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Commons Chamber

Volume 696: debated on Monday 7 June 2021

House of Commons

Monday 7 June 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

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19 Restrictions: Large Gatherings

We continue to work closely with the police to provide them with the powers, support and resources they need to ensure compliance with the coronavirus regulations. We have quadrupled the penalties for those attending illegal indoor gatherings of more than 15 people in England, and have created a fine regime to ensure that we can absolutely enforce the regulations and that people are following the rules.

Despite clear guidance on large gatherings last month, hundreds of cars and spectators descended on my Southport constituency for an illegal car meet-up that involved cars travelling at excessive speeds. Will my right hon. Friend do everything she can to ensure that these events are stopped and that the organisers of such events receive the maximum penalty?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; these breaches are serious, as are some of the practices that we have seen with illegal car rallies. He will understand that the policing powers and the operational decisions on how these rallies are tackled are very much with the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, but of course the police have the necessary powers. There are also road traffic offences that can and should be applied when they are committed. I am sorry to say that we have seen far too many of these rallies recently and they are in breach of the covid regulations.

Windrush Compensation Scheme

What progress her Department has made on disbursing payments through the Windrush compensation scheme. (901013)

In December, I overhauled the Windrush compensation scheme to pay people more money more quickly; that has now taken place. We have now paid six times more than the total amount paid previously. That means that we have offered almost £30 million in compensation, of which £20.4 million has been paid to approximately 687 claimants.

I heard what the Secretary of State said, but the recent National Audit Office report into the Windrush compensation scheme that was published on 21 May stated that just 4% of the 15,000 people who may be eligible for the scheme had received payments—way below the numbers forecast and a small fraction of the total expected payout. I have constituents in Warwick and Leamington who have been patiently awaiting compensation for almost 18 months. Given that the process takes an extraordinary 15 steps and an average of 154 staff hours, will the Secretary of State detail how many full-time time caseworkers are dealing with the compensation scheme, and how many caseworkers she estimates are required to expedite this scheme in the next two years?

First, it is important to reflect on how the scheme has fundamentally changed since December. I have already highlighted the levels of payment and the speed at which the claims are being dealt with. It is important to recognise that the changes I put in place in December have had an immediate effect; within six weeks of making the changes we had offered more in terms of payout and compensation payments than were made in the first 19 months of the scheme. I say openly to the hon. Gentleman and all Members of the House who have constituents who are awaiting claims: provide me with the details and I will look into those cases.

The fact of the matter is that we have been reaching out to those who are entitled to compensation. We are working across the board. We have overhauled the team; we have more caseworkers than ever. Another £9 million has been offered to claimants, and we are awaiting responses from those individuals.

“Sitting in Limbo”—a drama about my constituent Anthony Bryan, who had his life turned upside down by the Windrush scandal—won a BAFTA yesterday. At the time of its release, the Home Secretary rushed to meet Anthony and told him that he would be given a voice. Yet it was not until two days ago—18 months after he made his claim—that Anthony finally received an offer of compensation. Will the Home Secretary tell us how long the hundreds of others like Anthony will have to remain in limbo before the Home Office gets its act together?

If the hon. Lady heard my earlier remarks, she will have heard that fundamental reform of the Windrush compensation scheme has taken place. She will also recognise that when the scheme first launched, it was put together very quickly, but in consultation with members of the Windrush generation and representatives from the community. She asked me how long it takes for people to be paid. Due to the changes that I have put in place, it now takes an average of three weeks from receipt of an acceptance to payment. Finally, I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady’s constituent has finally received the payment that he deserves.

Police Officers: Harm in the Line of Duty

The Government are completely committed to ensuring that our brave police officers receive the support and protection they deserve. We have proposed legislation to enshrine in law a police covenant and to double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers. We also continue to invest in direct support to the police through the National Police Wellbeing Service.

I welcome the commitments this Government have made to cut crime and to get more police on to our streets. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that our police have the tools to tackle violent crime and antisocial behaviour in Bury, Ramsbottom, Tottington, and throughout the country?

I know from conversations with my hon. Friend that he is a powerful supporter of the police, particularly in his own constituency, and he wants more of his constituents to meet more of the police officers who are being recruited into his local force at some rate of knots. While it is true that having the police officers will make a huge difference, so will giving them exactly the kind of tools that he has talked to me about in the past to do their job, as will the support of Members of Parliament such as him. Police officers out on the frontline doing an incredibly difficult and challenging job need to know that we stand with them in defending them and promoting them.

The latest figures from the National Police Chiefs Council show that on this Government’s watch, assaults on police officers have been rising since 2015 and there has been a 26% increase in assaults on emergency workers in the months leading to April 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. There have been 30,000 assaults on police officers in England and Wales in a year. I am glad that the Government have finally listened to calls from Labour to increase sentences for people who assault emergency workers, but why are they doing absolutely nothing to stop the assaults in the first place? If I was in government, I would commission Home Office research into exactly who is assaulting our officers and why, I would tackle single-crew patrols, and I would make sure that officers have the right kit to be protected. Will the Minister do the same?

You will have to advise me, Mr Speaker, on whether it is in order for a Member to speak in support of something she voted against, but I welcome the hon. Lady’s belated support for the doubling of sentences for assaults on emergency workers, which was included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, against which the Opposition voted. She is right, though, to raise the issue, which has been of serious concern to us for some time, of the rise in assaults on emergency workers, and particularly on police officers. Sadly, during the pandemic we saw, in particular, the awful phenomenon of people coughing or spitting at police officers and claiming that they were infectious when they did so. Happily, we saw a number of significant sentences handed out for that particular offence and the courts dealt with them quickly. But there is always much more that we can do. Under the police covenant, which again the hon. Lady voted against, one of the key planks of the work that we will be doing is looking at safety, welfare and support for police officers.

Foreign National Offenders

Foreign national offenders who abuse our hospitality by committing crime absolutely should be deported and removed from the United Kingdom, and our determination and resolve is to do exactly that. Since January 2019, we have removed nearly 8,000 foreign national offenders, and our new plan for immigration will make it easier for us to deport those who harm others and have no right to stay in the United Kingdom.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her very firm position on removing people from the UK who have no legal status to be here and indeed abuse our hospitality. Can she confirm that the proposed one-stop-shop appeals process will reduce the number of baseless claims that continue to frustrate our courts—and indeed, I am sure, all those involved in the Home Office who wish to deport these foreign criminals who have no place here in our society?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have already referred to our new plan for immigration, which will reform the system to bring in a one-stop shop to tackle the endless appeals that come forward and also the various claims that prevent us from removing foreign national offenders. It is also worth reminding him, and the House, that Labour has consistently opposed every single attempt, such as when we had charter flights to remove foreign national offenders, to do the right thing by the victims of these awful individuals who have caused so much pain and harm.

EEA Nationals: Settled or Pre-settled Status

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901004)

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901019)

What guidance she plans to put in place for EEA nationals eligible for settled or pre-settled status whose applications for that status have not been approved by 30 June 2021. (901028)

With permission, I will answer these questions on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is dealing with a family bereavement today.

I am glad to say that the EU settlement scheme is going extremely well. So far, 4.9 million people have been granted status. Only 1% of applications have been refused. It is a true United Kingdom success story. Those who have applied prior to 30 June will keep their status until such time as their applications are decided, so I strongly encourage anybody who is eligible to apply for EUSS status before 30 June to make sure that their status is indeed protected.

The reality is that the Minister will know that covid has impeded outreach work to EU nationals who are still to apply. Covid has also caused other issues, such as hampering my constituent’s efforts to travel to London to renew his passport at his embassy. That caused real anxiety. If the Minister will not heed our call to grant automatic status, will he at least look at extending the deadline for a year in order to avoid another Windrush scandal?

Of course, the EUSS has been open since March 2019, so it has been over two years now and significantly predates covid. There are a number of documents people can use if for any reason they do not have their passport or European ID card, and we have given grant funding of £22 million to 72 organisations to help people who need assistance in making the application. I would just say to anyone in the United Kingdom who is entitled to EUSS status to please apply by that deadline. Even if their status is not decided by 30 June, providing they have applied by that deadline, their status will be protected until the decision is made.

Many of the tens of thousands of essential NHS EU workers across the UK may not even be aware that there is a problem with their lack of settled or pre-settled status until their employer or landlord, or another agency, tells them. Does the Minister not agree that there should be an obligation or duty on organisations to signpost individuals to independent advice on the possibility of a late application whenever they encounter an EU national who may be eligible?

I am not sure I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s suggestion that somebody may not have noticed Brexit happening. But, quite seriously, we have grant-funded 72 organisations with a total of £22 million to do outreach and to make sure that people who are vulnerable or require assistance, including outreach, are helped to make the application, and 5.4 million people have applied already, which shows that the scheme has been an enormous United Kingdom success story. However, I repeat that anyone who is eligible should please apply by 30 June. It is about three weeks’ time. Now is the time to apply if they have not applied already.

We have already heard about IT problems, meaning that EEA citizens have been unable to prove their settled status, which the Home Office only allows them to do by digital means. The UK Government are happy providing printed proof of vaccination for those who have no smartphone, or letting people print a PDF if they want back-up in case their phone dies at the airport, so why can something similar not be done for EU settled status?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Fundamentally, this is a UK success story. This system is working, as evidenced by the 5.4 million applications and the 4.9 million grants. To be honest, given all the prognostications of gloom and doom that we heard a couple of years ago, this has been an astonishing success story. If any Member of Parliament has any particular case where a constituent has encountered difficulties, please send it in to my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, or to the Home Secretary, and we will make sure it gets dealt with quickly. We are completely committed to making sure that everybody who is entitled to EUSS status, which is many millions of people, gets that status, which they deserve.

First, we pass on our condolences and best wishes to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and his family.

Despite our fundamental disagreements about the design of the scheme, we do all want it to succeed, but we are concerned that a lot of questions still remain outstanding at this late stage. One of the most fundamental is what happens when tens—possibly hundreds—of thousands put in a late application and have to wait for a decision? Will an EU national still be able to keep working as a carer in our NHS in the meantime, for example, or to rent the flat that they are staying in while they are waiting weeks and possibly months for a decision? Surely the answer to that must be yes. But is it?

The answer is yes. Providing the application is received by 30 June, while the application is being considered—and if it is made on 30 June, clearly it will be decided after 30 June—that particular person will be able to continue working and living as normal with status. So the critical point is to make sure that the application is made by 30 June.

On 26 May, in response to a question from the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry), the Prime Minister told the House that the law would be “merciful” to any EU citizens left in a “difficult position” after the EU settlement scheme deadline passes on 30 June. Further to that, I note that today the Home Office website says that late applications to the scheme will be accepted if there are “reasonable grounds” for missing the deadline. Can the Minister assure me that the mercy that the Prime Minister spoke about will guarantee that no one who is entitled to EU settled status but has missed the deadline will lose their rights or access to benefits, or be forcibly detained or removed? Can he tell me how long the late application provision to the scheme will remain open for?

I reiterate the critical point that people should apply before the 30 June deadline, which is already six months after the end of the transition period. The shadow Minister is right and, indeed, the Prime Minister was right as well. If somebody does apply late and there are reasonable grounds for them to have done so—for example, they might have been ill—then latitude will be shown. There is no hard time deadline to that. A reasonable approach will be taken, but again, the best thing to do for any constituent who is entitled to EUSS is to apply for it before 30 June.

People Smuggling

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this. People smuggling is a wicked and vicious activity that puts lives at risk. Indeed, a young family tragically drowned in the channel last autumn. We are prosecuting people who are involved in people smuggling. Since the beginning of 2020, there have been 65 prosecutions related to small boat crossings for those people facilitating that sort of activity. We are now explicitly going after the people who drive these boats, and our objective is to prosecute as many of those wicked facilitators as we can get our hands on.

Does the Minister recognise the public anger at us being made fools of in this? Border Force is little more than a taxi service for illegal migrants—it is ridiculous. Will the Minister assure me that he will use his powers under the Immigration Act 1971 to arrest all illegal immigrants, put them in detention, prosecute them, imprison them and deport them, so that we can stop this horrible trade dead in its tracks?

I completely share my right hon. Friend’s anger at the situation, and the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister do as well. As I say, we are actively prosecuting the facilitators. In the forthcoming sovereign borders Bill, as part of the new plan for immigration, we plan to significantly strengthen the section 24 illegal entry offence in the 1971 Act, to which he refers, to make it easier to use and easier to implement in practice. At the same time, we will increase the sentence for illegal entry and the sentence for facilitation under section 25 of the Act. I look forward to working with him on getting that Bill passed as quickly as possible and then implemented.

