House of Commons
Monday 2 November 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Ministry of Defence and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs are working together with colleagues across Government to improve access to social housing, employment and healthcare, as well as digitising the Veterans UK services. Defence Transition Services is delivering tailored support to service leavers and their families. The Government have delivered a veterans’ railcard and have announced a guaranteed interview scheme in the civil service and a national insurance holiday for veterans’ employers.
RecruitME in Grantham is a specialist recruitment business run by veterans for veterans. Will the Minister join me in congratulating it on its recent award for services to veterans, and will he outline what the Government are doing to encourage more employers to hire a hero?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the company he mentions. I am clear, and this Government are clear, that the single biggest factor in improving the life chances of any veteran in this country, and their family, is having a job. The Government are fundamentally changing what it means to be a veteran by offering a national insurance contribution holiday, guaranteed interviews and things like that. Working with partners in the private sector, we will make this the best country in the world to be a veteran.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The protections in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill have been warmly welcomed in constituencies such as mine, but obviously we also have veterans of Operation Banner, so will the Minister reiterate the Department’s intention to bring forward the same protections for people who served in Northern Ireland?
I am happy to reiterate again the Government’s position that those who served on Op Banner will be entitled to equal treatment from the protections that we are bringing forward on Third Reading of the overseas operations Bill tomorrow. I am clear that this is the first Government who are actually dealing with this very knotty and difficult issue. Northern Ireland veterans can be confident that we will not forget them—we will not leave them behind.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Veterans Charity, which ran a Halloween-themed charity car wash in my North Devon constituency and raised almost £500 this weekend? Will he also join me in recognising the vital co-operation between Government and the charity sector, with the Veterans Charity having helped 650 veterans this year alone?
I pay tribute to all the groups up and down this country who work tirelessly every day to improve the lot of our veterans, particularly the ones in my hon. Friends’ constituencies. There is a shift in the provision of veterans’ services in this country towards more of a balance between the third sector and statutory provision, but we will always require a blend of the two, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her lobbying for this cause.
Armed Forces: Recruitment and Retention
We have a range of measures supporting recruitment and retention, and continue to refine the armed forces offer. Measures include competitive pay, financial incentives, flexible service, and retention-positive accommodation programmes.
I can safely assure my right hon. Friend that standards have risen significantly since he and I were accepted into the military. We make no bones about it: the standards to get into our military are some of the highest in comparison with our peer nations. We employ some of the finest people this nation has to offer, and under this Government we are seeing a conscious shift towards how we look after them and value them as our finest asset.
Covid-19: Preparations and Support
As part of the national covid-19 response, Defence has supported NHS trusts in a variety of ways, with the distribution of personal protective equipment and diagnostic equipment, the planning, construction and staffing of Nightingale hospitals, and service personnel to conduct testing. We have established a winter support force of approximately 7,500 to ensure our continued support throughout the winter 2020-21 period.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about the armed forces using their logistical expertise in helping to combat the virus. However, can my right hon. Friend assure us that that will not come at the expense of the armed forces’ vital work defending the nation?
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, I have ensured both that we have supported our colleagues across Government in tackling the virus, and that our critical defence outputs have continued to be fulfilled every single day. The continuous at-sea deterrent, our Royal Air Force quick reaction alert force and a range of other critical capabilities, and our operations, have all been and will continue to be safeguarded.
Our armed forces have been instrumental in testing for covid-19, and soon they will be supporting the roll-out of mass testing in Redcar too. Does the Minister agree that in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday, we should focus not just on the loss of life in battle but on the commitment our armed forces make to serve our communities every day?
Throughout the covid support force, the armed forces have committed personnel and time and effort in helping the rest of government to meet this challenge, including local government.
With regards to remembrance, despite the covid-19 restrictions in place this year, every effort will be made to ensure that the occasion can be marked appropriately and that the contribution of our service personnel is recognised. We should all take time this week to reflect not only on the sacrifices of past conflicts, but on the sacrifices of and work that our armed forces personnel are doing right now all over the United Kingdom in making sure that this country gets through the worst of covid.
The role played by our forces in the construction of the Yorkshire and the Humber Nightingale hospital in Harrogate was very impressive. They brought engineering, logistical and organisational expertise to the project, working alongside the NHS trust and Harrogate convention centre. Will my right hon. Friend focus on the additional, complementary skills that our forces can bring to combatting this virus, particularly the speed with which they can act and be deployed?
My hon. Friend highlights the important effort that the military made in setting up the Nightingale in Harrogate. I visited it during the set-up time, and it is also welcome that that Nightingale has been used for other NHS tasks, which is an important step in building NHS capacity where it is under pressure elsewhere. Of course, we should make sure that we always bring to bear the best of our armed forces to help wherever we can right across the board. Resilience is Defence’s middle name, and it is that key part of our skill that we are bringing to support most of government across the country.
We welcome the recent Government announcement from the other place of the 7,000 personnel who will be brought to readiness ahead of the winter period. In light of that, does the Secretary of State agree that Government should keep the House regularly updated on the numbers of personnel being deployed, how they are being deployed, and if any further strengthening of the numbers of personnel deployed will be necessary as we progress through the winter period? Can he provide an update now?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, because I am very happy to inform the House on a periodic basis, perhaps every two weeks or weekly, of the MACA—military aid to the civil authorities—tasks that are being fulfilled. I can place that in the House of Commons Library. In the previous lockdown, we committed more than 10,000 troops. The number is 7,500 at the moment, but we always keep that under review. During the last lockdown, we actually only used at most about 4,000 or 5,000 at any one time, but of course we stand by to help. At the moment, there are over 20 MACAs in place and being used, and as we speak, we are examining some significant asks from a number of local authorities.
Strategic Defence Review: Timescale
The Government announced on 21 October that they will conduct a one-year spending review for 2021-22. The implications of that decision for the integrated review are currently being considered. The Government will provide an update to Parliament once this has been decided.
At the annual NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 2019, a report was published about the growing maritime threat from Russia. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other members of the Assembly so that we may feed into the review of forward and ongoing naval demands for the foreseeable future?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work in leading the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The UK, along with NATO allies, takes the maritime threat from Russia very seriously. This tempo and assertiveness of our operational output will continue for as long as Russia continues to pose a threat and challenge to freedom of navigation. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces would be delighted to meet him and his colleagues to discuss it further.
As we belatedly go into this second national lockdown, can we as a House pay tribute to the role of the armed forces? I say to the Defence Secretary that his commitment to update the House regularly on the use of the armed forces in this second lockdown is very welcome. If he is willing to make further use of the forces this time, this House and the public will back him. I also pay tribute to the professionalism of the special forces who took back control of the Nave Andromeda last week. With the integrated review in mind, this is a timely reminder that while high-tech weapons are essential, our highly trained British troops are indispensable. The Secretary of State promised at the Dispatch Box “a multi-year integrated review”, with
“a four-year spending settlement…for capital and a three-year settlement for revenue”.—[Official Report, 21 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 607.]
When will it be published?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to the armed forces. He is, of course, right that the armed forces have gone above and beyond in making sure that we get through this covid process. Because of their training and the skills that they possess, we can answer the call to help with resilience throughout the country. We will not hesitate to take advantage of all their skills. The demand must come from the ground up—from local authorities or, indeed, the rest of Government. We stand by our offer to any part of Government or the devolved Governments to help in that struggle.
As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), the integrated review will be resolved; where we are going to go with it will be resolved. We are thinking through the impact of the Treasury’s announcement that there will be a one-year spending settlement. Once we have thought through those consequences and worked through the implications, I will report straight to the House on what that means.
