House of Commons
Monday 12 July 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Before we come to Question 1, I wish to inform the House that there is an error on the call list. Cat Smith’s Question 14 is listed as asking about the dismantling of county lines drug gangs. In fact, her tabled question was about steps taken to ensure that Border Force staff are trained on exemptions from requirements for covid-19 testing. I understand that Ministers have been informed and that the correct question will be answered when we reach that point.
The Secretary of State was asked—
Hate Crime Legislation: Law Commission Review
All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has a robust legislative framework to respond to it. We are absolutely clear that the cowards who commit these hateful acts should feel the full force of the law. We will of course work with the Law Commission on its review of hate crime legislation.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the complete unacceptability of hate crimes. The dictionary defines misogyny as “dislike or contempt for”, or indeed, “prejudice against” women. Every year, tens of thousands of women in this country face emotional and physical violence, often prompted by exactly that sort of prejudice. Making racially and religiously motivated crimes aggravated offences has helped the police to tackle them, but the law does not provide the same protections against gender-based hate crimes, so does the Home Secretary agree that, if the Law Commission recommends improvements in those areas, they should be a matter of priority?
First, let me acknowledge the points that the hon. Lady has made. She is absolutely right about hate crimes, misogyny and crimes against women in particular, and some of the most appalling and corrosive attitudes against women that we have seen across our society for too long. On the Law Commission report, we are waiting for its findings. I can give her and the House every assurance that we will work with the Law Commission. Alongside that important point, we will be publishing very soon—in the next few weeks, in fact—our strategy on violence against women and girls. I want to go on the record to emphasise that any form of violence, oppression, sexism or hatred against women and girls is thoroughly unacceptable and this Government are absolutely adamant in dealing with it.
Fire and Rescue Service: Negotiations on Pay and Conditions
Fire and rescue professionals work tirelessly to protect their communities. Currently, the National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services is responsible for negotiating the pay and conditions of fire and rescue authority employees, and central Government have no direct role in this process. The Home Office will be launching a consultative White Paper on fire reform later this year.
This Government should salute the courageous men and women of the fire and rescue service, who are the envy of the world, not constantly attack them. It is universally recognised that trade union membership and collective bargaining rights for workers are among the most effective ways to reduce inequality. “Brexit will not be used to reduce labour standards” was the constant cry from Government Ministers. Prove it, Home Secretary. Commitment after commitment has been given to protect and promote collective bargaining. Deliver it, Home Secretary. Stand by your word and confirm that the collective bargaining rights of firefighters within their chosen trade union will not be diminished in any way.
The hon. Gentleman has a long association with the trade union movement, which I know he has found rewarding in every sense of the word. As I said, we are not, as a Government, involved in pay bargaining for the fire service. There is a national joint council, where the Fire Brigades Union is represented 50:50 with employers. As I am sure he will know, the FBU has accepted a pay offer for the coming year that will be payable from the 1st of this month. There will be a White Paper looking at reform in the future and we will see what comes out of that consultative process.
Crime and Violence: Young People
From 2019 to 2022, this Government will have provided more than £242 million across the 18 areas that account for the majority of knife crime and other serious violence incidents. This money is funding violence reduction units, which will draw together all key partners to address the root causes of violence as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. The House has recently approved the serious violence duty in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and we are investing more than £200 million over the next decade in the youth endowment fund to help interventions to divert young people away from serious violence.
In Nottinghamshire, our violence reduction unit has played a key role in strategic planning and supporting practical local work to protect our young people from harm. Can the Minister provide any reassurance that VRUs will continue to form part of our local response to serious youth violence, supported by Home Office funding?
This Government take extremely seriously the harm that serious violence causes all people across society, but particularly young people who are dragged into gangs by gang leaders. That is why, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have introduced, as I said, the serious violence duty. We are also increasing sentences for the most violent offenders. VRUs remain a key part of our work to tackle serious violence, as demonstrated by our £2.6 million invested in Nottingham alone.
Youth clubs and groups teach young people valuable skills and help to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister join me in praising the neighbourhood policing teams in Clwyd South, who work in partnership with youth services and local councils, including in the Ceiriog valley, where together they are involving more young people in the local rugby club and hiring a mobile BMX course?
I am very pleased to join my hon. Friend in praising his local police, but also the local charities and other services that are working together to help young people to escape a life of crime. Sport can have many benefits. With our £200 million youth endowment fund, over the next 10 years, we will see the benefits of sport programmes, but also of other types of intervention to help to remove young people from the clutches of gang leaders. I am delighted also that my hon. Friend’s police force has received almost 100 new police officers as part of this Government’s commitment to tackling violent crime and making our streets safer with 20,000 new officers.
Does the Minister agree that one way to stop young people from becoming involved in crime is to give them more opportunity to be active? Would she support the efforts of people such as Sean Ivey, who, despite suffering personal attacks, including having his home, car and caravan torched, is now leading efforts to support his community in attacking antisocial behaviour? Will she look at how we can support his efforts through targeted funding for distressed communities, and can I encourage her to come to Wingate in Sedgefield to see for herself the efforts being made?
I join my hon. Friend in commending and thanking Mr Ivey for all his efforts in his constituency to support others in Sedgefield and to tackle antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour, particularly of the sort that my hon. Friend has described, is absolutely unacceptable. Next week, we have a week of awareness raising on the perils of antisocial behaviour and the tools available to our councils, the police and, indeed, to us as Members of Parliament to tackle antisocial behaviour in our communities. As a Government, we have committed an additional £7.3 million in funding, and almost 90 new officers have been recruited to help to keep County Durham’s streets safe. I am very pleased to receive my hon. Friend’s invitation, and I will of course accept.
I had the pleasure of visiting Calderdale’s early action team on Friday, where West Yorkshire police and partner agencies are delivering some exemplary work, keeping children and young people safe from crime and exploitation. However, for all the positive work they do, chronic backlogs in the criminal justice system mean that it is taking anywhere up to 18 months for cases to be heard, delaying restorative justice for often young victims. Only with a swift and effective criminal justice system will these agencies be able to do their best work in protecting young people from criminality, so what is the Government’s plan to deliver a dynamic and effective youth justice system that is fit for purpose?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I know her own commitment in this area. The Government are taking a whole system approach to how we tackle serious violence. The journey of a young person who is involved in serious violence may start in seemingly tiny steps. It may be the offer of a new pair of trainers or the offer of a meal. That is how gang leaders ensnare young people into their gangs to go around the country selling drugs and so on. As part of the Government’s work, we are investing not only in very tough enforcement action, but in early intervention programmes. The youth endowment fund has just launched its toolkit, which will help local commissioners to discover which programmes work and have the best impact on early intervention. I commend that to the hon. Lady. I very much look forward to working with her and her local police force in helping to prevent serious violence among young people.
Knife Crime: Summer 2021
This year, we are investing more than £130 million to tackle serious violence at local level. That includes funding violence reduction units, which draw in all key partners, including the police, local authorities and the community, to address the root causes of violence, as well as targeted police action to deter and disrupt knife crime. It also includes up to £23 million for new early intervention programmes that will help stop young people being drawn into violence in the first place.
Yesterday, I spoke to Cindy, whom I met three years ago as we both worked to support her friend whose son had been murdered with a knife. She phoned to tell me that a 16-year-old son of another friend had also been stabbed and killed this weekend. She told me:
“I haven’t called his mum yet, I don’t know how I will bear hearing her screams in my ears.”
Knife crime has risen in every police command area across the country in the last decade, doubling since 2013. Lives are being lost, families devastated and communities traumatised every single week, yet the Government have disbanded the serious violence taskforce. Why are they so complacent about the loss of young lives?
May I try to correct the hon. Lady? First, clearly everyone in the House has heard the account she has given of her constituent and the families affected in her constituency by knife crime. We understand and we express very seriously our commiserations to the families involved. However, I do think the hon. Lady has perhaps missed the news about the violence reduction units, which we are funding, particularly in London, to help the police work together with other agencies, local authorities, local groups and so on to try to tackle serious violence both with enforcement and, importantly, with local intervention projects. Again, I very much welcome the opportunity at some point of sitting her down to talk about the youth endowment fund, for example, and to explain how that will help young people in her local communities. This Government are not complacent about serious violence or the deaths she has described. We are working very hard with the police and with local communities to ensure that these terrible crimes stop.
The Government have stated that they are committed to a public health approach to tackling violence affecting young people and the Minister has just mentioned the violence reduction units, yet our 18 violence reduction units only receive short-term funding settlements. The work these units do is extremely important in tackling the root causes of violence, but they cannot formulate long-term strategies without long-term funding, so what is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that the comprehensive spending review delivers on that?
As the hon. Lady knows, because we have discussed this many times in the past, violence reduction units are a key part of our work to tackle serious violence. We are constrained within the current spending review, with the wider problems of the pandemic and the impact that has had on Government spending, but she will know that the Government have invested record amounts in these units to get them working across the country in the 18 areas most hit by serious violence. However, we are going further than that, because through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are imposing a serious violence duty on every single local area across the country, so that every single area is taking the public health approach that she so commends, and rightly so.
Michael Jonas, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, Jay Hughes, Levi Ernest-Morrison and Tashawn Watt are all young children and young people who have been stabbed to death in my constituency over the past few years. Words cannot do justice to the grief and anguish this has caused their families and the wider community. The Government say they are committed to a public health approach to youth violence, but youth centres, schools, health services and children’s centres have all had their budgets decimated over the past 10 years. My constituents cannot wait any longer. When will the Government reverse these cuts and take urgent action before more lives are lost?
The hon. Lady rightly raises the names of those who have been murdered in her constituency, and of course our thoughts go to the families and friends affected by that. Of course, serious violence does not just affect the individual family; it affects the whole community. That is why we are taking this whole-system approach: very tough law enforcement, but critically, also trying to intervene at an early stage to help young people to avoid gangs, which will have an impact on the streets more widely. That is why the serious violence duty is so very important. I really hope that, on the next occasion the Labour party has to vote in support of the serious violence duty, it takes the opportunity to do so. Working together with schools, hospitals, other healthcare agencies, the police and local authorities is how we are going to help ensure that the sorts of incidents she describes do not happen again.
