House of Commons
Tuesday 13 April 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Health Service Capital Estate
In our election manifesto, we committed to building 40 new hospitals by 2030 and upgrading another 20 hospitals. We are delivering on that commitment and now have plans to build 48 new hospitals this decade. We will open a competition for the eight further new hospitals shortly.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the investment that we have seen in Scunthorpe General Hospital over the last year. Residents are seeing those changes and it will certainly help us in the medium term. Looking to the future, will he continue to work with me on the plans for a new hospital for Scunthorpe?
I thank everybody who is working at Scunthorpe General Hospital for their incredible effort over the last year. My hon. Friend has been an assiduous campaigner for Scunthorpe hospital and the upgrades that we have already been able to put money into, and now there are eight slots for further new hospitals. Forty have been announced and we will build eight more over this decade. We will shortly announce how we are going to make that decision. There will be an open process and I look forward to working with her, her colleagues and colleagues across the NHS in Lincolnshire to make sure that they can put together the best possible application.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government for investing in mental health facilities at Heartlands Hospital and acute facilities at the Royal Stoke University Hospital. Together, this will see over £32 million being invested in our local NHS, so would my right hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever, as our NHS starts to recover from the pandemic, that we provide the best possible health facilities?
Yes, I would. The NHS has clearly played such a critical part in the response to the pandemic in the last just over a year. I thank all those working in and around Stoke, including at the Royal Stoke, which is a great hospital. We have put £32 million into the local NHS, and we protected the NHS even through the worst challenges of this pandemic. Of course, I will be open to further investment to make sure that the NHS across Stoke gets the support that it needs so that we can build back better. Today, we are all able to see the improvements that are being made in the response to the covid pandemic, with the opening yesterday of step 2 —I am delighted, Mr Speaker, to see that you have had a haircut. So many of us have been looking forward to being able to get life back to normal, and thanks to the work of people across Stoke and across the nation, we are able to take these steps.
Congratulations to Mrs Hoyle on a job well done.
New investment is welcome, but it is no consolation to those patients missing out because the rest of the NHS estate is being starved of investment. We have seen a 23% increase in treatments being delayed or cancelled in the last year because of infrastructure failures, and the maintenance backlog went up by another 50% last year. We are not going to see those record waiting lists drop if operations are cancelled because basic repairs are not done, so will the Secretary of State tell us by what date we will see no more delays to treatment because of crumbling buildings?
We are putting a record amount of investment into the infrastructure of the NHS. That is evidenced by the questions that we have had already, with the improvements in Stoke, Scunthorpe and across the rest of the country. It is about not just the physical investment, but making sure that we support staff to be able to deliver and making sure that the NHS gets the support that it needs to tackle this backlog. We have a very significant backlog because of the pandemic and we are working incredibly hard to tackle it.
Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out
First, I would like to pay tribute to our fantastic NHS and all the frontline vaccinators, our volunteers, armed forces and local authorities and all those working on the vaccine deployment programme. I am very grateful for their tireless efforts in vaccinating those most at risk across the country.
I am absolutely delighted, Mr Speaker—no haircut puns at all here—that another significant milestone has been reached, as we have met our target of offering a vaccine to those in cohorts 1 to 9 ahead of schedule. Over 32 million people have had their first dose and more than 7.6 million have had their second dose. We are making phenomenal progress, but we remain focused on ensuring that no one gets left behind.
Last week I became one of those people who had their first jab, at Boots the chemist in Nottingham. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking all those in places such as Boots and all those involved in the roll-out of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines? Does he agree that the best way out of this situation is to get that jab, and that when the time comes and people get the call, they should take that opportunity as soon as they can?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank Boots the chemist not only for its frontline capability but for its distribution arm, which has helped us to distribute Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and, now, Moderna. I agree that when people get the call, they should come forward and have their jab.
I welcome today’s news that the over-45s are being invited to receive their first dose of the vaccine, and I thank everyone in Carshalton and Wallington who is involved in the roll-out. I recently held a vaccine roundtable with NHS leaders in Carshalton and Wallington to encourage everyone, including ethnic minority groups, to come forward and get the vaccine when their time comes. Could my hon. Friend update the House on what steps the Government are taking to work with community leaders and others to ensure that every part of our community comes forward and gets the vaccine?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I echo his comments about the incredible work that is happening across the London borough of Sutton. I thank him for his work in promoting the vaccine, and according to the latest NHS figures almost 90,000 individuals have had their first dose of covid-19 vaccine in Sutton. To this end we are working closely with faith and community leaders to help to spread information about vaccines through trusted, familiar voices and in a range of different languages and settings. That also means leveraging the influence of celebrity figures such as Sir Lenny Henry and the powerful and incredibly moving “call to action” letter and video to black and Afro-Caribbean communities. This is really important. We are also working to support the vaccine programme over important religious observances such as Ramadan, which begins today. We are working with the Muslim community and reiterating the verdict of Islamic scholars and key Muslim figures within the NHS that the vaccine does not break the fast and is permissible, so come and get your vaccine.
Covid-19: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
In October 2020, I commissioned the Care Quality Commission to review how do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation decisions were taken throughout the covid-19 pandemic and whether they had been inappropriately applied. We welcome the CQC report, which was published on 18 March, and we are committed to driving forward delivery of the recommendations through a ministerial oversight group, which I will chair, to ultimately ensure that everyone experiences the compassionate care that they deserve.
I welcome the Minister’s comments. It is over a decade since I worked with clinicians on how to communicate end-of-life care, so I was shocked by some of the reports and by reading the CQC and Compassion in Dying reports. The lessons learned from coronavirus can and should be seen as a catalyst to having more open and honest conversations about this decision making and advanced care planning. Will the Minister commit to a public awareness campaign, including groups such as Compassion in Dying, Marie Curie and Hospice UK, to ensure that patients are fully aware and at the heart of these decisions?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. That is exactly what we are trying to do at the moment. We have posted a public-facing message on the nhs.uk website, which informs the public about how DNACPR decisions should be taken and the process involved. There should be no blanket application of DNACPR notices. Every patient should be involved in the decision when a notice is applied, as well as the family, relatives and care workers, and where possible it should be signed by a clinician. This engagement with the NHS, the wider public and the voluntary and care sectors is ongoing, and we continue to monitor it.
Health and Social Care Integration
We want health and social care to be joined up effectively, with the different parts of our system working together to meet people’s needs. The health and care White Paper sets out our plans for integrated care systems, which will not only join up local NHS organisations but strengthen collaboration among the health service, local authorities and others involved in social care.
One thing that will really help the integration of health and social care is the better use of technology and innovation, but one of the barriers we face is the sharing of information among different clinicians, general practitioners, hospitals and social care settings, so will my hon. Friend confirm that as part of the plans for better integration we are looking at how data and information can be shared much more effectively?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: interoperability is essential to harness the potential benefits of health and care data for individuals and to create a health and care system that is fit for the future. We are going to legislate to ensure more effective data sharing across the health and care system and will outline our plans in the upcoming data strategy for health and social care.
Despite the incredible challenges of the past year, neither the Government’s White Paper nor the Budget even mentioned social care. Health and care integration has been progressing in Scotland since 2014, and the Scottish Government have committed to developing a national care service and ensure equity throughout Scotland; will the Minister make such a commitment for England?
Integration and service improvement cannot be delivered without sufficient social care staff. The Scottish Government already fund the real living wage for social care staff in Scotland, have included them in the £500 thank-you bonus, and plan to standardise pay and training. Does the Minister not recognise that the only way to attract people to build a career in social care is by valuing care staff?
I agree with the hon. Member that it is essential that we value social care staff. Just as we have valued NHS staff during the pandemic, so we have rightly recognised the vital contribution of the social care workforce. We must continue to value our social care workforce, for which we plan to bring forward proposals as part of our social care reforms.
Local Health Services: Consultation
The Government are committed to putting patients at the centre of our health service. Patients are consulted on their local health services in a wide variety of contexts, including through Healthwatch England, the independent national champion for patients. When a major or substantial reconfiguration or change to services is proposed, the local clinical commissioning group is legally required to hold a consultation with local people.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about this issue a month ago. Last December, amid the pandemic, Birmingham and Solihull clinical commissioning group decided to close Goodrest Croft GP surgery—which has more than 6,000 patients—in my constituency. The CCG did not consult anyone because apparently it is not required to do so. Does the Minister find that acceptable?
Breast Cancer Diagnosis Data
The National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service works closely with hospital trusts to determine sources of data that can be used to complete the cancer outcomes and services dataset. It also works with the software suppliers of cancer-management systems to ensure that data items can be recorded. Compliance with data standards is monitored by local CCGs, but I recognise that that is not enough, as data is incomplete after some eight years.
Currently, women with metastatic breast cancer are counted only when they die. That is despite the fact that, since 2013, it has been mandatory for trusts to collect data such as the number of women involved, how long they have survived and whether there are any health inequalities. It cannot be acceptable to count only the dead, not the living. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the 2013 mandatory requirement to collect data on women with metastatic breast cancer is enforced?
Yes. As I explained in my earlier answer, one of the challenges is that there is not a consistent way of capturing the data. We need to sort that out: we need to make it simple; we need to make people understand what data we are collecting; and we need to make sure that, for both breast cancer patients and all metastatic cancer patients, we know where they are and that we are helping them with this disease as effectively as we can.
Covid-19: Bereavement Services
The Government recognise that the effects of covid-19 have increased the demand for bereavement services and highlighted the complexity of grief that these services support. In response, since March 2020, we have given more than £10.2 million to support mental health charities, including bereavement services, to support adults and children struggling with mental wellbeing due to the impact of covid-19.
Last year, along with the Co-operative party, I called for a proper plan for bereavement to ensure that everyone who has experienced loss during this difficult period has the support that they need. Awareness of the services available is vital if people are to get this help. The Good Grief Trust, with which I have been in contact, has said that too many people simply do not know where to turn. What steps is the Minister taking to help signpost families to bereavement charities and support and to increase awareness of the support available to families in need, which also includes support that can be signposted from hospitals when loved ones die?
