Wednesday 11 November 2020
[Prayers were said by the Chaplain of the Speaker (Rev. Tricia Hillas).]
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Approaching the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I invite you to rise and be still to remember those who have died for their country in war.
In doing so we commit ourselves to work in penitence and faith for reconciliation between the nations, that all people may, together, live in freedom, justice and peace.
We pray for all who in bereavement, disability and pain continue to suffer the consequences of fighting and terror.
We remember with thanksgiving and sorrow those whose lives, in world wars and conflicts past and present, have been given and taken away.
Almighty and eternal God, from whose love we cannot be parted, either by death or life: hear our prayers and thanksgivings for all whom we remember this day; fulfil in them the purpose of your love; and bring us all, with them, to your eternal joy. Amen.
We will remember them.
The House observed a two-minute silence.
[Chaplain of the Speaker]
Ever-living God, we remember those whom you have gathered from the storm of war into the peace of your presence; may that same peace calm our fears, bring justice to all peoples and establish harmony among the nations. Amen.
God grant to the living grace, to the departed rest, to the Church, the Queen, the Commonwealth and all people, unity, peace and concord, and to us and all God’s servants, life everlasting; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
House of Commons
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—
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Today, on the 11th day of the 11th month, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on all aspects of how we support the entire country, including Scotland, through the covid crisis. The coronavirus job retention scheme has always been a UK-wide scheme, and it has now been extended until the end of March 2021, with employees across the UK receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.
May I associate myself and those on the SNP Benches with the comments of the Secretary of State?
At the last Scottish questions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) raised a very serious concern about levels of poverty when the job retention scheme ended. The Minister at the Dispatch Box said that November would be the right time to look at a targeted scheme, as if he had some magical powers of poverty prediction. Imagine our surprise, Mr Speaker, when the south of England went into full lockdown and the full force of furlough came back into force. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the notion of targeted is really targeted at the south of England, with a huge disrespect to Scotland and the rest of the devolved nations?
Absolutely not. The Prime Minister was clear from the get-go, following Cabinet on the Saturday when we discussed the new economic situation in England, that it was a UK-wide scheme. It is 80% for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a simple scheme and it is for our whole country and he has been absolutely clear about that from the start.
The UK Treasury has provided an up-front guarantee of £8.2 billion to the Scottish Government to help protect jobs and to help the Scottish Government tackle coronavirus, yet we are still to hear from the Scottish Government about where more than £2 billion of that funding is to be spent. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government need to provide details urgently about how they will use that funding to support Scots?
I agree with my hon. Friend. There has been substantial extra funding, guaranteed funding, to the Scottish Government—£8.2 billion, as he correctly identified. That is money received through the Barnett formula. The Scottish Government must not shirk their responsibility to be open and transparent about how that money is being spent. We need accountability so that the people of Scotland can judge whether it is being spent wisely.
The Minister has recently said that the job retention scheme will last into next year, but he has also said that there will be no referendums on Scotland’s future for a generation. The Edinburgh agreement, signed by a Tory Prime Minister, provided the legal framework for the 2014 referendum, so can the Minister quote me where it says in that agreement that there cannot be another referendum?
I commend the hon. Lady for trying to get a referendum into questions about the job retention scheme. While we are all fighting this pandemic and trying to secure and support people’s jobs, it beggars belief that the SNP carries on talking about independence referendums and about separation. I find it really quite disappointing. The answer to her question is that it was mentioned many times in the White Paper that the SNP Government produced in advance of that referendum. The words “once in a generation” were mentioned on a number of pages.
I thank the Minister for confirming that there is no legal basis for his assertion on the timing of a future referendum. Given that it was also agreed cross-party that nothing in the Smith commission prevents Scotland from becoming an independent country in the future, can he tell us whose decision is it whether Scotland has another referendum?
The extension of the furlough scheme demonstrated again how the UK Government continue to support jobs in all four nations of the United Kingdom, and we need that support and joint working to continue following the positive news about a potential covid-19 vaccine. Will the Secretary of State outline the work done between the Scottish Government and the UK Government to ensure that there is a seamless roll-out of this vaccine that has given us so much hope here in Scotland and across the UK.
We have invested more than £230 million in manufacturing any successful vaccine. The vaccines have been procured and paid for by the UK Government on behalf of everyone in the United Kingdom. Doses will be distributed fairly and across all parts of the United Kingdom according to population share.
A business operator in my constituency contacted me four days before furlough was supposed to end. He operates two bars in my constituency. As a responsible employer, he had kept on his 44 staff and taken on the debt from bounce back loans, but he was absolutely at the end of his tether with this Government and their last-minute decisions. Will the Secretary of State apologise to that business operator in my constituency for the severe stress that the Government’s dithering has caused him and for the distress that it has caused his employees, as well as to the many people who could not keep on their staff or who lost their jobs due to this Government’s incompetence?
The hon. Lady will recognise that this is a dynamic and unprecedented situation, and we have to take decisions as we see what is in front of us. The employers of those who lost their jobs after 23 September, but were in employment and furlough up until 23 September, are allowed to bring those employees back and put them on furlough.
Co-ordinated Response to Covid-19: Devolved Administrations
An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the UK. On 25 September, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on our collective approach to responding to covid-19. There are very regular meetings at both ministerial and officials levels.
The Scottish Affairs Committee described a deteriorating relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments on joined-up covid-19 policy making, with the main issue being trust. What work has the Secretary of State undertaken to improve awareness and understanding of devolution among Whitehall officials, so that policy makers have mutual understanding of the impact of decisions on each nation of the UK?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. As I said in my initial answer, there are very regular discussions between all Government Departments and devolved Administrations at many levels—be that in Health, Transport or Education. I think that there is a widespread understanding of the need to balance UK-wide interventions with allowing local flexibilities where circumstances dictate.
Will the Minister confirm or deny that taxpayers’ money is being used to employ consultants with the sole purpose of producing and promoting negative propaganda to encounter the increasingly successful campaign for Scottish independence? Is that not to the detriment of co-operation between the nations?
I join the Secretary of State in recognising that it is the 11th day of the 11th month, lest we forget those who gave their lives so that we could live freely today. We will always remember them.
I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his wonderful election in America. Given that in a recent poll 75% of Scots said that they would vote for Joe Biden, they have eventually got the Government they would have voted for.
The announcement this week of a potential covid vaccine is incredibly positive. While it certainly does not mean, of course, that we have reached the end of this crisis, it does perhaps signal some hope for the public. If the vaccine is approved, the country will face an unprecedented logistical challenge. If mass vaccination is to be done successfully, we will need all levels of government working together. However, a poll just yesterday found that two thirds of Scots were dissatisfied that the Scottish and UK Governments do not work together and a majority wanted closer co-operation. So can the Minister inform the House: what work are the UK and Scottish Governments undertaking together to build an infrastructure that will be able to distribute and administer any future vaccines to everyone?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. Referring to his initial comments, I was delighted that President-elect Biden spoke to our Prime Minister ahead of any other European country, contrary to what some of the naysayers in the media were predicting.
The hon. Gentleman’s substantial question is a very important one and it illustrates the extent to which the UK Government and the devolved Administrations can and should work together. The vaccine—as he said, we are not quite there yet, but it gives very strong hope—is purchased by the UK Government on behalf of the whole UK. The distribution, the prioritisation of the vaccine will be a matter for the devolved Administrations. However, we are in regular contact and stand ready to assist with any logistics that will be required to make sure that it is distributed on the basis of clinical priority and not any other needs.
I appreciate what the Minister said, but I think the public would look on it very unfavourably if both Governments did not work together to ensure that this vaccine is distributed.
But we also must not lose sight of today’s challenges. While the Chancellor’s latest plan to extend furlough until March is very welcome, there remain millions of people across the UK and in Scotland who have not received any support as lockdowns continue. The 3 million taxpayers excluded from Government support include countless self-employed, pay-as-you-earn freelancers, and many, many others. It is understandable that there may have been some cracks in hastily designed schemes announced in March, but not to fix those and to continue to exclude millions from any support is inexcusable. I raised this with the Secretary of State in this House on 1 July and 7 October, so, for the third time: will the Scotland Office demand that the Chancellor reconsiders and provides support to those taxpayers left without any help from this Government?
The hon. Gentleman’s question would have greater potency if furlough was indeed the only scheme that was available, but a wide range of support is available for businesses and individuals across the UK, including bounce back loans, tax deferrals, mortgage holidays and the like. In addition, the Chancellor has provided to the Scottish Government unprecedented levels of support, going up by an additional £1 billion. It is up to the Scottish Government, if they wish to provide additional support over and above the UK-wide schemes, to ensure that they have the resources to do so.
Order. Can I just say that I am very concerned that the question was a substantive question that was within this grouping? The problem is that the grouping is not good, but it was the Government who put the grouping together. So I think the Minister ought to try to see if he could answer the question from Allan Dorans, because it is within that section.
If I remember the question correctly, it was, “Are we spending taxpayers’ money on fighting the independence referendum?” My answer to that is that we do not wish another independence referendum. The last thing that the people of Scotland need, and businesses and jobs in Scotland need, is the uncertainty that another independence referendum would create.
Voluntary and Community Organisations: Funding
I regularly meet Scottish Ministers to discuss matters of importance to Scotland. Funding for the voluntary sector and community organisations in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the enormous work that charities and voluntary organisations do, in Scotland and the UK, to support our communities through this very challenging period.
Charities and social enterprises are never more needed across the UK, but may I correct the Minister? The Government put forward a fund of £60 million for charities within the devolved authorities, so I would like to know how much the Scottish charities have received from that fund and what representations he has made for its extension, because charities are never more in need.
The funding that is given to the Scottish Government does not necessarily have to be used exactly for those purposes. They can supplement that as well out of the general funds that are transferred—the £8.2 billion. I am very happy to look into how that money is being spent, and I refer back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) made about the questions over how the £2 billion has been spent.
I join the Minister on behalf of those on this side of the House in praising the voluntary sector and charities across Scotland, which have stepped up to support so many people right across the nation. At the same time, however, charities face an existential financial crisis. The Minister will be aware that a report earlier this year from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator found that a fifth of Scottish charities were facing uncertainty because of poor finances over the next 12 months. With new restrictions now coming in across Scotland in different phases, will the Minister commit to working with the Secretary of State, with Scottish Ministers and, importantly, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that these voluntary sector organisations get any additional funding that they may need to support the people of Scotland during the pandemic?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right, and I have had a number of meetings with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations and they have an unprecedented leadership challenge. One of them put to me the analogy that they are trying to fix the wings of an aircraft when it is in flight. There is an enormous challenge on all of us, whether in government, in the charities themselves or in the private sector, to work closely together and for us to help them through this and for them to help us to rebuild our economy and society better than when we went into this period.
