House of Commons
Tuesday 22 June 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Northern Ireland Protocol
Top of the morning to you, Mr Speaker.
The protocol is explicit in its respect for the UK’s territorial integrity, and the Government are committed to delivering it with as little impact on businesses and day-to-day lives as possible. The Government have set up the free-to-use trader support service to support businesses trading between Great Britain and Northern Ireland at a cost of £270 million and have made full use of provisions within the protocol to ensure that no tariffs are charged on internal UK trade.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Does the Minister accept that the protocol actually discriminates against British businesses trading between GB and Northern Ireland and between Northern Ireland and GB? It undermines trade, damages consumer opportunities and rights, and increases costs to both consumers and businesses on both sides of the channel. What action will the Government take, and indeed encourage others to take, to save British businesses and the economy from this economic discrimination? How long will businesses have to wait for a solution and what compensation has the Treasury calculated to cover the loss in trade, which, at present, is running at hundreds of millions of pounds?
I thank the hon. Member for his question. Of course, this follows a wide concern that he has put in front of the House on many previous occasions. I do not accept the characterisation that he has given of the situation in Northern Ireland, but I absolutely agree with him that the Government need to continue to press for the Northern Ireland protocol to be implemented in a proportionate and pragmatic way. That is an important goal of the Government. He talks about the schemes in place. Let me remind him that, so far, the trader support service has processed something like, I think, 700,000 consignments, 59,000 traders have been registered, there is the Brexit support fund and there is the new movement assistance scheme, as he will know, for food and agriculture trade. We retain a focus on making those systems, rules and support work as effectively and as widely as possible.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 2MC.]
We are encouraging employers of all sizes to take on new apprentices through our hiring incentive. Employers who hire a new apprentice of any age until the end of September will receive £3,000 per apprentice. We are also continuing to improve the apprenticeship system for employers by introducing more flexible trading options, making the transfer of unspent levy funds to small businesses easier, and supporting apprenticeships in industries with flexible working patterns through the launch of portable apprenticeships.
The Government’s £3,000 initiative incentive for businesses to employ apprentices is welcome, with several companies in my constituency looking to apply, including Shackletons in Dewsbury, and John Cotton and Alexander’s Bar in Mirfield. There is no doubt that this initiative has been a great success in enabling young people to get on to the employment ladder. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consider an extension in funding for the scheme beyond the 30 September deadline?
I pay tribute to, I think it was Shackletons and John Cotton in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the example that they are setting, which I hope is emulated by employers across our country. The scheme, as he says, has been a success. More than 50,000 incentive payments were claimed by employers, 80% of which were for young apprentices between 18 and 24. We will of course keep this very successful scheme under review.
Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for people to learn, earn and realise their potential, so much so that I have just advertised this week for one to join my team via Hopwood Hall College in my Heywood and Middleton constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that businesses big and small can play their part in turbocharging our post-covid recovery by offering these fantastic opportunities?
I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is working with Hopwood Hall College in his constituency to hire an apprentice. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to meet them in the future. He is right about the ability of this scheme to support all types of employers. Small businesses in particular should know that the £3,000 equates to about a 35% wage subsidy for young apprentices and the Government pay 95% of all training costs, so there has never been a better time for employers to do as he says to help turbocharge our recovery and to hire an apprentice.
As with every economic crisis, it is Telford’s young people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Telford College is playing a vital role in working with employers across the region and securing 1,000 quality apprenticeships this year, helping young people to build their future. Will the Chancellor congratulate Telford College on its inspirational work, and will he commit to putting skills and opportunities for young people front and centre in his economic recovery plan?
I am delighted to hear that news from my hon. Friend. I am happy to congratulate Telford College on a fantastic performance in creating new apprenticeships and working with its local employers to provide those opportunities. She is absolutely right: young people have borne the brunt economically of this crisis. They comprise the majority of the job losses, so it is right that they are front and centre of our minds as we think about the recovery. That is why, whether it is the kickstart scheme, tripling the number of traineeships or the new lifetime skills guarantee, we are focused on providing them with the opportunities and support that they need.
It is clear that the pandemic has hit the youngest the hardest. Alongside apprenticeships, many businesses in my Eddisbury constituency, including Safety Shield in Winsford, have used the kickstart scheme in order to bring more good jobs to young people as part of our economic recovery. To that end, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what impact the roll-out of the kickstart scheme is having, and how more businesses that want to, and could, join that scheme and invest in young talents in their area are able to do so?
I congratulate Safety Shield in Winsford on embarking on taking on new kickstarters. This is central to our plan for the recovery in providing opportunity to young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency and others. I am pleased to say that over 31,000 kickstarters have started their jobs, with 10,000 more to come in the coming weeks and months. I would say to employers who are looking to take on a kickstarter: go online, talk to your local business organisations, whether it is the Federation of Small Businesses or the chamber of commerce, or apply directly to the Department for Work and Pensions to be accredited so that you can give a young person a fantastic opportunity as we go through the stages of our recovery.
Unemployment is now falling fast in west Berkshire, and that is in no small part thanks to the Treasury-backed apprenticeship scheme. However, Newbury College, our principal training provider, says that it is still the large employers that take the bulk of young apprentices, when it is small and medium-sized enterprises that form the backbone of our local economy. Does my right hon. Friend think there is an opportunity to reallocate some of the surplus from the apprenticeship levy to encourage take-up among SMEs?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I am proud that she is working with Newbury College in her constituency. She is right that SMEs are the backbone of west Berkshire and other local communities across our economy. On her particular point, I am pleased to tell her that, from August of this year, employers who pay the levy but have unspent levy funds will be able to use a new bulk transfer service to send that money to SMEs, combined with a new SME match function so that they can find the SMEs that are most appropriate to their business, supply chain or local area. I hope that is helpful to her and Newbury College. The plan is for the Department for Education to have that up and running in August.
Personal Credit: Self-employed People
The Government have put together an unprecedented package of support for the self-employed, including the self-employed income support scheme, the temporary £20 per week increase in the universal credit standard allowance, and temporarily suspending the minimum income floor. The self-employed are also able to access the restart grant, the recovery loan scheme and business rates relief.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. However, my experience with some self-employed people in my constituency is that, having been self-employed for several years and accepted support from the self-employed scheme, if they then try to get credit, they are told that because they were on that scheme they are no longer eligible for credit, even though there is no reason to suspect that they will not be able to carry on being a guitar teacher, or whatever it is that they do, after the crisis is over. What can he say to the banks to ensure that they take a sensible approach to these people, who have perfectly sustainable businesses that have been suspended temporarily because of the Government’s restrictions but are just as good a credit risk as they were three or four years ago?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible and worthwhile point on this matter. We are looking closely at the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey, which indicates the degree of liquidity that exists. I work closely with the lenders on affordability assessments for the self-employed. I am happy to commit to continue to keep this matter under review and to receive further representations from him.
Covid-19: Support for Culture and Arts Sector
In March 2021, the Chancellor announced a further £300 million to build on the existing £1.57 billion of culture recovery fund support to protect our cultural sector. To date, more than £1.2 billion in grants has been paid.
The Minister is right, of course, to point out the unprecedented sums that have been given to the arts sector, and that is very welcome, but does he recognise that, particularly for the performing arts, the further four-week delay is crippling their future plans? As all the leading producers both in the west end and throughout the country point out, it takes months to get a show going, and uncertainty cripples that planning. Will he at least consider the calls from throughout the industry for a Government-backed insurance scheme to deal with cancellations if there is further uncertainty? There is a precedent in film and TV production that could readily be adapted. This is about getting them back working, which is actually want they want, rather than simply being subject to grants all the time. They want to get back on stage.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the success of the film insurance scheme, which has protected over 45,000 jobs and £1.6 billion of spend. On the specific issue he raises, that is exactly why my right hon Friend the Chancellor announced the additional £300 million of support at the Budget. He anticipated the fact, in going long with that support, that there would be the risk of further delays to the covid row-back, so that was part of the announcement of an additional £300 million that he set out at the Budget.
