Before I call the Prime Minister, I point out that British Sign Language interpretation of the statement is available to watch on parliamentlive.tv.
Some of the screens in the Chamber are not working, so we will see how we go. We will take it a bit easy if need be.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s covid winter plan.
For the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic. The breakthroughs in treatment, testing and vaccines mean that the scientific cavalry is now in sight, and we know in our hearts that next year we will succeed. By the spring, these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020 and make the whole concept of a covid lockdown redundant.
When that moment comes, it will have been made possible by the sacrifices of millions across the UK. I am acutely conscious that no other peacetime Prime Minister has asked so much of the British people, and just as our country has risen to every previous trial, so it has responded this time, and I am deeply grateful.
But the hard truth is that we are not there yet. First, we must get through winter without the virus spreading out of control and squandering our hard-won gains, at exactly the time when the burden on our NHS is always greatest. Our winter plan is designed to carry us safely to spring.
In recent weeks, families and businesses in England have, once again, steadfastly observed nationwide restrictions, and they have managed to slow the growth of new cases and ease the worst pressures on our NHS. I can therefore confirm that national restrictions in England will end on 2 December, and they will not be renewed. From next Wednesday people will be able to leave their home for any purpose and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the rule of six; collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume; and shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.
But without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or new year surge. The incidence of the disease is, alas, still widespread in many areas, so we will not replace national measures with a free for all, the status quo ante covid. We are going to go back instead to a regional, tiered approach, applying the toughest measures where covid is most prevalent. While the previous local tiers cut the R number, they were not quite enough to reduce it below 1, so the scientific advice, I am afraid, is that, as we come out, our tiers need to be made tougher.
In particular, in tier 1 people should work from home wherever possible. In tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal. In tier 3, indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will have to close, along with all forms of hospitality, except for delivery and takeaways. I am very sorry, obviously, for the unavoidable hardship that this will cause for business owners who have already endured so much disruption this year.
Unlike the previous arrangements, tiers will now be a uniform set of rules—that is to say, we will not have negotiations on additional measures with each region. We have learned from experience that there are some things we can do differently. We are, therefore, going to change the 10 pm closing time for hospitality so that it is last orders at 10, with closing at 11. In tiers 1 or 2, spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside—with capacity limits and social distancing—providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls. We will also strengthen the enforcement ability of local authorities, including specially trained officers and new powers to close down premises that pose a risk to public health.
Later this week—on Thursday, I hope—we will announce which areas will fall into which tier, based on analysis of cases in all age groups, especially the over-60s; the rate by which cases are rising or falling; the percentage of those tested in a local population who have covid; and the current and projected pressures on the NHS. I am sorry to say that we expect that more regions will fall—at least temporarily—into higher levels than before, but by using these tougher tiers and using rapid turnaround tests on an ever greater scale to drive R below 1 and keep it there, it should be possible for areas to move down the tiering scale to lower levels of restrictions.
By maintaining the pressure on the virus, we can also enable people to see more of their family and friends over Christmas. I cannot say that Christmas will be normal this year, but in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none. We all want some kind of Christmas—we need it and we certainly feel we deserve it—but what we do not want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up once again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.
So, to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we are working with the devolved Administrations on a special, time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom and reflecting the ties of kinship across our islands. The virus will obviously not grant us a Christmas truce—it does not know that it is Christmas—and families will need to make a careful judgment about the risk of visiting elderly relatives. We will be publishing guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable on how to manage the risks in each tier, as well as over Christmas. As we work to suppress the virus with these local tiers, two scientific breakthroughs will ultimately make these restrictions obsolete. As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as quickly as possible. But given that that cannot be done immediately, we will simultaneously use rapid-turnaround testing—lateral flow testing—that gives results within 30 minutes, to identify those without symptoms so they can isolate and avoid transmission. We are beginning to deploy these tests in our NHS and in care homes in England, so people will once again be able to hug and hold hands with loved ones instead of waving at them through a window. By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.
Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today. From next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons and food manufacturing, and those delivering and administering covid vaccines. We are also, as the House knows, using testing to help schools and universities to stay open. Testing will enable students to know they can go home safely for Christmas, and back from home to university.
There is another way of using these rapid tests, and that is to follow the example of Liverpool, where in the last two and a half weeks over 200,000 people have taken part in community testing, contributing to a substantial fall in infections. Together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic armed forces, we will now launch a major community testing programme, offering all local authorities in tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing. The system is untried and there are many unknowns, but if it works, we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions—for example, meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative. Those towns and regions that engage in community testing will have a much greater chance of easing the tiering rules they currently endure.
We will also use daily testing to ease another restriction that has impinged on many lives. We will seek to end automatic isolation for close contacts of those who are found positive. Beginning in Liverpool later this week, contacts who are tested every day for a week will need to isolate only if they themselves test positive. If successful, this approach will be extended across the health system next month, and to the whole of England from January. Of course, we are working with the devolved Administrations to ensure that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also benefit, as they should and will, from these advances in rapid testing.
Clearly, the most hopeful advance of all is how vaccines are now edging ever closer to liberating us from the virus, demonstrating emphatically that this is not a pandemic without end. We can take great heart from today’s news, which has the makings of a wonderful British scientific achievement. The vaccine developed with astonishing speed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is now one of three capable of delivering a period of immunity. We do not yet know when any will be ready and licensed, but we have ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine and over 350 million in total—more than enough for everyone in the UK, the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories. The NHS is preparing a nationwide immunisation programme, ready next month, the like of which we have never witnessed.
Mr Speaker, 2020 has been, in many ways, a tragic year when so many have lost loved ones and faced financial ruin, and this will still be a hard winter. Christmas cannot be normal and there is a long road to spring, but we have turned a corner and the escape route is in sight. We must hold out against the virus until testing and vaccines come to our rescue and reduce the need for restrictions. Everyone can help speed up the arrival of that moment by continuing to follow the rules, getting tested and self-isolating when instructed, remembering “hands, face, space”, and pulling together for one final push to the spring, when we have every reason to hope and believe that the achievements of our scientists will finally lift the shadow of this virus.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call earlier today, when he set out a summary of the proposal.
Let me start with the good news: the tremendous progress on vaccines. Last week, the shadow Chancellor and I went to the Oxford vaccine group at Oxford University. It was inspiring. It was remarkable to see the work that they are doing. Our thanks, and I think those of the whole nation, go to all those who have taken part in the vaccine trials and research. We wish them Godspeed. I also want to make an open offer to the Prime Minister: Labour will provide any support we can in the national effort to deliver the vaccine safely across the country. That is an open offer.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is seeking a four-nation approach on the arrangements over the Christmas period. We will obviously await details on that, and the evidence that supports the steps being taken, but the four-nation approach is the right approach.
Now for the more difficult bit. The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel; the question today is how we get there and protect lives and livelihoods along the way. The Prime Minister proposes a return to the three-tier system. That is risky, because the previous three-tier system did not work. Tier 1 areas drifted to tier 2, almost all tier 2 areas ended up in tier 3 and those in tier 3 could not see a way out, and we ended up in national lockdown. That was the sad reality of the tiered system before. Nobody wants a repeat of that.
I accept that the new tiers are different from the old tiers, but many of the questions are the same. They are not trick questions. I acknowledge that none of this is easy, but if the Prime Minister is going to carry Parliament and the country on this, they need answering.
First, on the tier system—the Prime Minister touched on this—which local areas will be in each tier? This is the red-hot question. This is the question everybody is going to be asking over their kitchen table tonight. I had a roundtable with business leaders this morning, and it was the first question they asked me. The Prime Minister says it will be decided later this week, possibly Thursday. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that these decisions are taken very quickly and very clearly so that everybody can plan. That is obviously particularly important for the millions who were in restrictions before the national lockdown, because the message to them today seems to be, “You will almost certainly be back where you were before the national lockdown, probably in even stricter restrictions.” People need to know that so that they can plan for that. I really emphasise how important that is for the Prime Minister.
Secondly—the Prime Minister said he wanted uniform rules—will the tiers simply be imposed region by region, come what may, from 3 December, or will there be an element of local consultation and negotiation? I understand the uniform rules, but simply to impose them runs the risk of not getting buy-in from local leaders and local communities, which is incredibly important to people complying with the rules.
Thirdly, how long does the Prime Minister anticipate each local area will remain in each tier? For those that are going to come out of lockdown and almost certainly go back to more restrictions than they left, that is going to be a very pressing question.
Fourthly, will there be a new economic package to accompany these new tiers? There is huge concern among many businesses about their viability in tier 3, particularly a strengthened tier 3, so what new support can they expect? May I touch again on those who are self-employed who are outside the self-employed scheme—the so-called excluded? They will be hearing a message about the next three months in relation to schemes that they are not currently in, and that needs urgently to be addressed.
I turn to the public health impact of this approach, because one of the major reasons that we ended up in a national lockdown was that, in the words of the Government’s scientific advisers—the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies—test, trace and isolate was only having
“a marginal impact on transmission”.
It is one of the reasons that they suggested a national lockdown.
I know that the Prime Minister will talk about increased testing, mass testing. That is welcome but it is only part of the story, because the other two parts—trace and isolate—are not fit for purpose. SAGE advised, and continues to advise, that for trace and isolate to be effective, the percentage of contacts traced needs to be about 80%. It is currently nowhere near that level. It has never been near that level, and the figures are not getting any better. The latest figures actually show that every week, about 120,000 close contacts—that is, people who should be self-isolating—are not being traced by the system. The likelihood of getting the virus under control when 120,000 people who should be self-isolating are moving around their communities is very low.
