House of Commons
Thursday 22 July 2021
The House met at half-past Nine 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
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
National Food Strategy: Small-scale Family Farms
The Government thank Henry Dimbleby and his team for their work on the independent review of the food system. We are committed to carefully considering the review and its recommendations, and responding in full with a White Paper in the next six months. That will set out our ambition and priorities for the food system to support farms of all sizes and our exceptional food and drink producers.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the heart will be ripped out of the British countryside if small-scale family farms in Kettering and elsewhere go under as a result of industrial agriculture and the relentless pursuit of cheap food? What will he do to ensure that family farms remain an important and permanent feature of rural life?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the importance of small family farms in our agriculture system. A lot of the economic analysis done by the Government and companies such as AB Agri shows that some of those smaller family farms are technically the most proficient and often the most profitable, as they have attention to detail. The Government are going to be bringing forward more proposals to support new entrants to our farming industry so that we have a vibrant, profitable sector, with farms of all sizes.
The National Food Strategy has recommended that the Government must define the minimum standards we will accept in future free trade deals and a “mechanism for protecting them”. The report says that without that there is “serious peril” that tariff-free deals could not only “compromise” our own attempts to drive up these standards, but allow cheap imports, which would “undercut” our farmers. Given that the Trade and Agriculture Commission already made exactly that recommendation in its March report, almost five months ago, can the Secretary of State tell me when these core standards will be set out and whether that mechanism for defending them will be in place before the Australia deal is signed?
The Government are working on a sanitary and phytosanitary policy statement that will set out the UK’s farm-to-fork approach on these matters, the science of good farm husbandry and how that improves food safety standards. We also have some key things in our legislation, such as bans on the use of hormones in beef and of chlorinated washes. Those are in our legislation and will not change.
New measures to crack down on livestock worrying are being introduced as part of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. They will expand species and locations covered, and will enhance enforcement. Improved powers for the police will make it easier for them to collect evidence and, in the most serious cases, to seize and detain dogs.
Farmers in Aberconwy have been speaking to me about the threat that dogs out of control pose to livestock. Dan Jones, who farms the Great Orme above Llandudno, told me just yesterday about how five ewes were killed in two attacks in just one day. This week, I was pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) in her Bill to amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, because this is a UK-wide problem. Will the Minister meet her, me and other north Wales colleagues to discuss how we can strengthen legislation further to deal with this menace?
I would be delighted to meet colleagues to discuss this important subject. New measures in the Bill specify that a dog will be considered to be at large unless it is on a lead of less than 1.8 metres or the dog remains in sight of the owner, who is aware of the dog’s actions and is confident that the dog will return if called .It is important that we continue to work on these details to get this absolutely right.
Abundance of Wildlife Species: Legislative Proposals
We have amended the Environment Bill to require a new, historic and legally binding target for species abundance for 2030 to be set, aiming to halt the decline in nature. The details of that target will be set out secondary legislation and the target will be subject to the same requirements as the other long-term legally binding targets set under the Bill.
The UK is among the most nature-depleted countries; half our wildlife has decreased since 1970 and one in seven species is now at risk of extinction. Given a decade of huge cuts, all the rhetoric and the modest uplift in Natural England funding cannot hide the fact that the Government have consistently missed United Nations biodiversity targets. Minister, in order to show leadership and set an example to the rest of the world, should a natural target not be set now, rather than wait, so that we can stop and reverse the decline of nature by 2030?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government are taking this issue really seriously. We are the first Government to set a target such as this, aiming to halt the decline of nature, and indeed recover it by 2030. We are working on the detail of that target. It will be set, along with all the other targets, through the Environment Bill, which will enable us to work together to raise up nature everywhere, and we will be announcing those targets in October 2022.
I have become accustomed to the flurry of press releases from the Department and the long list of initiatives that the Minister has a habit of reciting when questioned about biodiversity and species abundance. Does she agree with the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), when he says:
“Although there are countless Government policies and targets to ‘leave the environment in a better state than we found it’, too often they are grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms”?
So, where is the plan?
I hope the hon. Lady will agree that the plethora of press releases demonstrate just how much work is going on in this Department. We are bringing through groundbreaking legislation that will put in all the measures that we need to tackle these really serious issues. So we have the targets in the Environment Bill and we have a whole range of grants and funds, such as the woodland creation grant and the Nature for Climate peatland restoration grant scheme. They are open now, and people can start applying for them, and we really are moving on this.
The England trees action plan, supported by £500 million from the Nature for Climate fund, announced a series of funds to support the creation of woodland over this Parliament. That includes over £25 million for our woodland creation partnerships this year, £6 million for the urban tree challenge fund for the next two years, a £2.7 million local authority treescapes fund for 2021-22, and £15.9 million for the woodland creation offer this year.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, and for the work that she is doing. Clearly, in urban and suburban settings, new trees are a lifeline to encourage the green lungs of the cities and towns around our country. What more can she offer to encourage local authorities to implement new street trees, which are appropriate to the setting, not only on streets, but also in parks and open spaces?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. It is not just about planting trees in rural areas; our urban areas are so important, because that is where people engage with the trees. So I am sure he will be pleased to hear about the urban tree challenge fund, which is providing £6 million over the next two years to support trees in exactly the places he says—our towns and cities. We have also opened the £2.7 million local authority treescapes fund, to encourage more tree planting in non-woodland settings, but particularly along roads and footpaths, just as he is suggesting. I hope that he will be encouraging his local authority to apply for some of those grants.
Coastal State Fisheries Negotiations: Quota Share
It is very good to see my hon. Friend back in the Chamber after his illness. For 2021, the Government have secured fishing opportunities of around 628,000 tonnes of quota across all the annual negotiations—approximately 55,000 tonnes more than last year. The Government are now preparing for the next round of annual fisheries negotiations. We have held a series of briefings with stakeholders this month on the latest scientific recommendations, and we will be developing our negotiating mandate in the months ahead.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The decision not to come to an agreement with Norway was met with mixed reactions across the different sectors within the industry. While the pelagic sector is undoubtedly doing well out of our new status, there have been challenges for the demersal sector. So can my right hon. Friend give a commitment that the Government are determined to deliver honesty of opportunity for all sectors in the industry—demersal as well as pelagic?
My hon. Friend is right. The pelagic sector in particular has benefited from the UK becoming an independent coastal state with more quota and less competition from Norway and the Faroe Islands, which have not had access to our waters this year. For 2021, the fleet received an increase of around 5,800 tonnes of mackerel compared with the year before. My hon. Friend is also right: we want to deliver for all sectors, which is why, in England, we have given a significant uplift to the inshore under-10 metre fleet with additional quota this year. It is also why, as I speak, we are in the final stages of negotiations on annual exchanges with the EU that will help the white fish sector.
The fishing industry knows that the Government have failed to negotiate real-terms quota data with the European Union, and it also knows that the Government have no idea—no idea—how much non-quota species are being caught by EU boats in our waters. With the shellfish ban on exports and British fishers being harassed for catch data that we do not require from EU boats, where in the Tory manifesto did it say that we would actually give away control of our waters, and where is the plan for fishing? Where is the plan?
I will take no lectures on these matters from the hon. Gentleman who wanted us to remain in the European Union and wanted to allow EU vessels to have the ability to fish in our waters without even requiring a licence to do so.
The Government have required all foreign vessels, including EU vessels, to have a licence to fish in our waters, and that sets certain conditions. We have access to vessel monitoring data so that we can track the precise location of all those vessels, and we are also working on methodologies now so that they must declare their catch when they leave our waters and when they enter our waters, and that will give us the data that he suggests that we need.
Compulsory Microchipping of Cats
The Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory microchipping of cats, and that was recently restated in the action plan for animal welfare. We carried out a public consultation, which ended in February, and DEFRA officials are currently analysing the 33,000 responses. We will publish the details of our proposals later this year.
So despite widespread public support, as the Minister confirmed, we are yet to have a timetable for the compulsory microchipping of pet cats. We know that 2.6 million unchipped pet cats in the UK have less chance of being reunited with their owners if they are lost or stolen, despite how heartbreaking the loss of much loved pets can be and the recognised need to improve animal welfare. Will the Government ensure that the consultation on cat and dog microchipping reports as soon as possible and announce their timetable for introducing regulations to make microchipping compulsory for pet cats?
I share the hon. Lady’s enthusiasm for microchipping cats. A total of 74% are already microchipped, including my own I am pleased to say. We will be working hard, as soon as we have responded to the consultation, to legislate as soon as possible. Only secondary legislation is needed to bring about changes if those are considered necessary, so I do not anticipate any great delay, and I reassure the hon. Lady that we are working on this at pace.
Seafood Response Fund
The seafood response fund gave funding to shellfish, aquaculture and catching businesses across the UK when they had been affected by covid or by trade disruption. The size of each payment was based on the average fixed costs for each business. For catching businesses, this was based on vessel size, and for aquaculture businesses, this was based on the number of people they employed.