The live events sector continues to be hard hit by covid-19. UK Music and We Make Events have called for additional financial support, an extension of the VAT reduction and Government-backed covid-19 cancellation insurance. Just now, it is impossible for those running concerts and festivals to plan, and some, including Kendal Calling, have had to postpone again until 2022. Can the Minister tell me why the UK Government have left this sector and the many thousands who work in it without the additional support they are calling for?
I fear that the question came before my previous answer. I had just mentioned the £300 million of additional support, over and above the £1.57 billion of support that has been announced. Indeed, the hon. Member frequently raises the plight of those individuals who have been hit, and again that is something we very much recognise. Again, however, that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out the wider package of support, such as the time to pay arrangements, loans, business grants and the universal credit uplift. This is about looking at the totality of support within the £352 billion that my right hon. Friend has set out.
Stimulating business investment will be key for our economic recovery, and under the super deduction we announced at Budget 2021, for every £1 a company invests in qualifying plant and machinery, its taxes are cut by up to 25p. We have also just launched the UK Infrastructure Bank, which will partner with the private sector and local government, supporting more than £40 billion-worth of infrastructure investment overall.
My right hon. Friend will know that manufacturing and engineering companies are absolutely crucial to the economy in the Black Country and in Wolverhampton. Does he agree that companies feeling confident to make investments, with Government support and schemes like the super deduction, is key to really building back quickly and better, and to lowering unemployment in the Black Country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of manufacturing in particular to the Black Country. I am pleased to have received the representations from organisations such as Make UK that led to the creation of the super deduction, which, let us be clear, is all about jobs. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: by companies investing and unlocking the cash that is sitting on their balance sheets, we will create jobs to help drive our recovery and drive up our productivity in the process. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight it.
Investment in Green Industries
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution set out £12 billion of new investment in green industries and will crowd in three times as much private investment. Budget 2021 built on the 10-point plan by encouraging private investment, using the tax system and continuing with the direct Government support announced at the spending review. It also included announcements on offshore wind, energy innovation and hydrogen.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Since June 2020, the Government have spent £1.5 billion on supporting low-income households to improve energy efficiency and install clean heat. A number of subsidy schemes for heat pumps are available and in development. The sector expects to install 67,000 heat pumps in 2021, which is up considerably from the 35,000 installed in 2019. At Budget 2020 we extended the renewable heat incentive, and announced the clean heat grant. That will provide grants for all homeowners towards the cost of heat pumps from 2022. Further funding decisions will be announced at the spending review.
Between the end of January and the end of April, 1.5 million people left the furlough scheme. The most recent business survey from the Office for National Statistics estimates that the number of employees furloughed continued to decline after that point, to approximately 2 million at the end of May, which is the lowest level reported by the survey since June last year. At the same time, the number of payrolled employees has increased for six consecutive months. I believe that the coronavirus job retention scheme is striking the right balance between supporting the economy as it opens up, continuing to provide support and protect incomes, and ensuring that incentives are in place to get people back to work as demand returns.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The furlough scheme has supported more than 11.5 million jobs since the start of the pandemic, and she is right to say that at that point, forecasts suggested that unemployment would peak at around 12%. Those forecasts now show unemployment peaking at half that level, which means 2 million fewer people losing their jobs than previously feared. Our unemployment today is lower than that in Italy, France, Spain, Canada, the United States and Australia, and it shows that our plan for jobs is working.
The figures my right hon. Friend gave in his earlier answers are encouraging, but some employers in my constituency with employees still on furlough tell me that they are desperate to get those employees back to work, but the uncertainty over when restrictions will finally be lifted is holding them back. For example, in the events supply chain, the unwillingness of customers to pay deposits is holding those firms back. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to get the economy moving and get those employees back to work is for restrictions to be lifted by 19 July?
My hon. Friend is right, and my hope and expectation is that we lift those restrictions on 19 July. By that point, we will have done what we set out to do, which is to get extra jabs in more people’s arms to provide us with that extra level of protection. My hon. Friend is right: the only sustainable way to protect those jobs is to reopen the economy so that people can return to work and provide for their families, and move on to bright new opportunities.
Independent experts have told the Government 12 times that the failure to provide adequate financial support to people self-isolating has contributed to the spread of covid, endangering lives and livelihoods. We now know that the Treasury instructed Government officials actively to supress information about the furlough scheme that was to be used by employers to financially support people self-isolating. Will the Chancellor explain why that instruction was issued by the Treasury? Will he appear in front of the parliamentary Committee’s inquiry into covid to explain why the Government chose not to improve self-isolation support, despite repeated warnings?
The hon. Lady is wrong, because the Government did no such thing. Indeed, guidance on usage of the furlough scheme was there in black and white—I am looking at it—and plain for everyone to see from the start. At the beginning of this crisis we improved the way that statutory sick pay works to deal with self-isolation. That was one of the earliest steps we took. We then introduced a rebate scheme for small and medium-sized businesses, to claim back the cost of statutory sick pay for isolating employees from the Government. We also introduced a £500 self-isolation payment, which once the isolation period reduced from 14 to 10 days increased in value by 30% and is now worth at least the national living wage to a worker, if not 20% or 30% more, depending on how many days they isolate for. That shows that the Government are supporting those who need to self-isolate. They did so at the beginning of this crisis, and they will continue to do so until the end.
Given the rapid pace of our economic recovery and the plans for the further reopening of the economy, I support my right hon. Friend’s decision to phase out furlough by the end of September. However, does he accept that a small number of sectors are likely to require yet further support after that time—not least the travel sector, whose revenues, according to evidence received by the Treasury Committee, have suffered a 90% fall during the crisis?
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the difficult circumstances facing that sector, which is why I think in aggregate more than £7 billion of support has been provided to the sector through various means. He will know that there are some particularly large companies that talk to the Government on a bilateral basis. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on those conversations, but he will of course be aware of the support we have put in place, for example, for regional airports, the vast majority of which are paying no business rates for the first half of this year. As he would expect, we keep everything under review.
Financial Services Sector
The Chancellor set out the Government’s strategy on financial services to the House in November—a vision of a sector that is more open, more technologically advanced and a world leader in the use of green finance, serving the communities and citizens of this country. Since then, we passed the Financial Services Act 2021 in April to begin the necessary reforms to our framework, and we have agreed text with the EU for a regulatory co-operation forum.
There is no doubt that all should be done to support British businesses to export, no more so than in my constituency of Wrexham, which houses one of the largest trading estates in the UK. Businesses are keen to grasp these opportunities—none more so than Matclad, a specialist clay brick slip manufacturer, which is already reaping the benefits of exporting. Does my hon. Friend agree that schemes such as the parliamentary export programme, which I recently took part in, are an excellent opportunity?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I experienced that myself with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (James Gray). The parliamentary export programme is an excellent way of getting that ambition to export out across the country, and it is just another example of this Government’s commitment to grow exports. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) may also be interested to know that I shall be visiting Cardiff tomorrow to meet the first cohort of FinTech Wales’s FinTech Foundry, a new accelerator programme that will support firms as they seek to build their footprint.
My hon. Friend knows of my concern about the protectionist attitude towards financial services that the European Union has shown over the past few months, and the risks to the City that result from it. We have President Macron hosting people from Wall Street next week, and we have the unlocking of travel in the European Union, which will help the financial services sector there. I hope that the Chancellor and the Minister will do everything they can to encourage ministerial colleagues to do the same here, but will the Minister take whatever responsible steps are necessary in modifying our regulations to ensure that the City and our financial services sector have a strong, competitive future regardless of the behaviour of the European Union?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his representations on this matter, and I heartily agree with him. We are promoting the international role of the sector and developing ambitious trade and regulatory relationships with other jurisdictions. We keep all these matters under review. We have taken on board the work of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform, and just after Question Time, the Chancellor and I will be meeting representatives of banks as we seek to work with them to make those interventions that our financial services sector needs.
Financial services were not even part of the Brexit agreement that the Government negotiated, because they never made them a priority. Equivalence arrangements are nowhere in sight, £1 trillion-worth of assets have been moved abroad, and now food and drink exports to the EU have fallen by 47% in the first three months of the year. The Government estimate their new trade deal will add just 0.02% to our GDP. Is the sight of Ministers doing a lap of honour for that trade deal not the equivalent of asking our export industries to give thanks for losing a pound and finding a penny? When will the Government actually help our industries with the red tape that is baked into the agreement that they negotiated?