Only a fraction of people able to self-isolate are doing so when asked to. We said to the Prime Minister that this needed to be fixed in the period of the national lockdown, and it has not been. It was barely mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement today, and many people will be forgiven for thinking that the Prime Minister has given up on trace and isolate and is about to abandon that scheme altogether to reach out for a different scheme—mass testing. It is very important that we understand that if we are going into a tiered system, abandoning trace and isolate, or not getting trace and isolate where it should be, we are running a major risk.
This is not about knocking those on the frontline or knocking those working on track and trace; it is about being grown up about risk. If we are reintroducing a three-tier system without having fixed trace and isolate, that is a major risk and we all need to acknowledge it, because it raises the million-dollar question: how confident is the Prime Minister that the approach he is proposing today will keep the R rate below 1? If it does not, the infections will go up. They will go back out of control and we could well be back in a national lockdown. That is the million-dollar question.
Labour has backed the Prime Minister on all the big decisions that the Government have had to take to protect public health, including the two national lockdowns. We have done so because we want there to be a national consensus on such difficult issues and because we will always put public health first. Ideally, I would like to be in a position to do so again, but there are huge gaps in this plan, huge uncertainties and huge risks. We will await the detail. We want the Prime Minister to get this right. He has got a week to do so. Will he start by answering these straightforward questions?
I would like to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his qualified welcome of these measures. He says that they are risky. It is not quite clear where he is supporting them or not. I think they are the right thing for the country. I think they are the right way of getting the virus down. If he wants to go back into another or keep a national lockdown on, I do not think that is the right way forward for this country. We want to get the economy moving as far as we possibly can and keep schools open, while supressing the virus.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks when we will make the announcement about who goes into which tier. As I said to him earlier on, and as I said in my statement just now, that will be announced on Thursday. The reason for the delay is quite simply that we need to see the data as it comes in. Of course, we will work with local authority leaders about which tiers they need to apply. We will discuss it with them, but in the end, we have to take some decisions and get on and do it. I think that we saw from the last experience that it was those local authorities—Liverpool springs to mind—that went early and were very collaborative that were most successful in getting the incidence down.
Some of the things that we will look at in deciding which tier is appropriate are case detection rates in all groups, case detection rates in the over-60s, the rate at which cases are rising or falling, the positivity rate overall and the pressures on the NHS in the region. Those are the things that we will be looking at as we make our judgment. Clearly, in some ways, the tiers have been changed—I mentioned the point about curfews, and there are extra possibilities for indoor and outdoor sports and events, as I said in my statement—and it is right that the balance of the impact of those should continue to be tough.
Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman criticises NHS Test and Trace. People should bear in mind that that operation has helped indisputably in identifying the areas that have the greatest prevalence of disease; it is not just to drive down the disease in those areas that it has been of immense value. We now have testing capacity of over 500,000 a day. NHS Test and Trace has done more than in any other country in Europe. What is so exciting about the new lateral flow testing is that, when we come to isolate, there is the prospect of using lateral flow tests, as I said, to check whether people are actually infected or infectious, thereby obviating the need for the 14-day quarantine.
Science is really beginning to ride to our rescue. It is in that context, with the combination of the tiering system, lateral flow tests and the gradual roll-out in the weeks and months ahead of the vaccine, that we are able to come out of the lockdown next Wednesday and to make the progress that we have described. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for such support as he felt able to offer at this stage. I am aware that his support is one of those things that is, “Now you see it, now you don’t,” but never mind, I will take it while it seems to be there, at least temporarily, and I look forward to further conversations with him in the next week.
After the tremendous news about testing and the encouraging developments on vaccines, may I welcome the news that the blanket national lockdown is ending? In the spirit of a wise constituent who told me that if the Government imposes stupid rules, we will all stop obeying the sensible rules as well, may I ask my right hon. Friend that the new tiers be imposed at a local level—districts, rather than counties or regions? Restrictions that people feel are unfair to their particular community will simply not be respected or obeyed, and that itself will have a damaging effect on our long-term health.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and for the wisdom of his constituent, but I respectfully disagree. The people of this country have been obeying the rules to an astonishing degree. It is thanks to the heroic effort of the people of this country in following the guidance and the recent measures that we have the R down in the way that we have and that we have got the incidence down in some of those areas where the disease was really taking off—if we look at the graphs, we see that in the north-west in particular. It is now starting to track down across the country. I have every confidence in the wisdom of the British people to follow sensible guidance and rules. On my right hon. Friend’s point about local versus regional, alas, the disease is no respecter of borough boundaries. We have to have some regions in which to constitute the tiers that are sensible and large enough.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and for his telephone call earlier today.
This morning, people right across these islands woke up to the more encouraging news on the development of vaccines to fight this deadly virus. It is right that we pay tribute to the remarkable efforts of thousands of scientists across the world who worked at unprecedented speed to produce those vaccines. All those scientists offer us hope that there is a way out of this pandemic, based on the primacy of safety for our society. Far too often in the recent past, expertise and science have been questioned or demeaned by right-wing politicians. Let us now ensure that those same politicians never forget that it is the commitment and dedication to science that is now coming to our society’s rescue.
While we all welcome that hope on the horizon, there remain far too many of our citizens who have not received a single penny of support since the beginning of the pandemic. Three million freelancers, sole traders and the recently self-employed all remain excluded from any of the economic support established by this Tory Government. Those include people across our community —painters, bricklayers, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and plumbers—and because of the choices made by this Tory Government, they are now facing Christmas with no help and no support. I and my party have been raising that issue since March, eight months ago. The excluded are not asking for any special treatment; they are looking for some of the same fairness that others have seen. Others have received support, and those who are excluded should also be getting it.
The Chancellor’s spending review this Wednesday will take place exactly one month before Christmas day. Will the Prime Minister guarantee today that a package of financial support will finally be put in place for the 3 million people who have been excluded from any economic support? Will there be some pre-Christmas cheer for the 3 million who have so far been excluded from help?
I do not know who the right hon. Gentleman means in his attack on those who do not encourage investment in science. He certainly cannot mean this Government, because we put forward the biggest ever programme of investment in research and development and in a creating an advanced research projects facility that we hope will rival that of the United States. We are investing in pure science and applied science at a scale undreamed of by any previous Government—I think it arrives at about £22 billion a year at the end of the spending review period. I really do not know who the right hon. Gentleman is talking about, but whichever right-wing foes he has in view, they cannot be this Government.
On the point about supporting the self-employed, this has been very difficult, and we are doing whatever we can to help the self-employed and the excluded. So far £13.5 billion—I think more now—has gone to support the self-employed. Those particularly in the artistic and cultural sectors are beneficiaries of the £1.57 billion investment in the arts and culture. There are many things that apply generally, such as the cut in VAT, bounce back loans of all kinds and grants that are available to everybody, but the best thing for everybody in all sectors is just to get the economy moving again, get the virus down and move forward. That is the objective of this winter plan.
I thank the Prime Minister for agreeing to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on behalf of 70 colleagues who wrote to him at the weekend, and we look forward to discussing that matter in more detail later. Many hon. Members will hold their judgment on this plan until we know which areas go into which tiers, and I think that areas that go into tier 3 will struggle to spot much of a difference from the lockdown. For each of these restrictions that have such an impact on people and businesses, will the Prime Minister set out the impact that he is expecting it to have on dealing with covid, as well as the non-covid health impact, and—importantly—the impact on people’s livelihoods, so that we know that each measure will save more lives than it costs?
Indeed; I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who have written an excellent letter to me. I hope that he agrees that many of the points in that letter were answered in my statement: about sport, the curfew, non-essential retail, gyms, personal—[Inaudible.]
Order. Have you pressed the button, Prime Minister? I think we are going to have to stop for a moment so that we can check the sound, as we lost your answer. Have you pressed the mute button by mistake? It is not our end, Prime Minister; it could well be yours. I wonder whether Mr Hancock would like to take over with the answer. Is one of you going to do it or not? It is no use looking at each other. We are going to suspend the House for three minutes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In addition to what the Prime Minister said before we lost the audio, although the tier 3 restrictions that have been set out are less stringent than the national lockdown, it is necessary to get the R down under the tiered system in order to avoid a further national lockdown if the cases still go up. As we have set out, we have seen the case rates come down in some areas of the country, and now, thankfully, we are seeing the case rates come down nationally.
The final point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) was about other health and economic impacts. Of course we recognise the economic impacts. On the other health impacts, I simply reiterate what I have said many times before, which is that the health impacts of not locking down on health conditions other than coronavirus and of the spread of the coronavirus going too broad are also bad. The best way to protect the health of the nation both from coronavirus and from all other conditions is to keep the virus under control.
I think this makes the case for investing in broadband.
May I ask the Secretary of State a very serious question? From the lack of tests and PPE to the claims about a protective ring around care homes while people died in horrifying numbers, the Government’s abject failure to protect care home residents and care staff has been one of the biggest tragedies of this pandemic. Will the Secretary of State today guarantee that no care home in England will be required or pressurised to admit anyone from an NHS hospital who has tested positive for covid?