Economic Support: Covid-19
Am I answering David Mundell’s question?
There are many different ways that the Government can provide economic support to Scottish businesses during covid-19. For the Scotch whisky industry, the biggest help in retaining jobs and supporting its businesses would be for the Government to resolve the US tariffs dispute, rather than escalate it by applying further retaliatory tariffs. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on this vital issue for Scottish businesses and jobs?
To answer my right hon. Friend’s question, the Secretary of State for International Trade last night had a Zoom call with MPs from across the House, and I know that she stressed that the UK Government are determined to settle this issue as soon as possible and to mitigate the effects for those who are impacted by it. In short, we continue to raise the issue with the highest levels of the US Administration.
Strengthening the Union
The good news is I did bring this answer with me. This Government have always stressed the importance of the Union. The UK is a family of nations that shares social, cultural and economic ties that together make us far safer, more secure and more prosperous. As we have seen throughout the covid crisis, it is the economic strength of the Union and our commitment to the sharing and pooling of resources that has supported jobs and businesses throughout Scotland. It is the strength of our Union that will enable us to rebuild our economy following the crisis.
I am delighted to hear the Secretary of State supports the Union. The Prime Minister’s review into boosting transport links across the country is very welcome. Does the Secretary of State agree that this review into quality transport links will go a long way to levelling up economic opportunity wherever we are in the UK?
There are no flies on my hon. Friend—he spotted that I am a Unionist and he has been able to highlight the importance of improving transport links. That is why I am so disappointed that the Scottish Government are not engaging in Sir Peter Hendy’s review of connectivity across our United Kingdom. That attitude is letting down the people of Scotland, who would benefit from those improvements.
My great grandfather served in the infantry regiment of the Argyll and Sutherland. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commemorating all those Scottish servicemen who fought in the British Army for the freedom of the United Kingdom and the world, and in thanking servicemen and women today in Scotland who are engaged in our fight against the virus?
I represent a constituency that is geographically distant from Scotland, but I know people from Scotland who have made East Devon their home. They, like me, believe we are stronger together and cherish our precious Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK Government’s efforts during the pandemic—not least the furlough scheme and the £8.2 billion to Scottish public services—show that we have a common drive to defeat the virus, whether in Edinburgh or Exeter, and the SNP needs to focus on delivery, not division?
The Union connectivity review that I referred to earlier and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will both promote the economic ties that my hon. Friend refers to. They will protect vital trading links and improve transport links.
The Secretary of State is doing such a fantastic job of strengthening the Union that support for independence is at a historic high and has been at a sustained majority all year. Saying no to a majority in Scotland is only going to drive support for independence even higher. Apparently, he was only joking when he said that there would be no indyref for 40 years, just after John Major said that there would be two referendums in the next few years. The Secretary of State is renowned for his legendary wit and humour, but the Scottish people are not finding this democracy denial funny anymore. What is the difference between denying a majority in the Trump White House and denying a majority in the Scotland Office?
That is quite a tenuous link, but I will answer the question. To be quite simple, my belief is that we should stick to the referendum from 2014 and respect it. It was very clear—the SNP said it at the time —that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum. I do not believe that we should go into a process of neverendums, which are divisive, unsettling and bad for jobs in Scotland. We should respect democracy, and that is what I am doing—democracy that was handed out by the Scottish people in 2014.
The Prime Minister described last December’s general election as “once-in-a-generation”, but I hope the Secretary of State is not suggesting that there will not be another one for 40 years. He seems to think that the way to strengthen the Union is by forcing a hard Brexit on Scotland against our will, taking an axe to devolution with the internal market Bill and denying any democratic choice on Scotland’s future until adults like me are dead. On that basis, does he think that the best recipe for a happy marriage is to lock up the wife, take away her chequebook and just keep refusing a divorce?
No, I think that it is quite straightforward. I think that people should respect democracy, as I said in my previous answer to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). We are respecting democracy. We are acknowledging this is once in a generation; we do not believe Scotland should be thrown on to the uncertainty of neverendums. It is very straight- forward: a generation, by any calculation, is 25 years and, frankly, SNP Members just have to accept that and focus on what matters, which is recovering from this pandemic and us all pulling together.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who sadly passed away on Saturday. His leadership had a profound impact on our whole country and across the world. May his memory be a blessing.
This morning, I attended the service at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the tomb of the unknown warrior. Armistice Day allows us to give thanks to all those who have served, and continue to serve, and those who have given their lives in service of this country.
According to Home Office figures, just 12% of Windrush victims have received compensation and nine people have died waiting. This is two and a half years after the Windrush taskforce was set up. What will the Government do and what will the Prime Minister do both to rectify this injustice and to ensure that no others who have come to the UK to live and work suffer in the same way as the Windrush victims?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. What happened to the Windrush generation was a disgrace and a scandal, and we are doing our best collectively to make amends. I can tell her I have met members of that generation, and this Government are taking steps to accelerate the payments and to make sure that those who are in line with payments are given every opportunity and all the information they need to avail themselves of the compensation that they deserve.
Yes, indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she does to champion that cause. We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are under attack as well. We will continue to work closely with like-minded partners to stand up for members of such marginalised communities.
May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Jonathan Sacks? May I also send all our thoughts to those affected by the terrible events in Saudi Arabia this morning? May I welcome the victory of President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris—a new era of decency, integrity and compassion in the White House? May I also welcome the fantastic news about a possible breakthrough in the vaccine? It is early days, but this will give hope to millions of people that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Today is Armistice Day, and I am sure the whole House will join me in praising the remarkable work of the veterans charities such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion. Like many other charities, Help for Heroes has seen a significant drop in its funding during this pandemic, and it is now having to take very difficult decisions about redundancies and keeping open recovery centres for veterans. So can the Prime Minister commit today that the Government will do whatever they can to make sure our armed forces charities have the support that they need so that they can carry on supporting our veterans?
I echo entirely what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says about Help for Heroes; it is a quite remarkable charity and does wonderful things for veterans. In these difficult times, many charities are, of course, finding it tough, and in addition to what the Government are doing to support charities through cutting business rates on their premises and cutting VAT on their shops, I urge everybody wherever possible to make online contributions to charities that are currently struggling.
I thank the Prime Minister for his reply. The truth is the Chancellor’s package for forces charities was just £6 million during this pandemic, and that is just not sufficient. May I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider that support on their behalf, because at the same time we have all seen this weekend that the Government can find £670,000 for PR consultants? And that is the tip of the iceberg: new research today shows that the Government have spent at least £130 million of taxpayers’ money on PR companies, and that is in this year alone. Does the Prime Minister think that is a reasonable use of taxpayers’ money?
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to the vaccines taskforce, and after days in which the Labour party has attacked the vaccines taskforce, I think it might be in order for him to pay tribute to it for securing 40 million doses. By the way, the expenditure to which he refers was to help to raise awareness of vaccines, to fight the anti-vaxxers and to persuade the people of this country—300,000—to take part in trials without which we cannot have vaccines. So I think he should take it back.
Nobody is attacking individuals—everybody is supporting the vaccine—but £130 million, Prime Minister: there is a real question about the way that contracts are being awarded and about basic transparency and accountability. I know the Prime Minister does not like that, but this is not the Prime Minister’s money; it is taxpayers’ money. The Prime Minister may well not know the value of the pound in his pocket, but the people who send us here do, and they expect us to spend it wisely.
Let me illustrate an example of the Government’s lax attitude to taxpayers’ money. Earlier this year, the Government paid about £150 million to a company called Ayanda Capital to deliver face masks. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many usable face masks were actually provided to NHS workers on the frontline under that contract?
We are in the middle of a global pandemic in which this Government have so far secured and delivered 32 billion items of personal protective equipment; and, yes, it is absolutely correct that it has been necessary to work with the private sector and with manufacturers who provide such equipment, some of them more effectively than others, but it is the private sector that in the end makes the PPE, it is the private sector that provides the testing equipment, and it is the private sector that, no matter how much the Labour party may hate it, provides the vaccines and the scientific breakthroughs.
The answer is none: not a single face mask—at a cost of £150 million. That is not an isolated example. We already know that consultants are being paid £7,000 a day to work on test and trace, and a company called Randox has been given a contract, without process, for £347 million; that is the same company that had to recall 750,000 unused covid tests earlier this summer on safety grounds.
There is a sharp contrast between the way the Government spray money at companies that do not deliver and their reluctance to provide long-term support to businesses and working people at the sharp end of this crisis. The Chancellor spent months saying that extending furlough was
“not the kind of certainty that British businesses or British workers need”—[Official Report, 24 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 1157]—
only then to do a U-turn at the last minute. Yesterday’s unemployment figures show the cost of that delay: redundancies up by a record 181,000 in the last quarter. What is the Prime Minister’s message to those who have lost their jobs because of the Chancellor’s delay?
With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he knows full well that the furlough programme has continued throughout this pandemic. It went right the way through to October; it is now going through to March. It is one of the most generous programmes in the world, with 80% of income supported by this Government and an overall package of £210 billion going in to support jobs, families and livelihoods throughout this country. I think this country can be very proud of the way we have looked after the entire population, and we are going to continue to do so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind that the net effect of those furlough programmes—all the provision that we have made—is disproportionately beneficial for the poorest and neediest in society, which is what one nation Conservatism is all about.
The Prime Minister must know that because the furlough was not extended until the last minute, thousands of people were laid off. The figures tell a different story: redundancies, as I say, at a record high of 181,000; 780,000 off the payroll since March; the Office for National Statistics saying unemployment is rising sharply—so much for putting their arms around everybody. The trouble is that the British people are paying the price for the mistakes of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. If they had handed contracts to companies that could deliver, public money would have been saved. If they had extended furlough sooner, jobs would have been saved. If they had brought in a circuit breaker when the science said so, lives would have been saved.
Let me deal with another mistake. The Chancellor has repeatedly failed to close gaps in support for the self-employed. Millions are affected by this. It is bad enough to have made that mistake in March, but seven months on, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the scheme remains—its words—
“wasteful and badly targeted for the self-employed”.
The Institute of Directors says:
“Many self-employed…continue to be left out in the cold.”
After seven months and so many warnings, why are the Chancellor and the Prime Minister still failing our self-employed?
Unquestionably, this pandemic has been hard on the people of this country, and unquestionably there are people who have suffered throughout the pandemic and people whose livelihoods have suffered, but we have done everything that we possibly can to help. As for the self-employed, 2.6 million of them have received support, at a cost of £13 billion—quite right. We have also, of course, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, uprated universal credit. That will continue until next year. He now champions universal credit, by the way, and calls for its uprating to be extended. He stood on a manifesto to abolish universal credit.
The Prime Minister just doesn’t get it. I know very well that the self-employment income support scheme has been extended, but the Prime Minister must know that that scheme simply does not apply to millions of self-employed people. They have been left out for seven months.