I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of where we are. On financial services, as I hope he knows by now, we have deep dialogue across a number of jurisdictions. That is an ongoing process. If I think about the work we are doing with Brazil, India and China and the dialogues we are having with Switzerland, there is no end to this Government’s ambition to improve our financial services’ relationships and deepen the opportunities that Brexit has given us.
Plan for Growth Sector Visions
The details of the sector visions will be set out by the relevant Departments in the coming months. In developing the visions, the Government will consider the role of the state in supporting high-growth sectors that have the potential to build a globally competitive advantage, as well as how the sectors can also be used to support wider objectives, for example levelling up or enabling a transition to net zero.
I am very grateful to the Financial Secretary for his response. He heard the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), mention the tourism and travel sectors, and I encourage him to look on them favourably, but from my perspective, aerospace remains the No. 1 private employer in my constituency and across Northern Ireland. It employs more than 6,500 people. Last year was a difficult year for aerospace and still it turned over £1.4 billion. It has high-end and high-level manufacturing skills that we cannot lose. I hope the sector will feature in the plans that are brought forward.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the comments he makes. I share his view that aerospace is a very important strategic industry for the country as a whole and, of course, particularly for Northern Ireland and his constituency. Let me reassure him that the sector visions we are discussing will be guided by considerations of comparative advantage—we have a considerable comparative advantage in many areas of aerospace—and future growth potential—I do not think anyone doubts that that is an area. He will know that we are investing very heavily in supporting that sector in the transition to net zero, with green fuels and electric flights, and also supporting levelling up. Those all play into a very positive story for Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the UK.
The Government are committed to helping people own their own home. Our new mortgage guarantee scheme is increasing the availability of mortgages for credit-worthy households who only have a 5% deposit, helping them realise their dream of home ownership. The lifetime ISA provides a bonus to those under 40 saving towards a home, worth up to £450,000.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Last week, The Sunday Times detailed the colossal sums imposed on ordinary people by rapacious freeholders and reckless developers. Why should anyone risk purchasing a lease on a residential flat if we fail as a Government to protect innocent leaseholders from bearing the costs of defective extra storeys or defective extra cladding forced on them by those who are actually responsible for such terrible defects?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. The Government are investing more than £5 billion in building safety, including an additional £3.5 billion announced this year for the remediation of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders living in high-rise residential buildings. We are also introducing a new tax on the UK residential property development sector and a new levy on developers of certain high-rise buildings to help pay for cladding remediation costs.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Since the scheme has been up and running—as he says, it has been a matter of only a few weeks—we have seen the provision of 95% mortgages expand from just five to 192. This is a significant change, and I am grateful to the industry for the moves that it has made, with Government support.
Educational Catch-up Provision Funding
We are providing a further £1.4 billion over the next three academic years for education recovery. This is on top of the £1.7 billion provided for academic year 2020-21.
It has been widely reported that it was the Chancellor who refused by a 90% margin to find the funding recommended by Sir Kevan Collins to help our nation’s children to catch up on their education after the pandemic. The Chancellor has benefited from a first-class private education, so will he take this opportunity to apologise to the generation of children he is letting down as the Tories refuse to invest in our children’s and our country’s future?
There was a striking omission from that question. There was no reference at all to the additional £2.2 billion of core school funding, over and above which there is the £1.4 billion announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Of course, the House would expect proposals to be evidence-led, deliverable and provide value for money, and we will work with Department for Education colleagues on that, but there was no mention in the hon. Gentleman’s question of the additional £2.2 billion of core school spending uplift this year.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that the significant long-term cost to our economy from the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children and young people is as much as £350 billion in lost earnings. Has the Treasury done its own assessment and will the Minister have the decency to publish it?
As I said in my last answer, we will have a review to inform the question in terms of the impact on time. Most of the debates that we have had in this House have focused on teacher quality as the biggest driver of outcomes for children, so we need to see the evidence of it. For example, if we look at Finland, we see that Finland has a shorter school day but a higher PISA—programme for international student assessment—result. If we look at the USA, we see that it has a longer school day but a lower PISA result. So it is right that we look at the evidence, but teacher quality is usually seen as the bigger driver and that is why we have funded the tuition in the way that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has.
With this Government, it seems that it is a case of “don’t know, don’t care”. The reality is that the Chancellor’s failure to invest in our children’s future is the very definition of a false economy. The Chancellor recently said that he could not say yes to everyone. He seemed to have no problem saying yes to the friends and donors of the Conservative party, but it is a no to the children who urgently need support to catch up after the biggest disruption to their education for a generation. Is the Minister really proud of that?
I am very proud that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has committed an additional £7.1 billion over three years to increase the school uplift, with £2.2 billion this year alone. I am very proud that he announced £1.7 billion of additional recovery funding. I am proud that he announced a further £1.4 billion, but again, the hon. Lady appears to have written her question before hearing the answer. The answer was that we will of course look as part of our review at the effectiveness of the additional time. I have cited some of the international evidence that we will look at, but teacher quality is usually the bigger driver and that is why we have focused on teacher training but also on the tuition programme, so that we are training an additional 500,000 teachers and rolling out 6 million tuition courses to get that targeted learning support to children across the country.
I was pleased to announce the location of eight new English freeports at the Budget in March. The next phase of delivery for freeports is being led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is working with the eight freeports to help them to establish the appropriate governance structures and develop their investment proposals. The Government will then review their proposals for investment and the deployment of the tax and customs reliefs later this year.
I welcome the news that we have a freeport in neighbouring Plymouth. Will the Chancellor’s Department please work with the Department for Transport to ensure that we have quick, flowing transport links across the Tamar to make the most of these opportunities for my constituents?
I am delighted for Plymouth and its surrounding communities that it has received freeport status. As my hon. Friend says, this is a fantastic opportunity to drive investment and create jobs. I will, of course, work with the Department for Transport on improving transport links across the south-west. She previously welcomed the £2.5 billion upgrade of vital road connections such as the A303, the A30 and the A358, as well as the replacement of the vital Dawlish sea wall, which will improve rail connectivity in the region.
Immigration: Sharing of Data between HMRC and Home Office
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has a strict duty of confidentiality in relation to information it holds on taxpayers. HMRC will share information on individuals or employers with the Home Office for immigration purposes only where a clear legal basis exists, and it will share or disclose only the information that is necessary and proportionate to the intended purpose through strict adherence to data protection principles, including the UK general data protection regulation. Personal data that is disclosed is minimised where it can be and strictly governed and subject to audit.
It is not necessary and proportionate in the cases I have been hearing about. In one case, someone who had been here as a highly skilled migrant for 10 years was refused the right to remain because he had miscalculated his tax by £1.20 years previously. What global talent does the Minister think will want to take the risk of uprooting their families to another country that may well kick them out for something HMRC previously said was a minor issue?
For reasons that I have described, I cannot comment on individual cases. However, the hon. Lady is welcome to raise them with HMRC on behalf of her constituents. I can tell her that legislation provides very specific, well-designed information-sharing gateways under an umbrella memorandum of understanding governing all data sharing between the two sides, and all of that is grounded in strict obedience with the law.
The Treasury carefully considers the equality impact of both individual measures and fiscal events on those sharing protected characteristics, including gender, in line with both its legal obligations and its strong commitment to promoting fairness.
I thank the Minister for that response, but there are glaring gaps. For instance, on women’s pensions, my constituent Kay cannot understand why she has to suffer because of the accelerated timetable for increases in women’s state pension age. What does the Minister say to her and to the Women Against State Pension Inequality who wonder why the Government have not undertaken an impact assessment of the detriment they have all faced?
The Treasury complies with its public sector equality duty and takes into account all sorts of circumstances that need to be considered before putting forward any policies. We have had numerous debates about WASPI pensions over the last four years, and I am afraid this issue is settled. If the hon. Lady has specific issues with a particular constituent, I encourage her to take those up with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Access to Cash
The Government recognise that cash is crucial to the daily lives of millions of individuals and businesses across the UK, and we have committed to legislate to protect access to cash. The Government made legislative changes to support the widespread offering of cashback without a purchase by shops and other businesses in the recent Financial Services Act 2021 and this summer we will consult on further legislative proposals for protecting cash for the long term.
