House of Commons
Monday 19 April 2021
The House met at half-past Two 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
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Fire Safety: Buildings under 18 Metres
Buildings below 18 metres in height will not carry the same inherent risk as a building above 18 metres. However, some will need remediation. To give residents in lower-rise buildings peace of mind, we are establishing a generous scheme to ensure that, where required, cladding can be remediated on buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres. Leaseholders will be asked to pay no more than £50 a month, protecting them against these unaffordable costs. We will work at pace to develop the details of the scheme and communicate them to the House as quickly as possible.
No one needs reminding that we are nearly at the four-year anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, yet many of my constituents remain trapped in dangerous homes and, because of this Government’s arbitrary decision to only help those in buildings above 18 metres, they feel hopeless and invisible. Does the Secretary of State agree that no leaseholder should have to pay for fire safety problems that are simply not their fault, and that people should not be required to pay even £50 or less a month, regardless of whether their building is 7 metres, 18 metres or even lower?
The hon. Lady is right; great progress has been made over the last four years to ensure that the remediation of high-rise properties is undertaken, because that is where we have been guided by official advice. I can tell the House that remediation has either been completed or is under way in 95% of aluminium composite material-clad buildings. We are clear that buildings below 18 metres also need help, which is why we have tabled this generous package of support where otherwise there would be no support. It is also clear that developers and building owners are stepping up to the plate and remediating the buildings for which they are responsible, and are providing funds so to do.
Many leaseholders have spent their third lockdown stuck in buildings with serious safety defects and are unsure when the works will be completed. The Minister talks about providing a generous scheme for blocks of 18 metres or less. Can he explain to the House how generous that programme is, how much is being committed and when our constituents can expect the works to be completed—both for blocks under 18 metres and blocks over 18 metres that require remedial works—so that people do not have to continue to live in potential death traps?
With respect to buildings over 18 metres, the hon. Lady will know that we set aside funds of £1 billion using the building safety fund in order to deal with properties with non-ACM dangerous cladding material. Some 106 buildings have already begun that work and we estimate that a further 338 will begin the work by September, which was the date that we set for work using BSF funds to be undertaken. With respect to buildings below 18 metres, we want to ensure that we are prioritising affordability and accelerating remediation where it is required. It is a complex set of challenges, but we are determined to meet them and to get this right, which is why we will bring forward further information as soon as we are able to do so.
Can the Minister explain why three quarters of cladding systems on new medium-rise buildings have used combustible insulation materials despite a proposed Government ban on them? That is 51 out of 66 residential blocks of 11 to 18 metres in height built in 2019 and 2020 that are now liable for the imposition of unwanted Government loans. There is the nightmare of EWS1 forms, inflated insurance premium costs, service charges and much, much more. At what stage are the ministerial team going to get a grip of this chaos?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well the work that the Government have undertaken to ensure that we address this complicated issue, which involves buildings, building owners, warranty providers, insurers and leaseholders themselves. We have brought forward a very generous set of schemes. More than £5.1 billion of public money has already been allocated to remediate taller high-rise buildings. We have proposed a generous scheme to support people living in leasehold properties between 11 and 18 metres. We will announce further details of that scheme shortly so that the people living in them can have peace of mind that they have a way out too.
UK Shared Prosperity Fund
The UK shared prosperity fund will help to level up and create opportunity across the United Kingdom. The spending review 2020 set out the main strategic elements of the UKSPF in the heads of terms, and we will publish a UK-wide investment framework in 2021 and confirm a multi-year funding profile at the next spending review. We are providing an additional £220 million through the UK community renewal fund to help those areas to prepare for the introduction of the UKSPF.
Wales received £375 million a year under the EU structural funds but this Government’s levelling-up fund is giving Wales only £30 million a year, while the community renewal fund’s pilot projects split £220 million across the four nations. Can the Minister see why my constituents are already sceptical that this Government will fulfil their promise that Wales will receive “not a penny less”?
Levels of investment from EU structural funds will be higher across the United Kingdom in ’21-22 than they were in ’20-21. We are also finding additional UK funding to support our communities to pilot programmes and new approaches. The hon. Lady mentions the levelling-up fund. Her local authority will receive £150,000 capacity funding support with that bidding process. As we set out in the spending review, funding for the UKSPF will ramp up so that total domestic UK-wide funding will at least match EU receipts, reaching £1.5 billion a year. These funds will have a real, lasting impact on communities that will make a significant difference to tackling deprivation and inequality, and binding together our precious United Kingdom.
I thank the Minister for recognising when I met him last week that the UK shared prosperity fund will need to be more transparent in a way that the towns fund clearly was not. If he intends to keep this promise of more transparency, when will he consult on the UK shared prosperity fund that his Department committed to three years ago, and will his Department publish how much funding English regions will get?
The point that I made to the hon. Lady last week is that we have published all the details in the technical note that is set out on gov.uk. We thought that was the right thing to do. At the spending review last year, we set out the main strategic elements of the UKSPF in the heads of terms. The funding profile will be set out at the next spending review and we will publish further details in a UK-wide investment framework later this year. In the meantime, the community renewal fund will deliver real, lasting change into communities right across the country. It will tackle inequality and deprivation in some of the communities that need it the most and were neglected for so long by Labour, and of course one of its key aims will be to work to bind together our precious Union.
Housing Market: First-time Buyers
In 2018 and 2019 we saw the highest and the second-highest number of first-time buyers since 2007. With the effect of covid, 2020 saw a 14% decrease from the 2019 total. The Government are now redoubling their efforts to assist first-time buyers. That is why today we launched the mortgage guarantee scheme offering a 95% loan-to-value mortgage, developing first homes and enabling first-time buyers to purchase new-build homes locally with at least a 30% discount—a determined effort to support buyers.
For many first-time buyers, especially in cities, the options are mainly new-build and leasehold properties, but many of them are walking into a new nightmare of costs. Inside Housing is today reporting on purchasers buying properties as safe only to discover almost immediately that the ratings are changing, leaving them with huge bills for waking watch, and unsaleable properties. Does the Minister know how many first-time buyers are affected by this, and why is the only truly blameless party, the purchaser, the one who is still left carrying the can and the risk?
There are a suite of options for first-time buyers. They can purchase a home using the Help to Buy scheme. They can take advantage of our shared ownership scheme, whereby, under the new proposals, failings and defects will be fixed by the developer for the first 10 years. As I said, the mortgage guarantee scheme that we announced today allows first-time buyers and others to purchase homes with as little as 5% deposit.
We are determined to ensure that first-time buyers are able to achieve their dream and get on to the property ladder. That is a world away from the campaign that the hon. Lady chairs—the campaign of Sadiq Khan, who promised to build 116,000 homes in London but has thus far managed to deliver only 28,000. I wonder whether that is why the housing pledge, which was at the top of his campaign in 2016, is now second from bottom in 2021. I think that that says a lot about Labour and its priority for housing.
That was quite staggering. I do not know whether the Minister was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck). He avoided answering her, and he previously avoided answering my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), so I will give him another go. Will the Minister please tell us what on earth the justification is for allowing new buildings to be built with dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects? What will he do to ensure that the number of first-time buyers moving into homes with dangerous cladding is zero?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me a second go. I point out that she has no policies of her own. We are quite prepared to let her borrow some of ours, because we have a lot of them. We are determined to make sure, through the building safety regime that we will introduce, that we have a world-class building safety programme. We have consulted on the challenge of combustible products, which is a very complicated one, and we will make our announcements on those in due course. But make no mistake, Mr Speaker: we are determined to support buyers, we are determined to get more people on to the property ladder and we are determined to build better-quality homes—things that the Labour party talks about, we are doing.
Shared Prosperity Fund/Levelling-up Fund: Devolved Administrations
Along with the Secretary of State, I met the Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance in the Scottish Government last month to discuss the levelling-up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund. We will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations and, importantly, with local authorities and communities in Scotland directly and wider public and private sector organisations to ensure that funding is used to best effect and to support citizens right across the country.
A joint statement by Ministers from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments criticised the UK Government for using the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 to bypass devolved Administrations. Is it not the case that the UK Government intend to use levelling-up funding to shore up support for the Union and to undermine the very basis of devolution? If not, what are the Minister’s plans to devolve the funding within the framework of the devolution settlement?
I can confirm that we want to do everything possible to enhance and protect our precious Union. We will work with communities directly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver this important funding. We have already committed to providing capacity funding to local authorities in all the devolved Administrations, to get them started on preparing for these funds. We are excited about working with them, and they are excited about working with us on delivering these funds. We have had huge interest from councils and communities that want to work with us to deliver real and lasting change for their communities, and that is why there is such a high level of enthusiasm and engagement.
Sixty-six per cent. of Scots are deeply concerned about the way that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act seeks to undermine Scotland’s Parliament. Alongside the unilateral decision making of the UK Government regarding the shared prosperity fund and the levelling-up fund, despite what the Minister just said, this is being used to aggressively assert Unionism in Scotland and bypass Scotland’s Parliament. Meanwhile, 33 of the last 41 polls show majority support for independence in Scotland. Does the Minister think that this aggressive and assertive Unionism, trampling all over Scotland’s Parliament, is endearing the people of Scotland to the Union?
I urge the Scottish nationalist party to trust their local councils and local communities, which are so passionately engaging in this project and working with us, using the capacity funding we have committed to them to start this process. They will work with us on delivering these funds, which will tackle deprivation and enhance communities right across Scotland, and we look forward to working with them with determination and enthusiasm in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Net Zero Emissions: National Target
The simple answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that lots of discussions have been had. This Department works very closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to set us on the path to ensuring that all homes and buildings meet that national net zero target. As no doubt you know, Mr Speaker, this is part of the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan to build back greener post pandemic and ensure we achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Heating the UK’s draughty homes makes up 14% of the country’s carbon emissions. Many of my constituents in Putney wanted to apply for the green homes grant, but cannot because it has been scrapped. The Labour Government set out the original plans for zero-carbon homes in 2006, which set a goal of achieving zero-carbon homes by 2016. Why was this ambition abandoned by this Government in 2016, why was the green homes grant scrapped this month by this Government and what will be replacing it?
The green homes grant is of course a BEIS initiative, but I can tell the hon. Lady that although it was making encouraging progress—with over 96,000 applications, and 39,000 vouchers had been issued via the scheme—given the fact that it was not progressing quickly enough, we have taken stock and decided to reconsider our approach. Last month, the Secretary of State for BEIS announced £300 million of extra funding for green home upgrades through the local authority delivery element of the green homes grant scheme and the social housing decarbonisation fund. This brings the total spending on energy efficiency to £1.3 billion.
Covid-19: Hospitality Venues and High Streets
Last week, we saw friends and families reunited, our favourite shops, pubs and cafés reopened and an injection of sunny optimism into hospitality and our high streets as we move to the next stage on our road map out of the lockdown. To help these measures, my Department has introduced crucial planning easements, including fast-track pavement licences, which are helping to make al fresco dining a reality, enabling communities to hold popular outdoor events such as markets and allowing pubs to set up marquees in their gardens for the whole of the summer—all without the need for costly planning permissions.
In Romsey and the surrounding villages, much use has been made of the planning easements by pubs, cafés and restaurants to install temporary awnings, marquees, gazebos and so on. Please can my right hon. Friend reassure me that plenty of time will be given to pubs and so on before these structures have to be removed? In many cases, they will continue to provide additional capacity even when indoor socialising is allowed, and our hospitality sector has had a very tough year.