There is a real human cost to this. This week on LBC, I spoke to a self-employed photographer called Chris. He said to me:
“Our…industry has been devastated… Three million of us that have fallen through the cracks… Our businesses are falling—absolutely falling—and crashing each day.”
He asked me to raise that with the Chancellor. I will do the next best thing. What would the Prime Minister say to Chris and millions like him who are desperately waiting for the Chancellor to address this injustice?
What I would say to Chris—and what I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the whole country—is the best way to get his job working again, the best way to get this country back on its feet, is to continue on the path that we are driving the virus down. It is a week since we entered into the tough autumn measures that we are now in. I am grateful to the people of this country for the sacrifices that they are making, and I am particularly grateful to the people of Liverpool and elsewhere—tens of thousands of people in Liverpool are taking part in the mass testing work that is going on there. It is fantastic news that we now have the realistic prospect of a vaccine.
Science has given us two big boxing gloves, as it were, with which to pummel this virus, but neither of them is capable of delivering a knockout blow on its own. That is why this country needs to continue to work hard, to keep discipline and to observe the measures that we have put in. I am grateful for the support that the Labour party is now giving for those measures. That is the way to do it: hands, face, space; follow the guidance, protect the NHS and save lives.
Absolutely; I thank my hon. Friend. I can tell him that the landmark Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill receives Royal Assent today, thanks to this House, paving the way for the fulfilling of our manifesto commitment to end free movement and have a new, fair points-based immigration system—one of the advantages of leaving the European Union that the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) would of course like to reverse.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the death of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks? This being Armistice Day, we commemorate the day 102 years ago on the eleventh hour of the eleventh month when the guns fell silent and all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in conflict since then. I also want to send our best wishes to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on winning the election in north America. I look forward to the leadership they will show on the issues of climate change and fighting back against covid among other things.
The figures published by the Office for National Statistics yesterday demonstrate what the SNP has been warning about for months: that the UK faces a growing Tory unemployment crisis. It is now beyond doubt that the Chancellor’s last-minute furlough U-turn came far too late for thousands who have already lost their jobs as a result of Tory cuts, delays and dither. UK unemployment has now risen to 4.8%. Redundancies are at a record high and nearly 800,000 fewer people are in employment. To support those who have lost their incomes, will the Prime Minister now commit to making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent and to extending it to legacy benefits, so that no one—no one, Prime Minister—is left behind?
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman, the leader of the Scottish nationalists is now supporting universal credit. He was opposed to it at the last election. Yes, of course that uplift continues until March. I am delighted to say that the furlough scheme is being extended right the way through to March as well. That will support people across our whole United Kingdom, protecting jobs and livelihoods across the whole UK in exactly the way that he and I would both want.
May I respectfully say to the Prime Minister that the idea is that he tries to answer the question that has been put to him? It is shameful that the Prime Minister still refuses to give a commitment to the £20 uprating of universal credit. The SNP will continue to demand a permanent U-turn on Tory plans to cut universal credit.
Another group who have been left behind by this Prime Minister are the 3 million people who have been completely excluded from UK Government support. Since the start of this crisis, the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to lift a finger to help those families. In the run-up to Christmas, those forgotten millions will be among those who are struggling to get by and are worried about their future. Will the Prime Minister finally fix the serious gaps in his support schemes to help the excluded, or will he make it a bitter winter for millions of families across the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman knows, I hope, that we are not only continuing with the uprating of universal credit until next year, but we have invested £210 billion in jobs and livelihoods. We have also just brought forward a winter support package for the poorest and neediest: supporting young people and kids who need school meals, and supporting people throughout our society throughout the tough period of covid, as I think the entire country would expect. That is the right thing to do and we will continue to do it.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard my hon. Friend’s words. I thank him for what he said; he is quite right to champion regional airports and the aviation business. The Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility is helping to support the airlines’ current liquidity problems, with the sector drawing down £1.8 billion in support. The Department for Transport is also looking at giving bespoke support to particular regional airports to keep them going in these tough times.
On the contrary, the UK Government are continuing to support all parts of the UK. We will now, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have the opportunity to fund projects with our own money, rather than siphoning it through Brussels. The quantum will be identical and, in addition, through the Barnett formula, the UK Government have already given the Welsh Government £2.4 billion in capital funding alone this year.
While we are rightly focused on battling covid, we should not ignore humanitarian injustices and the plight of persecuted minorities. On Remembrance Sunday, 82 year-old Mahboob Ahmad Khan was shot dead, the fourth Ahmadi recently slain in Peshawar. His crime under Pakistani law: to call himself an Ahmadi Muslim, whose creed is love for all, hatred for none. Does my right hon. Friend agree that hatred preached in Pakistan ends up on the streets of Britain and that it is in the interests of our own security that Her Majesty’s Government should make it clear to Pakistan that state-supported persecution must end?
I agree passionately with my hon. Friend. I can tell him that that is why the Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth recently raised this very issue with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister and we urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all their citizens.
The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point. One of the things that we are looking at, together with local authorities and the Welsh tourist authorities, is ways of making sure that we keep a tourist season going throughout the tough winter months.
All I can say is that the more intensively we together follow the rules and the more we follow the guidance in this tough period leading up to 2 December, the bigger the chance collectively we will have of as normal a Christmas as possible and getting things open in time for Christmas as well.
We are looking into the issue of repeat calls, but to say that the test and trace system has been a waste of time and money, which I think is what I heard the hon. Member say—I could not disagree more. It has enabled us to locate where the disease is surging, to take appropriate measures and to allow people in huge numbers to get tested. More people have been tested in this country than in any other country in Europe. The PCR tests that NHS Test and Trace is conducting are of real value in fighting the disease, and now we are rolling out the lateral flow rapid turnaround tests as well.
Yes, indeed I urge York council and councils across the land to take up the offer of mass lateral flow testing—it is a very exciting possibility. It is, as I said, one of the boxing gloves we hope to wield to pummel this disease into submission—the other is the prospect of a vaccine—and that is what we will do continuously throughout the weeks and months ahead. But I must stress that the way to get ourselves in the best position to achieve that is to make the current restrictions work so that we can come out well, back into the tiers on 2 December.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a subject in which I have a keen interest, because I had a wonderful morning on that crab boat where there were fantastic, prodigious quantities of crabs that, as I recollect, were being sold to China. I will make sure that the Home Secretary is immediately seized of the matter and that we take it forward. That is one of the things that we are now able to do thanks to taking back control of our immigration system, which, alas, his party opposed for so long and would reverse if it could.
Yes. One of the many merits of the excellent conversation I had yesterday with President-elect Joe Biden was that we were strongly agreed on the need once again for the United Kingdom and the United States to stand together and stick up for our values around the world: to stick up for human rights, to stick up for global free trade, to stick up for NATO and to work together in the fight against climate change. It was refreshing, I may say, to have that conversation, and I look forward to many more.
I had, and have, a good relationship with the previous President. I do not resile from that—it is the duty of all British Prime Ministers to have a good relationship with the White House—but I am delighted to find the many areas in which are the incoming Biden-Harris Administration are able to make common cause with us. In particular, it was extremely exciting to talk to President-elect Biden about what he wants to do with the COP26 summit next year, in which the UK is leading the world in driving down carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
This Armistice Day, restrictions mean that we cannot mark the occasion with services as we normally would. However, in Heywood and Middleton, veterans associations are following the guidance to mark the day in a covid-safe way. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in praising them, the Royal British Legion and, indeed, all those across the United Kingdom who are doing their best to ensure that we can pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice?
Yes indeed. It was really impressive to see the way the Royal British Legion organised covid-secure memorials across the country in the way that it did. As we salute our veterans, I just want to remind the House that we have launched a new railcard for our veterans and their families that will entitle them to substantial reductions in rail fares, and that we are introducing a national insurance break for employers of veterans in their first year of employment.
Of course we publish all contracts, and quite right. I would just respectfully remind the hon. Lady, as I reminded the Leader of the Opposition earlier, that it is absolutely necessary in a massive global pandemic to work with those in the private sector, not to scorn them or despise them, and to understand that it is they who make the PPE and the tests. Indeed, it is thanks to the researches of giant conglomerates—which Labour would break up if it could—that we have the possibility of a vaccine.
On Armistice Day, as we remember those who gave their lives for our country and those who still serve, will the Prime Minister give a positive response to the “Living in our shoes: understanding the needs of UK Armed Forces families” report on making life better for our armed forces families? These wonderful people put up with more separation, moving of family homes and worry about the safety of their loved ones than anyone else, and looking after them should be a national priority.
Our armed services simply could not function without the support of their families, and I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to raise this issue and for the comprehensive piece of research that he refers to. We are making good progress on increasing childcare provision for armed services families and on our support for employment of partners of members of the armed services.
Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers
As we look ahead to the winter months, it is vital that we work together to prevent increases in homelessness and rough sleeping. The Government have set out unprecedented support on this issue, dedicating over £700 million to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone. Our work on rough sleeping has been shown not only to be world leading but to have saved hundreds of lives. We are dedicated to continuing to protect vulnerable people in this period of restrictions and through the winter months.
We used the summer to work with local authorities on individual local plans for the coming months. Last week, the Prime Minister announced the Protect programme —the next step in our ongoing, targeted support for rough sleepers. That will provide a further £15 million, ensuring that support is in place for areas that need it most, and addressing the housing and health challenges for rough sleepers during this period of national restrictions. That is on top of the £10 million cold weather fund, available to all councils to provide rough sleepers with safe accommodation over the coming months. That means that all local areas will be eligible for support this winter. It builds on the success of the ongoing Everyone In campaign in September. We have successfully supported over 29,000 people, with over 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. Nearly 19,000 people have been provided with settled accommodation or move-on support. We continue to help to move people on from emergency accommodation with the Next Steps accommodation programme.
On 17 September, we announced NSAP allocations to local authorities, to pay for immediate support and to ensure that people do not return to the streets, and £91.5 million was allocated to 274 councils across England. On 29 October, we announced allocations to local partners to deliver long-term move-on accommodation. More than 3,300 new long-term homes for rough sleepers across the country have been approved, subject to due diligence, backed by more than £150 million. We are committed to tackling homelessness, and firmly believe that no one should be without a roof over their head.
