evening, but should not any economic support package be based on need, not on some unpublished, arbitrary formula that no one has any idea what it consists of? If it was based on need, it would take account of the fact that business density and the economy of Greater Manchester is bigger than in other areas and that we have many more low-paid workers—that is something that the Secretary of State should know if he is talking about fairness— so businesses in Manchester will actually receive a lot less than businesses elsewhere. Can I tell him tonight that his Government have really misjudged the mood up here, and any less than is needed coming immediately to Greater Manchester for these new restrictions would rightly be seen as spiteful and political and nothing whatsoever to do with public health?

I think it benefits all of us to rise above the politics and try to work together. As I say, the offer that was made remains on the table and I look forward to working with the hon. Lady, who I know—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) said—works with the best of intentions, and I hope that we can work together to try to tackle this dreadful disease.

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