Is it not the regrettable truth that the Chancellor has cut the ground from under the Defence Secretary and our British forces? The Secretary of State rightly said that previous Tory defence reviews have
“failed because they were never in step with the spending plans”.—[Official Report, 6 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 647.]
They were a cover for cuts, which is why our armed forces are nearly 12,000 short of the strength promised in the 2015 review; essential equipment, from new tanks to the new radar system protecting our aircraft carrier, is long overdue; and the defence budget has a £13 billion black hole. A fully fledged, fully funded strategic defence and security review is needed now more than ever. What does he say about the failure to deliver on that?
I think the right hon. Gentleman delivered the speech for a potential future statement. No one has said yet that the integrated review will be delayed or curtailed. What we are saying is that we are studying the implications of the one-year spending review on that. Once we have worked through those implications, he is of course welcome to make his points across the Dispatch Box. I know that he is keen to make those points, but I respectfully suggest that he waits until we have thought through the implications. Then we can have that discussion in Parliament.
Ahead of Remembrance Sunday at the end of the week, we wish well all of those organising events in a different fashion. The day does not lose its meaning at all.
On the integrated review, I am sure that the Secretary of State is more frustrated than most. As an avid reader of National Audit Office reports, he will know that pushing spending to the right will ultimately leave him with less money to spend. A multi-year settlement, as long advocated by SNP Members, would allow future-proofed planning. Can he tell us what the consequences of the postponement are for the future nuclear warheads system and, in particular, the W93?
As I said to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), the first thing is to wait until we have worked through the consequences of the one-year spending announcement by the Treasury. I, or indeed the Prime Minister, will then be happy to come and update the House about what that means for the integrated review and the consequences that follow.
Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, we can all see where this is going, as he knows as well as we do. In April, he wrote to members of Congress stating that
“support to the W93 program in this budget cycle is critical to the success of our replacement warhead programme and to the long-term viability of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.”
We read in the press about his Department’s alarm that a victory for the Democratic nominee in tomorrow’s election could stymie congressional and US support for that programme. As his Treasury and UK alliances have let him down, does he agree with Tom McTague’s assessment in The Atlantic today that
“if the election of one president or another is an existential challenge, then perhaps the issue is Britain’s strategy itself”?
I do not agree at all, and I think the hon. Gentleman may be slightly confused because, whether it is one year or multi-year, it does not mean to say that the defence budget goes to zero. We will still have a £41 billion budget—one of the biggest budgets in Europe—which will allow us to continue with not only running the armed forces but investing in them. Of course, the challenge that we have always been open about is the black hole in the overall finances, which we will have to take steps to meet. I am sorry to disappoint some of his anti-nuclear colleagues, but that does not mean the end of the nuclear deterrent or the submarines. The budget will not resort to zero after the one year. We should first work through what one year will mean, versus multi-year. It is not the first one-year funding settlement, and it is not the first defence review that is trying to fix underfunding and over-ambition. I distinctly remember serving in the armed forces when Labour’s ones did exactly the same.
I can tell the Secretary of State what a one-year funding settlement will do: it will make the integrated review next to meaningless. The Prime Minister gave me a direct assurance that the integrated review would not be delayed. If “global Britain” is an instruction and not a strap line, this review is the road map to how we advance our defence posture to support our foreign policy ambitions. Any delay to its publication with its full spending commitments will send a poor signal to the world that we are absolutely serious about re-establishing our global credentials and could prompt questions about our justification to retain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. May I urge the Defence Secretary to complete this review as promised, with a multi-year funding settlement, taken in isolation if necessary, if the spending review is to be delayed?
My right hon. Friend raises some interesting observations. First, I ask him, as I have asked others, to wait until we see the implications of the Treasury’s announcement of the one-year review. Until that time, speculation is just speculation, but of course he might like to take his message to the next Treasury questions, where Treasury Ministers, too, can hear his views of the impact.
Armed Forces: Covid-19 Response
Defence continues to play a vital role in the response to the covid-19 outbreaks. Defence is currently supporting 34 MACA tasks, including providing environmental health technicians to support Liverpool city region and planning teams to support Nottingham City Council and the Lancashire local resilience forum.
Defence Exports: NATO
The MOD leads on strategic export campaigns to our NATO partners, and from my personal contacts, including recent trips to Estonia and Poland, I know how respected UK military kit and innovation are. We work closely across Government to support British exports and western security.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting the chief executive of Meighs & Westleys at its site in Newcastle under Lyme, where it manufactures high-integrity castings for the UK naval supply chain. It is already exporting 5% directly to the United States and another 5% through intermediaries. Will my hon. Friend praise the company for its export success so far, and will he work with the Secretary of State for International Trade to encourage further export success in the future?
I absolutely congratulate the company on its successes, both at home and overseas. I work closely with colleagues in the Department for International Trade, particularly in the defence and security exports team, and I will happily, via my hon. Friend, introduce the company to that team to see what they can do to assist it.
British Shipbuilding Support
As shipbuilding tsar, I am working with Cabinet colleagues to supercharge the British shipbuilding industry. Driven by the ministerial shipbuilding working group, in the past 12 months the Government have signed the contract for five Type 31 vessels to be built in Rosyth, developed a maritime enterprise export plan to pursue export opportunities that will hopefully deliver state-of-the-art British ships to our global allies, and launched a major analysis of the skills required in the broader maritime sector through the Maritime Skills Commission.
My father worked as a shipwright at Smith’s dock on Teesside, and I know that the UK has a proud history as one of the greatest shipbuilding nations in the world. As we leave the EU, may I ask my right hon. Friend what steps he is taking to ensure that all parts of the UK benefit from shipbuilding opportunities supporting the military?
The Government’s ambitious shipbuilding agenda is reinvigorating this industry, including where my hon. Friend’s father worked. We are working to review old yards, to diversify the industry’s portfolio to promote smaller innovative vessels, and to strengthen the national supply chain, which underpins this. We will support tens of thousands of jobs across the UK, securing benefits for every corner of the Union and bringing shipbuilding back home to the UK. We are intending to use as many of our defence contracts as possible to incentivise investment by the owners of yards and, indeed, to invest in the workforces.
Will the Secretary of State heed the pleas of his Back Benchers and listen to the shadow Secretary of State’s recent “Built in Britain” strategy for the defence industry? I reiterate: follow the shadow Secretary of State’s strategy to ensure that the UK engineering and manufacturing industry endures the covid recession; invest in British engineering and manufacturing, in British people and in the British economy.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I agree with everything he said; that is what we have been doing. We will invest, where we can, in UK equipment. We also sometimes have to balance the urgent operational need of our service personnel: if there is something they need now or in the very short term and we simply do not have the capability to deliver it, we will sometimes have to look where we can to get them the best equipment. There is always a fine balance between making sure our forces have the very best at the very moment and long-term investment. I am determined that we invest both in the people who use our equipment in the MOD and in our industry as far as possible across the board.
Veterans Charities: Covid-19 Support
The Government have been proactive in providing support to the charity sector in response to the covid-19 pandemic. The MOD and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs have played a leading role in this effort by providing £6 million in funding for the armed forces community through the covid impact fund.
In June, the Office for National Statistics reported that almost one in five adults were likely to experience some form of depression during the covid-19 pandemic. Given that service and veterans’ charities have seen a spike in demand for their services, can I ask what steps the Department is taking to support veterans, serving personnel and service family members during this very difficult time?
It is completely accepted that this period of lockdown and the lockdown that is coming present particular challenges for a veterans community that, in some small parts, may be struggling with the situation. We have worked hard to go down the pathway of blending the statutory and state provision, working with our third sector to make sure that people are being looked after, on time, in suitable care pathways. We have more to do, but we are a lot better than we used to be and I am confident that we will be the best country in the world in which to be an armed forces veteran in due course.