I welcome the announcement that there will be further consultation, but will the Minister confirm that any legislation introduced post consultation will include a requirement on banks to provide adequate access to cash withdrawals that are free at the point of service and meet the needs of local communities in both urban and rural areas?
I can commit that we will look very carefully at the evidence on the best possible interventions to make. I am pleased that, as of March 2020, 98% of the population could access free cash within 3 km, but we have to come to terms with the fact that from 2009, when 56% of transactions were by cash, we were down to 17% by last year. We have to come up with appropriate legislation to meet that change.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
More than 1 million people still use only cash, and approximately 4 million use cash regularly, so it is vital that they have access to it. This is now the second consultation that the Treasury is going through, but as the PAC has seen, all the distribution of cash is in the hands of private providers. Can the Economic Secretary give any indication of the type of legislation that he can introduce to ensure that if people are very poor, they can get cash? That does not mean going to the supermarket and getting it out when they do not even know what is in their own account.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her recent elevation. I take her points on board, but this is a complex area. There will need to be a range of interventions from industry, working with regulators. The LINK scheme already has a £5 million fund to help areas of great deprivation and provide extra access points for cash, but we need to recognise that technology will have to play a significant role. We will also use the extensive network of 11,500 post offices to make good on our pledge to ensure that access to cash remains available across the country.
As we have reopened our economy since the last lockdown, we have continued to provide extensive support through our £400 billion plan for jobs, protecting businesses, families and individuals. I am pleased to say that the early data on household incomes, employment, corporate insolvencies and consumer and business confidence all show that our plan for jobs is working.
Following the Treasury’s announcement of compensation to cover up to 80% of the losses of holders of mini-bonds with London Capital & Finance, will the Chancellor now also act to provide full compensation to the victims of another scandal, the collapse of Equitable Life? The vast majority have received just 22% of their losses.
I can assure not just my hon. Friend, but Keith and Dave from the Titanic brewery, that we have consulted industry on the prospect of such a lower rate as part of our ongoing alcohol duty review. The team and my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary are working closely with HMRC to further understand the practicalities and the cost of the proposals; we will provide further updates in due course. My hon. Friend is right about securing hospitality in the meantime. The temporary VAT cut, the business rates holiday and, indeed, freezing beer duty at the last two Budgets are all helping in the short term.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Whether on social care, on Northern Powerhouse Rail or on tackling climate breakdown, there is a growing gap with this Government between what is promised and what is actually delivered. The Treasury’s response to the net zero review was first due to be published in autumn last year, yet it is nowhere to be seen. The COP26 climate summit begins in November. While the UK is hosting, the Government cannot lead with authority, because the fact is that we cannot have a climate strategy without a sustainable economic plan behind it. Will the Chancellor please tell the House on what date he will publish the final report of the net zero review?
The net zero report will of course be published imminently, but the hon. Lady talked about last autumn. Last autumn, the Prime Minister published the green 10-point plan, perhaps the most comprehensive plan from any Government anywhere in the world, on how we will meet our net zero ambitions. Contained within that plan was £12 billion of new investment, creating probably a quarter of a million jobs when all is said and done, ensuring our leadership in industries such as offshore wind and creating jobs in places such as Teesside and Humberside, which is important to the future prosperity of this country, so I think we are doing a great job of getting on with meeting our climate ambitions and demonstrating leadership to the world.
Then why not publish the net zero review, Chancellor? When it comes to this Government’s net zero strategy, tomorrow never comes. There is no time to waste, because it is the responsibility of all of us to hand on to our children and grandchildren a more sustainable planet, creating new opportunities for our pioneering British industries and investing today in the jobs of the future, whether in hydrogen, tidal energy or electric vehicles, to ensure the fair and just transition that we need to see. So, as the Chancellor still cannot give a date, months after the event, for when he will publish his final report on the net zero review, will he commit to ensuring that our net zero carbon targets are hard-wired through the forthcoming spending review, as I would do as Chancellor?
Meeting our climate ambitions is obviously at the heart of everything that the Government are doing. The hon. Lady talked about sectors where we should show leadership: I have just talked about offshore wind, and we can keep going, with electric vehicles. This country now has more rapid charging points per mile than any country in Europe other than Norway, and we are doing more.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 3MC.] She talked about showing leadership: as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) reminds me, we recently published the Dasgupta review, which is a groundbreaking piece of work on tackling biodiversity. She talked about infrastructure: we launched the UK Infrastructure Bank just last week, not a million miles away from her in Leeds, the home of the infrastructure revolution. And at the G7 summit that I recently hosted, we reached a landmark global agreement to get the G7 to agree to mandatory climate disclosures, because, much as she would like us to, this Government alone cannot solve all these problems. The private sector will have to play its part, which is why climate disclosures across the world would help to unlock billions in private capital to help us to meet our climate ambitions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I briefly pay tribute to him for his work last week on tech net zero. We launched the UK Infrastructure Bank last week in Leeds. Capitalised with £12 billion from the Government, it will unlock £40 billion of investment into tackling both levelling up and our net zero ambitions, and the team there are fantastic. I want to take this opportunity to say an enormous thank you to Chris Grigg for his superb leadership. It is brilliant that we can attract people of his calibre to lead these organisations, and I feel very confident about the UK Infrastructure Bank’s future progress.
Concerns have been raised that the narrow criteria of the Business Banking Resolution Service have left far too many ineligible, and also that not enough banks are participating in the scheme. With many businesses now at risk with covid-19 debt, can the Minister tell me what he intends to do about the situation?
The hon. Lady is right in the sense that many businesses have taken on debt to get through the crisis, which is why we have implemented something called Pay as You Grow. More than 1 million businesses took bounce back loans, and they now have the ability, at their option, to turn those loans instantly into 10-year loans, doubling the term and reducing their monthly payments by around half, and to take further six-months holidays or interest-only repayment periods. They can take any of those options and it will not have any impact on their credit score, because we recognise the burdens on cash flow and we want to do our bit to ease them and support our recovery.
Of course, local taxation in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government. The UK Government’s primary focus, as my hon. Friend will be aware, has been on supporting recovery from the pandemic, and we recognise that the tourism sector has been particularly hard hit. That is exactly why we have provided more than £7 billion so far through the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality, accommodation and attraction industries across the UK; it is why we have extended the reduced rate until 30 September 2021; and it is why we have put in place a much wider array of support as we come out and play it long in relation to the pandemic.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of the youth investment fund. It was a manifesto commitment and it is due to launch in the coming months. He will recall that at the spending review 2020 we allocated some funding to inform pilots, as we shape that launch.
The hon. Gentleman will know, as we have discussed it on many occasions, how we have absolutely bent over backwards to attempt to include as many people as possible and have leant into considerable discussion, both with excluded groups and with other related groups. As he will know, it is not a single picture; different groups are not included for different reasons. As a result, we have in part been able to evolve and extend the programmes, and he will be aware that we did so in the last iteration of the self-employed scheme.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the Government will need to ensure that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with the change away from petrol and diesel vehicles so that we can continue to fund infrastructure such as the A3, which she mentions. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for Transport can speak about her petition specifically, but I would like to reassure her and her constituents that this Government will continue to focus on record, unprecedented investment in the strategic roads network over this Parliament, through the £27.5 billion road investment strategy, which will deliver about 70 major upgrades.
It is absolutely clear that there are significant lessons for the FCA to learn from the Gloster review, and I have regular conversations, including just last week, with the new chief executive on the transformation programme. He has employed five new senior executives to drive that programme forward urgently, and I look forward to seeing the results of that intervention.
My hon. Friend rightly recognises the value of the TIGRR report, which we received last week, and we will be looking very carefully at those recommendations. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor chairs the better regulation committee, which has been established to drive forward a new strategy to deliver better regulation outside the EU. There is a lot of work to be done, but progress is being made.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have made available to local authorities, initially at least, £1.5 billion and a further top-up sum, in order precisely to meet hard cases that may fall between the cracks of the very wide-ranging support that we have given otherwise. I strongly encourage her constituent to talk to her local authority about that funding.
