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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 682: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2020

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Equal Access to Opportunity

We know that the average hourly wages are more than 30% higher in London than in Northern Ireland and regions such as the east midlands and the north-east. That is why we are working to level up Britain.

We often see evidence that white working-class children have some of the worst educational outcomes—for example, in GCSE results and the numbers going on to higher education. Does my right hon. Friend agree that working-class children in communities such as Bishop Auckland who face poor outcomes deserve the full backing of the Government Equalities Office?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The attainment score at GCSE for white British children who receive free school meals is lower than the equivalent for black and Asian children who receive free school meals. That is why I have asked the Equality Hub to expand beyond protected characteristics and strengthen its focus on geography and social background to identify barriers to opportunity and success.

Female Entrepreneurs: Government Support

All the Government’s business support schemes are open to eligible businesses from all regions and backgrounds, including female entrepreneurs. The start-up loans programme has provided more than 30,000 loans worth over £239 million to female entrepreneurs as of June 2020. Additionally, we are working with the private sector to deliver the eight initiatives of the Rose review. Great progress has been made over the past year, with the joint NatWest and Be the Business female entrepreneurs mentoring programme to be launched soon.

I thank the Minister for the detailed measures he set out. More women work in sectors and industries that are hardest hit by the covid-19 crisis. Can he outline, with a particular view to childcare, the help that we can offer women with successful businesses and careers to get them through the difficult months ahead?

I thank my hon. Friend for her concern, especially about childcare. We have already introduced 30 hours of free childcare for eligible working parents of three and four-year-olds. We have ensured that wraparound childcare remains open, to support parents to continue to work under all three covid levels. As set out in our manifesto, the Department for Education will be investing £1 billion from 2021 to help create more high-quality wraparound and holiday childcare places, including before and after school and during the school holidays.

Covid-19: Support for Older People

This Government are determined to support older people during the pandemic, and my Department is working to support people of all ages to remain in and return to work. We have published guidance on working safely during the covid-19 pandemic and continue to work with national employer organisations on improving support for the over-50s. Our £30 billion plan for jobs provides back-to-work support for all ages, including doubling the number of work coaches, increasing sector-based work academy places and a new Department for Work and Pensions job finding support service.

In my Glenrothes and Central Fife constituency, over 2,000 pensioner households are losing out on £5.4 million in pension credit payments every year because they do not know that they are entitled to them. Fife Council launched an uptake campaign in the Glenrothes area, but it was curtailed because of the covid pandemic; I have to declare an interest, as I am married to the chair of the council’s Glenrothes area committee. The Scottish Government have published an uptake strategy for the benefits under their control. Will the Minister agree to urge her Cabinet colleagues to enshrine in law a duty for the UK Government to do the same for pension credits and other benefits that are controlled at Westminster?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that on 6 May, we launched the “Apply for Pension Credit” service, which is an online claim service that supplements the existing telephone and—[Inaudible.]

I think somebody else might need to answer this question! It is estimated that there is more than £2 billion out there every year that is the legal right of older people on those islands. Pension credit does not make anybody wealthy, but it can make the difference between the loneliness and misery that poverty brings and the joy of simply being able to engage in life again. Will the Minister responsible for fighting for those older people agree to take this on as an equalities issue and put resources into ensuring that people have the knowledge and support—including support in using the online service she mentioned—to access what is, after all, a legal entitlement?

Apologies. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

In supporting our older people, pension credit is an absolute priority for this Government, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, about 1 million pensioners—close to that number—who are pension credit customers will receive a winter windfall of £140 off their fuel bills, thanks to the Government working with energy firms to cut costs. This Government are determined to do all we can to support pensioners, and the DWP cross-match these pension credit customers with the data held by pension suppliers. I am sure that we will continue to support pensioners as widely as we can through this pandemic and ongoing.[Official Report, 2 November 2020, Vol. 683, c. 2MC.]

Covid-19: Women Leaving the Workforce

What steps she is taking to support women at risk of leaving the workforce due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak. (907852)

What steps she is taking to support women at risk of leaving the workforce due to the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak. (907862)

The Government have taken significant steps to protect jobs for women with the coronavirus job retention scheme supporting 4.5 million jobs done by women. We continue to support women in the labour market through our job support and bonus schemes. We have also committed to extending redundancy protections for new mothers returning to work and to make flexible working the default.

Working mums have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with a recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies finding that they are more likely to quit or lose their jobs and typically perform a larger share of childcare and household duties than men. One of my constituents spent lockdown home schooling her two children as well as caring for her elderly shielding mother. Excluded from most of the financial support packages, she now faces winding up the company she set up. I have heard what the Minister had to say, but it does not go far enough. What additional urgent measures will he take to ensure that progress in female employment is not set back by decades?

There are 1.8 million more women in work than in 2010, and it is important that we capture that. As I have said, on childcare responsibilities, which are so important, we have introduced 30 hours of free childcare, we have ensured that wraparound childcare remains available in each of the tiers and we will continue to invest to help create more high-quality, wraparound and holiday childcare places so that mothers are not disadvantaged.