I thank the hon. Lady for her important question. The mental health and wellbeing recovery action plan published on 27 March this year aims to respond to the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health, specifically targeting groups that have been most impacted. She mentioned the Good Grief Trust, and I mentioned the £10.2 million of funding that we have allocated recently. That is on top of the £2.3 billion a year for general mental health, which includes bereavement counselling, and the £500 million additional spending that we received in the spending review. Some of that money did go to the Good Grief Trust, which has done a fantastic job. It has been signposting services by putting cards in doctors’ surgeries and in A&E departments in hospitals so that people have immediate access to a line, but there are 700 other charities across the UK that are providing bereavement and grief counselling services to many members of the public. We recognise that the demand is high, but the services are there and available.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will pay a tribute to my father, Mohammad Aslam Khan, who passed away a few days ago. Not only was he a keen cricketer and an amazing dancer, he was also a champion of equality. He was incredibly strong and brave until his very last breath and he shall be missed beyond measure. I extend a huge thank you to all the team at St George’s, especially the marvellous team on Dalby ward, also to Victor and the incredible staff and carers at Ronald Gibson House and to a wonderful nurse called Anne Wheeler. My brother and I saw at first hand that not all angels have wings.
Covid-19 has stripped the humanity out of grieving, with millions being unable to attend funerals, say final goodbyes, or be with loved ones following a death. Last year, the Government provided £10.2 million to mental health organisations to ensure that services could continue during the pandemic. Many people have been relying on the support of dedicated bereavement organisations to help them cope, yet the extra financial support ended on 1 April. Will the Minister please consider reviewing this vital funding immediately to ensure that no one has to go through bereavement alone?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her brave words about her much missed father. Politics divides us, but grief, for many reasons, unites us across this House. I have personally declared to my hon. Friend that I am here should she need me. I pay tribute to her for her bravery, being here today so soon after the loss of her wonderful father. I hear her request; it is constantly under review. Bereavement services are incredibly important to me personally and to many of us. She mentioned the £10.2 million. There are 700 bereavement charities, including the Good Grief Trust. We monitor carefully how people access bereavement services. We know that there is an increased need at the moment and that is being watched very carefully. My hon. Friend is incredibly brave.
We are continuing to work with the NHS and the wider scientific community to understand better the long-lasting effects of covid-19 infection and the potential treatments. We are committed to supporting patients suffering from long covid. Specialist NHS assessment services have opened across England, and the “Your COVID Recovery” website contains support and provides a personalised programme for people recovering from covid-19, following a clinical consultation. More than £30 million of funding has already been committed to research projects and a further £20 million was made available on 25 March.
I pay tribute to all NHS and military staff who are administering vaccines across the UK, including to my mum and dad last week. The Minister knows of the debilitating and lasting effects of long covid. She has just outlined the funding elements that she proposes to put forward. Will she tell us whether she might set up a specific taskforce to look at more research into the damage that long covid causes and the effects that it has on so many people?
We are already taking strong action in this area; we have already worked hard and are taking long covid seriously. We are listening to patients, taking a patient-first approach, working with the NHS and the wider scientific community, and engaging with the Royal College of General Practitioners to better understand the disease, which is physiological and neurological. It is different for different people, and therefore treatments need to be different for different people. We are working on ensuring that we have the best post-covid assessment care and the best pathways.
Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out: Scotland
The covid-19 vaccination programme has been the biggest in the history of the United Kingdom. The UK Government have ensured that the excellent work done by the vaccines taskforce to procure vaccines for the whole country has been rolled out to protect people across the UK. To support the roll-out in Scotland, I recently announced an additional £660 million of UK Government funding for Scotland. That is of course on top of the £3.6 billion that Scotland is already receiving over the next financial year through the Barnett formula.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that this is proof of the irrefutable truth that we achieve much more together than we ever could apart and that we should be focusing on the vaccination roll-out and recovery—not a damaging and divisive second referendum on Scottish independence, which would be the case if the Scottish National party won the Scottish election on 6 May?
I entirely agree that the vaccination programme has clearly been a huge UK success story and that is because of the UK working together: the NHS across the whole UK; the military working in support across the UK; and, of course, the UK Government working with the devolved authorities and local councils. It is a big team effort. To split and separate out this team effort for no good reason would, in my view, be counterproductive to improving the lives of people across the whole country. We should be working together, not pursuing separation.
Online Junk Food Advertising
We have made clear our intention to end the advertising of high fat, salt and sugar products on television before 9 pm. We recently held a short consultation on how to introduce advertising restrictions for online and we will publish our response soon. A level playing field, however, is important. I want to make it easy for everyone to be healthy.
Does the Minister agree that ending junk food marketing online is hardly an outrageous assault on our freedoms, would remove 12.5 billion calories a year from children’s diets, and would allow advertisers and food companies to make plenty of money from producing and marketing healthy food?
Indeed I do. We are not banning food. It is very important that we make the environment right to ensure that people can make the healthy choice as a default option and enjoy a healthy balanced diet where they have the full knowledge and understanding of what they are purchasing. I think this is actually a great opportunity for companies.
May I send my deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and her family?
It is good to hear the Minister say that there will be a level playing field in this area, but it has been reported on national media over the past few weeks that the Government seem to be dropping plans to ban ads online for foods high in fat, sugar and salt. On that basis, surely she will agree that when half of 10-year-olds and 83% of 12 to 15-year-olds own a smartphone, with 86% of those children using video on demand, it would be absolute nonsense to ban advertising on mainstream broadcast TV where children watch very little.
I agree that making sure that there is a level playing field is the right thing to do. If we were currently doing so well, we would not have the number of children and young people overweight or living with obesity, so we must work on making sure that we do everything we can so that every child can be a healthy weight. But my hon. Friend will not get me to pre-empt the consultation that we will be reporting on shortly.
Social Care Sector: Pay and Conditions
We recognise the extraordinary commitment and compassion of social care staff, especially during the pandemic. While the Government do not have direct responsibility for pay in adult social care in England, we want care providers to reward and support their staff appropriately for the vital work they do. During the pandemic we have asked care providers to pay staff full pay when they need to self-isolate and provided over £1.4 billion of extra funding to support the cost of this and other infection control measures.
First, I imagine the whole House will join me in mourning the 364 care workers who have died in public service since covid began. Many care workers have told me that they feel undervalued by the fact that their average salary is only £17,200. I am sure there are very few Ministers who could live on that kind of salary. They particularly feel devalued when they discover that the Government are paying nine times that salary equivalent to Test and Trace consultants. It is an outrage. Will the Minister now say how she will show that these people are valued by doing three things: first, end privatisation; secondly, insist on a proper salary rise; and thirdly, ensure that a professional career structure is instituted which recognises and rewards the professionalism, talent and commitment of these essential workers?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s sorrow for the lives that have been lost among the health and social care workforce during the pandemic. I am determined that we will support and continue to support our health and social care workforce through these difficult times. One of the things that I want to achieve for our social care workforce, for whom I am truly ambitious, is that rather than doing something one-off for the pandemic, we should come up with a workforce strategy that will improve the opportunities for those working in social care to develop their careers, with a real career progression in working in that sector. That will be part of our social care reform proposals.
Despite repeated promises, the truth is that someone would be better off stacking shelves at Morrisons than caring for older or disabled people, and that is simply not good enough for our country. Can the Minister confirm that the Government’s covid infection control fund had to be used to improve pay so that staff did not have to work for more than one care home and could actually afford to self-isolate? If that is the case, will she commit to permanently enshrining these improvements across the sector to keep all care users and all care workers safe?
In response to the hon. Lady’s question about the use of the infection control fund, it was available to providers to use in a range of ways to keep their residents safe from covid, including, for instance, reducing the movement of staff between one care home and another, which is often part of the service model of how care is provided, and also, as I mentioned earlier, funding full sick pay for staff who needed to self-isolate because of covid. I am determined that as part of our social care reforms that we will be bringing forward, we will look at how best we can support the workforce.
Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review
A written ministerial statement was published on 11 January 2021, updating Parliament on the Government’s current progress on each of the nine recommendations. The Government will respond in full to the report later this year. It took more than two years to produce the report and we therefore consider it vital, for the sake of patients and especially those who have suffered greatly, to give this independent report the full consideration it deserves.
Baroness Cumberlege’s respected report makes it clear that those harmed by sodium valproate have suffered great and irreparable harm for many decades and that redress is needed. The patient reference group adds more delay for people who have waited long enough already. Will my hon. Friend commit to doing the right thing today and take up this issue of redress and give those harmed the support they have waited so long for?
I would like first to convey my most sincere sympathies to anyone who has suffered as a consequence of taking sodium valproate during pregnancy. It remains still the only drug that some women who suffer from epilepsy can take to control their epilepsy. As set out in the recent written ministerial statement, the Government will carefully consider the recommendations and make a full response to the whole report later this year.
Recruitment of NHS Nurses
NHS nurses have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic. We are committed to increasing the number of nurses in the NHS by 50,000 over this Parliament through improving retention and increasing domestic supply and international recruitment, and we are on track to do that. The number of nurses in the NHS is at an all-time high of 301,491 full-time equivalent nurses employed in NHS trusts and CCGs.
We all know how hard our NHS nurses have had to work in the past year, many without a break and, for those with international origins, without seeing their families either. As public focus inevitably turns towards the NHS backlog, can Ministers assure me that they will work with NHS England to protect staff holidays and enable and encourage NHS staff to get the rest and recuperation they need?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that staff must be allowed and supported to recover from the pandemic. We have advised NHS Employers to make sure that staff can carry over annual leave. We are determined that the pace of NHS recovery must also allow staff the rest and recuperation they need.
