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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Covid-19: Economic Effect

What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) women, (b) disabled people and (c) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. (909384)

What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) women, (b) disabled people and (c) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. (909387)

The pandemic has affected all communities in our country. This Government have done their utmost to protect lives and livelihoods. We have targeted economic support at those who need it most. For example, rolling out unprecedented levels of economic support worth over £200 billion has provided a much-needed lifeline for those working in shut-down sectors such as retail and hospitality, the workforces in which are disproportionately young, female and from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. We have taken action to ensure that disabled people have access to disability benefits, financial support and employment support, such as the Work and Health programme, and we have extended the self-employment income support scheme, in which some ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented.

Analysis of the labour force survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the shut-down sectors worst affected by the pandemic have a higher than average proportion of workers who are women, who are disabled and who are from BAME backgrounds. In Salford, where this economic picture is stark, the number of people claiming universal credit has more than doubled since January. Will the Minister, first, commit to demanding that the Chancellor strengthens support for those struggling, as advised by the Social Security Advisory Committee, for instance by protecting the £20 universal credit uplift and extending it to people on legacy benefits? Secondly, will she request bespoke financial support packages for the worst hit sectors?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Chancellor will be announcing his spending review this afternoon, and I think she will find that many of the questions she is asking will be answered at that point. With respect to the sectors that have been shut down, as I said in my first answer, we recognise that those people who are on low incomes have been disproportionately affected, and those groups are the ones who have most benefited from the interventions of the Treasury.

Nearly one in seven people in Coventry are now on universal credit. That is a 97% increase since March. Low earnings, higher rates of poverty and greater need mean that women, BAME communities and disabled people rely more on UC and the social security system. Fixing it, from scrapping the two-child limit and benefit cap to an uplift in payments, is a question of gender, racial and disability justice. What has the Minister done to push for these measures in today’s spending review, including keeping the £20 UC uplift from April 2021 and extending it to jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance?

I am afraid that, as I said in my earlier answer, questions about the spending review need to be asked during the spending review statement, which will take place later this afternoon.

We know that we went into the pandemic with female employment at a record level and with the disability employment gap shrinking. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the work that she is undertaking with the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that women, disabled people and BAME people are not disadvantaged when we come out of the pandemic?

As we discussed at the Women and Equalities Committee a few weeks ago, this is something that the Government Equalities Office is very much alive to. I am working with equalities Ministers across various Departments to see how the interventions that we are making are not going to impact on those groups who are most vulnerable, and I will continue to update her on that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

There are over 600,000 people in work who are clinically extremely vulnerable. Current shielding guidance states that if they cannot work from home, they should not go to their usual place of work, but that does not entitle them to be furloughed. This means that many disabled people have had to ask their employer to put them on furlough in order to receive financial support. Where employers have refused to do so, an estimated 22% of disabled employees have had to choose between their lives and their livelihoods. Does the Minister think that this is fair?

As the hon. Lady will know, the pandemic has affected many different groups in very bad ways, and we have done everything we can to support them. Specifically on disabled people, we have done quite a lot in looking at the benefits that they have and providing support in many other ways, including employment support. These are the ways that we are protecting those people who are being disproportionately impacted. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, who is also in the House today, will be answering more questions on our disabled strategy, and perhaps he will be able to provide more information specifically from a Department for Work and Pensions perspective.

Workplace Discrimination: Pregnant Women and New Mothers

With reference to the Government-commissioned research on pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage, published in 2015, what progress the Government have made in tackling unlawful discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace. (909385)

Since the publication of research on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, the Government have worked with ACAS and published updated guidance to ensure that women and employers understand their rights and obligations, consulted on measures to extend redundancy protections, and committed to introduce these in an employment Bill.

We are heading to Basingstoke—but maybe not yet, as we do not have Maria Miller, so I call Kerry McCarthy.

Victims of Domestic Abuse: Free Travel

What recent assessment the Government have made of the effectiveness of rail to refuge schemes in providing free travel to victims of domestic abuse. (909386)

I thank the Minister for her response. She will know that domestic abuse services have, sadly, seen a real surge in demand during the lockdown. Rail to refuge schemes, including the GWR scheme that serves my constituency, have helped more than 800 people to flee domestic abuse through the use of a free rail ticket. Can the Minister commit to funding these schemes in the future, because they are really important to people who need to get away?

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her support for this scheme. She will know that over 63% of victims of domestic abuse accessing the support have stated that they would not have been able to access a journey at all if the scheme had not been in place. I am pleased that this vital scheme has been extended until next March, and we keep all these schemes under review all the time.

Workplace Discrimination: Pregnant Women and New Mothers

In Germany, women who are pregnant or on maternity leave cannot be made redundant, to avoid any hidden discrimination. With one in four women who are pregnant during the pandemic experiencing discrimination here at home, is it not time for the UK to look carefully at adopting a similar approach to that taken in Germany?

I thank my right hon. Friend for pushing her private Member’s Bill and for her concern in this area. I was pleased to meet her to dicuss it.