Over the summer, we put in place a new regime for ensuring that people who test positive but need to go to a care home can get the support they need in a way that protects them and also protects other residents. That means nobody leaves hospital without a test and that those with a positive test who need to leave hospital must be isolated in a CQC-approved isolation facility. We, of course, need to support people who have tested positive and hospital is often not the best place for them, but we need to do that in a way that protects all other residents as well. At the same time, I am delighted that we are able to announce the expansion of the availability of testing for care homes, domiciliary care workers and care home visiting, which I know is hugely welcomed.
We have seen huge efforts across Stoke-on-Trent to get covid rates down. The city council has done an excellent job of rolling out testing and rates are now falling locally. Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to ensure support continues to be given to local health and council services, so we do not exit lockdown at the highest tier?
I pay tribute to everybody in Stoke: the council, the Royal Stoke University Hospital, the wider NHS and our three colleagues in this House who represent Stoke, including my hon. Friend, who have worked so hard together to get high-quality public health messaging out. We can see the cases coming down in Stoke. As the Prime Minister set out, on Thursday we will announce decisions, taking into account the very latest data on which areas fall into which tiers.
While millions will welcome the fact that they will now be able to shop, worship, and associate with friends and family over Christmas, does the Secretary of State not realise how alarming this statement is today? Rather than being grateful for an announcement that allows us to exercise some basic freedoms, should we not be alarmed that to do the things that people would normally expect in a democracy now rests in the hands of a Minister and the state? Does he accept that today’s statement will still deny people the right to earn a living, will drive millions into poverty, and will still instil fear? That should indicate that this policy is the wrong track.
I hope the Secretary of State will not think me too eccentric if I say that on a winter’s morning I like to start my day by swimming the Serpentine and then going to mass. Of course, he abolished both of those things in the past four weeks. More important, he abolished them for hundreds of thousands of people. My question to him is this: under any tier or future lockdown, can we never return to the abolition of healthy outdoor sports or going to religious services? There has never been a shred of evidence that they cause any problem. By the way, this is the first time in 800 years that people have been prevented from going to church in this country, since it was put under an interdict by a medieval pope. We want reassurance on that. As well as having that conversation, could he give us some more reassurance about Christmas carols? We do not want it to be just a holy night; we do not want it to be a silent night either.
I very much hope that we will not have another national lockdown at all. One of the reasons that we have toughened up tier 3 is to ensure that, if areas are in tier 3, we can get the virus coming down as opposed to just flattening at a high rate, as we were seeing earlier. In that way, I hope that we can prevent the whole country from ever having to see the sorts of restrictions that we have had to introduce in order to keep people safe.
It has to be said that news of the three vaccinations brings us a much-needed dose of hope as we face the winter months. Wales is especially vulnerable to covid-19 because of our older population and our higher levels of deprivation. Will the Secretary of State ensure that Wales receives a sufficient allocation of vaccines based on need and not per head of population?
It is absolutely vital that we vaccinate fairly across this country—across the whole of the UK— according to clinical need. That is the agreement that we have reached among the four nations. It is the principle that I am determined to follow, given that, obviously, the UK vaccination programme will cover the whole United Kingdom. On that basis, we have agreed a fair allocation of vaccine so that vaccination can occur at the same speed in all parts of the country according to clinical need.
Given the big sacrifices that York residents have made to get the virus down locally, does the Secretary of State accept how unfair it will feel if the city is kept in high tier restrictions even when our covid rate is considerably lower than it was when we entered tier 2 and one of the lowest in our regions? Does he agree that the new restrictions policy has to give people hope that self-discipline and resilience will be rewarded?
Yes, those values are important and should be rewarded. I hope that, in the areas of the country where the case rate has really come down a long way and is coming down fast, we will see the fruits of that effort. Having said that, it is absolutely critical that areas that need to go into tier 3 do so in order to get the case rate down and to protect the population. We will take these judgments based on public health advice over the forthcoming days. The reason that we have not set those details out today is that the more data we have the better. We want to give businesses time to plan to be able to reopen, but, at the same time, we do want to take into account the very latest data. In York, as in some other parts of the country, the number of cases is coming down, and I welcome that, but I want to see a few more days’ data before we can take those final decisions.
If these tougher tiers are to deliver sustained reductions in transmission then test, trace, isolate has to work better. Will the Secretary of State learn the lessons from countries where compliance with self-isolation is much higher, pay people more where necessary, offer hotel accommodation if needed, and fix the app so that people told to self-isolate via the app can now qualify for support? Will the Government stop repeating that they have given £13 billion to the self-employed when 3 million of them have been unfairly deemed to be ineligible? It is not good enough to say that it is too difficult or that we should wait until the economy is moving again. I say to the Minister: no ifs, no buts, no excuses, when will he give those people some hope?
The whole country knows that we are going through very difficult times, but I hope that the news, especially on vaccines, that we have seen over the past fortnight offers some hope about the way out. The hon. Lady mentions the test and trace system, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). I am very glad to say that not only is the testing regime and the opportunities that we have to roll out testing expanding very rapidly—I pay tribute to the team for that—but the contact tracing is improving. I am really pleased about that and pay tribute to all those who have been working to make that happen.
Quite rightly, we are keeping young people in full-time education at this time. The outdoor education sector provides an amazing parallel education for children, and there are many centres in Cumbria and across the UK. These centres are ready for covid-secure programmes where pupils who are in bubbles at school can be safely accommodated. Will my right hon. Friend work across Government to look at reopening these centres as soon as possible for residential visits, so that whole cohorts of young children do not miss out on this vital and life-affirming educational opportunity?
I welcome the progress that has been made on a co-ordinated approach across the four countries of the UK around the Christmas season. Given the particular context of Northern Ireland and, indeed, all the links across the Irish sea, can the Secretary of State ensure that this planning also includes the Irish Government? Can I also suggest that, in doing that, the most immediate priority should be given to clarity on travel arrangements, but some care also needs to be taken in relation to the precise guidance on household mixing?
Yes, I will absolutely take the hon. Gentleman’s points on board in the conversations that Ministers are having across the devolved nations of the United Kingdom, including his point about the enormous number of ties, including family ties, between the UK and Republic of Ireland. As he knows, the common travel area is there between the UK and the Republic, so travel to the Republic from the UK side has never been restricted. That is a point of principle and policy, and I know that it is important for the people of Northern Ireland.
It is welcome news that Ipswich Hospital found out on 11 November that it would be receiving £5.2 million for a new molecular laboratory. This will allow the hospital to ramp up rapid testing to almost 3,000 a day by the end of March. We have also heard reports that Suffolk’s first site for delivering vaccinations will be ready in two weeks’ time, with the NHS proposing the Gainsborough sports centre in Ipswich. Testing and vaccinations are two crucial ways to beat the virus, so does my right hon. Friend agree that having Ipswich at the forefront of both these key issues will be a real boost to Ipswich residents?
We have put millions of pounds into Ipswich Hospital, and I know that my hon. Friend supports Ipswich Hospital very strongly indeed. I am glad that across Suffolk and across the whole of the country we are now putting in place the vaccination hubs that will be there and ready, should the regulator sign off a new vaccine. I do not want to intrude on the rigorous independence of the medical regulator—the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which will make the decision on the safety of these vaccines—but should it be approved, the NHS will be ready to begin the roll-out and I set the NHS the challenge of ensuring that it can roll out at the speed at which these vaccines can be manufactured and produced.
Will the Secretary of State impart my question to the Prime Minister? Can I beg him at this late stage to change his mind? This is a national emergency, and his policy announced today will end up with critical and perhaps tragic results for my constituents and for our country. I represent Huddersfield, in Kirklees, which is a classic average typical town in Britain, and we have worked better and harder than anyone else to get the rates down under the tier system, but we have not been successful. Under the national plan, however, we have started to get there. We only have to keep ourselves under restrictions for a few more weeks, and then we will have the antidote. Please change your mind, Minister. Change your mind, Prime Minister. We must stop deaths occurring that could be avoided.
The tiered system that has been set out by the Prime Minister today is calibrated very carefully, learning all the lessons from the lockdowns that have been in place and from the previous tiered system, as well as from evidence from around the world and, indeed, from the devolved nations. It has to be calibrated to be able to bring infections down, but to do so in a way that also protects the other things that matter in life as much as possible. It is necessary that tier 3, in particular, is tougher than before, not least because of the experience of Huddersfield, Kirklees and other places that were in tier 3 for quite a long time, but saw a flattening rather than a reduction in their rates. That is why we have brought in a tougher tier 3. It nevertheless allows for the reopening of religious settings and non-essential retail, which are so important to many.
Millions of people will be delighted to hear that grassroots sports will return from 3 December. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that will be the case in all three tiers? With regard to the tiers, will consideration be given to variances across big counties and regions? For example, the conditions in the Thames estuary can seem very different and distant from those on the south Kent coast.
I am delighted that outdoor sports are able to reopen. Like the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I have had significant representations from people who want to exercise, which of course is good for their health, so I am glad that we have been able to do that.
When it comes to the geography of the application of the tiers, of course we have to look at the areas in which people live and travel. Where it is clear that there is a genuine difference that is not represented by administrative boundaries, we will look at it and make a decision on that basis, as we did previously. For instance, with the previous tiers, we even split a borough in two in one example. Nevertheless, we do have to look at where people live and travel to get these decisions right.
Thousands of jobs have been lost and will be lost in the pub and hospitality sector. At the beginning of the crisis, the Prime Minister said that Government action would follow the science. At a recent meeting, the national health director was clear that there was no science behind the 10 o’clock—soon to be 11 o’clock—curfew and said that it was a policy decision. If there is no science behind this decision, what are the reasons for it?
