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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 696: debated on Wednesday 26 May 2021

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Covid-19: Equal Economic Recovery

What steps she is taking with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to help ensure an equal economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak for women. (900670)

We have targeted economic support at those who need it most, including with unprecedented levels of support in sectors that are big employers of women, such as retail, hospitality and leisure, with the public sector also being a large employer of women. For private firms, the suspension of business rates until June will save employers almost £10 billion, helping to protect these jobs.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Analysis by the Women’s Budget Group has highlighted that young women aged 18 to 25 are the largest group to be furloughed, by age and gender. Will the Minister set out what discussions she is having with the Chancellor to ensure that those women are supported, so that we do not have a lost generation of young women even further adversely affected by the pandemic?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observation. The economic impact of the pandemic by gender is not clearcut. Furlough take-up and redundancy impacts are affecting men and women differently. We know that women are slightly more likely to have taken up the furlough scheme, but the latest employment figures continue to show a higher redundancy rate for men. So our economic package of support is to address everyone, and if he looks at the support for jobs package, the summer economic update that the Chancellor announced, as well as announcements in the Budget on the kickstart scheme and so on, he will see that all these things are addressing the issues on employment for young people and especially for those young women.

Evidence shows that mothers have been harder hit by the pandemic than fathers in terms of redundancies and their employment opportunities. Does my hon. Friend support the words of the Secretary of State for International Trade yesterday when she was advocating flexible working in order to overcome some of these problems? Would the Minister, like me, support seeing job sharing as part of a forthcoming employment Bill?

I always support the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is a pleasure to work with her, and we definitely want to see more flexible working and more job sharing. I cannot say for certain what will be part of the employment Bill, but we will speak to colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and across government.

The December 2019 Queen’s Speech promised an employment Bill that would extend

“redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination”.

Despite ministerial assurances of action during my Westminster Hall debate on this issue last month, the employment Bill and that promise are nowhere to be seen. If the UK Government are not going to deliver on their promise to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination, will they devolve employment law to Scotland so that the Scottish Parliament can deliver this much-needed reform?

This is a very serious issue. We are having a roundtable with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to look at pregnancy discrimination. I reiterate that covid-19 and the new employment Bill do not change the fact that there is a law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination—there is no place for it in any circumstances. Employers should be regularly reviewing their risk assessments for all pregnant workers and implementing any controls needed.

The economic impact of covid has hit women disproportionately hard. According to the Women’s Budget Group, 52% of people who have been furloughed are women, despite their making up only 47% of the workforce. The Government have promised to strengthen pregnancy and maternity protections “when parliamentary time allows”. Does the Minister not agree that this is an urgent priority given that the end of furlough is approaching and there is grave concern about unequal job losses in the autumn?

I refer the hon. Lady to my answer to the earlier question; this is not what the evidence tells us. I have seen the Women’s Budget Group report. What we are seeing is that men are more likely to be made redundant and women are more likely to be furloughed. The furlough is part of the economic package of support we have put in place. It is not right to say that women are more economically impacted when they are still having their jobs, but we do recognise that when the furlough scheme ends, we may see some changes. We are working to protect everybody in this crisis, both men and women. We have made a statement on the employment Bill, which is that the Government are committed to bringing it forward to protect and enhance workers’ rights. But given the profound impact that the pandemic is having on the economy and on the labour market, now is not the right time to introduce the employment Bill. In the interim, the Government have taken the unprecedented but necessary steps I mentioned to support business and protect jobs.

Voter ID: Equalities Impact Assessments

The Government take their public sector equality duty extremely seriously. In 2021, the Cabinet Office commissioned a nationally representative survey on the ownership of photo identification. The findings from that research and our ongoing engagement with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, including a wide range of charities and civil society organisations, will continue to inform our plans to ensure that voter identification is rolled out in a way that is inclusive for all voters.

I could probably write an essay on identity documents, having been responsible for the matter when I was in government a decade ago. I am particularly concerned about constituents of mine who are Commonwealth citizens, who are often seeking to achieve status in the UK but whose identity documents are with the Home Office—they do not have those identity documents to prove that they can vote. What is the Minister’s solution for those individuals?

The legislation will make it clear that local authorities must provide a voter card free of charge if an elector does not have one of the approved forms of photographic identification.

Research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People shows that one in 10 blind voters and less than half of partially sighted voters could vote independently and in secret at the most recent general election. That is unacceptable. Given the barriers, is the Minister not concerned that the introduction of voter ID will only make it even more difficult for people living with sight loss to vote independently and in secret?

We looked into the impact of voter ID on disabled voters, and our research, which draws on the most comprehensive information available, indicates that 97% of disabled electors report having at least one form of photographic identification, so we do not believe that it will affect them. As I mentioned in response to the previous question, we will have legislation that will make it clear that local authorities must provide a voter card free of charge so that people will still be able to vote. We must remember why we are doing this: no one should lose their right to vote because someone else has assumed their identity. Personation is very difficult to prove and prosecute, but it is not a victimless crime and it is absolutely right that we resolve the matter.

