Before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of James Furlong, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and David Wails, who were brutally killed in Reading on Saturday. To assault defenceless people in a park is an act not simply of wickedness, but of abject cowardice. We will never yield to those who would seek to destroy our way of life.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the next steps in our plan to rebuild our economy and reopen our society, while waging our struggle against covid-19. From the outset, we have trusted in the common sense and perseverance of the British people, and their response has more than justified our faith. Since I set out our plan on 11 May, we have been clear that our cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional on our continued defeat of the virus. In the first half of May, nearly 69,000 people tested positive for covid-19 across the UK; by the first half of June, that total had fallen by nearly 70% to just under 22,000. The number of new infections is now declining by between 2% and 4% every day.
Four weeks ago, an average of one in 400 people in the community in England had covid-19; in the first half of June, the figure was one in 1,700. We created a human shield around the NHS, and in turn our doctors and nurses have protected us. Together, we have saved our hospitals from being overwhelmed. On 11 May, 1,073 people were admitted to hospital in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with covid-19; by 20 June, the figure had fallen by 74% to 283.
This pandemic has inflicted permanent scars, and we mourn everyone we have lost. Measured by a seven-day rolling average, the number of daily deaths peaked at 943 on 14 April. On 11 May, it was 476 and yesterday the rolling average stood at 130. We have ordered over 2.2 billion items of protective equipment from UK-based manufacturers, many of whose production lines have been called into being to serve this new demand. And yesterday we conducted or posted 139,659 tests, bringing the total to over 8 million.
While we remain vigilant, we do not believe that there is currently—currently—a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS. Taking everything together, we continue to meet our five tests, and the chief medical officers of all four home nations have downgraded the UK’s covid alert level from 4 to 3, meaning that we no longer face the virus spreading exponentially, although it remains in general circulation.
The Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hold responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions, and they will respond to the united view of the chief medical officers at their own pace, based on their own judgment. But all parts of the UK are now travelling in the same direction, and we will continue to work together to ensure that everyone in our country gets the support they need.
Thanks to our progress, we can now go further and safely ease the lockdown in England. At every stage, caution will remain our watchword, and each step will be conditional and reversible. Given the significant fall in the prevalence of the virus, we can change the 2-metre social distancing rule from 4 July. I know that this rule effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy, even without other restrictions—for example, it prevents all but a fraction of our hospitality industry from operating. That is why almost two weeks ago I asked our experts to conduct a review; I will place a summary of their conclusions in the Libraries of both Houses this week.
Where it is possible to keep 2 metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of 1 metre-plus, meaning that they should remain 1 metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission. We are today publishing guidance on how business can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. Those include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, improving ventilation, the use of protective screens and face coverings, closing non-essential social spaces, providing hand sanitiser, or changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams. We already mandate face coverings on public transport.
While the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge that those mitigations would make 1 metre-plus broadly equivalent to the risk at 2 metres, if those mitigations are fully implemented. Either would be acceptable, and our guidance will change accordingly. That vital change enables the next stage of our plan to ease the lockdown.
I am acutely conscious that people will ask legitimate questions about why certain activities are allowed, when others are not, but I must ask the House to understand that the virus has no interest in such debates. Its only ambition is to exploit any opportunities to recapture ground that we might carelessly vacate, and to reinfect our communities. There is only one certainty, which is that the fewer social contacts someone has, the safer they will be, and our duty as a Government is to guide the British people, balancing our overriding aim of controlling the virus against our natural desire to bring back normal life.
We cannot lift all the restrictions at once, so we have to make difficult judgments. Every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence. Our principle is to trust the British public to use their common sense in the full knowledge of the risks, remembering that the more we open up, the more vigilant we will need to be. From now on, we will ask people to follow guidance on social contact, instead of legislation, and in that spirit we advise that from 4 July, two households of any size should be able to meet in any setting, inside or out. That does not mean that they must always be the same two households; it will, for instance, be possible to meet one set of grandparents one weekend, and the other set the following weekend. We are not recommending meetings of multiple households indoors, because of the risk of creating greater chains of transmission. Outside, the guidance remains that people from several households can meet in groups of up to six, and it follows that two households can also meet, regardless of size.
Mr Speaker, I can tell the House that we will also reopen restaurants and pubs. All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service, and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact. We will ask businesses to help NHS test and trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers, as happens in other countries, and we will work with the sector to make that manageable. Almost as eagerly awaited as a pint will be a haircut—particularly by me, Mr Speaker—and we will reopen hairdressers with appropriate precautions, including the use of visors. We also intend to allow some other close-contact services such as nail bars to reopen as soon as we can, once we are confident that they can operate in a covid-secure way.
From 4 July, provided that no more than two households stay together, people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as campsites, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen if they can do so safely, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs and community centres.
Close-proximity venues such as nightclubs, soft play areas, indoor gyms, swimming pools and spas will, I am afraid, need to remain closed for now, as will bowling alleys and waterparks, but my right hon. Friends the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary will establish taskforces with public health experts and those sectors to help them to become covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.
We will also work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. Recreation and sport will be allowed, but indoor facilities, including changing rooms and courts, will remain closed, and people should only play close-contact team sports with members of their household.
I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown. I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings, with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.
Meanwhile, our courts, probation services, police stations and other public services will increasingly resume face-to-face proceedings. Wraparound care for school-age children and formal childcare will restart over the summer. Primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance, and those children who can already go to school should do so, because it is safe.
We will publish covid-secure guidelines for every sector that is reopening, and slowly but surely these measures will restore a sense of normality. After the toughest restrictions in peacetime history, we are now able to make life easier for people, so that they can see more of their friends and families, and to help businesses get back on their feet and get people back into work.
The virus has not gone away, however. We will continue to monitor the data with the joint biosecurity centre and our ever more effective test and trace system. I must be clear to the House that, as we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups, for which local measures will be needed. We will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions, even at national level, if required. I urge everyone to stay alert, control the virus and save lives. Let us keep washing our hands; staying 2 metres apart wherever feasible, mitigating the risks at 1 metre where it is not; avoiding public transport where possible and wearing a mask when we have to use public transport; getting tested immediately if we have symptoms; and self-isolating if instructed to do so by NHS test and trace.
Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end. Life is returning to our streets and to our shops, the bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable, but I must say to the House that it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and to see us to victory over this virus. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement. I join him in sending our condolences to the families and friends of those who died or were injured in Reading on Saturday. This was a truly appalling attack, and I extend our thanks to the police officers and members of the public who showed incredible bravery in response. I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) at the weekend and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying to the people of Reading that we stand with them at this incredibly difficult time.
When I was elected leader of the Labour party, I said that I would offer
“constructive opposition, with the courage to support the Government”—[Official Report, 22 April 2020; Vol. 675, c. 41.]
where they are doing the right thing. We will, of course, scrutinise the details of the announcement and study the guidance, and there are obviously a number of questions that need to be answered, but overall I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement. I believe that the Government are trying to do the right thing, and in that we will support them.
There are no easy decisions to be made here. Any unlocking carries risks. It has to be phased, managed and carefully planned; it needs to be based on scientific evidence, properly communicated and accompanied by robust track and trace systems; and there must be support for local councils and communities to respond quickly and decisively if there are any fresh outbreaks. But there are risks of inaction as well—of keeping businesses and schools closed, of keeping our economy closed, and of keeping families apart. We all need to recognise that today.
I have a number of questions about the basis for these decisions, which I hope the Prime Minister will address in a constructive way. First, on the scientific evidence, I listened carefully to what he said about the 2-metre rule and the 1-metre rule. Can he assure the House that the package of measures is agreed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser? What assessment has been made of the overall impact on transmission of the virus and on the R rate, both nationally and regionally?
On preventing a second spike and reintroducing measures as needed, the Prime Minister knows that local authorities will have to be central to that, but they need the resources and the powers. What additional support is he providing to councils? What new powers for swift local lockdown will be needed should there be a spike in infections?
On protection of those working, particularly on the frontline, we all want people to go back to work, but it has to be safe and standards have to be enforced. What enforceable measures will the Prime Minister put in place to give confidence to those who are returning to work?
On support for businesses, these changes are necessary, but they will be complex. Many businesses have already spent thousands of pounds preparing to operate at 2 metres. These changes will particularly be felt by small businesses and those on the high street, so what support can be given to them to address that?
On schools, I do think that it is safe for some children to return. I completely support that; the question is how quickly we can get all children back to school safely, the sooner the better. It was the Education Secretary who told the House on 9 June that it would not be possible to bring all children back to school before the summer. One of the reasons we support today’s announcement is that it will make it more possible, and easier, to get children back to school more quickly. We will support that, and my offer to work with the Prime Minister on that stands.
Finally, on test, track and trace, the Prime Minister will know that we have very serious concerns about the gaps in the current system, including the absence of an app. Getting this right is essential to unlocking in a safe manner, and it is important that the Prime Minister clarifies when the full track, trace and isolate system will be in place.
Today is an important step in the fight against this virus. We will scrutinise the detail, and we do want more clarity, but we welcome the thrust of the statement.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the spirit, the manner and the constructive way in which he has responded. On his points, we do believe that all five tests have been met. That means that the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been intimately involved in every stage of developing the programme, and they believe it to be a step in our plan that allows us to go ahead while meeting that crucial test of not triggering a second wave.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about support for local councils, and I have said that we are putting in another £3.2 billion to support them, as well as £600 million to support their responsibilities for social care. Clearly their responsibilities have not ended, but neither has our support. We will get this country through this crisis by doing everything it takes.
That brings me to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question about businesses. I do not think there is another country in the world that has done quite so much to support our workforce and our employees. Under the coronavirus job retention scheme, we have supported 11 million people. We have supported 2.6 million self-employed people and £26 billion in bounce-back loans alone have been given out by the Government, to say nothing of the huge support in grants. We are very confident that it is one of the most extraordinary packages to be provided by any Government around the world, and we will continue to support our businesses.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions track and trace and isolate. Of course it is perfectly true that it would be great to have an app, but no country currently has a functioning track and trace app. The great success of NHS test and trace is that, contrary to some of the scepticism that we heard—alas—from those on the Opposition Benches, so far it has contacted 87,000 people who have been in contact with those who have coronavirus, and they have elected voluntarily to self-isolate and stop the disease from spreading in the community. That is a fantastic success by our NHS test and trace operation, and we will continue to develop and improve that so as to crack down on local outbreaks and enable our country to go forward.
May I finally say how welcome it was to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he actively supports children returning to school and that he believes that returning to school is safe? I think he said that.
I do not want to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of making a U-turn, but there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth and so on. It is good to have his support on that matter today. I welcome the spirit and the manner in which he has responded to this statement today.
With continuing relatively high rates of infection across Bedford borough, I welcome the Prime Minister’s balanced transition from over-reliance on regulation to greater reliance on the common sense of British businesses and employees. Will the Prime Minister now build on the exceptional programme of economic support provided to businesses with an ambitious acceleration of his levelling up programme, in particular drawing on and unlocking the creativity of our entrepreneurs, our small businesses and our innovators?
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party on the outrage that took place on Saturday in Reading? Our thoughts are very much with the family and friends of James Furlong, of Joe Ritchie-Bennett and of David Wails. We give grateful thanks to all our emergency services for the work that they continue to do. On this day, we also acknowledge the sad death of Harry Smith, the former political reporter for ITV and Scottish Television. He will be sadly missed.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement. Today’s announcement will be understandably welcomed by many, but for every word of welcome, there must follow words of caution. The virus has not gone away. The margins for ensuring it does not take off again remain tight. Keeping people safe remains the first priority. We cannot put a price on human life. China and Germany are right now dealing with spikes in cases as a result of significant outbreaks. Health officials in South Korea have said they think the country is now experiencing a second wave. A similar experience here would amount to not just a health disaster, but an economic disaster. It would wipe out all the hard-won progress and self-sacrifice over recent months. It is vital that our collective efforts remain focused on preventing the disaster of a second spike.
We must remain cautious, too, because the public are well used to hearing grand announcements from the Prime Minister, only for a U-turn to follow days or weeks later. Not only have the UK Government wasted precious time on introducing a botched test and trace system, but they have wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the process. That is why it is essential that the next steps are directed solely by the science, rather than political pressures. Can he confirm, therefore, that he will publish not just the conclusions but the full review on social distancing measures and the scientific advice given?
We know that a review of quarantining measures following foreign travel was due next week. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the introduction of any air bridges will be based on public health assessments, not economic assessments? Can he also confirm that the devolved Governments will be closely involved and party to any arrangements with any country on air bridges? Finally, to maintain full clarity, will he reaffirm that the announcements today are solely for England and that the citizens of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland should continue to follow public health advice from their own Governments?