The Women’s Budget Group last week highlighted that working-class women specifically face the biggest cuts to working hours since the beginning of the pandemic, with 43% reporting having had their hours cut to zero since April. Could the Minister set out what specific support he is putting in place to stop these women falling into poverty, because clearly it cannot be right that working-class women are so adversely affected by the pandemic?

This is important, and we know that certain sectors are the worst affected. It is important that we actually do everything we can with “Hands, face, space” to make sure that our economy can start to open again and create opportunities, but we have also put in support with universal credit, the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employed income support scheme and the wider winter economy to help everybody, but especially the disadvantaged women that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Women make up a significant proportion of those employed in the fitness, leisure and wellbeing industry. Can my hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to recognise that physical, mental and financial wellbeing go hand in hand? The sector is now having to manage variable lockdowns, and there will be a knock-on impact if businesses cannot recover financially and resume their role of contributing more than £2 billion annually to the nation’s economy.

We know that physical activity is absolutely crucial to the wellbeing of our nation as well as to our economy. We have been working closely with the national sports council, Sport England, to continue promoting health and fitness during lockdown. This includes the Join the Movement campaign that it has launched, which provides tips, advice and guidance to tell people how they can keep or get active in and around the home. As I have said, it is so important that we keep as many gyms open as possible, where possible, but ultimately, this is about getting the economy up and running again. Lives are first in our priorities, but the economy and livelihoods must be absolutely up there.

The Work Foundation has reported that 58% of workers in the retail sector are women and these are some of our lowest-paid workers, but due to most of them working on part-time or temporary contracts, hundreds of thousands of women working in retail will not even be eligible for redundancy pay. What plans does the Minister have in mind to mitigate the likelihood of disproportionate numbers of women being made redundant with no financial support available to them?

As I say, it is so important that we get the economy up and running again, and we can do that only by people joining us and working with us on hands, face, space, to ensure that we reduce the transmission rate and save as many jobs as possible. We have launched a job support scheme, and that, plus universal credit, means that the lowest paid employees can have around 80% of their salary covered between those two schemes.

Education: Equality of Opportunity

What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on ensuring equality of opportunity in the education system. (907853)

As our Prime Minister often says, talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. This Government have made it our mission to rectify that, and equality of opportunity lies at the heart of the work by the Department for Education, including opportunity areas, access to higher education work and reforms of further education such as the flagship T-levels. We recognise that education has an unparalleled ability to create and unlock opportunities across the nation.

In North West Durham, we see lower educational outcomes, especially among white working class pupils, who are getting disproportionately poor results. What measures are the Government taking to ensure better attainment at the ages of 16 and 18 and in later life, and not only to deliver greater opportunities for individuals, but to level up all our communities?

It is vital that we raise school standards and outcomes across the education sector and that we raise and level up our country. That is why we established Opportunity North East, and tomorrow I will chair a board meeting to discuss that work. My hon. Friend is a tremendous advocate for his constituency, and I and other Education Ministers will continue to work with him to ensure that the young people of North West Durham get the chances and choices they deserve.

Equal Rights for LGBT People: International Promotion

What steps she is taking to maintain the UK’s international promotion of equal rights for LGBT+ people. (907854)

The UK continues to be recognised as one of the most progressive countries globally for LGBT rights. The Government recently announced £3.2 million of new funding to help Commonwealth Governments and civil society to repeal outdated discriminatory laws against LGBT people. We work closely with the Council of Europe and the UN, in additional to co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition, and we remain committed to delivering an ambitious international LGBT conference.

My hon. Friend will understand that the decision not to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will inevitably see the United Kingdom fall significantly in the tables of those countries that are seen to be committed to the delivery of equality for LGBT+ people. Will she and her Department do something to address that, by committing to the delivery of an 18-week waiting time for gender identity clinics and development services for children, as an outcome of the review by Dr Hilary Cass?

We have noted my hon. Friend’s concerns about the Government’s decision, and we assure him that the UK has a strong record on LGBT rights. The wait for gender identity clinics has been very long, and the Government are looking at that issue. I will not make a specific commitment at the Dispatch Box, but I recognise the concern that has been raised. We will continue to do what we can to speed things up.

Covid-19: Risk and Outcome Disparities

What recent discussions she has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) stakeholders on tackling the disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19. (907855)

In June, the Prime Minister asked me to lead cross-Government work on this issue, with a particular focus on ethnicity. I will update the House on the findings of my work in full tomorrow. The work involved extensive engagement by the Race Disparity Unit and me, with colleagues and external stakeholders, including academics and experts from University College London, the London School of Economics, Oxford University, medical experts from the British Medical Association and many ministerial colleagues. We will continue to redouble our efforts, and it is crucial that we make evidence-based decisions on this important work.

