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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
24 June 2020
Volume 677

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Economic Prospects

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What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for the Northern Ireland economy in the next 12 months. [903599]

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While the Northern Ireland economy does have its challenges, as we do across the United Kingdom as we come out of covid-19, I am confident that Northern Ireland has a promising economic future as we recover from this crisis. We will continue to work with business, the Executive and local partners to make sure we do everything we can to get the economy not just back up and running, but turbocharged as it moves forward, laying the foundations for a stable and sustainable economic future.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does he agree with me that the much talked about reduction in corporation tax in Northern Ireland to 12.5% would be a major boost to the economy of the Province? If one or two parties in Northern Ireland are not keen on that idea, would the Government consider introducing it once we are free of the shackles of the European Union in that respect?

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I think we are all looking forward to being completely free of the shackles of the European Union. We in the UK Government remain committed to supporting the Executive to achieve the devolution of corporation tax, so that they will have the power to make the decision that my hon. Friend has outlined. In the Stormont House and subsequent “Fresh Start” agreements, we made it clear that these powers would be devolved and provided, subject to the Executive demonstrating that their finances are on a sustainable footing for the long term. It is for the Northern Ireland Executive to take the steps necessary to place those finances on a sustainable footing, such as by putting in place the fiscal council, which I hope they will do very swiftly.

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There are 600 job losses at Bombardier, 400 at Thompson Aero and another 200 at risk from the cancellation of the Airbus neo—new engine option—project. Northern Ireland cannot afford to lose these jewels in the crown of its economy, so will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government step in with a strategy and support for the aerospace sector similar to that provided by France, Germany and the US?

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The hon. Lady asks a very important question about the aviation industry more widely. Obviously, I have spoken to the chief executive of Bombardier in particular, and my colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) have been in constant co-ordination and contact with the relevant companies.

The UK Government have provided some £2.1 billion through the covid corporate financing facility to the aerospace sector and airlines more widely, and additional flexibility for UK Export Finance to support £3.5 billion of sales in the next 18 months, as well as putting £0.5 billion into our aerospace research and development over the next few years. We are determined to do everything we can to support all sectors of our economy, including the Northern Ireland economy.

Covid-19: Co-ordinated Response

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What discussions he has had with representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government on co-ordinating the response to the covid-19 outbreak. [903600]

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What discussions he has had with representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive on co-ordinating the response to the covid-19 outbreak. [903610]

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Throughout the covid-19 outbreak, the UK Government have continued to meet regularly with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, as well as other Executive Ministers, to co-ordinate the response and, importantly, to take steps together towards a healthy and full economic recovery.

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I am delighted to learn about the positive relationship that exists between the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government during this unprecedented crisis. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the Northern Ireland Executive face some critical challenges in the near future, the spirit of co-operation, which will benefit not only Northern Ireland but the whole of the United Kingdom, should continue?

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My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It has been a really positive period of working together, across all the devolved parts of the United Kingdom, with the UK Government. I have had regular weekly meetings with both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, apart from the wider Government meetings that they and their Ministers have been involved with. That is a positive sign of how we have been able to work together for the best interests of everybody in all communities in Northern Ireland. I hope that that will continue in the weeks, months and period ahead.

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I also welcome the positive way in which the Northern Ireland Executive have worked with the UK Government during this crisis. Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that this positive spirit of co-operation continues?

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Absolutely. There has been an absolute unity of purpose in dealing with covid over the period from all parts, and the relationships—east-west, and of the Republic of Ireland with Northern Ireland and the UK Government—have been very positive. We have worked together and met regularly and, as I say, I think that has been a positive sign for what we can achieve in the future.

Business Support: Transition Period

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What steps he is taking to support businesses in Northern Ireland in preparation for the end of the transition period. [903601]

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I am working closely with businesses across Northern Ireland to ensure that they are ready for the end of the transition period, which will come at the end of December this year. The first business engagement forum meeting was held on 10 June, and my officials continue to engage in detailed technical discussions, as we did pre that and as we will continue to do.

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The Prime Minister continues to insist that Northern Ireland businesses can simply throw customs exit declarations “in the bin”, while Michel Barnier continues to insist that this would be incompatible with the UK’s legal commitments. The Secretary of State says that consultations are ongoing, but does he not see that this cannot drag into the autumn? Business needs clarity now, given that preparation for a no-deal exit takes months. If he cannot provide this, he owes it to business to extend the transition period until proper answers are found.

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We will not be extending the transition period; we have made that clear. On the wider point, we will set out more detailed plans for extensive support from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for Northern Ireland businesses that will be engaging in the new administrative processes, and we will issue that guidance this summer. I shall be clear, as I have been previously at this Dispatch Box: Northern Ireland businesses trading with the rest of the UK are part of the UK customs territory. They will have unfettered access.

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On that point, are the Government actively seeking a waiver from the EU to prevent the need for customs declarations on goods being shipped between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? How advanced are such discussions, if they are taking place?

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We continue to take forward discussions on the implementation of the protocol in the Joint Committee and in the specialised committee, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware. As we set out in the Command Paper, we will discharge our responsibilities in a way that is effective, that upholds our international obligations and that respects the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. Provisions must include the minimum possible bureaucratic consequences for businesses and traders, and we will respect what we promised, which is unfettered access.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Are the Government promoting a trusted-trader scheme, particularly for key retailers such as those that operate between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? What discussions about that has the Secretary of State had with the business engagement forum?