On that last point, of course I can confirm that, as indeed I said in my statement, although I observe that the harmony between all four home nations is much closer than one might sometimes believe from listening to the right hon. Gentleman. But I agreed with a great deal of what he said. He is right to express caution and to anticipate the risk of second spikes. We will, I am afraid, see future outbreaks. I must be absolutely clear with the House about that. We will see future outbreaks and we will be in a much better position now to control them. I will of course publish the measures on social distancing and how the decision was reached on social distancing, and as I said we will place that in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mr Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman had one more question, which I am afraid I cannot remember. What was it—about public health? I cannot remember. I will write to him. [Hon. Members: “Air bridges.”] Air bridges! Thank you. Sorry, Mr Speaker. He asked an important question about air bridges. We will ensure that the devolved Administrations are kept in close contact as we develop our plans, and our plans for quarantine will be based entirely on public health, as he rightly suggested they should be. That will be our criterion. We will not be led by any excessive desire to risk life by opening up the economy too fast. We will have a policy on air bridges that is based on public health, as he rightly says we should.
I very much welcome the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced to the 2 metre rule, which is great news for pubs and restaurants such as the Moat House and the Staffordshire Bull, which are at the heart of the community in Staffordshire. Can he give me an assurance that, as we move to 1 metre-plus, it will be safe for us to trust in the common sense of the British people to reduce transmission? May I take this opportunity to invite the Prime Minister to have a pint in my constituency?
I join the Prime Minister in sending our condolences to the family and friends of the victims of the appalling attacks in Reading. The Prime Minister wants to reassure us that lockdown can be safely eased, while rightly warning that there is a danger of a second wave of coronavirus later this year. If he is right and there is breathing space now, surely it is urgent that we learn the lessons. So I ask him this again: will he urgently set up an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of this pandemic?
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, which reflects very closely the advice that my Select Committee has taken. He has a new advisory group, which I am glad about, because the best role for SAGE is on broad questions of science rather than every minute policy. Can he specify whether the ban on cricket has come to an end? Cricket is perhaps our most socially distanced team sport. We have lost half the summer, but there is another half left to be enjoyed by players and spectators alike.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. This goes to the point that I was trying to make to the House earlier—everybody will want to add something to the great wheelbarrow of measures that we are taking, and at a certain point, there will come a straw that breaks the camel’s back. The problem with cricket, as everybody understands, is that the ball is a natural vector of disease, potentially at any rate. We have been round it many times with our scientific friends. At the moment, we are still working on ways to make cricket more covid-secure, but we cannot change the guidance yet.
May I echo the comments in relation to the victims of the terrible atrocity in Reading? Our thoughts are with their families. I support the Prime Minister’s contention that a four-nation approach is very important. In that context, will he commit to share the rationale, data, scientific evidence and advice upon which these decisions are based with the Northern Ireland Executive and our chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, to ensure that we continue to take that co-ordinated approach?
This news will be a relief for so many pub owners in Hyndburn and Haslingden, whether it be the Green Squirrel or the Heys Inn. The relaxation of the 2 metre rule will make it that little bit easier for micropubs such as the Vault, Hustle Bar and the Knuzden Tap. Can the Prime Minister assure me that the Government will work closely with local authorities so that pubs and restaurants are able to utilise their outdoor space, and will he visit Hyndburn and Haslingden?
There is hardly any area of the country that I do not intend to visit in the course of the reopening of pubs and hostelries. There is a massive opportunity now for our pubs, with all their inventiveness, to think of ways of making their businesses covid-secure, exploiting hitherto unloved and unvalued outdoor spaces that may become havens for tables and chairs and using their ingenuity to open up in all the ways that they can.
People crave confidence and competence. With England’s so-called world-beating app scrapped before it even launched, contact tracers unable to reach a third of positive cases and no financial scheme to support workers when public health requires them to self-isolate, what assessment has the Prime Minister made of the risks to business and public confidence if local lockdowns or a second peak prove beyond his Government’s ability to manage?
The right hon. Lady knows very well that the Government have invested record sums in protecting businesses, by comparison with any other country. We have done more to protect businesses around the whole of the country, including in Wales. I said that we are proceeding as one UK, and we are. I have my doubts about the 5 mile rule in Wales and wonder whether that might be something that was reviewed. But she makes a very important point about the need to protect against a second outbreak and to make sure that we are in good shape to crack down on flare-ups. I believe that we are and I believe to an extent that perhaps we did not think possible a month ago we are able to do local whack-a-mole in the way that she has described.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend? This announcement, particularly the reduction of the distancing rule, will save hundreds of thousands of jobs, so he has already done a good day’s work today. May I ask him to ensure the practicality of future guidance? Complex rules about who can do what and where and when they can do it may seem rational when discussed around a table in Whitehall, but if they are too complex and too unclear, people will not obey them, so can he make sure that the rules for the future are as clear, simple and understandable as possible?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. A message such as, “Stay at home. Protect the NHS” is very simple. Everybody can see what they have to do. Getting into the easing of the lockdown is much more complex, but I think that the guidance that we have set out today is intelligible. People will understand what they need to do. The British people have shown massive common sense so far and I am sure that they will continue to do so.
Last week in my constituency, in Cleckheaton, we had a covid-19 outbreak in a meat processing factory. Kirklees Council acted swiftly and efficiently. My concern is with the Government’s easing of lockdown. We will see these localised outbreaks. With the Health and Safety Executive having its budget cut by 50% since 2010, can the Government ensure that Kirklees and other councils will have all the money they need to keep our communities safe? And what investigations are going ahead from Government to look at why meat processing particularly is exposed to covid-19 outbreaks not just in this country, but around the world, so that we can keep those members of staff safe?
We will certainly look into what is happening to meat processing, and the hon. Member is right to draw attention to that phenomenon. We have seen it in Anglesey and in Germany. We need to get to the bottom of what is happening. We are putting more into the Health and Safety Executive, as she knows. We are giving another £14 million to bolster it, and local councils will be fortified in implementing local lockdowns by central Government and the joint biosecurity centre so that we are able to crack down very efficiently on these flare-ups as they happen.
Going to the pub is a great British institution and vital if we want to get our economy back on track. Will the Prime Minister therefore join me in calling on people from the 4th of July to do their patriotic best for Britain and go to the pub?