One unfortunate impact of covid-19 has been the impact on attainment in our communities, particularly white working class communities where educational attainment gaps have struggled during this crisis. I represent Princes End, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the west midlands. Will my hon. Friend assure me that, as part of that work across government, she will look particularly at ensuring that opportunity gaps as a result of covid-19 are not widened?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the importance of children of all backgrounds being in school and their educational attainment and wellbeing more broadly. The Government have been clear that limiting attendance at schools should be a last resort. We are providing laptops for the most disadvantaged pupils and 4G routers for families who do not already have mobile or broadband, for example. More broadly, on disparities in attainment, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities is looking at outcomes for the whole population. That means ethnic minorities and white British people as well. The commission will set out a new positive agenda for change and look at the issues that my hon. Friend has raised.

Science, Technology and Emerging Industries: Girls and Young Women

What steps she is taking to encourage girls and young women to lead in science, technology and emerging industries. (907856)

We are making good progress in getting more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and maths, with a 31% increase in girls studying STEM subjects since 2010 and 1 million women now working in core STEM occupations.

Professor Sarah Gilbert in vaccine research; Kate Bingham in vaccine operations; Baroness Harding in testing; Dr Jenny Harries in medicine—all fantastic examples of highly qualified professionals leading the UK’s response to this once-in-a-century pandemic, and they all happen to be women in STEM. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they are setting a wonderful example for future generations of girls and boys in South Ribble, Lancashire and beyond?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. They are a huge asset to our country, but having more women in STEM is also helping to close the wage gap and helping our economy to recover post covid. Around 35% of the wage gap can be overcome if we get more women working in high-paid occupations and sectors such as engineering and technology.

International Trade: Business Opportunities for Women

As much as £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled businesses at the same rate as men. I am determined that trade should play its part in opening up greater opportunities for women, both in the UK and across the world.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Can she tell me what the UK will do to build on our close ties with Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to expand trading opportunities, especially for women, particularly given Vietnam’s membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?

First, we have appointed a splendid trade envoy for those three countries, who is going to do a brilliant job promoting opportunities for women and everyone through free trade agreements. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: CPTPP contains important provisions to open up trade for women, and of course Vietnam is a key part of that agreement.

Abortion Clinics: Protection from Intimidation or Protest

What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on protecting women attending abortion clinics from intimidation or protest. (907858)

The Government are clear that it is unacceptable that women seeking or staff providing healthcare advice should feel intimidated or harassed. The Home Office has been keeping this important matter under review. We are now considering again whether more should be done to protect those accessing or providing abortion services, and we have reached out to service providers and the police to understand their experiences of these protests, but the impact on women is of course at the centre of our considerations.

That is a very encouraging reply. Right now, up and down the country, women are being intimidated and police are having their time taken up by 40 Days for Life, an anti-choice group that is running a 40-day protest outside clinics. France, Australia and Canada have legislation on this. I am encouraged by what the Minister says. Will she please follow suit and take heed of the Demonstrations (Abortion Clinics) Bill, which I introduced in June? There is overwhelming support in the House for us to do the same here.

I have the pleasure of meeting the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) later today to discuss this topic. The hon. Lady will know the meticulous approach that we have applied to this important issue. There is a balance to be struck with the right to express and to have freedom of speech, but clearly the impact on women and staff working in these centres is really important. I am pleased that public spaces protection orders are working in her area and two others—Manchester, I understand, has just received an order, or is implementing an order, as well. We very much have to balance those matters in mind, but I look forward to continuing this discussion in only a few hours’ time.

Topical Questions

Alongside sex, race and sexual orientation, geography and social economic status can affect opportunity. I want to widen the focus of our understanding of equality to include outcomes for white working-class children, so we can ensure we are levelling up our country. I have therefore asked the Equality Hub to consider the importance of geography and background alongside factors such as sex, ethnicity and disability. That will make sure we truly level up Britain.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be focused on its responsibility to enforce equality and human rights law?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am delighted that we have been able to put forward Baroness Kishwer Falkner as our preferred candidate to chair the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I know she is committed to making sure the commission’s focus is on enforcing our important equality laws.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out that the Government must seek to advance equality of opportunity in relation to its functions, yet throughout the pandemic Ministers have repeatedly failed to do so. It is vital that the Government take proactive steps to prevent the disproportionate impact of covid on disabled, black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Failure to do so is neglect. It is discriminatory, and it is unlawful. What evidence does the Minister have that her Government are fulfilling their public sector equality duty as set out in the Equality Act?

It is completely false to say that the Government have not acted and to deliberately ignore the significant measures we have put in place to reduce the spread of the virus in all communities across the United Kingdom, which we have repeatedly stated in this House. As I mentioned earlier, I will be making a full oral statement tomorrow, but it is known that we have taken many key measures to ensure that NHS frontline staff—in particular, those from ethnic minority backgrounds—are best protected and to ensure we fully understand the links between the virus and ethnicity.

Two and a half thousand deaths could have been avoided during the first wave of the pandemic had people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities been adequately protected. Last month, I wrote to the Minister asking what steps her Government had taken to address the disproportionate impact of covid, but I have yet to receive a reply and we are now in a second wave. The Minister says she will be giving a statement tomorrow, but I ask her as it is oral questions today. She still has not given an update on progress in implementing the recommendations of the Public Health England report. It has been over four months, so will she give us an update on the seven recommendations and when they will be fully implemented?

