House of Commons
Tuesday 16 June 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of our friend and colleague Jo Cox, who was murdered on her way to meet constituents in her Batley and Spen constituency. She was doing what so many of us do as constituency MPs, which made her death all the more shocking. May I express on behalf of the whole House our sympathy with her family, friends and colleagues on this sad anniversary? We will never forget Jo or her legacy. We remember her wise words: we have far more in common than that which divides us.
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, may I join you in your words about our former colleague, Jo Cox?
We have introduced the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill to help companies maximise their chances of survival. The Bill introduces new corporate restructuring tools and temporarily suspends part of insolvency law to help businesses keep trading.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I was proud to make my maiden speech on Second Reading of that very important Bill, which will provide vital safeguards during the coronavirus pandemic. Can he tell me what benefits it will have for businesses, not just in my constituency of Heywood and Middleton and across the north-west but in the wider country?
My hon. Friend is proving to be a real champion for businesses in his constituency, and he raises an incredibly important point. The impact assessment of the Bill’s measures suggests that the three permanent changes to the UK insolvency framework will result in net benefits to business of over £1.9 billion in today’s prices, which is a much needed boost for businesses at this uncertain time.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to the Dispatch Box after his recent illness. Businesses in Newcastle-under-Lyme and across the country face the risk of insolvency, especially those with business models that are dependent on socialising. In addition to what he has set out, which I welcome, can he tell us what Companies House proposes to do to support businesses at threat of insolvency?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and this is part of the Bill. While Companies House has extended the period for filing accounts, we will give businesses the maximum period available under the powers in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill for filing their accounts, confirmation statements and event-driven updates. At a time when many companies are focused on surviving, that will be very welcome respite.
Mr Speaker, may I echo your sentiments on the tragic loss of Jo Cox?
Businesses facing insolvency will be under further pressure with the premature end to the furlough and self-employed schemes, and loan schemes are of little help, because they simply add to a pile of debt. Does the Secretary of State agree that the sectors hit hardest by covid-19 need long-term support to survive and rebuild, which means extending the furlough scheme and support loans being written off or converted to equity?
The level of support we have provided across the economy is incredibly favourable by any international comparison. The furlough scheme will be in place for a full eight months. That is precisely the support that we have been very keen to give to businesses.
Tourism is worth £10.5 billion to the Scottish economy, and before the pandemic it provided 8% of jobs. While some businesses will soon be able to reopen outside areas, vital public health rules and consumer sentiment will mean that most activity is subdued. Will the Secretary of State follow the Scottish Government by setting up a tourism taskforce and use his Government’s reserve powers to cut VAT for tourism and other sectors, to help firms that are at risk of insolvency?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working with the tourism sector, and there is regular dialogue with it. I recognise the concerns that he has raised about this sector, which is closed, but that is why we have provided particular support through a rates holiday for hospitality businesses.
We are investing up to £121 million between 2015 and 2021 in hydrogen innovation, supporting the application of new low-carbon hydrogen technologies across the value chain. I have had valuable discussions with businesses on the importance of scaling up hydrogen supply, including with Wrightbus, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
I echo the sentiments expressed about our late colleague, Jo Cox.
The Minister will be aware that Germany announced in the last number of weeks that it is investing £5 billion in hydrogen technology. It joins the long list of countries investing billions of pounds, which includes Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, as well as the EU. The £121 million to which he referred is very welcome, but it will never make us the leader of the pack in this industry. Let us move on from trials, Minister. Let us move on to real investment in this technology and become the world leader that Britain and the United Kingdom can be in this wonderful technology, which will create jobs and provide more employment across the whole UK.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that technology. The countries that he describes have announced commitments to spending the money; they have not spent the money yet. We will be following and pursuing that technology very rigorously, with full Government backing, in due course.
Since 1990 we have grown the economy by 75% while cutting emissions by 43%, and in June 2019, we became the first major economy to legislate for a net zero carbon emissions target.
We are hosting the COP26 climate negotiations next year. Along with our G7 presidency, we are determined to use our international leadership to drive global climate ambition.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the potentially significant role that nuclear power can play, in the hydrogen production from both large and small reactors? Does he agree that Wylfa Newydd, in my constituency of Ynys Môn, is the jewel in the crown of new nuclear sites?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. New nuclear obviously has an important part to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are investing in new nuclear. On Wylfa, I am afraid, I cannot comment on the merits of the site, given that the Secretary of State is currently considering a development consent application. That said, there are a number of potentially good sites around the entire United Kingdom.
The COP26 summit, now rescheduled for November 2021, will be a critical moment in a fight against runaway global heating. We all have a stake in ensuring that it is a success. Building momentum for that summit and establishing our credibility as its host is dependent on demonstrable leadership at home. In that regard, does the Minister agree that there is a strong case for publishing our nationally determined contribution before the end of 2020, and an arguable case for basing that NDC on a significantly enhanced 2030 target that puts us on the path to achieving net zero?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is, of course, president of the COP26. He is committed to publishing very rigorous and ambitious targets for ourselves. As I responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), we are second to none in our commitment—our legislation—in terms of dealing with climate change. We have legislation that is very clear and sets the path.
Post Office Network
The Government recognise the critical role that post offices play in communities across the UK. This is why the Government have committed to safeguard the post office network by investing over £2 billion between 2010 and 2018, and a further £370 million from April 2018 to March 2021. I regularly meet with the Post Office to find innovative steps to secure network sustainability and the continuity of services across the UK.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but during the covid-19 pandemic, when sub-postmasters have proved just how essential they are to our communities, many are handing in their keys as they struggle to make a living, leaving communities without vital services. Pre-covid Post Office figures show that Scotland is still being hardest-hit by the postmaster crisis, with the highest number of closed branches in the UK, increasing by 17% since last year. Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, in the 2020 spending review, will Ministers agree to maintain or increase the Government subsidy to post offices, to ensure that communities can access a post office branch, or will they continue putting the Post Office on a pathway to privatisation?
The Post Office is obviously made up of small businesses, which are subject to the same problems as any, and Scotland, with its rural nature, has been affected. That is why we look to temporary post offices and outreach. But clearly, going forward, the Government will reflect the value of postmasters and the post office network in all their deliberations.
Last week, the House united in calling for a judge-led inquiry into the Post Office Horizon scandal—hundreds of lives ruined and innocent people imprisoned by a trusted public institution—except the Minister, who proposes a forward-looking independent review, which will not mention managerial or ministerial accountability, Fujitsu’s responsibility or the key question of compensation. Now the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance is refusing to co-operate, saying it does not believe that the review will get to the bottom of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of our times. After all that those people have endured, will the Minister not listen to them and commit to a judge-led inquiry?
The hon. Lady is mistaken if she believes that the review does not look at the managerial responsibility of all the people responsible for what has happened, and we need to listen to the postmasters’ rebuke. Indeed, yesterday I discussed the matter in a meeting with chief executive Nick Read and Calum Greenhow, chief exec of the National Federation of Subpostmasters. Nick Read committed fully to the review, leaving no stone unturned, which is why I hope that with everyone coming together I can encourage postmasters to engage in the review so that we can get the answers they and the hon. Lady are looking for, to secure the redress and the answers that they need.
Covid-19: Support for Businesses
The Government have introduced an unprecedented package of support. This includes grants for small businesses, a rates holiday for businesses operating in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, a range of loan schemes covering all sides of businesses, the furlough scheme, the self-employment scheme, and a range of tax deferral schemes, all designed to help businesses through this very challenging time.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Brian and Karen Tinniswood run the Provenance restaurant in Westhoughton, but they have a deep concern about social distancing, which makes it impossible to reopen their restaurant. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to reducing social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet, then getting rid of it altogether?
The issue that my hon. Friend raises is raised with me regularly by businesses, and I completely understand the economic rationale that his constituents have outlined to him. As he will know, a review is taking place, and we will wait to see its results.
The OECD predicts that the UK recession will be the worst in the developed world. The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has issued a similarly depressing assessment. In terms of supporting Scottish business, what have been the key asks of the Department from the Secretary of State for Scotland?
I have detailed discussions with all Cabinet and ministerial colleagues. I recognise the challenge ahead of us—there is no doubt about that—but we have provided a significant amount of support for the UK economy, and if that had not been put in place a range of independent commentators have made it clear that we would be in a far worse position.
The automotive sector is important to my constituency of Bridgend, as it is to the whole UK economy. Will my right hon. Friend outline what the Government are doing to help businesses in that sector recover from the impact of covid-19?
I have set out the full range of support available to all sectors across the economy, and the automotive sector can take full advantage of that. I would point out that the job retention scheme has been widely utilised by the automotive sector, with a recent survey by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showing that the scheme has been accessed for over 60% of full-time workers in the auto sector.
A number of businesses in my Glasgow Central constituency find themselves blocked from claiming under the job retention scheme as a result of the deficiencies of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs uploading real-time information before the outbreak. Will the Secretary of State take up that matter with HMRC and the Treasury, ask for discretion, and make sure that no business that would otherwise be eligible has to lay off valued staff or, worse, go bust, as businesses in my constituency cannot wait any longer?
We want to support businesses, and I have set out a range of measures that we have put in place. The hon. Lady referred to a matter that ultimately is for HMRC and Her Majesty’s Treasury, but I am happy to have a discussion with her after questions.
A few weeks ago, I was pleased to visit Arnold market in my constituency and it was great to see that it was operating very well under the new guidelines. As the wider high street is now beginning to reopen, can my right hon Friend tell me what support his Department will be giving to shops as they reopen?
I thank my hon. Friend for doing his bit to support businesses in his constituency. In coming up with the workplace guidance, which has allowed businesses to open safely, we have worked closely with businesses, business representative organisations and trade unions. I have already outlined the support that we have provided for the sector, but what we all need to do is to get out there to support businesses that are now opening. We owe that to them and to the economy to get it going again.
What is available for those fast-growing firms that rely on equity finance and for which loans and grants have not been a good fit?
What an intelligent question. On 20 April, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a package of support worth £1.25 billion for fast-growing innovative companies and that, of course, included £750 million in grants and loans delivered through Innovate UK, and a £500 million future fund, through which the Government will invest up to £5 million per company, matched by the private sector.
As my right hon. Friend adapts support for businesses, will he keep very much in mind those important sectors of the economy such as tourism and the creative industries that will need longer to recover and more notice of guidance changes? Will he recognise, as I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), will have told him, that in places such as Warwickshire those sectors are mutually reinforcing and very important not just to the local economy, but to the income of local authorities?
My right hon. Friend, I know, has been engaging with businesses through virtual networks across Warwickshire, and I thank him for the work that he is doing locally. What I would say to him is that, of course, we have ensured that loan schemes are available across the economy. Smaller businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail have been able to access a £25,000 grant. The key issue is to have a safe and phased reopening of the economy to get it going again, which is what we are currently undertaking.
I join you today, Mr Speaker, in both mourning and remembering Jo Cox.
I welcome much of the help that the Government have provided, but, according to Make UK, we could see the loss of 170,000 manufacturing jobs this year. In France, steel got loans within 10 days of applying for them, and aerospace is benefiting from billions of pounds of support, including for low-carbon engines. Here, three months after the crisis began, 60% of companies that have applied for large loans are still waiting and there has been no targeted help for our manufacturers. Will the Secretary of State tell us when specific help will actually materialise for sectors such as steel and aerospace?
I do welcome the constructive tone in which we have approached our exchanges over the past few weeks, but what I would just say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he looks at the sum total of what this Government are providing, he will find that it is significant and incredibly favourable when compared with international comparators. On loans, as he knows, we have increased the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme to allow up to £200 million to be made available, and we will continue to support businesses. He will also know that in certain cases we do have individual discussions going on with businesses.
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to get a move on when it comes to those sectors, because they really need the help. I want to ask him additionally about sectors such as hospitality, tourism and the creative industries, which have just been raised. They will take longer to reopen and recover because of public health measures, and I want to ask him about the impact on them of the one-size-fits-all winding down of the furlough. Can he explain to thousands of pubs across the country how they are supposed to find an employer contribution for furloughed employees from August when they are struggling even to survive? Is not the risk of that approach, and we have seen the jobless figures this morning, that hundreds of thousands more workers will lose their jobs, and all of us will end up paying the costs in higher benefit bills and a weaker economy? Would it not be better to have a different approach for those at-risk sectors?
We have taken a whole-economy approach, as he knows, and I have set out the measures that we have put in place. With regard to the retail and hospitality sectors, we have provided specific support for them in the one-year rates holiday, as well as the additional support that is available, but the key issue here is the safe reopening of the economy, and that is what we want to continue with over the coming weeks.