Now that the Minister has had time to read the deal that the UK Government have signed, she will see that it is a bad deal and that there has been a lot of trade disruption. In January and February, Scottish companies were losing roughly £1 million per day. By the end of February, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation stated that its members had lost £11 million. What does the Minister estimate is the total cost of covid and Brexit on the Scottish seafood industry? How much compensation has been paid to Scottish companies? How much compensation is still to be paid, and what has she done to resolve the issue of exports to the EU?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extensive work that has been carried out by the Scottish seafood taskforce, chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), which has provided practical and sensible measures to assist with exports to the EU. On the specific fund, we were very careful to make it clear that Scottish businesses should not lose out, so the fund was available for all eligible UK businesses, and Scottish businesses were able to apply for a top-up if that was appropriate, so we were very careful to ensure that Scottish businesses were treated equitably.
Measures in the Environment Bill will help to address the problem of untreated sewage entering the rivers. On 9 July, Southern Water was fined £90 million—the largest sum yet for a water company—for persistent illegal discharge of raw sewage. Ministers have been clear with water industry chief executive officers on their companies’ legal duties. We are also tackling river pollution from poor farming practices. In addition to regulation and financial incentives, catchment-sensitive farming helps thousands of farmers to make water improvements.
Leighton sewage works pumped raw sewage into the River Ouzel for 149 hours in 2019, and in March this year waste water was pumped into the river for several weeks at Mardle Road. Volunteers Ruth Mundy and Liz Hooper report the absence of ducks, egrets and kingfishers, which were common in the past. Will the new director of water quality at the Environment Agency be able to achieve a rapid and sustained improvement?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue. It is clearly unacceptable. I hope he will agree that we now have many measures in place; he has been involved in pressing for them. The storm overflows taskforce has been set up to deal with the sewage overflows, which, in our view, are used far too frequently. Much more monitoring is in place through the water companies. They have to publish a plan on this issue and the Government have to report back. We are really cracking down on the whole issue of water quality, which my hon. Friend is right to raise.
Support for Farmers
The agricultural transition plan sets out how support for farmers is changing. Instead of paying farmers subsidies based on the amount of land they own, we are introducing new schemes to incentivise good ecological practices. We will also offer grants to support new entrants to the sector, and to improve productivity and business planning.
The UK Government yesterday indicated that they were willing to break their own trade deal with the EU because of consequences that they told us would not happen. The EU may then very well implement tariffs on UK exports to the EU, as it has a right to do under the Tory-negotiated deal. That would be calamitous for our agricultural sector. The Minister will no doubt answer with reference to all the new deals that the International Trade Secretary is signing the UK up to, but just days ago the New Zealand Prime Minister warned that failing to keep to treaty commitments could threaten membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. Will the Minister commit to covering the extra costs to farmers that this whole sorry mess is causing, or are the consequences of this ideological Brexit crusade to be borne by everyone but the UK Government and their Ministers?
I do not think it is any secret to the House that I was no Brexiteer, but I must say that for farming and fishing I think we have really gained from Brexit. In England, we do not think the environment can wait. We want to start paying our farmers public money for public goods; that is how they will be supported in the future.
Scottish Seed Potato Industry
The Scottish seed potato industry is renowned globally for its high health status and it is second to none. It exports to some 40 countries around the world and 80% of its exports are outside the EU—to markets such as Egypt and Morocco. As my hon. Friend knows, the EU has adopted a curious stance in respect of authorising Scottish seed potatoes. Although EU law provides a mechanism for equivalence to be recognised, the Commission has so far refused even to allow its Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed to assess our application. We are continuing to work with industry to unblock this issue.
We introduced a temporary six-month marketing authorisation that allowed EU seed potatoes to be marketed in England and Wales earlier this year. That has now expired, as agreed with the industry and the devolved Administrations. If any applications are received for marketing equivalence, the UK will consider whether seed potatoes have been produced under conditions equivalent to requirements in GB regulations. Of course, the sensible thing to happen is for the EU to apply its own rules and laws, and to assess the application that we have lodged with it.
The UK has a resilient food supply chain built on strong domestic production, open markets and an advanced logistics and retail sector. The impacts of the pandemic and labour shortages mean that it has been tested. We have been working with colleagues across Government to ensure that our food supply chain has the support that it needs. The Agriculture Act 2020 requires regular assessments of food security and the first of these will take place later this year.
Department for Work and Pensions data has revealed the shocking fact that, pre-covid, 42% of households on universal credit were food insecure. With the planned removal of the £20 uplift to universal credit, what impact assessment has the Secretary of State’s Department completed on the impact of removing the uplift regarding the food security of the 6 million people on universal credit?
We regularly monitor household spending on food. It is important to note that last year household spending on food among the poorest 20% of households was the lowest on record, at about 14%. That said, we absolutely recognise that there are individual households that struggle to afford food. That is why the Government have brought forward a number of initiatives over the past 12 months to support them through groups such as FareShare, as well as the holiday activities and food scheme.
There are crops rotting in the fields due to a shortage of people to pick them, there is a self-inflicted shortage of HGV drivers due to the Government’s poor Brexit deal, and there are now empty shelves across Britain because thousands of retail workers are doing the right thing and self-isolating. Why has the Secretary of State for food not got a grip on the lack of food security in the country, and where is the plan?
When it comes to labour, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have introduced the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which has been crucial this year in providing farms with the seasonal labour that they need, and we have allowed 30,000 seasonal workers to come in under that scheme. We are also continuing to work with businesses on the issue of staff having to isolate. The Government will shortly be saying more about their approach on this to ensure that key critical infrastructure can continue.
We are introducing reforms to the waste sector that will help us to increase the amount of material we recycle. These reforms include introducing consistency in household and business waste collection in England, extended producer responsibility for packaging, and a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. Together, these measures will help us to meet our commitment to recycle 70% of packaging by 2030 and 65% of municipal waste by 2035.
Not only are we in Wales the third best at recycling in the world, but in Newport, under the leadership of Newport Council and Wastesavers, we are the top recycling city in Wales, and the reuse centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) is one of three nominated for civic amenity centre of the year, with rates of 90%. Does the Minister agree that the Government can learn much from Wales and Newport?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am not going to be sniffy about this: if we can learn lessons from anyone, I am never too proud. Equally, the challenges are different in every place. We have set our targets to increase our recycling rates here in the UK, but actually Wales, and Northern Ireland, will be joining us in the deposit return scheme. We very much welcome all the negotiations and consultations that we are having to ensure that that will work across the borders.
Leaks from Water Mains
Reducing leakage is an essential part of our ambition to improve water efficiency. Ofwat has set companies a performance commitment to reduce leakage by 16% by 2025. The water companies have further committed to deliver a 50% reduction by 2050, which could save up to 1,400 megalitres of water per day. I will require water companies to develop their water resource management plans on this basis.
The problem we have in Bromley is that 95% of the mains are cast iron, according to Thames Water, and are therefore much, much more liable to breaking, rather than the average in London of 50% to 60%. It means we have repeated leaks, often in the same place, patched up time and time again. We had 133 in one postcode area in four months, in one instance. This is actually causing real issues for my constituents. Can we have a specific programme to replace outdated Victorian infrastructure and bring it up to purpose for the 21st century?
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I do realise the challenges that people are facing in his constituency. Repairing and replacing leaking pipes is, as he points out, absolutely critical; obviously, it is particularly critical to maintaining clean, safe, reliable drinking water to our homes and businesses. Identifying those leaks is challenging, and water companies are looking at innovative ways to improve outcomes. It is really for the companies to decide how to maintain their infrastructure, but we are pushing them with the targets that have been set. To minimise the disruption caused, they are required to provide notice of planned work to customers and local authorities.
Over the past 18 months, key workers in our food supply chain have worked incredibly hard to keep the nation fed during the difficult context of the pandemic. The recent hot weather has increased demand for some items, such as bottled waters, and staff absences have increased, but remain lower than seen earlier in the pandemic. We are working with colleagues across Government to support businesses in the food supply chain, and I take this opportunity to thank all those key workers working on farms, in food factories, in the distribution system and in our food retail sector for their extraordinary efforts.
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect in that the capital spending on floods is increasing to £5.2 billion. That is almost a doubling of the previous programme. We have held meetings around the Yorkshire area, and Yorkshire will be one of the key beneficiaries from that investment we are making.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Some of the challenges we have are typically with houses built in the Victorian era where, as she says, the street drainage system goes into the foul water sewage system. That can lead to it being overwhelmed at times. Most developments that have taken place since the 1960s do have surface water drainage separated from foul water sewage systems. We have set up a taskforce to look at how we can address this problem and, in particular, reduce the use of combined sewage overflows.
I had a good trip up to Newcastle-under-Lyme recently to meet residents and the pressure group Stop the Stink and to see and smell for myself the horrific emissions from Walleys Quarry, the local landfill site that has the dubious honour of being the smelliest tip in England. What engagement has the Secretary of State had with the owner of the site, Red Industries, to restore residents’ physical health and mental wellbeing and stop the stink? Where is the plan?