The shadow Minister has written many letters to me over the past four months, and I have replied to them. It is simply untrue to say that she has not received a reply. She knows the work we are doing is progressing the recommendations throughout government. The oral statement tomorrow will give ample time for me to fully address and explain all the work the Government have been doing and what the evidence has shown us. I encourage her to attend the oral statement tomorrow, because there is very much that she could learn on this topic.

Will the Minister tell us what assessment has been made, and what steps are being taken, of the impact the increasing numbers of covid-19 cases and the pandemic are having on the LGBTQ+ community? (907893)

We have been looking at the disproportionate impact the virus has had on very many groups. That is not a group where we have seen a disproportionate impact in terms of the effects of the virus. What has impacted that community is their inability, like the rest of the population, to access healthcare services. We hope that will be addressed through how we are managing local lockdowns and being able to keep pressure off the NHS.

Will my hon. Friend detail what steps her Department is taking to ensure that girls can access period products during the pandemic, especially when only 41% of schools are taking advantage of the Government’s offer of free period products? In Environmenstrual Week, does she agree that, wherever possible, those products should be free of plastic? (907891)

The Government are taking a range of actions to ensure that everyone can access affordable period products. We are providing fully funded access to free period products in schools and colleges across England. The scheme remained in operation during partial school closures, and we expect uptake to have significantly increased as schools have fully opened. The scheme provides a wide range of products, including environmentally friendly tampons and pads, alongside reusable products such as menstrual cups and reusable pads.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I know the thoughts of the whole House will be with the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). I am sure Members from across the House will want to join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

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.

I associate myself with those kind remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).

My constituents are reeling from the 9% contraction of the economy since March this year. Unemployment has sky-rocketed and joblessness in Haringey is the highest in the capital. Unfortunately, we are at the same time facing the idea that there could be a congestion tax forced on an extra 4 million Londoners by this Government. These Londoners are already facing the double whammy of covid and financial ruin. Will the Prime Minister please immediately stop the imposition of this dreadful plan? I look forward to his answer.

I must respectfully inform the hon. Lady that the current Mayor of London had effectively bankrupted TfL before coronavirus had even hit and left a massive black hole in its finances. Any need to make up that deficit is entirely down to him. It is entirely his responsibility. Any expansion of the congestion charge or any other measure taken to improve the finances of TfL are entirely the responsibility of the bankrupt current Labour Mayor of London.

People the length and breadth of the country have made many sacrifices over the last few months to try to suppress covid-19, but infection rates are increasing fast and Buckinghamshire may soon find itself in tier 2. Can my right hon. Friend tell the people of my Aylesbury constituency how long we would be expected to stay there, what additional help there would be for local businesses, and, crucially, what the route out would be? (907912)

I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend by telling him that the incidence in the Vale of Aylesbury is in fact less than half the England average. The way forward for constituents in the Vale of Aylesbury and everywhere else is to keep following the guidance, observing the new restrictions and, obviously, washing hands, wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces and keeping a sensible distance.

I thank the Prime Minister for his remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).

Prime Minister, how does an area which goes into tier 3 restrictions get out of those restrictions?

The simplest and most effective way for areas to get out of those restrictions is, of course, to get the R down to 1 or below, and I am very pleased to say that some areas are already having a considerable effect with the measures that they are taking.

Can I press the Prime Minister on that answer? If the infection rate, R, in a tier 3 area has not come below 1, will it be possible in any circumstances for that area to come out of tier 3—if the R has not come below 1?

Obviously, the R is one of the measures that we look at. We take a decision based on a number of things including the R—also, of course, rates of infection, rates of admission to hospital and other data. But the most important thing is for areas that do go into tier 3—and I am very grateful to local leadership in the areas that have gone into tier 3, because it is the right thing for them to do, the right thing for their constituents, the right thing to save lives —when they are able to make progress, then, of course, they will come out of tier 3. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well, the measures that are put in place are reviewed every 28 days.

I am now confused by the Prime Minister’s answer. If it is not the R rate under 1, what is it? Millions of people want to know the answer to that question. Millions of them are in tier 3 and millions more are likely to go into tier 3. They really need to know. On Friday, the chief scientific officer said that tier 3 on its own certainly is not enough to get the R rate below 1. On the same day, the Prime Minister himself said that there was only a chance of getting infection rates down.

That goes to the heart of the issue in Greater Manchester and elsewhere. The widespread fear is that tier 3 is the worst of all worlds: it brings significant economic harm without getting the virus sufficiently under control to exit tier 3. So instead of being a solution, tier 3 is a gateway to weeks and weeks, or more likely months and months, of agony from which there is no likely exit. Can the Prime Minister not see the problem if there is not a clear exit?