I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. He will know from the announcement at the Budget that the prospectus set out the process, the types of projects, and indeed how bids will be assessed. To reassure him, there will be further opportunities for local authorities to submit bids to the fund. One of the things that we are encouraging those local authorities to do is to work with elected Members of Parliament in the shaping of those bids, and I hope that they will now take the opportunity to do so.
The hon. Lady talked about outcomes in the labour market. She will know that we have now had six consecutive months of more people in work, which is something to be celebrated. Vacancies are now running higher than they were at the start of the pandemic, which is a fantastic sign of things to come. The unemployment rate, as I highlighted earlier, is now half what was forecast: 2 million fewer people are forecast to lose their jobs, which is lower than most of our major competitor countries. She is right to highlight, as we have discussed previously, the plight of young people. Our interventions, such as the kickstart scheme and the apprenticeship incentive, will continue to provide opportunity for them up and down the country.
I congratulate Elddis, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on giving Elddis profile, on fighting the campaign that he has, and on the outcome and its very successful results in this case. I have it on very good authority that the Chancellor would be delighted to visit Elddis, so I am in a position to make a binding commitment from the Government side, and I am sure that he looks forward to it very much.
Events Research Programme
The world-leading events research programme has conducted 14 pilot events across two phases since April. The findings from these events will inform decisions around the safe removal of social distancing at step 4 of the road map. We committed to publishing the final report ahead of step 4 of the road map, and that is what we will do. The report will cover key findings and the operational approach of the research programme. The events research programme has studied some highly complex questions. The guidance for the sector that comes out of this work will, however, be practical, clear and simply set out.
Following the delay to step 4, the Government will now run a third phase of the events research programme. This phase will gather more data, consolidating our evidence base and helping in our aim of getting spectators back to live events in greater numbers. Phase 3 will include trialling the practical use of covid certification at a range of events, alongside other mitigations. Some of these pilot events will be permitted at full capacity, providing visitors demonstrate their covid status. The men’s and women’s finals at Wimbledon, for example, will be played with centre court at full capacity, and those matches will be the first major outdoor sporting events held at full capacity in the UK since the start of the pandemic. The events research programme is continuing live discussions with a number of theatres and cultural and business event organisers about their inclusion in the programme, which would see events taking place with larger capacities.
I am sure that the House recognises how vital this research is in supporting the reopening of venues and sectors that we and our constituents are so passionate about. However, it is important to recognise that public safety is the main priority. Although we are not yet in a position to publish the full report, I assure the House that post-event data is closely monitored and has not shown any evidence of the events causing outbreaks. If the events had, we would have communicated that information urgently. As the Prime Minister has stressed, the road map is driven by the data, not target dates.
Like everybody present, I know how important it is for spectators to return to live events in greater numbers. We are hopeful that the events research programme will enable us to work with the experts and the events sectors to allow reopening as planned in step 4 of the road map.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and the Minister for his response.
The terms of reference for the programme were published on 22 February; we are four months on and no results have been published. Last month, the Secretary of State said in a newspaper interview that 15 of the 58,000 ERP participants had tested positive for covid, but still no results have been published. I am afraid there was nothing in the Minister’s response to explain the failure to publish the results. What is the secret? Why will the Government not tell the public, the industry and us what the results are?
All those who have spent time and money on organising and hosting test events, and those who rely on the programme, would like to see the results. They wanted to see them in real time or, at the very least, at regular intervals over the past four months. Without seeing the results, how can they plan for the summer? How are the public to understand the Government’s plan for the sector?
Organisations involved in the ERP have told me that a report with those good results was produced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they were not allowed to see it. They also told me that No. 10 refused to allow the report to be published last week because it did not fit with the communications grid. Did No. 10 block publication of the report last week?
What evidence are the Government using to make decisions about pilot events? Why are some organisations getting the go-ahead to test events and not others? Andrew Lloyd Webber refused to join the programme because the rest of the industry was not being treated equally; do companies have to have the Prime Minister’s mobile number to run a test event? Kendal Calling was cancelled yesterday because its application to participate in the third phase of the ERP was refused. Under what criteria was Wimbledon accepted as a pilot? When was that agreed? Will there be a fourth stage of the ERP if restrictions remain in place for the sector beyond 19 July? Finally, will the Minister just publish the ERP results today?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and agree with her that many people have been involved in the events research programme. We thank David Ross, Nick Hytner and all those involved—including hundreds of volunteers up and down the country—who have made the events so successful.
When we announced the programme, we outlined our intention to release the report prior to step 4 and that is exactly what we will do: we will release the report very soon. The ERP report is subject to a comprehensive and rigorous co-ordination and approval process across Departments; the academic institutions that have been involved in the programme, as the hon. Lady knows; and the ERP governance board.
The programmes have been selected in consultation with the science advisers on the events research programme science board. Those events involved in the latest phase, phase 3, have been approached based on the advice we received on the information we need to get out of the events research programme. They were approached on an equal basis. We will announce further ERP programmes shortly.
Many of the event organisers who took part in the pilots did so at a financial loss, purely to help their industry and the country more widely, so the delay in getting the vital data into the public domain is a huge let-down and is undoubtedly leading to cancellations, with Kendal Calling festival being the latest example just yesterday.
Will my hon. Friend commit to releasing all available data as a matter of urgency and writing to the Select Committee with what we know to date? Does he recognise that the clear failure to do so adds to a growing impression that some decision makers are being swayed by unaccountable scientists without the proper and relevant data being put before them? After all, we are a democracy, not some sort of scientocracy.
My hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee, highlights the importance of making sure that information is correct and data is accurate, because it will help inform decisions about opening up. We will also be using the events research programme to provide guidance to the sector. We are well aware that it needs that guidance as far in advance as possible in order to help with events and logistical arrangements when they open. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I completely agree. We want to get the information and data out very soon. We will be doing so before the next phase, as we stated at the beginning of the programme.
The events and live music sector has been calling for Government covid insurance help for months, as have the SNP and many Tory MPs, including members of the Select Committee. Why are Ministers not listening to their colleagues on this issue? What are the arguments against offering insurance help for this vital sector, which desperately needs it?
I should say that we very much appreciate the work that has been happening with the devolved Administrations, co-operating with information sharing relating to the events research programme. As the Secretary of State made clear at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Thursday 13 May, the Government are very aware of the wide concerns about securing indemnity for the live events sector. We continue to assess options to provide further support to the sector within the public health context. These are live considerations.
The work that DCMS has done in getting cash to businesses in the arts sector in my constituency and beyond has been great, but getting people into venues is now what is required, as highlighted to me last weekend when I visited the Empire theatre in Consett, and at a national level, by great organisations such as UK Music. I welcome the events research programme and what it is doing to look at reopening. It sounds like it is good news. Publishing it soon will be vital for the sector, so that they can get on with planning to reopen. If it is good news, it is also going to be vital for public confidence in booking. Will the Minister commit to publishing the findings as soon as possible, so that theatres, nightclubs and other venues in my constituency can get on with planning to reopen?
As my hon. Friend says, the purpose of the events research programme was precisely for those goals—to help inform decision making around the opening of public events and large events on a scale that we have not been able to experience over the last few months. We will be publishing the information shortly, as well as guidance to help events open.
My constituency is home to internationally-known theatre and music venues and exhibition centres. They tell me they are still waiting for promised Government funds, an insurance scheme that gives them certainty on reopening and, specifically, the publication of the events research programme report. One industry source told me today that failure to publish
“is both creating confusion and eroding confidence across the events industry.”
What should I tell them, their customers and their staff?
As I mentioned, we are considering the indemnity issues. The sector has had support through, for example, the culture recovery fund, which is a £2 billion fund, as well as other support from Government. The whole purpose of the events research programme was and is to enable the sectors to open as soon as possible.
It is important to stress as well that under step 3 of the road map, indoor events of up to 1,000 people and outdoor events of up to 4,000 people or, in some cases, 10,000 people, can happen. We have not gone back—that is still possible under step 3 of the road map. Many events are taking place right across the country precisely because of that.