Germany has a far more prescriptive labour market. We support the intention behind her Bill, but, having undertaken a full consultation in 2019, we have decided on a different approach, working with the grain of our current regime and extending the existing protection afforded to a new mother on maternity leave into pregnancy and for a six-month return to work period. We will introduce these changes as soon as parliamentary time allows. I am more than happy to continue to work with my right hon. Friend in that regard.

Social Mobility

This Government are focused on levelling up. We are transforming our skills system so that everybody has a chance to train and retrain, and we are using important new data analysis from the Equality Hub to ensure that we are addressing the where real inequality lies in the UK.

I welcome all the work my right hon. Friend is doing to promote social mobility, but what assessment has she made of the needs of groups such as white working-class children whose challenges have not been given enough attention to date?

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. White British children who receive free school meals perform worse at GCSE than equivalent black and Asian children. We need to ensure that children from all backgrounds are succeeding in modern Britain, and that will be a major focus for the Equalities Department, working with the Department for Education.

Social mobility should not mean having to leave your community to go in search of opportunity: we need to spread opportunities across our towns and villages, including those in my constituency. The digital revolution should provide an opportunity to make this more achievable, but sadly, many adults, even in my constituency, do not have the digital work skills needed to take advantage of this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the digital skills boot camps being established across the country, alongside the fantastic work of civil society organisations such as the Good Things Foundation in Sheffield, are vital to opening up the jobs of the future to people in all communities?

We know that digital skills are vital in the modern economy, and we know that this is a huge opportunity for us to level up our country. We also know that take-up is particularly low among girls in areas such as computing, and that is why the digital skills boot camps are vital. They are being rolled out across the country in spring 2021 to ensure that everybody has the skills they need to succeed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lifetime skills guarantee is a landmark achievement in opening up opportunity for all, especially in left behind communities, such as Radcliffe, in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; too many people have been let down in the past by poor education. We want to put that right through the lifetime skills guarantee, making sure that there is an entitlement to level 3 qualifications and access to four years of loan funding for people to use over their life- times, so that everybody, across the United Kingdom, has the skills they need to succeed.

My right hon. Friend will know that education is incredibly important to opportunity and social mobility. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that those who learn differently owing to dyslexia are able to receive that crucial early diagnosis and support so that they can access those opportunities equally?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point; everybody needs access to a world-class education that sets them up for life. I am pleased to say that in early years 25% of children with special educational needs achieved a good level of development in 2019, which compares with a figure of only 14% in 2013, but we continue to do more to make sure that children with special educational needs have access to a good education, right across the country.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that mothers are supported in the return to work during this recovery?

It is very important that working mothers and working fathers have access to the childcare they need so that they are able to get into work during the coronavirus crisis. That is why it is so important that we keep our schools and nurseries open, and that we continue to give the support of the 30 hours a week of childcare for three and four-year-olds.

Covid-19: Disabled People and Legacy Benefits

What steps she is taking to ensure the adequacy of support for disabled people on legacy benefits during the covid-19 outbreak. (909389)

The Government are committed to supporting disabled people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. We are ensuring that disabled people continue to have access to disability benefits and other financial support during it.

I wonder whether the Minister is aware that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that nearly half of people in poverty in the UK are either themselves disabled or live in a household with someone who is. As he says, covid has exacerbated that hardship, and the inequalities disabled people face will only be exacerbated by the fact that those who are not on universal credit will not have benefited from the uplift of £20 that was applied to UC. Has he, or anyone else in the Government, carried out an equality impact assessment on the decision not to extend the £20 uplift to legacy benefits?

Those on legacy benefits will have benefited from the 1.7% uplift as part of the annual upratings. Depending on individual circumstances, they may have also benefited from the changes to the local housing allowance; the increases in discretionary housing support; the various employment support schemes; and the additional discretionary support administered via local authorities. This year alone we expect expenditure on disability benefits to increase by nearly 5%.

The reason my Scottish National party colleagues and I, among others, have repeatedly called for this £20 uplift is that covid-19 costs people with disabilities significantly more money than it does most others, yet they have been completely ignored. Last week, a petition from the Disability Benefits Consortium calling for the £20 uplift, with 119,000 signatures, was handed in to the Chancellor. As the Minister who represents the interests of people with disabilities, did the hon. Gentleman ask the Chancellor to do this in today’s spending review? If not, what did he ask for?

As I have already set out, we expect spending on disability benefits to increase by 4.6%; we are talking about close to £20 billion and that is targeted support for those who most need it.

Covid-19: Disabled People

What steps the Government are taking to help protect disabled people from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. (909391)

The Government are committed to supporting disabled people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. We are ensuring that disabled people continue to have access to employment support, disability benefits, financial support, food, medicines, accessible communications and updated guidance.

Data published by Scope this week shows that the disability employment gap stands at a shocking 29.2% nationwide. Many are fearful that the gap will increase with the economic fallout of covid-19. We clearly need a long-term, multi-pronged approach to address this deeply entrenched issue, so will the Minister commit to examining Scope’s five policy asks and work with his Department for Work and Pensions colleagues to put them into practice?