I am sorry, but I have made it absolutely clear that a part of the country going into tier 3 is in there only for 28 days; we will review it after 28 days. Areas that have gone into tier 3 are, I believe, already making progress, and areas where there are restrictions in place are also showing signs of progress. We are pursuing a local—a regional—approach, which is the sensible approach for this country. That is what the epidemiology supports. It is what the deputy chief medical officer supported last night.

Again, I want to thank local leadership in Merseyside, in Lancashire, actually in London, in the west midlands and elsewhere for what they are doing. It is a bit incoherent of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to attack local lockdowns when he wants to plunge the whole country back into a damaging lockdown for weeks on end, and he has no clue about how he would propose to get the country out of that—does he?

I appreciate that there will be a review every 28 days, but if the R rate has not come below 1, then the infection rate is still going up, the numbers are going up, the admissions are going up, the numbers in hospital are going up and the deaths are going up. Is the Prime Minister seriously saying that he would take a tier 3 area out of tier 3 with the R above 1? I do not think so.

Let me spell out what that means. On Friday, thousands of people in Greater Manchester—taxi drivers, pub and hospitality workers, people working in betting shops, the self-employed and freelancers—will either be out of work or face significant pay cuts. That is the reality on Friday in Greater Manchester. But their rent and their mortgage will not be lower; their food and their heating bills will not be lower—and that could last for months.

Why can the Prime Minister and the Chancellor not understand that? They should stop bargaining with people’s lives, stop dividing communities and provide the support that is needed in Manchester.

I am very proud that this Government have already given Greater Manchester £1.1 billion in support for business, £200 million in extra un-ring-fenced funding, £50 million to tackle infections in care homes, £20 million for Test and Trace, and another £22 million for the local response that we announced yesterday. Yesterday, the Mayor of Greater Manchester was offered a further £60 million, which he turned down, having had no encouragement to support it, I may say, from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

I can tell the House today that that cash will be distributed to the boroughs of Greater Manchester. I thank right hon. and hon. Members across the House, including my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Bolton North East (Mark Logan), for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), for Bury North (James Daly), for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), for Leigh (James Grundy), for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) and for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) for the support that they have given in this matter.

This is a Prime Minister who can pay £7,000 a day for consultants on Track and Trace, which is not working; who can find £43 million for a garden bridge that was never built; but who cannot find £5 million for the people of Greater Manchester. I really think the Prime Minister has crossed a Rubicon here, not just in the miserly way that he has treated Greater Manchester, but in the grubby take-it-or-leave-it way that these local deals are being done. It is corrosive to public trust to pit region against region, mayor against mayor, council against council and ask them to trade away their businesses and jobs. We need a one nation approach to replace these endless local battles with clear national criteria and proper support for jobs. Labour’s motion this afternoon would do that. Why will the Prime Minister not support it?

I am proud of the one nation Conservative support that we have given to the entire country: £200 billion in support for jobs and livelihoods across the whole of the country already, and a further £9.9 billion now for the job support scheme. It is this Government who have cut VAT for business and deferred business rates. There is no other country in Europe where so much support and so much help has been given to the population to get through this crisis, and we will continue to do that. It is the height of absurdity that the right hon. and learned Gentleman stands up and attacks the economic consequences of the measures we are obliged to take across some parts of the country when he wants to turn the lights out with a full national lockdown, taking kids—[Interruption.] That was his policy last week anyway, wasn’t it? Perhaps he could confirm that that is still his policy. Is that what he wants to do?

At his press conference yesterday, the Prime Minister produced heat maps across the country showing that the infection rate was up in all ages and across all regions, and particularly showing regions that have been in the equivalent of tier 2 restrictions for weeks, if not months, moving into tier 3. If they are moving into tier 3, tier 2 has not worked, because if tier 2 had worked, they should be going into tier 1.

So tier 2 goes to tier 3, and tier 3 has no end, because there is no prospect of or confidence in the R rate coming below 1—and I do not believe that a tier 3 region will come out of those restrictions unless R is below 1 and while the numbers are still going up. So we now have a stark choice.

By the way, Prime Minister, Cornwall is the only place—possibly with the Isle of Wight—where the infection rate today is less than it was in Greater Manchester when it went into local restrictions, so this idea that some areas are immune is wrong.

So there is a stark choice: carry on with the Prime Minister’s approach, which will lead to weeks and weeks and months and months of prolonged agony in everyone’s constituencies for millions of people in tiers 2 and 3, with no exit; or put in place a two to three week time- limited circuit break to break the cycle and bring the virus back under control.

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland—in part—have chosen that path. With half term starting this Friday, this may be the last opportunity for the Prime Minister to put in place an effective circuit break. The Prime Minister was too slow in the first phase of the pandemic; he is being too slow again. We cannot repeat this mistake. Will he act in the public interest and take the opportunity to put in place a circuit break this Friday?

We will do whatever it takes to get this country through the crisis, with or without the support of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have explained why I do not believe that his policy is the right one for the country, because it would involve closing schools and shuttering businesses, with all the psychological and emotional damage that a lockdown of that kind brings. He cannot say how many circuit breakers he thinks would be necessary. He cannot say how long they would go on. He cannot say how much damage they would do to the UK economy and to people’s mental health.