Throughout the pandemic, we have established an unprecedented package of support to protect renters, which remains in place. That includes legislating through the Coronavirus Act 2020 on delays as to when landlords can evict tenants and a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court. We have quickly and effectively introduced more than £9 billion of measures in 2020-21 that benefit those facing financial disruption during the current situation. The measures include increasing universal and working tax credit by £1,040 a year for 12 months and significant investment in local housing allowance of nearly £1 billion. As further support for renters this winter, we have asked bailiffs not to carry out evictions during national restrictions in England, except in the most serious of circumstances. As the pandemic evolves, we will continue working closely with local authorities, the sector and across Government to support the most vulnerable from this pandemic. These measures further demonstrate our commitment to assist the most vulnerable in society.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. The Minister’s words and the Prime Minister’s order last week to stay home will ring hollow for people with no home. In March, the Government told councils and charities that they should try to bring rough sleepers in, and the extraordinary effort prevented thousands of infections, more than 1,000 hospital admissions and 266 deaths. But now the Government’s rough sleeping tsar is no longer in post and she has warned that we are facing a “perfect storm of awfulness”. Many of those brought off the streets have returned and thousands more are newly homeless, with a record high 50% increase in young people sleeping rough since last year in London alone.
What has changed since March? It is colder, and the cold weather fund is lower than it was last year. So can the Minister tell the House why the Government have lowered their ambition? Their plan provides neither the leadership nor the funding to ensure all rough sleepers have a covid-secure place; £15 million in funding will be given not to all councils, but only to the 10 with the highest rough sleeping rates. Seventeen health and homelessness organisations wrote to the Prime Minister to warn against the use of night shelters as not covid-safe. Why have the Government refused to publish the Public Health England advice on this decision? The plan makes no reference to people with no recourse to public funds. Instead there is a rule change so that rough sleeping will lead to deportation. Does the Minister agree that it is immoral for people to be deported for sleeping rough?
On Armistice Day, will the Minister ensure that the Government record whether homeless people have a service record, so that we can get an accurate picture of the scale and need of those who have served our country?
Finally, the homelessness crisis is the result of 10 years of Tory failure, so will the Minister now commit to abolishing section 21 evictions, as the Government said they would, to prevent a further rise in homelessness, and invest in the support and social housing we need so that we can genuinely end rough sleeping for good?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I hope she recognises, and I think she did at the beginning, that this Government have put £700 million into homelessness and rough sleeping support this year alone. That is unprecedented support, and it is decisive action that this Government took in dealing with the covid crisis. Although I strongly object to the fact that many have returned to the streets, we were working on this plan in the summer with local authorities in order to work out what the next steps would be after the Everyone In programme. As I outlined in my opening answer, more than £266 million is being provided to local authorities in order to provide move-on and next-step accommodation, with more than £150 million of that invested in long-term support and accommodation for rough sleepers.
To pick up on the point about the winter allowance being lower than last year, this must be taken in the context of the unprecedented amount of funding that the Government have provided in this area, in order to protect those individuals who were at threat of homelessness and rough sleeping throughout the pandemic. Indeed, a £10 million winter fund is available to all local authorities throughout the country, but it is right that the £15 million fund that was announced last year—the Protect programme—is focused on the areas in which there is the most need. We are working intensively, not only with those first-wave initial boroughs with the highest level of rough sleeping but in collaboration with all local authorities throughout the United Kingdom, in order to understand the challenges they face and the needs they have.
On the point about no recourse to public funds, I would like to make the hon. Lady aware that the rules of eligibility for immigration status, including for those with no recourse to public funds, has not changed. Local authorities are able to use their judgment when assessing the support that can lawfully be provided in relation to those individuals and their individual needs: this is already happening, as it does with extreme weather and where there is a potential risk to life. Local authorities provide basic support for care needs that do not solely arise from destitution, whether for migrants who have severe health problems or for families where the wellbeing of children is involved. Also, it is just not true that we are deporting individuals who are rough sleeping.
I will also pick up on the point about veterans. I am very pleased to be standing here on Armistice Day, and am pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted the plight of our veterans. Our veterans play a vital role in keeping our country safe, and we are committed to ensuring that we are able to provide them with the support they need to adjust back into civilian life. The duty to refer in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 states that public authorities are required to, with individual consent, refer
“former members of the regular armed forces”
to their local housing associations. There are a number of support services available, including Veterans’ Gateway and online, web and telephone resources for veterans, through which they can access a housing specialist who has up-to-date information on any vacancies that are available. In June of this year, we announced new measures to ensure that access to social housing is improved for members of our armed forces.
Mr Speaker, our Protect programme will protect vulnerable individuals from the threat of rough sleeping during the restriction process and into the winter, and tackle some of the health issues they are experiencing.
The Everyone In programme ensured that homeless people and rough sleepers had a roof over their head during the pandemic, and I welcome the Protect programme initiative. However, it is vital that our solutions are also long-term and sustainable. I welcomed the roll-out of the three-year Housing First pilot in Greater Manchester, and the recent announcement of 3,300 units of move-on accommodation for rough sleepers. Would my hon. Friend also consider bringing forward future funding allocations so that local authorities, mental health charities and agencies that are able to offer wraparound support can have the certainty they need to ensure the success of these initiatives?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the wraparound services that organisations within local authorities provide to some of those individuals who are experiencing complex issues, such as substance misuse and mental health concerns. I am grateful that she highlighted the Housing First pilot projects, and we are encouraging and working with local authorities to get individuals who need such support into that programme.
I will also work hard to make sure that we are able to develop and work with local authorities to assist them to provide the local services and wraparound support that those individuals need. It is not just a home they need; they need the support services around them, and I am determined to be able to do that.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) on securing this urgent question. This feels like groundhog day, with the Government yet again in the spotlight for their decision to withdraw prematurely the protections and support for the most vulnerable people during a second wave of covid. In recent weeks, they have had to U-turn on providing free school meals and on extending furlough. I rather suspect that, quite soon, they will have to U-turn on providing more support for people who have been left homeless.
Thankfully, in Scotland, we have a Government with a bit more foresight than this bungling British Government, who reek of incompetence and chaos every single day. The SNP Government in Scotland have extended the ban on evictions until March, and we have committed to looking to extend that further to September if the evidence shows a clear need. Will the Minister do likewise?
I am appalled by the reports that the British Government plan to deport non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough. That is a totally inhumane policy, devoid of any compassion and fairness, even by this Conservative Government’s standards. Will they now urgently reinstate the pause on asylum evictions so that communities and individuals who we know are at greater risk of covid-19 are not put at increased risk?
Finally, has the Minister’s Department ever received any advice from Public Health England or, indeed, health directors about the risks to black and minority ethnic people being left homeless? If so, will she publish it? If not, why has she not commissioned it?
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but he is completely incorrect in relation to this Government’s ongoing support for rough sleepers during the pandemic. We carried out an unprecedented and world-leading programme in Everyone In, we worked with local authorities constructively and intensively to develop programmes for the continuation of that support through Next Steps and Move On, and we secured accommodation. This Protect programme is the next step within that, and it is the Government taking quick action for what is now required within the restricted period and into the winter fund.
We announced the winter fund only a couple of weeks ago, and now we are on the Protect programme, so it is absolutely incorrect and completely wrong to suggest that this Government have not been taking the issue seriously and have not put the resources where they are needed. I have been determined over recent weeks, as the Minister, to make sure we have local authority by local authority checks on what is happening, looking at the local interactions on the ground.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) is categorically incorrect to say that we are deporting EU nationals who are sleeping rough. That is not what is happening, as he knows. In actual fact, we have been working with local authorities on the support and offer they can give to immigrants with no recourse to public funds at local level. Quite rightly, my colleagues in the Home Office and I are working through many issues that affect a number of different people.
I must also point out that all these individuals are different. Every individual has specific needs, and it is right that we work intensively with local authorities to make sure those individual needs are considered.
I welcome the measures and the very significant funding that the Minister has announced today. Does she agree that it is important to take the same kind of approach as that taken by Rugby Borough Council through its preventing homelessness and improving lives programme? That has made a tremendous difference to local families at risk of homelessness through early intervention by a dedicated support team, working with those who are vulnerable to prepare a plan to avoid a crisis situation later.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is by the good practice of councils such as Rugby Borough Council and programmes of that nature that they are able to work with those families and individuals before there is a need for them to sleep rough or become homeless—it is prevention. We know that since we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act, that has had a significant impact in many parts of the country. I am pleased that we are determined and committed to make sure we implement that even further and work with local authorities to get better results.
First, congratulations are due on the efforts that were made to get rough sleepers off the streets from March onwards. Great work was done by councils with voluntary organisations and with good support financially from the Government as well. The real pressure on councils now, I am told by my own city of Sheffield, is from people presenting as homeless from the private rented sector. An increase has led Sheffield City Council, which is very good at dealing with these matters, to have 80 families now in hotels and another 200 in temporary accommodation. That will cost the council around £500,000 extra in this financial year. If dealing with homelessness has to be a priority for councils, which certainly it should be, will the Minister make it a priority for Government to make sure that councils have the extra resources they need directly to continue delivering the services that people in the private rented sector will need in the coming, very trying months?
I thank the hon. Member for his comments and articulation of the work that has been done by the Government and many local authorities and the voluntary and charitable sector in the covid-19 pandemic. He is absolutely right that we need to monitor and make sure we are working intensively with local authorities to understand the needs and the challenges. That is why we are working with local authorities to provide plans, that is why we have put in the Next Steps funding, to provide that Move On and Next Steps accommodation support. We will continue that work through the winter and evaluate any impacts that we are seeing through the covid pandemic. We need to bear in mind that we have also provided councils with over £6 billion in funding to deal with some of the issues that are coming out of the covid pandemic.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment and on attending the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness within days and answering our questions. I also congratulate the Government on a brilliant job in pulling rough sleepers off the streets and putting them into secure accommodation. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the problem now is that every case of homelessness is a unique one. Many people who have been rough sleeping have physical and mental health problems, and they are also probably addicted to drink, drugs or other substances, so it is vital that we roll out the Housing First initiative from the pilot sites throughout the country and also fully fund my Homelessness Reduction Act when the funding for it comes to an end. Will she therefore commit to rolling out Housing First across the country and to ensuring that local authorities are fully funded for their duties under my Act?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and it was a pleasure to attend the APPG. I also thank him for his work in this area, for which he is a passionate advocate. Housing First is a great pilot, and we have continued to make sure that we can get individuals through those schemes, even during the pandemic. We are working with those sites to make sure that we can maximise that funding and that pilot to get the data and information. I am very supportive of the Housing First programme, and I would very much like to extend it. That is something that we will be working on in Government. I am committed to making sure that the Homelessness Reduction Act is implemented fully, and we will have further discussions about the funding to be able to deliver on that.
A street homelessness reduction programme is not world leading if the numbers sleeping rough on our streets are rising. It is shocking that the number of young people sleeping rough on our streets is now at a record high. What will the Minister do to ensure that homelessness prevention services offer appropriate support to young people with particular needs, such as young prison leavers?
I refute the assumption that rough sleeping numbers are increasing because of the action taken during the pandemic. If we look at the snapshot, we see that in actual fact at September there was a significant reduction in rough sleeping compared with last year. We have been working hard with local authorities in order that everyone who had been brought on to the Everyone In scheme has stayed in emergency accommodation or moved on to Next Steps accommodation. We are working hard to make sure that those numbers are reducing.