Yes. I do encourage people to take advantage of the freedoms that they are rightly reacquiring, but I must stress that people should act in a responsible way. I know that that is where the public are and that that is what people want to see. They want to see this reopening happening gradually. They want to see the frost leaving the tundra slowly. They understand the risks that we still face. So yes, I want to see people out in the shops—it is a fantastic thing to see. Yes, I want to see people taking advantage of hospitality again—a wonderful thing. Yes, I want to see people enjoying friends and family again, but they have to do it in a responsible way and observe social distancing.
As we attempt to move people back into the workplace, the job retention scheme is being abused by some companies to make employees redundant before August, when employers would have to pay a percentage of their salary. Moreover, others, like British Airways, are threatening to fire tens of thousands of loyal workers and rehire them, some on slashed pay and poorer conditions. The Prime Minister said that he was looking at what we can do, so will he back my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), whose Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill addresses this iniquity?
I will of course study the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. [Interruption.] I will cause it to be studied. He knows very well that this country has given unprecedented and unequalled support to workers and to businesses. I think that 1 million companies have taken advantage of the job retention scheme, and 2.6 million self-employed people. There is nothing like it around the world. We should be very proud of what the UK has done, and we will continue to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing to beat this virus.
As my right hon. Friend has said, the primary aim of policy was to stop the NHS being swamped, and that was met, which is a great achievement. But will he take this opportunity to restate that in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the virus will stay in circulation? What people refer to as a second wave is in fact a continuation of the first wave—it has not gone away. We can expect flare-ups, as we have seen in Germany. While the measures today are welcome—incidentally, they give a whole new meaning to the phrase “safe drinking”—their observation will be vital if we are to avoid a widespread second lockdown, which would be an economic and social disaster for the country.
That is absolutely right. There have been two important changes in our arsenal in the past six weeks or so. The first has obviously been NHS test and trace, which is getting better the whole time, and is invaluable in fighting the disease. The second is the treatments. Dexamethasone, which was tested in this country, really does make a big difference to the mortality of the disease, and I have no doubt that other progress will be made. He is right to be reserved about the possibilities of getting a full vaccine; that is going to be very difficult. But in the meantime, we will have to remain extremely vigilant and extremely cautious.
Today, despite a strong test and trace regime, a region in Germany had to impose a specific lockdown on several hundred thousand people due to a dangerously high R number. We know that unfortunately, while we are progressing, we are only at the end of the beginning of our restrictions. The Prime Minister is right to say that the job retention and self-employed schemes have been vital to many people. What contingency does he have in place for ad hoc localised lockdowns that may be required, and will he roll out localised versions of job retention schemes for those areas?
There are approximately 1 million 16 to 18-year-olds in England, and some 700,000 study in colleges. Astonishingly, this week’s education catch-up plan omitted those colleges, including many in my constituency of Cambridge. Can the Prime Minister explain the Government’s thinking behind this, and will he sort it out?
We will of course do everything we can to ensure that not just our schools but our colleges get the attention that they need. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is massive investment now going into the rebuilding of further education colleges and ensuring that our FE college sector gets the investment it deserves.
I warmly welcome the news from the Prime Minister regarding the tourism sector, which will be especially well received in East Devon. Of course, he is more than welcome to visit any time. Can he confirm that the Government will publish full guidance to ensure that businesses can keep themselves and their customers safe while keeping the virus under control?
The Prime Minister has highlighted examples around the world where restrictions have been relaxed and where there has been a subsequent resurgence of the virus, and he has said that he will not hesitate to reintroduce restrictions if required. I would just like to get an unambiguous commitment from him about not seeing anyone penalised for doing the right thing to combat this virus. If it was necessary to continue with the furlough and self-employment support schemes beyond October, would his Government do so?
We have said what we have said about the furloughing scheme. It is our intention, obviously, to make sure that we are not in a situation where we have to keep those national schemes going. That is why the furlough scheme is tapering off in October. But, clearly—and I have said what I have said—if there are localised outbreaks or, indeed, if it is nationally necessary to put the brakes back on, then nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.
In the last few weeks, we have seen a real outpouring of love and kindness across our communities across the country for our older citizens, and that is quite right, but we have not seen the same thing for our youngest citizens. Can the Prime Minister tell me what the Government are doing for those who have had a baby during lockdown or, indeed, who are struggling to cope—as he might be—with the challenge of having a new baby with so little face-to-face support?
Oh, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am personally coping fine, thank you—[Interruption.] Well, thank you. What we are doing, as she will have heard in my statement, is that wraparound childcare is coming back for the summer and, as she knows, early years is open and reception is open—and would it not be a fine thing to hear from the Labour party that it is safe for all young kids to go back?
This morning, I met those from Disability Rights UK who are worried that support for shielded people is being removed too quickly. In their words, “If Government can be sensitive to business until October, why can’t they be sensitive to personal needs?” Throughout this crisis, communication with shielded and disabled people has been poor. Will the Prime Minister commit to working closely with these groups to ensure clearer, more regular communication as we move out of lockdown and towards planning for a second wave?
The hon. Member raises a very important point. In fact, we have extended the shielding programme, as you know, Mr Speaker, till the end of July, and 3 million food parcels have already been delivered to shielded people. What we want to see is a situation in which the prevalence—the incidence—is so low that the shielding programme no longer needs to continue in its current way, and I think that should be a shared ambition around the House and around the country. Too many elderly, vulnerable people have been kept in close confinement for too long, and we must help them to a new way out.
This statement paves the way for Britain to bounce back with most of the hospitality sector reopening, and it gives us more confidence for the 10th anniversary Gloucester history festival in September. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, while many of us want to see cricket played again safely and air bridges established as soon as possible, the absolutely crucial goal is for all children, and pupils and students at FE colleges and universities to be able to go back to school, college and university in the autumn absolutely safely?
Absolutely. A point I perhaps could have made to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who I think is no longer in his seat, is that it is our intention to get not just schools but FE colleges back as well in September, and get our young people back where they need to be—in education and preparing for their future.
It seems the Prime Minister has given up working with all four nations. Cobra has not met for weeks, daily communications have ended and I am pretty sure the First Minister of Wales has forgotten what the Prime Minister even looks like. Does he not believe that his actions are leading to a disjointed rather than united Union, and given that recent data suggest that the people of Wales have far more confidence in the Welsh Government’s handling of this pandemic than the people of England do in his, should he not perhaps be following the strategy championed by the Labour Government of Wales?