We, on the other hand, want to go on with our common-sensical approach, which is a local and regional approach, keeping kids in school and keeping our economy moving, because that is the way to get the whole of our country through this crisis together so that all the regions of the country, particularly those regions that are now, alas, under tier 3 restrictions, bounce back strongly together.

After recent positive progress, covid has disproportionately and adversely affected participation levels in female sport and physical activity. To help to reverse that, will my right hon. Friend lend his support to the development of the first ever women’s and girls’ football national centre of excellence in Winsford in my constituency—a £70 million project that he has previously expressed enthusiasm for—and help to build female grass-roots sport back better? (907913)

This is a very exciting project, and I welcome Cheshire FA’s commitment to providing a new world-class facility for women’s and girls’ football. I look forward to the proposed opening of the centre in Winsford.

My thoughts are very much with the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). I hope she makes a speedy recovery.

Next week, just as the pandemic is worsening, the Tory Government will scrap the furlough scheme in a move that will cause a wave of mass redundancies across the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, behind closed doors the Prime Minister is complaining that he cannot get by on his £150,000 salary. If the Prime Minister is finding life such a struggle, how on earth does he expect many workers to get by on just £5.84 an hour when the Tory cuts to furlough sink in?

Actually, I am proud of what we have done to support people on low incomes throughout this period and, indeed, before. It was this Government who raised the living wage by record amounts, and we have just increased universal credit by around £1,000 a year. The right hon. Gentleman makes the point about furlough; as he knows, if universal credit is combined with the job support scheme that we have just announced, workers will be getting 80% of their existing salary. We will get this country through this crisis and we will continue to support people on low incomes throughout the period.

I am afraid the Prime Minister just does not get it. Yesterday, we saw his total disregard for the people of Greater Manchester—a Tory attitude that people in Scotland are all too familiar with. Millions of families are struggling to get by and this Tory Government want to cut their incomes in the middle of a pandemic. It is clear that the Prime Minister has made a deliberate decision to let unemployment soar, just like Thatcher did in the 1980s. Time is running out. With one week left, will the Prime Minister finally U-turn on his cuts to the furlough scheme and invest in our communities? Or will he leave millions of people on the scrap heap?

I really must reject what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, because it bears no relation to the facts or the reality of what the Government are doing to support people throughout the country. It is not just the £200 billion investment in jobs and livelihoods; we are also engaged in and will continue to deliver a colossal investment in education, health, housing and infrastructure that will deliver jobs and growth throughout this United Kingdom for a generation.

I congratulate the Prime Minister and his negotiating team on their strong stance in the negotiations with the EU. Does he agree that the EU’s position on fishing and the European Court of Justice demonstrates that it is not treating us as an independent state, that it is not acting in good faith to deliver a free trade agreement and that, in international law, the UK is therefore entitled to leave the withdrawal agreement and make its own arrangements regarding the UK’s internal market? (907918)

Whatever the effect of the withdrawal agreement, I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that the UK’s internal market, which I think everybody on both sides of the House values, is protected and upheld by the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is currently going through the other place. It also, of course, protects the Good Friday agreement.

Mikey is severely disabled. He turned 18 last month, so he is one of the first to see his child trust fund mature, but Mikey’s disabilities mean that he cannot manage his own finances, so he cannot access the savings. Government rules on child trust funds mean that his parents cannot access them either without paying expensive legal fees. This is Mikey’s own money. He wants to use it to buy a specially adapted tricycle. Will the Prime Minister look at the proposals that Mikey’s father has shown me to end this injustice for disabled young people and let Mikey buy this trike?

Of course I will do whatever I can to help in the particular case that the right hon. Gentleman raises. I do not know whether the tricycle he mentions is eligible for a number of the schemes that I can immediately call to mind, but if he cares to write to me, I will of course answer immediately.

Thank you, ground control.My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be well aware of the negotiations going on between the Department for Transport and the current Mayor of London on a further bail-out for Transport for London. The current Mayor is demanding an eye-watering £5.65 billion to keep TfL running for the next 18 months, yet he refuses to accept any economies because that would offend his union paymasters. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have not required the current Mayor of London to expand the congestion charge to the north and south circular roads? (907919)

What I can certainly confirm, as I said in my answer to the first question, is that the black hole in the finances of TfL, the bankruptcy of TfL, which, by the way, was left in robust financial health by the previous Mayor—it certainly was—is entirely the fault of the current Labour Mayor of London, with his grossly irresponsible demagogic fare policies, which, I may say, were never pursued by the previous Mayor of London, and the fault lies entirely with him. I trust that my hon. Friend will make that clear.

Financial support packages, tackling homelessness, rail nationalisation and honouring Marcus Rashford—there is plenty that this Government have done on covid that I applaud, but with winter set to bite and no end to the virus in sight, may I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider the arbitrary end to many of his schemes, which were set months ago when we knew so little? Three million self-employed people were completely left out of all of these measures, a number of whom are now set to face destitution when the minimum income floor ends next month. Furthermore, school dinners for 3,272 kids in his own seat and 2,016 in mine are in the balance. Can he start by voting with us tonight and make sure that that gong does not mean nothing? (907910)

Order. Will the Prime Minister sit down? We must have short questions. I want to get through the list, so we must help each other.