We have put in place an enormous amount of support for the hospitality sector and we understand the challenges posed by the measures that were brought in. The reason behind the restrictions on hospitality is that in order to protect people’s ability to go to work and, in particular, to protect education, it is important, sadly, to reduce the social contact on which the virus thrives. It is upsetting and frustrating, but it is true. It is clear from the evidence that later in the evening and late at night, social distancing declines, and we know that when social distancing declines, transmission increases.
May I ask the Prime Minister, through the medium of my right hon. Friend, what progress has been made to achieve integration between the lockdown measures and testing at the country’s airports? Should we not follow the example of countries that have been successful at boosting business travel, helping the airline industry, helping inward and outward tourism, and getting airport workers back to full-time employment? What encouragement can he give to those at Bristol international airport in my constituency?
This is a really important issue. It is another example of how the increased testing capacity we have built can help improve lives. I have worked with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, the airline industry and the airports, including the important regional airports, to try to get a better regime in place. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) will not have to wait very long to get an answer.
The uplift to universal credit was welcome, but people on legacy benefits, the sick and the disabled have also faced additional costs and hardships because of the pandemic, many of which were incurred to follow Government advice on shielding or protecting themselves. How does the right hon. Gentleman justify not applying the same uplift to those people, and can this injustice be rectified going forward?
Many people in those circumstances are also in receipt of universal credit. We have put in an increase of £1,000 for those in receipt of universal credit, which is a very significant and generous increase, alongside the furlough arrangements. That is a very substantial package of financial support, and the International Monetary Fund has described it as one of the most generous in the world.
May I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)? The Secretary of State said that he recognises the damage done by these restrictions. Will he go further and publish the Government’s assessment of what the impact is in both economic and health terms? Will he ensure that on Thursday, when it becomes clear which regions are going into which tiers, the Government publish the exact criteria that will be used to make that judgment?
Yes, we will publish the statistics that we look at to make the judgments that my hon. Friend refers to. It is not possible to put a specific number on it, though, because there are a number of criteria. We would not want to put an area into lockdown—a higher tier, more accurately—because it triggered numerical criteria if there was a specific reason. For instance, there has been a very significant outbreak at a barracks in the past month, which meant that it looked like that area had a huge spike, but it was entirely—literally—confined to barracks. Therefore, an element of judgment is important in making these decisions, but we will publish the data on which they are taken. My hon. Friend asked about the economic impact assessment, and I will raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Diolch, Mr Speaker. The news of the successful development of three vaccines is to be warmly welcomed because it offers light at the end of the tunnel. However, the Secretary of State will recognise that distribution will be a huge logistical challenge. What guarantee can he give that the Welsh Government will receive any additional resources they require to meet the task at hand?
The vaccines programme is a UK programme, and of course the costs of the roll-out incur Barnett consequentials and will therefore be available across the whole of the UK. We are working closely with the NHS in Wales to make sure that happens as smoothly as possible, but it will be the most almighty huge logistical effort for everyone involved.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I do not support lockdowns, tiered or otherwise, but I welcome the move to get these vaccines. That is very good news. As I understand it, the Government’s main weapon is test and trace. May I suggest that test and quick result is equally important? When will the Government be able to tell the House when the whole country can be tested and get a quick result, so that when it is negative we can all get on with our lives?
I hope that the system for people to test daily if they have been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive, as the Prime Minister has, instead of having to isolate, will be in place in January. As the Prime Minister set out, we are piloting it from this week, and then we will roll it out over December. I hope it will be available nationwide from January.
I direct my question to the Prime Minister or even the Chancellor, but I ask it to the Secretary of State. With the infection rates still high across the north-east, it is looking likely that the region will come out of this national lockdown in a worse position than it was in going in. When the tier restrictions were last implemented, local leaders had to fight the Government for a fair amount of funding for our region. Can the Secretary of State assure us that this time the north will not be left behind again? In line with their levelling up agenda, will the Government ensure that all businesses and people receive the correct level of the financial support that they desperately need?
I am glad to see that the number of cases in the north-east is falling. That is good news and testament to people right across the north-east. Yes, there will be financial support to the councils that are in higher-tier areas, alongside the huge amount of financial support to individuals through furlough and the increase in universal credit, and to businesses.
Physical and mental wellbeing go hand in hand, and both are under attack from this virus. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments on outdoor sport, but at this time of year, it is the fitness studios, Pilates studios and dance studios that are crucial to keep people active. What reassurance can he give the House that, even in areas that are in a higher tier, every effort will be made to ensure that people can keep active, recognising the enormous efforts that the industry has made to put in covid-secure measures?
I talked to Hounslow’s director of public health this morning. She welcomes the opportunity to have rapid lateral flow testing under her local jurisdiction, and we both welcome the fact that the Government have finally recognised that local health and public health professionals are essential to the successful tackling of infections such as covid. However, councils and health trusts cannot roll out rapid testing for vulnerable groups, employ, train and enforce in the way described by the Prime Minister and roll out the vaccination programme without significant additional resources. The Army has been helping with the rapid testing in Liverpool, but will the Government adequately resource local authorities and local health trusts to deliver what is needed?
The hon. Lady is right to praise local public health officials. Local directors of public health have done an amazing amount of work throughout this crisis, and we work incredibly closely with them right across the country. It is very important that further funding will come forward for those areas in higher restrictions, not least because of the amount of work that we all need to do together.
As the Prime Minister said, 2020 has been a difficult year, and unfortunately, freelancers and directors of limited companies in Lincoln and across the UK have had a particularly hard year, with many of them receiving next to no financial support from the Government yet. While today’s announcements are welcome and we are moving in a positive direction, many will still have to wait several months before small businesses can return to some form of normality. Will my right hon. Friend urge his close friend the Chancellor to provide grant funding for those individuals and businesses? Local authorities can and will step in to provide this funding on a case-by-case basis, and to finance that, we can seek the repayment of taxpayer funding from the supermarkets, which have clearly misused taxpayer support that they do not need. Will he back the Blue Collar Conservative campaign and right this wrong?
The Government have committed to level up the country, and in particular the north of England. Given the risk that covid will level us down, what assurances can the Secretary of State give that in Wednesday’s spending review, the Chancellor will reform the Green Book, replace the local growth fund with the shared prosperity fund and deliver the investment needed to tackle regional inequalities?
The Treasury has already updated its Green Book, which is a significant step, and I know that the Chancellor has been discussing this further. The levelling-up agenda is even more critical after the pandemic than it was before. It is the agenda on which all Government Members were elected with enormous enthusiasm about a year ago, and we look forward to putting it in place with renewed vigour once this pandemic is over.
I heard the Secretary of State say some welcome things about sport. Given the importance of maintaining fitness to the ability to deal with this illness, can he confirm whether people will be able to go to indoor swimming pools and play golf?
I welcome the plans in place to test students, enabling them to travel home for Christmas, and I commend the work of the University of St Andrews, in my constituency, which has stepped in to facilitate that, but a gap remains in terms of the new year. We need to ensure that where students must return to university they can do so safely, as well as give reassurance to the communities in which they are situated. I understand from the covid winter plan that guidance will follow suit, but will the Secretary of State, on behalf of the Government, advise me as to what engagement is being had with devolved nations about the return and testing of students in January, including discussions on default online teaching?
Yes, this is a really important subject to get right. The use of testing will make it easier for students safely to go home and then safely to return to university. I have discussed that with my colleagues from across the four nations, not least because so many students go to university in different parts of the UK. I hope we have a good regime in place for the return of students, just as we have a good regime in place for students to be able safely to go home, using the new lateral flow tests that we now have available thanks to the huge investment and the work we did over the summer.
So many businesses and jobs in my constituency are based in pubs and the brewing industry, which are not set up to provide food and without further support will struggle to make it through December. May I ask the Prime Minister, through my right hon. Friend, to ensure that any support provided to wet pubs also includes the wider brewing industry, which will also be seeing a significant decrease in trade?
Yes, of course. Everybody knows that Burton is inescapably linked to high-quality beer; anyone who has been to Burton knows that fact. My heart goes out to the hospitality industry, which has been hit so hard. Of course schemes are available nationally, including the furlough and the support for businesses. There has been more support for the hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses, and there will be cash grants for businesses that are closed under the new tiering system, to try to support people through what are, inevitably, very difficult times.
Although I am pleased that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have listened to representations from me and other colleagues about the importance of reopening gyms, golf and collective worship, I am disappointed that we heard nothing from the Prime Minister about helping small business people and small businesses in my constituency who have received little or no help whatsoever; they have been financially excluded, and the Government should look again at that. Following a freedom of information request, through my local clinical commissioning group, I compared the GP referrals from September this year with those from September 2019 and found that there has been a huge drop in the number of people referred, for example, for cardio, gastric, trauma and orthopaedics. Although we have heard from the Government that they will put extra financial resources into the NHS, how will the Secretary of State provide the extra doctors, nurses and specialists to get the waiting lists down and to meet the surge in referrals?
I am glad to say that we are hiring large numbers of people into the NHS—over 13,000 more nurses over the last year, for instance. I am grateful to the Chancellor for putting an extra £3 billion into the NHS next year to deal with some of the backlogs that were inevitably caused by the virus. In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, let me say that there will be grants of up to £3,000 per month for businesses forced to close by restrictions in England and also backdated grants of up to £2,100 per month for businesses in tier 2 and tier 3 areas that have suffered from reduced demand—this is on top of the national schemes. I reassure him that we are doing everything we can to support businesses in these difficult times.