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point about young people, their particular needs and the threat of becoming homeless. I am working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice on how we can further support offenders. I have a particular interest in young people and care leavers, and we are investigating what other measures we can put in place to support them when they are at threat of homelessness.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to £311,000 for the borough of Gedling for local secure-accommodation schemes for people at risk of sleeping on the street. Does my hon. Friend agree that this funding is a significant step forward towards fulfilling our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024? Will she join me in thanking all those in Gedling who have worked so hard to get vulnerable people into safe, secure accommodation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment and pay tribute to those not only in his constituency but throughout the country who are working and have worked incredibly hard over the summer and through the pandemic to make sure that those individuals have had the help and support they require. He is absolutely right that this funding is part of our next steps to reach our target and make sure that we tackle some of the issues and develop the accommodation to house some of the most vulnerable in our society.
I am sure the Minister would agree that a number of homelessness charities have warned that tens of thousands of young people have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic. Many of these young people work in hospitality, so they have not had a job for many months. They are struggling to support themselves financially and make up the bulk of people in insecure accommodation. The Government’s decision to bring forward the eviction ban was welcome, but it is not working, so will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to ensure that the ban is properly enforced? The Minister said she would work with bailiffs to stop the evictions, but the reality on the ground is that that is not happening. What concrete steps will there be to protect people from enforcement?
The hon. Lady highlights the plight of young people and the particular challenges that they face during the pandemic because of the types of work and sectors they are involved in. It is true that we have placed a ban on evictions and, before the announcement of the restrictions for this month, evictions were not taking place in areas in tier 3. That is obviously the case for this month, and we are also saying that no evictions should be taking place from 11 December into January. We are working with our colleagues in the MOJ, but I must highlight the fact that we have given a six-month stay on those proceedings and only the most egregious cases will be taken forward. We will keep that under review, as the House would imagine, and make sure that we monitor it. If the hon. Lady is referring to particular circumstances, I would be interested to see the detail and I will happily communicate with her directly in respect of any individual circumstances.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment? The Rochester by-election feels like a lifetime ago.
The Government have a golden opportunity, having supported 29,000 people this year, to achieve their ambition of ending rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament. Will my hon. Friend commit to ensuring not only that those who have been helped will continue to get support, but that anyone at risk in the coming months will have the support that they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said and it is a pleasure to be answering his question. He is absolutely right. Throughout the pandemic, we have been working with local authorities on an individual basis to understand the needs and challenges that are driving homelessness within those areas. I am committed to doing exactly that to make sure that we understand all those individual circumstances that are creating demands in different parts of the country. We are developing practices and policies to ensure that we can reach our commitment of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and of significantly reducing it.
Simply asking bailiffs not to physically remove desperate people who cannot afford to pay their rent until 11 January will not allow the Secretary of State to keep his promise that no one will lose their home due to a drop in income because of covid. How he could keep that promise would be, for example, to raise local housing allowance so that nobody finds that it is less than the rent they owe. Given that a third of those who are excluded are also private renters, he could also make sure that those people who have been excluded from financial support since March are no longer excluded and are given the support they need. Finally, given that the Government are in the mood for rushing through legislation, why do they not keep their manifesto promise and scrap section 21 evictions, and do it now?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but, as I have outlined, we have asked bailiffs to pause evictions over the Christmas period and that is something that we will monitor and keep under review. It is absolutely right that we have taken this action, and the Secretary of State took it quickly and swiftly. We are still committed to abolishing section 21, but legislation must be balanced and considered to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, and we will keep those under review. The Government will continue to take decisive action, as they have done at all stages of the pandemic, and as I have done today in outlining our Protect programme.
Our veterans have given so much in the service of this country and it is vital that we ensure that not a single one ends up on the streets. Will the Minister therefore reassure me and my constituents who care deeply about this that veterans continue to have priority need to keep them off the streets and that the funding provided by this Government means that if someone finds themselves in hard times this winter, local authorities have not only the duty, but the resources to give them the home that they deserve?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight again the vital role that our veterans have played in keeping this country safe. I am sure that everyone across this House feels, as I do, a great sadness and deep concern for those veterans who face hard times and are in very difficult circumstances. They have priority when it comes to the reduction of homelessness and will continue to do so. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that those veterans can get access to the support and services that they need to continue with their lives.
The Children’s Commissioner has raised concern about the almost 130,000 children in England who spent the first lockdown in temporary accommodation, where poor conditions made it difficult to study, play and self-isolate. Why does the Minister think that there has been a 78% increase in homeless children since 2010?
The hon. Lady asks about families and children in temporary accommodation. I, too, have concerns about any families and young people having to live their lives in temporary accommodation. As I have outlined, that is why this Government are investing in the Move On programme and the Next Steps accommodation programme. We are also committed to investing long-term in our housebuilding programme, and in affordable and social rented homes. I totally understand the pressures and challenges for young people in insecure homes, and it is something that this Government and I are determined to resolve.
On a recent visit to YMCA Lincolnshire in Gainsborough, I was briefed on the excellent work done for homeless people in Lincoln at the charity’s Nomad Centre. But when I talked to the chief executive this morning, she told me that her main worry is not so much the level of Government support, but whether it is trickling down from local government to charities quickly enough. That leads me to a wider point, which I suppose is also a Conservative one: in a pandemic we always think that the state can do everything, but we should really be empowering and supporting charities.
We are working with local authorities to ensure that the support is trickling down to exactly where it is needed. We are working intensively with local authorities on plans for how that money will be spent, and on the impact on the ground. If my right hon. Friend has any further details, I will happily take up this issue. Indeed, if any Member across the House has any particular local issues, I will take them up and investigate further. It is true that this Government have taken unprecedented action to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness during the pandemic, and I remain committed to continuing that work.
After speaking with ACORN Liverpool and local volunteers such as Councillor Sarah Morton who are out on the ground every night in Liverpool helping the homeless, I would like to ask about one of their many concerns right now. The enforced evictions guidance has no basis in law. It does not protect against bailiffs, despite the Government saying that they have asked bailiffs to hold fire, and people are living in fear of eviction during this lockdown. The only way to ban evictions is through legislation, as with the ban between March and September. Will the Minister commit to such legislation and consider increasing funding for local authority discretionary housing payments, which are a vital resource in supporting early intervention and preventing homelessness?
The Government have invested heavily in support for homelessness, particularly through the rough sleeping initiative. Liverpool is part of Housing First, which is one of the pilot projects to help rough sleepers, who have multiple complex needs. I hope that the numbers of people moving into that pilot will soon increase in Liverpool. The hon. Gentleman mentions an important point about evictions. It is true that there is a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court to 30 September, and that only the most egregious cases will be taken forward, such as those involving antisocial behaviour and crime. We are committed to that and have made it clear that we do not expect any evictions to take place. If we need to take further action, I am sure that we will find the tools to do so.
Is it not just so sad when we see homelessness and rough sleeping on our streets? One reason that I was so proud to stand as a Conservative party candidate at the last general election was our commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Homelessness is often seen as an urban issue, but it is very much a rural one as well. Conservative-led Dorset Council has reduced rough sleeping, though, by 39% up until 2019. I suggest to the shadow Secretary of State that maybe she asks the same questions of her own Labour-run Bristol City Council, where homelessness has increased by 20%—
You will have to excuse me, Mr Speaker; I fell down the stairs yesterday, so I am struggling to do the bobbing up and down.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would like to praise the work of Dorset Council, which has been able to continue to reduce rough sleeping. We hope that we will be able to share information with colleagues in other areas to ensure that, where there is great practice and local authorities are taking great steps to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness, the lessons are learned throughout the country. We learnt a lot through the Everyone In programme, and I hope that those lessons will help us to develop policies.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, I have been contacted by Dogs on the Streets, an excellent charity that cares for homeless people who have dogs and are sleeping on the streets. The charity tells me that it is often very difficult for homeless people who are sleeping rough to be admitted into accommodation if they have a pet, particularly a dog. Will the Minister meet me and Dogs on the Streets to talk about the available options? Pets are often a lifeline for people, and we must be extremely compassionate and ensure that those who are compassionate to pets are not left behind on the streets.
I will happily meet the hon. Lady to discuss that. She has highlighted an issue that affects not only people sleeping rough but those who are at threat of being made homeless. It transcends the two categories, so I would be happy to discuss it further.
In December 2019, a report outlined that 216 individuals were being housed in short-term shelters in the Wakefield district. Prior to covid, homelessness and rough sleeping in the district had risen sharply, raising concerns about the safety and wellbeing of those who suffer this plight. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to increase the number of homes available for people who are currently homeless as part of the Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping by 2024?
The Government are investing more than £150 million in permanent accommodation, delivering 3,300 units, to give an asset to the country that will provide properties for individuals who are sleeping rough and who are then able to come into the system. That is an amazing step forward. It is the biggest investment in this kind of housing since the early ’90s, and I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to make that point.
The Home Office immigration rules published on 22 October make it crystal clear that among the reasons that would normally lead to a refusal of leave to remain in the United Kingdom is failure by the person to accommodate themselves or their dependants without recourse to public funds. Any provision of accommodation for the homeless would be recourse to public funds. My question for the Minister is very simple: what is the advice—be kicked out by the Home Office or freeze on the streets?
As I have already outlined, those who have no recourse to public funds do work with local authorities. Local authorities already assess those individuals who are in need and make decisions on whether they can lawfully provide support within that area and for those individuals’ needs. It is simply not true to say that we will be removing individuals on the grounds that they are sleeping rough. It is absolutely right that we continue to work with that cohort, as well as with the charities and voluntary organisations across the country that are working with those individuals to establish pathways and provide help with regard to the EU settlement scheme. That work will continue, and I am happy to have further conversations with the hon. Gentleman about that.
I commend my hon. Friend for the work she has done in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, but it has been the west midlands that has led the way in this fight, under the leadership of our Mayor, Andy Street, and his homelessness taskforce, which has seen year-on-year decreases in the number of people rough sleeping. Can she reaffirm that she will indeed work with the West Midlands Combined Authority and our Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that the lessons they have learned during this process can be carried through to Government, so that we can finally, once and for all, fulfil that manifesto commitment and end rough sleeping?
I thank my hon. Friend and, yes, I totally will. I have already met Andy Street to discuss the issues within the area. I am very grateful for the work that he and others have been leading, such as Jean Templeton from Saint Basils, who has been doing a tremendous job up there, and for the leadership of young people in that area. I look forward to continuing to work with all parts of the country to achieve this ambition.