The UK is one of the best places in the world to locate a life sciences business. We are making vaccines in Livingston, Wrexham, Oxford and Hartlepool. We are making cell and gene therapies in Stevenage, surgical robots in Cambridge, cancer medicines in Macclesfield, hip replacements in Leeds and care products in Hull. Last week, we announced another £20 million fund to incentivise companies to put medicines and diagnostics manufacturing investments here in the UK.
Some people have very short memories, I must say. The UK was found desperately wanting when this horrid covid-19 pandemic swept through the cities, towns and villages of this country. The nation’s silverware was sold off and the stock cupboards laid bare. There was a deliberate policy of under-investment in the NHS, with a view to buying everything on the cheap from elsewhere. This was an ideological crime. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that we are never again left without the capacity to produce essential health and safety equipment, and how might a real industrial strategy aid the need to produce personal protective equipment, to bring good, well-paid jobs to long held back communities like Wansbeck here in the north-east?
There might be a meeting of minds between the hon. Gentleman and me. Over the last year, we have developed the capacity to produce 70% of the country’s PPE needs here in the UK. We set that target last summer. We met it at Christmas for all different types of PPE, with the exception of gloves, but we keep working on bringing glove manufacturing onshore. As I said in my response, we have built a huge amount of pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity here in the UK, and there is a lot more to come.
Brain Tumours: NIHR Research Grants
It is essential that we increase the amount of research to treat brain tumours, which is why in 2018, through the NIHR, the Government announced £40 million over five years for brain tumour research as part of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission to increase the number of applications and grants allocated. The NIHR released a highlight notice that encourages collaborative applications to build on recent initiatives and investment already made in this area, as well as working with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission to fund workshops for previously unsuccessful researchers in order to support them in submitting higher-quality applications.
Like many across the country, my constituent Greg has a family member with a brain tumour; in his case, it is his young nephew. The £40 million of funding is certainly welcome, but only £6 million of it has been delivered, and there are still difficulties for those trying to get grants for this urgently needed research. Will the Minister commit to taking a more proactive approach to this—for example, by ensuring that brain tumour experts sit on the grant panels for research bids?
I thank the hon. Lady and would like to extend my good wishes to Greg for this treatment. There has been £8.8 million committed so far based on the NIHR programme and academy spend. The important thing is the quality of the applications. Brain tumours are invidious, and we need to do more and we need to go faster. I will look at her suggestion, but I am aware that there are already experts sitting on the panel.
Helping people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is one of the most important things we can do to improve our nation’s health. That is why we published our healthy weight strategy last summer. We are taking forward actions from previous chapters of the childhood obesity plan, as well as further measures to get the nation fit and healthy, protect against covid-19 and protect the NHS. Question 25 on the call list is grouped with Question 26.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Encouraging an active lifestyle is a crucial part of tackling the obesity challenge that our country faces. Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities, working with partner agencies, should invest in iconic community venues such as Gigg Lane in my constituency to house a wide range of public health services and provide inspirational settings for young people to take part in sport, no matter what their background or personal circumstances?
I agree wholeheartedly that we should encourage all children to make sure that they can take part in sports and enjoy the outdoors. Regular physical exercise is important for the health and wellbeing of young people, and the local community has an important role to play in developing facilities. That is why the Government launched a £150 million community ownership fund, to ensure that communities across the UK can benefit from the local facilities and amenities that are most important to them. That includes community-owned sports clubs and sporting and leisure facilities that are at risk of being lost without community intervention, and I urge my hon. Friend to work with his community to ensure that he has those facilities locally.
Cancer Workforce: Nurses
Cancer diagnosis and treatment is a priority for this Government. I am working with the Minister for prevention and public health—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill)—to ensure that we have the necessary workforce to deliver improved cancer care. Overall, we are increasing the number of nurses in the NHS, with over 10,000 more nurses in the NHS this January than a year ago. We are training 250 more cancer nurses and 100 more specialist chemotherapy nurses.
I thank the Minister for that encouraging response, but will she outline what steps have been taken to ensure that Northern Ireland students educated in UK mainland nursing schemes can easily transition to fill the needs in our cancer wards both in the UK mainland and in Northern Ireland?
Prior to the pandemic, cancer services were understaffed and not meeting their targets. During the pandemic, our staff have made incredible efforts, but a cancer backlog has built up. The Government are now asking the same understaffed cohort to run their normal services and to deal with the backlog at the same time. This is unfair, will lead to burn out and will not work. Will the Government commit today to extra resources specifically targeted at cancer to give those staff a fighting chance?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. The Government have already committed significant additional resources to support the NHS in recovering from the impact of the pandemic, and that will include cancer services as well as other areas of treatment.
I am delighted to be able to tell the House that, across the UK, we have met our target to offer a vaccine to everyone in the top nine priority groups ahead of the deadline on 15 April. We have now delivered a first dose to more than 32 million people, and are on track to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July. This weekend, we also saw a record number of second doses. Overall, as of midnight last night, we have now delivered more than 40 million doses of vaccines right across the UK. It is a remarkable achievement.
Today, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has published its final advice on an age-based prioritisation, which we accept in full. So I can announce formally that, from today, we have opened up invitations to get a vaccine to all aged over 45, and then we will proceed to everyone aged over 40, in line with supplies.
Finally, following a successful start last week in Wales, the Moderna vaccine will be rolled out in England from today. I am very grateful to everybody involved in this vaccination programme, which allows us to lift restrictions across the country, and already has saved over 10,000 lives, with more to come.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I wish all Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and other communities celebrating their religious and cultural events in the coming days and weeks a happy, peaceful and prosperous time?
The Secretary of State is clear about the importance of vaccination, but how is his Department working to ensure that all adults without English language knowledge, with very low levels of health literacy and in pockets traditionally untouched by health campaigns, choose to be vaccinated, rather than being coerced—not just regarding covid-19 vaccines but other vaccines?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am very proud of how, across this House, people have united to support the vaccination effort and to get those messages out there as he says so clearly. It is very important that we have trusted confidants working in and with communities to explain the benefits of vaccination to those who may be hesitant. For instance, in Leicester we have ensured that within the Somali community, Somali clinicians are administering the vaccine. Having a vaccination centre that is staffed by the Somali community near where they live, even though there is another vaccination centre round the corner, has proved successful in driving up vaccination rates in that community. I pick on that as one excellent example of the national and local systems working together, listening to the data, and working with local communities. and I very much look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to make that happen.
At the Liaison Committee three weeks ago, the Prime Minister confirmed that there would be a 10-year plan for the social care sector, like that of the NHS, to fix the crisis in social care. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he thinks that 10-year plan needs to contain, and whether external organisations such as Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, Care England, and the Health and Social Care Committee, will be able to contribute to the Government’s thinking on that plan? Will they be able to do so before the plan is published later this year?
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm and support for that project, which the Prime Minister set out at a high level to the Liaison Committee. We are working hard, including with stakeholders, and the Minister for Care has held a number of roundtables on the subject. We want this to be an open and broad programme, to ensure that we get the right answers to these long-standing questions.
Will the Secretary of State explain why, following a private drink he had with Lex Greensill and David Cameron, Greensill was handed an NHS payroll financing contract that sought to convert income from NHS staff pay packets into bonds to sell internationally, and effectively to make money on the back of NHS staff in a pandemic? Why was that contract given without tender? Why was that meeting not declared? What pressure did the Secretary of State put on officials to hand that contract to Greensill?
Ministers were not involved in the decision by NHS Shared Business Services to facilitate the provision of salary advances in pilot schemes. I attended a social meeting organised by the former Prime Minister, and given that departmental business came up, I reported to officials in the normal way.
This is part of a wider pattern of behaviour. We see PPE contracts going to Tory donors, and a pub landlord WhatsApping the Secretary of State and receiving a testing contract. We see a US insurance firm taking over GP contracts, and one of its bosses gets a job in Downing Street. It is cronyism and it stinks. If the Secretary of State thinks he has done nothing wrong and has nothing to hide, will he publish all the minutes, emails, correspondence and directions that he gave to civil servants, and all his text messages with David Cameron, so that we can see exactly what went on with the awarding of this contract?
Yesterday the Government announced a review into this matter, and I will of course participate in that in full. It is important that Governments engage with external stakeholders and businesses and, as was raised in the previous question, it is important that that happens, and happens in an appropriate way within the rules, which is what happened in this case.
Yes. I think that through the pandemic we have seen an improvement in our ability to see what is happening in the NHS right across the UK, and that helps us all work together better to deliver for patients. One example of that is the vaccine programme. That is a UK-wide programme with UK-wide metrics but it is delivered, of course, by the local NHS wherever people are in the UK. There are lessons we can learn from that.
We are putting record resources in. Of the increase in the NHS budget, the fastest increase in the long-term plan settlement is for mental health services, and within that, for children’s mental health services. We have also increased support through the pandemic. There is an awful lot that we continue to need to do, and there is a very significant plan, as part of the long-term plan, for improving access to these vital services.
Scotland gets her fair share of vaccines allocated, and then we publish the amount of vaccines that are delivered. That is slightly lower in Scotland as a proportion of the population compared with the UK as a whole, but we are working very closely with the NHS across Scotland, with the armed services and, of course, with the Scottish Government to try to make sure that they can catch up.
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for raising this vital question of local public health in the House, and I am absolutely determined that the authorities—both the local authority, with its responsibilities, and the national authorities, including Public Health England—play their role in tackling this problem.
I am very glad to say that the numbers that the hon. Lady uses are out of date. We have seen a very significant increase in the number of nurses and other staff in the NHS. In fact, we have a record number of nurses in the NHS. For the very first time, we have more than 300,000 nurses in the NHS. We have seen over 10,000 more nurses over the last year alone. Of course, the mission to work caring for others and looking after the health of the nation in the NHS has never been more important, and I am delighted that so many people are rising to that, because we have record numbers of people in training too.