I put on the record a tribute to the proactive and constructive work of Scope and many other organisations to support our efforts, which have resulted in record disability employment—up 1.3 million since 2010. Yes, these are unprecedented times, but we have made sure that all the schemes in our £30 billion plan for jobs have disability provision embedded. We will continue with our ambition to have 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027—nothing has changed.

Institutional Racism

We are committed to a fairer society. In July, the Government set up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which is reviewing inequality in the UK, focusing on areas that include education, employment, health and the criminal justice system. The commission is looking at outcomes for the whole population and is due to report at the end of the year.

This year, one of the issues about which I received the most correspondence was the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd. A key thing that came across was that my constituents want to ensure that what we teach in schools is properly representative of the role that black Britons and other people of colour have played in our history. Today, the “Black Curriculum” report, led by Dr Jason Arday of Durham University, has concluded that the national curriculum in England

“systematically omits the contribution of Black British history”.

Will the Minister speak to the Secretary of State for Education, urge him to work with colleagues in the devolved Administrations, such as Kirsty Williams in Wales, and ensure that we have a truly reflective curriculum?

I have not seen the report that the hon. Lady refers to, but I will look at it with interest, decide, from an equalities perspective, whether I agree with the conclusions that have been made, and then speak to the Secretary of State for Education about it.

Covid-19: Childcare

What steps she is taking to support women returning to work to access childcare during the covid-19 outbreak. (909394)

The Government are supporting childcare provision during the pandemic by funding the free childcare entitlement for two, three and four-year-olds with £3.6 billion in 2020-21. We are giving grants and loans to businesses and ensuring that childcare providers can access the coronavirus job retention scheme, where necessary.

The Prime Minister has urged everybody who can do so to work at home until April, and obviously many people have been doing that for the past eight months, but childcare responsibilities are still falling largely on women. As a result, recent data has shown that 67% of women with children—compared with just 16% of fathers—are likely to quit their job because they cannot balance childcare with work. The Minister talked about the action that the Government are taking, as did the Minister for Women and Equalities earlier, but it is clearly not working, so what more will the Government do to reset this imbalance?

The Government have introduced 30 hours of free childcare for eligible working parents of three and four-year-olds. We have ensured that the childcare sector has been able to stay open to support parents to continue to work. We are investing £1 billion from 2021 to help to create more high-quality, wraparound and holiday childcare places, both before and after school, and we will continue to push the fact that childcare needs to be distributed equally between both parents.

Topical Questions

As we recover from covid, I am determined that we ensure that everyone across Britain is treated equally and has equal opportunity. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is critical to delivering that. I am delighted that, as well as announcing—Baroness Kishwer— Falkner as my preferred chair, I have appointed four new commissioners with a diverse range of opinions and backgrounds—a leading tech entrepreneur, a leading thinker, a pioneering health expert and a business leader—who are all committed to equality.

While the global focus has been on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, other important issues also need our attention, particularly the rising rates of female genital mutilation. What measures is my right hon. Friend taking to tackle FGM internationally?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This is an issue of concern for the Government. According to the UN Population Fund, the covid-19 pandemic could disrupt efforts towards ending FGM. We cannot let that happen. That is why we are continuing with UK Aid supported programmes on FGM, which have already helped 10,000 communities.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse last year. Since the pandemic began, domestic abuse has intensified and women have reported finding it harder to escape, 10 years of sustained cuts to services have left just 4,000 beds available for women who are fleeing domestic violence. It is obvious that the funding provided so far is too little too late, so can the Minister say when the Government will fund services adequately and give women the confidence they need, so that they will be protected by this Government?

We are concerned about domestic abuse during the pandemic. That is why we have provided an extra £76 million to support vulnerable people, including domestic abuse victims, and we have recently made available a further £11 million to support domestic abuse services as they continue to manage the impacts of the pandemic.

The gender pay gap is still sitting at around 15%. At the current rate of progress, more than 8 million women working today will retire before they see equal pay. That sends a message to women that this Government are happy to turn back the clock on women’s equal pay. I am going to ask the Minister a straightforward question, yes or no: will she restart gender pay gap reporting in April next year?

Our focus is on making sure that we are helping women during the coronavirus crisis, through the furlough scheme, through making sure that flexible working and childcare support are available, and through making sure that we get more women into jobs. My view is that we need to address the causes of the gender pay gap by, for instance, getting more girls and women studying science, technology, engineering and maths subject, so that they are able to earn higher amounts in their careers.

The impact of the pandemic on unemployment is being felt in every constituency. It is more important than ever to ensure that those living with disabilities are treated equally in the recruitment process, so what steps is my right hon. Friend The Minister for Women and Equalities taking to ensure that protections that support equality throughout the recruitment process stay prominent as we focus now on recovery? (909425)

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a real champion for disability employment opportunities in his constituency. As part of our £30 billion plan for jobs, disability provision is embedded throughout our schemes, including kickstart, the job entry targeted support scheme, sector-based academies, apprenticeships, the Work and Health programme, intensive personalised employment support and Access to Work. We remind employers that, under the Equality Act 2010, they must focus on ability, not health or disability.