Rural Areas and Market Towns: Support for Businesses
Our thoughts are indeed with our colleague who was murdered, Jo Cox, and also with the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan); we wish her a safe return to this House.
We have introduced an unprecedented package of support for businesses across the country to get through this incredibly challenging period. More than £10 billion in grants—grants—has been paid to over 830,000 businesses of all sizes, including £100 million to over 8,000 businesses in Dorset. I want to thank the local leadership there for delivering that. This has explicitly been targeted at those in receipt of rural rate relief, as well as small business rate relief.
Market towns in West Dorset such as Lyme Regis, Sherborne and Dorchester are thinking ahead, and I am supporting them to look at innovations to boost the local economy following coronavirus. These include virtual high streets and collaborating to improve accessibility of local brands to those who may not be able to get to the town. Will the Minister meet me to look at these concepts and determine how we can support these initiatives going forward?
I know better than most, with Shipston-on-Stour, Alcester and Bidford—very important market towns—in my constituency, that it is more important than ever at this time to support businesses to adopt innovative business models. I would of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those approaches to reopening our economy in West Dorset and the lessons that this may hold for the rest of the country as well.
Covid-19: High Street Businesses:
My Department has regular discussions with Housing, Communities and Local Government colleagues on the impact of covid-19 on high street businesses. We have provided unprecedented support to high street businesses. Pubs, shops, and hotels will pay no business rates for 12 months; eligible retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have received cash grants of up to £25,000; and businesses that cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction.
Businesses across my constituency continue to report the major challenges that have been present since the start of lockdown, particularly a loss of income, mounting debts, enforced closure, insurance policies not paying out, the need to make redundancies, and an inability to plan for the future given the uncertainty of the current situation. Although many non-essential businesses have reopened this week, it will still be a long road to recovery, so will the Secretary of State review the grant scheme to ensure support for our high street businesses that are doing the right thing but could be decimated by covid-19?
One of the reasons we launched the £617 million discretionary fund was so that we can reach more businesses, but clearly we need to reopen safely non-essential retail, as started yesterday. We need to monitor that. We need to make sure that opening up our economy is the best way, along with the flexible support that we are giving, to make sure that it can start to bounce back, including in Jarrow.
Economically, my constituency has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, with almost 19,000 employees having been furloughed. But while some businesses have been able to gain access to Government grants and schemes, numerous independent and family-run businesses have not been able to do so and have fallen between the cracks of Government support. Will the Minister urgently review the Government grant and loan schemes, particularly for our high street businesses, so that they too can benefit from them and our towns do not become ghost towns, or mere carbon copies, because we would then lose our much loved independent businesses?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the plight of independent businesses. That is why I was pleased to go to Northcote Road in Clapham to see what they were doing there and the community spirit that brings them together. We always look at the flexibility of support, but we will also make sure, with the safe opening of shops now, that the new normal is coupled with a future view of the high street—the new reality, with changing behaviour of consumers—so that in the years to come independent shopkeepers can sustain and indeed thrive as local businesses on the high street.
We now go to marvellous Manchester, with Lucy Powell.
May I, too, put on the record my remembrance of my good friend Jo Cox?
Pubs, cafés, hairdressers and restaurants are the lifeblood of our high streets. Business-critical guidance about their reopening in just two and a half weeks’ time was due yesterday but is nowhere to be seen. Instead, they got another review, making a bad situation much worse. When will they get that guidance? With either 1-metre or 2-metre distancing, most of those businesses still will not be viable, so will the Government finally recognise that vital business support schemes need to follow the public health measures before we see large-scale job losses and the decimation of our high streets?
As you will see from my hairstyle, Mr Speaker, I am desperately awaiting the opening of hairdressers and barbers too. It is key that we get this right, though. The economic impetus from the hospitality sector in particular is made apparent to me every single day that I speak to its representatives; indeed, I will be speaking to a lot of them later this afternoon. We have to make sure we get that right, with the confidence of customers coming back. The Government’s first priority is to save lives and to work with the scientific guidance. At the moment, when people go out to shop at the businesses that are open today, 2 metres is still the rule, but we will get further guidance as soon as we practicably can.
Chinese Investment: Intellectual Property
The Government have powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 to intervene in certain transactions on national security grounds. We will bring forward legislation to strengthen our existing powers in this area, including enabling Government intervention in acquisitions of assets such as sensitive intellectual property.
First, may I associate myself with our memories of Jo Cox? She was my close friend, neighbour and great comrade and colleague.
Why cannot this Government and Prime Minister wake up to the threat from China, which wants to be the dominant world economic superpower? Does the Minister not realise that China cannot be trusted? It has been stealing our intellectual property from universities, businesses and Government for years. How could we possibly want it to be involved in our telecommunications industry through Huawei, and will we please put a stop to the partnership on developing nuclear power in our country?
We welcome inward investment in the UK’s civil nuclear sector. All investment involving critical infrastructure is subject to thorough scrutiny. Foreign investment and an active competitive economy are key to the UK’s growth. The UK wants a modern and mature relationship with China based on mutual respect and trust.
Life Sciences Sector: Vaccine Manufacturing
We have set up a vaccines taskforce to lead and co-ordinate all the Government’s activities to develop and manufacture a coronavirus vaccine. As part of that, we are investing £93 million in a vaccine manufacturing innovation centre, which will be completed 12 months ahead of schedule, by summer 2021. We are also funding a rapid deployment facility, which will be able to begin manufacturing vaccines at scale from August this year.
Ultimately, throughout this process, we are in the hands of our brilliant scientists. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement on what he is doing to accelerate opening the vaccine manufacturing innovation centre by next summer, but what more can be done to ensure that we get on top of this disease and address it as early as we possibly can?
Of course, my hon. Friend will know that we are providing direct support to the vaccines being developed at Oxford University and Imperial College London. He may also be aware that the Imperial vaccine is now set to enter clinical human trials. We are also leading international efforts to support vaccine discovery and deployment.
I call the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones.
UK-EU research collaboration contributes £2 billion to British research and development and accounts for at least 5,000 researchers in British universities, as well as its contributions to covid research and vaccination research. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that, irrespective of the free trade agreement negotiations with the EU, the UK will seek third country full associate membership of Horizon Europe to keep that money coming into British R&D?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we are committed to being a science and R&D superpower, which is why we have committed to spending £22 billion a year by 2024-25 and to reaching 2.4% of GDP by 2027. The discussions with the EU are ongoing, and we will see what they lead to.
Hospitality Sector: Covid-19
I have met regularly with a large number of representatives of hospitality organisations to discuss the issues that they are experiencing, including through the BEIS ministerial taskforce on pubs and restaurants and my own weekly call with sector representatives, the next of which is this afternoon.
I, too, record that my thoughts are with Jo Cox’s family today.
The hospitality sector has faced an unprecedented challenge due to coronavirus, which has had an impact on many businesses in my constituency of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough. At the start of the outbreak, the Prime Minister said that he would do whatever it takes to support individuals and businesses. Will the Government therefore extend the full furlough scheme to ensure that the hospitality sector survives and workers in the industry do not add to the shocking unemployment figures released today, and, ultimately, to protect our communities from a further spike of this terrible virus?
Indeed, Sheffield City Council has paid £87 million to 7,329 business premises. We have provided an unprecedented package of financial support to businesses in the hospitality sector. We continue to work with them. We continue to extend the furlough system and make it flexible, in order to have part-time furloughing, so that people can start to come back to work. It is important, however, that we get the guidance out so that we can work with the hospitality sector to get it to reopened, so that it can start to bounce back.
Rumours are swirling about whether, how and which pubs will be able to reopen on 4 July. The brewing industry urgently needs clarity on whether it will be all pubs or just those with gardens. The Minister just said that the guidance will be available as soon as possible, but that is not good enough. We are two and a bit weeks away. Beer needs to be brewed. Some of us need a pint. When will that guidance be available? The brewing industry and pubs need that clarity urgently.
It is not only that we need a pint. For pubs, it is about not just coming back for the opening, but making sure that it is an enjoyable experience for people, so they keep on coming back. That is what will allow them to survive and thrive, so it is important that we get the guidance out. I am trying to work with the hospitality sector and pubs to make sure that there are as few surprises as possible, but we need to make sure that we are weighing that up with the scientific guidance so that pub people, clients and people who want a pint know that they can go into a pub safely.
I send my condolences to the family of Jo Cox.
Workers in the hospitality industry are heading for a crisis. It has been one of the worst-hit sectors by the virus, with a disproportionate number of young, low-paid and insecure workers. My constituency of Liverpool, Riverside has an estimated 11,700 employees furloughed who are employed by small family-run businesses, many of which do not qualify for grant support because they are outside the £51,000 rateable value. Will the Secretary of State fix the loans, extend the grants and plan for recovery to ensure that support for the hospitality sector?
It is time for me to add my voice to that of Members across the House expressing their condolences to the loved ones of Jo Cox and, indeed, wishing a swift recovery to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). That was horrific news, and I hope that she is back on her feet as soon as possible.
Liverpool City Council, which I have spoken to, has handed out £87,885,000 to businesses, including small businesses and those in the retail and hospitality sector. That is why I was pleased to be able to extend the discretionary scheme to capture more of the businesses that fell short. I know that Liverpool City Council has an economic recovery plan, in addition to “Liverpool Without Walls”, to encourage pubs and restaurants to open safely. That will help young people especially to get back into employment and get our economy up and running.
We want to make the UK the best place to start and grow a business, and it should not matter where in the UK that is. The start-up loans programme has helped more people to realise their dream of starting a business, with more than 72,000 loans, worth £591 million, since 2012. During 2018-19, our growth hubs helped more than 9,500 business starts in England, and through programmes operated by the Government-backed British Business Bank we are currently supporting more than £7.7 billion of finance to more than 94,900 small and medium- sized enterprises.
Start-up businesses are vital to our economic recovery. What more can the Government do to help the very smallest businesses access the right finance quickly to survive during and post covid-19?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he has done with small businesses for many years, including when we were working with businesses together. I know that he continues that work. As part of the package of covid-19 recovery measures we created the bounce-back loans scheme, which targets small and microbusinesses in all sectors, providing loans from £2,000 up to 25% of the business’s turnover, with a maximum loan of £50,000. Applications are done via a simple online form. As of 7 June, 782,246 loans, worth £23.78 billion, have been approved.
Independent Pubs: Covid-19
We have provided a significant package of support to pubs—including a one-year business rates holiday and access to grants of up to £25,000 per qualifying property—through a number of schemes. That is alongside the business support available to all sectors, including access to the coronavirus job retention scheme and various Government-backed loan schemes.
Pubs in Wolverhampton such as the Merry Hill, Oddfellows and the Mount Tavern will have been impacted by covid-19. I welcome the measures the Minister outlined, but what is the longer-term strategy to help pubs to return to a profitable state and to become the vital community hubs that they were before?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because it is vital that we recognise how important such businesses are as community hubs. We recognise that trading conditions may be challenging for many businesses for some time to come. We will continue to work with the sector, both to prepare for reopening and afterwards. I understand that the Minister responsible for small business—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully)—plans to continue to meet representatives of the sector regularly.
Manufacturing Sector: Covid-19
We are committed to ongoing engagement with industry to ensure that our manufacturers have the support that they need. That includes a roundtable that I am holding tomorrow for north-east businesses, which the hon. Gentleman will be interested in. Our support for the industry includes the unprecedented £330 billion package of business continuity support.
I send my condolences to the family of my dear friend and colleague Jo Cox.
UK workers are much more vulnerable to redundancy than French and German workers because the UK Government have announced that they are already winding down their job retention scheme. That is not my view, but the view expressed this weekend by the chief executive of leading aerospace manufacturer Airbus. In France and Germany, the subsidy schemes are set to last for up to two years. Does the Minister not agree that UK workers deserve at least the same job protections and guarantees as have been introduced in other countries? What more can be done to save these vital UK jobs?
The hon. Member mentions the aerospace sector, into which the Government have put around £6.5 billion between the Bank of England corporate finance scheme and UK Export Finance, with an additional half a billion pounds of support. We have also put £3.4 billion into the growth deal across the northern powerhouse, with almost £380 million of that going to the north-east local enterprise partnership area, including his constituency of Wansbeck, which is benefiting from that to the tune of around £2.25 million in a science, technology, engineering and maths building at Northumberland College’s Ashington campus. A lot of work is going into this unprecedented package, but we continue to review all our interventions to make sure that UK workers get the benefit of a dynamic recovery.