In 2019, one in 46 people in Redbridge, which Ilford South is part of, were homeless. That is a shocking statistic. While recent funding is obviously very welcome, I wonder if we can have a situation where I do not have to walk outside Ilford Exchange or outside my constituency office and see once again the many cardboard cities, which so miraculously disappeared, literally in a week, once the Government decided to act and house those homeless people and rough sleepers. Could the Minister ensure that, once lockdown ends, they will uphold their commitment to permanently ending rough sleeping?
Actually, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in his constituency. It is true, and I am sure I speak for everyone across the House, that every one of us really feels sadness and regret when we see any individual sleeping rough in a tent, a box or whatever. It is just not satisfactory. That is why this Government have committed to ending rough sleeping, and why we have put in this unprecedented level of support to achieve that goal. My challenge is to keep working with those local authorities to deliver on that promise.
I welcome the funding that my hon. Friend has outlined for councils, including over £1.6 million for Buckinghamshire Council to provide accommodation for people at risk of rough sleeping. Can she confirm how many additional such homes the Government intend to fund by the end of this Parliament?
I thank my hon. Friend and I am glad that we were able to allocate funding to Buckinghamshire to deliver on those programmes. At the moment—this is our first tranche, obviously—we are delivering 3,300 homes by the end of March 2021 and that is within our commitment to deliver over 6,000. We will continue to work, as I keep repeating—I am sorry, Mr Speaker—with local authorities, because we have to be very clear that each individual area is very different. The drivers, challenges and needs in those areas are so different, as are the needs of the individuals. It is so important that, when we are announcing these things and making policy, we are making sure we are delivering policy that does actually achieve the ambitions we want to achieve.
No one could accuse this Minister of being heartless or uncaring. I know her to be a woman of great integrity. However, I would put to her that her Government have been in power for a long time now and we still have this real problem of poverty—family poverty—stalking our land. The report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, this morning shows the link between homelessness, rough sleeping and the dreadful way we treat children in care in this country. It is all joined up and there are some common reasons, and I think her Government and her Department should look at that too.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very kind comments about me. I always find him to be very compassionate as well. He makes a valid point about the impact that homelessness and poverty can have on young children and particularly children who are leaving care. This is an area that I personally am very passionate about—young people and care leavers. It is true to say that this Government are working across Government. I am working with colleagues across Departments in order to find solutions and develop policies to tackle that and deliver on our ambition.
I commend the Minister for the outstanding work she is doing in her new portfolio. The Passage, a charity based in my constituency working with her Department on the Home for Good model, has seen many people being paired with a mentor in the community that they have been resettled in. That has had great success in sustaining tenancies and preventing a return to the streets. Does she agree that it is investment in these types of programmes for preventive work that makes lasting change in the lives of people coming off the streets and that it should continue to be supported?
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this area and the passion that she has in working with me and the Department to tackle this issue. She is absolutely right. It is so important that we are working with local authorities and that money is going to organisations to develop programmes to help with prevention, to deliver support and to provide the mentoring that is so valuable. It is all very well for me as a Minister to stand here today and say what we are doing, but people who have had real-life experience and understand what the reality is are able to impart that and then hold the hand of those individuals who are affected as they navigate the system. That is so invaluable.
In a letter to the Secretary of State in June about rough sleepers during covid-19, community organisations, faith leaders and Ealing Council wrote:
“Without question, the hardest group to support under the current framework is those with no recourse to public funds.”
The Secretary of State’s announcement last week made it clear that the new Protect programme funding was there to ensure that
“everyone sleeping rough on our streets”
“somewhere safe to go”.
Could the Minister therefore confirm whether this funding can be used to help those sleeping rough who have no recourse to public funds?
The rules on eligibility to immigration status have not changed, including those on no recourse to public funds. It is down to local authorities to use their judgment in assessing the support that they can lawfully give to the individuals. This does already happen. We were very clear to local authorities in May that, under Next Steps, they were to carry out individual assessments of people who were rough sleeping and take decisions on who they would provide support for. Part of that was providing accommodation to vulnerable people.
I welcome the Everyone In plan and last week’s announcement of the £15 million Protect programme. This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to the new chief executive of Dacorum Borough Council, Claire Hamilton, and she too welcomes the additional funding provided by this Government. However, the concern she wants me to raise with the Minister is that, in two-tier areas like mine, South West Hertfordshire, the money is given to Hertfordshire County Council. Could she use her good offices to ensure that the money is given to the frontline as quickly as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I will use my position to make sure that that money is being targeted at and provided in the areas where it is actually needed. This funding and this package is all about being able to target work intensively with local authorities. This is an offer to all Members who have a particular issue at a local level. I am always happy to take that up with local authorities and to have further discussions on their behalf.
I welcome the Minister to her post. I think she is the 12th Minister in this position in the past decade. Her enthusiasm for the efficacy of Government policy would be infectious but for the detailed work on the Government’s housing policies we have been doing on the Public Accounts Committee, which I commend to her. We are talking a lot about rough sleeping today, but I have far more families who are hidden homeless, or two households in one. They are struggling through the pandemic. It is a public health issue and it is damaging our children. Will she consider talking to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) about a housing market package to buy up hard-to-sell properties in the private sector and provide these people and rough sleepers with the Move On accommodation they so desperately need?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I am always happy to meet her to discuss particular issues affecting her area and to listen to ideas that Members think may or may not work in their local setting, but I have to reiterate that London has had significant support with the Next Steps accommodation. The exact focus of that is to move those individuals out of temporary emergency accommodation and into longer-term stability and pathways, delivering that security that those individuals and families need. I will happily meet her to discuss that further.
I start by thanking this Government, who have supported 29,000 people who have been rough sleeping this year alone. I have only a handful of rough sleepers in my constituency—a handful too many—but I thank the Government for finding secure accommodation for them during the pandemic, helping to protect lives and prevent the spread of the virus. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking local charities in my Stourbridge constituency such as Leslie’s Care Packages, which works tirelessly to ensure that rough sleepers have the support they need?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I happily pass on my thanks to the charities and the organisation in her constituency, Leslie’s Care Packages, for the work they have been doing throughout the pandemic. Again, I extend my thanks to all in the charitable sector and the voluntary sector, who have done such a lot of work in this area, working constructively with the Government and local authorities to ensure that we are targeting support to those individuals who need the help the most.
In the spring, the Everyone In programme showed that where there is the political will, it is possible to take action to provide shelter for people who need it, but that should not be done only in emergencies; it should be done all year round, guaranteeing safe and warm shelter to everyone who needs it, including those with no recourse to public funds. Rather than wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on covid contracts for friends and family of the Conservative party, will the Government instead provide permanent funding to end homelessness for good?
The hon. Lady will know that part of our follow-on from the Everyone In programme—it is still ongoing and has not stopped—is the Next Steps funding, which delivers exactly what she is asking. It is providing not only funding for local authorities to deliver that next stage, Move On accommodation, but £150 million of investment in permanent accommodation —the largest investment in delivering homes in this area since the ’90s.
In Cornwall, homelessness and rough sleeping has historically been an issue. In recent years, some excellent work has been done in Cornwall to combat the issue by St Petrocs and by the local authority, particularly with the success of the recent Pydar Pop UP project in Truro. Of course more needs to be done, and I welcome the £5.5 million that the Government have provided to Cornwall Council since September to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. It is a substantial amount of money that creates a real opportunity to end rough sleeping in Cornwall. However, does my hon. Friend agree that that money needs to be spent on long-term solutions to find homes for those who are homeless and rough sleeping, not just on the short term and quick fixes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The investment we are making as a Government in long-term secure homes is so important. That is what the Secretary of State and I are driving to achieve, within the realms of the funding, and we are seeing delivery across the country. We are committed to working with local authorities, including Cornwall, to understand the specific challenges. As I have said, every area is slightly different and sometimes there is a different solution for every area. We have to understand those things so that we can work effectively with the local authorities so that they can deliver that change and we can achieve our objectives.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).
Point of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 13 October, I submitted a named day written question to the Cabinet Office on whether contractor relief identical to that set out in procurement policy note 02/20 would be given from 31 October, given the ongoing covid outbreak. Nearly a month later, I still have not received a response, and I submitted a named day written question on 5 November asking when my initial named day written question would be answered, but I still have not had a response to that. So, Madam Deputy Speaker, please can you advise me on how I can elicit a response from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on this really important issue?
I am very concerned to hear what the hon. Lady has to say, and I suspect from my own experience as a constituency Member of Parliament that a great many Members around the House are having the same experience as the hon. Lady. [Hon. Members: “Yes.”] I see that almost everyone present in the Chamber is showing their assent. Mr Speaker has made it clear on several previous occasions that Departments must do better in answering questions from hon. Members. We all appreciate that many people are having to work from home and in rather more difficult circumstances than usual, but it should not be wrong of us to expect a certain degree of efficiency from professional civil servants, so the delay to which the hon. Lady refers is unsatisfactory.
I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard the hon. Lady’s concerns, my concerns, Mr Speaker’s concerns and the echo all around the Chamber of almost every hon. Member: this is happening far too often. The hon. Lady may wish to write to the Leader of the House, and I certainly in answering this question right now hope to draw to the attention of the Leader of the House this predicament.
The Leader of the House said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter):
“Named day questions must be answered within the named day period…and questions should be being dealt with in timely fashion.”—[Official Report, 5 November 2020; Vol. 693, c. 495.]
I am quite sure that the Leader of the House will be cognisant of the fact that almost every Member of this place shares the experience that the hon. Lady has just described and that he will take steps to ensure that his ministerial colleagues answer their questions in a timely fashion and that those who are supposed to support them do so efficiently.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next item of business, I will suspend the House for three minutes.
National Security and Investment Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Alok Sharma, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Dominic Raab, Secretary Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Secretary Ben Wallace, Secretary Liz Truss, Secretary Oliver Dowden and Nadhim Zahawi, presented a Bill to make provision for the making of orders in connection with national security risks arising from the acquisition of control over certain types of entities and assets; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 210) with explanatory notes (Bill 210-EN).
Supported Housing (Regulation)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate supported housing; to make provision about local authority oversight and the enforcement of standards of accommodation and support in supported housing; to prohibit the placing of children in care in unregulated accommodation; and for connected purposes.
We quite rightly in this country have a regulatory system in place for care homes through the Care Quality Commission. In Scotland, as I understand it, the Care Commission also covers supported housing. I am calling for the same to happen in England for hostels, refuges and other accommodation for people with support needs, so that vulnerable people are housed only in decent, safe accommodation where they will get the support they need and where unscrupulous landlords will no longer be able to exploit them to make a quick buck through the housing benefit system.
I stress that there are many respectable, decent providers of supported housing out there, and I appreciate that theirs is not an easy job. In particular, I pay tribute to the work they have done during this pandemic, with local authorities, to house rough sleepers. Sadly, however, not all providers are like that. Because the local housing allowance is so low in places like Bristol, for some private landlords with an eye to profit, renting at the usual rates has little appeal when, if they convert to supported housing, they can charge much more. They only have to provide a level of support that is “more than minimal” to qualify for an exemption that can get them the enhanced rates of housing benefit that make it so attractive to them.