I will be hosting a national group of experts on decolonising the British curriculum in January 2021. Will the Secretary of State attend that event to listen to the expert testimonies from the academics regarding this important issue? (909428)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I said in a recent debate on this topic, we do not accept the premise that the curriculum in this country is colonised. While I am always very interested in hearing the viewpoints about how we can improve the curriculum, there are certain premises that we simply will not accept.

What recent steps has the Minister taken with Cabinet colleagues to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for young people during the covid-19 outbreak? (909426)

Sexual and reproductive health services have remained open during the pandemic. Services are maintaining access during this time through the scaling up of online services. Guidance from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare states that local pathways for urgent referral for vulnerable groups, including via young people’s outreach, should be maintained.

The EHRC report on the hostile environment released today shows just how bad the situation has been over the years. It is clear that the EHRC does not have the capacity to launch an inquiry into every piece of legislation that has had its equality compliance questioned. Will the Minister explain what steps are being taken to ensure that future legislation is not labelled as complying with the public sector duty when it clearly does not do so? (909429)

It is very important that we conduct equality impact assessments, but it is also important that they are kept confidential within the Government to ensure that there is not a chilling effect and we are able to have an honest debate about achieving equality across all Departments.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that more than half a million new babies were born during the first lockdown. What assessment has she made for the many women who have had to struggle with juggling childcare responsibilities with going back to work during this very difficult year? (909427)

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her important work leading the early years healthy development review. I completely agree that we need to ensure that people are protected during the lockdown and that they are helped, as we recover from covid, to find better childcare options and better flexible working options. I am working closely with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to achieve that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Good morning, Mr Speaker. I hope very much that our connection works today. This is my last day of virtual meetings with ministerial colleagues and others before I come out of isolation. In addition to my virtual meetings and duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Can the Prime Minister guarantee that in any agreement that he reaches with the European Union, British sovereignty will be protected for the whole United Kingdom, and that the UK will exit the transition period on 31 December as a whole?

Yes, indeed; I can give that guarantee. Our position on fish has not changed. We will only be able to make progress if the EU accepts the reality that we must be able to control access to our waters. It is very important at this stage to emphasise that.

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and girls. On average, a woman is killed by a man every three days in this country. It is a shocking statistic; and, sadly, the pandemic has seen a significant increase in domestic abuse. I will join those marking this day, and I am sure that the whole House would agree that we need to do far more to end domestic violence.

The Prime Minister may remember that in August last year, he wrote the foreword to the ministerial code. It says:

“There must be no bullying…no harassment; no leaking… No misuse of taxpayer money…no actual or perceived conflicts of interest.”

That is five promises in two sentences. How many of those promises does the Prime Minister think his Ministers have kept?

I believe that the Ministers of this Government are working hard and overall doing an outstanding job in delivering the people’s priorities, and that is what we will continue to do. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman waits a little bit longer today, he will hear some of the ways in which this Government are going to take this country forward, with one of the most ambitious programmes of investment in infrastructure, schools and hospitals for generations. If he wants to make any particular allegations about individual Ministers or their conduct, he is welcome to do so. The floor is his.

I did not really hear an answer there, so why don’t we go through these commitments in turn, starting with bullying and harassment? The now former independent adviser on ministerial standards concluded that the Home Secretary’s behaviour was, in his words,

“in breach of the Ministerial Code”,

and, he said,

“can be described as bullying”,

which means:

“intimidating or insulting behaviour that makes an individual feel uncomfortable, frightened, less respected or put down.”

What message does the Prime Minister think it sends that the independent adviser on standards has resigned but the Home Secretary is still in post?

Sir Alex’s decisions are entirely a matter for him, but the Home Secretary has apologised for any way in which her conduct fell short. Frankly, I make no apology for sticking up for and standing by a Home Secretary who, as I said just now, is getting on with delivering on the people’s priorities: putting, already, 6,000 of the 20,000 more police out on the streets to fight crime and instituting, in the teeth of very considerable resistance, a new Australian-style points-based immigration system. She is getting on with delivering what I think the people of this country want. She is showing a steely determination, and I think that is probably why the Opposition continue to bash her.

The reality is that any other Prime Minister would have fired the Home Secretary and any other Home Secretary would have resigned, so I think we will chalk that up as one broken promise.

On to the next: no leaking. Over the summer, we saw repeated leaks about which areas would go into restrictions. The Prime Minister’s plans to go into a second national lockdown were leaked all over the national papers, resulting in a truly chaotic press conference, and we have seen more leaking in the past 24 hours. This serial leaking is causing huge anxiety to millions of people about what is going to happen next. I know there is supposed to be an inquiry under way, but can the Prime Minister tell us, is he any closer to working out who in his Government is leaking this vital information?

I have already told you, Mr Speaker, that as soon as we have any information about anybody leaking, we will bring it to the House. But I may say that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is really concentrating on trivia when what the people of this country want is to see his support, and the support of politicians across the House, for the tough measures that we are putting in to defeat coronavirus. He makes various attacks on, I think, my leadership and handling of the ministerial code. I would take them a lot more seriously, frankly, if the Leader of the Opposition could explain why the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) is still a member of the Labour party. Does he support the right hon. Gentleman’s continued membership of the Labour party—yes or no? Why doesn’t he answer that question?