Post Office IT System (Review)
On 10 June, the Government announced an independent review to consider whether the Post Office has learned the necessary lessons from the Horizon trial judgments and to provide an independent and external assessment of its work to rebuild its relationship with its postmasters. We are keen to see the review launch as soon as possible, and we are in the process of identifying a chair to lead the work of the review in order to get the answers that we need and to hear those voices.
I welcome that answer and the Government’s commitment to the review. Is the Minister aware of any support for postmasters and postmistresses while the situation is ongoing?
The December 2019 settlement comprised a comprehensive settlement of £57.75 million. The Post Office has opened a historical shortfall scheme for postmasters who were not part of the group litigation and who want shortfall issues recorded in Horizon to be investigated and addressed. Many convicted claimants are going through a further process with the Criminal Cases Review Commission, with 47 referred to the Court of Appeal. Where convictions are overturned, processes are in place for them to receive compensation if appropriate.
My Department, together with Her Majesty’s Treasury, is at the forefront of supporting businesses during these unprecedented times. More than £10.3 billion has been paid out to businesses to date by direct grant and an additional £38.2 billion through the major loan schemes. The Government have supported 9.1 million jobs through the coronavirus job retention scheme and 2.6 million claims have been made through the self-employed income support scheme.
In the past week, I have led five businesses taskforces to listen to and work with the business community and academic experts as we consider the measures needed to support our economy bouncing back. We want to create a cleaner, greener and more resilient economy and the output from those taskforces will feed directly into the Government’s work on the economic recovery.
The Secretary of State will know that the UK has an opportunity to lead the world in hydrogen technology, which will create thousands of green jobs, cut emissions, unlock private investment and increase our energy security. Just as we lagged behind with battery technology, we risk missing the boat on hydrogen as other nations set multibillion-pound hydrogen strategies. The UK needs a hydrogen strategy. Will the Secretary of State meet me and other colleagues from across the House who share my belief in hydrogen to discuss how we can place hydrogen at the forefront of our green recovery?
As my hon. Friend will have heard in the earlier answer from the Energy Minister, we are committed to developing hydrogen as a strategic decarbonised energy carrier. We are investing in the value chain and both the Energy Minister and I will be happy to meet him.
I associate myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, and those of other Members, about our much-missed colleague, Jo Cox.
There is a clear racial and class dynamic in the covid-19 death rate, with those in working-class jobs, such as carers, taxi drivers, security guards and retail assistants, who are disproportionately black, Asian or minority ethnic, more likely to die from the virus. Throughout the pandemic, insecure employment practices have left millions without protections at work or the financial support they need to safeguard their income and allow them to self-isolate. Will the Secretary of State as a first step recognise that insecure employment practices are directly responsible for worsening inequalities, including structural racism and discrimination?
I add my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of everyone who has lost their lives in this pandemic.
We are providing support across the piece for all individuals. The hon. Gentleman talks about people from ethnic minority backgrounds. He will know that we hold regular roundtables to ensure that we are addressing individuals in all sorts of groups that have protected characteristics.
The Department is aware of several projects being considered on rivers and estuaries such as the Wyre, the Duddon, Morecambe bay and the Solway firth, and we have had frequent contacts with developers. We remain open to considering well-developed, well-considered projects that can demonstrate strong value for money alongside other renewable generation.
As the hon. Member will know, the latest figures show that over 49,000 loans have been approved, to the value of more than £10 billion. There is a significant number of lenders attached to the CBIL scheme, but if he has specific cases, he should definitely come and talk to me.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that she did as shipping Minister. We have made the commitment to £22 billion a year by 2025. That is the biggest increase in public funding of R&D, and no doubt, as projects come forward from that sector, we will look at them.
We are working with the steel sector, as the hon. Member will know, and we continue to work closely with it. Of course I absolutely remain committed to supporting a sustainable UK steel sector. We have increased the amount of borrowing that can take place under the larger CBIL scheme but, as I said to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) in answer to an earlier question, when individual companies approach us, we will of course enter into direct discussions with them.
Of course we keep all these matters under review, and I know that there is a range of views on this matter. I would just point out that we did temporarily relax Sunday trading during the London Olympics. That was to support consumers and, of course, the economy as well.
The obligations on employers to take care of disabled employees have not changed. In the guidance that we have provided we make reference to the fact that employers need to take particular care of employees with particular protected characteristics.
I again thank my hon. Friend for all he is doing to support local businesses in Bracknell—more power to his elbow. I am sure all of us will do the same in our constituencies over the coming days and weeks. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are reviewing the social distancing rule.
The hon. Gentleman will know that we have worked collaboratively with employers, employee representative organisations and trade unions in producing the guidance that we have put out so far. We continue to have a good dialogue with individual sectors, and once we have concluded that, we will of course make that guidance available.
Order. We are going to have to clear Members away from the entrance. There are some seats. You will have to sit down. You just cannot gather.
I will begin the question again, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister ensure that contracts for difference funding will only be made available to onshore wind farms in Scotland that have local community support?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the question. He will know that local consent and local support are absolutely key to the pot one auction, but he will also be aware that planning policy is a devolved matter in Scotland, and it is therefore for the Scottish Government to set up national planning policies and the approach to declining planning applications. He is well aware that this Government have been very focused on local consent right through this process.
We appreciate that announcements about redundancies for British Airways staff have been incredibly distressing for the employees and their families. At the end of the day, the use of the Government’s job retention schemes is preferable to making redundancies. That is why we made them available. What I would say in this case is that it is a commercial decision. We expect British Airways and, indeed, all employers to treat employees fairly and in the spirit of partnership.
My hon. Friend, as ever, raises an important issue. It is why both the CBILS and the bounce-back loans have a 12-month period during which interest is paid on behalf of the business. I would expect lenders to apply similar forbearance where needed in the case of existing commercial loans.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. As we look to see how we can restart the economy and the whole process of recovery, we will, of course, look at skills as well.
My hon. Friend raises a hugely important issue. Employment and the possibilities and opportunities for people are something we are absolutely focused on. I assure him that we will do all we can to help those who will be affected by this announcement to get back into work as quickly as possible. This will include working with the Department for Work and Pensions, Jobcentre Plus and Rolls-Royce itself to make sure that economic opportunities and jobs are freely available to those who might be affected.
I do not think that is a fair characterisation of the situation. We have huge offshore capacity; 35% of the global offshore wind capacity is in the UK, with much of it sited in Scotland. Scottish firms are extremely capable of competing in the auctions, and I do not think it is fair to characterise our position in the way that the hon. Gentleman has.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for five minutes.
I have a short statement to make about the new Division procedure and proxy voting. Details of the new arrangements were in the email sent to all colleagues this morning. Members should record their names using their security passes at one of the pass readers in each Lobby. The queuing arrangements are largely unchanged, although there will be two queues and Members may join either one.
I also want to mention proxy voting. I remind colleagues that the expanded proxy voting scheme applies to Members who are unable to attend Westminster for medical or public health reasons relating to the pandemic. If an hon. Member applies for a proxy vote, this means that they have given me and the House a commitment that they are not able to attend Westminster. It is therefore important that colleagues with proxies do not take part in any physical proceedings or come on to the Estate while they have a proxy vote in operation.
Economic Outlook and Furlough Scheme Changes
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will make a statement on the economic outlook for the UK and the Government’s strategy to protect jobs and the economy in light of upcoming changes to the furlough scheme.
Before I start, may I join with all the words that have been said in praise of Jo Cox during the proceedings so far? I know that many more such words will be said today. One thing that colleagues may not know, amid all the many things that they have been told about her, is that she was very fond of visiting Symonds Yat in my constituency in Herefordshire. I look forward to the day when many other people can do that, following lockdown.
From the onset of this pandemic, the Government’s top priority has been to protect the NHS and to save lives, but we have also made it clear that we will do whatever is needed to support people, jobs and businesses through the present period of disruption, and that is what we have done. On Friday, the Office for National Statistics published its first estimate of April GDP and showed the economy contracting sharply by a record 20.4% on the month. It is clear that restrictions introduced during the lockdown, while necessary, have had a severe impact on output.
However, it is important to note that the OECD, the Office for Budget Responsibility and other external forecasters have all highlighted that the cost to the economy would have been significantly higher were it not for the swift and decisive action that the Government have taken. Measures such as the coronavirus job retention scheme—the CJRS—which has protected almost 9 million jobs and more than 1 million businesses, have helped to limit the adverse impact of the crisis. It is also important to note that the OECD forecast the UK to have the strongest recovery of all the large countries that it looked at, with an unemployment rate projected to be lower than that in France and Italy by the end of 2021.
As we are reopening the economy, the Government are supporting putting people back into work. Last month, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that the CJRS would be extended for four months, until the end of October. From July to October, employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring furloughed employees back part-time. That will ensure that the CJRS will continue to support all firms so that no employer faces a cliff edge.
This remains a very uncertain and worrying time for businesses and employees alike. The Government have set out separately the five principles that must be satisfied before we make further changes to the lockdown rules, which we based on advice received from Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. However, I can assure the House that the thoughts, energies and resources of the Government are focused increasingly on planning for the recovery. We will develop new measures to grow our economy, to back businesses and to boost skills. I am confident that the United Kingdom can continue to thrive in a post-covid world.
The OECD’s global outlook suggested that the reduction in GDP in the UK due to the current hit of coronavirus will have been the largest out of all developed economies. The enormity of the economic impact appears confirmed by the claimant count and other unemployment data out today. It seems that the slow and confused health response is being followed by a slow and confused response to saving jobs, despite the huge long-term costs of unemployment. Labour has called for an exit strategy, but what we seem to have is an exit without a strategy, including on jobs.
Will the Treasury change its one-size-fits-all approach to the furlough and self-employed schemes, which risks additional waves of unemployment? Will it act to encourage young people to stay in education and training, and out of unemployment? Will it build on previous schemes such as the future jobs fund to support the young unemployed, and provide tailored help for other hard-hit groups such as older workers?
Although more support for apprenticeships is desperately needed, it will not be enough. Will the Treasury act now to create the extra support that cannot currently be delivered by Department for Work and Pensions staff, who are occupied with huge numbers of extra claims? Will the Government catch up with other countries that have already announced their stimulus packages, given that many employers are deciding now on whether to retain staff? Will they apply conditions to Government investment to include requirements to promote upskilling and re-employment? Above all, rather than a limited Budget statement in July, will the Government set out the back-to-work Budget that we need, with a focus on jobs, jobs, jobs?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and comments. Of course, the issues that she highlights are of great importance and receive an enormous amount of attention in the Government and in the Treasury, but I am a little surprised by some of the things that she said. I remind her that the OECD report, in addition to forecasting the strongest recovery, also highlighted the quick and comprehensive response that the Government put in place to deal with covid. It also noted the relative robustness of the UK’s public finances relative to those of other countries. Colleagues are entitled to decide whether they accept what the OECD says, but they cannot discount the bits they do not like and accept the bits that they do.
The hon. Lady refers to the Government’s response as “slow and confused”, but I find that very odd. She said to the CBI in April that “this scheme was about preventing mass unemployment”, and “undoubtedly it has prevented a worse situation, there’s no question about that”. She congratulated the Government, business and trade unions, and said that we saw with the job retention scheme “an excellent example of tripartite working”. I think she is right about that, but I do not think she can take the line she takes now and disavow those other things that she said, when Labour was being a bit more bipartisan than it is at the moment, in praise of the Government’s schemes.
Finally, the hon. Lady talks about the Government adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, but I would remind her of what she said in The Guardian on 20 May 2020:
“A more differentiated approach”—
that is, not a one-size-fits-all approach—
“would, admittedly, pose challenges for the government. Hard choices would need to be made, including how to deal with difficult boundary issues”.
She is right. It is also true that the Government have adopted a more differentiated approach than she gives us credit for, as witness all the work we have done with the hospitality and leisure industries.
So I am a little confused, but I do think it is important to focus on the positive achievements of the job retention scheme and the self-employment scheme, which, as the hon. Lady rightly notes, have prevented a much worse alternative and have been brought into place with great speed and ability by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, yesterday, the Treasury Committee published its report into the gaps that there are in the Government’s support for the self-employed and those employed up and down our country. I do recognise the very considerable approach that the Government have taken to support people through these difficult times. However, there remain over 1 million people who should qualify for furlough or self-employed support who are not receiving it. Could I ask my right hon. Friend to look very closely at the recommendations of the Select Committee report, and to take action so that these hard-working self-employed and employed people up and down our country can get the support not just that they desperately need, but that they deserve?
