All 32 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 3rd Mar 2020

Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 3rd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 3rd reading
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting & 3rd reading & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee stage & 3rd reading
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons

House of Commons

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Tuesday 3 March 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Selection
Ordered,
That Amanda Milling be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Stuart Andrew be added.—(Iain Stewart.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The Secretary of State was asked—
Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. What steps he is taking to support UK-based low-carbon industries.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Supporting low-carbon industries is central to my Department’s mission to deliver our net zero target. We are backing our ambition with action. Since 2012, coal use on the grid has fallen from 40% to less than 3% in 2019, and renewable electricity generation has quadrupled since 2010, with low-carbon electricity providing more than 50% of our total energy needs.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In 2018, investment in acquisitions in the UK’s solar dropped to just £0.3 billion, from £1.6 billion in 2015. Should the Government not be doing more to support renewable power, in the light of the net zero target—which the Secretary of State mentioned—and the closure of the feed-in tariff, especially given that German, Italian and Spanish companies are now investing over six times more than UK companies in low-carbon technologies?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has raised the issue of solar power, because, as she will know, solar photovoltaics is a UK success story. There has been rapid deployment over the past eight years, and more than 99% of the UK’s solar PV capacity has been deployed since May 2010. The latest figures indicate that we now have more than 1 million solar installations, or 13.4 GW, of capacity installed.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Cornwall we have some exciting new emerging industries such as geothermal energy and lithium extraction. How is my right hon. Friend encouraging those industries to produce green energy in the future?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are putting significant funds behind the renewables sector, and, as my hon. Friend will know, we are committed to increasing our research and development spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. I want the UK to be a science and R&D superpower, and that is what we are engaged in.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Why are the Government so opposed to onshore wind energy generation?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman may have missed yesterday’s announcement about the fourth contracts for difference allocation round, but if he reads that announcement, he will see the points that we have made. The proposals that we have presented are there to help the UK achieve its 2015 net zero ambition.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support for the onshore wind sector. What support are the Government providing to advance the hydrogen economy, and to decarbonise the hard to abate sectors?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Hydrogen can, of course, play a key role in net zero efforts, alongside electricity. My Department is investing in innovation, with up to £121 million supporting a range of projects to explore and develop the potential of low-carbon hydrogen.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the UK’s great industrial success stories in recent decades has been the automotive industry. What discussions does the Secretary of State plan to have with the industry to help ensure that the UK is best placed to make the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Within days of taking office I spoke to our major automotive manufacturers, and I have had meetings with a number of them. However, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want to encourage electric vehicles, and we are also committed to securing investment for a UK gigafactory. Last year we announced up to £1 billion of new money to support R&D and supply chains for electric vehicles.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13. What steps he is taking to increase investment in research and development.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are already increasing public spending on research and development by £7 billion over five years, the biggest increase in public funding for R&D on record. Every pound of public expenditure on R&D leverages a further £1.40 of additional private investment, generating even greater returns for the UK.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that nearly 50% of the core science budget currently goes to just three cities in southern England, can the Secretary of State assure me that the increase in R&D funding will do more to favour the regions outside the south, so that in future both my city of York and other regional hubs across Yorkshire, such as Leeds and Hull, will receive their fair share for the purposes of research and innovation?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend is hugely supportive of R&D, and that last month he opened the Institute of Technology at York College. I absolutely agree that that is part of our levelling-up agenda. We want to support centres of excellence across the country. In December last year UK Research and Innovation awarded £24 million to the University of York for a quantum communications hub, and we will set out our ambitious play strategy for R&D in the second half of this year.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Rothamsted Research in my constituency is a world-leading agricultural research centre, and we have made huge strides in commercialising that scientific knowledge, working with agritech start-ups. I am working with Rothamsted to build a new venture capital fund for agritech, working with those start-ups to incubate and develop them so that we can improve this facility, not just for Rothamsted and the region but for the whole country. Will the Secretary of State provide Government support for this work and come to see the work that we are doing at Rothamsted?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is showing his characteristic commitment to innovation by supporting an agritech venture capital fund. As he notes, Rothamsted has a world-renowned reputation for agricultural research, and that is why UKRI has awarded £3.4 million to determine protein abundance in plants at that research institute. Either I or the Science Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway)—would be happy to meet him to discuss how the Government can support his proposals.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Drummond
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I also welcome the emphasis that the Government are placing on research and development. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what further action is being taken on the proposal for a UK advanced research projects agency, following the departmental meeting last year?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The UK is ranked fifth in the global innovation index, and our strengths in R&D mean that we are well placed to develop a new funding body to specialise in high-risk, high-reward projects. As I have said, I am absolutely determined that the UK should be a global science superpower, and my Department is making good progress on a UK advanced research projects agency. We are engaging with a wide range of researchers and innovators, and we will set out further plans in due course.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Science Minister to their places. Science is critical to our national prosperity, and it is important that it should be led by them, rather than by the misfit master of Downing Street, so can the Secretary of State clarify the confusing statement from No. 10 on the European research programme? International collaboration is the heartbeat of research and development. For every £1 we put into the European Union programme, we got £1.30 back, and such funding is essential if we are to retain our place as a global science superpower, so will the Secretary of State boost UK science by confirming that we will be going for full associate membership?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course I want the UK to be a science superpower, and we have set out our views on expanding the R&D budget. On Europe, our EU negotiating objectives are very clear: the UK will consider participation in Horizon Europe and Euratom, but this will be part of the wider negotiations.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Royal College of Physicians has found that something like 64,000 people a year die prematurely as a result of unclean air at a cost of some £20 billion. In addition to continuing the research and development into electric cars, will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor and the Environment Secretary to continue the grant of £3,500 for clean cars, so that we can have an enforceable regime for air quality and a platform for research and development and for exports in the green industries, particularly in relation to sustainable transport?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We currently have 460,000 green jobs in this country, and we want to push that to 2 million. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the specific point that he has raised.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, universities have played a critical role in research and development. What help will the Secretary of State give to Queen’s University and Ulster University in Belfast, as well as to the Greenmount Agricultural College, so that they can apply for funding to help research and development across the whole of the United Kingdom?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, UKRI provides funding for a whole range of universities. Again, if the hon. Gentleman has specific ideas for projects, perhaps he would come forward with them.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is possible to build a house that costs nothing to heat, but that is not happening at scale at the moment. Does my right hon. Friend consider it part of his Department’s responsibilities to support research into making this more widespread, which would be hugely beneficial for the planet?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend is an authority on the house building sector, and I had an opportunity to work with him on these issues when I was the Housing and Planning Minister. He raises an important point. We know that 15% of emissions are from housing, and we are looking to see how we can bring that down as part of the net zero target.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What plans he has to support innovation in the aerospace sector.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on aerospace, will know that aerospace is a high-value growth sector driven by innovation, which is why the Government and the industry are co-investing £3.9 billion up to 2026 in aerospace research and development, and a further £300 million in the future flight challenge.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. The UK leads the world in aerospace technology, but it faces the same pressures as other sectors with regard to environmental sustainability, so may I urge him to increase long-term funding for the industry so that we can retain our global lead while meeting the challenge of net zero?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. The Prince of Wales and I co-chaired a deep dive at the Whittle laboratory, with the whole industry around the table, to consider how we can deliver on net zero for the industry. We were targeting a fully electric aircraft that, at 500 miles, could cover most of Europe and take 180 passengers, and of course we are looking at other technologies for longer haul flights. We are also creating the innovators of the future with 500 additional master’s level postgraduate places for aerospace.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. What steps he is taking to increase the number of new jobs in clean growth industries.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers (Stockton South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. What steps he is taking to increase the number of new jobs in clean growth industries.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Minister—and welcome.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Government are committed to making the UK a world leader in clean growth, building on existing strengths in sectors such as nuclear and offshore wind. We are taking action to deliver that, including by investing £3 billion in low-carbon innovation to 2021 and £170 million from the industrial strategy challenge fund to support our industrial decarbonisation mission to create at least one low-carbon industrial cluster by 2030.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Tidal energy could be a game changer for my constituency of Barrow and Furness, for Morecambe bay and for the wider United Kingdom, through clean energy production and the ability to lead the world in this technology. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when considering the viability of these schemes, we have to rewrite the Treasury’s Green Book to take into account not only the unit cost of energy produced, but the value to the UK of leading in this technology and the social impact of bringing the schemes to constituencies such as mine?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that question; I know how passionately he cares about the issue. I agree that the seas around the UK offer huge opportunities for cutting emissions and growing our economy. The offshore wind projects near his constituency offer an excellent example of UK leadership in renewable power. We are determined to drive growth in all parts of the UK and ensure that our assessment of projects takes full account not just of carbon savings, but of the growth and opportunities that they can provide for people across the country.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Net Zero Teesside project aims to decarbonise the Teesside industrial cluster by as early as 2030, capturing up to 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. The project could support up to 5,500 direct jobs, and it could help to safeguard as many as 16,000 existing jobs in the Tees valley. The UK has a unique chance to lead global development of a new carbon capture, utilisation and storage industry. Will the Government prioritise this technology?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend, who I know cares passionately about this issue, makes a really good point; CCUS will be vital to meeting our net zero target and revitalising the UK’s industrial areas. The Government have invested over £50 million in CCUS innovation, and recently we consulted on potential business models to help progress deployment. The CCUS action plan aims to enable the commissioning of the first facility in the UK in the mid-2020s. We committed in our manifesto to investing £800 million towards that, and £500 million to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the Government want to help clean growth, they can invest in the Mersey tidal power project. It is clean, entirely predictable, and could power 1 million homes. It offers high-quality jobs and has massive domestic and export potential. Steve Rotheram and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have just committed a further £3.5 million to the project, so will the Government back the people of the north-west by supporting investment in this exciting new project? It is a chance to demonstrate that they are interested in and serious about tackling the climate crisis.