The situation at Wick House, a large supported housing project in my constituency, is why I got involved, in particular the death of residents—there have been seven deaths since a particular charity began running the place—and in particular the deaths of George Mahoney, whose body was found in a pool of blood in 2016, and Paul Way, who died in 2017 and whose body, despite it being supported accommodation, was not found for three days.
One former worker at the hostel shared with me emails he sent to George’s family after his death in which he describes the living conditions. He talks about visible bed bugs on residents. He said that the Salvation Army would fumigate the kit of anyone coming from Wick House. He spoke of the “employment of career criminals”, the victimisation of vulnerable residents and his concern for women living there, saying:
“there is quite a lot of sexual activity in a drunken/drugged and prostituted state.”
He described a “woeful” lack of support: a visit once a fortnight from a local drugs project and from a mental health team for certain residents, but that was it. He also said—I stress this was back in 2017—that the management
“can’t claim not to know about it—they are facilitating it. I don’t really care whether this is deliberate or accidental, it’s still happening and it needs to be stopped, not ignored.”
What many of us came to realise, however, was how little power anyone had to stop them. When a council commissions supported housing, control can be exercised through the contract, but with such an uncommissioned service, Bristol Council was really limited in what it could do. The council did refuse to refer people to Wick House, and both it and I urged prison and probation services to do likewise, but Wick House did not find it difficult to fill its rooms with self-referrals and referrals from outside the local area.
In 2017, the landlord attempted to increase the rent from £125 to £343 per tenant, resulting in tribunal proceedings in which the judge, by consent order, reduced it to £170. The management responded by expanding Wick House from 47 residents to 87, cramming them in to recoup the lost income. Even though Wick House was in breach of planning rules, the council still had to pay housing benefit for all 87 tenants regardless, and tried to enforce measures on the breach.
In September 2019, the Charity Commission published a report on Bristol Sheltered Accommodation & Support—the charity that ran Wick House. It found a failure to report serious incidents, including the death of a resident; unauthorised salary payments to trustees; poor financial controls; and unmanaged conflicts of interest. A new charity is now running Wick House. At the time, the Charity Commission warned that the investigations had brought to light wider issues around the regulation of supported housing that limited its ability to hold charities providing such accommodation to account.
It is quite clear that this is not an isolated case, and many colleagues have expressed similar concerns, particularly in cities. In September this year, The Sunday Telegraph published a piece on suburban family homes that were being converted into unlicensed bail hostels—again, the motivation was landlords wanting to get their hands on higher housing-benefit payments. The article said:
“Such family homes contain a volatile mix of ex-prisoners, drug addicts, those with severe mental health issues, refugees and women fleeing domestic abuse.”
Bail hostels that are classed as approved premises are tightly regulated, but their unregulated equivalents are not, and providers can often get away with little to no supervision or support. The West Midlands police and crime commissioner said:
“Regulation needs to come from central government. At the moment, the law is quite free and easy around these areas. Some of these landlords are actually criminals who are making money out of people’s misery.”
The Bill seeks to protect young people. The recent report, “Unregulated”, by the Children’s Commissioner, revealed that 12,800 children in care —or one in eight—spent some time in an unregulated placement that was not registered with Ofsted in 2018-19. They are usually older teens, but there are some under-16s and children with high needs. They are housed in independent or semi-independent accommodation with limited support that is not regulated by the quality inspectorate. The accommodation might be a flat, hostel or bedsit. Even worse, in some cases, it might be a caravan, tent or barge. Children who are supposedly in care are left to fend for themselves with limited support from key workers—perhaps five hours a week or fewer. Young people use words such as “disgusting”, “absolutely terrible” and “like a prison cell” to describe their living arrangements. In some instances, they end up living alongside vulnerable adults, who have their own difficulties, or in placements where they are exposed to the risk of exploitation and other negative influences. The Children’s Commissioner has called for the use of semi-independent and independent provision to be made illegal for all children in care and for the regulation of unregulated settings. That is included within the scope of the Bill.
There has been growing awareness in recent years, but little action. In May 2017, for example, in a joint report on the future of supported housing, the Committees on Communities and Local Government and on Work and Pensions recommended that the Government should establish a set of national standards to enable monitoring of quality provision in all supported housing in England and Wales. They said that all providers should be registered with a local authority, whether or not their services had been commissioned locally, and that local authorities should undertake annual inspections of all supported housing schemes in their area to ensure a minimum standard of provision.
In response, the Government committed to working with local authorities on how they might best ensure decent and appropriate standards. Very little happened until three years later. Last month, on 20 October, we suddenly saw some movement from the Government. Five pilots in priority areas—Birmingham, Hull, Blackpool, Blackburn and Bristol—will be funded to the tune of £3 million for collaborative working between local partners to test different approaches on greater oversight and enforcement of higher standards in non-commissioned provision. That has been accompanied by the publication of a statement of national expectations that focuses on accommodation.
I am pleased that Bristol was chosen for one of the pilot schemes, and that the Government recognise the good work that Bristol City Council has done. The funding will give the council the opportunity to carry out a quality check on the city’s non-commissioned sector involving a team from environmental health, safeguarding, support review officers and housing benefits to help identify the problems and take what enforcement action we can. However, for reasons I have already set out, I have my doubts about whether a voluntary approach is enough. Local authorities do not have sufficient powers to enforce standards—which are only expected standards, anyway—and while many decent providers will be happy to co-operate, those in it purely for the money will not do so.
Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness recently told The Big Issue that the new measures were “nowhere near” enough. She said that
“40% of the deaths we recorded in 2019 occurred when a person was in emergency or temporary accommodation, and our research clearly shows these tragedies will continue without real action”.
She questioned whether providers would really take time to follow recommended guidelines and was concerned that private landlords and providers, who account for 86% of the £1.1 billion temporary accommodation industry, had not even been identified as supported housing providers in the policy. I think the Government—or at least some Ministers—recognise the flaws in the voluntary approach and view the pilots, which run only for six months, as an evidence-gathering exercise, which I hope will inform future regulation.
I have had Ministers from three different Departments acknowledge in one way or another the need to address the concerns I have raised. I am meeting two more Ministers, including the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who is in her place today, before the end of the month to discuss what can be done. Across the Atlantic, we have seen a new expression of a desire for bipartisan working in difficult times and, despite our many differences across the House, people would want to see the same approach from us on an issue such as this.
Question put and agreed to.
That Kerry McCarthy, Mr Clive Betts, Shabana Mahmood, Steve McCabe, Bob Blackman, Helen Hayes, Fleur Anderson, Tim Loughton, Andrew Selous, Mohammad Yasin, Munira Wilson and Andrew Gwynne present the Bill.
Kerry McCarthy accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 15 January, and to be printed (Bill 212).
Remembrance, UK Armed Forces and Society
[Relevant documents: e-petition 332503, entitled Enshrine the Military Covenant in UK Law; Eleventh Report of the Defence Committee, Session 2017-19, Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2018, HC 1899, and the Government Response, First Special Report of the Committee, HC 162; and Oral evidence taken before the Defence Committee on 22 April 2020 on introductory Session with the Defence Secretary, HC 295, on 7 July 2020 on work of the Chief of the Defence Staff, HC 594, and on 13 October 2020 on work of the Service Complaints Ombudsman, HC 881, and written evidence from the Service Complaints Ombudsman, HC 881.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered remembrance, UK armed forces and society.
It is a real honour for me to open the debate not only as the Minister for the Armed Forces in the Ministry of Defence but as someone who has served on four operational tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. I hope that, at the end of my remarks, the House will indulge me in giving some personal reflections on the meaning of remembrance.
Before that, I want to draw your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the call list for the debate, which would make for a formidable half-company, should the nation ever call for us. The number of colleagues in the House who have served underlines the affinity between this place and our nation’s armed forces. A Defence Minister can often reflect on how the partisan hullabaloo of other areas of policy rarely encroaches on how we debate defence in this place. I know, as someone who served in at least two operational theatres that caused some political disagreement, that it really matters that this place not only robustly debates how and where we use our armed forces but does so always in a tone that makes those doing this place’s bidding in dangerous and dusty places realise that everybody in this House has the interests of our armed forces at heart, even when we disagree on how best to use them. I therefore look forward to another characteristically respectful and constructive debate.
It is an honour to take part in this debate on Armistice Day. This is a particularly significant year for remembrance. We are commemorating a century on from the installation of the Cenotaph, and we are marking 100 years since the interring of the unknown warrior in Westminster Abbey. That soldier represents the multitudes who gave their lives in the great war: a soldier buried
“among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward His house”.
Of course, this year we are also celebrating 75 years since the end of world war two.
Inevitably, due to covid, we have had to mark remembrance differently. On Sunday, instead of tens of thousands marching past the Cenotaph, just 26 veterans took part. Instead of people congregating on Whitehall in their thousands, the streets were quiet and still. The remembrance ceremony that I attended in my constituency this year was in Burnham-on-Sea. We attended in small numbers, I with the chairman of the Royal British Legion; at 9 am we laid our wreath, followed shortly afterwards by a group of councillors.
I actually thought it was quite poignant that things should be remembered in that way, but it also meant, for the first time in a long time for many of us, that we were at home at 11 o’clock and able to watch on television the coverage of the ceremony at the Cenotaph. It was the first time I had seen it for a number of years, and I congratulate all those who put together such a poignant and reflective ceremony worthy of the magnitude of that occasion, while respecting the constraints that we are under because of covid. For all that we bash the BBC, particularly from the Government side of the House, I thought that it got both its coverage and its commentary spot-on on Sunday.
It was also important, I thought, that we had a moment of remembrance this morning in the House. I know that the nation will have looked to us, as well as to the Cenotaph on Whitehall and to Westminster Abbey, for leadership at this important moment in the year. It was great to see that marked here in the Chamber.
There are three points that I want to make today: our appreciation of the support our armed forces receive from the public at large, from the service charities, and from the Royal British Legion in particular; our admiration for the service of those who continue to put their lives on the line in the defence of our great nation; and our reverence for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our freedom.
When I was in Afghanistan and Iraq, every time that we received a delivery of mail, there would be all the mail from our family and friends but there would also be hundreds of letters and parcels from people with no connection to the armed forces beyond their admiration for what young men and women were willing to go away to do. I can tell the House that when we were in remote operating bases such as I was in Sangin, the fact that somebody had taken the time to write a letter to a soldier they did not know, or to send some biscuits or sweets, meant an enormous amount. It reminds our armed forces always just how close they are to our nation’s hearts.