The north-east sends a higher proportion of people into the armed forces than any other region and we are proud of our veterans. Forward Assist helps them to transition into civilian life. When it moved online, it found that referrals quadrupled, with those coming from as far afield as Germany, and there was overwhelming demand for mental health support. It needs funding to improve its digital infrastructure and find mental health professionals to provide support, the need for which will go up again, with the second lockdown. Will the Minister provide that?
I pay tribute to Tony and all of the team at Forward Assist, who do an incredible job in the north-east and are a good template for others to follow across the country. More money is going into veterans’ mental health than ever before, in terms of the transition liaison service, the complex treatment centre and the high intensity service that we are bringing on board later this year. We are always happy to look at doing more, but I am confident: the need is expanding and we are meeting a great deal of it at this time.
The Liverpool Veterans headquarters has seen a significant increase in demand for its services throughout this pandemic and especially for mental health support. This situation is likely to worsen in the coming months and the support this local charity offers will be in greater demand. The resources it has are stretched beyond capacity and the £6 million just alluded to is not enough. Can the Minister explain how he will redress this shortfall?
By using the transition liaison service, the complex treatment service and the high intensity service. Those are the three frameworks through which all mental healthcare pathways for veterans in this country will go. There is an opportunity for third-sector companies, such as Forward Assist and the others that have been mentioned, to bid into those programmes—indeed, they are already running some of the programmes in the north-west and north-east. That is the future: a blending of third sector and statutory provision. There is resource in the sector and we need to do more to make it easier for people to understand, but I am confident of the way ahead.
Each death by suicide is a tragedy. Suicide is of great concern to the military and veterans community in my constituency of Jarrow and throughout the country. Will the Minister outline the scope of the Department’s study on the cause of death of military personnel who were deployed on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan? When will the study be published?
We currently have a number of studies going on. This country has traditionally been a poor collector of data when it comes to veterans’ affairs. We are looking at a cohort study of 20,000 people who went through Iraq and Afghanistan and what happened in their lives. We are also looking into each individual who takes their own life and studying the 12 months prior to that incident to work out whether there was anything that any Government or third-sector provision could have done to intervene. I accept that we come from a low base when it comes to data, but that is now changing and I hope we be able to do the best job that we can in fighting veteran suicide.
The Minister will know about the recent announcements of job losses at Help for Heroes, in addition to the closure of all but one of its recovery centres because of a reduction in funding as a result of covid-19. As that is the case for one of the UK’s biggest household names, which is under huge financial pressure and having to make such difficult decisions, what further support will the Government give to service and welfare charities to fill the gaps in the coming months? We know that the demand is there.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. I spend every day fighting to get more money into the sector. The veterans care sector is changing, and aspects of it needed to change. We have seen a decrease in giving as the overt nature of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has faded, yet the demand continues to go up. That delta is being met through the new programmes that I have outlined. There is always more to do and I am happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber to hear his particular concerns.
At the previous Defence questions, the Minister said:
“For too long we have over-relied on the third sector”—[Official Report, 21 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 611.]
when it comes to veterans’ care, and I totally agree. As far back as June, Cobseo reported that one in 10 armed forces charities will have to close in the next 12 months as a result of coronavirus. The pressures will only intensify with the second lockdown imminent, so what urgent action will the Minister take to ensure that no gaps in charity provision and vital support arise over the next four weeks?
I want to be clear with the hon. Lady. A rationalisation and professionalism is definitely currently going on in the veterans’ care charity sector, and in respect of many aspects that needed to happen. My concern is veterans, the provision for them and what it looks like to the veteran. We are working hard to bring together seamlessly the panoply of care, whether it is in the third sector or statutory provision, and we will get there. There are financial challenges, but I am confident that we can meet them and that this country will be the best place in the world to be an armed forces veteran.
Veterans: Vexatious Legal Claims
We are unstinting in our admiration of and gratitude for our armed forces, who perform exceptional feats in incredibly difficult circumstances to protect this country. We rightly expect the highest standards of our service personnel, and we owe them justice and fairness. We have introduced the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill to help to tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of re-investigations against our armed forces personnel and veterans. The Bill’s Third Reading and Report stage are tomorrow.
Yes. The majority of personal injury and clinical negligence claims by service personnel and veterans against the MOD do not relate directly to overseas operations so will be unaffected by the Bill. Veterans will still be able to bring claims relating to overseas operations against the MOD within a reasonable timeframe. For example, in the event of a late diagnosis, service personnel and veterans will be able to bring personal injury claims against the MOD for up to six years from their date of knowledge.
Overseas Operations: Civil Claims
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill will not prevent service personnel and veterans from bringing personal injury claims against the Ministry of Defence in relation to overseas operations within six years. Historically, we assess that the vast majority—around 94%—have done so already for claims relating to overseas operations. We will, of course, aim to ensure that everybody in the armed forces community is made aware of their right to bring claims and of changes to the relevant time limits for doing so in relation to overseas operations.
No, but let me be really clear on these issues around torture. Nobody on this side of the House, or on whatever side of the House they are, would want to reduce our safeguards against torture. We have to be realistic about what this country has put its servicemen and women through in terms of historical allegations. Credible allegations will always be investigated. It is not right to say that it is almost impossible to prosecute, and people peddling that view know it to be untrue. I am happy to work with anybody to improve this Bill, but we must operate in the real world.
Veterans: Welfare Service
The MOD’s Veterans Welfare Service provides advice and information on areas such as health, statutory benefits and pensions to all ex-service personnel and their families. Other areas of veterans’ welfare, such as health and benefits, are the responsibility of the respective Departments, and my officials work closely with them to ensure a joined-up approach.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on these issues. It is true to say that we are light years away from where we were, but there is still more work to do. The vast majority of people and families of those who have taken their own lives have not spoken out and have not reached out for help, and that remains the biggest challenge in fighting the issue of veterans’ suicide. We have made great progress and I pay tribute to all those who have come with us on that journey, but it is clear that we have more to do and I am determined to lead that fight.
Overseas Operations: Negligence and Personal Injury Claims
As I said in response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill will not prevent service personnel and veterans from bringing personal injury claims against the MOD in relation to overseas operations within six years from either the date of incident or the date of knowledge. Claims by service personnel and veterans that are not related to overseas operations are unaffected by this Bill.
As Members begin to wear their poppies across the House, I want to remind the Minister of comments from Charles Byrne, the director of the Poppy Appeal campaign. He said that
the six-year long-stop could be a breach of the armed forces covenant,
and that the six-year limit is
protecting the MOD, rather than service personnel.
The Government say that the Bill is about protecting veterans, so, given that this is what many veterans’ organisations are saying, will the Government think again about the six-year limit, and will they also commit to promoting awareness of how to bring forward civil claims against the MOD to ensure that no veteran is unable to make a civil claim in the future?
It is not true to say that many veterans’ organisations take the same view as the Legion on this case. Neither the Legion nor the Government are the guarantor of the armed forces covenant. I am absolutely 100% sure that this does not breach the armed forces covenant. If we were to wilfully translate it in a way in which it was never intended, then I accept what has been said, but that is not what the armed forces covenant is there to do. It is there to ensure that there is no disadvantage for those who serve, and this Government are the first to legislate, in the armed forces Bill next year, to make it illegal to discriminate against servicemen and women and veterans for their service. I am afraid therefore that I disagree on that point. It is a good Bill. It is fair and proportionate, and people should support it tomorrow.