There is a huge amount that we can learn from the early response to the pandemic, and it is very important that we adopt the scientific understanding and learnings as quickly as is rigorously possible. We need the time for the rigour, but we need to adopt the policies. We have seen in the vaccine roll-out a huge amount of these lessons adopted, and the speed at which the scientific advice takes into account what we are learning on the ground in the vaccine roll-out is impressive. So we should keep going down this route—always open-minded, always asking the scientific questions and always then asking how quickly we can rigorously put those understandings into practice.
I regret to have to report to the House the death of the right honourable Cheryl Gillan, the Member for Chesham and Amersham. I know hon. Members in all parts of the House, including the Deputy Speakers, are, like myself, in shock. They were great friends of Dame Cheryl. I know the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and in extending our sympathy to the right honourable Member’s family and friends.
Cheryl was a Member of this House for nearly 30 years. In that time she made an outstanding contribution from both the Back Benches and the Front Benches, and as the first woman to be appointed as Secretary of State for Wales. She was a doughty defender of her constituents’ interests, most notably in her long campaign against the High Speed 2 rail line, and she was the champion of the private Member’s Bill that led to the Autism Act 2009. Above all, she will be remembered as a friend and mentor to many Members—especially new Members—on all sides of the House.
I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to five former Members who passed away while the House was in recess: Peter Ainsworth, Ian Gibson, Robert Howarth, Paul Marland and Baroness Williams of Crosby. Our thoughts are with their families.
I will now take brief points of order to allow for tributes to our esteemed colleague.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know the family will appreciate your words. As the House knows, Cheryl passed away on 4 April, courageously fighting against the odds with cheerfulness and bravery.
Cheryl, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), now a Deputy Speaker, and I came into the House together 29 years ago and became firm friends. I attended the funeral of her beloved husband Jack in 2019 and I was in touch with her throughout her illness. It is with enormous sadness that I am privileged to pay tribute to such a special person.
After several jobs in the Conservative Opposition years, Cheryl was appointed Secretary of State for Wales and was much respected for singing the Welsh national anthem in the Welsh language. After leaving Cabinet, as you said, Mr Speaker, she stepped up her opposition to HS2. There was not a debate or question in this House on the matter where she did not speak. After the House changed the rules, on 19 January this year, Cheryl was able to make her final speech, fittingly, on consideration of Lords amendments to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill. Despite her advancing illness, she was in her usual feisty form, denigrating the whole HS2 project. I know that the opportunity meant a huge amount to her. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to change the rules.
As you said, Cheryl campaigned alongside autistic people and their families for many years and successfully introduced the Autism Act 2009. She was also a champion for people with epilepsy, raising the profile of the condition throughout her parliamentary work. Cheryl rejoined the Public Accounts Committee after the 2019 election and many a permanent secretary feared the force of Cheryl’s direct and well-informed questions, but it was working with Cheryl on the 1922 executive, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), that I observed her real qualities. Her bright mind always enabled her to calmly put things into perspective and provide quiet, sensible and sound advice. She had a real sense of caring for people, particularly when they were in difficult or sad circumstances. She would always be there, offering them words of comfort.
In saying farewell to Cheryl—her family and friends, her constituents and staff—the whole House has lost one of its hardest working Members. She had an enormously generous heart. She was always prepared to have a kindly word for anyone in trouble. Above all, she was a fierce and effective defender of the interests of her constituents in Chesham and Amersham. People such as Cheryl, who enter politics for the very best of reasons, are rare indeed and she will be sorely missed.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I was so, so sad to hear of the death of Cheryl Gillan at the age of only 68. Sometimes politics can feel like a hostile environment, which is why Cheryl was so important as somebody who was just completely warm, non-judgmental, vivacious and outgoing. She called us all “darling” not because she had forgotten our names, but because she wanted to put everybody at their ease.
When she came to the House in 1992 as one of 336 Conservative MPs, she was one of only 20 women, so she was very much a pioneer of women’s presence on the Tory Benches. Over the three decades she served in the House, she very proudly and protectively watched over the growing flock of Tory women MPs.
It was very energising to work with her on her autism campaigns. It was admirable to see her being such a thorn in the side of the Government, fiercely championing her constituents in their opposition to HS2. Above all, I know she will be missed by her family, to whom I extend my deepest, deepest condolences. We really, really will miss her. I can hardly believe that she is not on the green Benches today. She was such a presence in the House, becoming a grandee in the 1922 committee, but never grand.
I would like to just briefly mention the loss of Shirley Williams, who was a Member of our House from 1964 to 1983. I briefly crossed over with her when I came in in 1982. To my young and pregnant self, despite the acrimony and bitterness between the Labour party—I was a Labour MP—and the Social Democratic party, of which she was a member, she warmly welcomed me to the House. She was an extraordinary politician and an extraordinary intellect. She was vilified by the press for her wild hair and overflowing handbag. She, too, was a woman in a man’s world, and a champion of social justice and an instinctive feminist. I extend my sympathies to her family, too.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for this opportunity to pay tribute to a great friend, Dame Cheryl Gillan, and to the former Members who have sadly passed in recent days. I am grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House for the warmth of their remarks about Cheryl both today and in the days since she died, on 4 April.
Mr Speaker, you mentioned Cheryl’s kindness to new Members. I was a beneficiary of that in 1997. As an Education Minister in the previous Parliament, she was very active in making sure that those of us with an interest in and a passion for education got involved in dealing with the first piece of legislation from that Government.
Much has also been made of the great work she did in promoting the interests of women in the House of Commons. I would also want to add that I ended up being perhaps the greatest beneficiary of her sterling qualities in the few years she spent as vice-chairman of the 1922 committee. I certainly benefited from her great unflappable qualities. She was a very smart, very stylish woman and always there to give support. As soon as something happened—we had one or two emergencies in the last few years—a call to Cheryl would immediately settle my nerves and I would know that everything would be done as well as it could possibly be done.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I feel privileged, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, to extend our most sincere condolences to Dame Cheryl’s family, and to all her many friends both across the House and beyond, on the extremely sad news of her death.
I feel very privileged to have served with Dame Cheryl on the Public Accounts Committee over the past year. Despite our engagements being mostly remote during this very extraordinary time, I learned a great deal from listening to her as she held civil servants to account. She was always elegant, always gracious, but woe betide any Department for Transport official who arrived unprepared for her dignified and tenacious grillings on the progress of HS2.
It has been a pleasure to hear the memories of the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) with their own experiences and obviously long association with Dame Cheryl. I feel quite acutely the loss of what might have been. Despite her long service in this House—I was surprised to find that she was only 68, not because she looked older but because of how long she had served—she had a great deal more to give. She has been taken from us far too soon. For those of us who are much newer to the House, I feel we have lost the great potential to have benefited from her wisdom, gathered over many years. I would like to take the opportunity once more to extend my sincerest condolences.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Like my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), I was elected in the same year as Cheryl in 1992 and knew her for over 30 years. As a shadow Minister and then a Minister, she was, like so many women, probably underestimated because she did not employ sharp elbows to get in front of her colleagues. When I was Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee and then the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, she always made well-informed, principled, shrewd and wise contributions to our inquiries as well as, indeed, advice to me. She knew how to get far more out of witnesses than most people because she was also gentle and polite. She became, particularly in later years, one of my most trusted friends.
She was an exemplary employer of her staff, who were devoted to her. She was terrific fun and, as has been said, she was a champion of women in politics. When she lost her beloved husband Jack, she raised a fund in his memory for Women2Win, which has helped promote more women into Parliament, as a mark of how much he had supported her in her political career.
Her failing health and then cancer were particularly bitter for her, because while outside the covid measures the House now allows proxy voting for MPs who are expecting a baby or have just had one—she would call them women, I have to tell you—we still do not give proxies to people who are incapacitated by sickness. Perhaps we should have a campaign to rectify that and call the campaign “Cheryl’s Vote”. We will sorely miss a trusted colleague and a dear friend.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I associate myself in full with the comments of the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), save the bit about the 1922 committee, which I have obviously not had the privilege—a dubious privilege, in my case—of serving on. Cheryl was, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and others have said, a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I have to confess, Mr Speaker, that I pursued her to join the Committee, and you would not have realised that she was dealing with this serious illness unless you knew. The amount of work she put in would put many other Members to shame. I really valued her intellect, her robustness and her good fun. We did sometimes disagree, but with Cheryl we always disagreed well. If we can take anything from the way she did things here, we can all learn from that hard work, that intellectual curiosity and that ability to work with people—even with those with whom she disagreed—in a gracious matter in these times.
I will miss her enormously. I cannot really believe that she has passed. It is also extraordinary to realise that only two Conservative women MPs elected prior to me are still serving in this House. Her loss is a loss for women in this place, too. I pass on my condolences to her family, her staff and her many friends.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There are few people in politics you can consider a real friend, but Cheryl Gillan was exactly that: a real friend to so many people in this place, and in so many ways. She shaped and influenced so many of the things that have taken up a lot of our time in recent years. She was a huge friend to this House when a number of us, cross-party, were working on the complaints procedure. Cheryl was a stalwart a member of the 1922 committee who was determined to get it right—to provide the right level of protection for those who felt they had been wronged in these Houses of Parliament, and equally to be fair to those who serve here as elected Members. She was always absolutely determined to do the right thing, and always in a kind way.
Cheryl was a great friend to my constituents in South Northamptonshire as she fought so diligently on their behalf and on behalf of her own constituents and others against HS2—but we will leave that there for now, Mr Speaker. She has been a true friend. Perhaps most of all, she was someone who loved to hug. As the Mother of the House said, Cheryl called everyone “darling”, but she also hugged frequently. We do not do enough of that either.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) that Cheryl was harmed by the fact that she was always so keen to give, yet only lately, when she was very ill, did this House enable her to vote by proxy and take part virtually. We need to think about that. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should call it “Cheryl’s Vote”, and I hope we will make progress on it.