We have seen that ourselves in our constituencies over the last few months, where soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen and marines have been delivering testing centres, delivering personal protective equipment to the local hospital or, earlier in the year, stuffing sandbags. I can tell the House how much it means to our men and women when members of the community just go up and say, “Thank you. Well done. You’re doing a great job.” People do that, unprompted, because they admire those who wear the uniform of our armed forces in the service of our nation.
The Minister refers to what happened in Afghanistan—the letters and things that went there. Seven years ago, I had the opportunity to represent my party in Afghanistan in meeting the Royal Irish Regiment. I knew their love of Tayto potato crisps, so I took lots of them with me and gave them out to the soldiers, both male and female, who were there. That brought them close to home, and that is really important whenever they are in Afghanistan serving their Queen and country.
The hon. Member is a keen supporter of our armed forces, and I can tell him that the great pleasure of serving in his beautiful corner of the world, as I have done, is not the stunning landscape or the Bushmills, but the Tayto chips in our packed lunches on the ranges.
Beyond the support of the community are our amazing service charities. So many of them do great work for our armed forces all year round, but at this time of year it is particularly important to reflect on the contribution of the Royal British Legion and the importance of its poppy appeal. It is an amazing commitment from poppy collectors all over the country that normally they go out in all weathers, from dawn till dusk, to sell poppies wherever they can. This year, of course, they have been more limited in what they have been able to do, but again and again I have seen in my constituency, and I know colleagues will have seen likewise, that they have done everything they can—within the law—to get out and raise as much money as they can for this important cause. We are all hugely grateful to them for doing so. I know that we would all want anybody watching today’s proceedings or reflecting on the fact that today is Armistice Day and they are yet to get their poppy to know that there is still time and that their money makes a real difference, in looking after both the families of those who have given their lives in conflict and those who have been forever scarred by their service.
That leads me to the service of our armed forces and the unlimited liability that they accept in the service of our nation—to do anything, anywhere, at any time, if this House and Her Majesty’s Government will it. That is an extraordinary thing to sign up and do. Some of us have done it for a few years. Some of us have done it for entire careers. Some of us have not done it at all, but to those who continue to serve, what matters is not whether a person has served but that they pause and reflect that as they go on with their life, and as their family are leading their lives, those who serve have accepted a responsibility on behalf of the nation to drop everything and leave at any moment to go and do whatever the nation requires anywhere in the world. That is an amazing act of selflessness that we should all be grateful for.
The Minister talks about years of service. I wonder whether he would commend and congratulate my constituent, Mrs Barbara McGregor, who is due to retire in January next year after 44 years of service in the Royal Navy to Queen and country. Mrs McGregor is taking part in Armistice services this week, and she was meant to be leading the parade march in the Bridgend county borough this weekend but was not able to. Would the Minister commend her and congratulate her on her service, and on the fact that she has put everything—Queen and country—as a sole focus of her entire service in the Navy?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituent on the longevity of her service and remark on what an amazing lifetime of commitment that is, with all the moments for her family, within her community and for her friends that she missed because she put her service of our country first. It is a quite extraordinary commitment, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for raising it in the House this afternoon.
Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see fast jet pilots serving in different corners of the European theatre, going out on missions where split-second decisions can be the difference between mission success and catastrophe. I visited helicopter crews in Mali operating in austere conditions, where it is dusty and dangerous and it is pretty hard to keep the Chinooks flying. I have seen air transport squadrons flying day after day and night after night to maintain the extraordinary efforts of our nation’s armed forces around the globe. I have seen troops operating in Estonia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and others on Salisbury plain preparing for a new deployment to Mali next month. I have seen training teams, big and small, working with our partners around the world.
The Royal Navy has had ships recently in the Barents sea, the Black sea, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, the Gulf and the Indian ocean. Our sailors and Royal Marines right now are responding to the humanitarian disaster that has followed in the wake of recent hurricanes in the Caribbean. We are rebuilding our sovereign carrier strike capability, and yesterday, I had the enormous honour of seeing the awe-inspiring work of Her Majesty’s Submarine Service, who keep our continuous at-sea deterrent hidden from view—silent but utterly deadly, and non-stop for 51 years.
That would just be business as usual for Defence, but this year, there has been an extraordinary contribution in supporting the Government’s response to covid as well. As we emerge from the covid crisis, there is an expectation that instability will follow in its wake, so our armed forces can look forward to even more activity in even more uncertain parts of the world, reassuring our allies, deterring our adversaries, demonstrating our resolve to uphold a rules-based international system and destroying those who mean us harm when they have to.
There are also a vast number of people who have served in our nation’s armed forces and who we must now look after as veterans. I pay tribute to the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), for all the work that he does in that regard. Our veterans community matters enormously. They are an important part of the moral component of fighting power. If you are serving in the armed forces now, your confidence to act decisively on behalf of the nation is motivated by how you see the nation supporting its veterans back at home at that time. You want to know that if you get hurt, or take a decision, the Government and the nation will stand behind you for the rest of your life, and that is a commitment that this Government are proud to make.
Finally, sacrifice. Last week I was in Egypt visiting HMS Albion, which was in Alexandria after a successful deployment to the eastern Mediterranean. While I was up on the north coast of Egypt, I went to the cemetery at El Alamein. Like all Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, it was immaculately maintained. It was vast, and all over it were grouped graves, which I understand is symptomatic of an armoured battle where entire tank crews or armoured personnel carrier crews died in one go. Very often their remains were almost impossible to separate, so they were buried with four or five headstones immediately adjacent to one another. That makes one pause and reflect on the horror of a battle of that intensity.
Then, as in so many other Commonwealth war graves cemeteries around the world, there were the unmarked graves of those who we will never know exactly who they were and who lie now underneath foreign soil to be remembered anonymously for all time. Then there were the Commonwealth graves, thousands of them, reminding us that this was an effort not just from all corners of the United Kingdom but from all corners of the Commonwealth. It was pleasing, therefore, to see that in Commonwealth war graves cemeteries around the world and in our embassies and high commissions on Sunday, there were moments of remembrance to reflect on the sacrifice of so many from other countries in the defence of our great nation.
This year, marking 75 years since the end of the second world war, has been a great opportunity for us to reflect not only on victory in Europe but on victory in Japan. That Pacific campaign is so often the one that is spoken about less, yet the acts of heroism and derring-do were no less important. Indeed, in many of the stories I have heard, the deprivation was far greater because of the environment in which the forces were operating. Since then, brave servicemen and women from the United Kingdom have given their lives in Korea, the Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is on those last two conflicts that I have my own personal reflections.
When you join up, you know there is a risk that the moment might come when you have to put yourself in a position where you might lose your life. When you stand there at Sandhurst, Dartmouth, Cranwell, Catterick or HMS Raleigh and the flag is there and the Queen is on the wall and the Bible is put in your hand, you are filled with confidence that you are on a career path that is worthy and great, but when you are behind a wall and the rounds are hitting the other side or an improvised explosive device has just gone off and you know that you have to stand up close with the enemy and do your duty, that is a moment when you realise a lot about yourself. It is also a moment, sadly, from which people do not always return, and their loss is something that I feel keenly every time I pause and reflect on my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I know that for the entire veterans community there will be a face that is in their minds when the Last Post is blown and the two minutes’ silence is followed. In communities across the country, there will be people who are remembered because they were there one month and then, six months later when their friends and comrades returned, there were no longer there. They were just a name on a war memorial. Those names are lives cut down in their prime and as we pause, over Remembrance Weekend and on Armistice Day today, let us never forget that they turned up at a recruiting office and embarked on their military careers, believing that what they were going to do would make a difference for our country and protect our freedom. They knew in the back of their mind that perhaps they might be called upon to give their life, but they hoped and even expected that it would never be them. Hundreds of thousands have answered our nation’s call and given their lives in doing so. We will remember them.
Before I call the spokesman for the Opposition, I thank the Minister for his brevity in his opening speech. It will be obvious that there are over 50 colleagues trying to catch my eye, and that we have only three hours for this debate. I therefore have to start with a time limit on Back Bench speeches of six minutes. That will be reduced later in the debate, and people who are further down the list must recognise the reality that they are unlikely to be called, but I am happy to call John Healey.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have to say that it is an honour to follow the Minister and his moving speech this afternoon, and I pay tribute to him for his four tours of duty and his decade of service in the Rifles, just as I pay tribute to the service that other hon. Members in all parts of this House have given to our armed forces. Parliament is all the better for Members who have committed service in the forces, and this House is also all the better for the service of Members who are committed to the forces. I look forward to the contributions to this afternoon’s debate of many of those hon. Members who are on the long call list.
As we did this morning in this Chamber, this is indeed the moment we commemorate the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when hostilities ceased in 1918. It is the focus of our national remembrance each year: the moment the nation comes together to honour those who have served, those who have fought to keep us safe, and above all, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives so that the rest of us may continue to enjoy the freedoms we do today. The Minister put it far more eloquently than many of the rest of us can, but the men and women who wear a British military uniform make a unique commitment to, if needed, put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us. I want this day’s debate to recall not just the lives of those lost in the two world wars, but those of the 7,190 UK service personnel who have died in operations since 1945.
I was reminded of this on Sunday, when I, like the Minister, was proud to lay a wreath alongside the president of our local British Legion branch in Rotherham. His name is Ron Moffett; he served for more than 20 years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and he talked to me of comrades he had lost in Northern Ireland, in the Falklands, in Afghanistan, and in Germany in training. I want my relatively brief remarks in this debate to concentrate on the ordinary servicemen and women: on their extraordinary sense of duty, and on our duty, in turn, to them.
The Minister was right to say that remembrance has a particular poignancy this year. During 2020, we have marked 75 years since the end of the second world war—VE Day and VJ Day—and 80 years since the battle of Britain, and we have all been forced to find new ways to remember: ways that are perhaps more private, but no less important and no less personal. This year, we have also seen the hallmark values that have been there in generations of our forces personnel come to the fore again, as our troops have stood alongside frontline workers in the fight against the covid virus. I have said to the Defence Secretary that during this new national lockdown in England and the national vaccination challenge ahead, if the Government are willing to make further use of our forces in this fight, they will have our full support and strong backing from the public. The system that we have of military assistance to civil authorities is sound. It has been used 341 times for covid help since mid-March and 41 agreements are still in place, but people want to know now what the plan is. They have a right to know, and they also have a right to regular ministerial reporting on such decisions. I say to the Minister that I hope he and his colleagues will do this, because it will also help better understanding and better support for our military.
The Chief of the Defence Staff was right when he said recently that this should worry us all. He said that the level of understanding about our armed forces is at “an unprecedented low.” That is borne out by research that the British Forces Broadcasting Service published in June, which confirmed that 68% of the population do not know what the military actually do when they are not in combat. One third had no idea that our military play a part in thwarting terrorism or dealing with the aftermath of floods, and 53% believe that they use battle tanks to get around on a daily basis.