UK Territorial Waters
The protection of UK territorial waters is a cross-Government responsibility. The Ministry of Defence contributes to this by providing a multi-layered capability to deter incursions into territorial waters. This includes a range of assets based in Scotland, from surface ships and submarines based on the Clyde to the new Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth. That is a good example of how United Kingdom defence contributes to the security of all these islands.
Can the Secretary of State tell us his plans to ensure that our armed forces can cope with multiple tasks, including combating people and drug trafficking, and foreign incursion into our territorial waters and airspace, as has been seen recently? Will they specifically live up to the Government’s promise to establish a frigate factory on the Clyde?
First of all, the hon. Gentleman will know that one of the ways in which we cope with securing our borders—both inside and further afield internationally—is by burden sharing and working across a range of agencies, including with the Scottish Government, who have control of fisheries protection. On the issue of a frigate factory, first and foremost, the last two major shipbuilding contracts for defence have both been placed in Scotland: the Type 26 on the Clyde and the Type 31 at Rosyth. Good United Kingdom shipbuilding will, of course, always involve Scotland—as long as Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.
Scottish waters comprise over 60% of the UK’s waters, yet we have no surface warships. In fact, the most northerly surface warship base is located at the south coast of England, which means that scrambling a fleet ready escort takes over 24 hours to reach Scottish waters. Given that there are almost monthly transgressions into Scottish waters and we need regular patrols, why is the Rosyth base being scrapped?
The Ministry of Defence only uses non-disclosure agreements in its commercial arrangements by exception, when there is a specific need. Although no trend analysis has been undertaken, it remains the case that NDAs are only used where absolutely necessary.
I accept that NDAs are important in terms of financial contractual obligations, but is the Minister aware that his Department is asking industry, at pre-bid stage, to sign NDAs that actually exclude those companies from being able to speak to MPs or Ministers? I understand that some US primes such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are refusing to sign them—quite rightly—so why is the Department now getting companies to sign these NDAs for contracts such as Skynet?
There are many means, including through trade associations, whereby companies can put the word to Ministers if they are concerned. NDAs do have a valuable role, including protecting the interests of the commercial entities themselves; they normally work both ways. Many companies are reluctant to share intellectual property, and research and development, with another entity without having their own position protected, so NDAs have a benefit for companies as well.
Defence Manufacturing: Covid-19 Support
We have maintained a close and ongoing dialogue with defence manufacturers throughout the pandemic to ensure that companies are effectively supported. I am pleased to confirm that orders have continued to be placed throughout the crisis.
Airbus and Tata Steel in Neath Port Talbot are strategically important to the Welsh economy. Is the Minister ensuring that procurement is brought forward in terms of buying aircraft and building ships to help British steel and Airbus? Boeing, for example, has a lot of orders in America that supports it as a primary competitor, and we see such support in Europe as well. What is the Minister doing for Airbus and Tata Steel?
There are elements of programmes that are being brought forward. The prime focus now, however, is on supporting the cash flow of the companies and suppliers. We have the means of doing so and we have been doing so. We have also been encouraging primes to support their own supply chains. From what I hear from trade bodies, that has been happening. I am pleased by the way the whole of industry has leant in during this ongoing pandemic and the support they have been given right the way across.
International Disinformation Threat
The Ministry of Defence takes the threat posed by malicious disinformation campaigning by state and non-state actors very seriously. Working with allies and partners across Government collectively, we monitor such activity closely, assess the risk, and take action to counter it if appropriate.
The Government are committed to ensuring that we have the best possible process for timely and effective investigations into serious allegations arising from future military operations overseas. That is why, building on the review of the service justice system done by His Honour Shaun Lyons and former chief constable Sir Jon Murphy, I announced on 13 October that I have commissioned a review to be led by Sir Richard Henriques. Sir Richard Henriques was appointed to the High Court bench in 2000, has tried several high-profile terrorist cases, and has conducted several reviews for the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police. His review will consider options for strengthening internal investigation processes and skills, thus helping to ensure that in our future complex and demanding operations around the world, our armed forces are continuing to uphold the highest standards of conduct. It will not revisit past investigations or prosecutable decisions.
My hon. Friend will know that last year we did not have one either, but we got a generous settlement from the Treasury for that one year. It is of course the case that any Department that has a heavy reliance on capital spending prefers a long-term spending commitment from the Treasury. That was true a decade ago and it is true today. That is our preference. However, we are also living in a time of covid-19—a less than a once-in-a-generation challenge to both the coffers and indeed the conduct of this country. As a result, we will have to review each issue as it comes. As I have said, we are in the middle of a form of negotiation trying to see what the impacts of the announcement will be.
As we have seen this afternoon, there is growing cross-party concern over the Secretary of State’s overseas operations Bill. Will he now accept, after 10 Committee sittings, that it is clear that the Bill simply does not do what it says on the tin—to protect British troops overseas from vexatious litigation and repeat investigations? Will he also accept that, as we have seen this afternoon, the Minister in charge is in denial about the Bill’s flaws and dangers? Will the Secretary of State himself therefore join me tomorrow for Report stage so that we can work together on the changes needed to make this legislation fit for purpose?
As a leading European ally, we work closely with allied nations and do not need formal EU programmes to do so. However, I understand that the EU is in the final stages of agreeing third country participation rules for PESCO, and we look forward to seeing them in due course.
I have met the widow of Dean Sprouting on a couple of occasions, and I am more than happy to do so again. This incident has been investigated. It is a tragic incident. I am happy to speak with her again, but I am not sure there is too much more we can do.
This is a very important time of year for the country. We encourage people to remember in their own way. There will be guidance given out by local authorities, but remembrance events will be able to go ahead. There will be a small national ceremony at the Cenotaph that we encourage people to watch on television.
Well, it is veterans ID, not voter ID. The veterans ID card should have come out at the end of last year. It has been delayed. Everybody who leaves the military now gets a veterans ID card, but there are challenges in backdating it and dealing with things such as fraud. We accept that and we are working through it at the moment. I will have an update in due course.
Defence continues to invest in Scotland and the critical capabilities based there. Both RAF Lossiemouth and Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde are expanding and will be home to the new maritime patrol aircraft and all Royal Navy submarines. MOD expenditure with industry in Scotland has increased for the fifth consecutive year, supporting 10,200 jobs—the equivalent of £320 per person in Scotland. Approximately 10,000usb regular armed forces personnel, 5,000 reservists and 4,000 civilians are based in Scotland.
Again, that is completely incorrect. The Royal British Legion does not think that. It thinks that there is a risk, and it has outlined that risk. We have taken that risk into consideration, and the Bill does not breach the armed forces covenant. It is a good piece of legislation and the House should support it tomorrow.
This country has a very long-standing system to ensure that we have strong safeguards against that sort of behaviour. Everyone deploying to Mali will be equipped with the mission-specific training that we have done on operations over many years now. We have some of the highest and most rigorous standards in the world, and that will be continued in operations in Mali.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) confirmed that the Salisbury Novichok attack in 2018 was carried out by the Russians and that Russia had an undeclared chemical weapons programme. We have repeatedly called on Russia to declare a Novichok programme and uphold its international obligations under the chemical weapons convention. We have brought in sanctions against those responsible for Navalny’s poisoning and we will keep every measure under review.
I am speaking to my colleagues across Government about how we can help with the programme of planting more trees in the environment. There is a large programme ongoing in the estate, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we are very proud of the sites of special scientific interest under our control and what we are doing for the natural environment.
My hon. Friend is a strong advocate, and Accrington has a long and proud history of providing people for the armed forces. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces would be delighted to do a visit with her and to look at all the recruitment offices to see whether there is a space that needs to be filled up in Accrington.
All I can say at this moment in time is that we are engaging with potential bidders, and we will ensure that we build a ship that is the best of British but also incorporates the best capabilities that we can deliver for the money and for our armed forces.