Aylesbury was in tier 1 prior to the second lockdown and my constituents accepted the jump to national restrictions on the basis of protecting the national health service. Will my right hon. Friend reassure them that from 3 December any restrictions will be based on truly local needs, backed up with truly local evidence, so that they can see for themselves why the action is needed?
Yes, that is right. We publish unprecedented amounts of data, on which these judgments have to be made. I commit to my hon. Friend that we will look at the precise data—in Aylesbury, across Buckinghamshire and, of course, nationwide—as we make these difficult judgments.
We do not often enough thank those public sector workers who have gone the extra mile during covid, particularly those processing furlough payments in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, those processing universal credit payments in the Department of Work and Pensions, and, as the Secretary of State will be aware, those who work in the national health service, for their heroic efforts. Will he thank those public sector workers for everything they are doing, and will he explain to them why this Government believe they should be subjected to a three-year pay freeze and whether he thinks that is appropriate?
I pay tribute to all those who have been working on the coronavirus response and, more broadly, all those who have been working together across the public and private sectors to make it happen. There are clear, significant economic consequences to the actions that we have had to take, and we as a country will have to get through those in the same way as we have pulled together to get through this coronavirus crisis so far. We are not there yet, but we are making significant progress.
The scientists, their teams and all the volunteers deserve our thanks for getting the breakthrough with the vaccine, as do the Secretary of State and the Government for funding that research and for acting in anticipation by buying 100 million doses of the vaccine. In that spirit, and given that we have made this commitment, will he over the next couple of days ask the Chancellor to advance some of the money that the Prime Minister referred to—the record-breaking increase in science funding—and put it in the hands of other clinical trials that are funded by charitable funds but whose fundraising income has dropped, so that there is no interruption to life-saving research for cancer and other sources?
When the Prime Minister announced the end of the first lockdown in late June, the Office for National Statistics weekly survey estimated that about 25,000 people had covid, but after the Government ignored their own scientists’ call for immediate action in September, cases skyrocketed. The latest ONS data estimates that there are now more than 600,000 people with the virus. Cases will soar again if the Government keep repeating the same old errors, including the failed tier system, which is what they are doing, driven by the pressure of their own right-wing Back-Bench MPs, not by public health needs. Today’s measures risk a third wave. Will the Government take responsibility for the thousands of deaths and all the pain of the bereavements that that would cause?
I suppose the good news that I can break to the hon. Gentleman is that by studying the impact of the different restrictions that we have had to introduce, we have been able to bring in a set within tier 3 that are calibrated to ensure that we can get the rates down. There is also mass testing, which has been so effective in Liverpool, where the rates have come down by over two thirds. That is a remarkable effort by everybody in Liverpool, and I put my tribute to Joe Anderson on the record once more. So we can do this, especially if we all act and pull together.
London is the engine of this country’s economy, and my central London constituency is suffering hard. As of Friday, London had a substantially lower case rate than the English average, coming in at 75 points lower, and my constituency was 125 points lower. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that London will come out at the lowest tier possible, given the health circumstances?
I can assure my hon. Friend that London will come out at the tier that is necessary and appropriate based on the public health evidence. What matters, as my hon. Friend says, is the case rate and the case rate among the over-60s, as well as the direction of travel in both of those, and then, of course, the percentage of tests testing positive—because if we put more tests in, we do not want to punish an area for having a higher number of positives—and the impact on the NHS. Thankfully, in London, the NHS has performed remarkably in this second peak and has coped with it, despite the pressures, admirably well.
Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful that both the Prime Minister and I are now back virtually. I am pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that the devolved nations are finally being included in talks on planning for the Christmas break. However, like so many of his other promises, it comes too late for people in Wales, and they have had enough.
The Prime Minister may remember that earlier this year, he told the House that he would passport money for Welsh councils, such as mine in Rhondda Cynon Taf, that were particularly badly hit by Storm Dennis. He told us that the money would be there for the landslip in the Rhondda. We need in excess of £100 million, but we have had just £2.5 million. The Prime Minister says he is committed to the Union, but we all know that actions speak louder than words, and his negligence in supporting the Welsh Government through flooding and in co-operating with them over coronavirus speaks volumes. Will he therefore please confirm his exact plans to make good on his financial commitments—
For the record, Madam Deputy Speaker, the problem does not appear to be at our end. I hope that viewers will not think I am in any way trying to avoid scrutiny by hon. Members. I can tell the hon. Lady that we are investing massively in Wales, as we are across the whole UK. If she contains her impatience until Wednesday, she will hear about perhaps the biggest package of investment in infrastructure across the whole UK for generations. I remind the House that it was the Welsh Labour Government who managed to spend £144 million on a study into the M4 bypass, and then decided not to proceed with the bypass. That is not the approach that this Government take. We will be investing hugely in Welsh infrastructure and taking Wales forward. I am delighted that Mark Drakeford and other leaders of the devolved Administrations are working with us on a plan for Christmas.
Does the Prime Minister agree about the importance of sport and exercise to both mental and physical wellbeing? Will he confirm that going forward into the winter, facilities for outdoor sport and indoor swimming should remain open in all tiers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the vital importance of sport. I can tell him that even in my current confinement, I am taking whatever exercise I can—mainly on a treadmill, I am afraid. He is totally right. We will ensure that gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools are open in all tiers and that organised sport can resume.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs, I have been contacted by pubs not only in my constituency of Warrington North, but from across the country. They are dismayed by the extension of the substantial meal requirement to tier 2, but also by the agonising wait to find out what tier their premises will be in as we come out of national lockdown. For those who will be allowed to reopen, in order to be able to do so, they need to be getting their orders in now with suppliers. Those who cannot will be losing out on one of the most profitable times of the year. As they have been absolutely battered by the restrictions, is it not time for a sector deal for pubs, which are the heart of our communities, and for their supply chain?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and it is appalling that pubs, or any businesses, have had to face the restrictions that they have. Nobody has wanted to do this. The reason for the delay that she talks about until Thursday is that we need to look at the data and make sure that we get it right about which tiers various areas should be going into. Of course she is right that we have to have plans for our whole economy to bounce back, and indeed we do. She will be hearing from the Chancellor on Wednesday about that, but we must not forget that pubs and other businesses that have been forced to close remain entitled to furlough until March.
In Birmingham, the data suggests that the biggest driver for transmission is household mixing. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister give serious consideration to allowing places such as Buzz Bingo and Hollywood Bowl in Great Park, in the Northfield constituency, to open in all three tiers—not just to save jobs and those businesses, but so that family and friends can socialise in a covid-secure way?
My hon. Friend is totally right to support bingo halls and bowling alleys. They will be open, as he knows, in tiers 1 and 2. Alas, we cannot yet do it in tier 3, but, as I have said to the House, there is the prospect that where communities come together to get tested together, they can thereby drive down R. There is now a route out of these restrictions for communities and towns, not just through the vaccine but through mass testing.
Schools across Enfield North face a daily avalanche of challenges to stay open before a single class has taken place. They face mounting costs associated with enhanced cleansing regimes, procurement of laptops for virtual learning and skyrocketing bills for staff absence and supply teachers as a result of teachers having to self-isolate. What additional funding and financial support is being made available to schools to support them with those additional covid-related costs?
The hon. Lady is completely right about the heroic achievement of schools and teachers in keeping going. The vast majority of schools—99% or so—are open, to the best of my knowledge, and most pupils are getting the education that they need. That is one of the reasons why we have had to put pressure on other sectors, such as hospitality. We do not want to do that, but social justice means that we have to keep schools open. We have put about £1 billion into supporting catch-up funds for schools, and another £96 million is now going in for one-on-one tutorials to help kids who are in danger of falling behind.
The Government’s support packages for cultural venues throughout this pandemic have provided a lifeline for many attractions in my constituency, and I know that the Prime Minister will join me in welcoming the £760,000 grant that we received over the weekend to support and renew the Blackpool Tower ballroom. As soon as our local attractions can reopen, will the Prime Minister join me in the UK’s premier resort of Blackpool to reopen the Tower ballroom and make sure we can launch a campaign to encourage people to holiday here in the UK next year?
Like many of us, I have spent happy hours in the Blackpool Tower ballroom, and I know it well. It would be a fine thing to see Blackpool open up again as fast as possible. I repeat the answer I gave a moment ago: we cannot say yet what the tiering will be, but mass testing does offer a route forward for Blackpool and all its attractions—illuminations included.
Small Business Saturday is only a couple of days after the lifting of this lockdown, but the fantastic small businesses in Newcastle do not know how or whether they will be able to trade. Many small businesspeople are excluded from all support, for one reason or another, and their losses are mounting, so will the Prime Minister set out the per head economic support he will be providing to local authorities to help small businesses make it through to the promised land of covid-free vaccines?
The local authorities have been given about £4.6 billion so far to support them through the pandemic and to help them to support hard-hit businesses in their areas, and that is on top of the investment that we have made in the VAT cuts—the business rate cuts—right the way through to next year. Altogether, it is about a £200 billion package of support. The whole point of coming out into the tiers now, or next week, is to allow small businesses to get going again. It was awful to have the restrictions that we have had. We hope that we will be able to take them off and keep them off, but clearly that depends on everybody doing their bit.