I am delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend’s constituents, like millions of others across the country, are making use of these easements to enjoy the summer sunshine and to support local pubs, cafés and restaurants. When the first lockdown began, we inherited a planning rule called the 28-day rule, which enabled a business to set up a marquee or another temporary structure for just one month without seeking planning permission. We doubled that, and now we are bringing forward the legislation to ensure that that will remain in place for at least the whole of the summer, and I hope perhaps significantly longer. That will enable small businesses the length and breadth of the land, like those in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, to put up those marquees and gazebos, and get the full benefit of them.
Our town centres lie at the heart of our communities. They should be a source of pride and be attractive to visitors, but vacant buildings have become a blight in many of them. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he is taking steps to make it easier for vacant buildings to be repurposed or demolished, so that we can make sure our town centres are attractive places that people want to visit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our high streets have been hit hard by the pandemic, but the market forces have been amplified and magnified. These are very long-standing issues and ones that we have been focused on for some time. We need to make some fundamental changes to ensure that we have a flexible planning regime so that businesses can adapt and evolve, for instance by turning a café into a hairdressers or a yoga studio into an office, all without the need for costly planning permissions, and where businesses and buildings are sat empty and derelict, then to be able do the logical thing and turn them into something else, particularly homes. That is exactly why a few weeks ago we brought forward the planning changes to do that, and I hope that will see hundreds, if not thousands, of homes being created in our town centres and on our high streets over the course of this year.
The Secretary of State’s Department is bringing forward further permitted development rights that will allow gyms, crèches and offices, as well as shops, banks and restaurants, to be converted into homes without going through planning permission. Has the Department conducted an impact assessment of how many cafés, pharmacies and corner shops will be lost from our high streets, never to return?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we have approached this issue with great caution and due consideration. We have consulted on those matters and received thousands of responses, and we have made our proposals on the back of that, so they have been carefully thought out to consider some of the issues she has raised. We made a number of changes, to protect, for example, nurseries and to provide further protections for conservation areas, but the Opposition’s approach, which could be characterised as the ostrich’s head in the sand, is not the one that we have chosen to take. We think that high streets and town centres are undergoing the biggest transformation not just in our lifetime but at least since the second world war and that we need to introduce measures that are proportionate to the scale of the challenge. That is why we are making billions of pounds of investment through our towns and high streets and levelling-up funds, and that is why we are pursuing the planning reforms that the hon. Lady refers to, and I think most reasonable people across the country would agree. I note that in her own constituency Mike Cartwright, who runs the Bradford chamber of commerce, seems to agree. He says:
“Having unused space is bad for the economy,”
“buildings remaining empty for years is to no one’s benefit.”
We agree; that is why we are taking action.
Planning policy is clear: it is for local authorities to identify the size, type and tenure of the housing needed for different groups in the community, including those who require affordable housing. We are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and are investing over £12 billion in the affordable housing programme over the next five years, the largest investment in affordable housing in over a decade.
Many of my constituents cannot afford to buy a house of their own and are finding that private sector landlords are using various devices to block access to that market as well, such as through guarantees and bond requirements, so council housing or social housing is the only option, but demand is outstripping supply, and, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing, outside London only a third of all the social housing needed will actually be built in the next five years. So what does the Minister say to my constituents who find themselves with no housing options at all at the moment?
Over the last 10 years around 150,000 new homes for social rent have been built. We have made it easier for local authorities to build their own council homes by changing the rules around the housing revenue account and by making it easier for them to get cheap loans through the Public Works Loan Board. Our new affordable homes programme, investing £12 billion-plus in new homes over the next five years, will double the number of socially rentable homes built to 32,000. I rather hope the hon. Gentleman’s local authority will take advantage of the reforms that we have undertaken and the powers we have given local authorities, because in 2019-20, before the covid emergency, it built no social houses at all.
The levelling-up fund will be allocated competitively and is open to all local areas. As we set out in the prospectus published at Budget, the index used for the levelling-up fund places areas in category 1, 2 or 3 based on their need for economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity, and regeneration.
If the Minister does not mind my saying so, that index seems to be working in a rather curious way. It has not escaped anyone’s attention that some Tory target areas in England seem to have done extraordinarily well out of this fund, yet areas such as mine in the north-east of Scotland—Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council—are languishing in levels 2 and 3 of the fund, despite being forecast to be hit hardest by Brexit. We know there was a power grab with the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Is not the truth that we are now seeing a corresponding cash grab, because the Conservative Government know that not even all the rhetoric in the world about shared prosperity and precious Unions can spare their party from the hiding it is set to get from Scottish voters on 6 May?
It is hard to see how the £150,000 per local authority that we have already committed to is a cash grab from Scottish communities. We are investing directly in Scottish communities, with £125,000 in capacity funding already. This is a bidding process, and rightly so, but we are providing that capacity funding, and for the first round of funding at least 9% of the UK allocations will be in Scotland. As I said earlier, we are hugely excited about the opportunities we have now to work directly with communities in Scotland. We have already been in touch, of course, with Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council to ensure that they have a good understanding of the levelling-up fund, including, importantly, securing support from Members of Parliament. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will play a full part in that process.
I am afraid that answer simply is not good enough. Not only are the Tories seeking to bypass devolution; they are also seeking to bypass the needs of Aberdeen. One hundred and twenty-three local authorities have been placed in pot 1, yet Aberdeen has been dumped in pot 2. The consequence of that is clear for all to see: it means that we will not have access to the funding that we need at this moment in time. Aberdeen accounts for a third of all job redundancies in Scotland since the start of the pandemic. If that is not a criterion for funding, what is?
It is published fully and frankly on the Government website. The hon. Gentleman can have a look at it; I would advise him to do so. Authorities are already receiving capacity funding, so it is not true in any way to infer that every single Scottish local authority will not receive support through this initiative. We are hugely excited about the opportunities this presents us with. We are going to be investing directly into communities. There is huge support for this funding. I strongly urge the hon. Gentleman both to read the documentation on the website and to get involved in playing a full part in the process.
Energy-efficient House Building
The future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce 75% less carbon than those being built today. Those properties will be future-proofed, with low-carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency, and they will not need any further retrofit to become net zero in line with the electricity supply. That is what building back greener looks like.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. As he knows, building regulations are one tool we can use to improve the environmental performance of new homes, and I am conscious that the Government are consulting on how those regulations might be reformed. However, as he also knows, the regulations in place at the moment require compliance by developers to a design standard rather than a performance-in-use standard. Is his Department considering whether that should change? In any event, when does he expect revised and improved building regulations to be in place to compel that improved environmental performance?
My right hon. and learned Friend will be delighted to know that we will update the regulations relating to fuel, power and ventilation this year, in advance of the introduction of the future homes standard in 2025. But we are not waiting for 2025; in the short term, our priority will be to implement an interim 2021 part L uplift. That sounds a bit esoteric, but it means that there will be a 31% reduction in carbon production compared with the 2013 standard. With regard to the point that he makes about performance standard versus design standard, I would be delighted to meet him and his constituent to discuss that further.
The SNP plans, during the next Parliament, to put £1.6 billion into decarbonising the way buildings are heated in Scotland. Ambitiously, that equates to one third of homes by 2030. Why are the UK Government failing to match Scotland’s level of ambition to decarbonise our homes?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I am slightly disappointed, though. I thought she was going to rise to congratulate us on the social housing decarbonisation demonstrator fund, which has three excellent projects that are being progressed in Scotland. We on the Government Benches have no shortage of ambition to reach our net zero target by 2050. I look forward to working with Opposition Members to ensure we achieve that.
Local Infrastructure Investment
Infrastructure underpins our economy and improves people’s everyday lives. Over the next five years, the Government plan to deliver over £600 billion in public investment, the highest sustained level since the 1970s as a proportion of GDP. My Department is playing a leading role in that mission by making the biggest changes in the way we support local economic growth in a decade, with around £5 billion of investment through the levelling-up fund and community renewal fund, and our ongoing investment through the £3.6 billion towns fund. At the same time, we are reforming our planning system to build more homes, and ensuring that developers pay their fair share through a simpler, faster and more transparent infrastructure levy.
Aylesbury has seen unprecedented housing growth over the past 25 years and we will see much more in the years to come. Our infrastructure is currently at breaking point, with traffic congestion a real problem for local people. One way of alleviating that would be approval of the Aylesbury spur of East West Rail. What steps can my right hon. Friend take to work across Government, in particular with the Treasury, to secure funding for that vital link to ensure that housing development is matched by the appropriate infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for transport infrastructure investment in the Milton Keynes-Oxford-Cambridge arc, which is one of the fastest growing and most economically dynamic parts of the country. I understand how important the connection is to his constituents. I know he has met the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and the rail Minister to make the case for connecting Aylesbury to East West Rail, an overall project of which I have been a long-term supporter. He is right that more homes require more infrastructure. That is why we have a £7 billion national homebuilding fund, alongside the new infrastructure levy proposed to capture more of the land value uplift and ensure that when homes are built, they are built with the appropriate infrastructure as well.
It has been a privilege to co-chair the Stocksbridge towns fund board and work with the local community to develop our plans to regenerate the town with £24.1 million of Government investment. However, there are other towns in my constituency, such as Penistone and Chapeltown, that would also benefit from a co-ordinated community-led approach. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to encourage local councils to support communities to develop their own local infrastructure development strategies?
I enjoyed visiting Stocksbridge just over a year ago with my hon. Friend and was delighted to see its £24.1 million town deal announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the Budget. I very much look forward to seeing its exciting proposals come to life, including a new visitor centre for a gateway to the Peak district. I recognise the point she makes. She represents many other towns, such as Penistone and Chapeltown. We want to ensure that they, too, can benefit from much needed regeneration funding. That is why bidding is now open for our levelling-up fund, worth £4.8 billion, which will deliver genuine local priorities by putting local support, including that of a Member of Parliament, at the heart of its mission. When I visited Stocksbridge, the birthplace of the modern umbrella, my hon. Friend kindly gave me an umbrella. With the new local town deal and an excellent MP, I am hopeful that the sun will keep shining on her constituency for many years to come.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his earlier answer. Back in 2017, a £200 million funding gap was identified for infrastructure projects in Tendring. As the Secretary of State knows, there is ongoing work to address areas of greatest need, such as roads, hospitals and a personal campaign of mine to upgrade rail services to Clacton and Walton, but our most significant funding gap, as we look to deliver new housing, remains the reported £100 million hole in our adult social care budget. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to address that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. This year, local councils will have access to an additional £1 billion for social care, on top of continuing all existing social care funding. He is right to raise the point that new housing requires new social infrastructure as much as it does hard infrastructure, in terms of roads and railways. That is why we are bringing forward the infrastructure levy, which will capture more of the land value uplift and ensure that developers pay a fair share. It is also why we are working with local authorities, including Essex County Council, to ensure that they can access the housing infrastructure fund and our new house building fund to get billions of pounds of investment into their communities.
Along with the rest of the Crewe town board, I was very pleased to submit our bid for investment earlier this year to help Crewe to build back better. I campaigned for us to get a town deal and I know what a positive impact it can have. Will the Secretary of State update me on when we can expect to hear what I hope will be positive news for Crewe?
I was delighted to receive Crewe’s town investment plan in January. Having visited my hon. Friend’s constituency many times over the years, I am excited to see the ambitious plans that have been developed for the town centre to welcome visitors and shoppers and creating an integrated High Speed 2 hub station. The plans are very well developed. My officials are currently conducting assessments and I look forward to making an announcement in due course.