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, absolutely. We need to do that for research and development in all technologies, and I will welcome the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman in the future.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says the UK is a world leader in offshore wind, but the reality is that too many manufacturing and supply chain jobs go abroad following the award of contracts for difference. Will she look seriously at including a quality assessment mechanism in the bid process to incentivise companies to use UK firms such as CSWind and BiFab?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are making sure that we get to 60% UK employment in manufacturing by investing in R&D. We are committed to doing that.

Alan Mak Portrait Alan Mak (Havant) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nuclear fusion and cleantech are key drivers of the fourth industrial revolution that will help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the whole country this decade. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the COP26 summit is used to showcase our country’s green entrepreneurs?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very simply, yes.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Government rejected the opportunity to create new clean jobs when they scrapped the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which had huge potential for communities along the Severn to kick-start further lagoons, may I, along with other hon. Members, urge them to look again at the huge potential of tidal power?

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can confirm that we have a commitment to net zero, and we are doing everything we can to look at carbon neutral.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What support his Department is providing to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19. What support his Department is providing to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have schemes worth nearly £2 billion operating, or in development, to support our vital energy-intensive industries to decarbonise. We will also invest in building the UK’s first fully deployed carbon capture, usage and storage cluster, and we are progressing carbon capture and hydrogen business models, both of which are crucial technologies in decarbonising our industry.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Achieving net zero is a considerable challenge for energy-intensive industries like ceramics, given the twin requirements of decarbonising without reducing international competitiveness. However, it is a challenge the sector can and will rise to, provided the UK puts supportive policies in place. Are the Government prepared to work actively with the ceramics industry, like Churchill China and Steelite, to help incentivise decarbonisation without, critically, undermining its international competitiveness?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We must work together with industry to help our vital manufacturing regions benefit from clean growth opportunities. Stoke-on-Trent North is lucky to have such a Member championing its cause. We have a number of schemes in place, such as the transforming foundation industries challenge fund, the industrial heat recovery scheme and climate change agreements, to support industries like ceramics to cut bills and save carbon. In addition, we will be opening the industrial energy transformation fund to applications for phase 1 this spring.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent rely on energy-intensive processes to create their world-class products. What assistance can the Government give to help innovation in reducing the amount of carbon emissions generated in those processes?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and, of course, the south is as lucky as the north to have such a fantastic champion in this House.

We have a number of schemes, as I have already mentioned, particularly the transforming foundation industries challenge fund, which will support energy-intensive industries to work with each other to innovate in reducing carbon emissions. This is a joint Government and industry fund. The first competition for projects closed at the beginning of February, and applicants are due to find out later this month whether they have been successful.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Teesside is a major centre for high-carbon, energy-intensive industries, which are nervous about high energy costs, the future of the REACH regulations and carbon costs. It is good to have my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), also supporting the CCUS campaign, but how can the Minister reassure the industry that the Government will address the high cost issues and, in particular, the REACH regulations that he is about to ditch?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We engaged with industry constantly throughout this process: when I took this job on last year, we engaged with industry over REACH, and we are looking at a UK REACH. Most importantly, we are looking at the energy-intensive industries and how we can innovate, for example, in steel and in the steel cluster. We have had good news today for British Steel, and we can use the investment that the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth is making in carbon capture, usage and storage to turn the industry into the greenest steel industry in Europe.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Government help to decarbonise the Rhondda? I ask because following the flooding we have seen significant landslides on former coal sites. I do not want to overstate this, but there is some anxiety about what that might mean for the future and stability of some of these tips. Will the Minister make sure that the Secretary of State meets me and other MPs in affected areas to make sure that the Coal Authority is doing everything in its power to make sure everybody is safe?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Secretary of State will certainly meet him and other concerned MPs, and make sure that the Coal Authority is doing everything it can. I would also like to visit to see for myself what is happening, so that we can work together on this. Getting to net zero by 2050 is a joint effort by the whole of this House, not just this Government.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

22. What recent steps he has taken to support small businesses.

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last month we launched businesssupport.gov.uk, our new website bringing together all Government information available to help businesses start, grow and scale. In my first week, I was delighted to chair the Rose review board, which works with industry leaders to break down the barriers that female entrepreneurs face.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response. Last week my constituents Martin and Deanne Brook proudly opened a brand new post office on Halifax Road in Cross Roads, which they operate in conjunction with their already successful small family business, SMS Workshop Supplies Ltd. What steps are the Government taking to help incentivise small business owners like them to explore the possibility of providing Post Office services as a means of safeguarding the post office network?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is about working with Members such as my hon. Friend and coming up with imaginative ways of opening up post offices, including Martin and Deanne’s in their hardware store. It is also important that we take the Post Office’s relationship with postmasters seriously and closely monitor the situation during the legal proceedings that many people are going through and have been through recently. The Post Office, under its new chief executive officer, has since accepted that it got things wrong. He has apologised and said that it aims to re-establish a positive relationship with postmasters. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working actively with the Post Office on this matter and will hold it to account on its progress. We are also looking into what more needs to be done.[Official Report, 13 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 4MC.]

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Milton Keynes, we can get our groceries delivered by robot, and I was fortunate last week to meet some of the humans from Starship Technologies who wrangle these robots. What support is my hon. Friend giving to small businesses and start-ups such as Starship Technologies, which are at the forefront of innovative new technology?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Fortunately, questions are not answered by robot yet, so I am still here. [Interruption.] Well, there is a bit of character and it is less robotic. I believe that 50,000 deliveries have been done by Starship Technologies in Milton Keynes, so that is an excellent example. We need to make sure that small businesses can innovate, scale and grow, and we are supporting them to do so through such schemes as Innovate UK smart grants, tax credits and the annual investment allowances, and through programmes supported by the British Business Bank. Research and development tax credits are the single biggest Government support for business investment in R&D. So far, just over £4.3 billion has been claimed through those tax credits in 2017-18, £2.3 billion of which was claimed through the small and medium-sized enterprise scheme.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Small businesses in my constituency, including in the village of Stokenchurch, frequently tell me that they find it particularly hard to make a profit on the traditional high street. What can the Minister do to help traditional town centres to thrive, and become commercial and community hubs?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We want our town centres and high streets, including in Stokenchurch in Aylesbury, to be vibrant community hubs where people can live, shop and use services. To support that, we are delivering a £1 billion future high streets fund, as part of a £3.6 billion towns fund to level up our regions. We are committed to a fundamental review of business rates, which the Treasury will announce in due course.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister and the Secretary of State and his new team to their places. I look forward to our future exchanges.

Last week I visited a café in Calder Valley that, despite having just started trading, has been ruined by relentless flooding. The owners, like the owners of so many small businesses, have received no support from the Government and have been left to repair the damage on their own, at their own cost, with the help of local people. Will the Minister outline to the House what meaningful financial support has been made available to businesses affected by flooding? Will the Government protect such businesses in future by outlining in the Budget an increase in the UK’s capital spend on flood defences to approximately £1 billion a year, as advised by the Environment Agency and the National Infrastructure Commission?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have spent £2.6 billion on flooding so far and announced £4 billion in our manifesto. The business recovery grant provides local authorities with funding of £2,500 for severely affected businesses like the café the hon. Lady described. It is important that we support small and medium-sized businesses to recover and help to support local economies.

Rebecca Long Bailey Portrait Rebecca Long Bailey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister must acknowledge that that is a paltry amount of support. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, flooding will cost small businesses hundreds of millions of pounds, and thousands cannot find affordable flood insurance. Furthermore, on flood defence the Government have pledged less than half the capital advised—only £450 million a year for the next six years. The Prime Minister refused to hold a Cobra meeting following the floods and he could not even be bothered to visit the flood-affected areas. Is it not the case that the Government’s response to this disaster is yet another example of a part-time Prime Minister failing to provide the leadership that our country needs in a time of crisis?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister is leading on this situation from the front. He is getting money out the door. As a former small-business owner, I would welcome any visit from the Prime Minister, but what I would welcome more is the money that we are getting out the door on day one to help these businesses.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I too welcome the Secretary of State and his new ministerial team to their places.

The UK’s proposals on EU trade negotiations could reduce Scottish GDP by 6.1%, or £1,600 per person. Small businesses, including many in the food sector, simply cannot afford to cope with the prospect of such Mad Max economics. They need help now, so will the Minister join me in calling for a cut to employers’ national insurance, to help them and to help to protect jobs?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will see what happens in the Budget. Employment allowance has benefited businesses—including my former business—up and down the country. Businesses want meaningful things in the Budget, rather than platitudes from the Opposition.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That response comes as absolutely no surprise, given the email from a key adviser to the Chancellor leaked at the weekend that said that the food sector “isn’t critically important”. We all remember the Prime Minister’s shocking attitude and use of the F-word in relation to business concerns when he said “F*** business”. It now seems that the Government are doubling down on that and it is “F*** farming” and “F*** fishing.” With the Minister refusing to support businesses in their hour of need, it is clear to all that this Government deserve an F for their economic incompetence.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To date, the UK Government have committed up to £3.08 billion for city region and growth deals throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Since 2012, the British Business Bank has issued more than 4,200 start-up loans in Scotland, worth more than £32 million in total. That is actual action for businesses.

Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas (St Ives) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his commitment to small business. Small businesses in Cornwall, and especially on the Isles of Scilly, face an unprecedented challenge on 1 January as a result of the proposed immigration Bill. Will the Minister work with the Home Office to make sure that small businesses that do not have a workforce in the local area sitting around looking to and able to fill posts are able to carry on doing business next year?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I happily confirm to my hon. Friend that our new immigration system is flexible, so, yes, we will work with businesses all around the country to ensure that we have the skills that we need to allow businesses to thrive.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For the past two weekends, properties and businesses in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area—I am one of the MPs for that authority area—have seen devastating flooding. Just this week, I was out helping businesses in my constituency find sandbags and pumps from my local authority. The Welsh Government, the Rhondda Cynon Taff council and council leader Andrew Morgan are offering support to small businesses, so if the Minister is to announce additional funding for those businesses that have been impacted, I plead with him not to forget about Welsh small businesses.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have already talked about the £2,500 that we have been getting out through that business recovery grant, but we will always look to continue to work with businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as in England. It is important, as the hon. Gentleman said, that communities come together, which is why there is support for community economies, ensuring that they can continue to survive and thrive.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will be a great supporter of small businesses, so will he get off to a fast start by urging the Treasury to scrap its misguided changes to IR35? Those changes are punishing small businesses, with large companies already implementing blanket bans that the Treasury had said in a statement would not yet be implemented, and with the HMRC’s own assessment tool creating confusion, not clarity, for entrepreneurs.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the Chancellor will hear that question. As my hon. Friend well knows, that is a matter for the Budget, which is still under review.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. What steps he has taken to prepare for COP26.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to have been appointed COP President. I have already held discussions with former COP Presidents, including Paris COP President Laurent Fabius. I met, among others, the UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed and Patricia Espinosa at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Last week, together with the Prime Minister’s COP26 climate finance adviser, Mark Carney, I launched the COP26 finance strategy. My officials and I are working at pace to deliver a successful summit.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

COP26 will be the most critical talks since Paris, yet preparations so far have been beset by chaos. What response can the Minister provide to the former COP President who says that this Government are presiding over “a huge lack of leadership” on the issue. The Prime Minister has admitted to her that he does not even understand climate change. Does the Minister acknowledge the embarrassing lack of credibility and competence that the Prime Minister has shown on COP26 preparations?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the former COP President for her work. The hon. Lady talks about the Prime Minister’s leadership. I can assure Members that when we were at the UN General Assembly in September, there was a huge amount of positivity around his leadership in doubling our International Climate Finance commitment. She will also know that last month the Prime Minister launched the Year of Climate Action. He is absolutely leading on this issue from the front, and the rest of us are supporting him. Let me tell her that we are absolutely determined to make sure that COP26 is a success, not just for the UK but because it matters to the whole world.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Every country has to submit its contribution to climate action before COP26 meets. Why is the Secretary of State preparing the UK’s contribution statement on the basis of the fifth carbon budget, which works towards a target of only 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, when this House has determined that the target to be met should be net zero by 2050?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We met the first two carbon budgets, and we are on track to meet the third. Of course, I recognise the need for further action: 2020 will be a year of climate action, as I have said, and we have new plans to decarbonise key sectors in industry.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the Department on its far-sighted announcement yesterday that sets the tone for COP26 by allowing onshore wind and solar projects, which have local support, to bid for funding. The announcement also floated a further pot for less developed technologies, such as tidal stream and wave, some of which the Energy Minister and I met last week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should pursue this opportunity to develop diverse sources of green energy and look closely at the innovative tax credit proposal, innovation power purchase agreement, to help some of these technologies get off the ground?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I make the general point that innovation is vital in all sectors of industry, but particularly in the renewables sector. As my hon. Friend will know, the proposal that we set out will help the UK to achieve its 2050 net zero ambition. Ultimately, this is about achieving value for money by driving further cost reductions in renewable electricity.

Rachel Reeves Portrait Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Secretary of State and his new ministerial team to their places. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee looks forward to taking evidence from them, and I am sure that they look forward to that as well.

May I follow up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about our fourth and fifth carbon budgets? Those carbon budgets are premised on achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions, yet this House has unanimously passed legislation to achieve net zero. It is neither coherent, nor showing leadership, for our fourth and fifth carbon budgets to be based on an outdated objective that this House has rejected. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we will be updating our fourth and fifth carbon budgets—and, crucially, that we will meet them?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming my ministerial team and me. Of course I look forward to coming before her Select Committee. Let me be absolutely clear: we are one of the first countries in the world to have legislated for a net zero target, and we have demonstrated our global leadership. We have met the first two carbon budgets and are on track to meet the third, but I take her point.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree that one of the best ways of preparing for COP26 is bringing forward the new contracts for difference auctions for onshore wind and solar, which will help us to achieve net zero. Could we also take this opportunity to demonstrate to the hard-working taxpayers of Rother Valley and across the country that we can reduce their bills by going green. Can we make it a key part of COP26 to show that going green is better value for those hard-working people?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Offshore wind prices have dropped by over two thirds between 2015 and 2019 because of the CfD auctions. Going green is positive for the economy: GDP has grown by 75% since 1990, yet we have also managed to reduce emissions by 43%.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on renewable energy.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have many conversations across Government. I have spoken with the Secretary of State for Scotland, as well as the Energy Minister in the devolved Administration. In fact, I spoke to colleagues just yesterday.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I for one would like to say how delighted I am that the Government have finally listened to the common-sense advice of Scottish National party Members on the issue of onshore renewable energy and contracts for difference, even if the delay has cost us five wasted years. Looking ahead, will the Minister ensure that the contracts for difference process is reformed to maximise growth and opportunities for the Scottish and UK supply chains, and how exactly will he go about doing that?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been particularly successful in the offshore wind auctions, and we came to our conclusion not because of SNP lobbying, but because we felt that having a pot 1 auction was the best way to reach the net zero carbon target in a timely way by 2050.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important to put it on the record that not everyone in Scotland will welcome yesterday’s announcement, not least my constituents, who have more wind turbines—in sight or planned—than any other constituency in the United Kingdom. Given the ineffective planning system operated by the Scottish Government and their willingness to override local decision making, what reassurance can the Minister give my constituents that they are not going to be overwhelmed by continuing wind farms?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. We are very mindful of community consent and engagement with the planning process through consultation periods. We are also ensuring that the planning regime is robust. On balance, it was felt that we needed to make a move on this pot 1 auction in order to reach the target.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on ending UK export finance for (a) coal-mining and (b) coal-fired power station projects; and if he will make a statement.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have announced, with the Department for International Trade, that we will no longer provide any new export finance or new export credit for thermal coalmining or coal-powered plants overseas.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that confirmation. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement at the UK-Africa investment summit, will the Minister set out whether there is going to be a transition period prior to the welcome situation that he has described? Does he agree that UK Export Finance should be promoting the transition away from all fossil fuels in developing countries as soon as possible?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Any form of financing should absolutely take into account our net zero commitment, and it is in the process of doing so. On the question of coal, I take the opportunity to reiterate the fact that the Prime Minister, only last month, announced the intention to consult on bringing forward the coal closure to 1 October 2024. Even last month, only about 3% of our power generation was coming from coal. So this is a very achievable target, and we are very hopeful that we can take coal entirely off the grid by October 2024.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The move to generate electricity from sources other than coal is very welcome, but some manufacturing processes will still require a supply of coal. Does the Minister agree that it is better for that coal to be supplied from domestic sources rather than being shipped halfway around the world?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right. Obviously, from a coal and carbon emissions reduction point of view, it makes sense to have a locally based coal source rather than shipping it in a very costly way halfway around the world. That is a fair point. On the point about coal, the 2024 target is absolutely achievable. It is something we are absolutely committed to doing. In the long run, coal will be taken completely off the power generation grid, and that is something to be celebrated across the whole House.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Alok Sharma Portrait The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Alok Sharma)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Department is leading the green revolution, working towards a target of net zero emissions by 2050. We are unleashing innovation and making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business. We are creating better corporate governance, improving employment protections and working practices, and contributing to the UK’s labour market strategy. Our preparations for COP26 are gathering pace, ramping up momentum towards a global zero carbon economy.

John McNally Portrait John Mc Nally
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The recent BEIS Committee report was clear that the UK could not credibly adopt a net zero emissions target unless it invests in carbon capture and undersea storage. Does the Secretary of State plan to extend the Tory manifesto’s proposals on CCUS plants to Scotland so that we can create and deliver a clean growth structure?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I certainly agree that CCUS is going to be essential to successfully tackling climate change. The hon. Gentleman talks about innovation funding for Scotland. I can tell him that £4.8 million is supporting the development of Project Acorn, which is a CCUS project based in north-east Scotland.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

For over 40 years, Jim Hall Sports has been at the heart of Bramhall village. However, the future of the shop is in doubt after Nike’s decision to terminate its supply agreements with smaller independent shops. This follows years of annual rises in the amounts that independent retailers have needed to sell to hold on to their merchandise account. It is a move that is a harbinger of the end of many independent stores in an already pressurised high street market. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with sports giants such as Nike to ensure that Jim Hall’s and other independent sports shops continue to have a future on our high streets?

