Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Conversion Therapy: Support for Victims
Conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice that this Government will ban. We are launching a consultation in September to ensure the action we take is informed and effective.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaigning work on this issue. I am proud that we have announced the UK’s first ever global LGBT conference, Safe To Be Me. It will take place in June next year, and it will bring the world together to end persecution, violence and discrimination against LGBT people everywhere.
Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds: Geographic Equality of Opportunity
Every child, no matter what their background, should have access to world-class education that opens up opportunities for their future. Our pupil premium is targeted at schools based on the number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has helped to close the attainment gap over the past decade, and it is expected to increase to more than £2.5 billion this year.
I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply. Early years education plays a key role in supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds, but there is a concern that the current funding arrangements are skewed against providers operating in deprived areas such as parts of Lowestoft in my constituency. I have corresponded with her on this issue, and we will hopefully meet shortly, but does she agree it is vital that all children, whatever their background, have ready access to high-quality and properly funded early years education? Will the Government take steps to ensure this happens?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. High-quality early years education is important, which is why the Government have invested over £3.5 billion every year for the past three years in supporting education for two, three and four-year-olds. Our recent education recovery announcement included increased investment in early years teaching.
I urge my hon. Friend and, indeed, all hon. Members to encourage families from lower-income backgrounds to take up the Government’s generous offer of 15 hours of free childcare for their two-year-olds. Children who take it up do better at school, and it gives them the vital skills that set them up for life.
We are considering the recommendations of the Select Committee on Education very carefully, and all the evidence shows that high-quality teaching is the single most effective way to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. That is why it is so important that the pupil premium is used to support continuing professional development, as well as academic programmes and pastoral support. It is also why so much of our recovery funding is tilted towards top-quality teaching and tutoring for disadvantaged pupils.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—sex abuse is not acceptable. The Government are taking action through the child sex abuse strategy and the violence against women and girls strategy, and we have published strengthened guidance for schools on peer-on-peer abuse and updated relationships, sex and health education. In addition, we have asked every local safe- guarding partnership across the country to review how they work to support schools to tackle this issue.
Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination
The Government recognise the importance of tackling pregnancy and maternity discrimination, which is why we will extend the redundancy protection period for six months once a new mother has returned to work and provide similar protections for those parents taking adoption leave and shared parental leave. We will bring these measures forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.
As a devastating Equality and Human Rights Commission report highlighted some five years ago, and certainly given the experience of too many of my constituents, discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is still widespread. When will the Government actually get their act together and bring in the legislation they have promised to stop employers making women redundant during pregnancy, and until at least six months after they have returned from maternity leave?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but legislation can only ever be part of the answer, which is why we have committed to bring together key business and family representative groups to tackle the questions on organisational culture and to ensure that women and employers know their rights. We will introduce legislative measures when parliamentary time allows.
EHRC research in 2016 found disturbingly high levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in UK workplaces, and the Select Committee on Women and Equalities report highlighted that discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic should have been
“better anticipated by the government”
and that “preventative actions” should have been taken. So will Ministers tell me what representations they have made to Cabinet colleagues to urgently legislate to extend redundancy protection and finally put an end to this unacceptable discrimination?
As I said, when parliamentary time allows we will bring legislation forward. I value the hon. Lady’s work and the conversation we had with Pregnant Then Screwed and Maternity Action. We continue to have plans for roundtables to understand the issues better, bringing those two groups together again, along with businesses.
Tragically, maternity discrimination does not just happen in the labour market—it also happens in labour wards. What work is the Minister doing across government to make sure that we drive down the horrific death toll that sees black women four times as likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts?
The Minister for Equalities is doing a lot of work in this area, as is our Department of Health and Social Care. We are committed to reducing inequalities in health outcomes, and Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, the chief midwifery officer, is leading work to understand why mortality rates are high, consider evidence and bring action together, because this is a complex situation. It is not just within maternity; it is far more holistic than that, for instance on whether people are accessing health services in the first place, and with the fact that we had some of the highest rates in the EU of obesity and underweight issues going into maternity and the highest rates of smoking in pregnancy in the EU—indeed, our level is even higher than America’s.