Gender-targeted Pricing

Prices in the UK are set by competition, not the Government, but it is unlawful to offer goods or services to women and men at a range of different prices. The Equality Act 2010 provides that a retailer must not discriminate against the customer either by failing to provide goods or services, or by providing them on different terms, on the basis of someone’s sex.

It is more than two years since I first raised this issue in this place and very little has changed: women still pay, on average, 20% more for basic goods and services. We have heard already today that women have been hardest hit in this pandemic and we know there is a gender pay gap. If someone comes, like me, from a single-parent family with three daughters, that family faces a much bigger challenge in the current circumstances. The Minister has said that it is unlawful; will the Government please take steps to ensure that the 2010 Act is enforced when it comes to gender-targeted pricing?

It is probably worth my letting the hon. Lady know that I understand what she says but disagree with the premise and the argument she makes. It is important to recognise that in a legal sense there is no discrimination involved in gender pricing, as there is nothing to stop a woman buying a product marketed towards men, or vice versa. The Government want a society in which women and men are free to make the choices that suit them, regardless of rigid stereotypes. I am afraid I think that the Bill the hon. Lady wanted to enact would actually have had the unintended consequence of reinforcing stereotypes.

STEAM Subjects: Gender-balanced Representation

What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Education on increasing gender-balanced representation in take up of STEAM subjects. (900673)

The Government are committed to ensuring that more women can take up the opportunities in science and technology. Currently, only one in five of the technology workforce are women, but projects such as the skills bootcamps aim to turn that around. Of the 2,799 attendees at our first bootcamps, 47% were women. In the west midlands, the courses on women in data and women in software were oversubscribed by around four times. We are investing another £43 million to provide another 16,000 places.

Science, technology and biomedicine have been at the forefront of our response to the covid-19 crisis and they will help us on our road to recovery. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that we get more people into those careers, including stem cell research for women?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: bioscience is a really important area and never more so than during this pandemic. It is our chemists, our biochemists and our biologists who are leading our way out of covid. The work that we do through our science learning partnerships aims to increase the take-up of triple science at GCSE—chemistry, physics and biology—and that will make sure that more of our young people can become the scientists of the future.

Prison Places for Women

What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on plans to increase the number of prison places for women. (900674)

Investing in the women’s custodial estate will improve conditions for female prisoners through modern, gender-specific and trauma-informed design. It will further ensure capacity is in place to give effect to sentences imposed by the independent courts.

When mothers are imprisoned for minor offences, the separation and loss for the child are detrimental to their wellbeing. The charity Women in Prison tells us that the most effective way to tackle the causes of crime and to prevent women from reoffending is to invest in women’s centres. Given that the Government’s own female offender strategy pledges to reduce the number of women in prison, why are they proposing to invest £150 million on new female prison places, and what representation has the Minister made to recommit to reducing the number of women in prison?

It is important that we continue to invest in women’s centres in the community, and that is exactly what we are doing. For the very reason that the hon. Lady makes about keeping relationships with the family, part of the money that she refers to will go to providing accommodation so that individuals can make family visits to those women sentenced to custody, to keep those relationships going. Prisons need to be a place of security, but they must also be a place of humanity, rehabilitation and hope, and that is what we are investing in.

Equality of Opportunity for UK Children

This Government believe in levelling up for people of all ages and we are investing more in the education of students from lower-income families so that they can unlock opportunities. Our weighted national funding formula and the pupil premium fund academic interventions as well as important pastoral initiatives and are further supplemented during this difficult time by the national tutoring programme and the holiday activities and food programme, which will also help those students.

Young people in my constituency deserve the very best opportunities outside of education. That is why I have been campaigning for an OnSide youth centre in West Bromwich, which has proved so successful in Wolverhampton. Will my hon. Friend support my campaign for a state-of-the-art youth centre, backed by local business, so that we can truly level up opportunities for young people in West Bromwich East?

I massively congratulate my hon. Friend on her true passion and interest in the young people of West Bromwich. The Government recognise the impact of youth services, which are improving the life chances and wellbeing of young people. The Government have already funded OnSide with £6 million last year to support young people during the pandemic. Another £30 million of the Youth Investment Fund has been committed as capital investment for 2021-22. That will provide investment in new resources as well as in refurbished safe spaces. Further details of the timetable and allocations will be announced very soon, and I recommend that my hon. Friend keeps a sharp look out for that announcement.

Covid-19: Disabled People in the Workplace

Over the past year, there have been 2,500 more Disability Confident employers, a much more flexible system and greater extended support through Access to Work going forward.

According to the Business Disability Forum, 11% of employers furloughed a disabled employee at the beginning of the pandemic after failing to provide reasonable adjustments. Disabled people have already been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but it is clear that disabled workers are continuing to be forced out of employment through a lack of access to reasonable adjustments. Will the Government introduce mandatory timescales for employer-implementation of reasonable adjustments and end the Access to Work payment cap to prevent the disability employment gap from widening further?