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for sticking up for small businesses in her constituency. Large suppliers of consumer products, especially those who are leaders in their field, have a responsibility to treat retailers fairly and transparently, regardless of their size. If they think they are being unfairly treated, they could go to the Competition and Markets Authority. Contractual arrangements are between two private companies. However, we will support our high streets through the towns fund and the establishment of the high street taskforce.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Coronavirus is impacting on every aspect of work, from the cost to employers to the cost to workers. The Health Secretary has said that employers should view isolation as sick leave, but the law does not state that. Even if that was so, those on zero-hours contracts and in insecure work are unlikely to have sickness cover, and statutory sick pay does not pay for the first three days, meaning that those with little means have to choose between health and hardship—an issue I raised with the Health Minister a month ago. So what discussions has the Business Secretary had with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that workers are financially protected to stop the risk of spreading coronavirus?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is right: this is a very serious issue, which affects individuals and challenges businesses. Those who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, including those who are self-employed, may be able to claim universal credit or new-style employment and support allowance.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. Lithium is set to become one of the most sought after minerals in the world. Recent confirmation of significant deposits means that Cornwall is well placed to enable the UK to have its own secure domestic and sustainable supply of this vital mineral. Not only will that help to level up the Cornish economy, but it will put the UK at a global competitive advantage. Will the Minister ensure that the Government do everything possible to enable us to make the most of this opportunity, and would he like to come to Cornwall to see the work that is going on?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I had the pleasure, with my hon. Friend, of meeting Cornish Lithium recently, and it was made clear that lithium extraction provides an excellent opportunity to contribute to our efforts to level up Cornwall, as well as securing our net zero objectives. I thank him for the invitation. I would be delighted to visit Cornwall.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. In Scotland, 204 free cash machines closed last year. Alongside access to local banks and post office services being cut, that is having a hugely detrimental impact on high streets and small businesses in our towns, which are already struggling. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government act now and introduce legislation to protect access to cash, local banking and post office services on our high streets, so that our small businesses and high streets can survive and thrive?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are committed to supporting the retail sector, and we are working closely with the industry through the Retail Sector Council. As the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), noted in reply to a question earlier, we are supporting high streets with the £1 billion future high streets fund.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. Both I and Andy Street are campaigning for a gigafactory to be located in the urban west midlands, close to the heart of car manufacturing. The factory would make the region a world leader in green vehicle technology. Will the Minister support that vision, and what steps can we take to ensure there is further investment in green technology in the west midlands?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are committed to securing investment for a UK gigafactory to support electrical vehicle manufacturing. Indeed, last week, I met Andy Street and Ralf Speth, who is the chief executive officer of Jaguar Land Rover, to discuss their thoughts on this matter. We recognise the strength of the west midlands, where £138 million has already been invested in the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre scheduled to open near Coventry this summer.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. [R] As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been receiving representations from entrepreneurs with disabilities who state that they face many more challenges in accessing business loans. Will the Secretary of State speak with colleagues in the Treasury and make sure that there is a strategy to address that, so that a truly inclusive economy can be achieved?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady talks about support for business. We provide that through small start-up loans and the British Business Bank, but I or one of my colleagues would be happy to have a discussion with her on the specific issue she raises.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T7. Are the current bunch of Ministers crusading Conservatives? With 73% of small businesses reporting that they are over-regulated, do Ministers wake up every day thinking about how they can reduce taxation and regulation on business—particularly small businesses? In other words, do they accept that it is only with entrepreneurs that we can create wealth in this society?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend speaks from experience, having been a business Minister in the past. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we reduce burdensome regulation and red tape, but we need to make sure that we stick with the protections that are there for employees.

Sharon Hodgson Portrait Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T9. Following the conviction of two ticket touts in Leeds last week for fraud, what discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about including financial harm in the online harms White Paper?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make sure that my colleagues and I have the discussion. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to share with my office the details of that case.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T8. As a former small business owner, may I ask the Minister what steps he is taking to enable more women to start and grow their own businesses, to help generate more local jobs in my constituency and across the country?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Last week, I co-chaired the Rose review board, which is overseeing the progress made in delivering on the initiatives from that review. The Treasury has launched the investing in women code, which to date has 22 signatories from across the financial services industry. I look forward to working with my colleagues in government and business to drive forward this important agenda.

Chris Evans Portrait Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Tidal’s Store in my constituency is paying a high amount of business rates—proportionately more than the local retail park down the road—which it says is putting it at a disadvantage. Will the Minister have a word with his Treasury colleagues about reforming business rates for small businesses such as Tidal’s?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I know that that is something that exercises high streets up and down the country. The Treasury is looking at this and reviewing business rates as a whole.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I was in business years ago, it came to something when Ríkisútvarpið in Iceland and Nederlandse Omroep Stichting in Holland paid quicker than the BBC. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that large businesses pay smaller businesses quickly and on time?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We will be strengthening the Small Business Commissioner’s powers. We already have a tough approach to large companies that do not comply with the payment practices and reporting duty. We are strengthening and reforming the prompt payment code and moving administration to the Small Business Commissioner. The business basics fund competition encourages SMEs to utilise payment technology and boost productivity, and the winners will be announced in April.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Local crofters in Melness support the proposal to establish a vertical space launch facility in Sutherland, and they have written to the Prime Minister to tell him that. Does the Secretary of State agree that that would be good for the local economy and that the UK has a huge opportunity in terms of launching satellites for other countries that do not have launch facilities?

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Amanda Solloway)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for that question. We have united Departments across Government to develop a UK space strategy, which will help the UK lead the way in this fast-growing area and create thousands of jobs across the country. Our space strategy will support cutting-edge space science and technologies and foster world-leading British innovation.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien (Harborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nearly half the core research and development budget is spent in just three cities—Oxford, Cambridge and London—and yet for every pound of private investment that such spending leverages in London, we get £3 in the east midlands and £5 in the west midlands. Does the Minister agree that, if we are going to level up, we need a fairer division of spending on R&D?

Alok Sharma Portrait Alok Sharma
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said in answer to an earlier question, I absolutely want to see levelling up, and I want to see money put into centres of excellence around the country.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Secretary of State to his role. I enjoyed working with him in his previous job, and I am sure he will do a very good job in this Department. Is he aware of the dire situation of businesses in my constituency because the workshop of the world—China—has closed for business? There is no supply chain, and manufacturing companies up and down the country are in a dire situation. This is a crisis caused by coronavirus, and we have not stepped up to the plate yet to face the measure of this terrible disaster.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for his question, but he is wrong. We have stood up a very important group within the Department that is working with the automotive sector, the retail sector and others that are impacted by China’s supply chain problems. We continue to monitor the situation closely, as well as the critical infrastructure that keeps the UK’s lights on and the UK economy powering ahead.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to level up the great British high street with the internet would be to allow our high street shops to choose when they open?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend has looked at extending the hours of the Malvern tourist information centre. The Government have reviewed this issue several times. There are strongly held views on both sides. We believe that the current rules represent a fair compromise between those seeking reduced opening hours and those seeking greater liberalisation.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At the same time as the Government have re-announced subsidies for onshore wind, Scottish Forestry has revealed that 13.9 million trees have been cut down for wind farms on its land. Does the Minister share my concern at those acts of economic vandalism? Does he believe that it is in the economic and environmental interests of this country to tear down trees, cut up peatland and erect steel structures on pristine landscapes in the vain hope that we can change the climate?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Kwasi Kwarteng)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am always very interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s contributions on this subject. We should look at the details of actual deforestation, but he must not allow himself to get distracted from the big picture. The deployment of offshore wind has been a huge success for the UK. As the Secretary of State said, the price per megawatt hour has come down by two thirds and renewable energy is absolutely at the centre of our strategy to reach net zero carbon.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In 2016, the United States became a net exporter of liquefied natural gas. In 2019, the United States became a net exporter of all oil products: both crude and refined. In order to diversify the UK’s energy risk, is it not time that the Government started to interact with the United States, perhaps as part of a trade deal, to import both gas and oil from the United States?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I met the newly appointed US Energy Secretary a couple of weeks ago and we work very closely with the United States. Of course, this week we published our terms for our negotiation for a free trade agreement with that great country.

Recent Violence in India

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

12:31
Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on recent violence in India and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Nigel Adams Portrait The Minister for Asia (Nigel Adams)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will respond to this urgent question as the Foreign Secretary is in Turkey today.

The British high commission in New Delhi and our extensive diplomatic network of deputy high commissions across India are monitoring closely the recent violence in India and developments around the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The events in Delhi last week were very concerning, and the situation is still tense. The death of one protester is one too many. We urge restraint from all parties and trust that the Indian Government will address the concerns of people of all religions in India. We also condemn any incidents of violence, persecution or targeting of people based on religion or belief, wherever it happens in the world.