As we have been watching the incredible achievements of the England football team, the epidemic of violence on our streets has been growing, with younger and younger boys losing their lives in horrific murders, including a 16-year-old we are mourning in my constituency. Many of our football heroes had tough upbringings and have spoken out about the importance of role models and mentors—adults in their lives who helped them unlock their talent. I want all our young people to be able to unlock their talent, including that small group of vulnerable people at risk of being gripped by crime, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) says, many of those adults—in youth work, in education, in social care, in the health service—have disappeared following a decade of extreme cuts. Our summer holidays should be flooded with youth work, mentorship programmes, sports clubs and mental health support, as well, of course, as good neighbourhood policing. The scale of the problem deserves an appropriate response, so will the Government today recognise the potential of our whole nation and commit to helping every vulnerable child this summer?
May I join the hon. Lady in acknowledging the sportsmanship, the talents, the dignity and the joy that the English football team have brought so many people over the tournament? They have been the very best of us; and they have been the very best of us while facing some horrific abuse—absolutely horrific racist abuse—during the tournament, and that is not acceptable.
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the question of role models. I know from my own son’s adoration of many of the England footballers just what powerful role models many of those footballers are to younger people. Sadly, of course, we cannot incorporate a Sterling or a Harry Kane into every youth project, but what we can do is build the structures around them. That is precisely what we are doing, with increased investment both through the Department for Education funding over the summer and through our own work in funds such as the trusted relationships fund, which is helping young people to build positive relationships with positive role models. I join the hon. Lady’s cri de coeur that we should pay full credit and respect to our footballers. They themselves tell the tale that if you have the belief and you have the talent, my goodness you can make it.
County Lines Drugs Gangs
Since 2019, we have invested over £65 million to tackle county lines and drug supply, including £40 million committed this year. Through our county lines programme, we have become smarter in our activity against these ruthless gangs, resulting in more than 1,000 lines being closed, more than 5,800 arrests and more than 1,500 vulnerable adults and children safeguarded.
Drug dealing is a despicable crime that preys on the vulnerable, damages communities and causes misery to so many. Locally, the Burnley and Padiham neighbourhood policing team has set up a taskforce to tackle this issue. Will the Minister confirm that local police forces will continue to have the resources and support they need really to tackle this issue and rid our communities of it? Will he meet me and our police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, to see what more we can do?
I am always happy to meet police and crime commissioners and their Members of Parliament to talk about fighting crime, and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend is so embedded in the collective mission to reduce crime in his constituency. He is quite right that we are having enormous success with county lines, and that is off the back of significant Government investment. I am hopeful that police and crime commissioners can see the wider benefits of that programme in suppression of violence in their areas and will supplement the work that we are doing, but he should be assured that we will be making a very strong case in the spending round for continued investment. The one thing I have learned about the Treasury over the past few years is that it likes investing in success, and we are certainly having that with county lines.
I thank the Minister for his reply. He mentioned that the Home Office and officials are getting smarter, but so are gang members. They are getting so smart that even during lockdown they had the sheer audacity to use our young people to carry drugs up and down the country dressed as key workers. They are always one step ahead. They will continue to exploit our children until we have a clear definition on child criminal exploitation. It is estimated that over 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being criminally exploited. What additional steps will the Minister be taking to ensure the Government put their full weight behind addressing this real and serious issue?
The hon. Lady rightly highlights one of the truly despicable aspects of county lines, which is the horrible exploitation and often victimisation of young people who are driven into the awful activity. She might be interested to know that we are very focused not necessarily on them but on those who control and victimise them. Much of the activity taking place in the three big forces we are funding—Liverpool, London and in the west midlands—is in targeting those line controllers who drive that exploitation. Interestingly, more and more of them are now not just being prosecuted for drugs importation or distribution, but for modern slavery or under child grooming legislation. That means that when they are convicted, they are put behind bars in the sex offenders wing, which is something not even they see as desirable. It is proving to be a very strong deterrent.
One of the key aspects of our work is gripping the transport network, in particular rail. We are finding that where we shut down their ability to use rail and they divert to roads, their likelihood of using young people, who cannot drive and are more likely to be arrested, is dropping. All our effort is being focused not just on restricting the supply of county lines across the country, but on rescuing and preventing young people from getting involved.
There have been a number of illegal cannabis farms busted recently by Staffordshire police. Many are in derelict and abandoned buildings, including the empty former Woolworths building in Longton, which was raided for the second time in under two years recently, finding 1,500 marijuana plants. Will my hon. Friend look at what more can be done to tackle the use of empty and derelict buildings by organised gangs to cultivate drugs?
My hon. Friend is known for his innovative approach to policy and he certainly raises something that merits further investigation. He is quite right that we have seen a growth in the number of cannabis farms across the country in all sorts of buildings. Notwithstanding the drugs they produce, there is very often disgusting oppression and victimisation taking place inside—people who are trafficked across the world to tend the plants—and we need to do something about that as well. He might be interested to know, however, that in their off-hours when police helicopters are not dealing with other crimes, one thing they do is circle around using thermal imaging cameras to find houses that are strangely heated to full blast in the middle of summer, indicating that there may be something afoot. That has been a very rewarding way of investigating those farms. I will look at his idea and pursue it further.
Covid-19 Testing: Border Force
Comprehensive guidance and training plans have been developed and are continually reviewed to ensure that all Border Force and frontline officers are trained in new policy, process and system changes relating to covid-19 border health measures, including those set by the devolved Administrations. That comprehensive guidance includes training and shift briefings.
RDI Trucking based in Preesall in my constituency provides international logistics for Formula 1 and other racing industries. Under coronavirus legislation, they are international transport workers. Therefore, as essential workers the legislation applies slightly differently to them, providing an exemption from the requirement for a negative test prior to cross-border travel. However, they have been having some issues in applying that. Will the Minister take the time to meet me and my constituent Baz Scott to discuss some of the issues he is facing in his industry?
I am certainly happy to look into that if the hon. Member provides the detail. She will appreciate that Border Force’s first priority is to maintain our defences against covid-19. However, as part of our work, we are looking to move exemption decisions away from the border and to have more automatic checking. That is in everyone’s interests, including those passengers who need to comply with the regulations and would otherwise be stood behind those trying to prove exemptions at the primary control point.
People smuggling is a despicable crime, often leading to tragic deaths such as the 39 we saw in Purfleet. The Government are determined to crack down on organised immigration crime, which is why we last week we introduced a new Nationality and Borders Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week. It is also why in 2020 the National Crime Agency and immigration enforcement were involved in 750 arrests in relation to organised immigration crime.
Following the ridiculous decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute illegal migrants on the grounds that they have
“no choice in how they travel”,
as if they do not voluntarily pay a people smuggler €10,000 or voluntarily get in a dinghy, or the even more absurd reason that we can rely on “administrative removal channels” when corrupt human rights lawyers string such claims out for years and nobody is ever deported, where does that leave the absolutely good Bill of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? She wants to arrest these people in the channel. Does this decision make it even more urgent that we bring in safe havens for these people in a third country?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to point out that countries such as France and Germany are obviously safe and that someone genuinely in need of protection or asylum can claim asylum quite properly and easily in such countries rather than attempting dangerous and unnecessary crossings over the English channel. Notwithstanding the CPS’s recent announcement, we can, do and will prosecute people who organise and pilot dangerous boat crossings across the English channel for gain or with the intention of avoiding immigration controls. The Bill, which will receive its Second Reading next week, critically contains provisions that will close some of the loopholes that may have led to the CPS’s recent decision and will make it clear that any attempt to arrive in the United Kingdom from a safe place, such as France, will be rightly treated as a criminal offence.
Each year, about 5,000 or so family members benefit from refugee family reunion rights, 90% of whom are women and children. Depriving refugees of family reunion rights would drive many of those women and children straight into the arms of despicable people smugglers through desperation to be reunited with their loved ones. Why on earth will the Government provide exactly that massive bonus to people smugglers through their nasty anti-refugee Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is misinformed and misguided on this point. There is no plan to weaken or undermine the refugee family reunion provisions that have been used by 29,000 people in the last six years. In addition, in the last five or six years we have been operating Europe’s largest resettlement programme, which has seen an additional 25,000 people come to the UK directly from places from danger. Because we have these effective and well-used safe and legal routes, it is reasonable—indeed, it is our responsibility—to clamp down on the people smugglers who are exploiting migrants and charging them money to make an unnecessary and dangerous journey, often across the English channel from France, which is patently a safe country. No one needs to leave France to claim asylum. It could be quite easily and properly claimed in France.
Violence Against Women and Girls
Violence against women and girls is thoroughly unacceptable—the House heard my comments earlier on—and there is no place in our society for such acts. My hon. Friend will be well aware, as I have said, that we are publishing in the next few weeks our strategy on violence against women and girls.
I was recently left horrified by a sexual assault that occurred just outside my constituency office. Tackling violence against women and girls begins to address the issue of female safety, but many women still do not feel safe simply walking home, so how will my right hon. Friend begin to rebuild confidence for women and girls to feel safe while walking the streets?
First, I am appalled and very sorry to hear of the offence—the sexual assault—that took place outside my hon. Friend’s constituency office. There is a range of work taking place across Government right now, but importantly, he addresses the point about the lack of protection and the way women do not feel that it is safe to walk our streets. Many women around the country have sensed that and we have heard that as well in the call for evidence; we had over 180,000 people respond to our call for evidence on the VAWG strategy. He will see in the next few weeks the details of our approach because we will announce it, rightly, through the appropriate measures and means. But this is not just about policing; it is about the criminal justice system, public attitudes and how women are treated and how women are respected, and there is a lot of work that we will need to do together on this.
Shockingly, I could not agree with the Home Secretary more. I am not sure that I will say that many times in my life, but she is absolutely right that the respect of women when they come forward is very, very important. The heartbreaking cases of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and Sarah Everard have raised serious questions about police handling of reported violence against women and girls. There is currently an ongoing investigation into claims that Kent police failed to look at the incident of indecent exposure linked to Sarah Everard’s killer in 2015. There is also a probe into the Metropolitan police’s alleged failure to investigate allegations of indecent exposure in February this year. I am afraid to say that there will be a similar pattern all over the country. Can the Home Secretary tell me exactly what the Government are doing to ensure that allegations such as indecent exposure are taken seriously by police forces and that cases involving police officers as perpetrators are not ignored in the future, as they have been in the past?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. First and foremost, there should be no aspect of anybody ignoring these cases whatsoever, particularly from a policing perspective. She has rightly highlighted, I am afraid, some incredibly tragic and harrowing cases. Those of us who have sat down with family members of those who have been involved in these cases know that they are absolutely awful at every single level, so it is right that there are various investigations. There are independent investigations taking place into the cases that the hon. Lady has raised directly, and rightly so, by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, but there is no place for anybody to hide and that applies equally to the police. While we always want the full force of the law to be applied to perpetrators of violence and the most abhorrent crimes, any police involvement must also be uncovered, and that means that the police must be held to account—commissioners, chief constables, those at the highest level of policing—and I can give her every assurance that we as a Government are making sure that happens.