As I outlined earlier, there are greater numbers of Disability Confident employers and Access to Work has been adapted during covid to help the disabled, with greater online assistance, extended timeframes, flexibility, mental health support and much, much more, about which I will get the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to write in specific detail to the hon. Lady.

Conversion Therapies

We set out in the Queen’s Speech our intention to ban conversion therapy, which is an abhorrent practice. We will consult in September and legislate as soon as possible. We are also putting in place support for victims.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I hope you can hear me today.

I was really delighted to see the ban on conversion therapy appear in the Queen’s Speech, but, as we know, conversion therapy is an issue not just in the UK, but right around the globe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these practices should not just be outlawed in the UK, but that we should work with our global partners to support LGBT safety worldwide?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are proud that we are instituting the UK’s first ever international LGBT conference under the theme of “Safe To Be Me”, which is about protecting people from persecution worldwide. The conference will be led by Lord Herbert and will take place in June next year. I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend to appear at it.

I am pleased that the consultation will be starting soon. Does the Secretary of State intend for the Cass review to be part of the consultation, and will the consultation address issues of sexual orientation and gender identity?

The consultation will address the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. The Cass review is taking place separately; that is a matter for the Department of Health, but of course we want to ensure that the under-18s are protected from making irreversible decisions about their own future.

UK’s Presidency of the G7: Gender Equality

What steps she is taking with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to promote gender equality through the UK’s presidency of the G7. (900679)

We have a huge opportunity, as we recover from covid-19, for women across the world to build back better. That is why I have convened a group of leaders in the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, under the leadership of Sarah Sands, to push for better education for women and girls, economic empowerment and ending violence against women across the world.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her response; that is great news. Can she tell me whether the Gender Equality Advisory Council will be working to improve women’s and girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and industries?

I am pleased to say that the GEAC is packed with inspirational STEM leaders, such as Professor Sarah Gilbert, who spearheaded the Oxford vaccine, and the CERN director general Dr Fabiola Gianotti; they are leading figures. A key aim of the GEAC is to ensure that more girls and women are involved in the industries of the future such as technology and science, so that they can get those well-paid jobs and help to drive forward progress across the world.

At the G7 summit in August 2019, the Government made three commitments for domestic progress on gender equality: delivery of the Domestic Abuse Bill; reform of parental leave; and action on workplace sexual harassment. But last year just 3.5% of fathers took shared parental leave, and the TUC found that one in two women experience sexual harassment at work. We are still waiting for the Government to respond to consultations on both those issues. What does the Minister think it says about her record that only one of those commitments has so far been completed? When will she bring forward reforms to these schemes?

As the hon. Member points out, we have brought forward and enacted the leading Domestic Abuse Act 2021. The Minister for Safeguarding is on the Front Bench; she has done a fantastic job on that. We will shortly be bringing forward the response on sexual harassment. Moreover, I want to ensure that at this year’s G7 leaders across the world are held to account for their record in protecting women and girls.

Topical Questions

The UK is using our presidency of the G7 this year to champion women’s and girls’ rights at home and around the world with an independent Gender Equality Advisory Council to bring fresh ideas and new voices to the heart of G7 discussions. The council met for the second time last week, and I look forward to hearing its recommendations to G7 leaders in June. It is important that women and girls are at the heart of our plans to build back better.

In the recent Queen’s Speech there were many opportunities to level up across the country, including in my great constituency of Wolverhampton South West. What is my right hon. Friend doing to see that we can unleash the potential of some of our more deprived areas to build back better after covid?

We are determined to tackle the scourge of geographical inequality. That is why we have taken on responsibility for the Social Mobility Commission, which is going to focus on the three Es—employment, education and enterprise—and we are currently recruiting a chair to spearhead that agenda.

How will the Secretary of State ensure that the voices of survivors of so-called conversion therapy and the people who support them will be heard in the consultation on a Bill to outlaw all conversion therapies, which have no place in all settings and all LGBT+ statuses, regardless of whether someone is consenting or coerced? (900715)

My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities has already met survivors of conversion therapy, and we are determined that they should be closely involved in the consultation we are holding on the forthcoming legislation. I completely agree with the hon. Lady: it is an abhorrent practice that we need to stop in the United Kingdom.

In Redcar and Cleveland, and across the country, the pandemic has left many people without the certainty of work, but particularly those disabled and differently abled people who already feel disadvantaged in the jobs market. We have announced an ambitious plan for jobs, but can the Minister point to specific interventions he is making to help more disabled people into work in Redcar and Cleveland and the wider Tees Valley? (900711)

There has been an 800% increase in Disability Confident employers in the Durham-Tees Valley area. The newly re-elected Conservative Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, and our new Hartlepool MP are utterly committed to ensuring that more disabled people get access to work and into work.

