House of Commons
Tuesday 3 November 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Magistrates: Mandatory Retirement Age
The Ministry of Justice has been running a consultation on increasing the retirement age for judges and magistrates. The consultation closed on 16 October. Over 1,000 responses were received and we will respond formally very shortly.
My hon. Friend is very aware of my private Member’s Bill to raise the retirement age of magistrates to 75, which has been bumbling along the bottom of the Friday Order Paper for a couple of months now. Bearing in mind that his own consultation on this increasingly urgent matter closed over two weeks ago, is he able to give me and many hundreds of magistrates, who have been forced to give up dispensing justice at a time when we can least afford to lose them, some hope that he will be able to legislate at the earliest opportunity, either through my Bill or through other means, so we can get that on the statute book as soon as we can?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We are losing something like 1,000 magistrates a year as they turn 70, often very experienced magistrates who still have a great deal to offer the justice system. The consultation had two options: raising the age to 72 or to 75. I strongly commend my hon. Friend for his patience, persistence and perseverance in trying to get his private Member’s Bill through, often in the face of somewhat unfortunate headwinds, on private Members’ Bills Fridays. This is an urgent issue. As soon as we have formulated a response to the consultation, we will certainly be looking to legislate via whatever vehicle is available as quickly as we possibly can.
The Rule of Law
Naturally, I do not disclose the details of private conversations I have with Cabinet colleagues, but they, and everybody else who cares to listen, should be in no doubt that I am, and will continue to be, a very active Lord Chancellor in supporting the rule of law, using the authority of my office to advise, to warn and to encourage. I am absolutely committed, under the oath I took, to my constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law.
The Lord Chancellor said he would resign if he saw the rule of law being broken in a way that he found unacceptable. Ten days ago, more than 800 of some of the most senior legal figures across the UK wrote to the Prime Minister stating that attacks on the legal profession by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary undermine the rule of law. When he read that letter and saw the signatories, did he think things had got to the stage of being unacceptable?
The hon. Lady is eliding two issues. I was talking in early September about the United Kingdom (Internal Market) Bill. Since then, the Government made important concessions in this House to qualify the coming into force of those provisions, and set out examples where, to all intents and purposes, the EU would have acted in clear bad faith. She is eliding the two issues, I hope inadvertently. When it comes to defending the legal profession, I have already publicly stated my steadfast support for the profession that I am honoured to be a part of.
Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Dyson described the Government’s toxic rhetoric on the legal profession as “irresponsible”, “dangerous” and “inflammatory,” and
“the language of a demagogue.”
The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, said the Government’s language is indecent and typifies
“precisely this sort of ugly authoritarianism that the rule of law is called upon to counter.”
What discussions has the Lord Chancellor had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about those very serious allegations from senior lawyers?
As I said in response to the previous question, I do not disclose details of discussions I have with Cabinet colleagues. However, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and everybody else that people should be in no doubt about my steadfast defence not just of the judiciary but of an independent legal profession. We have, of course, seen criticism of lawyers throughout the ages. I respect the views of members of my profession, but we should put things into their full context.
I welcome what the Lord Chancellor said about defending the legal profession and I join him in that. It is an honourable profession and I have always found that those I dealt with at the Bar and solicitors generally left their politics behind when they went to argue the case for their client, which they must do without fear or favour. Equally, will he recognise that when he and I were doing an awful lot of legal aid work in practice, the former leader of the Labour party and then Prime Minister was describing legal aid lawyers as fat cats? No one has entirely clean hands on this and perhaps we all ought to moderate our language when dealing with the professions.
The Chair of the Justice Committee puts the matter into its fullest context. Sadly, from Shakespeare onwards, and probably before, lawyers have come in for criticism. The question is how far that goes. We live in a lively democracy and none of us is above criticism, but I say to him that in all my years in practice, I did precisely what he did, which was to leave my politics at home whenever I went into chambers or into the courtroom.
Our country is a country that prides itself on the rule of law. Without lawyers, the rule of law would collapse. In recent weeks, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have launched repeated attacks on lawyers representing asylum seekers. Even after a man launched a knife attack on an immigration solicitor days after the Home Secretary condemned “activist lawyers”, the Government continue to pour petrol on the fire. Does the Lord Chancellor agree with his colleagues’ characterisation of legal professionals as “activist lawyers”, or does he have the courage to publicly condemn that vile rhetoric?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that on two occasions in public forums, I have made my defence of lawyers very clear and made it clear that physical and verbal attacks and the other types of threat that we might see are entirely unacceptable. He talks rightly about a very serious case that is ongoing—I do not think it would be right for me to comment directly upon it—but we all know the context within which we operate. I can assure him that I will continue in my resolute defence of lawyers. I will say this: I think there are times when there is a legitimate debate to be had, and I firmly believe that lawyers who are passionate about politics are best advised, if they wish to pursue politics, to do as he and I did, which is to get elected and pursue politics here or in other democratic forums.
The Home Secretary’s remit includes responsibility for making sure that all our communities are kept safe and secure. On 7 September, a man wielding a knife entered an immigration lawyers’ office in London and launched a violent, racist attack. In mid-September, counter-terrorist police from SO15 warned the Home Secretary that it was suspected that a far-right extremist had attempted to carry out a terrorist attack at a solicitors’ firm in London, yet in early October at the Tory party conference, she went on to intensify her anti-lawyer rhetoric. I am not asking the Lord Chancellor to disclose the precise details of private conversations, but can he confirm newspaper reports that prior to her speech, he warned the Home Secretary against using this sort of language? If she will not listen to him, will he consider his position?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for the way in which she put her question, but I have to repeat again that it would be invidious of me to repeat private conversations. She knows that I have been publicly on the record twice in the last month making my position very clear and condemning attacks. I think she would agree that we all need to be careful, as lawyers, about a matter that is currently sub judice and within the criminal process. Therefore, I think it is best not to try to draw direct links at this stage without knowing more about the evidence, but I reassure her that I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that the tone of the debate is right and that passions are cooled when it comes to talking about the important role of lawyers.
I reiterate that I am not asking the Lord Chancellor for the precise details of conversations or, indeed, to comment on an ongoing case. I am asking him about the general advice that he has given to his colleagues in relation to his duties and responsibilities regarding the rule of law, because, after the Home Secretary’s speech, the Prime Minister went even further in his conference speech, declaring that he would prevent
“the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by…lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders.”
I ask the Lord Chancellor again: are newspaper reports that he spoke with the Prime Minister in advance of that speech correct? And did he tell the Prime Minister about the attack on the immigration lawyers’ offices and the warnings from counter-terrorism police to the Home Secretary about the dangers of inflammatory language against lawyers?
I can assure the hon. and learned Lady that the information about the serious allegations about the attack has been communicated to the appropriate Ministers and that everything that I have done and will continue to do is entirely consistent with my duty. Although, sadly, it might be the province of previous and current Prime Ministers to make provocative and sometimes lively comments about the legal profession, it is not the job of the Lord Chancellor to police every jot and tittle. I will continue to make sure that we get the tone of the debate right and that where we can improve on our language, we will do so.
Reoffending is a complex issue, so we need to take a wide-ranging approach. That is why we will invest £20 million in the prison leavers project to test new solutions. We are also making sure that our new prisons have rehabilitation right at their heart. Our programme to build 10,000 additional places, plus two new jails at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, will deliver improved security and better training facilities to help offenders to find employment on release.
May I be the first of the magnificent seven to thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer? Reoffending rates have historically been too high, as many of us are aware from our time in court as advocates or on the magistrates bench. Does he agree that working with organisations and businesses such as the Gelder Group at HMP Lincoln, which has been involved in delivering meaningful training courses to equip those spending time at Her Majesty’s pleasure with useful skills, is the right way to provide inmates with a positive restart to their lives after jail time?
My hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of the justice system in a former capacity, is right to highlight the work of organisations such as the Gelder Group and its great work in delivering training to prisoners in his county. He is also right to identify how transformative training and work can be for serving prisoners and those who are released, and that will involve a cross-Government approach as well. I was delighted to hear recently about the great work of Agile Homes at Her Majesty’s Prison Leyhill, which is not only training men to build homes but helping them to save for their own homes in future through work.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his commitment to the investment in the prison leavers scheme. He will know, however, that not all schemes provide rehabilitation and training. Some schemes, such as the so-called Nottingham Knockers scheme, send out men and ladies who are released prisoners to sell overpriced goods to embarrassed customers, providing humiliation but no training. Will he make sure that the prison leavers scheme has the element of training and rehabilitation that is needed, so that ex-prisoners can have successful lives thereafter?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Without that specialist support, there is a real problem that such matters might become counterproductive. Nottingham Knockers-type activities, as described, are not part of a recognised rehabilitative scheme, so I urge the public to be vigilant. When it comes to authorised schemes, we anticipate spending more than £100 million a year on accredited services.