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We are working with Northern Ireland businesses and the Executive to ensure that any new administrative procedures are streamlined, avoid any unnecessary burdens and do not affect any flow of trade. There should be no tariffs on internal UK trade because the UK is a single customs territory. For example, a supermarket delivering to its stores in Northern Ireland poses no risk whatsoever to the EU market. No tariffs would be owed for such trade. The principle needs to be formalised with the EU in the withdrawal agreement Joint Committee. We are talking to businesses, including via the engagement forum and other opportunities, to explore proposals to make sure that we maximise the free flow of trade.

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Hello from Dorset. My right hon. Friend knows that Northern Ireland businesses want to prepare to make Brexit a success; the problem is that they do not quite know what they are preparing for. In reflecting on last week’s Select Committee hearing, is my right hon. Friend persuaded of the merits of providing stepping-stones between now and 31 December, so that business knows what to prepare for and in what timeframe?

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As I said, we are working with Northern Ireland businesses and the Executive to support preparations for the end of the transition period at the end of this year. As we engage, including through the business engagement forum that we have already established, we will set out further details to help businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period at the earliest appropriate moment. I assure my hon. Friend that further guidance will be published this summer to make sure that people and businesses know what they need to do to prepare for the end of the transition period, which will be at the end of December this year.

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An HMRC whistleblower recently warned that the new customs declaration service system is not only delayed but does not talk to other HMRC systems, some of which are 20 years old. With criminal organisations and smugglers ready to take advantage of any gaps in systems, how confident is the Secretary of State that this IT solution will work and provide proper controls to prevent businesses and the Treasury from losing millions of pounds in tax?

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I am very confident that HMRC will be able to provide the support and the work that business needs to be ready for when we leave the European Union’s transition period at the end of December this year.

Sporting and Cultural Events

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What support he is providing to help attract major sporting and cultural events to Northern Ireland in 2021. [903602]

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Northern Ireland has a rich sporting and cultural heritage and is a great setting for any event, as proven by the success of the Open last year. While any decision to bid to host major events is a matter for the Executive, my officials are in regular contact with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and their devolved counterparts to support UK-wide events.

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The United Kingdom’s involvement in next season’s world rally championship is currently very uncertain: nine of the 11 rounds have already been chosen and GB is not currently part of that choice. The WRC promoter has previously spoken about the need to rotate Rally GB into Northern Ireland, where most of the competitors wish to participate. Can the Secretary of State save WRC? Will the Secretary of State assist by co-funding the event with the Northern Ireland Executive during our centenary year?

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The hon. Gentleman in a consistent and passionate advocate of hosting a round of the world rally championship in Northern Ireland. We can safely say that if it does come to Northern Ireland, he will have been a driving force. In the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, the Government have already pledged up to £2 billion to help the Executive to deliver on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, but I would be very happy to support the Executive to foster closer ties and better collaborative working across sectors of the UK to attract the WRC and a portfolio of other events to Northern Ireland.

Covid-19: Public Security

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What steps his Department has taken to help protect the security of the public in Northern Ireland during the covid-19 outbreak. [903603]

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I maintain close contact with the Northern Ireland Executive’s Justice Minister and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Public safety obviously remains at the forefront of the PSNI’s efforts, and thanks to its dedication during this period, public safety has not been compromised. By working closely with and financially supporting the Executive, we have worked together to protect our hospitals and frontline responders and maintained essential public and emergency services.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in commending all those involved in maintaining public safety in Northern Ireland for their commitment and efforts during the unprecedented and difficult circumstances of the past few months?

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Absolutely. I have had the great honour and pleasure over the past few weeks of being able to meet some of the teams in the ambulance service and the PSNI, who have been working through the covid period in some very difficult circumstances, having to prepare themselves to go out to work to keep people safe and healthy. We owe them all a huge debt of thanks for the amazing work they have done over this period to keep people safe and healthy; I absolutely join my hon. Friend in welcoming that.

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Of course, keeping people safe in Northern Ireland should always be the priority. However, that has not always been the case. In 1981, Paul Whitters, aged 15, was killed in Derry, and Julie Livingstone, aged 14, was killed in Belfast. Both were killed with plastic bullets. The files relating to their deaths have been reclassified and withheld until 2059 and 2064 respectively. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no good reason to keep those files closed, and will he now act to allow the parents of those children to see the files?

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I have enormous sympathy for those families who lost loved ones—especially children, which is a tragedy—during the troubles. The files mentioned by the hon. Member are currently held by the National Archives and were closed to protect the privacy, health and safety of individuals named in those files. A freedom of information request to the National Archives is the most appropriate next step to enable a full independent review of the files. Such a request can be made by anyone, including the hon. Member, and my Department would provide any necessary assistance to the National Archives if such a request were received.

Covid-19: Economic Recovery

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What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. [903604]

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What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. [903606]

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What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. [903607]

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What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. [903611]

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What steps the Government are taking to support the recovery of the Northern Ireland economy from the effects of the covid-19 outbreak. [903624]

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The UK Government have supported Northern Ireland businesses and employees through grants, loans and the job retention scheme. The additional funding available to the Executive as a result of the Government’s coronavirus response amounts to £1.3 billion so far. In addition, the UK Government have provided £2 billion in new investment for Northern Ireland through the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, to turbocharge infrastructure investment and provide the best possible platform for businesses to grow.