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) has been raising this issue with me, the Prime Minister and others consistently. There is a challenge. I have met him twice to discuss it. I have also met the local team in the Environment Agency dealing with this, and I have discussed it with the chief exec of the Environment Agency. One of the problems is that it is thought that some plasterboard was illegally dumped at the site. That is what is causing the current problem with hydrogen sulphide. The Environment Agency is working on a plan to flare those gases off, and we are doing all that we can to support them in that endeavour.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a really big year for the environment internationally—not only with COP26 being hosted in Glasgow, but with the convention on biological diversity COP15, where we are going to be setting some crucial biodiversity targets. I am sure that either I or one of our ministerial team would be more than happy to speak to her event, and we are speaking to many other such events around the country.
I am regularly contacted by students in schools around the country on this great challenge. We have made some very important steps forward with the ban on some single-use plastics, and we intend to go further with such bans, and the levy on single-use carrier bags. We have, in our flagship Environment Bill, the proposal for extended producer responsibility, which will make the people who manufacture goods and use the packaging responsible for its recycling at the end of its life. That will be a significant change that will help reduce the use of plastics.
The UK Government work very closely with ICES. Indeed, our chief fisheries scientist at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science is the deputy president of ICES. ICES regularly receives submissions from CEFAS, and where we believe its methodology is incorrect, wrong or missing certain things, it is often our scientists in CEFAS who help to update that information. Of course, when we set quotas annually and set our position on that, we take into account a range of factors—principally the ICES advice, but other factors as well.
We are doing a very detailed piece of work on all the targets we intend to set under the Environment Bill, including on air quality, but also on water, biodiversity, and waste and resource management. We are looking very closely at two particular approaches to air quality. One is a concentration target for PM2.5— and I know there have been representations from people that it should be 10 micrograms—and the other is population exposure.
We have not cancelled culling licences, but it is the case that the intensive four-year culls in many parts of the country have run their course and have therefore ended. To answer my hon. Friend’s question, we are running field trials at the moment on that DIVA test, and we plan to have that vaccine in 2025.
The Department for Transport has already announced some plans to increase the speed of driver testing and to deal with some of those logistics issues. Secondly, we are working across Government to ensure that where isolation is needed we protect particularly important strategic infrastructure.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We all have a role to play in this; people should take responsibility for their litter. We have taken some steps, such as fixed penalty notices so we can issue on-the-spot fines to people who do litter, but we need a culture change in this area.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for South Norfolk, representing the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
NAO Report on Local Government and Net Zero: Government Response
The National Audit Office produced an important report recently considering how effectively central Government and local authorities in England are collaborating on net zero. The report emphasised the need for clear roles and responsibilities and for ensuring that local authorities have the right resources and skills to tackle net zero. The question of when the Government will respond is a matter for Government, but I can tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, told me this morning that his Committee will be taking evidence on this National Audit Office report on Wednesday 8 September.
The National Audit Office report concludes that there are serious weaknesses in the Government’s approach to working with over 350 local councils in England on decarbonisation owing to a lack of clarity on the council’s overall roles, piecemeal funding and defuse accountabilities. Will my hon. Friend encourage the Public Accounts Committee to also scrutinise the Government’s response to this important report when it is eventually published?
As my hon. Friend will know, the Public Accounts Committee approves the NAO’s strategy and budgets and does not involve itself in individual reports, but he will also know that the National Audit Office report recommends that central Government carry out an analysis of the net zero funding available to local authorities, and it has highlighted that, despite the budget available going from £74 million in 2019-20 to £1.2 billion in 2020-21, the approach remains fragmented, so I hear what my hon. Friend says.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
May I first apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and all Members participating for not being present in person as I am required to self-isolate at home?
I am very pleased the hon. Lady has asked this question because, like her, I am a big supporter of social prescribing, and I am delighted to be able to tell her that the Church of England is a member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs green social prescribing advisory board and that we work closely with the members of the National Academy for Social Prescribing.
While hospital chaplains play a crucial role in providing support within our NHS, our community chaplains and clergy are highly trained professionals and could play a far more integral role in the provision of community health, not least as primary care is completely overwhelmed currently. What further discussions have taken place between the Church Commissioners and the Department of Health and Social Care and also clergy and their local primary care networks on how they can support the social prescribing agenda in their communities?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for praising the valuable work that clergy do in this area. Examples of Church social prescribing include our therapeutic gardening projects, often in urban areas, and the new cycle routes to all our 42 cathedrals. Nearer to her, the Joyful Connections café at St Luke’s church in York is linked to a GP social prescribing scheme and has run dementia-friendly church services. Indeed, a 2018 American Journal of Epidemiology study showed the positive impact on wellbeing and mental health of faith in Jesus and being a Church member.
Public Worship and Singing in Church
It has been nearly a year since people in churches could lift their voices in song, and this Sunday there will be joy. But for some church leaders, some concern seems to remain, despite the very well established and known physical and mental benefits associated with singing. Does my hon. Friend agree that those benefits should be very much in the hearts and minds of decision makers as they look at how to progress this summer?
Just like my hon. Friend, I am very much looking forward to being able to sing in church again—and if it stopped raining or being a heatwave, we could even worship outside. Clergy will want to do what is right in their own churches and cathedrals, recognising that we are many members within one body and are called to be responsible to and for one another.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Elections Bill: Electoral Commission’s Discharge of Functions
Any changes to the commission’s accountability are a matter for the UK Parliament through statute and not the Speaker’s Committee. The Elections Bill was introduced to the House earlier this month. Members will have the opportunity to debate the proposals relating to the Electoral Commission during the passage of the Bill. The commission will provide briefings for parliamentarians to support their considerations of the Bill’s content and impact, covering the full scope of the measures proposed.
I thank the hon. Member for that response, but under the Government’s proposals in the Elections Bill, the Electoral Commission’s powers to ensure that criminal offences under electoral law are prosecuted will be drastically curtailed. Given the numerous instances over recent years of sharp practice and outright criminality, and the corrupting influence of dark money in our democratic processes, will the Electoral Commission be able to fulfil its basic remit and properly regulate donations and spending if the Bill is passed?
The Electoral Commission tells me that effective enforcement when the rules are broken gives voters and campaigners confidence in the system. Where any political party or campaigner deliberately or recklessly breaks electoral law, voters have the right to expect that they will face prosecution. The Government do not consider prosecution to be an area of work that the commission should undertake. If the Elections Bill is passed, the commission will work with the Government and other prosecuting authorities to ensure that there is no regulatory gap across the full range of offences. The commission will retain a range of other powers and access to civil sanctions to continue its important work in regulating political finance.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution for Religion or Belief
I am enormously grateful to all three of my right hon. and hon. Friends for continuing to bring the House’s attention to the ongoing, horrific levels of persecution of people for their religion or belief.
My right hon. Friend is right about the reports that keep coming out of India. The Church is pressing the Government to see India as a country of particular concern where targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom may be needed. Overseas development assistance should be used to advance the human rights of people of all faiths in India.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the terrible conflict currently raging in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. There have been disturbing reports of violence against Christians and shocking allegations that priests and nuns have been attacked and killed. What is the Church doing to help ensure that Christians are protected in Tigray and that Ethiopia’s religious diversity is safeguarded?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the situation in Tigray is truly desperate. Both churches and mosques are being attacked and looted and, in some cases, their worshippers killed. Our bishops have raised their concerns forcefully with the Ethiopian ambassador and have asked our Ministers to relay their concerns to the newly elected Ethiopian Government.
In Nigeria, violence against Christians is ongoing. Since December, there have been 10 mass kidnappings and repeated attacks on churches and religious leaders. The week before last, 30 people were killed and 200 homes and four churches were destroyed. What is the Church doing to bring that to global leaders’ attention so that this appalling suffering can be brought to an end?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We sometimes need to pause for a moment to take in the enormity of what is happening. The Church of England continues to press the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to provide the financial and technical assistance necessary to address these horrendous violations of religious freedom. The Church is also working to enable parliamentarians in Nigeria and elsewhere to hold to account those who perpetuate such horrific violence. These victims will not be forgotten by us.
Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body
The right hon. Member for East Hampshire, representing the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, was asked was asked—
Restoration and Renewal
The Sponsor Body, supported by the Delivery Authority, is currently developing the detailed plan that will for the first time give an accurate sense of the costs and timescales and the full detail of the work needed for restoration and renewal. It will be put before both Houses for a decision before works commence. Securing best value for money is fundamental.
Given that the House has debated the subject numerous times, supported the Joint Committee’s 2016 proposal and passed the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019, does my right hon. Friend agree that continually re-examining the scope and cost of the project increases the risk that we are not making our national Parliament fit for purpose and runs the risk of us having our own Notre-Dame moment with our beautiful and historic building?
My hon. Friend is right to mention the terrible fire at Notre-Dame, which serves as a reminder to us all of the risk to our great heritage assets. He is also right that putting off works tends to increase costs eventually, so I agree entirely about the time sensitivity of action and thank him for his timely reminder.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Voter ID: Electoral Fraud
The commission collects and annually publishes data from all UK police forces on allegations of electoral fraud. The data show that the UK has low levels of proven fraud. In 2019, police forces across the UK recorded 34 cases of alleged personation in polling stations, which resulted in one conviction and one police caution. Cases of electoral fraud that are not reported to the police will not be captured in that data. The commission has no reliable method to estimate how much electoral fraud goes unreported.