Social media use in prisons essentially amounts to prisoners reoffending before they have even been let out. It sends a poor message about our criminal justice system that could lead to more reoffending. Will the Lord Chancellor commit to doing everything he can to ensure that those who use social media in prison are robustly punished, and will he be open to increasing and reviewing sentences rather than just giving in-house slap-on-the-wrist punishments?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the potential impact and the shock that can be caused to members of the public if people who are known to be in custody are communicating and using social media, and prisoners who break the rules should face consequences. The internal adjudication system allows the removal of privileges, stoppage of earnings and confinement to cell, and more serious breaches can be referred to the independent adjudicator, but some crimes committed in prison are clearly so serious that governors will continue to refer those matters to the police.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, because the evidence is that the completion of any prison education reduces reoffending by 7.5%. We plan to strengthen rehabilitation further by creating a prisoner education service that will be focused on work-based training and skills. The Prison Service’s new future network is doing great work to build partnerships between prisons and employers to ensure that prisoners are job ready on release.
Reoffending rates in the Black Country currently stand at around 30%, and it is clear that we need to take a local stakeholder approach. What work is my right hon. and learned Friend doing with local stakeholders in the Black Country to ensure that we can bring reoffending down? Will he meet me to discuss a long-term strategy to tackle reoffending in the Black Country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks with knowledge on this subject, and I would like to thank him and the Mayor, Andy Street, for their continued work on helping to tackle reoffending. We know that offenders typically have complex needs, and the community sentence treatment requirement programme, which went live in the Black Country in June this year, aims to improve access to appropriate mental health and substance misuse services as part of community sentences. Of course I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this and other issues relevant to West Bromwich in detail.
My hon. Friend speaks with continuing passion on behalf of his constituents in Blackpool, and he knows that when it comes to improving rehabilitation, employment is a key factor. Reducing the length of time that offences need to be disclosed for most jobs will improve job prospects for people with previous convictions. It not only supports them but protects the public by decreasing the likelihood of reoffending, as there are few better crime-fighting tools than a regular pay cheque.
In my constituency, Jackie Blackwell, the CEO of the citizens advice bureau, and her team provide support for offenders and their families as they transition out of prison. How is the Lord Chancellor supporting charities such as Fine Cell Work and the Irene Taylor Trust, and Jackie and her team, in this vital work?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her passionate work in this area and her advocacy on behalf of the people of Anglesey Ynys Môn. I recognise the value that organisations such as the ones she mentions can bring to supporting offenders and families through a challenging time. Our grants programme supports the piloting of new rehabilitation services and the further development of current programmes. I am delighted to be able to say that both Citizens Advice Ynys Môn’s and the Irene Taylor Trust have benefited from our grants programme, and I look forward to seeing the contributions they make to supporting prison leavers as they make the transition towards a new life.
Sexual Offenders: Transfers to Open Prisons
Access to open prison conditions is not a right, and there is no automatic progression. It is based on a detailed risk assessment. To be considered for open conditions, an individual must generally have served two to three years and have that time left to serve before the earliest release. In addition, a thorough risk assessment must be completed, considering the likelihood of the individual absconding and the risks to the public, as well as whether they are suited overall to the open estate.
I ask this question on behalf of my constituent, who I will call Elizabeth. For a decade, she was subjected to brutal abuse by a grooming gang in Rotherham. Because of her tenacity, she managed to secure convictions, including sentenced to an individual for nine years for two counts of child rape against her. After two and a half years, she discovered that he had been downgraded to an open prison. Neither Elizabeth nor the police were consulted about this or notified as part of a risk-assessment process, so one wonders whether it is just prison conduct that contributes to risk assessments. More concerningly, he is potentially up for weekend release, although that is not going to happen because of covid. In Elizabeth’s own words, how effective does the Minister think the release on temporary leave system is? I would appreciate a direct answer.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important and tragic case. She has written to me about it, and I hope that she has had the content of my letter back. I know that the service has already apologised to her constituent, and I apologise on its behalf, for not contacting her before the referral to open conditions. The victim liaison officer has made the offender manager aware of conditions that should be imposed on any release on temporary licence, so those will be taken into account should any ROTL be granted. I am happy to continue to discuss this case with the hon. Lady at any opportune moment.
Covid-19 Lockdown in Prisons
In March, we faced 2,500 to 3,500 deaths in our prisons, according to Public Health England’s worst-case scenario, and we took decisive action to implement national restrictions to protect our staff, prisoners and the NHS. As the pandemic continues, and in line with the overall Government position, we have now developed a more localised approach, which allows governors to operate regimes that are proportionate to the risk in their local area. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to recognise the importance of prisoners’ wellbeing and mental health, and we have responded accordingly. We will be thinking again in line with the new national restrictions that will be imposed on Thursday.
Given the likelihood that prisoners will continue to suffer extreme restrictions, resulting in possible damage to mental health, for the whole of this winter and beyond, will the Minister guarantee that additional phone credit for prisoners and free access to video calls for families will continue for the duration of the pandemic?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the measures we put in place during the last wave; as I said, we are very conscious of the impact on reduced liberties in prison. We did make available 1,200 handsets and £5 extra phone credit, and, as she mentioned, we rolled out video calling. Of course, we will continue to consider whether those are appropriate in the next phase of this pandemic.
Between today and Christmas, thousands of people will be released from prison, many of whom will have spent the past six months locked in cells for 23 hours a day, with education impossible, rehabilitation disrupted and mental health problems rising. They will be released with no job, money or second chance and an increased risk of reoffending. So, Minister, when will we have an action plan, learning the lessons from past months and providing prisoners with support, which, in turn, keeps our communities safer?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, but I would like to challenge her position, because we already have an action plan. We have had the roll-out of a national framework to position 3—many prisons are already operating that. It rolls out the lifting of a number of restrictions, so that we have increased social visits across the estate, as well as offender management and a number of other measures. We are, of course, now reassessing the position and we will be having an action plan, following the imposition of further national restrictions on Thursday.
Illicit Substance Use in Prisons
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the impact of drugs in our prisons, because there is a link between drugs and violence and assaults. That is why we in Government are supporting the Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill, promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan). The Bill had its Second Reading last month and will ensure that we can extend the range of substances that can be tested automatically, so that we can respond more quickly to new formulations of psychoactive substances.
We are taking a number of approaches, of which I shall name just one: the rolling out of the NHS Reconnect service, which ensures that those having treatment in prisons can continue that treatment when they go into the community on release. The service includes assistance in making referrals and also provides peer mentoring services. It will ensure that, as my hon. Friend suggested, offenders permanently stay off drugs on their release.
Access to Justice
Access to justice is a fundamental right and the Government are committed to ensuring that individuals can get the timely support that they need to access the justice system. In 2018-19, we spent £1.7 billion on legal aid for those who needed it. In response to the destruction caused by covid-19, we have introduced measures that include scheduling more than 100 additional Saturday court sittings each month; providing funding to not-for-profit providers of specialist legal advice, such as law centres; and rolling out the cloud video platform to enable remote hearings in all civil, family and criminal courts.
The Government have failed to provide any significant additional support for legal aid practitioners. The breaking point for many firms is likely to come in 2021, especially as the volume of completions in the Crown court remains low. Many legal aid firms and practitioners urgently need financial support to survive, so will the Government announce new measures to support legal aid lawyers over the second national lockdown?
Legal aid lawyers do a magnificent job of ensuring access to justice. I am pleased that the Government have been able to roll out support through furlough and so on, but it is also important that in this second lockdown the courts are continuing. It is really important to note that the magistrates courts are dealing with more cases than they are receiving, and the Government have accelerated CLAR 1, the first criminal legal aid review, which means that defence solicitors, for example, are being paid to review unused material—something that did not happen under a Labour Government.
We know that too often the courts are clogged up partly because too little has been done to minimise crime in the first place, which is why it is astonishing that in Cambridgeshire the number of police community support officers is to be halved, particularly at a time when they have a key role to play in covid compliance. Will the Minister join me in condemning those cuts and demanding that they be withdrawn?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I hope he will welcome the fact that this Government are recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers. It is those officers who will crack down on crime and ensure that people who rob innocents and cause violence end up getting their just deserts.
Court users deserve the fullest protection from covid while they access justice, as do the staff who serve them, yet there have been an alarming number of outbreaks at courts and tribunals throughout the country, including Manchester magistrates court and others near my constituency. Does the Minister agree that by failing to consult properly with the staff union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, over risk assessments, the courts service risks making a bad situation much worse?
I pay tribute to the staff of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service whom I had the privilege of meeting when I went to Isleworth Crown court. It is the staff who are keeping courts running in extremely difficult circumstances: they are the ones who have ensured that the Perspex is there, that the jury retirement rooms are properly socially distanced and that the jury assembly points are well administered. I pay tribute to them for what they are doing, and it is a testament to their achievements that the courts will continue to do what they do best: dispensing justice in our country.