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The impact on the economy in Northern Ireland has been severe. What will the Minister do to avoid a double whammy once the 28 weeks have passed in the case of a no-deal Brexit to stop chaos, confusion and potentially violence between parties in Northern Ireland?

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The hon. Lady is right to recognise that there has been a severe impact, and we are determined to work hand in hand with the Executive on the response to that. I was pleased to see them publishing their own plan, and their focus on skills and infrastructure are shared objectives with the UK Government. This certainly needs to be a joint endeavour, to ensure that we support a strong economy and the conditions for safety and security for the people of Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland is reported to be heading for a prolonged economic downturn. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) said, its aerospace industry is in crisis, with significant job losses at Bombardier and Thompson Aero. The Secretary of State can stop further decline by putting pressure on the Treasury to accelerate defence procurement programmes. Why has he not done that?

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The hon. Lady is right that the covid-19 outbreak has had a severe impact on the aviation and aerospace sectors around the world. The UK Government have already provided significant support to the sector, including through the business interruption loan scheme, the job retention scheme and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, £2.1 billion through the covid corporate financing facility, with additional flexibility from UK Export Finance. Of course we will have contact with Ministers at the Ministry of Defence, and we are always happy to work with the sector to promote job opportunities in Northern Ireland.

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Virtually every major commercial aircraft programme in the world comes back either in structure, services or parts to Northern Ireland, yet the recent redundancies have been greeted with no more than a shrug of the shoulders from Ministers, who seem to think that general statements are enough. When will the Minister meet the workforce at those plants and put his weight behind a plan to help them survive this crisis?

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UK Government Ministers and officials have been engaging with key stakeholders in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has met the key business leaders in this respect to inform our response to covid-19. The lead Department on this, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has been engaging extensively with the trade unions. Only this morning, I spoke to my ministerial colleague at BEIS to ensure that we can continue to co-ordinate our work on aviation.

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We are heading to lovely Lancashire, with Rosie Cooper.

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Given the Secretary of State’s previous answer that business will have unfettered access within the UK, could the Minister explain why HMRC is telling businesses to prepare for new formalities in west-east trade, and could he describe them?

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The simple answer is that it is not. We want to make sure that we meet our commitments in a way that imposes a minimal burden on business and provides unfettered access. We are absolutely clear that we will provide that unfettered access and legislate for it through this House.

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My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has already mentioned the severity of job losses at Bombardier, which drives a whole host of other supply-chain companies. What is the Minister doing to support capital investment in the supply chain to maintain jobs and skills at this particular time?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the supply chain is crucially important to this industry. Making sure that we take the right approach to unfettered access and that we provide support across both the UK and the Northern Ireland economies is crucial in that respect. That is why we are working very closely with colleagues at BEIS and in the Executive to make sure that the support is there up and down the supply chain.

Covid-19: Hospitality and Tourism

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What steps his Department is taking to support Northern Ireland’s hospitality and tourism industries to prepare for the lifting of covid-19 lockdown restrictions. [903605]

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The UK Government have made £1.3 billion of additional funding available to the Executive as part of the coronavirus response. That has enabled them to provide £25,000 grants to businesses in these sectors and to extend the initial three-month business rates holiday to 12 months for most Northern Ireland businesses. Prior to lockdown, I visited many of Northern Ireland’s beautiful tourist attractions and saw first hand the amazing experience and the giant welcome that Northern Ireland offers to visitors. I look forward to encouraging everyone to visit as soon as the public health guidelines allow.

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I agree wholeheartedly that tourism is indeed a jewel in Northern Ireland’s crown. Does the Minister agree that, subject to public health guidance, of course, now is the opportune time to really promote Northern Ireland as a destination? Being in the common travel area, quarantine does not apply to English, Welsh and Scottish visitors, so they can fly into Belfast or sail across the Irish sea and still be on staycation.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I absolutely encourage people to avail themselves of those opportunities. It is worth noting that on 1 May the UK Government, together with the Executive, announced a generous £5.7 million funding support package for City of Derry and Belfast City airports so that we can keep this connectivity going. There is a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland tourism. As we enter the recovery phase, many more people from across the UK can go and visit the beautiful sights across Northern Ireland.

Cross-border Transfer of Jobs

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What discussions he has had with representatives of businesses in Northern Ireland on the cross-border transfer of jobs to the Republic of Ireland. [903608]

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Northern Ireland is and will remain a great place for businesses to invest and grow. Only this week we saw Belfast listed among the top 10 tech cities of the future. A number of companies have recently announced investments into the Northern Ireland economy, including Randox, Cygilant and Hypixel Studios.

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May I bring to the attention of the Minister, in case he has missed it, the words of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who said recently that businesses in Northern Ireland were telling him that because of the uncertainties they faced they were considering shifting jobs into the Republic of Ireland? Will he not listen to the warnings of a very highly respected former Secretary of State and actually start engaging with businesses instead of just disregarding them?

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I share the right hon. Gentleman’s respect for the former Secretary of State, but there is no need for Northern Ireland businesses to move elsewhere to trade with the UK. The Government will provide unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the UK market. Working together with the Executive, we can provide strong conditions for recovery that will make Northern Ireland an excellent place to invest.