The hon. Lady is quite right to call attention to the difficulties facing many families right now because of the crisis that we have been in. The most important thing—and I hope that this is common ground—is to keep kids in school if we possibly can. That would be vitiated by the series of lockdowns that are being proposed. I do not want to go down that route. What I want to do is to ensure that we continue to support families throughout the crisis so that they have the cash available to feed their kids as they need to do.

Kettering General Hospital

If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on involving the infrastructure delivery taskforce in the rebuilding of Kettering General Hospital. (907920)

I am delighted that Kettering General Hospital is part of the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. I can tell my hon. Friend that the infrastructure delivery taskforce is already involved in delivering the health infrastructure programme, which includes Kettering General Hospital.

I thank the Prime Minister for visiting the night shift at Kettering General Hospital in February and seeing for himself at first hand the wonderful work being done by local medics and staff. The hospital could expedite at speed ambitious plans for its rebuild, but only if the time taken for regulatory clearances at NHS Improvement is dramatically shortened. Will the Prime Minister cut NHS red tape, so that local people can have the improvements that we need at our local hospital as quickly as possible?

Indeed. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that clinical modelling work is complete and the site development is now under way as we speak.


On 16 June, the Prime Minister agreed to provide free school meal vouchers to hungry children over the summer holidays after claiming just 24 hours beforehand that he was completely unaware of the campaign that was calling for it. Last week, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister for Wales, Kirsty Williams, guaranteed that free school meal provision during school holidays would continue until at least Easter 2021, and yesterday the Scottish Government committed to do the same. Can the Prime Minister confirm that he is indeed aware of these announcements, and, if so, when does he plan to do the right thing? (907911)

Governments of all stripes have supplied free school meals since 1906, and I am proud that it was this Conservative Government who extended universal free school meals to five, six and seven-year-olds. The Labour party was in power for 30 of the past 100 years and never did anything like that. We support kids of low incomes in school, and we will continue to do so, but the most important thing is to keep them in school and not to tear off into another national lockdown, taking them out of school. We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income support to support young people and children throughout the holidays as well.

One lesson that we have all learnt in the past nine months is that the internet is even more important to our lives than we imagined. Will my right hon. Friend therefore confirm today that, despite covid and all the other challenges with which he is grappling, we will deliver on our manifesto commitment to roll out full fibre superfast broadband across the United Kingdom and ensure that we are global leaders in digital connectivity? (907922)

Yes, indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for everything he does to lobby for that. Our local delivery partner in Devon and Somerset has provided connectivity of the kind that he describes to 300,000 premises across those two counties. We are going to be a world leader in connectivity as we build back better.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that his Government are seeking to force the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to remove free travel for under-18s and for holders of the 60-plus travel card in return for further financial support for TfL to keep the tubes and buses running? How can this be right when many people in London, including in my constituency, already have months of genuine hardship ahead of them? (907914)

It was the Labour Mayor of London who bankrupted TfL’s finances, and any changes that he brings in are entirely his responsibility. I suggest that the hon. Member holds him to account.

I know that the Prime Minister is committed to doubling down on levelling up. Will he join me for a virtual tour of Stoke-on-Trent Central and a roundtable with key partners focused on delivering for the left behind, not least to ensure that the transforming cities fund investment will revolutionise public transport in the city?

That is an easy commitment for me to make, and I am delighted to do so. I can tell my hon. Friend that we are investing nearly £20 million through our city deal in pioneering a new programme of sustainable low-carbon and low-cost heat energy to Stoke-on-Trent.

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box praising Luton as the only place to have come out of local restrictions, but praise does not pay the bills. Luton’s proud industries of manufacturing, aviation and events cannot get by on soundbites and figures that bear no relation to what is really happening to jobs and businesses. He knows that entire industries are at stake, so is his inaction indifference or incompetence? Will he support businesses and areas that need it throughout this crisis? (907915)

Yes, indeed. I thank the people of Luton for their hard and heroic work, as I thank people across the country for what they are doing. I want to support businesses in Luton, which is why we want to continue with the sensible, balanced, regional and local approach that we are taking. I hope that the hon. Member agrees with me that it would make no sense at all for hard-pressed businesses in Luton to have their lights turned off and their doors shuttered in a series of multiple lockdowns of the kind recommended by the Labour party.

The people of Aberconwy in north Wales are learning to live with covid-19, but we are frustrated by national Welsh Government policy that seeks to place restrictions on us that are the same in the village of Cwm Penmachno as they are in the capital, Cardiff. Last week, my right hon. Friend agreed that a shared responsibility is the way to tackle this pandemic. Does he see the future of this situation as a series of rolling national lockdowns, or can businesses and residents hope that they will be given more trust to look after their own health and those they care for?