Equality before the law is a fundamental right, but for the vast majority of people in the country who are not eligible for legal aid, that right does not actually exist. Facing a difficult winter, even greater numbers will find themselves trapped in the justice gap of being forced to choose between legal representation and the basic essentials, as 94% of working single parents—mainly women—already do. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that the rights that we hold dear actually exist in practice?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that ensuring access to justice is of fundamental importance, which is why, when we saw that the law centres, for example, were going to have difficulties during this pandemic, we answered the call and provided them with the funding. I was also able to speak to a great number of them to reassure them about the work that they were able to continue doing. That was the right response to take, and we are proud of the actions that we took.
Court Delays: Covid-19
We continue to make significant progress on criminal courts’ recovery. Since August, magistrates courts have consistently completed more cases than they are receiving. In the Crown court, millions of pounds have been invested in Perspex screens, technology and Nightingale courts to enable thousands of hearings to be listed each week. Significant progress, too, has been made to accelerate the roll-out of the section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination service to support alleged victims to give their best evidence.
Rape is a violent and devastating crime, putting enormous pressure on its victims, who may view the trial of their rapist as a second violation. Across the north-east, rape victims are waiting months and months for their trials to start and Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness tells me that that is putting enormous strain on their mental health. What support is the Minister providing, specifically to victim support organisations such as the sexual exploitation hub in my constituency, and what is he doing to make sure that more trials can take place?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this point, and I am grateful to her for doing so. We take this extremely seriously. Of the £76 million that we allocated to victims’ organisations, a full £20 million was rolled out through PCCs to provide the community support that she refers to, but that did not emerge from a clear blue sky. We were also providing money for independent sexual violence advisers to support victims as they progress through the criminal justice system. The critical thing is to keep the courts going during this pandemic. That is what we are doing when others might not have done it, and we are proud of what Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is providing.
In Hull North, levels of antisocial behaviour in areas such as Orchard Park, Beverley Road, Pearson Park, Princes Avenue and Kingswood have been growing, and the perpetrators behave as if they were beyond the reach of the justice system and the law. What discussions has the Minister had with his counterpart in the Home Office about a specific strategy for communities where antisocial behaviour is growing to work with victims affected by court delays, and will he meet me to discuss what more can be done?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Let the message go out in Kingston upon Hull that people who want to perpetrate antisocial behaviour should understand that the courts are operating, that the police are there to make arrests and that justice will be done. That is what is being delivered during this pandemic, thanks to the hard work of plenty of people. On her final point, of course I would be delighted to meet her to discuss this matter further.
I hope the Minister will meet with me as well to discuss this matter. The delays, as my colleagues have already said, have meant that victims of serious violent crime, such as rape, sexual abuse and other kinds of crime, are facing a double threat: first of the crime and then of the delay. That is causing huge trauma. In the context of half a million unheard cases, can the Minister specifically state how many of the 200 additional court venues have been provided and how much additional funding has been provided to deal with the additional crisis caused by coronavirus?
Let me deal with this point about courts. Because so much money has gone into providing Perspex and so on, the number of courtrooms available for trials is higher than the baseline. That is important. Even before this pandemic, we had increased by 50% the amount of funding that was going into rape support centres, because we recognised the importance of providing that support. We will continue to support individuals through independent sexual violence advisers and through providing that capacity in our court system so that victims can get the justice they deserve.
The court backlog is not just a number; it is a tragedy for every victim who is awaiting justice. The Tory PCC for Hertfordshire wrote to Ministers back in June to say that victims were pulling out of trials and that criminals were walking away scot-free as a result. How many crimes need to go unpunished before Ministers will come before the House with a plan backed up by targets and resource so that criminals are brought to justice?
I regret that the hon. Gentleman has not read the plan that has been published, because if he had, he would know that in the magistrates courts the backlog is being eroded, because disposals have exceeded receipts since the end of July, and that the number of trial courts is higher than the baseline. If he had read the report, he would know that. This Government are keeping courts running and ensuring that justice will be served.
Courts: Three-tier Covid Levels
We have made a very careful assessment of the safety of all our court buildings. I am pleased to say that courts across the country are opening and operating regardless of the tier they may have been in previously and regardless of the altered circumstances that are commencing on Thursday. The courts are open, they are operating, and justice is being done.
In firebreak Wales, the justice system has had to operate under really difficult circumstances lately, and I pay credit to those who have worked so hard to adapt. However, figures shared with me by the chief constable in Gwent point to significant delays in first hearings and a 57% increase in witnesses being supported locally. To help deal with this, will the Government prioritise hearings for the most serious crimes before they get lost in another backlog?
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to HMCTS staff and the judiciary and magistrates who have been keeping our courts running in what have been difficult circumstances. The cases that are prioritised are decided by the judges, who take responsibility for listing. However, cases such as domestic violence protection orders, which are often very urgent, are certainly being prioritised, and the most serious cases, particularly where there are vulnerable victims—we have heard about rape cases already this morning—are being listed at the earliest possible opportunity.
As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), said, in the magistrates court we are now disposing of more cases than are being received. That has been the case since the end of July, so the outstanding caseload is coming down. As for Crown court jury trials, we now have more Crown court courtrooms for jury trials open and operating than was the case before the pandemic, so we are expecting similarly encouraging progress to start feeding through with regard to those trials as well.
In recent times we have seen outbreaks of covid in different courts around the country, despite the claims and answers to my parliamentary questions that everything possible is being done to keep them safe. The Government have been found out and hit with fines by the Health and Safety Executive for what can only be described as a catalogue of failures at Westminster magistrates court, including risk assessment found not to be suitable and sufficient. Then there were issues with social distancing, staff training and management arrangements. Can the Minister put his hand on his heart and honestly say that other courts would not fail the HSE test, and will he agree that it is now time to work with staff representatives to put things right, and carry out the national risk assessment demanded today by the Criminal Bar Association?
A huge amount of work has happened over the past six months to risk-assess different courts, working with Public Health England and Public Health Wales, and talking to union representatives as well. That is how we have got almost every court in the country now up and running in a socially distanced way. For example, we have installed Perspex screens to make sure that jurors are separated from one another, and we are making sure that there are jury retiring rooms where jurors can space out. There is extremely frequent cleaning happening throughout every courtroom. What is important is that justice is done, justice is delivered, and it is done safely, and that is precisely what is now happening.
Female Offender Strategy
The female offender strategy launched two years ago recognises a different approach to female offenders, and we are making good progress. We initially invested £5.1 million in funding for 30 women’s services across England and Wales, and we are currently in the process of allocating a further £2.5 million for this year to improve women’s centres’ financial viability.
There are over 2,200 more women in prison than 25 years ago, and 82% have been sentenced for non-violent offences. A second lockdown will hit them hard, so can the Minister tell us what steps are being taken to give women in prison virtual access to their children, how many pregnant women are currently in custody, and how many women have been released as part of the early release scheme?
We are very conscious of the impact of lockdown on our female estate, and we will be looking very carefully, as we look at the new framework for the new provisions on Thursday, on how we can in particular protect women on the female estate, recognising the significant mental health issues they face. We are very conscious of the need to ensure family contact, and all on our female estate have access to virtual calls. The hon. Member is aware, I hope, of our recent mother and baby unit review in relation to operations to look after pregnant women and women with young children on the estate. That is currently in a consultation phase. We have set out a number of measures, including personalised access and plans to help those across our female estate who are pregnant or who have dependants.
Throughout the pandemic, dedicated public servants across the justice system have continued delivering vital services. We have implemented contingency measures to ensure that hearings can continue safely and securely, and we now have 16 Nightingale courtrooms. We have also implemented a national framework for dealing with covid in our prisons and secured greater access to testing in order to manage outbreaks.
As the Prime Minister outlined at the weekend, it is now necessary for England to enter into a new set of national restrictions so that we can stem the spread of the virus, protect our NHS and save lives, but essential public services will stay open and that of course includes courts and prisons. We are well prepared to respond to the current restrictions, having acquired valuable knowledge from the first wave of the virus, with contingency plans in place to manage risks throughout the winter. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in expressing gratitude to all our justice heroes working in prisons, probation and the courts, who will continue to go the extra mile.
Can the Justice Secretary give an example of a military operational decision that has been changed as a result of court action or the threat of court action, and an example of a vexatious claim that has not been dismissed by the courts, with costs?
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Bill that will be debated this afternoon, which contains important provisions to get the balance right between the need to make sure that our armed services are supported properly and their contribution is valued and the need to make sure that, as with everybody else, no one is above the law. There have at times, in years gone by, been a number of examples where members of our gallant armed services have been unfairly exposed to the potential of legal action, which has caused real hurt, disquiet and genuine concern among the general public. It is right that in the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill we take corrective action to get that balance more finely adjusted.