At the beginning of the covid outbreak, the military were deeply engaged in the roll-out, building and running of the covid Nightingale hospitals, including the transfer of reserve medics from the NHS into that service. We will continue to review that. We are working inside the Department of Health and Social Care to see what its needs are, and I stand by to deliver them.
The changing of contracts at HM Naval Base Clyde, as part of the future maritime support programme, is an exercise in outsourcing. It will lead to job cuts and weaker terms and conditions and create an unnecessary operational risk to our UK defence capabilities. Why is the Secretary of State doing this?
I think the hon. Lady is referring to the change from one outsourcing contract to another. We have gained a lot for the taxpayer from the existing contract, and hopefully more will be driven out in the future. We will do nothing that could endanger national security.
Before I call the Prime Minister, I wish to make a short statement. I regret that the main elements of the Prime Minister’s statement were announced over the weekend. I understand that the statement was due to be made today, but was brought forward due to the leaks to the media. After speaking with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, who went to great lengths to reassure me that the leaks were not from Downing Street, I expect the Prime Minister to keep the House updated on his leak inquiry. I also hope that, if the leaker is identified and is a Member of this House, that Member will make a full apology to the House for their discourteous and unacceptable behaviour.
I would like to point out that the British Sign Language interpretation for this statement is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
With permission, Mr Speaker,
I will make a statement on the measures we must now take to contain the autumn surge of coronavirus, protect our NHS and save lives. On Saturday evening, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser described the remorseless advance of this second wave. The extraordinary efforts being made by millions of people across the country—especially those in very high alert areas—have made a real difference, suppressing the R rate below where it would otherwise have been. But the R is still above one in every part of England—as it is across much of Europe—and the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario. There are already more covid patients in some hospitals now than at the height of the first wave: 2,000 more this Sunday than last Sunday.
While the prevalence of the virus is worse in parts of the north, the doubling time in the south-east and the midlands is now faster than in the north-west. Even in the south-west, where incidence remains low, current projections mean that it will start to run out of hospital capacity in a matter of weeks. The modelling presented by our scientists suggests that, without action, we could see up to twice as many deaths over the winter as we saw in the first wave.
Faced with these latest figures, there is no alternative but to take further action at a national level. I believe it was right to try every possible option to get the virus under control at a local level, with strong local action and strong local leadership. I reject any suggestion that we are somehow slower in taking measures than our European friends and partners. In fact, we are moving to national measures when the rate both of deaths and infections is lower than they were in, for example, France.
We are engaged as a country in a constant struggle to protect lives and livelihoods, and we must balance the restrictions we introduce against the long-term scars they leave, whether for business and jobs, or our physical and mental health. No one wants to impose measures unless absolutely essential, so it made sense to focus initially on the areas where the disease was surging and not to shut businesses, pubs and restaurants in parts of the country where incidence was low.
I want to thank the millions who have put up with local restrictions, sometimes for months on end. I thank them and the local leaders who have understood the gravity of the position. We will continue so far as possible to adopt a pragmatic and local approach in the months ahead. But we are fighting a disease, and when the data changes course, we must change course too. To those in this House who believe we should resist further national measures, let me spell out the medical and moral disaster we face.
If we allow our health system to be overwhelmed—exactly as the data now suggests—that would not only be a disaster for thousands of covid patients, because their survival rates would fall, but we would also reach a point where the NHS was no longer there for everyone. The sick would be turned away because there was no room in our hospitals. That sacred principle of care for anyone who needs it, whoever they are and whenever they need it, could be broken for the first time in our lives. Doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die.
That existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, but from not focusing enough. If we fail to get coronavirus under control, the sheer weight of demand from covid patients would deprive others of the care they need. Cancer treatment, heart surgery, other life-saving procedures: all this could be put at risk if we do not get the virus under control. Even though we are so much better prepared than before, with stockpiles of PPE and ventilators, the Nightingales on standby, and 13,000 more nurses than last year, I am afraid that the virus is doubling faster than we could ever conceivably add capacity. Even if we doubled capacity, the gain would be consumed in a single doubling of the virus.
And so on Wednesday the House will vote on regulations which, if passed, will mean that, from Thursday until 2 December in England, people will only be permitted to leave home for specific reasons, including: for education; for work, if you cannot work from home; for exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own, or with one person from another household or support bubble; for medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; to shop for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.
Essential shops will remain open and click-and-collect services will continue, so people do not need to stock up, but I am afraid that non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues and the personal care sector will all be closed. Hospitality must close except for takeaway and delivery services. Places of worship can open for individual prayer, funerals and formal childcare, but sadly not for services. However, Remembrance Sunday events can go ahead, provided they are held outside and observe social distancing. Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home, for example in construction or manufacturing. Elite sport will also be able to continue.
Single adult households can still form exclusive support bubbles with one other household, and children will still be able to move between homes if their parents are separated. The clinically vulnerable and those over 60 should minimise their contact with others. While we will not ask people to shield again in the same way, the clinically extremely vulnerable should only work from home.
I am truly sorry for the anguish these measures will impose, particularly for businesses that had just got back on their feet—businesses across the country that have gone to such trouble to make themselves covid-secure, to install Perspex screens and to do the right thing. Each of these actions has helped to bring R down, and their hard work will stand them in good stead, but it is now clear that we must do more together.
The Government will continue to do everything possible to support jobs and livelihoods in the next four weeks, as we have throughout. We protected almost 10 million jobs with furlough, and we are now extending the scheme throughout November. We have already paid out £13.7 billion to help the self-employed, and I can announce today that for November we will double our support from 40% to 80% of trading profits. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will also extend the deadline for applications to the covid loan schemes, from the end of this month to the end of next, to ensure that small businesses can have access to additional loans if required.
We are not going back to the full-scale lockdown of March and April, and there are ways in which these measures are less prohibitive. We have, for instance, a moral duty to keep schools open now that it is safe to do so, because we must not let this virus damage our children’s futures. Schools, colleges, universities, childcare and early years settings will remain open, and I am pleased that that will command support across the House.
It is also vital that we continue provision for non-covid healthcare, so people should turn up to use the NHS and to get their scans. They should turn up for appointments and collect treatments.
Let me stress that these restrictions are time limited. After four weeks, on Wednesday 2 December, they will expire, and we intend to return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis, according to the latest data and trends. The House will have a vote to agree the way forward. We have updated the devolved Administrations on the action we are taking in England, and we will continue to work with them on plans for Christmas and beyond.
While scientists are bleak in their predictions over the short term, they are unanimously optimistic about the medium and long-term. If the House asked me, “What is the exit strategy? What is the way out?”, let me be as clear as I can that the way out is to get R down now, to beat this autumn surge and to use this moment to exploit the medical and technical advances we are making to keep it low.
We now have not only much better medication and the prospect of a vaccine, but we have the immediate prospect of many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid turnaround tests with results in minutes. Trials have already shown that we can help to suppress the disease in hospitals, schools and universities by testing large numbers of NHS workers, children, teachers and students.
These tests, crucially, identify people who are infectious but who do not have symptoms, allowing them immediately to self-isolate and stop the spread of the disease and allowing those who are not infectious to continue as normal. This means that, unlike in the spring, it is possible to keep these institutions open and still stop the spread of the disease.
Over the next few days and weeks we plan a steady but massive expansion in the deployment of these quick turnaround tests, which we will be manufacturing in this country and applying in an ever-growing number of situations, from helping women to have their partners with them when they are giving birth on labour wards to testing whole towns and even cities. The Army has been brought in to work on the logistics, and the programme will begin in a matter of days. We have dexamethasone, the first validated life-saving treatment for the disease, pioneered in this country. We have the real prospect of a vaccine, as I say, in the first quarter of next year; and we will have ever more sophisticated means of providing virtually instant tests.