If the data show low levels, it is curious that the commission should have concluded that some measure of voter identification was necessary. May I ask the hon. Member to convey to the commission the view that, in fact, a rather more robust and substantial data gathering exercise is required before the case can truly be said to be made for changes in voter identification?
I will indeed convey that. The commission has highlighted that polling station voting in Great Britain remains vulnerable to fraud since there are no checks in place to prevent somebody from claiming to be an elector and voting in their name. That distinguishes voting at polling stations from other parts of the electoral process where identity checks already exist, such as voter registration and postal voting. The commission’s public opinion research shows that this issue concerns voters, but I will pass on the right hon. Member’s view to the commission.
Voter ID: Electoral Participation
The commission’s independent evaluation of the Government’s pilots held in 2018 and 2019 found that a large majority of people already had access to the forms of ID that were used in these pilots. There was no evidence that levels of turnout in the pilot scheme areas were significantly affected by the requirement for voters to show ID at polling stations. However, the commission was not able to draw a definitive conclusion from the pilots about the impact of a voter ID requirement, particularly for a national poll with high levels of turnout. The sociodemographic profiles of the pilot areas are also not fully representative of many areas of Great Britain. The commission has recommended that any ID requirements should be secure, accessible and realistically deliverable. The detail of the Government’s proposals for a free, locally issued voter ID card will be key to ensuring that those who do not have another form of photo ID can vote.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He knows that in the 2019 general election there were over 47 million people registered to vote and only six convictions for electoral fraud—a rate of less than 0.00001%. He knows that there are fears that mandatory voter ID could suppress turnout and discourage voting in some communities. I do not want that, he does not want that, and I do not believe any MP wants to exclude people from voting. With that in mind, will he tell the House what more the Electoral Commission is doing to try to increase participation and turnout in elections?
Increasing participation is one of the Electoral Commission’s core missions. It tells me that it undertakes significant public awareness activity ahead of major polls to ensure that voters can understand how to participate and have their say with confidence. This May, the period of its voter registration campaign, saw over 1 million applications to register across Great Britain, breaking its targets. If the voter ID requirement is passed into law, the commission will be responsible for new public awareness activity to ensure that voters can understand the new requirements. This would significantly focus on audiences least likely to have the required identification and so most likely to need access to the proposed free voter card.
Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body
The right hon. Member for East Hampshire, representing the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, was asked was asked—
Restoration and Renewal: Opportunities for Harrogate and Knaresborough
Restoring Parliament will use UK materials wherever possible and create jobs and apprenticeships in the supply chain across the UK, from high-tech design to traditional stonemasonry. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the project has already engaged with a Harrogate business providing professional services on procuring works on a value-for-money and UK-wide basis.
I am grateful to hear that—I did not know about that Harrogate business. In addition to promoting opportunities for businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough, I was trying to get at an underlying point: the wider the contracts and benefits of the restoration project are spread around our country, the broader the support will be for the large sum of money involved in it. I am sure we have all heard people say, “You lot down in Westminster—”, as if Parliament has nothing to do with them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this project has the capacity to either compound or militate against that?
I do agree. My hon. Friend is right: it will be a large sum of money, and it is essential not only that best value is secured for that money, but that the benefits of it are spread, and visibly so, across the country. The programme is currently working on its supply chain plans and is already recruiting. The shared apprenticeship scheme is an example of an innovative approach to make sure that smaller firms can also share in the benefits of the programme.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Church Repairs: VAT
The Church believes strongly that it does not make sense to put value added tax on the repair and restoration of listed buildings. While the Church is grateful that the Government have extended the listed places of worship grant scheme to refund this VAT for another year, we cannot continue with these short-term, sticking-plaster measures. We need to put the maintenance of our listed buildings on a sustainable basis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. I am sure he will be aware that, in 2019, Historic England commissioned a report into the economic value of and repairs to a sample of 30 churches and discovered consequential costs of 26% to those projects. Obviously, if VAT is charged, it can be claimed back under the listed places of worship grant scheme, as he said. In two cases in my constituency—St Mary’s church, Warwick, and All Saints parish church in Leamington—that consequential cost could be up to £750,000 for both. Does he agree that we should just be scrapping VAT on these projects?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that when regular maintenance is not done, the final costs are much higher. We have had other one-off grants in the past, such as the roof repair fund, which we have been grateful for but which have not provided a long-term solution. Having left the European Union, the Government have gained new tax freedoms and could use them to permanently reduce or, even better, zero-rate value added tax on the repairs and restoration of listed buildings.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
House of Commons Staff: Covid-19 Secure Workplace
The House of Commons Commission has ensured that the House service has implemented the “Working safely during coronavirus” guidance to ensure that we remain a covid-secure workplace. At every stage of the Government’s road map, or when updated guidance has been published, the parliamentary covid risk assessment has been reviewed and updated to ensure that the appropriate mitigations are put in place.
I echo your repeated thanks, Mr Speaker, to the members of staff of the House of Commons, who do so much to ensure the smooth and safe proceedings of the House.
Members of the House travel extensively to our constituencies and within our constituencies. Being gregarious is almost a job requirement—we meet lots of people—yet there is no requirement on us to wear a mask in this place. Will the hon. Member give further consideration to what requirements can be placed on Members of this House to better protect those who do so much to protect us?
I would like to thank the staff as well. We are all gregarious—not just Members of Parliament, but House staff. I hope that when they are not looking after us, they are out enjoying the restaurants, clubs and bars of London that are reopening. Of course, our protective embrace cannot cover them there. However, face coverings remain one of the many mitigations available to the House to manage the risk of covid. The Commission continues to support their use, in line with national guidance, but the Speaker has no power to prevent democratically elected Members from coming on to the estate or into the Chamber when the House is sitting. There is therefore no meaningful way to enforce a requirement on Members to wear a face covering in the Chamber, but they are strongly encouraged to do so.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—
Anti-Racism Taskforce Recommendations
The Church is hugely appreciative of the work of the archbishops’ anti-racism taskforce. It has already committed to implementing 34 of the taskforce’s 39 recommendations and is keeping the other five under review.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner appreciates, as I do, the importance of cultural change in the Church. Clergy from diverse backgrounds must be supported and given equal opportunities, from new ordinands settling in to those moving towards more senior roles. What powers will the new commission led by Lord Boateng have to hold the Church to account as it enters the implementation stage?
As the hon. Lady says, in the autumn a new racial justice commission will start work under the chairmanship of Lord Boateng and with Lord Wei as a member. I am delighted to say that we have the highest number of recommendations for stipendiary ordained ministry training in a generation: almost 600, of which 10.9% are from minority ethnic backgrounds—a 2% increase on the previous year. The Church is making gradual but steady progress to make sure that its clergy look like the nation it serves, and the racial justice commission will certainly hold the Church to account on future progress.
Before I call the Minister to make his statement, I have to say that I am far from happy that yesterday the House heard from a Health Minister giving an update with no mention at all of the NHS pay deal, which is a point of great political interest. I find it hard to believe that any negotiations were still going on beyond that time. I urge the Government again to ensure that the House is the first, not the last, to know. It is not my fault that the Secretary of State got pinged, and if he wants to make announcements from his garden, he can do so, but somebody could have been here and Ministers could have shared that information with us. Glorying in the sunshine should not detract from this House hearing an announcement when it is made. It matters to all of us—we all have hospitals in our constituencies, and we all have constituents who work for the NHS, so the clear message once again is that this House should be told. Now then, let us come to a man who has come to the House to make a statement. I call Minister Nadhim Zahawi to make a statement.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I offer the apologies of the Secretary of State and the Department of Health and Social Care on the inability of the Department to make a statement on the acceptance by the independent pay review body that NHS staff should get 3%? I hope you will accept my apology on behalf of the Secretary of State, as he is self-isolating.
I really do appreciate that, and the Minister is so courteous, but it makes it worse that a Minister was actually at the Dispatch Box when all that was going on outside, and for them to turn to the House and say, “I can’t tell you”—not “I don’t know”, but “I can’t tell you”—is even more worrying.
You make a very powerful point, Mr Speaker.
Before I turn to my remarks today, I want to say something to you, Mr Speaker. I want to take a moment ahead of the House rising for the summer recess to thank you, sir, and everyone who works here in Parliament, your whole team, for everything you have done to keep us all safe over the past few months. The fact that we have kept our democracy running, and running safely, at this time of crisis is an incredible achievement, and we are all extremely grateful to you and your team.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the covid-19 pandemic. This week, we have taken a decisive step forward, taking step 4 on our road map and carefully easing more of the restrictions that have governed our daily lives. Although we are moving forward, we must remember that we are doing so with caution, because the pandemic is not yet over. The average number of daily cases in England is around 41,000 and hospitalisations and deaths are rising too, although at a much lower level than when we had that number of cases during previous waves. So even as we take step 4, we urge everyone to think about what they can do to make a real difference.
Today, we are launching a new campaign to encourage everyone to keep taking the little steps that have got us this far, such as wearing face coverings in crowded public areas, making sure that rooms are well ventilated and getting regular rapid tests. We are also supporting businesses and organisations, helping them to manage the risk of transmission within their venues, including through the use of the NHS covid pass for domestic use. I know that this has been of great interest to Members and want to use this opportunity to reiterate the policy and offer the House the chance to have its say.