Research from the TUC has found that one in four pregnant women and new mums experienced unfair treatment or discrimination at work during the pandemic, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. The imminent tapering off of furlough prompts serious concern about unequal redundancies. Will the Minister follow Labour’s lead and, instead of the Government simply extending their ineffective and complicated laws, make things simpler and more robust for mothers and businesses alike by introducing a German-style ban on making a pregnant woman or new mother redundant from notification of pregnancy to six months after they return to work?
We believe that extending the MAPLE—Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999—provisions is a better way of doing it that goes with the grain of the tribunal system that we have within this country. That is why, after due consideration, we will be bringing that forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Maternity Action highlights the fact that pregnant women and new mothers cannot devote their energy and finances to pursuing employment tribunal claims. The Minister says he wants to take steps to understand, but I can tell him that the thousands of women who have lost wages, entitlements or their job because of the pandemic, or the more who will unfortunately follow, need effective access now to justice and more time to enforce their rights. The Minister has also says he is committed to action. So what is the hold-up, and what does it say about this Government’s priorities?
I said earlier that legislation can only ever be part of the answer. There are robust laws at the moment whereby employers have to maintain their duty of care to their workforce, but, as I say, we are taking a different approach rather than bringing in an almost outright ban on making pregnant women and new mothers redundant. We are working with the grain of the existing UK approach, and this will happen soon as parliamentary time allows.
Covid-19: Disabled People on Legacy Benefits
The Government are committed to supporting disabled people affected by the covid-19 outbreak, including those who claim legacy benefits. We have delivered an unprecedented package of support, injecting billions into the welfare system, and we continue to monitor the impact on disabled people while ensuring that they are able to access the support that they need.
The Minister claims that legacy payments were not increased because disabled people have not faced additional costs during the pandemic, but the Disability Benefits Consortium found that 82% of disabled people have had to spend more money than they normally would during the pandemic. So will he set out for the House what evidence he is basing his assumptions on, because disabled people really do deserve better from this Government?
I will get the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work to write to the hon. Gentleman, but he will be aware that we spend £57 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. At the same time, we have reformed employment and support allowance in the light of covid and brought in supportive changes to statutory sick pay, local housing allowance and the Access to Work programme. We continue to support the disabled into work.
Covid-19 Vaccine: Ethnic Minority Communities
My third quarterly report to the Prime Minister on covid disparities summarises the unprecedented measures taken to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities. This work includes establishing vaccination centres at around 50 different religious venues, with many more acting as pop-up sites, and, more recently, an NHS partnership with the Caribbean & African Health Network, which co-produced a toolkit to increase vaccine confidence and uptake. Thanks to such initiatives we saw an increase in both positive vaccine sentiment and vaccine uptake across all ethnic groups over the last quarter.
On Friday, I was delighted to visit the Al-Manaar mosque in North Kensington, which has administered more than 750 vaccines in pop-up clinics and done vaccine information sessions in English, Arabic and Somali. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is an excellent model for encouraging vaccination in our diverse communities?
I do agree. I thank my hon. Friend for her engagement on this issue and for so effectively representing a very diverse constituency and its complex needs. I pay tribute to religious leaders in Kensington and everywhere else who have played such an important role in encouraging their congregations to be vaccinated. Initiatives such as the one that my hon. Friend mentioned and the NHS’s plan for Ramadan, which includes the use of twilight jabbing, all help to build trust, increase vaccine confidence and tackle misinformation.
From speaking to care home operators in my constituency, I know that there is concern among ethnic minority groups, and particularly women, about their fertility chances being affected by their taking up the vaccine. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give to those ladies that their fertility will not be affected, and that it is entirely safe to take up the vaccine?
I should start by reiterating that the covid-19 vaccines are safe and there is no evidence that they affect fertility. I recognise that there is much information about the vaccines, as my hon. Friend describes. We are working with Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, the Chief Midwifery Officer in England, and others such as Media Medics, Dr Hazel Wallace and Dr Philippa Kaye, to encourage women to be vaccinated.
Official Development Assistance: Gender Equality
Tackling gender inequality is a core part of the Government’s mission. The integrated review confirms our commitment to tackling the discrimination, violence and inequality that hold women back. Girls’ education is one of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s seven key priorities for ODA spending, and this year we will invest £430 million in girls’ education, helping to achieve the global target to get 40 million girls into education.