EU Citizens: Settled Status

What steps she is taking to ensure that EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain will not be required to apply for EU settled status. (901006)

It is my lucky day today, Mr Speaker. It is, of course, open to EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain to apply for EU settled status. Some of them choose to do so because the rules are slightly better for EUSS in terms of the ability to leave the country for a particular period and the family reunion rules. There is no obligation on people with ILR to apply for EUSS, but it is a choice that each individual may or may not choose to make according to their own personal wishes and circumstances.

I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, and I would like to offer my condolences to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster).

Many constituents of mine who have previously been granted indefinite leave to remain have received letters suggesting that they should apply for EU settled status instead. This has created a great deal of consternation and a fear that their indefinite leave to remain status may not be valid in the future. Can the Minister tell me why those letters were sent? It is not clear to people whether or not they should be applying for EU settled status. Could he give a clear answer to my constituents on this matter?

My understanding is that those people with ILR who are also eligible for EUSS can continue to enjoy ILR whether or not they apply for EUSS. Letters were sent out to people who might be eligible for EUSS, but I believe those letters did make it clear that someone who received those letters who was already naturalised as a British citizen or indeed had ILR needed to take no further action. If the hon. Lady thinks those letters were unclear, I will be happy to look into it further, but I understand that they were worded in such way as made it clear that no further action was taken in the circumstances she describes.

Investigations into Police Conduct

What steps she is taking to reduce the length of time taken to conclude investigations into police conduct. (901007)

Last year, the Government introduced wide-ranging reforms to the police complaints and discipline system, including a 12-month trigger requiring the investigating body to provide a written explanation for any delays. Significant improvements have already been made, and we will continue to monitor the timeliness of investigations conducted by both forces and the Independent Office for Police Conduct through data collection.

Even under the new Home Office system, only around 80% of police conduct investigations are resolved within 12 months. The remaining cases linger on far longer, with a detrimental effect on those involved. Does the Minister agree with the Police Federation that we need action to fix the system now—not, as the Minister has said, allowing it to bed in—as no one benefits from long drawn-out investigations?

I share the hon. Lady’s view that no one benefits from long drawn-out investigations, and it is absolutely our aspiration to shorten investigation times as much as we possibly can, bearing in mind the impact on both the officer who is under investigation and those who are making the accusation. It is worth bearing in mind that delays in investigations often happen for complex reasons, particularly in very difficult investigations, which are not necessarily within the control of the investigating body. While I understand and sympathise with the Fed’s desire to shorten investigation time, it is worth bearing in mind that our overriding interest should be in quality and thoroughness, rather than in hitting some kind of arbitrary deadline. However, I do meet regularly the director general of the IOPC and we do monitor very closely how long investigations are taking. It did inherit 538 investigations from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which it has now managed to get down to three, and I think currently it only has 30 investigations that have taken longer than 12 months.

New Sentencing Powers: Levels of Crime

What assessment she has made of the potential effect of new sentencing powers on levels of crime. (901008)

This Government are serious about fighting crime and making sure the criminal justice system is one the public can have confidence in. That is why the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through this House sees the sentences for causing death by dangerous driving being increased to life. It is why many of the most serious offences, including rape, will see the perpetrators spend longer in prison, while at the same time we make sure that those people with drug and alcohol addictions get the treatment they deserve. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree that these are measures that will build public confidence and keep the public safer.

I want to congratulate the Government on their plans to extend sentences for the deplorable crime of assaulting our emergency workers. Is not it now time for a specific offence of assaulting shop workers and other customer-facing frontline workers, given that the number of assaults on them since this pandemic started has doubled?

My right hon. Friend is right: we are of course doubling the sentence for assaulting—for the common assault of—an emergency worker from one year to two years, which I think is widely welcomed across the House. In relation to other people who deal with the public—not just retail workers, but transport workers, teachers, postmen and women and other people who deal with the public—that is already taken account of in the Sentencing Council guidelines, which makes it an aggravating factor if the victim deals with the public. Therefore, judges can reflect that when handing down sentences. There is a Westminster Hall debate later on today on this very topic, and I am very much looking forward to discussing it in more detail then.

EU Settlement Scheme

What rights will be protected for EU citizens and non-EU family members unable to apply to the EU settlement scheme by the 30 June 2021 deadline. (901010)

In relation to EU citizens who are granted EUSS status, where their family who are not EU citizens reside in the United Kingdom, they can apply for EUSS status as well. For close family members who are not in the United Kingdom at present, they are able to join the person who is granted EUSS status. If it is a child under the age of 21, that is automatic. If it is parents, grandparents or children over the age of 21 where there is a degree of dependency, they can join as well. So I think those are extremely generous arrangements—far more generous than the arrangements for other cohorts of people.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Even where the guidance provides a route back to status, it will not protect EU citizens who missed the deadline from hostile environment policies, or prevent them from being denied access to homelessness assistance and free NHS care, as recently confirmed by other Departments. Will the Minister assure the House that EU citizens and non-EU family members who miss the deadline will maintain the right to such assistance, and be able to continue working without fear of criminal liability?

On the deadline, I will repeat what I said earlier: the critical thing is to encourage constituents, very strongly, to apply by that deadline. If somebody misses the deadline, of course they can apply where they have reasonable grounds to do so. Guidance is about to be published on precisely what will happen to those who miss the deadline. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government intend to take a reasonable and proportionate approach, and I ask him to wait just a short time until that guidance is published.

Immigration: British Armed Forces Interpreters

What steps she is taking to ensure that interpreters who assisted British armed forces overseas will be included as part of reforms to the immigration system. (901011)

The Government owe an immense debt of gratitude to the brave interpreters who worked alongside our armed forces overseas. In April we launched the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, under which any current or former staff members in Afghanistan who are at risk are offered priority relocation to the United Kingdom, regardless of their employment status, rank, role, or length of service.

It is a real pleasure to submit a question asking for a change in policy, and for that to happen one week later, so I congratulate the Government, and particularly the Home Secretary, on this long overdue change of heart. It is right that we accelerate the relocation scheme for Afghan interpreters and their families—people who have protected us and our country so well for so long. In view of worrying reports in the press last week, will my right hon. Friend clarify that not only Afghan interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Defence but sub-contracted interpreters will share the right to those Afghan relocations?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the entire House should pay tribute to those who worked alongside our armed forces in Afghanistan, in harrowing conditions. The Defence Secretary and I were determined to ensure that this policy went through. In light of what is taking place in Afghanistan now, with further withdrawal and drawdown, it is right that we reach out to those who, as my right hon. Friend said, are part of that wider support network and have worked with our armed forces.

Online Harms

The Home Office is working across Government to tackle online harms though the online safety Bill and other measures. That Bill will be a truly world-leading and much needed piece of legislation to make the UK the safest place to be online. Although the draft Bill will be scrutinised by Parliament, the Government continue to work nationally and internationally to tackle online harms, including through the G7 and Five Country Governments.

The ease with which even primary school-aged children can access extreme but legal pornography is frightening, and it is warping a whole generation’s view of healthy sexual relationships. Will the Minister assure me that the longstanding issue of age verification for legal pornography will finally be addressed in the online safety Bill?

This issue concerns many Members across the House, and it has been voiced by many parents across the country. We must consider not just the online safety Bill, but the wider question of education and ensuring that our children are taught what is a healthy relationship and what is not. The hon. Lady will know the massive progress made by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which set out clear parameters regarding the so-called rough sex defence as well as non-fatal strangulation. She will know that discussions are ongoing with the Departments for Education and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about how we can cement that approach in legislation and, crucially, through education.

The director general of MI5 has said that Facebook is giving terrorists a “free pass” by introducing end-to-end encryption, which effectively blocks the security and intelligence services from monitoring suspects and potential plots. Despite what the Minister said, the online safety Bill is very vague—in fact, some might say it is a bit wishy-washy—when it comes to measures to counter these dangerous activities, so will she commit today to treating this matter with the seriousness and urgency that it requires and that Ken McCallum has demanded?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the seriousness with which the Home Secretary, and also the Prime Minister and the Government, take such matters. I do not agree with his description of the online safety Bill. Indeed, he will note the confidence with which the Government have put it forward as a draft Bill in order to allow Parliament to scrutinise it. On Facebook and its activities, it should be in no doubt that under the new Bill as it stands at the moment, it will be held to account for its activities. The development of its systems is a matter for it, and it must justify that to the public and to this Government.

Child Safety Online

I, too, am earning my salary this afternoon, Mr Speaker! We are working across Government and internationally to ensure that children are safe on the internet. We continue to encourage companies to endorse and implement the voluntary principles to counter online child sexual exploitation and abuse, which we launched in March last year in collaboration with Five Country Governments, and we are engaging the G7 on how we go further in our collective response to protect children. We have published our draft online safety Bill, and companies will be required to take stringent action to tackle the growing and evolving threat of child sexual exploitation and abuse on their platforms.

Will the Minister please outline the support that her Department is giving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with the online safety Bill and confirm that internet companies that break the law will be heavily prosecuted and heavily fined?

Indeed. Of course the Home Office has been working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, at both official and ministerial level, in developing the draft Bill. We remain fully committed to making the UK the safest place to be online while defending freedom of expression, and we believe that the Bill achieves that. The strongest protections in the Bill are reserved for children, and I can confirm that Ofcom, the independent regulator, will have a range of tough enforcement powers to use against companies that fail to fulfil their duties. Those include fines of up to £18 million or 10% of qualifying annual global turnover, whichever is greatest.

Allegations of Rape: Effective Investigations

What steps her Department is taking to ensure effective investigations by the police of allegations of rape to help improve the number of cases that result in charges being made. (901015)

Supporting victims of sexual violence and abuse is an important priority for this Government. In the past five years, we have seen a significant decline in the number of charges, prosecutions and convictions for rape. That is why we have carried out a robust end-to-end review of the criminal justice response. The review will be published shortly and will set out clear action to reverse this trend and to ensure that victims receive the support they deserve and that perpetrators face justice.

There is currently a backlog of 57,000 cases in the Crown court, with victims of rape and serious sexual violence often left to wait years to go to trial. Sadly, they are the minority who received sufficient support to bring a case forward in the first place. Will the Minister commit to bringing forward urgently proposals for the fast-tracking of rape and serious sexual assault cases? Will he also confirm the creation of specialist rape and serious sexual violence units in every police force to ensure that cases are brought against alleged perpetrators?

Two of the key planks of the work that we will be undertaking in this area—indeed, we have started already—are, first, yes, to shorten the timeframe between a report and a case getting to court, and secondly, to develop expertise throughout the system to ensure that victims get the justice they need, but in particular that investigations focus on perpetrators.

To follow up on what has just been said, rape prosecutions in England and Wales are at their lowest on record. One third of all the violent crime recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related, and now only 1.6% of rape cases are even being charged, let alone convicted. That is all according to the latest figures from the Home Office. This situation is untenable and it is worsening on the Home Secretary’s watch. The Government are leaving dangerous rapists and violent offenders on our streets and in our communities, so will the Minister and the Department back calls to ensure that violence against women and girls is included in the definition of serious violence in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including domestic abuse-related violence and all sexual violence?

In the urgent question that I answered on this subject not two weeks ago, I expressed serious regret about the conviction numbers that the hon. Lady mentions. It is not a situation that any of us should be happy with, and we have confirmed as a Government that we will do our utmost to turn that around. She will understand, I know, because she is from the west midlands, that we will need the assistance of police and crime commissioners and chief constables to do so. I hope that she will join us in urging them to play their part in what will be the enormous task of turning this particular challenge around.

As for the serious violence duty, that will no doubt be debated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), during the Bill Committee, but I would hope, whether or not there is a statutory duty for everybody to play their part in dealing with this problem, that all those other organisations—whether that means health or local authorities, or, indeed, police and crime commissioners—will step forward anyway, because the moral case is strong and I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will make it with us.

Immigration Detention for Women

What steps her Department is taking to reduce the use of immigration detention for women who have survived torture, rape or trafficking. (901016)

The use of detention, including the detention of women for immigration purposes, has reduced significantly over the past few years. In particular, for women who have survived torture, rape or trafficking it is used extremely sparingly, if ever. There is an adults-at-risk policy, which makes sure that people who have suffered in that way are detained only in extremely rare cases where the vulnerability is outweighed by very serious risk, for example, to public safety. Those exceptions are extremely rare.