This week, after a successful trial, we have rolled out the NHS covid pass, which allows people safely and securely to demonstrate their covid status, whether that is proof of vaccination status, test results or natural immunity. Anyone can access a pass via the NHS app, the NHS website or by calling 119 and asking for a letter to demonstrate vaccine status. People will also be able to demonstrate proof of a negative test result.
Although we do not encourage its use in essential settings such as supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry, where it is suitable for their venue or premises and when they can see its potential to keep their clients or customers safe. For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and mix with people from outside their household for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do. The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus, so we reserve the right to mandate its use in future.
Next, I wish to update the House on vaccination as a condition of entry. We all know the benefits that both doses of a vaccine can bring. Data from Public Health England estimates that two doses of a covid vaccine offers protection of around 96% against hospitalisation. Today, we have new data from Public Health England that estimates that the vaccination programme in England alone has prevented 52,600 hospitalisations. That is up 6,300 from two weeks ago and is a fitting example of the protective wall that our vaccination programme has given us—a wall that is getting stronger every day. That protection has allowed us carefully to ease restrictions over the past few months, but we must do so in a way that is mindful of the benefits that both doses of the vaccine can bring. This strategy—this philosophy—will underpin our approach over the critical next few months.
This week, as part of our step 4 measures, we allowed fully vaccinated adults and all children to return from amber-list countries without quarantine—with the exception of those returning from France, because of the persistent presence of cases of the beta variant. From 16 August, children, under-18s and people who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate as contacts, given their reduced risk of catching and passing on the disease. As I said when I updated the House on Monday, at the end of September we plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry to those high-risk settings where large crowds gather and interact. By that point everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to be fully vaccinated, so everyone will have had the opportunity to gain the maximum possible protection.
As a condition of entry to such venues, people will have to show that they are fully vaccinated, and proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient. This is not a step that we take lightly, but throughout the pandemic, like Governments across the world—in Singapore, Australia, Germany and France—we have had to adapt our approach to meet the threats of this deadly virus. This step is no different. We will always keep all our measures under review, with the goal of returning to the freedoms we love and cherish.
We should all be proud of the enthusiasm for and uptake of our vaccination programme. Now, 88% of all adults have had a first dose and 69% have had both. That uptake means that the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that nine in 10 adults now have covid-19 antibodies. However, there are still many people who are unprotected, including 34% of people aged 18 to 29 who have not had either dose. Ahead of the summer recess, I would like once again to urge everyone to come forward and get both doses, to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones and their community.
Our battle against this virus is not the kind of battle where we can simply declare victory and move on with our lives. Instead, we must learn to live with the virus, doing whatever we can to slow its spread while we maintain the vital defences that will keep us safe. That is exactly what this Government will do and I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Let us be frank: it was a shambles yesterday. It was an insult to the House and a let-down for health and care staff.
Ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming to this 3% settlement. Can the Minister accept—and does he accept—that it is not an NHS-wide settlement, as it does not cover the health and care workforce who do not fall under the pay review body? For example, it does not cover our junior doctors who have had an intense year caring for sick patients on ventilators, who have been redeployed to other sites across the NHS and who have seen their training disrupted. Will the junior doctors get a pay rise, especially given that the pay review body, in paragraph 10.6 of its report, urges the Government to recognise the role of doctors who are out of scope? Will all health staff who work in public health receive the settlement? Care workers are obviously not covered by the pay review, and we know how valuable they are, so will care workers finally get the real living wage that they deserve?
How will the pay settlement be funded? NHS trusts do not even know what their budget will be beyond September. The Health Secretary has said that the pay settlement costs £2.2 billion, so where is that £2.2 billion coming from? Is he expecting trusts and general practice to find it from their existing budgets? At a time when the NHS is in a summer crisis, with covid admissions increasing and more patients on ventilators in hospitals, with operations being cancelled again and waiting times growing because of the pressures the NHS is under, rather than getting a funded settlement for the NHS we have seen this week briefing and counter-briefing from the Health Secretary, the Chancellor and Downing Street about what may or may not be coming for health and social care.
The NHS needs more investment now to cope with the pressures that it is under. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will break their manifesto pledge to increase national insurance, or is the Business Secretary correct in what he said this morning? He said:
“I don’t see how we could increase national insurance”.
The Prime Minister promised, on the steps of Downing Street two years ago this Saturday, that he would have a social care plan, but this is not a plan for health and social care; it is a Government in disarray.
That brings me on to the so-called pingdemic, with the problems of isolation. The problems of isolation that we are seeing are a symptom of what happens when Ministers allow infections to get out of control. The Government are apparently U-turning today and agreeing a list of workers who could be exempt from isolation, based on a negative PCR test. With infections running at more than 50,000 a day, and possibly on the way up to 100,000 a day, can the Minister absolutely guarantee that PCR testing capacity will be available to cope with the inevitable increased demand this summer?
If the Minister wants to avoid shutting society down, he needs to bring infections down, so why have the Government ruled out extending statutory sick pay to the lowest-paid, and what is he doing to drive up the vaccination rate among younger adults? He knows that allowing infections to rise among that cohort sets his vaccination programme back, given that somebody has to wait 28 days post-infection for vaccination.
Today the Minister has repeated his support for vaccine passports. Can he explain why he thinks it is safe to go out clubbing into the early hours this Friday, but in September it is only safe to go out clubbing if everybody is double-jabbed? Can he confirm when the relevant statutory instrument will be laid, and when the vote will be on introducing those passports?
The Minister has a proposal for nightclubs in September, but does he have a proposal for schools in September? A million children have been off school recently, so, as we asked him on Monday, will he use this summer to install air filtration units in schools in time for September, and is he considering bringing mask-wearing back in schools?
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I, like the Minister and others across the House, thank you, and all the staff especially, for the extraordinary work that you have put in, in these last 12 months, to ensure the smooth running of Parliament in these most unprecedented of circumstances? I hope you are all able to have a suitable rest over the summer recess.
The right hon. Gentleman asks who is included in the 3% pay rise recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body. They are the 1 million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics, consultants and, of course, salaried GPs. The junior doctors he mentions have a separate, multi-year pay rise over three years, amounting to 8%.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the capacity for testing. I looked at that before coming to the House, and the capacity currently for PCR tests is not 600,000 but 640,000 a day, according to the latest data that I looked at. He asks about schools. There will be two supervised tests for schools. He knows that in Monday’s statement we announced our acceptance of the JCVI guidelines on vaccinating vulnerable children, vaccinating children who live with vulnerable adults, and vaccinating those who are 17 but within three months of their 18th birthday. The JCVI will keep under review the vaccination of healthy children as more data becomes available from countries such as the United States of America and Israel.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a question around the covid vaccination pass and nightclubs, other crowded unstructured indoor settings such as music venues, large unstructured outdoor events such as business events and festivals, and very large structured events, such as business events, music and spectator sport events. They are the ones that we are most concerned about. We have seen other countries, whether it is Holland or Italy, opening nightclubs and having to reverse that decision rapidly. What we are attempting to do, and the reason we have the covid vaccination pass in place, is to work with industry while we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated. It would be hugely unfair to bring in that policy immediately. Giving people until the end of September is the right thing to do, while at the same time allowing businesses to open safely, using the app now—because the app went live and the industry is very much engaging with it.
There are no easy decisions on anything to do with this virus. That is the one thing we have learned. The most effective tool we have against the virus is, of course, the vaccine programme, followed by the tool of self-isolation. If we want to get back to normal and get our lives back, we need to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic—from pandemic to manageable menace—as quickly and as safely as possible. If we release all restrictions now, including self-isolation, which I am sure a number of colleagues will ask about today, we risk the number of infections, which the shadow Secretary of State worries about as I do, rising rapidly. That could risk the transition of this virus.
We are working flat out with industry. I commend companies such as Lidl, which knows it is under pressure but will work through it with us. We will allow critical, frontline and key workers and health and social care workers to get back to work if they take a negative test, as I announced on Monday. By 16 August, everyone who is double-vaccinated will be able to do that.
May I start by wishing you and your family a ping-free summer, Mr Speaker? Thank you for upholding the values of this House over the past few months.
The Minister of State will have heard of YouGov, which said this week that a tenth of the people who had the NHS covid app have deleted it, and that a further fifth are considering doing so. Given that he made his living from listening to public opinion, does he not think it is time for the Government to listen to public opinion and immediately scrap the 10-day isolation requirement for double-jabbed people who are pinged, in favour of having to isolate until they take a negative PCR test? Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very important weapon against the virus.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would briefly like to ask you about the issue we were not able to ask Ministers about in the House yesterday, which is the decision on NHS pay. I support the decision to accept the pay review body’s recommendations. It is the right thing to do, but it costs £1.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm it will not be paid for by cuts to other parts of the NHS budget? If it is going to be funded through a new national insurance rise for health and social care, as The Times says today, will he confirm that the funding for social care will be ring-fenced, so that we do not have a situation in which social care, once again, loses out because of pressures in the NHS?