We continue to demonstrate the UK’s leadership in reducing gender-based violence. At the recent Generation Equality Forum, we launched the £67.5 million What Works to Prevent Violence: Impact at Scale programme, which is the first global effort systematically to scale up proven violence-prevention approaches worldwide.
The Gender Equality Advisory Council recently recommended to G7 leaders that they renew their commitment to the 0.7% of GNI target for overseas development assistance and urged them to ring-fence any funding for gender equality projects. Will the Minister assure us that she has assessed the effect on such projects of the recent cut of ODA to 0.5% of GNI, and that she is working with Cabinet colleagues to mitigate that harm?
It is important to recognise that the UK will still spend more than £10 billion on ODA in 2021, and we will return to spending 0.7% as soon as the fiscal situation allows. On impacts and equality assessments, I assure the hon. Lady that officials considered any impacts on women and girls, the most marginalised and vulnerable, people with disabilities and people from other protected groups when they developed their advice to Ministers as part of our decision-making process.
Online Abuse and Hate towards Women
Online abuse and hate towards women is completely unacceptable, and no one should have to experience threats to their safety or abuse online—and even offline. Under our groundbreaking online safety legislation, companies will need to take swift and effective action not only on illegal content, but on legal but harmful content, including abuse and hate speech.
Involuntary celibate groups—incel groups, as they are known—are increasingly on the rise. This online community understands society to be hierarchised along the lines of sexual attractiveness, and these misogynists blame women for their own lack of status and for forcing them into involuntary celibacy. The harbouring of hate and resentment towards women has manifested itself in a spate of deadly terrorist attacks across the Atlantic, with at least two cases of terrorism here in the UK motivated by incel ideas. Will the Minister commit to having discussions with the Home Secretary to identify, and proscribe where necessary, any forms of this deadly misogynist hate group? Moreover, as most of this hate occurs online, can the Minister tell us what steps the online harms Bill will take to end this online abuse against women, when it will be introduced and when its measures will take effect?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she is doing to call out online abuse. She is absolutely right: there is no place for this sort of behaviour online. The online harms Bill will make much clearer the links between what online companies say they do and what they actually do, and women will be better supported to report abuse and should expect to receive appropriate, swift action from the platform. In addition, we have sponsored the Law Commission review on harmful online communications, looking at whether the law needs to be tightened around this issue; that will be reporting back shortly.
Employment Gap: Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority People
The Government are committed to supporting people from all backgrounds to move into work. Clearly, £2 billion has been spent on kickstart. There are 13,000 extra job coaches, and the job entry targeted support scheme is also being rolled out. For black, Asian and minority ethnic claimants specifically, we are taking action in 20 local authority areas with high populations of ethnic minority people.
With the Office for National Statistics finding that in coronavirus, black and minority ethnic people are less likely to be in management positions, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to earn less, confirming the Government’s own McGregor [Inaudible.] report, when will the Government implement its 26 recommendations?
I am happy to write to the hon. Lady through the Department when she gives me a more detailed version. I can just answer that we have 500 kickstart jobs per day, and from 20 locations—from Bradford to Barnet, Glasgow to Leicester, and Manchester to her own Ealing community—jobcentres are specifically helping BAME people.
Equality of opportunity for talented young people across the country is one of the Government’s highest priorities. We are focused on giving people, whatever their background, ethnicity or circumstances, the high-quality education and skills that they deserve to succeed.
I am very pleased to hear that, but the reality in terms of the results is that those policies are not working. Most black and ethnic minority groups improve educational attainment relative to white students up to the age of 16, but from the age of 16 there is a drop off in every single group. Whether it be Chinese, who are the highest-performing, or the lowest-performing groups, all of them do less well relative to white students after the age of 16. While I recognise and welcome the Government’s rhetoric, what actual policies are there to do something about that alarming decline?
We recognise that raising educational standards is absolutely key to levelling up opportunity, providing £14 billion in over three years, the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade, investing it in early years education and targeting more than £3 billion in recovery funding. That is why, compared with 2009-10, the proportion achieving A-levels and equivalent improved across all ethnic groups, with the largest improvement in the black and black British ethnic group.