Covid-19: Support for Local Authorities
We have so far allocated over £9 billion directly to councils since the start of the pandemic and local authorities are expected to receive over £3 billion of additional support in 2021-22, responding both to expenditure pressures and loss of income. This takes the total support that we have committed to councils in England to tackle the impacts of covid-19 to over £12 billion.
On 11 November, I and other representatives from Sheffield met the Minister to express concern that the loss of income to leisure centres in Sheffield was not being refunded to the council because the centres are managed by an arm’s length trust. I understand now from the council that the Government have recognised that the extra expenditure given from the council to the leisure trust to compensate for loss of income has been refunded —at least significantly—by the Government. I thank the Minister for that and for the help that he has given. Unfortunately, locally the Lib Dems have tried to claim that some of this money has gone from the council to the trust not to fund services in Sheffield, but to fund leisure centres in Scarborough. Will the Minister reassure me and residents in Sheffield that the money that he has given to Sheffield City Council has gone properly to fund services in Sheffield and nowhere else, and indeed, as the chair of the trust has confirmed, that all the money given to the trust by Sheffield City Council is funding leisure centres in Sheffield and nowhere else?
I thank the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for that question. I was grateful to meet him and Julie Dore last year, and I know how important this matter is to the hon. Gentleman and his community in Sheffield. We have provided councils with a range of support for covid pressures on local leisure services, including unring-fenced grants, income compensation and the specific national leisure recovery fund. In all cases, Sheffield will comply with the funding conditions. My expectation would be that all that funding should be used locally to support local services in Sheffield and—he is absolutely right—not be transferred to other areas.
Houses in Multiple Occupation
Houses in multiple occupation are a valuable part of the housing market and play an important role in delivering affordable accommodation, which is often vital in the communities that they serve. Most HMOs provide accommodation that is decent and safe for those living in it. Where HMOs may pose a risk to the wellbeing of their inhabitants or to the local area, we have given local councils robust powers to regulate standards and management of HMOs. If necessary, local planning authorities can also limit the proliferation of HMOs by consulting to remove the national permitted development right.
I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that, while most residents in HMOs are law-abiding individuals, there is no escaping the fact that very often the residents in such premises lead extremely different lifestyles from those of their neighbours. This has been a particular issue in the towns of Rossington and Conisbrough, where residents have complained that the increase in the number of HMOs has caused a spike in antisocial behaviour and a loss of community spirit. Despite this, I have not seen the Government mention the necessity of combating this phenomenon in the planning White Paper. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give my constituents that the Government recognise the issues caused by HMOs in small towns and villages, and what work is his Department doing, in conjunction with local authorities, to ensure that such residents are located in more appropriate areas?
I feel a huge degree of sympathy with the constituents of Rossington and Conisbrough who may have suffered antisocial behaviour as a result of HMOs in their area. I understand that my hon. Friend is working assiduously on behalf of his constituents to tackle this. We have given local authorities robust powers to regulate the standards and management of existing HMOs, including HMO licensing, penalties of up to £30,000 for breaches of the law and, for the worst offenders, banning orders. I urge my hon. Friend to press Doncaster Council to exercise those powers if appropriate.
One of the biggest divides in our country has been between those who can afford their own home and those who cannot, and that is why I am pleased today to see the Government launch our new mortgage guarantee scheme as we strengthen our commitment to build back better from this pandemic. Today’s 95% mortgages will help families and young people to get on to the property ladder without the excessive burden of a large deposit, helping to turn generation rent into generation buy.
As we cautiously reopen the economy and return to a semblance of normality, we are ready to grasp the economic lifeline that comes from getting out and supporting local businesses, returning to pubs, restaurants and cafés and providing our local economies with the love and support that they need as we continue down the recovery road map. As we seize this economic boost, we will ensure that prosperity is shared across all the UK’s nations and regions, having announced the details of our landmark new levelling-up fund, the community ownership fund and the community renewal fund at Budget.
Can the Secretary of State explain why local people in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire were not trusted to be asked about what they wanted devolution to look like locally and to help to shape those plans, rather than just being told by Whitehall what they must have, with permanent changes to local government in return for vague and, to date, unspecified promises of regeneration?
I am not sure what the right hon. Lady is referring to there. When we approach the local government reorganisation, we do so only in circumstances where there is a good deal of local support. We have taken forward a small number of proposals this year, including in North Yorkshire. Those are then subject to a consultation exercise where we notify stakeholders and take great care to take note of the opinions of the local population. It then comes to a Minister under the Act for the ultimate decision. Were local government reorganisation or a devolution deal to be negotiated in the right hon. Lady’s part of the world—I know that there is some local interest—we would of course follow all those legal requirements.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking all the volunteers he mentions for their hard work. As lockdown lifts, we want the countryside to look its glorious best this spring and summer, and he is absolutely right to say that councils should be using the powers that are available to them. Littering not only blights local communities but is ultimately a criminal offence. We have raised the maximum penalty for littering to £150, and we have published guidance for local authorities on the use of their powers.
There has been a 400% increase in donations to the Conservative party from developers under the current Prime Minister. In the interests of transparency, and to allay growing concerns about sleaze at the heart of government, will the Secretary of State publish notes of all the meetings that he, his advisers or representatives of No. 10 have held with any of those developers about changing the planning system and what they asked for?
All ministerial engagements are already published through our regular official engagement notifications and all donations to political parties, whether that be the Labour party or the Conservative party, over the statutory amount are also published. Of course planning decisions and the production of Government policy have nothing to do with donations made to political parties and there is a complete separation of the two.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Town Planning Institute and others have all condemned the Secretary of State’s planning reforms for handing too much control to developers and blocking communities from objecting to individual applications in areas zoned for growth or for renewal. Given their increased donations to the Conservative party, is he paying back developers by selling out communities?
Once again, the hon. Gentleman makes a low point. What we are doing is getting people on to the housing ladder. Once, the Labour party cared about young people, people on low incomes and people on social housing waiting lists, but those days are long gone. The Conservative party is the party of home ownership. This is the party standing up for the millions of people whose jobs depend on housing and construction. This is the party supporting the brickies and the electricians—the people out there trying to earn a good day’s living. The hon. Gentleman needs to get his priorities straight and support people who are working hard, trying to get on the housing ladder and trying to get this country going again after the pandemic.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The changes being seen on our high streets up and down the country are seismic. They require fundamental reforms to our planning system and that is exactly what this Government are doing. What a contrast that is with what the Labour party is doing. As far as I can tell, its only policy is to create a review led by somebody whom we asked to do a review 11 years ago. I have a great deal of respect for Mary Portas and I enjoy listening to her views, but we have already taken forward most of her recommendations. We are taking action. The Labour party is doing nothing and is letting the towns and cities across this country go into neglect.
I am disappointed to hear those remarks from the hon. Gentleman. Casting aspersions about the integrity of Dame Alison Nimmo is a new low for the Opposition. Alison is one of the most respected women in business today. She led The Crown Estate impeccably for many years, and now we are fortunate to benefit from her experience, commitment and public service. I think it is completely wrong that the hon. Gentleman—no doubt handed a question by the Labour Whips that he does not know anything of—
I was pleased to receive Goole’s town investment plan in January. It includes ambitious plans to diversify, to repurpose the town centre and to revitalise Goole’s economy. My officials are conducting their assessment in the usual way and I look forward to making an announcement in due course, which, if it is a positive one, will build on the excellent news we had at the Budget of a freeport in the Humber, bringing jobs and regeneration to the whole region.
The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point, as 53% of people sleeping rough on our streets are ex-offenders, so a crucial component of our strategy to end rough sleeping must be ensuring that more offenders, whether male or female, leave prisons to good-quality, secure accommodation, whether it is in the private rental sector or in social housing. I am working very closely with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor; we put in a bid together to the spending review, to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will be able to update him on those plans in due course. The Ministry of Justice will be an integral part of our strategy.
I was pleased to read of the Woodland Trust’s recent campaign. My Department received over 10,000 postcards from supporters of the trust, which I have had the pleasure of looking over in recent months. We have proposed changes to the national planning policy framework to set an expectation that all new residential streets will be lined with trees. This builds on previous changes to the framework whereby we strengthened protections for ancient woods and trees. My right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will shortly publish further details of our wider cross-Government commitment.
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for her constituency. If I heard her question correctly, she asks about the support we provided for renters during the pandemic. We wanted to strike the right balance between helping tenants in need—that is why we increased the welfare provision, increased discretionary housing payments and increased the local housing allowance to 30% of local market costs—and ensuring that landlords have access to justice. As we transition out of the road map to recovery, we will be providing some further details on the next steps that we envisage to protect renters and ensure landlords get the best service and the help they need.
As champions of freedom and democracy, we are living up to our historical responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong. I have made it the mission of my Department to ensure that all BNO status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive here. That includes an additional £43 million package across all UK nations to provide targeted support for new arrivals, including English language tuition where necessary and help with housing costs for those who need it. We are creating 12 welcome hubs across the UK to give practical support for everything from applying for a school place and registering with a GP to setting up a business. This month, I met four Hong Kong families who have recently arrived in the UK, and their profound sense of optimism about the future reaffirmed my belief that this programme will enrich our country for generations to come.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on coronavirus.
This virus is diminished, but not defeated. Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are back to the levels we saw in September. Throughout the crisis, we have protected the NHS, and there are now 2,186 people in hospital with covid across the UK—down 94% from the peak. The average number of daily deaths is 25—down 98%. Because of this brighter picture, we have been able to take step 2 on our road map, and it is brilliant to see the high streets bustling with life once again and to hear a real-life crowd back in Wembley this weekend—especially if one is a Leicester City supporter.
Now, with fewer covid patients in hospital, the NHS is already turning to focus on the work to tackle the covid backlog. Step by step, we are returning this country towards normal life, and we are on track to meet the road map set out by the Prime Minister. Last week, we hit our target to offer a vaccine to priority groups 1 to 9, and we are on track to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July. However, we must be vigilant, cautious and careful throughout, because we want this road to be a one-way street.
The vaccine uptake has been astonishingly high. For all over-50s, uptake is 94%. Enthusiasm among those in their late 40s was so high that they briefly overloaded the website when we opened up the booking system last week. We can see the result of that uptake in the real world. The latest data show that 98% of people aged between 70 and 84 now have covid-19 antibodies, which are crucial to the body’s ability to fight the disease—98%. That is the protection our vaccination programme is spreading across the whole United Kingdom. Uptake among all ethnic minority groups continues to increase. Public Health England estimates that the vaccination programme prevented over 10,000 deaths up to the end of March, and it will protect many more as the roll-out continues.
We know that the first dose gives significant protection, but the second dose is crucial to make people as safe as possible. On Friday and Saturday, we saw record numbers of second doses—over 499,000 on each day—and I am delighted to tell the House that, as of midnight last night, we have now given second doses to over 10 million people across the United Kingdom. Three quarters of over-75s have now had both jabs, rising to four fifths of over-80s. The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic, and I am delighted that it is being taken up in such huge numbers.
We will do everything in our power to drive uptake, especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable. The vaccination rate among care home staff is currently below 80% in over half of all local authority areas. Many care homes have called for vaccinations to be required for those who work in such settings. We have therefore launched a consultation into whether we should require care home providers that care for older adults to deploy only workers who have received their covid-19 vaccination, unless they have a medical exemption. We all know that older people living in care homes are at the greatest risk from this virus, and we have a duty of care to protect the most vulnerable, so we will consider all options to keep people safe.