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Treasury Committee both for what he says today and for his report. He will know, and he took considerable evidence on, the constraints that the Government were under in bringing the different schemes into play. I am the last person to decry the energy and the effectiveness either of the businesses that have been supported by the job retention scheme or the self-employed people and businesses that have been supported by the self-employed scheme. Of course, we will take very carefully into consideration the report that he gives, and any positive and constructive suggestions that are contained in that report about how we can improve matters, and we continue to review the situation within the Treasury.
We now come to the SNP spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, with one minute.
I thank the Minister for the comments he has made. While the support under the schemes, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, is welcome, many of the comments I made on 17 March and 27 April about those who have not been supported still stand. The Treasury Committee would agree that the 1 million who have been left out of this support have been left out of support because of the Government’s own choice—the Government have decided not to support these people—and further issues remain about maternity, the derisory 26p extra given to refugees and those with no recourse to public funds.
The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop, has written to the Government, identifying tourism, arts and culture, oil and gas, childcare, retail, and rural and island communities as being particularly at risk, so will the Minister now accept that winding up the furlough scheme and putting the costs on to employers is a significant risk and will put people out of jobs? Will he extend it beyond October for sectors that are particularly pressed? Will he look at extending the self-employed support scheme, as many of those people will still require support on an ongoing basis because the work they did is no longer there? Will he look at VAT cuts to tourism and hospitality, which will support those sectors that have seen so much pressure and get them back on their feet at a time when they are really struggling? Lastly, does he agree with Lord Forsyth that there will be a tsunami of job losses, with 3 million people left without work?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. In the middle of a crisis, with emergency responses being brought out almost every other week, it would be a brave person who could commit to any sensible forecast with a degree of accuracy of what the future may bring. We have already seen astonishing changes to levels of GDP even in a month.
On the points the hon. Lady raises, I just remind her that the job retention scheme has so far supported nearly 9 million people—8.9 million people—and 1.1 million businesses. The self-employed scheme has supported 2.3 million individuals at a cost of £6.8 billion. Both schemes were brought in at record speed precisely to address the critical need to get the vast majority of people the support they would need, and to target that, wherever possible, on the most vulnerable. I do not think that those were mistakes. I do not think it would have been right to delay the process. I think it has been recognised by Opposition Members across the piece that a delayed response—which, on advice received from experts within HMRC and elsewhere, would have been the inevitable result—would have been a mistake and we took the view that we should proceed. I put it to the hon. Lady that the two schemes in question, together with a plethora of other support, have been extremely effective.
Getting skills is the key to employment opportunities for the young. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made encouraging noises about recognising the importance of apprenticeships. I propose that the Government shoulder the entire costs of the first year of all new apprenticeships awarded this autumn—[Interruption.]
Order. The two Members—the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty)—cannot stand together. Richard Graham, please start again.
I will start again. Skills are the key to employment opportunities for the young. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made encouraging noises about recognising the role that apprenticeships can play in that. My proposal is that the Government shoulder the entire first-year costs of all new apprenticeships awarded this autumn. The key point is that further education colleges, other trainers and businesses need to be able to plan ahead so that they can market those apprenticeships. Will my right hon. Friend today give some reassurance and commitment on the support the Government might give apprentices, so that bounce-back Britain’s new apprentices know there are lots of opportunities ahead?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am in awe of his ability, without notes, to recall exactly the same wording of his question when asked to give it a second time. That is magnificent. He was obviously an actor in a previous life.
Let me respond to the point my hon. Friend made. He is absolutely right about apprenticeships. He will know that, because he will know of all the work we are doing in Hereford to set up a new model in technology and engineering; a university combining higher education and further education specifically in order, in due course, to be able to extend to degree and degree apprenticeships. He will also know that the Budget—people have forgotten this—and the spending round before it have been very supportive of further education. That is a commitment of this Government. As he will know, the Education and Skills Funding Agency published guidance in this area, and the job retention scheme provides funding for businesses. We will continue to look closely at the issue he describes, and I thank him for his question.
May I, like others, pay tribute to and remember our much-missed colleague Jo Cox?
Ministers hint that their recovery plan will at last see real climate action. Liberal Democrats advocate a massive green economic recovery plan and I hope the Government will match it. Will the Treasury Minister confirm that the Government are considering reversing their previous opposition to onshore wind farms in England and Wales, tidal power investment, zero-carbon homes regulation and the many other green economic policies advocated by my party and opposed, abolished and voted against by this Prime Minister and the Conservative party?
I do not agree with that characterisation of the Government at all. We have done an enormous amount to support the green economy, but I do agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this provides an opportunity for a big recalibration—a big opportunity for all people across the country to think about whether there is more we can do in terms of green. Those of us with responsibility for the national infrastructure strategy are thinking very hard with colleagues in the Treasury about how we can improve green infrastructure, to go alongside all the measures we have taken to improve and support green businesses.
Some 290,000 people in the theatre and performing arts are really struggling financially at the moment. Will the Treasury look at extending the job retention scheme at least until October, and at extending the self-employed income support scheme, which would particularly help those who have freelance work?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the job retention scheme runs until October and the self-employed scheme covers that period as well. This is a source of great concern to us, and the arts have been well supported by the schemes so far. There has also been a separate package through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport specifically targeted at supporting arts and other organisations. We have this issue very much in our minds.
May I first pay tribute to my late friend Jo Cox? We mark today not because of how she was taken and the hate that took her, but to celebrate her life and legacy that we all work towards every day.
May I press the Minister, in that vein, for support for the aviation sector? There will be a £1.6 billion impact on the south Wales economy if British Airways is to keep on cutting jobs across three sites in the region. The Chancellor and the Minister say they will do whatever it takes, so please Minister, for these highly skilled, well-paid jobs across the UK, announce a specific sector deal for the aviation sector, and please do it quickly.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his warm remarks in relation to Jo Cox, which will be shared by everyone.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the aviation sector has already received quite a lot of support through the Bank of England’s covid corporate financing facility and through the large business loan scheme. Colleagues across the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continue to engage closely with the sector. I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern both in terms of the strategic nature of the industry and also its relevance to his own constituency, and indeed the UK as a whole.
The Government can rightly be proud of the rapid and effective steps they have taken to save so many jobs in constituencies such as Crewe and Nantwich, but there are some sectors and businesses that will not be able to open in the near or even medium term—for example, Good Time Charlies, a children’s play centre in my constituency, and Crewe Lyceum theatre. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look at whether some businesses and sectors will need more support in the medium and long term?
That may well be true, but I would highlight and remind my hon. Friend that one scheme, the bounce back loan scheme, is specifically targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises, and indeed micro-enterprises. Those loans are on very concessionary terms and do not require personal guarantees up to a threshold, so the organisations that my hon. Friend mentions should be able to benefit.
May I add my voice to many others in paying tribute to our much-missed colleague, Jo Cox?
The pandemic has further highlighted the deep connection between human health and thriving ecosystems, with the destruction of nature both increasing pandemic risk and driving climate change. With the news of record job losses, will the Minister prioritise the job creation potential of nature restoration at a national level and agree that not one single shovel-ready project will end up indiscriminately destroying nature? Secondly, will his Department establish a new taskforce on jobs for nature, to maximise the number of people employed in protecting the natural world, rather than destroying it? He says the Treasury will recalibrate whether there is more to be done on the green economy; I assure him that there is, and he just needs to get on and do it.
Having been an energy Minister, I am extremely aware of the many good things that we have done and continue to do, but I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution.
As my right hon. Friend will know, businesses in the hospitality and events sector—including wedding venues, bed and breakfasts and hotels, which are part of the lifeblood of this country and the economy—have been helped tremendously by the Government’s support and furlough scheme. As the furlough scheme winds down in the autumn, will he push for those sectors of the economy to be able to open fully as soon as it is safe for both them and their customers, to help us maintain Britain’s rightful place as one of the most attractive tourist venues in the world?
My hon. Friend will know that we have put significant support in place already. I share—as the Government do, and as I suspect the entire Chamber does—her desire for us to emerge from lockdown as swiftly and safely as we can, so I certainly support what she said.
I associate myself with the remarks that others have made about our colleague Jo Cox.
The Chairman of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), was right about those people who are missing out on the self-employed scheme. We recognise that the scheme was put together urgently. My hon. Friends and I on the shadow Front Bench were calling for the scheme, so of course we welcomed it. But alongside the 1 million people who are unable to work and are missing out on the scheme, the scheme also means that if people continue to work and are unaffected because of their self-employment, they are benefiting from the scheme, while others who need it are not able to. Would it not be sensible for the Government to accept the comments that have been made and scrutinise the scheme? Let us try to make it better and work together, rather than say that it does not need any improvement at all.
Actually, we have not said that. We remain interested in positive, detailed suggestions for improvement of the scheme. We have received some that do not appear workable. I will remind the Chamber of what the problem is. Let us not forget that the £50,000 trading profit margin implies average sales of £200,000, so these are not that small businesses compared with many sole proprietorships around the country. With these businesses, it is impossible to tell by any rule-based system the source of any dividends that they are paying, what may be the pay component of them and what may be simply earned from other sources but routed through the company. It has not been possible to devise a system that could operate on this million-person scale or more in the time available, while meeting our central need to act comprehensively and swiftly.
The Government have done a huge amount to support jobs in Peterborough, with around one in four workers protected through the furlough scheme. Peterborough remains a city on the up, with a new university, city centre regeneration and new businesses coming to us. With that optimism in the air, will the Minister assure me that he will continue to support businesses and workers in Peterborough as we move beyond the furlough scheme?
I can of course give my hon. Friend that assurance. I suspect that there is not a Member of this House who, if they look down the lists, will not see the positive benefits of the CJRS and the self-employment income support scheme in support of employed people on furlough and self-employed people in their constituencies. That is a tremendous thing that we can all be proud of.
As a Labour member of the class of 2015, may I echo the remarks made about Jo Cox? She is much missed, and was murdered in cold blood while doing an advice surgery, which we all do every week in normal times.
I must say that I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. I wrote to the Chancellor on 24 April identifying a number of holes in his safety net, including brand new start-ups, people on dividend pay and the forgotten freelancers in the arts. I have had a make-up artist and a BBC contractor write to me in the last couple of days. Initially, he was thought eligible for furlough pay, but now, as he is not an employee per se, he cannot have it, and he has too many savings to get universal credit. I had no reply—not a sausage. Does the Minister not agree with the OECD’s analysis that, with these overly ungenerous levels of social security support, he is just storing up productivity problems and record unemployment for further ahead?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady should say that. As I recall, she and I have had two telephone conversations with colleagues in which we have discussed in detail the strengths and weaknesses and the potential to improve both the self-employed scheme and the job scheme. I do not recognise the view that she takes at all. It is in the nature of these schemes to seek to be as comprehensive and swift as possible, which, I think I recall, was exactly the language used by the OECD in describing the Government’s response.
Scotland has benefited from the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom, with well over £10 billion of resources coming to Scotland to help fight this pandemic, from the furlough scheme to Barnett consequentials. Will the Minister commit to continue a UK-wide approach in tackling the pandemic, which will have to recognise that different parts of the United Kingdom will see recovery on different timescales and, of course, will see different sectors needing different levels of support?
My right hon. Friend is right. I defer to no one in my admiration for Scotland as a country and for its history and people. It is true that in this crisis, as in the crisis of 2007-08, there has been enormous benefit to Scotland from being embedded within a wider Union, where the collective security and financial strength of all can be drawn on. In the case of Scotland, the self-employment scheme alone has 146,000 claims and the job scheme some 628,000 claims, and that amounts to an enormous package of UK Government support for the people in Scotland, and I am very proud of that.
With more than 600,000 jobs lost between March and May, it would be nothing short of a social catastrophe to end the furlough scheme before businesses start rehiring. France and Germany are continuing their support for as long as it takes. With the right hon. Gentleman’s Government denying Scotland the borrowing powers to take her own action—powers that even councils have—can he now see why Scots are concluding that Britain is not working and why support for independence continues to rise and rise?
I do not think that the Scots are concluding that at all. Any rational person looking at the position would understand that Scotland had been immensely strengthened by its relationship and its position within the United Kingdom, and rightly so, because of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been supported. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is a serious concern about the economic effects of the pandemic, but it is a concern, as the OECD and others have recognised, that we are squarely meeting, and Scotland has been a huge beneficiary and I am sure that it will continue to be so.