In my constituency and others, many events over the summer, such as highland games, agricultural shows and the rest, have been cancelled for a second year in a row. Was there ever an expression of interest from the Scottish Government to hold any test events north of the border? Should any event organisers in mine or any other Scottish constituency approach DCMS for permission to be made a test event, would the Minister consider that?
We are co-operating with the devolved Administrations, as I mentioned. They run separate programmes. The programme held in England is the largest that we are aware of in the world, and the most comprehensive and broadest. We will be sharing information and data. The spirit of co-operation is there across the nations, but there are no plans for the English-based ERP programme to consume the Scottish programme at this moment in time. We need to co-operate.
I trust that I am always consistent in what I say—what I am about to ask will come as no surprise to either the Minister or the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). If the Government were to underwrite insurance for events and festivals, it would be a real boost and would really get them going again. There is a precedent, when it comes to terrorism. Her Majesty’s Government do rather well out of that—they make a profit on the deal. Will the Government think again?
First, may I thank the Minister for his personal visit to my constituency and to the fantastic Puzzlewood attraction? I know that he had a fantastic time and helped to sell the benefits of my constituency more widely. On this particular subject, though, I am a little confused. When the Government do not publish something, it is normally because it is bad news and they are trying to hide it away. I have a very strong suspicion that this set of data is fantastically positive. It must be ready for publication because it must have been prepared for last week when step 4 was due to announced. My fear is that it demonstrated the opposite of the decision that the Prime Minister announced last week and that we could have opened safely on 21 June. That is the real reason it has not been published. Why does the Minister not publish it today and put our minds at rest?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his initial comments. I very much enjoyed meeting his constituents and visiting his constituency. I am afraid that I would not buy into some of his conspiracy theories around this. We have said already that, if there were major concerns, we would have made sure that that information was in the public arena. That would be the responsible thing to do. Some of the initial data points were already announced by the Secretary of State back in May. The report needs to be comprehensive and it needs to be reviewed by a large number of stakeholders in Government. We will be releasing it very soon.
The live events sector, musicians and the creative industries have been severely hit during this pandemic, with many excluded from Government support schemes. They deserve clarity, but instead of transparency, the Government have been busy trying to hide information, including the findings from the events research programme, which should have been published last month as initially promised. Can the Minister confirm whether the Prime Minister had access to the events research programme and used the findings to inform his decisions about extending lockdown restrictions? If seeing that information was important enough for him, why is it not good enough for this Parliament and for people who are desperately trying to plan to reopen their businesses?
Again, I am afraid that I do not buy into some of the conspiracy theories circulating around here. Clearly, the goal of the Government—the goal of the whole House—is to open up sectors as soon as we can in a responsible way. The events research programme is providing vital and pivotal information to enable us to do so. We will be providing additional guidance to the events sector, and we have been providing further support for these vital sectors—[Interruption.] I agreed with the hon. Gentleman’s first comment. These are pivotal sectors for the economy and for our livelihood and we want to provide them with support.
Is not the example of Israel, where a high level of vaccination among the general population acted as a means to avoid any restrictions on events, one for the Government to follow? If my hon. Friend were to publish this report, he most certainly would not be damned.
I am not sure how to read that, but I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I think he makes an important point about the correlation between opening up and the vaccination programme. We would not be where we are, even with some of the smaller events that we have already enabled to open up or with the events research programme, were it not for the incredibly successful vaccination programme to date. I thank everyone involved in that, because that is what is enabling these sectors to open up, with all the economic and mental health benefits that come with these major events taking place.
The delay in the publication of this ERP data is not without real-world consequences, particularly for us in north Lancashire and south Cumbria where we saw the cancellation yesterday of the Kendal Calling festival. That is a festival that has received no support from the culture recovery fund, and it has been cancelled now for a second year. That will have real-world economic consequences in my local area. I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said, but he has failed to give any credible reason for the delay in publishing this data. Can he try once to give one credible reason for the delay in publishing this data?
We will be announcing phase 3 of the culture recovery fund very shortly, and I am sure that it will be received as positively across the whole House as the previous phases. It is important to be very clear that we are unable to get to step 4 of the road map not because of the delay in the release of this document but because of increases in infection rates, concerns about the variants of concern, and the inability to meet the tests required to get to phase 4. That is why we are not able to open all the events programmes as we would like to at this moment in time. It is responsible for us to continue with the events research programme so as to be in the best possible position to take full advantage when we are able to open.
I welcome the work that has been done through the events research programme. However, does my hon. Friend agree that even when step 4 is reached, the events sector will need some confidence that it can plan for future events knowing that they are either considered to be safe because of the work of the events research programme or because there is sufficient insurance in place to protect them in case new restrictions come, and that without that confidence it will be very difficult for events organisations to plan for the future?
My hon. Friend, who has a lot of credibility and experience in this area, makes absolutely the right points. Even when we can open, there will be a need to build confidence in the public arena, and some of these sectors have been hit so hard that it will take several years for them to recover. We will be continuing to support them through the next phase of the CRF and other support measures. We will publish guidance along with the report that will also help these sectors to open up.
I thank the Minister for his responses so far. Does he agree that mixed messages are being sent about safety outdoors, with schools still making parents and children carry on wearing masks, yet they can walk from school to the playground without a mask? Will he undertake to clarify the requirements for outdoor activities as a whole and not be limited to the pilot schemes for large-scale events so that all Government Departments can send the same message across all Departments and all regions, particularly the Northern Ireland Assembly? All information can then be shared equally, and there can be the same policy across all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I would not want to step into some of the devolved issues or indeed some of the concerns being expressed. However, to be fair, most of the devolved Administrations, as well as the UK Government, are setting clear guidance about when facemasks are required. The events research programme has been trialling events without social distancing and without facemasks precisely to look at where we can open up further, which I think is the point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make.
The events and conferences sector has such a positive impact on our economy, not least because it showcases the UK around the world, provides a platform for businesses to export and attracts inward investment, yet it is on its knees as one of the last sectors still to be almost shut down because of the covid emergency. Will the Minister publish this data? He has acknowledged that the pilot events have not led to increased infection rates. Is it not time to give the events and conferences sector a clear timetable for reopening?
I could not agree more about the sector’s pivotal role and its absolutely pivotal importance to our economic wellbeing, as a lot of sales go on at business events, conferences and so on right across the country. It is a major part of our economy and we want to get it open as soon as possible. We have had a business event as part of the ERP programme and we are hoping to have another one as well. It is a sector that I pay close attention to, as it is a pivotal part of the economy, and I will be happy to work with my right hon. Friend to promote it in the long term. It was mentioned in the tourism recovery plan last week as a major part of our potential growth.
It is good to see the success of events such as the Download festival pilot, which gives us all a glimpse of a post-covid restriction life that might be possible. However, it is only possible for these events to go ahead with Government underwriting. Can the Minister not see the necessity of extending events insurance if more events like this one are to go ahead?
I am incredibly heartened to hear the Minister say that the reinsurance scheme is under active consideration. I am further heartened that he accepted the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) that the last time we did this kind of thing it made the Exchequer money—we got the planes off the ground after 9/11 and made a profit for the Treasury. Does the Minister agree that the industry, which is worth £84 billion a year, really deserves the confidence of a reinsurance scheme, and that it is a vote of confidence in global Britain and in our vaccine scheme?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a hugely important sector to our economy; it employs 1.5 million people right up and down the country, and there are whole households that rely on it. That is exactly why we have the events research programme: to try to build confidence so that we can get the sector up and running again. We will be looking at alternative ways in which we can continue to support the sector, including indemnity.
Organisers have done their side of the bargain and so have people attending these testers, but now the Government’s lack of communication is threatening a summer’s worth of events. Industry experts such as Tysers and the Association of Independent Festivals are clear that a Government-backed insurance scheme would protect events and unlock a potential £9 billion boost to our economy, but what we have heard today from the Minister is equivocation about plans that might come forward in the future. It is already the middle of June, so will he meet the moment now and give people the definitive answer that they are all waiting for?