The Minister says that these cases are extremely rare, but an immigration removal centre for women is set to open in the north-east on the former Medomsley detention centre site, despite, as he said, the Home Office previously committing to reducing its use of detention for women. Research shows that many detainees are survivors of torture, rape or trafficking, and detaining women in this way severely impacts on their mental health. Does he agree that reopening the Medomsley site should be reviewed and that immigration cases can be resolved more humanely and at less cost in the community?

First, I remind the hon. Lady again that the use of detention in general and for women in particular has reduced very significantly already over the past few years. Secondly, Hassockfield is replacing the Yarl’s Wood facility, which is being converted for mainly male use and, therefore, the number of female places for immigration detention as a result is going down dramatically. Thirdly, no, we are not going to review the use of Hassockfield—first, for the reason I have just mentioned, it actually represents a reduction in total numbers, and, secondly, because the adults-at-risk policy very actively, carefully and thoughtfully weighs up vulnerability against questions of detention. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) has been fully engaged on this issue. The new centre will create local jobs, and, as I said, it will also represent a reduction in the women’s detention footprint.

EU Settlement Scheme: Children in Care

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that children in care can apply for settled status after the EU settlement scheme deadline has passed. (901017)

We will take steps to ensure that children in care are handled sensitively. As I mentioned in answer to previous questions, if someone misses the 30 June deadline, where they have reasonable grounds for doing so—that could conceivably very well apply to children in care—discretion will be exercised and a late application accepted.

I welcome the Government’s commitment that we will learn lessons from Windrush and ensure that vulnerable people, especially children, do not find themselves with a question mark over their status in years to come. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the offer of support to care leavers making applications out of time includes those who were aged 18 to 25—and therefore had care leaving status under the Children Act 1989—before 31 December 2020, not just those who were under 18 at the time? Will he consider tweaking the case study provided in the Home Office guidance to make that absolutely clear?

As I mentioned earlier, we are doing a great deal of active outreach via grant-funded organisations, in particular with local authorities, to make sure that vulnerable people of the kind my hon. Friend describes are reached. I can give him an assurance that the care leavers he describes are potentially included, because the reasonable grounds provision potentially applies to anybody. Anyone who misses the deadline, whether they are a care leaver or, indeed, anyone else, can make the case that they have reasonable grounds for having missed the deadline, so they are absolutely included. The list of case studies is, of course, non-exhaustive; it is designed not to list everything, but to give a few examples. Anybody can apply for the reasonable grounds exemption. I repeat that anyone who thinks that they are eligible should apply by 30 June. That is the best way to make sure that their case is handled properly and fairly.

Topical Questions

Since the House last met for Home Office questions, the anniversaries of several terror attacks have passed. I know that the House will want to join me in marking them and remembering those who have lost their lives in these terrible atrocities.

On 29 April 2013, Mohammed Saleem was stabbed to death as he returned from worshipping at his mosque. On 22 May 2013, Fusilier Lee Rigby was murdered near the Royal Artillery barracks in Woolwich. Exactly four years later, a bomb at the Manchester Arena killed 22 concertgoers and wounded hundreds more. On 3 June 2017, eight people were murdered and many more were wounded around London bridge and Borough market. Another anniversary is imminent: that of our much-loved and widely admired colleague Jo Cox, who was murdered on 16 June 2016. Last month saw the verdict of the inquest into the terror attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019, which claimed the lives of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.

The Government and our operational partners have taken action to strengthen the supervision of terror offenders on licence and end the automatic release of terrorist prisoners. We have improved information sharing and established world-leading counter-terrorism operation centres.

We all recognise how truly evil all those acts were, because they were directed at innocent people going about their daily lives, who were worshipping, listening to music or seeing their friends, as well as—at their best—doing public service for others. Yet the outpouring of grief and love that followed, the heroism of the first responders and the resolute way in which the British people refused to be cowed have shown the best of our country. Terrorists can hurt us, but they will never win. We will always honour those who were killed and the people who love them, and the Government will continue to give every support to the police and security services, who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.

Does the Home Secretary recall that I wrote to her on 20 April on behalf of Aid to the Church in Need about the case of Maira Shahbaz? I still await a reply. Maira is a 15-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan, who was raped, abducted and kidnapped, and is now in hiding. We need to help her. Will the Home Secretary meet Aid to the Church in Need and me?

My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important case. I have been working with colleagues in the House on this for a considerable period of time. I would be very happy to meet him and others. There have been some barriers around the case in the past, but I give him an assurance that we are proactively looking at all the help that we can provide.

I join the Home Secretary in remembering all the victims of terrorism to whom she referred. We send out a strong message from across the House that those who seek to divide us with hatred will never win. The words of our late friend and colleague Jo Cox that we have

“more in common than that which divides us”

seem particularly apt as we remember all those victims.—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.] I would also like to pass on my condolences to the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster).

Yet again, on the weekend, there was briefing about the easing of restrictions on 21 June possibly being put back to 5 July. It is the delta variant, first discovered in India, that is causing such great concern, after the Government dithered and delayed in adding India to the red list. Now we have had dangerous mixed messaging about the amber list. The Opposition have warned about this time and again. Can the Home Secretary tell us how many travellers from India arrived between 9 and 23 April, and how many people have arrived here from amber list countries since 17 May?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. Specifically with regard to health measures at the border, he will recognise that throughout this pandemic the Government have taken all the essential and necessary steps to protect the public and to help prevent the spread of the virus, and even more so as we emerge from the incredible vaccine roll-out programme.

The right hon. Gentleman will also recognise that we have the most stringent border measures in the world to protect public health because of that vaccine roll-out programme, and we have always followed scientific advice. That absolutely relates to the Indian variant and to the very strict border measures that have been backed by strict enforcement measures, along with compliance checks, not just by Border Force, who are checking 100% of all passengers coming into the country and leveraging fines of up to £10,000, but by the isolation assurance service. I would also point out that after topical questions, the Health Secretary will be making a further statement on covid and covid restrictions, which the right hon. Gentleman will be interested in and will want to pay attention to.

I did not detect an answer to either of my questions in that response, and the Home Secretary knows perfectly well that we do not have the most stringent border measures in the world. The only reasonable conclusion is that the Government are not learning from their mistakes and that our border protections are in chaos. It is a clear and dangerous pattern: late to home quarantining; late to mandatory testing at the border; late to hotel quarantining; and today, she cannot even say how many people arrived in the UK from India as the delta variant was taking hold. This is a Government who like to talk tough on borders, but is it not the truth that when it comes to protecting people from covid and its variants, this Government’s policy is weak, weak, weak?

It goes without saying that I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I disagree with his assertion, which is absolutely incorrect, that the UK’s border measures are lax. From January last year, the Government set out a comprehensive set of measures ranging from Foreign Office advice and guidance right through to the development of the passenger locator form and the managed hotel quarantine service. That service now includes not only Heathrow airport but a range of airports such as Birmingham and Manchester because of the level of red-listing since April, which we have rightly taken seriously, and because of the Indian variant. We have followed all the scientific advice that has come from Government advisers with regard to the red-listing of India. This is well-trodden ground, and alongside that, all the facts have been published on the number of passengers who have come to our country from red-listed countries and the way in which the Government lists red countries and amber countries.

I remind those on both Front Benches that topical questions are meant to be short and punchy, so we do need to get on. I have quite a list.

I am sure that the Home Secretary must share my frustration and that of my constituents about the volume of migrants coming across the channel by dinghy, often being escorted here in the process. Can she assure my constituents when real action will be taken to stop this flow, and will she introduce a regime whereby people who try to claim asylum, and who come here from an already safe country such as France, will be automatically deported and sent back there? That will make a big difference in stopping them coming here in the first place. (900972)

My hon. Friend is already making the case for a Bill that has yet to be introduced in Parliament, which contains the new plan for immigration. The date is coming for its introduction and Second Reading. He is absolutely right: the British public are fed up and demoralised by what we have been seeing. I have been very clear to my Department over the last 12 months about operational activity from Border Force, and I have now asked the Department to urgently investigate the circumstances behind the incidents at the weekend that have been reported on. My hon. Friend makes a fundamental point, which is that people who are seeking to claim asylum should claim asylum in the first safe country. They should not be making these dangerous crossings, which, as we have heard today, have led to catastrophic and devastating loss of life too many times.

May I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), on her forthcoming trip to Wembley?

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. When I asked the Home Secretary in February whether she followed public health advice when putting people in large dormitories in Napier barracks in the middle of a pandemic, she told our Committee that it was

“all based on Public Health England advice”

and that

“we have been following guidance in every single way”.

Last week, however, a damning court judgment said:

“The ‘bottom line’ is that the arrangements at the Barracks were contrary to the advice of PHE… The precautions which were taken were completely inadequate to prevent the spread of Covid”.

It stated that the outbreak was “inevitable”. Will the Home Secretary now correct the record and explain why she did not follow public health advice in the middle of a pandemic, thus putting people’s health and lives at risk?

First, let me be very clear to this House that at every single stage I have been clear about the need to protect public health and to stop the spread of the virus, and that is in relation to Napier barracks, which the right hon. Lady is referring to. Of course we will study the judgment and, in the light of that, look at various measures we may need to bring in. However, the Department did work fully with Public Health England—I have maintained that, and I still maintain that point. When it comes to delivery and putting in place the wide range of covid-compliant measures that were in place—everyone in this House and across the country would expect that of the Home Office—we were absolutely dealing with the pandemic in the right way, working with PHE and other stakeholders. For the benefit of the House, let me say that that also included rigorous cleaning, hand sanitiser, social distancing and a range of healthcare provisions and welfare provisions that were put in place at Napier. So I come back to the point that at every stage I was clear about—

I welcome that the recent Queen’s Speech said that the sovereign borders Bill will come forward in this Session, but in recent weeks thousands of illegal migrants have crossed the English channel, as we have heard. What actions will the Department take now to ensure that both the French authorities and the UK Border Force are not aiding and abetting such illegal and dangerous crossings? (900973)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right again on this point. I have mentioned that in my own instructions, I have been very clear with my Department and with the commander who oversees these Border Force operations that they should not be going into French territorial waters—that is absolutely wrong and there is now an investigation into that. Fundamentally, our work with the French continues, but, working with our counterparts in Belgium and in the Netherlands, where I was last week, we have to work upstream to stop these illegal crossings and break up the gangs who are facilitating illegal migration.

May we have apologies from the Home Secretary, first, to the thousands of destitute asylum seekers across the UK who have endured days and weeks without any support because of the botched handling of the Aspen card handover and, secondly, to the people she placed in danger, including through an inevitable coronavirus outbreak, by sending them to Napier barracks, against clear PHE advice? What has been done to fix these latest asylum system scandals?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments I made earlier about Napier barracks. Let us be clear that the Government are absolutely doing everything possible—I make no apology for this—within my powers, to meet our legal duties to provide shelter and accommodation to those in need during the exceptional times of this coronavirus pandemic. Of course, that is in line with the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, and that also refers to the way in which we financially support and house asylum seekers.[Official Report, 17 June 2021, Vol. 697, c. 4MC.] When it comes to Napier barracks, the provisions had been put in place in terms of welfare, catering, accommodation, cleaning, laundry facilities and non-governmental organisation support, along with other recreational facilities, such as yoga classes, and migrant helplines. That is all in line with our statutory duties and responsibilities, so I simply do not agree with the representation of the hon. Gentleman.

This year, more than 3,500 men, women and children have illegally crossed the channel, after paying thousands and thousands of pounds to evil human trafficking gangs. If the Home Secretary were the President of France, would she not be totally embarrassed by the complete failure of the French Government to properly look after asylum seekers in France, to such an extent that they risk their lives to flee France to get to England? (900974)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are working with our French counterparts—I will be very clear about that—and we should recognise that upstream migration flows into France are a serious issue. But, of course, asylum seekers should be claiming asylum in the first safe country; that does include France, and it includes many other EU member states that, because of the open borders policy across the EU, people are just transiting through. Our French counterparts absolutely must do more, and we are constantly impressing this point on them.

In January I asked the Home Secretary about Napier barracks, highlighting the unsafe, inhumane conditions. She told me “to listen to the facts”—[Official Report, 26 January 2021; Vol. 688, c. 178.]Well, here are the facts. On Thursday the High Court ruled that the conditions were unlawful. They were described as “squalid” in court, and evidence suggests that Public Health England guidance was not, and is still not, being followed. So I ask the Home Secretary: how many people are currently sleeping in each dormitory, why is Public Health England guidance still not being followed, and why did she claim that the standards were very high when they were unlawful? (900971)

That is absolutely incorrect in terms of the misrepresentation from the hon. Lady. I have already made it abundantly clear that I have been vigorous in following and making clear the need to protect public health and stop the spread of the virus. Not only that: I make no apology for doing everything in my power to fulfil our legal duties to provide shelter to people who otherwise would have been destitute; to provide accommodation to people who otherwise have been sleeping in dirty, makeshift tents in France and in other European countries, on the streets; and to provide them with beds, food, clean sanitation, access to healthcare and access to welfare provision. That is not putting forward squalid conditions.