My hon. Friend puts the distinction clearly and sharply, which is that we are following the common-sensical and balanced approach. Where local leaders step up to the plate—I am delighted that South Yorkshire came on board this morning; I had a great conversation with Dan Jarvis last night—and where local leadership is shown, we can really make huge progress in getting the R down. That is the right approach for the country.

May I return to the subject of free school meals? There are 7,108 children in Knowsley who are reliant on free school meals, which are vital to ensure that they are properly fed. Whether to extend provision to Easter is both a moral and political choice. Will the Prime Minister make the right choice and agree to extend free school meals to Easter? (907916)

Of course we have free school meals throughout term time—that is entirely right. We want to make sure that we continue to support people on low incomes throughout the crisis, and that is what we are going to do.

As my right hon. Friend will know, part of my constituency has now been placed under tier 2 restrictions. Can he therefore reassure everyone that if they stick to the rules, observe the “hands, face, space” message, and self-isolate when required, accompanied by suitable enforcement for those who blatantly flout the law, we will come out of these restrictions all the sooner?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on it. That is exactly what we need to do. The areas that go into high levels of concern are reviewed every 14 days, and the restrictions, as I told the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), are reviewed every 28 days. The way to get through this is exactly as my hon. Friend says: to follow the guidance, particularly the “hands, face, space” basics.

The people of Barnes in my constituency have been cut off from public transport routes for some months now by the closure of Hammersmith bridge. Can the Prime Minister confirm reports that the Government are now planning to charge Barnes residents £15 a day to own a car, and charge them extra council tax, to pay for facilities that they cannot use, despite the fact that Transport for London reserves were increasing before the virus hit? (907917)

I can confirm that Hammersmith bridge has been closed thanks entirely to the incompetence of the current Labour Mayor of London, and that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, is going to reopen it, which is the best thing possible.

As my right hon. Friend leads the country through Brexit and delivers global Britain, will he ensure that the values and policies of his Government to which he first gives consideration are those that will unite and bring our country together, and make all those who voted remain for what they thought were the internationalist values of the European Union proud again of their country in bringing those values to global Britain?

Indeed. That is why we are going to use the G7 presidency and the COP26 summit to champion our values across the world, particularly the one that my hon. Friend mentions—female education, which is the single policy that can really transform outcomes across the planet. Our global objective is to help 40 million girls across the world to get a decent education.

The Prime Minister’s Government lost control of the virus, making extra restrictions inevitable, but with no certainty, no communication and no new financial support, he is killing Nottingham businesses. Castle Rock Brewery is a Nottingham success story, but now it is on the verge of breakdown, with two pubs closed permanently, jobs gone, and worried staff facing the prospect of being laid off with no pay. Countless other bars, restaurants and pubs tell the same story. Will he stop punishing successful Nottingham businesses for his failure and give them the help they desperately need? (907921)

Of course I sympathise deeply with businesses that face difficulties because of the pandemic, although I remind the hon. Lady that the infection rate in her constituency is now running at 815 per 100,000, and we must get that down. I thank the people of Nottingham for what they are doing to get it down. We will of course continue to provide the full panoply of support that we have offered, and more, throughout this crisis.

Following the introduction of tier 2 restrictions in York, can the Prime Minister be more open in communicating the evidence base for York going into tier 2, outline a road map for the city’s return to tier 1, and urgently consider the creation of specific support for York’s hospitality industry, which is suffering losses from the limbo that tier 2 is creating?

Yes, I can tell my hon. Friend that the infection rate in York, alas, is now running at 279 per 100,000, and we must get it down. But we can get it down; we can get it down through the package of measures that we have described. You can see, in areas where people are complying with the guidance, that it is having an effect, because if it were not for the efforts and energies of the British people, the R would be running at 3 or more; it is now between 1.2 and 1.5. It will not take much—compliance in those areas that are hit at the moment—to get that R back down below 1. That is what we are aiming for, and that is the way to get businesses across the country, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), in my hon. Friend’s constituency, back on their feet as fast as possible. It would not be sensible, in my view, to plunge them all back into a sustained series of national lockdowns, particularly in areas where the virus is low.

The Chancellor has decided that people who are unable to work because of coronavirus restrictions should be paid as little as two thirds of the national minimum wage. At the same time, the Government are paying £7,000 a day for consultants to work on the failed Serco track and trace programme. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how on earth he thinks that is justifiable, and is this what he means by “levelling up”? (907923)

NHS Track and Trace is now testing more people than any other country in Europe; it has tested, I think, 26 million people so far—or conducted 26 million tests. I am also proud, on the hon. Lady’s other point, that we have been able to support people across the country in the way that we have. She is not correct in what she says about the combined impact of the job support scheme and universal credit, because they work in tandem, and that lifts people’s incomes to 80%, and in some cases more than 90%, of their current incomes. That is the support that we are giving at the moment, but the best thing is to get our country through this crisis, without going back into the social, the psychological, the emotional and the economic disaster—and “disaster” was the word that the Labour party used only a week or so ago—the disaster of a series of national lockdowns.

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 suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.