As we look to build back better, we want to make it easier for people to work flexibly. Normalising flexible working will help turbocharge opportunities for women, boost employment outside major cities and support a diverse workforce. We have already reconvened the flexible working taskforce, and I am working with ministerial colleagues to champion flexible working practices.
I can tell my hon. Friend that we have commissioned the equality data programme to look specifically at the issue of geographical inequality. We will be announcing the early results of that programme in July, and the Department for Education has already announced an £80 million extension of the opportunity areas programme, including helping coastal towns.
Disabled people account for two thirds of deaths from covid, and recent research by the BBC showed that 78% of disabled people said that their mental health had got worse during the pandemic and 72% said that their disability had deteriorated. This Government’s failure to comply with their public sector equality duty and undertake equality impact assessments has cost disabled lives. Does the Minister acknowledge the extent of those failures? When will her Government finally bring forward the delayed national strategy for disabled people, and will they finally treat disabled people with dignity and respect and tackle those fatal inequalities?
I will get the Disability Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), to write to the hon. Lady with a specific answer to her specific questions, but I can assure her that yes, when the consultation is responded to, it will be in full detail and will address the points that she raised.
A third of people who use social care are working-aged disabled adults, and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission recently recommended that the Government enshrine in law article 19 of the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities, to support them to live independently. It has now been over 700 days since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that he would fix social care, yet there are still no plans, so what steps is the Minister taking with her colleagues to guarantee that the long-overdue plans for social care will adequately support disabled people to live independently, as recommended by the EHRC?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to this issue. As part of its review of harmful online communications, the Law Commission is considering offences around the sharing of intimate images, including things like cyber-flashing, which she mentioned, and is looking to identify whether there are any gaps in existing legislation. It will publish the results of the review very shortly, and we will consider them all very carefully.
First, I want to welcome the new hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) and commend her for her dignity in standing up to intimidation during the campaign. I do agree with my right hon. Friend about the very divisive nature of the leaflet that she talks about. Politicians should not be stoking division: instead, we should be working together to unite and level up our country.
I wholeheartedly reject the comment by the hon. Gentleman. The state pension has gone up dramatically under the triple lock—by £2,000 since 2010 —by the coalition and Conservative Governments. We have a system that is taking forward real change and making a real difference to state pensioners.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Today marks the 16th anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. We remember the 52 innocent people who lost their lives and those who were injured, and pay tribute to the city’s emergency services for their heroic response.
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending condolences to the family and friends of Sislin Fay Allen, who died earlier this week. She was the UK’s first black female police officer, and she served in the Metropolitan police.
I am sure colleagues will also want to join me in wishing the England football team the best of luck for tonight’s semi-final against Denmark.
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.
Prime Minister, we hear a great deal in this place about the rule of law and injustice. Can the Prime Minister tell me what he is going to do about the injustice that my constituents in Falkirk, and indeed families up and down the UK, are facing every day because of the retrospective loan charge, which is fast turning into the next Post Office scandal? The hounding by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—clearly out of control, accountable to no one—has managed to hoodwink and mislead his own Treasury Ministers and now, according to the head of HMRC, the retrospective loan charge appears to be without any legal basis or justification. Therefore, will the Prime Minister accept that this matter needs further and immediate investigation?
I am acutely aware, as I think all colleagues are around the House, of the pain suffered by those who entered into loan charge schemes. I think, alas, that they were misguided to do so, but I think that the line taken by the Treasury, I am afraid, is right on this.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I think he should not have too long to wait for the final recommendations from Sir Peter Hendy about the A75 and other great features of Union connectivity that this Government hope to support, but we have already agreed £5 million from the UK and the Scottish Governments to support the extension of the Edinburgh-Tweedbank borders railway to Carlisle.
May I join the Prime Minister in his remarks about the 7/7 anniversary? I remember where I was on that day and will never forget it, and I am sure that is the same for everybody. We will never forget all those affected, especially the family and friends of all those who died.
May I join the Prime Minister in his comments about Fay Allen as well, and also about football, and wish the very best of luck to the England football team this evening? I am sure the whole country, with the possible exception of the Conservative MP the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), will be watching this evening and cheering England on.