The Home Secretary will know that I am a steadfast supporter of hers, but I now need her help. How can I explain to my constituents, and indeed to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), that the repeated images of Border Force vessels bringing illegal immigrants to our shores, and judges’ ruling that Army barracks are not good enough for those immigrants when they are for our brave armed forces, are events aligned with taking back control of our borders and laws? (900976)

My hon. Friend makes a very important, and in fact poignant, point about some of the reforms we will be making through our new plan for immigration, which will absolutely tackle many of these issues, bringing in a one-stop shop and stopping the appeals that we face again and again, which stop us actually removing individuals who should not be claiming asylum in the United Kingdom or who are here illegally. Fundamentally, these reforms, when they come through the House, will absolutely set the tone for reform of our asylum system and send a very clear message to those seeking to claim asylum and come to our country illegally that they should be claiming asylum in the first safe country and not taking dangerous and perilous journeys across the channel.

Can I just say that I really am disappointed that we only got 10 questions in within 15 minutes? All Members deserve an opportunity to get their question in. I hope that those Members who took longer than normally expected will think about others next time. So please, Front Bench, we need speedier replies.

We are now going to suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.

Speaker's Statement

Before we move to the statements, I want to say something about the selection of amendments and new clauses to the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency Bill.

I told the House in my statement on 29 January 2020 that as Speaker of the House, I am committed to transparency and I respect and trust the advice from Clerks in this House. As the House knows and as “Erskine May” states:

“The Chair is not expected to give reasons for the decision on selection of amendments.”

However, on an exceptional basis, I want to say something about why new clause 4 has not been selected. I am doing so on this occasion because of the high level of interest in the new clause in the House and outside it.

Amendments and new clauses that are not within the scope of the Bill are out of order. “Erskine May” states:

“The scope of a bill represents the reasonable limits of its collective purposes, as defined by its existing clauses and schedules.”

In this instance, having taken advice from the House’s senior Clerks and the Office of Speaker’s Counsel, I have deemed new clause 4 to be outside the scope of the Bill. New clause 4 is therefore not selected and may not be debated today.

I wish to make a further point. As we all know, the Government have, through our Standing Orders, significant control over the business the House considers on any given day, and its control is particularly strong when it comes to the initiation of public expenditure. Under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the target for official development assistance to the amount of 0.7% of gross national income is met by the United Kingdom each year. Until now, however, the House has not—I repeat, not—had an opportunity for a decisive vote on maintaining the UK’s commitment to the statutory target of 0.7%. I expect the Government to find a way to have this important matter debated and to allow the House formally to take an effective decision.

I should say that, on an exceptional basis, I will hear and consider for debate, to be held tomorrow, any applications made under Standing Order No. 24 by 5.30 pm today. Applications should reach my office no later than 5 o’clock this afternoon.

Having taken this exceptional step of explaining my decision on selection in this case, I will take only one point of order, from the lead Member for the proposed amendment, Andrew Mitchell.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your statement, of course I completely accept that you are the referee on these matters, and that is that, but the Government Front Bench are treating the House of Commons with disrespect. They are avoiding a vote on the commitments that each of us made, individually and collectively, at the last general election on a promise made internationally, and in the opinion of some of Britain’s leading lawyers, the Government are acting unlawfully.

Had we secured a vote on the new clause tonight, I can assure the House that it would have secured the assent of the House by not less than a majority of nine, and probably of around 20 votes.

In the week of the British chairmanship of the G7, the Government’s failure to address this issue will indisputably mean that hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths will result. It is already attracting criticism from all round the other members of the G7. What advice do you have, Mr Speaker, for my right hon. and hon. Friends and I to seek to stop the Government riding roughshod over Parliament in this way and seeking to thwart our democratic rights as Members of the House of Commons?

Can I first thank the right hon. Member for the courtesy of giving me advance notice of this point of order?

On the first point—that Government may have behaved unlawfully—I have to advise the right hon. Member that that will be a matter for the courts to determine, not me, as he is well aware. I know that he has worked very hard in looking at that, if it were needed.

On the right hon. Member’s more general point, I have already expressed my view that the House should be given an opportunity to make an effective—I repeat, an effective—decision on this matter. I have also indicated that I would, exceptionally, be prepared to accept an application today for an emergency debate tomorrow.

I would say that I share the House’s frustration. It is quite right that this House should not continue to be taken for granted, but we must do it in the right way. I believe the Government need to show respect and need to come forward—I totally agree with the right hon. Member—because not only the House but the country needs this matter to be debated and aired, and an effective decision to be taken.

I have now put that on the record, and I hope that the Government will take up the challenge and give the House its due respect, which it deserves. We are the elected Members. The House should be taken seriously and the Government should be accountable here. I wish and hope that that is taken on board very quickly. I do not want it to drag on. If not, we will then look to find other ways in which we can move forward. I am taking no more points of order.

Covid-19 Update

Before I call the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I would like to point out that the British sign language interpretation of the statement will be available to watch on Parliament TV.

I would like to update the House on our work to beat this pandemic and to make sure that the world is prepared for the pandemics of the future.

Tomorrow, we mark six months since the world began vaccinating against covid-19 at Coventry Hospital. In that time, we have vaccinated over 40 million people here in the UK, and 2 billion doses have been delivered across the globe. As of today, 76% of UK adults have been vaccinated at least once, and 52% of adults have had two jabs. The pace of the vaccine roll-out has been extraordinary. This Saturday alone, the team delivered over 675,000 jabs, and I am delighted to be able to tell the House that, from this week, we will start offering vaccinations to people under 30, bringing us ever closer to the goal of offering a vaccine to all adults in the UK by the end of next month.

From tomorrow morning, we will open up vaccination to people aged 25 to 29. Over the remainder of this week, the NHS will send texts to people in those age groups, and, of course, GPs will be inviting people on their list to come forward. I am sure we have all been cheered by the images we have seen of so many eligible young people coming forward and lining up to get the jab, showing that the enthusiasm for the jab is not just the preserve of older generations. The people of this country know what it takes to keep themselves and the people around them safe. The latest estimates indicate that the vaccination programme has averted over 39,000 hospitalisations and over 13,000 deaths. So the vaccination brings us hope, and I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking people for their perseverance and patience as they have waited for their turn.

For all that great progress, there is no room for complacency. The delta variant, first identified in India, has made the race between the virus and the vaccination effort tighter. Although the size of the delta variant’s growth advantage is unclear, the recent best scientific estimate is of an advantage of at least 40% over the previously dominant alpha variant—the so-called Kent variant. The delta variant now makes up the vast majority of all new infections in this country.

Over the past week, we have seen case rates rise, particularly in the north-west of England, but we know also that our surge testing system can help hold this growth. In Bolton, case rates over the past fortnight have been falling. We have expanded the approach taken in Bolton to other areas, and we will roll it out to other areas as necessary. I encourage everybody in those areas to get the tests on offer, no matter where they live. Regular tests can help to keep us all safe, and we know that the test, trace and isolate system has a vital role to play in keeping this all under control.

Of course, the most important tool we have is that vaccination programme. We know that the vaccine is breaking the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths—a link that was rock-solid back in the autumn. Despite the rise in cases, hospitalisations have been broadly flat. The majority of people in hospital with covid appear not to have had a vaccine at all. I want to update the House on some new information that we have on this. As of 3 June, our data show that of the 12,383 cases of the delta variant, 464 people went on to present at emergency care and 126 were admitted to hospital. Of those 126 people, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had received one dose and just three had received both doses of vaccine. We should all be reassured by that, because it shows that those vaccinated groups, who previously made up the vast majority of hospitalisations, are now in the minority. So the jabs are working, and we have to keep coming forward to get them. That includes, vitally, that second jab, which we know gives better protection against the delta variant.

The confidence in our jabs comes from the fact that they are working and the knowledge that they are the best way out of the pandemic. No one wants our freedoms to be restricted a single day longer than is necessary. I know the impact that these restrictions have on the things we love, on our businesses and on our mental health. It is still too early to make decisions on step 4. The road map has always been guided by the data and, as before, we need four weeks between steps to see the latest data and a further week, to give notice of our decision. So we will assess the data and announce the outcome a week today, on 14 June.

I know that these restrictions have not been easy. With our vaccine programme moving at such pace, I am confident that one day soon freedom will return. To do this, we must stay vigilant, especially at this time when schoolchildren are returning to classrooms after the half-term break and when we are seeing the highest rises in positive cases among secondary school-aged children. With schools returning today, it is vital that every secondary school-aged child takes a test twice a week to protect them, to help keep schools open and to stop transmission. That is crucial to stop the spread and to protect the education of their peers. While the evidence shows that the impact of covid on children is usually minimal, we also know that there is higher transmissibility among children, so the message to all parents of secondary school-aged children is: please get your child tested twice a week to help keep the pandemic under control and to help on the road to recovery.

The House will also be aware that our independent medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, has conducted a review of the clinical trial data for the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Having already concluded that the vaccine is safe and effective for people over the age of 16, it has also now concluded that the jab is safe and effective for children aged between 12 and 15 years old, with the benefits of vaccination clearly outweighing any risks. I can confirm to the House that I have asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the committee that advises us on immunisations, to come forward with clinical advice on vaccinating 12 to 17-year-olds, and we will listen to that clinical advice, just as we have done throughout the pandemic.

People in this country know that vaccines are the way out, but this pandemic will not be over until it is over everywhere. This week, the Prime Minister will host G7 leaders in Cornwall, where he will work to persuade our allies to join the UK in our historic commitment to vaccinate the whole world against covid-19 by the end of 2022. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has already proved to be a vital tool in this effort, with more than half a billion doses now released for supply around the world and, crucially, delivered at cost. In my view, this approach—providing vaccines at cost—is the best way to vaccinate the world. Developing a vaccine and allowing countries to manufacture it at cost is the greatest gift that this nation could have given the world during the pandemic.

In Oxford, ahead of this week’s G7 leaders summit, I met G7 Health Ministers and guests from some of the world’s largest democracies. Our new clinical trials charter, agreed in Oxford, will help end unnecessary duplication of clinical trials and ensure greater collaboration across borders, resulting in faster access to approve treatments and vaccines. We reached agreement with industry leaders to cut to just 100 days the time that it takes to develop and deploy new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. As a result of what we have agreed in Oxford, there will be people who will live who otherwise might have died, and I can think of no greater outcome than that.

In summary, beating this pandemic is not only an international imperative, but a domestic duty that falls on each one of us. We must keep up the basics, such as hands, face, space and fresh air, get regular tests and, of course, when we get the call, get both jabs, because that is the way that we can stop the spread and get out of this and restore the freedoms that we hold dear safely and together. I commend this statement to the House.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I am also grateful that he has confirmed that the Government’s approach continues to be driven by the data, not by dates. We face some uncertainty, as we often have done throughout the past 15 months, but we do know that the delta variant is now the dominant variant in the UK. We know that 73% of delta cases are in unvaccinated people. We know that one dose offers less protection against this particular variant, and we know that, although hospitalisations are low, an increase in hospitalisations will put significant pressures on the NHS as it tries to deal with the care backlog. We also know, of course, that long covid is significant and debilitating for many people.

I am an optimist and I strongly believe that, ultimately, vaccination is our way through this. Can the Secretary of State go further on vaccination? Is he able to do more to drive up vaccination rates in those areas that have seen the delta variant take off and where uptake remains low, such as Blackburn or my own city of Leicester? Can he narrow the timeframe between the first and second dose, given that we know that one dose is not as protective as we would like? We have seen that Wales will be vaccinating everyone over 18 from next week. Can he tell us when England will follow?

Yesterday, the Secretary of State talked about the outbreaks among schoolchildren and young people. We know that children can transmit the virus and that children can be at particular risk of long covid. In that context, may I ask again why mask wearing is no longer mandatory in secondary schools? I am pleased that he has asked the JCVI to look at vaccination for children; it is something that I have I pressed him on a number of times at the Dispatch Box. Can he give us a timeframe on when he expects the JCVI to report on that front?

The Secretary of State talks about the G7. The pandemic has certainly shown that in an interconnected world where climate change and biodiversity loss drive zoonotic spillovers, working internationally to prevent future outbreaks is in our interests. None of us is safe until all of us are safe. That is not a slogan; it is the fact of the situation that we are in. That means working internationally. For a start, it means not cutting international aid, but it also means working globally on our vaccination efforts. He will have seen today that Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and other ex-world leaders have put forward a G7 burden sharing plan that would vaccinate the world. Will the Government support it?