As we deliver on stage 2 of the vaccination programme—to vaccinate all remaining adults in the UK—we must also turn our attention to what comes next. The biggest risk to our progress here in the UK is a new variant that the vaccine does not work as well against. We know from our response to other viruses, such as flu, that we need updated vaccines to tackle mutated viruses. I can tell the House that as we complete the programme for first and second jabs, we are ramping up plans for a booster shot to make sure that our vaccines stay ahead of the virus. We have already procured enough vaccine doses to begin the booster shots later this year. We will be working with our current vaccine suppliers and new suppliers such as the CureVac partnership to work out which vaccines will be effective as a booster shot and to design new vaccines specifically targeted at the variants of concern, such as the variant first found in South Africa.
Our goal is to ensure that the vaccine protects against this dreadful disease whatever it throws at us, to keep us safe and protect our much cherished return to a normal way of life. The booster shot is important because it will help protect against new variants, but until then we must remain vigilant in case a new variant renders the vaccines less protective. New variants can jeopardise the progress that we have made here in the UK.
Thanks to our early investment in covid genomic sequencing, we have in this country one of the best systems to spot and supress new variants wherever we find them through a combination of tough measures at the border, our genomic sequencing capability and a massive testing system. I would like to inform the House of another new development in our testing system. We have been piloting Pharmacy Collect, a system in which people can go and pick up tests for free from a pharmacy. I am delighted to tell the House that following the successful pilot, we have now rolled out Pharmacy Collect to over nine in 10 pharmacies, meaning that the universal testing offer, through which everyone can get tested up to twice a week, is now freely and easily accessible to anyone who wants it. You just have to go to your local pharmacy, Mr Speaker.
I would also like to update the House on our response to two new variants. One is the variant of concern first identified in South Africa. We have now detected a total of 557 cases of this variant since it was first identified in December. We have seen a cluster of cases in south London, predominantly in the London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark, and identified single cases over the last week in Barnet, Birmingham and Sandwell. Around two thirds of these cases are related to international travel and have been picked up by the day two and day eight testing for international arrivals. However, we have seen a small amount of community transmission, too.
As soon as those cases were discovered, we acted quickly to put in place enhanced testing, tracing and sequencing in Lambeth and Wandsworth. We have brought in 19 mobile testing units in our largest surge-testing operation to date, and we are distributing test kits to housing estates, secondary schools, places of worship and workplaces. I would urge everyone who lives in these areas, whether they have symptoms or not, to get tested regularly and help us keep the variant under control.
Secondly, we have recently seen a new variant, first identified in India. We have now detected 103 cases of this variant, of which, again, the vast majority have links to international travel and have been picked up by our testing at the border. We have been analysing samples from those cases to see whether the variant has any concerning characteristics such as greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines, meaning that it needs to be listed as a variant of concern.
After studying the data and on a precautionary basis, we have made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list. That means that anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they have been in India in the previous 10 days. UK and Irish residents and British citizens who have been in India in the 10 days before their arrival will need to complete hotel quarantine for 10 days from the time of arrival. These rules will come into force at 4 am on Friday. India is a country I know well and love. Between our two countries we have ties of friendship and family. I understand the impact of this decision, but I hope that the House will concur that we must act, because we must protect the progress that we have made in this country in tackling this awful disease.
Another way that we have kept the country safe is through maintaining a strong supply of personal protective equipment. At a time of massive global demand, we secured supply lines, created a stockpile to see us through the winter and created onshore manufacturing capacity here in the UK. I am pleased to inform the House that since February last year, we have distributed more than 10 billion items of PPE to protect people working in the NHS, social care and public services right across the country. Delivering so much PPE at such speed and scale has been an extraordinary effort that has not only helped us through the crisis, but provided a lasting legacy for the future.
Let me make two further points. I would like to inform the House that today we have appointed Professor Lucy Chappell as the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care. Professor Chappell has a stellar track record in science and research, including leading on the work on vaccinations in pregnancy. She has worked closely with our National Institute for Health Research, for which she will now be responsible. I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating Professor Chappell on her appointment.
Finally, last month we laid before the House our one-year status report on the Coronavirus Act 2020. I am sorry to say that the report contains an error relating to section 24 of the Act, which concerns Home Office measures on data held for national security purposes. Full details are set out in a written ministerial statement being laid today. The error does not change the substance of the report, as we will be laying the regulations to expire section 24 alongside other provisions as soon as parliamentary time allows.
In summary, we are moving down our road to recovery, vaccinations are rising and the pressure on our NHS is falling. As we enjoy the freedoms that are returning, let us take each step safely. We must hold our nerve and follow the rules while the vaccinators do their vital work. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Let me start by saying that I have no doubt that Downing Street was reluctant to cancel the Prime Minister’s trip to India. As a Member of Parliament for Leicester, I am immensely proud of our deep ties and bonds with India, but it was the correct thing to do in the circumstances, because we must always be vigilant and driven by the data, and variants are the biggest threat to our progress.
Tackling the variants demands that vaccination continues to be rolled out successfully; I again pay tribute to all involved. Uptake levels are improving, as the Secretary of State said, but they are still too low in some minority ethnic communities. Will he provide extra resources to the local communities that need them to drive up vaccination rates?
We will look carefully at the details for vaccinating social care staff, but the Secretary of State will know that every attempt throughout history to force mandatory vaccination has proved counterproductive. Why does he think this attempt will be any different?
Even with high levels of vaccination across the population, there will be significant groups who are unvaccinated—children, for example. The virus will be endemic, as the chief medical officer has recently confirmed. Papers from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies model a third wave this summer. How do we avoid that? May I suggest to the Secretary of State that one way that we could do that would be to pay higher sick pay and expand its scope? Some of the poorest and the lowest paid will continue to suffer and be left exposed to the virus unless we fix that. We should not just glibly accept these health inequities; it could mean that urban areas are left behind, remaining under restrictions with higher infection rates. For the millionth time of asking, will he please fix sick pay?
Let me turn to India, which has the most cases in the world at the moment—more than 250,000 confirmed cases a day, I think, and going up. That is one of the world’s steepest surges, right now. Uploads of Indian sequencing to the global open access database show that the new double mutant B1617 variant has become dominant in India in the past few weeks, out-competing our home-grown Kent strain. As of today, COVID-19 Genomics UK reports 135 cases of B1617 in the UK and 115 in the last 28 days. It has been the fastest growing variant in the UK in the last three weeks. Most of those variants are imported, so we welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about adding India to the red list, although I hope that there will be support and help in place for constituents such as mine who are legally in India and want to return.
We also now have cases in the community that are not linked to international travel. I understand that the Secretary of State is carrying out analysis of those samples, but surely we now need to start surge testing and designate B1617 as a variant of concern. How long will it take before we have more definitive evidence that it is more infectious or immune-escape? We already know that this variant carries mutations of concern in other variants. If we have learnt anything in the past 12 months, it is that this virus ruthlessly exploits ambiguity and that we must act fast when the situation is controllable, because in a few weeks’ time, it might not be.
The Secretary of State did not mention vaccine passports in his statement. Does he anticipate that vaccine passports will soon be needed for football games or concerts? As he said, Leicester City have made it to the FA cup final, and they are a team challenging for Europe on merit who always put fans first. Many who are anticipating going to a football match later this year will be wondering this: if they need a vaccine passport, will it be based on one dose or two? He may have seen data from Israel or the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US which suggests that people are still infectious after one vaccine dose, so can he update us on that front?
Finally, I turn to the latest Sunday Times revelations about the lobbying by Greensill and Cameron of the Secretary of State and the very highest NHS officials about the payday financing scheme. This was not an act of altruism to staff in a pandemic but an investment plan to package up loans to sell to investors, with the former Prime Minister, not nurses, in line for a payday windfall. Cameron wrote in one of his emails:
“As you can imagine, Matt Hancock”
“extremely positive about this innovative offer.”
They sought a partnership with NHS Shared Business Services, which is jointly owned by the Department. They sought access to the personal and financial data of thousands of NHS staff. They wanted their electronic records for their own commercial gain. Their plan was to expand into the social care sector, where staff are on low pay or zero-hours contracts, and because the market is fragmented and made up of private providers, the supposed non-profit offer would presumably not apply.
There were meetings and communications with a parade of the most senior NHS officials, including former Health Minister Lord Prior and Baroness Harding. At least 30 trusts may have spent valuable time considering the adoption of this untested payday lending scheme, and it is all because the Secretary of State succumbed to the lobbying of his old boss Cameron. So again I ask him, will he publish all the text messages, all the emails and all the correspondence with David Cameron? Can he tell us how many NHS leaders and officials Cameron and Greensill lobbied and met? How many NHS trusts in total were approached about this expensive, unneeded scheme?
While we are on the issue of NHS Shared Business Services, can the Secretary of State also tell us why he never declared his own links to Topwood, the confidential document shredding firm which was still on Friday night, until it was curiously taken down, using the NHS logo on its website to promote itself? With so many accusations and allegations of sleaze and cronyism, these are basic questions that deserve clear answers. NHS staff deserve a pay rise and support, not these payday loan apps forced on the NHS by speculators trying to make money out of the pandemic. How can he possibly defend it?
Let me address the final point first. As I said to the House last week, my approach was and is that local NHS employers are best placed to decide whether to take up offers of pay flexibilities, and Ministers are not involved in decision taking in NHS Shared Business Services. When it comes to the other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised in terms of my declarations—which are known to him and to everybody else only because I have followed the rules in letter and spirit and made that declaration—I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, rather than him, who said that he was not suggesting that any rules were broken.
I turn to the covid-related matters. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support of the decision to put India on the red list, which is not one that we take lightly. He is right to ask about surge testing, to make sure that we limit the spread as much as possible of the variant first found in India, and I can confirm that we will be doing that.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for vaccinations, which he has demonstrated at all turns. It is partly because of the unanimity across the House among all parties on the importance of vaccination that we have this absolutely spectacular level of uptake. He says that every attempt at mandatory vaccination is counterproductive. I gently point him to the fact that surgeons needs to have a vaccine against hepatitis B. Vaccination that is tied to work in fact has a longstanding precedent in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman asks many questions about certification, but he knows that a review of it is under way at the moment, being led by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who I am sure will have heard his representations and questions, and will be able to address them in the review.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman says that we must avoid a third wave by sticking to the rules, and he is right. We should avoid a third wave if we can, and the way that we can do it is by sticking to the rules and getting the jab. That is why the vaccination programme is so important. It is why the road map is cautious and, we hope, irreversible. That is the plan, and with the 10 million second vaccines and the progress in the vaccination programme that we have seen in the last few days, weeks and months, I am very pleased to say that we are on track.
It is a pleasure to see you face to face, Mr Speaker, after some time.
The Health Secretary is absolutely right to put India on the red list and to explore mandatory vaccination of certain frontline workers, however difficult and sensitive that decision may be, but he will know that in the last week NHS waiting lists have risen to nearly 5 million people, which is nearly one in 12 of the population of England—the true cost of the pandemic. It is equally true that we have had capacity problems in the NHS for some time. That is partly why we have opened five new medical schools.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with the letter that he recently received from the three main health think-tanks, which says that Health Education England should be given a statutory duty to publish regular, transparent, independent, objective workforce projections, so that we can ensure that we really are training enough doctors and nurses? That approach is strongly supported by the Health and Social Care Committee and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. I hope that he will support it too.