India has a proud history of inclusive government and religious tolerance. Its secular constitution, which guarantees equality before the law, has been an exemplar of inclusive democracy. After his re-election, I note that Prime Minister Modi promised to continue this under the guiding principles of

“together with all, development for all and trust for all”.

These shared strengths and values are central to the governance of both our countries. It is a central message of our foreign policy that societies are stronger and safer when we embrace our diversity rather than fear it.

Related to this, many people have made it clear that they have concerns about the Government of India recently signing into law the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which expedites the path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians, but notably not Muslims or minority sects. The UK Government also have concerns about the potential impact of the legislation. It is because of our close relationship with the Government of India that we are able to discuss difficult issues with them and make clear our concerns where we have them, including on the rights of minorities.

Most recently, my ministerial colleague Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon raised these concerns about the impact of the CAA with a senior member of India’s Ministry of External Affairs on 25 February. Officials from the British high commission in New Delhi also raised our concerns about the potential impact of the CAA and the police response to the protests with the state government of Uttar Pradesh on 7 February. Our former high commissioner in New Delhi, Sir Dominic Asquith, also raised the issue with the Government of India in January, as did Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials with the Indian high commission in London.

More broadly, the UK engages with India at all levels, including union and state governments, and with non-governmental organisations to build capacity and share expertise to promote human rights for all. We will continue to follow events closely and to raise our concerns when we have them.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Mahmood
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I find the hon. Gentleman’s words rather facile. We have brought him to the Dispatch Box. I raised the issue with the Leader of the House on Thursday, and the Minister is here now. This urgent question concerns the sickening violence against Muslims that we have seen in India in recent weeks following the proposals in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019. The CAA enables undocumented migrants from neighbouring countries to seek Indian citizenship, provided that they meet one condition: they are not Muslim. This is the first such law to have been passed in India since its independence. Next will come a national register of citizens, and undocumented Muslim migrants will automatically be excluded, held in concentration camps and identified for deportation.

Through such laws, Prime Minister Modi is turning a hateful nationalistic slogan into brutality. He recently said, “Hinduon ka Hindustan,” which is literally translated as, “India for the Hindus.” The CAA has generated nationwide protests by Muslims and secular Hindus, prompting politicians from the ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party to demand that the sectarian hate mobs hit back. Recently in Delhi, more than 40 people were killed by mobs that attacked Muslim homes and families, but the authorities took no notice. As a result, in recent weeks, dozens of Muslims have been dragged out of their homes, burned, or beaten to death in the streets by mobs. Thousands of people have lost their livelihoods. All the while, the Indian police look on passively, and Modi cynically counts the benefits of electoral success.

For those who support India and want to see it take its rightful place as one of the global leaders of the 21st century, with a place on the United Nations Security Council, it is sickening to see such a descent into hatred and mob rule. What are the Government doing to take India off this path and to provide protection for its Muslim population? Has the Minister raised the issue with his Indian counterpart, and has he threatened to raise it at Commonwealth and UN level? If India behaves like a state with no regard for human rights, the rule of law or freedom of religion, it must urgently be made to face the consequences of its behaviour.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am expecting to run this urgent question for up to 40 minutes.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we deplore what we have seen over the last few weeks, and we condemn the violence that has been recorded and broadcast. We have raised, and do raise, concerns with the Indian Government, especially over matters such as this. As I said, we have concerns about the impact of the CAA, and my colleague, Lord Ahmad, has raised them with the Ministry of External Affairs. We continue that dialogue. As recently as mid-February, officials from the British high commission raised our concerns about the impact of the CAA, and particularly about the police response to those protests with the state government of Uttar Pradesh. I assure the hon. Gentleman that our dialogue with the Indian Government is ongoing.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend my hon. Friend for his responses so far, particularly his remark that one protester who is killed is one too many. He will be aware that it is not just Muslims who have been killed; Hindus have also been killed as part of the riots. Will he confirm that there have been 514 arrests following those riots, and that the police have organised 330 separate meetings with different communities to bring them together and calm the situation down? Will he commend that action to restore peace and tranquillity to Delhi?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in these affairs. I would commend and applaud any action that attempts to take the heat out of the severe tensions over the CAA that currently exist in parts of India.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a lot of agreement across the House, and I commend the Minister on his statement, with which I agreed, as far as it went—we need to be clear that we can go a lot further. The situation has been, as we have heard, occasioned by a deliberate Indian Government policy of targeting Muslims with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In the short term, there is a real role for the UK Government—this was not mentioned in the statement—to build on the RESIST Government communication framework, as it is obvious that online disinformation is being used in India to inflame tensions. I commend the Government Communication Service and the Cabinet Office on this work. I think that the UK is in a position to undertake a real assessment of the online actors, including malign actors—this is aside from Indian Government policy, which is another issue, and I urge the Minister to step up efforts on dialogue regarding that—as there are online efforts that could be made against that sort of disinformation, as people are at risk of further violence.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible and important point. I am pleased that he welcomes the report. Any measures, whether attempting to clamp down on online disinformation or those that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) raised, are welcome. We are in constant contact on these issues, and we know how important this is to Members of Parliament and their constituents, who may have family in the area. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Will he confirm that he will use his high office and every power that he has to make sure that Members’ concerns are relayed to the Indian authorities, particularly given that the brutality seems to have been meted out by those who should enforce the law, as was recently shown in BBC coverage.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I alluded to our concerns about some of the police brutality that was meted out. We have long regarded protest as a key part of any democratic society. Democratic Governments must have the power to enforce law and order when a protest crosses the line into illegality, but we also encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws are enforced in line with all international standards.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the past five years, Narendra Modi’s BJP Government have chosen a path of systematic discrimination, whether the abrogation of article 35A in Kashmir or the citizenship law. Calling the recent violence “community clashes” seeks to normalise far more sinister events. India is now controlled by a Hindutva supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideology, with strong historic links to the Nazi party. The current Prime Minister of India was a member of the RSS. What steps is our Prime Minister taking to call out that discriminatory practice at the heart of the Indian Government?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. We are in constant contact with the Indian Government. I mentioned in my statement that we have concerns about the impact of the CAA legislation, particularly on Muslims, and she is right to raise that. Rest assured that, through our close relationship with India, we are able to raise those concerns with that Government, especially in a live situation.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The United Kingdom can be justifiably proud of being a world leader in matters relating to freedom of confession. Can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will call for a thorough investigation of all and any abuses that have been perpetrated, and use their influence to call for restraint?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a sensible point, and it is because we have influence with the Indian Government that we are in a good position to do that. We have close contacts, and we actively promote—I think we are a world leader in this—matters relating to freedom of religion and belief. Ministers and senior officials raise individual cases, and highlight practices and laws, that discriminate against people on that basis.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Incited mob violence in Delhi on the basis of someone’s faith brings back painful personal memories, as a religious minority, of the 1984 genocide of Sikhs while I was studying in India. We must learn from history, not be fooled by those whose insidious aim is to divide society and are hellbent on killing people and destroying religious places in the name of religion. What message has the Minister given to his Indian counterparts that the persecution of Indian Muslims, many of whom who have protested peacefully against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, is utterly intolerable; that the police cannot stand idly by or, worse still, be complicit, as is alleged by many victims and social activists; and that the perpetrators must feel the full force of the law?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman speaks very powerfully from personal experience. It is absolutely essential that we speak up when we believe that abuses have taken place. When protest crosses the line into illegality, as I mentioned, the Government need to act within all domestic and international laws to make sure that those laws are enforced. He is absolutely right to raise these issues, and we are constantly talking at ministerial and official levels with the Government of India about our concerns, particularly regarding the CAA.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am speaking on behalf of a great number of constituents who have presented me with very grave concerns about what is happening in India. Does my hon. Friend agree that clamping down on any human rights abuses will always be a central part of UK foreign policy?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is absolutely right. We take the lead on this issue around the world and we are well regarded. This is a core part of our foreign policy, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that in the House on behalf of his constituents.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We know that there is a pattern of behaviour and that this is just the latest example of religious intolerance in India. When Prime Minister Modi welcomed Donald Trump a couple of weeks ago, we saw the two of them embracing each other and scrambling to do a trade agreement. In the scramble for a post-Brexit trade deal, what reassurances can the Minister give that we will not be doing the same, and that we will raise these cases at the highest levels of Government and not ignore human rights when it comes to doing trade deals?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While trade is vital for our economy and future prosperity, this in no way compromises the United Kingdom’s commitment to holding human rights at the core of our foreign policy. I guarantee the hon. Gentleman that we will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently introduced an intervention plea in the Supreme Court of India about the CAA; she has been given a brush-off by the Indian Government. What are we doing to bolster the position of the UN commissioner?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am aware of the intervention to which my hon. Friend refers. I assure him that we raise our concerns privately and regularly with the Government of India. We will continue to engage with them on a full range of human rights matters and we raise our concerns when we have them, particularly at the current time.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the BBC recently reported, the latest outbreak of violence in Delhi is very worrying, as there is evidence that the police are complicit in and, indeed, encouraging violence against Muslims. What are the Government doing to make sure that they are talking to their counterparts in Delhi to ensure that Muslim’s lives there are safe?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member raises a very good point. Any allegation of human rights abuses is deeply disturbing, and the violence that we saw was incredibly concerning. I assure the House that we have made it clear that those incidents must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The fact that the Indian Government have felt able to pass this law and some of the responses that we have seen to it are deeply distressing. Will my hon. Friend not only confirm that he will continue to raise this at the highest level but make a commitment that Foreign Office staff will now start planning how we can act to raise the pressure on this issue before there is any further escalation, rather than reacting in response to it?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend has great experience of foreign affairs, having worked in the Department, and she raises a very good and crucial point. Because we have that close relationship with India through our officials and at a ministerial level, we can have that dialogue. She makes a very sensible point about being pre-emptive rather than reactive.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the violence it has precipitated would be concerning enough if it was a single isolated act, but we all know that it is not; it comes on the heels of Modi’s Government’s actions in relation to Kashmir and the implementation in Assam of a national register of citizens. It is beginning to look like part of a course of conduct designed to marginalise the Muslim population in India. India is part of the Commonwealth. What are we doing through that forum, alongside the bilateral representations that I trust we are making?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman rightly mentions the NRC in Assam. I know that there are concerns in that area as well. Through our network of high commissioners, we continually assess that situation. I can get back to the right hon. Gentleman in writing on action through the Commonwealth.