A decade of cuts, court closures and mishandling of the pandemic has created a backlog in the Crown courts of nearly 50,000 cases. It could reach 195,000 by 2024. The courts service says we need at least an extra 200 venues to fill the gap, but on 19 October 2020, the Judicial Office confirmed that only five Nightingale courts were hearing jury trials. That is a failure of epic proportions, leading to thousands of victims of serious crime being denied justice. Has the Lord Chancellor failed to ask for enough resources to get justice moving, or has he been denied them by the Treasury?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on all fronts. First, we secured an extra £80 million of funding from the Treasury to deal specifically with covid court recovery. That came on top of the largest investment and increase in court maintenance in 20 years, including during his stewardship. That has resulted in the scaling up of courts, so that today we have 255 courtrooms hearing jury trials, which is ahead of the target I had set for the end of October. We will go further. We have already opened 19 courtrooms under the Nightingale court scheme. This is not a story of failure. This is a story of success and hard work on the part of everybody in the Courts Service. The projections that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned are based upon some pretty inaccurate predictions that do not bear the closest scrutiny.[Official Report, 9 November 2020, Vol. 683, c. 8MC.]
Like my hon. Friend, I am very grateful to the magistracy in County Durham and elsewhere for the part they have played in keeping our system working. All victims—none more so than those he mentions—deserve prompt justice. That is why I am grateful to every part of the criminal justice system that is working so hard to ensure case progression. To that end, we have made available £1 million to improve the recruitment process. We reviewed our planned recruitment in line with changing demands on our magistracy, and are consulting on proposals to increase the mandatory retirement age of all judicial office holders.
The hon. Lady can be reassured that these issues are being examined at the moment. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), and I take a particular interest in the threshold in the change from youth status to adult. It applies in a multiplicity of ways. I can assure her, for example, that people who have attained the age of 18 are dealt with as youths for the purposes of sentencing, but the position is complex, and we are looking at all the ramifications of it, including the one that she raised.
I would like to thank all the staff who have been working so hard at this particularly challenging time. We have started to routinely test staff, and we are providing personal protective equipment, including medical-grade face masks.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising an important and enduring issue. I, too, pay tribute to the work that law centres and other organisations play in administering important advice and those first steps that are sometimes so crucial in actually dealing effectively with problems that can be averted. Already as part of pre-covid work, we had allocated £5 million for early legal help. I know the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), is working tirelessly to evolve a scheme of early legal support and advice. It is something that I passionately endorse as well. We will continue to develop that and to achieve the ends that I think the hon. Lady and I share.
The female offender strategy rightly recommends women’s centres over custodial sentences, but the funding committed as part of the strategy ran out in March. The Minister referred earlier to more funding for women’s services, but I am talking about women’s centres, and I have been unsuccessfully trying to set one up in Bath. Will the Government commit to providing a significant amount of core funding for women’s centres?
If I could correct the hon. Lady, the £2.5 million that we have committed this year for the female offender strategy will be going directly to women’s centres where they bid for it. I am very happy to talk to her about her particular centre, but the £2.5 million is specifically to help sustain the women’s centres to continue to support our female offenders.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know she works closely with support services and victims groups in her constituency. We are committed to ensuring that victims like the ones she mentioned receive the support they need. We have delivered £22 million of emergency funding to support victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. That has reached more than 540 charities in the frontline so far. Indeed, following the No. 10 hidden harms summit, which I took part in, we are delivering an action plan that puts victims at the centre of the criminal justice system and, indeed, our courts recovery programme. We are strengthening the victims code to establish a clearer set of rights for victims.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and he can be reassured that, throughout the pandemic, domestic abuse cases appearing in a magistrates court and indeed in the Crown court have been given the priority that we all expect them to be allocated. We have seen, of course, a big demand spike in the covid crisis for domestic abuse support services, and the package that I referred to in the previous answer—the £25 million package, of which £22 million has already been allocated to support groups dealing with domestic abuse and sexual violence—is already making a real difference to victims and those affected by domestic abuse.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would support very much the Government’s moves to scale up the number of police officers. In Cleveland, the numbers are already rising in an encouraging way. I note the point that he makes about particular custodial facilities. Of course I will discuss the matter with him. He will know that it is vital that we maintain local justice, but at the same time make sure that we use remote technology in order to deal cases with as quickly as possible and to deliver justice to victims.
My hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on this very sensitive and sad case, and I pay tribute to him for his hard work on behalf of his constituents. I am sure that this delay is causing them additional distress, and of course I will be happy to meet him. He knows that, sadly, the Government cannot compel the production by the Egyptian authorities of documents for a coroner investigation but my officials have indeed contacted the senior coroner in the local area for more details and an update, and I understand that the senior coroner has now written to the Egyptian prosecutor general.
The hon. Lady raises a very serious case in her constituency, and I am sure that her colleagues in the Scottish Government, who of course have always had responsibility for these matters, Scotland being a separate criminal jurisdiction, will consider this very carefully. I am concerned to hear that in that local instance, despite best intentions, there does not seem to be the necessary reach into the community to give people the speedy comfort and the confidence that they deserve. May I say that south of the border we are working very hard to enhance and improve community treatment requirements to deal with drug addiction and alcohol abuse and, indeed, to try and get to the root cause of some of this reoffending that causes misery to communities such as the one the hon. Lady serves?
I would be very happy to visit when we are allowed to do so, and certainly before then to discuss the issues in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I pay tribute to the work of LandWorks in his area. The issue of universal credit is fundamental, as is getting people into homes, and I work very closely with my counterpart at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State at the Department, along with the Lord Chancellor, to ensure that prison leavers can access universal credit in a timely way on their release, and we are doing other work in relation to their getting a job and a home.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We are very conscious of the impact that the very restrictive conditions we have imposed will have on those in our custody and care. Since restrictions were lifted over the summer, prison staff across the country have worked very hard to open up the estate. Since the end of the previous lockdown we have reintroduced visits in every prison, and 119 of our prisons are operating at stage 3 of the national framework; this reintroduced key work, education and offender management activities where it was appropriate to do so. As we enter a new phase, we are thinking very carefully about the balance between security and resistance to the virus and the mental health needs of our prisoners.
Before I call the shadow Chancellor to ask an urgent question, I have a brief statement to make. Motion No. 9 on today’s Order Paper extends the proxy voting scheme to allow proxies for hon. Members present within the precincts of the Palace. If the motion is passed, I intend to introduce the new scheme with effect from tomorrow, including hon. Members who make their designation before 9.30 am tomorrow. To apply for a proxy, Members must email firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of their nominated proxy. On subsequent days, notice will be given before the House rises on the preceding sitting day, or 3 o’clock on a non-sitting Friday.
Lockdown: Economic Support
Yesterday, the Prime Minister set out why we are introducing new measures to tackle coronavirus—
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister set out why we are introducing new measures to tackle coronavirus. This decision is not one we would wish to take, but it responds to the soaring infection rate.
Just as we have a responsibility to protect lives, we must also safeguard livelihoods. That is why the Government have provided unprecedented levels of financial support throughout this crisis, in a package described by the International Monetary Fund as
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
This package includes an extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme, whereby employees will receive 80% of their usual salary up to a maximum of £2,500, while employers need only pay national insurance and pension contributions. We will provide more support to the self-employed. We are increasing the self-employment income support scheme grant from 40% to 80% in November. This boosts the total grant from 40% to 55% of trading profits from November to January, up to a total of £5,160, aligning it with the furlough scheme. In addition, homeowners hit by the pandemic can continue to claim a six-month mortgage holiday, and businesses that are required to close can receive non-repayable grants worth up to £3,000 a month. In total, these grants are worth over £1 billion a month.
We are also planning to extend the existing business loan schemes and the future fund to the end of January, as well as making it possible to top up bounce back loans. Local authorities will also receive £1.1 billion to support businesses more broadly, and up to £500 million to support the local public health message through the contain outbreak management fund. We will also uplift the Barnett guarantee this week to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland further certainty over their up-front funding.
These measures build on the Government’s economic package that now totals over £200 billion. They will provide security to millions of people while giving businesses the flexibility to adapt and plan, and they underline our unrelenting focus on listening and on responding to the damaging path of this virus.
Thank you very much for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. The circuit breaker that Labour proposed three weeks ago would have been shorter and more effective, so less damaging to jobs and businesses, than the Government’s last-minute, but lengthy, lockdown. The cost of that Conservative delay will be counted in lives and livelihoods, so was it the Chancellor who vetoed the circuit breaker? Why did he tell the Welsh Government that it was impossible to extend furlough, and why did he dismiss those in the north who said his plans would lead to hardship?
I heard from one restaurant about the strain caused by this panicked, last-minute approach. As rumours of a lockdown circulated on Friday, staff wiped away tears before putting on a brave face to customers. They did not know whether, in the following week, they would be working as normal, facing redundancy, being paid at 67% of their normal wages or being paid at 73%.
Similarly, the self-employed endured intransigence and then rumour, before a last-minute announcement yesterday that still leaves many people with nothing. Businesses need to know what support they will receive if their area faces further restrictions on the other side of lockdown, but the Prime Minister said yesterday that they will not find out until just before those restrictions are imposed.
How can any business plan on that basis? How can people cope with that level of insecurity? The lack of any plan for economic support is making a very, very difficult situation even worse. Will the Chancellor and his Ministers finally get a grip, and set out the plan for the next six months? Will they indicate how the different scenarios facing us will be dealt with, not retrospectively, or at the last minute, or once businesses have gone bust and jobs have already been lost, but in advance? Will they set out a plan for support if the lockdown is extended, or if some regions or devolved nations remain under restrictions for longer? Finally, must I continue to drag Ministers here week after week as this Government stumble from one crisis to the next?