EU Relationship

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What recent assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU in relation to Northern Ireland. [903609]

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What recent assessment he has made of the progress of negotiations on the UK's future relationship with the EU in relation to Northern Ireland. [903615]

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We are committed to working hard to deliver a relationship with the EU based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. The relationship we are seeking will work for all of the UK, including Northern Ireland, and will best serve the interests of Northern Ireland businesses and consumers.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that, with business facing the hardest level of uncertainty in our lifetime because of coronavirus, it would be an enormous mistake to do as many Opposition Members are suggesting and extend the transition, the talks and all the unwanted uncertainty, delaying the start of our new relationship indefinitely?

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My hon. Friend is quite right. First, extending the transition period would bind us into future EU laws, without us having any say, yet we could still have to foot the bill. Secondly, extending the transition period would simply prolong the negotiations and increase uncertainty for business. That is why we will not extend the transition period. This country needs to be able to design our own rules in our own best interests, and that is what we will do.

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What assurances can my right hon. Friend give that, when discussing the protocol of the EU, the UK will be ambitious in how flexible we can make the system?

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My hon. Friend asks an important question. Our top priority is to protect the Belfast Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process to preserve Northern Ireland’s place as a key part of the UK. Our approach is at all times guided by these priorities and sets out how we will meet our obligations in the protocol. The Command Paper that we published in May outlines how the protocol can be implemented in a flexible and proportionate way to protect the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland, as well as the whole UK, and indeed the EU. The protocol puts legal obligations on both sides and makes it clear that it is for both the UK and the EU to respect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK customs territory. We stand ready to work with the EU in a collaborative and constructive way to uphold the integral role that Northern Ireland has in our community and the role of the Northern Ireland Executive.

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Since Patrick was a boy, trade across these islands has been critical to our economies in all parts of these islands. Trade for businesses is worth some £14 billion with Northern Ireland and £35 billion with Ireland. What guidance are the Government giving to British businesses about the different rules they have agreed with Northern Ireland and on trade with the Republic as part of the European Union?

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I would just say that if the hon. Lady has a read of the Command Paper, she will see that it outlines our position on the protocol. As I said earlier, we will be publishing guidance for businesses shortly. The key issue for businesses in Northern Ireland is that they will have unfettered access to the UK as part of the UK’s internal market.

Restoration of Assembly Powers

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What steps he is taking on the restoration of full powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. [903613]

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As my hon. Friend knows, following successful talks in January this year, the Executive and Assembly were restored on 9 January with their full powers. We are grateful for the progress that they have made since in delivering public services, bringing to an end the nurses’ pay dispute in Northern Ireland and working alongside other parts of the UK to tackle coronavirus.

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My hon. Friend will know that this House has passed draconian laws that have been put on the people of Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to abortion. Can he confirm that it is now up to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive to decide whether to keep those laws, to reform them, or even to revoke them?

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As my hon. Friend knows, the regulations to which he refers do not replace or remove powers from the Executive. I remind him that they were introduced and approved by this House via an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, following a three-year absence of devolution. We have delivered regulations that came into force on 31 March, as we were required to do. Parliament has now approved the regulations and they remain the law on access to abortion services. Abortion remains a devolved issue, and the Northern Ireland Assembly can legislate on that or amend the regulations, so long as it does so in a way that remains compliant with the CEDAW—convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—recommendations and convention rights.

New Decade, New Approach Deal

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What progress his Department has made on the implementation of the “New Decade, New Approach” deal. [903616]

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The Government, despite the challenges of the pandemic, have continued to progress work where possible to implement our commitments. These include helping to end the nurses’ pay dispute, launching and progressing the recruitment process for a veterans’ commissioner, releasing £553 million of funding out of the £2 billion made available to progress implementation, and making changes to immigration rules. We will also be restarting the process with the Executive for organising a joint board that will provide quarterly review of UK Government funding provided under the deal.

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Now that covid and our response to it is thankfully less all-consuming, does my hon. Friend agree that now is the time to see some real progress from the Northern Ireland Executive?

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Absolutely. I agree with my hon. Friend, but we should recognise the manner in which the Executive have worked collaboratively to tackle the immediate crisis, including the way in which the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have demonstrated leadership and the ability to put their differences aside, working together to protect the public.

The Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have set out our complete commitment to ensuring that the “New Decade, New Approach” deal is implemented in full. As the Secretary of State said earlier, one aspect we would welcome rapid progress on is the independent fiscal council.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

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If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 June. [903739]

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This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

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My constituents in Wrexham welcome the announcement by the chief medical officers of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England about reducing the UK covid alert level from 4 to 3. Indeed, through my work at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, I have seen a reduction in the number of covid-positive cases needing to be treated. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that the UK-wide approach works and we need to continue with it to beat the pandemic?

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First, I personally pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the shifts she has put in throughout the pandemic and of course thank all her colleagues at the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, which I know. Working together across all four nations of our country is indeed the way in which we will beat the pandemic.

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Yesterday, the Government announced the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions. If that plan is to work—and we want it to work—we need an effective track, trace and isolate system. The Prime Minister promised that a world-beating system would be in place by 1 June. The latest figures from yesterday’s press conference hosted by the Prime Minister show that 33,000 people are estimated to have covid-19 in England. The latest track, trace and isolate figures show that just over 10,000 people with covid-19 were reached and asked to provide contact details. I recognise the hard work that has gone into this, but if two thirds of those with covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there is a big problem, isn’t there?

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On the contrary. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been stunned by the success of the test and trace operation. Contrary to his prognostications of gloom, it has got up and running much faster than the doubters expected. They are getting it done—Dido Harding and her team have recruited 25,000 people and so far they have identified and contacted 87,000 people who have voluntarily agreed to self-isolate to stop the disease spreading. I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have predicted that a few weeks ago. I think he should pay tribute now to Dido and her team for what they are doing.