Finally, I welcome what the Secretary of State said about research. Research and science are our way through this pandemic, and our way through to curing so many other diseases and ailments. However, he will know that while we are in this pandemic—while GPs and frontline staff are stretched—patients are unaware that a whole load of GP-held patient data is about to be transferred to NHS Digital.

Now, I am not opposed to NHS data being used for public good research, but some of the most sensitive personal data shared with GPs by patients in confidence several years ago—potentially when in a state of vulnerability, such as termination of pregnancy, matters of domestic or sexual abuse and issues of substance misuse or alcohol abuse—is set to be shared with NHS Digital and potentially to be used by commercial interests, and yet hardly anyone knows about it. There are worries about safeguards and patient confidentiality. Given the secrecy, the haste and the difficulties in opting out, will the Secretary of State now consider abandoning this plan, pausing it for now and launching a transparent consultation process with patients and clinicians on how confidential data can best be shared for research purposes?

First, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of ensuring that we reduce transmission among children. It is true that the increase in case rates has predominantly been among children, especially secondary school-aged children. The testing regime among secondary school-aged children has been enthusiastically taken up by schools across the country. It is very important, as we return from half-term, that that is reinstated in full—that every child is being tested twice a week. It made a big difference in helping to keep schools open. If somebody tested positive at home before they went in, it meant that the whole bubble did not have to go home. It also prevented transmission up to older people, who might be more badly affected. Testing in schools is incredibly important to ensure that we can keep as much education as possible between now and the summer.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the JCVI advice on children’s vaccination that will be available in a matter of weeks. I know that the JCVI is working hard on it now. I will of course come to the House, Mr Speaker, to explain the proposed approach as soon as we have that formal advice.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the use of patient data. I am glad that he said how important he thought research based on data is within the NHS, because it is life-saving. It has been used incredibly powerfully during the pandemic. In fact, one of the reasons why the UK is the place where we discovered some of the life-saving treatments for covid, such as dexamethasone, is the powerful use of data. Just that discovery of dexamethasone, which happened through the use of NHS data, has saved over 1 million lives around the world.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of data, which he said belonged to GPs, being passed to NHS Digital. The truth is that data about his, my or anybody else’s medical condition does not belong to any GP; it belongs, rightly, to the citizen—the patient. That is the approach that we should take. I absolutely agree that it is important to do these things right and properly, but I am also very glad that the vast majority of people are strongly on side for the use of their data to improve lives and save lives. That is the approach that we are going to take in building a modern data platform for the NHS, so that we can ensure that we use this modern asset to improve individuals’ care and to improve research and therefore all our care, while of course preserving the highest standards of safety and privacy, which will be enhanced by a more modern use of data. I am glad that he is on side for the use of data in the NHS, but you have to be on side when that is actually put into practice. It is not just warm words; it is about making it happen.

It is incredibly encouraging that just three out of 12,000 cases of the delta variant were double-jabbed, but is the debate inside Government now about a potential short, temporary extension of the restrictions to allow more people to get both jabs or a more permanent slowing down of the easing of restrictions? That is a massive difference to all our constituents in terms of what may happen following the announcement next week.

Secondly, could the Secretary of State look at one particular group who have been very hard hit over the last year: the parents of disabled children? He will know about my constituent Laura Wilde, who took her nine-year-old daughter, who has cerebral palsy, to Lanzarote for physio that she was unable to get in England and is looking for flexibility in the quarantine rules when she comes back. Can we show more flexibility in exceptional cases such as that?

On the latter point, I am very happy to look at how the case of my right hon. Friend’s constituent Laura Wilde can fit with the exemptions that already apply for travel for medical purposes, along with the testing regime, to ensure that that is done in a safe way. I am happy to talk to colleagues at the Home Office about allowing that to happen.

On my right hon. Friend’s first point, it is reassuring that there is such a clear breakage of the previously inexorable link from cases through to hospitalisations. That is very good news, and it is why we have this race to get everybody vaccinated as soon as possible. If I can address those people in their late 20s who will be able to book a jab from tomorrow and others who might feel that, in their age group, they are unlikely to die of covid, the honest truth is that the best way for us to get our freedoms back and get back to normal is for everybody to come forward and get the jab. It really matters that we all come forward and do this, because that is the safest way out.

On my right hon. Friend’s specific question about our thinking on the 21 June step 4, not before date, the honest answer, which I will give to any question about this, is that it is too early to say. I tried to give a studiously neutral answer on the TV yesterday, which some people interpreted as gung-ho and others interpreted as overly restrictive. That is the nature of uncertainty, I am afraid. It is too early to say. We are looking at all the data, and the road map sets out the approach that we will take, which is that there is step 4 and then there are four distinct pieces of work, which are reports on what should happen after step 4 on social distancing, international travel, certification and the rest. We will assiduously follow the road map process that has been set out with the five-week gap—four weeks to accumulate the data, then taking a decision with a week to go. The Prime Minister will ultimately make those decisions and announce them in a week’s time.

I note that the Secretary of State is still considering ending all social distancing measures on 21 June, but does he not think that that would be dangerous in the face of rising cases of the significantly more infectious delta variant? Would it not be better to adhere to the Government’s mantra of being guided by data and not dates?

While it is welcome that half of adults are fully vaccinated, and Scotland has already started vaccinating those over 18, the Secretary of State must be aware that one dose of the current vaccines only provides 33% protection. Does he accept that that means we cannot rely on single dose vaccination to control this variant without social distancing measures? I and many other MPs repeatedly called for hotel quarantine to be applied to all arrivals in the UK to prevent exactly the situation we now face. He repeatedly claimed that home quarantine was working, but does he not accept that the importation and now dominance of the delta variant shows that is not true? With the current rise in cases of the delta variant threatening the progress made during almost five months of lockdown, does he regret the decision to delay adding India to the red list?

In light of the disruption caused by the shambles of changing Portugal’s classification this week, does the Secretary of State recognise that it has done neither holidaymakers nor the travel industry any favours? Will he now get rid of the traffic light system and tighten border quarantine policy so that we can avoid importing more vaccine-resistant variants and safely open up our domestic economy and society?

The Secretary of State talked today about the UK vaccinating the world, so can he say how many doses the UK has donated to COVAX? Does that mean the Government will support the sharing of intellectual property and technology and the trade-related intellectual property rights—or TRIPS—waiver so as to increase global vaccine production?

There is quite a lot that needs sorting in that. The first thing I would say is that the hon. Lady complains that I acted on Portugal when we saw the data, yet she complains that I did not act on India before we had the data. She cannot have it both ways. She asked me to follow data not dates, but then asked me to prejudge the data by making a decision about 21 June right now. I am a bit confused about that one, too, because I notice that the Scottish Government have themselves been reopening. That is a perfectly reasonable decision for the Scottish Government, but it is a bit rich then for the SNP spokesman to come to this House and have a go at us for deciding to look at the data over the next week, rather than prejudging that decision. It is quite hard to listen and not respond to explain what is actually going on.

The third point I will make is on international vaccination. Absolutely this country has stepped up to the plate. Of the 2 billion doses delivered around the world, half a billion have been the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford, with UK taxpayers’ money. It is, as I put it in my statement, a gift to the world. Of course we do not rule out donating excess doses as and when we have them, but only when we have excess doses, and I am sure the hon. Lady will accept that position is agreed not only by the UK Government, but by the devolved Administrations, because we all want to make sure that the people whom we serve get the chance to be vaccinated as soon as possible. That is our approach.

Finally, when it comes to intellectual property, we support intellectual property rights in this country. We could not get drugs to market in the way we manage to without support for intellectual property, because it is often necessary to put billions of pounds into research in order to get the returns over the medium term. What we did, more than a year ago, was agree with Oxford and AstraZeneca that there would be no charge for the intellectual property rights on this vaccine right around the world, and I am delighted that others are starting to take the same approach. Last month, Pfizer announced that in low and lower middle-income countries, it will not charge intellectual property, but we have been on this for more than a year now, so it is a bit rich to hear a lecture from north of the border.

May I ask the Secretary of State about his Department’s role in the latest international travel restrictions? First, what happened to the green watch list, giving more time to prepare for a switch to amber? Did he receive scientific advice that Portugal should be moved to amber, and, if so, will he publish that advice? Has the World Health Organisation recognised the Nepal delta mutation as a variant? Can he confirm that there were just 12 cases of this mutant in Portugal and three times as many in the UK? Ultimately, can he give me a milestone for when we can unlock international travel—perhaps the double-jabbing of over-50s and the clinically extremely vulnerable? Without that milestone, it is difficult to see how we can ever give this industry and workforce hope for their future.

My hon. Friend rightly asks these important questions about the decisions we had to take on Portugal. The truth is that we acted, yes, on the scientific advice: the advice of the joint biosecurity centre, based on the best information we had about this new variant—so-called delta AW, because it is a variant on the delta variant itself. We took that advice.

Restoring international travel in the medium term is an incredibly important goal that we need to work to. It is going to be challenging and hard because of the risk of new variants, and variants popping up in places such as Portugal that otherwise have a relatively low case rate. But the biggest challenge and the reason this is so difficult is that a variant that undermines the vaccine effort would undermine the return to domestic freedom, and that must be protected at all costs.

Thankfully, the delta variant itself, after two doses, gets effectively the same coverage as the old alpha variant or indeed the original variant, so the fact that that is now dominant in the UK does not put our strategy at risk. It makes it more of a challenge of getting from here to there, but that is a challenge for the decision this week and how we handle things in the short term; it does not put the strategy at risk. A variant that undermined the vaccine fundamentally would put us in a much more difficult place as a country, and that is why we are being as cautious as we are.

As the Secretary of State has pointed out himself, data has been key in the pandemic. I agree with him, having previously worked briefly for NHS Digital, that data saves lives. I also agree with him that patient data belongs to the patient, and one of the things I learned during my time working in data is that public trust is key. So why will the Secretary of State not pause this data collection programme, which patients must opt out of by 23 June, to mount a full public information and communication campaign and be explicit about how people’s sensitive data might be used and by whom?

We are explicit about that. I appreciate what the hon. Lady said about the importance of data and data saving lives, and I agree with her about the importance of trust and bringing people with you. In fact, a large majority of those in the NHS are now actively enthusiastic about using data better. I very much hope we can keep it that way, not least because everybody has now seen the importance of using data to manage a crisis. One of the reasons for the vaccine success—why it has been rolled out so effectively—is that the data architecture that underpins the vaccine roll-out is extremely effective, and I pay tribute to the people who built it.

In Harrow, because of the delta variant, we have surge testing in our schools: 13,000 young people have been tested at school and 12,000 relatives at home. This weekend, 3,280 vaccinations took place because we had two new pop-up vaccination centres for 18-year-olds and over. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the entire team who have made this massive project, so diligently followed, to enable people to be safe in Harrow, but will he also consider having further pop-up clinics for 18-year-olds so that we can get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible?

I pay tribute to the team at Harrow, and especially for the testing expansion. My hon. Friend said that there were 13,000 pupils and 12,000 of their relatives, and that includes me, because one of my children goes to school in the Harrow area. We got our PCR tests at home, we sat around the kitchen table and we all did them together, and I am glad to say they were all negative. This showed me—I felt like a mystery shopper —how effective this surge testing can be in making sure that we tackle these problems. We have seen that surge testing can work. We saw it in south London, where it worked. We have seen it in Bolton, where the case rate has come down. It has been used in Hounslow. It has been used in other specific areas, and I am glad it is now under way in Harrow to try to keep this under control.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, as always. He has been clear in the approach that has been taken to the Indian variant, which is currently posing difficulties. I am anxious to understand the level of co-operation and data-sharing with the devolved Assemblies. In particular, I am aware that we are dealing with possible cases in Kilkeel in County Down in Northern Ireland, where 1,000 homes have been visited and 900 tests carried out by a specialised mobile unit. It is clear that the Indian variant problem must have a UK solution presented.

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We talk about this when the Northern Ireland Health Minister and the Scottish and Welsh Health Secretaries join me on a weekly call. We are acutely aware of the importance of tackling the delta variant, as it is now called, and it is something we work on very closely together across the UK.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that what he said on “The Andrew Marr Show” was not a change of policy—a sudden retreat from the road map—and that no final decisions have been taken on what happens on 21 June? Can we still hope, in particular, that events involving big gatherings—weddings and all those kinds of things—can start up again, because they are so important both for our economy and jobs and for our quality of life?