Mark Pritchard Portrait Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the intervention application to the Indian Supreme Court by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, does the Minister believe that this is an internal sovereign issue, or does he believe that it is an international issue, given that India is a signatory to a plethora of international law obligations?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We raise these issues directly and have done so privately. I am aware of what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has filed, but the UK Government intend to pursue our policy of raising issues directly with the Government of India.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In October 1984, Delhi witnessed the genocide of Sikhs in their thousands under Congress rule. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that all ethnic and religious minorities in India can feel safe, secure and free from persecution?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All minorities in India deserve that protection, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we constantly remind our counterparts at official and ministerial levels of their responsibilities in that regard.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O'Brien (Harborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In my constituency, families of Indian origin have wonderful relations with each other, whether they are Hindu, Sikh or Muslim, so it is heartbreaking to see the violence in India. Is the Minister thinking about how we can use all our policies, including our aid policies, to encourage equally good relationships between communities in India itself?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK Government have several projects in India, though we do not provide funding directly to the Government of India. I know that this can be helpful and that our intervention is appreciated in many areas.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I echo the Minister’s tribute to the constitution of India. Since it was drafted under the leadership of Dr B. R. Ambedkar after independence, it has been admired around the world for its commitment to equality irrespective of religion. Does he share my sadness that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is such a decisive move away from that principle because, as he has explained, for some it makes citizenship dependent on their religion?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do share the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns. The UK Government have broad concerns about the Act, which is why we are engaging directly with the Government. He is right to raise this matter because it is a huge concern.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Those of us with significant Indian Muslim communities will have seen videos showing shocking orchestrated sectarian violence. Can I encourage the Minister to invite the Indian high commissioner to his office to share with him the deep concern of many of our constituents about their families and friends in India? If there is one silver lining in this very dark cloud it is what one Gujarati Muslim said to me, which is that he and his family now value more than ever the pluralism and safety across faiths that this country provides.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge and passion on all these matters and is right to raise this issue. I will speak to my ministerial colleague, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who I know has a close relationship with the high commissioner. I am sure that this matter has been raised, but on behalf of my hon. Friend and his constituents, I will ensure that Lord Ahmad has a meeting with the high commissioner shortly.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many of my constituents have raised concerns about the ongoing situation in India and Jammu and Kashmir. There is something the Minister could do to be of assistance. There will be many people within the UK Visas and Immigration system awaiting a decision, including people who have been through religious persecution already. What advice would he give to his colleagues in the Home Office on how those cases should be dealt with and will he ensure that the advice on India and Jammu and Kashmir is updated to reflect the ongoing situation?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We regularly update our advice on Kashmir via the FCO website and we encourage people to take close notice of that. I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office will have noted the hon. Lady’s question and will make sure she gets a follow-up.

Mary Robinson Portrait Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Our close relationship with India will ensure that our concerns on this matter are heard. What representations have the Government made to the Government of India to ensure that they, their states and their agents always act in compliance with international law?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is because we have a close relationship with India that we can raise our concerns at all levels with the Government of India. Most recently, just over a week ago, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon raised our concerns about the CAA directly with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In August 2019, the Indian Government stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomous status. In December, it passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which provides a path to citizenship for all migrant minorities except Muslims and creates a national register of citizens, forcing Indians to provide documents to prove their citizenship, which many poorer Indians do not have and many Muslims will not be able to get. Does the Minister accept that the recent violence in Delhi, which has been whipped up by BJP politicians and has led to dozens of deaths, is just the latest targeted assault on Muslims by the Modi Government?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK Government have deep concerns about the escalation that the hon. Lady refers to. She mentioned the NRC, which is currently enacted in the state of Assam. We have not received any confirmation from the Government of India that it will be expanded India-wide, but she is right to raise concerns, because millions of people could be affected and will be very concerned about this policy.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK leads the way on the global stage on freedom of religion and belief?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do indeed. We actively promote the importance of freedom of religion and belief and we combat discrimination on the basis of religious identity through our diplomatic activity and through the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Recently, delegates from Nottingham’s Indian diaspora came to see me and challenged me—quite legitimately—over our special connection and relationship with India, which they said gave us a responsibility to speak out against what we have seen in Kashmir and with the CAA. The Minister has talked about the contact between our Government and the Government of India, but he has not said what impact that has had. He has detailed his strategy. What evidence does he have that it is working?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I have said numerous times, we are constantly making representations where we believe there are human rights abuses. On Kashmir, as is well known, our position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution while taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people. The Indian Government take notice of what the UK Government say, and that dialogue will continue.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is of particular concern to my constituents, many of whom have family and friends in the region. This is obviously a complex issue, but will my hon. Friend agree to put more pressure on the Indian and Pakistani Governments to take action to find a resolution that results in peace in Jammu and Kashmir?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Indeed. My ministerial colleagues talk to their colleagues in not just the Indian but the Pakistani Government. I can assure my hon. Friend and his constituents that that dialogue continues, and that we consistently press for channels of dialogue to remain open. We believe that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution, and we want to encourage the pace and scope of their dialogue.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister join me in rejecting the language of riots, clashes, protest and communal violence? This is, in fact, a continuation of sustained and systemic Hindutva violence waged on the Muslim and many minority ethnic communities in India that is sanctioned by Modi’s BJP Government.

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK Government have long regarded protest as a legitimate means of raising issues and as part of democratic society, but any allegations of human rights abuse are very concerning, and we believe that they should be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the Minister share with us the reason why the Indian Government have excluded Muslims from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act? Does he agree that legislation should never discriminate on the basis of faith?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can assure the hon. Lady that such legislation does give us cause for concern, especially for the Muslim community, and we make those points very clearly when we meet our counterparts.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Was the hon. Gentleman not late in attending?

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was, yes.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that case, we will leave it until next time.

Coronavirus

Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
13:01
Matt Hancock Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Matt Hancock)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about the Government’s coronavirus action plan.

The situation facing the country is increasingly serious. Globally and at home, the number of cases continues to rise. As of 9 am today there were 51 confirmed cases in the UK, and it is becoming more likely that we will see widespread transmission in this country. Our approach is to plan for the worst and work for the best. Yesterday I attended a Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, during which we finalised our four-part action plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus. The plan has been jointly agreed by the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Copies have been sent to Members of both Houses, and made available in hard copy.

The plan is driven by the science and guided by the expert recommendations of the four UK chief medical officers and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. It sets out what we know so far about the virus and the disease that it causes, what long-term planning we have undertaken to prepare for a pandemic, what actions we have taken so far in response to the current outbreak, and, crucially, the role that the public can play in supporting our response, both now and in the future.

The UK is well prepared for infectious disease outbreaks of this kind. The international data continue to indicate that for most people, this disease is mild and the vast majority recover fully. We have responded to a wide range of disease outbreaks in the recent past, and the NHS has been preparing for a pandemic virus for well over a decade. We have world-class expertise to make sense of the emerging data, we have a strong base on which to build, and, while covid-19 is a new virus, we have adapted our response to take account of that fact.

Our plan sets out a phased response to the outbreak. Phase 1 is to contain, and it is the phase that we are currently in. Contain is about detecting the early cases, following up close contacts, and preventing the disease from taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible. That approach also buys time for the NHS to ramp up its preparations. The scientific advice is that if the number of global cases continues to rise, especially in Europe, we may not be able to contain the virus indefinitely.

At that point, we will activate the delay phase of our plan. Delay is about slowing the spread, lowering the peak impact of the disease, and pushing it away from the winter season. We are mindful of scientific advice that reacting too early or overreacting carries its own risks, so, subject to the primary goal of keeping people safe, we will seek to minimise social and economic disruption.

The third part of the plan is research. Research has been ongoing since we first identified covid-19, and I pay tribute to the scientists at Public Health England who were among the first in the world to sequence its genome. Research is not just about the development of a vaccine, which we are actively pursuing but which will be many months away at the earliest. It is also about understanding what actions will lessen the impact of the coronavirus, including what drugs and treatments—existing and new—will help those who are already sick.