I understand that my right hon. Friend is going to require London to be in one regional tier. However, as at the end of last week, the rate of infection in the worst affected borough was at 372 per 100,000, but in the least affected area it was at 125 per 100,000. What will drive which tier London goes into—the position in the worst affected area, the middle, or the least affected area?
My hon. Friend will have to wait until the announcements by the Health Secretary on Thursday about exactly who goes into which tier. As my hon. Friend knows, the point about London is that although it is very diverse and massive—650 square miles or so—it is held together by a very dense mass transit system, and although there are fewer people on it right now, the transmission within London means that it is quite difficult to separate one bit of London from another.
Whatever tier of protection, people expect frontline workers to get the support they need to keep themselves and their colleagues safe. In response to a judicial review initiated by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, the High Court ruled that the UK Government were wrong in not extending health and safety protections to gig economy workers. Will the Prime Minister ensure that this is corrected and that his Government do not appeal against this finding?
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and join my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) in praising all the staff at the Royal Stoke for the work they have been doing. It is the scientists that are giving us the most hope at the moment, particularly with the vaccines. I ask the Prime Minister to join me in congratulating Cobra Biologics in Newcastle-under-Lyme, who have been part of the Oxford project. Does he agree that the fact that the vaccines are so close now is a reason why we should redouble our efforts to observe the guidance and be responsible with the extra permissions we will get over December?
My hon. Friend completely sums up the strategy that we need now, just as we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now is the moment when it is vital that we concentrate on the road ahead and do not veer off one way or the other, and do not allow ourselves to throw away the gains that we have made. It will be a tough few months, but the vaccines that he talks about have unquestionably changed the logic, and massively, massively improved our position, but it is too early—far, far too early—to be complacent about that. Obviously I thank the company in his constituency profoundly for what it has done.
The Prime Minister failed to answer the question from the Leader of Opposition about the extent to which local areas would be consulted on what tier they would be returned to, and the Secretary of State was fantastically vague about the geography of any such areas. Will the Prime Minister therefore clarify what exactly the criteria are that are going to be used to make these decisions?
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, perhaps that was one of the answers I gave that was mysteriously truncated in the course of my giving it. I think I said pretty clearly that the criteria we would use to decide who went into which tier would be case detection rates in all groups, case detection rates in the over-60s, the rate at which cases are rising or falling, positivity rates, and pressure on the NHS. Those are some of the criteria that we will use.
My right hon. Friend is completely right in his basic instincts, which I share, and his fundamental libertarian yearnings, which I also share. I love Christmas; I love a big get-together. The trouble is that the people of this country can see that there is a real risk that if we blow it with a big, blowout at Christmas, we will pay for it in the new year. They want a cautious and balanced approach, and that is what we will deliver for the whole UK.
May I make a plea to all Members to be as brief as the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne)? After two hours, we are not even halfway through the number of people who are hoping to ask a question. I remind people that they are not making speeches; they are asking questions—brief questions—and they should not read them. I am quite sure that I can rely on the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
You always say that before you call me, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Laughter.] I see you have united the House in that plea.
May I make a plea to the Prime Minister? I have asked him about this before this year. We had terrible flooding in the Rhondda. It led to a landslide from a coal tip, which could all too easily have landed on top of people’s houses, God forbid, as it has elsewhere in Wales in the past. We need £100 million. So far, the Prime Minister has promised one Member of this House to passport the money, in February. He promised me in June that this was going to be sorted. We still have seen only £2 million of the £100 million we need. Please, please, please, just say now we are going to get that money on Wednesday.
This is a matter for the Welsh Labour Government in Wales to deal with, but I understand the fundamental inability of the Welsh Labour Government to deal with so many matters that concern the people of Rhondda, and we will do what we can to address the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Many will be relieved that collective worship, outdoor sports, gyms, shops and personal care will resume business as usual, but can the Prime Minister tell us when the limits for spectators at spectator sports and business events will be set, as this will affect many self-employed contractors? Most importantly, what does my right hon. Friend think the chances are of getting the over-80s and the most vulnerable vaccinated before Christmas so that that great festival can be a lot more stressful for everyone—a lot less stressful for everyone? [Laughter.]
While the Prime Minister computes what that question actually was, I should point out that the hon. Gentleman—I am being kind to him, because he is an hon. Gentleman—had two questions. I am not allowing any more two questions; it is one question, not a speech, or we will be here all day. Of course, some people want to be.
I am interested in my hon. Friend’s Freudian slip about Christmas, but the answer is, I am afraid, that it is just too early to say whether we will get any vaccine before Christmas that we can deploy at scale. We are optimistic but we cannot be confident at this stage.
Regardless of today’s announcement, many businesses and people in my constituency of Edinburgh West and across this country are still completely excluded, and have been for many months, from Government support. Can the Prime Minister assure us that his Government will address the issue of those millions of people who have been excluded?
I know that the whole House will want to join me in sending our condolences and thoughts to the two crew members of the Joanna C, which sank at sea this weekend.
With regards to today’s announcement, will the Prime Minister make the desire to get the R level to 1 a time-specific objective, or a permanent one?
Wales is already out of its successful circuit-breaker. When England comes out of lockdown into a tiered system, will the Prime Minister ensure that people who live in tiers 2 and 3 are not in a position to make non-essential travel out of those regions into other English regions or into Wales, in order to contain the spread of the transmission of the disease?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the guidance on travel in tiers 2 and 3, he will see that it sets out clearly that in tier 2 people should reduce the number of journeys that they make and avoid travelling into tier 3 areas, and that in tier 3 they should avoid travelling out of the area altogether. There is more detail in the guidance, which he might care to study.
I welcome the changes today for gyms, God and golf, opening in all tiers, but will the Prime Minister confirm that the hospitality sector, forced to close in tier 2 and tier 3 areas, will continue to receive grant support in the future?
Under the previous tiering system, my constituents in Lancaster and Wyre were frustrated that, although they had infection rates at the bottom of the Lancashire table of infections, they were bound by the rest of the county when it came to the tiering system. Will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents and businesses that operate in my constituency that district councils will be taken into account and consulted when deciding which tiers we are going into?
I very much sympathise with the hon. Lady’s constituents in Lancaster and Wyre, and I thank them for the efforts that they have gone to in helping to bring the virus down in their area. It is very difficult, as I said earlier, to draw up the boundaries of these regions in a way that is satisfactory, but I hope that people will work together to get the test, to kick covid out and to drive down the virus, thereby—hopefully—to reduce the restrictions in their area.
While the Prime Minister might hope that coronavirus will take the day off this Christmas, key workers in prisons, local authorities and emergency services will be working hard to keep vital services running. Despite that, the Chancellor is apparently set to freeze their pay. Will the Prime Minister order the Chancellor to reverse that decision, or do key workers need to set up unproven personal protective equipment companies if they want to receive Government money?
I thank prison workers and all who have done an incredible job in fighting covid and helping the country to fight covid over the last few months. I think the public understand the need to keep the pressure down on public spending at the moment. We have had inflation-busting pay rises previously, but, as the Chancellor will be setting out, the economic situation is not easy as a result of what this country has been going through. We will ensure that prison workers are among the very first to be able to use the lateral flow testing system to help them get the virus down in their line of work.
I strongly support what the Prime Minister has said today. He will know that despite the strong financial support for businesses, many businesses in my constituency of Harlow have really struggled. Therefore, as well as paying tribute to Harlow’s small businesses, may I urge him to ensure that he takes into consideration the really tough—sometimes devastating—effects on small businesses in future decisions on covid?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he does to champion small businesses in Harlow. They are the backbone of our economy, which is why the Government have done everything we can to keep businesses going, including through the furlough system, the grants of £3,000 per month for businesses forced to close, and backdated grants for businesses in tiers 2 and 3 that have been affected by reduced demand. I mentioned earlier the support for businesses through local authorities. That is about £1.1 billion of the £4.6 billion. He will have heard me mention many times the reductions in business rates and VAT that will go on until next year, and plenty of schemes with loans and grants to help small business. I have no doubt that that investment will be repaid by growth and dynamism next year as those businesses bounce back.
The Prime Minister said that he plans to extend mass testing. Some 2,000 military personnel were needed to deliver mass testing in Liverpool, and they were not able to extend it to the rest of the five boroughs in the city region. They are now due to return to other duties. Meanwhile, other public sector workers are flat out on the crisis already, so what is the plan for rolling out mass testing? Would it not be better to concentrate on getting contact tracing right?
The advantage of mass testing is that it is instant. Contact tracing by any system takes 24 hours or so to get the result to people. Mass testing can tell people whether they are infectious within 15 minutes. The Army has done a fantastic job in Liverpool and will continue to be very valuable as we roll it out.
The Prime Minister has given a clear policy direction, together with the rationale behind the changes about to be introduced. People will be particularly pleased that spectators can return to sporting events. Will he share the scientific evidence and thinking behind this with the Welsh Government, in the hope that my constituents can benefit from the same privileges that will be available in England?
Showpeople who run our fairs and showgrounds have been adhering to lockdown rules since March, but because they do not have fixed premises, they are not eligible for rates relief or many other aspects of financial support. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and the Showmen’s Guild to look at how we can support people who run our fairs and showgrounds?
The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me; I think that was a request to meet him. I am very happy to ensure that his request is taken up at the appropriate ministerial level. I think his question was about support for those who have suffered during lockdown. I am more than happy to do what I can to help.