I thank the Minister and all his colleagues for protecting 13,400 furloughed jobs in my constituency, as well as for the £27 million in grant funding to 2,261 businesses. Does he agree that the best way of getting the Lincolnshire economy back on track is to reopen as many businesses as possible as quickly and as safely as possible?
My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. The whole point of the strategy that we have adopted is to cushion the immediate shock, protect the vulnerable, and then move as swiftly and safely as we can towards economic growth. As he says, we need businesses flourishing, functioning and working together as effectively as possible. The quicker we get that, the more we can support people back into jobs. The tailored approach that we have taken is designed to help them do that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one thing all Members of the House could do is to encourage their constituents to support local independent businesses, such as those we have in Wantage, Didcot and everywhere else in the country, to give them the best chance of survival?
Of course I agree with my hon. Friend on that. One of the great sadnesses of this has been the extent to which it is often the smallest and most local businesses—the most independent—that are most adversely affected by the coronavirus.
As he will know, between our job retention scheme, bounce back loans and reliefs and tax exemptions, we have given a huge amount of support in that area, and we will continue to do what we can to support it.
In my constituency, around 25% of the population, aged 16 to 64, are being furloughed or are receiving universal credit. The additional support for people on the self-employment scheme probably takes the figure to 30%. We recognise, therefore, the scale of the Government’s intervention, but there are many freelancers on short-term contracts or on different ways of working for freelance industries who are not getting a penny, many of whom have a strong and detailed track record with HMRC, so the reverse engineering that took place with the main scheme could be applied to them. The Minister repeatedly keeps talking about the generosity of the scheme, which suggests no shift I assume. Will he be categoric now and tell us whether there is any hope for these forgotten freelancers?
What I have said is simply that international and national bodies recognise the comprehensiveness and the relative generosity of our schemes—[Interruption.] They have done that, so that is the fact of the matter. The point that the hon. Lady raises is one on which we continue to reflect. As I have said, we take this very seriously. We want to support all sections of the economy, including self-employed people who have not been able to qualify. There are, of course, other ways in which they may be able to qualify for support within the wide package of support that we have given, but the self-employment scheme at the moment is not one, in some cases, that they are able to use, and that is something on which we will continue to reflect.
The latest figures show that almost 9 million jobs have been furloughed, including 12,500 in my own constituency—jobs that would undoubtedly have been lost. As we begin to rebuild and reopen our economy, will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will continue to support both businesses and workers as they transition away from Government schemes?
As my hon. Friend points out, we are working very hard to protect people in employment. That is what the latest numbers recognise, with the employment number as opposed to the unemployment number. But we must be realistic about this. We are in the middle of a pandemic crisis and there will be further losses; we have to understand that. The key thing is to make sure that we are as robust, energetic and inclusive as we possibly can be in supporting people in employment and supporting them back into employment when they come out of the jobs market.
First, I thank the Financial Secretary very much for his help on many issues that we have brought to his attention. Will he further outline what steps have been taken to mitigate the scale of redundancies in manufacturing, with special reference to Bombardier and the aerospace industry? Will he agree to meet the working group to discuss this viable industry made up of many local businesses and suppliers, such as Bombardier in my own constituency of Strangford, to save thousands of jobs in the UK in the long term?
I fully recognise the strategic importance of Bombardier in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and, indeed, in Northern Ireland. I have visited it myself, and that is well understood. It would not be appropriate for me to talk about specific companies in terms of the support and assistance that we offer. However, as he will know, across Government we are in constant negotiation and discussion with many different sectors on many different concerns that they have, and we will continue to do that.
Like many small and medium-sized enterprises around the country, Copper Rivet Distillery in Medway transformed its business overnight during the crisis, working day and night to help with the provision of personal protective equipment, including sanitiser. Many of these small businesses will face economic hardship as the new normal arrives, with cheap and often subsidised imports. Will the Government be using their substantial buying power to consolidate our procurement spending on Britain’s SME sector so that it can invest and compete internationally?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the really heartening things about the early phases of the crisis was precisely the response from distilleries in producing hand sanitiser. I was delighted to be able to make very quickly the changes to the tax regime that supported that. As we go forward, we will continue to review and seek to address the concerns that he raises. It is not by any means a straightforward matter, but the key thing is to continue to push, on a very wide variety of fronts, as rapidly and forcefully as we possibly can.
Many companies have used the job retention scheme to save cash while they planned redundancies, British Airways being one. BA has threatened over 40,000 staff with redundancy but about 30,000 would be rehired on vastly reduced terms and conditions. Last week I introduced a Bill to make that form of employment practice illegal to protect all employees. Does the Minister think it is fair that any employer should be allowed to make employees redundant from roles that are clearly not redundant and then rehire them on reduced pay— yes or no?
I will refrain from commenting on a specific situation; the hon. Gentleman has identified one. But I will say, having not been aware of it, that I will look at his Bill with great interest, and I thank him for drawing attention to it.
Bluewater in my constituency reopened its doors yesterday and did so in a cautious and responsible manner. It was fantastic to see so many shops there welcoming back customers for the first time. Does the Minister agree that centres like Bluewater should be praised not only for getting our economy back on track but for allowing us to get back to some form of normality?
I absolutely do think that. I pay particular tribute to shops, malls and shopping centres that go the extra mile to be particularly safe and careful, within more than the spirit of the regulations, in ensuring that people can use them. I congratulate Bluewater on the extent to which it has done that. If that helps to communicate a wider sense of confidence in the ability to shop, then all the better.
The Minister is actually giving quite comprehensive answers to most people in this Chamber, which makes it all the more striking how curt he was in replying to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Let me have another try. Yesterday, 57 charities wrote to the Government urging them to pursue a green recovery, which could support at least 210,000 jobs, while a report from the Office for National Statistics has just said that vacancies are at a record low. I am not interested in hearing what the Minister did when he was an Energy Minister; I want to know what the strategy is now. What will he do now to ensure we build back better and that it is a green recovery?
Of course I have no interest in being curt—the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion had discussed green issues and the green recovery just before and we were picking up from that. I and my colleague the Exchequer Secretary, who is the lead Minister on this in the Treasury, remain extremely interested in what we can do to ensure a green recovery. I am obviously not going to announce actions from the Dispatch Box in response to an urgent question, but I can reassure the hon. Lady that I and my colleagues are giving a great deal of attention to these issues.
My right hon. Friend is correct that the job retention scheme and the self-employed scheme are two of the successes of the Government’s response to covid-19. He will also be aware that preserving as many of those jobs as possible when the schemes are withdrawn is a central and difficult economic task for the Government. To that end, can I urge him to put the full weight of the Treasury behind a move, as soon as it is as safe as possible, from a 2-metre to a 1-metre gap, because that is the single most important act we could take to preserve those jobs?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that this is a topic of great topicality. The Prime Minister has launched a review of this and within weeks the matter will be decided. I cannot go any further than that, but he will see the direction of travel quite soon.
I add my voice to those who are remembering Jo Cox today and continuing to celebrate her contribution.
I chair one of Britain’s precious theatres, the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Like theatres up and down the country, we are only surviving because of the furlough scheme. For as long as any social distancing measures are in place, theatres simply cannot put on performances. Even with a 1-metre distancing rule, only one in four seats can be either marketed or occupied. If we are not allowed to furlough beyond October, our theatres cannot survive and will close forever. What will the Minister do to save our theatres?
I massively welcome the right hon. Lady’s support for and chairmanship of the Stratford East. It is a phenomenal theatre, as anyone will know who has acted in Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop or “Oh! What a Lovely War”. It is a foundational place. She will be aware that many theatre companies have benefited from some of the schemes already launched and that the Government have already made a substantial commitment of support to this sector through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but of course we continue to look closely at it, and it is right that she raised the issue, on behalf not just of the Stratford East and other theatres but of performing art spaces more widely, because the problem with coronavirus is not just the safety aspect; it is also the fear aspect that goes with a pandemic crisis of this kind.
Because of the UK’s support, 11,700 jobs in Moray were furloughed and 2,600 self-employed benefited from a share of £7.8 million, but a Scottish Government report has identified Moray as the area in Scotland potentially at risk of the highest number of job losses following this pandemic. What will the UK Government do with the Scottish Government to help businesses and individuals in Moray in the weeks and months ahead?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have always taken Moray very seriously. We have made a significant investment in the oil and gas sector, from which it is a massive beneficiary, and have supported the city of Aberdeen. We have been very engaged indeed and will continue to look at the sectoral and geographical impacts of the pandemic, but I am grateful to him for highlighting the enormous impact in his constituency of our work so far.
We remember our dear friend Jo Cox today and deeply miss her voice in this House. She was a powerful voice for those who desperately need our support.
Can the Minister commit urgently to support the 1 million people who have fallen through the gaps in provision? The provision that the Government have made is welcome, but we need a focus and a commitment to support the new starters, self-employed and freelancers, as identified by the Treasury Committee, and we need that commitment today. With the spectre of 9 million people facing unemployment, including 1 million young people, what assessment has the Minister made of the number of additional jobs that are likely to be lost with employers being required to pay 20% of employees’ wages?
In response to the latter point, we think that a graduated return to employers paying for their own staff and being subject to the usual economic laws of supply and demand is an essential precondition for a proper economic recovery and, therefore, for the sustainability of not just jobs but the economy as a whole. In regard to the wider issues, it would be absurd for me to offer any response from the Dispatch Box to the Treasury Committee report that was filed yesterday, but as I have said to the Chair, we will look very carefully at it and the issues that it raises.
I thank the Jo Cox Foundation for all it does.
My constituency is dependent on tourism and hospitality, a sector that was first to be hit by the crisis and is likely to be last to open up. Will the Minister confirm that his Department is looking at new additional measures to support businesses, such as Church Bay Cottages and Catch 22, that have worked so hard to support their community at this exceptional time?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing to the House’s attention and mine the delights of Ynys Môn. As a Herefordian, I am as acutely aware of the importance of tourism to many of our most beautiful areas as she is, but we continue to look at the sectoral inputs, as I have described. In fact, as she will be aware, tourism, hospitality and leisure have already received quite a substantial amount of additional support from the Government. We continue to keep the situation under review.
Unfortunately, Jamie Stone is not audible, so I call Sir Graham Brady.
As businesses get back to work, there is a cap on the number of employees who can be furloughed. Would it not make more sense to cap the number of hours or the total cost to the Treasury for each firm instead?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Let me reflect upon it.
We will try again with Jamie Stone.
Further to the previous questions, when the highlands tourism industry eventually reopens, it is likely that very few businesses will make enough money to see them through the dark winter months. In the spirit of the Minister’s previous answers, would he agree to meet me to discuss how the furlough scheme and other support schemes can be fine-tuned to make sure that those businesses survive to next year?
Nothing could silence the hon. Gentleman’s voice; I am glad to have been able to hear his question. I would be very happy to talk to him. I suspect that there are several hundred miles between us, but I will make sure that we find some way to talk to each other.
I congratulate the Minister on getting through the entire UQ without making a single commitment, although he has made many observations. As a member of the Treasury Committee, I look forward to the Government’s formal response to our report on the 1 million people who are currently missing out on the Government’s schemes. Will he see if he can at least make a commitment before today’s UQ ends? What is he doing as a Treasury Minister to ensure that, as we move from the acute stage of the pandemic to furlough schemes beginning to end, the furlough scheme is not remembered as a waiting room for unemployment rather than the job saving scheme that it should have been?
The hon. Lady will recall that the topic of the UQ is the job retention scheme and the self-employment scheme, and their relation to the UK economy in the face of covid, and that is what I have focused on. Of course, as a former member of the Treasury Committee myself for five years, I will take its report very seriously, as she suggests. In many ways, it may well be that people will look back on the job retention scheme and conclude, as the shadow Chancellor has, not only that it was considerably better than any possible alternative or inaction, but that it saved an enormous number of jobs.
The figures released last week showed just how much of an impact the Treasury’s measures are having. In Hyndburn and Haslingden 11,200 people benefited from the furlough scheme and 3,300 claims were made under the self-employment income support scheme, saving so many jobs and livelihoods in my constituency. As we begin to reopen our economy, will the Minister assure me that he will continue to support both people and businesses in the difficult months ahead?
Of course my hon. Friend is right that there will be difficult months ahead. There is no doubt about that. We specifically gave forward guidance on the two schemes in order to give people the reassurance that there would be that tailored support in place for a number of further months, and we will continue to keep the situation under review.
As we know, regional disparities will occur as a result of this economic downturn. I am proud to say that Labour Mayors and local authorities, in Sheffield and up and down the country, are making regional plans to bring more people out of unemployment. They will not be able to deliver that if they do not have sufficient powers and resources. Has the Minister met local authority leaders, and will he make those powers and resources available?