May I also extend a special welcome to the new Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater)? I hope Conservative Members will forgive me if I turn around to look at my new hon. Friend, as she sits on these Benches beneath the plaque for Jo Cox, her sister? That is a special and emotional moment for all of us on the Labour Benches and I think for everybody across this House. It takes incredible courage and bravery to stand in that constituency and to sit on these Benches beneath that plaque.
We all want our economy to open and to get back to normal; the question is whether we do it in a controlled way or a chaotic way. The Health Secretary told the House yesterday that under the Government’s plan,
“infections could go as high as 100,000 a day.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2021; Vol. 698, c. 755.]
A number of key questions fall from that. First, if infections reach that level of 100,000 per day what does the Prime Minister expect the number of hospitalisations and deaths and the number of people with long covid will be in that eventuality?
There are a number of projections, and they are available from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling graphs. It is certainly true that we are seeing a wave of cases because of the delta variant, but scientists are also absolutely clear that we have severed the link between infection and serious disease and death. Currently there are only one thirtieth of the deaths that we were seeing at an equivalent position in previous waves of this pandemic, which has been made possible thanks to the vaccine roll-out, the fastest of any European country, and I think what people would like to hear from the Labour party, because I was not quite clear from that opening question, is whether or not it will support the progress that this country is intending to make on 19 July. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says it is reckless to go ahead; does that mean he is opposing it?
We know that the link between infection rates and deaths has been weakened but it hasn’t been broken, and the Prime Minister must, and certainly should, know the answer to the question I asked him. That he will not answer it here in the House hardly inspires confidence in his plan. Let us be clear why infection rates are so high: it is because the Prime Minister let the delta—or we can call it the Johnson—variant into the country. And let us be clear why the number of cases will surge so quickly: it is because he is taking all protections off in one go. That is reckless. The SAGE papers yesterday made it clear that with high infection rates there is a greater chance of new variants emerging, and there will be greater pressure on the NHS, more people will get long covid and test and trace will be less effective. Knowing all that, is the Prime Minister really comfortable with a plan that means 100,000 people catching this virus every day and everything that that entails?
I really think we need to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman what he actually supports. We will continue with a balanced and reasonable approach, and I have given the reasons. This country has rolled out the fastest vaccination programme anywhere in Europe; the vaccines—both of them—provide more than 90% protection against hospitalisation and, by 19 July we will have vaccinated every adult, with all having been offered one vaccination and everybody over 40 having been offered two vaccinations. That is an extraordinary achievement, and that is allowing us to go ahead. Last week, or earlier this week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to support opening up and getting rid of the 1 metre rule—he seemed to support getting back into nightclubs and getting back into pubs without masks—but if he does not support it, perhaps he could clear that up now: is it reckless or not?
We should open up in a controlled way, keeping baseline protections such as masks on public transport, improving ventilation, making sure the test and trace system remains effective, and ensuring proper payments for self-isolation. The Prime Minister cannot just wish away the practical problems that 100,000 infections a day are going to cause; he cannot wish them away.
The next obvious one is the huge number of people who will be asked to isolate. If there are 100,000 infections a day, that means hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of people are going to be pinged to isolate. The Financial Times estimates this morning that that could be around 2 million people per week. The Daily Mail says 3.5 million people a week. Either way, it is a massive number. It means huge disruption to families and businesses just as the summer holidays begin. We know what the FT thinks; we know what the Mail thinks—we know what their estimates are. Can the Prime Minister tell us: how many people does he expect will be asked to isolate if infection rates continue to rise at this rate?
I want to thank everybody who self-isolates. They are doing the right thing. They are a vital part of this country’s protection against the disease. We will be moving away from self-isolation towards testing in the course of the next few weeks. That is the prudent approach, because we will have vaccinated even more people.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He says it is reckless to open up, yet he attacks self-isolation, which is one of the key protections that this country has. Let me ask him again. On Monday, he seemed to say he was in favour of opening up on 19 July; now he is saying it is reckless. Which is it, Mr Speaker?
The question was simply how many people are going to be asked to self-isolate if there are 100,000 infections a day, and the Prime Minister will not answer it. We know why he will not answer it and pretends I am asking a different question. He ignored the problems in schools; now there are 700,000 children off per week because he ignored them. Now he is ignoring the next big problem that is heading down the track and is going to affect millions of people who have to self-isolate.