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The Prime Minister just has not addressed the question I put to him. I was not asking about those who have gone into the system—the 10,000—or those who have been contacted; I was asking about the two thirds of the 33,000 with covid-19 who were not reached. That is a big gap. The Prime Minister risks making the mistakes he made at the beginning of the pandemic—brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating the risks properly. If two thirds of those with covid-19 are not being contacted, that is a big problem. If we do not get track, trace and isolate properly running, we cannot open the economy or prevent infection from spreading, so let me ask the question in a different way. What is the Government’s strategy for closing the gap between the number of people with covid-19 and those going into the system—not what happens to those who go into the system?

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I hesitate to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of obscurantism. He is misleading on the key point. The number of people with covid in this country is, of course, an estimate.

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Inadvertently misleading—

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Order. Prime Minister, one of us is going to have to give way and it will have to be you. Obviously, no hon. Member misleads or ever would, whichever side they are from.

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The right hon. and learned Gentleman is inadvertently giving a false impression of what test and trace is doing. The 33,000 cases in the country is, of course, an estimate. NHS test and trace is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and their contacts and getting them to self-isolate. It is a formidable achievement. Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was kind enough to say that he supported our policy and our programme—I seem to remember him saying that loud and clear yesterday. Today—as I say, I understand the constraints of the profession in which he used to work; I know how it works—he seems to be yo-yoing back into a position of opposition. Which is it: is he supporting what we are doing or is he against it?

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The figures I have, which the Prime Minister says are inadvertently misleading, are the slide at his press conference yesterday and the slide at the Government’s press conference last week—the latest figures. They are the two figures. I do support the next stage of the operation, but the Prime Minister is wrong to reject challenge. Sixty-five thousand people have lost their lives because of covid-19. The Prime Minister should welcome challenge that could save lives, rather than complaining about it.

Another risk to this plan is if local councils do not have the powers and resources to implement local lockdowns. There is a report today that eight out of 10 councils face bankruptcy or cutting services, with many of those in the north-east and midlands, where, as the Prime Minister knows, there are the worst affected areas for covid-19. The real concern among council leaders is that they do not have the powers or guidance to implement lockdowns quickly if needed. The Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council said it would be “interesting” for central

“government to confirm what is meant by the local lockdown”—

including—

“clear guidance as to those powers and what is expected of us”.

Can the Prime Minister tell us when local authorities will get the guidance that they need?

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Everybody understands—we have seen it already, across the country—that when there are local outbreaks, for instance in Weston-super-Mare or in GP surgeries in north London, there have been local lockdowns and local crackdowns. We have a very effective cluster-busting operation, which is designed to ensure that we keep those outbreaks under control. Local councils understand how to do it, with the local resilience forums backed up by the joint biosecurity centre. That is how it works and that is how it is going to work, and it is a very effective way of keeping this disease under control. I am not going to pretend to the right hon. and learned Gentleman or to the House that this thing is beaten or that the virus has gone way, because clearly that is not the case. We have to remain extremely vigilant, and local councils will be supported in doing their vital work in implementing local lockdowns.

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May I now turn to the app? This really matters because unless someone with covid-19 can name and identify everybody they have been in contact with, the app is the only way of tracing unknown contacts. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) made precisely that point yesterday. He gave the example, “How on earth do you trace everyone in close contact at a seafront or in a park without an app?” Up until last week, the Government maintained that the app was “critical—another of their slides—but at the weekend the Health Secretary downplayed the app, saying it was only ever additional support. So which is it: critical or not?

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I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman can name a single country in the world that has a functional contract tracing app—there isn’t one. What we have—and what, I am afraid, has left the Opposition slightly foundering—is a very successful NHS test and trace operation, which yesterday they supported. Yesterday, they said it was good enough for this country to go forward with step 3 of our plan, but today they are yo-yoing back again and saying that it is not good enough. They need to make up their mind. They need to get behind NHS test and trace, support it and take the country forward together.

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Germany. It had its app working on 15 June and it has had 12 million downloads—I checked that overnight. [Interruption.] Twelve million—it is way beyond. The Health Secretary said that we would have the app by mid-May—presumably that was on advice. The Prime Minister said that we would have it by 1 June, but now Government Ministers say that it will not be ready until the winter. We have spent £12 million on this. Other countries are ahead of us. When are we going to have a working app?

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I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is completely wrong, because no country in the world has a working contact tracing app. I have always been clear—we have always been clear—that the app would be the icing on the cake. If we can get it to work, it will be a fine thing, but there is not one anywhere in the world so far. What we do have is a fantastic NHS test and trace operation that is already up and running, that is going to get better and better, and that will be indispensable to our future success. I think that he should support it and, by the way, that he should make it much clearer that he supports our programme going forward.

Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions Labour councils and support for Labour councils, perhaps he might clear up the position of yesterday and say once and for all that Labour councils should now be encouraging children in their areas to go back to school. We heard some warm words from him yesterday. Can he now confirm that he wants all children who can go back to school to go back to school this month?

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Yes. The only U-turn here was the Education Secretary on 9 June, who ripped up the Government’s plans to get children back into school before the summer break.

There is a theme to these exchanges. Last week, I asked the Prime Minister about two claims about child poverty. He said that absolute child poverty and relative child poverty

“have both declined under this Government”.—[Official Report, 17 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 796.]