I will take those questions in reverse order. I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), for his always diligent and thoughtful questions. As he will know, we gave the NHS in England an historic settlement in 2018 that will see its budget rise by £33.9 billion by 2023-24. We have provided over £27 billion to support the NHS in England since the start of the pandemic, including £9.7 billion so far for 2021-22. We will continue to make sure the NHS has everything it needs to continue supporting its staff and providing excellent care to the public, throughout the pandemic and beyond.
My right hon. Friend specifically asked about social care, and I know the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are committed to making sure we deliver on our social care promise by the end of this year.
Public compliance is incredibly important, and I thank each and every person who has come forward and got themselves protected. Over the past few days, we have seen an almost doubling of the number of people going on to the NHS website to book appointments. There has almost been a doubling of appointments, too, which is incredible, considering where we are at the moment—we are almost touching 90% of all adults. These are the hard yards, and people are still coming forward. There are no easy decisions on this, as I said in answer to the shadow Health Secretary. We know that our most effective tool is the vaccination, but the second most effective is self-isolation. We are attempting to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status. If we allow all these things to happen too rapidly and people then decide not to self-isolate, we run the risk of infection rates running away with us and challenging the strategy of our being the first major economy to transition. So we are working with business, and we are working flat out with the frontline critical infrastructure and key workers to get that guidance out. I am sure that colleagues in this House will be the first to receive it—I will make sure of that, even during recess.
I wish you, colleagues and all the House staff a safe and happy summer recess, Mr Speaker. Clearly, vaccination is critical to fighting this pandemic. We all need to encourage uptake among younger adults, but is the Minister in a position to guarantee sufficient supplies of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to vaccinate them before the end of September? Whether this is done legally, as in the case of care homes staff, or through excluding people from social activities, does he recognise that making vaccination mandatory can increase distrust among those who are hesitant and drive them to become outright vaccine refusers? Despite the talk about caution, covid cases in England were already surging when the Government ploughed ahead with lifting all legal restrictions on Monday. Although vaccination has reduced the hospitalisation rate to between 2% and 3%, the Secretary of State suggested that covid cases could soar to 100,000 a day, which would result in 2,000 to 3,000 admissions, which is similar to what happened in the first wave. Does the Minister really not recognise that that would put health services under enormous pressure and cause the patient backlog to grow further? Are the Government even considering the impact of uncontrolled virus spread on vulnerable people, the incidence of long covid or the risk of generating yet another variant, with even greater vaccine resistance than delta? Finally, what contingencies are being put in place in case during recess the Government need to reintroduce covid restrictions, as has happened in Israel and the Netherlands?
The hon. Lady makes a number of important points, especially the final one, where she reminded the House, as I did in my statement, that a number of countries have opened up and then had to reverse some of their decisions, which is why we are being very careful to ensure that this transition is successful and then that transitioning the virus from pandemic to endemic status is as successful as possible. She asked about children’s vaccination. She will know that the Scottish Health Minister, Humza Yousaf, has accepted, as the Welsh, Northern Irish and ourselves in England have done, the JCVI guidelines on vaccinating vulnerable children, children living with vulnerable adults and those approaching their 18th birthday. If the JCVI goes further, as it is reviewing more data on vaccinating all children, I assure her that we have available the supply of Pfizer and Moderna to undertake that, while we also continue to deliver on the double vaccinations of all adults by the end of September. She asked about the immunosuppressed and of course the guidelines have gone out on the precautionary measures that immunosuppressed people would take; similar to the rest of the country, they should be careful and wear masks in crowded indoor spaces—there is advice on ventilation as well. The JCVI has gone further in its interim advice for our booster campaign, where it has placed the immunosuppressed at the top of the priority list. That campaign will begin in early September—that is the operational target we are working to for beginning boosting and of course co-administering, wherever possible, the flu vaccination.
Given the massive opposition that there is among those who operate nightclubs and events, the decision of the Government to make the introduction of covid identity cards voluntary is probably a sensible one, but may I explore with the Minister what he means when he says, “We reserve the right to mandate their use in the future”? We might have hoped, Mr Speaker, that the right that the Government sought to reserve was the right to seek the permission of this House to make their use mandatory in the future. I hope that this was just a small piece of ministerial arrogance that led the Minister to mis-speak, but I would like his assurance that we will be given the opportunity to express a view on this before the mandatory use of covid identity cards is introduced.
Last week, I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care a whole range of questions about the practical consequences of this voluntary scheme. I asked what constituted large events, who would be the judge of what they were, what was meant by encouraging businesses, and what would be the consequences for any businesses that resisted the encouragement from the Government. The Secretary of State had no answers to those questions. Will the Minister today answer the questions, if not necessarily for the benefit of the people in this House, then at least with a bit of respect to those who operate nightclubs, big events, restaurants, bars and others who have absolutely no idea what is going to be required of them?
It is unlike the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) to accuse any colleague of being arrogant, and I certainly hope that I did not come across as such. He is always courteous and polite—I have certainly found him to be so over the years. He asks several important questions. On reserving the right, the Government will of course come back to the House if the decision is to mandate the double vaccination requirement for nightclubs, crowded unstructured indoor settings, large unstructured outdoor settings and, of course, the very large events such as business, music hall, and spectator sports events. In the meantime, we encourage the use of the NHS covid pass in facilities or at events where people are likely to be in close proximity to large numbers of people from other households. We are working with the sector. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), met people from the sector yesterday, as he does regularly. The sector itself will have seen what has happened in other countries such as the Netherlands. It is in the interests of all of the sector and of businesses to reopen and reopen permanently, and not have to open and close, open and close, which is why we are working with the sector in this period and giving people a chance to get their double vaccinations by the end of September.
Just on that last point about the decision, the statement is very clear that the Government have decided. It says, “We plan to make full vaccination a condition of entry”. My reading of that is that a decision has been taken, so the Government need to come to the House to ask the House’s permission to legislate; the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) was exactly right.
May I ask the Minister about the pingdemic? We have just had the data for last week. More than 600,000 people using the app were told to self-isolate. The Minister has set out clearly that, on 16 August, the right way to proceed is that those who have been double vaccinated will be advised to take a PCR test, and, if that is negative, they can then go about their business, reflecting the reduced risk of their being infected and therefore passing on the disease.
In a discussion this morning on the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was told that businesses in a key sector were operating in that way now, with the advice from the app, and he was asked whether that was appropriate and safe. He said that it was not. If it is not safe now—I think it is safe—how does it suddenly become safe on 16 August? Given that it is safe on 16 August, because that is the Government’s policy, can we not just implement it now? The danger is that large numbers of people will either delete or stop listening to the app, and then, when we get to 16 August, they will not be getting the advice to take a PCR test, and we will have actually made ourselves less safe and less well protected. I urge the Minister to think again and to bring it forward now, because people will then be taking tests when they are advised to. If he does not do that, people will simply stop listening, which is very dangerous for public health.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s questions, as always: challenging but nevertheless the right challenges to think through. As I said, there are no easy decisions in what we are attempting to do. We will, I hope, be one of the first nations, certainly one of the largest economies in the world, that will see a transition of this virus from pandemic to endemic status—to manageable menace—through our vaccination programme, which is our primary tool.
The second most effective method is to make sure that people do self-isolate: I take on board his point and the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt). That is why we are working flat out with critical infrastructure and key workers—of course with frontline NHS and social care staff, as I announced on Monday—to make sure that people have the ability to do a PCR test and then follow it up with a week or up to 10 days of daily lateral flow testing instead of self-isolation for 10 days. The honest truth is that there are no easy answers, because the very clear clinical advice and evidence is that if we do not do this carefully and slowly, we could risk the transition of the virus.
On the requirement around nightclubs by the end of September, I assure my right hon. Friend that we will be coming back to the House to make sure that it has an appropriate say on the matter. As we have seen with this virus in other countries, it is the right thing to do.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for all that has been done on the covid-19 vaccine roll-out. The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Health Minister recently stated that at the end of July the closure of mass vaccination centres—for example, the SSE centre in Belfast—will come into force. The Minister in this House has today taken the opportunity through the press to urge people one last time to get the vaccine. Has he come to an assessment on the closure of mass vaccination centres in England, given the clear success of the vaccination process, and ever mindful that this autumn we will be doing a covid-19 vaccine booster process, which, along with the flu process, will add pressure to the health system? Will he ensure that there are options in place—for example, pharmacies and community centres—to bridge the gap?
I thank the hon. Member for his excellent question. He is absolutely right. We are preparing a pretty ambitious vaccination programme, beginning in early September, for the covid boost. The interim advice from the JCVI could adjust as more clinical data comes through from the cov-boost trials that we are currently conducting. Wherever possible, we will co-administer flu vaccines at large scale. My big concern is that we have not had much flu circulating in communities and we could be in a position where in a bad flu year we could lose 20,000-plus people. Hence our ambitions are equally high for flu. We will look to co-administer wherever possible. We are looking to increase the number of pharmacies as well. We currently have over 600 pharmacies in the covid vaccination infrastructure, as well as the brilliant primary care networks, the hospitals and the vaccination centres. The cov-boost and the flu process will be equally ambitious as we look at the whole of the structure and how we utilise it, as well as making sure that GPs are able to get back to doing the work they need to do—looking after their patients.