I make no comment on the blessed amnesia that has descended on the First Minister of Wales, except to say that, actually, when we look at the facts and what the UK is doing together, we can see that we are in much closer harmony than someone would suspect from what the hon. Lady says. One detail—one wrinkle—to which I respectfully draw her attention is that I am not sure that the five-mile limit rule is entirely necessary; perhaps that needs to be rethought.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the clarity he has given today to the hospitality and tourism sector in the great south-west. Will he also give a glimmer of hope that the Government will look sympathetically at more support over the winter, if necessary, to ensure that this very seasonal sector can survive such a restricted season?
Yes, indeed—although, as my hon. Friend already knows, we are doing a massive amount to support businesses of all kinds, particularly by getting rid of business rates for the whole of next year. One thing that I would say, respectfully, to all those who represent tourist areas of this country, is that now is perhaps the time to send out a welcoming signal to those from other parts of our country and to roll out the welcome mat, rather than the “Not welcome here” sign. That is something that we could do together.
My right hon. Friend’s announcement will be welcome to hospitality businesses in Penistone and Stocksbridge, which are keen to reopen after a difficult period, but many workers and business owners are parents as well and cannot return to work until their children are back at school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order for those businesses to recover, we need all children to be back at school in September? Also, will he confirm that this announcement means that in the meantime people can start to ask friends and family for help with childcare?
We are witnessing even countries such as Germany, with good control of covid-19, develop outbreaks that centre around meat processing plants. What explanation has the Prime Minister been given for this trend, and how on earth does he think it will be improved by cutting the safe distance from 2 metres to 1 metre?
That is a very good question. We are looking at exactly what is happening in meat processing plants. Currently, two theories have been advanced to me: one is about the cold environment in the plants, which may be propitious to the virus, and the other is the possibility that staff are congregating in such a way as to spread the virus. We do not know what it is, but we are investigating. Wherever outbreaks take place, we will use local cluster-busting techniques to stamp them out.
I warmly welcome the statement and strongly endorse the move to relying on common sense and the responsibility of the British people from 4 July. However, the blanket quarantine proposal is not common sense when it applies to countries that are entirely safe and have no coronavirus. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that air bridges are in place no later than 4 July.
The House will have heard what I have had to say about air bridges repeatedly since the quarantine announcement was made. We do understand the balance, but we also understand the vital necessity of protecting our country from reinfection from abroad. Every serious country that has got this disease under control has had to introduce a quarantine for people coming into or back into the country.
A number of countries will be surprised by the Prime Minister’s claim that they do not have a functioning track and trace app.
Given that it is costing Britain thousands of jobs and millions of pounds a day and has no basis in the science, why is the Prime Minister waiting another two weeks to scrap his disastrous blanket quarantine policy?
The Marina and Seagull theatres in Lowestoft, and the Fisher theatre in Bungay, play lead and irreplaceable roles in their local communities and economies. I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government will work with the arts industry so that theatres can reopen as soon as possible. However, they are really struggling, so may I urge him to look at putting in place specific support until the time that viable reopening is possible?
Yes, indeed. I know how valuable the theatre sector—and the whole entertainment sector—is to our economy. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is talking to those sectors right now to see what we can do to help them, while ensuring that they can come back in a covid-secure way.
What is the public health message that the Prime Minister is conveying by opening pubs ahead of the full opening of schools?
I think that most people will understand that we want as much of our business sector and economy to open as possible, in a covid-secure way. The hon. Lady will also understand that we want our schools to open in a safe way. That is why we have done what we have done and made the announcements that we have made. It has only been possible to open schools to some classes before the summer break, alas; but we are ahead of many other countries in Europe in doing so. As she will know, there are other countries that are not opening any of their schools. I must say that I welcome the logic of what she is saying, because if she is now actively going to encourage kids to go back to school and stop the long silence of the Opposition on this matter, that will be a great thing.
Will the Prime Minister cause his experts to be worked night and day until they find the fix and, when they have got it, to straightaway allow spas and nail bars to reopen? And when there are flare-ups, will he eschew the temptation to return to collective punishment?
That is a very good way of putting it. We want, so far as we possibly can, to confine our action to the localities where the flare-ups have happened. That is why it is vital that everybody listens to the balance of this guidance today, follows the guidance on 2 metres and on 1 metre-plus, continues to observe social distancing—and we will get this thing done.
It is good news that people can start socialising and meeting in public again, but what is the Prime Minister going to do to ensure that destination communities, such as the one I represent in Brighton and Hove, are extra safe? People will be meeting and drinking at places such as on the seafront and in parks, where it will be impossible to get the names and addresses of every customer. There will be other pinch points where lots of people from various destinations will be rubbing up against each other. What will he do, in the absence of the promised app, to ensure that these communities are destinations for investment and not destinations for covid?
I will be calling on local representatives such as the hon. Gentleman to show some guts and determination, and to champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support. He can do that with confidence because, as I say, we are introducing a sensible package of measures that allows businesses gradually to reopen while ensuring social distancing. It is that mixture—plus the NHS test and trace scheme—that allows us to go forward; that is the formula that I believe works. As for the issue of putting names behind the bar or registering in restaurants, I do think that that is something that people get. As far as possible, we want people to do that and businesses to comply with it. We believe that it will be very important for our ability to track back and stop outbreaks happening. The hon. Gentleman should encourage all businesses in his constituency to take the names of customers.
I very much welcome the statement from the Prime Minister, but he will be aware that my constituents will not get the benefit of the measures announced today, as the First Minister of Scotland is delaying Scotland’s release from lockdown. Does the Prime Minister agree that the First Minister should share the evidence to justify why Scotland has taken a different approach from the rest of the United Kingdom?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has his finger on the pulse. I was earlier informed that the First Minister of Scotland was about to make a statement uncannily similar to the one that I have just made, as she has done several times before, but I may be misinformed about that. It remains none the less the case that the similarities between our approaches greatly outweigh the differences.
The Prime Minister referred to support for local authorities. The Rhondda, during this period, has had three very severe bouts of flooding, including last week. Many homes have lost absolutely everything because they have no insurance. The local authority now faces a bill of somewhere in the region of £67 million to repair culverts, drains, pumping stations and gullies, and replace many bridges. We also have a landslide from an old coal tip, which is in danger of doing very significant damage if we cannot remove the 60,000 tonnes of earth. That is still a Westminster responsibility. The Prime Minister may not have the answer now, but will he please make sure we get the £2.5 million very swiftly so that we can do that work quickly? We do not want another Aberfan.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I am aware of those risks. We are working with Mark Drakeford and the Welsh Government on those problems. As he knows, we are putting £4 billion into flood defences. If we face real problems of unemployment—no doubt we will—getting to work on putting in better flood defences for the future will be an important way of driving job creation.