The hon. Lady started by saying that the circuit breaker would have been shorter, but those on her Front Bench have repeatedly said, when interviewed, that a circuit breaker would have to be repeated.
The deputy chief medical officer was clear that an earlier national lockdown would not have been appropriate, because at the time, the path of the virus was very slow in certain areas, such as the south-west, so the economic damage would have been disproportionate. I might have expected to hear the hon. Lady’s argument from some Members of the House, but it is surprising that the economic spokesperson for the Opposition was willing to see that economic damage. [Interruption.] She chunters, but I am simply quoting the deputy chief medical officer, whose advice was that a lockdown would have been the wrong action to take at that time. I am pointing to economic damage, which she seems to see as trivial and something to be disregarded.
The hon. Lady then claimed that the Government had in some way dismissed certain parts of the United Kingdom. I gently point out that furlough was not ended; it continued to the end of October, and has now been extended. Furlough has continued in all parts of the United Kingdom without any gap in its provision.
The hon. Lady asks whether the Government have a plan in place. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor came to the House on 24 September to set out our winter plan for jobs. It included the kickstart scheme, which is up and running, and provides much-needed training to our constituents across the country. While setting out his winter plan, he said candidly that if the pathway of the virus changed, the Government would listen and adapt, and that is exactly the action that we have taken.
Finally, somewhat strangely, the hon. Lady said that she needs to “drag” Ministers to the Chamber to set out their approach. [Interruption.] She is repeating the point. Mr Speaker, I thought the Prime Minister was here yesterday to give a statement to the House. It is somewhat strange to say, the day after he did that, that Ministers have to be dragged to the Chamber to give updates on the position.
Mr Speaker, I hope that you know me well enough to feel that I would never do that; I clarify that for the record in case any other impression was given. My point was that the diligence of Ministers in updating the House was demonstrated by the Prime Minister yesterday in his statement.
Order. We will leave it at this, but it is no good to have something played out through the press on Saturday and Sunday, so that on Monday everybody already knows about it, and it is no shock. That is why the right hon. Gentleman could not judge whether to have a UQ. We will leave it there.
I broadly welcome the new measures that the Government have brought forward to support jobs and, in particular, the increase in support for the self-employed from 40% to 80% under the self-employment income support scheme arrangements. However, as my right hon. Friend will know, the Treasury Committee produced a report earlier this year in which we identified more than a million individuals—the self-employed in particular—who were missing out on support. Will he update the House on whether, under the new measures, any of those identified in the report will receive support where they were not before? If the answer is no, why is that the case?
My right hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that some were not covered. In fact, that has been an area of much debate in the House. He will understand that there is a distinction to draw between employees who, because their details had not been notified to HMRC at the cut-off point last time, were excluded, and those who because of the furlough extension will now be included, so some of that population cohort are covered.
In respect of the self-employed cohort, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we have so far offered over £30 billion of support to the self-employed, which is generous by international standards. He knows, however, that, within that, there are different cohorts. There is the cohort relating to company directors, where the issue remains the same: what is dividend income and what is not. He will know that another part of that group is those earning above £50,000, and we made a decision to target support below that threshold. He will know that some people are self-employed but that is not the majority of their income—less than 50% is through their being self-employed—and that we targeted funding at those for whom self-employment was their main provision. So there are different cohorts within the excluded population, but those who were employed will be covered by the furlough extension.
The UK Government continue to lurch around in absolute chaos, with a Prime Minister forced, due to the leak of his plans, to come on TV and, after hours of delay, squeezing in before “Strictly” to announce an English lockdown and the extension of furlough just before it was due to expire. We have been telling them for months that it would need to be extended. While I welcome the action, this late extension will be of absolutely no comfort to those who have already lost their jobs due to the Government’s incompetence, or to the businesses in my constituency who have done their utmost to support their staff and now have no idea where they stand. It is no comfort either to those who continue to be ignored. Those excluded from the initial support schemes face a bleak winter ahead. Will the Chief Secretary ensure that they do not lose out again? There are still many sectors of the economy that cannot go back to normal.
The overwhelming sense, for many of us, is that this is not a Union of equals. When Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and parts of the north-east of England asked for furlough to be extended this autumn, they were told that the Chancellor’s magic money tree had lost all its leaves. Yet, when the Prime Minister decided that England needed to go into urgent lockdown, it turned out that the magic money tree was in fact an evergreen.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister gamed his answers on furlough in the House in a pathetic and transparent attempt to make the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) look good, but he was contradicted on Sky News this morning by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government who said it would be up to the Chancellor to decide if furlough would be available to the devolved nations after 2 December. In an act of further disrespect, the Chancellor is not even here to answer this question. Will the Chief Secretary therefore be clear and honest about whether the Treasury will make furlough and the SEISS available at 80% to any part of these islands that requires that after 2 December?
The hon. Lady started by saying that we were disrespecting parts of the United Kingdom. I was on a call yesterday with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the First Secretary of State and the Home Secretary and others, and with the First Minister of Scotland, the First Minister of Wales and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland as part of our regular dialogue. That continues across the United Kingdom and, indeed, at official level. The chief medical officers liaise extremely closely.
Secondly, the hon. Lady’s various grievances are somewhat both surprising and disappointing when the Government have listened and introduced, for the first time, an up-front Barnett guarantee that has provided the Scottish Government with £7.2 billion of funding at an earlier point than would traditionally be the case, recognising the volatility of the situation with covid. It would be good for her to recognise that that is unprecedented and different. Again, on the call yesterday, I signalled to the First Minister that this week we would update with a further uplift—following our unprecedented action—to give more clarity on the Barnett guarantee and the consequentials flowing from that.
Thirdly—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady keeps chuntering. Many of the schemes are UK-wide ones: we have extended the loans, the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme. Those can be delivered through the broad shoulders that the United Kingdom offers. It is true that, through that capacity to act as one United Kingdom, we have been able to protect up to 1 million jobs in Scotland. It is important that we work together. That is why we were engaging with the Scottish Government yesterday. More can be achieved if the Scottish Government and the UK Government work together. That is how, to date, we have protected up to 1 million jobs, and that is the best way forward.
As we have just seen, uncertainty in Scotland is always a basis for grievance for the SNP. My right hon. Friend can end that uncertainty simply by clarifying that, should the scientific evidence demand a further lockdown in Scotland, the furlough scheme at 80% will be available to protect jobs in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend is right to pick up on that grievance culture. Through our ability to act on a UK basis, we have been able to offer the unprecedented support that we have to date. Furlough has always been a UK-wide scheme and, as the Prime Minister said, the Government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the United Kingdom.
Last month, the Government disgraced themselves by voting against extending free school meals into the holidays for our most vulnerable children. Even if the Government will not reverse that cruel decision, will they at least follow Action for Children’s recommendations and extend free school meals for all families in receipt of universal credit?
The hon. Lady raises a serious issue and one that all Members of the House care deeply about, but it is also important to look at the package as a whole. We have put in an additional £9 billion of welfare support, recognising the increasing pressures. That includes the £20 uplift on universal credit, the lifting of the minimum income guarantee and the various other measures in the package. Above all, retaining jobs and getting people back into the labour market is the best way that we can protect people from poverty.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s positive response on the additional measures of economic support. Does he agree that our Government have committed one of the most comprehensive and generous economic support packages anywhere in the world, worth more than £200 billion? That is the right approach in these difficult times. He rightly quotes the IMF in saying that our response is
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
Is it not also important that the IMF praised our response for holding down unemployment?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that. He is quite right to pick up on the IMF’s report and the comments of its director. It is worth reminding the House exactly what the IMF director said: that the UK’s economic support package is
“one of the best examples of coordinated action globally”.
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that that speaks to the comprehensive package that the Chancellor has put in place.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that funding would be available for the furlough scheme in the devolved nations, not just now but for the future. As the Minister has just pointed out, furlough is a UK-wide scheme, needed in all parts of the United Kingdom, not only at the behest of the Chancellor. This morning, however, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said that it would be a matter for the Chancellor, not the Prime Minister. Will the Minister clarify exactly what the situation is? Will he tell businesses in Gower and across the United Kingdom what the situation is? Also, will he tell us who is in charge, the Chancellor or the Prime Minister?
Some of the most difficult conversations I have had this year have been with Stroud’s wedding and events industries and their supply chains—great businesses such as Eastington Park, Stonehouse Court, Elmore Court and Bisley Hire. They are usually thriving, but they basically feel ignored. They have had a stop-start situation this year and are now nervously looking at next year, having lost a year’s revenue. Will my right hon. Friend commit to looking at this valuable sector again to see what support we can make available, and will he meet me to discuss this matter?