That is a very important question. Of course it is not just Labour Mayors; there are plenty of Conservative Mayors of cities who are—[Interruption.] Well, Andy Street for one. They have been taking a lead in this area too. One of the great things of which this Government and their predecessors can be proud is the extent to which devolution permitted those mayoralties to come into being. The hon. Lady is right about that. As she will be aware, we have made a significant amount of support available already to local authorities as spending bodies. It is for Mayors to work with them, as well as with the substantial amount of infrastructure money that was made available through things such as the transforming cities fund, to help to create an integrated response to the coronavirus crisis at local level.
Given the amount of work that continues to take place on making workplaces covid secure, I wonder whether the Minister thinks that we need to revisit the “work from home if you can” message. Is that under review in the context of the furlough scheme being phased out through its taper? If so, on what sort of timetable does he envisage that being done?
As a former Health Minister, my hon. Friend will understand very well the importance of this issue, and I thank him for raising it. This question is very much one that is being discussed across Government at the moment. One of the few silver linings to this crisis has been the understanding that, actually, the nature of work is changing as between home and work. One of the things that has not received much notice but I am intensely proud of is the way in which HMRC has been able to organise itself into much more of a disaggregated place in order to support from home all the services that it continues to deliver.
I warmly welcome the Government’s U-turn a moment ago on school meals and any role the Treasury might have played in that decision. Given its devastating impact on jobs, the wider economy and, indeed, Treasury receipts, and as the rest of Europe is opening up, may we please have a U-turn on the Government’s ridiculous quarantine policy?
I am afraid I am not qualified to comment on the ridiculousness or no of the quarantine policy. It remains in place in order to protect people, and it will be for colleagues to make a decision about that in due course.
Under this Government we have record numbers of women in work in our country, and under the lockdown around 140,000 women—maybe more—will have become pregnant. We are already hearing that some businesses are routinely making pregnant women redundant, despite the law and the furloughing scheme. What message does the Treasury have for those businesses?
Clearly, that is an abhorrent practice. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight it, to the extent that it is going on, and, as she says, it is illegal. I am very proud of the support the Government have given to women, as she has said, including through the national living wage and many other matters. I am also pleased that we have been able to make sure that the structure of the jobs scheme goes over enough years so that any impact on maternity is mitigated, so that those women are not affected, or are affected as little as possible, by the decisions they may have made—
The economic outlook is predicted to be 10 times worse than the 2008 global financial crash. In this House, we all know the devastating impact that crash had, but this could be 10 times worse. What urgent measures can be taken to protect people in the creative sector, thousands of whom have been in touch with me, as the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, desperate to save themselves from penury in the coming months?
We do not know how much worse this will be than the 2007-08 crash, if indeed it is worse, and over what period of time we are talking about. We can be more precise about the causation, because the crash was caused by overleveraging in the banking sector and so the UK was hit harder by the crisis than other countries as a result. That was a result of Government inaction. We have touched on the position of people in the creative sectors and there is not much more I can add in the time available, but I am very supportive of the situation and we are trying to assist them.
The Select Committee on Transport’s report on aviation has noted that British Airways is looking to make almost a third of its workforce redundant, while taking the job retention scheme for more than half of its employees and at the same time looking to invest £1 billion in a new airline. Will the Minister consider changing the job retention scheme so that companies cannot behave in this manner and rip off the taxpayer at the same time?
My hon. Friend will know that I cannot possibly comment on any specific circumstances, but I recognise the work he has done in putting this so squarely in the public mind.
I thank the Treasury team for the incredibly agile and decisive support they have given to workers and businesses during this pandemic—across my constituency, we are very grateful. As part of the transition to the new covid economy, will the Minister consider supporting a network of innovative technology accelerators, in Telford and across the country, to create jobs and new start-ups? Will he meet me to discuss this further?
I am very interested in my hon. Friend’s suggestion. It is not squarely a Treasury matter—it is more an industrial strategy and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy matter—but I would be delighted to meet her on the topic.
May I associate myself with my many colleagues in remembering our dear lost friend Jo Cox today? On 11 May, the Prime Minister told us:
“If people cannot…get the childcare that they need, plainly they are impeded from going to work, and they must be defended and protected on that basis.”—[Official Report, 11 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 29.]
A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed shows that 71% of women trying to return to work in the next three months cannot do so because of childcare. So will the Minister set out exactly what he is going to do to protect and defend those women from redundancy and discrimination in the workplace?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have not seen the survey that she describes. but I will look at it and discuss it with the Minister for Equalities, my colleague the Exchequer Secretary. Of course there can be no shying away from this issue and if it is as the hon. Lady describes, we will look closely at it. I thank her for that.
I thank the Minister and all his team for the extraordinary work they have done to support our economy during the first phase of this crisis. As we look towards the future and our recovery, may I ask him to continue to make bold and innovative interventions in our economy to protect as many jobs and businesses as possible, in both Basildon and Thurrock?
I almost did not recognise my hon. Friend with his new coronavirus growth, but I very much accept and recognise the point he makes. I thank him for it, and we will continue to work hard in this area.
Aviation and associated businesses create stable jobs and economic growth in Luton. Coronavirus will impact the industry for the foreseeable future and recovery is going to be much longer. Does the Minister recognise that replicating the French Government’s commitment to ensuring that short-term work schemes and support are available for longer—for, say, two years—would support those long-term affected sectors, retain key skills in those industries and avoid redundancies?
We are of course looking closely at other countries to see if they are doing things from which we can learn and benefit. I would have some doubts about a scheme that went on as long as that precisely because we need to return businesses and people working in them to normality as swiftly and safely as we possibly can. This might have the effect of counteracting that, but the point is well made and we will continue to review these alternative arrangements.
Many of my constituents, such as those working in the creative industries, navigate between self-employment and PAYE—working, yet not qualifying for either scheme. Given that we are extending our support schemes, will the Minister look into how we can support those who, due to nimble working practices as part of a flexible workforce, miss out on both schemes?
I recognise that there are some people in that situation, and it is very unfortunate that they may not be able to qualify for either scheme. To be clear, that would mean that they could not have been on a PAYE scheme within the past three years, as described by the rules, or indeed qualify under the self-employment scheme for other reasons. However, we take the point that my hon. Friend makes. We have discussed this in detail and I have explained to the House, again in some detail, why it is hard to reach those people, but we continue to look at that very closely.
Today’s unemployment data shows that 11,400 across Denton and Reddish are furloughed. There are 3,950 claimants— 2,000 higher than in March—and 800 of those are now under 24. In Greater Manchester, Diane Modahl has been appointed as chair of the new young persons taskforce, which will help to develop a young persons guarantee, but what more can the Government do nationally to help ensure that our young people are not left behind?
Again, I almost did not recognise the hon. Gentleman—I congratulate him on his coronavirus hair growth. I think the point that he raises is absolutely right. We are of course looking at the differential impact of the pandemic across the age spectrum, as well as regionally and across other dimensions. It has been well recognised and recommended by many that energetic action in the labour market to support young people and those making a transition between one job and another, or going back into work, will be very much something for us to focus on over the next few years.
Tourism businesses have been under immense pressure. In particular, smaller hospitality businesses, as in my constituency, need certainty to be able to survive. While I welcome the introduction of part-time furlough for workers, for these businesses to reopen on 4 July, some staff must be taken off furlough now. With part-time furloughing not starting until July, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether there is to be a phased unlocking of the industry, or can part-time furlough commence sooner?
No, the rules are as laid out in the guidance on gov.uk. They have a start date at the end of the month and we are in the final three-week coronavirus job retention scheme period, but as my hon. Friend says, we are very much hoping for and working towards a much wider reopening after or around the first week of July. That will potentially be a critical move forward for the country in its response to the pandemic.
The Chancellor stated that his priority was
“to support people, protect jobs and businesses through this crisis”,
yet businesses are on a financial cliff edge. Given today’s employment and vacancy rates, and the OECD prediction that the UK is likely to suffer one of the worst slumps in the developed world, does the Minister share my concern that ending support schemes too early will simply push many off a precipice?
Of course we want to ensure that there is a phased return to normality. That is what the delay and the extension of the two schemes is designed to do, so we do recognise that concern. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the OECD has predicted the strongest bounce back for this country. That may well be because of our extremely flexible labour markets, from which I hope we continue to benefit as we come out of this dreadful situation.
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the remarkably stable unemployment figures this morning, which are testament to the huge amount of support that the Treasury has put into retaining employment. May I urge my right hon. Friend to put the same amount of effort into creating jobs during the recovery, including encouraging inward investment and tech hubs—including some in Sevenoaks?
Tech hubs in Sevenoaks are my regular reflection; I thank my hon. Friend very much for her question. Of course, she is absolutely right. As we think about a more sustainable, greener and more productive economy, we need to be thinking about how our whole industrial strategy and posture will change, and I have no doubt that it will involve continued investment and support for technology in all its manifestations across the UK.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I will now suspend the House for five minutes.
Mr Speaker, before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the memory of Jo Cox, who was cruelly murdered four years ago today. Her sister, Kim Leadbeater, spoke for us all when she urged everyone to remember Jo by pulling together with “compassion and kindness”.
I was concerned to learn that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) is now in hospital: we all send her our best wishes.
With permission, I will make a statement about the ambitions of a global Britain and the lessons of the covid-19 pandemic. We are living through a daily demonstration of how events on the far side of the world influence not only British security and prosperity, but something as elemental as the state of our health, and whether we can go to work or go shopping. This crisis offers vivid proof of the seminal importance of international engagement and exactly why our country must perform its global role. I have begun the biggest review of our foreign, defence and development policy since the end of the cold war, designed to maximise our influence and integrate all the strands of our international effort. The overriding aim is to bring this country’s strengths and expertise to bear on the world’s biggest problems, seizing the opportunities of Britain’s presidency of the G7 next year and the UN climate change conference—COP26—which we will host in Glasgow.
The UK possesses the third biggest aid budget and diplomatic network in the world: we owe it to our people to make best use of these assets, which scarcely any of our peers can match. The British taxpayer has a right to expect that we will achieve the maximum value for every pound that we spend. One cardinal lesson of the pandemic is that distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are artificial and outdated. For instance, to protect ourselves against another calamity, the UK will need to work alongside our friends to strengthen international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, and help vulnerable countries to improve their health systems and achieve greater resilience. It makes no sense to ask whether it amounts to aid or foreign policy: they are one and the same endeavour, designed to achieve the same goals, which are right in themselves and serve our national interest.
On 4 June, I chaired a virtual summit of the global vaccine alliance, which raised enough money to immunise 300 million children. I doubt whether any other occasion will save more lives, avoid more suffering, or produce a better example of the good this country can do by its international engagement, in the true and broad sense, alongside our friends. Yet today, as anybody who has any experience of the matter will know, a dividing line between aid and foreign policy runs through our whole system, with our Department for International Development working independently from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and our aid budget parcelled out between different arms of Whitehall.
DFID outspends the Foreign Office more than four times over, yet no single decision maker in either Department is able to unite our efforts or take a comprehensive overview. We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, although the latter is vital for European security, and we give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the western Balkans, which are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling. Regardless of the merits of those decisions, no single Department is currently empowered to judge whether they make sense or not, so we tolerate an inherent risk of our left and right hands working independently.
Faced with the crisis today and the opportunities that lie ahead, we have a responsibility to ask whether our current arrangements, dating back to 1997, still maximise British influence. Those well-intentioned decisions of 23 years ago were right for their time. They paved the way for Britain to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid—a goal that was achieved by the coalition Government in 2013, that has been maintained ever since, including this year, and that remains our commitment. Yet those judgments date from a relatively benign era when China’s economy was still much smaller than Italy’s and the west was buoyed by victory in the cold war.
We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes, so I have decided to merge DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create a new Department: the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. This will unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort.
DFID has amassed world-class expertise and all of its people can take pride in how they have helped to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. To select but a few examples, they have striven to protect millions of children across the world from polio, which is now on the verge of global eradication; they have paved the way for millions of girls to attend school for the first time in countries such as Pakistan, as I have seen for myself; they have done their utmost to ease the suffering in Syria; and in Sierra Leone they were central to the defeat of an outbreak of the Ebola virus. All that amounts to the finest demonstration of British values, following in the great tradition of the country that ended the slave trade and resisted totalitarianism.