In the UK, two weeks’ parental leave and pay is in place after stillbirth, but there is no such support for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Will the Minister support my calls to the UK Government and allow families to grieve for their profound loss by legislating for paid leave for everyone that experiences miscarriage? (900716)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. We have looked at seeking to change the rules about neonatal leave. Any grieving situation is incredibly difficult, but as we work towards the employment Bill, we will make sure that we can come up with a rounded view for anybody that is grieving.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee that she ended the role of her LGBT advisory panel because there were basic disagreements over the rights of trans people to self-ID. Argentina, our co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, whose conference we host next June, has legally accommodated self-ID for trans people since 2012 without a problem, and now more members of the coalition are following Argentina’s example without a problem. How is she going to find a new panel that both has authority and agrees with her in the continuing refusal to accept the right of trans people to self-ID? Can she explain how Britain can host a conference entitled “Safe To Be Me” without supporting the right to be “me”? (900712)

The former LGBT advisory panel’s tenure ended on 31 March 2021. I am grateful to its members for the important insights that they have provided on important policy areas such as ending conversion therapy and the impact of covid on LGBT people. The Prime Minister has appointed Lord Herbert as special envoy for LGBT rights. That role will have an international and domestic focus, and I am confident that we will be able to work with our international partners on this issue. We believe that the current provisions in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 Act allow for those who wish legally to change their genders to do so, so that it is safe to be them and they have the right to be themselves. We have therefore decided, as we have said before to my hon. Friend, that the Act will not be changed.

My constituent Julia was breastfeeding her child in a park when a stranger started taking long-lens photos of her. She and I were shocked that there was nothing that could be done about this unwelcome intrusion. Does the Minister think this is an acceptable situation and, if not, will she support action to prevent this kind of voyeurism? (900717)

I thank the hon. Member for raising this very important topic. This is totally unacceptable behaviour and I hope he will welcome the Government’s forthcoming violence against women and girls strategy, which we will be publishing later this year, drawing in the views of more than 180,000 members of the public to help shape our policies for the coming decade. This is unacceptable and we will deal with it.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

The thoughts of the House, following the decision by the court this morning, will be with the family and friends of the Hillsborough 96 and the hundreds more who were injured. I know that the Crown Prosecution Service has said it will meet with the families again to answer any questions they may have.

I know colleagues from across the House will want to join me in paying tribute to our former colleague, Mike Weatherley, who sadly died last week. He was a dedicated parliamentarian and a fantastic servant to the people of Hove.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a practising NHS doctor who has been working on the frontline of the NHS during the pandemic. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 resulted in local authority commissioning of addiction services. Ten years later, almost all addiction services are now run by non-NHS providers. The result is that the numbers in alcohol treatment have fallen, many alcohol detoxes take place in an unplanned manner, and opiate and alcohol deaths are at record levels. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for the sake of patients, we must bring the commissioning and provision of addiction services back to the NHS, and will he meet me and experts in this field to discuss how we can get this right?

I want to thank my hon. Friend for everything that he has done throughout this pandemic in the NHS, but also for raising this vital issue. I am proud that under this Government we are seeing the biggest increase for 15 years in treatment for substance abuse, but the specific points he raises we will make sure we address with Dame Carol Black, who is undertaking a review of drugs and treatment. We will make sure that his point is fed in.

May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Hillsborough and Mike Weatherley?

This morning, the Prime Minister’s former closest adviser said:

“When the public needed us most the Government failed.”

Does the Prime Minister agree with that?

The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country has had to do for a very long time. None of the decisions has been easy. To go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country. To deal with a pandemic on this scale has been appallingly difficult. We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life—to save lives and to protect the NHS—and we have followed the best scientific advice that we can.

Can I remind the Prime Minister that one year ago, almost to the day, he said of his former adviser

“in every respect he has acted responsibly, legally and with integrity”?

This morning that same adviser has said that senior Ministers—these are his words—

“fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government”

and that lives were lost as a result. Does the Prime Minister accept that central allegation and that his inaction led to needless deaths?

No. Of course, all those matters will be reviewed in the course of the public inquiry that I have announced. I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is fixated, as ever, on the rear-view mirror, while we on this side of the House are getting on with our job of rolling out the vaccines, making sure that we protect the people of this country. That has been the decisive development on which I think people are rightly focusing. I can tell the House that, in spite of the continuing concern that we have about the Indian variant, we are increasing our vaccination programme at such a rate that we can now ask everybody over 30 to come forward and get vaccinated.

It is no good the Prime Minister attacking me. It is his former chief adviser who is looking back and telling the world how useless the Prime Minister was in taking key decisions—his former adviser.

One of the most serious points made this morning is that the Prime Minister failed to recognise the severity of this virus until it was too late, dismissing it as another “scare story” like the swine flu. Does the Prime Minister recognise that account of his own behaviour? If so, will he apologise for being so complacent about the threat that this virus posed?