My right hon. Friend will know that many people have been unable to attend routine hospital appointments throughout the lockdown. The reasons for that are many and varied. As the lockdown eases, what measures can be put in place to support hospital trusts as they work hard to catch up? Will he work with me to secure an upgrade to Scunthorpe General Hospital, which is needed now more than ever before?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way she represents her constituency. We will do whatever we can for Scunthorpe General Hospital. I have no doubt that it is on one of the lists of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. As she knows, we are investing record sums: £34 billion into the NHS—the biggest ever cash boost for the NHS. We are going to do 40 new hospitals—that remains an undimmed ambition. If anything, we are going to double-down on our ambitions for the NHS, so she should watch this space, particularly as regards Scunthorpe General Hospital.
Published evidence indicates that indoor environments account for 97% of the spread of covid across the world. The closer the contact and the greater the length of time of the contact, the greater the risk of virus transmission. SAGE said that the evidence indicates that it is inappropriate to reduce social distancing at this stage of the infection, when there are typically more than 1,000 new covid cases a day. Rather than make decisions behind closed doors on unpublished evidence, why will the Prime Minister not publish his exit strategy with threshold approaches on infections, and wait until the test, trace and isolate system is fully operational, as countries that have successfully emerged from lockdown have done?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I must repeat what I have said to the House several times now. We will of course be putting the argumentation about the change in the 2-metre rule—the 1-metre-plus rule—in the Libraries of both Houses. I must say, I am not at one with her on her view of NHS Test and Trace. I think it is a massive achievement by this country. It is starting to work better and better, and it will be indispensable to our future success.
The operators of pubs, hotels and restaurants in England will be feeling considerably relieved by the Prime Minister’s statement, but that relief will not be shared in Wales, where hospitality is an enormously important part of the economy and yet the Welsh Government have yet to make a statement of their own. That is, of course, legally the consequence of devolution, but the practical consequence is despair and frustration. Will my right hon. Friend say what work the Government are doing with the devolved Administrations to try to secure a more uniform approach as we depart from the lockdown restrictions?
I say to my right hon. Friend—I should have said this to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—that we are in very regular contact with all the devolved Administrations. We are much more in lockstep than might be thought. On the particular matter of hospitality in Wales, I hear him loud and clear, and I think that point will be heard loud and clear in Cardiff. We look forward to hearing further announcements.
If people are to take advantage of this freeing of restrictions, they must have confidence in the judgment of the Prime Minister and those around him. He must surely realise that recent events have done some damage in that regard. If he wishes to repair some of that damage, will he end the much-ridiculed quarantine period for people coming here from overseas?
First, may I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for last week mistakenly believing him to be someone who wanted to break up our United Kingdom? I unreservedly withdraw that aspersion. I know that he and I want to keep our Union together. On the quarantine issue, however, I must say to him that I think it is very sensible for this country to have measures in place to protect our population from vectors of disease coming back into the UK from abroad. That is the right thing to do.
I assure the Prime Minister that there will be a warm welcome for his measures today in Rugby, not only from the pubs and restaurants but in particular from the town centre traders. To accommodate 2-metre social distancing, there are works under way to provide an unwelcome one-way system and the removal of on-street parking. The welcome move to 1 metre on 4 July means that those measures will no longer be necessary and that it will be easier for customers to get into our town centre and spend money with our fantastic local retailers.
We do welcome the restrictions being eased up, and a number of businesses across my constituency and along the south bank, including in the hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors, will see this as a step in the right direction, but it will still be hard for them. Businesses need to see detailed guidelines now. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses shows that the vast majority of small businesses say they will need to make changes in their premises for this to work, but there will be significant costs attached to that. What can the Government do to support small restaurants, cafés, hairdressers and other small businesses employing 10 or fewer people, whose balance sheets have been so impacted over the last few months, to make necessary adjustments to make their staff and customers safe?
As the hon. Lady knows, businesses have been eligible for £25,000 in grants. We have had 11 million people supported under the coronavirus job retention scheme and spent huge amounts of money— £26 billion in bounce-back loans alone. We will support businesses large and small for the duration of this crisis, but the best way to get all the hairdressers and nail bars—all these businesses—back on their feet as fast as possible is to make sure that we continue to depress the virus, keep it under control and keep the incidence down, and that way we will go forward. Our vision for the country is to try to get back to normality for as many as possible as fast as possible.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am looking forward on 4 July to dropping in at the Wheatsheaf in Ewell to thank them for moving from being a great hub of the local community to a great virtual hub of the local community in the last few weeks. However, my right hon. Friend and I both represent a large number of people who work in the creative industries, and although today’s announcement is very welcome, it is inevitable that many parts of those industries, such as the exhibitions sector and small theatres, will still be held back for a period of time. Can my right hon Friend assure me that he, the Chancellor and other Ministers will continue to look at ways in which we can ease the pressure on one of our most essential sectors?
The Prime Minister said in his statement that he is keen to get people back into work, but we have also seen the benefits of home working, particularly in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with staff having gone the extra mile to support business through the schemes. However, the Prime Minister will be aware that HMRC has now launched a massive redundancy scheme, which could affect 2,000 staff. What message does he believe he sends when he says that people should get back to work but Government Departments want to put people out of work?
I think that people have to work from home if they can. That remains the guidance, and of course it is up to employers and employees to decide whether they need to get back to their workplaces to do their jobs. On HMRC and the sad redundancies that the hon. Gentleman mentions, I will certainly look at that, though I think that, obviously, it is also important to cut the cost of government.
It will come as no surprise to Members to hear that I wholly endorse the Prime Minister’s announcement on the end of the hairdressing hibernation. That has been made possible by the change to the social distancing rules, which will help hundreds of thousands of businesses across the country. To help them further, will my right hon. Friend look at reducing VAT and national insurance contributions for employers, so that we are not just cutting hair, but cutting taxes, too?