I thank Tom Keith-Roach of AstraZeneca for producing a vaccine that, when fairly compared, is actually 90% effective. Will my right hon. Friend revisit the restrictions that he is proposing today if the vaccine is approved in the coming days?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be optimistic about the AstraZeneca vaccine. The trouble is that it may not be deployed or, indeed, deployable on a rapid enough timescale to allow us to dispense with the kind of restraints that we need to employ. The risk is that we would simply see a surge in the virus and a devastating impact on communities before we got those shots into people’s arms.
My constituents in Blaydon, along with others across the north-east, have been working really hard to stop the spread of coronavirus. Our councils have responded magnificently, too, but questions still remain about the funding for the more effective local test and trace, additional support for businesses already in tier 2 or 3 before the shutdown and funding for the local roll-out of the vaccination programme. Will the Prime Minister ensure that funding is now made available urgently to local authorities to meet these costs?
Indeed. We will make sure that we support local authorities, which will clearly be playing an important role in rolling out the vaccine. As I said, we have already given £4.6 billion to support local authorities. They will continue to play a crucial role, as will the NHS, the Army and other bodies.
I am incredibly grateful to the Prime Minister for sticking to his word and ending the national lockdown on 2 December as promised. Looking ahead to the new tiered system, I have been speaking to hospitality businesses today that very much welcome the changes to the curfew but just want the Prime Minister’s reassurance that additional support packages will remain in place if they are to go into tier 2 or 3.
On Friday, I met online with nurses in Birmingham who said that they had never seen so much death on the wards. They have had to bid goodbye to colleagues who have left the hospital in hearses. Many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We owe it to them to play by the rules to save our NHS, but we have to save livelihoods, too. I have read the action plan that the Prime Minister has published. There is one mention of the self-employed on page 39, but in the west midlands, half the self-employed are not eligible for the Government support scheme—that is 121,000 people. They are not going to be helped by VAT cuts, bounce back loans or the art and culture schemes. What they need is eligibility for the self-employment scheme, so will the Prime Minister bring forward changes to the scheme, or is he hell-bent on starving our entrepreneurs this Christmas?
Of course not, and I feel very much for those who are in a difficult position. We have spent £13.5 billion supporting the self-employed so far—I think possibly more by now. Universal credit remains there and the increase in universal credit is also intended to help those in tough times, as well as all the other provision that I have mentioned. But the best thing we can do for all self-employed people is to get our communities and our country moving again, and this winter package offers the best way forward.
A localised tiered approach is definitely the best way forward, and in Wiltshire, we very much look forward to going back into what I hope will be the lowest level of restrictions. Will my right hon. Friend commit to publishing very clear indicators so that local leaders know what they need to do in order to exit down the tiers and eventually get out of the restrictions altogether?
My hon. Friend will have seen or heard several times the criteria that we are using to decide which tiers people should go into. The inverse is obviously true and everybody now has several exit routes. There is obviously the vaccine and obeying the tiering system scrupulously, but also the possibility now of mass testing—get a test as a community, kick covid out and reduce the restrictions you face.
On 12 October, I asked the Prime Minister if he would ensure that British Sign Language was available at future press conferences. He said:
“the point is registered.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 39.]
Registered, but not delivered. Six weeks since that question and eight months since the start of the pandemic, there is still no progress on a sign language interpreter. Will the Prime Minister meet me and others, who rely on sign language interpretation, to work out a solution so that Government communication is inclusive of all disabled people?
Prime Minister, you will know more than anyone else in this House that London is a wonderful diverse city. Many Londoners will welcome much of your statement. However, we are not a single homogenous unit. So can I have your reassurance that when considering the tier system, you will look at the regulations, consider London borough by borough and not treat us all as one unit?
Alas, the virus is no respecter of borough boundaries, as I understand things. My hon. Friend is, of course, totally right in his analysis. The incidence is different in different parts of the city, but there are many things that unite London and encourage transmission across its vast network and I am afraid that is still I think the most sensible way of dealing with it.
People living in care homes need visitors. The plans to test family members so they can visit are welcome, but there is a big issue with insurance and the need for care homes to have indemnity if they experience a covid outbreak after visits. Care homes are already struggling financially and they should not be left facing ruinous legal fees because they tried to do the right thing and facilitate safe visits. So will the Prime Minister commit to extending the indemnity to care homes, which the NHS already has, plus financial support to help the care sector to pay for spiralling insurance premiums?
I will certainly study the hon. Member’s suggestion, but the best way forward is for care homes to take advantage of the testing system we have in place: not just lateral flow, but PCR—polymerase chain reaction—testing, too. That is the way to check that employees are not spreading it and of course to stop employees going from care home to care home. As has been pointed out throughout the pandemic, very often, it is not the visitors or family members who are importing the disease. Alas, I am afraid that sometimes it is the disease moving from care home to care home through employees and we have to stop that as well.
International travel is vital for our recovery, not least in the aviation, hospitality, leisure and business sectors. Has the Prime Minister given any thought to the utility of having vaccination stamps in passports, or an equivalent scheme, to get our planes off the ground?
Today’s covid winter plan confirms a further £7 billion for test and trace, taking the full bill this year to some £22 billion. Could the Prime Minister confirm how much of that additional funding will be going to the highly effective local authority contact tracing teams, how much will be squandered on management consultants and Serco’s failed national contact tracing system, and how much will go on further supporting those asked to self-isolate?
I cannot give the hon. Member a breakdown of the figures now, but what I can certainly tell her is that, actually, NHS Test and Trace has been working hand in glove with local authorities from the beginning. There are, to the best of my knowledge, about 198 local authority testing teams now actively going out there and doing what is necessary. They are doing a fantastic job.
Dr Andrew Wilson and the Cheshire clinical commission group have done a great job maintaining a high standard of care for patients alongside their covid workload. Can my right hon. Friend reassure Dr Alistair Adey at the Tarporley Health Centre that additional support will be made available to GP practices, so they can continue to deliver that standard, alongside any vaccination programme?
Yes, absolutely, and I thank Dr Andrew Wilson and the Cheshire clinical commissioning group, and Dr Alistair Adey from the Tarporley health centre, for everything they have done. GPs will obviously play a crucial role in this vaccination programme, as they do in all vaccination programmes, and they have been backed with £150 million to prepare.
Household mixing in a major vector for covid, so unless the Prime Minister has negotiated a ceasefire with the virus, the only mixing we should be considering over the next six weeks is our Christmas drinks. Does the Prime Minister have an exit strategy, or is he content to accept a certain level of risk through household mixing?
As the hon. Lady knows, we think we have been able to get the virus down through a tiered system, and we will continue to do that. The guidance about the number of people we are allowed to mix with in households is clear and, alas, it will remain very tough. It will remain tough because that is the way to get through and beyond Christmas, and through the new year. The exit strategy is very simple: it is to use these three techniques—tough tiering, mass testing and a roll-out of the vaccine to keep the virus down. We must push it down further until such time as we are able to say that all those who are vulnerable have been vaccinated and we can move forward and go back completely to normal. As has been pointed out several times already, that terminus, that end date, looks like being Easter. We may be able to do better and make considerable improvements before Easter, but we should aim for Easter.
On 2 November, I asked the Prime Minister what he felt we had learned in the summer after the end of the first lockdown, and he said that when people were contacted and tested positive, they should isolate. He went on:
“It does not look to me as though the numbers or the proportions have been good enough. We need to get those up in the next phase”.—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 58.]
Will the Prime Minister update me on that point? Yes, mass testing is critical and the vaccine may well save us, but there will be a gap between the first and the last.
My hon. Friend is right to say that that has been a problem; but in fact, more people have been self-isolating than is sometimes supposed or alleged, and they have done a great thing. We have instituted means-tested payments to help support those who are isolating, but what will now really change things are the lateral flow tests, which we hope will enable someone to have a shorter period of quarantine. They will not have to stick to the full 14 days, and they can get a rapid turnaround test—a lateral flow test—after a much shorter period. That is what we are aiming for.
The Government have failed to make provision for the delivery of remote education to pupils who live in a household where someone is clinically extremely vulnerable. A number of my constituents are suffering from extreme anxiety as a result, as they do their best to keep their family safe. Some are even considering home schooling, despite the fact that their children love their schools. Will the Prime Minister respond to their concerns and ensure that in his new guidance, no family is put under unnecessary stress in such a way?
I assure all the parents who are coping with exceptionally difficult circumstances and trying to do the best for their kids when it is very stressful and they have the difficulty of knowing whether to send them to school that it is much better to send them to school if they possibly can. We have distributed, I think, hundreds of thousands of laptops to help pupils to learn remotely throughout the summer. We continue to support catch-up and top-up learning for vulnerable kids, particularly via one-on-one tuition. I want to see every child supported, and that applies, as the hon. Lady rightly says, to the children of families who are facing particular difficulties.
I very warmly welcome the announcement of the end of national lockdown on 2 December. This morning, I had discussions with school leaders in Runnymede and Weybridge regarding the challenges that they face, and a key message was that our schools are open but that too many pupils are self-isolating at home. Whole year groups being sent home following a case and the self-isolation of teachers, and the impact and cost involved with that were causing huge challenges for the delivery of learning. We must minimise the harms from both covid and the measures being used to fight it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as soon as possible, we need to use targeted testing to support teachers and to change and improve our approach to contact tracing in schools to stop whole year groups having to self-isolate following a case so that our schools can continue to provide the learning and opportunities that our children deserve?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the importance of testing in schools—testing the teachers and making sure that we do not send whole bubbles home. That is why schools and universities, along with NHS hospitals and care homes, are the primary settings where we want to roll-out not just PCR testing, but lateral flow testing as well.