We will certainly consider that. I have seen the letter. We have discussed the question. I would add that we have a record number of doctors in this country, in part thanks to the work that my right hon. Friend put in place when he was in my shoes. We have a record number of nurses—more than 300,000 for the first time in the history of the NHS. We do need, of course, to look to the future and ensure that we are preparing for it, as the letter suggests. We also need to ensure that we keep driving the project of delivering 50,000 more nurses in the NHS over this Parliament. I look forward to giving him a more substantive response, but I hear his encouragement to ensure that we take steps in that direction.
While the vaccine programmes across the UK are going well, vaccine-resistant variants remain a major threat. I welcome that the Prime Minister has now called off his visit to India due to its devastating surge in covid. Cases of the B1617 Indian variant in the UK are still very low, but they have been doubling every week, despite lockdown, suggesting that like the Kent variant it is much more infectious than the original virus. I therefore welcome India’s being added to the red list to reduce further importation.
Will the Secretary of State not now consider extending hotel quarantine to all arrivals, as travellers from red list countries can currently avoid it by coming via a third country? We have already seen increased numbers of the South African and Brazilian variants in European countries, from where travellers are not placed in hotel quarantine, and more infectious or vaccine-resistant variants could emerge in any country. We simply would not know about it until it was too late.
The pandemic is still accelerating, and as well as causing appalling suffering and death in other countries it clearly poses a threat to the people of the UK. Does the Secretary of State not recognise the need for a more co-operative, global response to covid if we are to bring the pandemic under control and allow a safer return to international travel and commerce?
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady on her final point, on international collaboration and working together, which, along with the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, we are working incredibly hard on. We are using the UK’s presidency of the G7 and the enthusiasm of the new Administration in Washington to try to drive international collaboration, in particular collaboration among like-minded democracies in favour of an open and transparent, science-led response to pandemics. I hope that she will concur with that approach.
On the new variants of concern, it is important when looking at the numbers to distinguish between community spread and spread connected to travel. By taking the action that I have just announced to put India on the red list, we are restricting yet further the likelihood of incursion from India of somebody with a new variant. However, the majority of the cases that we have seen already in this country have been picked up by the testing that we have in place now for every single passenger entering this country. That is a sign of the system working, and it is now being strengthened.
I am delighted to say that I have had my second dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and, so far, no ill effects. In Harrow, we have had surge testing because we have had a relatively small number of cases of the South African variant discovered. Literally thousands of people have been tested, but one of the most frustrating things is that these tests then have to be sent off and there appears to be an extremely long turnaround time before we get the results. What can the Secretary of State do to speed up getting the results of these tests? Otherwise, people will not be aware of whether they have the variant or whether they should take particular actions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. I know that this is an important announcement for him and his constituents, representing as he does a significant number of constituents from the Indian diaspora. We have managed to reduce somewhat the turnaround time for the sequencing of positive tests, but we are also introducing a new type of test that can detect not just whether someone is positive but whether they have one of the known variants without having to go through a full sequence. That can give us a snapshot much, much faster—within a matter of hours—of whether a positive result has one of the known variants, before sending it off to sequencing so that we can see any new variant that we do not know about. We are introducing that technology. It is starting in the Lighthouse lab testing facility in Glasgow and we are rolling it out across the system. It is an important tool to make sure that we can get the turnaround time of spotting the variants down faster.
It is quite astonishing that the Secretary of State’s statement had absolutely nothing to say about the Government’s plans for vaccine ID cards—something that has apparently been trialled. Only last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission told us that vaccine ID cards, and possibly even the mandatory vaccination scheme that he is trumpeting today, could be unlawful, yet this House has had no opportunity to express a view on them at all. When are the Government going to come clean and share their plans for vaccine ID cards with this House?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the phenomenal roll-out of the vaccine programme, which has been astonishing. I, too, have had my second vaccine, which makes me feel much happier.
We have been told regularly that we are following the data, not the dates, but sadly it seems to be the other way round—that we are following the dates, not the data. We know that in Derbyshire, for instance, there are huge swathes of villages and towns with no covid whatsoever, and that is repeated over all sorts of areas of the country. Last week I managed to go out on several nights because I could—which was great, and the atmosphere was fantastic—but we need to start getting businesses back to normal. We need to get hospitality businesses operating, fully functioning, and using their indoor spaces. Some of the outdoor spaces I have been in are quite enclosed, so can we not go indoors as well now?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), is among the 10 million who have had their second jab; that is really good to see. The hope and cheer that the vaccine brings links to the second part of her question, about the speed of the road map. The reason for the timing set out in the road map is that we want to see the impact of one step before we take the next step. We are but one week on since we took step 2. That is a significant reopening, as we have no doubt all seen in our constituencies and around the country. We want to see the impact of that on the data before taking the next step, so we can have confidence that this is an irreversible path—a one-way street, as I put it. That is the reason for the way that we have set this out, and that is how we are planning to proceed.
Along with others, I welcome the roll-out of the vaccine, as that is very important, but few would deny that it is now time to look at waiting lists, and I shall put one on record. What steps have been taken to get routine operations such as hip replacements and tonsil operations back on the table to address the eye-wateringly long waiting lists? That is vastly concerning, especially when we hear, for instance, of children who were on waiting lists for tonsils and adenoids to be removed last year; due to dips in oxygen levels they were considered urgent at that time, but that now appears to be okay. That is very worrying.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The waiting list issue is very significant; it has built up because of covid, but we must tackle it and we are absolutely determined to do so. He, like me, will have seen the figures last week on the increase in the waiting list in England, but the waiting list has increased in all parts of the UK. We have put in extra funding, an extra £7 billion in total for next year in England and, through the Barnett consequentials, to the three devolved Administrations. That is there to make sure we can get through this backlog while also of course dealing with covid and the infection prevention and control needed to tackle covid. This is a vital task, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it, and we are working very hard to address it.
My right hon. Friend is rightly proud of the stunning performance of the vaccination teams across the country, and of course I pay tribute to those who have been engaged in that in and around Ashford. I am sure he agrees that it is particularly important for care workers to be vaccinated, and not just care home workers but domiciliary care workers who go from house to house providing essential care. What is he doing to encourage take-up among care workers, to get as close to 100% as possible?
It is incredibly important that all care workers take up the jab if they possibly can, unless they have a vital medical reason not to, because the jab of course not only protects us, but protects people we are close to, and care workers are close to people who are vulnerable—that is in the nature of the job. That is why I think it is right to consider saying that people can be deployed in a care home only if they have had the jab, and we are looking into that. We have not said that for those who work in domiciliary care—caring for people in their own homes, rather than in a care home—because those in care homes are at the highest risk of all, but I would absolutely urge anybody who is a carer, whether they work in social care or are an unpaid carer, who has not already got the jab to please do get it, to protect not just them, but those to whom they have a duty of care.
As the UK rolls back lockdown restrictions, the global death toll has reached 3 million, and the World Health Organisation is warning that the world is approaching the highest rate of infection so far. With three new variants in three continents, all these variants now in the UK and the reduced efficacy of the different covid vaccinations against these variants, it is clear that the UK’s success in fully emerging from this pandemic is co-dependent on how well the rest of the world is doing. I asked the Health Secretary about global co-ordination of surveillance of new variants back in February, and the World Health Organisation is now consulting on this, so can he update the House on our response to this consultation?
This is an incredibly important subject. I agree with the substance of what the hon. Lady asked in the question, and she is quite right to raise this. We have put in place the new variant assessment platform, allowing any country around the world to use our enormous genomic sequencing capability if they want to sequence positive cases to discover what is happening in their countries, but our borders testing system, in which all positives are sequenced, also means that we in fact get a survey from around the world through those who have travelled to the UK, and we can relay that data back to individual countries so that they understand that better. Of course, it would be far better if something like the new variant assessment platform was run on a multilateral basis globally—for instance, by an organisation such as the WHO. We are engaged with the WHO on making sure that it is available, but my view was that we needed to get on and offer this to everybody and then build a network of labs around the world that can make such an offer so that sequencing can be available in every country, because it is currently far too patchy.
May I add my congratulations to the team that has managed to give two vaccinations to over 10 million people? That is fantastic news. Given the risk of variants, I welcome the difficult decision that the Secretary of State has made to add India to the red list. What research he has commissioned on those, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who have had two vaccinations, and what possibility there might be that people who have had two vaccinations are able to go about their daily lives with fewer restrictions than those who have not?
The latter question is really a question tied to the certification work. We have not hitherto, as my hon. Friend well knows, said that the rules for people who are vaccinated should be different from those for people who are non-vaccinated, but we know that some other countries are proposing to say that that will be case for international travel, so we do need to have a way of showing or proving it. However, we have not yet come to any conclusions about how we should do that and whether we should do that domestically. That is a matter for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
On measuring how effective a second dose is, we have tests in the field right now to follow a sample of people who have had both tests, having them tested regularly—weekly, typically—to check whether they test positive, and therefore testing the effectiveness of both of the vaccines in the field. So far, we have published the results of that after one jab. Very early results are coming through after two jabs, and in the next couple of weeks we will have some really rich data on that, I should hope, because we have now seen a significant number of second jabs—10 million as of midnight last night.
The vaccination roll-out for the majority of the country has been nothing short of amazing, and I would like to thank the local NHS providers in Enfield and across the country for their herculean efforts. Sadly, for some parts of the country, including many parts of my constituency of Enfield North, a postcode lottery appears to be emerging, whereby vaccination rates are stubbornly low and falling behind the rest of the country. What is being done to combat this, and what additional support will the Department be providing to areas with consistently low vaccine rates?
We have a huge amount of work on to tackle exactly the phenomenon that the hon. Lady describes. I thank people in Enfield who have been working on the vaccination programme, because they have done incredibly well, but there is much more to do. We have to ensure that we make the vaccine more accessible—that it is easy to access—and that people have reassurances if they are hesitant. The Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), is leading on these efforts, including with innovative approaches that we are currently trialling, such as allowing multigenerational households to be vaccinated at once, to see how we can drive up uptake in those groups in which we have not seen such high uptake. As I said, overall uptake among over-50s is 94%, which is far higher than my best possible hopes just a couple of months ago, but if we can reduce that final 6%, for every percentage point that comes off it, the safer we all get.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the extraordinary roll-out, which is still continuing, and I thank all the health workers across Wimbledon and south-west London.
In his statement, my right hon. Friend was right to identify the risk of new variants and to mention genomic sequencing and boosters. Will he confirm that there will be availability of rapid testing, with tests that provide results quickly and identify new variants, and that the booster programme will be rolled out on a similar basis to the vaccine programme, which has been so successfully rolled out?
Yes, absolutely. The booster shot programme will be rolled out in a similar way to the first two jabs. There will of course be some differences, not least because of the interaction of an autumn covid vaccination programme with the autumn-winter flu vaccination programme. We still need the final clinical results on their interaction to see whether someone can have both at the same time, which would obviously be logistically easier. Those matters need to be resolved. The reason for the announcement today is that we want to be absolutely clear that a booster shot programme will happen this autumn—later this year—and we are determined to make it as efficacious as possible, because, ultimately, dealing with these new variants will require booster shots, especially for the most vulnerable.