I send my deepest condolences to Cheryl’s family and friends.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Cheryl and I entered the House on the same day in 1992, delighted and a little surprised to find ourselves on the Government side following that election. The Conservative party has lost a loyal, hard-working and mainstream advocate, the likes of whom we see too seldom these days. Parliament has lost a great defender of our values and traditions, someone who worked tirelessly across party lines to make our democracy work better for everyone. We MPs on both sides of the House have lost an almost unnaturally good-natured, kind and generous friend. Her charm could lure Front Benchers into a very false sense of security, which they seldom fell for twice, and her bravery in the face of a long and difficult illness is truly an inspiration to all of us.
If the importance of public service is judged by independence of mind and sound judgment, if the success of public service is measured by the level of respect in which any MP is held by their constituents, and if the value of public service is reflected in the esteem in which any of us is held by our parliamentary peers, with Cheryl’s untimely death we have truly lost a great public servant. She will be enormously missed and even harder to replace.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am a new Member of this place, but even in my very brief time in politics, Dame Cheryl had a profound impact on me. I first met her when she came to Aylesbury to help me campaign from her neighbouring constituency. We had HS2 in common. With her was her much loved dog, Jimmy, who brought her so much joy after the loss of her husband.
Cheryl walked the streets with me, she shared a choice comment or two with a heckler in the post office, and then she sat down with me in a pub to tell me what was what. Despite having known me for barely an hour, she offered me space in her office were I to be elected. She was as good as her word: in my first month here, I camped out alongside her, benefiting not just from a desk and some space, but from her wisdom. I vividly remember when she heard me discussing a proposed email in response to a particularly vitriolic correspondent. She came and stood quietly behind me and said, “I think you could just say, ‘I remember meeting you very well.’ He will get the message.” She was, of course, right. I did not hear from him again.
Dame Cheryl gave me and many of the 2019 intake valuable tips that have already stood us in excellent stead. She was always willing to give her time, and even so many years after coming to this place herself, she was willing to share the benefit of her long experience with us. We newbies will miss her too.
Dame Cheryl cared. She cared profoundly for her constituents, she cared for fellow Members of this House, and she cared greatly for her staff, and they cared greatly for her. It is my honour to have been asked to work with them in the coming weeks. Thanks to your kindness, Mr Speaker, three of Dame Cheryl’s staff sit today in the Public Gallery. They are all of course desperately sad at the loss of not just their boss, but a great friend and mentor. They know how much of an impression Dame Cheryl made on everybody with whom she came into contact, and they have expressed to me their gratitude for being able to be here to hear your words and those of other right hon. and hon. Members in tribute to Dame Cheryl’s extraordinary service to Chesham and Amersham, the entire county of Buckinghamshire, her party and her country.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Dame Cheryl was a great constituency MP, as we have heard. There have not been many happy days over the past two years, but in May 2019 I joined Dame Cheryl and her assistant, Mel, for a picnic on the banks of the River Chess with our mutual friend, Paul Jennings. It was a wonderful day. Her eyes sparkled, the mayflies danced, and I just say this: she will be much missed by many in her constituency, and the River Chess Association would like, through me, to pass on its great thanks for all her service to it over the past decade.
I am aware that Members are likely to be taking part in campaigning for the forthcoming elections on 6 May. It may therefore be a timely reminder to all right hon. and hon. Members, including Ministers and shadow Ministers, that when a Member visits another Member’s constituency, except on a purely private visit, they should take steps in advance to tell the Member in whose constituency the visit is taking place. Guidance on this can be found in the document called “Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons”. That guidance also states that
“failing to do so is regarded by colleagues as very discourteous.”
Greensill Capital (UK) Ltd was approved by the British Business Bank for the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme last year in accordance with the bank’s published guidance on accreditation. All decisions taken by the bank were made independently and in accordance with the bank’s usual procedure.
The criteria by which the decisions were made were based on those used in the existing enterprise finance guarantee scheme, dating back from 2009, and were set out in the CLBILS request for proposals, which was a publicly available document. These criteria included minimum requirements such as the ability to demonstrate a track record of lending to larger enterprises, provision of evidence-based forecasts, the ability to demonstrate sufficient capital available to meet the lending forecasts, a viable business model, robust operations and systems, that the proposed lending will not have unreasonable lender-levied fees and interest, and that the lender has all the necessary regulations, licences, authorisations and permissions to operate the scheme. All accredited lenders are subject to regular audit by the bank to ensure their compliance with scheme rules.
Following analysis of loan data as part of its standard due diligence, the bank opened an investigation into Greensill Capital’s compliance with the terms of the scheme in October 2020 and informed the Government of this on 9 October. That investigation is continuing and the Government’s obligations as guarantor under the CLBILS guarantee are suspended on a precautionary basis. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the investigation at this time.
I start by paying tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, who was an extraordinary public servant. My thoughts today are with the Queen and the rest of the royal family as we all mourn his passing. They are also with the friends and family of Cheryl Gillan, and I would like to associate myself with the very moving tributes that we quite rightly heard a few moments ago.
I welcome the Minister’s presence, but it was the Chancellor who needed to come to the House today; the Chancellor who told David Cameron that he would “push” his team to amend emergency loan schemes to suit Cameron’s new employer; the Chancellor whose officials met with Greensill 10 times; the Chancellor who took the credit for Government business loan schemes when they were in the headlines and, indeed, who personally announced those schemes. Yet the Chancellor is frit to put his name to those loan schemes today. He has just spent £600,000 on communications. I would have thought that that would extend to communicating with Parliament. In the Chancellor’s absence, let me ask: what was the alternative that the Chancellor pushed his team to explore after David Cameron texted him? What discussions did the Government have with the British Business Bank about Greensill’s access to CLBILS after it had already been rejected for the covid corporate financing facility? Were the criteria for CLBILS amended so that Greensill could access the scheme? Why was Greensill the only supply chain finance firm accredited for CLBILS, and what due diligence was done?
Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money were put at risk by giving Greensill access to this scheme. With Greensill’s collapse, thousands of jobs—in Rotherham, Hartlepool and right across the country—have been put at risk. Those workers and taxpayers across the country deserve answers. The Chancellor said that he would “level with” the public. Why is he running scared of levelling with them on the Greensill scandal?
I associate myself with the hon. Member’s words about the Duke of Edinburgh and, of course, our colleague Cheryl Gillan, both of whom will be sorely missed.
The Chancellor wrote to the hon. Member last week with a comprehensive response to her questions regarding engagement between Greensill and HM Treasury. The Prime Minister has asked Nigel Boardman to conduct a review to look into the decisions taken around the development and use of supply chain finance and the associated schemes in Government—especially the role of Lex Greensill and Greensill Capital—and to set out any findings as necessary. The Government recognise the interest in the matter. It is right that we now let that review happen.
In the interests of transparency, the Chancellor has provided all the messages that were sent from him to David Cameron on this matter; they relate exclusively to Greensill’s proposals for the covid corporate financing facility. The Chancellor is right to push officials, as we all have, to explore all ways of capital getting to businesses—large and small. That is what all Members of this House were asking and demanding the Government to do at that particular point. It is important to remember that the Chancellor rejected the idea that he should rewrite the CCFF to include any banks.
The reason the Chancellor is not here is that the question is about the CLBILS. I suggest to the hon. Lady that she asks her question in a different forum or that she asks a different question, because the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, to which this question pertains, is administered by the British Business Bank. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is the sole shareholder in the bank. As such, the responsibility for the delivery of the scheme sits with BEIS. The accreditation process for any of the covid loan schemes is run independently by the British Business Bank; neither BEIS nor HM Treasury had a role or were involved in the CLBILS accreditation decision for Greensill.
There were two other non-bank lenders accredited under the CLBILS, with over 75 accredited for the CBILS. It was an important feature of the covid loan schemes that there was a diversity of lenders to ensure a broad range of choice for borrowers, enabling them to access the finance they needed to survive and recover from the pandemic. Greensill was not accredited to provide supply chain finance through the CLBILS. It was only accredited to provide invoice finance, term loans and revolving credit facilities.
Indeed; all the decisions were taken independently, and that included rejecting Greensill from being able to access the higher level of loan facility, the only request for which came from the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).
I express my condolences, on behalf of the Scottish National party, to the family and friends of Cheryl Gillan and Shirley Williams. I also wish my constituents, and everyone celebrating, Ramadan Mubarak and a happy and peaceful Vaisakhi.
This scandal further exposes the depth of cronyism at the heart of this UK Tory Government—and it is not new, because back in November the National Audit Office expressed concerns about a VIP list of suppliers, with those on the list 10 times more likely to get a contract than those who were not. The Financial Times reports today that £19 billion of covid contracts were awarded without rival bids.
There remain serious questions about the role of Greensill while Mr Cameron was Prime Minister and about who exactly is being afforded similar influence in the UK Government today. It is absolutely galling that some have hoovered up so much Government support while millions who do not happen to have ministerial phone numbers get absolutely nothing at all.
Will the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care come before the House to explain their actions? How can we have confidence in the inquiry that has been announced when, from the Home Secretary’s bullying to the race equality report, this UK Government have such a woeful record on marking their own homework?
A number of the issues the hon. Lady raised were slightly wide of the mark in respect of this urgent question. The review will do its work and Nigel Boardman has had assurance from all parties that they will co-operate and offer any information required. He is due to report back at the end of June.
The furlough scheme, the self-employment income support scheme and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme have been lifelines for many thousands of my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland, and across Teesside almost 500 businesses have benefited from CBILs worth well over £100 million. Will the Minister confirm that all those businesses have gone through the appropriate checks to be approved and that HMRC will take action against any fraudulent abuse of the scheme?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: any business applying for any of the Government schemes—I have talked about the accreditation required to deliver those schemes—has to go through a robust procedure. HMRC and other organisations will indeed make sure that we are hot on fraud, because this is taxpayers’ money that we are talking about. That is why, in the instance that this question is about, it is important to remember that the Chancellor rejected the suggestion that was put forward. The process is doing its job.