I believe that those technical developments, taken together, will enable us to defeat the virus by the spring, as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease, and I am not alone in this optimism. But I cannot pretend that the way ahead is easy or without painful choices for us all, so for the next four weeks I must again ask the people of this country to come together, to protect the NHS and to save many thousands of lives. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his call on Saturday to brief me on developments.
The central lesson from the first wave of this virus was that if you do not act early and decisively, the cost will be far worse, more people will lose their jobs, more businesses will be forced to close and, tragically, more people will lose their loved ones. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor failed to learn that lesson; as a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be—at least four weeks—it will be harder, as we have just missed half-term, and the human cost will be higher.
On 21 September, when the Government’s own scientists—SAGE—recommended an urgent two to three-week circuit break, there were 11 deaths from covid-19 and just over 4,000 covid infections. For 40 days, the Prime Minister ignored that advice, and when he finally announced a longer and deeper national lockdown on Saturday, those figures had increased to 326 deaths a day and 22,000 covid cases. That is the human cost of the Government’s inaction.
The reality is that the two pillars of the Prime Minister’s strategy, the £12 billion track and trace and regional restrictions, have not only failed to stop the second wave, they have been swept away by it. At every stage, the Prime Minister has been too slow, behind the curve. At every stage, he has pushed away challenge, ignored advice and put what he hoped would happen ahead of what is happening. At every stage, he has over-promised and under-delivered. Rejecting the advice of his own scientists for 40 days was a catastrophic failure of leadership and of judgment. The Prime Minister now needs to explain to the British people why he failed to act and to listen for so long. But tougher national restrictions are now needed, the virus is out of control and the cost of further inaction would be huge, so Labour will provide the votes necessary to make this happen.
But we will also demand that the Government do not waste these four weeks and repeat past mistakes, so can the Prime Minister answer some very simple and direct questions? Will the Government finally use this period to fix the broken track and trace system and give control to local authorities, as we have proposed for months? We all agree that schools should be kept open, so will the Prime Minister finally put in place the additional testing, support and strategy needed to make that happen? Will the Prime Minister confirm that the new economic package—I think it will be the Chancellor’s fourth in five weeks—will be at least as generous as in March? Despite the partial step he announced today, will he go further to close the gaping holes in support for the self-employed, and will there be further support for the 1 million people who have already lost their jobs since March?
How does the Prime Minister plan to get a grip on messaging and rebuild public trust? After all, this announcement is only happening today because it was leaked to the national papers before it came to Parliament.
Finally, can the Prime Minister clarify what the process will be for exiting lockdown? Will it be only when the national R rate is below 1, or will some regions exit lockdown before others? I noted the Prime Minister did not make this clear in his statement. This really matters, because even before this national lockdown, millions of people have been living under restrictions for months—Leicester, for example, is on day 127—and after everything the British people have been through and are being asked to sacrifice again, they need confidence that the Government actually have a plan; that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I know how difficult this next month will be, and the months to come. The lockdown will be harder, longer and more damaging than it needed to be, and now more than ever we must stand together as a country, as families and as communities, and show once again that at a moment of national crisis, the British people always rise to the moment and support those in need.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for supporting these measures, and I think he is right to do so, but I make absolutely no apology whatever for doing my level best—our level best as a Government—to avoid going back into a national lockdown, with all the damage that entails for people’s livelihoods, for people’s mental health and for jobs across this country. That was our intention, and it is absolutely true, as the House has learned today and has seen, that the virus has risen across much of northern Europe. That does not mean that it was wrong to go for a local approach, and it does not mean it was wrong to support NHS Test and Trace, because both of those approaches—both of those means—have done a fantastic job, in their way, of bringing the virus under control and reducing the R. It is lower than it would have been without those heroic local efforts, and it is lower than it would have been without NHS Test and Trace. In my view, the right hon. and learned. Gentleman should stop continually knocking NHS Test and Trace, because we need people to self-isolate. I will accept many criticisms, but the one thing I do think we need to get right is that we need to see people self-isolating to a greater extent than they currently are. It would be good if people across this House could therefore back and support NHS Test and Trace, because it is absolutely vital.
Turning to some of the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, yes it is absolutely true that we are going to protect schools particularly, and we are massively expanding testing for schools. Earlier in my remarks, I mentioned what mass testing can do for particular institutions: schools, hospitals, universities and others. He asked about help for the economy, for businesses and for the self-employed. He perhaps did not hear what I said: we are massively increasing help for the self-employed, and will continue to support businesses and livelihoods across this country. I once again thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the creativity he brings to these problems.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked when these measures would end. As I have already told the House, they will end on 2 December. The House has the right to decide, and will vote on whatever measures it chooses to bring in, but we will then go back to the tiered system based on the data as it presents itself. He asked the people of this country to stand together against the coronavirus, and I could not agree with him more. All I respectfully say to him is that I think the people of this country would also like to see the politicians of this country standing together a little bit more coherently in the face of this virus.
The impact of the pandemic goes well beyond covid patients to all parts of the NHS, the economy, and our personal and social wellbeing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for this House to be able to determine that decisions across all parts of Government have been taken on the best available evidence, a new parliamentary Committee—perhaps time limited, or made up of Privy Counsellors—should be established to reassure the British public that the cure is not worse than the disease?
I thank my right hon. Friend for the very interesting suggestion that he makes. I must tell him that throughout the pandemic, individual departmental Select Committees, as well as the Liaison Committee, have shown that they are more than capable of scrutinising these issues. However, I leave it up to the House to decide what arrangements it chooses to make.
It is right that the UK Government extend furlough as a consequence of new lockdown measures; it is right that economic support is put in place when Governments restrain work opportunities as a consequence of the health measures; and it is right that flexibility to take necessary financial decisions is also held by the devolved Administrations when they are taking lockdown decisions. That is why, since the start of September, I have asked the Prime Minister on no fewer than six separate occasions to extend the furlough scheme—yet every time the Prime Minister rejected that call.
This weekend’s last-minute U-turn on furlough has finally buried the nonsense of a Union of equals. People across these islands saw exactly what happened at the weekend: a mini-extension to furlough was granted only at the 11th hour when one part of the United Kingdom needed it. This is a democratic disgrace. The Prime Minister acted only when England needed support; when Scotland needed full furlough support, Westminster said no.
For many, this U-turn is already far too late. Thousands have already lost their jobs unnecessarily. Many good businesses have gone under and millions of the self-employed are still excluded.
Today I have one very direct question for the Prime Minister: if requested by the devolved Governments, particularly if they need to put in place additional lockdown measures, will the Prime Minister guarantee that the Treasury will make 80% furlough payments available when Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish workers or businesses need them over the coming months? It is a simple question, Prime Minister. For once, give us a straight answer to a question which the people of Scotland want to know. No more ducking and diving—is it yes or no?
The answer is yes because the furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and it applies across the whole of the UK. It is true that Scotland is currently taking a slightly different approach, but the right hon. Gentleman was talking complete nonsense about the non-application of furlough in Scotland—absolute nonsense. The Treasury of the United Kingdom has supplied £7.2 billion to support the people of Scotland, and quite right too. That has protected 900,000 jobs in Scotland, thanks to the might of the UK Treasury.
I will not be supporting the Government’s legislation on Wednesday, because as we drift further into an authoritarian, coercive state, the only legal mechanism left open to me is to vote against that legislation. That is all we have left, Mr Speaker—if my constituents protest, they get arrested.