Absolutely. As I said then, it is too early to make this decision. We have to look at the data and we will announce the decision next week. When answering a logical question of, “Are you open to delay?”, if you have not made a decision on whether to delay or not, by dint of logic, you are open to delay. That is, I think, a perfectly reasonable and logical answer to a question. It is an absolute classic: a politician answers a straight question with a straight answer and it causes all sorts of complications.

We have seen in the past year unprecedented restrictions on our freedoms, for reasons that we in this place predominantly entirely understand—the pressure on our national health service and the escalating hospitalisations and death rates. Given the statistics that the Secretary of State has just published and the tremendous success of the vaccination programme in preventing hospitalisations of people doubly vaccinated, what additional freedoms are won for those people, and should we now be considering whether people who have been doubly vaccinated should be able to get additional freedoms as it appears that they will not be the cause of large numbers of hospitalisations in the future?

The hon. Gentleman is obviously a mentor of his former leader, Tony Blair, who made this case at the weekend. We are looking into this question for certain occasions. It will be necessary for international travel. However, in this country we have moved together—everyone is treated equally—in the same way that the virus treats us equally. I note that Israel, which did bring this proposal in, has now removed it.

The Secretary of State’s announcement that we are opening up appointments for 25-year-olds will be warmly welcomed by many in the NHS in my area, so I thank him for that. On any possible delay to stage 4 of the road map on the 21st of this month, I totally get the logic that he is talking about; he is absolutely right to reserve judgment until one week before, as was always to be the case when the road map was published. However, may I gently press him to tell the House what we would be delaying for? Would it be a world without covid and therefore without any possibility of a variant of concern in the future, which I do not think is his belief? Can he see, though, why, for many, that would be to write covid a blank cheque and just continually delay?

That is an excellent question astutely put. The purpose of the road map, and the purpose of following the data within the road map and therefore having not-before dates, is that we are in a race between the vaccine programme and the virus, and with the delta variant the virus got extra legs. Our goal, sadly, is not a covid-free world, because that is impossible; the goal is to live with covid much as we live with some other unpleasant diseases, including, of course, flu. That does mean that there will be vaccinations long into the future; it means that, especially in winter, in hospitals for instance, we will have to be very careful to prevent infection from spreading; and it means that we will have to live with this virus and manage our way through it, but with the supreme power of science and the vaccine at our hand. That will be so powerful, and it is already proving, including through the data that I announced to the House just now, to be an incredibly powerful ally in getting us through this. However, at the moment, only 76% of people have had the jab and only 52% of people have had both jabs, and unlike with the previous variant, the second jab appears to be even more important this time around.

The Government’s former chief scientific adviser and the chair of Independent SAGE, Sir David King, warned today that current covid figures are

“evidence of another wave appearing”,

while the Office for National Statistics estimates a 76% increase in cases in England in the week ending 29 May. Given that the delta variant is more transmissible, has a higher risk of hospitalisation and has more vaccine escape the Kent variant, can the Secretary of State explain why he is not ruling out now any further lifting of restrictions on 21 June, so that we can get more adults double vaccinated first? Given that he acknowledges greater transmissibility among secondary pupils, will he look again at reversing the decision to end mask wearing in classrooms and at funding schools to enable them to increase ventilation? He says that he wants to keep schools open, and so do I, so why not take all the necessary steps to ensure that we can, and follow the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, Indie SAGE and many experts?

But why? Why on earth would you say, “I’m going to rule out doing something in two weeks’ time,” when we know that the extra data that we will get over the next week will help to make a more refined and more careful decision? I do not understand this argument that has been put by the SNP and the Green party that we should just make a decision now, when we will know more in a week’s time, so that is what we are going to do.

Now then, I see that our NHS has published its very own woke alphabet, which includes terms such as “white fragility” for the letter W. Not only is this a load of nonsense, but it is very divisive. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of our brilliant NHS staff are more interested in keeping the nation healthy than in learning the ABC of wokery?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. He puts it well. This so-called glossary appeared on the NHS website. I have raised it with the NHS and it has been taken down.

On 15 May last year, the Secretary of State said at a press conference:

“Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

Instead, we have seen over 40,000 families lose elderly and vulnerable loved ones in care. His unwillingness to accept what care workers, doctors and relatives were telling him led to shortages of personal protective equipment and a revolving door from covid wards to care homes. Will he guarantee that care homes will be properly protected in subsequent surges, and will he accept his own failings and apologise to the families who tragically lost loved ones in care?

I am, of course, part of a family who have also lost a loved one who lived in a care home, so of course I take this very seriously. We followed the clinical advice when the world knew far less about this virus, and it was a challenge. The clinical advice and data since have shown that, in fact, community transmission was the major source of the incursion of the virus into care homes. I am delighted that, through the enormous efforts to increase testing, including the 100,000 testing target, we were then able to introduce the very significant staff testing that we have today, which is the main reason that there has been a fall in the second peak and much lower incidence in care homes. It is vital that we learn the lessons—it is vital that we learn the right lessons—and I am glad to say that, over the summer, we were able to put in stronger protections based on the updated clinical advice.

The case rate in north Lincolnshire is 19 per 100,000 and we have seen incredibly low levels of hospitalisation since the middle of May. That is due, I am sure, to the vaccination effort and all those people who have had their jab. People in Scunthorpe have done everything they have been asked to do, so does my right hon. Friend agree that unless we meet an incredibly high bar of evidence, we will proceed with the opening on 21 June?

We will look at that evidence and make that judgment. Of course I want to proceed, but we must proceed safely and not see this go backwards. When the Prime Minister set out the roadmap, he said he wanted it to be “cautious and irreversible.” So far, we have succeeded in making it irreversible, and I hope we can keep it that way.

This Government are keener to protect borders with regards to immigration than they are regarding public health. The right hon. Gentleman says he is considering the data, but had hotel quarantine been in place for all travellers, we would not have this delta variant spike. Will he reconsider what the Scottish National party is asking for, which is quarantine for all travellers, as well as protection for the travel industry with the right support? That will get the UK economy up and running in a more sustainable manner.

We have brought in this incredibly strong travel regime, including the need for all travellers to be tested, and calls and home visits to those quarantining at home. That is based on risk, and we have taken the approach of being tough at the borders so as to protect the success of the vaccine roll-out here at home.

My right hon. Friend should take great credit, as should his team, for the progress of the vaccination programme, and I congratulate him on it. Is it true that the Joint Biosecurity Centre said that Malta could be put on the green list?

It is true that a number of balanced cases are put before Ministers, and we always look at the pros and cons of each one. Ultimately, those decisions are for Ministers.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In his statement, the Secretary of State mentioned the rising cases of the delta variant across north-west England, and the impact of the vaccination programme on reducing hospitalisations. That is positive news, but the consequence of increasing covid rates, even without hospitalisations, is not totally positive. May I ask him about long covid—something that is close to my heart, having had it for 12 months? Beyond the actions he has already taken, what more will he do to help those who, inevitably, will develop long-term consequences and symptoms of covid from the latest wave of the delta variant?

This incredibly important subject is close to my heart too, and perhaps we can work with the hon. Gentleman, with his personal experience of long covid over such a period, to ensure that we drive that agenda as hard as possible. The NHS has stepped forward and we have put more money into research, but this is an unknown condition as a result of a novel virus. It is a complicated condition and there are many different types of long covid. I would be keen to ensure that the hon. Gentleman engages with the NHS work on this.

I represent a very international constituency where people travel for business, family and personal reasons, and not just for two weeks in summer in the sun. I am concerned that the cost of PCR tests is prohibitive, and the lack of certainty beyond three weeks under the traffic light system has a material effect on business and wellbeing. Will my right hon. Friend’s Department consider further whether lateral flow tests can be substituted for PCR tests to at least alleviate that concern and cost?

Part of the purpose of the international testing regime is to get genetic sequences to spot variants, which we cannot do from a lateral flow test. That is the literal answer to my hon. Friend’s question. More broadly, the approach we are taking instead is to try to drive down the costs of PCR tests. Bringing a private market for PCR tests for travel has led to a significant reduction in cost, and that is another good example of harnessing private markets to improve people’s lives. The companies involved are strongly incentivised to deliver tests for a lower price. That is the approach we have taken for the reason I set out, and that is the decision we have made.

The Royal College of General Practitioners, the Doctors’ Association UK and the British Medical Association have all expressed concern about the adequacy of communication with patients about the proposals for data sharing. From the answer that the Secretary of State gave to the Opposition Front Bencher—the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)—and to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), he obviously disagrees with that, but in the interests of making data-based decisions, can he tell the House what his Department is doing to assess the level of patient awareness about what will happen if they do not opt out by 23 June?

We are doing work in this area and talking to all the relevant bodies. Aside from some who have not yet understood the full importance of high-quality usage of data in the health system, actually, the vast majority of people, including the BMA, the Royal College of GPs and others, can see the benefit of getting this right. So we are working with them. The goal, though, is really clear—to use data better in the NHS because data saves lives.

The Secretary of State laid out a number of decisions that will be announced next Monday, and the most significant of those will be on social distancing. If that remains, whatever else changes, we will not have gone anywhere close to back to normal. However, can I press him a bit on vaccine efficacy? The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), said that the first dose was only 30% effective. I believe that that is correct for transmission, but as for what is actually important, which is reducing serious disease and hospitalisation, the first dose is significantly more effective than that. Will the Secretary of State set out to the House his and the Department’s current understanding about the efficacy of the vaccine on the first dose and the second dose against serious disease and hospitalisation?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the figure for transmissibility reduction from the first dose. The figures for the reduction in serious disease and death are, as he says, higher than that, but since I do not have the precise figures in my head, what I propose to do is set them out tomorrow at the Dispatch Box at Health questions.

The Secretary of State seems to be the master of mixed messages. Today, he tells us that the vaccination programme is going well, cases are down and hospital admissions have fallen, yet at the weekend, he was telling us that he is still open to removing the date for freedom day—21 June—and keeping restrictions in place. A few weeks ago, he was telling people that they could go to Portugal, yet, despite Portugal having lower infection rates than we do and only 1.5% of people being tested positive on return from Portugal, he has now put it on the amber list, costing the airline industry millions of pounds and putting holidaymakers to great expense. Does he understand the frustration that businesses and individuals have at the way in which, acting on his advice, they take precautions, spend money and take actions that they think are right, yet find that, when he changes his message, they are placed at a disadvantage?

Of course I understand those frustrations—of course I do—and that is why we would all like to be out of this pandemic, but John Maynard Keynes’ famous dictum comes to mind, which is: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” A pandemic is a hard thing to manage and communicating uncertainty in the public sphere is difficult. When answering questions about uncertainty, I think the fairest thing that any of us at the Government Dispatch Box can do is answer fully and frankly to the best of our knowledge and understanding, and that does include things where there is evidence on one side and evidence on the other. We had a question from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) that described only the negative side of what we are seeing in the data, but on the positive side we are seeing the impact of vaccinations that the right hon. Gentleman just mentioned. There are two sides to the story, and that is why some of the judgments are difficult. That is why we will wait until we have the most data possible, with a week to spare, so that people can implement the decisions we make regarding 21 June.

I reassure my right hon. Friend that, since last we spoke in this Chamber, I have received my first jab. As the age limit lowers, the more youthful of us in this House benefit—although the years have not been kind. His announcement that the limit is to go down still further, to 25, is excellent news. I thank everyone in the vaccination centres in Hazel Grove, Woodley and Offerton and other places in my constituency for their tremendous work. Will my right hon. Friend go further with his surge of vaccinations? That is how we will end this pandemic. Will he commit to reducing the time between first and second jabs and do all he can to secure greater supply? Give us the jabs and we will finish the job.

A propos my previous answer, there is again a balance here. Obviously, we want to go as fast as possible, but, on the other hand, the strength of overall protection people get grows, on the latest clinical advice, up to an eight-week gap. So a longer gap gives them better overall long-term protection. That is why we have reduced the gap from the 12 weeks we had at the start, because we wanted to get as many first jabs done with the early doses we had, to eight weeks; but the clinical recommendation is not to go below eight weeks, because people would end up with weaker overall protection from both jabs. That is the reason for our approach, but ultimately we want to go as fast as we clinically safely can with the programme. For that, we need all the good folk of Hazel Grove who are doing so much to make this happen and to deliver jabs in arms, and I thank them all.