The whole House is very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving such full and thorough answers and really listening to what people are saying, but I shall forgive him if, in spite of colleagues giving ridiculously long questions, the Prime Minister feels like giving shorter answers.
It is much more difficult for the Prime Minister as he cannot feel the atmosphere here in the Chamber, so it is better that I explain to him that both his Secretary of State and the Leader of the Opposition look as if they agree with the point that I have just made.
The hope that we have been given by our brilliant scientists will be dashed for millions if the Prime Minister pushes ahead with the public sector pay freeze, which, of course, is not levelling up, but levelling down. He does not want to be stand accused of saying one thing and doing another, so will he give a very short answer now and rule out the possibility of a public sector pay freeze?
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the clarity that he has given, but there are four independent tap shop and breweries in my constituency that have gone through a terrible time with being allowed to sell only takeaways very late in the day. Will he and the Chancellor look at extending business rate relief to these businesses and giving bespoke new grants to this industry?
I welcome much in the Prime Minister’s statement. Thankfully, Greater Manchester is seeing a downward trend in infections in all 10 boroughs, but we will have been in some form of restrictions now for four months. Clearer rules and better enforcement are welcome, but I still do not understand the logic of pushing people out of covid-secure, well-regulated, responsible hospitality businesses into illegal covid-insecure gatherings to drink. That would be counterproductive, would it not?
I welcome the change that will allow people in care homes to be visited by two members of their family, who will be tested twice a week. Can the Prime Minister ensure that care homes promote visiting and that there is a register that really calls out those care homes that do not allow it?
Care homes should follow their own instincts about the wellbeing of their residents. They should follow all the procedures that we have set out and make use of lateral flow testing and other types of protection to ensure that people can see their loved ones and hug them. That is what the people of this country want and that many families across this country want to see. That is what this Government are providing for.
Hull has had the highest covid infection rates in the United Kingdom. Two weeks ago, it was promised 10,000 lateral flow tests, but today they still have not arrived. When governing during a global pandemic, should the Prime Minister not focus on delivering on the ground what has already been announced, rather than on grand new promises lifted from the Downing Street public relations grid?
Nottinghamshire went into tier 3 just a few days before the national lockdown, but it was a very stressful few days for the beauty industry in Nottinghamshire, which was uniquely forced to close, unlike in any other tier 3 area in the country. Given that the premise of the tiered regional system was to have consistent and fair restrictions in each tier across the country, will the Prime Minister assure me that he will seek to avoid those kinds of irregularities under the new restrictions to avoid the upset felt by beauticians and make sure it is fair for small businesses?
Last week, the Health Secretary told “Good Morning Britain”,
“We don’t have parking charges in English hospitals”
for NHS staff
“and we’re not going to for the course of this pandemic.”
But that is not true, because they were reintroduced for staff at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire in June, as they have been elsewhere. I have written to the Prime Minister about this matter, and I now ask him whether he will live up to the Government’s promise of free parking throughout the pandemic for NHS staff in Coventry and across the country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that by protecting NHS capacity during the autumn surge in cases, including at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in my constituency and investing £3 billion in reducing wait times, increasing treatments and mental health care, this Government are taking a balanced approach to all health needs?
Luton airport supports thousands of jobs and provides an income stream that funds council services and local charities. Will the Prime Minister outline what plans the Government have to introduce a fast air passenger testing regime to prevent further job losses, restore consumer confidence and ensure that the local voluntary sector survives?
Local authorities have stepped up to the plate to tackle covid in their areas, but they are facing additional costs from local track and trace, while losing income from taxes and fees. Will the Prime Minister give us an undertaking that local government will be recognised in the current spending review and that there will be extra resources so that it can pay for the extra services it is required to provide?
In a recent survey, 95% of disabled people said that their costs had increased even further as a result of the pandemic, with no £20 uplift to their legacy benefits. Will the Prime Minister listen to the Social Security Advisory Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee, cross-party MPs and peers, and those who signed the “Don’t leave disabled people behind” petition, and please take action to end this injustice?
Families and businesses in Bexleyheath and Crayford will share my strong support for my right hon. Friend’s statement and approach today. However, we have a thriving hospitality sector that has particularly suffered this year because of the necessary restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus. While safety remains the top priority, does my right hon. Friend agree that the hospitality sector is the backbone of our local town centres, and it is vital we continue to provide it with the support it needs to help them survive and to protect jobs?
Indeed, and I have been with my right hon. Friend to many a fantastic hospitality venue in Bexley. I seem to remember going with him to one pub where he christened a blue drink: the Bexley Breeze Block I think it was, from memory. Let us hope that we are able to get the hospitality sector going across the country in the way that we would all want so that those fantastic businesses can recover strongly in the new year. We are going to do that by the techniques that I have mentioned—tough tiering, mass testing and rolling out a vaccine.
The Prime Minister will be aware of the positive role that churches play in our society and the importance of the act of public worship for so many. Churches across the UK are now closed, but I note the intention to reopen them soon in England. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the role of churches as we live with covid cannot be overestimated or overvalued, and that we should be looking at opening our churches again right across the United Kingdom? Does he also recognise that, as we deal with the legacy of lockdown, churches have a key role to play in supporting what is a broken land and a broken people?
I think I might quarrel with the hon. Member’s description of a broken land and a broken people, because I think actually the people of this country have shown fantastic resilience. I do not think that they or we are broken; I think that we are going to come back very strongly. I also think that churches play an enormous part in that, and I am glad that they are going to be reopening from next week.
My right hon. Friend will know that while Stoke-on-Trent may be a small city, it is a mighty one. Having removed itself from Government attention over rising coronavirus figures twice this year, the city is once again showing its hardy spirit in pushing down case rates during the second wave by 100 per 100,000 cases in the last week. Will my right hon. Friend consider the approach made today by Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader, Councillor Abi Brown, of placing Stoke-on-Trent into tier 2 as we exit this national lockdown?
My hon. Friend is so right in the way he champions Stoke and the community spirit of the people of Stoke. I cannot say which tier, alas, they will go into. It will depend on all the things that I have discussed, and the figures are not easy. The incidence of the virus is still high, and we have to face that grim, grim truth, I am afraid. But the hope is there that, with mass testing—and the people of Stoke can do this if they choose: you can drive down the incidence, you can drive down the R, you can find the asymptomatic positives and you can reduce the virus in your area. If they can reduce the virus in their area, as Liverpool has done, by about two thirds, partly thanks to the participation of the people of Liverpool in mass testing, then they have the prospect of removing those restrictions as well. So “Get a test to kick covid out” is what I would also say to the people of Stoke, in addition to thanking them and my hon. Friend for all their hard work.
Those areas that are placed in tier 3 will be keen to get any help they can receive to get themselves out of that. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many of the reductions in infection can be directly attributed to the mass testing scheme in Liverpool, and what level of population buy-in is needed for that system to be effective?
That is an incredibly good question. In Liverpool, 37% or more of the population has now been tested, and a lot of asymptomatic positives have been found. I have to stress that it is not the only thing—it can make a big difference, but to be absolutely certain that it is playing a decisive part in getting the R down, we need a bigger proportion of the population to take tests, and we need more community buy-in. That is why we are working with local leaders across the areas that may be going into tier 3 to help them with that and to get mass testing programmes going, not just like in Liverpool but even more ambitious.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising all our care workers, our staff at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley and, in particular, staff at the Barchester Broadway Halls care home, who went out of their way to enable residents Stan Plawecki, aged 94, and Myra Staves, aged 87, to be part of our Armistice Day commemorations at this very difficult time?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of those remarkable staff for what they did to allow Remembrance Sunday commemorations to go ahead and allow people to attend them. I thank them personally, and I thank all care home staff for the unbelievable service they have given and continue to give.
There have been very positive discussions with the devolved Administrations, including in Wales, about a joined-up Christmas, but can the Prime Minister do something about the terminal incontinence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in continuing to leak the details of those discussions, undermining the trust and respect needed for those discussions to succeed?
What I can certainly say is that it does not help to read about confidential discussions in the papers. I must say that a lot of the stuff I have read seems to be very wide of the mark, but I am grateful to all colleagues in the DAs for the co-operation that they are showing in the work we are doing together.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating all the arts venues, such as the Astor theatre in Deal, the churches and parish halls that have opened their covid-secure doors to help others during the pandemic and encourage such kindness and neighbourly behaviour to continue as we tackle the virus together across the nation?
I do indeed congratulate all the arts venues in Deal that have pulled together in the way that my hon. Friend describes. Let us hope that we can get them all fully open as soon as possible, so that they can enjoy the benefits of a new deal for Deal, or an even better deal for Deal, which I am sure she is championing.
My constituents are excited about seeing their families over Christmas, but they are also nervous about putting their elderly relatives at risk. Will the Prime Minister consider using the expanded testing capacity to allow families to get a covid test ahead of visiting elderly relatives at Christmas, even if they do not have symptoms?
That is certainly one of the use cases that we are considering. Rolling that out across the whole country in time for Christmas might be difficult, but the hon. Lady will have heard what we are doing with those types of test in care homes to allow people to see their loved ones.