Over the last week, several serious concerns have been raised with me about the managed quarantine hotel system, with harrowing stories of families with young children stranded in airports because they cannot contact the booking provider to arrange accommodation, and others in quarantine hotels left without food for days on end. Will the Health Secretary tell me just what he is doing to urgently resolve the frankly shambolic situation with the booking system, and what he is doing to end the inhumane treatment of quarantine hotel guests by ensuring that food is not only provided on time but meets the faith and dietary requirements of travellers, particularly those fasting during Ramadan?
I am afraid I do not agree with the prognosis. We are, of course, very careful to ensure that the vast majority of people who go through the managed quarantine service—hotel quarantine—have a good experience. Of course, they have to be in a hotel when often they would rather not be, so it is an unusual situation, but it has been put in place with great sensitivity and I am very grateful to all those who have worked so hard on it, not just in my Department but among the hotels, the airports and the carriers. However, the hon. Gentleman clearly has some significant individual concerns, and I would be very happy to ensure that the Minister for Public Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), meets him to hear those individual concerns and to try to make sure that they are resolved—in particular the point about ensuring that food provision is appropriate for those fasting at Ramadan, which of course is very important.
Given that the seven-day rolling average of covid deaths is now 24.9, with just 10 yesterday, and that in normal times the daily cancer death toll averages over 450—a figure sadly likely to rise due to delayed treatment and the disruption of the pandemic—what are the Government doing to catch up with the cancer screening and operations backlog and get the health service back towards other medical conditions so that the death toll from non-covid cases does not become the worst legacy of this emergency?
My hon. Friend is quite right to ask about that; it is an incredibly important topic. I am pleased to say that, over the second peak this winter, the amount of cancer work—surgery and treatment—continued much closer to normal. He is quite right that, in the first peak, it was reduced significantly. We are very focused on the backlog that has been created by the pandemic, but I am pleased that the death toll from covid is coming down. In fact, the very latest data, published today, shows that the number of deaths recorded with covid after 28 days is four. Those numbers tend to be lower at the weekend, and we mourn each of them, but that nevertheless reinforces his point that it is vital that we get on with getting through the backlog that has been created by the pandemic.
I want to challenge the Secretary of State about the inexplicable delay in adding India to the red list of countries. I welcome the announcement that it will now be included on that list, and I hope very sincerely that this will not be another stable door moment in the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Secretary of State knows that the SNP has committed to increase NHS funding in Scotland by 20%. Will he commit to a similar uplift for NHS England in order to help drive the recovery of the NHS after coronavirus and truly build back better?
I recently saw the figures for the proposed increase for NHS spending in Scotland. The proposed increase is lower than in England; it is lower than the money that has been passed over to the Scottish Government from UK taxpayers to spend on the NHS in Scotland. My question is: what has happened to the money for the NHS in Scotland that was given to the SNP Government in Holyrood? They have not spent it on the NHS. We know that they have many wasteful projects. Thankfully, we work very closely together on important things such as the vaccination effort, which has been a true UK success story, but this question of the missing millions for the NHS in Scotland is one that we need answers to from the Government in Holyrood.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the foresight and the early investment decisions made on vaccines 12 months ago. Here in Aberconwy, the result is falling infection rates and a tangible sense of hope, albeit one coloured with frustration as we watch businesses in England open ahead of us. We have the second-oldest demographic in Wales, and it is right that their environment is protected to ensure their wellbeing. That is properly a priority. However, can my right hon. Friend give the elderly and the vulnerable, and their loved ones, assurances that they will one day be able to leave their accommodation to visit family, resume employment and otherwise pick up their old routines?
Yes, of course. We want to get back to normal for care home residents—of course we do. We are taking steps in the right direction in England. I cannot comment on the situation in Wales; that is rightly a responsibility for the Cardiff Administration. As we progress down the road map, I hope we will be able to make further progress.
At today’s meeting of the all-party group on myalgic encephalomyelitis, we discussed the overlaps between ME and chronic fatigue syndrome and long covid. Obviously, there are some striking similarities. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact that contracting covid can have on people with ME/CFS? Given their vulnerability, will he now do a bit of a U-turn and make them a priority for vaccination?
Of course, the prioritisation for vaccination when it comes to those who are vulnerable is clinically determined. I know that this question has been looked into. We are also looking into work on the links between ME and long covid, which share some similarities but are different conditions. It is an area that needs further work and further research—there is no doubt about that. If there is an update to the clinical advice on prioritisation and whether those with ME need to be in category 6 or category 4, I will update the hon. Lady. Thus far, however, we are following the clinical advice and that is the approach we have taken overall.
I was really pleased to hear my right hon. Friend reference the appointment of Professor Lucy Chappell and the work on vaccines in pregnancy. Will he please update the House on what is being done to reassure young women that there is no plausible way that vaccination can affect fertility? Will he also let us know how quickly he expects pregnant women, who we know might be immunosuppressed, to be called forward for their vaccination, or will they have to wait for the age band that is appropriate?
I was absolutely delighted that on Friday, following the work of Professor Chappell and others, we were able to make the announcement with respect to the vaccination for those who are pregnant. The prioritisation remains as with people who are not pregnant, so it will essentially be by age unless there is another reason that one might be in a higher group, for instance if you are a social care worker. It does not affect the prioritisation. Hitherto the advice had been understandably cautious, because clinical trials are not done on people who are pregnant. However, there is now very clear advice for those who are pregnant: when it is your turn, come forward and take advice. Have a discussion about your individual circumstances with your clinician. They can then, subject to that individual circumstance, which is of course appropriate in pregnancy, be vaccinated. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. It was a really important announcement on Friday. Mr Speaker, I probably should have included it in my original statement, but unfortunately it was already rather long. I am absolutely delighted that Professor Chappell and the whole team—it was a big team effort—were able to ensure we made this progress.
Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced that he has no plans to open up his borders. Of course, he is absolutely right. I am speaking—I apologise—completely with the benefit of hindsight, but I am sure everybody would agree that if we had done what Australia had done, we could have opened up our economy months ago. It has had only 910 deaths and only 29,000 infections. What I want to hear from the Secretary of State is that he will resist the very powerful lobbyists from the travel and airline industries and from airports, and that he will be absolutely determined to follow the evidence, not allow unnecessary travel—we do not know what variants are out there in the world—and be really tough with the red list.
That is the approach we have taken so far since the introduction of the red list and the hotel quarantine. Through the testing of every single passenger who comes here, we essentially now have a survey of the world. We can see where the new variants are from the people coming through the testing regime. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s wise counsel.
The Health Secretary is clearly right to put India on the red list and to safeguard the vaccine programme from new variants. However, the India variant has been under investigation for three weeks, and other neighbouring countries with lower and slower covid rates were put on the red list 10 days ago. This week, Hong Kong identified 47 covid cases on a single Delhi flight. Before Friday, we still had 16 direct flights from India and many more indirect ones. Can he explain, contrary to his previous answer, why India was not put on a red list 10 days ago, when other countries were? Can he publish the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessments, recommendations and criteria and also publish a full genomic analysis of which countries all the new variant cases are arriving from, so that we can see where the border gaps still are in the measures that he has in place and make sure that we do not keep having these delays?
We keep all these decisions for each country under constant review. The challenge of the genomic data is that some countries have excellent coverage of genomic sequencing and others do not. Actually, that is not particularly correlated with their income. For instance, South Africa, a middle-income country, has excellent genomic sequencing. We take the decisions very rapidly when we need to. We keep all this under constant review and I am glad that she welcomes the decision to put India on the red list today.
May I add my congratulations to all those who have been involved in the fantastic vaccine roll-out that the Secretary of State set out in his statement? It is obviously breaking the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, as we are seeing dramatically from the figures. Many members of the public and businesses, having looked at the road map, which he also mentioned, will have seen that as of 21 June, the Government and the public are expecting the country to be broadly back to normal, but, of course, there is the small print about the reviews on social distancing. Will he confirm to the House and the public that as of 21 June, he expects us to be broadly back to normal, without social distancing? If that is not the case, will he set out what the evidence base will be for that decision?
Any decisions like that would be based on the evidence, and we have far more evidence now than we did when making these decisions previously. I fully expect that there will be some areas of life, without the need for laws in this place, where people will behave more cautiously than previously. The wearing of masks is one—before this pandemic, wearing a mask in public in this country was extremely unusual. I imagine that some people will wear masks, and choose to wear masks, for some time to come. Our goal is to manage this virus and the pandemic that it has caused more like flu—in fact, like flu. Flu comes through each year. We do take action to deal with flu—we take action on nosocomial infection in hospitals and through the flu vaccine programme—but we do not stop normal life as we know it. That is the overall attitude and approach. My right hon. Friend mentions that four reviews were set out as part of the road map and they will, of course, have to conclude. But that is my hope because, as he knows, I very firmly believe that this vaccine is breaking that link. We can see it in the data every single day and in the way that the country is responding. It is uplifting.
I add my praise to the team rolling out vaccines in Salford, led by Salford Primary Care Together, which is doing a remarkable job. The current guidance on visits out from care homes says that any resident who makes a visit outside a care home must self-isolate for 14 days on their return, even if all they have done on their visit is to sit outside with a family member. This is longer than people have to quarantine when returning from red list countries, including India, which has the most cases in the world. This is clearly disproportionate, so will the Secretary of State set out what he is doing to enable regular testing to be used to cut this self-isolation requirement for care home residents?
The hon. Lady raises an important point on a subject that she knows extremely well. If I may, could I give her the respect of considering the question and writing to her with a full reply, because it is a very important question and I want to make sure that we get it right? Maybe we can then have a correspondence to make sure that we get to the right result.
The UK’s vaccination programme has been an international trailblazer, the strategic aim of preventing the NHS from being overwhelmed has clearly been met, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend, who has done a tremendous job as Secretary of State throughout the pandemic, appears determined not to allow a shift in the goalposts and to follow the cautious pathway out of lockdown. But can we please, and can he please, ensure that we have a rational and balanced discussion about viral variants? Viruses always mutate and there will be an unavoidable level of risk that we will have to get used to post pandemic, unless we are to become a perpetually frightened, introspective nation—the opposite of global Britain?
My right hon. Friend has deep experience in this area, and I am very grateful for what he said—that was very kind. He is absolutely right about the fact that viruses always mutate, and we can rise to that—we can respond to that—as we do with flu. This is another area in which the parallel with how we manage flu as a country is the right one, because the flu virus mutates most years. We work out, observing the Australian winter, what is the most likely variant we will get in our winter, we adjust the vaccines to that variant and then we roll them out over the autumn. That sort of programme is likely to be needed in this country for some time to come. We will start later this year with the booster shots, and we will make progress after that according to the evidence as we see it. I hope he was not trying to make a point of something; I always try to be rational, but it is sometimes hard.
I hope I do not still sound like a robot, Madam Deputy Speaker. The gradual easing of restrictions in recent weeks has come as a great relief and is very welcome, but we know that the pandemic has caused a colossal backlog of unmet healthcare need, including dental care. Many people have been unable to access any treatment for dental problems, and check-ups have simply not been happening for more than a year now. Will the Secretary of State set out the steps he is taking to enable dentists to begin to clear that backlog of treatment? When there is already huge inequality in oral health and so many people are facing financial hardship, what is he doing to ensure that people do not miss out on vital preventive check-ups because they cannot afford them?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. We have maintained access to urgent dental treatment throughout the pandemic. We put in place dental centres to be able to do that in the first peak and dentistry was not closed in the second peak—indeed, we have put in place an incentive to get dental practices really motoring. Of course there is infection prevention and control that needs to be updated as the prevalence of the disease comes down, but making sure that we have those check-ups is incredibly important, because it is one of the most important preventive measures there is, especially for children. Given her interest in and enthusiasm for this subject, I hope she will support the proposals for much more widespread fluoridation of water, which we are proposing to put into legislation when parliamentary time allows and which was part of the White Paper we published in February, because that is one of the biggest steps we can take to protect dental health.