A number of my constituents were out in Portugal and were taken completely by surprise by the Government’s about-turn on their advice and rules on travel to Portugal. It has cost some of them many hundreds of pounds. It is important that we remember that hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on the travel industry, and many people in my constituency work in that industry or rely on it. The Government must start to be clear about what they are going to do about travel overseas. Given the high number of people in this country who have been vaccinated, subject to the countries they are going to having high rates of vaccination and low rates of covid, there is no reason why they should not be able to travel.

I cannot say any more than I have already said. We take a cautious approach to travel because of the risk of new variants, which could undermine the whole thing. We have a traffic-light system because some countries are safer to travel to than others.

Children and young people have missed out on so much over the past 15 months or so—both educational opportunities and opportunities for important social development. Today, my right hon. Friend received a letter from a number of Jewish youth groups that run residential summer camps. They are desperately worried that, if the rule of 30 remains after 21 June, what they do simply will not be viable. I am sure that the same is true of many other youth groups. Can he give some reassurance that those safe, regulated, largely outdoor activities will be able to go ahead for groups of much more than 30?

Yes, of course, as part of step 3, those activities were reopened for school-based groups. I absolutely take the point that my hon. Friend is making. That is of course part of step 4. He has made his point clearly.

In April last year, Government guidance in relation to hospital discharges clearly stated:

“Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

One month and many deaths later, the Secretary of State very clearly said on national television that

“right from the start we have tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”

Since then, the guidance seems to have disappeared from Government websites, and this weekend he has denied making those claims, yet again today he expects us to trust this Government’s judgment in deciding how we should continue to live our lives. Why on earth should we?

I am terribly sorry: all the policy and all the guidance was, of course, set out in public around care homes. It was a very challenging policy, not least because—as the hon. Lady implied in what she quoted—the tests were not available to be able to do this, and the clinical advice was that asymptomatic transmission was highly unlikely. That was the basis on which these decisions were taken. The challenge in care homes was equally a challenge in Scotland and a challenge in Wales— a challenge all over Europe, in fact. The decision making in this area is a matter of record. A huge number of people were trying their very best to solve the problem as best they possibly could, based on the very best science and clinical advice.

The Secretary of State will recall telling us that the first lockdown was needed to give time to build capacity in the NHS. Can he therefore tell us how many more hospital beds are available in the NHS now than in March last year?

That is a good question, but the main capacity that we built was the Nightingales, a very successful project. The Nightingale project was one of the finest examples of rapid action in the NHS that has been seen. Thank goodness we had the Nightingale hospitals, because the people treated in them got treatment that was otherwise likely not to have been available. It meant that we could keep that promise all the way through—that nobody was denied treatment for covid. People got the treatment they needed because we managed to build that capacity so quickly.

I hope that the Health Secretary will understand the frustration that there will be right across the country if the 21 June date ends up being delayed by the Government because their own border policies failed to prevent the Delta variant from spreading, because they were too slow in putting India on the red list and because of gaps in the amber list policies. Given the confusion that there still is about the way in which the Government are taking decisions on individual countries on the border, is it not time that he accepted the recommendation that the Select Committee on Home Affairs made last August that he publish not just the data, but the analysis and advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre? The analysis and advice from SAGE is published, so why is the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s advice being kept secret?

The right hon. Lady and I have had this exchange before. I respect her enormously, but she continues to imply that we should have taken decisions based on data that we did not yet have. That is simply not a reasonable position for the Chair of any Select Committee to take.

The statistical snapshot that my right hon. Friend gave in his statement showed that just over 2% of people hospitalised with the Indian variant had had both jabs. In order to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, will he in future publish on a daily basis how many patients in hospital with covid have previously had one jab, two jabs or no jabs at all? If that information is not held centrally, should it not be?

I am delighted by that question, because the data that I put in my statement was right off the press—it is new data. I am absolutely happy to look at how it is published and on what basis. I hear my right hon. Friend’s call for it to be published daily; we do update most of this data daily on the website. We have not got to that point yet—we have done a first cut of the data up to 3 June, as I read out—but the critical question is how many cases are translating into hospitalisations and then into deaths. I am very glad that we were able to do the first cut today, and I will see what I can do on publication.

The Government are pushing through a data grab that will see GP patient records held on a central database, which will, in turn, be available to private companies. Anyone getting the covid-19 vaccine from 1 July will have their GP record updated and so uploaded to that database on that day, often without their knowledge. There are enough fears adding to vaccine hesitancy and the Government are now adding concerns about data privacy to that, so will the Secretary of State agree to stop this data grab, undertake a full consultation with patients about sharing their personal data and publicise just how they can opt out?

The way the hon. Lady characterises this policy proposal is not accurate. People listening to this debate should be reassured that the privacy and security of their data are absolutely paramount. I look forward to her working with the NHS and with government to reassure people about the use of their data, because, ultimately, by making sure that we can understand what is happening, we can find better treatments, improve individuals’ treatment and save lives. This is all about making sure we use the best of modern technology to save lives and, in the process, improve the privacy and security of data. I hope she will take that message and reassurance and pass it on to her constituents and others with whom she is working, because, ultimately, improving and saving lives is the NHS’s historic mission and this policy proposal is just another small step in that.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s confirmation that we will hit the end of July target of vaccinating all adults in England. Will he give us a bit of a forward look to what he is planning for the autumn in terms of the flu season and any covid booster jabs? Is he expecting all adults over 50 to have a third jab? Does he think that that will be at the same time as a flu jab? Will it be combined? Or will we have to have two separate healthcare visits?

We are working on exactly that question. Of course, there is the question in advance of that of the vaccination of 12 to 18-year-olds, on which we are taking advice from the JCVI. We are conducting trials as to what are the best jabs to give, given which two previous jabs people have had, to give them the strongest protection. The third thing we are doing is working with AstraZeneca to develop a vaccine specifically targeted at the variants—that was part of the G7 work and announcements last week. If we can give a flu jab and a covid booster jab at the same time, that would be great. That is also under clinical evaluation, because, obviously, it would make the logistics so much easier over the autumn. Likewise, I am taking advice on which age groups and which groups it should be for: whether it should just be for the over-50s or for everybody; how to vaccinate; what group to put health and social care workers in; and whether there is a special regime for those who live in care homes, as there was in the first round of vaccination, where care home residents and staff came first. All of those are live questions on which we do not yet have answers, but that is the scope of the decisions we need to make ahead of the autumn for the autumn vaccination programme.

The progress with the vaccination roll-out is really to be welcomed and I give my thanks to all the staff, vaccinators and others who have been responsible for that progress. There are understandable concerns about how we manage and deal with variants, and my questions are centred on that today. What surveillance is taking place on the following measures or what is proposed? These are really important issues: the longevity of immunogenesis and how that is going to be captured; the adaptability of the virus and how that is going to be countered; and the need to modify or develop new vaccines as we progress into a position where the majority of the population are vaccinated.

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating all those involved in the vaccine roll-out, everywhere in the UK. In Scotland, it has been a remarkable effort, with the UK Government working with the Scottish Administration, the NHS across the country, local councils and the armed services—it has been a big team effort, and that has been part of the success of the vaccine roll-out.

The hon. Gentleman asked about three critical areas of the science. Reviews of all three areas are ongoing. They are led by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, whom the hon. Gentleman may have heard of, who is an absolutely brilliant clinician in this space—there are a lot more people involved who are doing excellent scientific work on these questions. That surveillance on immunogenicity, the work on the next-generation variant vaccine and the work on understanding the variants as we spot them is all going on. Public Health England has done a huge amount of work, working with public health colleagues right across the country, and I am grateful to them all.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement today and for responding to 31 questions in just over one hour.

Before we move on to the next statement, we will suspend for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Education Recovery

With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement regarding the latest phase of our education recovery programme.

Helping our children recover from the impact of the pandemic is an absolute priority. Pupils, parents and staff have all experienced disruption, and we know that continuous actions are required to help recover lost learning. That is why we have already made provision available to support children to catch up. As a result, a quarter of a million children will receive tutoring this year who would not have been able to access it beforehand; over half a million pupils will be able to attend summer schools; and schools have access to both a catch-up and a recovery premium to enable them to assess what will help their pupils catch up on lost learning and to make provision available to ensure that they do so.

The evidence we have shows that disadvantaged children and those who live in areas that have been particularly hard hit by high covid rates, such as the north-east of England and Yorkshire, are among those whose learning is most likely to have been affected. We have always been clear that we will continue to take the action that is required. That is why we continue to pledge significant packages of investment and targeted intervention to help them to make up on their lost learning. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Kevan Collins for his contribution to these efforts, his thoughts and his inputs over the past few months.

Last week, I announced the details of the next step in our efforts to ensure that children and young people catch up after the disruption of the pandemic and to support our ongoing education recovery plans. We have announced an additional programme of extra help and support, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which focuses on areas that we already know are going to be most effective. They are high-quality tutoring and more effort, more work and more programmes to support great teaching. This brings our total recovery package to more than £3 billion. The lion’s share of this new money—£1 billion of it—will fund a tutoring revolution, delivering 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for schoolchildren and the equivalent of 2 million 15-hour courses for 16 to 19-year-olds who need additional support to catch up. Year 13 pupils will also have the option to repeat their final year where this is appropriate.

The evidence shows that one course of high-quality tutoring has been proven to boost attainment by three to five months, so additional tutoring will be vital for young people in recovering the teaching hours lost in the past year. This represents a huge additional teaching resource, putting it among the best tutoring schemes in the world. It means that tutoring will no longer be the preserve of the most affluent but will instead go to those who need it most and who can get the most benefit from it. Schools will be able to provide additional tutoring support using locally employed tutors, and that will build on the successful national tutoring programme, which is on target to provide a quarter of a million children with tutoring in its first year.

I can also tell the House that it is not just data that shows us that tutoring works; we are seeing the positive impact on children at first hand. As we go around the country, speaking to children in different schools, we hear how it is helping them to learn, to catch up and to achieve the very best of themselves. We hear time and again how these activities are helping young people to make up for the time they lost through not being in school. It is also giving them the increased confidence and self-esteem that they develop through the extra tutoring and the extra attention.

I have said that we are determined to fund these catch-up activities based on the evidence of what works, and the next stage of our recovery plan will include a review of time spent in school and college and the impact that that could have on helping children and young people to catch up. Schools already have the power to set the length of the school day, but there is a certain amount of disparity in approach across the sector. I know it is not just the Government who are thinking about the length of the school day; it is an important issue with so much catching up still to do. When that is the case, I question whether it is justifiable that some schools send their children home at 2.45 pm when others keep them in for much longer. The findings of the review will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review, and a broad range of reforms and changes to our school system will be set out.

I said that we would be concentrating this huge investment on two areas that we know work, and the second of them is to give our teachers more professional support. Teachers have done so much for children in the pandemic. Now it is time for us to do even more for those teachers. An extra £400 million will be made available to help provide half a million teacher training opportunities across the country, alongside professional development for those working in early years settings. We will make sure that all of them can access high-quality training, giving them the skills and tools to help every child they work with fulfil their potential.

Of that funding, £153 million will provide professional development for early years staff, including through new programmes that focus on key areas such as speech and language development for very young children, and £253 million will expand existing teacher training and development to give schoolteachers the opportunity to access world-leading training, tailored to whatever point they are at in their careers, from new teachers to aspiring headteachers and headteachers themselves.

We know from numerous studies that the most powerful impact on a child’s learning is made by the teacher in front of them in the classroom. By investing in our teachers, enabling them to grow professionally and develop their skills, we invest not just in them but in every pupil in every class. It is worth adding that we have not lost sight of our main aim, which is to provide world-class education for every child, whatever their background, and to set them up with the knowledge and skills that they need to fulfil their potential and look forward to a happy and fulfilling life. The recovery package will not just go a long way to boost children’s learning in the wake of the disruption caused by the pandemic, but help bring down the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers that we have been working so hard to get rid of for so long.

This is the next stage in what will be a sustained programme of support, building on the landmark £14.4 billion uplift in core schools funding that was announced in 2019 and the more than £3 billion in addition that has been announced so far for recovery. As the Prime Minister said last week,

“there is going to be more coming down the track, but don’t forget this is a huge amount that we are spending”.

For that reason, I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. However, I am sorry to say that its lack of vision and ambition lets down our young people. Our children’s futures, and the future of our country, depended on the Government getting the education recovery right, but the Secretary of State, and indeed the whole of the Government, have failed to rise to the challenge. They have failed the school leaders, teachers and staff who last March adapted overnight to deliver remote lessons, while hand-delivering workbooks and food parcels to families. I pay enormous tribute to the staff who did so much to support our children and who continue to do so.