Child Sexual Abuse
The UK Government are committed to eradicating all forms of child sexual abuse and continuing to be a global leader in tackling these crimes. The Government’s tackling child sexual abuse strategy sets out our ambition to drive action across Government, law enforcement and society as a whole to combat this heinous crime in all its forms.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. She knows that the National Crime Agency is receiving more than 20,000 child abuse referrals a year from organisations such as Facebook and Instagram. If the services are end-to-end encrypted, those referrals may not be possible in future, so how are the Government addressing this really important problem to ensure that those who abuse children online continue to be brought to justice?
The implementation of end-to-end encryption in a way that intentionally blinds tech companies to content on their platforms will have a disastrous impact on public safety, and we remain seriously concerned with Facebook’s end-to-end encryption proposals. The safety and security of the public is at the heart of this issue, and Facebook must continue to work with us to embed the safety of the public in its system designs. Companies have a responsibility to prevent the proliferation of child sexual abuse imagery and to protect children from predators on their platforms.
The Government will not tolerate criminals lining their pockets while causing serious financial and emotional harm to victims. We are working closely with the industry, regulators, law enforcement and consumer groups to crack down on scam callers. Additionally, since its launch last year, the National Cyber Security Centre has shut down over 50,000 scams and taken down almost 100,000 websites.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many of my constituents have been contacting me to report an influx of fraudulent or scam telephone calls. The fraudsters behind these malicious enterprises often target elderly or vulnerable individuals, posing as Government agencies, telecom companies, banks or pension providers. Sadly, too many of these cases result in the scammers convincing, or indeed coercing, individuals to part with their hard-earned savings. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must clamp down on this dreadful criminal activity and ensure that there is somewhere that victims can go to immediately to get help?
As our lives have moved increasingly online, so has crime, as my hon. Friend rightly says. Can there be any Member in the Chamber who has not received a dodgy email or text or even a recorded message on their telephone, which is becoming increasingly frequent? It is typical of my hon. Friend to point out the particular vulnerability of elderly people, who are often coming to grips with technology—many have had to do so over the past year or so for the first time in their lives—and being taken advantage of. He is right to say that we need to do all we can to help them, and through the economic crime victim care unit we are doing exactly that. We are working with the banking sector to ensure that victims are not left out of pocket through no fault of their own. Critically, we can all help the fight by reporting these emails and text messages, and I want to take a moment to say that anyone who gets a suspicious email should please forward it to the email address email@example.com and anyone who receives a similarly suspicious text should please forward it to 7726. The police and other services will be collating the texts and emails, and when they come from the same source, as they do on many occasions, they will act swiftly to shut it down.
EU Settlement Scheme: Application Deadline
As of 30 June, the EU settlement scheme had received more than 6 million applications and issued more than 5.1 million grants of status. As we have discussed before, the scheme has been a success and we have secured the status of 5.1 million individuals.
I am disappointed not to hear the exact number. In Wandsworth, there are an estimated 41,000 EU citizens, but the gap in applications to the EU settlement scheme is not known. Can the Home Secretary say which resources she is making available to process the 500,000 or so applications that are currently in the system but have not yet been determined, and how long she would envisage allowing late applications to the scheme?
As I have said, the scheme has been a phenomenal success. There are many naysayers across the country and in this House who refused to believe that even 3 million people would be registered with the scheme. First and foremost, there is an abundance of support available for applicants, including from the 72 organisations to which the Home Office has granted £22 million of support for vulnerable groups and individuals to apply to the scheme. On top of that, we have invested £8 million in communications, and that involves working with local authorities such as the hon. Lady’s to ensure that no one is missed and that all the support is in the place for them.
Recent research from the Children’s Society showed that less than 40% of looked-after children and care leavers had made applications to the EU settlement scheme, with 156 local authorities positively identifying more than 2,000 looked-after children and care leavers who had yet to apply. May I ask the Secretary of State to tell the House what steps the Home Office has taken to ensure that children in care who are eligible to apply have applied?
First, let me re-emphasise a point that Ministers and I have made in this House on repeated occasions. It is absolutely right that we do everything possible to give children in care the support, more often than not via their local authorities, to ensure that they apply for the scheme. We have been doing exactly that, working with councils, social services and local authorities across the country. If the hon. Lady has any particular cases she would like to draw to our attention, we would be very happy to pick them up.
As the Home Secretary is aware, acquiring settled status has an impact on a person’s right to work and to access accommodation and other services. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that employers and landlords are complying with the right to work and rent guidance, and are not discriminating against EU citizens? Will she also tell me what protections are in place for people to submit late applications to the EU settlement scheme, so that they are not left in limbo, unable to work or at risk of homelessness while they await the outcome of their application?
First, the Home Office has been very clear in the support it will provide to people and late applications. The hon. Gentleman has rightly made an important point about the right to work and the role for employers. Let me give him the assurance that we have been working with employers’ organisations and groups; this is exactly the vehicle through which, even throughout the pandemic, we have been working to communicate the need for employers to work with us to secure the settled status of many, many individuals. Finally, may I pay tribute to many of the employers who have been working with us on this scheme to guarantee that settled status for individuals?
I know that the whole House will join me in condemning the sickening racist abuse directed last night at our heroic England football team on social media. These young men represented our nation with pride and dignity, and we are proud of them and the fortitude they showed the country last night. Racist abuse is utterly unacceptable and illegal, whether or not it takes place in front of people—online or offline. Individuals who commit racist offences should rightly face the full force of the law. Social media companies in particular have a clear responsibility for the content they host on their platforms, and they can no longer ignore some of the appalling, vile, racist, violent and hateful content that appears on their platforms. We have been clear that if they do not stamp this out, we will take actions against them in the Online Safety Bill. It will take a determined effort and action by everyone across society, and all institutions, to end the corrosive culture of racism. On that point, the thuggish and violent behaviour we saw last night was utterly disgusting and there is no place in our society for it; these people have no right to be called fans, and they will face serious consequences for their actions. To conclude, let me say that our nation is immensely proud of our three lions, and they showed true grit and determination in their actions last night and their endeavours on the pitch.
I welcome the measures set out in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and the Home Secretary’s ongoing commitment to finally getting a grip of our borders and stemming the flow of illegal immigrants across the channel. Will she confirm that the Bill will include measures for the removal of migrants to offshore centres where they can be housed while their claims and appeals are being processed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we have heard in the House this afternoon from many right hon. and hon. Members the absolute challenge this country faces on illegal migration and illegal entry to the UK. The asylum system is broken and it is being exploited by illegal migration issues and the criminal gangs that are exploiting vulnerable individuals. As he will know, the new Bill, which will be discussed on Second Reading next week, covers many aspects and it is right that the Government explore all options to fix our broken asylum system.
I congratulate the England team on its fantastic achievements at the European championships. Those players, led by the inspirational Gareth Southgate, have shown incredible skill and determination on and off the pitch, taking a stand on child poverty, free school meals and so much else. They took the knee to stand against racism—a brave stance that led to their being booed by some. That booing was unacceptable and should have been condemned by all. Sadly, overnight Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have been subject to the most appalling racist abuse. The Home Secretary spoke a moment ago about potential action in the future; have not the social media companies had long enough to get this right? What immediate action will she take to deal with this issue?
Everyone in the House will absolutely join in not only celebrating our incredible football team and the resilience of all our players but fundamentally calling out the appalling acts and actions that we saw last night. It is absolutely appalling that we have seen this terrible racist abuse. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, he is absolutely right that the social media companies have had far too long, whether it is on racism, hatred, violence or antisemitism—the list goes on and on and quite frankly it is utterly unacceptable. I have pointed rightfully to the online harms Bill, because we do need to legislate. The message needs to go out from this House, very strongly, to all the social media companies that they need to take responsibility. This is content that they host on their platforms. We will legislate against them, and that is on top of the fact that we are absolutely on top of them right now. We are pursuing them, as we do in every single case, but they need to wake up and take action themselves.
But we have had to wait years for the online harms Bill. There has to be a greater urgency to do more now. The awful abuse continues to happen, and it is not contained to football but happens right across society. We still have so far to go. Our footballers have used their platform to help to give voice to the millions of people in this country who are desperate for change, but change is not happening fast enough. The Government and Parliament have to respond. Absolutely all necessary resources must be allocated to tracking down the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the online harms Bill will be brought forward immediately and will contain the toughest of sanctions against social media companies for hosting vile material? It must also include criminal sanctions for senior social media executives.
The online harms Bill, on which the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also leading, will be brought forward and the Government have been very clear about that. There should be no room whatsoever for either complacency, equivocation or absence when it comes to social media companies taking responsibility. This House has been unequivocal in our determination to drive change directly with these organisations.
The right hon. Gentleman is right: we need the toughest possible sanctions. Social media companies are only one component part of the change that we need to see; we also need the criminal justice system to go after the individuals who perpetrate some of these online harms and the hateful content that is put on these platforms. Of course, there is never any room whatsoever for complacency on this issue, which is why the legislation will be absolutely pivotal in terms of not only bringing forward the societal change that is required but holding the executives and these very significant companies to account.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the important points that he has aired this afternoon. He is absolutely right: both the Minister for Crime and Policing and I have been on a call this morning with police leads for football issues and the policing of football. As we have all said very clearly, there is absolutely no place for racism or violence whatsoever. Quite frankly, there is clear guidance and legislation: there are laws in place that we absolutely should apply and follow—that applies to the police as well—to go after the perpetrators and the individuals. My hon. Friend will of course be well aware of the Public Order Act 1986, but there is also the Football (Offences) Act 1991 and football banning orders, all of which play an important part in terms of the actions that everyone should be taking.