Given that the people of this country will never, ever forgive the political class for criminalising parents seeing children and children seeing parents, does the Prime Minister not agree with me that now is the time for a written constitution that guarantees the fundamental rights of our constituents—a constitution underpinned and enforced by the Supreme Court?
What the people of this country want, rather than delectable disputations on a written constitution, is to defeat the coronavirus. That is why I think that overwhelmingly they understand the need for these measures and the need for us to come together as a country and get the R down in the way that we are proposing.
In confirming that the Liberal Democrats will back this new lockdown, can I tell the Prime Minister that we will hold this Government to account for failing to listen to the scientists, refusing to lock down weeks ago and costing many more lives?
Throughout this pandemic, many people have been let down by this Government—the excluded self-employed, students, key workers. But I want to ask the Prime Minister about one particular group who have been forgotten: unpaid carers. Many carers have been struggling for months, often relying on food banks as they care for other people. Will the Prime Minister follow the advice of Carers UK: increase the carer’s allowance by £20 a week—the same rise as for universal credit—and give these incredible people a lifeline?
I am very grateful to carers—unpaid carers, in particular—for everything they have done to keep this country going throughout the pandemic. I will look at the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal but remind him of the colossal interventions we have already made, worth £200 billion, to support jobs and livelihoods across the whole of the UK. We will continue, as I say, to put our arms around the people of this country.
Brecon and Radnorshire has around 50 miles of the border between Wales and England. My constituents, who are already in lockdown, regularly travel across the border for work, healthcare and education. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that essential travel across the border is not only permitted, but encouraged, and that the Welsh Government should not be using this pandemic to create artificial barriers between Wales and England?
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustrations and know how deeply difficult it is for people throughout this country to go through the restrictions on our normal way of life that we are asking of them again. I apologise to her and the House for what we are obliged to do, but we must ask people, unless it is absolutely necessary, to stay at home and stop transmission of the virus, and that applies throughout the UK.
We were promised a Churchillian response to this virus, but rather than a Churchillian response, we have had a response more like that of Lord Halifax, because while we have had the rhetoric of defiance, this announcement today is really an announcement of defeat. We have surrendered our freedoms; we have surrendered our economy; we have driven people to despair with daily doses of doom-laden data. Can the Prime Minister promise us that, once we get past this latest lockdown, if there is another upsurge we will not get a bout of the same destructive medicine, but we will get a policy that allows this country and individuals to run their own lives and not be ruled by this virus?
I sympathise very much with the sentiments the right hon. Gentleman expresses about the loss of freedom and people’s frustrations; I do understand that, but I must say that I think what the people of this country want to see is this virus brought down. They want to see a reduction in the infection rate and, alas, at the moment this is the best tool we have to do that when we look at the whole national picture. But I am optimistic when I look at the scientific interventions that we have coming down the track, and even the medical and scientific advisers, who are not normally full of cheer on this matter, are optimistic when they consider the therapies, the prospect of a vaccine and the prospect of mass testing of the kind I have outlined to the House.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I accept that we need to do something to ensure hospitalisation numbers are controlled and the R rate falls, but will he please review the regulations around socially distanced outdoor sports such as golf and tennis, as these are good forms of exercise for all ages and present very little risk of infection?
I sympathise again with that point, and I am glad my hon. Friend makes it. All I can say is that hon. Members and members of the public should get on to the website and look at exactly what is permitted, but the reality is that we have to break the transmission of the disease, and that is why, I am afraid, I must, with great sadness, tell my hon. Friends that we have to make these restrictions for the next four weeks. I bitterly regret it, but that is what we have got to do.
We have learned so much since spring: we have learned that we are expected to act grateful in Wales; we have learned that the Treasury is only there for us when the home counties of England go into lockdown—a casual dismissal of devolution that cost people their jobs; the news simply came too late. The Prime Minister may not have noticed yet, but he and his Chancellor are fronting a membership drive for the independence movement YesCymru, which added 2,000 members in two days this weekend. Would he accept my grateful thanks?
The Prime Minister is clearly and quite properly trying to do everything possible to cut infections and deaths from covid-19. To that end, over the weekend, a number of eminent scientists called on the Government to try to resolve the vitamin D deficiency issues in the United Kingdom to reduce the severity of the pandemic. There have been dozens of studies over hundreds of countries in the last six months that show—or imply, anyway—that that could reduce infection rates by half and case death rates by half again. The Scottish Government are sending four months’ supply of vitamin D to everybody who shielded in Scotland. Given that it is low cost and there is no medical downside, will our Government consider the same approach in England?
Extending support for the self-employed is welcome, but it does nothing for the more than 3 million self-employed and freelancers who were unfairly left out of previous schemes and are still excluded—huge numbers of those working in the arts and hospitality in my Brighton constituency, for example. Will the Prime Minister look at that again and take one small but simple step that would help? Will he acknowledge that the minimum income floor under universal credit discriminates against anyone with an unpredictable and variable income, and will he delay its impending reintroduction?
I can tell the hon. Lady that we are supporting the arts, as she knows, with a £1.57 billion package. They are vital for our country; they are massively important to the UK economy. Her point about the minimum income floor for universal credit is one that the Government well understand and that we are looking at actively at the moment.
May I thank the Prime Minister for the bitter medicine that he has had to deliver over the last two or three days? I assure him that I will support his measures, because nobody has put forward a viable immediate alternative that would avoid the overwhelming of the NHS, but what can he do to strengthen public confidence in the Government’s covid response? He has started today to set out some of the features of what might be called a plan for living with coronavirus—a combination of vaccines and testing, and tracking and tracing. Will he consider setting that out in a White Paper? Would that include transformation not just of the logistics of test, track and trace but of its leadership, so that it can run a coherent and viable campaign to change behaviour by consent and co-operation, and get compliance and public confidence in that programme? Finally, will my right hon. Friend publish more of the analysis and data behind the decisions he has had to take so that people can understand more clearly why the Government are making these decisions and there is more transparency and accountability?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all his excellent suggestions. We are certainly happy to publish all the data. I tried to set out to the House earlier on our plan for the way forward. He is absolutely correct that it relies not just on getting the virus down now, in this four-week period—that is the objective—but on ensuring that we make the maximum possible use of the various scientific developments, not just the vaccine and new therapies but, as he says, improved testing. I can certainly assure him that the military will be closely involved.
My constituents did everything asked of them. They obeyed the rules, at great personal sacrifice, and now they are being asked to do it again because of the Government’s failure. Trust is absolutely now at rock bottom. The Prime Minister’s two key planks to rebuild that trust are around test and trace and the tier system. First, he needs to sack Baroness Harding. I know she is a friend and I know it is difficult, but test and trace has clearly been a failure. He needs to give that £12 billion resource back to the experts on the ground locally who know how to use it and to support people isolating. Secondly, he is going to return to the tier system; that is all we know about what will happen on 3 December. What is the real plan? If the tier system has worked—Bristol is currently in tier 1—are we to expect Bristolians to return to tier 1 on 3 December?
First, again NHS Test and Trace—whatever the drawbacks, whatever the frustrations that people legitimately feel—will achieve its target of 500,000 capacity by the end of October. It already has achieved that target, and I think that is a considerable thing to have done. I thank everybody working in NHS Test and Trace for their efforts. As I say, we need people to self-isolate to give the system the effectiveness that it needs.
I can tell the hon. Member that, when we come to 2 December, the tier that areas go into will depend very much on the effectiveness with which we have all followed the instructions that we are giving today, and that is the guidance she should give her constituents.
Lockdown is a necessary evil and comes with a lot of pain, and like my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), many of my constituents in Bracknell have contacted me to express concern about the effective closure of gymnasiums, golf clubs and tennis clubs. Given the proven benefits of exercise and the lack of any clear evidence that these activities have contributed to an increase in the R rate, might the Prime Minister be willing to reconsider the current guidance within the next four weeks?