The Government have failed the parents, who have thrown themselves into the task of home schooling and supporting their children’s learning. Most importantly, the Government have failed children and young people, who were promised that their education was the PM’s No. 1 priority. They have been betrayed by a Secretary of State who has let them down once again and by a Prime Minister who will not lift a finger for them when it comes to a row with the Chancellor about prioritising the investment needed in their future. That comes after a decade in which successive Conservative Governments have delivered the largest cut to school budgets we have seen in 40 years.

I was frankly embarrassed to hear the Secretary of State proclaim that the funding announced last week will deliver a revolution, when what his Government announced will amount to just £50 per pupil for the next three years, compared with £1,600 in the USA and £2,500 in the Netherlands. It will deliver less than one hour of tutoring a fortnight for children who have missed more than half a year of being in school in person. Getting tutoring right is important when schools have said that the national tutoring programme is too difficult and too inflexible to use, and when it has so far reached less than 2% of pupils, but taking that programme out of the hands of experts and giving it to Randstad, a multinational outsourcing company, is not the right answer to schools’ concerns about reach and quality. They fear the contract is being handed out on the cheap. Can the Secretary of State confirm reports that the contract value is £37 million less than originally offered? Will he confirm that that is to cut costs, to the detriment of our children?

While tutoring and investment in teacher development featured to a degree in last week’s announcement, what is really noticeable is how much is missing. Where is the bold action needed to boost children’s wellbeing and social development, which parents and teachers say is their top priority and which is essential to support learning? Where is the increased expert support to tackle the rise in mental health conditions among young people? Where is the targeted investment for those children who missed most time in class, struggled most to learn from home and were left for months without access to remote learning? Where is the funding needed for the pupil premium to replace the stealth cut to school budgets that the Government imposed when they changed the date of the census?

The Secretary of State says that this is just one step on the road, but the Government’s own catch-up tsar Sir Kevan Collins, a highly respected education expert, says action is needed now to protect children’s futures, so why is the Secretary of State waiting? Last week’s announcement fell so far short of what Sir Kevan had recommended that he resigned on Wednesday evening, ashamed to have his name connected to such pitiful proposals. He said the Government’s response was too small, too narrow and too slow. He was appalled by the lack of ambition and vision—a lack of ambition that betrays the optimism and aspirations that children and young people themselves have for their future.

Last week, I was proud to publish Labour’s children’s recovery plan—a plan that would deliver the investment Sir Kevan has said is essential and which recognises that children and young people are excited to be back with their friends and teachers, and hungry to learn and prove their potential. Our responsibility as adults is to match the ambition children have for their own future. That is why Labour’s bold plan proposes new opportunities for every child to play, learn and develop. When we say, and when the Leader of the Opposition says as he did last week, that education is Labour’s top priority and that Labour wants this to be the best country in the world to grow up in, unlike the Government, we actually mean it.

The hon. Lady talks about vision. Let us be blunt: the Labour party has opposed every single one of the education reforms that this Government have brought forward, with the one exception, I believe, of T-levels. Every time that this party and this Government strive to drive quality and standards, making sure that there is discipline in the classroom, what does the Labour party do? It turns round and looks to the press releases of the unions and their paymasters. This party believes in delivering a revolution and change in what we actually do. That is why we have always delivered a laser-like focus on what benefits children, what makes a difference and what means that a child will be able to get a better job on leaving school. That is what this party does. The Labour party merely parrots what the union paymasters ask it to do.

At every stage in our recovery plans over the last 12 months, we have set out investment worth over £3 billion aimed and targeted to deliver the very best results for children. We recognise that children have missed out, but we have made sure that where we spend that extra money, it will make a real difference to children. We have looked closely at what will deliver for those children, and that is where we have focused our investment, and that is what we will continue to do.

As we move forward over the next few months, we will face significant challenges. We talk about the school day. We have seen too many schools going down a route of restricting the things that children can do—restricting the things that they could benefit from doing. The school lunch hour is being increasingly restricted to a school lunch half-hour. We want to ensure that, as we carry out this review, we look at all the options, so that children benefit not just from better academic attainment and extra support in English and maths, but from enrichment and the other activities that they can get from being at school. I very much hope that the Opposition will support that, but I very much doubt that they will; they have always failed to support any reform or any change that delivers real results for children.

I thank my right hon. Friend for securing the £3 billion for catch-up; it is a significant amount of money. Does he agree that the heart of levelling up must be education and getting young people to climb that ladder of opportunity?

What more evidence is needed to convince the Treasury to implement Kevan Collins’ proposal to extend the school day? Do we need pilot programmes? Do we need evidence from the 39% of pre-2010 academy schools that successfully implemented longer school days? Do we need more from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as extra school activities have been seen to increase numeracy by 29%, or from the Education Endowment Foundation, which has shown that extending the school day increases educational attainment by two months? Will the Secretary of State bring about longer school days and complete the programme that he started once the comprehensive spending review has been completed?

I share my right hon. Friend’s views: there is a body of evidence that can be collected that shows that extra time in the classroom can deliver real benefits for pupils. It is about getting the combination right. As we have seen from the evidence, parents are very concerned about what their children have missed out on in terms of English and maths. We want to see how we can boost those subjects, as well as some of the additional enrichment activities that go on in schools.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and I are working with some of the great sporting bodies in this country to see how we can bring more enrichment activities into schools. A number of schools have piloted something called session 3, which enables them to run these activities as additional add-ons to the school day, delivering real benefits to children. I think of Thomas Telford in my neighbouring county of Shropshire, which has pioneered the scheme and delivered real benefits to children not just in terms of sporting activities, but in terms of academic activities. We want to compile this evidence as we approach the spending review to see what interventions deliver the best results for all our children.

Many students have suffered greatly during covid and the lockdown. Many children in large families in overcrowded flats have had no access, or very limited access, to computers and the internet, and have therefore lost out massively on educational opportunities. I am very unclear as to how they will be helped with the very small amount of money that the Secretary of State has offered. A total of £50 per pupil is nowhere near what is needed to help these young people catch up on the hundreds of hours of education that they have lost over the past year. Will he please look at it again?

Will the Secretary of State also assure me that the money being spent on tutoring will be paid only to qualified tutors who will be carefully selected and vetted by local education authorities, so that we do have the best possible educational opportunities for all our children, and particularly for those who come from the poorest families in this country?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman, like all of us in the House, cares passionately about the education of all children. I can assure him that there will be high-quality tutors as part of the scheme. That is very important to us, because we want to ensure that children are getting the very best, and the way to do that is through the quality of tutors. We are not planning to do that monitoring through local education authorities, but part of what we are doing, as we have outlined, is enabling schools to take on tutors themselves.

I would be happy to sit down with the right hon. Gentleman to talk through some of our proposals and what we are looking at doing. Tutoring has been the preserve of the affluent classes, as he will have seen in his constituency for many, many decades. The children from less affluent parts of his constituency in Islington will not have had that same benefit. Affluent families have always seen the benefit that tutoring has brought their children, and we do not want this to be something that is purely their preserve. I would be delighted to sit down with him and talk through what we are doing, what we are aiming to deliver and how we believe this will improve the lives of children, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

As we recover, improving school standards in Stoke-on-Trent remains more important than ever, and it is vital that all young people can reach their full potential, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. I thank my right hon. Friend for the support he has given to our plans for a new free school in my constituency. Will he also support our plans for an education challenge area in Stoke-on-Trent, to help all our schools continue to drive up standards?

It is fair to say that my hon. Friend has an enormous appetite for more and more investment in his constituency. If it had not been for his campaigning, his constituency certainly would not be getting the free school that will be built to deal with the needs there and to ensure that we continue to raise standards. I am already working with him and his colleagues, as well as the leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Councillor Abi Brown, on how we can deliver higher-quality education providers in the city of Stoke-on-Trent. I would be happy to continue that work, building on the opportunity area in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, on how we can reinforce the already good work and accelerate it over the coming months and years.

The Department for Education has reported that a decade of progress on reducing the attainment gap has been eradicated in the last year, yet the Government seem to be under the impression that catch-up can be achieved on the cheap. By failing our nation’s children now, we will pay a high price in the future, with growing inequality, lower productivity and poor social mobility. We cannot afford to get this wrong, so will the Secretary of State urgently address the meagre funding set aside in this recovery plan?

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say in my statement, we are very much targeting the interventions at those areas that will deliver the most impact on children across his constituency and right across the country. It is the latest stage of a rolling investment over the last 12 months, already amounting to over £3 billion, plus over an additional £1 billion that has gone to schools to support them with covid measures. We very much plan to continue to make that investment in education over the coming 12 months, as we have been doing over the past 12 months.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those schools that adapted rapidly to the virtual and hybrid world and taught extensive timetables sticking to exam syllabuses? What more can be done to spread best practice, while offering targeted support for those schools that faced special difficulties?

My right hon. Friend absolutely hit the nail on the head; the children who benefited most were those in schools that kept a clear focus on supporting children with a strong and rich knowledge-based curriculum. That has very much been based on the reforms that have been rolled out by this Government over the last 11 years. There are sometimes siren calls to reduce the standards and quality of our curriculum and what is taught, but that most disadvantages children from the most disadvantaged areas. I reassure my right hon. Friend that every action we take will be about reinforcing the evidence as to what actually works and how we can benefit children, including through tutoring, driving up teacher quality and ensuring that teachers have the right materials, support and training to deliver the very best for their children.

Sir Kevan Collins has a distinguished 30-year career as an expert in education, while the Secretary of State has spent 18 months presiding over nothing but blunders, putting the future of our young people at risk. Does the Secretary of State think that the right man resigned?

The hon. Lady sort of points out that we are very grateful for the work that Sir Kevan has done. Some of the key elements have been done working side by side with him—for example, the tutoring and the driving up of teacher quality and standards, which are very much at the heart of this package. As we look to the future and the comprehensive spending review, we are very much looking at how we can drive that third element—the element of time in the school day—and best use it to give children from all backgrounds the best advantage.

I thank the Secretary of State and his colleagues for the recent £50 million investment in a new high school at Tarleton, which means we can get rid of dangerous and delipidated buildings. But levelling up also means that we must close the attainment gap between rich and affluent pupils and those who come from slightly more disadvantaged backgrounds. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that South Ribble will benefit from this multi-billion-pound investment not only to catch up on the time that we have lost during the pandemic, but to help close that gap?

I am sure that all my hon. Friend’s constituents owe her a great debt of thanks for all the campaigning she did to get the refurbishment of and investment in the new school in her constituency. She is absolutely right about the need to close the attainment gap; it is vital. However, achieving that is not about lowering standards in schools, nor saying that children should have a lower-quality academic curriculum or teaching. It is about driving those standards up and ensuring that children—whatever background they come from and whichever school they go to—get the highest quality academic support, tutoring and attainment. Tutoring is such an important part of helping all our constituents.

The level of Government investment in education recovery announced last week fell woefully short of the £15 billion needed according to the Government’s former education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins, who has now resigned from his post. It remains so in the light of the Secretary of State’s statement today. The National Education Union has described the Government’s investment as “paltry” and has quite rightly asked:

“Where in these plans is the funding for extra-curricular activities to support children and young people to regain their confidence in their abilities and talents? Where is the funding for drama and music, sport and skills development?”

Will the Secretary of State go back to the Chancellor and urge him to invest more so that schools can run fully funded extracurricular clubs and activities to boost time for children to play and socialise after months away from their friends?

I am sure that the hon. Lady is very aware of the holiday activities and food programme that we rolled out across the country at Easter, as well as the continued expansion of our scheme into the summer. She is obviously also aware of the work that we have done on the recovery premium, which we have been putting in to support schools in additional work.

Education is, without doubt, one of the big legacy issues from the pandemic, so I welcome my right hon. Friend’s pledges to invest billions of pounds and millions of hours, and his determination that we should use evidence of what works. We know that education is not just about moments of time, but about timeless moments. Our outdoor learning and education centres are experts in creating those experiences for children and young people. Centres such as Marle Hall in Llandudno Junction stand ready to help them to catch up and make up that lost ground. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give consideration to including outdoor education centres and residential stays as part of the delivery of his education recovery plan?

We can certainly look at that very closely. I know my hon. Friend worked incredibly hard to ensure that our outdoor education centres were included as part of the lifting of restrictions so that children are now able to access those outdoor education centres residentially as well as for day visits. We can certainly look at that consideration in future plans.

Aidan from my Weaver Vale constituency has been shielding with many of his friends over the pandemic owing to his health and additional educational support needs. He deserves the very best education and needs that additional support. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me about his particular case?

Of course I will meet the hon. Gentleman. Would he be kind enough, prior to the meeting, to send some more details about Aidan and some of the challenges? I would be very happy to meet him.