I am always very happy to meet my hon. Friend. She is right to talk about a sector that has been particularly hit by the impact of the covid pandemic. She will be aware that, as part of the comprehensive package of support, such sectors qualify for the extension to the job retention scheme and the cash grants of up to £3,000 per month to businesses that are closed. I also point her to the £1.1 billion of additional funding that has been allocated to councils, which is a key part of the business support which at their discretion they can allocate to those businesses acutely hit in their authorities.
Businesses across my constituency and across the country made irreversible decisions last week based on advice from the Government that furlough was going to end on Saturday. They now find themselves in a situation where furlough has been extended, but only for a month, and there is a complete lack of clarity still today about the devolved nations. Will the Chief Secretary please urge the Chancellor to extend furlough through to the spring—covid-19 is not going away at the end of this month—and can he give us a simple, one-word answer? Is furlough going to be available to the devolved nations, or is he going to continue this uncertainty, which is damaging the Union?
At the risk of repeating myself, I refer the hon. Lady to the reply I gave earlier, but she did make a specific point about those who may have recently been made redundant. [Interruption.] Again, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) chunters from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) made a specific point about those recently made redundant, and I was just coming on to answer that precise point. Employees notified by real-time information submission to HMRC on or before 30 October are eligible for the furlough extension, but employees employed as of 23 September, which is the day of the job support scheme announcement, and notified to HMRC by RTI on or before that date who have since been made redundant can be re-hired. In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, the timing is important, but the point is that people can be re-hired as part of the furlough extension.
I am glad that the Government agree that where, by law, they stop people working and earning a living, they should compensate them. Will the Government look again at the terms of the scheme for the self-employed—there are restrictions on several categories of self-employed who have no other means of earning their living and no large company support—and be more generous? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need all those self-employed people to be ready to return to work to get some kind of recovery going soon, because the economy is in deep trouble?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to ensure that the economy is able to bounce back quickly. That is why we have provided over £13 billion of support to the self-employed, which by international comparisons—I know my right hon. Friend looks at international comparisons—he will see is extremely generous. I have described previously in the House some of the operational difficulties, for example with owner-directors in terms of what is dividend income and what is not. The point is that we have set out a generous self-employment income support scheme, but we need to deliver that operationally in a way that meets the tests set by, for example, the Public Accounts Committee, which has asked whether we have the right level of controls in place, given the speed at which these schemes were deployed.
The latest ill-advised lockdown is going to present an enormous burden for the economy in terms of lost tax revenue, additional Government spending and reduced GDP. It is right that since the economic pain is being imposed by the Government, those affected should be compensated for the pain that they will suffer. I welcome the Chief Secretary’s assurance that the furlough scheme will apply across the whole United Kingdom, but can he tell us what Barnett consequentials will be received by Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the business support grant that he announced in this package?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a valid and fair point. As I said on my call with the First Minister yesterday, I hope to be in a position to update her this week about the additional Barnett guarantee that we can give. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to the consequentials that flow from the £1.1 billion of additional local authority funding that the Chancellor set out. He will also have seen, for example, the additional support that the UK Government gave to Transport for London, the rail support measures that we have provided, and so on. Those are the issues on which the Barnett consequentials will be shaped. He is right that it is important for them to have sight of that. That is why we have taken the unprecedented decision to give that up-front guarantee, and I hope to be able to give an update on that later this week.
My heart is breaking for the once-thriving businesses across the Windsor constituency and the country. I have met owners of pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars, sports venues, salons and retail outlets. They cannot magically become online businesses. I have spoken to business owners who have literally been in tears on the phone and in person when they think about their staff and their livelihoods.
The proposed new lockdown will prove fatal to many such businesses. There are many questions about the strategy, the need for a lockdown and the generous support the Government are trying to give, but I will confine my question to this: how do the Government intend to protect retail businesses that are forced to close from the increasing dominance of online retailers, which often benefit from lower business rates and taxes than their terrestrial partners?
My hon. Friend has a deep understanding of business from his career prior to coming to the House. He is absolutely right to talk of the personal consequences, the commitment that people who set up and run businesses have made, and the devastating impact of the virus and its consequences. On the tax position, he will know from his time in the House that those are questions for the Budget and for my right hon Friend the Chancellor.
On the support that has been given to businesses, I direct my hon. Friend to the extension of the loans that we have given to help businesses with their cash flow, which recognises that the biggest cost for many businesses is the fixed cost of their property. That includes the up to £3,000 a month grant for those with rateable values above £51,000 and the support to local authorities, as I referenced in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) a moment ago, for their discretionary support to specific businesses. It is part of that comprehensive package, but he is right to draw attention to the human consequence of those decisions.
Any additional investment to help the self-employed is welcome, and I do welcome it, but I ask the Chief Secretary to look at the eligibility criteria that he has set. With the furlough scheme, the eligibility criteria have been updated so that businesses that have been registered with a bank account right up to last Friday can apply. For the self-employed, however, the eligibility criteria have not changed at all and will exclude many self-employed people from all the additional investment that is now available. Will he look at that?
Such has been the number of times that the matter has been raised in the House and through the campaign that, we have looked at it. Some of those issues have not changed—for example, the difficulty of determining what is dividend income as opposed to earned income, as I referred to in my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood). We took a decision to target those below the £50,000 threshold. Some of those issues have not changed from the previous period.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the furlough allows some of those who were excluded to come within scope, but I draw the House’s attention to the fact that, even within the House, there is a degree of conflict here. The Treasury Committee has said that we should be more willing to bring the cohort of the self-employed into scope, yet the Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern that we need to have much stricter operational controls because of the risks, for example, of fraud. We see that difference even between the two Select Committees in this House. Of the different cohorts within what is known as the ExcludedUK campaign, some of those on furlough will be able to come back into scope, but much of the rationale has not changed. Of course, we will continue to look at it.
May I seek further clarification of the previous answer and the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)? Self-employed people who have in effect created a limited company and draw dividends are being prevented by the Government from trading. Rather than just outlining the difficulties, will the Chief Secretary commit to saying we will find a way around that, so we can actually tell our constituents what support they will receive over the next few weeks?
For reasons I set out some time ago to the Treasury Committee, and for the reasons set out by the Chancellor, operationally the concern is that while there will of course be many legitimate circumstances in which people wish to make a claim, unfortunately there will also be significant risk of fraud. I pointed to the fact that within the House itself part of the challenge is how we ensure we have the right balance between the speed of delivery—we move quickly to get schemes to people—and the operational controls we put in place. That is why we have taken the position we have.
Since the previous lockdown was lifted, two leisure centres in my constituency have not reopened. Both facilities were outsourced by my council due in part to the lack of funding to local authorities. Leisure centres such as these are vital to the mental health and wellbeing of the communities they serve. Indeed, I believe they should be defined as an essential service. What will be done to ensure that that essential service continues and leisure centres such as St George’s and Tiller in my constituency do not face permanent closure as a result of the forthcoming, and any future, lockdown?
The hon. Lady is right to point to the pivotal nature of leisure centres in our constituencies. I think all Members would agree with that. I draw her attention to the £4.7 billion of additional funding we have given to local authorities as part of our response to covid, and to the discretion we have given local authorities so that they can apply that funding with the local knowledge they have and target it in the most effective way.
First, I would like to welcome the unprecedented innovative package of support the Chancellor has put in place, which has undoubtedly helped to support businesses and families in my constituency. What more can my right hon. Friend do to support the coach tourism sector specifically? Small family companies such as A & P Travel and Sleafordian Coaches have done so much to make their transport covid-secure. However, while the venues they support have received funding from the culture recovery fund and enhanced local authority grants, they have not. We need to ensure that when the theatres, museums and the like are able to reopen there is still a viable coach tourism industry to get their customers there.
The coach firms sector has been particularly impacted as a consequence of covid. That is why, in response, we worked with the Department for Education to provide over £70 million of funding for local transport. That has been to the benefit of many, including coach firms. Of course, the wider package of support—for example, the furlough scheme, the cash grants of up to £3,000 for businesses that are closed, the extended loans and so on—applies to the sector as it does to others. The wider package applies, but I also draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the specific education funding that has been provided, which I know has been a help to a number of coach firms.
If there were no confusion about the furlough support for Scotland in the event of another lockdown, the right hon. Gentleman’s own Tory MPs and Members across the House would not need to constantly have to ask for clarification. That confusion and uncertainty is a failure of his own Government, after the Communities Secretary said that it would be for the Chancellor to decide at the time of any future Scottish lockdown. Will the Chief Secretary apologise for that confusion and uncertainty? Will he meet the Scottish Finance Secretary, who has been requesting a meeting since Saturday, to discuss funding for Scotland and put an end to the chaos, confusion and uncertainty which is detrimentally affecting jobs and businesses in Scotland?
I do find it somewhat surprising to be asked to have a meeting the day after I had a meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, who I assume spoke with the authority of the Scottish Finance Minister. I have regular meetings with the Scottish Finance Minister. I hope, and certainly feel from my point of view, that we have a very constructive dialogue. It is in part due to her representations that the Barnett guarantee—this unprecedented up-front guarantee—was put in place, and I look forward to further discussions with her in the weeks ahead.