I am seeing in Hyndburn and Haslingden that, as has been mentioned, there is a hesitancy in my age group to take up the vaccine. What work is being done with local authorities to target these groups and alleviate their fears, because the only way out is the vaccine and we really need to get that message across?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her excellent question and for the work that she does in her constituency to highlight the benefits of being vaccinated—and fully vaccinated. The work that has gone on in Hyndburn is tremendous. We are working with local government to ensure that the NHS has flexibility, whether that is to launch pop-up sites or to increase the hours of vaccination during this period of Eid celebration in order to encourage more of our Muslim fellow citizens to come forward and get vaccinated. Of course, we are ensuring that there is lots of messaging and that people are just pointed to information, including through hyper-local media as well as some of the media with which my hon. Friend’s generation will be more familiar than mine, such as TikTok, social media influencers and YouTubers. That is all happening at scale. It is great to see that the number of appointments booked under the national booking system has almost doubled in the last couple of days, but there are also the walk-in centres, where people can just walk in and get their jab without an appointment.
Mr Speaker, may I add my party’s thanks to you, to the House staff and to everyone across these islands who has worked so hard to save and preserve life during the pandemic?
I want to pick up on a vital component of vaccination that I believe the Government need to give great attention to. It will not have escaped the Minister’s attention, and anyone who has attended the regular briefings that we have had around the virus will have seen in Professor Van-Tam’s heat maps the distribution and upward spread of the virus, whereby it seeds in the younger population and exponentially grows up through the ages.
I really want to ask the Minister why he thinks the JCVI are being extremely cautious in extending vaccination to 12 to 17-year-olds, given that the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has now been vaccinating that population in the States—with some concerns, but, I think, manageable numbers of concerns—and why we are not progressing more vigorously to vaccinate that population and are limiting it to those with underlying health concerns or those related to people with underlying health concerns. There is a fundamental advantage to vaccinating this group, because it will increase their wellbeing and improve their access to schooling after their holidays, but, more importantly, it acts as—
That is a very important question. The JCVI is constantly reviewing the data from other countries that are vaccinating all children of 12 to 15 years old. Its concern has been centred around vaccinating healthy children. There is a very rare signal of myocarditis on first dose. The JCVI is awaiting more data on second dose. It will continue to review that and will come back to us, and, of course, we will come back to the House.
In north-east Lincolnshire, the infection rates has been hovering at around 1,000 per 100,000 for the last couple of weeks, which is of obvious concern to my constituents. I am in regular touch with the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, which is doing an excellent job, but could the Minister reassure my constituents that if additional resources are required by the trust, the Department will provide them? The trust has had a big expansion in demand for A&E over the last few days and the trust management asks whether the Department could step up the campaign to encourage people to use the 111 service.
I must thank the Minister for our Friday mornings together. It is not just me; every Member of this House is grateful for that weekly fixture—the highlight Zoom-fest. Is he aware that there are already glitches in the shiny new NHS covid passport that he mentioned? Two of my constituents, Konnie and Charlie, have been going for a year for Novavax trials and now they are being treated as if they are vax deniers, with the texts they get from the NHS, and they are grounded. Another guy, Karl, returned to his native US to have his two jabs because he is not eligible for NHS treatment. He says that it is xenophobia that he cannot access events that Brits can. I am sure it is unintentional. People think that they are being punished for doing the right thing. Will the Minister rectify that?
I am really grateful to the hon. Member for that excellent question, and I am grateful for her comments about our Friday morning meetings. Her constituents can rest assured that those who are in clinical trials, including the Novavax trial, will have their data on the NHS covid app as being fully vaccinated, whether they are receiving the placebo or the vaccine, across all trials. That is happening. I will take it offline to look at her constituents’ case to make sure that that happens for them, because I am assured that the system already recognises that.
By the end of this month, UK nationals who have been vaccinated overseas will be able to talk to their GP, go through what vaccine they have had, and have it registered with the NHS that they have been vaccinated. The reason for the conversation with the GP is to make sure that whatever vaccine they have had is approved in the United Kingdom. Ultimately, there will be a co-ordination between the World Health Organisation, ourselves, the European regulator, the US regulator and other regulators around the world. Because we are working at speed, at the moment it is UK nationals and citizens who have had UK vaccinations who will be able to travel to amber list countries other than France and come back and not quarantine. We want to offer the same reciprocity as the 33 countries that recognise our app, and that will also happen very soon.
I warmly congratulate the Minister for working his socks off over the last year and doing such a tremendous job in vaccinating the nation. In Northamptonshire, the vaccine roll-out has been a tremendous success, with between 90% and 100% of each of the five-year cohorts above age 50 receiving both jabs, and over 67% of 18 to 24-year-olds already having received their first dose. Will the Minister join me in congratulating all the professionals and volunteers locally who have made possible that tremendous local success?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work locally and for taking that local leadership, like many colleagues have, to get the message out that vaccines are safe and our way out of this pandemic. Of course I join him in congratulating the whole team—the professionals and the volunteers—on the tremendous effort they have made. The figure I have is 124,042 in the Northamptonshire sustainability and transformation partnership. Its numbers are tremendous; even among 18 to 24-year-olds, it is leading the way, at 67%. We want to get that number even higher as quickly as we can.
I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that the virus is now endemic; indeed, the Government of Singapore have acknowledged that too. Unfortunately, Government dither on that may have scuppered the vaccine pass. Has the Minister had any indication from its diverse opponents of how the country can otherwise take a risk management approach, rather than the risk avoidance approach that has led, for example, to the pingdemic, or the wild west approach advocated by some on his own side, leading to a possible further lockdown? Will he also indicate whether the Treasury is actually engaged in this debate on the side of the economy and public finances—or is it still in Yellow Submarine mode, disappearing under the waves?
I am grateful for the right hon. Member’s question. I would just remind him that the Treasury has put £407 billion to work to shelter the economy and people’s livelihoods and, of course, protect jobs. He raises a number of important questions about looking at other countries. As I said earlier, these are all difficult decisions, but I think we are making the right, cautious decision as we transition—I hope—and see this virus move from pandemic to endemic status.
Can my right hon. Friend give me a better sense of the scope of how the covid ID card may be used in the future? Would it apply to the London marathon? Would it apply to political gatherings: would someone need an ID card to attend a political gathering, whether supportive of or in opposition to the Government? Could he please rule out its use in educational settings such as sixth-form colleges or universities, which should be excluded? The focus now is on young adults, and the ID card should not be a passport to education or a denial of education.
On the last question, I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that in education or in any public buildings this will not be applicable. As to things such as the transport system or essential retail, that is our very strong commitment. Look, I keep repeating this message, but we know what we need to do. Part of what we are learning from the data here and around the world is about trying to work with industries, such as the nightclub industry and sports bodies, to make sure that we reopen fully as safely as possible and continue to be open. The worst thing for any industry or for any sport is to open and then, sadly, to have to shut down again, as people have seen around the world.
I listened very carefully to the Minister when he was saying that, for events where large numbers are likely to gather together and be mixing with people from outside their own household, deploying the pass would be the right thing to do. Given that, and to ensure that we keep in step with the public, do the Government intend that to apply here? Might they even reserve the right to mandate the adoption of the pass in this place, or is this another example of us and them?
Some 22,000 people died from seasonal flu in 2017-18, and the modelling suggests that this year’s season will start early, be severe and affect younger people—a demographic that tends to go to mass events—than covid does. Have the Government also been considering mandating proof of flu vaccination, and can the Minister ensure that vaccination records are transportable between the NHS records of each of the home nations? That is not the case at the moment, to the huge frustration of those seeking second jabs or anticipating the need for the proof of vaccination that he has confirmed today.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question, and for what he has done during this pandemic in vaccinating and protecting people and helping with the covid vaccination programme. He raises an important question about flu, which I addressed earlier. I am concerned about the flu season, which is why we are being ambitious and looking to co-administer wherever possible. The operational plan is to go early—in early September—for both the covid boost and the flu campaign. However, he will know that flu is not in the covid category in that it is endemic. We are hoping to transition covid towards where flu is with an annual vaccination programme, but it is a very different virus to deal with.
On the vaccine roll-out, I would like to ask for the prioritisation of two groups. First, can unpaid carers be prioritised for boosters in the autumn? The JCVI has not put them on the priority list, but they were put in cohort 6 for earlier vaccines. Secondly, can I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) in asking for a solution to be found for the wonderful volunteers on the Novavax vaccine trial? They now find themselves not able to travel as they cannot get a vaccine certificate and their vaccines are not recognised in the EU. Will the Minister prioritise boosters for unpaid carers to ensure that they are fully protected this autumn? Will he also enable those trialists who have received live Novavax vaccines to have vaccine certificates?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. The Novavax trial participants will have their vaccine pass in the United Kingdom. We are working with other countries to make sure that that is recognised, but as far as the UK is concerned, they will be considered fully vaccinated, whether they have had the placebo or the vaccine. On her very good question on the booster campaign, the JCVI’s interim advice is that phase 1 should be the old categories 1 to 4, plus the immuno-suppressed, and phase 2 should be categories 5 to 9, which include unpaid carers in category 6.