The NHS has had its busiest and most crucial year ever, fighting the pandemic and delivering the vaccine roll-out, and all while continuing to provide routine care and treatment. We owe our NHS workers so much, yet this Government are proposing just a 1% pay increase, not even the 2.1% previously promised. Can the Secretary of State not see that after the year we have had, this is an insult to their heroic efforts? Will he commit to getting a pay rise for staff that truly reflects the value of their work?
On Friday I visited the vaccination centre at the Harlow Leisurezone to see the extraordinary work it is doing. Will my right hon. Friend thank the remarkable NHS staff and volunteers at the Harlow Leisurezone and at Lister House for vaccinating 40,000 residents in Harlow with their first jab? Given what he has said previously about Public Health England and the move to Harlow, will he meet me and colleagues to discuss the move and the exciting proposals for Public Health England, to ensure that Harlow and the surrounding area of west Essex becomes the public health science capital of England?
May I add my praise for those at the vaccination centre at Harlow Leisurezone? They have been working incredibly hard and we are all very grateful. I would add Essex County Council to my right hon. Friend’s long list, which I fully endorse. The council has leaned into the vaccination effort right across Essex. I am always happy to meet him, and with the recent announcement on the UK Health Security Agency, I think now is a good time to have a discussion on this topic.
I have been contacted by several constituents who ordered very expensive tests from companies recommended on the Government’s website as part of the test to release scheme. Some never received their tests, some never received their results, and some received their tests late and feared being in breach of the rules. They have had to battle for refunds, and we have heard of others having to leave home to get their tests, which undermines the whole scheme. What vetting, if any, does the Department undertake before listing these companies, especially as demand will no doubt increase, given that the Government are so keen to open up international travel again?
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise this. We have kicked two suppliers off the list of approved suppliers for testing for international travel, and we are quite prepared to do more if suppliers do not meet the service obligations that they sign up to. If she wants to send in the individual evidence, we will absolutely look at it. We keep this constantly and vigilantly under review. The companies that provide tests must meet their obligations in terms of timeliness and of treating their customers fairly and reasonably. As I say, two of them did not continue to meet those specifications, so we took them off the list of available testing suppliers. We are quite prepared to do more if that is what it takes.
This session is supposed to finish in three minutes’ time, but we have 12 more questioners. I would like to be able to get everybody in, and a fair number are in the Chamber. I am sure that everyone will be co-operative in keeping their questions very short, and I ask the Secretary of State to be equally brief with his responses.
Following the important announcement last week, I know that many expectant mothers in Guildford and around the country will welcome the certainty that they can safely come forward for a vaccine when it is offered. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to take every precaution to ensure that pregnant women have the support that they need to make an informed decision about what is right for them and their health?
Absolutely. This decision was taken on the basis of the best possible science and significant amounts of data from pregnant women who have already been vaccinated, so people can have the confidence to come forward and get the advice that they need for their specific circumstances and then get the protection of the jab.
The Scottish Government and the First Minister have commitment to a full public inquiry later this year into all aspects of the handling of the pandemic, including care homes. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he supports a full public inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of all aspects of the pandemic in England as well?
Along with the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), I have previously raised the issue of residents who travel abroad for medical treatment having to pay hundreds of pounds for covid tests to travel out and to return. This is affecting my constituent, David Hopkins, and others across the country. Will the Health Secretary work with the Secretary of State for Transport urgently to find a way to allow patients such as David to use free NHS tests for medical travel purposes?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am happy to look into it. I am also pleased that the cost of the tests that are needed for travel is coming down, and an important piece of work is under way to see how we can get that down further. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend makes a strong case for her constituent.
Face coverings are likely to remain a feature to protect against covid-19, but people with hidden disabilities who cannot wear such coverings will face abuse. Despite raising the matter on previous occasions, including once with the Prime Minister, and having been promised an awareness campaign, nothing has happened. Will the Secretary of State tell me when that campaign will happen?
Yes, an awareness campaign is under way, and I am grateful for advance notice of this question. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the full details. He may say to me, “Sorry, Matt; more needs to be done,” in which case I will look into it, but he makes an important point on which I essentially agree with him.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the big reductions, based on the vaccinations, in case and death numbers. Will he briefly update us on better air extraction, cleaning and other measures to control infection in hospitals to reassure the many patients who now need non-covid treatment?
My right hon. Friend has asked about this many times, and he is quite right to, because it is not just about cleaning. We have learned a lot during the pandemic about the importance of good ventilation, and that is now embedded in infection prevention and control. As cases in hospitals come down, hospitals across the country are separating, as much as is possible, those who might or do have covid from people who are coming to hospital having been tested and knowing that they do not have covid. That is incredibly important to reassure people that if they are asked to come to hospital by a clinician, it is the best place for them.
In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), the Secretary of State said that it was up to local NHS trusts to decide whether to take up the Greensill payday loan app, but The Sunday Times yesterday published an email between David Cameron and Matthew Gould, the head of NHSX, on 23 April. It reads:
“As you can imagine, Matt Hancock, David Prior [NHS England chairman], Simon Stevens [NHS chief executive], as well as the many trust CEOs, are extremely positive about this innovative offer.”
Is that email correct? Was the Secretary of State “extremely positive” about the Greensill app? Does he not think there is something morally wrong with using poorly paid and struggling NHS staff to allow a private company to construct a financial bond to be traded on the international money markets?
Rugby’s primary care network-led vaccination centre at Locke House has provided over 34,000 first and 11,000 second doses to JCVI groups 1 to 9 through a fantastic team of staff and volunteers. The GPs, however, have chosen not to take part in phase 2 of the programme, and the centre is expected to close in mid-July as a consequence. Our local doctors would prefer to vaccinate groups 10 to 12 in their own surgeries, although that option is not currently available to them. What can the Secretary of State do to facilitate that approach to the important task of vaccinating the under-50s?
I will look into that question, which has not been raised before. Generally, the use of a primary care network—a group of GP practices—to come together to offer one centre has worked really well. That is the first I have heard of that concern, so I will take it away and ensure that it is looked at properly.
The Prime Minister today cancelled his planned trip to India this week, and the Health Secretary has just announced that India has been placed on the Government’s travel red list amid a devastating surge in coronavirus cases, with well over 200,000 detected on a daily basis. A new double-mutation variant is reportedly more potent, and dozens of cases have been detected here in the UK, too. To assuage community concerns, will the Health Secretary clarify that our vaccines are effective against this new variant?
We simply do not know that. We are acting on a precautionary basis. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but we are looking into that question as fast as possible. The core of my concern about the variant first found in India is that the vaccines may be less effective in terms of transmission and of reducing hospitalisation and death. It is the same concern that we have with the variant first found in South Africa and is the core reason why we took the decision today.
May I add my thanks to the NHS in Amber Valley, which has been moving through the vaccines so fast that it had even done more than 70% of the 40 to 50 age group by last week? What is my right hon. Friend’s message, though, to those who are saying that, based on media reports, we have now reached the herd immunity level and therefore this problem has all gone away?
Stoke Mandeville Hospital in my constituency is home to the National Spinal Injuries Centre. Despite continuing to do excellent work throughout the pandemic, a particular challenge arose when it came to providing support to relatives of patients who need to learn together how to adapt when back at home. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that planning for a third wave of covid-19 will give full consideration to the needs of spinal injuries patients and their families?
Yes, of course, I will give that matter consideration. I also make the case that while, as we open up, there may be more transmission, I very much hope that that does not lead—in fact we know from the data that that is highly unlikely to lead—to the same impact in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, because we know that the vaccine is incredibly effective against the variants that are at large here in this country. That is another reason to be cautious against the incursion of new variants for which we cannot give that assurance.
Lateral flow testing is really important in our continued fight against the pandemic. I am really pleased that many of my constituents have been able to access asymptomatic testing since Friday of last week, but, for residents in Wales, these tests are not yet available to order online through the gov.uk portal. Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether that will be the case shortly?
We are working closely with the Welsh Government to ensure that the testing offer in Wales is as rich and as easily accessible as the testing offer in England. Testing has been a UK-wide programme, but, of course, the more we get it into local communities, the more it must be delivered through the NHS locally—for instance, through pharmacies, as announced today. That needs to be done by the Welsh Government. We are working closely together to try to make sure that people can get access to these tests as easily as saying “Jack rabbit”, wherever they live in the United Kingdom.
European Football Proposal
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Football is in our national DNA. We invented it, we helped to export it around the world, and it has been at the heart of British life for over a century. Football clubs, of course, are not just businesses but define communities across the country, so along with almost every Member of the House, I suspect, I was appalled by the announcement made late last night that a handful of clubs are proposing to form their own breakaway European league.
These six clubs announced that decision without any consultation with football authorities or with Government. Worst of all, they did it without any dialogue whatsoever with their own fans. It was a tone-deaf proposal, but the owners of those clubs will not have been able to ignore the near universal roar of outrage from all parts of the football community over the past 24 hours.
This move goes against the very spirit of the game. This is a sport where a team such as Leicester City can ascend from league one to the premier league title in under a decade, earning the right to go toe to toe against European heavyweights in the champions league. Instead, a small handful of owners want to create a closed shop of elite clubs at the top of the game—a league based on wealth and brand recognition rather than merit. We will not stand by and watch football be cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it.
As a Conservative, I believe passionately in defending our nation’s institutions and our rich heritage. They are central to our identity and help to build a sense of solidarity between people of every generation and every background. Just as the Government would not hesitate to act when other treasured areas of our national life are under threat, nor will we hesitate to protect one of our greatest national institutions: football.
This is, of course, for football authorities to handle first, and today I have met with the Premier League, the Football Association and the president of UEFA, while the Sports Minister has had another series of meetings with the Football Supporters’ Association. The football authorities have robust rules in place to deal with this, and I know from my conversations with them today that they are rightly considering a wide range of sanctions and measures to stop this move in its tracks. My message to them was clear: they have our full backing. However, be in no doubt that if they cannot act, we will.
We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening. We are examining every option, from governance reform to competition law and mechanisms that allow football to take place. Put simply, we will review everything that the Government do to support these clubs to play. I have discussed those options with the Prime Minister this morning, and we are working at pace across Government and with the football authorities. I reassure this House of a very robust response. We will do whatever it takes to protect our national game.
However, it is clearer than ever that we need a proper examination of the long-term future of football. To many fans in this country, the game is now almost unrecognisable from a few decades ago. Season after season, year after year, football fans demonstrate unwavering loyalty and passion by sticking by their clubs, but their loyalty is being abused by a small number of individuals who wield an incredible amount of power and influence. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that football is nothing without its fans. These owners should remember that they are only temporary custodians of their clubs, and they forget fans at their peril. That is why, over the past few months, I have been meeting with fans and representative organisations to develop our proposals for a fan-led review. I had always been clear that I did not want to launch this until football had returned to normal following the pandemic. Sadly, these clubs have made it clear that I have no choice. They have decided to put money before fans, so today I have been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football.
The review will be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and will be a root-and-branch examination of football in this country. It will cover the financial sustainability of the men’s and women’s game, governance and regulation and the merits of an independent regulator. Crucially, in the light of this weekend’s proposal, it will also consider how fans can have an even greater say in the oversight of the game and the models that might best achieve that.