I do not think anybody could credibly accuse this Government of being complacent about the threat that this virus posed at any point. We have worked flat out to minimise loss of life and to protect the NHS, while the Opposition have flip-flopped from one position to another, backing curfew one day and opposing it the next, backing lockdowns one day and opposing them the next, calling for tougher border controls one day and then saying that quarantine is a blunt instrument the next. We have got on with the job of protecting the people of this country from one of the worst pandemics in living memory, if not the worst in living memory. We have turned the corner, and it is no thanks to the loyal Opposition.

I can see that the evidence of his former adviser is really getting to the Prime Minister this morning in that response.

Another incredibly serious statement from the Prime Minister’s former adviser this morning concerns the conduct of the Health Secretary, including an allegation that the Health Secretary misled other Ministers and officials on a number of occasions. I do not expect the Prime Minister to respond to that, but can he confirm: did the Cabinet Secretary advise the Prime Minister that he—the Cabinet Secretary—had

“lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty”?

The answer to that is no. I am afraid I have not had the benefit of seeing the evidence that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is bringing to the House, but I must say that I think what the people of this country want us all to do is to get on with the delicate business of trying to reopen our economy, restore people’s freedoms and get back to our way of life by rolling out the vaccine. I would have thought that that was a much more profitable line of inquiry for the right hon. and learned Gentleman today. That is what I think the people of this country want us to focus on.

The Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. Either his former adviser is telling the truth, in which case the Prime Minister should answer the allegations, or the Prime Minister has to suggest that his former adviser is not telling the truth, which raises serious questions about the Prime Minister’s judgment in appointing him in the first place. There is a pattern of behaviour here. There was clearly a lack of planning, poor decision making, a lack of transparency and a Prime Minister who was absent from the key decisions, including five early Cobra meetings, and who was, to quote his former adviser,

“1,000 times far too obsessed with the media”.

Another central allegation briefed overnight is that the Prime Minister delayed the circuit break over the autumn half-term because covid was “only killing 80-year-olds”. I remind the Prime Minister that over 83,000 people over 80 have lost their lives to this virus and that his decision to delay for 40 days, from the SAGE guidance on 21 September until 31 October, will be seen as one of the single biggest failings of the last year. Having been told of the evidence, does the Prime Minister accept that he used the words “Covid is only killing 80-year-olds” or words to that effect?

We saw what happened during the pandemic. Particularly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the September lockdown and my approach to it, and the very, very difficult decision that the country faced. Of course, this will be a matter for the inquiry to go into, but we have an objective test, in the sense that there was a circuit breaker, of the kind he describes, in Wales. It did not work, and I am absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interests of the British people. When it comes to hindsight, I just remind him that he actually—he denied this at the time and then had to correct it—voted to stay in the European Medicines Agency, which would have made it impossible for us to do the vaccine roll-out at the pace that we have.

It is not me giving evidence this morning; it is his former adviser, and I note the Prime Minister is careful not to refute these allegations. What we are seeing today is the latest chapter of a story of confusion, chaos and deadly misjudgments from this Government—from a Prime Minister governing by press release, not a plan. In the last 24 hours, we have seen the same mistakes made again, with the ridiculous way 1.7 million people in Bolton, Burnley, Bedford, Blackburn, Kirklees, Hounslow, Leicester and North Tyneside have been treated. In the light of the drip of these very serious allegations, the failure of the Prime Minister to provide even basic answers and continuing mistakes affecting millions of people, does the Prime Minister now recognise he must bring forward the timing of the public inquiry into covid, and that it should start this summer and as soon as possible?

No. As I have said before, I am not going to concentrate valuable official time on that now while we are still battling a pandemic. I thought actually that was what the House had agreed on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continues to play these pointless political games, while we get on with delivering on the people’s priorities: 40 new hospitals; 8,771 more police on our streets; we are getting on with sorting out the railways; we are giving people—young people—the opportunity of home ownership in a way they have never had before, with 95% mortgages; and we have vaccinated. We have delivered 60 million vaccinations across this country, more than—he loves these European comparisons—any other European country, including 22 million second doses. That, with great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, is I believe the priority of the British people. That is really what they are focused on, while he voted to stay in the European Medicines Agency. The Opposition vacillate; we vaccinate. They deliberate; we deliver.

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister remembers with great fondness his trip in July last year to the Discovery School in Kings Hill, but he probably remembers best his meeting with Tony Hudgell, an amazing and inspirational young boy, who had at that point already raised a million and a half pounds for charity and been awarded by my right hon. Friend the Points of Light award, which he so generously hands out to those who have achieved so much. Will he join Tony, Tony’s parents, Paula and Mark, me and many others around the country in campaigning for Tony’s law—new clause 56 to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill? This is a very minor change to a very important Bill that would bring child abuse sentencing in line with that for adult abuse. I know he has put his heart into this space, and I am sure we can all look forward to his support. (900658)

I thank my hon. Friend, and of course I remember Tony very well. I remember his incredible campaign and the amount of money he raised, and I thank him for it. All I can say is it is very important that cases like that—injustices such as that suffered by Tony—receive the full force of the law. People who commit serious offences against children can receive exactly the same penalties as those who commit serious offences against adults, but we will keep this under review, and if there is a gap in the law—I will study his amendment very closely—we will make sure that we remedy it.