On Monday, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner ruled that the Prime Minister’s answer was “mostly false”. The Prime Minister also said that there are 400,000 fewer families living in poverty now than there were in 2010. On Monday, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner ruled that that was simply “false”. He has been found out. He either dodges the question or he gives dodgy answers. Mr Speaker, no more witnesses; I rest my case. Will the Prime Minister do the decent thing and correct the record in relation to child poverty?

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I am happy to point out to m’learned friend that actually, there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 500,000 fewer children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation. This Government, as he knows, are massively increasing universal credit with £7 billion more to help the poorest and neediest families in our country. We are getting on with it. We are taking the tough decisions. He still cannot make up his mind.

Talking about child poverty, the single biggest determinant of a child’s success is whether he or she goes to school. The right hon. and learned Gentleman still will not say whether children should go. I think it is absolutely infamous for him to come to the House one day and say he supports the programme and then, the next day, not to confirm that he wants kids to go to school now.

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Seafarers, global key workers, have given us goods from food to medicine during covid, but that is now under threat. Some 400,000 mariners are stuck on board their ships due to the failure of countries to agree crew changes. The United Kingdom is the world’s leading maritime nation, and we are home to the International Maritime Organisation, which gives us a unique responsibility. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree to meet the Chamber of Shipping to marshal the global community to help to get our seafarers home and ensure that free trade continues to flow? [903741]

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My hon. Friend knows a great deal about the subject whereof she now speaks. We remain fully committed to the welfare of all seafarers, regardless of their nationality. We ask all states to do the same. I look forward to discussing that in person with her.

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I am sure the whole House will join me in passing on condolences to the family of the three children who sadly lost their lives in a house fire in Paisley last Friday evening, Fiona, Alexander and Philip Gibson—such a terrible tragedy.

This morning, we heard growing concerns from medical experts about the real risk of a second wave of covid-19. At the same time, experts at the Fraser of Allander Institute outlined the scale of the economic challenges ahead, with a raft of redundancies and business closures if financial support is withdrawn. They warned that measures that risk a second wave of the virus would delay recovery in Scotland until 2024. The health and economic emergency requires an unprecedented response.

On Monday, the Scottish Government’s advisory group on economic recovery, led by independent business leaders, published its initial analysis to secure a strong recovery. Will the Prime Minister welcome those efforts to find a way forward out of this economic crisis?

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Yes, indeed. I would be only too happy to study the documents to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.

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I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer, and I am glad that he agrees that we need to take every action to study and aid the economic recovery. I am sure he is aware that the Scottish advisory group has called for an accelerated review of the devolved fiscal framework. Crucially, it has supported a significant increase in access to capital to stimulate an investment-led recovery in Scotland. Scotland can make different choices and invest in a strong recovery, but we can only do it with the necessary financial powers. Our First Minister and our Finance Secretary have already made a request for more borrowing powers. Will the Prime Minister implement the recommendations of those business leaders and give the Scottish Parliament the economic powers it needs to fuel a recovery in the wake of the pandemic, or will he put Scotland’s economic recovery at risk?

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I respectfully remind the right hon. Gentleman that, as part of our UK campaign against the coronavirus, Scotland has so far received £3.8 billion in Barnett consequentials—a fact that I am sure is seldom off his lips in his discussions with SNP colleagues. We will continue to invest massively in Scotland because Scotland, like the whole of the UK, benefits from being part of the oldest and most successful political partnership anywhere in the world. I congratulate the SNP, by the way, on its U-turn—which could be copied with advantage by our friends on the Opposition Front Bench—on education and getting all kids into school.

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The people of Keighley and I are sick of drug gangs openly selling drugs on Keighley’s streets and grooming young, innocent children to do their dirty work. Can the Prime Minister update me on what progress is being made to deliver on our manifesto commitment to ensure that West Yorkshire police have the resources and personnel they need to tackle those drug dealers, who are infecting Keighley’s soul? [903742]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the evil that is done by drug gangs around the whole country. County lines operations have spread across our country, and we must roll them up. That is why we are tackling them directly with every technological resource at our disposal, and that is why we are making sure that we invest in another 20,000 police officers going to Keighley and across the country as well.

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Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Covid-19 has now broken out in three Welsh food factories. There are 200 cases in Llangefni in Ynys Môn, 70 in Wrexham and 34 in Merthyr Tydfil. A plant in Germany has also seen 1,500 workers test positive. The difference, of course, is that German employees get sick pay worth 100% of their salary. Here, workers get sick pay worth on average perhaps 20% of their salary, so they lose 80% of their salary. These are low-paid workers. For any future local lockdown to succeed, people will need to be supported. Will the Prime Minister now commit to local furlough-like schemes for self-isolating workers?

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As I said in my statement yesterday, the coronavirus job retention scheme—the furlough scheme—as well as what we have done for self-employed people, which has also been considerable, and the expansion of universal credit have been massive commitments by our Government to the workforce of this country. We will continue to make those commitments and, as I said yesterday, if we have to move back—obviously we do not want to—to local lockdowns, or indeed a national lockdown, nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing. So there is the right hon. Lady’s answer.