We are the people’s Government. We are unequivocally on the side of fans, and their voices have to be heard when it comes to the future of our national game. It starts with fans, and it ends with fans. In the meantime, we have thrown our full weight behind the football authorities and stand ready to do whatever is necessary to represent fans and protect their interests. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of parts of his statement. This is a watershed moment for our national game, and this statement is welcomed, as is the chair of the review, but it is short on detail and on the urgency that this situation merits; fans will have noted that. The Secretary of State tweeted last night extolling the virtues of the football pyramid, but if anything exposed the Government’s lack of understanding of our broken football system, that tweet summed it up. Tory trickle-down economics does not work, and it especially does not work in football.
Football governance is broken, football finance is broken and football fans, whichever club we support, are ignored. The hedge fund owners and billionaires who treat football clubs like any of their other commodities have no care for the history of our football, for the role it plays in villages, towns and cities up and down our country, and especially for the fans who are the beating heart of it. They should understand their role as custodians, rather than cartel chiefs. The future of our national game and all our clubs depends on it.
Labour has repeatedly called for the reform of the governance and finances of football by the Government. Government intervention is needed to fix this broken system. That is why we pledged in all four of our manifestos going back to 2010 to take action, and it is why I and the shadow Sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), repeatedly urged the Government to get on with their promised fan-led review of football—a promise that they made in 2019. It is nearly a year since our letter to the Sports Minister offering support and help with 16 questions that the review should focus on. We know that Members across the House have supported reform for the past 11 years of Conservative-led Governments, so it is time for the Government to get off the subs bench and show some leadership on the pitch, because we need reform of football.
It is not as if there has been a blockage in Parliament preventing the Government from taking action to sort out the problems. Former Conservative Sports Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), has said:
“no one is speaking for the football world with the independence and authority needed to address the big issues.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2021; Vol. 688, c. 207.]
She is right. The former Conservative Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), has said:
“We should have long ago reformed the governance of football”.
He is right as well. The current Conservative Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), has said:
“What’s needed is a fan-led review of football with real teeth and here we have more evidence to strengthen the case for it.”
I welcome the review, but why the long delay? Why create the vacuum that has allowed these super-league proposals the space and ability to become a reality? Eleven years have been wasted when a small amount of Government time could have been found to bring primary legislation to the House to sort out the problems. Instead, it has been all punditry and no progress on the pitch, and in that time, clubs and fans have suffered disasters. Fans in Bury know only too well the importance of reforming the way in which football is governed, and supporters in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester, my city of Cardiff, Portsmouth and most football towns and cities have seen the damage done to clubs when profit outstrips the role of supporters in our game.
We are in a global pandemic and the owners of the six clubs behind this proposal think that now is the time to ride roughshod over their fans and endanger the future of football, on the back of a year when fans have been at the heart of supporting communities up and down the country. What a contrast! These proposals have been carved out behind closed doors without consultation with fans or players, and they have at their heart a plan that is anti-football—a super league from which teams can never be relegated and in which they are always guaranteed a place because of their wealth. That represents a fundamental attack on the integrity of sporting competitions.
It is very rare that an issue unites football fans and organisations across the rivalries and divides, but this super league proposal has managed to do just that. From supporters trusts and groups, including the Football Supporters’ Association, to the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Association, UEFA, the Premier League, the League Managers Association and the European Clubs Association—I could go on—it has been universally rejected as the greedy, obscene and selfish proposal that it is.
Let us act urgently. It is already too late for some clubs and their supporters, so I ask the Secretary of State when the review will be launched, what the terms of reference will be, who will take part and when it will report. What exactly will the Government do to stop the European super league decimating our national game? They should explore every option, and I hope that they will, whether that is a super-tax on revenue or investigating whether the proposal breaches the clear rules that govern markets and competition in this country.
For football fans up and down the country, our message is clear: Labour stands ready to do whatever it takes to stop this plan, and I hope that the Government will make exactly the same commitment.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and I think hidden in there somewhere was a welcome for the approach the Government are taking and for the fan-led review.
The hon. Lady asks what we have been doing for the past year, and I will tell her a few of things we have been doing. We have been working to get football back behind closed doors, and we were one of the first leagues in Europe to achieve that. We acted to get a third of games free to view with Project Restart, including the first ever premier league games on the BBC. We acted to stop clubs going bust, with hundreds of millions of pounds through covid support schemes, and ensured that the big clubs looked after the smaller ones with the £250 million boost from the Premier League. We acted to keep football going through the pandemic, including through secure protocols to enable travel between the UK and elsewhere. Indeed, that was sometimes in the face of opposition from Labour, saying that we should stop the sport behind closed doors. Now, crucially, we are working to get fans back into stadiums. This weekend, Members will have seen that for the first time, which was very welcome, at the FA cup semi-finals. We are working and making good progress towards a further return of fans at stage 3 of the road map.
Alongside all that, we have continued to engage on the fan-led review. The Minister responsible for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and I have engaged extensively with, to list a few names, Anton Ferdinand, Jordan Henderson, Karen Carney, the FA, the Premier League, the English Football League, the PFA, the national league, the Football Supporters’ Association, Kick It Out, Women in Football, David Bernstein and Gary Neville. The hon. Lady referred to my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), and I have discussed the matter with them and with the Chair of the Select Committee. All this work has been essential in ensuring that we get to the point where we can launch the review today.
As I said in my statement, I would much rather that we had waited until fans were fully back and the game had been stabilised, but because of the actions that took place over this weekend we have launched the review now. The hon. Lady will have seen from my statement that it will be led by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. I hope that my hon. Friend will command support from both sides of the House; she was an excellent sports Minister, is a fan and is passionately committed to the game. We will shortly publish the terms of reference for the review and will work at speed. As the hon. Lady will have seen from my statement—I am happy to repeat it from the Dispatch Box—we will do whatever it takes to protect our game and we will examine every single option. We are doing that right now.
Just when we thought the beautiful game could not get any uglier, along come the big six and show that they could not care less for the fans up and down the country. Will the Secretary of State please outline to the House what specific levers he can pull to ensure that football authorities come to the negotiating table rather than indulge in this unseemly civil war? Does this involve, for example, a windfall tax on these clubs? I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to a fan-led review and pay testament to the work that he has done in order to ensure that football was one of the first sports to return last year. I also welcome the further meat on the bones. But will he tell the big six today that this review will have the power to recommend that their nascent super league could be given the red card and be legislated out of existence if they insist on pressing ahead?
It is worth bearing in mind that there are two parts to this. In the medium term, we are working on the fan-led review that has been launched, but that should not prevent us from us taking action now to stop this proposal going ahead. My hon. Friend highlighted some of the measures that we might consider taking. I assure him that we are looking at all those options and at competition law. In essence, we are looking at what the Government do to facilitate matches and those clubs, and asking whether we should continue to provide that support, because it does not strike me that the Government should be providing that support in the face of this proposal.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I think it is the first time that I have agreed with every single word of his statement—provided, of course, that he meant Scotland when he said, “We invented it.”
It must be made clear to the clubs and owners involved that no quarter will be given and that there will be no concessions whatever in the current arrangements. It is well past time that a line was drawn in the sand. There is already a huge and unhealthy imbalance in the game, with the big clubs in the big leagues with the big TV deals holding huge sums. This insatiable thirst for more—this greed—must not stand.
Club football in countries beyond England, Spain and Italy faces being left even further behind. Clubs in Scotland—such as Rangers, Celtic, and league cup winners and Scotland’s second most successful club in the last decade, St Johnstone—are not involved, but this has not stopped the widespread condemnation. Scottish Professional Football League chief exec Neil Doncaster said:
“These proposals, or any like them, would have an enormously damaging impact on the very fabric of our sport at all levels… We believe that any such ‘competition’ would dramatically undermine the global appeal of football and would be financially catastrophic for all but a very tiny minority. The proposals…assembled by a small, self-selected group of very wealthy clubs, appear to be a cynical and very worrying attempt to thwart the core principle of sporting merit which rightly underpins European football. They represent a clear and present danger to the sport we all love.”
The public are exhausted by the sleaze and greed associated with the elites at the top of our society. How do this Tory Government plan to eradicate greed and corruption at the heart of politics and business, and, in doing so, to protect football for the fans? Or does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that greed is good? Some overseas owners are from countries with concerning human rights records and links to dubious regimes, and may use their ownership of popular teams to sportswash their image. What actions do the Government plan to counter this?
I am tempted to thank the hon. Gentleman for the first line of his question and then to stop there; from my perspective, it all went a bit downhill after that. He is absolutely right to say that we should—and the Government will—stand up to greed and stand up for the fans, and to identify that even though it is English teams that are proposed for this league, it will have a severely damaging effect on all clubs in all parts of our United Kingdom. The game is, of course, as central to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish identity as it is to English identity. It is a sport for the whole of our United Kingdom and it is right that we work together as a United Kingdom to stop this dreadful proposal.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the decision to launch the fan-led review but, as he said, this is a review for the medium term, and decisions about the super league will need to be taken in the coming weeks and months. If, judging by what he said today, it is clear that, under existing competition law and existing powers of the premier league and the FA, nothing can be done to stop these six clubs joining the super league, are the Government prepared to amend the law to give those bodies the powers they need, in particular to prevent clubs from joining competitions that have not been sanctioned by either the FA or UEFA?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he has done, which has helped to shape the fan-led review we have announced. On competition law, we are already engaging with BEIS on our response. As I said, we rule out nothing. I know from my conversations with the premier league and UEFA that they are already proposing to take some pretty draconian steps to stop this, but we stand ready to act. We will not allow anything to stop us in terms of timing; we will get on with it as soon as we need to.
This is a devastating attack on the English game, as a shameless, arrogant and desperate elite seek to make millions at the expense of the millions of us who love the game and love our clubs. The statement contained some rhetoric that I found good and urgent, and detail that was ponderous and thin, so as well as a lengthy review, will the Secretary of State fast-track legislation that will force any club seeking to break away and join a new league to first ballot its fans and be mandated to abide by the outcome of the ballot; and will he make sure that the legislation is retrospective and active from the beginning of the current football season? Those who wish to steal and destroy the English game must be stopped. English football must be saved. This Parliament has the power to do it, not just to review it.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be doing three things. First, we are backing the actions by the football governing authorities. Secondly, at the same time, we are looking at all options—he raised some important further options—and we will proceed at the fastest pace required to deliver a result. Thirdly, these events give rise to major questions, which have become ever more apparent to me. We had the promise in our manifesto. My dealings with football over the past years, as we have sought to negotiate the support that the game requires, have demonstrated again the need for governance reform and the need to look at finance and whether an independent regulator is required. All these things will now be examined by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement and on the announcement of the fan-led review. Does he agree that the pyramid structure of the English football league gives focus to football clubs right across the country to compete and progress to the highest level based on performance and competition? Does he recognise that it also provides the opportunity for community links and rivalry across the country, even between Wales and England, when clubs such as Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham choose to compete in and are welcomed into the English football structure? Will the review he has announced also consider the interests of those clubs that are not in England but compete in the English football league?
As almost always, I agree with every word that my right hon. Friend has said. I am happy to give him precisely that assurance. He is absolutely right to highlight the two biggest problems with this super league: it removes a large element of the competition and the joy of the game, and it risks taking money away from grassroots football, which is central to the game.