First and foremost, as I have said already, there are no words to describe the appalling acts that have taken place. [Interruption.] Would the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) like to intervene? If she would be prepared to listen, she will hear that everything related to racism and hatred both across society and involving any individual is completely unacceptable. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) is right to point to Instagram, but all social media platforms, not just Instagram, are culpable. They are all responsible and it is right that we all take action against them. As I have already said, we in the Home Office are absolutely on top of those organisations. Of course, legislation is the way that we will go forward on this, but such acts are simply unacceptable. This matter will take determined effort by everyone. There is no place for booing. Individuals have a right to express themselves in whichever way—we live in a free country, and thank God we do—when it comes to tackling hatred, violence and racism. The fact of the matter right now is that what we saw overnight was completely unacceptable. It is right, both from a policing perspective and when it comes to social media companies, that there is no place to hide and that action is taken.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I look forward to the discussion that we will have tomorrow. This is a very harrowing case and I have been following the details of it for some time. Although we will discuss the matter tomorrow, my right hon. Friend is speaking to the fact that our asylum system is completely broken. We are seeing too many abuses of the system and vulnerable people being preyed on, and that scuppers our ability to assist those who are fleeing persecution and having the most appalling and abhorrent acts forced on them or taken against them. That is why the Nationality and Borders Bill is so important. I urge all colleagues in the House to work with us and support the Bill as it comes to Second Reading next week.
What we have just heard is errant nonsense. If a Uyghur fleeing torture, a Syrian fleeing war crimes, or a Christian convert escaping death threats, arrives in the UK seeking protection but without a visa, under the Home Secretary’s outrageous anti-refugee Bill, that would make them guilty of an offence punishable by up to four years in prison. How on earth can she defend criminalising torture victims—victims of war crimes, persecuted Christian converts and other refugees—for seeking our protection?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I am afraid that he has not read the Bill, or the new plan for immigration, or followed the debate and the discussion. I have been absolutely clear that we will support those individuals who, as he says, are fleeing persecution and torture. It is our objective as a Government to support those individuals, but not those who come to our country by paying money to illegal people traffickers and who could have claimed asylum in many of the EU countries through which they have travelled. I am sorry that he fails to realise that flagrant abuses are taking place through the use of people smugglers and people traffickers, and that individuals could claim asylum in other countries, but are simply choosing not to do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight first and foremost crucial skills that are obviously important to our labour market. Our new points-based immigration system does exactly that, not just in supporting key sectors but in giving employers an important role in filling labour market places and supporting jobs.
The Government are working with the haulage sector; the Department for Transport is leading on this right now. It has from today temporarily extended rules on HGV drivers’ hours to allow them to make slightly longer journeys where necessary. It is also providing support directly to the sector to increase the number of available driving tests so that more people can qualify and support important haulage companies across my hon. Friend’s constituency and the country.
I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about the specifics of his question; I do not have that detail in front of me right now. Throughout the application process, the Home Office has worked with and supported individuals who have issues demonstrating their status through some of the measures that I have already outlined, so that their status can be secured. There are ways in which we have been doing that, and I will write to him with that information.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. First and foremost, it is always important to recognise and understand the strength of feeling around this issue. I pay tribute to colleagues in the House who have discussed this issue over the past week; they have aired many not just concerns but approaches based on evidence and information.
My right hon. Friend is right that these are matters of conscience for all Members, but at the same time it is for Parliament to decide. The debate that she has been leading and much of the evidence that she has just touched on are a matter for consideration, which Governments absolutely approach in the right way, particularly with parliamentary debate at the right time.
May I say that there is a lot of disappointment that we have not gone very far on topicals? I have let them run for longer than I normally would. I am disappointed—we really have to get the Front Benchers working together to speed up those early questions; in the end, it is other Members who miss out.
Before I update the House on the pandemic, I would like to take a moment to congratulate the England football team on making history and on the way in which they have brought us all together with their skill and spirit over the past few weeks. Last night’s result may not have been the one that many of us were hoping for, but they played like heroes and the nation is proud of each and every one of them.
I also want to take this opportunity to condemn the shameful racism experienced by several members of the England team after the match. Racism has no place in football; it has no place in our society. I know that the whole House will agree that we must always show zero tolerance to this appalling behaviour.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like make a statement on our path out of the pandemic. All the way through our fight against the virus, we have looked forward to the day when we can roll back the legal restrictions and get closer to normal life. Now, thanks to the shared sacrifices of the British people and the protective wall of our vaccination programme, we have made huge advances. Today I would like to update the House on the next decision in front of us: whether to proceed to step 4 of our road map next Monday.
As I set out to the House last week, this will be a major milestone for the country, taking us another step closer to the life that we all used to live. It means carefully removing more of the restrictions that have governed our daily lives, such as how many people we can meet, how many people can attend weddings and how many visitors people in care homes can see, bringing them together with their loved ones. We have all been yearning to get there, and we all want this to be a one-way journey, so we have acted in a measured way, taking one step at a time, and looking at the very latest data and at our four tests before deciding whether to proceed.
The first test is the success of our vaccination programme. Ever since 8 December last year, when the world’s first clinically authorised vaccine was given right here in the UK, we have been putting jabs in the arms of people at a phenomenal pace, giving over 18 million doses in just seven months. We have given more doses per capita than any other large nation. As a result, around nine in 10 adults in the UK now have covid-19 antibodies, which are so important in helping us and our bodies to fight this virus. To bolster this protective wall even further, we made the tough but necessary decision to take a four-week pause to step 4, so that we could protect even more people before easing restrictions. Since making the decision, we have been able to give 7 million extra doses across the UK. We have pledged that, by 19 July, we will have offered every adult a first dose of vaccine and given two doses to two thirds of all adults. I am pleased to inform the House today that we are on track to beat both of these targets, so as we make this crucial decision, we are in a stronger position than ever before.
We have looked not just at how many jabs we have put in arms, but at what impact they are having on hospitalisations and the loss of loved ones. This is our second test. There is increasing evidence that the vaccine has severely weakened this link—a link that was once a grim inevitability. Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a covid-19 vaccine offer around 96% protection against hospitalisation, meaning fewer covid patients in hospital beds and fewer people mourning the loss of a loved one. The data also estimates that the vaccination programme in England has prevented between 7.5 million and 8.9 million infections. It has prevented some 46,000 hospitalisations and prevented about 30,000 people from losing their lives, all because of the protection that the vaccines can bring.
Our third test is around whether infection rates would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. I want to be open about what the data is telling us and why we have reached the decision that we have. Cases are rising, propelled by the new, more transmissible delta variant. The average number of daily cases is over 26,000, and this has doubled over the past 11 days. Sadly, the case numbers will get a lot worse before they get better. We could reach 100,000 cases a day later in the summer.
Hospitalisations are also rising, with sustained growth over the past month. Once again, they will rise too, but we should be encouraged that hospitalisations are far lower than they were at this point during the previous wave, just as we should be encouraged that people over the age of 65, who are more likely to have had both doses of a vaccine, made up 31% of covid admissions last week, compared with 61% in January. This is further evidence that our vaccination programme is doing its job and protecting the NHS. As more people get the jab, our protective wall is getting stronger still.
We will stay vigilant and keep a very close eye on the data, as well as on the impact of long covid, on which we are investing £50 million into new research. But on the basis of the evidence in front of us, we do not believe that infection rates will put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. It is so important that everyone still does their bit in helping the NHS to stand strong. The best thing that each and every one of us can do, if we have not done so already, is get the jab and, crucially, get both doses.
Our final test is that the risks are not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern. We have seen from the growth of the delta variant, which now makes up 99% of new cases in this country, just how quickly a new variant can take hold. However, although the delta variant is more transmissible than the alpha variant, the evidence shows that two doses of the vaccine appears to be just as effective against hospitalisation. But we know that the greatest risk to the progress we have made is the possibility of another new variant, especially one that can escape immunity and puncture the protective wall of out vaccination programme, so even as we look to ease restrictions, we will maintain our tough measures at the borders and we will expand our capacity for genomic sequencing, which is already one of the largest in the world, so that we can come down hard the moment we detect a new variant.
We have looked closely at the data against these four tests and we firmly believe that this is the right time to get our nation closer to normal life, so we will move to the next stage of our road map on 19 July. To those who say, “Why take this step now?”, I say, “If not now, when?” There will never be a perfect time to take this step because we simply cannot eradicate this virus. Whether we like it or not, coronavirus is not going away. Moving forward next week, supported by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, gives us the best possible chance of a return to normal life. If we wait longer, we risk pushing the virus towards winter, when the virus will have an advantage, or, worse still, we will not be opening up at all. We delayed step 4 by four weeks so that we could build the vaccine wall even higher. We believe that this wall means that we can withstand a summer wave. While the wall would be higher still if we waited until winter, we know the wave would be much more dangerous. So while we know that there are risks with any decision, this is the most responsible decision that we can take.
This step forward is about balancing the harms that are caused by covid with the undeniable harms that restrictions bring. These restrictions were vital to protect the NHS, but we must be upfront about the impact of keeping them just as we are about removing them: the rise in domestic violence, the impact on mental health and the undiagnosed cancer, to name just a few. So we will ease the restrictions next week while at the same time maintaining the defences we have built against this virus, like our vaccination programme, where we still need more young people to come forward; our work to support the most vulnerable; and the contingency plans that we have put in place to stay one step ahead of this virus.
But this is not the end of the road: it is the start of a new phase of continued caution while we live with this virus and we manage the risks. We are today publishing a plan showing the safe and gradual approach that we will be taking throughout the summer. It includes details of how we will be encouraging businesses and large events to use certification in high-risk settings to limit the risk of spreading infection, how we will use guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and details of a review that we will be conducting in September to assess our preparedness for autumn and winter.
As we make these changes, it is so important that people act with caution and with personal responsibility. For example, everyone should return to work gradually if they are currently working from home, they should try to meet people outside where that is possible, and it is expected and recommended that people should wear face coverings, unless they are exempt, in crowded indoor settings like public transport.
I also want to take this opportunity to update the House on our policies for self- isolation. Last week I announced to the House that from 16 August double-jabbed adults and under-18s will no longer need to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone with covid-19. Until then, with case rates expected to rise, it is vital that we ensure that our systems for self-isolation are proportionate and reflect the protection given by our vaccine programme. As part of this approach, we will be working with clinicians and the NHS to explore what more can be done for colleagues in patient-facing roles—this would be used only in exceptional circumstances where the self-isolation of fully vaccinated close contacts could directly impact the safety of patients—so that we can keep our vital services going as we safely and gradually get closer to normal life.