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Eastbourne’s dependence on tourism and its position as a coastal community mean that it has been particularly hard hit. Indeed, this very weekend we were to stage our international tennis tournament, which puts us on the map and brings in millions of pounds. In that light, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to look at a reduction in VAT so that the hospitality sector can get back on its feet and be part of the recovery to get our country moving? [903744]

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I will certainly look at all proposals that my hon. Friend makes on taxation. As she must know, they are a matter for the Chancellor and for the next Budget, although what we have already done is give business rates holidays—pushing back business rates right until the end of next year—and huge coronavirus loans, bounce-back loans and grants of £25,000 for every business. What we will also do is support tourism across the whole of the UK, and I hope that she will put the welcome sign above Eastbourne this summer, so that people can enjoy its attractions.

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In order to access benefits quickly, people with unpredictable terminal conditions, such as motor neurone disease, are having to prove that they have six months or less to live, and they risk losing their benefits altogether if they live longer than three years. A year has now passed since the Government announced their review into access to benefits for terminally ill people, but there is still no progress. When are the Government going to act? [903740]

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We have massively increased our spending on universal credit, but the hon. Lady raises an important point about access to benefits for terminally ill people, and I will undertake, if I may, Mr Speaker, to revert to her as soon as possible by writing.

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I have the honour of representing the market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and I am very pleased to inform the Prime Minister that our markets are now back. However, the town is also very proud of its hospitality sector. It has purple flag status, recognising the quality of its early-evening and night-time economy —the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés. I know that they will hugely welcome what the Prime Minister said yesterday, but he knows they will need further support in the months ahead. Can I ask him what the Government intend to do to support the hospitality sector? [903745]

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I refer my hon. Friend to what I said to our hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) just now. We will continue to support the hospitality sector in all the ways that I have described, but, of course, what could also happen is that people in Newcastle-under-Lyme could be encouraged to enjoy themselves sensibly, in a covid-secure way, and keep the purple flag flying above it.

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The ongoing impact of covid on international travel threatens over 100,000 jobs in the aerospace industry, including hundreds in my constituency. Will the Prime Minister commit to protecting vital aerospace jobs and invest in a green aviation recovery to reduce future carbon emissions? [903743]

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The hon. Lady has an extremely important point. It is one that we are working on very intensively now in Government, so that we use the opportunity of this crisis to bounce forwards with new low-carbon technology that will continue to drive the UK’s formidable aerospace industry.

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I have been contacted by Cotesbach and Shawell parish councils, along with the excellent Harborough District councillor Jonathan Bateman, about a proposed new waste processing facility in my patch. All I ask the Prime Minister is if he would help me organise a meeting with the relevant Minister, so that I can put forward the views of my constituents on this issue. [903747]

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We have of course invested a huge amount in south Leicester. The local growth fund is expected to deliver 2,700 jobs and 5,000 new homes, but, as I am sure the House will understand, this is a planning decision, with which this Government obviously cannot involve themselves.

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Public Health England and the joint biosecurity centre are undergoing a deep dive in Bedford to understand why the infection rate in my constituency is so high. The pillar 2 commercial mass-testing cases are still not being included in the individual totals for England. How does the Prime Minister know that the people of Bedford and Kempston are safe to embrace his new lockdown-easing measures when he does not know how many people are infected with coronavirus? [903746]

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As I think the Leader of the Opposition himself confirmed just now, we do have a pretty good estimate of what is happening in the country. Overall, we think the numbers have moved down from, say, one in 400 four weeks ago to maybe one in 1,700 today. The incidence continues to decline across the country. Where there are particular outbreaks and particular hotspots, such as in Bedford or elsewhere, we now have the resources of our test and trace operation and the joint biosecurity centre, which are getting better and better the whole time, to implement those local crackdowns and cluster-busting operations.

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Many market traders and independent business owners in Aylesbury have told me how much they appreciate the tremendous help that they have received from the Government during the coronavirus crisis, but we do know that, sadly, many people will still lose their jobs in the months ahead. I wonder if my right hon. Friend could ensure that Government Departments will work together to provide both the resource and expertise that are necessary for people to learn new skills so that they are fully equipped to take on new and different types of work in the future. [903748]

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Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to represent his young constituents. It is vital that we invest in people’s skills during what will unquestionably be economically difficult times. We are not just investing in training through our new £2.5 billion national skills fund: we also want to encourage as many in-work placements as possible and get people the live experience that they need.

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Prime Minister, the rehabilitation of offenders is supported right the way across the political spectrum, but the current operation of the Disclosure and Barring Service is a major obstacle to people turning their lives around. It is inefficient, unfair and, frankly, discriminatory. The Lammy report dealt with this in some depth nearly two years ago, so we do not need any more commissions or inquiries. We need action and an end to the endless Home Office obstruction and delay. You can break the logjam, Prime Minister. Will you do it? [903749]

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The right hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. Any MP will have had very hard cases caused by the DBS system. It is important for the protection of children and young people, but we are considering the Supreme Court’s judgment and will set out our opinion in due course.

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May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement yesterday that we can start to reopen our economy? Will he join me in praising the fantastic charities and volunteers across Rushcliffe, including the West Bridgford Community Helpers, Cotgrave Super Kitchen and the Friary, who have worked so hard to support vulnerable people throughout the lockdown? [903750]

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I have absolutely no hesitation in commending and congratulating all the groups that my hon. Friend mentions—the Friary, the Cotgrave Super Kitchen and West Bridgford Community Helpers. I congratulate them all.