Again, I must apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to offer the House a huge list of exemptions to the rules that we are setting out, because once you unpick at one thing, alas, the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised. That is why I want everybody to work together for the next four weeks, as I say, to get the R under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.
What is the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s estimate of the additional economic cost of implementing this second lockdown now, for four weeks or possibly more in the run-up to Christmas, compared with implementing it for two weeks when the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies first recommended it back on 21 September?
As the chief medical officer said I think on Saturday night, there is “no right time” to close businesses, or to close pubs and restaurants. We do not—no Government—want to do that. We hope very much that this limited four-week action will get the R down, and I think it is greatly to be preferred to a rolling series of lockdowns of the kind that I believe were being proposed.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I thank my right hon. Friend, in particular for laying out the scientific data on which this decision is based. Most people will say they are prepared obviously to do the right thing in order to eliminate and defeat this virus, but could he set out the criteria that he will use to ensure that we can come out of this partial lockdown on 2 December? The risk is that things could get worse over these next two or three weeks before we see an improvement, and people want to know what they have to do to make sure that we get the infection rate down and make sure it stays down.
Just to repeat the point that I think I made to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the R is above 1, but it is not much above 1—it is not much above 1—and if we work hard between now and 2 December, I believe that we can get it below 1. But whatever happens, these restrictions end on 2 December, and any further measures will be a matter for this House of Commons.
What plans will be put in place to address the spiralling waiting lists for cancer services, and what additional support are the Government giving to the many thousands of people who have had their cancer treatment disrupted due to the pandemic?
I understand that the data leaves the Government with no choice but to enter a national lockdown, but given the huge consequences that that entails, can my right hon. Friend give assurances that the new tools at his disposal, particularly the 15-minute tests, will be sufficiently ubiquitous and effective in the coming weeks to avoid any future national lockdown after November?
The Prime Minister’s furlough is in place until December; the German equivalent is in place until December 2021. That is the kind of certainty that employers and employees in Glasgow North are looking for. He said that the furlough scheme is UK-wide, so does that mean that, if parts of the United Kingdom are still in a lockdown beyond December, devolved Administrations will have the resources they need to extend the 80% furlough?
The hon. Gentleman must have missed my answer to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I can tell him that the furlough is a UK-wide scheme that applies throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I remind him that the UK has already contributed £7.2 billion to support the people of Scotland throughout the crisis.
Before Wednesday, will my right hon. Friend publish a full impact assessment, setting out the cost of the lockdown in terms of the jobs that will be lost, the businesses that will fail, the enormous toll on people’s mental health and other aspects of their health and the lives that will be lost as a result of lockdown, as well as those that we hope to save?
There are many estimates of the economic impact that the country has already sustained and many projections of the losses in employment that we, alas, expect. Against them, we must set the tragic loss of life that would inevitably ensue if the House failed to act on Wednesday.
It has been 33 weeks since the start of the first lockdown. In that time, one in 20 people who are part of the working population have had no work, but have been ineligible for furlough, self-employed financial support and business grants and loans. What is the Prime Minister’s message to the millions of people who have had no financial support about how they should put food on the table for their families?
The lockdown since March has been devastating for many people and only very reluctantly will I be supporting the latest lockdown measures when they come to the House on Wednesday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real problem is for people’s mental health, whether it is elderly people who are in care homes or who are desperately missing their families; business people who are seeing their life’s efforts ruined around them; or, of course, families with very young children who are isolated and, frankly, miserable? Will he do everything possible to make sure that this lockdown is a compassionate one and that those who are vulnerable and who have mental health problems will be supported through it?
Indeed, that is why we put another £12 billion into supporting our mental healthcare. The general point that my right hon. Friend makes is very important. That is one of the reasons why no Government would want to impose these measures lightly and why we want to make sure that we get through them as fast as we can.
The Prime Minister rightly spoke of the importance of strong local action and strong local leadership, but he needs to acknowledge that his dithering and delay, and the lack of communication, has made local leaders’ jobs far more difficult. Will he and the Chancellor commit today to talk to the core cities to assess the economic impact of lockdown on them and, in the first instance, the need for a winter support package to tackle issues such as rough sleeping, food poverty and mental health, as the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We are in constant contact with government—regional, local and city—at all levels throughout this country to help it to protect and support our constituents. We have given about £3.7 billion to local councils and we will continue to support local government throughout the crisis.
It is important that Parliament should have the chance to scrutinise the scientific advice behind these recommendations, so I am grateful to Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Whitty for agreeing to appear before the Select Committee on Science and Technology tomorrow. But will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is his policy to have the minimum level of restrictions on businesses and people in every place, consistent with the need to avoid overwhelming the NHS?
I accept the need for extra restrictions in order to get on top of the R rate and bring it down, but it is disturbing that the Government do not seem to have any specific targets that they seek to achieve through this lockdown. When we have the debate on Wednesday, will the Government be coming back with specific targets they want to achieve by 2 December?
These measures are time-limited—they elapse on 2 December—but I repeat that the objective is to get the infection rate to stop doubling and to start halving. To do that, we need to get the R down below 1—it is currently estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.3; I think the Office for National Statistics said recently that it was 1.6, but it has been coming down. Our intention is to use this period to get it below 1 and get that infection rate halving, not doubling.
Some northern Mayors are playing a dangerous game of trying to divide the country along geographical lines. I remind the Prime Minister that lots of leaders in the north of England, including those in my area, want to work with the Government to defeat this virus and will not run off to the nearest TV studio once they have engaged in that partnership with the Government. May I, however, push him on the issue of mental health? This is causing particular issues for many people with anxiety. Will he ensure that therapies such as talking therapies and charities that work with those who have anxiety conditions will be properly funded throughout this whole process?
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend will have seen that there are specific exemptions for volunteers and people who are helping—for therapists and others. We continue to put many millions of support into mental health charities, in addition to supporting NHS mental health.
When local leaders asked the Government to maintain the furlough scheme at 80% when tier 3 restrictions were imposed across much of the north-west, north-east and west midlands, they refused. Instead, the lowest-paid northerners were told that a 67% wage subsidy was sufficient for them. When similar restrictions were extended to the rest of England over the weekend, the Chancellor appears to have changed his mind, shaken the magic money tree and returned to 80%. Does the Prime Minister understand why the north believes it is being treated with utter contempt? Can he now confirm that the Government will maintain an 80% wage subsidy for any ongoing tier 3 restrictions after the national lockdown is lifted?
Small businesses across the north-west have been operating under significant restrictions for some time. I have seen for myself the ingenuity and creativity with which business owners have adapted, as they have reported weak demand and reduced cash reserves. Many of them were looking forward to the run-up to Christmas for some relief, so can my right hon. Friend outline the measures that will be introduced to protect livelihoods and secure jobs in the north-west and Warrington South?
I am grateful to the people of Warrington for everything they have done; I know that they have had a very tough time. It has been tough to control the disease there, as it has been across many parts of the country, and they have done a great job in bringing the R down. I think there is the prospect of a much brighter future ahead if we can make a success of these national measures and open up again in December, to give people the chance of some shopping and economic activity in the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond.
We all know that those who want to break up the United Kingdom love nothing more than a manufactured grievance, but I have to tell the Prime Minister that he does nothing to help those of us who want the United Kingdom to stay together when he is the one manufacturing the grievances. His position in relation to the future access to furlough funds for Scotland and the other devolved Administrations is unfair and untenable, and it has to change. He does not need to take my word for it; he can ask the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who takes exactly the same view.