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks on those seeking justice for Hillsborough? To quote the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

One hundred and twenty-eight thousand people have died of coronavirus in the United Kingdom. This morning the Prime Minister’s most senior former adviser, Dominic Cummings, apologised on behalf of the UK Government. He said:

“When the public needed us most”

we “failed.” We know the Prime Minister made a series of catastrophic errors throughout the crisis: he went on holiday when he should have been leading efforts to tackle the pandemic; he was too slow to go into lockdown; he failed to secure our borders; he sent millions of people back to their offices prematurely. There is no doubt that these mistakes cost many thousands of lives. When even a disgraced figure like Dominic Cummings is willing to own up and apologise, is it not time that the Prime Minister does the same?

I take full responsibility for everything that has happened, and as I have said before, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, both in this House and elsewhere, I am truly sorry for the suffering that the people of this country have experienced. But I maintain my point that the Government acted throughout with the intention to save life and protect the NHS, and in accordance with the best scientific advice; that is exactly what we did.

The evidence we have heard this morning is extraordinary but, sadly, not surprising. It paints a familiar pattern of behaviour: a negligent Prime Minister more concerned with his own self-interest than the interests of the United Kingdom. When people were dying, the United Kingdom Government were considering chicken pox parties and joking about injecting the Prime Minister with covid live on TV.

We had a circus act when we needed serious Government: is it not the case that when the country needed leadership most the Prime Minister was missing in action? Thousands have paid the ultimate price for his failure; when will the Prime Minister finally accept responsibility for the failures of his Government?

As I have said repeatedly in this House, I take full responsibility for everything that the Government did and will continue to do so, and one of the reasons why we have set up an independent public inquiry is that I believe the people of this country deserve to have daylight shone on all the issues the right hon. Gentleman raised. I must say that I do not recognise the events that he describes, but I do think that we acted throughout with the intention of saving life, of protecting the NHS and of taking the country through the worst pandemic for 100 years, and I think it is also true that we are in a much more fortunate position now thanks to the efforts of the British people and the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, and I am grateful for that as well.

I spent Monday morning at the Fitz country house in Cockermouth with an alpaca called Boris. Cumbria sees significant numbers of tourists in any normal year, but Cumbria is not just lakes: we have some real gems in my constituency of Workington outside the national park. With a real opportunity for the UK hospitality industry this year as people choose to holiday here, will my right hon. Friend consider taking a short break in my constituency, where I might facilitate an introduction to Boris? (900660)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and would love to come and meet the alpaca called Boris, but, more importantly, we want to support tourism in his constituency, which is why we have so far provided over £25 billion of support, including £1.5 million to support projects such as the Carnegie Theatre Trust—and since this week is English Tourism Week I encourage everyone to make the most of the tourism on their doorstep.

The EU settlement scheme closes on 30 June. While the Home Office has finally published guidance on late applications the Government are failing to provide clarity. What will happen to those who miss the deadline and then fall under the remit of illegal working legislation? Can the Prime Minister assure the House that EU citizens or non-EU family members who miss the deadline will not face potential criminal liability if they continue to go into work?

I am sure the law will be extremely merciful to anybody who finds themselves in a difficult position, but I would just remind the hon. Gentleman that so far 5.4 million EU nationals have applied successfully for the EU settlement scheme, which as far as I remember is about 2 million more EU nationals than we thought we were in the country in the first place.

Will the Prime Minister join me in praising Wrexham and Denbighshire councils for the dynamic proposals they are putting forward in their joint bid for the levelling up fund in Clwyd South, including regeneration of the Trevor Basin, improvements for Chirk and Llangollen, and investment in Corwen station and the surrounding area? (900661)

May I tell my hon. Friend what a joy it is to hear him campaigning for Chirk, Corwen and Llangollen after I tramped around those beautiful places entirely fruitlessly many, many years ago in search of the Conservative vote? Thank you for what you have done. Thank you for continuing to champion those wonderful and beautiful spots.

When any Member of this House is suspended for 10 days or more because of a Standards Committee report, constituents can then recall that Member. When the Independent Expert Panel suspends a Member, that cannot happen. The Prime Minister was talking a moment ago about closing loopholes in legislation. Will he introduce emergency legislation to close this particular loophole? Does he agree that it would be completely dishonourable for any Member to exploit that loophole, and that they should instead do the decent thing and resign? (900656)

I take that point very seriously. I will study the implications of what the hon. Gentleman says. If the he is referring to a Conservative Member who has recently had the Whip taken away, he can take it that that Member has already had condign punishment.