I think I will just answer that with the fact that it is actually Prime Minister’s questions, not Leader of the Opposition’s questions.

I think I will make that decision, Prime Minister. Thankfully we have got the sound—we do not want to lose it. [Laughter.]

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The difference, of course, is that I am tackling the issues in my party and the Prime Minister is running away from the issues in his. I take it from his answer that he has no idea who is leaking from his Government, so I think we will put that as another one in the “no” column.

Lets us move on to perhaps the most serious of the promises under the code: no misuse of taxpayers’ money. For weeks, I have raised concerns about the Government’s spraying taxpayers’ money at contracts that do not deliver. The problem is even worse than we thought. This week, a Cabinet Office response suggests that the Government purchased not 50 million unusable items of protective equipment but 180 million, and a new report this morning by the National Audit Office identifies a further set of orders totalling £240 million for face masks for the NHS that it cannot use. So will the Prime Minister come clean: how many hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on equipment that cannot be used?

Actually, to answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question directly, 99.5% of the 32 billion items of personal protective equipment that this country secured conformed entirely to our clinical needs, once we had checked it. Of all the pathetic lines of attack that we have heard so far, this is the feeblest, because if you remember, Mr Speaker, we were faced with a national pandemic on a scale that we had not seen before and the Government were being attacked by the Labour party for not moving fast enough to secure PPE. I remember the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that we needed to unblock the blockages in the system and that we needed to shift heaven and earth to get it done. That is what he said at the beginning of the pandemic. Then he complained that we moved too slowly. Now he is saying that we moved too fast. He has got to make up his mind what his attack is.

It is obvious that either the Prime Minister does not know how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted, or he does not care. So far, we have bullying, harassment, leaking and the misuse of taxpayers’ money. I must say to the Prime Minister that it is not looking good so far, but let us press on. The next one is

“no actual or perceived conflict of interest”.

Where do I start on this one? Last week, we learned that suppliers with political connections were 10 times more likely to be awarded Government contracts, and this week The Sunday Times reports that the Health Secretary appointed one of his closest friends to a key advisory role. This friend also is a major shareholder, as it happens, in a firm that specialises in lobbying the Government on behalf of its clients, and some of those clients have secured tens of millions of pounds of Government contracts during the pandemic. Was the Prime Minister aware of this apparent conflict of interest?

In so far as there are any conflicts of interest, they will be evident from the publication of all the details of all the contracts. Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman just seems to be attacking the Government for shifting heaven and earth, as we did, to get the medicines, the PPE, the equipment and the treatments that this country needed. What it reveals really is a deep underlying Labour hatred of the private sector, and it is actually thanks to the private sector and the Government working with the private sector that the UK was able to produce the world’s first usable treatment for the disease in dexamethasone and has worked hard to secure huge numbers of doses of the world’s first usable room-temperature vaccine. That is the private sector working to deliver for the people of this country, and it is this common-sense Conservative Government working with the private sector, rather than abominating it and relying exclusively on some deranged form of state control. How else does he think we could possibly have done it?

No one is knocking the private sector; the Government are knocking the taxpayer, and that is not trivial.

So I think it is a clean sweep: bullying, harassment, leaking, wasting public money and obvious conflicts of interest. It is the same old story: one rule for the British public and another for the Prime Minister and his friends. Just look at the contrast between his attitude to spraying public money at contracts that do not deliver and his attitude to pay rises for the key workers who kept the country going during this pandemic. If you have a hotline to Ministers, you get a blank cheque, but if you are on the frontline tackling covid, you are picking up the bill. Will the Prime Minister finally get his priorities right, stop wasting taxpayers’ money and give police officers, firefighters, care workers and other key workers the pay rise they so obviously deserve?

It is this party and this Government who have given key workers and public sector workers above-inflation pay rises this year, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, whether that is the police, the Army or nurses, who are now getting 12.6% more than they were three years ago. It is this Government who will continue to increase the living wage, as he will discover if he can just contain his impatience for a few minutes.

Indeed, it is this Government who have not only delivered free school meals and a vast increase in spending on development around the world but have looked after the poorest and the neediest. One of the most important facts about the £200 billion coronavirus package of support that the Chancellor has devised for lives and livelihoods across the country is that the benefits overwhelmingly prioritise the poorest and neediest in the country. The reason we can do that is because we have a Government who understand how to run a strong economy and who ensure that they take the tough decisions now that will allow our economy to bounce back—that is what this Government are doing.

I welcome the promised increase in education funding, and I look forward to hearing the details this afternoon. May I ask the Prime Minister that some of that money be spent on of school building repairs, particularly for voluntary controlled and multi-academy trusts such as Orchards Academy and West Kingsdown in my constituency? Those types of school were unable to apply for the most recent round of funding and are in urgent need of repair. (909240)

Yes, indeed. That is why we have allocated an additional £560 million this year for essential maintenance and upgrades in the school estate, on top of more than £1.4 billion. In Kent, £20 million is going to the local authority, including funds for West Kingsdown Church of England Primary School, and nearly £6 million is going to Kemnal Academies Trust. I encourage my hon. Friend to continue her excellent campaign.