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The Prime Minister stated that when we leave the EU at the end of this year Northern Ireland will still remain a full part of the United Kingdom. But I have in my hand a letter received by the management of the port of Larne only this week, stating that it has to prepare to become a border control post, and 14 acres of land has been looked at for car parking, for lorry parking and for construction. There is a sense of urgency, as the proposals have to go to the EU by the end of the month. Can the Prime Minister explain how Northern Ireland can remain a full part of the United Kingdom if people coming from the rest of the UK into Northern Ireland have to pass through a border control post? Would he advise management to tear this letter up as well?

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I have not seen the letter the right hon. Gentleman describes, but I can tell him absolutely categorically that there will be no new customs infrastructure for the very simple reason that, under the protocol, it is absolutely clear in black and white that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the whole of the United Kingdom. We will be joining the whole of the United Kingdom in our new independent trade policy and doing free trade deals around the world.

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Right now across the country, there are a lot of employers speaking to their staff about redundancies ahead of the furlough scheme unwinding. Sadly, for many families, it will be a hard landing, moving from furlough to benefits. I know that my right hon. Friend has done a huge amount already, and he deserves enormous credit for it, but can I really encourage him, as he thinks about his going for growth strategy, also to consider ways to strengthen the safety net at this time? [903751]

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I thank my right hon. Friend, and he is quite right that there will be tough times ahead for people and for families. That is why we have massively increased universal credit. We stand by, as we have throughout this crisis, to help the British people through it.

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I have been contacted by hundreds of my constituents about racial inequality in the UK. We had the Lammy review of the justice system, we had the race disparity audit in the workplace, and we now have the independent review of the Windrush scandal. What is the Prime Minister’s timeframe for implementing those recommendations?

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Actually, we are getting on with implementing a huge number of the recommendations we have already had. Sixteen of the Lammy recommendations have been implemented. A further 17 are in progress; two of them we are not progressing. The Home Secretary will set out further what we are going to do later—before recess—about Windrush with Wendy Williams’s report, and we will go on with our cross-governmental commission to ensure that we stamp out racism and discrimination across this country and throughout our system of government. We take it exceptionally seriously, and I am glad that the hon. Lady raised it.

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As we exit the covid crisis, we will need essential minerals to supply the UK’s steel, cement and brickworks, which will help build our homes, hospitals and infrastructure of the future. Mining them here in the UK in a sustainable way is not just better for the environment but reduces reliance on foreign imports. Will my right hon. Friend please assure the people of Blyth Valley that he and his Government will do all they can to encourage investment and support jobs in this area? [903752]

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Absolutely. I can certainly say to my hon. Friend and to the people of Blyth Valley that we are going to do absolutely everything we can in the course of our infrastructure revolution to ensure that UK steel manufacturers are at the front of the queue for the great projects that we are going to construct. We have already identified about £3.8 billion worth of opportunities.

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My constituent Elizabeth Smurthwaite contracted coronavirus in her care home and was refused admission to hospital. This Government’s policy of discharging patients with coronavirus into homes has led to over 16,000 deaths. Sadly, Elizabeth has since passed away. Last week, the Health Secretary said that he accepted responsibility for these deaths in our care homes. Does the Prime Minister?

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Of course this Government accept responsibility, and I accept responsibility, for everything that has happened throughout this crisis, but I will say that what happened with the discharge of patients into care homes was all done according to clinical decisions, as the NHS has confirmed, and actually there was a 40% reduction between January and March in the number of people going from the NHS into care homes. Thankfully, we are now seeing a massive reduction, thanks to the efforts of care workers and our care home action programme, to get the numbers of deaths in care homes down to the levels we would expect to find this year.

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Last week, fatal conflict resumed in Ladakh on the line of actual control between India and China. What are the implications for British interests of a dispute between a Commonwealth member and the world’s largest democracy on the one side, and a state that challenges our notion of democracy on the other? [903753]

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to a very serious and worrying situation, which we are monitoring closely. Perhaps the best thing I can say to her is that we are encouraging both parties to engage in dialogue on the issues on the border and sort it out between them.

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The last few days have been very difficult for our town. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of those who died in the dreadful attack in Forbury Gardens on Saturday evening. It is impossible to imagine what they are going through. My thoughts are also with the injured and their families, and with all those who have been affected by this terrible attack. I thank Thames Valley police and the other emergency services for their swift and effective response and for the incredible bravery shown by officers. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the investigation now receives all the resources it needs and that our town is properly supported? We have a strong and diverse community. We can and we will get through this together.

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Yes, indeed. I thank the hon. Member for his question and for how he expressed it, because I think the whole House shares his feelings of support for the police and acknowledges their bravery in running towards danger, as well as that of the members of the public who themselves intervened. It was a really extraordinary moment, but it was also an appalling crime and an appalling tragedy.

Obviously there is a case that must now be properly proceeded with, and I just make two comments. First, if there are any lessons that we need to learn about the way we handle things in the future, we will of course learn those lessons and this Government will act in this Parliament. Secondly, as I said yesterday to the House, and I think it is a common view, we will not let this kind of attack—this kind of senseless murder—distract us or in any way allow us to be intimidated or to change our way of life.

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I have a short statement to make about Divisions. With effect from today, the doors will be locked 18 minutes after the start of a Division. As at present, this can be extended if there is a queue at that time.

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 three minutes.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June)

Sitting suspended.

Bill Presented

Police Stop and Search (Repeal) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir Edward Davey presented a Bill to repeal sections 60, 60AA and 60A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in so far as they apply to England and Wales.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 July, and to be printed (Bill 147).