Pubs such as the Crown Inn in King’s Somborne are really concerned about how they will weather the coming lockdown. They make the not unreasonable point that if it is safe to sell takeaway food, it should also be safe to sell takeaway beer. Will my right hon. Friend look at this anomaly and see if he can throw a lifeline to these valuable community hubs?
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. She will know that in terms of the epidemiology and the guidance, that is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, but she is right to point to the economic impact of the measures. That is something on which we continue to have close dialogue with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care, to ensure that she gets the clarification she seeks.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister stated in the House:
“The furlough scheme is a UK-wide scheme and will continue to be available wherever it is needed.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 54.]
Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Prime Minister was right and that furlough support will be available to Wales in the future, should public health priorities require restrictions to be reintroduced? A simple yes or no will suffice.
Several times now I have quoted what was said. The Prime Minister said that the Government will always be there to provide support to all parts of the United Kingdom. It is worth taking a step back and looking at the fact that the UK-wide ability to act is how we have been able to provide so much support across the UK with schemes such as the furlough scheme, the self-employment scheme, the loans, extensions and so forth. It is our ability to act across the United Kingdom that has helped many businesses to weather the storm.
I begin by thanking the Government on behalf of the businesses and employers in my constituency that have benefited and will continue to benefit from the extraordinary steps that have been taken. However, we know that, sadly, people have already lost their jobs and we may expect future job losses. What more can we do to help people to overcome this incredibly difficult time in their lives, in terms of support for jobseekers and for retraining? I know that there are jobs out there, but this is about how we get people into those jobs in growing areas.
My hon. Friend makes a hugely important point. It is not just the number of jobs that are lost, but the duration of time that people are out of those jobs they that is critical in mitigating the economic scarring that results from this pandemic. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in his winter plan the plan for jobs, which included £2 billion of funding for the kickstart scheme. I was speaking to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions this morning and I was very pleased to hear about the progress that has already been made on the kickstart scheme, which is up and running and providing support to 16 to 24-year-olds across our constituencies. It is part of the wider package of support on training—the tripling of traineeships, the £2,000 for apprenticeships, the £2 billion on kickstart—and as we accelerate our infrastructure and bring back the green jobs, such as through the decarbonisation of public buildings, that will also offer new opportunities for training as we deliver our record infrastructure investment.
The new grant scheme for businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sector is welcome, but those in my Brighton constituency need to know that all small and medium-sized enterprises in that sector will benefit. In particular, will the Minister scrap the business rates link and the rateable value cap from previous schemes, which caused such hardship? They meant, for example, that business tenants in shared buildings got nothing or that a pub owner in Brighton lost out because rateable values here are higher than in a place such as Bolton. Will he reassure them that they will not lose out again?
First, it is perfectly fair and reasonable to target a level of support shaped by the rateable value of the property, which is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done. The hon. Lady is right to point to the fact that within different local authorities there are different pressures, which is why in the £1.1 billion that has been allocated, we have given discretion to local authorities in their ability to then target support to businesses in the way that best meets local needs.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the whole Treasury team for the remarkable job they are doing in these difficult times. However, I wish to highlight the plight of the people and businesses that have fallen through the financial gap. These are businesses that, through no fault of their own, have had to cease trading or are trading with a massive reduction in productivity, and are doing so without grants or access to salary, not because the Government have closed their business, but because they are in the supply chain that supplies the businesses that the Government have closed. Will my right hon. Friend at least give reassurances that consideration is being given to these businesses, which have suffered huge losses in the past nine months? I am thinking of businesses such as the Little Valley Brewery in Calder Valley and the Robinwood outdoor education centre.
My hon. Friend is right to pick out the specific challenges faced by the supply chains, often because they supply multiple sectors; they may not be in a given sector where there are specific issues, but they supply across a number of sectors. Part of the reason we have taken the universal approach on the wider package of schemes, whether on support for cash flow with the loans and grants, or on the direct measures to support the labour market through the furlough and self-employed income support schemes, is to recognise that once one tries to demarcate sectors, that becomes difficult in the supply chain. So part of the package of support that applies to the supply sector is provided through those universal schemes, but he is right about the issues that these businesses face.
Prior to this lockdown announcement, we had had almost universal calls for an extension to the full furlough scheme in areas with tighter restrictions, which Ministers had rejected for months. Despite that, the Government saw fit to announce a new version of this on Saturday, only hours before the previous furlough was due to be replaced by an inferior scheme for us in the north, as further restrictions were becoming inevitable in many areas. Many people in the north therefore now believe that until workers in the south were to be affected by the national lockdown, they were somehow thought to be worth less. Businesses in Gateshead and elsewhere are desperate for clarity and certainty to help them in planning and so that they know whether and how they can survive. Will the Chief Secretary commit today to publishing details of a comprehensive, ongoing financial support package available to businesses and their workers in areas that will continue to need it, where tiers of restrictions might, sadly, have to continue after 2 December?
First, on the suggestion that there has been a differentiated approach, the point is that a number of arrangements were put in place, for example, with the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, with civic leaders in your own Lancashire region, Mr Speaker, and with South Yorkshire, because we recognised that there were additional pressures in those communities. We also put in further support retrospectively, recognising that a number of areas had been in tier 2 restrictions for a period. So the suggestion that additional support had not been offered does not stand up to scrutiny. If one accepts the deputy chief medical officer’s advice, it was inappropriate previously to have a national lockdown—Professor Van-Tam set that out—but the pathway of the virus and the infection increase was such that a more comprehensive approach was taken. So this is a response to the health pandemic as much as a response to anything that is geographically determined.
I welcome the extra support for the self-employed and the news that many of those who did not qualify for the initial furlough scheme will qualify under the extended scheme, but I want to ask the Minister about the bounce back loans, which have been a lifeline for so many businesses in my constituency. Back when they made the applications for those loans, businesses would not have foreseen that disruption would go on for so long, so can steps be taken to ensure that they can apply for top-ups to their initial loans and get through the difficult winter ahead?
In short, yes they can. My hon. Friend raises a valid point, which is that a number of businesses will have taken out loans for what they felt was their need at that time. Further restrictions have been placed on businesses, which is why we have extended the period for availability of loans to the end of the year. He is right about that, and I can provide him with that reassurance.
The Minister explained that the response when he spoke to northern Mayors was about health data and not about regions, but he must accept that, by callously saying to workers in West Yorkshire and the north that they are on two thirds of pay, the Government have created a north-south divide. That divide is unnecessary when we should be coming together as a country to deal with this pandemic. Will he ask the Chancellor for clarity about the restrictions and for confirmation that, when we come out of this national lockdown, no worker will be expected to earn two thirds of their pay, so that workers in low-paid jobs are not living in fear when they look ahead to Christmas with no money in the bank?
The hon. Lady is conflating several different issues. First, the furlough had not expired; it was running until the end of October. It applied universally until that point, so the suggestion of it being applied differently is simply not the case. Secondly, the purpose and the design of the job support scheme is different from the furlough. The furlough is a response to the need for people to stay at home. The job support scheme is intended to try to encourage them back. That is why the design is for at least 20% of hours—one day in the office. Thirdly, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out on a number of occasions, the two-thirds support is dynamic in its interaction with the wider support through the £9 billion of additional welfare spending. One needs to look at the fact that there are two different purposes behind these two schemes, but the fundamental point is that there is no gap between the furlough that was due to expire on 30 October and the new furlough extension.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the team for the package of support, which will save jobs and livelihoods across Wimbledon. He will know that since March, I have been raising the plight of people who are excluded from the scheme because they have been forced to close their businesses, so I support a number of the comments made about the self-employed. May I raise yet again with him industries such as events, exhibitions and hospitality supply, which are all excluded from the business rates scheme and the business grants scheme? They need that support if we are to have those vibrant contributors to the economy in the future.
I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. I point him to the fact that, to date, the Treasury has spent more than £200 billion as part of our comprehensive package of support. We have applied a universal approach in terms of the furlough, loans, business grants and so forth, but I am happy to have further discussions with him in the weeks ahead.
While welcoming the news that the support will return to 80%, many people here in West Dunbartonshire and across Scotland regret the fact that this decision has been made at the last minute, when many have already made life-changing decisions in anticipation of the rate being reduced. To give those whom we will rely on to rebuild our economy some degree of certainty, will the Minister commit the Government to fill the gaps in the scheme so that freelancers and creatives—the excluded—can start to grow the companies of tomorrow?
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the future fund, which has provided additional support. On the timing of the furlough extension, I refer him to the answer I gave earlier. Those who have lost their jobs recently could come back through the furlough extension. Those employees employed as of 23 September—the day of the job support scheme announcement—and notified to HMRC by real-time information on or before that date who have since been made redundant can be rehired.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the extension to the coronavirus loan schemes and the ability to top up bounce back loans. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that ability to top up loans also applies to the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme? Will he also look at bounce back loans for customers of non-bank lenders? According to research by the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, which I chair, around 250,000 businesses currently bank with non-bank lenders who do not have access to these schemes because they do not get access to the Bank of England term funding scheme. Will he look at that problem?