Protecting the foreign aid budget has long been a source of unity and agreement across this House and across the four nations of the United Kingdom. At the last general election, every major party recommitted to that moral mission of helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Indeed, a senior Government Minister said that it

“paved the way for Britain to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid…and that remains our commitment.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 667.]

Does the Prime Minister agree with that senior Government Minister?

Mr Speaker, listening to Opposition Members talking about the 0.7% commitment, you would think that they invented it. It was a Conservative Government who instituted it, and this country can be incredibly proud of what we have delivered for the poorest and neediest people in the world. That will continue. On any view, this country is one of the biggest investors or donors overseas in all its forms—I think we are the second biggest in the G7—whether in percentage terms or cash terms, and that will continue. We have seen a massive increase, as the House will know, in spending on our collective overseas commitments. By the way, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, that is also of huge benefit to Scotland, where there are people in East Kilbride who do a fantastic job in development overseas.

I am glad that the Prime Minister seemed to agree with the quote, because the words I quoted were his—it is exactly what he told the House of Commons less than six months ago. I take it that the briefing that has gone on is not true and that the 0.7% commitment will remain in place.

We need to recognise that covid-19 is a global pandemic, and while we are all in the same storm, some nations have better life rafts. The World Bank estimates that the pandemic will push 88 million to 150 million people into extreme poverty. In the world’s poorest countries, hunger and cases of malaria are rising, and the UN projects that as many as 11 million girls may never return to education after school closures. The UK Government cannot eradicate the threat of covid-19 if there is still a threat around the world. Does the Prime Minister agree that keeping the 0.7% commitment is not only the right thing to do morally but the sensible thing to do in helping with the eradication of covid-19?

Of course I agree that the UK should be playing a leading role in eradicating covid-19 around the world. That is why one of the wonderful features of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, if it is approved, is that it is going to be sold at cost to partners around the world. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman knows quite how much the UK has already given to COVAX—to the global Vaccine Alliance. I can tell him. It is more than virtually any other country in the world. We should be proud in this country of what we are doing: I think about the $800 million to support COVAX, to say nothing of what we are doing with Gavi and CEPI—the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—and other organisations. We are in the lead in promoting and in inventing vaccines, but also in making sure that the poorest and neediest around the world get those vaccines. I think the people of this country should be very proud of what they are doing—what you are doing.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge in the 10-point plan to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025. Farmers will play a crucial role in meeting that target. What financial incentives will be available to encourage them to make this long-term commitment? (909241)

My hon. Friend is dead right. What we are going to do is use the new freedoms we have after leaving the common agricultural policy to support farmers to beautify the landscape to make it less prone to flooding, and we are putting £640 million from the nature for climate fund into helping to support the planting of 30,000 hectares of trees by 2025—every year by 2025.

Three weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister to support unpaid carers, who are facing extreme hardship during covid, by raising carer’s allowance by £20 a week. It is very disappointing that Ministers have not found that money for carers, but have found hundreds of millions for contracts handed out to Conservative party cronies. It is Carers Rights Day tomorrow, so can I ask the Prime Minister again: will he raise carer’s allowance by £20 a week, which Liberal Democrats are campaigning for, or will he explain why Conservatives think unpaid carers do not deserve extra help?

I would be happy to look at that specific grant again, but I have to say that if the right hon. Gentleman looks at what we have done so far with supporting universal credit and the substantial increases in the living wage, he will see that we are doing our best to support families who are the neediest across the whole of the UK. As I say, one of the stunning and one of the most remarkable features of the package that we have given to support lives and livelihoods is that the benefits do fall disproportionately, and quite rightly, on the poorest and the neediest.

I am sure that, like me, the Prime Minister welcomes the incredibly valuable contribution of our essential workers in keeping our supplies actually moving, keeping our economy turning and keeping us safe, but we know that many of our constituents are facing challenges through covid. On that note, does the Prime Minister agree with me and many colleagues that, as we are having intense discussions on how to balance the nation’s finances, now is not the time for an MPs’ pay rise? (909242)

Yes, I do agree with that, and that is why we have frozen ministerial salaries this year, as indeed they have been frozen by successive Conservative Governments since 2010. I know that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will have heard my hon. Friend and I would encourage it not to proceed.

The Northern Ireland business community is extremely concerned that it is now impossible to be ready to fully implement the protocol from 1 January. Its top priority is to ask the EU for an adjustment or grace period. This request is based on respect for the protocol, and is not about an extension of the transition period. Will the Prime Minister give his support to this ask? (909243)

Of course we are not going to extend the transition period, but we want to make practical arrangements to help businesses in Northern Ireland. We have agreed, for instance, a one-year adjustment period so there is no disruption to the flow of medicines, and we have already launched a £200 million trader support service to help agrifood businesses and others. More details will be announced shortly.