It will not feel like freedom day to those who have to isolate when they have to cancel their holidays and they cannot go to the pub or even to their kids’ sports day, and it will not feel like freedom day, Prime Minister, to the businesses that are already warning of carnage because of the loss of staff and customers. It must be obvious, with case rates that high, that the Prime Minister’s plan risks undermining the track and trace system on which he has spent billions and billions of pounds.
There are already too many stories of people deleting the NHS app. The Prime Minister must have seen those stories. They are doing it because they can see what is coming down the track. Of course we do not support that, but under his plan it is entirely predictable. What is the Prime Minister going to do to stop people deleting the NHS app because they can see precisely what he cannot see, which is that millions of them are going to be pinged this summer to self-isolate?
Of course we are going to continue with the programme of self-isolation for as long as that is necessary. I thank all those who are doing it. But of course we are also moving to a system of testing rather than self-isolation, and we can do that because of the massive roll-out of the vaccine programme. It is still not clear—I think this is about the fourth or fifth time, Mr Speaker—whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is actually in favour of this country moving forward to step 4 on the basis of the massive roll-out of vaccines. This is unlike the law, where you can attack from lots of different positions at once. To oppose, you must have a credible and clear alternative, and I simply do not hear one. Is he in favour of us moving forward—yes or no? It is completely impossible to tell.
If the Prime Minister stopped mumbling and listened, he would have heard the answer the first time. We want to open in a controlled way and keep baseline protections that can keep down infections, such as mandatory face masks on public transport. We know that that will protect people, reduce the speed of the virus and the spread of the virus, and it will not harm the economy. It is common sense. Why can the Prime Minister not see that?
Of course we can see that it is common sense for people in confined spaces to wear a face mask out of respect and courtesy to others, such as on the tube, but what we are doing is cautiously, prudently moving from legal diktat to allowing people to take personal responsibility for their actions. That is the right way forward. I must say that if that is really the only difference between us, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman supports absolutely everything else—opening pubs, opening nightclubs, getting rid of the 1 metre rule, getting people back to work—and it is all about the difference between making face masks mandatory or advisory on the tube, then that is good news, but I would like to hear him clarify that.
The Prime Minister agrees it is common sense because it protects the public, but he will not make it mandatory—it is ridiculous. It is clear what this is all about: he has lost a Health Secretary, he has lost a by-election and he is getting flak from his own MPs, so he is doing what he always does—crashing over to the other side of the aisle, chasing headlines and coming up with a plan that has not been thought through. We all want restrictions lifted. We want our economy open. We want to get back to normal. But we have been here too many times before. Is it not the case that, once again, instead of a careful, controlled approach, we are heading for a summer of chaos and confusion?
No, is the answer to that. Of course these are difficult decisions. They need to be taken in a balanced way, and that is what we are doing. Throughout the pandemic, to do all these things, frankly, takes a great deal of drive, and it takes a great deal of leadership to get things done. If we followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s advice, we would still be in the European Medicines Agency and we would never have rolled out the vaccines as fast. If we followed his advice, we would never have got schools open again, with all the damage to kids’ education. Frankly, if we had listened to him, we would not now be proceeding cautiously, pragmatically, sensibly to reopen our society and our economy, and giving people back the chance to enjoy the freedoms they love. We are getting on with taking the tough decisions to take this country forward. We vaccinate, they vacillate. We inoculate, while they are invertebrate.
Yes, I believe that the north-west, in addition to the rest of the country, will be a world leader in hydrogen technology. The HyNet project is an excellent example. We have already put £45 million into supporting the HyNet project, kickstarting our hydrogen capture and storage, and I thank my hon. Friend for his support.
Can I wish England all the best for the football match tonight against Denmark? I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the tragedy of the 7/7 bombing, which we all remember so vividly. Also, yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, where 167 people cruelly lost their lives. Our thoughts are very much with friends and family who are still grieving over the terrors of that event. Finally, before I move on, this is also Srebrenica Memorial Week. We should remember those who have suffered genocide, whether in Bosnia, the holocaust, Rwanda or in many other places. Perhaps the Prime Minister will meet me to discuss how we can help the Srebrenica charity here in the UK.