Last Thursday at about 1 o’clock in the morning three young people popped out to Maccy D’s, as you do, and noticed a Leyland shop massively on fire. Did they drive past? No. They rang the fire brigade. They stopped. They recruited a passer-by. They climbed over fences and walls to raise the alarm for the residents living in the flats above. During the pandemic, community spirit has been really important to all of us keeping going. Does the Prime Minister share my admiration for Kim, Zach, Shania and Robin, and will he join me in thanking them for showing British community spirit and true Lancashire grit? (900665)

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for singling out this intrepid act of quick-thinking and selflessness. I pay tribute to Kim, Zach, Shania and Robin, and I hope they got their Maccy D’s.

There are over 4.3 million children—and rising—growing up in poverty, including some 18,000 in Harrow. Will the Prime Minister agree to put right the error of a previous Prime Minister, and commit to publish a strategy to tackle child poverty and ensure that no child is left behind? (900657)

It is vital that we tackle child poverty, and that is why we are levelling up across the country with the biggest programme of investment for a generation, if not more. We are also seeing fewer households now with children in poverty than 10 years ago, but I perfectly accept that there is more to be done.

I very much welcome the fact that the Government are investing heavily in upgrading rail networks across the country, including opening lines that have previously been closed. As a Conservative Government, we have a particular responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure value for money. The business case for East West Rail in my constituency is largely based on commuting, but the pandemic means we are in the middle of a workplace revolution. If in future people work from home on average two days a week, that will mean a 40% reduction in commuting. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commit to doing a review of East West Rail’s business case to ensure it remains value for money and to take into account the long-term impact of the pandemic? (900667)

My hon. Friend is a great campaigner for Cambridgeshire and the rights of the people of Cambridgeshire. However, my strong feeling is that it would be a mistake now to go slow on investment in infrastructure purely on the basis that we think people will start working from home. My long experience of this is that people need to travel and they will travel. The commuter bustle will come back, and it needs to come back.

A global minimum rate for corporate tax would help to tackle tax avoidance by large multinational corporations and online giants. It would stop them undercutting British businesses who pay their fair share, and it would make a transformational difference to high streets and town centres at the heart of communities across the UK. Why is the Prime Minister the only G7 leader not to support this proposal? Why is he on the side of tax avoiders, instead of British businesses and communities? (900659)

It was only a few months ago that the Labour Front Benchers opposed the corporation tax increases we put in. They are now opposed to the Government’s ability to cut corporation tax. Which side are they on? They have got to make their minds up.

Like me, the Prime Minister represents a constituency in London’s commuter land, so he will be well aware of the small businesses—sole traders, many of them—who operate the coffee stores, newsagents and so on at our railway stations. Their incomes have been absolutely decimated during the pandemic, but they are finding, like my constituent Sanjay Sharma at Chislehurst station, that when they seek to get a reduced level of rent to reflect their reduced turnover, the train operating companies claim that the funding agreement put in place with the Department for Transport does not give them the discretion to do so. The Department appears to say differently, and they have been going around in circles for months trying to get an answer. Will the Prime Minister use the authority of his office, please, to bang heads together and get a solution for them, because if they go broke and we have empty units, that is no income for anybody? (900668)

We introduced a policy to provide rent relief for station businesses in March last year. All train operators, including Southeastern in my hon. Friend’s constituency, are able to offer business support to their stations. I understand the point he makes about the discrepancy of views. Can I undertake to arrange a meeting with him and the relevant Minister to take it forward?

I have asked the Prime Minister a series of questions about charities. In November, he promised support. By March he had turned his back, but this month, he broke that promise, giving them nothing this winter. His words and deeds are as unfaithful as his principles and beliefs. He has neither the commitment to honour his word, the capacity to care, nor the compassion to act. Does the Prime Minister really believe that charity is all about supporting him and his lifestyle or recognise that charities now £10 billion in debt and struggling to survive need Government support to help people in real need? (900662)

I think charities perform an amazing and invaluable role in our society and in our lives, and we need them. That is why we have supported charity shops throughout the lockdown with restart grants—the road map means that those shops are now able to open again—but, in addition, we had a £750 million targeted package of support for charities, helping more than 14,000 organisations across the country, including funding for hospices, homelessness charities, shelters for victims of domestic abuse and many others.

The fishing industry in East Anglia has had a hard time of it in recent years. However, with Brexit done, albeit in a way that left many disappointed, there is now an opportunity to turn the corner. The REAF—renaissance of East Anglian fisheries—strategy sets out an exciting and ambitious programme for the future. Is the Prime Minister able to say how the Government will work with fishing communities, such as that in Lowestoft, to revive the industry in East Anglia?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to champion the fisheries industry in East Anglia. I like his REAF plan. I think it has lots of interesting ideas, which we will take forward as part of our £100 million package to support the fishing industry and get ready to take advantage of those opportunities that are coming very swiftly down the track towards us.