The fourth phase is mitigate. We will move to this phase if the virus becomes established in the UK population. At that point it would be impossible to prevent widespread transmission, so the emphasis will be on caring for those who are most seriously ill, and keeping essential services running at a time when large parts of the workforce may be off sick. Our plans include not just the most likely case, but the reasonable worst case.

We will identify and support the most vulnerable. If necessary, we will take some of the actions set out in today’s plan to reduce the impact of absentees and to lessen the impact on our economy and supply chains. We prepare for the worst and work for the best. We commit to ensuring that the agencies responsible for tackling this outbreak are properly resourced and have the people, equipment and medicines that they need, and that any new laws that they need are brought forward as and when required.

This is a national effort. We need everyone to listen to and act on the official medical advice. We need employers to prioritise the welfare of their staff. And the single most important thing that everyone can do to help—I make no apologies for repeating this—is to use tissues when they cough or sneeze, and to wash their hands more often. That is in their interest, their families’ interest and the national interest.

We will get through this, and everyone has a part to play. I commend this statement to the House.

13:07
Jonathan Ashworth Portrait Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House for being a few minutes late? I had a problem with my printer when I was trying to print the Secretary of State’s statement. I thank him for advance sight of the statement, and, indeed, for advance sight of the action plan this morning. Let me also record my thanks for the briefing that the Leader of the Opposition and I received yesterday from departmental officials, the chief medical officer and the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. I believe that the chief medical officer will brief parliamentarians later today, and I think that that is a very welcome initiative.

The Government’s strategy to contain then delay, research and then mitigate has our endorsement, but may I ask the Secretary of State for some specific clarifications? The first relates to containment and self-isolation. The Prime Minister said today—as, indeed, the Secretary of State has said before—that workers who self-isolate are considered to be on sick leave. Can the Secretary of State confirm that those who need to self-isolate will not need to visit a GP to obtain a sick note, given that the Government’s advice is not to visit a GP? As he will know, 2 million workers on low pay or insecure contracts in the gig economy do not even qualify for statutory sick pay. He will also know that those who are receiving benefits are often asked to physically attend appointments. Can he guarantee that no financial sanction will be imposed if they are asked to self-isolate?

Does the Secretary of State accept that people should not be forced to make a choice between their health and avoiding financial hardship? We are told that he is considering emergency legislation. Will he introduce legislation to remove the barriers to self-isolation so that all workers can receive the sick pay that they deserve? That is in the interests of public health. If he introduces such legislation, we will help him to get it on to the statute book quickly. He could do it this week or he could do it next week, and we will support him. Let us give all workers the security that they deserve, so that they do not have to put their health ahead of their financial interests or vice versa.

More broadly on the NHS and social care, I want to look at the response of the NHS and the support that it will be given through the containment and mitigation phases. We know that around 80% of critical care beds were occupied last week. We know that the NHS is short of 100,000 staff, and we also know that staff working in the NHS, particularly those on the frontline such as GPs, need to be protected as well. Even if we take at face value the Government’s insistence that they have provided the NHS with the resources to deliver the commitments of the long-term plan—we obviously disagree on this, but that is a debate for another time—we can surely all accept that covid-19 is going to lead to increased demand on trusts and the wider NHS. Every trust that sends a sample for testing has to pay for it to be couriered. Trusts are likely to take on more agency staff. If retired staff are encouraged to return to practice, the wage bill will increase. By the way, on retired staff, can the Secretary of State reassure us that protections and oversight will be in place, particularly around returning staff who, as we understand it, will not need to go through a revalidation process for their licence?

The Government have recognised that, as we move into the mitigation phase, non-urgent care may be delayed. I assume that means that trusts will be looking at cancelling elective surgery, which will result in waiting lists growing. Again, this will impact on trusts’ finances. Will the Government provide an emergency funding increase for the NHS resource budget to support the NHS through this next challenging period? Directors of public health still do not know their public health allocations for the next financial year, which starts next month. This means that directors of public health could be cutting the nurse workloads they are responsible for commissioning at a time when those very nurses will be needed to deal with covid-19 cases. Will the right hon. Gentleman announce the public health allocations as a matter of urgency?

On social care, we know that many who are at risk from the virus are the elderly and those with chronic conditions. Social care is responsible for and has a duty of care to many of the people who are most vulnerable to the outbreak. What advice does the Secretary of State have for social care providers, and will extra resources be announced for social care services? On the emergency powers that he has briefed about, will he sit down with us and other Opposition parties to discuss the contents of that legislation?

On the global efforts to contain the virus, we know that disease knows no borders. We cannot build a wall or an iron curtain around these islands. Why, then, are the Government apparently walking away from the EU early warning and response system, which plays such a vital role in pandemic preparations? We have been led to believe that No. 10 has overruled the Secretary of State on this. Also, to contain the virus internationally, countries with weaker health systems need to be supported as well, otherwise, we will not contain the virus. Can the Secretary of State update us on what help he is offering to the World Health Organisation on that front?

This is a serious time. Our constituents will be concerned, and many will be frightened. We will raise our concerns responsibly, but we offer to work constructively with the Government, because the public health interest and the safety of our constituents must always come first.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive approach he has taken from the start, and I will seek to address all the questions that he has raised. His first point was about statutory sick pay. For those who need to self-isolate for medical reasons to protect others, that counts as being off sick. They do not need to go to a GP, because there is a seven-day allowance for self-declaration. I hope that that addresses that point directly—[Interruption.] We keep all matters on this under review because, broadly, I agree with him on the principle that he has set out. On the NHS, he asked about resources. We have already increased resources to the NHS and we stand ready to do so if that is necessary.

The hon. Gentleman asked about doctors and revalidation. In legislation, we are proposing to make revalidation simpler. We will bring forward those measures, and of course we will engage with the Opposition on the potential measures as and when that is necessary.

On public health allocations, we have already been clear that the public health grant is going up in aggregate. As my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary set out last week, we have seen a 4.4% real-terms increase in local authority budgets this year, and the social care budget is going up by £1 billion. I think that that takes into account the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised.

The hon. Gentleman also raised engagement with the World Health Organisation We have supported the WHO with extra funding. On engaging with the EU, I have regular engagement with colleagues from across Europe, and some of the reports I have seen in the newspapers are not accurate, because the questions of engagement with the EU on matters of health security are a matter for the negotiations, as set out on Thursday in the negotiations document.

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt (South West Surrey) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to commend the Health Secretary for the calm way in which he has been dealing with this crisis and for his very clear public messaging. He called me last Friday to tell me that there had been a coronavirus outbreak in my constituency. I would like to thank the staff at the Haslemere health centre for their extraordinary commitment in working over the weekend so that the health centre could be open again on Monday morning. This shows, however, that some of the people at greatest risk are our frontline health workers. One study in China showed that 7% of the people who got the virus in Wuhan were health workers. Will the Health Secretary confirm whether hospitals, GP surgeries, care homes and nursing homes have enough face masks, gloves and hand gel, and will he outline any other measures he is taking to ensure that NHS staff are kept safe?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point, and the answer to the question is yes. We are putting out further advice and guidance to the health system, to the NHS, to GPs and to hospitals today. That will go out from Keith Willett in the NHS.

On the point about the kit needed to keep health workers safe: yes, we are putting in place the actions to ensure that it is available at the right moment when it is needed. There are some GP surgeries that do not have that equipment yet, but we are putting in place the actions needed to ensure that they have it as and when it is needed. As my right hon. Friend knows, the number of cases right now is relatively small. It is 51, as of 9 o’clock this morning. The protective equipment is there, so that for each of these cases we can get right on to them, but if the virus becomes more widespread, of course more and more NHS settings right across the country are going to need that sort of equipment.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the plan, although I have to say that I would have welcomed receiving the briefing yesterday that the shadow Secretary of State mentioned, which I did not receive. The plan lays out a reasonable worst case scenario, and it is clear about the three time phases. Research is of course ongoing, but this will help to prepare the public for decisions that may have to be made down the line. At the moment, containment is based on self-isolation of cases, contacts and those who have travelled to risk areas, but with the spread elsewhere in the world, it is becoming harder to define risk areas. With regard to north Italy, the chief medical officer talked about those with underlying conditions perhaps interpreting the advice more stringently and not travelling, so will the Government either discuss with insurance companies or even consider legislation to make underlying conditions an acceptable reason to cancel a holiday, so that people can get their money back rather than putting themselves at risk?

I agree with the Secretary of State regarding asymptomatic workers and sick pay, but there are staff who have no sick pay in their contract, and some protection has to be given to them. He referred to the seven-day period for self-certification, but isolation is for 14 days, and we do not want people turning up at their GP surgery halfway through that period. Can that be looked at? One issue that I have come across is an employer telling a member of staff returning from a holiday in Tenerife that they should not come to work for two weeks, but the employer does not wish to pay them for that period. We need to look at that, even if it is not health advice but an employer stipulation expecting people to have no income.

As we move into delay, we see that children are not particularly vulnerable to catching this. However, as with other coronaviruses, they may well spread it. Do we have evidence for how much they contribute to transmission, as that will affect decisions on school closures?

What preparations are being made for the long haul? Previous coronavirus outbreaks have lasted not just for a few months but for over a year, so we could be dealing with this next winter. If we move into mitigation, the situation will reverse and it will be about protecting the vulnerable and early discharge to home care. That might require the changing of staff from hospitals and care homes to work in the community, so are the Government in negotiations on such matters as legal responsibility and liability?