Will the Minister join me in thanking Sylvia, Fahad and all the fantastic local team who have vaccinated more than 47,000 people in Honley, Slaithwaite and other pop-up sites across Kirklees? Can he respond to one of the questions they are regularly being asked, which is about the rationale of the JCVI guidance that there should be an eight-week minimum interval between jabs?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in thanking Sylvia, Fahad and all the local team on the extraordinary work they have done. The JCVI advice on the eight-week interval is based on real-world data that suggests that it offers the highest level of protection in terms of antibodies and T cells. Anything below that—I know a number of colleagues have asked me this question—would not be advisable.
Ministers should be aware of the fears of immuno-compromised people. Unlike the Health Secretary, I know that the Minister is aware of the OCTAVE study. Does he know when it will be published? Can we have some plans for antibody testing? Immuno-compromised people need to be allowed to make informed decisions. Has a ministerial directive been issued to the JCVI to investigate that? If people are seen to have low protection, what extra support are the Government looking to deliver for them?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s questions. She knows—she and I discussed this on Friday morning—that there is OCTAVE and OCTAVE DUO as well. I know that OCTAVE is to report imminently, and I will share that data with colleagues on our group even when the House is in recess. I will make sure that happens as soon as we receive that data. We want to make sure that people are protected. There was some very encouraging data from Public Health England on the immuno-compromised, with 74% production for some, not all, after two doses, but the hon. Member is quite right to point this out. We will look to vaccinate and protect them with a third dose—a booster dose—as the top of group 1 in phase 1 in September.
Nobody underestimates the huge challenges the Government face or the great success of the vaccination programme, but does the Minister recognise the frustration of the many hundreds of thousands who have been double-dosed but are pinged and self-isolating—following the guidelines— when they learn of the data suggesting how many people are turning off or deleting the NHS app, with Ministers reportedly advising businesses that this is only guidance? Does he not share my view that surely what is right on 16 August for the double-dosed is right now? Will he agree to consider implementing the measure as soon as possible so that businesses do not have to close, the hospitality sector does not suffer, and many of us do not self-isolate unnecessarily?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point that he has made to me many times. It is important clinical guidance to people. It is important that people take personal and corporate responsibility, as we are seeing with some great companies, such as Lidl, which are coming under pressure at the moment because staff are having to self-isolate. As I said earlier, there are no easy decisions on this, but to be able to transition the virus from pandemic to endemic, we just need that careful, little bit more time until 16 August—it is not long to go—when everyone who is double-dosed will not have to self-isolate for 10 days.
We all know that a negative test is a crucial risk indicator. NHS staff are off work, restaurants and pubs are being forced to close, and there are empty supermarket shelves. This is a time-critical problem in essential parts of society, so when are the Government going to publish a list of sectors where staff can use a negative test result so that they can go to work now? Making employers apply for an exemption is simply not going to be enough, and the economy and society simply cannot wait until 16 August.
In the interests of time, I should say that I have addressed this question fully. Suffice it to say that I gently disagree with the hon. Member in that society came together, as we saw with the vaccination programme, with 80,000 vaccinator volunteers and 200,000 other volunteers. People are doing the right thing, as are corporates. We are working flat out in terms of the critical workforce, critical infrastructure and the frontline, and we announced on Monday that this would apply also to NHS and social care staff.
I applaud the vaccination programme, but a number of my constituents have received the AstraZeneca vaccine from batches made in India, which is not recognised by the European Medical Agency. Will my hon. Friend reassure those constituents that they will be able to travel to Europe—to France and Italy, for instance?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his championing of his constituents’ concerns. He is absolutely right to raise them, although I would say to him that the European regulator recognises all AstraZeneca Oxford vaccinations in the United Kingdom and recognises our pass. France has now issued clear guidance that it recognises all batches of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, as well as most of the rest of Europe, and our regulator and the EMA are working with the Italian authorities to get that right. Suffice it to say that I also had a vaccine from one of those batches and it is an excellent vaccine.
Today it was announced that Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn from autumn’s rugby league world cup, which we are proud to be hosting, citing safety concerns given the shambolic pandemic response by the UK Government. The New Zealand rugby league chief executive has said:
“The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it’s simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.”
Will the Minister therefore commit to meet rugby league MPs and officials to ensure that a safe and competitive tournament can take place with appropriate measures to protect and reassure team and fans alike?
Will the Minister join me in thanking the many scientists and staff involved in developing and producing the covid vaccines in the UK, including the Wockhardt employees in my constituency, as their achievements have been truly world-beating and remarkable?
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), what does the Minister suggest that a constituent of mine who has had the Indian-manufactured Covishield jab should do if they are planning to travel to Portugal or Italy in the next two weeks?
The MHRA, our regulator the EMA and, of course, officials are working with the Commission. Wherever we spot these inaccuracies we address them—we have addressed them with Malta and now France. I am assured, as of last night, that pretty much the whole of Europe, other than the Italian authorities—which we are working with—will accept the AstraZeneca vaccine from any batch, because all batches, all factories, are approved by our regulator before they enter the United Kingdom.
Today you could go to the Latitude Festival with a negative test or two jabs, and you could go to the open golf last weekend with the same, yet you cannot report for work in the NHS or put food on supermarket shelves. We are rightly worried about the 3 million healthy 18 to 30-year-olds who have yet to get a vaccine, but let us put ourselves in their shoes: they see us all get a jab and wonder what they get in return. So I ask the Minister: do we believe in our vaccine or not, and what is the scientific evidence to explain the difference between 19 July and 16 August when it comes to isolation for the double jab?
I thank my hon. Friend, who always asks important yet challenging questions. The 18-year-olds can now look forward to travelling to 33 countries that have accepted double-jabbed Brits who can demonstrate that. If they have their jab now, they can go to those countries from mid-September. They can look forward to clubbing by the end of September as well—enjoying the Winchester nightlife. I hope I have made it clear to the House that giving ourselves that additional few weeks, given that self-isolation is probably the second most effective tool after vaccines, makes a huge difference as we transition this virus. It is not easy, but I certainly think we are doing the right thing by giving ourselves the space and time to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic status.
The app forcing self-isolation is making our country grind to a halt. Delivery drivers, shops, transport, hospitality, factories, and essential public and blue-light services are at breaking point. The Minister has said that there will be no more exemptions to self-isolating. The Business Secretary said the same just this morning. Then, just over an hour ago, he told the press—not this House—that he had changed his mind. Who are we to believe—this Minister or the Business Secretary?
I think the hon. Lady has just demonstrated how difficult these decisions are. I would just say to her that we are working flat out, in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to work with business—whether it is the critical infrastructure that the Business Secretary spoke about, or any other part of the economy—so that we can safely return to a place where we open up, and open up permanently.
Redcar and Cleveland had the highest covid rates in the country, at more than 1,500 per 100,000, yet in the past 28 days we have not seen a single death from covid, such is the protection provided by the vaccine. We need more people to get the jab to ensure that our hospitalisations and deaths stay low, so will the Minister work with me and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to ensure that we have the additional centres, supplies and vaccinators? Also, will he consider the chemical industry as part of our critical infrastructure, producing the pharmaceuticals for vaccines and the plastics for syringes, for exemption from the usual isolation rules, ahead of 16 August?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his championing of his businesses and his constituents. There is no shortage of the vaccine. I will happily work with him on the workforce and making sure that there is the resource to make it possible to continue to vaccinate at scale; and of course the industries that are delivering some of the essential products for the vaccination programme are incredibly important in that effort.
In order to beat this virus, the Government must take care of not only their domestic responsibilities but their international ones. Will the Minister update us on what is being done to ensure vaccine supply to middle-income and lower-income countries, and update us on the international approach?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his excellent question. It is incredibly important, because we pledged to deliver 100 million excess doses, beginning with 5 million immediately and 20 million by the end of the year, and then the balance next year, as well as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being delivered around the world at no profit to AstraZeneca or Oxford. To update him, we have sent out our first deliveries of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as per the Prime Minister’s pledge, and speaking to the Serum Institute of India, they are now not producing 100 million doses a month of that vaccine but are up at 200 million doses a month. It really is an extraordinary achievement by Sarah Gilbert and her team and AstraZeneca in saving the world from this awful virus.
We were very grateful to the Minister for helping us to secure the Tunstall mass vaccination centre, which has delivered over 50,000 jabs into the arms of people and is the city of Stoke-on-Trent’s mass vaccination centre. As part of the autumn roll-out, when we will be getting a third dose into the arms of many residents, will the Minister confirm that the Tunstall mass vaccination centre will stay in place over the autumn and winter this year?
I thank my hon. Friend for his effort in getting 116,657 jabs into the arms of his constituents and offering them that protection. I will certainly have a look at the vaccination centre as part of our infrastructure. We have a very ambitious programme to deliver to about 15 million people in the first phase and, with the second phase, a cumulative 32 million people. So we will be doing that at scale as well as, of course, flu vaccination wherever possible.