At the risk of repeating myself, it is really important that we recognise that the whole point of the events research programme is to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking for: to provide confidence that these events can go ahead. As I have said—this is important, because there has been a lack of clarity about this and some misinformation being spread—events of a certain size can go ahead already, including indoor events of up to 1,000 people and outdoor events of 4,000, or in exceptional cases up to 10,000. Many events can go ahead. The major events will be sharing the learnings from the events research programme very soon, which will be pivotal to helping those major events take place.
It was great to see thousands of people enjoying the Download festival this weekend: it reminded us all of the more normal times that we all crave and gave hope to all those who are hoping to attend Boardmasters in Newquay this summer. Boardmasters brings £45 million into our local economy and supports more than 400 jobs. Can the Minister confirm that, provided that we take step 4 on 19 July, with the continued successful roll-out of the pilot scheme, we have every hope that Boardmasters will go ahead in August? Will he ensure that those who run Boardmasters are provided with the guidance that they need in a timely manner so that they can make the necessary preparations to run the event safely?
I know what a huge supporter of the sector my hon. Friend is. Boardmasters sounds like a very exciting event; I know that there have been some problems in the past with being able to hold it, but we want to ensure that that event and others planned for later in the summer get guidance. We are working on that guidance at this moment in time. The events research programme learnings will provide information going into that guidance, which we hope to be able to release prior to the announcement of step 4. My hon. Friend makes the really important point that the organisers need to plan ahead and plan the logistics. We want to help them with that.
Kendal Calling, in a statement on its website cancelling this year’s event, says:
“Our understanding is that…DCMS…are keen to publish the ERP findings and guidance, but that it now does not fit around No. 10’s communications plan. This is insulting to our entire industry, who have been awaiting the results of a pilot event that took place almost 2 months ago to inform our approach to staging events safely this summer.”
If it is reasonable for the Government to use that data, and if the data is in a fit state for the Government to use to make decisions, is it not reasonable to make it available to businesses to allow them to plan?
As I have said repeatedly, we will be releasing the information and data very soon. I will have to repeat this, because it has obviously not been understood: the reason that we were not able to get to step 4 and that events cannot take place at this moment in time at a scale that we would all desire is not that the release of the report has not happened, but that there has been an increase in infection rates and that there are concerns around the delta variant. That is the reason for the delay in step 4.
If, when the Minister looks at the results, he does not find any differentiation between the sporting arenas that are largely seated and those that are largely not seated, will he look to equalise the allowable crowd capacities at the two types of venue? The latter will suffer an awful lot during the next four weeks.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for his comments. I know how passionate he is about this sector, in particular racing. I have had conversations with the sector about this. We can increase capacity up to 10,000 where there is a seated capacity of over 16,000. However, we still have some concerns about events where there is the potential for mingling and, taking public health advice, we have been unable to allow further opening at this moment in time. I am aware of the impact that has had on certain sectors, in particular racing, and that is exactly why we want to get the events research programme moving and all these sectors open as soon as possible.
Indeed, this is a hugely important sector up and down the country; it is a major employer and makes a major contribution to our economy. That is precisely why a variety of schemes, including the Government’s general support measures and the culture recovery fund, have been pivotal in helping the events sector. Importantly, we are also encouraging those in the supply chain to apply for the additional restriction grant, and we are encouraging councils up and down the country to be sympathetic to applications to that programme from events supply chain businesses.
The events research programme has been an invaluable lifeline for many flagship events. The British Grand Prix at Silverstone, due to be held between 15 and 18 July, is the UK’s largest annual sporting event, with more than 140,000 in attendance. It contributes more than £100 million to the local economy in my constituency and neighbouring areas, sitting in the heart of “motorsport valley”, supporting 40,000 UK jobs. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that the Formula 1 British Grand Prix goes ahead as part of this programme, as a fully attended spectator event?
It does not surprise me at all that my hon. Friend raises this issue; we have had many conversations about the importance of the motorsport sector. We continue to work very closely with our partners in Formula 1 and elsewhere in Government to deliver this year’s Silverstone grand prix with as many fans as possible. Plans are progressing very well, the discussions are constructive, and we hope to be able to set out further details shortly.
As 2017 UK city of culture, we in Hull know how vital the arts and cultural events sector is for keeping existing jobs and generating new ones. Creative Hull, the Humber Street Sesh and the Freedom festival have all made preparations, based on Government guidance, to be covid-safe and secure, and have invested time and money. Should they be able to become pilot events if they so wish?
Of course, we cannot involve every single event, worthy though many of them are, in the ERP. We have had conversations, or are currently in conversations, with those entities that are in the consideration set at the moment. I am afraid that we will not be able to include all those we would like to, but I encourage events to take place to the greatest extent that they are able within current step 3 guidance if they cannot be part of the current phase 3 of the events research programme.
I am excited to tell the House that the world-famous Buxton International festival will be going ahead from 8 July, as will the fantastic Buxton Fringe alongside it, and Eat in the Park later in the year. Unfortunately, not all events locally are as fortunate. The fantastic Hope show, one of the UK’s biggest and best agricultural shows, has already had to be cancelled, and it is still uncertain whether the Y Not festival, which is due to take place at the end of July, can go ahead. These incredibly important local events are the lifeblood of our local economy, but they take a long time to plan, with large up-front costs. I urge the Minister to pull out all the stops to restore confidence in the events sector, including looking at an indemnity scheme, so that we can look forward to a great British summer of events.
My hon. Friend is clearly passionate about the events sector and has a large number of events planned in his constituency, which is fantastic. Some of them are able to go ahead—that is great; I encourage them to do so, obviously within existing guidance and by talking to local public health. Later in the year—as soon as we possibly can—it is absolutely our ambition to open up far more events at much greater scale, and we will provide guidance that will help enable them to do that.
In March, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report said:
“The hospitality and entertainment sectors have not seen sufficient data to underpin decisions relating to their industry…building trust with these sectors is absolutely essential and the level of transparency has not been sufficient.”
The test events seem to have gone well. In Liverpool, apparently only 11 of 13,000 people tested positive and the local director of public health said the event caused “no detectable spread” of the virus. However, we know that only from the press reports, because the data has not been published for that event or any other. The Minister has still not explained properly why that is. Does he think that is an acceptable way to rebuild trust and transparency with these businesses?
As everybody knows, a huge amount of information and data at a local level about infection rates is available weekly online; in fact, it is updated daily. As I said at the beginning, if there were a major outbreak, we would inform the House and others about it. We will publish the information in due course, but it is vital that we do so sensibly. The report is pretty comprehensive, and we must go through due process before releasing it.
Does the Minister agree that the 1.5 million people who work in the events industry are largely self-employed and thus often miss out on furlough payments, so reopening events and conferences is crucial to their and their families’ welfare?
I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a hugely important part of our economy. Many have been able to access some—but, admittedly, not all—of the support programmes offered by the Government. There are additional discretionary schemes available through local government for some of the smaller suppliers. In particular, as I have mentioned previously in the House, we want the events supply chain to benefit from the additional restrictions grants; I appealed to local authorities to be very generous with such applicants.
I think that everybody who organises these events understands that during a pandemic there can be unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone’s control that mean an event has to be cancelled or significantly reduced. However, the uncertainty about event insurance underwritten by the Government is due entirely to the Government’s refusal to answer the question already asked numerous times this afternoon. When should the events sector expect to know whether Government support for covid cancellation insurance will ever be forthcoming?
As I have said previously, we are well aware of the sector’s concerns and the uncertainty with which it is living. That is precisely why we are trying to get as much open as soon as possible. The sector needs to have confidence to reopen and do what it does best: getting out there, entertaining people and enabling people to enjoy themselves at sporting events and so many other things. The Secretary of State did say to the Select Committee that we are aware of the concerns about indemnity and looking at options.
Thanks to the brilliant events research programme, thousands of people have been able to enjoy events including the FA cup final and Euro 2020 fixtures at Wembley. Following the programme’s success, does my hon. Friend agree that there is no reason why we should not be able to open up football stadiums at full capacity from the start of the new season in August?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s hope and aspiration. That is precisely why we conducted the programme. Despite the cynicism we have heard from Opposition Members, the events research programme is important not just for its scientific learnings but in helping to lift the mood of the nation. The fact that we have been able to watch football with crowds in stadiums again has been fantastic. We will shortly see other events such as Wimbledon, with centre court again at full capacity. Life is getting back to normal, and that is something we should be celebrating.
Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) said earlier, has the Minister actually read what the Kendal Calling festival said about the reason it cancelled? It stated that, crucially, it was the Government’s failure to publish the research from the events research programme, and with it safety guidance. That is why it had to cancel, even though the festival fell beyond the reopening dates. The Society of London Theatre said that research from the Crucible theatre and the snooker world championship showed no difference—a negligible difference—between 25% and 100% capacity. Why are the Government hiding this information from the public, to the detriment of our theatres, our venues and our festivals?
I am very disheartened to hear that events are cancelling, but we need to be clear: events could not necessarily take place under step 3 of the road map. We need to be in step 4 before many of these events can open. So the hon. Gentleman is confusing the release of the publication of a report with the rules and regulations regarding the steps in the road map. They are two different things.
I thank the Minister and his Department for allowing thousands of cricketing fans like me and others to go to Edgbaston to watch the recent England and New Zealand test match. The thrill of being back in the stadium is a great thing, even if the cricket was a bit sketchy. I also welcome the inclusion of the England versus Pakistan one-day international on 13 July. Does he agree that the public accept the cautious nature of what the Government are doing, and appreciate the careful consideration of all the data to ensure that we approach step 4 properly?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and I agree with him completely. As I said, a huge amount of work and effort has been done by event organisers, as well as by those involved in the events research programme, including the chairs, Nick Hytner and David Ross, for whom we have extreme appreciation. Such events are very valuable and are lifting our spirits in the way described by my hon. Friend.
The pilot scheme means that, although some events are going ahead at full capacity, other events cannot continue at all. Contradictions in Government guidance mean that amateur choirs cannot even rehearse indoors with protective measures in place, despite other non-professional activities, such as amateur orchestras, brass bands, theatre and grassroots team sports being allowed indoors. Can the Minister explain why choirs have been singled out from other similar risk activities? Will the Government update guidance to allow non-professional choirs to resume their valuable activities, or do they have to apply to be pilot events to be allowed to rehearse and perform?
The hon. Lady is correct in highlighting the difference between professional and non-professional choirs. In accordance with performing arts guidance, non-professional groups of up to six people can now sing indoors. They can also perform or rehearse in groups of up to 30 outdoors, or in multiple groups of 30 outdoors, provided that the groups are kept separate. Those limits do not apply to commercial activities. We all know from our mail bags that this is an area of importance to our constituents, and we want to get choirs up and running again in all formats as soon as possible.
I fear there is a two-tier system when it comes to data. The data tends to exist for football, motor racing, tennis and horse racing, yet there is no data to support outdoor events in my constituency. The Black Deer festival takes place in Eridge park. It is a music event. It is completely covid-safe, with track and trace and a covid manager in an outdoor area, yet it had to cancel, which has knocked our local economy and is undermining local jobs. What advice and support can the Minister give to Gill, who has unfortunately had to cancel the Black Deer festival, which was hoping to host around 10,000 people in an arena fit for 40,000?
I was very sorry to hear that the Black Deer festival has been unable to take place this year. I know that is enormously disappointing to many of my hon. Friend’s constituents and indeed to her, because I have spoken to her about this. She has lobbied very effectively on behalf of the festival and all the stakeholders, including Gill, who has also been in contact with the Department. I am afraid we have not been able to make every event, including many incredibly worthy events, ERP events, even in phase 3. But I must say to my hon. Friend that it is not true they are all sporting events; a wide variety of events—indoor, outdoor events, music events, business events and so on—are all part of the events research programme, because we want to get learnings across multiple sectors.
Like many Warringtonians, and indeed a number of other hon. Members who I know plan to attend, I am massively looking forward to Warrington’s Neighbourhood Weekender festival, which has been rescheduled for September. Naturally, news that the Kendal Calling festival has been cancelled has caused huge concern to the events sector, as has the lack of publication of the events research programme. Festivals cannot plan ahead on a vague promise of “very soon” from the Minister, so what recent discussions has the Minister had with festivals across the country that need to make imminent decisions impacting on jobs, livelihoods and events of cultural significance to ensure they can go ahead?
I can assure the hon. Lady that I, other Ministers and officials in the Department are in frequent contact with stakeholders across the variety of sectors that are reliant on the results of the events research programme, and also the guidance she mentions, beforehand. So it is absolutely the intent to release the report prior to step 4. We also want to make sure that the events sector has the relevant guidance so that it can help events to open as effectively and efficiently as possible as soon as they are able to do so.
Will my hon. Friend join me in praising the events sector, especially those businesses and organisations in Stoke-on-Trent, for the measures they have put in place and taken to cautiously begin reopening in line with restrictions over the past few months, and does he agree that the events research programme will play a crucial role in supporting the sector to be able to bring back much larger events over the coming months?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I have said, this is a hugely important sector at both a local and a national level in terms of the economic impact, and I thank those in the sector for their incredibly constructive engagement throughout the process. That engagement will continue, because we all want to see numbers increase over time so that they can get back to doing the things that they love and we love them doing.
I really feel for the Minister, who has clearly been sent here to say as little as possible in an hour, and in that he has largely succeeded, but it does a real disservice to the creative arts, the exhibition and the events sector, which want to be able to plan ahead. He says, “data, not dates”, and I agree with him. Where is the data to allow these companies and organisations to be able to plan ahead? Get on with it, cut the waffle and publish the data.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive advice. I can absolutely share that. I sense the frustration in the Chamber. Believe me, we all have the same goal here. We want the events sector to open as soon as possible as safely as possible and to get back to doing the things that we love it doing. Absolutely, we all recognise that. But Opposition Members did vote with the Government last week on the step 4 programme. One of the points of that is in terms of the timing of being able to open events. We listen, we look at the data and see what is appropriate to open at the appropriate time. As I have said, before we are able to open the broader sector under step 4, we will be releasing the report and we will be releasing guidance to achieve the goals that he and I both want to achieve.
Reopening sports, live music and theatre is obviously very important. Many companies, such as Stage Audio Services in Dudley South, rely on community events, and business events and conferences as well. Will my hon. Friend make sure that the next phase does include such business events, so that we can bring people back safely to the full range of events and all of the jobs that rely on them?
First, I have to say that that is a fantastic tie. In terms of the events sector, my hon. Friend knows as well as I do, as a west midlands MP, that he is making a really important point. As for the per capita contribution, the business events sector is greatest in the west midlands. We have major, fantastic, world-class events facilities and we want to get them back up and running as soon as possible. I look forward to working with him, because he is a fantastic champion for his constituents, to make sure that we can do so as soon as possible. I hope that we will have—we are planning on having—a business event in the latest programme as well. The final details, which have yet to be concluded on, will be announced soon.
The cancellation of Kendal Calling in the north of England has been devastating to the whole region. In the statement that Kendal Calling issued, it said that its understanding was that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had the information from the events research programme and could release it, but that No. 10 did not want it released. That is staggering if true. What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact on the livelihoods of people working in this area in the north of England specifically, because many of the events being mentioned here are in the south? There seems to be a huge lack of recognition of the hugely important work done in the north and the number of people’s jobs that rely on the industry.
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we recognise the importance of these sectors right across the country. If she remembers, phase 1 of the events research programme had a particular focus on Liverpool because of its ability to work with and focus with us. I recognise that some of the events that have been announced recently are particularly focused in the south. We will announce more events right across the country. She makes a really important point: these sectors thrive in the right conditions right across the country, and I want to work with them to do so again. They are hugely important to all our constituencies.
The excellent Minister has talked about publication being in due course, shortly, very soon, as soon as possible. I was going to ask: what does that mean in English? Does it mean this week or next week? But I want to ask him something more important, bearing in mind that this was sort of agreed with the Secretary of State in the Chamber a week or so ago. Would the Minister consider making this House of Commons a pilot event for one Wednesday before recess, ripping out these stupid barriers, getting the public back in and voting in the Lobbies to see what happens?