The Secretary of State quite rightly talked about what the public should be doing, but should we not already be thinking about stopping shaking hands and about working from home, if possible, without an economic impact? That would also help the climate emergency. Containment moves into delay without a border, so should we not be thinking about trying to get ahead of the curve?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have been briefing colleagues as much as possible. Clearly, the CMOs’ time is incredibly valuable at the moment. We have worked with the Scottish Government on this plan; it was signed off by both the First Minister and the CMO for Scotland. In fact, it has been developed with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Government of Northern Ireland, so ultimately it is a multi-party plan.

The hon. Lady made the point about seven-day certification. That is indeed the sort of reason why we are holding this area under review and there is work ongoing, including on the points she has raised. She also asked about shaking hands. The medical advice is that the impact of shaking hands is negligible; what really matters is washing hands. Our public health advice will remain clear and based on the science—what matters, more than anything else, is that people wash their hands for 20 seconds or more, using soap and preferably hot water. That is the core of the public health advice.

The hon. Lady mentioned working from home. There is an incredibly important point about timing written into the plan. There are actions that we may need to take in future that it would not be appropriate to take now. We are not advising people to work from home now, but we do not rule out doing so in future if that might be more effective clinically, given the disruption it could cause.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I will let this statement run for about an hour, so let us help each other.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With regard to the impact that coronavirus can have, the Secretary of State is right to balance the difference of health and the economy and I welcome his caution in that regard. I want to raise a point about small businesses. If coronavirus does become a more significant problem, are the Government considering making emergency loans available to otherwise good businesses? If not, will he ask other Departments whether they might consider that?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are considering that; it is being led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in conjunction with the Treasury. The Chancellor will be making a statement today, ahead of the Budget on 11 March.

Rosie Cooper Portrait Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State will know that there is a system whereby those who are immunosuppressed are not required to sit in crowded waiting rooms in hospital or A&E. That is in normal conditions, never mind the situation with covid-19. Yesterday evening, I attended Aintree Hospital with a patient who had just finished her first round of chemotherapy. Despite the chemo-aware system, she was told by the receptionist to sit in a very crowded waiting room, for a five-hour wait, because there was nowhere else to go. I stood in a corridor, between the front door and some sliding doors, to ensure that she was not subjected to that. How will the Secretary of State ensure that frontline staff who are not necessarily clinicians understand the increased danger to those individuals? Does each A&E and each hospital have a place where those people could wait safely? This is not good enough.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The answer is yes. Each A&E now has a pod in front of it, which we have funded since the outbreak of the virus, so that suspected cases do not need to go into the main A&E. That is to address exactly the sorts of problems that the hon. Lady raises.

Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does contingency planning include steps to secure additional capacity in private hospitals, which often would lend themselves better to isolation of infectious patients?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The question of how we deliver and who delivers NHS services is a matter for the NHS, and making sure that we use all the health facilities available is of course something that the NHS is considering.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Secretary of State agree that, in order for self-isolation to work, no individual, whatever their circumstances, should be out of pocket for doing the right thing? As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) said, currently, millions of people who work in the gig economy and do not qualify for sick pay would be out of pocket for doing the right thing. Does the Secretary of State agree that solving this problem and giving people the confidence that they need to do the right thing by self-isolating is one of the most important things that he can do in the next few days, to ensure that we can continue with containment?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a huge number of things that we need to do in the next few days and, as I have said, this area is under review.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Across Government, in different Departments, there are many people with healthcare experience and professionalism. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions has 3,000 trained professionals working on assessments. What conversations is my right hon. Friend having with other Secretaries of State to understand whether there could be access to those individuals so that they too could be on the frontline?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is something we are absolutely willing to look at.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week I asked the Secretary of State about the preparedness of NHS 111. In answer to a written question, the Department said that it does not have the numbers for current staff. I understand that Dudley call centre alone is asking to recruit 150 new call handlers. How many call handlers are we looking for in addition to the current staffing levels for NHS 111, and when does he expect them to be fully trained and online?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have increased the number by 500 already, and there are plans for more to come, as and when that becomes necessary.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

An increasing number of people are self-isolating, but they still require routine care. Are GPs providing that routine care, and what advice is being given to GPs on whether they should wear masks, and whether they should visit a patient at home or get them to come to the surgery and so on?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do not want people who suspect they have coronavirus to go to their GP; we want them to do this via NHS 111. Further to my earlier point about being able to self-validate for sick pay for seven days, they can of course then do that by phone and get an email confirmation, should they need to, to extend that to the full 14 days. Of course, as well as tackling coronavirus, the NHS must do business as usual. We are increasing the amount that people can do over the phone, Skype and other forms of telemedicine. That could be increasingly important if there is widespread concern about communicable diseases.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure continuity of social care, both in care homes and for care given at home, given the problems and workforce implications arising from coronavirus?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have a huge amount of work under way, including looking at what we can do to ensure that people can get support in care homes. It is not just about the staff, of course; elderly people in care homes are, according to the data, among those most vulnerable to the disease. The care home element of our plan is incredibly important and we will be providing more details in the coming days.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is very important that both the resolution and the management of the crisis are based on the best possible science, and I join the Secretary of State’s tribute to the UK scientists, who are among the most experienced and best qualified in the world. Have UK scientists been part of the World Health Organisation teams deployed to Iran and China? Does the Government’s chief scientific adviser attend the Cobra meetings? Can the Secretary of State update me on the question, about which I wrote to him on Thursday, of when we can expect a bedside test to be deployed in this country and made available around the world?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are, of course, involved in the World Health Organisation missions and in some direct bilateral missions. I have repeatedly signed off on support for more UK experts to go out around the world. The chief scientific adviser is, of course, at all the Cobra meetings on this, whether they are chaired by me or by the Prime Minister.

My right hon. Friend’s point on the bedside test is incredibly important. We are currently engaged with just over a dozen companies to try to come up with a bedside test, instead of having to take a swab from the back of your throat, Mr Speaker—should you have the misfortune to fall ill—having it sent away and brought back. Working with UK companies to get a bedside test that can be done on the premises is an incredibly important part of the diagnostic mission surrounding this disease.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will staff in community settings be issued with protective hazmat suits and masks?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have extensive stockpiles of personal protective equipment. We are not distributing that at this moment because we have to distribute it at the right time. Each individual case can be dealt with at the moment, because they are relatively few, by those who are expert in using that kit. Of course community staff, as well as primary care staff and hospital staff, will be involved in the distribution of that equipment as and when appropriate.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week there was a confirmed coronavirus case in Buxton, which led to the temporary closure of a medical centre and a school. Unfortunately, several national newspapers inaccurately reported that Buxton was a town on lockdown. Several local hotels have now reported booking cancellations as a result. Does the Secretary of State agree that the situation calls for responsible journalism and calm reporting of the facts? Will he join me in encouraging people to visit Buxton, Britain’s best spa town?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes. I do not have to check with the chief medical officer before telling you, Mr Speaker, that I love going to Buxton, which is a great place to visit. My hon. Friend makes a serious point. As I said in my statement, there is scientific advice against moving too soon or overreacting, as there is against moving too slowly or not reacting strongly enough. We need to take the measures that are necessary to protect the public.

On taking measures that do not protect the public, the advice is that all of us in a position of responsibility whose communications are heard widely, whether we are Members of this House or members of the media, have a duty of responsibility, because how this is communicated will have a direct impact on how well we as a country cope with this outbreak.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Hospital cleaners and porters keep us safe, so will the Government increase SSP to full pay for all staff forced to self-isolate? Low-paid workers in our NHS should not be financially penalised for doing the right thing.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I said, we are keeping the rules on SSP under review. As we directly employ people in the NHS, I am having a conversation about it with the chief executive of the NHS.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State will know there are two confirmed cases in Gloucestershire, and I put on record my thanks to the public health professionals who have dealt with those cases in a professional, calm and considered manner.

My specific question is about the action the Department for Work and Pensions will take for those members of the public who, whether because of business downturn or because of self-isolation, have to access the benefits system. Will frontline DWP staff and systems accommodate the fact that self-isolation, as the Secretary of State says, should be treated as an illness and that no inappropriate sanctions should be applied?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are absolutely clear that that is the rule, and I frequently talk to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about this matter.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the outbreak at Willow Bank Infant School, will the Secretary of State update the House on the work he is undertaking with the Department for Education, local authorities and schools to help contain the outbreak?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The broader point is that it is very important that schools do not close if they are not advised to close. Again, it is about following the medical advice. If there is no epidemiological reason to close, a school should not be closing.

As of 11 am today, I understand that 10 schools are closed. Seven of the 14 schools that were reported yesterday as having closed are now open, so this is a dynamic situation. The DFE is doing a fantastic job, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards, who has been working night and day to make sure that, where possible, children are at school.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend will recall that I raised the issue of motorway service stations a couple of weeks ago. Coming down this week, I still did not see any signage about the health precautions that can be taken. May I urge him to investigate whether he can buy up advertising space in lavatory areas to make sure the message is clear so that people understand the hygiene steps to take?

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is an important point. We are launching an enhanced communications programme tomorrow, and I will check with my team whether it includes adverts in motorway service stations.