Mr Speaker, 19 July will mark another step forward in our road to recovery. Getting here has been hard fought, and it has been long awaited, but this battle is not over yet. Let us move forward in a confident but measured way so that we can get closer to normal life and protect the progress that we have already made.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I join him and others across the House in paying tribute to the England side. They did indeed unite the country, and we are proud of each and every one of them. Of course, those players did take the knee to show they were taking a stand against racism. Labour again offers them our solidarity and joins with others in condemning utterly the racist, vile abuse that we have seen in the last 24 hours.
We want to see the economy reopen in a balanced, safe and sustainable way. That means maintaining certain mitigations to contain the speed at which infections are rising, to help reduce transmission and to help to limit the numbers exposed to the virus before they are fully vaccinated. Instead, the Secretary of State has taken a high-risk, fatalistic approach, trying to game what might happen in the winter and deciding that infections are going up anyway. Instead of caution, he is pushing his foot down on the accelerator while throwing the seatbelts off. He admits that that could mean 100,000 infections a day, which means potentially thousands suffering debilitating long covid and that, as more cases arise, more may escape, with the threat of a new, more transmissible variant emerging.
Two weeks ago, the Secretary of State justified unlocking by suggesting that it would make us healthier. Today, hospital admissions are running at more than 400 a day and there are now 393 people in intensive care units, up by more than 100 since the start of July. Of course, significant increases in admissions have a knock-on effect on the NHS’s ability to provide wider care. He says that infection rates will not put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, but last week cancer patients at Leeds were having their surgery cancelled and ambulance trusts across the country were reporting some of their busiest days ever. The 111 service is under intense pressure.
At the weekend, the Secretary of State warned that the elective waiting list could rise as high as 13 million. Perhaps he could therefore define what he means by “unsustainable pressure”. What does he predict that hospital admissions will peak at? He has told us he expects 100,000 infections, so how many hospital admissions does he expect? Does his confidence mean that there will be no extra resources for the NHS this summer to get through this summer wave? He again highlights vaccination, but why are vaccination rates slowing down? What will he do to drive up rates among younger people, which are still at only about 56% of 18 to 24-year-olds? When will we begin vaccination of adolescents? Other countries are doing it—why are we not?
To rely only on vaccination as infections climb is the approach of the one-club golfer. The Secretary of State needs to put other measures in place as well. First, Labour would continue with mandatory mask wearing. I notice that his tone has shifted in the last week or so and now his view is that it would be irresponsible not to wear a mask in a crowded room. Surely it is equally irresponsible for the Government to abandon mandatory mask wearing.
Secondly, on working from home, yesterday Susan Hopkins from PHE suggested that for the next four to six weeks at least people should try their best to work from home, so will the Secretary of State guarantee that anyone who wants to continue working from home will have the right to do so?
Thirdly, we know how important fresh air is. Germany has funded air filtration systems in public buildings. Last week, the Secretary of State referred to the infection control funding given to social care, but that was not for ventilation. There are British firms that manufacture air filtration and ventilation units, so let us support those firms and British jobs, and offer grants to premises to install air filtration units. Will he also use the summer to install air filtration systems in every school?
Fourthly, as more virus circulates, more people will be exposed, more people will become ill and more will have to isolate, but some people still cannot isolate because of their finances, and those with caring responsibilities for someone who has had to isolate can also be financially penalised. Furlough is beginning to be withdrawn, so financial support for isolation will become even more urgent. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those who need to isolate can access adequate sick pay and support?
Fifthly, to get through this third wave and flatten the curve, we will need ongoing testing, and contact tracing will need extra capacity. Will the Secretary of State give local authorities the resources to lead the enhanced retrospective and forward contact tracing they need to do, and will he now abandon the proposed charges for lateral flow tests, which he is set to introduce?
Finally, when the Secretary of State was appointed, he said that any easing on 19 July would be, in his word, “irreversible”. Other countries have thought the same with their road maps, yet Israel has reintroduced masks, and the Netherlands reopened nightclubs and had to close them again after two weeks. Is it still his view that the 19th is terminus day and that everything he has announced today is irreversible, or does he agree that it would be more sensible to have regular review dates in place through the summer as we deal with this third wave and rising infections?
The right hon. Gentleman started by saying that he supports a balanced approach in a sustainable way, and that is exactly what I have set out today from this Dispatch Box. That is the Government’s approach, so I agree with him. We as the Government have set out the detail, but I am still not sure what his plan actually is. However, given that he set out those objectives, I hope he can support this plan. He talks about the risks that are involved, and I have been very up front about that. The Government have been up front: there is no risk-free way forward. Opening up is not without risk, but ongoing restrictions are not without cost, and I hope he appreciates that.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions, and one of his first was about hospitalisations. As I have said, case numbers are going up and we expect them to continue going up, but the most important difference today versus the last wave is vaccination—the wall of defence that our country has built—which has meant that hospitalisations, although they are rising as case numbers rise, are rising at a rate that is a lot slower than before. I have set out specifically regarding test 3 in a road map that we believe the pressure, with all the data we are seeing at this point, is not unsustainable for the NHS.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about vaccinations, and I am pleased he is highlighting that, especially for more young people to come forward. As I mentioned in my statement, we are ahead of the plans we set out when step 4 was temporarily pushed out by four weeks. He also asked about the vaccination of children. He knows that we have a group of expert science advisers—the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation—and this is something it is actively looking at. At some point, we will reach a final decision, but I hope he will agree with me that we should take the scientific advice on that and consider it very carefully before making such a move.
On air ventilation units, some of the £90-plus billion extra the Government have provided to the health and care system during the course of this pandemic has of course gone on air ventilation units, and we should continue to support that. A lot of extra funding has also gone to people to support them financially if they are asked to isolate, and it is important that that is both kept under review and continues to be taken seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned lateral flow tests and something about charging for them. That might be his policy, but it is not this Government’s policy. I do not know where he has got that one from, but we have no plans to charge for lateral flow tests.
Lastly, 19 July is a step forward on our road map. As we have clearly set out, the pandemic is not over, but it is a very significant step forward. The right hon. Gentleman talked about reviews. I have just said that we will have a review in September to make sure that we are properly set up for autumn and winter.
The virus today is a totally different creature from a year ago, with only one in 40 new cases being hospitalised, an average age for new cases of 25, and all over-40s being offered two jabs, accounting for 99% of the age group that have had covid fatalities to date, so the Government’s approach is entirely reasonable. However, does the Health Secretary agree that there remain, to paraphrase the late Donald Rumsfeld, a number of unknown unknowns and known unknowns, not least the impact of long covid, the potential for vaccine escape and the potential for new variants? Will he reassure the House that if the data deteriorates beyond what is currently envisaged, he will not hesitate to take decisive action, not just to save lives but to head off the need for a further lockdown which would be enormously damaging for our jobs and businesses?
I am very happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance. He made some excellent points. I thank him for his support for the Government’s action, but he is right to point out that there is still uncertainty for us and countries across the world in dealing with this pandemic. I am very pleased to assure him that if that risk matrix changes, for example with variants of concern, we will not hesitate to take the appropriate action.
I would first like to associate myself and my colleagues with the Health Secretary’s condemnation of the racism sadly faced by members of the England football team after their impressive performance throughout the Euros.
Turning to covid, the Secretary of State himself has suggested that covid cases could soar to 100,000 a day once all restrictions are removed next Monday. While research shows that hospitalisation rates have, thankfully, dropped to 3% of cases because of vaccination, that would still mean up to 3,000 admissions, the same as during the first wave. Can he explain how he will avoid such a surge putting pressure on health services, which would further delay clearance of the backlog of patients waiting with other conditions?
With the likelihood of such high transmission rates, how does the Secretary of State hope to prevent the generation in the UK of yet more new variants, perhaps with significant vaccine resistance? Evidence is growing of the debilitating impact of post-covid morbidity, and the Office for National Statistics estimates that it could affect 10% of those who have had the virus, so how does he plan to avoid an unacceptably high risk of long covid in young adults and children, who are not fully vaccinated?
Finally, why is the Secretary of State ending the mandatory wearing of masks in indoor spaces and on public transport, given that they reduce viral spread and cause no economic detriment? Does he not recognise that, as vulnerable people cannot count on others wearing masks, for them 19 July will not be freedom day but the exact opposite?
I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about the English football team, but I noticed that she did not say who she supported. I hope it was England.
The hon. Lady is right to raise hospitalisations, as other colleagues have. Of course, as cases rise, which sadly they will for the reasons I have set out, hospitalisations will rise too. However, again for reasons I have set out—No. 1 being the vaccine—the rate of hospitalisation will be far, far lower than anything we have seen before. She will also know, given her experience, that the treatments available are a lot better and more effective than what we had at the start of the pandemic and during the last wave. That is also helping should people, sadly, find themselves in hospital. That is part of the three tests, test number three, that we have looked at very carefully. We have looked at the data and we of course work very closely with our colleagues in the NHS on an almost minute-by-minute basis to ensure that the increased pressure—I accept there will be increased pressure; I have been very open about that—can be met in a sustained way.
The hon. Lady mentioned the backlog. It is important to understand that the backlog built up over the pandemic because people stayed away from the NHS for perfectly understandable reasons, but we need to start to get back to normal as quickly as we reasonably can so that we can start to see more and more people in the longer term and improve the backlog more quickly.
As for masks, I believe I have answered that question. The most important thing is that our guidelines will be very clear. They will be published later today, too.
Enterprises are having to shut because key members of staff, despite having been vaccinated twice, are having to isolate as contacts. As infections increase, so will contacts who have to isolate and there is every possibility that the economy will grind to a halt. Will the Secretary of State review the need to self-isolate for those who are twice vaccinated and showing a negative test?
For the 3.8 million clinically extremely vulnerable people, the prospect of a so-called freedom day next week is actually anything but. They and many clinically vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, are living in fear of what living with covid means for them. Last Monday, the Secretary of State promised me that guidance was forthcoming. Last Wednesday, Members in the other place and charities met his ministerial colleague Lord Bethell and officials, who admitted that this was not good enough and that something more had to be done. Can the Secretary of State tell us today what support and guidance will be forthcoming and when, or is he pursuing a survival-of-the-fittest policy, whereby the most vulnerable will be thrown to the wolves?
This is one of the most important issues. As the hon. Lady says, many people are immuno-suppressed or severely clinically vulnerable. It is important that at every stage of dealing with this pandemic we are thinking of them and having them at the front of our mind. That is what I believe we have done. Of course, when people in that category are able to take the vaccine they should, but not all are able to do so. She asks about advice, and I can tell her that we are publishing it today.