Flood risk from new development is a key concern for many of my constituents, as highlighted by a case in Ickford, where developers promised that flood risk would be a once-in- 100-year eventuality, yet the village has flooded three times this year alone. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend commit to seriously beefing up the way flood risk is assessed and treated as part of the planning process? (909244)

I have deep sympathy for Ickford in my hon. Friend’s constituency and the flooding it has suffered; I know Ickford. It is very important that local authorities follow the rules in making their planning decisions, as I am sure he would agree, and we are making a huge investment—£5.2 billion—in flood defences to protect the 300,000 homes at risk across the country.

The Greater Manchester Metrolink tram system cuts carbon emissions, improves air quality and reduces congestion on our roads. As part of the post-covid recovery plan, will the Prime Minister commit funding to extend the tram network from East Didsbury to Stockport town centre in order to improve access and give much-needed support to businesses and communities in my constituency? (909245)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I will study the plan he proposes with care, although I should tell him that a massive infrastructure programme is already under way, as the Chancellor will shortly announce, and it may be that in due time the scheme the hon. Gentleman proposes could benefit from those investments.

With the London area potentially entering stricter tier 3 or tier 2 lockdown measures and the devastating consequences that will have on jobs, livelihoods and businesses, and indeed the effects on physical and mental health, as the Prime Minister is committed to following the evidence, will he agree to a full public cost-benefit analysis of the impact on our economy and public health before he introduces anything that will lead to years of economic harm that could end up being worse for people’s lives than the virus itself? (909246)

I have high regard for my hon. Friend, and he is right to call attention to the dangers and damage that lockdowns can do. Of course, they have to be weighed against the damage to health caused by a wave of coronavirus that drives out all other patients from our hospitals and affects the health of non-covid patients as well so very badly. We will of course be setting out an analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the tiered approach and the data that supports the tiering decisions, as we have done in the past.

When 72 Londoners burnt to death at Grenfell because of a cladding defect we all said, “Never again”, but for hundreds of thousands the living nightmare of waking watch and the non-existent EWS1 form continues. Will the Prime Minister commit that no leaseholder anywhere should foot the bill for what is no fault of their own and make good the then Communities and Local Government Secretary’s 2017 promise to end this neo-feudal absurdity of a tenure once and for all? (909247)

The hon. Member is right to call attention to the difficulties many people are facing because of the EWS1 form, and I sympathise very much with them. Mortgage companies should realise that they are not necessary for buildings of under 18 metres; it is absolutely vital that they understand that while we get on with the work of removing cladding from all the buildings we can, and that is what this Government are continuing to do.

I welcome the plans for a green industrial revolution, particularly the commitments to public transport. Delivering sustainable rural bus services has always been a challenge, but in my constituency South Pennine Community Transport is trialling a new low-cost, low-carbon bus service that we believe could be a model for transformed rural bus services across the UK. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and South Pennine director, Kevin Carr, to discuss this model and look at how some of the Government’s £5 billion commitment to buses can be used to transform rural services? (909248)

My hon. Friend asks an excellent question, and we are developing a national bus strategy that will look at the needs and how to get more people to use our buses. In addition to championing green zero-carbon or low-carbon buses, we are providing £20 million for a rural mobility fund to support demand in rural areas.

Food bank use in my constituency has been increasing steadily as working families, including public sector key workers, struggle to make ends meet. Can the Prime Minister therefore tell us whether he thinks the median pay of teaching assistants of just under £14,000, and of nursing auxiliaries of £18,000, is enough to live on? I will ask him again: instead of delivering a public sector pay freeze later today, will he give those key workers a well-deserved pay rise? (909252)

The hon. Lady is right to value key workers and the amazing job that they do—particularly teachers and teaching assistants, who have done fantastic work in getting our kids back into school over the last few months and who continue to do an amazing job. I am proud not just of the work we have done to increase public sector pay, with an inflation-busting package in July for the third year running, but of what we are doing to support the record increases in the living wage—delivered by a Conservative Government, invented by a Conservative Government. Conservative Governments can do these things because we understand how to run a strong economy.

Lincolnshire has one of the highest populations of veterans in our country, and I warmly welcome the recent announcement to boost funding for our armed forces. Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the best ways we can help our veterans is to encourage employers to hire a hero? (909249)

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for the campaigns that he is running to support veterans. We support schemes such as that run by Gerry Hill and his team at Hire a Hero, and we are encouraging businesses to hire veterans with a new national insurance tax break for businesses that do so and, of course, making it easier for veterans to join the civil service.

BioYorkshire will place York at the heart of the global bioscience economy. It will cut carbon by 2,800 kilotons, create 4,000 green-collar jobs, upskill 25,000 workers, and return £5 billion to the Treasury. The Government are supportive but are delaying investment until at least the devolution deal. Unemployment in York is soaring. We need this investment now. Will the Prime Minister start the recovery by investing in BioYorkshire? (909253)

As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are committed to the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, which will generate 250,000 jobs across the country just in the immediate term. I hope very much that BioYorkshire will be among the beneficiaries, and I cannot see any reason why it should not be.