This week, the Tory Government introduced their so-called electoral integrity Bill. In reality, the Bill is designed to do anything but increase the integrity of our elections. It is a solution in desperate search of a problem that simply does not exist. What the Bill will do is to impose, for the first time, Trumpian voter ID laws in the UK. The Electoral Reform Society says it could lead to voter
“disenfranchisement on an industrial scale”,
disenfranchising people from working-class communities, black and minority ethnic communities, and others already marginalised in society, creating barriers to vote. Prime Minister, why are the Tory Government trying to rob people of their democratic right to vote?
What we are trying to protect is the democratic right of people to have a one person, one vote system. I am afraid that I have personal experience and remember vividly what used to go on in Tower Hamlets, and it is important that we move to some sort of voter ID. Plenty of other countries have it. It is eminently sensible, and I think people will be reassured that their votes matter. That is what this Bill is about.
Goodness gracious, Prime Minister, come on! There were 34 allegations of impersonation in 2019. This is a problem that does not exist. It is a British Prime Minister seeking to make it harder to vote because it is easier for the Government to get re-elected if they can choose the voters rather than letting the voters choose their Government. Three and a half million people in the United Kingdom do not have a form of photo ID, and 11 million people do not have a passport or driver’s licence. Those millions of people will be directly impacted by seeing their right to vote curtailed. It is not just the Opposition saying that. Members of the Prime Minister’s own party have called his plans
“an illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem”.
Will he withdraw these vote-rigging proposals immediately or continue down the path of being a tinpot dictator?
The right hon. Member is making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill, if I may I respectfully suggest. Councils will be under an obligation to provide free photo ID to anybody who wants it, and I do think it reasonable to protect the public in our elections from the idea of voter fraud. Nobody wants to see it. By the way, I do not think that elections in this country should be in any way clouded or contaminated by the suspicion of voter fraud. That is what we are trying to prevent.
Through my hon. Friend, I thank again the people of South East Cornwall and everywhere in Cornwall. The G7 had wonderful hospitality. I assure her that I am aware of the problem of flooding in Looe. I can tell her that my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary has met Cornwall Council to discuss the matter, and we will do everything we can to sort it out.
On behalf of the Alba party, I add my voice to the comments about 7/7. On the morning of 7/7, I was in a meeting at University College London Hospital A&E as the information started coming through, and I pay tribute to every single one of the frontline staff I worked alongside on that day. It was a long shift and it was a long walk home that evening.
The Prime Minister talks about vaccines. Accurate surveillance is also really important—it is equally important. On 15 March, the Department of Health of Social Care Minister Lord Bethell said on Twitter that Omega Diagnostics and Mologic were in line for an order of 2 million lateral flow devices per week by the end of May, and promised jobs and security. Will the Prime Minister explain why his Government are undermining superior domestic diagnostics tests while propping up discredited Chinese imports to the tune of £3 billion?
This country has led the world in condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in putting sanctions on those responsible and in holding companies to account that import goods made with forced labour in Xinjiang. I will certainly consider the proposals debated, but I must say that I am instinctively, and always have been, against sporting boycotts.
My right hon. Friend is, sadly, completely right in his analysis. There remain very serious problems in what I believe is the misapplication—the excessively legally purist application—of that protocol. What we are hoping for is some progress from the European Commission—some repairs that I think that they should make to the way this is working—but to echo what he has said, we certainly rule nothing out in our approach.
I sympathise deeply with anybody who has suffered the loss of a baby by miscarriage, of course. What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we did introduce, in 2020, paid parental bereavement leave. That entitles those who lose a child after 24 weeks of pregnancy to some payment, but, of course, nothing I can say, and no payment we could make, would be any consolation to those who experience a miscarriage in that way.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I want to thank Mr Foxley for his whistleblowing, because he has seen justice done. The trouble is that we do not normally compensate whistle- blowers in the way that my hon. Friend recommends, but I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General has offered to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.
With great respect to the hon. Lady, I do not think that I have ever heard a question that was more inversely related to reality. This is a Government that from the beginning invested the biggest amount in the NHS for a generation. Then, in the last year, we put another £92 billion into frontline care. We have increased nurses’ starting pay by 12.8% over the last three years. Above all, not only are we building 48 more hospitals, but there are another 59,000 people working in the NHS this year than there were this time last year. This is a Government who are putting our NHS first.