It is precisely that ambition, vision and expertise that will now be at the heart of a new Department, taking forward the work of UK aid to reduce poverty, which will remain central to our mission. The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive or cease to receive British aid, while delivering a single UK strategy for each country, overseen by the National Security Council, which I chair. Those strategies will be implemented on the ground by the relevant UK ambassador, who will lead all the Government’s work in the host country. In that, we are following the examples of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of which run their development programmes from their Foreign Ministries. We will align other British assets overseas, including our trade commissioners, who will come under the authority of the UK ambassador, bringing more coherence to our international presence.
Amid this pandemic, the House may ask whether this is the right moment to reorganise Whitehall, but I must say that in reality this crisis has already imposed fundamental changes on the way that we operate. If there is one further lesson, it is that a whole-of-Government approach, getting maximum value for the British taxpayer, is just as important abroad as it is at home. This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas. The best possible instrument for doing that will be a new Department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead. I therefore commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for early sight of his statement and for the telephone call we had earlier today. As he has noted, today is the fourth anniversary of the tragic murder of our friend and colleague Jo Cox. I do not need to remind the House of Jo’s commitment and dedication to international aid, or how highly she valued DFID as a power for good. I am sure the whole House will want to send best wishes to Jo’s friends and family on this difficult day.
I join the Prime Minister in sending our heartfelt best wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). To her friends, her family and her colleagues here and in Scotland, it must be very distressing.
We should see this statement for what it is: the tactics of pure distraction. Jo Cox would have seen right through this. A few hours ago, the Office for National Statistics figures showed a fall of 600,000 people on the payroll. The economy contracted by 20% in April, and we could be on the verge of a return to mass unemployment—something we have not seen for a generation. We also have one of the highest death tolls from covid-19 in the world, with at least 41,700 deaths, and the number is likely to be far greater than that. In the last hour, the Government have U-turned on free school meals. I put on record my thanks to Marcus Rashford for the part that he has played in this victory for the 1.3 million children affected. This statement is intended to deflect attention from all of that, and I assure the Prime Minister that it will not work.
The Prime Minister spoke about global Britain, and I want to take that head on. I passionately believe in Britain. I am proud of this country. I want to see it playing a leading global role again—a role that we frankly have not played in the past decade. I want to see Britain as a moral force for good in the world and a force for global justice and co-operation, leading the world on global security, leading the global search for a vaccine and leading the global fight against poverty, climate change and gender inequality. We do not achieve that by abolishing one of the best performing and most important Departments—a Department that has done so much to tackle poverty and injustice.
Labour created DFID, and I am proud of that. Until now, there has been cross-party consensus about DFID. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), the former Secretary of State for International Development, said last year:
“DfID is the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world, and a huge soft power asset for Britain.”
Today, he said that the Prime Minister’s announcement would mean, in his words,
“at a stroke, destroying a key aspect of Global Britain.”
I have worked with both the FCO and DFID across the world on rule of law projects and anti-corruption projects, and I have seen at first hand the value of DFID’s work globally.
The Prime Minister says that the 0.7% will not be eroded, but he will understand our scepticism. Will he confirm that the full DFID budget will be ring-fenced in the new Department? Will there be no loss of DFID staff numbers and expertise? How much will this reorganisation cost in the middle of this crisis?
Abolishing DFID diminishes Britain’s place in the world. There is no rationale for making this statement today. The Prime Minister should stop these distractions and get on with the job of tackling the health and economic crisis we currently face.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want a statement in the House about an important Whitehall reform, then I think he misrepresents the views of the House. It is important that we should make these statements, and I am very proud of what we are doing.
Anybody who has any experience of the matter will know that at the moment, for the UK overseas, we are less than the sum of our parts. If you travel to important foreign capitals, where we need to make our points to our friends and partners, you have UK diplomats saying one thing and then finding that the message from overseas aid—from UK aid and from DFID—is different. That undermines the coherence of our foreign policy, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that very well. It is absolutely vital that we have a coherent, joined-up message for our international partners, and that we speak with one voice.
At a time when the UK is spending £15 billion on overseas aid—0.7 % of our GDP— I think the British people will want to know what we are doing right now to make that spending more efficient, and they will want to know what we are doing to ensure that the UK is supporting the campaign to develop a vaccine against coronavirus. I am very proud of what the UK is doing. I think it is fantastic that we secured $8.8 billion at the recent summit to develop a vaccine, and I am very proud of the work that DFID is doing. And yes of course we will make sure that we guarantee the DFID budget, but what will now happen within the new Department is that every single person working in that new Whitehall super-Department—the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—will now have all the idealism and sense of mission that comes from DFID, but also the understanding of the need to project UK values, UK policies and UK interests overseas. This is a long overdue reform and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should support it.
I should like to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments on Jo Cox and our colleague, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I very much welcome his statement today. Can he confirm that this is a merger, not a takeover, and that it has the potential to enhance the role of international development in our foreign policy? Will he also confirm that this Government’s commitment to invest in and support the poorest parts of our world remains as strong as ever?
Yes, it certainly does; I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What is actually happening, of course, is that DFID and the FCO are now joining together to become a new Whitehall super-Department for international affairs, which will be of huge benefit to our ability to project Britain’s sense of mission about overseas aid. For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests, to the values that the UK wishes to express or to the diplomatic, political and commercial priorities of the Government of the UK.
I associate myself with the remarks by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party on the murder of Jo Cox four years ago. That was a day that none of us, rightly, will ever forget. I also thank the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party for their comments about my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I know that she is grateful for all the support that is being shown towards her.
Prior to the Prime Minister coming to the House today, the contents of his statement were shrouded in secrecy. We now know why. Unfortunately, it is now crystal clear what is happening. The Prime Minister and this UK Government are using the cover of a terrible pandemic to rip apart the UK’s structures for international development and humanitarian aid. At a time when we should be standing with the world’s poorest and acting as a beacon of hope, the Prime Minister is playing politics. Let me be clear: the Government are blatantly using challenging domestic circumstances as an excuse to wind down essential aid for the world’s poorest. This is shameful, and it is not in our name. We are talking about people burdened with suffering every single day, and on top of that, they too are dealing with this terrible pandemic. If these are the values of global Britain, they do not represent the values of the vast majority of people in Scotland, and we want no part in it.
In taking this decision on DFID, this UK Government are once again ignoring expert advice. Last December, more than 100 charities specialising in humanitarian relief, girls’ education, global health, clean water and sanitation strongly warned against today’s announcement. They warned that merging DFID would be
“turning our backs on the world’s poorest people”.
Only last week, an interim report from the International Development Committee said that the merger would erode accountability and shift funds from poverty reduction. Let us start with the most basic question first—and let us not have the usual bluster, Prime Minister: answer the question for once. Will he confirm that he has read the interim report by the International Development Committee on the proposed merger? Will he also confirm which aid charities he consulted before making this statement today?
DFID employs around 600 people in East Kilbride. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that all those jobs are secure and will stay in East Kilbride? On 8 June, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development asking why the Department was suspending all DFID projects except for a handful of projects that had been identified by the Government as a priority. Will he confirm whether all those suspended projects are now being scrapped?
I must respectfully tell the right hon. Gentleman that the policies that we are enacting, for which he expresses such horror—the creation of this new Whitehall super-Department—reflects what the vast majority of the OECD already does. I think I am right in saying that only one in 29 OECD countries does anything different from what we are proposing.
We are integrating our foreign policy and our massive development throw. We are going to increase it. We are going to make sure that we do even more to tackle poverty and deprivation around the world and to tackle the under-education of women and girls around the world, which is an absolute disgrace. We are going to use this powerful new Whitehall Department to do that—to give the UK extra throw weight and megawattage. That is what we need. At the moment, we are less than the sum of our parts.
As for East Kilbride, that was the height of absurdity. The right hon. Gentleman says he wants to break up the United Kingdom, yet he wants us to keep jobs in East Kilbride. Of course we are going to keep those jobs in East Kilbride. Of course we are going to support the work of those fantastic people in East Kilbride. He, by his policies, would throw that away.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been listening to a few of the things I have said over the last three years. Bringing strategic alignment to foreign policy is something that many of us have been calling for. I welcome the statement. As he has already said, it brings us into line with CANZUK countries. My Australian opposite number, to whom I spoke only an hour or so ago, praised the decision, as did my Canadian opposite number. It also brings us into line with Norway and Denmark—two countries very well-known for delivering effective aid programmes, not just in their own national interests but in the interests of the people they serve. I welcome the decision.
May I ask, however, that the Prime Minister reinforces the commitment that this is to deliver the technical expertise that DFID has demonstrated over 23 years? Just as we would not ask an ambassador to command a battle group, we would not ask somebody untrained to manage the handling or delivery of the millions of pounds that are so well and so effectively spent by people in East Kilbride and around the world on our behalf.
Absolutely. I am glad that, with his experience of foreign affairs and development, and all that he has seen around the world, my hon. Friend supports this initiative. It is absolutely vital that, in the new Department, people are multiskilled and, as I said just now to the House, that people in the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs understand how development can be a fantastic tool for the promotion not just of human rights and the tackling of poverty around the world but of the values and interests of this country at the same time. That, I think, is what the people of this country want to see.
Prime Minister, I am incredulous that you are going down this path. With a single stroke, you are getting rid of our soft power and our international standing, at a time when the development world needs us to stand together and show real leadership. Let me fact-check the Prime Minister’s statement. Aid and foreign policy are very different; one is humanitarian, one is political. ODA spend is embedded in four Acts of Parliament specifically to alleviate poverty, not to safeguard British interests.
DFID is the Department with oversight. The International Development Committee’s report of last week shows that it is the most effective and transparent at delivering aid, and the FCO has been criticised in that regard. So can the Prime Minister please explain: how will ODA spend now be scrutinised and protected; what is the timetable of this hostile takeover; and can he please detail the costs of this restructure at what must be the most inappropriate time?
Parliament will of course have the ability to scrutinise the new Department, and I imagine that Parliament will wish to set up a new Committee to do so. The timing of the change, as I said, is September, when we expect to have it all complete. I think, frankly, the hon. Lady is being, and I think many Opposition Members have been, far too negative about this. This is an opportunity for us to get value from the huge investments that we make in overseas spending; to make sure that that spending continues to tackle poverty and deprivation around the world; and to put the tackling of poverty and deprivation at the very heart—think of that: at the very heart—of UK foreign policy. That is something that I think Opposition Members should rejoice at.
I have long called for Britain to have a stronger, more authoritarian voice on the international stage as a force for good, but I have also called for a grand strategy, linking not only what the Foreign Office does and DFID does, but also Trade and Defence, to create a grand strategy and international outlook. I have also called for better strategic oversight of DFID’s spending, moving away from the archaic ODA laws, which are now out of date.
I am concerned about the timing of this, because there is an enduring emergency that must be the Government’s priority, and the Prime Minister himself mentioned the defence, security and foreign policy review, which was designed to understand what our Whitehall architecture should be, in understanding what our vision, our outlook, our place in the world should be and aspire to be. Surely, that should come first.
Can the Prime Minister also confirm that, with GDP is expected to fall, and the 2% of GDP target for defence now going to be obsolete, there will be no real-terms cuts in the defence budget?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He and I have discussed these matters many times and I think he is basically right that we do need to have an integrated strategy; we do need to have an integrated approach, and that is why this Government inaugurated the biggest, most fundamental integrated review of our foreign, security and defence policy since the cold war.
We are having this discussion now because we need to get going. Yes, it is absolutely right that we face a crisis now, but we also face a post-covid world, when the UK will need to be able to speak with one, powerful voice on the international stage, in which our idealistic ambitions for development are wholly integrated with our views on foreign policy. The UK will speak therefore all the more powerfully for that. This is the position adopted by the vast majority of countries in the OECD, as I say—I think all but one of 29 pursue this approach. It is the right reform at the right time; I believe the House should support it.
Here in Britain we have companies with great brands and great products, and there has never been a more important time to promote them overseas and in emerging markets. So can the Prime Minister ensure that the new Department will maintain the same level of global political and economic influence that was developed under DFID, while maximising opportunities for UK exporters?
Yes, I will, and I think it is only fair that UK exporters and UK companies should get a proper hearing from this Department. I do not know about hon. Members around the House, but many a time I have been asked why on earth such-and-such a water sanitising product, or whatever it happened to be, did not get a proper hearing—did not get a chance for support from the UK ODA budget. Now, we want to have entirely fair procurement. We do not wish to see taxpayers’ money wasted, but it is also vital that where the UK can do great things around the world, whether in clean technology, zero-carbon energy generation or whatever, the UK producers should get a fair crack of the whip.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the late Jo Cox and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan).