The Prime Minister will be aware of The Deep, in Hull, which is a landmark centre for marine research and the world’s only “submarium”. No mention of aquariums was made in his speech, but I noted that he talked about a taskforce, so when will it give reports? How quickly can we get the aquarium open? In the meantime—if that cannot happen—will he look at providing it with extra, specialised financial support?
People and businesses across Hertford and Stortford will rightly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement. Does he agree that we should also continue to support the development of new technologies and those already in use, such as apps and QR—quick response—codes, which will help many companies, especially those in the arts and technologies sector, and the hospitality sector, to benefit from the measures he has outlined today?
Absolutely. I know I can rely on the incredible ingenuity of every sector in the UK, including the arts, retail and hospitality sectors, to use technology now to bank the changes and to make further progress in taking our economy forward and letting this country bounce back.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Sorry, thank you, Mr Speaker —it would perhaps be much better if you were Prime Minister. Let me thank the Prime Minister for a welcome statement. We have a plethora of small businesses in Brighton. I have just spoken to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender businesses, along with Gscene, our LGBT magazine, and they, and, in particular, our bars and clubs, are keen to get open. However, they are worried at the moment that the furlough scheme, which will rightly be closing for new entrants this month and which will allow part-time working, will not allow people to come off furlough to see whether the business is viable and then be put back on it. Will he consider some flexibility, such as for a two-week trial, with people then able to be put back on furlough for the remainder of the scheme, so that businesses can test the water? Otherwise, many businesses say that they will just stay shut completely, which would be a real disappointment.
I hope that businesses will recognise that now is the moment to get going and to get their valued staff back working again, doing what they want to do and love doing. I have no doubt that all the bars in Brighton have every reason to be confident, provided that we do this in a sensible way. I think everybody in the House understands the balance of what we are trying to do today and can join together in expressing that balance to the public.
It is lovely Lancashire, Mr Speaker. May I welcome the measures that the Prime Minister has announced today, which will be a real boost to the visitor economy? Other Members have invited him to come for a drink in their constituency, but may I invite him to Fylde to get his hair cut? While he is here, he will have an opportunity to realise why it is very important, as part of the levelling-up agenda, to give the green light to projects such as the Lytham St Annes M55 link road, which will ensure that the visitor economies of areas such as Fylde are connected and well served for years to come.
I am not sure I can wait until I get to Fylde to have my hair cut. Certainly, my hon. Friend’s appeal for the M55 relief road is well judged and has been heard by those on the Government Benches, and of course he should look forward to the further steps in the infrastructure revolution that we will be unveiling.
Hairdressers, restaurants and pubs in Manchester will warmly welcome today’s announcement. If the Prime Minister does not mind, I will not follow suit in inviting him to join me for a drink in one of them. He will be aware, however, that 80% of the more than 3 million people who work in hospitality and leisure are currently furloughed. How does he expect businesses such as gyms, nightclubs, theatres and others that have to remain closed to contribute to the furlough scheme at the beginning of August without causing mass redundancies?
This announcement will be warmly welcomed by the pubs, restaurants, holiday parks and attractions that, along with the stunning coastline, make North West Norfolk the ideal place to visit and take a staycation; but alongside these measures, does my right hon. Friend agree that Hunstanton and other coastal areas in Norfolk need to benefit from investment, as part of our levelling-up agenda, so that we can bounce back for the long term?
Yes, indeed, and we will be doing a huge amount for coastal communities that have been left behind, as my hon. Friend knows. But one thing I think we can all do now is ensure that we send out a very positive and welcoming message from coastal communities around the UK. Now is the time, folks, to have a staycation in the UK—Hunstanton or elsewhere.
The fastest-growing languages in Hornsey and Wood Green are Mandarin Chinese and Latin American Spanish. The diversity within Hornsey and Wood Green is a real strength; they even chose an Australian-speaking MP—but my question is serious. What personal steps will the Prime Minister take to stop black and minority ethnic communities getting covid, so that we can save more lives in the next few months? It has been a really tragic few months for my constituency.
I thank the hon. Lady, and she is absolutely right to raise the point that she does. She will have heard that we want enhanced, greater, more immediate and more efficient testing for those high-contact groups. Over the past few months, we have seen black and minority ethnic people very, very substantially represented in trades and professions that have been very much exposed to coronavirus, and we want to make sure that we help immediately, by targeting those groups with extra testing. But I think there are more lessons to be learned for the future, and that is why we have set up the commission that we have and will be drawing further conclusions in due course.
Wycombe will rejoice. I want to thank the experts who have guided us through this crisis, but I observe that when information is incomplete, when information and knowledge is uncertain, experts disagree with one another. For the sake of the public, the Government and, indeed, the experts themselves, will my right hon. Friend have a meeting with me and with Professor Roger Koppl, a scholar in the field of expert failure, to discuss how things can be done better in the future?
I think I know Roger Koppl and I would be very interested to hear what he has to say, but I must say I think that the guidance from our scientists has been incredibly valuable. It has helped us throughout the period. But be in no doubt—I am sure my hon. Friend will understand—that the decisions that we have taken are decisions that we as Government have taken, and for which we take full responsibility.
I have many large leisure facilities in my constituency that could open now—gymnasiums, swimming pools and even an outdoor lido, but they fear that they have been lumped in with smaller facilities that would find it difficult to open. They could open now, meeting social distancing regulations, whether 2 metres or 1 metre. How long will they have to wait for the taskforce to enable them to open?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point, and I am sure that that kind of point will be echoed in multiple ways around the country today, as people look at apparent inconsistencies. All I can say is, we will work as fast as we can with him, with the gyms and swimming pools that he mentions, to try to get them into a state where they can open as fast as possible.
The 2 metre social distancing rule has meant that only 15% of tube passengers are able to travel. That figure will now rise to 25%, with the Prime Minister’s welcome reduction of the rule to 1 metre. In the event that demand exceeds that 25% supply, the R rate continues to fall, and PPE is used, will the Prime Minister look again at the distancing rules, to ensure that our economy and customers can move around?
The Prime Minister has just spoken about making difficult judgments, but it was his judgment not to sack Dominic Cummings. Does his judgment extend to understanding the damage that that decision did to confidence in England’s public health messaging, and the consequences of that for people’s lives? What is his judgment now of how he can repair that damage?
I must say that, in spite of the kind of comment we have just heard, I have been overwhelmingly impressed and fortified by the common sense of the British people, who heard our messages and understood what to do. Let me remind the House of one statistic that shows the power of community spirit in this country at the moment: 87,000 people have been contacted by NHS test and trace, and they have voluntarily agreed to self-isolate to prevent the transmission of the disease. That is a fantastic thing. People understand what to do, they are doing it, and the common sense of the British people is going to get us through this.