The news of the covid vaccine is great for my constituents in Wimbledon and for people across the country, but I believe that when my constituents get sick, they should have the right to access the highest-quality healthcare. The plans to improve and invest in St Helier Hospital would do just that. Will the Prime Minister work with me to ensure that those plans are brought forward as quickly as possible, despite the opposition from local Labour politicians? (909250)

Yes, indeed. How typical of Labour politicians locally to oppose what they call for nationally. I am proud that we are going ahead with a brand new state-of-the-art hospital to be built in Sutton, with most services staying put in modernised buildings at Epsom and St Helier. The new hospital will come as part of the Government’s commitment, as I say, to build 48 hospitals by 2030 in the biggest hospital building programme of a generation.

In the summer, we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for all our key workers; today, they will be hit once again with a real-terms cut to their wages by the Chancellor’s pay freeze. I really do wonder: does the Prime Minister actually realise that claps do not pay the bills?

The hon. Lady will recognise, at a time when the private sector—when the UK economy—has been so badly hit, and when private sector workers have seen falls in their income, that it is right that we should be responsible in our approach to public finances, and that is what we are going to be. She should be in no doubt that the commitments we have made have been outstanding so far: above-inflation increases for public sector workers just in July; a 12.6% increase for nurses over the past three years; the biggest ever increase in the living wage—and more to come in just a minute, if she will contain herself.

Last month, year 6 students at the Edward Peake Church of England Middle School in Biggleswade wrote to me about the impact of lockdown and their ideas for promoting a healthier planet, which include encouraging people not to put waste into the sea; planting more trees; building more electric cars; making more nature reserves; cleaning up the waterways; encouraging more local electricity production; and reducing air pollution so children can see the stars. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking the students and their teacher, Miss Twitchett, and tell the House whether their ideas can play a part in his green plan? (909251)

It is quite uncanny; it is as though Miss Twitchett and her class were standing over my shoulder as I wrote the 10-point plan, and I thank them for their telepathic inspiration. I passionately agree that that is the right way forward for our country. It will mobilise about £12 billion of Government investment and possibly three times more from the private sector, and create 250,000 to 300,000 jobs. It is a fantastic way forward for our country.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will share the pleasure that we all take in the great engineering skills that are displayed in our country, especially in the north, and agree that some of the great jewels in the crown are the engineers at Rolls-Royce. Is he aware that Rolls-Royce is about to offshore 350 jobs from the north of England? That will be a devastating blow to that part of the country and remove part of our national industrial infrastructure. Does he agree with the workforce, who are campaigning, that it is in the national interest to retain those jobs in our country, and will he use everything in his power to ensure that that offshoring does not take place?

The hon. Gentleman is so right to support Rolls-Royce, one of the great companies in our country. Obviously, at the moment Rolls-Royce is suffering from the problems in the aerospace sector—the fact that no one is flying. When a company makes a lot of its money from servicing aero engines, as Rolls-Royce does, it is a very difficult time at the moment. We are keen to work with Rolls-Royce to ensure that that company has a long-term future as a great, great British company. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and I can assure him that the Government are on it.

I am aware that there are obviously no perfect options at the moment, but may I raise with the Prime Minister the issue of pubs and bars that will be affected by the tier 2 restrictions? Many, such as Yorkshire Ales in Snaith in my constituency, have invested considerable amounts of money in being covid-secure, and are now to be denied access to their valuable pre-Christmas trade. Will the Prime Minister look again at those tier 2 restrictions, or, if not, look at what other financial support can be offered to those bars and pubs that cannot provide a substantial food offering during this period?

My hon. Friend is completely right about the need to support local business, particularly in the hospitality sector. He should know that, in addition to the £3,000 grant for businesses that are forced to close, we have another grant of £2,100 a month for businesses that are in the hospitality and accommodation sector. That is on top of the support that we have given via furlough, obviously, and via business rates and the cuts in VAT, which were intended to support the hospitality sector as well. I am keenly aware of how difficult it is for those pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels that will face a tough time in the tiers as we come out next week. We will do our level best to support them. I should say that we are also giving £1.1 billion to local councils to help them support businesses that are facing difficulties.

I just want to say one thing to the House. As we come out of the lockdown, the way forward is not just through the vaccine, which we hope we will be able to start rolling out in the course of the next few weeks and months, but through the prospect of mass community testing. I pay tribute to the people of Liverpool, who have really stepped up in huge numbers. Hundreds of thousands of people in Liverpool have been tested and that seems to have helped to drive the virus down in Liverpool. We want to see that type of collective action—stepping up to squeeze the disease—happening across the country. That, I think, is a real way forward that will enable the hospitality, accommodation and hotel sector to come out of the restrictive measures more quickly than has been currently and recently possible. We have two new very important scientific developments—

I think you have managed to answer the question, Prime Minister. I am very pleased that the House of Commons has been able to help to deliver an improvement to the sound and vision from No. 10 today, but we would like our kit back this afternoon, Prime Minister! [Laughter.]

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.