First, it is worth saying that I strongly welcome the statement from the Secretary of State. When he is back at the Dispatch Box in the autumn, as I fear he may be, announcing further restrictions, guidance or even another lockdown, one of the things that will have driven that will be hospitalisation data. The big flaw in that data at the moment is that it includes anyone who tests positive for covid who goes into hospital, not whether they have gone into hospital because they are ill with covid. That will drive poor decision making, and it is vital that it is fixed urgently. We cannot have hundreds of thousands of livelihoods and wellbeing sacrificed on the altar of dodgy data.
That is an important point from my right hon. Friend. He will know—I judge that is why he asked the question—that at the moment the figures available are “with covid”, which does not make a distinction about what is causing that individual to be in hospital, so the data are not precise and detailed enough. I think that is what he is getting at. It is a very good point and I have asked for advice on it. I hope we can start to get clearer data precisely for the reason he raises.
Primary care is not only the frontline of the fight against covid; it is also the front door of the NHS and many staff are on their knees at the moment. May I ask the Secretary of State to help more medical students to choose general practice and to stay in it, as that is absolutely fundamental to helping more people get in to see a GP easily?
I agree. My parents wanted me to be a doctor—a GP—so they were a bit disappointed, although my mum did say that my current role might make up for it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows our commitment to 50 million more appointments and to having more GPs. That remains a huge priority, which I think this pandemic has made even more important than before.
I join the Secretary of State and other colleagues in deploring the appalling racism shown against a football team who have shown the absolute best of our country.
The Secretary of State says that caution is absolutely vital, given the soaring infection rates. I agree, but if caution is absolutely vital, why is he weakening the measures to deliver it? The message around face masks on public transport, for example, has been downgraded from being a clear legal requirement to being an optional personal choice. As more than 100 scientists and medics said last week in a letter to The Lancet, this is reckless and risks driving up infections. He asks, “If we do not open up now, then when?”. The answer has to be: when a far higher percentage of the total population is vaccinated; when basic public health protection such as test, trace and isolate is properly functioning; when people can afford to self-isolate; and when measures such as air filtration systems are in our classrooms. Frankly, the Government seem to be pursuing a Darwinian strategy, relying on immunity by natural infection. Does he realise how dangerous that is?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is just not being realistic. I have set out very clearly in my statement the issues around timing. No one is pretending that there is a perfect time to start lifting some of these restrictions. It therefore requires a balanced and measured approach, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Steroid inhalers, of the type used by millions of asthma sufferers worldwide, are known to be safe and cheap, and trials show that they are also very effective in reducing the severity of covid symptoms and the length of time they are suffered. Will my right hon. Friend take rapid steps to revise the guidance to ensure that this becomes an immediate part of GPs’ armoury in dealing with people who present with covid symptoms?
When my hon. Friend wants something done rapidly, I listen very carefully to him. I am pleased to tell him that the clinical guidelines have been published today that allow the central alerting system to recommend to clinicians that they prescribe inhaled steroids on a case-by-case basis for exactly the purpose that he set out. I hope that is quick enough for him.
I hope that I will get an equally happy response to my question. The Secretary of State has said that he is anticipating as many as 100,000 covid infections daily. If that were actually to happen, according to his figures how many people would he expect to be hospitalised, and how many would he expect to develop long covid as a result?
I can tell the hon. Lady that there are currently about 30,000 infections a day. In the last 24 hours in England, we have seen about 400 people being hospitalised. The last time that infections were around the same level—at 30,000 cases a day—I believe that more than 2,000 people a day were being hospitalised. That is what I mean when I say that the link has been severely weakened, and for that we have the vaccines to thank.
I look forward to having a look at and scrutinising the new road map when it is published this afternoon. Further to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), I am just trying to get clear the data on hospitalisations. I was told today of a lady admitted this weekend to a hospital in my region to give birth. She was, of course, tested on admission and was positive, so she is a covid-positive person in hospital. Given the advice that the Secretary of State has just confirmed to the House that he has sought, when does he think he will be able to advise us of the figures for those admitted with covid versus those admitted for covid?
I know that my hon. Friend speaks with experience, and I am glad he has raised this point again. I have asked for that advice, because it is important that we try to analyse better the primary diagnosis of anyone coming into hospital. I can understand why that was not easily possible in the early days of the pandemic, but I think we have now reached the stage at which we can provide better data, and I hope I can get that done as quickly as possible.
The recent report from the Health and Social Care Committee on NHS staff burnout showed that low pay was a particular issue for care workers, and that most NHS staff were working unpaid hours on top of their contracts. Those are hours that could otherwise be spent with family members like the brilliant student I met this morning, Brendan from Cardinal Newman School, whose dad works for the NHS. How does the Secretary of State plan to clear the backlog and fill the 40,000 nursing and 112,000 care worker vacancies if this Government continue to say no to the pay rise that NHS heroes like Brendan’s dad deserve?
I agree with the hon. Lady that the workers in the NHS, no matter what their role, have been the heroes of this crisis, as have care workers. I think we agree on that, and that making sure it is recognised also requires us to ensure that they are paid properly. The hon. Lady is also right to link this issue to, for example, the backlog and the huge amount of work that lies ahead. I hope she will bear with me, and in due course we will set out our response to the pay review recommendations.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He will know that on 29 April, a pilot scheme to test and release was introduced to avoid the disruption caused by the need for contacts of people with covid to isolate for 10 days. He will also know that our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was a beneficiary of that scheme. Will he say what the results of the pilot have been, and when it might be available to the rest of us, which I hope will be before the third week in August?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his support for my statement. That scheme is very important. I have not yet seen the final results, but results are starting to come into the Department. As my right hon. Friend will know, while the pilot has been going on the Government have also made an announcement about more flexibilities for double-vaccinated people from 16 August onwards, but I will endeavour to say more about this and publish more data as soon as I can.
I have heard what the Secretary of State has said about masks today, but as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford)—the SNP spokesperson—there will be no “freedom day” for vulnerable people if the legal requirement to wear a mask is scrapped. Many of my constituents wrote to me over the weekend expressing concern about this issue. Along with leading scientists, trade unionists and large sections of the public, they are keen for the legal requirement to wear masks in indoor spaces and on public transport to be kept at least for now. Why can the Secretary of State not make that commitment?
I think I have set out the general approach at the Dispatch Box a number of times. As we begin to move towards a more normal position, we want to start removing the regulations and replacing them with guidelines, and then to ask people to follow those guidelines. For example, we have made it very clear that in crowded and enclosed spaces we would expect everyone to wear a mask, and we would recommend that. Given all the data that we have set out, including the vaccination rate, we think that now is the time to take that kind of more measured approach, and we will keep it under review.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said. On Friday I visited Blue Bay Travel, an international travel company based in my constituency which strongly supports the easing of public health restrictions from 19 July for those who are fully vaccinated. Will my right hon. Friend continue to do all he can to ensure that we help jobs and industries of that kind, which have been hit hardest by the covid measures, to recover fully as soon as possible?
Yes, I can give that commitment to my hon. Friend. He is right to raise this issue. The travel sector has been one of the hardest hit, and I hope that as we take this measured approach and start opening up more, the sector will, in terms of both jobs and opportunities, start to benefit in his constituency and elsewhere. I hope that the company he referred to in his constituency welcomes the changes we have set out so far.
The Secretary of State mentioned the serious problems being caused in the NHS by the Government’s pinging system, but schools and businesses are also suffering. Now, in the transport and travel sector, scores of trains were being cancelled over the weekend because drivers and other train staff had been pinged. If he will not bring forward his 16 August date, why on earth will he not continue to mandate masks on public transport, both to protect staff and passengers and to give them the confidence to travel at least up until that 16 August date?
The right hon. Gentleman may know that when we set the 16 August date, and I think I made this clear in the statement last week, it was based on clinical advice—the public health advice that we received and in particular that it was better to make sure that more people are vaccinated than will be on 19 July, and I think that is valuable advice. When it comes to masks, I think I have made the Government’s position clear.
Lifting legal restrictions is a massive relief for all those who rely on pubs, restaurants and nightclubs for their livelihoods, the overwhelming majority of which are taking their responsibilities seriously at enormous cost to themselves. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as we open up our society and economy, not only must all hospitality businesses take sensible steps to protect us from disease, but all customers must also play their part and respect venues and their staff, who are working so hard to do the right thing?
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. It is a responsibility as we open up not just for the owners of the businesses, the nightclubs and the pubs to take that sensible, measured attitude, but for customers to give a thought to those who are serving them at the table or behind the bar and to be respectful of their needs.
Last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s review was reported to this House as having concluded that covid vaccine certification was not necessary and would not go ahead. Since then, however, there seems to have been a review of the review, because the Secretary of State said today that
“the Government will be encouraging businesses and large events to use certification in high-risk settings”.
Can the Secretary of State tell the House now what constitutes a high-risk setting in this context, and who will be the judge of what is a high-risk setting? What constitutes “large events”, and who will judge what they are? What is meant by “encouraging businesses” and what will be the consequences for any businesses that resist the encouragement from Government in this way? Finally, how will the data that is captured in this way, which belongs to us all, be held and protected?
The remarks that the right hon. Gentleman refers to by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are absolutely correct. As we move away from regulations, there will no longer be a legal requirement for any establishment to have covid vaccine certification, but the guidelines, which we will publish today, will be very clear that we expect corporate bodies and responsible businesses to have a system. We will continue to provide the infrastructure, where we will work with them and with the respective Government Departments. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are already talking to industry leaders and working with them, and the industry welcomes the work on a basis of guidelines, rather than regulation.
A rate of 87% for first vaccinations is truly impressive, and it is in excess of all the estimates that I read about when the vaccination programme was first launched, but there is evidence of a worrying fall-off in people coming forward for their second vaccinations in London and the south-east. Can my right hon. Friend say what steps he is taking to ensure that people, especially young people, are committing to completing the vaccination course?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this. As she says, the rate of vaccination that we have achieved in this country is the envy of the world. We want to make sure that is maintained. We definitely want to make sure that more young people are coming forward. The walk-in clinics that have popped up around the country, and the mass vaccination events that have been taking place in parts of the country, are part of that. We are also looking actively at other ways to promote the importance of vaccination.