When an urgent question of a similar nature came before the House just before the recess, I asked the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy whether a list of all the organisations that have received loans—whether they were under the bounce back loan scheme, CBILS or any of the other schemes—would be made available, because the Minister has said previously that that will be done “in due course”. When I asked the Secretary of State on that occasion, he said to me that he will “try to see” what can be done to put that list of businesses in the public domain. I hope the Minister agrees that many of these questions are arising because of a lack of transparency in the way that some of the support has been awarded. Will he tell me how the Secretary of State is getting on with publishing that list?
As the hon. Lady will know, at the time of delivery we were trying to deliver money to businesses as quickly as possible. The fact that businesses have accessed support—especially the larger loans under CLBILS—will appear in their accounts, and will obviously be reported to the European Union should that be required for state aid purposes.
I remind the Minister that one of David Cameron’s last big acts as Prime Minister was to hold a large anti-corruption summit in London, with some hard-hitting findings. Will the Government recommit to delivering on all the promises made in the subsequent anti-corruption strategy? Will the Minister confirm that if any changes need to be made as a result of the inquiry that is just starting, they will be brought to Parliament as soon as they possibly can be?
I admire my hon. Friend’s work on anti-corruption. It is important to keep raising the issue, but it is also important to keep a sense of perspective and to tackle actual corruption rather than speculate on other issues for political purposes. As I say, it is important to remember that in these circumstances the process has worked well: it was right to push for as much capital as possible to flow to small and large businesses, but it is important to remember that the Chancellor did reject the suggestion put forward by Greensill.
I would like to wish all celebrating the Hindu new year a happy Navratri and the Sikh community a happy Vaisakhi today.
The Bank of England is rightly independent of the Government. Can the Minister confirm whether or not Bank of England officials were requested by the Treasury to make amendments to its covid corporate financing facility to suit Greensill Capital after the former Prime Minister had texted the Chancellor?
If we can put to one side the blatant political opportunism here, there is a scandal behind this. Greensill failed because it overextended itself to GFG Alliance. That was signed off by Grant Thornton, GFG’s auditors, effectively on a business model that included borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds based on the security of a very insecure, possibly non-existent order book. Will my hon. Friend bring forward his intended reforms to the audit regulatory system and make sure that Grant Thornton’s role in this is properly investigated?
My hon. Friend will appreciate the audit reforms that we are consulting on. It is absolutely right that the markets work when they are transparent and open, which is why we are determined to make sure that, in the light of recent failures, we get these audit reforms through, and I look forward to his contribution to that debate.
It is incredibly sad and disappointing that, throughout this pandemic, we have seen too little transparency from Government about every aspect of how taxpayers’ money is being spent. The Government keep saying to the House, “Well, it was terribly difficult in those first two months.” We are now a year on, and we are still uncovering more. Is the Minister really satisfied that a six-week inquiry, dragged out as an announcement by the Prime Minister yesterday, is enough to shine sunlight on the millions of taxpayers’ money that has been given to organisations such as Greensill, backed by Government and therefore a loss to the taxpayer when things go wrong? Is six weeks enough, and will he commit to far more transparency, including, if necessary, calling witnesses before this House?
The hon. Lady talks about two different things. There is a review into supply chain finance and the request from Greensill Capital, but there is also the wider view of how taxpayers’ money was spent when the Government were working about as close to real time as they will ever get to do. Business owners will understand the huge difference between the speed at which business and Government work. We will review how taxpayers’ money has been spent, but we will also make sure that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young) said, we chase people who have used Government grants and support inappropriately.
Is it not true that the accreditation process that was used allowed a wide diversity of lenders to become accredited under the scheme in order to give more choice to borrowers, and that focus on the choices available to borrowers was crucial?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Chancellor and a number of Ministers reflected the view of the House that we wanted to push to make sure we had that diversity of finance and capital available to businesses of all different types. We should be proud of the support that has been given out, which has allowed companies to get through this incredibly difficult time, and it remains a difficult time.
In responding to this story, David Cameron said that “important lessons” must be learned—I should certainly think so, given these shady back-door lobbying efforts with Cabinet Ministers. My question is simple: if serving Ministers are found to have breached or been in breach of the ministerial code, will they resign?
Clearly, at the beginning, when the pandemic first struck, it was vital that we as a Government moved very swiftly to ensure the protection of small and medium-sized enterprises. Does my hon. Friend agree that it was right that the Treasury listened and gave consideration to all the potential options to support businesses to survive the pandemic given the extraordinary and unprecedented challenges facing UK SMEs last spring?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The scheme that we are being asked about today for large businesses protects many jobs in those companies, but it is right that we also looked at a diversity of lenders and of approaches to cover small businesses, as they do not always have the resilience and capacity of those larger businesses to survive and respond in these tough times.
I assumed that “whatever it takes” meant making sure that people got the help and the support that they needed, not deploying Treasury officials to try to mangle the rules in order to protect David Cameron’s shares. Just how many people and how many hours did the Chancellor devote to Mr Cameron’s concerns as opposed to those 3 million excluded self-employed people whom this Government have abandoned?
The Chancellor and other Ministers have spent many, many hours speaking to lenders and to businesses of all sizes to make sure that we can best reflect on and flex the support that is given to them. The system worked when the Chancellor was asked to change the scheme inappropriately, because, rather than having the banks involved in the CCFF, it was a Government-backed scheme with the Bank of England. That is why he rejected that approach, which meant that the procedure went well.
Businesses in Dudley South want support to go to the businesses that need it as quickly and effectively as possible rather than just falling back on how things have always been done when the times are far from ordinary. Can my hon. Friend assure them that, while processes will be transparent and due diligence will be done with taxpayers’ money, his Department will continue to look at all the options to make sure that the necessary support is getting to where it is needed rather than just going with traditional processes of distributing funds?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and other Ministers have done throughout is to make sure that, rather than just reacting to events, we can flex and respond as best we can by speaking to businesses large and small and by speaking to stakeholders to try to smooth out those cliff edges of support. As we get to that road map, as we start to reopen and recover our economy, it is as important as ever to make sure that we have that flexibility within our support.
It is apparent in the text messages sent in April 2020 between the Chancellor and David Cameron, now published by the Treasury, that the Chancellor pushed the team to explore an alternative with the bank regarding cheap loans for Greensill. Will the Minister explain what those alternative arrangements were and why Greensill was deemed such an important recipient of public funds, even after the Bank of England refused to authorise Greensill’s entry into the covid corporate financing facility scheme?
The Bank of England refused Greensill’s entry because there were no banks in the scheme. It was a way for the Government and the Bank of England to get money to businesses and of underwriting it rather than its being a separate loan scheme. That is why Greensill was accredited for CLBILS. The only other request to expand Greensill’s reach came from the shadow Front-Bench team, who asked for it to receive the higher level—up to £200 million.
The Chancellor now washes his hands of the covid public lending schemes that he set up. It is laughable given the fanfare and fuss he made of their launch. I almost feel sorry for the Minister. He has been sent here to defend the actions of senior Ministers who are not even in his Department. Given that the Chancellor is the person who we know received lobbying texts from David Cameron, can the Minister tell the House what he thinks the Chancellor is afraid of?
The Chancellor has delivered £356 billion-worth of support, I think it is currently, to businesses. He has flexed at every opportunity across Government in devising and designing loan schemes, which are overseen by the British Business Bank, which is overseen, as the single shareholder, by the Secretary of State for BEIS. That is what we should be proud of. The Chancellor is not afraid of anything here. The question is about the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, which is administered by BEIS, and that is why I am here to answer it.
I understand and share my colleagues’ concerns about lobbying, but, like other corporate financial scandals such as Enron, we need to follow the money. We know that it was the German Greensill Bank that made the loans to Sanjeev Gupta and also supported the use of the private jets on which our former Prime Minister made many journeys, and that the bank is now under criminal investigation as many thousands of German people face bankruptcy. What conversations has the Minister had with the German prosecutors about the CLBILS loan scheme, and will they be invited to give evidence to the inquiry?
As I said in my opening statement, the bank opened an investigation into Greensill Capital’s compliance with the terms of the scheme in October 2020 and informed the Government of that on 9 October. That is continuing. The obligations as guarantor of the CLBILS scheme are suspended on a precautionary basis, but it would not be appropriate for me to comment on further investigations at this time as it is ongoing.
As if the billions of pounds of crony covid contracts was not bad enough for hard-working Brits to stomach, we now have a former Tory Prime Minister sending private text messages to the Chancellor and other Treasury Ministers lobbying for Government loans for a firm in which he himself is a shareholder and that is now insolvent; we have him going for a private drink with his financier friend Lex Greensill and the Health Secretary; and we have a Chancellor who messaged back to say that he would “push” his team to find a solution, and now has neither the courtesy nor the courage to come to this House to be held accountable for his actions. Does the Minister agree that this just stinks—downright stinks—not just because we are talking about former and current Tory Ministers all in it together, but because it is not merely the Chancellor’s money that has been put at risk but the British taxpayers’ hard-earned money that is at stake?
May I respectfully suggest to the hon. Gentleman, through the Speaker, that if he wants the Chancellor to come to answer a question, he might ask a question that relates to the Treasury rather than one that comes under the British Business Bank, which is a responsibility of BEIS? As for the Chancellor, as I say, the system has worked. The hon. Gentleman may be touting his Opposition day debate tomorrow about wider things, but the Chancellor asked his officials to push for wider capital flows to be able to go through larger and smaller businesses, as we all wanted, and he rejected Greensill’s ask to try to change the CCFF scheme to involve banks including Greensill. That process worked.