Last week I spoke to hospitality and tourist businesses in my constituency. They have worked extremely hard to implement social distancing measures, and they are desperate to get back to work. Will the Prime Minister continue to work closely with the devolved Administration in Wales, and ensure that Wales joins up with the rest of the United Kingdom? In particular, will he encourage the Welsh Government to scrap the 5 mile rule?
Now that we are moving to 1 metre-plus which, as I understand, applies only where 2 metres is impossible, what does the Prime Minister say to all those businesses that have expended considerable sums to comply with the 2 metre guidelines? Should they stick with 2 metres, or can they move to 1 metre? Will we see any changes in this place?
The second point is, of course, a matter for you, Mr Speaker, and it is for the House authorities to establish how to proceed, but I would encourage as much progress to be made as possible. For businesses the guidance is there and will be published later today. I hope they will take advantage of that guidance, and that it will make those businesses more manageable.
I welcome this statement. Harrogate and Knaresborough is in the top 10% of constituencies in this country for the hospitality sector, as measured by the number of people employed in it, which is almost 9,500 in our case. Many local authorities are looking to use streets and pavements for cafes and other hospitality businesses, which I support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils should be encouraged to use available spaces to help the hospitality sector reopen, while of course ensuring social distancing?
Welsh councils are reporting a shortfall of around £170 million in the first quarter of this financial year, due to the crisis, and we will need the UK Government to step up and provide more funding to the Welsh Government, to ensure that we do not suffer big cuts to services just when they are needed most. Will the Prime Minister commit to that?
It is, of course, up to the Welsh Government to spend money properly, but the hon. Lady should be in no doubt that this Government continue to commit sums to help all the devolved Administrations. As I think our friends from the SNP will know, the UK Exchequer has already contributed £3.7 billion extra in Barnett consequentials for Scotland alone—[Interruption.] I am sure that point is seldom off the lips of the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson). We will continue to support every part of the United Kingdom.
I got covid-19 on the same day as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Yesterday, I was given a free test by a company called Pyser Testing, which is an excellent company run by military veterans. Many of us have had the disease. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we can be identified to make sure we are in those statistics, we could move faster and more efficiently? We have to get tested.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am delighted to see him looking so well, having made such a great recovery. At the moment, one of the difficulties the country faces is that it looks like only 6% or 7% of the population have had the virus, which raises questions about the risk of a second spike and the disease coming back. The answer is: testing, testing, testing. He will be pleased to know that this country is now testing roughly twice as many people per head of population as any other European country.
The former chief scientific adviser has said that tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the Government had acted differently. If we had had the same death rate as South Korea, a country whose population and income are not very different from ours, we would have had a few hundred deaths, not the many tens of thousands we have had. Is not today’s announcement, which is really just about appeasing right wingers on the Tory Back Benches, once again this Government gambling with people’s lives?
I welcome the statement and its caution but also its optimism, which the country badly needs right now. Many thousands of our constituents should be heading to Somerset this weekend—perhaps the Prime Minister was going as well—for the 50th Glastonbury festival. Will he speak to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about working with the independent festivals sector over the summer to ensure that that thriving industry, which is worth about £2.6 billion to the economy each year, still exists in 2021? Right now, many people working in the sector fall foul of the generous schemes put in place and for obvious reasons cannot trade their way out of their situation.
Having performed briefly at Glastonbury myself many years ago—not to much acclaim, I may say—I am a keen admirer of that wonderful festival and of the whole sector that my hon. Friend identifies. As I have said several times in this statement, we are doing whatever we can to support that very valuable sector.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly on the support for hospitality, which has been a concern raised by many small businesses in my constituency, but I want to ask about schools. He will know that even with 1 metre social distancing, some small Victorian school buildings in my constituency, which often have limited outdoor space too, will find it difficult to educate all children returning in phases. How will he work with those schools, the local education authority and the academy trusts to ensure that in these circumstances all children can get the education they deserve and need?
Between now and 1 September, when all pupils and students of schools and colleges will return, we will work with the sector to ensure that we have a clear understanding of how to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus. Our objective, as the House will understand, is by then to have got not just the rate of transmission but the incidence down so far that we can go forward in a much more normalised way. As for what we can do in the next few weeks, I am glad the hon. Gentleman supports schools returning. Those classes that can go back now should go back.
This statement will be widely welcomed in Britain’s premier resort, Scarborough. I hope that Scarborough will very soon be firing on all cylinders, as the Prime Minister is today. One sector that has been disproportionately affected by lockdown is that of pleasure cruises and charter angling vessels. Will the Prime Minister assure me not only that the sector will have covid-secure guidelines for operating with 1 metre social distancing, but that those guidelines will be applied consistently around the country?
The Prime Minister has spoken with great pride about the 2.6 million self-employed people who have been supported through covid by Government, but, scandalously, his Treasury has excluded a greater number—3 million—of self-employed entrepreneurs, taxpayers and owners of small companies. That includes many in my constituency who have been excluded from Government help with no income for three months. Will the Prime Minister please offer an urgent financial lifeline to these blameless victims and their families?
We have done a huge amount to support employees and the self-employed across the country with loans, grants and the coronavirus job retention scheme, as I have said. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There are some people who perhaps have not got the support that they felt they needed, because of the difficulties in identifying what is appropriate and because of technical difficulties of all kinds. The single best solution is to get our economy moving cautiously and safely forward, and that is what this package is intended to do.
The statement from the Prime Minister will be warmly welcomed right across the UK, particularly in London. During the lockdown, many of my constituents have followed the advice to work from home where they can to avoid unnecessary travel. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the advice to those constituents is still to work from home if they can to cut out unnecessary travel, so that those who have to travel to work can do so in the safest possible manner?
Yes, my hon. Friend is completely right; as I said earlier, people should avoid public transport if they can. In determining whether they need to go to work, it is important for employers to discuss it with their employees as we go forward, but of course people should work from home if that is possible.
On behalf of my constituents in Telford, I welcome this fantastic statement, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister. Will he devote his wonderful energy, enthusiasm and optimism to ensuring that we now have a bold, confident recovery plan so that we can rebuild our economy and safeguard jobs, opportunities and livelihoods in Telford and across the country?