NHS and social care staff in Wales are due to receive a £500 bonus in recognition of their hard work during the pandemic, but staff on universal credit stand to lose out due to the way in which the award is recognised in the regulations as earned income, so instead of receiving a thank you bonus at the end of the month, many NHS and social care staff will be punished with a deduction of up to 63% from their universal credit. Will the Prime Minister look to amend regulation 55 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013 to create an exemption to ensure that all NHS and social care staff in Wales benefit fully from this well-deserved bonus? (900663)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. Of course, I want to repeat my gratitude to the nurses of this country and the NHS and social care staff who have done incredible work throughout this pandemic. He makes a particular point about the tapering in universal credit, and I will make sure that he has a meeting with the relevant Minister, who will set out the detail on the issue he has raised.

On behalf of my constituent Seema Misra and other wrongly convicted sub-postmasters, I am grateful that the vital inquiry of Sir Wyn Williams into that scandal has now been given more teeth. However, there is widespread concern, shared by Post Office CEO Nick Read, that the compensation received by the sub-postmasters who were party to the civil litigation at the High Court was simply not fair. I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that those civil litigant sub-postmasters will be included in the anticipated Government compensation scheme.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue—a tragic case of injustice. I have met some of the postmasters and sub-postmasters who have been affected by that miscarriage of justice. As he knows, the Government were not party to the initial litigation, nor the settlement that was agreed, but we are determined to ensure that postmasters and sub-postmasters are fairly compensated for what happened.

Brexit and Scottish independence are, indeed, very different, but referendums are much the same. In 2016, without interference, the EU respected the UK in the Brexit referendum process. Unfortunately, the last Scottish referendum did not see Scotland get the same respect. London politicians promised Scotland a place in the European Union. They won that referendum, very clearly, on broken promises. In the autumn, when the Scots Government have dealt with the health effects of the pandemic, the economic part of it will require independence, as Norway and Ireland prove. So, Prime Minister, will Scotland be shown the same respect in the UK as the UK got in the EU, and this time can our democracy not be interfered with, and our referendum certainly not blocked? (900664)

We respected the referendum result of 2014, which was a very substantial majority in favour of remaining in the UK, keeping our wonderful country together, not breaking it up. That was what the people of Scotland rightly voted for, and they did so in the belief that it was a once-in-a-generation event.

For almost 500 years the Royal Navy has protected our country from foes and protected the freedom of our friends around the world. The pride of our navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, sailed this week with her strike group. Within her she carries the British values of freedom, justice and democracy, so can my right hon. Friend tell me, as she makes her way from the Mediterranean to the South China Sea, what his plans are for the future of her white ensign?

It was fantastic to be on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is a vessel longer than the Palace of Westminster, and forms a more eloquent statement, in many ways, than many of the speeches and interventions that we have heard this afternoon, about Britain’s role in the world and our determination to expand shipbuilding and expand our naval presence, which is good not only for the UK and for the world, but good for jobs and growth around the country.

Covid has triggered the first global rise in extreme poverty this century, but at the G7 the Prime Minister could act. He can ask leaders to reallocate the International Monetary Fund’s £1 trillion-worth of special drawing rights and restock the World Bank’s £83 billion-worth of International Development Association funds. This is a multi-billion pound package of support for the world’s poorest. Will the Prime Minister today commit to leading that argument at the G7, so that a pandemic of disease does not now become a pandemic of poverty? (900666)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is great to see him in his place—it is always great to see him in this place. Actually, I have had conversations on that very matter already with Kristalina Georgiera.

One of the many awful things about the past year has been the inability to visit family and friends in hospital. It has caused immense anguish for many of my constituents. We are seeing some progress locally and I hope that, with the brilliant roll-out of the vaccine, we will see more, but can the Prime Minister inform the House when normal visiting hours will resume for all hospitals nationwide?

I know that my hon. Friend speaks for many millions of people who have wanted to visit loved ones and I know the anguish that they have felt. We need to balance those wholly legitimate feelings with the need to manage the risk of infection, as I know my hon. Friend understands very well. We will update the guidance as soon as it is possible to do so.

Tala, 13, Rula, just five years old, her big sister Yara, aged nine: three Palestinian children killed in an Israeli air- strike. The Israeli military murdered 63 other children and 245 Palestinians in its recent assault on Gaza. The call for Palestinian freedom has never been louder, but this Conservative Government are complicit in its denial. They have approved more than £400 million in arms to Israel since 2015, so can the Prime Minister look me in the eye and tell me that British-made weapons or components were not used in the war crimes that killed these three children and hundreds of other Palestinians? [Interruption.] (900669)

I think that the whole House understands that nobody wants to see any more of the appalling conflict in Israel and Gaza, and that we are all glad that there is now a ceasefire and a de-escalation. As for the position of the British Government, it is probably common ground among most Members that we want a two-state solution. The UK Government have campaigned for that for many years and it continues to be our position.

I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.