From a former Prime Minister texting Ministers in pursuit of his own financial interests to concerns over Russian state access to the other place, it is little wonder that questions have arisen as to the integrity of decision making in the UK. I acknowledge the Government’s commitment to investigate the Greensill debacle, but will they go further by implementing the Intelligence and Security Committee’s recommendations regarding undue influence in decision making, particularly in the practice of Lords for boards, to safeguard the transparency of our democratic decision making?
I have written to Ministers on behalf of businesses in Chesterfield—many other MPs have written too—and have waited months for a reply while a business was on the brink, yet Greensill gets 10 meetings in three months with Treasury officials, and the junior Minister has the audacity to stand there and say that this is a system working well. When David Cameron was the Prime Minister, he said corporate lobbying was
“money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest.”
He could not describe this grubby, shabby Government any better, could he?
Treasury Ministers, like other Ministers, have had a number of meetings with lenders of all sorts, because as we heard earlier it is so important to have a diversity of lenders involved to create an understanding of their model and what support they can give. The accreditation itself was determined independently by the British Business Bank.
The inquiry announced by the Prime Minister seems to focus on the actions of David Cameron, but it is quite clear that the bigger consideration is the actions of Government Ministers and how they interacted to get Greensill what it wanted. It goes along with Government business as usual: crony appointments to the House of Lords and crony appointments to external bodies and regulators. Tory peer Baroness Harding was appointed to roll out the failed track and trace system. Then we have all the dodgy PPE contract awards. Surely it is not a short inquiry that is needed, but a public inquiry into the entire actions and dealings of this Government.
The public deserve answers. This is not the Prime Minister’s money, the Chancellor’s money or the Conservative party’s money; it is public money. Can the Minister explain why Greensill Capital met Treasury officials 10 times last summer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) said, when the most meetings any other coronavirus business interruption loan scheme lender secured with the Treasury was two? The vast majority of lenders did not even have any meetings with his Department.
Lenders and businesses have had many, many meetings across Government without favour, to make sure that we can get that information to ensure a diversity of lenders and that we could flex. The various loan schemes were added to and amended along the way to make sure that we could take the temperature of exactly how that lending was or was not working.
I would like to associate myself first with the comments made earlier about Cheryl Gillan from all sides of the House.
Many Members will remember that seven years ago, when David Cameron was putting his lobbying Bill through this place, he point blank refused to adopt any new clauses or amendments that would bring greater transparency to the corporate lobbying industry. I wonder why he did that. All these years later, is it not time to put that right and introduce greater transparency—not to stop corporate lobbying, which is a perfectly legitimate business to engage in, but to introduce greater accountability—so that we and the public know who is being lobbied and by whom?
I started off by talking about how the market works when there is transparency and openness, and lobbying comes within that. We should always review what is and is not there. The lobbying register should be working, and we need to make sure that that continues to work, but we always should be able to review lobbying activities to make sure that they are, as the hon. Gentleman says, transparent.
Is the central fact not that there was communication between a former Prime Minister and Ministers about his private interests? Will the Minister confirm that that is a breach of the long-standing British value that high office is not a grubby route through to great riches in the afterlife? Will he indicate that he could take immediate action while we wait for this inquiry, which sounds like a whitewash to me, to remove the impression that powerful wealth dominates public institutions? He could stop the revolving door between Ministers and the private sector. He could stop immediately all forms of lobbying within Westminster and Whitehall. Finally, he could stop the process of outsourcing to Tory chums.
What I can do is explain the difference between an output and an outcome. An output means that any number of meetings, any number of requests— unless you block the number, any Minister will receive those texts. An outcome is what actually happens as a result, and I was absolutely clear that the Chancellor rejected what was put forward by Greensill and rejected what was put forward by David Cameron.
This process is just another example of where covid contracts are becoming a genuine source of public concern. The allegations are further undermining public confidence and cultivating among the public a feeling of suspicion about all the activities of this Government. How do the Government propose to rebuild public trust in the wake of the emergence of yet another scandal?
Having been in opposition at a local level, I know what causes speculation and mistrust among the public, and it is that chipping away, the politicisation of some of these issues. But the Chancellor has been particularly robust in his actions and his outcomes here. There is a review; Nigel Boardman will do his work. People have committed to be open and transparent with him, and the review will report back at the end of June, and will show results for the public to see.
Was the British Business Bank approached by senior civil servants or Ministers about Greensill’s having access to the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme? Did Greensill exceed its authority and lend more than it was authorised to lend—£400 million to the Gupta group alone, all of which has now been lost?
I am not aware of any communication between Ministers and the British Business Bank about the accreditation of Greensill, which was made independently of Government. There is an ongoing investigation into Greensill, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.
Five years ago this week, the former Member for Bolsover was asked to leave the Chamber for using unparliamentary language towards David Cameron regarding his personal finances. Does the Minister now agree that he was, and indeed remains, dodgy?
When businesses continue to collapse and charities fold in our constituencies because they have not received a penny of support, it now appears that not everything that the former Prime Minister did was for the record, as exchanges took place to procure hundreds of millions of pounds out of the Treasury for a company that he was profiting from. The very loopholes that Labour tried to close in his lobbying legislation left sufficient room for that corruption. So will the Minister stop hiding the detail and now publish a timeline of every meeting, call, text message and conversation between the former Prime Minister and Members of this current Conservative Government and their officials—publish them before this House, so that we can understand the extent of his lobbying?
The Chancellor has published his text messages and there is a review that, rather than hiding, will go into the detail. As I said, all the parties involved have pledged their commitment to comply with that investigation, which will report back at the end of June.
The simple fact is that, again and again, Members from all parts of the House pleaded with the Chancellor to meet us to hear the plight of millions of people who were excluded from any Government support, and the Chancellor would never find the time for such a meeting; but a few texts from dodgy Dave, and Greensill has got 10 meetings and a ream of correspondence with senior Treasury officials—the type of access that most businesses in this country could only dream of. So I ask the Minister why it was that, in correspondence between Greensill and a senior Treasury official, they put in words:
“Whilst not using this precise phrasing, we have crafted a formulation both in substance and form which provides an even stronger political position.”
Why is a private company advising Treasury officials about political positioning; and does not this show that, despite his protestations, it is ludicrous that the Business Minister is here, not the Chancellor? If the Chancellor had nothing to fear, he would have nothing to hide and he would be here to answer the questions.
I am afraid that in Government we have to deal with details, and that includes asking the right question in the first place. If a question is asked about a BEIS responsibility, I think it is fair and reasonable that a BEIS Minister should come here and answer it. However, I come back to the point that the hon. Gentleman can come up with all he likes about process, but what businesses want are outcomes, and that means capital flowing through those businesses. The outcome in this situation was that the Chancellor rejected such a proposal, but the detail that the hon. Gentleman talks about will be investigated by Nigel Boardman, and that review will be published by the end of June.
Just three weeks ago, I asked Ministers to back an independent investigation into the actions of crony Cameron. At that time, they refused to answer, so I welcome the U-turn that has again taken place. However, the public expect and want total accountability and transparency, so will the Minister back a wider review into the dishing out of covid contracts to Tory donors and friends?
I am not sure I recognise the name that the hon. Gentleman calls the former Prime Minister, which I think is inappropriate. There is a review, which is investigating as we speak. With regard to covid, as I say, there are a number of things that we will look at when we are past this pandemic. We will look back at what has happened and at the support that the Government have given—the many hundreds of millions of pounds that the Government have given to small and large businesses.
Chinese Government Sanctions on UK Citizens
Before I call the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), I wish to make it clear that it is in the public interest that Members should be able to speak and act freely in raising issues of concern. They should not be impeded in carrying out their duties—and that includes the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They are democratically elected representatives and nothing should interfere with the democratic process.
The Government stand in complete solidarity with those sanctioned by China. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, this action by Beijing is utterly unacceptable and unwarranted.
The House will recall that on 22 March, the UK, alongside the EU, Canada and the United States, imposed asset freezes and travel bans against four senior Chinese Government officials and one entity responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. In response, China sanctioned nine individuals and four organisations, including Members of this House and the other place, who have criticised its record on human rights. It speaks volumes that while 30 countries are united in sanctioning those responsible for serious and systematic violations of human rights in Xinjiang, China’s response is to retaliate against those who seek to shine a light on those violations. It is fundamental to our parliamentary democracy that Members of both Houses can speak without fear or favour on matters of concern to the British people.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made absolutely clear the Government’s position through their public statements and on 22 March. I also summoned China’s representative in the UK to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to lodge a strong, formal protest at China’s actions. This Government have been quick to offer support to those who have been sanctioned. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary held private meetings with the parliamentarians named in China’s announcement. My noble Friend, the Minister for human rights, Lord Ahmad, met other individuals and the entities that have been targeted. Through this engagement, we have provided guidance and an offer of ongoing support, including a designated FCDO point of contact and specialist briefing from relevant Departments.
Just as this Government will be unbowed by China’s action, I have no doubt that Members across this House will be undeterred in raising their fully justified concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and the human rights situation in China more broadly. I applaud the parliamentarians named by China: my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) and for Wealden (Ms Ghani), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), the noble Lord Alton and the noble Baroness Kennedy for the vital role they have played in drawing attention to the plight of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.
This Government have worked with partners to build the international caucus of those willing to speak out against China’s human rights violations and increase the pressure on China to change its behaviour. We have led joint statements at the UN’s human rights bodies, most recently joined by 38 countries at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October, and we have backed up our international action with robust domestic measures. In addition to the global human rights sanctions announced on 22 March, the Foreign Secretary announced a series of targeted measures in January to help ensure that British businesses are not complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang. The United Kingdom will continue to work alongside its partners to send the clearest possible signal of the international community’s serious concern and our collective willingness to act to hold China to account for its gross human rights violations in the region.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Speaker for granting this urgent question and for his robust support, together with that of the Lord Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister today. I suppose I need to declare an interest as one of the five right hon. and hon. Members of this House who have been placed on the Chinese Government’s sanctions list, apparently for “maliciously” spreading “lies and disinformation”; in the language of the Chinese Communist party, of course, that is a euphemism for speaking the truth. As parliamentarians we have been singled out, together with Lord Alton and Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, presumably for our vociferous calling out of the genocide against the Uyghur people by the Chinese Government, the industrial-scale human rights abuses in Tibet and the suppression of free speech and liberty in Hong Kong. That is what parliamentarians do, without fear or favour, in a democracy. To be sanctioned by a totalitarian regime is, therefore, not only deeply ironic and laughable, but an abuse of parliamentary privilege of this House, by a foreign regime.