I can probably go one better than looking at it myself, because the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who leads on these matters in the Treasury, will have heard my hon. Friend’s representations and will do so. I know that he is looking at the issue of the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme specifically. On my hon. Friend’s second point, I think that there are 28 creditors, but I know that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will follow that up with him.
The Chief Secretary will be aware that many businesses feel that the Government have acted arbitrarily in imposing restrictions on their sectors, and none more so than the hospitality and pub sector, with the 10 pm curfew. During the first lockdown, local independent brewers such as Slaughterhouse and Church Farm in my constituency, and also the independent pubs that they serve, such as the Somerville Arms and the Old Post Office, were able to sell takeaway alcohol, but that has now been banned by the Government. That will damage the sector dramatically. What has the Chancellor got against pubs?
Not least through the eat out to help out scheme, one can see the Chancellor’s support to this sector. Also, VAT was cut from 20% to 5%, and many within the sector have benefited, particularly from the wider universal package of schemes such as the furlough scheme. The exact health advice, as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), is a matter for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. I will relay the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to him, but this is driven by the epidemiology and the health data; it is not a question of the Treasury acting arbitrarily, as he says.
The Government’s financial support has included the very welcome £200 million for hospices. However, the Norfolk Hospice in my constituency has warned that the national restrictions and the closure of charity shops will result in a loss of income of £100,000, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Care Minister meets the sector tomorrow, a package of urgent support can be put in place for hospices, their patients and their families?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that unites the House. The huge value of the work done by the hospice movement was recognised as part of the package of measures put in place by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, with £750 million of support for the charity sector and with the hospice movement being specifically identified. I am happy to continue working with my hon. Friend as we work together, and we recognise the importance of that sector.
Many small business owners have been forced to raid their personal savings to keep their businesses afloat over the past eight months, but that is not a bottomless pit. Many small business owners are not wealthy people, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury must understand that if they go under, the whole company goes with them. The Treasury has now had eight months to get this scheme working. Why is it still excluding 3 million people? Does he not recognise how perilous the situation is for many of those businesses?
I drew attention earlier to the fact that more than £13 billion had been allocated to the self-employment income support scheme and through the income support grant. That indicates the support that the Treasury has given. The hon. Gentleman draws out, as the Chair of the Treasury Committee did, the specific issues around company directors. I have set out to the House the difficulty of clarifying precisely what is earned income as opposed to dividend income, but it is worth drawing the House’s attention to the fact that more than £13 billion of support has been allocated.
Before lockdown 2, more than 2,000 jobs based at Manchester Airport were reported to be at risk. The Government have provided business rates relief to thousands of retail businesses, including £700 million to the likes of Tesco, which have seen huge increases in profits throughout lockdown. Will the Government now step in to relieve 2020-21 airport business rates, following the introduction of a new travel ban, by paying the difference to local councils?
As I mentioned earlier, within the £1.1 billion of support to local authorities, we have given them discretion to respond to local needs, and that includes Greater Manchester as a region. On the airport sector specifically, one reason why we have allocated more than £12 billion to test and trace is that one of the key issues, as I was told by that sector, is the importance of travellers being able to be tested quickly and released sooner than has been the case in recent weeks. We are working extremely hard on that issue, because that is one of the key measures, alongside the financial support to local authorities, that would make a real difference to the airport sector.
I very much welcome the commitment that we heard yesterday from the Prime Minister that the furlough scheme will extend to Scotland whenever it is needed. Can the Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirm that the self-employment support scheme will also extend to my constituents in Scotland, ensuring that self-employed people are not left behind?
I am sure that we have all heard heartbreaking stories about people who have been unable to claim for self-employment support because they had not registered or submitted a tax return for 2018-19. It seems that those people are still excluded from any support. Some of them have been trading for 18 months now. They are clearly not fraudulent and they clearly deserve some support; why can they not get some?
As we referred to earlier, the point is that the package of support includes the £9 billion of welfare measures and the support that is available through local authorities and targeted at their discretion. I have also set out that there are those within that excluded population, for example those who were employed, who may be able to qualify for the extension, but for the reasons that I have given in a number of earlier replies, part of the challenge from the Public Accounts Committee has been ensuring that we have the right operational controls in place, and that has been one of the difficulties with the cohorts to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
The Government’s bounce back and business interruption loan schemes have made a huge difference across the country, including the £90 million to support businesses in Rutland and Melton. What assessment has the Chief Secretary made regarding the macroeconomic impact of these loan schemes?
I very much welcome the impact that the various support measures have had on Rutland and on the businesses in my hon. Friend’s area. As for the broaden impact of the various measures, the Office for Budget Responsibility produces an independent assessment and it will do so on 25 November. That will provide an updated position, addressing the impacts to which she refers.
While this week the Government have extended the mortgage holiday for homeowners, they have refused to help tenants, pay their rent or stop them facing evictions, even if they have lost their job or been placed on furlough. How exactly does the Minister think that that is fair, and will he instead commit to helping renters in Coventry South by immediately putting a stop to all eviction proceedings, reintroducing the evictions ban, and cancelling rent arrears for all tenants?
There is, of course, a balance to be struck between the interests of those who are renting and those who let properties and who also have financial pressures. The hon. Lady referred to the support that has been given, but the best support that can be given to those facing such bills is to help as many of them as possible to retain their jobs, and that is fundamentally what the package of support that we have put in place seeks to achieve.
Further to the points about supply chains, many manufacturers in the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent very much depend on industries such as hospitality and retail, so will my right hon. Friend agree to look at what more support can be given to those industries where order books have severely diminished?
I recognise the point made by my hon. Friend. I have spoken about the impact on the sectors to which he refers. That is why such a comprehensive package of support has been set out, including the job retention scheme, which will now run until 2 December; the generous support for the self-employed; the cash grants of up to £3,000 per month for businesses; the £1.1 billion of council support; and the plans to extend the various loans, and indeed the future fund, to the end of January. This all recognises the wider pressures to which he refers.
Unemployment here in the west midlands is soaring to a level that we last saw in the 1980s, but our Mayor has proved so ineffective that we have failed to secure 95% of what we have asked for in our recovery plan. Yesterday the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist called on Governments to bring forward large-scale investment to kick-start demand. In May, the Government set out their capital budget of £358 billion over the next five years. When are the Government going to allocate that capital budget, will the Chief Secretary maximise what is brought forward into the eye of the storm to kick-start demand for next year, and will he, for the first time, guarantee that the west midlands, at long last, will secure its fair share of that money?
I am slightly surprised to have a question from a former Chief Secretary that does not recognise the infrastructure investment that the Prime Minister set out in the summer and on which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor updated the House through his summer economic update, including the £2 billion going into green jobs and public sector decarbonisation, and the massive investment in High Speed 2, in road investment strategy 2, and in control period 6 through the various rail schemes that the Government have committed to. We are accelerating the delivery of that infrastructure through Project Speed.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to speak to the fact that there is a jobs challenge, and I think the concerns about the pressure on employment are shared across the House. That is why it is so important to get the right training package in place. This was addressed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 24 September with his winter plan setting out schemes such as the kickstart scheme, which is up and running and is already delivering results. That is how, together, we will weather the storm in terms of bringing forward infrastructure investment but also reskilling people who do lose their jobs.
Clearly hospitality and retail have had a particularly difficult time since the spring, but, as hon. Friends have said, there are very many businesses that may not quite come under hospitality, retail or leisure but rely almost entirely on those sectors for their business. Will my right hon. Friend look at how industries such as brewing, pub supply chains, events and weddings can access the support that the Government have provided, such as through the grants and business rate holidays, so that they can protect their jobs and still be growing and thriving once this pandemic is beaten?
First, I refer to the answer I gave earlier about the universal nature of the package. Another such area that my hon. Friend did not mention is the fishing sector, which was particularly impacted not only through its supply of the restaurant trade but through its exports, which were also hit. We have listened to concerns there and put in some additional support. But the best way we will support businesses, whether in the wedding sector or elsewhere, is by getting the virus down. That is why we have taken the comprehensive measures that we have for the next four weeks. That is the best way to be able to open up these sectors and get the people who have been furloughed or supported through the self-employed scheme on to the job support scheme, where they will then qualify for further support from the furlough bonus..
For all the Minister’s sweet talking, the simple fact is that nearly eight months after the first lockdown was imposed, millions of self-employed people and small businesses are still being excluded from Government support. He has spoken approvingly today of comments in a recent Public Accounts Committee report, so may I draw his attention to the Committee’s 20th report of this Session, unanimously agreed by a Committee with a Conservative majority?
The report says:
“The Committee is disappointed that, so long after the beginning of the pandemic, HMRC has still not made sufficient use of its data to identify small businesses which have been left out of previous support packages, and therefore maximise taxpayer eligibility for grant support.”
Can the Minister not accept that the Committee’s disappointment reflects a view widely held among all parties in the House and that it is time for the excluded 3 million to be supported by actions, not just words?