I am sure that the whole House welcomes the fantastic news of Nissan’s investment in an electric battery gigafactory in Sunderland, but does the Prime Minister agree that batteries are only part of the solution in pursuit of net zero by 2050, and that zero-carbon hydrogen combustion engines, such as those recently developed by Midlands-based JCB, have an important role to play in our country’s decarbonisation plans?
My hon. Friend is completely right. The investments that we have seen in just the last week or so—Nissan’s investment in a gigafactory in Sunderland and what Stellantis is doing at Ellesmere Port—are tremendously exciting for battery-powered vehicles. It is fantastic, but we must not forget hydrogen. As I said in an earlier answer, we want this country to be a world leader in hydrogen technology as well.
I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the fatal and serious road accidents that have taken place on St Albans Road and Redbourn Road in my constituency. Will he advise the House on what more the Government are doing to improve road safety, not just in the case of fatal accidents but where there are serious accidents or near misses, because this is an issue that is of growing concern to many of my constituents and, I believe, to many across the country?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this. Although the number of those who have been killed or seriously injured on the roads has been coming down over a long period, it is vital that we invest in this area. We have put another £100 million through the safer roads fund to invest in 50 of the most dangerous stretches on A roads. I also draw his attention to the THINK! campaign, which can play a huge role in reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
That is not accurate. We are continuing to support all those who have to remediate their buildings. I remind Members that the £5 billion that we have provided is five times what Labour offered for support in their last manifesto. We will ensure that all the leaseholders—the people who have suffered from the consequences of the Grenfell conflagration—get the advice and support that they need.
My right hon. Friend will recognise the huge service done by independent hospices to those at the end of their lives, to their families and to the NHS, because those people would be likely to otherwise be in hospital. He will also understand the huge impact that the covid pandemic has had on the fundraising capacity of those hospice charities, so may I ask him to consider carefully and personally the case that is being made by independent hospices for greater Government support for their clinical costs—costs which, if they were no longer there, would undoubtedly be borne by the taxpayer and by the hard- pressed NHS?
My right hon. and learned Friend is totally right to draw attention to the incredible selfless work of hospices up and down the country. Charitable hospices receive £350 million of Government funding annually, but he is also right to draw attention to the difficulties they have had in fundraising this year and over the pandemic. That is why they have received an additional £257 million in national grant funding arrangements.
Of course I know how tough it has been for millions of people up and down the country and for business. That is why this Government put in an extraordinary £407 billion to support jobs and livelihoods across the country throughout the pandemic. The single most important thing we can do now for the individuals and families that the hon. Gentleman represents and is rightly talking about today is to help our country to get back on its feet by cautiously opening up in the way that we are on 19 July, if we can take that step, which I very much hope we will. I hope that it may command the support, if not of the Leader of the Opposition, then at least of the hon. Gentleman.
The River Test is one of the finest chalk streams in the world, but since May, diesel has been spilling into the river. What matters most is that the flow is stopped and that there is an effective clean-up, but there are many agencies involved, which has made a co-ordinated response challenging. Please will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Environment Agency, Natural England, Southern Water, local authorities and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are all involved in solving this environmental catastrophe together?
This year thousands of children will die because of the Government’s dramatic cuts in international aid. Top lawyers in the country advise us that this policy is unlawful, and it has never been presented to this House for approval. When the Prime Minister was previously asked about this by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), he suggested that the estimates vote would be the appropriate vote, but that does not allow us to increase the amount of spending on this aid. I ask the Prime Minister again: when are we going to get a binding vote on the Government’s aid policy?
Perhaps the best thing I can say is how deeply I, the Government and everybody sympathise with those who have gone through the suffering described by the hon. Gentleman. No one who has not been through something like that can imagine what it must feel like to be deprived of the ability to mourn properly and to hold the hands of a loved one in their last moments in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes. I know how much sympathy there will be with him.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s criticisms of the Government and everything we have done most sincerely, but all I can say is that we have tried throughout this pandemic to minimise human suffering and to minimise loss of life. He asks me to apologise and, as I have said before, I do: I apologise for the suffering that the people of this country have endured. All I can say is that nothing that I can say or do can take back the lost lives and the lost time spent with loved ones that he describes. I am deeply, deeply sorry for that.