What further action are the Government considering against the Chinese Government to emphasise how unacceptable and unfounded their action is? Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not be proceeding with any new agreements with the Chinese Government while these sanctions remain in place?
The other individuals named were Newcastle University academic Dr Jo Smith Finley and Uyghur expert lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. Does the Minister agree that this also represents an attack on academic freedom and the independence of the legal profession in the United Kingdom? What support are the Government offering to those two individuals?
Given growing concerns about the malign influence of the Chinese Government in sensitive research projects in our universities, the sinister tentacles of the Confucius institutes on campuses and increasingly in our schools, not to mention the wide-scale buying of influence in UK boardrooms, will the Government commit to a detailed and transparent audit of Chinese influence in our education system, our military capability, our business and our infrastructure projects, and, if found to be acting against British interests, send them packing?
Given the disgraceful recent dressing-down of our ambassador in Beijing for supporting on social media the role of a free press, will the Minister confirm that British diplomats will not be bowed and will be fortified in calling out abuses by the Chinese Government wherever they happen, as we sanctioned parliamentarians have been fortified to call out the abuses of the totalitarian Government in China by their badly-thought-out and counterproductive use of sanctions, which we will wear as a badge of honour? Will the Minister signal, clearly and firmly, that project kowtow is over and that Britain will not flinch from standing up and calling out Chinese Government abuses, which they have got away with for far too long?
I thank my hon. Friend for his questions and for his bravery in the work that he and other right hon. and hon. Members have done, which led to these extraordinary measures by China.
We have been absolutely clear with China that its sanctioning of UK individuals and entities is unwarranted and unacceptable. My hon. Friend is right to shine a light on these measures. We will not allow this action by China—neither will our diplomats—to distract attention from the gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. We will continue to work alongside our partners to send the clearest possible signal of the international community’s serious concerns and our collective willingness to act.
My hon. Friend mentioned Jo Smith Finley, who is another of the individuals named. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental UK values and a cornerstone of the world-class UK higher education system. The attempt to silence those highlighting human rights violations in Xinjiang in academia is absolutely unwarranted and unacceptable. We are offering support to Jo Smith Finley, as we will and have for all those impacted by these sanctions.
The Labour party stands in solidarity with the nine British citizens, including Members of both Houses, who have been sanctioned by the Chinese Government solely for calling out Beijing’s appalling human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. We welcome the Prime Minister’s invitation to those who were sanctioned to meet him, and we hope that the Government are providing those individuals with adequate advice and support. However, we are deeply concerned about the rank hypocrisy and inconsistency in the Government’s actions regarding China.
When Beijing introduced the Hong Kong national security law last summer, the UK withdrew from two UK-China Government investment forums: the joint trade and economic commission and the economic and financial dialogue. However, it is reported that those forums are now reopening. Will the Minister confirm that?
On Hong Kong, does the Minister now agree with the Opposition that British judges who serve in Hong Kong are only lending a veneer of credibility to a broken system and that they should therefore withdraw? Lord Reed’s review was announced in November. When will its conclusions be published? Where are the Magnitsky sanctions against Carrie Lam and the human rights violators in Hong Kong?
In January, the Foreign Secretary said that “we shouldn’t be” doing trade deals with countries committing human rights abuses
“well below the level of genocide”,
yet the Government whipped their MPs against the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. Will the Minister explain that rank hypocrisy and why the Foreign Secretary says one thing in public and something else altogether in private? The Government claim to be alive to the threat that Chinese state-backed investment poses to Britain’s economic security and prosperity, so why on earth is the Business Secretary weakening our defences by watering down the National Security and Investment Bill? Today, Taiwan suffered the biggest Chinese military incursion into its airspace to date of 25 planes. What conversations is the Minister having with his counterparts about that worrying development?
It is clear that the Government have no strategy on China at home and no strategy on China abroad. Will they now commit to an audit of every aspect of the UK-China relationship so that we can finally call time on the Conservatives’ failed golden era strategy and replace weakness, division and inconsistency with an approach that is instead based on strength, unity and consistency?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. The reality is that the UK has always wanted a mature, positive relationship with China. That has to be based on mutual respect and trust. There is still considerable scope for constructive engagement and co-operation, but we will not sacrifice our values or our security. It is worth getting it on the record that China is an authoritarian state with different values from the UK. We continually act on matters on which we do not agree, including human rights and Hong Kong.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Hong Kong. The prosperity and way of life for Hongkongers relies on respect for fundamental freedoms, which includes an independent judiciary and the rule of law. We are fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms under the joint declaration. On the national security law, the imposition of the new rules including disqualifying elected legislators and changes to election processes, clearly constitutes a serious breach of the joint declaration. We consider Beijing to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration.
On Taiwan, yes, we are clearly concerned by any action that raises tensions in the Taiwan strait and risks destabilising the status quo. We have a long-standing policy that the Taiwan issue needs to be settled peacefully by the people on both sides of the Taiwan strait through constructive dialogue. We continue to work with Taiwan constructively on economic trade, education and cultural ties, and I think our relationship brings huge benefits to both the United Kingdom and Taiwan.
I thank Mr Speaker for his opening statement of support, which is absolutely right, and the Minister for his response. Surely the key question is: where do we go with our relationship with China? China has sanctioned, without reason, British politicians, people beyond the political sphere and organisations. It has also sanctioned people in Europe and in America. Surely it is now time for the Government to lead our allies in Europe and the United States in saying to China that there can be no preferential trade, economic or commercial deals done while our citizens are sanctioned. Will the Minister resist any moves by any other part of Government to water down any of the measures in the new National Security and Investment Bill, which is going through Parliament?
I commend my right hon. Friend for his continued work on this subject. The Government see China’s increasing international assertiveness at scale as potentially the most significant geopolitical shift in the 2020s, but it is vital that we co-operate with China to tackle the most important challenges facing this generation, not the least of which is climate change. We will do more to adapt to that growing impact and to manage our disagreements. We need to defend our values but co-operate where our interests align. We must pursue a positive economic relationship as well as tackle global challenges. I said in response to a previous question that the House should be in no doubt that China is an authoritarian state, with different values from those of the United Kingdom. We will continue to act on matters on which we do not agree, including human rights and Hong Kong.
As Members have said, the sanctions fit into a wider pattern of action that Beijing has been taking forward across the European continent and the US, reaching beyond politics and into academia and elsewhere. From the perspective of the Scottish National party, the whole point of democracy is that we can disagree, if not as friends then certainly as colleagues, and I have no hesitation in expressing our total support and total solidarity with the right hon. and hon. Members across the House and those elsewhere who have been sanctioned in this way. I am quite sure it will not silence them; it certainly will not silence SNP politicians in the Scottish Parliament or in this place.
Beijing has taken advantage of mixed signals from the UK Government. Although the Government have not done nothing, they could be tougher. It was a Conservative Government who whipped their own Members against a genocide amendment to the Trade Bill—a matter of great regret—and the UK still does not define the situation in Xinjiang as genocide. Does the Minister not agree that we need to be tougher on this? It is high time that the UK Government follow the lead of others, define what is happening in Xinjiang as genocide and make it clear that the UK will not do business with genocidal regimes anywhere?
The amendment to the Trade Bill that was passed is consistent with our long-standing policy that any judgment on whether genocide has occurred is a matter for a competent court, rather than for Governments or non-judicial bodies, and should be decided after consideration of all the evidence available in the context of a credible judicial process.
I want to put on the record my thanks to Mr Speaker for his robust support. He fully understands that sanctioning MPs was not only about intimidating us, but about threatening the integrity of this House.
It is absurd for MPs to be sanctioned for producing a Select Committee report that talks about slave labour in Xinjiang. My question to the Minister is this: if we know that the United Nations is broken when it comes to determining genocide, what are we to do now that the Chinese communist party has decided to sanction those Members who dared to speak about it? The Minister spoke about the work the Government are doing with businesses to make sure that modern slavery is not in supply chains, but that is now worthless, because every business doing the right thing that was identified in our report is now being threatened by the Chinese communist party.
Finally, alongside many colleagues, I led on the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill. Although it is good that the Government’s compromise tackled genocide, it is shameful that it excluded the Uyghur. I do not expect a change in the law, but I do expect the Minister to say that the Uyghur people can now come forward in any process in this place that is established to see whether genocide is taking place.
I thank my hon. Friend for her persistent work in this area. She—and other colleagues and entities that have been sanctioned—obviously have the full support of the Foreign Office. I know that her work on the issue of genocide has been long standing, but I do think the Government’s amendment to the Trade Bill is consistent with our policy. Select Committees will be able to come up with a report that the Government have to consider. Depending on the response of the Select Committees, that could very well lead to a meaningful debate on the Floor of the House.
The Liberal Democrats offer full solidarity with colleagues and organisations who have been sanctioned for daring to speak out against atrocities committed by China. If the purpose of those sanctions was to try to muzzle them, I am sorry to say that all it has done is made all of us even more determined to speak truth to power in this place.
On 8 April, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez announced a bipartisan agreement on new comprehensive China legislation. What consideration has the Minister given to seeking cross-party support for a comprehensive and nuanced new foreign policy settlement towards China that protects democracy and human rights? As he will have seen from the strong support for the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, such a settlement would be welcomed across the House.