Britain’s international aid should have one overriding purpose—to help the world’s poorest. Confusing that objective for Britain’s aid budget with other foreign and security policy objectives is a massive step backwards. When the world’s poorest are exposed to the worst pandemic for a century, why has the Prime Minister chosen this moment to step back from Britain’s leadership in the fight against global poverty? Is not the Leader of the Opposition right—this is an appalling version of distraction politics?
Absolutely not, because now is exactly the moment when we need to intensify and magnify Britain’s voice abroad and to make sure that when we make our points in other countries about tackling poverty, Her Majesty’s ambassador in that country is listened to with the attention that is due to the person who commands the whole panoply of our foreign policy. That is vital for our success, and that is what we are going to achieve.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on maintaining his reforming agenda. Can he reassure the House that this is an opportunity to drive the UK’s interests globally and to protect the most vulnerable around the world? He mentioned the UK’s presidency of the G7. Does he agree that this is an opportunity to play a leading role in international organisations such as the OECD, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation?
Yes. Next year, the UK takes up the chairmanship of the G7, and we have the COP26 climate change summit. Our voice in those proceedings will be greatly magnified by having a single, powerful voice for the projection of the UK view overseas. This is a big step forward for global Britain.
Northern Ireland wants to play its full part with the rest of the United Kingdom in promoting this country overseas, and we are proud of what the United Kingdom has done across the world. As Northern Ireland approaches its centenary next year, will the Prime Minister assure me that whether it is free trade agreements, promoting the United Kingdom as a whole through our diplomatic missions, or drawing on the expertise of people from Northern Ireland in providing UK aid overseas, we will be able to play our full part in these new arrangements?
Yes, of course, I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Northern Ireland will play a full part not just in these arrangements but, as he fought for, in all the free trade deals that we do.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his commitment to our continued effort in terms of international aid. As he may know, just last week the World Bank reported that some 100 million people could be driven into extreme poverty because of the covid-19 crisis. Many developing countries’ economies are already being hit hard, with falling remittances and falling investment. I know that many are also concerned about increasing talk of protectionism in advanced economies, including by some people in this country. Will he take this opportunity to commit Britain to fighting protectionism in all its forms, because trade is as important as aid?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes a profoundly important point. There is a risk that some countries may seek to return to protectionism—to an autarchic, beggar-my-neighbour approach. That is not the way of the United Kingdom. Of course, we want to build up our own manufacturing capabilities, to make sure that we have the resilience in our economy when crises hit, but we also depend wholly on free and fair trade, and that is what we will fight for.
International aid is about assisting people who are living in unimaginable poverty. The Prime Minister’s answers today have been massively concerning. Will the priority of the new Department be to help the most vulnerable people in the world or to increase the UK’s voice abroad?
It will of course do both. Let me just explain to the hon. Lady: it is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million. We have to speak with one voice; we must project the UK overseas in a consistent and powerful way, and that is what we are going to do.
So long as the kingdom and this House resemble a stunt by the “1984” junior anti-sex league, the recovery necessary to sustain the Prime Minister’s global ambition, and indeed the £15 billion of international development aid, will evade us; surely a yard is more than enough?
My right hon. Friend invites me to comment on the social distancing rules, and he is wholly right that we will continue to review those rules. I am determined to make life as easy as possible for our retailers and our hospitality industry, but we must defeat this virus, as I am sure he knows and I am sure the people of this country understand. We are making great progress as a country: the numbers of deaths have massively come down; the number of new hospital admissions has massively come down. We continue to make progress, but we must make sure that we get the virus fully under control before we make the change my right hon. Friend wants.
In his statement, the Prime Minister said that
“a dividing line between aid and foreign policy runs through our whole system,”
but back in 1994, when that dividing line did not exist, we ended up with the Pergau dam scandal, when we poured billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into a scheme to win a foreign trade deal on arms. That led to the introduction of the International Development Act 2002, to outlaw linking aid to foreign policy. Can the Prime Minister give us a guarantee that that is not his objective?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right; there was a scandal involving the Pergau dam, and he and I remember it vividly. It was wrong that huge sums were given in aid for a project that did not have a good business case, but the International Development Act protects us from that kind of mistake and that kind of approach, and we will not take that approach. Let me stress: this is not a return to the idea of tied aid. It is very important that the House understands that. This is about coherence and projecting our mission abroad; it about projecting the UK abroad.
In combining these two Departments, does my right hon. Friend share my ambition that global Britain can be a world leader in new clean technologies such as fusion and quantum and hydrogen technology in the life sciences—and, as today we celebrate Sussex Day, also the export of English sparkling wine, creating thousands of high-quality, well-paid jobs in growth industries?
Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says about fusion research, where we lead the world at Culham, and he is right in what he says about vaccines and about hydrogen, and indeed we also lead the world in satellite technology, and of course he is completely correct in what he says about Sussex wines, which are the world’s—or among the world’s—finest.
The right hon. Gentleman is the captain of the ship of state as we navigate the perilous waters of Brexit, of covid and of civil unrest, and his priority is to rearrange the deckchairs of Whitehall. If this really is a merger, presumably— [Interruption.] I will allow him to chunter, and then I will ask my question. If this really is a merger, will the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary, both of whom are sitting on his Front Bench now, be applying equally for the new job of Colonial Secretary?
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the post of Colonial Secretary; I do not know quite what planet he is on. We are going forward with a single new Whitehall Department for international affairs, which I believe will add greatly to this country’s global throw-weight. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should applaud this change. It reflects what is done by the overwhelming majority of countries in the OECD—most of our friends and partners; indeed, all our friends and partners I can think of. We should get with the programme and support it.
Order. Hon. Members must not shout at the Prime Minister. We are here to ask questions, not make long preambles to questions. If we do not have shorter questions, I am afraid that not everyone will get the chance to ask their question. And if the questions are shorter, I know the Prime Minister will thus be able to give shorter answers.
I welcome this change. The logic of it is overwhelming and it will be a great day for our diplomatic clout. However, that depends on the values that underpin global Britain. Our ability to exercise leadership in the relief of poverty, justice and the international rule of law will depend on those values. They will get an immediate test. In two weeks’ time, our ally Israel will annex elements of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. That will be a grave breach of international law. Surely we must try to divert Israel from that prospect with real sanctions if it breaches international law?
Order. Before the Prime Minister even answers that question, nobody was listening: short questions and then the Prime Minister can give short answers.
Yes, I believe that what is proposed by Israel would amount to a breach of international law. We have strongly objected. We believe profoundly in a two-state solution and we will continue to make that case.
If the Prime Minister is serious about global Britain, why has he left our world-leading aerospace and defence industry in a downward holding pattern? We have already seen thousands of job losses in communities that can ill afford to lose them. With the right action now, the UK could lead the global race in a green revolution in defence and aerospace. Will he make that his vision of global Britain, rather than another unnecessary Whitehall reorganisation?
That is indeed what we are doing. I have spoken to the head of Rolls-Royce and other companies about exactly the vision for aerospace that the hon. Lady describes. There is a big opportunity for this country to lead the world in low-carbon aerospace technologies and that is what this Government are going to do.
Does the Prime Minister agree that global Britain is not just about pursuing an ambitious independent trade policy, but that at its heart it is about championing values? Does he further agree that to make that a reality we must strengthen our voice on the world stage and be unafraid to call out countries that threaten those values and the rules-based international order?
I believe that this will be a profoundly beneficial change for both the FCO and DFID. It will infuse the whole of our foreign policy with the missionary zeal and sense of idealism that characterises the very best of our aid experts. They are the best in the world, and they will now be at the absolute heart of UK foreign policy. That is the right place for them to be.
All I am hearing from today’s exchanges is that we will only help the poorest in the world if they are buying British goods. Words fail me at the cowardly abdication of Britain’s global responsibility to the poorest in the world. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. The covid crisis can only be resolved if the poorest countries get rid of the virus or control it. Will the Prime Minister reconsider this globally illiterate and morally reprehensible move?
The hon. Lady should look at what this country is actually doing to tackle coronavirus around the world, giving more than any other country to the search for a virus. I do not know if she saw what happened at the recent Gavi summit, but she should be proud of what this country is doing to tackle the virus around the world.
As someone who started their career in emerging markets, may I roundly welcome this move? Does the Prime Minister agree that as the world changes it speaks to how developing countries want to receive aid: not in isolation, but as part of a comprehensive dialogue across trade, investment, technology, diplomacy and defence so that they can achieve their own goals?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The confusion one finds in the capitals of our partners around the world must end. They must understand that the UK Government speak with a single voice and a powerful, clear message from a new international Department that I think will do a power of good around the world. We already punch above our weight; this will help us to punch even harder.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the areas of his missionary zeal for this Department should be tackling corruption? If we could make progress there, it would help the stability of regimes around the world.
Yes, indeed. The UK leads the world in tackling corruption and money laundering, and once again that agenda will have far more heft after the integration of the two Departments.
It is hard to see this decision as anything but a populist stunt that flies in the face of what the coronavirus pandemic tells us: that we are all interconnected in this world. What consultation did the Government carry out with humanitarian and development experts, as well as leading aid organisations, before the decision was made?
I can assure the hon. Lady that there has been massive consultation over a long period. It is my own personal and direct experience that the UK, although it does a fantastic job with development aid, could do even better with a powerful, single, integrated voice of the kind I am describing and which we will bring into existence in September.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision. I know from my work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy when I was the Vice-Chairman (International) of the Conservative Party that often there are tensions between DFID and the Foreign Office over its funding. Furthermore, as he will know, our friends and allies in the Caribbean felt very let down after the hurricanes when they could not get the support they needed. He will also be aware of the money we have put into the refugee camps for the Syria crisis and other things. Can he confirm, therefore, that this decision is not a watering down but will result in a stronger and more efficient approach and that the most vulnerable people in society and the programmes we have to do will get an enhanced service from the UK?
That is right. It was one of the absurdities of the rules of the Disasters Emergency Committee that vulnerable island states in the Caribbean were not eligible for ODA, and we had to fight to get that change. Now with this new super-Department we will be able to argue as one across our friends and partners around the world for new perspectives on those problems, and work together to tackle them.
At this time of national crisis, would it not be better if the Prime Minister used what he described as our megawattage to sort out some of our domestic problems, such as the 20,000 job losses in the caravan industry around Hull, the threat to Hull Trains’ open access service—130 jobs—or getting a grip of the education shambles that his Education Secretary has been leading on so that we can get our kids back to school safely?
I am sure that the hon. Lady would want to join me in encouraging all parents to send their kids back to the schools that are open and waiting to receive them. I am sure that she and the Leader of the Opposition will want to join everybody in saying it is safe to go back to school.
The Prime Minister has done exactly the right thing to ensure there is a Foreign Office with a laser-like focus on aid and diplomacy, but what involvement will trade have in this mix so that compassionate aid and international trade work hand in glove?
We are keeping the Department for International Trade separate, and it is working hard on free trade deals, as it must for the moment, but it is very important that in post—in missions around the world—there will be a single point of reference for Governments who need to understand the UK position. It is a powerful change. The ambassadors around the world will be newly empowered and authorised to project the UK’s point of view.
How is it compatible with global Britain to be the only country in the world at this stage of the covid pandemic, and as the rest of Europe opens up, to be putting up a great, big “closed for business” sign in the form the Prime Minister’s quarantine policy?
It is curious that the right hon. Member says that because, as far as I know, the quarantine policy is actively supported by the shadow Foreign Secretary at the very least, and indeed supported by the Labour party. If he is dissenting from his own party, I perfectly understand that, but the reason for our policy is of course to prevent the reinfection of this country, as we drive the virus down, by people coming back from countries where it is out of control.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is in Britain’s interests to have a poverty reduction programme across the world? Will he guarantee, after this change, that the Government will still continue to concentrate on education and health, particularly the education of girls, across the world and that—not only for the benefit of Britain, but for humanitarian purposes—we carry on the poverty reduction programmes?
Yes, and at the heart of the mission of the new Department will be 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, which I think is probably the single best thing you could do for the future of our planet.
We are in the midst of a pandemic crisis, a trade agreement crisis and an economic crisis. While the Prime Minister is struggling to respond to each of these, why has he decided that now is the time to distract his attention with this internal reorganisation to water down aid, as opposed to addressing the crises sitting on his desk?
We are getting on with the business of governing this country, improving our international performance and making sure that the UK is able to speak with a single, powerful voice overseas. That is vital now in this crisis, and it is going to be vital as the crisis comes to an end.