A schoolteacher recently told me that some families cannot afford to self-isolate. If we are learning to live with the virus, why has the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care refused to introduce proper financial support to self-isolate, to ensure that those who test positive can safely self-isolate at home?
Thanks to jabs and far better treatment, the case fatality rate is now 0.085% and falling. Had it been so a year ago, is there the remotest possibility that jurisdictions would have embarked on restrictions of the same breadth and scope? Does it not follow that now is the right time to move to step 4 and release burdens on people, so that we can get society going? Will the Secretary of State please caution the Opposition on their undue reliance on masks? They are not the solution; vaccinations are.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the importance of vaccination. That has been the key to getting us to where we are on our road map, which is why we cannot emphasise enough the importance of continuing with the programme. That is why we have set out that we plan to have a booster programme in September.
I have constituents who are absolutely ready for restrictions to be lifted, and I have others who are very concerned about the effect of the Johnson variant, which is prevalent in my area, so I can understand entirely the Secretary of State’s desire for balance. That balance is not provided by the Prime Minister saying one thing—usually incoherent bluster about freedom day or terminus day—and other Ministers, such as the Secretary of State, saying other things about the need to continue wearing masks. Does he understand that the continued mixed messaging from the Government is not helping us to get through this crisis?
Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend will be asking the House to approve regulations that will put thousands of care workers in England out of a job. Two weeks ago, we were promised that a regulatory impact assessment was available. As of midday today, it is still not available. When will it be available, and why has it not been made available so far?
I believe my hon. Friend is referring to the measures that the Government have already announced around vaccinations and people who work in care homes. Ideally, I would like to make sure that the impact assessment is available. I do not know the full detail as to why it has not been completed, but at the same time, I think it is important to get on with this part of building our vaccine wall. We will have more to say about it tomorrow.
The Secretary of State will be aware that Singapore has announced its plan to navigate from pandemic to endemic and to co-exist with the virus—they could almost have been reading my speeches and articles. Will the Secretary of State get the economy and society moving again and, in particular, take a fresh look at vaccine passports or certificates, including the vaccine card that we all carry? Let us allow our people to get back to normality.
I very much welcome this statement today on the back of the successful vaccine roll-out programme. However, given the rising numbers of people having to isolate and the impact this is having on businesses and our economy, can I reiterate the call to my right hon. Friend to consider bringing forward changes to the requirement to isolate after contact with a confirmed case for those who are fully vaccinated? There has to be a better way forward that does not have the economic impact that the current isolation policy is having.
I understand the importance of the point my hon. Friend has made. As I said in response to another question, the date of 16 August is based on the best advice that we can get at this point in time. He may be interested to know that, as well as the test and trace system, there is the NHS covid app. A number of people have referred to the so-called pinging. I want to take a careful look at this to ensure that it can also provide a more proportionate and balanced system, given the rate of vaccination.
There is understandable concern among those who are immunosuppressed, particularly those with blood cancers, about the effectiveness of vaccines and I know that the Secretary of State mentioned this earlier. Can he be really clear: are the vaccines working? Will those people get booster doses early? When will detailed and specific advice on the whole range of conditions be available? I declare an interest, as somebody in my own family and many of my constituents are affected. When will they get clear advice so that their concerns can be put to one side?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. The vaccines are working and I have set out clearly why. The Government have published much evidence on that. The booster programme begins in September and the immunosuppressed and clinically vulnerable will get priority in that; they will be in the initial cohort. The advice that I referred to earlier will be published today.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this and our guidelines on mask wearing will be very clear. If people are in retail spaces and they are crowded—as we know, most of them are enclosed—they should consider wearing a mask. They should be thinking not just about themselves but about the people around them and the people serving them.
The Secretary of State will have seen the huge and rising number of covid infections in the north-east, and the decision to remove controls will clearly accelerate that and increase concerns about the short-term and long-term impacts of covid and the risk of vaccine-resistant variants. Regardless of the proposed covid passports, businesses in the north-east—especially in sectors such as hospitality, where large numbers of young unvaccinated people work—are already struggling to function with reduced staff and customers cancelling at the last minute to self-isolate. With the Government withdrawing economic support at the same time, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the concern that, for many hospitality businesses, the Government’s summer of high covid may be too much to survive?
The hon. Lady will know that there is still significant economic support in place, and of course it is the job of the Treasury to keep that under review. When it comes to self-isolation and the impact that it has on businesses, it is important, now that we have such a high level of vaccination, including in the north-east, that we can take a more proportionate and balanced approach, and that is exactly what we are doing.
It is great news that we are moving back to personal responsibility next week, and I thank the Secretary of State for that. However, the rates are increasing in Redcar and Cleveland. Although hospitalisations are not climbing in the same way, my concern is that more and more people are having to self-isolate due to the dreaded ping from the NHS app. We all remember the difficulties of last year when people struggled to get a test, but since then the Government have massively increased the testing capability and getting a test is no longer an issue. What more can be done to utilise this immense testing capability to prevent people from having to self-isolate unnecessarily?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this. The so-called ping does serve a purpose and it has served a huge purpose as we have been dealing with this pandemic, particularly during the last wave. If someone is pinged, it might be very useful information to them if they were planning in the days ahead to visit a vulnerable person, perhaps a grandparent or someone, so I think it is valuable information to give people. But as I said earlier, I think we can look at the approach and make it more measured, given the high rate of vaccination, and then also, as he suggested, make more use of tests, which is exactly what we are doing.
On children and covid—the hon. Gentleman asked about long covid—a huge amount of research is being done both in the NHS and in my Department. I mentioned, for example, the extra £50 million of funding that we are providing to do even more research and to step this up. As he knows, long covid is a problem the world over, and I hope that the UK can become a world leader in trying to help with this problem and share the research that it does with other countries. On the vaccination of children, as I said in response to a similar question, the JCVI is actively looking at this issue. Once we have its final advice, we will set out our plans.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s confirmation of the return of our freedoms. Knowing what we do now about the impact of some of our interventions, we must never return to those dark days. While we have taken a huge backward step in this regard, does he agree that we should use this great unlock to usher in a new era of personal responsibility? Perhaps we could start with a review of clause 125 of the Health and Care Bill, which would appear, on the face of it, to prevent UK food manufacturers from advertising their products anywhere online, not just in the UK, while conferring advantage on huge, globally recognised brands.
Obesity is a real problem in this country and others and its causes are very complex, but we do want to make sure that we have the best approach possible. My hon. Friend will know that we are planning to debate this Bill on Wednesday and I look forward to seeing him in the debate.
I want to press the Secretary of State a little further on wearing masks. He said that he has been perfectly clear, but the opposite is the case. His Government were dithering on mask wearing in this very week last year, and the dithering and mixed messages continue. He tells us that masks will no longer be compulsory but that wearing them will be expected, as the Chancellor boasts that he will stop wearing a mask on 19 July. The Government chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser say that they will continue to wear masks. Why has this important public health tool been so undermined by the dithering and mixed messages of his Government?
It is 16 months since I contracted a fairly mild bout of coronavirus, which, unfortunately, developed into terrible long covid, and the symptoms still persist all these months later. The vaccination programme has been a game changer and I want a return to normality, like everyone else, but does the Secretary of State understand that the consequence of his decision may well be more people with long covid? The money for research is welcome, but what more is he planning to do to support those with long covid with health, rehabilitation and social security measures and to support employers with the reality that sections of their workforce might be unfit for work for periods, too?
First, as I have said a number of times in this debate, opening up is not without risk, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that keeping restrictions in place is also not without cost, so the Government have to take a balanced approach. He is right to raise the issue of long covid. As I mentioned, this is something that the Government take very seriously. I have announced another £50 million of funding for research into it. This is a problem not just in the UK; it is an issue the world over. We still do not know enough about long covid. We are learning more all the time, but it will be an absolute priority of this Government to work with people with long covid and do everything that we possibly can.
More double-vaccinated people than ever are being asked to self-isolate because they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for covid. That is incredibly difficult for individuals and families and of course it disrupts jobs and businesses; I have heard cases of people being asked to self-isolate more than once in the same month. May I add my voice to others across the House and ask my right hon. Friend to consider bringing forward before 16 August some form of test and release measure for people who are double-vaccinated?
Again, this is an important issue. My hon. Friend may have heard the response that I gave earlier about the test and release scheme. I am eagerly waiting to look at the results of that and see whether we can provide further flexibilities. I hope she will also welcome some of the flexibilities that we have already announced, including the changes that will take effect on 16 August.
I take this opportunity to condemn the vile online racism against some members of the England football team yesterday after they had given their all for their country.
The World Health Organisation has expressed its concerns about rising infections in England and the risk to the 17 million people who still remain unprotected by vaccination. But even those who have been vaccinated are at risk of long-term illness and disability if they become infected; Office for National Statistics data indicates that one in seven infected people of working age will experience ill health after 12 weeks.
May I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) in chasing the Health Secretary about his estimates of the incidence of long covid as a result of the third wave? What discussions has he had with the Work and Pensions Secretary about what that means when it comes to support through the social security system if people are unable to work?
The hon. Lady raises the importance of vaccination, and she is right to do so. As I mentioned earlier, according to the ONS, nine out of 10 adults in this country have antibodies, which are part of the wall of protection.
The hon. Lady is right to mention that cases will rise in this wave. We have been very open about that. I hope that she heard earlier in my statement that there is no perfect time to start opening up. The risk is that, if we do not do it now and wait until after the summer, the schools will be back, and if we wait longer it will be winter—there is a real, serious risk, which we have been advised about, that the wave could be even bigger than what is anticipated at this point. Many more people would then end up getting infected and, by extension, getting long covid.
I hope that the hon. Lady can consider all that together in a balanced way. If she would like to meet any Ministers or officials in my Department to understand the situation better, I will be happy to arrange that.
From previous answers given, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is now looking at the underlying settings of the Track and Trace app—I ask him to do that as a matter of urgency. Those settings take no account of vaccination status or any other behaviours; it is just a blunt, bluetooth signal. It might have had value when there were few other tools in the box, but it must now be highly questionable to condemn potentially millions of people to unnecessary self-isolation and the economic impact thereof.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that he noted my comment that, precisely for the reasons he set out, given the high rate of vaccination, we are taking a fresh look at the app. I have asked for advice—and have just started to receive some of it—about how we can take a more proportionate and balanced approach.
It is clearly right to take further steps towards unlocking, but it is not the all-or-nothing choice that the Secretary of State has suggested and vaccines are not the only tool available. The wearing of masks in enclosed spaces reduces infection and therefore hospitalisations and deaths. It is supported by health experts and backed by the public. The reasons why the wearing of masks was made mandatory remain the same as when the Government recommended it all those months ago. With hospitalisations up 34% on a week ago, will the Secretary of State not put public health before the pressure from his more vocal Back Benchers and retain mandatory mask wearing for public transport and other enclosed spaces?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not all or nothing, which is why the Government have been very clear that as we start opening up other measures will rightfully stay in place—I mentioned earlier the border controls, the test and trace system and the plan for booster vaccines. I hope that he would welcome that.
I have had the privilege of seeing some of the terrific work being done in Aberconwy by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board on the delivery of the UK vaccine throughout north Wales. Does my right hon. Friend think that the pandemic has shown us, or perhaps reheated or reinforced, the importance of working together on health matters? Does he agree that the UK Government and the devolved Administrations should now explore opportunities to work together on better health outcomes for all UK residents in all parts of the UK?
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. During this pandemic we have seen that, by working together on all types of public health issues, but especially the vaccine and its delivery, we are stronger together. We should draw some long-term lessons from that about how we can use it not only to protect against future pandemics—sadly, there will be some—but in respect of other public health issues that we face collectively to find a way to do a better job together.
I have written to the Secretary of State to urge him to do everything that he can to protect immunocompromised people as restrictions are eased. We urgently need the results of the OCTAVE study into the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines on this population; when will we get them? In the meantime, will the Government provide antibody tests for immunocompromised people, allowing them to make informed decisions? Better communication and proper support will go a long way towards alleviating the escalating levels of concern.
On the study to which the hon. Lady referred, I will look into that and write to her, if she will allow me. Immunocompromised people and what we can do to help them has come up a number of times during this statement. I direct the hon. Lady to the comments I have already made and highlight the fact that we will publish some guidance today.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Last week, I heard from a self-employed small business owner in my constituency of Keighley and Ilkley who has been told to self-isolate three times in the past two months, despite not testing positive on any of those occasions. Such an experience is both impractical for the individual and harmful to our local economy, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that he is exploring all possible options to remedy the situation, whether through adjustments to the NHS app or changes to the self-isolation rules?
On the app and the so-called pinging—my hon. Friend referred to an individual in his constituency who has perhaps been pinged too many times—it is right, as I have said, that we take a fresh look at any changes that we can make in the light of the success of the mass vaccination campaign. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I think he will be pleased with our course of action.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), the Secretary of State said that the Government speak with one voice. Well, clearly on masks they change in response to whatever the latest YouGov poll says. He has been very clear today that people should wear a mask in confined spaces, so I ask him a direct question: what is his advice to retailers? Should they insist on their customers wearing masks when they enter their shops?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It arises directly out of the response that the Secretary of State gave to me. Tomorrow this House is being asked to approve the Draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021. When that instrument was laid on 22 June, the explanatory memorandum said:
“A full impact assessment of the costs and benefits of this instrument is”—
I emphasise “is”—
“available from the Department of Health and Social Care…and is published alongside this instrument”.
As of 12 o’clock today, I have been trying, through the good offices of our excellent colleagues in the Library, to get an answer from the Department as to when we are going to get that impact assessment. The officials at the DHSC are quoted by the Library as having said, “The impact assessment has not been laid yet”—we knew that—and, “We will be laying it at the earliest opportunity.” This is very serious, because on 6 July the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to the impossibility of being able to scrutinise the legislation properly without the impact assessment. Despite the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee recommending that the debate be deferred, nothing has happened and all that the Secretary of State said in response to me was, “Well, we don’t know where it is but don’t worry about it—we’ll carry on tomorrow anyway.” That is just not good enough. I would be grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to what we can do to ensure that we have an informed debate with the impact assessment before us.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In intending to be helpful to those on the Treasury Bench, I have noticed, looking at the said regulations, that they do not actually come into force until 16 weeks after they are approved by the House. It seems to me that in four months there is plenty of time for the Government to produce the relevant information for the House and for the House to take a decision, with no detriment at all to the health and safety of anyone in our care homes.
I thank both hon. and right hon. Gentlemen for their points of order. I am sure the House is well aware that it is not a matter for the Chair. I will not spring it on the Secretary of State for him to give an answer on this operational matter, but Mr Speaker usually observes that it is helpful to the House for Members to have as much information as possible before them when a matter of importance is to be considered.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot answer that question, because what is said by Ministers and their Departments is not a matter for the Chair. However, if it were to be the case that a spokesman for a Minister had suggested that something had happened that had not happened, and on which Members were trying to rely and could not rely, Mr Speaker would take a very dim view of that. It is better if Ministers make sure that their Departments give as much information as possible to Members ahead of discussions.
It is indeed further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to reinforce the point raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) and the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). What the House is being asked to decide tomorrow is whether to proceed with compulsory vaccination for a certain section of the healthcare workforce. We have not had compulsory vaccination in this country since the 19th century, when it was tried and abandoned. This is an incredibly serious intervention. Is there a procedure by which the House can delay coming to a decision tomorrow until the assessment is published?
I do not believe there is such a procedure, as the matters on the Order Paper are a matter for the Government. I note that the Lord President of the Council has just come into the Chamber, so he will undoubtedly hear the end of this matter, although he did not hear the beginning of it and so I would not dream of asking him to comment. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that a delay should be put in place, I am sure he will be able to make reference to that when he has the opportunity to do so tomorrow.
No. The right hon. Gentleman is fond of short questions and short answers, and that is my short answer. The statement that will be made after a brief suspension of the House, which I am about to announce, by the Lord President of the Council, will be, I understand, on a very narrow and specific matter, and I will allow questions only on that very narrow and specific matter. Having said all that, I am quite sure that the Secretary of State and those on the Treasury Bench have taken note of what has been said over these past minutes. [Interruption.] I am pleased to see that the Secretary of State has indeed taken note, so hon. Members have achieved what they set out to achieve. I shall now suspend the House in order that arrangements can be made for the next item of business.
Business of the House
I should like to make a short business statement.
Further to my statement to the House last Thursday, the first item of business tomorrow will now be consideration of a business of the House motion followed by a general debate on the Treasury update on international aid.
This will be followed by remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill followed by a motion to approve the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021.
This will be followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism followed by a motion relating to English votes for English laws.
The last item of business will be a motion relating to the appointment of chair of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
The business for the rest of the week remains unchanged and I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday.
The business for the rest of the week remains unchanged, and I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday. It may be useful for Members of the House to know that the call list will be open once the business statement has concluded and will close at 8 o’clock this evening.
I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the statement. We on the Opposition Benches, along with many on the Government Benches, have argued strongly for a proper debate and an amendable motion with a vote on international aid cuts, so I have various questions about what will happen tomorrow. He says that it is a general debate, but what will be the question? Will the debate be on an amendable motion, and if not, why not? How long will the debate be? If we are to have a vote, will he confirm that it will be legally binding on the Government, or will it be just politically binding?
This evening is obviously not the time for us to debate the merits, or rather the lack of merits, of cutting aid and undermining our legally and morally binding commitments to the world’s poorest; that will be for tomorrow. If the motion for the general debate will be votable, what would be the consequences if it were defeated? My suspicions at the moment are that this could be a Treasury road map to 0.7%, which might take a rather roundabout route, rather than this House deciding—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman is usually in favour of that, as someone who defends the rights of this House. Am I correct on that?
Finally, so that we can all understand precisely where we will be, especially as so many Members on both sides of the House have expressed such strong views, if the House votes down the motion, if there is one, on the general debate tomorrow, will international aid go back to 0.7% of gross national income in January 2022—yes or no?
The answer to the last question is yes. The written ministerial statement from the Treasury says:
“However, if the House were to negative the motion, rejecting the government’s assessment of the fiscal circumstances, then the government would consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid in the next calendar year”—
so that is from January 2022—
“and with likely consequences for the fiscal situation, including for taxation and current public spending plans.”
The motion will be: “That this House has considered the written ministerial statement relating to the Treasury update on international aid, which was laid before this House on Monday 12 July.” The debate will be for three hours and the decision will be binding on Her Majesty’s Government.
Votes have consequences and if the motion were to be negatived, that would be a significant consequence for our fiscal situation where, I remind the House, more than £400 billion has had to be spent because of the coronavirus pandemic and yet we remain one of the most generous nations in terms of overseas aid. This is merely an effort to facilitate the House in debating an issue that is of concern to many Members because, unfortunately, some missed the opportunity to do so on the estimates days.
Obviously, it was only on Thursday last week that we had the previous business statement, so I guess my first question to the Leader of the House would be, what has changed in the time from Thursday till today? Clearly, it is welcome that such an opportunity is being presented, but it does appear to me to be highly unusual that a general debate is being used as a mechanism to allow this vote to take place, especially when the Government themselves are bringing it forward. Is there a particular reason why the Government are using a general debate, rather than any other more substantive mechanism, to bring this forward? Beyond that, may I ask the Leader of the House what time or protected time will then to be allocated to the other items of business that were already on the agenda for tomorrow?
What has changed? Well, I do my best to facilitate the House, and very distinguished hon. and right hon. Members wanted further debate because, as I have mentioned, they had rather forgotten their early education on how estimates days work and therefore wanted a further debate. It is being provided in this way to allow the House to come to a clear decision. It will be a yes or no answer. Does this House wish to see the public finances kept under reasonable control, does it recognise that there are limits to what we can do and does it recognise that there are in fact generous billionaires who are giving money for overseas aid, which should be enormously welcome, or on the other hand do we want to hard press our hard-pressed taxpayers even further? That will be the question for the debate tomorrow, and a very clear answer can be given.
On the timings for the debates tomorrow, most of them are set out in Standing Orders, so debates under an Act are always for 90 minutes, and the motion relating to English votes for English laws, on which I think the hon. Gentleman and I will be on the same side, will have an hour.
I had proposed only to hear points or take questions to the Lord President from those on the Front Benches, but if the two right hon. Gentlemen who have caught my eye, the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), are asking specifically about the narrow point that the Lord President has brought to the Chamber, I will hear them.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will resist quoting page 688 of “Erskine May” to the Lord President, but can he give us an answer to this question? He has told us about the financial numbers, but will we have an impact assessment on the number of lives lost as a result of this policy, and will the motion be amendable?